Sunday, November 29, 2009


In trying to lessen my load a bit, I decided to not post here for a week, and let a few other daily routines lapse - not posting is the only one I miss. I've only been writing this blog for not quite nine months, but in that time, it has become a part of my morning Al-Anon "setting myself into a positive frame of mind for the day" custom, or at the other end of the day, my gratitude for, and inventory of, the day just lived. As soon as I'd decided to give myself a break from it, I promptly commenced to miss it. I began to suffer the mental equivalent, of the stiff and rusty feeling my joints have, when I miss a day of yoga practise.

So it goes.

I'm going to write, and try to let go of how long or how often; I have always been my harshest taskmaster. If it's only a paragraph, well, that's what it's going to be that day.

The first half of the first sentence in today's reading in Hope for Today runs as follows:

"I was practically consumed with frustration and anger..." This is an accurate description of who I was, when I came into Al-Anon. It's hard to recall what that felt like, because I've changed so much.

This wonderful program has given me a life I'd have never thought possible, with the miseries of my childhood behind me. I am living proof of the fact that what is promised to us in the closing is the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth;

"If you try to keep an open mind you will find help. You will come to realize that there is no situation too difficult to be bettered and no unhappiness too great to be lessened."

As a newcomer, I had my doubts about that last bit, because I thought I'd had a far worse time of it than anyone else at the table, and in my childhood, perhaps I did, but my first sponsor taught me that pain is relative. Each person's pain is agonising for them.

I had to take quite a bit on faith when I was new to program, but for some reason, I could trust my sponsor enough to believe her when she said I would get better if I just kept trying. And part of trying was to work to wrest my attitude from the overwhelmingly negative co-ordinates I'd had it set at for most of my life, to a more positive aspect. Gratitude is self-perpetuating - the more we have, the more we notice; the more we notice, the more gratitude we have.

At first, I could only list a few items on my gratitude list - the love of my dog, food, shelter, work. The basics. As time went on, my list became more detailed, and I even found myself feeling grateful to the people who had caused so much of my childhood misery, for things like: teaching me to love classical music. Teaching me that prejudice is wrong. Teaching me to be responsible to the animals in my care. The dog had to be fed, and her outside area cleaned up, her water freshened, before we sat down to eat. She was dependent upon us for everything, so we had to look after her properly, and before we looked after our own needs.

I began to let go of my black-and-white thinking, which had made me have to demonise them completely. I still don't think they had the right to physically abuse me, but I can see them as flawed and deeply unhappy human beings, instead of monsters. As long as I saw them as monsters, I couldn't get past my own rage. When I began to see them as people stuck in their own awful misery, I could begin to forgive. I forgave for my sake, not theirs. I forgave so that I could step out of that fire of anger which was consuming me, and have a life.

I have Al-Anon to thank for that, and I am full to bursting with gratitude for the life I have now - it's a beautiful thing.

Keep an open mind, you will find help.

Saturday, November 28, 2009


I won't be posting for a week or so, it's just too crazy here right now, and by the time I get to my blog, I'm so tired I've got nothing to say. Take care, all of you, and see you in about a week.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Contradictions, and Trust.

Standing talking after my meeting last night, someone brought up the recent news story about the 4 employees of the Canadian city of Toronto's Humane Society, who had been charged with animal cruelty. I hadn't heard about this, but when I got home, looked it up online. As well as my feelings of anger and sorrow with regard to the alleged cruelty to the animals, I found myself feeling unsettled for hours afterwards, and not sure why.

This morning, I realise that quite apart from my distress at animals being mistreated, the issue being raised is trust. Whenever it is discovered that the guards of the henhouse have long snouts and bushy tails peeking out from beneath their feathers, if I'm not careful, I can begin to extrapolate from that one issue of untrustworthiness, to viewing the world as a whole, through a miasma of dubiety.

Who can we trust to care for animals, if not the people who work at the Humane Society? I know I'd like to believe that anyone who works at a place with that name, would have the care of the creatures dependent upon them, uppermost in their minds and hearts.

Our society operates largely on trust - we make daily assumptions as to the way the world is being run, and finding out that these assumptions are mistaken, is unnerving. If I'm not careful, this can start my mind off on an old, old mental loop, which has as its main structure, the declaration "You can't trust anybody!"  After a few hundred repititions of this particular loop, I will be feeling anxious, and a thousand times more distrustful than I was at the start - this way of thinking is self-perpetuating.

I know it isn't true; I have people in my life that I give as much trust as I am capable of at this point in my recovery, and that is gallons more than the grudging teaspoon I could give years back when I was relatively new to program. I know there are people I can trust with my heart, and my life, and they will not fail me. I mustn't paint the entire world with the same dark paintbrush. It just blocks the light and obscures my view.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

What Did I Mean By That?

Asked by a reader to explain what I meant by "pushing" gratitude in my first post today. Sorry if that was confusing - a program friend in the medical profession uses that expression, and I've picked it up.

When I say it, I mean: to deliberately choose to think only of all the aspects of my life for which I feel gratitude, and when I wander off course, as I will do, into thinking about other things, to wrest myself back to it, and to force myself to think only of my gratitude list.

Practising Gratitude

One of the simplest things I've learned in Al-Anon, is that my thoughts affect my mood.

This sounds painfully obvious, and it is, but it's also a reality that escaped me for all the years of my life before program. I walked around feeling miserable, depressed, angry, frustrated, and all the time, the tape that stimulated those feelings played on a non-stop loop inside my head.

Learning that I could change what I was thinking, and thereby change my mood, was a world-altering event for me.

I have learned that when I practise gratitude, I am happy. Period.

How to do this? Pay attention to my internal dialogue, and when I start to think negatively, stop, remind myself of this truth, and choose to think of that which gives me hope, gives me pleasure, gives me strength, gives me faith.

Choose to think.

 Negative thinking can be satisfying in a horrid sort of way: "I knew that yada yada would happen!" When I'm in that frame of mind, all I want is to be right, I don't care if being right also makes me miserable. In that instant, being right is more important than anything else. Why is this?

I don't know, and I've reached a point in my life where why something happens is far less relevant than the result, and how to effect a different result.

I can watch my mood shifting, slowly at first, I grant you, because a body at rest tends to remain at rest, and my heavier moods are just that - heavy, and hard to shift. But if I put my whole self into it, and really push gratitude, momentum begins to work, and pretty soon I'm feeling giddy with the delight of having seen program work for me, one more time.

I'm tremendously grateful. I woke up grumpy today, got a message from our realtor that made me even more grumpy, and then was standing looking at my little dog, and she did her happy dance, asking to be picked up. That gleeful little wiggle was enough to remind me that I've got a choice - I can push gratitude, and within a very short time, feel as I do writing this - hugely grateful for all my blessings.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Anger, and Venting of Same.

There is one school of psychology which teaches that anger is tantamount to an emotional boil, and if we don't vent it, we will be slowly poisoned by its accumulation and spread.

I don't happen to agree with this. I believe that venting of anger is a taboo, and like most other taboos, breaking it the first time carries the greatest weight, and is likely to be accompanied by feelings of guilt.

If we continue to break it, time and again, it loses any power to inform our thinking or control our behavior. We move along the continuum, from remorse and shame at the start, through the doing of it for the satisfaction and power to manipulate, until eventually it becomes habitual.

People who are angry all the time are exhausting company - they require that we be always on guard, so as not to set them off. I had a girlfriend when I lived in the city, whose significant other was a ranter. He was a talented artist, but he was angry all the time, and felt no compunction about expressing his rage. Someone was always pissing him off. He loved to rant about the government - federal and local - that was one of his favourites, because there was so much scope.

He was vociferous in his descriptions of the manner in which other people had failed to meet his standards of conduct. He ranted about the annoying tendency of mechanical objects to break down, wear out, and require repair.

I used to sit in silent wincing while he harangued us, wondering if he thought we wanted to be battered by his opinions, or was he so caught up in the venting of his rage, that we were just acoustical elements in the room?

Anger is a feeling, it's not a right or an entitlement. Pumping our anger out with no regard to those around us is abusive. There is a vast gulf between discussing our anger, the reasons for it, and the healthy ways to deal with it, with our sponsor or a program friend, and just dumping it like a pot of boiling acid over whomever happens to be in the vicinity.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Learning To Tell The Truth.

When we have been in a relationship with an alcoholic for many years, have let unacceptable behavior go by unremarked to keep the peace, and bitten back our feelings more times than not, it can be quite an exercise to learn to be honest. Especially if we will be punished for the truth with stomping, slamming, being ignored, or worse.

When I continue to pretend, nothing changes. I must be willing to suffer the consequences of speaking up. I can say what I have to  without harsh words or character assassination. I can speak as kindly and with as much care for the other's feelings as is possible, without diluting my message to the point where it's unrecognisable.

If I want change, I must be ready to make those changes myself.
Waiting and hoping that the alcoholic will change, is an exercise in self-delusion.

We teach people how to treat us. I've had the uncomfortable realisation this past while, that I've been less than honest about my true feelings with an alcoholic - I was still people-pleasing. I allowed behaviors to go by unchallenged, and uncommented.

Now that I am speaking up more often, the alcoholic is feeling that I'm changing the rules late in the game. I can't help that - their feelings are their business. As long as I am saying what I need to say respectfully, I'm not responsible for how they choose to deal with it.

Beforehand, I ask God for guidance, and afterwards, I ask Him for comfort.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Continued To Take Personal Inventory...

...and when we were wrong, promptly admitted it.

When first faced with this Step, I had visions of flaying myself in front of other people, the same way I did inside my head. It's not about self-castigation, although I can get lost down that sideroad quite easily if I'm in HALT, or stressed out.

It's about honesty - examining my motives without the rose-colored glasses I'm tempted to don, when viewing my own behavior. I can always find a reason for which it makes perfect sense that I behaved that way; what I need to keep in the forefront of my mind, is that what I describe as "perfect sense" may, when viewed objectively, not be so clear-cut, or so defensible.

In my early twenties, I had a friend who loved to debate. I'd make some wildly sweeping remark, and he'd look at me for a moment, then command, "Argue your point!" Meaning, don't just plunk down that nicely polished finished result of a statement: show me how you got from A to B, and be prepared to have some good bulwarks supporting that judgemental pronouncement, or be swept away downstream with the force of his side of the argument. He'd never let me get away with anything; I learned to temper my statements in his presence.

My first sponsor also did this - she called me to account, and left me no wiggle-room. I had days where I hated her for that. When I had more years of recovery, I confessed that feeling to her, and she fell about laughing - she'd known it all the time. She told me I had a way of pressing my lips together and narrowing my eyes that was a clear indication that she was infuriating me.  She would know she was hitting home with whatever observations she was making, by the level of my annoyance. She joked it was like having one of those "you are HERE" signs one finds in malls, with arrows pointing to various destinations.

I was a well-defended individual when I entered Al-Anon; finding the way to my inner self was no easy task, and some days, I despaired of ever reaching my goal of rigorous honesty with myself.

I can't kid myself to the same extent anymore, and some days, I miss being able to, I won't deny it. Life was easier when my behavior was the fault of someone else. When the only person responsible for my behavior is me, I have nowhere to hide from myself or others. I'm out there without the mask of pretense, or the cloak of self-justification.

Attitude Adjustments.

The AA police are alive and well on the Internet.

Why do so many alcoholics seem to feel supremely justified in complaining about how other AA members are working their program? These complaints are often disguised expressed as a deep concern for any newcomers who might come in off the street, hear the "wrong" things being said, and either be hopelessly traumatised, or, finding no help, go back out and drink again.

Presenting complaints as concern for newcomers gives them plausible deniability - who could possibly be offended at the taking of someone else's inventory, when it stems from the best of all possible motives?

Perhaps a phrase you use grates heavily upon my nerves. It appears to be a small step for some people, to move from: "That phrase irritates me and I can't relate to it." to "The use of that phrase is "watering down" or "misinterpreting" AA, and therefore is wrong, and therefore you shouldn't use it, because you are putting newcomers at risk. Because you are willing to water down AA and put newcomers at risk, I am completely justified in feeling anger and resentment towards you. Because I feel anger and resentment towards you, I am 100% justified in taking your inventory, and stamping you REJECTED. Because I reject you, I feel no need to question myself when I find you irritating. "

To a non-alcoholic, this sort of reasoning is barking mad both circular, and questionable. Isn't it more helpful to search for that which one has in common with the rest of those in the meeting rooms?
Aren't we meant to take no inventory but our own?
Who decides what is watering down AA, and what is adding to it?
Who gets the final vote on what is permissable to say at a meeting?

Alcoholics are control freaks, and this nonsense seems just another way to sidestep a personal inventory for the pleasure of taking someone else's. If truly trying to work an honest program, why not pay closer attention to the myriad ways in which artifical categories of "Us" and "Them" can be created, even inside a 12-Step group, and strive to not be the one doing the sorting?

Is it "sharing our experience strength and hope" to rail against what other alcoholics are doing incorrectly according to one's personal rules?

Is God working in our lives when we look for ways to exlude and condemn?

Life is too short for this - if someone at your meeting irritates you, why not see it as God offering you a beautiful opportunity to learn patience, tolerance, and love for your fellow human beings, even the ones who don't behave according to your personal manner book. Stop and take the time to wonder just how irritating you may be to sit in a meeting with.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Time - How Shall I Spend It?

"Nobody sees a flower really; it is so small. We haven't time, and to see takes time - like to have a friend takes time.”

That quote from Georgia Okeefe has been resonating in my head today. At one of the meetings this week, it became clear to me that a newcomer who is also relatively new to town, is feeling desperately lonely and isolated.

I can feel God nudging me toward her, with me half-heartedly resisting, because I'm "too busy," even as another part of my mind is perfectly aware that I am going to call her and invite her over to meet my dogs, and have a coffee and a chat. I'd mentioned my dogs after the meeting, and her face lit up and she asked what kind? When I told her, she made that sound we dog-lovers make at the very mention of a breed we adore: aawwww!

God keeps making His point to me today, with little reminder memories of the offers of friendship extended towards me when I was at my most despairing. Back then I didn't have the nerve or the self-esteem to call anyone, and would have shrivelled and died on the spot rather than admit that I was anything but "oh, fine!"

There were some Al-Anon women who paid zero attention to my facade of fine-ness, and kept on inviting me to socialise with them, whether for small intimate chats in the garden with a coffee and a treat, or bigger pot-luck dinners - they included me. They shared their time with me, and that sharing of time was a blessing beyond my ability to thank them for, at the time.

They took the time to welcome me, to make me laugh; their sharing of themselves gave me strength, to go back home and continue to deal with the active alcoholism with which I lived then. Just knowing that someone truly saw me, and cared enough to call and invite me over/along was a huge boost to my shaky self-image.

Making someone feel welcomed takes time, and a small amount of effort. I pray that I never forget the way I was welcomed and given comfort in Al-Anon meetings, and outside of them, in social gatherings. I pray that when I hear someone in need of simple human companionship, I don't turn away, telling myself that "someone else is bound to call them, I don't need to..." I pray that when I have been blessed with an abundance of dog-love, and a lonely newcomer makes a comment about how much she misses having an animal, I have sufficient generosity of spirit to share them with her. After all, God has shared them with me.

We all need comforting - sometimes that consists of conversation with someone who knows what you are going through, while you sit in pleasant surroundings, hugging an armful of small warm dog.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Did You Say Something?

From Hope for Today, page 325:

"When given the occasion to hear or speak an uncomfotable reality, I have choices. I can hear it and grow, I can share it and grow, or I can ignore it in favor of maintaining my comfort zone. The truth merely provides me with an opportunity for growth. The rest is up to me."

Before Al-Anon, I practised selective listening, and just wouldn't hear an uncomfortable truth about myself. The odd time when the speaker said it loudly enough, and in close enough proximity for me to be unable to not hear it, I turned my face away, and dismissed or minimised. I couldn't deal with any suggestion that I wasn't perfect, because I knew just how imperfect I truly was. I feared myself flawed in some fundamental fashion.

These days, I am well aware that I am flawed, and in full possession of the usual human frailties, but this knowledge is no longer reason to turn from the truth in fear and trembling that I wll be found out.

I've shared of myself at the tables of Al-Anon, and been accepted and loved in spite of my faults and foibles and character defects. When I speak to program friends about my character defects, we can laugh at the essential silliness of the human ego, and the posturing we all adopt in an effort to impress.

Laughter is a solid foundation - pretending is a balance beam. I've had enough of standing on one foot windmilling wildly with my arms, trying to stay up there. I can't sit down, I can't recline, I can't get comfortable in any way - I want the safeguard and serenity of solid ground. To step down, I need to take the ever-present guiding hand of my Higher Power, who will not only help me dismount, but will steady me until I regain my equilibrium.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

You've Done Started Back Doing Them Things You Used To Do...

I need regular infusions of program wisdom, or I begin to backslide, in the direction of habits of thought, which I do not wish to revisit. I need meetings because otherwise, I bamboozle myself with justifications when trying to reason things out - I cannot always trust my own thinking. Give me an hour, I can rationalise anything.

Too much time and space between me and Al-Anon, in the form of missed meetings, or un-read literature, and my grasp on my serenity begins to diminish. It will be almost imperceptible at first, my downward movement, but were I to continue to miss meetings, I'd soon be zipping along at a speed to rival those poor souls in the ubiquitous reality! caught on tape! tv shows, who miss their footing at the crest of the mountain, and make the trip back down using the back of their head, and one elbow, instead of their skis.

Working 12-Step can feel like pushing a 57 Buick uphill while wearing rollerblades - that sucker is heavy, and what if we get to the top of this hill, only to find another, further, hill past that?

That's why we do it in pairs (sponsor/sponsee) and in groups - sufficient numbers with their shoulder to the back bumper, the side windows, the central pillar of that leviathan, and it will be gliding along like ball bearings on silk - but only as long as enough people are pushing. We can each take a rest now and then, but if we all take a rest at the same time, we will find ourselves moving in the opposite direction from the one in which we've aimed ourselves.

I have nights where I can almost convince myself that I'd rather lie on the couch with my little dog asleep on my chest, her exhalations tickling my neck, her soft snores making me smile, than haul myself into an upright position, get ready, and go to my Al-Anon meeting. Almost convince myself, but not quite. There is margin for error in that argument. I may not feel like putting my shoulder to the bumper of that thing, but who knows who will be at the meeting, and desperate for the one offhand comment of mine, through which my Higher Power and theirs, will speak?

I go for myself, and my serenity, and I go for the others at the table with me. I go because I gain so much, and now that my life has reached a place where it's a pleasant glide most of the time, I go because I hope to give back what was given to me.

Tonight I made the effort to sincerely compliment a member who grates on me a bit (reminds me too much of the aspects of myself that grate upon me) and it felt wonderful. As soon as I'd said it - and meant it, it was nothing but the absolute truth - my resentment dissipated, and I felt calm and serene.

I love Al-Anon.

Fear Of Rejection

From Hope for Today, page 323:

"Al-Anon is an honest, sharing program. Looking at the part honesty and sharing played in my life opened me to certain realisations. When I'm uncommunicative or dishonest in my interactions, I set myself apart and feel rejected. Conversely, open, truthful communication nurtures feelings of trust, and encourages ne to participate fully in life.
However, as I begin to change my old habits, fear of rejection sometimes tempts me to respond in old ways."

Given my childhood, it is no surprise that fear of rejection and abandonment would be a major force driving many of my life choices before Al-Anon. Rejection by a parent in early childhood leaves a child with a terror that they are somehow "wrong" in their very being - worthless, unlovable.
Through Al-Anon, I have come to understand that for much of my adult life, I was in full panicked flight from the brutalities and loneliness of my childhood. I was afraid of people: of their judgements of me: fearful that I was not good enough: fearful that they would be able to see through my facade to the mess of a person inside.

I was agonisingly lonely, but I didn't know how to begin to trust people. I couldn't share of myself with another human being, because I was a captive of my own fear and distrust. I wore an emotional masquerade of dishonesty. I never told anyone the truth about my past; instead I invented a happy family. I felt the truth would set me apart, and I wanted more than anything to blend in to the background. I wanted to be unseen. At the same time, I moved through my life desparate to be noticed, and loved. I truly did not comprehend that my dishonesty was what kept me apart and lonely.

Dishonesty was such a deeply ingrained habit, that it required a spiritual awakening for me to be able to begin to answer questions about myself with the truth, rather than what I thought the questioner might wish to hear. I had lied about my feelings, my opinions, my ideas, my desires. I was a chameleon, taking on the protective coloration of resemblance to whomever I happened to be with at the time.

Occasionally, I will still fall into the first level of dishonesty - remaining silent when all of my spirit is protesting, because I wish to please the other.

I've adopted some self-preservation tools to deal with situations in which I'd have lied, in the past. When asked a question I do not wish to answer, I can sidestep with some noncomittal reply, or just state that I do not have an opinion worth sharing. (It's not often that I don't have an opinion; an opinion worth sharing is a horse of a different color.)

I can say that I'm not comfortable being asked that question, if that is the case. I can say that I'm not sure what I think, and I'll get back to the person when I am. I can remain silent, and just smile nicely. I can take a deep breath, stop to consider, so that I may frame my reply in the kindest of all possible terms while still being honest, and then speak.

There are several requirements that must be met before I will share some of the more tender aspects of myself - I need to have had the experience of having shared the lighter parts of me, and not been shamed or judged by my listener. I need to know that even if this person fails me or betrays me, I will survive - I have my Higher Power in whom I can trust implicitly, and I have myself - I have learned to trust myself.

I'm still a cautious sort of person when it comes to friendships, and perhaps I will continue to be that way to some degree. I don't trust easily, and I'm more careful than most people about revealing myself. But compared to who I was when I came into Al-Anon, I'm positively extravagant with myself and my sharing. It's a good thing.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Group Dynamics.

From the ODAT, page 322:

"If I have made myself a part of an Al-Anon group to get help, wouldn't I be defeating myself if I allowed what we call personality clashes to interfere with my getting the full benefit of the program?"

Most of us, when we've been in program for a while, understand that "personal progress for the greatest number depends upon unity," and that this means we need to work to leave our ego at the door of the meeting room, and walk in prepared to be accepting and tolerant of all around the table.

That is not always an easy task - it can be laborious. But it's the proverbial labour of love. We need to let go of our judgements of other people, and see them as a child of God, seeking comfort and recovery, just as we are. We need to either ignore, or argue back against, those mental criticisms of others which arise so easily when we are new to program.

If a new person is rude or prickly, I work to rise above my momentary impatience and intolerance, try to put myself in their place, recall the terror and shame I felt when I was new, let go of my ego, (which is most likely harrumphing back in the corner, muttering a variety of outraged phrases..."Well! How dare he/she! What a thing to say! Unbelievable!") strive to see the person behind the protective facade, and be welcoming because I want to, regardless of how spiny they may appear.

Once in a very long while, there will be a person who is in program for a long time, but who never chooses to practise "obedience to the unenforceable" and they may become a disruptive and divisive influence in the group. This is happening at a meeting here in town, and it's very painful for all involved. Attendance at the meeting is falling off, newcomers come to a few meetings, and never come back, the one member is rude to others inside meetings, and uses their share time to berate the other members for their perceived faults....

Which brings me to my next point - just what is the chairperson supposed to do in a situation of this sort?

When I am chairing the meeting, this person is relatively well-behaved. I believe this is a result of my having ever-so-gently confronted the unacceptable behavior, with reminders that we are here for the good of us all, and that we do not criticise or attack other people at the table.

It's an unfortunate reality of life that some folks are bullies, and if left to their own devices and desires, their behavior only worsens with time. That's what is taking place at this meeting - being permitted to be rude inside the meeting, has only made this person more comfortable with being rude inside the meeting.

No-one can force anyone else to behave with consideration and respect. This meeting may end up disbanding, and regrouping at another venue, or it may limp along becoming more and more unsettling, or it may resolve itself in some way I cannot imagine.

All I can do is detach, and try to understand what lesson is being offered for me to learn in all of this.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

You Can't Force Patience.

I apologise to my readers for my rather hit-and-miss posting lately; anyone who has had a house up for sale knows to what unreasonable standard of cleanliness the property must be kept, so it's ready to view at a moment's notice. Try doing this with two dogs, during rainy season. Great fun. It triggers the compulsive side of my nature which I've worked so hard to overcome, and I have to have short sharp conversations with myself about "enough, already!"

Today, while washing the kitchen floor for the zillionth time this week, I was thinking about patience, and how the lack of it has been one of my most painful character defects. Most of us are an intriguing mix of patience and agitation. Engrossed in one of my hobbies, I have endless patience, for the minutest details.

My other mad love, gardening, is also not something one can rush - a garden grows in God's time. I'm merely making it a slightly easier for some plants, by removing the ones which would smother all others in their rampant embrace - weeds.

I once sat in an open AA meeting, back east, and listened to a speaker talk about who was in charge that day, the adult - who could reason things out, accept setbacks without complaint, manifest tolerance, acceptance, and love for others - or the baby - who wanted whatever it was right this minute, and would flail his arms, scream, and kick, in an effort to force his will upon those around him.

That image has stayed with me - I've seen the baby in others, and I've seen the baby in myself - demanding instant gratification, and making life miserable if we don't get it.

I have had it demonstrated to me time and again that my vision is limited - I can only see so far ahead of myself - I've only got the low-beams. My Higher Power has the high-beams. He sees the dangers which lurk just out of my frame of reference, and I need to have the patience and the trust to accept this. When I'm wanting, but not getting, I need to turn it over. I need to ask, and then go on with my life, without continually turning to look and see how He's coming along with that request of mine.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Good Company.

I was just wandering around tidying up a bit, (the realtor is holding an open house tomorrow, and I can't seem to stop cleaning) thinking about how I used to hate having people over when I was married to my ex: guests meant noise, excess drinking, arguments, possible breakages, and the next morning, a house that would look like a crash pad - empty cigarette packets and fast food boxes, full ashtrays, and beer cans dotting every surface. The house would stink of beer and smoke. I'd find cigarettes put out in my house plants, burns on countertops and other furniture - it was dreadful. And I did dread it. The partying would continue long into the night, while I'd be locked in the master bedroom, trying to get enough sleep not to be a danger to myself or others at work the next day.

Now, I look forward to having company, especially program people. I know the conversation will enlighten and entertain me, we will be courteous and respectful of each other, we will share our experience strength and hope, and best of all, we will laugh until we can't see straight. And all without one drop of a mood altering substance, just decaff coffee and homemade peanut butter cookies.

God has been good to me; He's granted me many blessings. The company of 12-Step people is just one of them.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Listening Is Not A Passive Exercise.

From the ODAT, page 317:

"We could all make good progress if only we would cultivate the knack of listening - uncritically - to everything we hear at a meeting, or from an Al-Anon friend."

Many of us, (and I include myself in this category) come to Al-Anon completely oblivious to the hundreds of messages we receive daily, from our internal dialogue. It takes effort and determination to learn to be aware of that nattering voice, (or voices) and not just take what it's saying as truth. I think we need to learn to listen critically to our internal dialogue, and uncritically to meeting shares and Al-Anon friends.

How on earth does one go about doing this? First we need to become aware that we have an internal dialogue. If we've never stopped to consider it, it's usually happening half-hidden from us. We will be aware of it now and again, but most of it takes place as behind a sheer curtain, with vague movement and shadow, but not clearly seen, or easily understood.

My first sponsor had me carry a notepad and a pen around on a day I was at home alone, and jot down everything I thought in bullet form. It went something like this:
-dog needs out.
-need buy
-porch board still loose
-break neck on that
-a--hole husband never fixes anything around here
-never change
-drunken fool
-me fool marry him
-phone's ringing
-take meat out of freezer

and on and on it went, with most of it alternating between character assassination of my ex, and bashing of myself, with plenty of negative generalisations and depression mixed in - a viciously toxic stew. (When I next met with my sponsor, and we went over it, I felt hideously ashamed and embarassed, but she read it and laughed in recognition and gratitude - she recalled very clearly when the inside of her head had looked and sounded like that.)

For whatever reason, that one day doing that little exercise jump-started my ability to hear my internal dialogue. I'd still have long periods where I wasn't aware of it, and so was acting on those old messages rather than the new wisdom of 12-Step, but as my yoga tape says at one point, "..slowly, slowly, you begin to open up, and you can reach further."

I learned that some voices seem to be hardwired in - the parental ones - they haven't been silenced in 22 years of working my program, but they've retreated to the back room now, and only shout out occasionally, when I'm feeling stressed or anxious, and I can choose to detach from, or if I'm really lucky, laugh at, what they're saying. I can drown them out by saying the Serenity Prayer over and over, or a slogan, or a reminder from a program friend, or a prayer. I no longer go through my life with that strong chorus of negativity bellowing into my inner ear, poisoning my days and depressing my joy in living.

I've learned that when I share with my Al-Anon group something that one of my parental voices has said to me, and they all howl with laughter, this shared laughter weakens the power of that voice.

I've learned that when I work to close that backroom door, and listen uncritically to sharing at a meeting, I open myself to growth, peace, and serenity. I've heard gems of wisdom which have shoved me forward in a burst of change, from people to whom I'd never have paid the slightest attention, before Al-Anon. I don't build those artificial barriers between me and another person anymore. I don't care how you dress, what you drive, how you style your hair, or where you live. You are one of God's children, and we all have value and worth.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

If I Could Just Shut Off My Head...

From the ODAT, page 315:

"Troubles grow bigger as we spend more time thinking about them."

I've sat in many an Al-Anon meeting, in which any mention of obsessing brings groans and sighs of agreement from the rest of the people at the table.

We can all relate. Obsessive thinking seems to be a common character trait among Al-Anon members. We can move through great long stretches of our lives like zombies in a B-movie: eyes blank, expression vacant, while all the time, we are engaged in a furiously concentrated mental loop which never solves a damn thing, but ever ramps up our anxiety, frustration and fear.

I've gotten more skilled at observing the early signs of this in my thinking, but there will most likely always be times when I find to my disgust that I've been doing this again for the last 3 hours. The trick is to realise this, and stop without simply transferring onto a different loop in which I give myself royal hell for obsessing.

I've had days where I've had to blast music for hours, music which I cannot help but sing along to - that will get me outside my head. (You know the kind, songs you know by heart, and could sing perfectly with no musical accompanyment whatsoever; they're burned into your memory from a time when you put a song on "repeat" and played it 3000 times in a row, driving your parents or anyone else within earshot to screaming madness.)

Whatever works. Hard physical exercise helps my antsiness, but doesn't work for the mental loops. I've had days where I've read every reading on a topic, in every daily reader that I own, then gone online and read blogs, then called a friend, and still cannot get off that damn loop. That's when I remember that I have one resource which never fails me - God. I don't know if I have some strange idea that I need to try all human methods first before "bothering" God with my obsessing, or if it's just the control freak aspect of my nature wanting to do it "my way," on those days.

If I'm fortunate, I will catch myself dipping a toe in that pond, yank it back, turn smartly on my heel, and walk away, asking as I go, that God grant me release from my obsession. I like those times - recovery then seems like a smooth and level path, clearly signposted, with great scenery. The trick is to love and respect myself under both circumstances. God does.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

As Is.

Our culture tends to promote the idea that if we just try with enough concentrated effort, we can change another person to fit our specifications. This may involve trying to change behavior of small importance, such as the way someone washes dishes, or it may involve trying to "fix" a loved one's addiction.

That was one of the first lessons I didn't want to learn in Al-Anon - I can't change anyone but myself. I have to accept the other person "as is." I can speak up regarding behavior I find unacceptable, and I can remove myself from an unacceptable situation, other than that, I am powerless - I cannot force the other person to behave differently.

In friendship, if we are not willing to accept "as is," we can be in a state of ongoing exasperation, judging harshly for their failure to meet our expectations, or for behaving differently than we would choose to. I've had to let go of friendships when I sadly realised that my friend couldn't allow me to think from a separate viewpoint. When new to program, I had a friend who would make statements, and then finish off with "...right?" To begin with, if I didn't agree, I'd say so. I quickly learned that wasn't worth the hassle, it was easier to sidestep her with a noncommittal remark. After a short while, she caught on to that, and she wouldn't accept those - her insecurities demanded complete agreement. I used to arrive back at home after visiting with her, and feel exhausted. I was in Al-Anon for quite a few years before it dawned upon me why I found this friend's company so tiring - it was because she couldn't allow me to be myself, with my own opinions, personality quirks, and human frailties. When I was with her, I felt evaluated and reproved. That understanding made it possible for me to choose to let the friendship go. I felt a strange mixture of sadness and relief. This guided me to pay closer attention to when I may be doing this same thing to a friend - requiring that they agree with me about whatever it is I'm feeling het up. I also had to seek out the reasons for which I'd allow myself to become involved with a person who couldn't accept me "as is." If I'm in a conversation, and I begin to feel irritated because the other person doesn't agree with me, I now know to stop talking, sit back, and listen carefully. I don't want my own ego to be creating barriers between me and another human being. I want to be accepting.

Monday, November 9, 2009

An Open Mind.

A reader very kindly wrote and suggested I try doing a fear inventory, similar to a resentment inventory as laid out in AA's Big Book, but with my fears listed in the first column.

I found this enormously helpful. (Thankyou, Mitch.)

I will be forever grateful to Al-Anon, for having made me teachable. When I am offered the precious gift of a suggestion about how I might deepen my understanding, of 12-Step, and of myself, I am well-disposed to listen, and to try putting it into practise.

My little blurb on my home page about "feel free to write to me" isn't just lip service - this has been my recurring experience in 12-Step - my Higher Power offering me a solution, through the words of a fellow member.

When I came into program, if you didn't fit my narrow definition of "normal" I'd shut you out. I may have been outwardly courteous, because I'm in that age group - we were taught to be polite to strangers - but inwardly, I'd be writing off anything said to me, because look who was saying it. I wanted to reject you first, before you got a chance to reject me. That felt safer. It was a lonely way to live, and I missed a lot of wisdom I could have learned from. I'm trying to make up for that now.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Reasoning Things Out With Someone Else.

This phrase, from our suggested closing to an Al-Anon meeting, was not an accurate description of how I dealt with life when I was a newcomer to 12-Step. I was not a reasoner when I entered program - that had fallen overboard eons past. I had one of two ways to deal with stress - ranting and raving, or shutting off my anger like the flicking of a switch. (I had a little phrase I used for this, almost like a mantra, repeating, "It doesn't matter, it doesn't matter"! I'd go numb.) Since the only emotion I could feel by that point was anger, this worked for me. Let me rephrase that - I suffered from the illusion this worked for me. What it truly did, was make it possible for me to endure an unacceptable situation for many years.

I didn't like the idea of reasoning things out with someone else; my ego was sorely offended at the mere hint of my own reasoning powers being unreliable. No matter that my own reasoning had led me into a marriage with an alcoholic, who was the male version of the adult who had battered me so severely in my childhood. My ex battered with words rather than his fists, but he kept me in the same state of reduction.

My first sponsor once said, (kindly but with a hint of something else beneath) "If you can stop being offended long enough to see clearly, you might be able to change your behavior, and steer around this obstacle in future."

Stop being offended? How dare she suggest I was offended? Why, I found that thoroughly offensive of her!


I recall looking at her rather sheepishly, and she looking back at me with such affectionate humour in her gaze, it brought the sting of tears to my eyes.

In this way did I slowly learn to listen to what another member had to offer me. I don't have to substitute their judgement for my own, but if I don't utilise the collected wisdom of my group and of Al-Anon, by reaching out when I am stymied, I shortchange my recovery. I almost guarantee my continued misery.

I was anxious all day yesterday, and finally called a program friend, who offered me ways to see my problem that had escaped me in my own obsessive pondering.

What a gift this program is, so freely and generously given.

The Many Faces Of Fear.

What do I fear, and why do I fear it?

I've lived most of my life in fear - as a child, and as an adult - sitting in the bottom of the closet inside my head, quivering with foreboding, waiting for that door to swing open to reveal....

...I'm not sure what, but I just know it's going to be ugly and painful.

I've wasted great stretches of my life in the bottom of that proverbial closet, too riveted by fear to be able to think with any rationality, vibrating like a tuning fork to the single note of panic. On my particular road in life, the deepest rut, and the one into which I can fall with the slightest of lapses of attention, is - fear. I can slip it on like a worn old coat from a hook beside the door, when I step out to face the world, and returning from the outside, I can step into it in the same way I would some ancient, comfortable, but dispreputable footwear meant for indoor use only - the garments of fear are always there waiting for me to choose them. Before Al-Anon, I wasn't aware that I had a choice as to whether I wore them or not. I believed, without ever having stopped to consider it, that this was my lot in life - to live with a permanent knot of fear chewing at my gut.

I can recall feeling pure fury the first time I heard the phrase "The opposite of fear is faith." Oh, right! And it's just that simple, too, just put down my fear and pick up my faith, sure, no problem. Except that for me, fear was so inextricably entangled and enmeshed in my experience of life as an unsafe and dangerous environment, that I couldn't see how faith could be attainable for anyone with half a brain. My terrors were not imaginings, they were real possibilities. I'd seen what life can do to those who are weak or even inattentive; I wasn't going to relax my vigilance for even a nanosecond.

I sometimes think of my first sponsor as ever-so-gently, but inexorably, pulling open my terror-stricken steely grasp, finger by finger, all the time speaking softly and lovingly of how much better it would be when I let go, and let God. I wanted to believe her, oh how I wanted to believe her! I wanted to live as she described life to me - doing my part, and then turning the rest over to my Higher Power to deal with, going about my day safe in the knowledge that He was looking out for me, but I just couldn't get there.

For me, fear feels like an old friend, one I know intimately, and don't like very much, but almost feel obliged to move over and allow to share my seat, if for no other reason than our long acquaintance. It can be quite the effort to muster my resolution enough to say, "Sorry, no room here!"

Some days the only way I can avoid sharing my seat with fear is to go in, kneel down, and pray to God to make the seat narrower.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009


All my life, I have had a very strong emotional response to music. There are some classical pieces I can't put on while driving, because I can't hear them without wanting to stop, close my eyes and listen. I get goosebumps all down my arms, and my eyes flood with tears. (This can be embarassing. I once went to a Black Watch concert with a friend when I lived in the city, and had to keep wiping my eyes - with Scottish heritage from both of my birth parents, this doesn't surprise. We have a bagpiper who comes to the field down the road to practise, and each time he does, there will be a few of us, standing a bit apart from each other, silent in the dark, listening reverently.)

This powerful reaction to music, is a gift from God that I cherish. I know that there are people who don't have this - I've had friends for whom music never rises above the level of "nice." They can take it or leave it - go for a month without using their cd player.

I find this amazing. I need music. It feeds my artistic creativity. It allows me to believe in the beauty of the human spirit, when doubts assail me. Music can carry me when I am stumbling and tripping over the reality of what people are capable of doing to each other.

There have been many times in my life when the only way I have been able to feel my Creator, was through music opening the route in to where I live, behind my defenses. Music can blast through the obstacles of disquiet and skepticism.

I have the strongest reaction to classical, but I love all music. I'm impatient with musical snobbery - it feels like another way to create those false categories of "us" and "them."

There have been periods in my life when the only real pleasure I've had, has been music. People will test and disappoint us, but people can be a conduit for our Higher Power through music. I can recall a very dark period of my life, when I was living in a basement apartment in a major city to which I'd recently moved. I knew no-one there, (this was before Al-Anon) and the loneliness was overwhelming. All that kept me going, some long sleepless nights, was music - it was my connection to humanity. That apartment was a recipe for depression - new, but dark and gloomy. I hated it, I hated the city, I hated myself...some nights, I'd lie in bed with my headphones on, feeling so hopeless at the start of a well-loved piece of classical, and by the last chords, I would be calmed, restored, and finally able to sleep.

Music is yet another aspect of life for which I am humbly grateful.

Monday, November 2, 2009


MrSponsorPants has an excellent post on this topic today. I've known those who could wear a t-shirt emblazoned "Grateful Member of Al-Anon" and be comfortable, and I've known others who wouldn't acknowledge me if they met me walking my dog out in the woods, with no-one to see our mutual recognition but the occasional chipmunk.

If I run into a member of Al-Anon outside the meeting rooms, I let them set the tone. If they ignore me, I ignore them. I've had people come up to me and throw their arms around me for a hug in the grocery store, and I hug back with the same amount of warmth. I'm comfortable either way, so I allow them to choose.

MrSponsorPants did cause me to wonder if I should be writing prefaces to the posts which appear to describe what was said inside a meeting, to explain that just as he does, I take artistic license to make my point. Wikipedia describes artistic license as:

"..a colloquial term, sometime euphemism, used to denote the distortion or complete ignorance of fact.."

So when it appears that I've come home from a meeting, and am describing what took place in it, I'm not. You wouldn't recognise yourself, because you aren't in here; anyone written about is a compilation of people I've met in the years I've been in Al-Anon, and what they say is a compilation of the things I've heard. I thought I had better make that point clear.

I am of the opinion that anonymity was important when AA and Al-Anon were founded, and it is of equal importance today. It is only with an assurance of complete anonymity that many of us are able to speak up in meetings. I take this very seriously, and I make this point to my sponsees, especially the new ones, most likely to the point of boring them senseless on the topic. I know how distrustful I was when I was new to program, and how I slowly became able to trust, because of the member's adherence to this founding precept.

This may run contrary to the psychobabble phrase "You're only as sick as your secrets." I've had that particular gauntlet hurled at my feet. My reply is that it isn't my secret I'm keeping, it's the secret of the others around the table, and they get to choose whether or not they broach their anonymity, just as I get to choose to broach mine. It's a personal decision, and not mine to make for another.

It isn't up to me to decide that someone else's life would be healthier if they were less secretive. That's between them and their God.

Sunday, November 1, 2009


Woke up this morning already running full-tilt on the gerbil wheel before I even got my eyes open. I hate those mornings, it's a fight to get myself off the darn thing in time to be able to enjoy my day. I don't get these very often anymore, and when I do, I find I have a tendency to lash myself for them. So, not only do I wake up feeling stressed and grumpy and out-of-sorts, but I then proceed to give myself hell all day for being in that negative head space. What's wrong with me that I can't get my equilibrium back? Why can't I let this go? Yada yada yada, until I feel as tender and irritated as a brand-new sunburn.

(Make sense to you? Doesn't to me either. But it happens.)

When I'm in this state, I find the only thing that helps is sustained physical effort - housecleaning works very well, but the house is so spotless right now, from having been made ready for the realtor's tour, and the first viewing, open house, etc, that there is nothing I can do in that area. Gardening is out this time of year, and yoga is too mellow - I needed something that felt like work. Hiking fits the bill.

I had a lovely walk in the fall woods, kicking through a layer of huge leaves, maple keys, pine cones, and other detritus decorating the path. It was quiet, soothing, and I felt the presence of God out there. An hour in the woods, and I felt calmed and rebalanced.

I'm hoping I manage to get a better grasp on myself next time this happens. I think I should have an Al-Anon daily reader on my bedside table, and read a few pages when I wake up running on that gerbil wheel of worry and fretfulness. If the dog will allow me to postpone her breakfast long enough to do so.