Thursday, December 31, 2009

Last Post Before The Move.

This is it - my last day in this house - tomorrow, the city! We're both giddy with excitement, the house is a maze of boxes, and there's still some work to be done, so this will be a short post.

I will be offline until the 3rd, when my ip has promised hookup in the new place; as soon as I've got internet, I'll check in. (I hadn't anticipated, when I started this blog, the sense of community I feel with the recovery world online.)

My spouse was joking last night that the dogs have the right idea of how to go about a move - walk around the boxes instead of complaining that they're in the way, don't let the fact that almost everything is packed away stop you from having a good wrestle with your favourite toy, and never miss a chance for a nap.

From the ODAT, page 366:

"Again I resolve to live the coming year One Day At A Time, easing myself of the burdens of the past and the uncertainties of the future. Whatever may come, I will meet it with a serene mind."

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Righteous Indignation.

I just read MrSponsorPants post for today, then sat for a moment,  lost in recollection of my own past coping mechanisms.
I was an exceptionally angry woman, when I began attending Al-Anon meetings. I'd had a rough time of it as a kid; I'd been abused in every way possible.  I grew into an adult brimming with resentment, and seething with rage. I was furious from the time I awoke until I drifted off to sleep at night, and only the subject of my fury changed; my rage was constant, and it was set on "high."

I was lonely, having been taught from a toddler that people couldn't be trusted. I desired intimacy, and feared it. I couldn't handle letting anyone get too close to me, terrified that they would discern the deeply flawed individual I perceived myself to be, and reject me. I was a strange mixture of no boundaries in some areas, and unassailable battlements in others.

I'll never forget a conversation with my first sponsor. We were in her kitchen, preparing a meal, and talking. (From this vantage point, I'm sure it was more that I was talking, and she was attempting to get a word in edgewise, no easy task when I was at full throttle) I was ranting on about how another person had let me down, and my feelings about this, and when I paused to draw breath, she interjected quickly, "Yes, well, righteous indignation is delicious, but it's not very useful as a way of dealing with the issue..."

I stopped short. I was offended that she would label my feelings as righteous indignation. I was offended that she would suggest that I had anything to do with it, the other person was wrong, couldn't she see that? (Years later, we had a laughing fit over the look on my face, and how she had, with that one gentle comment, completely ruined my enjoyment of righteous indignation for all time. It was just ... never the same afterwards.)

I have a choice. I can choose to work to make my time on earth worthwhile through my own efforts, or I can expect/demand that other people fufill my wants and needs, and pronounce them lacking when they fall short. (I seem to be harping on a theme this week.)

My first sponsor taught me that perspective is everything. Where is my focus? Outside myself, narrowed in to the details of the other person's alleged crimes and misdemeanors? What can I hope to achieve by that? I can't change other people; all I ever managed to do was to make two of us miserable, instead of just me.

I recently ran into someone I hadn't seen in a couple of years.  He was furious that his son had asked him not to come over for a while, didn't he have the right to see his grandchildren? Gentle exploration of what had taken place before that request, elicited the information that this guy had become angry about something his son had said to him, and had hurled an object across the room. Narrowly missing one grandchild.

He had no concept of how his own behavior had precipitated the request to stay away - he was too busy feeling righteously indignant about being denied access to his beloved grandchildren.

I asked him, "Does your son have the right to his feelings?"
He replied, "Of course he does!" (frowning at me, for the ridiculousness of the question.)
I asked, "How did you feel when your father became angry and threw things around?"
He looked at me, not wanting to reply - he can't lie in response to that sort of direct question.
Finally, grudgingly, "I hated it. I was afraid of him."
I asked, "Is it possible that your son is feeling that same way about you and your anger?"
Long pause. Really long pause. Then, "Absolutely."
He seemed deflated. I suggested he call his son, make an amend, and take it from there.

After saying goodbye to this gentleman, I couldn't help but relate to the way he had conveniently erased his own unacceptable behavior from his short-term memory, and was only concentrating upon the way he felt his son had wronged him - asking him to stay away. Before Al-Anon, this is just how I operated. It was what kept me from achieving what I wanted most: intimacy with others - close loving friendships, and a healthy marriage.

"We are quick enough at perceiving and weighing what we suffer from others, but we mind not what others suffer from us."

         Thomas A'Kempis

Monday, December 28, 2009

Principles Above Personalities.

From the ODAT, page 362:

"Everything that happens to me as a person, everything that involves my relations with my group, can be ironed out by applying the Al-Anon principles. This lifts all discussion far above the level of personalities and brings about harmonious solutions."

I have found this to be true in all areas of my life. Recently I received an email from an individual who can be somewhat abrasive, but also capable of great kindness and generosity - a prickly sort of person. Before Al-Anon, I'd not have been able to see past the spiky safety barrier, to the fearful person crouched behind it, longing for friendship and connection, but unable to come out from behind their defenses. I'd have seen the defenses as the person, rather than a symptom of their consuming fear.

Through Al-Anon, I have learned that if I put principles above personalitites, I can accept others as they are, without feeling the need to tell them how to improve. I've long since lost that arrogant belief that the world should march to the beat of my personal drum. I've come to understand that much of what bothers me about other people, had/has more to do with my own shortcomings and inability to accept, than any deficiencies on their part.

Where once I searched for reasons to exclude or reject others, (because they didn't measure up to my arbitrary standards, or had hurt my feelings in some way, deliberate or unintended - I too, was a very prickly person at one time) now I find myself searching for ways to include, to welcome, and to give comfort and affectionate support. I no longer act upon my first reactive response. I allow myself to feel it, try not to judge myself for having had it, but I don't take it as the only possible response. I wait it out. I reconsider. I examine my motives. I ask myself:  Is this kind? Is this necessary? Would I wish to be treated this way?

This seismic change in me, is a direct result of working to put into practise in my life, the Twelve Steps and Traditions, and the wisdom contained therein.

I've learned that when my response is lightning fast negativity, or offense taken, or judgement of the other, that's my character defects at work. When I take a moment or two to let those initial reactions subside, I'm making room for love and acceptance.
God's love. This is a never-ending spring. I can pour it over those with whom I come into daily contact, and get myself soaked in it, in the process. Of such choices, is serenity composed.

"Principles above personalities" has, over the years I've been in 12-Step, evolved from a dimly perceived, vague sort of concept, into a crystal-clear plan for living. I choose it each time I bite back a sharp rejoinder: wave another driver into the space opened in front of me in traffic: take a service committment: make a program call: take a deep breath and say something humorous instead of grumbling: make eye contact with a stranger and smile, instead of hastily averting my gaze.

I'm given dozens of these choices in a day. I pray to see them as opportunities to spread love, respect for others, and connection.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Doing My Part.

The last line in today's reading in the ODAT is:

"God helps those who help themselves."

I've been thinking about this a lot lately, with all the negativity we've run across since we decided to sell our house and move to the city. I've learned in Al-Anon that whenever I substitute someone else's judgement for my own, I will regret it. That lesson has made it possible for me to make choices and work to implement them, regardless of who is saying what to me. Time and again, I've had almost everyone I talk to, flatly telling me that whatever it is I'm going to do, won't work. I've learned to smile politely, say something noncommittal, and keep going.

I try to be open and aware of the cues from my Higher Power - when I'm on the right path, things slide into place with ease, and amazing speed. Which isn't to say that I haven't done hours, days, weeks of preparation work beforehand. That is the part that the naysayers don't see, or chose to ignore: the hours of slog and grind behind the successful outcome.

I know that if I do the work, pay attention to the signals from my HP, adapt and strive to always be making smarter choices, I will succeed. It's that simple. And that difficult. But as an old friend used to say, "What else have you got to do?"

Friday, December 25, 2009

Christmas Day, and Dinner.

We had a lot of fun today. It started with our morning coffee, exchanging gifts and laughing at our male dog, who feels it is his job to help unwrap gifts. He will stand on his hind legs, front paws on the chair, looking eagerly at us, asking to begin. We rip an edge loose, give him the ok, and he will leap backwards, paper in mouth, tearing a huge strip off, which he then rips into smaller and smaller pieces, until the carpet is covered with paper snow, and we are engulfed in helpless giggles. Each time he gets the piece of paper reduced to some satisfyingly small bits, he comes back wanting to begin again.

I grew up in a household where dogs weren't even allowed into the livingroom, and behavior of this sort would have been considered very bad form. The first time our little dog stood up looking to get in on the ripping action, and my spouse offered him an edge to rip, I said, "Oh, don't let him do that!"

They looked at me, mystified, and asked, "Why not?" I replied something about how he'd start ripping up newspapers and other papers. My spouse said firmly that the dog was perfectly aware of which papers were made to rip and which weren't, and they'd prove it to me.

A newspaper was fetched, and edge of it offered to the dog. The dog sniffed it, looked at him, and shoved the newspaper aside, looking for wrapping paper beneath it. They offered him a few sheets of  computer paper - same result, he had no interest whatsoever, he wanted some more of that stuff we got to rip. To this day, he has never ripped anything but wrapping paper. I have always considered dogs quite a bit more intelligent than most people give them credit for, but that surprised even me.

After coffee and gifts, we did a few hours of relaxed packing. All the pictures are down from the walls, the decorative bowls, etc, vanished into boxes. The house begins to feel as if we really are going in six days.

Then we got cleaned up, cooked our contribution to the dinner, and off we went to the Alano Club. It was wonderful; I enjoyed myself hugely. I ran into a few folks I haven't seen in a while, and  received some great warm affectionate hugs. I had serious and silly conversations, ate until I couldn't eat another bite, and felt at peace and so blessed.

I went out to visit the two huge dogs hanging out on the back deck with the smokers. I've gotten so accustomed to 10 & 20 pound dogs, that I'd forgotten just how big an 80 pound dog is. One of them mashed her huge head into my thigh and wagged her entire body while I gently whacked her sides with open hands - she was pushing so hard she made me stagger backwards a bit. I adore big ol' friendly dogs.  I think it's one of life's greatest pleasures to share some affection with a trusting dog, to whom I may be a complete stranger, but who senses my devotion for them, and in turn, is delighted to have a mutual admiration moment with me.

At one point in the evening, I sat at our table, gazing around the room, thinking about how almost everyone in the room, had received the precious gift of sobriety through the Twelve Steps of this amazing and life-changing program. People who might, in the ordinary course of life, never spend time together, were gathered this evening in celebration not only of the holiday, but also for having been given a second chance at life. When the grace was said by an AA member before the meal, there was a resounding, heartfelt "A-men" that resonated in my chest.

Keep coming back, it works.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Gratitude List.

First on the list, is gratitude that the two lumps on our older, wiser, more dignified dog, appear to be just fatty lumps. He will be being operated upon for their removal next week. I'm grateful we can afford to get this done.

This guy is the first small dog we've had, and my spouse has a tendency to forget that at 21lbs, he can't carry the treat load that an 80-pounder can. Our vet gently admonished us that he was a little too "portly." And this is a dog that gets at least an hour of brisk exercise a day, either walking in the park, or in inclement weather, on his favourite toy - the treadmill. Imagine how portly he'd be without that, and if he were more of a couch potato, instead of the highly-charged, always-running zippy little dog that he is. He's a type-A personality.

Our little female is more of the "First, establish whether whatever it is is worth it, before waking up all the way" type.

I'm grateful for Al-Anon, and all the people over the years who have given of their experience, strength, and hope so freely, to keep this incredible fellowship strong and growing. I'm grateful for my sponsor, and my sponsees. I'm grateful when some small thing I've said has lit the way for another program member, in the same way my path has been lit by the comments and sharings I've heard. I'd still be stumbling around in the dark, cursing, were it not for this blessed, simple-and-yet-excruciatingly-demanding program of Al-Anon.

I'm grateful for all the recovery bloggers who share themselves for the rest of us, and for those who read my blog, and leave little gifts of themselves in comments - you mean a lot to me, all of you.
God bless you, keep you safe, and give you a holiday full of pleasant memories.
Happy Christmas.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Experience, Strength, and Hope. (Or Not.)

I was in the city (not the one we're moving to, but a much larger centre a couple of hours further away) overnight on Monday, got home yesterday, and called an Al-Anon friend to talk about the Al-Anon meeting I attended when I was down there. I've been to this meeting a few times over the years; each time I've gone to this city and stayed overnight, I go to a meeting. I like the freshness of different viewpoints of recovery.

The meeting on Monday was a Christmas candlelight meeting - a custom at quite a few meetings in that city, during the holiday season.

I can honestly say that this was the very first time in all my years of attending Al-Anon meetings, that I've gone to the meeting in a positive frame of mind, and left feeling brought down. I found it depressing. Out of 25 or so people attending, there were only a couple of members who when they spoke, shared their experience, strength and hope - the rest were unremittingly negative. I sat and listened to a litany of complaint, blaming, angry ranting, pessimistic projections about how awful it was going to be on the day, cynicism...I felt myself slowly being dragged down to the level of the general mood in the room. After an hour and a half, with 10 or so members still left to speak, I quietly excused myself to the gentleman next to me, and slipped out the door. I had to get out of there. I walked out to my car feeling unsettled, and mildly depressed. I drove back to my hotel room wondering what effect that meeting would have upon a newcomer to Al-Anon.

I suppose I'm much more accustomed to Christmas meetings in which members discuss the ways they get through what can be a difficult time of year with their sanity intact, by using the tools of Al-Anon. I've heard people share about ways they take a few minutes to regroup when they feel challenged, perhaps nipping upstairs to read a page in their ODAT, then taking a few deep breaths and going back to the family gathering, or calling a program friend to share a quick, rueful laugh about the ways Christmas, and family, can challenge even the strongest program.

I'm more used to members offering what has worked for them at this difficult time of year, so that I've gone home from my Christmas meetings feeling revitalised, having heard useful suggestions for coping with a stressful situation in an Al-Anon way. I've heard quiet gratitude, and loud laughter. I've heard holiday stories told to illustrate the way Al-Anon has made it possible for Christmas to be joyful again. I've told my own turkey story, (which is too icky to be shared here, but if you truly want to be grossed out, you can email me, and I'll share it with you) and heard a zillion others. I've always, and I am not exaggerating for effect, always, left a Christmas Al-Anon meeting feeling happy, peaceful, and full of serenity.

I felt sad that this was so lacking from the meeting I attended in the city. What help are we to the other members of an Al-Anon group, if we only complain and blame? They, and we, can get that negativity anywhere and everywhere. Program is for " that lead to serenity."

I drove back to my hotel, took my little dog for the last walk of the day, then sat in my room and prayed a heartfelt prayer that the members of that group would be granted serenity and peace this Christmas.

I drifted off to sleep bathed in gratitude for the positive attitudes, help, and support I've received from Al-Anon, in the years I've been a member. I know I tend to repeat myself about this, but it's a huge part of my life, this gratitude. I remember very well the angry, resentful, defensive, deeply unhappy person I was before program, and I know that I am who I am today, only because of 12-Step, and my Higher Power.

Monday, December 21, 2009


It's our wedding anniversary today, and my spouse always gives me a pair of earrings, a custom started way back when, in a time when money was very tight, but they wanted to mark the occasion with a gift of some sort. The earrings have ranged from beautiful to hilarious - this year it was the latter.  I opened the package and gave a great shout of delight - they know me so well after our years together. Their gift from me was also a rousing success, so that was fun, too.

We have the ability to make each other laugh, and that has never faltered, through good times and bad, financial struggles and times of plenty. I treasure that.

I pray that whenever I begin to be caught up in taking their inventory, God will turn my focus to my own shortcomings.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Christmas Alternatives.

We move in 11 days. We haven't spent the holiday with family in many years - they either live at the other end of the country, and fight like mad dogs whenever they get together, or were abusive, and I have no contact with them. Friends have offered, and we did accept a New Year's Eve invitation, but we usually spend Christmas Day with just the two of us, because that's how we like it. Over the years we've been together, we've each slowly, gradually, come back from hating the holiday, to being able to enjoy it in each other's company. The prospect of cooking turkey dinner feels daunting and just too much this year, so we were discussing alternatives. We can go to a restaurant, or we can go to the dinner held at the Alano club; that might be fun, I've never done that. I know I have always enjoyed 12-Step functions, seem to come home with a sore stomach from laughing, and the feeling of camraderie, connection, and love, is powerful and uplifting. When I go to these sorts of 12-Step gatherings, there is always a moment in which I can feel God in the room so strongly, it brings tears to my eyes.

Today, I'm going to do my yoga exercises, walk the dogs, and then pack. I've been talked into letting go of the humungous steel desk I've had for the last 10 years. My spouse has moved that sucker twice, and couldn't face moving it again: it weighs a ton, and is a pain to manhandle through doorways, being 6'x3' of rock-solid construction. I bought a folding table for temporary use.

I will be offline from Jan 1st to the 3rd, when the internet connection should be up and running again. From now until then, my posting may continue to be sporadic, but I'll try to get to it when I can.

Today, I'm feeling excited at the banquet of Al-Anon meetings the city offers; all those choices, all that recovery, all that wisdom! What a treat, and a blessing, and a delight that prospect is.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Changes, con't.

Yesterday we signed papers on the closing of this house. I'll be a little sad to leave it, as this has been a great house to live in, but I'm excited to be moving back to the city; I've missed it. I'm not someone who has ever liked living in small towns. I know many people do, but I'm a city girl at heart. The city we are moving to is not large, it's small by some standards, but it's big enough to offer the conveniences and opportunities not available in our present locale. It's a harbour city - beautiful, with many large parks and recreation areas, and lots of greenery even in the built-up areas.
I'm feeling calm about the move, and ready to go. I've wanted this ever since we first moved out of the city because of my partner's work - we went where we were sent, but I have always wished we didn't have to go . People who love small towns just can't understand why anyone would prefer the city - over and over I've heard, "But the traffic!"

I learned how to drive in city traffic in rush hour, my very first lesson. The instructor took me out right into the heat and noise and rush of it, and when I said in fear and trembling, "Can't I start on a quieter street?" replied firmly that this is what I was going to be exposed to, so I'd better get used to it, and learn how to deal with it. Because of him, city traffic has never intimidated me, whether I'm in small cities, or major centres with what a small-town friend describes as "sixteen lanes of traffic going in forty-five directions."

I've lived away from the city for about 14 years now, and always wanted to be back, and soon, I will be. I'm grateful for all the experiences I've had in the two small towns where we've lived, and for the people I've met there. But I am also deeply grateful to be going home.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Thinking Out Loud.

From the ODAT, page 349:

"...answers came not from books, but from mutual caring and thinking out loud with someone you felt comfortable with."

This has been one of the most helpful teachings of 12-Step -  learning to reason things out with someone else. When I'm inside my head, I have only myself, and old critical, parental voices as my guides, and they have both been proven to have faulty judgement, as both can be too obsessed with listing off my shortcomings, real and imagined, or berating me for mistakes past, present, and not made yet, to be of any help in making decisions.

Time and again I've found myself expounding to my sponsor or a program friend, and glanced up from my examination of my hands, (a habit I have when deep in thought)  to see them demonstrating the unmistakeable signs of being engaged in a heroic struggle to maintain their composure, and not laugh. Biting of lips, strange breathing, compulsive swallowing, all  indications of the same fight, and nowadays, just seeing those signs makes me start laughing.

At one time, I'd have felt offended, but now I'm well-enough acquainted with my own insane thinking, to grasp the plain truth that there are times when it's just plain funny that I can imbue trifles with such import, and then spend hours repeatedly picking them over, when I have the alternative choice of enjoying my life.

An AA friend jokes that he used to spend time with his sponsor doing the mental equivalent of bashing himself in the forehead with a length of 2x4, and then complaining to his sponsor of the resulting swelling, bruising, and pain. His sponsor would sit and watch this, saying at intervals, "You could always put the board down, you're the one holding it..."  and my friend would argue that no, no, his sponsor didn't understand, WHACK! he needed to do this in order to think, WHACK! and couldn't his sponsor find a way to help him make this less painful?

His sponsor would reply that he couldn't; when you verbally and emotionally abuse yourself, it's going to be painful, and that's just the way it goes, no way to make abuse feel good. There's the option of not being abusive, of course, why not try that one?

I get such a great mental image when my friend shares this, because I did that same thing for years before Al-Anon, bashing and smashing at myself with emotionally abusive thought patterns, and then wondering why I felt depressed and hopeless.

I felt depressed and hopeless because I was always telling myself what a stupid, useless, ugly, unlovable, waste of space I was - I had incorporated into my own thinking, the verbal abuse which began from an outside source in childhood. Before Al-Anon, I'd never questioned this.

Thinking out loud, I'll often hear myself say something, and immediately realise how demented it sounds. Unspoken, but continually revolving in my internal dialogue, it sounds quite plausible.

Reasoning things out with someone else is helpful, instructive, educating, and kind. That's another concept I found new and interesting - kindness to myself. I had to learn to refrain from saying mean things to myself: it doesn't help, it only creates further misery. Put down the mental 2x4, and talk to a trusted listener - someone who won't give advice, but who will point out the bits that jump out at them as barking mad possibly needing further investigation.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Moments Of Connection.

Until recently, when I resigned because we're moving out of town, I worked as a volunteer for the last 8 years in the same place. The nature of this work was such that it has changed me greatly in some ways.

I have completely lost any shyness about approaching strangers. I can walk up to anyone, anytime, anywhere, and open a conversation. I will often find myself out in public, moved to speak to someone near me, and they will take the opportunity to pour out their feelings into my willing ear. I don't know how they recognise me as a safe person with whom they can share this, but they do. I used to be surprised when this happened, but now I just accept that this is part of my life.

At the airport yesterday, I felt moved to speak to a woman washing her hands in the sink next to me. She shared with me a sad situation which was happening in her life, and we spent a few minutes talking. We said goodbye, and went our different ways. I went back to stand at the Arrivals gate, thinking of the way my Higher Power offers me the precious gift of the trust of strangers, the chance to engage and perhaps offer some small comfort, and how humbling this is. I feel that what is happening isn't about me at all - it's about God working through me. I'm touched on a deep personal level when this happens, and never lose the sense of wonder at the way two  strangers can connect on a strong emotional level, if both people are open, and willing to take the chance.

I learned that in 12-Step. I learned that through sharing, and listening to other people's sharings, at meetings.

I have gone from feeling like a misfit and an outcast, to this place in my life - that is the miracle, and the blessing, of Al-Anon.

I'll leave you today with a great picture - our friend is in the shower right now, singing at the top of his lungs, and sitting outside the bathroom door, singing along at the top of his lungs, is our little male dog.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Old Friends.

Tomorrow we're off to collect a long-time friend from the airport - he's out here visiting family, and is taking a short side trip, for a one-night stay with us. We've talked to him regularly on the phone, and via email, during the 6 or so years since he moved away, but this will be the first time we've had the chance to see him. I'm excited, he's a wonderful person; stubborn and loving, witty and kind-hearted.

He once helped my spouse do some renovation work on a place we owned. I'd be working by myself in another room, and couldn't help but laugh, listening to the two of them. They would alternate between impassioned arguments over the proper way to install whatever it was, and uncontrollable laughing fits.

I once told them that when they were arguing, they sounded like an old married couple. In perfect unison, they each said quickly, "I'm the man!"

I can't think of this friend without smiling - I'm grateful to be given the gift of a visit from him.

Tonight, I'm feeling very tired from all the driving around, running around, phone calls, paperwork, etc, involved in selling this house. I'm on autopilot, and actually drifted off while sitting at my computer, with my little dog warm on my lap. I closed my eyes "for a moment," and jolted awake a minute or so later. Being this tired makes me worry less - I can't bring myself to expend energy I don't have, on things I cannot change. So in that way, plodding along through a miasma of fatigue can be a positive.
Keeps me in the moment, rather than having to say "God grant me serenity," I'm yawning hugely, and repeating a different mantra: "Oh, I'm so tired..."

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

That Sounds Like Fun...

I discovered when we bought this house, that realtors seem to have magic cameras, which can make houses and yards look absolutely massive in the listing, and then when one tours the actual house, it turns out to be distinctly poky - I learned from that, to read the details of the listing, don't just look at the pretty pictures - read the fine print.

I've also been playing with Google Earth, using it as a way to get another look at houses. I've already had one surprise - a fully renovated, and updated ranch-style house cleverly photographed, so that the houses on either side weren't visible. On Google Earth, it looked a bit like a mini-dachshund squeezed in between two Great Danes - a ranch style house with two story monsters on either side. It's a fascinating indication of how much tweaking is possible, to make something look like that which it is not.

Today, I had a newcomer come over for a visit with me and my dogs - it was great fun. My little female sized her up instantly, and within 30 seconds, was up on her lap, and then in her arms, being cradled like a baby. She stayed there the entire time, which is a little unusual for her, she's still a bit hesitant with strangers. I think she felt the visitor's need for dog-love, so lavished that upon her, as dogs so willingly do, asking nothing in return. My other little dog did his bit, entertaining her with displays of his ferociousness when it comes to beating the dickens out of a stuffed toy. We laughed at the way he would come into the room with a different toy, and then stand and wait until he had our full attention, before commencing his performance.

I had wondered, as I drove over to pick her up, if we'd have trouble finding things to talk about, but that wasn't the case - she got into the car, we started to talk, and we didn't stop until I dropped her back off at home again, hours later. I really enjoyed her company, she's a hoot, and her love for animals is a beautiful sight.

I had a great day today, and I hope you all did, too. God Bless.

Worrying Is My Comfort Zone.

Yesterday, I had the rather disconcerting experience, of being granted sufficient detachment to really see one of my character defects in action. I'm talking about worry. I was raised by a champion worrier, and have fought with this aspect of my character through all my years of recovery, with varying levels of success.

I've had wonderful periods where I've managed to let go of worry and just float serenely through my life, and it's given me a taste of how life can feel, when I'm not obsessing and fretting. (I want more of that.)

Yesterday morning, we were preparing to go to the bank. I made some comment to my spouse, and was answered with, "You're just looking for something to worry about." I replied with some heat, "No I'm not!" and then went into another room to do whatever, and began to think about my response - I know I only ever respond that way, when the other person's remark has been accurate. That comment got me thinking, and I decided to pay close attention to my day, and the worries therein.

We were successful at the bank, and were not even out of the parking lot onto the street, before I said something along the lines of, "I'm feeling a bit anxious about not having heard from anyone wanting to do the house inspection for the sale..."

I heard myself, and realised that I had removed one topic, "bank" and immediately slotted another, "buyer's house inspection," into place, with not a moment's peace in between them. 

I watched myself do this one more time that day, and wondered, how much reality the worrying could have, if I can slot one topic out, and slot another in, without missing a step?

I realised that the topics are irrelevant, they seem to be completely interchangeable when I'm in this mode. I had always believed that the worries were relevant, and I just needed to let go of thinking about whatever topic was on my mind, as in, just let go of worrying about such and such. Yesterday, watching myself, I realised that when life is changing around me, even if I'm the one who has instigated the changes, I move into worry mode, and the topics are immaterial, it's the worrying itself which is my comfort zone during these periods.

(This may sound self-evident to you, but believe me, I was gobsmacked to discover it.)

Each one of the worries I'd listed off to my spouse, was listed back to me as completely beyond my control. I know that, so what is this all about? I believe it's about always having gone through times of change in my life, with a big knot of fear and worry in my gut, and being so accustomed to that fluttery awful stressful feeling, that I do not even question it anymore - that's just how I feel during these times.

I love this program; without it, I'd never have set myself the task yesterday of paying attention to my internal dialogue, in order to see if I could see any patterns. I'd never have realised that in times of stress, it isn't that I worry, and I don't like worrying, it's that worrying during times of stress feels right, feels comfortable, feels like an old sweater I put on against the cold draft of change.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

More on "Normal."

One of the biggest reasons we are moving, is the climate here - too much rain, not enough sun. I find it depressing.

Some folks who've lived here all their lives, don't think this town gets any less sun than anyplace else - this is staggering, as the federal website for weather states this place is the second rainiest of 100 cities studied over a period of 30 years!

When discussing this with my spouse, they made the point that if you haven't lived anywhere else, this is normal weather.

That got me thinking about the ways in which we learn to tolerate conditions, and "normalise" them. Since we decided to move, we've had people ask us in all seriousness what exactly is it that we dislike about the climate? (After being asked that for the twentieth time, my souse replied pleasantly, "Oh, you know: the spring, the summer, the fall, the winter.") We've seen people take offense at the suggestion that this climate leaves something to be desired: the same people who, on another day, will bend one's ear with their own weather complaints.

I've been seeing a lot of parallels with my own thinking in times past - refusal to accept reality, in favour of turning my face away, and telling myself it isn't that bad, this is just the way life is.

The weather here is that bad. The town sits in a valley, and gets socked in with cloud cover, year round. One can drive up and over the pass, and it will be sunny on the other side of the mountain. I've been entertaining myself looking at the highway cameras for the city we're moving to, and it will be beaming sunshine over there, while we sit under a cloud of grey. I can't wait to move.

Before we'd made the decision to relocate, I had pretty much resigned myself to not complaining, trying to be positive. Now that the decision is made, and I can see an end to living here, I'm no longer repressing my feelings about the climate in this town. I'm realising just how negatively it has affected me.

This has been a pattern for me all my life - tolerate the intolerable while stuffing my true feelings about it, until such time as I decide to stop - then the reality of it pours over me, and I wonder how on earth I stood it for so long? One way, was to substitute other people's judgment for my own. I permitted others to tell me that it wasn't so bad, and tried to force myself to believe it. After all, we'd bought a house here, we had to stay, right?

I'd just learn to live with it, that's all, other people did. Until a night about two months ago, when we were having a really intimate discussion, and the truth of my feelings about living here burst out, and surprised us both. We discussed it over a week or so, and then decided to call the realtor, put the house on the market, sell up, and move.

Yesterday, we accepted an offer on the house, subject to a home inspection. Today, the sun is shining, like a promise. My little dogs were lying in patches of sun on the kitchen floor, while I stood gazing out the window, overwhelmed with feelings of gratitude.

Friday, December 4, 2009


This was the topic at my home group last night, and Mr. SponsorPants has a good post on it today. When I was new to Al-Anon, I found it rather puzzling that we were warned against self-obsession, while being told to practise the Steps, which require rigorous self-examination - what's the difference? Either way, I'm thinking about myself, aren't I?

Yes, but it's what I'm thinking about myself. In self-obsession, I'm on a negative path, which spirals ever downward - I've never yet surfaced from 4 hours of self-obsession feeling refreshed or energised. Self-obsession focuses only on the negatives in my life, and has running through it, a strong vein of resentment, frustration, anger, and self-pity.

In contrast, self-examination does leave me feeling more positive and hopeful. I've got the experience of my years in Al-Anon, to remind myself, that if I can set aside all my judgements about my own behavior or thinking, and just see it for what it is, without having to lash or shame myself for it, I can let go of what doesn't work, keep what works, and plow forward on my great adventure.

When I let go of shame about my character defects, I can share them with my sponsees, and perhaps allow them to realise that what they are thinking/feeling/wanting is only their human frailties, not evil and contemptible.

When I'm not obsessing about myself, I can share myself freely with others. I can give the gift of my experience, strength, and hope. I can offer my love to the members of my Al-Anon groups, and to the larger world outside them.

I know it sounds like a gooey greeting card to say this, but love really does grow as we share it. There is always enough to go around - a limitless supply - the very act of giving love replenishes the spring.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Being Informed.

I don't watch the news. I've learned that watching the news leaves me feeling:

I'm well aware of man's inhumanity to man, and to his fellow creatures on the earth, I don't need a daily reminder via my tv. I've pretty much stopped admitting to this non-watching of the news, because I decided years ago that if one more person asked in amazement, "Don't you want to be informed?" I'd start screaming.

No, I don't want to be informed of the latest rapes, murders, thefts, muggings, beatings, deadly car crashes, wars, abuses, or any of the other millions of horrific actions people choose to take on a daily basis. I can't do a damn thing about any of it, so I don't want to hear about it. It's all completely beyond my control; a steady diet of the terrible things people do only depresses me, and triggers my negative thinking. I start to view the world, and mankind, as hopelessly evil and corrupt. If that's the case, then what's the use of any of my small effort? It's a teaspoon to an ocean. Etc, etc, until I'm in such a state of gloom, that it takes concerted effort to climb back out of the pit.

Now and then, I will have a conversation with someone who is determined to talk about some horror from the news, and who wants to describe it to me in full gory detail. I've learned to say -politely - that I don't want to hear about it, please.

I've moved far and away past the point of caring if others think I'm wierd for not watching the news, or reading the paper. I had a conversation with someone last night, who said that I should watch the news "so I knew what people are capable of."
I learned that in my childhood; it's not a lesson one is likely to forget. Daily reminders of it aren't good for me, they take me down a road I do not wish to travel.

I've worked to develop a more positive attitude about life. Watching the news makes this positive attitude impossible for me to sustain, so I don't watch the news. It's a simple fix.  Sometimes life really is that easy, but I complicate it unnecessarily, because I just cannot accept that the solution has been sitting there in front of me the entire time.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Will I Ever Be Normal?

A program friend was telling me that she likes a certain tv show, except for the fact that at the end, while the credits are beginning to roll, they always break out the booze, in celebration. She went on for a good two minutes in a mini-rant about always needing alcohol to mark achievments, yada yada yada...when she wound down, I asked her why she didn't just switch channels before it reached that point in the show?

She gazed at me for a moment, mouth pursed, brow furrowed, before she burst out laughing - this had truly never entered her head as a option. When she calmed down from her laughing fit, she asked half-jokingly, "Will I ever be normal?"

I asked her, "Who cares? Why strive for conformity, or "normality," when instead, you can strive to be the best version of yourself, with all your attendant quirks and interesting personality traits? We don't love you for your proximity to an artificial baseline of behavior, decreed as "normal;"  we love you for the delightful difference of you."

She grinned at me, saying "Can you repeat that in one-syllable words, please? (She likes to puncture my pomposity, this friend)
She went on to say thoughtfully, "I like that, the delightful difference of me."

In my journey in 12-Step, when I have tried to force myself into an arbitrary category, I've ended up bruised around the edges, because there are all these bits of me that do not fit, and cannot be squashed into that tiny spot of "acceptably normal." I spent too many years feeling like some wierdo misfit, because I couldn't make myself feel or think or want what I believed I was supposed to.

Today, I'm working towards not trying to fit myself into any standard but the one with my name on it. The one that I've designed, with the help of Al-Anon, and my Higher Power.

Now if I can just reach a place where I'm willing to let each and every other person on the face of God's green earth do the same, with no input from me, that would be Heaven, don't you think?