Friday, December 31, 2010

Where Does The Time Go?

It goes wherever I spend it. I can be a miser with my time, only portioning out the smallest of amounts to my recovery, my friendships, my dogs, my art - or I can be lavish.

I prefer lavish. I prefer hours spent on program - lost in communion with a sponsee, or program friends, exploring the boundless depths of Al-Anon: reasoning things out with someone else (until we are at best, satisfied, or at least, more serene and relaxed) discussing the fact that even when we don't feel like we are getting anywhere, we still are, and isn't that hysterical, the way we _____?

When I decide to be lavish with my time, I feel enriched, invigorated, alive. We get back what we give to life. If I'm stingy with my time and my love, I will find the world feels stingy in return. When I'm caught up in protecting myself, avoiding knowledge which will require me to change to accomodate it, or any of the other myriad of methods I've used, to get in my own way in life, I may be telling myself that I'm focusing on myself, but the truth is, I'm really only navel-gazing.

There's a difference. Navel-gazing is self-absorption, which interferes with my ability to recognise my character defects, and my self-defeating behavior, with any detachment or accuracy. My self-absorption usually has a strong taint of self-pity in the mix, and that's not healthy for me. It may feel good for a little while, but it's what a friend calls "a fast ride to nowhere, in a rocking chair."

Yes, I can only know what I know, and be as enlightened as I am, at this one moment. But I am not sentenced to a lifetime of those limitations; Al-Anon offers an ever-deeper understanding of life and of myself, if I only step forward and hold out my hand to receive that gift being held out to me.

I pray for the courage, in the coming year, to spend of myself and my time with a gleeful lack of restraint, and with a generosity of heart. My Higher Power is in charge of restocking.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010


I've heard it said that an alcoholic will stop maturing emotionally, at approximately the same age they began to drink. I have seen ample proof of this - men and women who are in middle age, yet act as though they'd never made it past puberty. They can be champion sulkers, have trouble with authority figures, be stubborn in self-defeating ways, all manner of childish behavior.

This can be one of the most infuriating issues with which those who love them, we co-dependents, have to deal. Some days, I could be a public service ad for the way Al-Anon helps us to mature - I keep my cool, I repeat what I have to say calmly and clearly until I am heard ( broken record) I detach with love. Other days, I do not manage it near so well. I become irritated and begin to get sucked into the circular reasoning, and I feel self-pityingly angry that I'm still dealing with this, at my age! It's not fair! (now that is a child's cry, if ever I've heard one)

I backslide, I lose my focus, I just can't cope with it. Tonight, I arrived home after having been out doing a favour for the alcoholic, feeling exhausted, cold and wet. I wanted to be met with care and concern - being met with another demand before I'd even taken off my coat and shoes felt intolerable - and I said so, knowing as I spoke, that I'd probably be punished for this later on with an angry outburst on some other topic.

True to form, this did take place. I was hungry, angry, lonely and tired. I sat on a kitchen chair, feeling completely done in - emptied out, with nothing to give myself, or anyone else. I thought of my having agreed to meet a sponsee for coffee and a talk in a few hours, and wished I could stay home and collapse. I forced myself into the shower, made a salad I didn't have time to eat, shoved it into the fridge for later, and off I went to meet my sponsee.

I drove to the coffeehouse feeling sad, exhausted, self-pitying, irritated, and probably "unreasonable without knowing it." But I love this woman I was going to meet - she has a delicious sense of humour, and a kind heart, so I knew I'd feel better after being with her for a while. I knew we'd cover lots of ground, and it would all be good. And it was, of course, in the way it always is - we receive a thousand times more than we ever give to those we sponsor, if they only knew it.

I drove home 2 hours later, feeling immense gratitude. I was going home to a delicious salad (mandarin orange slices, mmmm!) which I was going to eat in a warm room with two beautiful canine companions. My alcoholic may be relatively new to AA - but he is there, and he's working his program as best he can - there's hope in my home.

When I'm hungry/angry/lonely/tired, life's problems can feel monumental. I can feel as if there is no way on earth for me to manage or surmount them. Self-care isn't just bubblebaths and manicures.

Self-care is not allowing the view of the world which presents itself to us when we are at our lowest point, to be accepted as the one and only truth.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Clouded Thinking.

My thinking is clouded when I am in denial about my character defects. When I'm convinced that my way of thinking, seeing, relating, acting, feeling, is the one and only correct way, I have lost my ability to keep an open mind.

Yesterday's reading in Courage to Change, is about this - getting stuck in the closed-minded rigid belief that we are right, and the other person is wrong. I like this:

"I don't have to invalidate anyone else's views in order to validate my own. It's all right to disagree. Today I will respect someone's right to think differently."

and this quote from Voltaire:

"Think for yourself, and let others enjoy the privilege of doing so too."

Many people become defensive if offered a view different from their own - I know I did this for many years in Al-Anon. I don't know where it happened, but somewhere along my road to freedom, I let go of that. I can make my point, and hear the other person say that they firmly believe the exact opposite, and it's ok. It no longer feels like a challenge that I must meet and a fight I must win, it's only their opinion, in the same way that it's only mine.

I'm grateful to have received this gift from working the Steps, because it means that I don't lose my serenity when I discover that someone doesn't think as I do - I can be good friends with those with whom it might be said that I have nothing in common at all, but our shared committment to 12-Step, yet how marvellously we get along, and what wonderful far-reaching conversations we can have. I take that somewhat for granted, I think, until it's pointed out to me again, and then I marvel at the way this program unites us, even with all of our differences. That, when I stop to consider it, is purely amazing.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Let It Begin With Me, Ch 2.

We're going to a dinner party this evening, at the home of friends we've made since we moved down here. We will be leaving early, so that we can each go to our meetings - a newcomer took the key to open up for my home group this week, and I don't want to leave them sitting all by themselves - attendance can be rather sparse this time of year. I think of this quote from Al-Anon:

"When anyone, anywhere, reaches out for help, let the hand of Al-Anon always be there, and Let It Begin With Me."

I remember my own gratitude, when I was new to program, and living with active alcoholism, that meetings still took place during the holiday season, Those meetings were an hour of sanity and peace - a needed respite from a wildly chaotic home life.

People not in program don't understand, and I don't expect them to. They say, "You can miss a meeting for once, can't you? Especially this time of year?"

I reply, "Actually, no, especially not this time of year."

When I was new, living with active alcoholism, in such awful pain and distress - when I reached out for help, the hand of Al-Anon was always there.

Long-time members left their families and friends for a while, on Christmas Eve, or Christmas day, and went to a meeting.

They drove through bad weather, and holiday traffic: went in to the halls or churches, stamping their feet and shivering with cold, greeting each other with gusto and delight, set up chairs and tables, books and pamphlets, so that when I, (and others just like me) came hesitantly into the room, in the hopes of finding a meeting, we were met with warmth and love - the hand of Al-Anon.

My first year, I was unsure of how it worked, and arrived at the rec centre, wondering if I was going to find a locked room, as I walked down the seemingly endless corridor, to the last room on the right - the door was closed, and had no window - I couldn't tell if it was occupied, or not.

I will remember to my final days, the gush of tears, and the sob which escaped me, when I was halfway down the hall, heard a burst of laughter, and then the door swung open, and out came a woman carrying a coffeepot, heading for the kitchen a few rooms away. She was wearing a Santa hat, a piece of tinsel as a scarf, and she greeted me by calling, "I hope you brought your appetite, girl, there's enough Christmas baking in that room to collapse a table!"

She disappeared into the kitchen, and I ducked into the women's washroom, to get a grip on myself.

After I'd washed my face in cold water, (while telling myself that my eyes didn't really look like little boiled tomatoes they were so red,) I went into the meeting room.

Someone plopped a Santa hat onto my head, another member gave me a tinsel scarf, a third handed me a paper plate, a napkin, and gave a gentle push towards the baking table.

I walked around it, mopping up my tears with my napkin or my sleeve cuff, feeling a gratitude I cannot even begin to describe. I wasn't used to being loved "in a very special way," but even then, so new to Al-Anon, I understood that these women were demonstrating the love and generosity of the Al-Anon program at work in their lives.

Those women, and what them being there that day, meant to me - a lonely desperate newcomer - are one reason that I will be leaving tonight's party early, to attend the Al-Anon meeting.

"When anyone, anywhere, reaches out for help, let the hand of Al-Anon always be there, and Let It Begin With Me."

Thursday, December 23, 2010

My Higher Power's Fingerprints Are All Over That.

When I got this computer built for me, I asked for a very fast media program to be installed, because I do a lot of burning of 12-Step speaker cds, for both my, and my husband's, sponsees. His tend to be in rather shaky financial situations if they are newly sober, and might not have their own computer- so they appreciate the AA cds as a resource. When they're having a hard time in the small hours of the night, and don't want to wake someone up, they can put in a cd, and hear program wisdom and humour. It's great to be able to laugh at 4am, when you cannot sleep, and your demons are stirring in their various closets.

One of my husband's sponsees sent a gift for me, home with him last night  - as a thankyou for the cds I've made and shared. When I opened it, I said,

"Oh, you told him how I feel about these, eh?"

"No, no, I didn't, I didn't know he was getting you anything."

There was a short pause while I scarfed a chocolate, and my husband thought, then he laughed, and said:

"His Higher Power told him."

What I find delightful about this little incident, is - I'm not much of a chocolate lover. My spouse can bring home a massive box of mixed chocolates, and I can easily look them over, and not find one that appeals to me. I can buy a chocolate orange, eat one piece, and find it too sweet.

But these, these chocolate seashells with a truffle centre, are a mad passion - I'm crazy for them. I admire their beauty of design, and I adore the taste. I don't know what it is about them, but they are a special love of mine, and a little treat of the holiday season.

A couple of days ago, when we were out grocery shopping, my husband said, "Why don't you get yourself a box of those seashells?" and I found myself replying, "Not yet."

He laughed, and asked what on earth I meant by that? I said I didn't know, but I just didn't want them yet.

Last night, when I opened the present from his sponsee, and saw the box of chocolate seashells, my eyes filled with tears and I got one of those big lumps in my throat - it was so perfect, and so beautiful, that his sponsee had given me those  chocolates as a thankyou gift.

My Higher Power is always working in my life, and when I'm open to it, I see his fingerprints everywhere - on large issues, and on the smallest, most tender of sharings between those of us touched by alcoholism, and fighting our way back.

Bless you all.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Come Dance With Me.

Sorry for the break in blogging; for some reason, the business has been insanely busy, and so have I, with sponsees and various other obligations. I've been getting up, running like a chicken doing the headless dance, and then falling into bed at night, thinking, "Oh, I forgot to do that again, today!"

This time of year can be difficult for families and friends of alcoholics. (I do so like to state the obvious.) In my early years in Al-Anon, I swung wildly between a manic determination to "enjoy Christmas," and a debilitating despair. Some of the holidays that were most dreadful to live through, have become the funniest to recount.

At the coffeeshop after a recent meeting, we were telling "horrors of Christmas past" stories, and howling with laughter. Before Al-Anon, the humour would have escaped us, because we'd have been mired in the pain.

Holidays with an alcoholic in the family, (or a family of alcoholics,) can have us feeling like a Thompson's gazelle surrounded by hungry lionesses, all staring us down - licking their lips and switching their tails.

What recourse do we have? Use your program. Believe our fellow members, and your sponsor when they say "Call me if you need to talk."

Remember this slogan:  How Important Is It?

My first sponsor offered me a helpful way to evaluate the importance of an event: will I remember this in a week? a month? a year from now? If I won't, how much energy am I willing to expend on it?

I can compromise, if I'm not allowing anyone to trespass my boundaries in the process. I can step back, detach, take a deep breath, and let go. I can ask my Higher Power to help me. I can lower my expectations, and allow my life to flow gently through the holidays, instead of first attempting to direct the traffic, and then becoming infuriated by my lack of control over other people. That's how I dealt with the holidays before Al-Anon. Now, I can let it happen around me, and maintain my serenity.

When we both forget our anniversary, I can find it amusing, rather than distressing.

When we get parcels from my spouse's family with precisely the sort of thing they know we have no use for, and don't want, (I know this because they've asked why don't we have _____, and we've said, "Oh, we don't really like those," or "I can't stand dusting all those little china ornaments" and promptly received little china ornaments as gifts for the succeeding 15 years) accompanied by notes which could be found on Passive Aggressive Notes - I can shrug and be grateful they live on the other end of the country, and we don't have to get caught up in the unhealthy sibling competition, active drinking, and unmanageability, rampant in that family.

When I let go, I don't get upset by changes in plan. I don't take changes personally; I don't allow other people's stress to trigger mine.

I know that this time of year is frustrating and painful for many people, so I do what I can. I attend more meetings, so that when members are having a hard time of it with family, and escape to a meeting for a sanity check, there is a meeting to escape to, and they won't find a locked door and no lights.

 I believe strongly in giving back to this wonderful loving program which has been my lifesaver for so many years.

Monday, December 13, 2010

"We Couldn't Possibly Do That For You."

I was a very angry and unhappy person when I came into Al-Anon, and when frustrated, I was not pleasant company. Yesterday, on the hunt for a replacement part, I had one of those encounters which used to set my teeth on edge, and cause my temper to rise; often, before program, I'd have been rude, and justified my rudeness by my level of frustration. Nowadays, these sorts of encounters are wonderfully funny.

I'd called a store here in town, to save myself a trip, and was assured that yes, they had that precise part for which I was looking. When I walked into the store, 4 employees, who had been leaning on the counters, fiddling with already perfect displays, etc, almost tackled each other to get to me first - I think they were bored senseless with nothing to do, and no customers to serve. The winner slid into place right in front of his co-worker, who turned away with a disgruntled look.

I presented my old broken part, and said my bit about how I'd phoned, and been told they had one in stock. He went into the stock room for a moment, then came out and announced that they didn't have one that size. Well, maybe they did have one, in the far back of the store where so-and-so works, but he didn't know.

I asked if perhaps he could go look, I'd be most grateful?

He stated firmly, "We couldn't possibly do that for you; we're  far too busy right now."

My eyebrows rose in surprise, and I couldn't help myself, I snuck a glance over to where the other 3 employees were once again lounging about, watching us with that same thousand-mile stare, of kids watching cartoons. I was still the only customer in the store.

He read the question in my raised eyebrows, and stated even more firmly, "This is just a temporary lull."

I had to bite down hard on my lower lip, in my efforts to contain the laughter trying to escape. I think he must have understood that neither statement had exactly resonated with the sound of truth, because he flushed slightly, and said again, "This is the Christmas season, and we're swamped with work, we can't go rummaging around in the back to find something we might not even have in stock!"

He turned to glare at his co-workers, who immediately leapt to attention and began rushing around, giving snappy little directives to each other, and looking extremely hardworking and busy - it was like a stage play come to life: "Small business with harried employees."

By this point, I was barely in control of myself, and think I must have looked a sight, as I fought with my facial muscles to regain control - you know the kind of wierd facial contortions we humans make when we are fighting a laughing fit - strange chewing motions, nostrils flaring, convulsive swallowing. I agreed that this was the busiest time of year for most merchants, thanked him nicely, and made it out of the store, and into my car, before the giggling fit got me.

I've been laughing about it ever since - once that poor guy had made his first silly statement, he felt he had to carry it through, no matter where that road led.

I'm grateful to Al-Anon, for having given me the ability to see these sorts of encounters with fellow human beings as Monty Python-ish, rather than annoying. If viewed as an excellent bit of silliness, they are an antidote to grey and rainy weather, stressful situations, all sorts of things. I'm delighted to have become a happy person, who can see the humour in almost everything. It's true what the Promises state; we will laugh more.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Christmas Music - Love It Or Hate It.

I'm not a fan of Christmas carols. They tend to have catchy little tunes which, once lodged in my brain, play on an endless loop - repeated and repeated and repeated, until I'm on the point of screaming. When we lived in a small town, I'd go into one chain store in the month of December, and the only song that ever seemed to be playing, was "The Little Drummer Boy" - I'd step through the entrance door, hear "rum-pum-pum-pum", and, like a ruminant with a new cud, feel my teeth beginning to grind together.

Through zealous working of my program in Al-Anon, I no longer feel pitched into a pit of depression around Christmas-time, but I haven't quite achieved a gleeful state, either. I've managed a place of relative acceptance of the bumf, hype, and, as overheard while out with a friend yesterday, "exhortations to spend more money you don't have, buying gifts for family members you don't like!"

I no longer have to "get through" the holiday season, while "acting as if," so as not to cast a grumpy shadow over those around me. I can let past unhappinesses fade away, and take pleasure where I find it. 

This may be my ability to appreciate the goodies, (chocolate oranges!) the companionship of good friends, and evenings spent driving around the city admiring the creativity of various homeowners when given strings of colored lights. I may never reach the point of mad passionate revelling in this holiday, but that's fine, I don't have those sorts of expectations of myself. I do what I can to enjoy myself, and turn the rest over to my Higher Power.

I can feel intense gratitude that I am no longer where I once was - trapped in a violent childhood, an abusive first marriage, my own insane thinking.

I can feel gratitude for my creature comforts - shelter, food, warm clothing, a small warm dog to hug against my chest (who, when she's feeling exceptionally affectionate, will ever-so-gently nibble the end of one's nose.)

I can feel gratitude for my mental comforts - love, shared laughing fits, good conversation, my program friends, sponsor, sponsees, and program literature to read if I awake in the middle of the night after a disturbing dream - I tend to get those this time of year.

I can feel gratitude for a very loud sound system, so that when I get a Christmas carol cycling madly round the track inside my head, I can attempt to blast it out with Bach's harpsichord concerto in D minor:

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

"You're So Calm."

A sponsee made that remark to me recently, and I was startled to hear it. Me, calm? Am I? The Oxford online dictionary defines calm as: "not showing or feeling nervousness, anger, or other strong emotions" and "tranquil."

Tranquil is defined as: "free from disturbance, calm."

I am largely calm nowadays, I realise. I may still go through periods of conflict and strong emotion, but I am not owned by either of those disturbances.  I no longer have those times I once did, when anger or strong emotion of any kind could make it impossible for me to make rational choices. I can still, even in the midst of conflict, examine myself and my part in it, describe my thinking to my sponsor, be open to another way of looking at whatever it is. 

I can feel strongly, and not lose my sense of propriety. MrSponsorPants has a hysterical post today about how even though one part of his mind can be thinking uncharitably, what's in true control, is his recovery mind, which will present him with alternatives to his reflex thinking. 

I laughed, reading his desciption of the internal dialogue between the two levels of self, because I can relate to it so well.

Recovery does not mean that I am floating through my life never having an uncharitable thought, or a crazed thought, or a co-dependent thought. Recovery means that I no longer accept every single thought as the truth, or even as bearing any resemblance to truth. Recovery means that I can hear my thought, and step back to examine it from various viewpoints, knowing that what may look perfectly like a lamb from one angle, when viewed from 180 degrees past that first point, reveals the bushy tail and sharp ears of the wolf within the disguise.  

When I was new to Al-Anon, I despaired of ever feeling calm for any stretch of time; I'd been shaken and buffeted by my own emotions all of my life. I could not imagine what it would feel like to be able to be annoyed or even angry, and still be able to speak with restraint, and think with clarity. Al-Anon, and the working and practise of the 12 Steps, has given me a calmness I would have never have believed within my reach, let alone my grasp.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Tears As A Gift.

Music has always had a powerful emotional effect upon me, and bagpipes most of all. This morning in my email inbox, was a link to Amazing Grace played by bagpipes - lovely haunting music which brings me to tears.

As a person who was frozen in my emotions when I came into Al-Anon, with almost nothing left to feel except fear and anger, it was a new and rather alarming experience to find myself moved to tears, by the words of those other brave souls around the table, who shared of themselves so freely. I wept continuously throughout my first few meetings, and those hot tears pouring down my face, with all my efforts to control them completely useless, were, I now believe, a gift from my Higher Power.

Had I not had that experience, which left me rather shaky, but at the same time, understanding that in those rooms was a power I could not articulate, but could feel, I might not have continued to attend meetings. I was very hardened, and closed-off to other people - had I not been ripped open emotionally, so that against all my will, I was exposed in my pain, and in return received such a loving welcome from those women, I don't know where I'd be today.

There's a person in one of my regular meetings, who moves me to tears almost every time they speak - their own emotion is so much on the surface, and their experience of Al-Anon has been so life-changing and so powerful. It humbles me to hear the amazing difference that this wonderful program has made to this person.

It takes me back. I remember when I was that newcomer, whose voice shook, and whose tears were always right at the surface, regardless of how I struggled to subdue them; they would not be subdued. Inside the meeting rooms of Al-Anon, all my usual defenses were ineffective - I could be no-one but my true self. And believe me, I tried. I would promise myself as I drove to a meeting, that this time, I was not going to cry if I shared. And then I'd begin to talk, and my defenses would collapse, and there I'd be, emotionally naked once again. It was agonising, and it was the only way.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Why Can't I Learn This Permanently?

A program friend and I were talking yesterday, about the way we still, after many years in program, can find ourselves "nose to the wall."

We learn wisdom - get busy, impatient, hungry/angry/lonely/tired - promptly forget what we learned, revert to old behaviors, and bash the end of our schnozz on the unyielding bricks, of that wall of reality.

Sometimes we fall, and sit there, shaken, wondering how we ended up here, one more time. We may feel saddened and disheartened: we may begin to weep with pain and frustration. We may begin to judge our progress as "not enough." We may decide to give our nose a couple of extra, intentional whacks, in the hopes of reinforcing the lesson.

Sometimes we remember to call a program friend or our sponsor, and "reason things out with someone else." Perhaps we attend a meeting, and everything that's said seems to speak to us. Or maybe just one person's words, or what they read from program literature, seems like a loving gift of gentle reminding, from our Higher Power.

We can rant and rail about how stupid we are to have forgotten, we can add to the pain by shaming and insulting ourselves. Or we can try to forgive ourselves for the forgetting, trust that we are right where we need to be at this moment, and get up to start anew from this point in time.

I pray for the spirit of forgiveness, for myself, and for those around me, to fill me up and wash out the other, older ways of thinking, which sometimes do creep back to fill my empty spaces, when I forget to fill myself with healthy choices. I pray to be open to the lesson, when I find myself back at the wall once again. I pray for enough self-love, to be able to let go of all the ways in which I hold myself back, through impatience and frustration. I pray for the wisdom to "know the difference," to work for acceptance, and letting go. I pray for the ability to admit my part, while my poor sensitive nose resembles Rudolph's in its redness.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

I Only ____ Because You _____.

"My alcoholic has always blamed me for the way she behaves - if I refuse to accept this blame, she gets enraged and will refuse to speak to me for the rest of the day. How do I deal with this?"

Alcoholics are are masters at evading responsibility, and one way they do this, is by assigning blame to another person, for their own behavior.  It's a large part of co-dependency, our accepting that blame, and trying ever more diligently to change, so as to effect change in the alcoholic. This doesn't work, and it doesn't work because we aren't responsible for how they behave, regardless of what they may have convinced us.

I didn't cause it, I can't control it, and I can't cure it. This goes for the drinking, and it goes for the other life choices, including how they treat us. When the alcoholic treats me badly, and then in all seriousness tells me that this only happened because I did this or that, and they had no choice but to treat me badly, it can be extremely difficult to maintain my own clarity of thought.

My first suggestion is this: don't get drawn into those conversations about why the alcoholic did whatever it was - those are sideroads and smokescreens, to evade the main issue. You can calmly state that the behavior is unacceptable and you'd like to be treated with respect, please. That's really all we need to say, because that pretty much covers all of it. If the bad behavior continues, excuse yourself - don't stay and provide the alcoholic with an audience. Go for a walk, read some Al-Anon literature, call a program friend, lock yourself in the bathroom and have a long relaxing bath or shower. Ask your Higher Power for guidance. Let it go, because you have zero control over how she behaves - don't stress yourself out trying to make her change. It's a hard pill to swallow when we first accept that  we are powerless over anyone but ourselves. 

I've been on the receiving end of this kind of accusation, and it's not easy  - not only are they treating us like crap, but when we protest, we are told we deserve to be treated like crap - and that is pure self-serving nonsense. I've learned not to get involved in discussions about why the alcoholic is doing this or that, because I will only become increasingly confused by the lightning-fast changes of direction, and ever-more frustrated by the continuation of the disrespect.  This is a fight we cannot win - so don't climb into the ring. Find a way to take care of yourself, and pray for serenity. Pray for acceptance, that helps me, even when I don't have any to begin with.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

"I've Decided Not To Go Tonight, Because ..."

I like to say this to my spouse, who will make noises of agreement and support, knowing full well that all I'm doing, is giving myself permission not to go to my meeting, on nights when it's hard to pull myself out the door. This doesn't mean I'm staying home; it's being said in the minute before I haul myself to my feet, and walk down the hall, to go get ready.

This may sound silly, but it works for me. In doing Step Four: "Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves," I've discovered that I have a secretly rebellious streak. Just let me get the idea that I'm being expected to do whatever it is, and that (childish) part of me will begin to mutter darkly in the background, insisting that I don't have to do anything I don't want to, and nobody can make me do anything, and all manner of variations on that theme.

I've learned that rather than argue with my sulking inner child, it's much better to just agree with her, and continue along my adult path. (Do I sound as though I've got multiple personalities, here? Just an analogy - no actual voices arguing inside my head.)

I've learned that if I give myself permission to not do whatever it is that my rebellious streak is up in arms about, whether that be my yoga exercises, walking the dogs in the rain, cleaning the bathroom, or going to a meeting, I can sidestep all that mulishness.

MrSponsorPants has a good post today about making sure that we are listening to others, and truly hearing them. I've discovered through working my program, that I need to do this for myself, as well. I cannot ride roughshod over myself, insisting that my responsibilites require that I ____, and if I were truly mature I would ____, and I am bloody well going to do ____, whether I like it or not. This may work for some, this taking of self firmly in hand, but it often will not work for me.
It sets me up for failure, because the rebellious part of my nature will begin to place roadblocks in my path, trip me up time and again, anything to assert my independence, no matter how self-defeating the result.

I think of the years I spent pre-Al-Anon, trying and failing to force change upon myself, and in the process, waging an internal war. I recall how confused I was about my own behavior; I didn't know myself. I didn't understand that the abuse in childhood, had robbed me of my ability to feel as if I had any rights at all in life, so when I reached adulthood, all I had left to sustain me was my silently livid, internal rebellion.

I have learned that I need to listen to myself grumbling away: allow that part of me to feel heard: agree that yes, it is within my rights to not do this thing.  In the strange alchemy of self-willfullness, the moment I do this giving of permission, is the moment that the internal resistance melts away, and I can get up and go do it. Strange but true, and I'd never have figured this out, if I hadn't been willing to do a Step Four. And then another and another, as I work my way down through the levels of excavation of self.
I love this program, for all that it has given me, in so many areas of my life.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Short-Supply Thinking, Chapter 2

When I was very new to sponsorship, and still unsure about where was the defining line between "taking care" and "care-taking," I agreed to sponsor a woman who taught me the difference between the two. (When I stop to think before speaking, to consider my words, so that I do not thoughtlessly cause another person pain,  I'm being sensitive to them, and taking care. When I feel the need to "fix" their unhappiness by any means at my disposal, including twisting myself into pretzel shape, which is hard on the back, and sparks my own resentment, I'm care-taking.)

The first time I saw my new sponsee looking hurt when I greeted another person at a meeting with a bear hug and some silly joking around, I felt a wierd guiltiness. Soon, I found myself engaged in a tiring dance of trying to make sure that my sponsee wasn't feeling that I liked anyone else more than I liked her - toning down my delight to see my friends at meetings, and feeling responsible for my sponsee's looks of hurt. I decided I needed to reason things out with my own sponsor.

That was an interesting conversation, with me endeavoring to give enough information to be able to discuss it, without breaking my sponsee's anonymity. My sponsor listened in patient silence, as she always did, then when I finished, asked me one question: "Why is this your problem?"

I blathered on about being a good sponsor, and various other meanderings, then was shocked into silence by the next question: "Have you stopped to consider that you may be being manipulated?"

Nope, hadn't entered my head. It was as though, once that first uneasy feeling of guilt was stimulated into being, my rational mind went into another room and closed the door, leaving the rest of me engaged in that exhausting dance of people-pleasing.

My sponsor and I discussed ( she spoke, and I listened) the reality that we are most easily manipulated by the methods we, ourselves, use. That was a shocker, and not one I was interested in hearing at the time. I didn't understand how I could go to her thinking I wanted to talk about one thing, and somehow always end up discussing my own character defects - how did that work, exactly? Irritating woman.

I was vulnerable to displays of short-supply thinking, because that was the way I thought, at the time. I didn't quite understand that love is a never-ending spring, and the more widely we open the tap, the more generously does it pour out.

Love isn't a pie, wherein if I have to share my love among 3 people, there's less love to give, than there would be if I was sharing it with only 2 - your piece isn't going to be smaller, because Susie across the table is also getting a piece.

On the contrary, the more loving a human being is, the more loving they become, and the more good feeling there is to go around.

Love is a multiplier of itself - the action of loving, creates more love to give. The harder I work to be a conduit for my Higher Power, and the more I choose love before all other responses, the more love rushes in to fill the space, slopping over the edges, splashing on everyone around me.

Short-supply thinking believes that there isn't enough love to go around, and if you get some, I get less. I've found it to work in exactly the opposite way. If I get some, and looking over to you, decide to give you some of mine, to top up what you got, pretty soon we're both going to be looking for other people with which to share the abundance, because we're going to have so much we cannot carry it alone.

Love is a muliplier of itself.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Exactly How DO I Come To Believe, Though?

So you've admitted to your powerlessness, and now you're high-centred on the speedbump of Step Two: "Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity."

There have been aspects of my character which have given me pause, depressed me, caused me to feel as though I were not a very nice person. (This is not the same as the self-loathing I felt when I was new to Al-Anon. This is after an objective  - as far as that's possible when you both inhabit the same skull, yourself, and you looking at yourself - inventory of my character defects.)
Without a doubt, the character defect most disturbing to my serenity, destructive to my peace of mind, and damaging to my relationships, is: being judgemental.

When I'm indulging myself in judgements about what another person says, thinks, wears, does, or believes, I am blocking my ability to hear something useful in their words. I'm making it impossible for me to respect them, and I'm choosing to maintain my solitary misery, rather than reach out to the comfort sitting there, oh so close at hand, but unattainable, unless I'm willing to put down the judgements I'm clutching in both hands, and reach out with an empty hand to ask for it.

For me, Step Two has been both a slowly evolving process, and at the same time, an active choice. (When I was new to program, if I heard a line like that, within 15 seconds, I'd be so far gone down the road of appraisal, evaluation and assessment, I'd be gnashing my teeth in an arrogant superiority.)

I was what I've since heard described as a "closed system" - a mindset which does not accept input from outside the self.

I wavered so much, at first - I wanted what program offered/ no, they were all a bunch of wierdly cheerful nutcases warbling on about "how grateful they were to their alcoholics." (Want to upset a closed-system-type person? Speak fervently of your gratitude for the alcoholics in your life.)
I could see that they were different in their ability to be happy, although many lived in the same sort of chaotic home life I did/no, I wasn't about to get down on my knees to any Higher Power, thank you very much, I'd had that crap forced down my throat in childhood, and escaped it, so I wasn't fool enough to willingly start swallowing it again, what were they, crazy?

It makes me laugh nowadays, recalling how I flung about that label of "crazy" when in truth, I would have been a serious contender for the gold medal for insane thinking, had there been a contest.

"There are none so blind, as those who will not see." An excellent definition of denial.

The only way I could "come to believe" was by deciding that I wanted recovery more than I wanted the satisfaction of arrogance and judgement. I'd been doing the latter all my life, and hadn't managed to find serenity, what did I have to lose by giving open-mindedness a try?

12-Step stresses that we keep an open mind; that's how miracles happen. Whether or not we believe in them, they will still take place. We don't have to believe in them, a Higher Power, anything at all -  the only action we're asked to do, is open the door to our mind the tiniest amount, and prop it open, so it stays that way. Fresh air will slowly filter in, and find us, even when we're hiding in the closet, with the light off, and a blanket over our heads. Our Higher Power knows where to find us, but first, we must ask. Just ask. Not believe at first, only ask. We will come to believe, if we ask. What we will come to believe is immaterial to the person in the chair beside us, or the ones across the table in a meeting; it's individual to each of us, and can be the opposite to beliefs held by those we dearly love -  that matters not a jot.

It's the opening of that door, which is so vital.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

A Question.

A reader asked for my interpretation of this quote:

"The difference between my will and God's will is that my will starts out easy and gets hard, and God's will starts out hard and gets easy."

It's always easier to do what I want to do, but the consequences are often not pleasant - in contrast, it may feel incredibly difficult to accept my Higher Power's will for me, but when I do, the consequences will be positive, in ways I cannot imagine.

A good example of this, is making amends to my alcoholic - I have a hard time with this on occasion, because I'm offering my throat to the wolf - who, also on occasion, cannot resist taking a bite. When the wolf's canines are menacing one's carotid arteries, it's easy to lose sight of the end result (becoming a better person) of the action (making amends) and instead, give oneself over to fear (he's going to bite down!) and anger (what kind of fool am I, walking up to the wolf, and offering my throat, what am I, crazy?) It's not easy, keeping in mind that that I'm doing this because experience has taught me that not only is it the "right thing" to make amends, but that I grow and learn when I do this.

My  wolf   alcoholic is in early recovery, and old habits die hard. Some days, the urge to be right, to take advantage, to play those alcoholic head games, appears to triumph; those days, my making an amend to this person appears to trigger a meanness that the alcoholic chooses not to resist.

If I were follow my will, knowing that this resultant unpleasantness is a possibility, probably would stop me from making those amends which are so important for me to make, because they teach me humility and honesty and willingness. It would be a lot easier at that particular moment in time, but I'd be marching in place, and that gets very hard after a while. Watching others moving forward, while I put ever more effort into not moving?  That's hard.

When I follow God's will, and use the realisations he gives me, it can feel like pushing a tractor-trailer uphill on a hand cart - the very definition of impossible - but once I do get that sucker up the hill, it's a free coasting ride down the other side. (Until I reach the next hill, of course, then it's work, work, work, again.)

Friday, November 26, 2010

Admitting Our Imperfections.

Why is this so hard for most of us? Why do we kick and scream, (or if you have a different personality, sulk and emit poisonous waves of sullenness) when it's suggested to us in Al-Anon, that we too, are imperfect, and that we can improve our lives greatly by trying to do something about that fact, rather than change someone else?

I used to worry about the way other people would think about me, if I ever admitted to being wrong, or being weak, or being imperfect. My sponsor called me up one day, laughing; told me she'd just come across the perfect quotation for us, which we should write out and put up somewhere we could read it many times in a day:

"You wouldn't worry so much about what other people think of you, if you knew how seldom they did."

I, of course was deeply offended, but tried to pretend that I wasn't. I'd learned fairly quickly that although my sponsor was a woman who had enormous empathy for other's sufferings, she had little patience for me, when I was having a hissy fit, and being offended. She was well-acquainted with that defense mechanism, having used it herself for years. She'd pointed out to me that when she was offended, it was usually because she knew that what had been said was the truth, and she didn't want to face it. She suggested that next time, I try putting aside my desire to take offense, and work to be honest with myself - was I being offered a chance to see myself more clearly?

Most of the time, that's just what's happening: I only ever seem to feel upset in that precise way, unless I am recognising the truth about myself: my character, and habits of thinking. When, in the past, I've chosen to take offense, it has been an effective way to push that truth aside, and concentrate instead on the failings of the messenger - so rude! So tactless! etc etc, and after a while, I'd be wallowing in a stew of self-righteous indignation, and the chance for me to learn and grow, would pass on by, forgotten.

This week, I was finding it increasingly difficult not to worry and stress over an issue in my life. My present sponsor, is a wise woman with many years in program, and when I talk to her about something with which I'm wrestling, she always emphasises asking my Higher Power for guidance. When I did, the guidance came in the form of a realisation about a decision I'd made a while ago. I was granted the ability to see it from another angle, to realise that while some of the reasons behind it were healthy - not enabling, not allowing the other person to take advantage of me - another part of the motivation for that decision was a desire to punish by withdrawing my support.  I realised that I needed to make an amend.

That wasn't an easy amend to make, because in order to do it cleanly, I needed to admit to my less-than-delightful motives. I had to say, "I was wrong to do this, and this is why."

I've been in Al-Anon for quite a while, and there are still amends which curl my teeth to make, because I have to admit my lesser qualities. I will always have to admit to my lesser qualities, because I will always be imperfect.

Once the amend had been made, and we were talking about it, I was given the further realisation that on some level, I'd been uncomfortable with my decision from the start, but had been refusing to allow that discomfort headroom, because if I did, I might have to reconsider.

For me, when I admit my imperfections, it is always better afterwards. That "better" can range from the lightly giddy feeling of a clean conscience, to improved intimacy with whomever, to doors opening in my life. There is no downside to this that I've ever found, so why do I still occasionally find it difficult?

I think because of pride - I don't want to admit that I am still prompted by those imperfections, that there are going to be times when my decisions are made while I'm in the grip of my frailties and character defects. I want to be "all better now."
I can forgive other people their character defects, but I still judge myself for mine,
now and then.
So it goes. The sun is shining, and I'm feeling relieved.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

What Would Happen If I Didn't _____?

That question is one that we do well to ask ourselves. So much of our behavior is by habit, by rote, by unquestioning following of the same track round and round. So it has been done ... so it always will be done - plod, plod.

Al-Anon was the very first place where it was suggested to me that I could choose a different way. Instead of doing the same things over and over, hoping for a different result, I found sufficient relief from the pain, to be able to stop and consider: was this rational? Was this even possible? I think I moved through all the stages of grief in the ending of my first marriage - denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance.

I had to let go of all my old ways of thinking, seeing, and doing, and be willing to try something new - Step Two:

"Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity."

I didn't have to try the new at that stage, I only had to have reached a place where I believed it possible that a power greater than myself existed.

Arrogance is one of the normal human frailties, and one with which I've grappled in close personal contact; I like to be right. (No, be honest, I love to be right.) My maturity has been a slow progression:

- from denying my arrogance, heedless of  the pain dealt to myself and others by my being oblivious to this character defect,

-to awareness of my arrogance, and the shame and remorse which ensued,

-to working to "practise these principles in all our affairs", meaning that I strive to catch myself much earlier in the proceedings: let go of my arrogance and desire to be "right",

- to finding a different way to be satisfied.

If I am satisfied only if I "win" an argument, I have no motivation to stop fighting. I have had to choose another definition of "satisfied" - one in which I accept my powerless over other people, and am satisfied when I see that this time, I have chosen the healthy way to deal with conflict. I can feel self-love and self-respect when I make these different choices. I can then save up the energy which would have been expended upon the conflict, and splash out with it, on a pleasurable activity, whatever that may be for me.

I pray to be paying attention more often, and to decide that this time, I am not going to ____, I'm going to work my program.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

"It's All Too Vague -Tell Me Something I Can Use!"

Many years ago, that sentence positively burst from a newcomer to Al-Anon, at his first meeting. It was as though he'd been sitting there listening, while the shares went around the table, becoming angrier as he heard each person speak. A gentle request from the chairperson for further information, unleashed a tsunami of words. He'd come looking for help, and all we were doing was yakking about how it had been for us when we'd been new to program, what use was that to him? He needed something concrete, something he could use, a list or something. At that, he began to weep, red in the face, and horribly embarassed. Someone passed him the kleenex box, and we sat in silence, waiting for him to regain himself.

After he'd been in program for a few years, he'd laugh at how angry he'd been with us, and then how embarassed - a middle-aged man, crying in front of twenty women! He'd speak of how he'd left that meeting convinced that Al-Anon was utterly useless, and he wasn't going back. Only to find himself driving to the church at the same time the next week. He'd sat in his car for a few minutes, trying to get up the nerve to walk into that room full of women again.

My sponsor saw him there, opened his car door, and gave a gentle pull on the shoulder of his jacket, saying "Come on, dear, don't think about it for too long, you won't do it, out you get, you can slink in behind me."

He'd said stiffly, "I was a jerk last time."

She said, "You were in pain, as we all were. We love you anyway; come on."

He'd asked plaintively, "What if I cry again?"

She replied, "You'll live. What's worse, embarassment, or no help with your partner's alcoholism?"

He loved to recall this, and say, "It was a no-brainer."

He became a regular at our meeting, and would set other newcomers at ease by passing them the kleenex box, saying gently, "I cried at my first meeting, too; it was the first time I cried since I was six."

I learned several valuable lessons from this man - I learned not to be too vague when talking about what program has given me, when I speak to a newcomer. I realised that we each have our own way of dealing with intolerable pain; some shut down, pull the facade into place, and become unreachable, some are despairing, some are furiously angry.

There is no right or wrong to this - we feel what we feel. If we  keep coming back to meetings, and we keep an open mind, we will find help.

From Courage to Change, page 322:

"Keep coming back" is a phrase we often hear in Al-Anon. Why is it so important? Because many of us have grown so hardened in our fights with alcoholics, or flights from alcoholics, that we literally found it difficult to sit still for the process of recovery. We had to have answers right away or take action right away. Yet we felt just enough relief at our first meeting to come back once more. and then again, and again. Slowly we learned to sit still, to listen, and to heal."

I like that. I was definitely "hardened" - in my anger, my thinking, in my habits. I needed to first accept this, as just the way it was, before I could begin to work to change any of it. Step One was surrender for me  - I admitted that I was "powerless over alcohol, and my life had become unmanageable." This surrender freed me, from the ghastly struggling insanity in which I'd been entangled. Step One was the equivalent of flopping back in my chair, heaving a heavy sigh, and saying, "I give up; I can't do it anymore, it doesn't work anyway."

When I was a newcomer, I didn't understand anything but the fact that at the meetings, I felt safe, I felt heard, I felt understood. That kept me coming back. I'd shoot out of the room after a meeting to avoid all that wierd hugging that went on, but someone would always ask, "See you next week?" as I almost ran out the door, and I'd always fling back over my shoulder, "Yep."

Notice your newcomers; welcome them. They are the new blood of your meeting, and of this great program. They have wisdom to offer which you may not have heard before, and they offer you a chance to pass on the gifts you have received. Don't let a newcomer sit alone in their car, trying to work up the courage to come in again, while you walk past, see them there, and just keep going. Do what my first sponsor did - pay attention, and if they need it, give them a boost over the threshold. Love them in a very special way.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Now, Where Was I Before The Phone Rang?

I had such a productive evening planned for myself tonight - I've got a light black wool fabric laid out on my cutting table, with the pattern pieces resting on it, and had planned to get my new winter coat cut out this evening. I'm so well prepared I've even got the buttons - not usual for me - buttons are often the last thing I consider when making a garment. I had it all planned, but it didn't happen. A sponsee called, and we went off into that wonderful place:  a connection is made between us, we speak with honesty, and no fear of being judged.

When I finally hung up, the phone had reached the point of beeping every 30 seconds to warn of impending failure of the battery ( it's amazing what one can ignore, when the conversation is really engaging) and I felt bone-tired, but satisfied. Doing service work with other Al-Anon members makes me feel useful, in a way that nothing else does, or ever has.

No amount of money earned, or possessions gained, has ever given me the same feeling that I receive, when I share my experience, strength and hope, with others caught in the same desperate straits in which I once floundered. I try to give back to others, what was so freely, and lovingly, given to me.
I get emotional, when I think of the way so many people have kept this incredible program working throughout the years. All that generosity of spirit - it's amazing, truly.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Questions About Guilt

1. How do I deal with my friend who guilt-trips me when I don't do what she thinks I should?

2. An elderly family member tries to manipulate me with guilt, when my choices don't meet with her approval - any suggestions?


I've learned that in order to deal with something like this in my relationships, I need to break it down into small manageable pieces, and deal with each in turn.

I start with my feeling: what am I feeling?

- I'm feeling ashamed.

Next, I try to understand: why am I feeling this?

- Because for me, that's the natural progression: first I will feel guilt, then I will feel shame.

So why was I feeling the guilt?

- Someone I care about made it clear to me that they think I was wrong to think/act/feel in a certain way.

Was I wrong? Did I trespass a boundary? Break a promise? Not fufill an obligation?

- No, I didn't. I made a choice that this person didn't like, or with which they didn't agree. Perhaps my choice meant that they didn't get something they wanted from me.

Did I have the right to make this choice? Was it mine to make?

- Yes. This was entirely up to me. This choice could be anything from deciding how I will spend my free time, to the best way to raise kids, to the car I buy, to the life partner I choose. I may be wise to ask for input or wisdom from other people, to help me clarify my thinking, or ask them to evaluate their experience in a similar situation, but in the end, I'm the one who has to make the decision, and accept the responsibility for having done so.

Do I feel comfortable and safe with this person, to the extent that I feel I can state a modified and courteous precis of the above?

- No. I don't. Experience has taught me that if I try to confront in any way, the ladling of guilt over my head, I will be met with denials, righteous indignation, and the taking of offense.

What, then, are my choices in dealing with this?

- I can't change other people. I can't force another person to stop with the guilt-trips, already.
I can, however, stop rewarding this behavior with apologies, explanations, rationalisations, and justifications. I can respond to the attempts to make me feel guilty, by not responding. I can use variations on a theme:
"Oh yeah."
"Isn't that something!" (I love this one - an Al-Anon friend shared that she uses it when she wants to sound as if she's responding with a meaningful comment, while in truth remaining non-committal.)

With those in whose company I feel safe, I can be a little more direct:

"When you say ______, I feel _______. I'd like you to stop saying that to me, please."

I have a (not-in-program) friend who has tried several times to induce guilt in me with statements about how disappointed she was when I didn't do this, or I did do that, and I've learned that even the innocuous "I'm sorry you feel that way" will be taken as positive reinforcement of the behavior.

I once heard someone saying that they respond to guilt-trips thusly:

"I know some people might think me selfish to have made this choice, but I know that you are much more open-minded, and will be able to see what others might miss, and therefore understand why I made this choice."

I laughed when I first heard that, but I've since discovered that it works very well with my friend - it's as though I'm offering her an opportunity to display her better character, and she comes through each and every time. I love her for it.

Friday, November 12, 2010

A Familiar Face, And Open Ears.

I've recently begun to attend an extra meeting on Thursday nights, and I'm really enjoying the mix of people. I don't know if it's because it's halfway across the city, but up until last night, there hasn't been anyone I know at this meeting. Last night for the first time, someone I know from other meetings was there. I find it raises my comfort level in a new meeting, to see a familiar face. It can feel more welcoming - warmer. In some way, I feel as though I'm being heard in a way I might not when everyone else is a relative stranger. (I once expressed this to a friend, who joked that he was sorry, he'd been daydreaming when I'd been speaking, and hadn't heard a word; he'd had his face set on "autopilot.")

I've been thinking lately, about the fact that most of us don't listen very well. I first had training in active listening, when I volunteered for the local crisis line. The training had demonstrated, how poorly developed, are most people's listening skills. The trainers would break us up into small groups, one of whom would have been chosen ahead of time, and told to ramble, use sentence fillers such as "you know?" get sidetracked and never finish a thought, all the ways in which we make it difficult for our listeners. It was the first time that I considered listening to be an activity; before then, I'd seen the speaker as active, and the listener as passive.

It was enlightening to watch myself fasten upon "you know?" and be increasingly irritated with each repetition. Why was this? I realised that I'd been taught that this was an "annoying verbal habit." I judged it, and I judged the person using it.

Time and again, I'd catch myself getting hung up on the person's vocabulary, or their grammar, or tone of voice, and the content would slide past, half-heard. Active listening is hard work; it requires that we detach from our internal dialogue, and pay close attention to the other person.

I like to listen to program speakers while torturing myself with yoga poses; last night the speaker I had chosen, mentioned how difficult it can be to listen, with no assessing. and no judgement of the speaker, or what they are saying:

"To really listen, you have to temporarily surrender your personality - all your likes, your dislikes, attitudes, biases - you have to let it all go, in order to have room in your head to take in the message."

I had a situation recently, where a (not in recovery)friend and I, were in a small social group - 5 people - and afterwards, I'd mentioned that some of the language used had seemed negating or dismissive - lots of labelling, and assumptions. My friend asked that I elaborate, give her some examples - when I did, she responded that she hadn't heard any of that. I was surprised, as it had been gratingly obvious to me, perhaps because it was "criticism of others." The longer I'm in Al-Anon, the more aware I seem to become of this, and the more it bothers me.

In other areas of my life, such as my relationship with my spouse, I have not been a great listener. Too much emotion swirling, too much of allowing myself to get away with behaviors that I know in my heart, are not the kindest of choices. Too much rationalising about "not wanting to hear his excuses when his behavior" yada yada yada - I lose my focus, and when I lose my focus, I lose sight of both my listening training, and my program training. I know better. I pray to be aware and open-minded, to be a good listener, in all aspects of my life.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Why Write It Out?

When it was first suggested to me that when I was feeling irritated, agitated, frustrated, annoyed, resentful, I should sit down and write about it, I couldn't see the point. What was the difference between writing about it, and "reasoning things out with someone else?" Or just thinking about it?

I quickly learned that were I to write out all my feelings, and write about the event which had provoked those feelings, then leave it overnight, or for a few days, return to it when calm and serene, and read it, my character defects and negative thinking leapt off the page and did a high-kick dance before my eyes. It was all so obvious when I'd had time to calm down; because I'd written it in the heat of the feeling, I wasn't censoring myself, and couldn't pretend.

I was a great pretender before Al-Anon. I pretended I was fine when my life was completely unmanageable, I pretended that I felt what I didn't feel, and didn't feel what I did feel...pretending was a childhood coping mechanism which I'd carried into my adult life, and never questioned. Until Al-Anon, and some direct questioning from my sponsor, with regard to honesty in relationships, and whether or not I had any. (I didn't.)

I encourage my sponsees to use this technique of writing about it when they are upset in any way, and to be very detailed in describing their feelings, their assumptions, their expectations, all of it. Invariably, I will hear about how when they went back the next day/several days later and read it, they cringed to see how unreasonable/childish/petty/crazed they sounded. One or two have told me a long time later, that they have stopped using this technique after a few tries, because they "couldn't face the truth about their own thinking" at the time, or because they "didn't want to admit that they could be so unreasonable or resentful."

Because I try to keep the lightest of hands with my sponsees, (both to rein in my own control-freak tendencies, and to allow them to be fully who they are, without feeling in any way criticised) I will suggest this as a tool I found helpful, and then let it go. I don't nag them to do it, I don't ask if they have done it, I just offer it.

Not everything works for everybody. Some people will resist to their deaths any suggestion that they consider their own part in the problems in a relationship; they seem to attend meetings for a while, and then fade away. Some folks are so obsessed with their own bad points, that they will use this as a whip with which to lash themselves - with those sponsees, I suggest that they not look at it until we have a chance to go over it together. That way when they are starting to give themselves hell for being human, I can offer the ways in which I was precisely that crazed, and how I've changed, so they can see that they are not evil, not monsters, but only human. (That's presupposing that I'm only human, as well. Took me a long while to arrive at that destination, I promise you.)

Try it. You might be astounded. Write it out, then go back and read it when you've calmed down. You might find that things previously obscured in the murk of your subconcious, become clear: that, "Why do I do/say/think that?" is suddenly obvious.

What I'm finding so wondrous, is that because I've worked my program like a good little maniacal co-dependent, more often than not, nowadays, this "stop and examine what's really going on inside my head, stripped of any justification or rationalising" occurs in my internal dialogue within the space of a few seconds, so that I can decide before I say or do anything, that I'm being irritable, or unreasonable. Or that I'm setting myself up with an expectation. Or that perhaps my intolerance is in the driver's seat.

I don't need days of time to: write it all out, cool down, go back and read it, then deal with the truth of it. Many times, I can do that now, on the spot. And that is one cool thing.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Repeat After Me: "I Can't Control Other People, I Can't Control..."

Some days I have to go to a quiet place -  inside myself: inside my house: outside into nature - wherever I can find solitude and serenity at that moment, and remind myself of my powerlessness.

When I feel that irritation rising in my chest, I know enough to stop talking, close my mouth firmly upon the words fighting themselves to spill out and over, and walk away.

I can't control other people. I can't force them to do anything. Not one single solitary measly thing can I make someone else do. They do what they choose to do, and all my yarping, harping, moaning, reasoning, complaining and explaining, none of it will have the slightest effect, if they choose not to do whatever it is.

I can ask. I can request. I can suggest. But I cannot force my will upon another person, even if I am thoroughly convinced, (as I always seem to be at those moments, coincidentally) that I am in the right, and being perfectly reasonable in my asking.

It is completely irrelevent that I have requested twenty thousand times previously, that they not allow our male dog to strut out into the back forty, and bark like a raving lunatic, screaming dog warnings of imaginary monsters approaching, requiring that he exercise his lungs, letting all in the neighbourhood know to take cover.

Or perhaps he's just alerting the other dogs within a 30 mile radius, that there's a large black squirrel in one of our trees; who knows what goes on in dog brain?
Whatever he's doing with all that barking, he's doing it with surprising volume for a small 18 pound creature, and will continue unabated, unless I open the sliding glass door and correct him, at which point he will immediately assume that canine "picture of angelic innocence" pose, and pretend that it must have been some other creature making all that noise, because he's just out here sniffing, honestly! No really, barking? He hasn't barked all day, he doesn't remember doing it, anyway, he might have loosed off one or two in early morning, when he saw that deer, but not recently, goodness no....

I just have to open the door, stick my head out, and say quietly, "Stop that racket" and he stops. He knows that if he doesn't, he'll be in doggy time-out. My spouse, on the other hand, can open the door and roar a command, and be completely ignored - he won't follow through, the dog knows it, so he pays no attention.

I've said this many more times than I ever should have, and boy did I want to say it again just now. Instead, I went out, got the dog, put him into time-out and came into my workroom and wrote this post. That way, I don't have to make an amend later, for having said something I regret. In a tone I regret.

I close my mouth, walk away, and give myself a little spiritual time-out. It always helps.

Friday, November 5, 2010


I'm in the process of making myself a new item of clothing, from a material with a distinct pattern. I've realised how easily my perfectionism can still be triggered, by the length of time it took me to cut the pieces out. I had to match the material pattern in every possible place on the garment - front and sleeves, seams, pockets, inner and outer lapels...

Now I grant you, any tailored garment in a material with a repeating pattern, looks much more professional if the pattern is matched at seams, etc, but it was the obsession to get it "perfect" that took me over at moments. I spent twice or three times as long on the cutting process, because of this matchy-matchy thing going on inside my head.

I found myself, at one point, leaning down to check that one teeny tiny diddly bit on the pattern piece was lined up just exactly perfectly with the teeny tiny diddly bit on the other pattern piece, and had to stop, walk away, and give myself a mental shake. It was insanity in action. It's just a new piece of clothing, for me to wear. I'm not making it to sell, I'm not wearing it at a command performance before the Queen, my life does not depend upon matching the pattern on a microscopic level - it's just a garment.

When I catch myself in this craziness, after the little talking-to I give myself, well-laden with Al-Anon wisdom, and a slogan such as Easy Does It, inevitably, the next feeling which will wash over me, is gratitude for my program. Before Al-Anon, I thought my crazed perfectionism was a good thing; I had no understanding of the misery I inflicted both upon myself, and upon those around me, of whom I had such unrealistic expectations.

In Al-Anon, I have learned that my best is good enough. I can celebrate my efforts, and not be always picking at myself because I didn't achieve perfection. I have learned that my perfectionism was rooted in childhood experience, and that I can shake that off, and choose my own standards.

 In the major city where we once lived, I had a program friend who was also a mad perfectionist. I'd arrive at her place, she'd have her coat and shoes on, but getting her out of the house would try my patience. (Patience is not one of my virtues, I've had to work like the dickens for every drop I now possess.) She would almost get out the door, have one foot upon the sill, but would then drop her purse and rush across the foyer to pick a dead leaf from a plant, or rearrange the shoes on the shoe rack, or straighten the hangers in the closet, or ... I started saying to her, "Screw it! That's good enough; leave it alone. It's fine. Put that thing down, woman!"

The day that she said, "Maybe I should..." and I replied "Screw it!" and she agreed, "Right, screw it!" and marched across that doorsill without a backward glance, we knew she was getting somewhere with all her efforts to let go of her perfectionism. The next time she came to pick me up, and I hesitated when the phone rang just as I was closing my front door, she said firmly, "Screw it!" I closed the door, locked it, and we walked arm-in-arm out to the car, feeling enormous satisfaction. My time in program is filled with such memories of achievements. They might seem slight to someone whose life hasn't been ravaged by alcoholism, but to those of us who have been locked away in our own small and lonely boxes of self, they are our victories, and we celebrate them.

I have another piece of checked fabric in my stash of material; a lovely soft wool blend, in autumn golds and browns. I want to enjoy this fabric when I work with it. To achieve that, I may need to make a reminder sign for the wall above my cutting table, reading: How Important Is It?

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Why I Do The Things I Do - Motives.

"What would be your motive, were you to say that?"

A question my first sponsor used on me, and which I now use, with great glee thoughtfulness, on my sponsees. When I was new to program, that question was guaranteed to bring me to a screeching halt - tires smoking, long line of black rubber on the road behind me.

I understood the question, but I also didn't understand it. I had good language comprehension, but emotional comprehension? None at all. I would be in the strange position of having a clear picture of what was being asked of me, and no way to reply. I hadn't a clue where I could begin to search for an answer, because my motives were well hidden in the hoarder's house of my brain.

I like that analogy for several reasons, not least of which that I had a tendency (A "tendency," ha! Slight understatement there, dear reader.) to scorekeep. I could not let go of anything; on the contrary, I was always on the hunt for more evidence to add to my stash of "Look at what they did, it's only natural that I would ___!"
Any slight, insult, unkindness, emotional/verbal/physical abuse ever perpetrated against me, which I was old enough to remember, and all of those  which the memory retains, but over which it draws a curtain, (so that we may continue to function, albeit not very smoothly) were in that house of self. 

Somewhere. Buried under mountains of unidentifiable, dust-covered, mouse poop decorated - all right, all right, enough of this analogy, what's my point here?

I couldn't let go of any trespass against me. I couldn't forgive or forget, and because of that, my motives were poisoned by my resentment. I acted and spoke to "get back" at the alcoholic, and every miserable rotten person in my life who had hurt me. The drinking alcoholic became a symbol, a representative of that group. I knew that when he was in his cups, I could say anything I pleased, no matter how viciously cruel, and not have to pay the price for saying it. He was in blackout - his memory would not retain it.

When I did a Step Five with him about this, much later on, after we'd divorced and been apart for quite some time, I wept and shook with pain, fear and sorrow. He reached across the table and grasped my hands: his own were shaking: tears were streaming down his face, too. In that moment, I saw in the still-drinking alcoholic wreck before me, the man I had loved and married so many years before. I am so grateful to program, for giving me the ability and willingness to make that amend, to make my peace with him, to go on in my life with no unfinished business from that relationship.

Before Al-Anon, I was not in the habit of digging down to find my motives. They were a deep and dark mystery of self, and I feared them, if I considered them at all. In Al-Anon, I have learned that if I do not deal with my resentments, they will begin to poison the ground water, and I'll start to suffer from strange ailments, such as being "irritable and unreasonable" or restlessness, perhaps a feeling of being trapped by circumstance.  All those awful feelings, and the insane thinking which once ruled me, will once again begin to stir if I do not work my program every single blessed day, whether I wish to, or do not.

If I want to be able to answer questions from myself, or anyone else, about my motives, with something other than an abashed and shame-filled hesitance, I have to work my program. It's that simple.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

A Quitter Never Wins; A Winner Never Quits.

That little saying, (and a few more along that same line,) were part of the reason that I was such a blindly stubborn and mulish person, when I came into Al-Anon. I had been well indoctrinated in the adoptive home, to believe that once one decided upon a course of action, the only shameful thing, was to change one's mind partway through, to "quit." That reasoning kept me in an abusive marriage for ten long years. It kept me in jobs where I was treated poorly, apartments where the landlord was a maniac, friendships in which I'd come away from an encounter with the friend feeling unheard, dismissed, negated, or mocked.

Why did I stay in those situations when I knew they weren't good for me? Because I'd chosen that apartment, friend, job, husband, and now that I'd "made my bed" I had to "lie in it."

In Al-Anon, I have learned that I may make decisions based upon the limited information available to me at the time of my decision, and then once the decision has been made, and I get further in, realise that things are not as they seemed.

I want to stop here, and explain that I'm not suggesting that it's acceptable for me to make weighty decisions and then throw them over on a whim because my ego has taken a minor bruising, or I'm feeling too lazy to follow through on my committment.

I'm talking about those times when I begin to get an uneasy feeling, which will, at first, hover just out of reach -  an amorphous sense that things aren't right, that this doesn't match what I'd been led to believe, but I'm unable at the start to determine quite how that difference is manifested. This will progress to a realisation that I'm feeling more uncomfortable with each encounter: beginning to dread time spent in that person (or person's) company: shutting down, to protect myself.

After careful consideration, and discussion, we joined a social group when we were new to this city. I was delighted to find that their mission statement contained many "12-Step-ish" principles, and that tolerance and acceptance was presented as their touchstone. This, sadly, has proven to not be the case. On the contrary, most of the members are of one mind, and not at all open to alternate viewpoints. As the membership has become more comfortable with us, the social masks are coming off, and the real feelings and attitudes are being expressed - gossip is rife, criticism is rampant, and I've been feeling increasingly out-of-place and discomfited when we attend gatherings. Those with alternate viewpoints are dismissed as anything from foolishly misguided, to uneducated simpletons.

I've thought about it, prayed about it, and last night, sat down with my spouse and told him that I'd decided that it wasn't good for me to be a member of that social group, because I felt distressed and disturbed to see the way they treated one another. We had a good long talk about how each social organisation, (including 12-Step groups) has a "culture" - how we can only go on the cultural information offered to us at the start, and that as we get accepted into that culture, and receive more information, our attitudes can change from embracing the culture, to feeling that we need to detach, for our mental, emotional and spiritual health.

It was important for me to be honest with my spouse about my feelings of shame for wanting to step back, how it triggered those "quitters never win, when you start something, finish it, yada yada yada" tapes inside my head. It hasn't been easy for me to validate my attitudes or feelings in the area of social groups or gatherings, because I had such a wierd and twisted childhood that I was socially inept, antisocial, resentful, and myself the poster child for intolerance, when new to Al-Anon. It can still require a fair bit of "reasoning things out with someone else" for me to be able to validate my feelings and ideas, and then act upon them to keep myself in healthy company.

I have only one life. I don't want to waste my time with those who indulge in gossip and criticism  I want to spend my precious time with those who will uplift me, teach me, enrich me, help me to grow in tolerance and acceptance.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

My Higher Power's Sense of Humour - chapter 2.

I think I've found the way to do these continuations-on-a-theme posts, I shall call them "chapters." When I call them "Part 2" or "Con't" I wonder if I'm not fostering confusion, since most times the previous day's post is on another topic entirely. So, Chapter 1 of "My Higher Power's Sense of Humour" can be found here.

Just let me decide that I know what is going on with another person,  and I will receive from my Higher Power, what I can only describe as an ironically humorous reminder, that I can still be stupendously mistaken in my perceptions. This will often be followed with a further pointed little nudge, with regard to what have I learned about acting upon/reacting or responding to, my assumptions, without first checking their validity.

This sequence has transpired with sufficient regularity during my time in Al-Anon, that after the first burst of laughter when I realise I've just received one of these reminders, and the moment of admiration for the neatness and economy of their construction, I've developed the habit of saying, half-laughing, still, (and much like an adolescent being reminded for the 300th time to "Pay attention, I'm trying to tell you something, here!") "Yeah, yeah, I get it, you don't have to belabor the point!"

I might attend a meeting one night, feeling rather out of sorts or grumpy, and think to myself that one person (who is unknown to me, but not to others at the meeting) isn't very friendly, and when it's his turn to share, he'll speak about how terrrifying it is for him, to meet new people: how rather than be able to make small talk, he'll tie himself in knots inside his head, imagining the dozen stupid things he's sure to blurt, causing horrendous offense and resulting intense dislike of him by the other person, so rather than say anything, he won't even make eye contact, he'll just pretend he doesn't see them.

He's then sure to go on, to describe a character defect he possesses, and a coping mechanism he's developed, which is a precise and perfect match for one of mine. I will be sitting across the table, cringing to hear myself described with such
exactitude. This happened recently - as soon as the meeting closed, and people began to mill about, I made my way over to him, to say, "Oh man, could I relate to what you said just now! I do the same thing, and I've been struggling with that for quite a while, but you know, for years, I couldn't even see that I did it!"

We then had a twenty-minute, deeply intense and personal conversation, with many howls of laughter, and a powerful connection felt on both sides. I walked out to my car after saying goodbye, smiling happily to realise, I'd just been graced with one of those reminders from my Higher Power.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Let There Be No Gossip Or Criticism of One Another, Part 2.

Part 1 can be found here.

When new to Al-Anon, I would sit in meetings, and judge those around the table - for the way they looked, what they said, how they responded to challenges in their lives. I couldn't hear the message, because I was too caught up in examining the envelope from which it came, deciding that I didn't like the stamp, and the paper was a wierd texture, and that was a different way to glue the flaps...

I wouldn't deal with the day's mail by slitting open an envelope, throwing the contents directly into the trash, and then carefully examining the envelope, now would I? Put like that, it's ridiculous. Yet that is precisely what I was doing with the messages from Al-Anon members.

That reminder about let there be no gossip or criticism of one another, doesn't refer only to our conversations with a third person - it also refers directly to the inner critic we all contain. That crow of negativity inside our heads, which keeps up a steady chatter of comparison and disparagement. It has been a monumental task, my ongoing effort to silence that monstrosity.

I began to pray: to ask for patience, tolerance, open-mindedness, during the moment of silence before a meeting started. Almost without my realising it, something magical began to happen: I could sit in a meeting, and for one splendid hour, hear not a murmur from that black bird. I could take what I liked and leave the rest, but what I left was put down, not with a feeling of irritation or disgust or impatience, but with a quiet interest, accompanied perhaps by that little sound (usually written as "hmmn") which we make in antique stores, examining an object apparently made to be useful in some way, but a mystery to us.

My inner critic-bird had retired to a higher branch, out of sight.  For that one hour, I was able to be accepting of everyone who sat in peaceful communion around the table. With that acceptance, came the ability to hear wisdom and help in the words of those I would previously have considered, the most unlikely of sources - people with whom I had not one opinion or interest in common.  People I would have dismissed with a contemptuous sniff (I've mentioned in previous posts, that I wasn't a very nice person when new to Al-Anon) would put out on the table, the one thought which would surface and resurface throughout my week, swinging and bobbing, catching the sun and flinging it back to illuminate an area of my thinking never before considered in quite that light...making me stop walking, and gasp, to realise what I was seeing.

I'd rush to call my sponsor, to tell her what I'd just this moment realised, and it was all because  of so-and-so's sharing on Monday - it was astounding, it was amazing, it was earthshaking; "It was," she interrupted, "your Higher Power."

My sincere prayer for tolerance was being granted.  I was being given the gift of seeing not the envelope of character and habit, education and upbringing, but the contents - the person. From a purely selfish viewpoint, this allows me to receive wisdom I'd have discarded unrecognised for the treasure it was. From the standpoint of unity, it allows me to be equally as welcoming, tolerant and accepting of those with whom I feel a personal connection, and those with whom my only apparent commonality, is that we are both human beings, both living, and struggling with loving, an alcoholic.

I pray to be granted the honest willingness to truly practise these principles in all my affairs, not just in the meeting rooms of Al-Anon.

Monday, October 25, 2010

When Going With The Flow, Takes Me Down The Drain.

I received a phone call this weekend, which reminded me of how important it is to choose my friends wisely. This person has had a difficult life in many ways, and has an unremittingly negative attitude. Work, friends, family, health, marriage, the family dog, the state of the world... I used to hang up the phone after a conversation with this person, and feel as though I'd been fighting a strong current for 57 minutes - worn out, and mildly depressed.

I've had to detach with love, from any emotional engagement with this (not in program) friend. I offer what support and encouragement I can, I try to make them laugh, but I keep my essential self back a few steps, so that I'm not sucked into that awful sweeping current, and dragged away downstream.

This stepping back to a slightly safer place on the riverbank, this detachment from this person and their litany of misery, is an act of changed attitudes on my part. At one time, I used to feel as though I must give whatever it was that a friend sought from me, that were I to refuse, I would be being a horribly selfish person.

That's co-dependency, to put the desires of someone else, above my own serenity. It's co-dependent to allow someone to grab me in an iron grip, rip me out of my good mood, and pull me down the drain with them, into that mental sewer of negativity.

It's all right for me to choose not to hang out with people who drag me down. It's perfectly acceptable for me to decide that my serenity is more important than letting someone else use me as a dumping ground for their resentments, bad moods, and roiling anger. I have the right to decide that I am going to pull back from a friendship, for no other reason than that I've realised that I'm not enjoying myself with this person, that in getting to know them better, I've discovered that this person is not a healthy friend for me.

Life isn't going to be all smooth sailing - Al-Anon doesn't promise me that I will be granted a reprieve from having to deal with life's usual trials and tribulations. It teaches me how to move through my life with a better understanding of, and compassion for - myself, and others. I still have to deal with the same problems, it's how I choose to do so that changes.

At one time, I'd have dealt with my dawning understanding of how this person could affect me, by cutting them off completely - total avoidance. I don't do that nowadays, but I do make sure that I'm emotionally detached from the parts of their character which are dangerous to my serenity.

If they call, I decide whether or not I've got the energy to listen, before I pick up.  When I do answer the phone to their call, and that current of complaint starts gathering momentum, I can stand on the bank, and watch the river flow. I no longer feel the need to dive in and try to rescue someone, who hasn't the slightest interest in being saved; someone who fights wildly any attempt on my part, to steer the conversation shorewards. I watch, I throw out a few flotation devices, and I wave as they are carried off out of sight. I have no intention of drowning alongside them.

That may sound harsh to those of you new to program, but we can only save ourselves. There is no way for me to force this person to choose a more positive and accepting attitude; I have enough on my plate some days, with the effort to steer my own thinking in a better direction.

I do what is humanly possible, and I turn the rest over to my Higher Power.

Friday, October 22, 2010

How Do I Usually React When I Feel Frightened?

That's a question from the "Fear" section in Blueprint for Progress, the workbook for Al-Anon's Fourth Step.

When I feel frightened, I become angry. This was a mystery to me for a long time; I couldn't comprehend why when I felt afraid, I would flip over into an anger so fierce, my heartrate rocketed, and my entire body trembled.

In one spiritual awakening, I saw the answer with a stark clarity: fear feels weak, anger feels strong. In childhood, fear was a constant companion. Fear of loss, fear of abandonment, fear of battering and abuse, fear of shaming and humiliation. These were very real fears, because that pretty much describes my life up to about 16, when I went out on my own.

I was thinking yesterday, about what a program friend calls, "the stories we tell ourselves." My stories before Al-Anon, all revolved around pain, fear, loss, shame. I was, I now understand, an unremittingly negative person. I learned early in life that it was better not to hope. I was trapped by circumstance and other people's decisions for me; I shut myself down, and endured, until I could escape.

Endured until I could escape: this set a pattern in my life, of always looking to a mythical future, when I could get out, get away, disappear, escape. I can still find myself falling into this default mode, when I'm under stress/not paying attention/not working my program.

In that mindset, I feel martyred, alone, trapped. I don't feel able to affect change; I'm merely enduring until I can escape. It's a coping mechanism that may have served me well as a small child, but now interferes with my recovery. When I'm in that place inside my head, I'm shut down. I'm not willing or able to take a different viewpoint, I'm just putting up with it, until I can find a break in the fence, and make a mad dash for freedom.

In Al-Anon, I have learned that feelings are not facts. Yes, I feel whatever I feel, but I have a choice as to what connotations or interpretations I attach to those feelings. I do not have to view them with the old filter, which only shows two options - endure, or escape. I can view them through an Al-Anon filter, which not only opens up a sightline of many choices, but also reveals how feeling trapped is a choice I make, when I am fearful.

Feeling trapped is a slithering away from my own responsibilities for where I am, and how I deal with life. Feeling trapped is a blaming of others for my pain, a way to keep an uneasy distance, from an intimacy which may feel threatening, only because I haven't come this way before - it's a further pushing forward of my personal frontiers.

When I'm frightened, I tend to flip over into anger. If I work my program I will stop to examine my anger when it arises, to eliminate the possibility that it's a response to having my boundaries violated. If that's not happening, then I need to look around to see: where am I fearful?

I'm going to a lot more meetings per week in the last while, and it's an amazing coincidence how doing so has affected my program. I'd been feeling very stuck; now, I'm like an old car with a faulty choke, I may be juttering and banging and lurching along, but hey, I'm moving forward, and I'm feeling my serenity flowing back to warm not only me, but all around me.

I sat here this morning, with my little dog making contented noises, as she had a little slurp on my shirtsleeve, (our vet says this can happen when puppies are weaned at too young an age - it can leave them with an apparently lifelong urge to nurse; eating a meal triggers this, and if she's cuddling with me after eating, she will either fasten upon my knuckle, which makes typing impossible, or refused that, my sleeve.) and felt a rush of gratitude, for all of those who show up at meetings, and speak their truth, and for all who blog, and do the same. 
Keep coming back, it works.