Saturday, January 30, 2010

January Almost Gone.

Hard to believe, isn't it? 

Today's reading in the ODAT had a phrase which resonated with me, about how Al-Anon is like a "spiritual common sense." It's not estoteric wisdom which can only be gained after a long trek up a distant mountaintop in the Andes, with thousands of pounds of gear, and much splashing out of resources, in order to consult a guru who is in retreat from humanity. It's common sense - when I do this, that happens.

When I reacted the way I used to, to alcoholic behavior, the result was insanity and no serenity. When I put my program into practise, not only is my life more manageable, but I will also find time to enjoy myself.

We don't have space here for me to do stained glass, so I've gone  back to my early art school days, and have been playing with watercolors. I did that tonight for about 3 hours, (surfacing only when my spouse arrived home from the AA rally all blissed out)
We looked at each other, and began to laugh - we recognised that we each wore an expression of contented delight - a shared moment of comfortable affection.

So life goes, rising and falling like sea waves on rock. Earlier in the week, I felt annoyed and tired in having to deal with alcoholic "isms" - the last few days, I'm enjoying myself, and feeling serene.

Through Al-Anon, I'm learning to let go of the stressful times as they pass, and not use them to bludgeon, shame or control another. I saw a sign today, as I was returning home from the art supply store:

"It's a waste of the future, to spend today, fretting about the past."

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Co-operating With God.

From the ODAT, page 28:

"God does not deprive us of His love, we deprive Him of our co-operation."

I'm continually surprised by how much of the wisdom of Al-Anon I am able to forget. I have loved that sentence from the first time I read it, when the book ONE DAY AT A TIME IN AL-ANON, (hereinafter referred to as the ODAT) was new to me . I've gone through a few of these little blue books since I started; either from having  worn them to the point of disintegration, or from lending them out and not getting them back. I don't do that anymore, but that's a topic for another post.

I read that line this morning, and thought of the sliding glass door leading out to the deck. When we moved here, it required real effort to shift, in either direction. My spouse tried it a few times, then took it off the track, took out one set of wheels, examined them, and laughed. They showed them to me; the casing was bent to the point that the two wheels were out of alignment by about a quarter inch. The front wheels were the same. I was doubtful; how much difference could a quarter of an inch make? I figured it was partly that the door was just heavy.

New wheels were purchased, installed, the door put back on the track, and it was suggested I try it now. I went over, braced myself, and pulled with the same amount of effort as was needed prior to his efforts. The door flew backwards, and was stopped by their hand before it smashed into the casing. I was gratified and delighted by the ease with which the heavy door moved. That quarter inch made an enormous difference.

Al-Anon is the quarter inch in my daily life. It's the difference between having to brace myself and haul on life's doors, and being able to them, with a slight pull.

That quarter inch is also my co-operation with my Higher Power. When I'm stubbornly trying to do it all by myself, it's like the sliding glass door before the new wheels; it's possible to operate it, but the effort required is far more than should be necessary. My Higher Power is always there for me; I'm the one who turns my face away from that source of strength, because my ego is running rampant.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Won't Power.

When I had been in Al-Anon for a few years, and was at a stage of having come face-to-face with some of my worst character defects for the first time, I went through a period of rebellion against all things Twelve Step. I'd sit in meetings and feel irritated at how long this person or that spoke, I'd make judgements, I'd daydream, and lose the topic completely.

I began to feel a creeping sort of alarm regarding this, because I knew how helpful program was to me in so many ways: working the Steps of Al-Anon had made it possible for me to enjoy life in a way I'd never have dreamed possible for a person with my history. So what was going on? I kept quiet about this for ages, before making what I thought was a brilliantly off-hand comment to my sponsor. She, of the keen understanding and directness, (which grated upon me so much at the beginning, and became such a gift)
pounced upon this, and suggested we explore it further. All my wriggling and squirming was for naught - she had me pinned, and insisted I elaborate.

It all came spilling out, along with my fears about why this was happening. She smiled lovingly at me, and said, "I call that "won't power."


She explained that she used that as a shorthand term to describe the negativity which resides within so many of us, and pushes us to: leave things be, don't rock the boat, don't make a fuss, put your head down, and try to be invisible, slide down the side of the room, smile politely, chat, but don't reveal yourself, walk alone, eat alone, be alone, and whatever you do, don't change anything.

I sat there stunned, because she had just described my most secret self in her crisp British accent. That was the start of my understanding of how my isolating kept me trapped in my sickness.
I'd always believed that keeping my true self hidden from other people kept me safe, but it wasn't true at all, it just kept me stuck.

My sponsor went on to explain that even after all her years in program, she still, especially in times of stress, had "won't power" surge to the forefront of her consciousness, and would have to make a conscious, deliberate effort to shrug that off, by making contact and reasoning things out with a program friend, or her own sponsor.

I have always isolated in times of stress, and that is still my default mode. I have to make a choice to do the opposite. When things are going well, I don't have the desire to hide out, it's only when I'm struggling with whatever demon or difficulty is here today. That's where the program concept of doing the opposite of the action we first consider, comes into play for me. If I want to isolate, I choose to call a program friend or my sponsor.

I had a perfect example of this today - my sponsor sent an email to ask, was I still driving over to have lunch with her this week, and even though I adore this woman, and enjoy her company enormously, my first impulse was to reply that I was too tired/busy/excuse of the day. Why? Because things have been a bit stressful here, and that's my "won't power" operating. Hide out, be quiet about it, smile smile smile and lie about how great life is.

So I quickly sent a reply saying that yes I was, and I couldn't wait, and hit that "send" button before I could change my mind.

That's program working in my life. That's me working my program. That's me turning, to open the door, shove the won't power back out across the sill, slam it firmly closed and lock it. I went and read some program literature directly afterwards, to reinforce my knowledge that this was a good choice.

Monday, January 25, 2010

If A Thing's Worth Doing...'s worth doing well. That little expression was one I heard many times as a kid, and it tied in nicely with the defeatist part of my nature, which rather than be seen to do something badly, would refuse to even try. "Perfection or nothing!" was my philosophy. I had a sort of muddled idea that if I couldn't do whatever it was well, right off the bat, I was a failure.

Al-Anon was the first place I was introduced to a way of thinking which accepted failure as an indication of effort expended, and wasn't that wonderful, because having got that first distressing failure out of the way, now I was that much closer to success.

I learned to redefine success for myself, rather than accept anyone else's definition. That meant that I could do whatever it was badly, a cobbled-together hodgepodge, and define it as a good result because I'd tried, and had this to show for my efforts. Ugly it may have been to any eyes but my own, but to me, it could be a thing of beauty, if I allowed it.

Al-Anon introduced me to:
"Good enough for now."
"Perfectly satisfactory for a beginner's effort."
"Not great, but not bad."
"Excellent result, given my inexperience."
"Hey, you know, that really does (sort of) resemble a _____."

I'm grateful for all of this, because it has permitted me to try the new and the different, in a spirit of hopeful enthusiasm, with no worry or fretting for the end result - the joy is in the trying.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

How Badly Do I Want Change? con't.

From the ODAT, page 23:

"Learning the Al-Anon program in all its deep meanings, and applying it to my daily life is not simple matter of going to a meeting now and then. Suppose I had decided to learn another language or study art or a science, I would have to work at it every day and practise the things I learned until they became part of me. A philosopher or an artist studies every day for years to perfect himself. How can I hope to perfect myself in the Al-Anon way of life without daily application?"

A few years ago, a friend asked me to teach her the basics of stained glass. I agreed, and we spent quite a few hours down in her basement, working on the fundamentals of how to cut glass, how to foil correctly, and how to solder. My friend then put the glass aside, and didn't touch it again for about 2 years, at which time she asked me to teach her again, because she'd forgotten it all.

I gently refused, instead giving her the excellent instruction book with which I'd taught myself how to do stained glass. (Setting this boundary was very difficult for me, because I respect, admire, and love my friend, and didn't want to upset or annoy her. I reminded her that we'd discussed before the lessons, the fact that I was making an exception for her, because I don't teach anyone how to do glass, and I've had many requests. I'm not a good teacher, I'm too impatient.)

I had taken the time to show her how to do it, it was then up to her to utilise that knowledge, or not. Program is just the same.I learn how to utilise the wisdom of Twelve Step through attending meetings, talking to other members, reading, and working with a sponsor. Other members can be of enormous help to me, but unless I'm willing to put the program into practise in my own life, I won't get anywhere.

Some lessons come easily, and I use the information almost immediately. Others, for whatever reason: my ego, or stubborness, or my ever-present desire for control, (simmering away on a back burner like a stock pot) are set aside, in full view, and not touched again for months. Or years, when I was newer to program.

Life has given me sufficient painful instruction in the result of my knowing, yet continuing to turn my face away, and refusing to admit a reality, to reduce my obstinacy considerably by this stage of my journey.

I heard at the meeting someone speak of setting boundaries with himself - I like that. Saying to myself: this far, and no further. Do not go there. You know what happens, so suck it up, turn around, and walk the other way, repeating the Serenity Prayer as you go.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Some Days Saunter Along...

...and some go like a Ferrari on the Autobahn. Today has been one of the latter, as evidenced by the fact that I'm just getting to this, at almost 4:30pm.

It was gloriously sunny and mild today - that in itself, is enough to put me in a good mood. After 14 years of living in places where the sun is an infrequent visitor, and the drip of precipitation can be the loudest sound, being able to go out and stand in sunshine, is a pleasure beyond words to describe. Crunching and sliding over stones on the beach, dogs beside us, and the ferry slowly pulling away from the dock on the opposite side of the harbour - all these are additions to my gratitude list, which seems pages long today.

I love days where I find myself smiling happily over nothing, and everything. My meeting is tonight, and I'm anticipating that. When I have my Al-Anon filter in place, I see challenges, rather than barriers. I see opportunities instead of tests. I see life, love, and people in a peaceful, wholehearted, energetic and enthusiastic way. I feel that all my efforts are rewarded, in my ability to live comfortably within my own head.

I feel generous and open-minded, and I count my blessings. I have so many. They're always there; it's my ability to see them that is dependant upon my state of mind. Some days, it's as though I'm unable to stop squinting in dissatisfaction, so all that is visible is a blur through my eyelashes, and it's too easy to begin muttering my discontent.

Recovery is work. At times, it's damnably hard, sweaty, uncomfortable work. Whether or not I can recognise it at the time, I reap the reward either way.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Clutching The Past In An Iron Grip.

I was reminded last night, of what can happen when we are unable to let go of the past, and the hurts we've suffered. Some of us will go to our graves never having made our peace with the past. Were it not for Al-Anon, I know I'd have been one of those people.

I was in my late twenties when I came into program, and I was still obsessed with what had been done to me as a child. I was furious, resentful and a victim par excellence - I had my passport to victimhood in my childhood. Werefit were suggested that I take responsibility for my behaviors, I'd whip my abusive childhood out and wave it - a free pass to behave poorly. I had, or so I thought, the ultimate excuse.

Every now and then I wonder who I'd be were it not for this incredible program of self-improvement, and I shudder a bit, because I have a fairly good idea - I'd just be an older, more rigid, more solid version of myself when new to Al-Anon.  Still sunk in misery, still taking out that excuse book every single day and reading it,  feeling almost the same pain and rage, as I had when the actual events occured. Many more years of my life would have passed, and I still wouldn't have been able to enjoy my time here on earth.

Al-Anon has been a life-giver to me. The wisdom of Twelve Steps has allowed me to let go of the past, to let it slip beneath the surface of my daily life, and sink fathoms deep, to the seabed, where it lies, half-sunken in the sand, no longer a danger, barely recognisable for what it once was, so covered is it, in the corals of time.

I will be forever grateful to Al-Anon, and to my first sponsor, who had the courage to be the first person ever to gently suggest that the past wasn't clutching me, I was clutching the past.

Later, she would tell me that she'd wondered for a long moment if she'd overstepped herself when she said that, because she could tell by the deep breath I took in, that I was terrifically offended. And I was. I turned the conversation to other things, she acquiesed, and a rather shaky peace was restored between us.

A fundamental truth of that sort, is akin to those cockeburrs which stick tenaciously to a knitted garment; one may be able to remove most of it, but there always seems to be that one piece woven between the fibers that will not be dislodged. So it was with that remark by my sponsor, and it poked and prickled and drove me to distraction.

The next time we had dinner at her house, to meet and talk and work program together, I mustered my courage and asked her to explain further what she'd meant. That was a beginning of my slowly (excruciatingly slowly) moving toward an understanding of how I was not a victim of my past, but rather of my own character defects. I wasn't the maimed and scarred creature, buffeted by life, I'd thought myself; I was an active participant.

That was a rude awakening. In one fell swoop, there went all my justification of present-day bad behavior "because I'd had a hard time of it as a kid."

Pain is relative: we all have a hard time of it as a kid, in our own ways, it's just that some of us (and I wasn't one of these) can let go of the past, and move forward into the future. If I thought about that at all, it was to believe that it was because they hadn't had it as rough as I had, it never dawned upon me that this was a choice they made each day.

By the time I reached Step Seven:

"Humbly asked Him to remove our shortcomings."

for the first time, I had the tiniest of inklings of what that might mean for me, and I wanted it passionately. When I did my first working of the Steps, I had the common idea that I'd do them once, I'd be fixed, and life would be grand. I didn't realise I was starting a life-long process of two steps forward, one step back. Now, years later, I'm quite comfortable with that most days - move forward, get stuck, wallow, wriggle, squirm, fight free, lunge forward in a burst of understanding, trip, do a's all good, all of it.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010


Once again, the first thought on my mind when I awoke today, is reflected back to me from a blog I read every morning with my first coffee. I got up this morning, and walked down the hallway, dogs racing out ahead of me in their usual delight to greet the day, and thought "Faith is simple when our lives are going well, and correspondingly more difficult when we're going through hard times."

Well, it is for me, at least. My faith is tested when I am afraid. Fear is my adversary, and this is how it seems to have been throughout my life. Some days, I feel like my little female dog, who quakes and quails before the new and the different, although she puts up a brave show, barking, while her tail is quivering back between her legs.

I let them out this morning, and they both went rushing to the front of the yard to bark like raving maniacs at an elderly gentleman walking past with his Brittany spaniel - I apologised to him, but he just laughed - he found the commotion entertaining, rather than  threatening, as did his dog, who was gazing at them with interest, ears up, head tilted, and tail stump wiggling - small barking dog isn't intimidating to man nor beast.

I have had years of experience to overcome, with regard to worry and fretting - that was my normal state - I faced perceived threats as my little dog does, barking and snarling, while shaking in terror. I lived in a constant place of worrying that the little I had would be snatched from me - I'd learned of that possibility very early on in life, and it left an indelible mark. From the vantage point of today, I can see that is isn't that the mark has been eradicated, but rather that I have decided not to keep going back to stare at it.

For me, faith is a matter of choice. I choose for today, to believe in a Higher Power who loves me. This does not mean that I will be miraculously protected from the ordinary course of human calamity. What it means, is that I have a source of strength from which to draw, when my own is exhausted.

I have the option of choosing an alternate activity than obsessing over my worst fears. I can decide that I will not go down the road of "what if..." I can choose to live in today, and if I am unable to do that, then - in the hour, and if that is beyond me, then in the next 5 minutes. Some days, fear is the monster in the closet, and all I can do, is keep the door tightly closed, and walk past, bravely whistling.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010


All things being relative, after a bout of food poisoning, ordinary life feels like a great pleasure. Thanks to those kind souls who sent best wishes my way.

I don't know if it was as a result of being ill, but I had seriously wierd dreams last night, and the one just before waking was of getting myself into a situation of a casual acquaintance taking complete advantage of me,  as a direct result of my inability to say "No."

In this dream, all the old feelings were running rampant - resentment over being treated with such disrespect, anger, frustration, and hurt feelings leading to martyrdom - and at the same time as the main action of the dream was taking place, it's as though I were standing off to the side narrating from an Al-Anon perspective: " This person is not respecting my boundaries. I need to set limits with this person, and stick to them. I should call my sponsor. I wouldn't be feeling so annoyed with her now, if I'd just set boundaries when this first arose - I've done this to myself."

When I awoke and remembered the dream, I started to laugh. The teachings of Al-Anon are sufficiently second-nature for me now, that they seep even into my dream life. I may not always adhere to them, I may have times when I'm struggling against my own desire for control, but when I realise that fact, and work to let go, they reassert themselves in all of their wisdom, and I remember - it works, if I work it.

From Hope for Today, page 18:
"When I came to Al-Anon, I finally found the peace I desired so much. Al-Anon taught me that the path to peace is accepting the people, place, things, and situations I cannot change. Accepting myself as I am, by working Steps Four through Nine, freed me from my self-inflicted inner judge and jury. Accepting others with the use of the Serenity Prayer allowed me to stop fighting. Acceptance allows God to do what I cannot. Acceptance opens the door for my growth and leads me on my spritual journey one day at a time."

"..self-inflicted inner judge and jury..." Oh, how I can relate to that! Only mine isn't only pounding the gavel about my own thoughts, feelings, and behavior, mine is incessantly wanting to pronounce other people in the wrong. This is one of my worst character defects.

I can recognise that this stems from insecurity, and when I was new to program, was the avenue my beaten-down ego habitually sought. This doesn't make it any less distasteful to me, when I realise that once again, I've fallen back into the rut of deciding that I know best how someone else should think, feel, or act. I cannot remove this on my own - I've tried. The only way to free myself of this, is to ask my Higher Power to remove it. But before that can happen, I must be inclined to relinquish it.

"Were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character."

If I don't do the prepatory work, which allows me to find solace and sustenance from God, and my program, then I will not be truly willing to let go of those coping mechanisms which keep me feeling safe. Nature abhors a vacuum, and if I have an inner hole, it's going to be filled with something - I now realise that I have a choice as to what that something is.

I'm not a victim, I don't have to be filled with anger, resentment,  self-pity, judgement, or condemnation of myself and those around me. When I work my program, and work to accept, let go, be loving, then I am truly willing to have God remove these defects of character, because I don't need them anymore. I have something with which to replace them. I feel better about myself when I am loving and accepting, and I am a far more pleasant companion.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Serenity Beside The Sea.

Yesterday we took the dogs, and went for a walk along the harbour, which is about a two minute drive from our front door. The sky was a clear pale blue, with a few wisps of clouds, and the breeze just strong enough to produce a bit of chop. Beautiful.

I feel claustrophobic inland; I'm only truly at home living close to the sea.

"Roll on, thou deep and dark blue Ocean--roll!
Ten thousand fleets sweep over thee in vain;
Man marks the earth with ruin--his control
Stops with the shore."
          Lord Byron

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Meetings, con't.

I went to another meeting last night. It was held in a school portable, and I couldn't find it. I pulled into the parking lot and asked for directions from a teenage boy who was standing talking to someone reclining in their car, with only their feet visible, resting on the windowsill of the passenger side. I found him endearing, this kid, he was instantly willing to be helpful. He started talking, and made it sound as if it were a two-day trip: "You go all the way around, waaay behind, at the very very back of the school.." The owner of the feet, a girl, broke in to say, "Go back out of the parking lot, take the first right into the little dead end street, park halfway up, and it's right there in front of you."  It was.

There were quite a few people at the meeting, some sitting, some milling around by the literature table.  I'd just sat down, when I felt someone tousling my hair. I turned to see an old friend in Al-Anon beaming down at me. I stood up and we hugged. I could feel my eyes filling - having her at the meeting helped me to feel instantly more comfortable in these new surroundings. (When I was new to program, I found all that hugging wierd - to avoid it, I used to shoot out the door at the end of the meetings. I didn't hug my friends, let alone complete strangers.)

I could feel the energy in the room as soon as I walked in and sat down. Some meetings can absorb new people seamlessly, they just widen the circle a bit, and even newcomers will feel part of the whole. Other meetings have more of a closed feeling, and one almost feels like an intruder on "their" meeting.

I once walked into a meeting, pulled a chair off a stack, and up to the table, only to have no-one move to let me in, and I had to sit staring at the back of people's heads, outside the circle, as did the newcomer who came in a coiuple of minutes after me. Then a regular member arrived, and people moved over, to give her room to pull a chair up to the table.  An interesting interpretation of "everyone is welcome."

I've walked into meetings where someone gets me a chair and offers me a drink, while everyone else at the table shifts and moves, so that my chair can be pulled into line with the rest. Then, when I was seated, and glancing around, each person with whom I made eye contact,smiled, raised their eyebrows, or winked - some small greeting.

Last night's meeting was like that - warmly welcoming. Afterwards, walking back out to my car, I felt invigorated and satisfied, mulling over something one of the members had said that resonated with me.

Every meeting has its own "flavour"  - some will appeal more than others. It doesn't make us, or the meetings, right or wrong, it's a matter of personal choice. I might find a meeting doesn't appeal to me, but it's a perfect fit for you. That's all part of how it works.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Comment Moderation.

Today, I received my first-ever unpleasant comment, and after deleting it, decided to change to comment moderation. I had hoped to avoid this, but human nature being what it is, and blogging being relatively anonymous, it appears that the urge to respond in a less-than-loving way overcomes the odd individual. So it goes.

I hope this won't be so unwieldy that you will stop leaving comments - I appreciate reading them.


Last night, I tried to attend an Al-Anon meeting downtown, but couldn't for the life of me find the little 3-block-long street on which the building was situated. I drove around and around in the bucketing rain, for about 15 minutes, but had no luck. I'm hoping it will be easier to find tonight's meeting at this end of the city.

I'm looking for a meeting with a strong positive energy; I like those. I don't know if I'm becoming a crotchety old-timer, or what, but I'm impatient with meetings with much complaining, or moaning and groaning about how tough life is. Life is tough for all of us, what have you got to say that's helpful?

What realisation did you have about how your own attitude gets in your way?

What happened today, or this week, to trigger your gratitude?

How did you use Al-Anon principles to deal with a difficult situation?

What did you learn from another reading of program literature?

Which Step are you presently working, and how is it changing the way you view the world?

Which character defect are you asking to have removed?

How do you recognise this character defect, when it arises in your daily life?

How did sharing yourself with another member, make some area of your own recovery clearer for you?

Etc, etc, I could go on for some time in that vein. I tell my sponsees that when we share at a meeting, it's good practise to pause and consider whether what we are about to say can be of any help to anyone else at the table, or are we just venting?

Venting may feel good, but it isn't helpful to anyone else. What is helpful, is honest self-examination, and descriptions of how each person works the 12 Steps. When I hear a member speaking with painful honesty, about a realisation he had regarding the way  he justifies a certain behavior towards his adolescent child, which he'd find extremely offensive were it directed at him, and the resulting amend he felt moved to make, how embarassing and uncomfortable it was to begin with, but how his child's face lit up when he made his amend, and the closeness that resulted, that gives me hope for my own amends. It encourages me to be honest with myself; it's a good example of working the program.

He's sharing his experience, strength, and hope. I love those kinds of meetings, they are positive, uplifting, and powerful. I can feel God in the room with us.

Thursday, January 14, 2010


A christmas gift this year was a box of 36 watercolour pencils, and last night, I was playing with them, drawing an African violet leaf, front and back.

I haven't done a lot of drawing in the last 20 years, I've worked in a different medium, and I'd forgotten how engrossing it can be. I had my little dog sprawled over me, underneath the pad of watercolor paper. She loves the warmth and comfort of physical closeness when she sleeps, and is perfectly willing to tolerate a book or some such being rested against her side, as long as she has the major portion of my lap for herself.

When I put my drawing down, I surfaced to my surroundings. This is how art has always been for me - an alternate universe, which engulfs me, leaving no room for worries, concerns, or any intrusions from daily life. I find in it, peace and great satisfaction, whether my efforts are successful, or not at all what I'd hoped for.

I'm grateful that art has been a gift from God all my life - a safe place to be entirely myself - joy running through me like a shiver.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

What's My Part?

That was the topic of the meeting I attended last night. It was fascinating to hear just how many of us in Al-Anon have tolerated behavior that would have sent your average non-co-dependent person down the road in short order.

I tolerated sustained verbal and emotional abuse from my first husband, and the reason for this could be ascribed to my childhood, to a stubborn desire to make it work, to any number of factors; it's irrelevent, really - I did, and it caused the both of us years of wretchedness.

This is diametrically opposed to the way I viewed that relationship before program - back then, it was all his fault, end of discussion. He drank - we suffered; I was an innocent bystander.

It was a long, hard haul uphill, to get my mind open far enough to even begin to consider that perhaps my own behavior left something to be desired. Blaming him for my torment might be satisfying in a nasty way, but didn't help either of us.

I was resistant to Step 5, with a mulish disregard for any suggestion that it could be an admission to a different way of life - a life which offered more than survival and my ever-present longing to be anywhere else but where I was.

"Admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs."

Admitting it to myself was the most exacting skirmish - my ego was a small quivering thing cowering behind impressive defenses. I had years of rationalisations and justifications to fight my way through - I'm reminded of the time my husband was out behind our house cutting down a blackberry thicket with a machete, hacking and clearing for hours, just to get down to bare earth. At that point,  I thought he was finished, but he laughed, and said he was just getting started, and the worst work lay ahead - digging up and discarding the foundations of the plant, those impressive roots which spread in every direction, and colonise all gardens they reach.

Just so did my character defects contaminate all areas of my life - resentment and self-pity, rigidity of thought, impatience; the list of my wrongs seems endless some days. I once had a shared laughing fit with my sponsor, when I called looking for some commiseration, and she asked, "Self-pity not doing it for you, then?" in her crisp English accent. (She had a very clear grasp of the difference between giving comfort, and helping me to wallow.)

Once I could admit my failings to myself, admitting them to God came easily, but it was another titanic struggle to admit them to "another human being."

I didn't want to admit to my faults, they were mine, and I was deeply ashamed of them. My sponsor asked, did I think I could list off some of her character defects? I wriggled and squirmed, but was finally pinned down to an embarassed "Perhaps."  She went on to ask if that were the case, did the opposite apply, could she perhaps list some of mine?

That simple question left me speechless. Of course she could, she knew me better than I knew myself, at that point. I wanted to know what the point of all this was, in that case; why was I having to tell her what she already knew?

Why? Because it forces me to be honest, and it keeps me humble. Step 5 permits me to see myself without shame, and without grandiosity - as a perfectly acceptable human being with all the usual attendant human frailties. It allows me to feel comfortable within my skin, Al-Anon, and the world at large. I'm no longer possessed of the sneaking feeling that I'm trying to hide some horrific personality trait, and could be discovered at any moment. I can laugh at myself, and that is a blessing of glorious proportions.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Taking A Moment.

In my daily round, kindness to others is a worthy objective. I don't have to allow my boundaries to be trampled when practising kindness. Some days, it's just taking the time to dash off a quick reply to an email. I know how I feel when I write to a friend, and receive no response; it's rather like shouting into the void. Why is it that ignoring someone in person isn't acceptable, but ignoring them by email is?

I can tell myself that I'm too tired, I'm too busy, I have too many other things to achieve today, but those are justifications. I had a back-and-forth email the other day, and realised by their reply to my short response that I'd caused hurt feelings - I wasn't warm enough.  I'm not suggesting that we are responsible for other people's feelings, I'm clear on that not being the case. What I'm referring to, is all the ways we excuse being sharp, or abrupt, or just not bothering, under the guise of "busy." Am I truly too busy to take a moment to share some kindness, and some human warmth? If that is the case, perhaps I need to adjust my priorities.

I pray to be a person who is loving and warm even when I'm feelish rushed or pressured, or just fatigued.  When I take a moment to connect with someone, I am always grateful that I did - the smile on their face, or the tone of their reply, proves to me once again that giving kindness away restores my own energy and cheerfulness - it's a never-ending supply, fed by my Higher Power.

That's the selfish reason for doing it. The unselfish, is all those who have shared their experience strength and hope with me, over the time I've been in Al-Anon, believing that as they gave to me, I'd give to others.

One older lady, who'd been in program forever,  always concluded a phone call with, "Now, dear, nice talking to you, and remember to pay it forward!"

Monday, January 11, 2010


"Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves."

This can seem a daunting prospect; it was for me. Apart from my rage and resentment towards the alcholic, and my belief that all roads led straight back to him and his drinking, was my hidden, secret fear that an inventory of myself would reveal horrors the like of which skirted my dreams at night.

I felt resentful at any suggestion that I wasn't perfect as is, that I might have a part in my own misery, that I needed to swivel my focus from the poor sodden drinker to the mirror, and take a good hard look at myself and my own behavior patterns.

I've learned to use resentment as a touchstone; when that's my predominant feeling in a situation, it's an excellent indicator that my own character defects are running at high tide. I don't become resentful unless I'm already feeling guilty. I'm not feeling guilty unless I know I'm behaving with less program than I could. (Not should, could. Al-Anon teaches us not to try changing our conduct through shaming and restrictions, but to choose better behavior as a path to enlightenment and serenity.)

There are no "musts" in Al-Anon; we are each given the room and the freedom to practise this program as much, or as little, as we see fit. No-one will sit at the table with us, take notes, and declare us wanting. We are part of the fellowship to whatever degree we choose. In the same way, we will have whatever relationship with whatever Higher Power we embrace.

I've had periods of great movement and change, when I've been driven by stong desire not to be that same unhappy person I once was, and I've had times where I've just been coasting on fumes. I try not to judge the one by the other, but to accept both as the natural ebb and flow, without fear. I'm moving forward steadily - I can see that when I glance back over my shoulder to see my last resting place. But I don't want to become complacent, or self-satisfied.

Regular inventories of myself keep me honest, and help me to understand my character, my choices, and my motives.

Saturday, January 9, 2010


I once was the sort of person who made snap judgements, then hasty decsions based upon those judgements. I'd spend 2 hours in a fabric store, finding the perfect material to make myself an article of clothing, yet major, life-altering choices were often made while I was in the grip of confusion, despair, or panic.

I could project entire conversations with the alcoholic inside my head, complete with my witty and slicing comments, (the kind I never make in real life because I can't think of them quickly enough) but I couldn't project myself far enough into the future to be able to discern the possible end results of a choice made today.

Because I felt as though I had few or no choices, I would flail about, trying to get my needs and wants met. More often than not, I was merrily leaping from the frying pan into the fire. And then I could spend my time roasting away in the flames, wishing I'd looked over the rim of the pan before I threw myself out.

A marvellous outcome of practising the Twelve Steps is that I don't do that anymore. I took Step Three:

"Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him."

I don't make choices based upon panic, resentment, anger, or frustration nowadays. I think about them for a while first, then I talk to my sponsor, and reason things out with her. If she can't help me with that particular area, I go to another Al-Anon member, and reason things out with them. I pray for guidance. I pray for more guidance. I pray for a sign to let me know I'm on the right track.

Sometimes, I must let go of it, accept it isn't happening on my time, but God's, and practise patience (not a trait I'm oversupplied with, unfortunately.) I used to hate waiting, because I just could not let go; I obsessed. I'm getting much better at letting go, because I've had many experiences demonstrating that my Higher Power has a plan I am unable to perceive at this stage of the process. Time and again, my chosen path will be completely blocked off - I can try going around either side, only to discover them both solidly sealed off to me.

That's an indication to me that I'm not heading in the right direction. I need to stop, sit down, take a break, look around, and see if I can see another avenue opening. Maybe I'm meant to just wait and think for a while; I've learned that isn't the waste of time I used to consider it. I don't have that force of desperation driving me to do something, anything, just to be in motion. I'm not treading water frantically, because I fear if I stop for a second I will drown; I'm floating - my faith makes me buoyant.

Friday, January 8, 2010

Step Two.

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

My understanding of this Step, as with so much of Al-Anon, continues to evolve. I began with a vague idea that this power greater than myself would do the Creator thing of waving a magic wand, and bing! I'd be sane, and wouldn't that be nice.

Since I wasn't sure I'd ever been sane to begin with, when I gazed down that thought path, it sort of faded away into the mist. I liked the idea of being "restored to sanity" but I wasn't sure what that would look or feel like - I felt I'd been bonkers in one way or another for my entire life, and I didn't want to go back to any of my previous states of mind, so where was I going to end up, sane? How would I recognise it? Would I be able to maintain it, or was it a now-you-see-it, now-you-don't sort of thing?

I definitely preferred the concept of sanity as being something I was awarded, rather than something requiring much effort on my part, but that's not how it has worked for me. I've had delicious moments of clarity that I know were God handing me knowledge on a plate, complete with silverware, napkin, and instructions.

Those moments are a precious gift, and I'd love to have more of them, but most of it has been work, of varying degrees of effort. Some has been fairly simple - if I want result B, I must take action A. Some has been a hard slog, shoving my way through my own confused belief systems, searching for some tiny area of clear ground on which to stand, so I could begin the clean-up,  shovelling it all into the dumpster marked "Old Attitudes," getting it into a sort of central clearing room, to be gone over at a later date with my sponsor.

I've had to truly, deeply, passionately desire change - when I have been half-hearted, so has my new sanity been half-hearted: moments of clarity in the mud and murk, but on the whole, not much different.

Only when I've wanted it badly enough, and been imbued with determination to achieve it, has the sanity become less of a shadowy figure haunting the backdrop of my days, and more of a rock solidly planted in the foreground, around which all else is happily arranged. My own personal focal point.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

You Can't Control Other People.

When I was in my first marriage, and very new to Al-Anon. I might have given lip service to that idea, but in my deepest heart, I still had the belief that if I could just find the right words to get through to him, he'd hear me, and quit drinking.

I must have been exhausting to live with, always at him about it, nattering and nagging and bitching and complaining and manipulating...all to no avail. I was a raving lunatic, and so was he. Before Al-Anon, I'd imagined the two of us to be preoccupied with different ends, but they were the same - both of us were completely obsessed with alcohol.

Step One is always there for me to take, and it works wtih such beautiful simplicity: "We admitted we were powerless over alcohol - that our lives had become unmanageable.

My own efforts to manage, direct, and control, were precisely what worked to make my life unmanageable. The harder I tried, the less it worked. That's the part I couldn't get for so long - that I had to let go first.

I have an obsessive sponsee who continues to ask how to let go? I have the same response every time: "Think of something else. Force your mind up and out of that rut, and think of something else."

My first sponsor used to say that to me, and I'd feel frustrated and irritated; I wanted something that would be truly helpful to me, not some simple suggestion along those lines. I hadn't ever tried to put her suggestion into practise, mind you, but I knew it wouldn't work. Until the first time I was so desperate that I actually tried, and discovered to my delight that it did.

I paid much closer attention after that.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Online Again At Last.

Trying to get our landline phone, and internet services hooked up here, was an exercise in dedication, tolerance, patience, and forebearance. The provider we use has a firewall of "customer service representatives" who are nothing of the kind. Over a 3-day period, various of these individuals insisted it would be hooked up "sometime today" (it wasn't) "in two hours" (not) "in one hour" (no) "soon" (fat chance)  until I swear I could feel my blood pressure  rising to dangerous, blow-your-eyeballs-right-out-of-your-head levels.

I spent hours on the cell phone, wearing down the battery, attempting to break through to an employee who might actually be able to help me, and only managed this by calling the Complaints Department for a second time.  The first time, I was transferred from Complaints to Technical, back to Complaints, to somewhere unspecified, and then, over my loud wails of "NO NO NOOOOOOOOOOO!" back to the place I'd first started - Customer Service, where a new person promised that my service would be activated in an hour, offered to stay on the line with me while I waited, and then promptly disconnected me.

I took in a few deep breaths, laid my head down upon my kitchen table, and with my voice somewhat muffled by the placemat, asked my spouse, "Can I please beat the phone to death with a sledgehammer?" They suggested that might be counter-productive, then offered me in quick succession: coffee, a square of chocolate, and a happily wiggling dog.

Refreshed and renewed, I bent once more to my task, and called Complaints for the second time. Luck was with me, and I reached a person who was wonderful - cheerful, no-nonsense, and quickly able to discover for me that there was a break in the line at my end. (So all those promises of the service being hooked up within an hour or two were arrant nonsense, it was impossible.) He explained that the competition will often cut the lines when they disconnect the services; this proved to be the case, when the repairman came today and worked his magic. The repairman was another friendly, helpful man, who removed my ancient modem and set me up with a wireless connection, all at no extra charge, because of the hassle I'd been through.

We were talking last night, about the fact that because of Al-Anon, the moment I hung up with a timeframe for the repair guy to appear at our door, I'd been able to completely let go of any feelings of annoyance or frustration. I had a solution, so I could let it go, and enjoy my day.

We still don't have cable yet, but I'm saving that phone call for tommorow.

I went to an Al-Anon meeting last night, and thoroughly enjoyed it. The topic was "Alcoholism is a disease." There were about a dozen women at the table, and the sharing was varied. Everything from members who have a fairly good grasp of detachment, to those who are just beginning to grasp the concept, and still struggling quite a bit. I was too shy to speak, (hard to believe, right?) but hope I never lose my sense of awe at being able to go to a new place, find a meeting, attend it, and feel right at home. I felt so grateful for the honesty, and the sharing.
Now, I'm exhausted, more tomorrow.