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.


  1. Your last line is so true and made me smile. For me, the first cocklebur was when she suggested I might be controlling. I remember being taken aback, looking aghast, with my mouth wide open. Moi? I told her she should meet my mother if she thought I was controlling. I got over it and got over myself and lunged forward. I am right sized these days, for the most part. Loved, loved, loved your post today...


  2. Thanks for your post. We can all be grateful for the life that the program opens up to us and how much we change over time. I think it can be hard to see the change sometimes, since we're so close to it. As I compare how I react to things today, though, versus a few years ago, it's like daylight and dark. I'm not necessarily sure where or when I picked up particular tools or skills, but there they are! It's part of the magic of the program and of getting the benefit of so many who have trod the same path. All the best.

  3. I love the image of the cockeburrs. That really sticks, so to speak. Terrific post.

  4. I am thankful that I don't clutch the past as I used to. I can remember those good things and the bad without getting lost there. Great post.