Sunday, February 28, 2010

Giving And Taking Offense.

Often, when I hear the term "people-pleaser," I am reminded of a friend's small boy, who was playing on the floor, while his mother and I spoke about people-pleasing. After a few times of one or the other of us saying it, he looked up with a huge grin, and said, "Purple people-eater!" His mother smiled affectionately down at him, and replied, "Something close to that, yeah."

We agreed to try to avoid the phrase, but each time it slipped out, he would crow "People eater!" As small kids do, he thought this was a great game. Next time I went to her house, he met me at the door and said excitedly, "People-eater!" I had become associated in his mind with that phrase, and that was the first thing he thought of when he saw me. Children can be so helpful in teaching us humility.

At one time, I believed that I was a people-pleaser because I was such a nice person that I wanted everyone to be happy. I was disabused of that notion, the first time it was the topic of an Al-Anon meeting I attended, and everyone around that table spoke of fear, or manipulation, or control, being the reason they indulged in people-pleasing. I could relate to every one of the scenarios - I'd done them all.

I had said yes when I wanted to say no, for fear of the other person's anger or disappointment, and then gone on to do whatever it was I'd promised, seething with frustration and barely suppressed rage.

I'd bent myself in and out of shape, trying to satisfy another person's expectations of me, feeling as though I were on some wierd torturous exercise equipment that everyone but me knew how to operate - I just held on with white knuckles, and tried to get through unscathed.

I'd agreed to points of view completely oppositve to my true beliefs, for fear that my own beliefs would be ridiculed or dismissed. I did not have the courage of my convictions.
I'd given up what I did want, and tried to make myself want what I didn't want, all to be accepted, and hopefully, loved.
I'd agreed as a way to manipulate the other's opinion of me. I'd agreed as a way to try to get some control of a situation.
I'd given myself away to the point that I wasn't sure what was left was worth anything.

I'd done so much people-pleasing, that when I began to say "No," the flack was monumental - how dare the worm turn in this way? What happened to the agreeable me?

I heard:

"You sure seem grouchy lately."
"How come you never want to do anything I want anymore?"
"Why can't you just do this one little thing for me?"
"I do lots for you, you know, the least you can do, is do this when I ask."
"After everything I've done for you!"
"If you really loved me, you'd ___."

When faced with these responses, I'd wiggle and squirm with my discomfort, trying to maintain my balance, and often falling backwards into the old behavior, because I just couldn't stand the strain of saying "No." I'd explain, defend, explain some more, reason, argue. I asked my sponsor what to do about this, and she replied, "We teach people how to treat us - you are retraining your friends and family a new way of treating you - if you don't stick to it, how badly do you want the change?"

Oh. Back in my court. Okay.

I still have times when saying no feels horribly selfish and mean, but I've learned to say: "I'll have to get back to you on that," which gives me room to wait until I have some time alone to make my decision, instead of agreeing immediately, and regretting later.

I'm learning that if I behave in a way which is respectful, direct, honest and kind, that it's not my problem if the other person chooses to be offended by my honesty. I need to take a step back, and just - ride out my discomfort. I need that step back, that detachment, to keep me from rushing in to "fix."

I cannot do what is not humanly possible - this includes pleasing everyone, always. Pleasing myself is important, pleasing others needs to be a choice I am making, and not a knee-jerk response, out of fear or shame. 

I get "one time around" - one life to live. I want to live joyously.

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Wresting My Attention Back Where It Belongs.

From the ODAT, page 58:

"When I ask, "Why does he drink when he knows it damages him and his family?" I really mean: "How can he justify what he is doing?", implying a condemnation I have no right to make. Al-Anon teaches me that the drinker knows no more about his compulsion than I do. I know he suffers from it, too. I will not waste time and energy trying to "figure out the alcoholic." I will concentrate on figuring out why I do what I do."

When I get caught up in trying to decipher the meanings of another person's words or behavior, I have lost my focus. I am engaged in an exercise which will swallow entire swathes of time in my life, to no end, since I'm never going to be able to achieve the level of understanding that I'd love to attain.

Or think I'd love - who knows if I'd be any more satisfied than I am at this moment? Just why does why seem so important? Do I still carry the belief that if I knew why, I could accept more easily?

The first time I read that page, and realised that I was doing that very thing of wanting the alcoholic to justify his behavior, I felt a tremor run through the bedrock of my certainty. (My entire position in that marriage was one of being in the right, while he was in the wrong - I cringe to remember my righteous indignation and stubborn judgement of the alcoholic.)

That was a beginning for me, when I was new to program, to realise that if I'd already said whatever I was about to say, did I need to repeat it, or was I striving to control the uncontrollable? From the starting point of keeping my words to myself, I had to then work, to wrest my focus back onto myself. I found it supremely difficult, because as an Al-Anon friend joked, "The alcoholic keeps giving me so much material to work with!"

Keep your hands in your own pockets. Clean your own side of the street. Tidy your own closet. All ways of saying: mind your own business, and leave the alcoholic to his/her Higher Power. I can, if I'm honest, occupy myself quite satisfactorily for the rest of my days, with tidying my own closet, since it seems that I no sooner get it all organised and close the door, than it re-jumbles itself to the point that the door won't close, and all my character defects are once more sliding from hangers onto the floor, and the sheer volume of accumulated assumptions and other stuff, is making it impossible for me to find anything comfortable that I'd want to wear.

Life is a journey; I choose my direction. I choose to walk either toward recovery, or back to the cave. And I make that choice every time I take a step. I pray to be given the ability to recognise when I'm heading in the wrong direction while telling myself and others that no, really, I'm not going backwards, that's an optical illusion - something to do with the light this time of day.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

What Am I Seeing?

Drawing and painting in a realistic style requires that we set aside a large portion of what we believe about the world, and set down upon the paper or canvas, that which we acually see.

I must let go of my assumptions about this white lily, and be open to the truth about it - the shadows are the palest violet on one petal, and here, there's a pure green stripe running up from the base. When I sit and really look at this blossom, white is the smallest part of it - the only truly pure white on this flower, is the area lit up by the sun. All the rest of it is color, in incredible complexity.

In Al-Anon, I'm trying to learn to see myself and other people, with the same clarity with which I see this flower. I had so many assumptions - about the way the world should work: the way people should behave: the way I should feel. When I tried to live by my assumptions, life was a tangled mess of emotional discord.

One of the first assumptions I had to be willing to let go was: I can fix another person's alcoholism, if I put my mind to it, and if they would simply behave according to my regulations.

When I examined this belief in detail, I had to not only accept that I was powerless over alcoholism, I had to accept that it is not my right to tell anyone else how to behave.

That was the true shocker. How could I get what I wanted, if I couldn't give directions and make demands? I was not best pleased with any suggestion that the universe was progressing as it should, and I was not in charge of anyone but myself.

Reality is there before me, whether I face it squarely, or turn at an angle, trying to remove it from my line of sight. I have many times in a day, when I can pause long enough to truly look - at my thinking, my assumptions, my beliefs - before I continue. Oftentimes that few second's pause is enough to shift my attitude completely, from one of "full steam ahead" to "yield."

I'm not granted an automatic right of way in life. Courtesy, consideration, and respect are gifts. I give them willingly some days, some days not, but I can still give them. I don't have to indulge my character defects.

I can rise above them. I can let it begin with me.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

A Rose By Any Other Name... a peony. Starting to paint again is causing memories to surface, of friends I had in art school. Wilson was Chinese, and hated cliches: one could never get away with even one cliche when he was around; he'd finish your sentence with something unexpected.  The resulting laughter would cause a complete loss of one's train of thought.

He went through a period of driving us all bonkers, when, in trying to improve his English, he'd choose one word to use in conversation many times in a day, so as to fix the meaning firmly into his memory.

One might hear everything from, "I think ham and cheese fraternize well in a sandwich, so that's what I'm having." to "I don't think those colors fraternize properly; you need more contrast in that area of the canvas."

I adored Wilson, he had a dry sense of humour I found hysterical. I can't recall how it came about, but his pet name for me was "Grandma." (There must have been all of about 4 years difference in our ages.)

It seemed to irritate one of our instructors that Wilson had no interest in painting in an Oriental style, and he would go on and on about "being open to one's heritage" and "China being a land of mystery." After hearing this implied criticism enough times, Wilson turned from his easel, brush in one hand, palette in the other, and asked the teacher how much mystery was possible when a person had 900 million neighbours?

To give him credit, after a moment of shocked silence, the teacher burst out laughing, and later apologised to Wilson for singling him out that way. (After all, he didn't follow me around blathering about being open to my Scottish heritage, now, did he?)

I will always be grateful to Wilson for two things he said to me over the course of our friendship, both of them pertaining to my adoptive mother.

One comment was made when I was talking to him about a lunch I'd had with her. I'd dressed carefully, picked a restaurant I hoped she'd like, and treated her to lunch, trying so hard to please this woman who had spent the ten years I'd lived in her home, finding ever more inventive ways to beat the daylights out of me - a wierd facet of  of human behavior, that we still want to please our abuser. This was before Al-Anon, and I'd internalised the messages of being "no good" that I'd heard so often from her. Lunch was a disaster: she criticised, attacked, shamed, guilted - nothing new. (From this vantage point, I look back and feel empathy for the young woman I was then - I truly believed that if I just tried hard enough, I could find a way to be accepted and loved by my abuser.)

I had been describing her behavior to Wilson, and trying to make sense of it, because I knew I hadn't done anything to provoke her, except perhaps exist. I was asking him why would she be so mean to me, and he said softly, "Grandma, I don't know why, all I know is, happy people don't behave that way."

I clung to that thought, not because I liked the idea of her being unhappy, but because it made her behavior more about her, and less about me. It made it possible to let go of some of the shame and guilt I carried around. Prior to that, I'd gone along not questioning whether I was the rotten person that she had convinced me I was, because otherwise, she wouldn't need to pound on me the way she did. In such a way do children try to make sense of an adult world.

I went on to talk to him about how painful it had been to try so hard, and get nothing but more of the same nasty crap I'd always received from her. And that's when he asked what would turn out to be a pivotal question. He asked me, "Why are you still trying to get love from someone who can't, or won't, give it to you?"

Before that conversation, I was still so enmeshed in the abusive relationship, it hadn't ever dawned on me that no matter how hard I tried, regardless of the number of hoops through which I flung myself, she was never going to love, or even like, me.
I could sentence myself to a lifetime of trying to attain the unattainable, or I could let it go. Wilson knew from personal experience what it was like, to have a parent who couldn't love or accept their child.

Wilson, bless him, has stood me in good stead with those two observations; I like to think that with those, he opened the doors of possibility to the miracle which Al-Anon has worked in my life. He was offering his own version of experience, strength, and hope, and he was honest and direct with it. I'm grateful.

What Makes You Happy?

That question was posed to me yesterday. I'm passing it on to you - what makes you happy?
Has this changed since you began your recovery journey?

I'm really interested to know. This question went around a room of non-program people, and the replies were fascinating.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Generating Trouble.

From  ODATIA, page 52:

"Mental sobriety is a state of reasonableness, rational judgement, balance. It is emotional sickness when we continue to be apprehensive and anxious when we really have no reason to doubt.
I will pray today and every day, for healthful, wholesome thinking, so that I may not generate trouble for myself."

Before Al-Anon, I had no concept of how I generated trouble, I was under the firm impression that all trouble in my life came from outside me, and I was just reacting to it.

Practising the Steps has taught me that I caused much of my misery by hopping up onto the gerbil wheel at the slightest sensation of unease, and giving it a good workout. I ran as though all the Furies of Hell were after me: as if I were training for a new speed record.

I could take a minor situation and through obsessive thinking, turn it into something which occupied my thoughts to the exclusion of anything pleasant, and had a physical effect upon me - making it impossible to sleep, eat, relax.

I was a master at generating trouble. I couldn't let anything go, I couldn't detach, I couldn't enjoy my life. I can see now that these were lessons learned in early childhood - that was how the adults in my life dealt with their environments, so that must be the way it's done.  I added years, without maturing in mindset: a fearful angry person. Before I could achieve any perspective on my own internal dialogue, I needed to deal with my resentments, and martyrdom - until that happened, I accepted whatever sentiment wandered across my mental horizon, as the truth, not understanding it was the truth only according to me.

My first sponsor set me a task - for one week, I was to question all of the editorial comment from my internal dialogue, and to act upon none of it. I was to work towards achieving a state of relative quietude inside my own head.

Right. Sure. I'll start that immediately.

I must have been gazing at her with a snarky disbelief upon my face, for she reiterated her directions in her "brook no argument" tone, and finished with a rhetorical question about those who are negative about each and every suggestion or idea offered to them, and how was that expressing willingness, could I tell her that, please?

I slunk off home feeling hard done by, woke up the next day, and decided in my stubborn fashion, to prove to her that it couldn't be done, it was ridiculous, it was asinine, it was a waste of time....oops, that's editorial comment, isn't it, and I'm supposed to be allowing life to flow past like a tinkling stream...

By the time I met up with my sponsor again, had I used a water allusion, it would have been more of the "natural disaster" and "swept all before it" or "engulfed completely" sort, than her choice of a gentle stream. I'd been shocked to discover just how much of my thinking was driven by anxiety and apprehension, and how similar to bailing the ocean with a teaspoon it had felt, trying to achieve peace and quiet in that madhouse between my ears.

I had an inkling of the depth and breadth to which the floodwaters of my pessimism and fear could spread, given any encouragement whatsoever. Trying to curb my "editorial comment" gave me a grasp of just how entrenched it was.

I felt powerless, and I knew unmanageability; I had seen it in action in my life. I had, instead of wandering through my day while living in resentment about the past, or dread of the future, spent some time in the here-and-now, and didn't like it one bit. "Why would anyone want to live in the now?" I asked, when we met again. I laugh writing that, but I wanted an answer that would make sense to me.

As I saw it at the time, my sponsor failed me, giving me the feel-good reply, "Because the now is all you get, my dear." What a patient woman she was, putting up with being bombarded with carefully-thought-out justifications for staying stuck in my unhappiness, which had been bad enough to drive me into Al-Anon, but once there, I didn't want to have to exert myself making any real changes. I wanted a fast solution to my ex-husband's drinking.

Give me the secret code, I'll plug it in, he'll be recovered, and we'll live happily ever after. Or not. Even now, with all that I've learned and know, I can still get stuck in that place of "Why should I have to..."

I shouldn't have to. In the best of all possible worlds, I wouldn't have to. But this isn't, and I do, if I want to get anywhere. I was washing the dishes tonight, listening to my silent, internal, editorial comment, and sighing to hear how childish it was. I like to tell my sponsees, when they get into the "But why? Why?"  drawer,

"It is what it is."

"Yes, I realise that, but blah blah, and I just need to know why it is."

"What if you can't find a reason? Are you going to predicate your recovery upon getting reasons you find acceptable? Life doesn't always give us nice tidy reasons. It is what it is."

I can hear their teeth gnashing together in frustration, and think with great affection of my first sponsor, who listened with such warmth and love to all my tooth gnashing.

That's how program works; we receive it, and we pay it forward.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

The Satisfaction Of Expertise.

I have worked in one artistic medium for almost 30 years,  and developed a level of skill which allows me to realise my imagination with a fair amount of accuracy. Switching mediums has put me into a different place entirely - that of beginner.

I'm finding watercolor a fiendishly difficult medium in which to work. Years ago I painted with acrylics, with which one works from dark to light - watercolor is the precise opposite, one works from light to dark. It requires an about-face in how I plan a painting, and also that I always be aware of where the light is, because I cannot plop a streak of highlight in later on, after I'm finished painting the shadows. Once it's gone, it's gone, and I'm left with the distinctly unsatisfactory business of trying to lift paint from the paper, in order to restore a highlight.

It's maddening, and because of that, engrossing. It's a voyage of discovery, frustration, botched paintings, and the occasional "aha" result. I sit down, try something, see how it works - it doesn't, just makes a mess. Okay, try something else, see how that works -  oh dear, that creates a sort of medium nothingness, doesn't it? Bland and boring. Hmm, how to get around that?
Why did I put that tree there?

I'm having a marvellous time with it, and none of my paintings so far have been worth a jot, but oh the hours of pleasure I've had in creating those messes have been a godsend. I was talking to a friend today about painting, and she laughingly said, "Girl, you are wierd, to enjoy being frustrated."

I pointed out that something like this meshes perfectly with my character defects - obsessiveness, stubborness - and turns them into forces for good. Those determined aspects of my nature keep me plugging away, carrying me through the parts where another less willful person might give up, and never reach the point of having some mastery of the medium. In art school, one teacher used to say repeatedly, "Every bad painting is a good thing, it's one more out of the way."

On another subject, today I realised that something I had at first seen as a constraint, has turned out to be a protection. A clear and bright example of the limitations of my own vision. When we moved here, I was irritated by being asked to sign a year's lease on this place. What if we found the perfect house at 11 months? Today the landlord came over to tell us he's putting the house on the market in 2 weeks. That lease I muttered and mumbled about, will protect us from being evicted, being told we cannot have the dogs here, or a rent increase.
(Thankyou, Higher Power. I'm sorry for complaining earlier.)

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Substance vs Appearance.

A non-program friend asks, "What's the point of admitting to your faults, doesn't that just make you look bad?"

I hadn't thought about it that way. I suppose I'm so firmly entrenched in a certain way of acting upon my realisations of myself and my character defects, that this has become second nature:

"Continued to take personal inventory, and when we were wrong, promptly admitted it."

Practising Al-Anon doesn't mean that I miraculously shed all of the less delightful aspects of myself, it means that I work to be aware of them, deal with them in the least damaging manner possible, to myself and those around me. Some I will be able to let go, and good riddance to them; some are more intrinsic to my character, and there will be stressful periods when every second corner I traverse, they will arise, to thwart and hinder me. Reminds me of a lyric in a Tom Petty song: "I've come now to accept it, it's a re-occurring thing."

I'm never going to be perfect; what I'm aiming for nowadays, is to be the best I can be with the knowledge I have at any given point in time. The longer I am in Al-Anon, the better I learn to understand how I operate, what motivates and drives me, what hinders my growth, what stimulates forward progress.

I leaned along the way, that admitting when I'm wrong isn't a matter of imparting information others don't already have about me - we're all very good at seeing how another person is going off the rails. It is in the admitting that the power to change resides; the willingness to admit carries within it, the surrender to reality.

I have found, to my interest, that the posts on this blog which deal with a struggle I'm having with a character defect seem to be the ones which receive the most comments. Either readers can relate, or they feel moved to offer support.

From the ODAT, page 336:

"This day, and the days to come, will be filled with opportunities to make more of myself."

I love that. Only thing is, quite often those opportunities come hard on the heels of an "inventory and amend" package.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

My Standards Of Behavior.

Garnet left a comment yesterday, which made me laugh out loud:
"Sometimes I have to remind myself that if everyone had to behave according to my standards, I'd be one lonely bunny."

I went about my day with that thought lodged firmly in the forefront of my mind, trying to do an honest inventory about it, and once I'd worked my way past the "I wish they'd just ___instead of ___," decided that I needed to find a meeting to attend. The only one last night was in a town a half hour's drive away, so off I went. And what was the topic?
Step 1 - "Admitted we were powerless over alcohol and our lives had become unmanageable."

Then this morning, I came here to my blog, and found the second comment on yesterday's post, about being loving when our alcoholic is stressed out and reacting to that stress.

(My Higher Power likes to pound the lesson home, because I'm  stubborn and a slow learner.)

Some days, I cringe to realise how judgemental I still am, and wonder if I'm ever going to be able to eradicate the judge inside my head? Or at least be able to lock her in a back room somewhere, so her voice is an unintelligible murmur, easier to ignore.

Driving back from the meeting last night, I was thinking about the way I choose to deal with "argument mode" by withdrawing, and how I don't feel good about it.  I know they're in that headspace because they are stressed, my withdrawing most likely adds to the stress, and how could I deal with it in such a way as to keep my sanity intact, without being unkind? It's a tightrope walk I don't do very well. I don't do at all well if I get defensive and take the arguing personally, as I did on the weekend.

That led to contemplation of why do I allow argument mode to bother me so much, anyway? Is it that I feel I'm being criticised or negated, or told that I am wrong, and my ego is offended? All of that, probably. So once again, we come around to ego, and who is driving this vehicle anyway, the rational me, or my ego?

Sometimes one, sometimes the other. My rational self is a good driver, focused upon arriving safely, and driving courteously. My ego is one of those hot-headed lunatics who zips in and out of lanes without signalling, and becomes infuriated at those who don't drive according to her standards. With my ego in the driver's seat, it's a wild ride, and I cannot enjoy the scenery of my daily life, because I'm bracing for the crash. I get out at my destination, and stoop to kiss the ground, for having once more, somehow, by the grace of God, safely arrived.

So, begin once more at the beginning, with Step 1. Admit my powerlessness, admit the unmanagability, admit my character defects, and taking my ego firmly but gently by the arm, lead her around to the passenger seat, make sure she fastens her seat belt, then get behind the wheel myself, take a deep breath, and start the car.
So it goes. One day at a time.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Are Alcoholics More Argumentative?

In my (admittedly limited) experience, yes, absolutely. Alcoholics can be champion arguers.

One example: out walking the dogs with an alcoholic, and I made the offhand comment, "I should keep a sketchbook and pencils in the car,  because I always seem to find something worth drawing when I'm out walking."  I was immediately and firmly told that I "...didn't need to do this,  because it's better for you to go home and draw from your imagination, yada yada yada."

This from someone who has never had the slightest interest in drawing, knows nothing about it, but since I mentioned it, they were going to argue with me about the best way to go about drawing - "...imagination being far superior to just copying reality."

I fell silent. What communion can there be between two people when even the smallest, most casual of remarks is challenged and demolished in this way? Not much. I find it exhausting, mentally and emotionally. I begin to withdraw, and just want to escape their presence, feeling bullied. The more I want to get away, the more they feel stressed and isolated, the more they argue, the more I want to get away.

When I've tried to speak to them about this, they ask incredulously if I want them to agree with everything I say, are they not allowed their own opinion? At that point, I realise they are choosing to play the alcoholic game of "I don't know what you're talking about!" and I know any further discussion is pointless, so I quietly excuse myself, and leave them to it.

It's exceedingly frustrating, and demolishes intimacy. And that is their choice. At one time, I may have believed that they didn't understand how this felt from my end, but I've told them enough times now, that saying it again is merely singing an old song they aren't interested in hearing.

All I can do is look after my own recovery, and if that means leaving them alone to stew in their misery, well, that's an unfortunate consequence of their having chosen to behave that way. I don't want to be around them when they're like this; that's my right and my choice. I'm far better off to accept that they are in the argumentative mode, let it go, and at the first opportunity, excuse myself nicely, and go spend my time doing something pleasurable - like drawing.

"Many things must thou pass by with a deaf ear, and think rather of the things that are for thy peace. It is more profitable to turn away thine eyes from such things as displease thee, than to be a slave to contention."
     Thomas A'Kempis

The Definition of Insanity Is:

Saying the same thing to the same person for the 20 zillionth time, and hoping against hope that this time, they'll see the light, and change.

Right. And I'm going to be 6'4" after I do some affirmations.

Seems like each time I believe that I've let go to the best of my ability, I will be granted a revelation that somewhere in my life, I'm still white-knuckling. I'm having a rough few days lately, headwise. Struggling to balance detachment with indifference.

Indifference seems to be winning; it's not a feeling with which I'm well acquainted, being rather more inclined to the obssessive side.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Mean Humour.

Mr. SponsorPants has written a post
today about a lost friend of his, which brought memories of my first husband rushing back. He too, was screamingly funny in that same cutting way, and until I joined Al-Anon, I thought him brilliantly witty. He could keep a roomful of people in hysterics for hours on end with his humour, although as the evening progressed, he became meaner and meaner. (When he went out to bars to drink, he got pounded on a lot. He'd come staggering in, broken glasses in his hand, face battered and bruised and swelling, lip split, shirt torn, and if I was foolish enough to ask what happened, the reply was always the same: "Oh, I made a joke to the wrong person.")

The longer I was in Al-Anon, the more his humour caused me to cringe in empathy with the object of his slashing wit. When I left that marriage, I promised myself that I wasn't going to sit in silence when faced with that kind of humour in future; I was going to speak up, even when doing so makes my face flame in embarassment, even when I have to force the words out. I have reached a place in my life where that sort of humour will cause me to raise one hand, palm out, and say politely, "I don't want to hear it."

Because I truly don't want to hear it. It's not funny to me anymore, it's just mean. Mean humour requires that we be willing to listen to unkindness to, or about, another person, and validate that unkindness with our laughter. I can't do it - 12 Step has thoroughly ruined that form of entertainment for me.

I understand that this sort of humour is often motivated by rage and pain, but past a certain point, that's just an excuse.

As a closing thought, I offer something my grandfather used to say:
"If they'll do it with you, they'll do it to you.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Balance In All Things.

I practise yoga daily. An exercise in my routine -  Stork Pose - requires that one stand upon one leg, the other foot placed against the top thigh, hands in prayer pose. I've noticed over the years, that I cannot do this pose while thinking about somethiing else - if I do, I begin to slowly topple sideways. Stork Pose requires that I pay attention only to Stork Pose. When I think, I fall over.

Hmm, can this idea be extrapolated into more of my daily life? (I've told you I'm a slow learner.) When I think, I fall over. Simple and clear, isn't it? But experience never stopped the stubborn, so I've spent an awful lot of time falling over, because I wanted to think, I was going to think, and no Al-Anon person was going to tell me I couldn't think...grumble snorf mutter...splat.

I have to laugh at my own intransigence, it's too frustrating otherwise. A couple of days ago, I had rolled out my yoga mat, and was going through the exercises with my mind on a business matter, quite unaware that I wasn't living in the moment until Stork Pose. I'd tried to balance quite a few times, before it dawned upon me that I was trying to practise yoga and design business advertising at the same time. (Writing that, it sounds even sillier than it did at the time.)

The instructor on my yoga dvd says at one point "...but slowly, slowly, as you begin to open up, you can go further..."  Yoga and 12 Step have that much in common; practise is required. One cannot begin at the advanced level, one must start wherever one is. It doesn't matter where we are when we begin, that's irrelevant. What matters is that we put this wisdom into practise, and try it out.

Before we know it, we can bend from the waist and place our hands flat on the floor, which seemed impossible at the start, when we could only reach the tops of our knees.

It sneaks up on us.

But only if we roll the mat out, and do the exercises. Watching the dvd while seated in a chair, or lounging on the couch doesn't work; nor does watching Al-Anon from the sidelines. We have to get down there on the floor, and try standing on one leg, regardless of how foolish we may feel. It will soon begin to feel natural, and we can delight in our progress.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Coded Communications.

I'm reading a book about codemaking and breaking during WW2. I've reached a point in the book ,where the author is convinced that the Dutch agents have been taken and turned, because they have stopped making mistakes in their Morse code transmissions. He finds this impossible to accept - it isn't "normal."

The agents have to quickly code, and even more quickly transmit their messages while exhausted, stressed, and terrified that at any moment they may be discovered by the Germans, with the inevitable result. It isn't remotely realistic that they'd make not one mistake in coding or sending, under those circumstances. (The author can predict the type of mistakes each agent is likely to make, based upon the ones they made in training.)
His superiors don't want to hear it. They're very proud of their Dutch agents, things are ticking along very smoothly, and they won't even consider the possibility that the Germans are in control.

It's an interesting book, both for the story, and for the way it gets me thinking repeatedly about the incredible power of denial.

There are none so blind as those who will not see.

I've been familiar with that little gem since I was a kid, but before program, only had a vague idea of what it meant.  I'll never forget sitting in the lunchroom, at a place I worked eons ago, listening, for the zillionth time, to the lady from the front office complaining about her husband's drinking -  how it was affecting her life, and the life of her kids. Someone suggested she get counselling for herself, and her two little boys, to help them cope. She replied, "Oh, they don't know their dad drinks." When asked if he only drank after they were in bed, she laughed shortly, and replied, "No; all day, every day."
"How old are your boys?"
"Seven and nine."
"Well then, they know he drinks."
"No, no, they don't know that."

Various people tried to get through to her that this was highly unlikely, with stories of their own alcoholic parents, and how they'd known from a very young age, that something was seriously wrong. She was adamant - the boys didn't know.

At the time this discussion took place, I judged her for her denial. Today, I feel compassion for her awful struggle and unhappiness. When I recall that conversation, I wonder how her boys are doing, all these years later. I realise how many times I must have had the identical sort of conversation, with friends trying to get through to me, and me adamant about whatever it was.

I've learned in Al-Anon, that I cannot puncture someone else's denial. I've learned to respect that denial is a coping mechanism we use when the truth is just too painful to face squarely. I've used it many times myself, knowingly, and unknowingly, and will again, I have no doubt.

My part is to work my program honestly, so that I may be granted the ability to recognise and admit to my own frailties. I pray for sufficient open-mindedness,  to hear the help others may offer to me, whether deftly, or clumsily. I pray to be granted the ability to see behind the message to the person transmitting it, and not to get  lost in the "coding mistakes."

Monday, February 8, 2010

Stop Poking At Me, Already!

One foundation of the Al-Anon program, which seemed impossible when I started, yet over time, has become a deeply ingrained habit, is making amends.

I've come to believe that the Steps are written as they are, in an effort to overcome the ferocious desire to justify ourselves, present in so many of us. I know I can always find a knee-jerk reaction as to why I was perfectly in the right to say/think/do whatever it was. That kind of thinking keeps me separate from others. It creates distance, and walls of rigidity.

Getting over the first monstrous hurdle of "Made direct amends to all persons we had harmed, except when to do so would injure them or others." allowed me to realise that it wasn't so bad to admit I was in the wrong; on the contrary, it was hugely freeing. I woke up the day after each early amend, and realised  - that was one less stinking, putrid hunk of ancient guilt to lug around.

I carried so much guilt with me; it stabbed and slashed at me in quiet moments: kept me from sleep: poisoned my self-image. Even so, when first offered the chance to relieve it through the making of amends, I was doubtful. And terrified. What if someone rejected an amend? My sponsor worked me through the process of "Well, what's the absolute worst that could happen?" each step of the way, until I came to the realisation that even if that was the outcome in one or more cases, I'd survive.

Making amends clears the slate upon which we write our relationships with others. It's a powerful statement of shared humanity. I've made amends I didn't want to make, to people I didn't much like, and achieved the  same result as with the amends I was willing to make, to those I love. It's the process that matters. The humility.

I was joking to a friend recently, that now instead of being poked and prodded by guilt, it's my conscience sticking a finger into my side and saying, "Um, excuse me, can we talk?"  I've had times where I've tried to pretend I didn't hear it, but that just increases the force of the fingerpokes, until my ribs hurt and I'm completely exasperated, and whirl around to say, "All right! I hear you! I'll make the cursed amend!"

I'm not going to pretend I'm always melting with the force of my willingness, right from the start. I have times when I feel like a recalcitrant child, being pushed forward by my conscience, with mulish expression upon my face. Somehow, someway, most likely through the grace of my Higher Power, when I reach the point of speaking my amend, I will find that I am willing. I may say whatever I have to say stiffly, and with much mumbling and fumbling, but I will say it, and for that, I am truly grateful.

Friday, February 5, 2010

It's All Relative, con't.

One aspect of co-dependent personality I've noticed in myself, and in my fellow members of Al-Anon, is skewed perspective. We have a hard time seeing life clearly. (Addicts have this, too.)
Negatives assume monumental proportions, and if we don't stop to "reason things out with someone else," they can take on a life of our own, and pretty soon we're like that guy in the cartoon who sees a giant shadow along the ground and turning in the other direction, runs screaming in terror, with a very small dog lolloping along after him.

The sun being low in the sky is what created such a hugely long shadow from such a small creature, and if he'd stopped to find out what was casting the shadow...

I've done that so many times in my life, it makes me tired just thinking about it. I've created hours, days, weeks of misery for myself, (and for those around me, be honest here.) And all because I saw that shadow, and rather than muster the courage to investigate, just fled shrieking.

If the sun is in the correct place in the sky, even a ten pound dog can throw an impressive shadow. Relatively speaking, of course.

When I was new to program, I had no idea that my perspective was so skewed, I just assumed that, as in so many areas of my life, my way was the right way. Period. End of discussion. It was a long hard haul uphill to get to a place where, gripping my sponsor's hand in fear and trembling, I could un-scrinch my eyes enough to realise that there was an entire world of vantage points from which to view my life, and that I had the ability to choose whichever one I wished, upon which I could stand and admire the view. I didn't have to stay on it, either; I could climb down from one, and up another, to see how I liked the view from the new one.

This is one of the mysterious wonders of Al-Anon for me: a changed perspective.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Resentment Isn't The Best Operating Principle.

Once upon a time, many years ago, in another city and far, far away, I had a friend in program, who used to make pithy little comments which always seemed to land a direct hit. One day I was blathering away about my first husband, and his latest drunken rampage, and my feelings about it, him, and our marriage, and my friend broke in to remark, "Yeah, well, resentment isn't the best operating principle."

I stopped to clarify: "You mean him."

She shook her head. "I mean you."

I was puzzled. "I'm not resentful."

Her eyebrows shot up so high they disappeared into her hair, and she was, for the first time since I'd known her, struck dumb. She looked at me, with her head tilted backwards slightly, as if to get a better view through her reading glasses, which always slid to the end of her nose and perched there, precariously. She had a look on her face I couldn't read, and just sat there gazing at me, until I began to feel like a bug on a pin. I rather nervously reiterated my statement, "I'm not resentful."

My friend sighed heavily, and said, "It's a good thing you found Al-Anon, honey."

I was still very new to Al-Anon, and my defenses were powerful; her remark was quickly shoved to the back of my mind and forgotten. A few years later, the place I worked was bought out by a corporation, and we began to have to attend endless meetings.  Staff would sit, slowly becoming more and more stupefied with boredom, while someone in management from back east would give lectures on various things which seemed to have zero relation to anything we'd ever been doing in our workplace.

I was in one of those meetings one morning, on a hot and sticky sort of day, and I was as close to sleep as one can get with eyes open, when the the speaker said, "Blah blah blah is our only operating principle."

A co-worker leaned over and muttered into my ear, "The acquisition of money is our only operating principle."
Poor speaker, he'd given us a phrase which lent itself perfectly to sarcasm. When we finally escaped the meeting, for the rest of the day, and part of the next, staff would meet in the halls, or walk into the lunchroom, and give each other laughing fits with variations upon his pronouncement; everything from, "The tormenting of staff with long boring meetings..." to "Soulless acquisition and destruction of previously sucessful businesses..." always ending triumphantly, and often in unison with anyone else in earshot, " our only operating principle."

We were all very young.

I was out walking the dog that first evening, thinking about some of the funnier comments made that day, and suddenly remembered the conversation with my friend a few years earlier. I went to my meeting a few days later, and the topic was...."Resentment." This was one of my first introductions to the synchronicity of meeting topics to our states of mind, and it was a little eerie.

I tried honestly to decide if what my friend had said about my "operating principle" was true - was I resentful? (From this vantage point, I'm amazed at my ability to deny; I seethed with resentment like a boiling kettle.)

Accepting that piece of truth about my character was not easy; it meant I had to forego my victimhood, and allow for the fact that it wasn't the alcoholic who made my life a misery, I did that perfectly well all by myself.

Through Al-Anon, and working the Twelve Steps, I am learning to be more honest about what's happening inside my head. Before I can change anything, I must admit to it. What Al-Anon has given to me, is a safe place in which to do this. Getting this stuff out of the cave into the daylight, makes it possible for me to see that I am only human. You aren't a monster, and neither am I. We are both just people trying to make it in a sometimes painful and difficult world. Giving up blaming of others frees me to look towards the one small area of life I can change - my own patch.

Through program, and the help of my friends in program, and my Higher Power, I can work to make sure that resentment isn't, (all together now) my only operating principle.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Oh, Cry Me A River!

Every now and then, usually when I'm sick, or feeling exhausted,  I'm a whiny ball of self-pity and victimhood. I've felt like that off and on today - I'm sick. (I haven't been sick in the winter very often since I quit smoking 14 years ago - so seldom, in fact, that now when I do get sick, I feel outraged - how's that for rational thinking?)

I was lying on the couch earlier today, feeling victimised by my body - how dare it do this to me, I just had food poisoning not that long ago, and now I'm sick?

I was contemplating crawling back to bed, when a show came on featuring a guy with serious physical challenges - he was amazing; cheerful, and dismissive of his physical problems, saying, "I've got a job, a wife, and a son, what have I got to complain about?"

That put my little bout with the flu into sharp perspective. I love these little whacks upside the head - they make me laugh out loud, because they are so unsubtle. Feeling sorry for myself because I'm sick? How would I like to have only one leg?

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Making A List, And Why A Sponsor Is A Good Thing.

Step 8 reads:

"Made a list of all people we had harmed, and became willing to make amends to them all."

With reference to some of the people on my list, that willingness was absent. I put them on the list, but that's where it ended; willingness to make an amend to them was in the category of "Not bleeding likely."

This unwillingness distressed me, and I began the old dance of bashing myself for not feeling the way I thought I should. And/or the way I imagined other people thought I should. Being the head case I am was, I slowly became more and more obsessed with this perceived lack in my character, until it was blown completely out of proportion in my life, and began to block the light. That lack was all I could see, when my sponsor and I sat down to work the Steps together.

Wise woman that she was, she wondered aloud if it were possible that this new and crazed obsession of mine was a way to concentrate upon something which would keep me hung up on Step 8, so I didn't have to take the next inevitable step in the process - working Step 9 -  "Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others."

I was gobsmacked. (She did that to me a lot - reached in and picked out what was keeping me stuck, and said "Hmm, what's this, I wonder?"  Maddening woman.) I went home convinced that she was mistaken, but woke up the next morning, thought about it, and began to laugh; it was so perfectly an avoidance mechanism, and I had been so completely oblivious. When next we spoke, I explained that I'd decided to put that aside, and just get on with it, praying to be granted willingness, rather than trying to make it up out of whole cloth myself.

Letting go of that allowed me to proceed, with the inevitable positive result.

For me, a sponsor does for me what I occasionally cannot do for myself, and that is: see me with enough clarity to figure out just what little game I'm playing here, while loudly protesting my innocence. Self-deception can keep me stuck in old ways of thought and behavior. It can allow me to justify, and rationalise.

There are aspects of our own characters, which hide as behind a curtain, opaque only to our own gaze; anyone else can see through it perfectly well. That just seems to be how we are made.

I am reminded of a cat we once had, who was a holy terror for leaping out from concealed places to scare the living daylights out of us. In the laundry room, we kept a towel hanging over the sink next to the dryer. This cat would stand on the dryer, and stick his head behind the towel. He believed that because he then couldn't see us, we also couldn't see him. He'd stand there, head concealed, big black fluffy body on the gleaming white of the dryer, then pop his head out with an air of "Gotcha!"

If we didn't pretend to have been startled, he'd do that cat thing of immediately beginning to groom a paw, stopping to look at us with disdain as if to say "Oh, are you in here? I hadn't noticed."

After a while of working the Steps with my sponsor, I began to see similarities between our thinking, me and the cat. We were both under the impression that we were hiding successfully.

When willingness is beyond my ability to produce, I can pray to be granted some. But first, I have to truly want it, and not being playing one of those games of claiming I want it, while doing everything in my power to put obstacles in my own way.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Laughter, And Negativity.

 MrSponsortpants is always an excellent read; I think he must have been feeling giddy this morning - his entire post is limericks of his own invention. (I suggest we all compose one of our own, and send it to him via his comments form; I did - a form of verse in which the more of a groaner it is, the better.)

Laughter has helped to open my mind to Al-Anon ideas which, initially, I couldn't grasp with any clarity. Sitting in meetings, listening to members speak about their struggles with control, laughing as they described their thinking, made it possible for me to realise that my own thinking had some of the same elements of  lunacy. Once I'd truly seen and accepted the ridiculousness of some of my reasoning, I've never been able to go back to taking myself with the same seriousness as before. It's just not possible.

I took myself very seriously when I came into program. I had a huge chip on my shoulder, and I seethed with resentment, anger, and frustration. I think I must have almost given off sparks, I was so full of hostility towards the world. I was unable to understand how my negativity pushed people away from me, partly because I had no concept of how deeply my negativity was rooted.

When I'm around someone who is relentlessly negative, I'm offered a reminder of who I was, before this program helped me to change, by offering me the loving, supportive environment which made change feel safe.

When I was negative, I was trying to save myself from disappointment, by never allowing myself to hope. If I didn't allow myself to want, I couldn't be hurt if I didn't receive what I wanted. It sounds quite reasonable when one has that as an operating life philosophy.

But life without hope is a measly offering, a matter of plodding along, head down, just "getting through the day." I went for years like that, just getting through. I had no joy in living. I looked forward to nothing, and I scoffed at those who bubbled with enthusiasm. My unhappiness revealed itself in sarcastic commentary, although I wasn't aware of it at the time.

Working this program has turned me into the sort of person at which I used to raise an eyebrow - cheerful, enthusiastic, and positive. Someone who loves silliness, and meets it in kind, limerick to limerick. God bless you, MrSponsorPants, and everyone else in recovery, for the joy you've given to me.