Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Clinging To Misery.

I cannot change the past. All the hand-wringing, lamenting, obsessing and examination of people's motives, behavior and reasoning will not make an iota of difference.

My choice is what do I do with today, since that's the only small moment of time I have been given. Do I stay shut up inside my house of self, blinds drawn, doors locked and double-locked and dead-bolted and reinforced, with only my insane thinking for company?

Or do I step out into the sunlight, blinking furiously against the assault upon my vision, but trusting that if I just relax and allow change to occur, my eyes will adjust, and I'll be able to see without pain?

I used to wield my past miseries both as a sheild against intimacy, and a weapon of manipulation. My choices, if challenged, were held up against the backdrop of my past; until my first sponsor, no-one had ever felt able to point out that I used my past as justification for my inappropriate behavior.

At some point in recovery, I had to begin to take responsibility today for the choices I made today. That meant letting go of all that had been done to me. I couldn't even get close to the concept of forgiveness at that stage, nor could I grasp the necessity for letting go - but I did trust my sponsor, and I was willing to try what she suggested.

Which was that I make the effort to try working the Steps, rather than just give them lip service.

In Al-Anon, I've come to the realisation that as I think, I am. If I give hours of head-room to past miseries: if I stew in that poisonous brew of rage and bitterness, I will feel dispirited, wretched and afflicted.

I was not Miss Sunshine overnight - there was a prolonged period of stubborn resistance before I was willing to capitulate to program wisdom, and sometimes I think I only ever did "give in" because I was so exhausted by the fight.

So much of Al-Anon is life-wisdom, not just wisdom in dealing with an alcoholic, but a way to live all the other parts of our lives mindfully, and with joy.

That's how I see the Steps and Traditions - as a map to a better way of life. But just like any other map, if I open it, read the directions, then close it, set it aside, and blunder off back the way I came, I won't arrive anywhere different.

I can't blame the map if I refuse to follow it, now can I?

Tuesday, March 30, 2010


I had a major breakthrough in painting today; it's tremendously exciting.

I'd been working on a floral still life, and couldn't get my vision down on the paper. I'd overworked one group of blossoms, and that is a painting-killer in watercolor - once you've overworked an area, you can't get it back to the fresh and pristine look, and the more one fiddles with bandaid fixes, the deader the thing becomes.

Utterly maddening medium, watercolor.

I'd moved on to another area of the piece, a larger bloom, feeling inhibited by the fear that I was going to overwork it too, trying to make it behave. I was feeling stymied and disheartened.

I mixed a color for shadows, began to apply it, and realised it was about 3-4 times darker than I thought it should be, but I was so frustrated, I didn't care - I just kept slapping it onto that flower. The painting was a disaster anyway. I went so far as to darken some areas even further, feeling like a kid who deliberately wrecks a toy when thwarted.

Suddenly, between one brushstroke and another of that rich, dark color, that blossom stood up and practically waved at me, it was so lively. I stopped painting, and sat transfixed, looking from it to the dead, overworked area, astonished to realise that my loose and haphazard application of paint had brought the flower to life.

I got it. I saw it all laid out before me; where I'd gone wrong, and why it was working now. Once I comprehended it, I was amazed at my inability to perceive it before that moment - it was so obvious!

Understandings in Al-Anon can follow this same path for me. I'm like a remote-control car run up against the wall, backing up and smacking into it repeatedly, in an effort to make the wall move. It can take me a fair amount of time and a sore skull, before I'll try heading in another direction, and some of the best results have been happy accidents, like this flower was today.

Writing this, I realise that what happened, is that I gave up control over the painting. I admitted I was powerless. I let go. And in that letting go, I was sufficiently loosened up and uncaring of the outcome, that I could just look -  from the flower to the page, and slap down the shapes I saw before me.

Letting go is powerful, because I am, in effect, telling my ego,

"Oh, just go sit down over there and shut up, will you please?"

Without my ego yammering away in my inner ear, I can relax, and see with a different lens. It's truly a life-changing tool for me. I was giddy with delight when I finished this painting, small insignificant thing that it is, because now I'm looking at everything as light and shadows, instead of "a particular type of flower."

I was doing yoga exercises tonight, thinking about how to paint the yellow pepper I bought to put into tomorrow night's dinner salad - imagine the beautiful shadows on that. Or a Streptocarpus leaf, all velvety veins and curving rim. Or my little dog, lyingwhere the sun is streaming through the patio door and highlighting the fur along her spine. I can't wait to get started.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Setting Aside Judgement.

From the ODAT, page 87:

"I will guard against looking for flaws in others; I will try to see what is good in them."

Given the appropriate state of mind, I am always able to find some supremely irritating aspect of my fellow human beings - this one talks too much, that one has a habit of snorting when he laughs, this one is homophobic, that one is passive-aggressive...when I'm looking, I can find any number of human frailties upon which to seize, and judge the owner accordingly.

I believe that I got started doing this, because that's what was modeled to me in childhood. That's a reason, not an excuse. There's a world of difference between the two. A reason is a "basis or cause;" an excuse is a "pretext or subterfuge." (Subterfuge, what a great word.)

When I look within to find out why I do what I do, I'm searching for the reason, and I can use that self-knowledge to more fully understand the workings of my character. When I use that knowledge to justify continuing along that same path, I'm making excuses for myself, and I will not grow.

Why is it so easy to sit in judgement of others, and so damnably difficult to have clarity about myself? Denial, shame, embarassment all play a part.

When I'm willing to ride out the shame or embarassment, invariably what I find on the other side is humour - the ability to laugh at myself and my foolish, stubborn, human frailties.

That ability to see myself with affectionate humour, is a gift of the program that I cherish.It's another glorious day here, and I'm content. May you be, also.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Silence, And Compromises.

I love silence - revel in it, delight in it, bathe in it, rest in it. All the years of screeching voices in childhood and early adulthood, left me with a longing, and need, for silence.

I play music in my car, but at home rarely play music unless I'm engaged in artwork, and then it's usually classical. Before I was married, I used to play music often at home. Now I'm so grateful for silence when I'm alone, that it doesn't occur to me. This is a direct result of my spouse being someone who uses the tv as a background noise. (I use the word "noise" in the full sense of the word - a cacophony, clamor, tumult, uproar.)

Over the years, we've come to a few compromises about this, and it's more bearable than it was, but were it up to me, the darn thing would never get turned on. I wouldn't have one, if it were up to me. I didn't have one, when I lived alone. I'm an avid reader, so for me, the tv has always been a poor substitute for any book.

I have no control over the fact that my spouse is an avid television watcher, who can sit for hours in the evenings, watching "the best of the worst," as he descibes it. If the sound of the tv maddens me, I can get up and come to my workroom.

Relationships require compromise - no two people are going to agree on all the minutiae of life. My task is to work those compromises, without subtly sending a message that I'm compromising like anything, even though I know my way of relaxing/training the dogs/insert activity, is superior.

It's very interesting just how many forms of non-verbal communication are consumately effective at passing that message - sighing, a too-cheery tone of voice, eye contact held a micro-second too long - all ways to get our import across, and still be able to exclaim in pseudo-surprise, "What? What?" when the other person protests this, as some braver souls will.

That's where the "When you ____, I feel _____." statements are so useful. We aren't accusing, blaming, or controlling, if all we are doing is being direct about how we feel when the other person repeatedly gives dramatic sighs which wouldn't be out of place in a Shakespeare performance, while fufilling their part of a compromise, to which they willingly agreed.

But what we must not do, is use the statement to tell the other person they are in the wrong, as in "When you sigh like that, I feel like you are mocking me." That's telling the other person what they are doing. Anything after the word "feel" in one of these sentences, must be a feeling, for this to work. And it does work, astoundingly well, most likely because we aren't attacking or blaming, we're just saying where we're at. So:

"When you sigh like that, I feel irritated." Or frustrated, embarassed, ashamed, guilty, whatever the emotion is, name it, and then leave it alone.

(Don't try this with an intoxicated alcoholic, or you might get the response I did from my first husband, who replied firmly, "Well,  just don't feel that way, and you'll be fine."
I went and called my sponsor.)

I didn't want to believe I was powerless over others, but when I did slowly begin to accept that reality, then I needed some new skills with which to cope with my life and my relationships. Compromise was not a skill in my repertoire, and it felt ungainly and wierd trying it out, but the more I did it, the easier it became - so it goes.

Nowadays, I stop to consider "How Important Is It?" Many times, in truth, most of the time, it isn't important at all. I've just gotten stuck on it, like a slowly-moving car on a large speedbump, and I need a bit of gas to get me up and over, to continue my progress.

Because I am so much more willing to compromise, when I do have a point beyond which I'm not able to go, it's usually respected by the other person. Not always, this isn't a perfect world, but usually.
I can live with that.

The Last Word.

We all know those who have to have it. Nothing else matters, but being the last voice speaking. Get two of these individuals together, and the conversation can spiral into a ridiculous battle of wills, in which each combatant is determined to have the last word.

I've heard some jaw-droppingly silly encounters along these lines, and in my first marriage, used to lie in bed at night,and hear my ex and his very best friend out in the kitchen, bellowing at each other - both alcoholic, both just had to be right - so their conversations would, especially when they were both looped, devolve into the adult equivalent of "Did not!" "Did so!" endlessly repeated, in a struggle to ... have the last word.

I used to pride myself on the fact that I wasn't anywhere near that ridiculous. Until I joined Al-Anon, and discovered that I was equally as controlling, although my encounters may not have sounded quite so foolish on the surface. (Or maybe they did, and I'm just remembering through the proverbial pink eyewear.)

I too, was determined to win any conflict in which I was engaged.

I recall a member speaking about a term she'd learned in marital counselling: "right-fighting." This was defined by the counsellor, as an iron determination to be "right" at the expense of all else. No matter if the relationship suffered, and communication was stifled or cut off, being right was all that mattered to the combatants.

In Al-Anon, I learned that when I feel that irritation rising in my chest, it is time to sit back: close my mouth: let go, and let God. I am entitled to my opinions, but I am assuredly not entitled to force-feed them to anyone else on this planet: not family members, not the poor "deluded" alcoholic.

I learned that when I assign a label such as "deluded" to another human being, that's the first step down a path which leads to controlling behavior. I've had to detach from my emotions somewhat, before I could get sufficient perspective to recognise how this pattern of behavior runs for me. It doesn't begin with the first remark I make, it has its origins further back than that - back to when I assign a label to the other. It's the label which gives me justification to control - no label, no justification.

This may be as simple as thinking, "Oh you're so stubborn!" If I can view you under that label of "intractable," I can then feel quite justified in yammering on at you about how wrong you are, because I'm only trying to help you to be more reasonable.

If you weren't so _________,  I wouldn't need to be so ________.

In this way did I make the other responsible for my conduct. If I was a hounding shrew, it was because the alcoholic made me into one. I needed to think that way in order to maintain my victimhood.

In Al-Anon, I have learned that I may not pick and choose which parts of my life I will be responsible for - my life is my problem only. This may feel frightening, or  overwhelming, but if I am not willing to take on the responsibility for my own life, I will go to my grave a frustrated and unhappy woman.

I spent too many years being a victim. I want to live fully, and joyfully. I need a steady intake of program wisdom to keep me balanced on the rails. I haven't the right to tell anyone else that they need this, but I know I do.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Mental Hoarding.

I was visiting a friend, and the tv was on, one of those shows popular at the moment, about hoarding. She joked with me that she liked them because she felt like a certain home-making celebrity in comparison. I replied that I could recall when the inside of my head felt a lot like the inside of some of the featured dwellings - layer upon layer of old, mouldering, rotting stuff.

It consisted of attitudes that no longer fit me, but which I couldn't let go of, for fear I might be able to use them again: grudges from times past: old hurts, resentments, angers...all layered haphazardly upon one another, in ever-increasing piles, which tilted and wobbled dangerously, and made navigation problematic.

As a mental hoarder, I'd made my abode cramped, cluttered, and perilous.

From Hope for Today, page 111:

"Al-Anon has shown me that the answer lies not in letting go of people but in letting go of my outworn, painful thinking patterns to change into a more positive person."

And: "Letting go of what I do not truly need - whether it be old thoughts, things, or behaviors - makes room for new growth in my life."

"...what I do not truly need..." is, for me, the most significant phrase in that second quote. At one time, my old thoughts and behaviors may have been coping mechanisms which got me through difficult junctures in my life, but is that all I wish for myself, to continue to "get through?"

Wouldn't I prefer to flourish? Absolutely, I would. Well, then, that's another thing entirely; that requires sustained effort, and a good mental spring-cleaning. This is where Steps 4-9 come into play. It's all laid out for me, the "how." All I need to provide is the impetus, the momentum, the willingness, the desire. I must want the growth and change, more than I want the security of the mental clutter.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Procrastination - Ohhhh, I'll Do That Later.

Slogging through the tax return the last few days, I'm grateful to have learned in Al-Anon that procrastination only adds to tomorrow, a discomfort I could erase today.

My first sponsor used to say "Put it off, and suffer the tortures of the damned in expectation of how dreadful it will be, or just do the damn thing now, get it over with, and have your freedom, woman!"

I much prefer the latter. I cannot bear to have something hanging over my head waiting to be done - tainting my mood and weighing on my mind. This is very late in the year for me to be doing the taxes - I've usually got them done a week after I get the form in the mail. But this year, I just haven't had the time until now to do them.

I had a wonderful day today - got to play in the garden with good friends, did some volunteer work which made me feel useful and satisfied, and arriving back home, had a choice - work on the taxes, or paint? I decided on the taxes, because the sooner they are finished, the sooner I can relax, and devote some time to pleasurable pursuits.

I know I could pay someone else to do them, but I still have some control freak tendencies left, and this is one of them - I like to do my own taxes.

Earlier this evening, I was standing out on the deck while the dogs wandered the yard. I was admiring the magnolia tree next door which is just beginning to bloom, and feeling a quietly powerful gratitude for my life and all my blessings. Not even the tax return could dim my positive feelings.

I was talking to a woman today about envy - which is a horridly poisonous emotion, in my opinion, because it robs the bearer of the ability to see the good in their life - they see only the lack. I speak from experience - I was envious to my bones when I came into program, because I felt so victimised and martyred - it only made sense that other people's lives were far superior to mine in every way.

I felt I had been given a raw deal in life, right from the start, and there's a great deal of truth to that, but from this vantage point, what of it? Was I willing to let the rest of my life slip past unnoticed, unlived, while I seethed with envy for what others had, and I did not?

I had no concept of how to move past this, and it took years of hard work and my Higher Power's grace, for me to be content with what I was given as my share. I have learned to be appreciative for my blessings.

I've learned to see the green unfurling voluptousness of spring as a delight in which I can revel and rejoice.

I can sit reading, with a small warm dog curled up inside my sweater, her head shoved down one sleeve, snoring gently, her breath tickling my arm, and feel fortunate to be graced with this loving funny dog as a gift each day. 

I've learned to let go of my expectations that others be perfect according to my statutes, and make the effort to try to see life from another point of view.

I still have the odd instance, usually when I'm in HALT, when the martyred victimhood voice will start nattering away at me again, about how if only I was granted a 17 zillion dollar win from the lottery, I could yada yada yada, but the truth of it is, I can only wear one garment at a time, I can only drive one vehicle, I can only live one life. And this is the life I've been granted.

How do I choose to spend my time? Complaining about what I haven't been given, or thanking my Higher Power for all that I have? It seems to me that any time that snarky little voice starts up nowadays, I get a good cosmic slap upside the head along the lines of:  Feeling ripped off?  You could be suffering from this - or this - or this...and I will feel ashamed for my ingratitude. I try not to bash myself too much about it, just accept the lesson thankfully, and put the reminder into practise.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Dogs, Food, and Worrying.

Last night, I got out my daily ration of vitamins, put them on the table beside the couch, and went back into the kitchen to get a glass of water.
When I returned, the dog was doing that dog thing of glancing quickly at me, then away again, then back, then away - the poor creature positively reeked of guilt - and the vitamins were gone.

I couldn't believe the piggy little creature had snarfled my vitamins, she knows anything on the table is off-limits, and will leave my dinner untouched. Maybe she thought they were so small I wouldn't notice they were gone?

I paged the vet, who called back a few minutes later, and laughing at my story, after getting me to read her the levels of A and E in the multi-vitamin, assured me that the little warthog would be fine, but might "suffer an intestinal disturbance" and suggested that I keep an eye on her only for that. Sure enough, we were up and down a couple of times during the night, as she woke me with an urgent request to be allowed outside.

It all reminded me of the show I watched a few years back, in which the commentator said that a certain breed of dog was very "food-motivated." Turning to me, my spouse asked in surprise, "Is there a dog that isn't?"

Life with a ten pound dog is very different from life with an 80 pound dog, and yet the same. A dog is a dog, regardless of size and appearance. And dog-brain is a very strange place. We can imagine we have some concept of what they think or feel, and dogs seem to be one of the creatures about which we are most anthropomorphic. But when it comes right down to it, we do not know, anymore than we know what another person is thinking or feeling.

We can only guess, and if we truly wish to know, ask. There will be times when we may ask another person for clarification, and they will not, or perhaps cannot, give it. What then? Before Al-Anon, I thought I had the right to have my questions answered, and would continue to hound with repeated questions, phrased differently, or approaching from another angle.

It may seem basic courtesy in human communication to you, but I had to learn that this was disrespectful. Al-Anon teaches us that merely because someone suffers from alcoholism, we are not given the right to exhort, demand, or threaten, in efforts to get our needs met. I did all of these in my first marriage, with predictable results.

I have had to accept that there are going to be many times in my life when I am not going to be allowed to know "why."
It is what it is, and I either accept that truth, or I continue to torment myself with frustration and irritability. "Irritable and unreasonable without knowing it" is a perfect description of who I had become before program, in my wrestling with another's addiction. It wasn't my fight, and I've taken off the gloves. Now, when I hear the roar of the crowd, and see the combatants walking into the ring, I leave the stadium.

Thursday, March 18, 2010


From the ODAT, page 78:

"There is no advantage, no profit, no growth, in deceiving myself merely to escape the consequences of my own mistakes."

Our culture as a whole supports self-deception, we are in fact, encouraged in it - exhorted by advertising, to purchase that which we cannot afford, to impress those who we do not like. We learn to deny, repress, sidestep, defend, justify, and rationalise. We see this behavior modelled by those in government, industry, the entertainment field, everywhere we look. Our justice system allows for "the abuse excuse" and our family members are mowed down like wheat before the blade, with guns wielded by those who may face only the slightest of penalties before being let back out to prey upon us once more.

Honesty is a commodity not much valued, it seems. In this culture, it can feel a bit like "lost and alone in a world full of aliens" to work an honest program, to do our best to keep self-deception to a minimum, to own up to our mistakes, and to accept the consequences. We can be seen as wierdo weaklings engaged in "cult activity."

I've owned up to mistakes only to have the person to whom I'm speaking stare at me in flabbergasted astonishment, as though I'd suddenly sprouted a second head from the side of my neck, and it was talking to them. I've had people not have the slighest idea of how to respond, because they came loaded for bear, expecting me to defend myself, and instead, I've admitted my mistake, and offered an amend.

I've had people who, after I've owned up to a mistake, have forever afterwards viewed me with suspicion, because they "couldn't figure out what I wanted."

Sometimes, working the program can feel a tad lonely out there in the rest of the world, but it becomes a habit, if done long enough, and then one cannot bear to return to the previous crazed misery of "the way we were." I still have a hard time with those looks, though; find myself tempted to glance back over my shoulder, to see if there's an apparition behind me, which is the real cause of their amazement.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Oh Please, Not That Again!

I saw a doormat the other day, which read, "Oh no, not you again!"  It reminded me of the cry of one sponsee I had years back, who was very determined to get her own way in each and every encounter with the alcoholic - so much so, that she would work out elaborate scenarios, in which she would set him up, just so she could chop him off at the knees. When she'd call me, to run these past me, I'd ask her what her motive was, and her initial reply was always the sentence I've chosen for the title of this post.

It's a thin dividing line between certainty and arrogance, and I can cross over without realising it, if I don't take care to be aware of my motives.

I know I've bored more than one sponsee over the years, with my "What would be your motive in responding that way/taking that action/making that statement?" questions, but I am a firm believer that most of us are fairly skilled at self-deception when it comes to our own motives.

I know I am. I can spin entire castles out of straw, when I'm determined to convince myself that something I'd like to do, or say, would be not only satisfying, but completely appropriate. I laughed today, reading MrSponsorPants :

"...some people get creative with their tax deductions -- stretching what qualifies as a write-off to comical degrees."

I was thinking about a friend who has a business, and does precisely that very thing.  Hearing about his tax deductions has given me good practise in keeping my mouth firmly closed.  I make noncommittal noises like "Mmmm?" in response, rather than saying what I truly think, since he isn't asking for my opinion, and I need the exercise in keeping silent.

My first sponsor used to suggest that I would benefit from talking less and listening more - I'd felt deeply offended by this suggestion, but working a Fourth Step made it clear to me that this was nothing more than the simple truth. I got to where she'd start the sentence, "Perhaps you'd benefit from talking.." and I'd interrupt her to finish it, "...less and listening more, yeah, yeah, I know." She'd fix me with that basilisk glare, and ask, "If you know it, why aren't you doing it?"

Why? Because I have a tendency towards arrogance, that's why.
(You get two, two, two co-dependents in one! The arrogant control freak, and the craven people-pleaser!)

Whenever I hear myself starting an argument inside my head with someone who is trying to tell me their truth, that's arrogance. Whenever I decide that I know how someone else should better run their life/ pick their partner/ do their job, I am falling into an arrogant mindset. And when I'm in that mindset, I am not teachable, because I've decided there's nothing here to learn, I know it all already.

When I'm feeling humble, I cringe to think of the times I am arrogant. When I'm arrogant, I feel a creeping unease that I'm not behaving the way I should, and it often only serves to harden my position at the time. I have to get away by myself, meditate, read some program literature, run whatever it is past my sponsor, and then I can see my arrogance clearly.

For me, it's almost always about fear. I'm afraid - of rejection, abandonment, loss, pain, sorrow. I have a tendency, developed in my earlier life, to leap straight from fear into anger, because anger feels powerful, and fear feels vulnerable. I was astonished the first day I realised that. It tilted my worldview sharply, to realise with a calm understanding that all those times I was stomping an angry road, I'd started down it, stumbling along in fear. When I'm afraid, I have a hard time admitting to it, because I see it as a weakness.

Where did this come from? Same place most of my insanity got started - in the craziness of my childhood. Before Al-Anon, I was still reacting like a small child who is terrified, but denies her fear even as she wets herself in terror.

Fear ruled my life. It still comes knocking, insisting that if I just let it in, it will tell me the real story. It tooks me years in Al-Anon to be able to get to a place where I could understand that my fears were possible, yes, but so was a positive outcome - it was 50/50 most times, so why did I never consider that?

When I'm in a fragile state emotionally, or ill, or fatigued, I am far more likely to fall back into that state of fearful dread of the future. Whatever is coming, I just know it won't be good. Times like that are when I become arrogant and controlling, stubborn and judgemental - all my character defects come rushing to the fore, willing and ready to take me over, if I allow it. A line in today's reading in the ODAT leapt out at me:

"No-one can distort my thinking unless I permit it."

That includes me, that "no-one."

Monday, March 15, 2010

Projecting On That Internal Screen.

I had an excellent lesson today - my first root canal, which I had been hoping wouldn't turn out to be necessary, since it was first suggested to me that I might need one, back when the tooth was newly crowned, and immediately began to cause me "discomfort." (That's medical-speak for agony. I learned this sweet little euphemism when in hospital after an accident; the nurses or doctors would say cheerfully, "This might cause you some discomfort," just before they did something sufficiently painful to momentarily turn my eyeballs inside out.)

Mention of the possibility that I might need a root canal, seemed to stimulate various listeners to great heights of macabre description, of the terror and excruciating pain of a root canal.

I had to work my program assiduously, not to retreat into a state of high anxiety. Today, I had it done, and almost dozed off several times during the procedure. I started out almost paralysed with fear, but I knew how to calm myself, and promptly began reciting the Serenity Prayer. Before I knew it, I felt quite relaxed.  At one point, I jumped into full consciousness when the assisstant dropped something on the floor - I realised I'd been half-asleep.

So much for the terror and pain of a root canal. I felt rather ridiculously pleased about having resisted the temptation to work myself into a lather beforehand, worrying about what it might be like.

Letting go of it, turning it over each and every time it crept into my mind, in the weeks I was waiting for my appointment, kept me on an even keel, and permitted me to enjoy my life, even as the day approached. I went to bed last night, and fell off to sleep quite easily, no tossing, turning, worrying, fretting, or pacing of the floor.

I let it go, believed that I'd be just fine, and I was. I have come a long way in my program. Our childhood dentist was an alcoholic, and the pain of visits to that individual, instilled in me, an apparently ineradicable fear of dentistry.

I've learned in Al-Anon that I may have a fear, but I do not have to allow that fear to rule my life. I can work my program, change my attitude, be grateful for whatever blessings I may find, and I'll have an outcome far better than I might once have imagined.

On another note, my spouse has gone out to a meeting they don't ordinarily attend, to give moral support and encouragement to someone receiving their first-ever 30 day chip. The light in their face as they spoke about how wonderful Twelve Step is, making that 30 days possible, brought a lump to my throat.

I love this program.

When They're Bent On Self-Destruction.

I know someone in program who has a history of never leaving a relationship until he has the next one lined up and ready to go. This becomes increasingly difficult, because with age comes wisdom, (wild generalisation, I know it, but work with me here) and the older he gets, the smaller, and wierder, the pool of willing partners becomes.

His most recent is, (to quote a cop friend of mine who has seen every type of human dysfunction, and still finds humour in life, I don't know how,) "differently wired."

Very differently. Scarily differently. I've had one encounter with this person, and all the hair on the back of my neck was standing at attention, while my internal alarm bells were ringing loudly enough to make thinking almost impossible - I wanted to get away, and I wanted to get away NOW.

The most alarming aspect of this latest partner, in my estimation, is the cloak of normality behind which the "different wiring" crouches. If I didn't have the training I've had in this area, I might not have caught the little "tells." But I have, and I did.

This led me to wonder, just what is it about my acquaintance's self that makes it impossible for him to be alone? Why does he continue to get himself into these relationships which always end so badly - each one seems worse than the one before?

I wondered aloud to my spouse who said briskly, "Not your problem, dear."

Right. Not my problem.

Learning that other people are not my problem is a blessing for my co-dependent personality. It isn't up to me to try to show anyone the error of their ways, and who am I to decide that they are erring in their ways, anyhow? Perhaps this is the lesson their Higher Power has chosen for them to learn, perhaps this is just the way things are. Perhaps, perhaps. I could go on at length with this, but it would all come down to the same thing - mind my own damn business.

I am powerless over other people. Many times, that realisation comes with a huge, heartfelt, sigh of relief.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Newspapers and Books.

Since we moved here, we've been bombarded with newspapers - the weekly paper, the thrice-weekly paper, the daily paper, none of which we ordered, or want. They go directly from the mailbox into the recycling box. This drives me bonkers, since I am a great lover and admirer of trees.

I started out by putting a small, polite sign on our mailbox, which read, "No papers, please."

That didn't work. I tried blocking off the metal curly things beneath the mailbox, so they couldn't put the paper there - they lifted the lid, with my nice polite sign on it, and stuffed the paper into the mailbox itself.

So now I have a much larger NO PAPERS! sign taped directly to the mailbox lid, and that seems to be working - we had a newspaper-free day yesterday.

My spouse joked that I was assuming that whoever was delivering the paper, could also read the paper, and by extension, my sign. That brought me up short; I don't like to think that kids are passing from grade to grade through school, remaining functionally illiterate.

Reading was and is, my great pleasure and escape. I've taught myself how to do many things using books as reference. One can enter any world through the pages of a book. I've laughed so hard reading a book in bed, that I awakened my spouse, who smilingly asked if I might read something serious, so they could sleep?

My favourite magnetic bookmark has a quote from Charles W. Elliot: "Books are the quietest and most constant of friends."

I was only recently introduced to magnetic bookmarks - what a marvellous invention - I've had the same one now for ages. Unlike their paper counterparts, they don't slide out, get bent or folded, and unlike the dart kind, don't ruin the pages.

Where was I going with this? I've gotten sidetracked, and forgotten. No matter, the sun is shining, and I'm going outside to enjoy it.

May you have what a friend's small son once declared, "an excellent Saturday." He used to make these sorts of pronouncements accompanied by a firm nod of the head - he's a foot taller than I, now, but I can still see him in my mind's eye - wandering our rear yard, with my dog following in his footsteps, ever hopeful that he'd throw the ball he clutched so tightly in one hand.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Choosing Healthy Friendships.

When it comes to my own relationships, I'm a "slow learner." (I love that phrase, first heard in a meeting.)

I've been having a strong sense of deja vu lately, with one friend, and haven't been able to figure out why that is. Yesterday, while out walking the dogs, I was wandering along the shores of a lake, admiring the brilliant plumage of the male ducks, and it hit me with a jolt - I know where this is headed, because I've been here before.

I've been on the receiving end of precisely this same kind of behavior, and I decided at the time that it was unacceptable to me, and I was not going to tolerate it in future. I can recall talking to my spouse about it, saying I had found it very stressful to deal with, and it was not my idea of a good friendship. Their reply? "You'll know better next time, because you'll recognise it."

Well, it took me quite some time to get there, but I did recognise it finally, and have ended the friendship. Ouch. Very difficult to do that, because I didn't want to hurt this individual, but I also do not want those behaviors in my life anymore.

What was causing the sense of deja vu with this person, was the strong feeling I kept getting, that they couldn't see me, they could only see themselves as reflected back to them from me. This is a disconcerting experience - it goes something like this:

Me: When you did that, I felt this.

Them: Yes, I was feeling this and that and this.

Me: I hear you, and understand you, but what I'm trying to point out to you, is what I was feeling, when you behaved that way.

Them: I didn't think about you feeling anything, really, I was feeling this and this and that, and I think it's because of this in the past, and that in my family of origin and...

Me: Right, I get that, but my point is that when you said/did whatever it was, I didn't like it. You were overstepping my boundaries.

Them: You know, I wonder if I feel what I feel, because of what happened to me when I was in my first marriage, because I've noticed that...

Me: Do you think that the behaviors you choose in a relationship affect the other person?

Them: (bewildered) Other person, what other person?

Me: The other person in the relationship with you.

Them: There's another person?

I exaggerate, but those of you who've been in a friendship or any kind of a relationship with someone like this, will recognise what I'm talking about instantly - it's like we don't truly exist for someone like this - we're vague shadowy figures in the mist, holding up a mirror in which they can see themselves.
We could be a cardboard cutout, with a tape recorder behind it, and that would work, too.

There's a bland disregard for anything that isn't directly related to them and their wants/needs/demands/expectations. They can behave outrageously, and if we protest, we'll be dismissed with a comment about "Aren't you over that yet? Let's talk about something interesting - ME!

My last experience with this, was someone in program, who if pushed, could parrot a program sentiment, and then go right back to talking about herself. It was eerie.

What I'm learning in Al-Anon, is that I don't have to befriend anyone who won't respect me. It's not up to me to show them the error of their ways, to love them into behaving differently, or any of those misguided things I used to think before program.

My responsibility is to myself first. I need to do whatever it takes to keep me healthy, and in active recovery. When I begin to get that uneasy feeling, I need to pay attention - to listen carefully to the voice of experience whispering into my ear: "Um, can I just point something out here?"

The last couple of years have been rocky for me in some ways. I'm having to deal with aspects of my personality hitherto hidden, (although most likely, only to me.) How I accept unacceptable behavior from other people - how I give loyalty to those who do not give any back, and why do I do this?

It can be confusing and tiring, wading through the knee-deep detritus of my co-dependent thinking, but I know that if I make the effort to keep slogging forward, I'll get there eventually.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

What Does A Spiritual Awakening Look Like, Anyway?

Almost two years ago, a sponsee and I were out walking the dogs and talking, and I asked a question regarding a choice she was making. I could see her recoil, and then the wall came slamming down. After that day, she was courteous at meetings, but she cut me loose as her sponsor.

I really wrestled with this, swinging back and forth between lashing myself for having phrased it the way I had, and being able to let go of it. I finally achieved an uneasy peace, realising that I could have phrased my question differently, so as not to offend her, and still stimulated her into thinking about why she was making that particular choice. From a sponsor point of view, it was obvious that one of her character defects was driving it; my mistake was in not realising how my question would sound. I was too direct, and  my question was shaming. I had been, in my clumsy way, oblivious to her feelings.

Recently, this sponsee has begun to contact me again, and we have been discussing this mistake of mine, and her response to it. I have found it freeing to be able to be completely honest about where I was when I asked the question, what was going through my mind at the time, the aftermath, etc.

I was thinking about it today, and realised just how far I've come in Al-Anon. This is how I "practise these principles in all our affairs."
I'm willing to admit to my character defects, and discuss them openly and honestly, even when they are making me cringe and writhe.  I'm willing to sit quietly and hear how I have caused another person pain through my actions, and when they finish speaking, make amends. No justifying, no rationalising my behavior, just listen, and make an amend.

My spiritual awakening has been, in part, to realise that I am going to continue to make a mess of things in my dealings with other people - I am a flawed human being.

If I don't make the necessary amends for the mistakes I continue to make, I will begin again to feel ashamed. If I lash myself rather than work through whatever it may be, using my program tools, I will start to backslide.

If I cannot admit to, ask forgiveness for, (forgive myself for) my character defects, I will once again be lost inside a misery of my own making. I may be easier to deal with now, than I was before Al-Anon, but my character defects are going to keep tripping me up until I take my last breath. That's a given.

Whether or not I work to sustain this different, more honest, more peaceful way of life, is up to me. I am faced with the choice a hundred times a day - I pray to continue to make the right one - to continue to practise these principles in all my affairs.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010


One reason we do not give advice in Al-Anon, is co-dependents like me, who waffle between control-freakery, and then with something about which we are uncertain, being willing to substitute another person's judgement for our own. I've just had another example of this for myself,  since I started trying to paint with watercolors.

As a child, I was taught: if you don't know, and you want to know - look it up. Research it, and teach yourself. I learned how to sew, garden, do stained glass, type, all sorts of activities and interests, by getting a book, or several books, and teaching myself. That worked well for me. Painting is different. I don't want to sound too wierd, but it appears that painting comes from another place entirely inside the head. Too many how-to books just get in my way. I tried a painting using techniques learned from the books of a woman who does amazingly realistic watercolors, and all it did was twist me up to the point that I wasn't enjoying myself at all.

Not only that, but I was beginning to walk up to the painting, gaze at it, sigh heavily, and walk away. Substituting other people's opinions on "how to paint watercolors" was ruining my enjoyment of painting completely. I'd begun this process having fun slopping paint around, and before too much time had elapsed, the old perfectionistic thinking crept in, and that wasn't enough. The end result became more important than the process.

Last night I started a new painting, and resolutely ignoring all the advice I'd been gathering through reading how-to books, went right back to the beginning - slopping paint onto the paper, and doing whatever felt right at the time, to get the effect I wanted. It was enormously satisfying, and today, I still like the painting. It's my painting. It's not someone else's painting done with my hand, if you can follow that rather spooky thought.

This appears to be a lesson I need to learn anew with some regularity. Even after all this time in program, just let me be new to something, be exposed to an "expert," and I can begin to wobble and get unbalanced in my thinking. This author can paint astoundingly lifelike watercolors, so she/he must know the "right" way to do it. Stepford painting, if you will. Remove my judgement, and substitute that of the other person.

I was talking to my spouse about this, and they were idly glancing through the introductory chapter of the painting book which I'd been trying to follow, and said, "This artist works largely from photographs, so it's no wonder her technique isn't working for you - you're trying to paint a still life from life, using techniques she uses to paint from photographs."

Clunk. Understanding slots into place. That's why I felt such a disconnect. I don't read prefaces or intros to books of this sort, I skip right past them. If I'd stopped long enough to read the book's intro, I'd have set it aside as not relevant. I can't paint from photographs. I know that works very well for super-realism, but it puts a barrier in between me and the subject; I feel like I'm painting the photograph, and not the subject. And anyway, super-realism has never appealed to me particularly, because the paintings look like photographs, and I prefer paintings which offer me the artist's why was I getting caught up in this?

Why? Because I was researching "how to paint with watercolors," and this was a reference book from the library. So it goes. I've decided to go back to where I was, before the books I'd requested began to come in -  paint without reading any more reference or instruction books. I was happy at the start of this, it was only when I began to read advice and try to implement it. that I got myself all skewed into such misery that I wasn't painting.

This rather long and rambling post gives a classic example of why I am eternally grateful that we do not give advice in Al-Anon. Just try extrapolating this into major life choices - makes my teeth stand on end, imagining the outcome.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Cedar Trees.

Here on the west coast, home of old-growth cedar stands, one sees giant trees even in the city. This area has many tall cedars; it's one of the things that most appealed to me about it, and we have a huge one in the back yard.

Cedar trees whisper, sigh, and sing in the wind - it's a sound like no other.

I was out on the deck last night, waiting while the dogs wandered the yard searching for that one elusive blade of grass upon which to pee. I stood in the dark, gazing up at the stars and listening to the trees murmuring and sighing as they moved in the wind. I find the sound almost hypnotic, and it affects me in a way I cannot articulate. It's haunting - their great size, and age, makes the human lifespan seem brief and insignificant.

I have a Native friend in the program who calls the sound of cedars moving in the wind, "the voice of the Great Spirit." Perhaps that's why it moves me so.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Other People's Opinions.

I remember one meeting I attended, the topic of which I've long forgotten, but one member's comment stays with me - she described talking to her brother about Al-Anon, and how much it had helped her, and he interrupted her to say, "I don't want to hear any more about your sect."  She was laughing somewhat ruefully as she spoke about his inability to see past the jargon of the program, to the deep and positive changes it had wrought in her.

 When I was new to program, I didn't tell anyone I was going to meetings. I didn't for a long time, not until I was sufficiently secure in my recovery, to have reached a place where it wouldn't matter what the opinion of other people might be - I could see the wonderful changes working 12 Step was having on my life, and I wanted more of the same.

Now, I couldn't care less who knows, but I've been going to Al-Anon for 24 years, so I've loosened up quite a bit in that regard. I do try to keep the jargon to a minimum, if asked about 12 Step by someone who knows nothing about it but the name.

I've become secure enough in myself to have been able to let go of what others may think about me going to Al-Anon - if they judge me and find me wanting as a result, that's their problem. Al-Anon is my solution, and I'm powerfully grateful for it.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

And Isn't That A Blessing.

From Hope for Today, page 66:

"One of the reasons this program works so well is that we don't all experience our insane times at once."


"Recovery cannot occur in isolation. Together we can accomplish what we cannot do alone."

Friday, March 5, 2010

The Only Requirement for Membership.

Syd wrote in his post today, of an AA meeting he attended, at which a young woman was asked to leave, because it was a "men's" meeting.

I asked an alcoholic what would happen at the "men's meeting" he attends, if that were to occur? He said that has happened -  they make room at the table, and in the spirit of AA, do whatever they can to help her feel welcomed and appreciated.  As I am, he was disturbed at the prospect of an alcoholic who needed a meeting being turned away because they were the "wrong" gender.

What if that young woman had been working up her courage for ages to attend an AA meeting, and having finally managed it, got there, and was asked to leave? Where would those men be now, if they had been turned away from AA? Isn't this putting recovery as a poor second best?

It seems part of human culture to want to form exclusive groups, include some people, and keep others out, but this clashes with the principles of Twelve Step. The risk is far too great. Rejecting someone who is trying to attend a meeting, for whatever reason, could be condemning them to untold misery. Who knows if they will ever be able to make it back?

I pray for that young woman who was rejected from the meeting. I pray for an open heart, to make room for everyone who needs the wisdom and love of this program. I cannot imagine where I'd be now, if I'd been told I wasn't welcome at my first, second,  one hundredth Al-Anon meeting because I wasn't _____. I'm deeply grateful for the loving hands extended to me, when I was in such desperate straits.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Learning To Share.

Every now and then we get the dogs each a new toy - our male dog likes things he can chew, shake, and fling about - he needs the kind made from that strengthened rubber which withstands a lot of punishment. Our female has no interest in rubber anything, she likes small fluffy creatures with squeakies inside, with which she will settle down, and squeak non-stop for a good half-hour or so, when the toy is new to her - after that, a few chomps several times a day to remind it who's in charge here, and a few squeaks of protest in return, and she's satisfied.

We got our male dog when he was a tiny puppy; we had an old golden lab who fell madly in love with him, and they would play together for hours. He learned to share his toys from a very young age, and anyone, dog or human, can go up to him, take a toy right out of his mouth, and he might gaze with astonishment for a few seconds, but then he'll do the canine equivalent of a shrug, and go find something else to play with.

Our female grew up at the breeders, living with a dozen other dogs, and she guards her toys zealously - if our male gets too close, she will go very still - a warning to him, to back off. Even after several years with us, and an abundance of her own toys, when we arrive home from an outing, she rushes to check that they are all present and accounted for. She likes to make a pile of them, and sleep on top, that way she can have the security of knowing they are all there, and nobody can sneak one out. I had to train her to allow us to remove a toy from her, without her protesting in any way - at first, she would give me the same body language she gave our male dog.

I have endless patience with her, because I can relate so well to that guarding of resources - it comes from going without, and never having anything to call your own.

I grew up that way, too. I wasn't allowed any privacy, any boundaries, anything that once given, couldn't be taken away, at any moment, without notice, for some real or imagined sin on my part. Before Al-Anon, if someone admired something of mine, I'd give it to them - I felt obligated, and as I've mentioned elsewhere, I was a rampant people-pleaser.

I can clearly recall the first time I decided that I wasn't going to do this anymore, that I deserved to have, and keep, the things I liked. My sister came out for a visit, and admired a Venetian glass bowl I'd bought as a gift to myself. I'd first seen it in the window of an antique store in the city.  I'd saved to buy it, and still have it - it's the most delicious deep ruby red, and a pleasing shape. I place it where the sun will catch it; I love the way the glass captures the light, and glows.

This sister was well acquainted with my inability to withstand pressure, as she'd already had several of my favourite possessions from me, on earlier visits. All it had taken was some admiration, a few wistful comments, and I'd cave and give whatever it was to her. This time I was prepared, and I was determined to withstand whatever she tried on me. I loved that bowl. I was living with my first husband, and money was very tight, as he drank most of the money from his business, and half of my salary as well.

The bowl was a talisman of sorts - a reminder to me that I was deserving, that it was perfectly acceptable for me to have wants and needs, that satisfying the occasional desire for something purely decorative didn't make me evil, or selfish.

At the time of this visit, I hadn't realised that my sister was (is) an alcoholic - I was new to Al-Anon, and still feeling my way through a new and confusing landscape. There were several times during her visit when I found myself thinking that she brought up in me the same feelings that my husband did, although her methods of persuasion were far less blatant or direct.

She finally went home, after trying every which way she could to get me to give her the bowl, up to and including telling me how I was "...selfish, not to be willing to give to your own sister, some stupid bowl." I worked my program, I remained outwardly calm, even if I had to shove my hands deep into the pockets of my sweater, so she couldn't see them shaking, and I kept my mouth firmly closed over the things I wanted to reply.

The bowl stayed. It's sitting on my bookcase, and each time I see it, I find pleasure in the color and shape. I also find pleasure in what it means on another level - that I am a person who deserves something like this, for no other reason than because I like it.

This may sound simplistic or pretty basic to you, but to me, this bowl is still a talisman - of the beginnings of my journey to recovery - to loving myself.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Sun, Glorious Sun!

I love it here - the sun shines so much more often than it did in the other two places we lived, in the past 15 years. When I wake up and the world is lit with a beautiful warm light, I'm already in a good mood before I ever put one foot out of bed. My dogs love it, too, they go out, find a good spot, settle down,and sigh with deep satisfaction. I like to take my coffee out onto the back deck and wander along watching the plants in the pots leaping into life. I sometimes have to step over a dog lying belly up, toasting his or her undersides.

From the ODAT, page 63:

"Let me realise that the Al-Anon program is not a magic potion that will instantly cure all my ills, but a pattern of living that will serve me to exactly the degree that I work at it."

I like that reminder. When it comes to this marvellous "pattern of living" I get back what I put into it. Just like anything else in life. We learn to do by doing, not by talking, or reading, about doing.

If I want a closer contact with my Higher Power, I must be willing to do whatever is required to achieve it - praying, meditating, working whatever layer of program is there before me to be worked. Some days are a holiday, they move smoothly and delightedly from beginning to end, full of joyfulness and glee. Some days are like digging a trench in thick heavy mud, every shovelfull is an effort that feels almost beyond me. If I'm only willing to work my program when it's easy to do so, how committed to my recovery am I?

I can look back to the person I was, and feel compassion for her pain, and also feel great swooping floods of gratitude that I am not in that place anymore.

My husband and I were talking the other day about something to do with the business, and I said "Perhaps we should _____" Within less than one day, we got a pretty loud and clear message from our Higher Power to do precisely the opposite. It was so emphatic and easy to understand that it made both of us burst out laughing.

I'm grateful for those, too. I'm grateful for everything today - this blog, and those who read it, people, dogs, plants, and the sun, the glorious golden delicious sun.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010


Two bloggers today have posts about the suicides, or attempted suicides, of people they know. When I hear of a sucide, or an attempt, and those speaking about it are shocked and astonished, I think to myself sadly that the person must have had an excellent facade, well-maintained, and carefully protected. Some of us live for years as if behind a smoked pane of glass. Those close to us may be able to discern movement, but they cannot ever see us clearly.

In 12 Step, we learn that for meaningful change to occur, we have to walk out from behind that glass, those carefully constructed facades: be willing to be real and honest about our wants, needs, feelings and sorrows.

This requires that we first be willing to admit to our faults, frailties, crazed thinking, obsessions, character defects. It means being willing to push our ego off the chair, so that truth has a chance to sit down and relax.

I was raised in a home where all that mattered was the facade - I learned to bolt that damn thing on so securely that nothing, but nothing, could dislodge it. Or so I believed, for many years. I discovered that my Higher Power can move it out of the way, if I'm willing, and remember to ask.

It may serve my ego to polish my facade, and hide behind it, but it doesn't serve my soul-need. That can only be satisfied through honest communion with another human being, and my Higher Power.

It's a choice I have to make repeatedly in a day, and there will be days when I have no energy or trust, so I stay in hiding, and feel lonely. I need to be clear that the loneliness is a choice, not a life-sentence.

Monday, March 1, 2010

That Old Familiar Feeling.

Garnet left a comment on yesterday's post, wondering what had prompted it. I'm being exposed to someone who is trying to manipulate me into doing what she wants, and was watching my own response to it.

A member of a group I attend, (not an Al-Anon group) had asked for help with something - I thought it sounded like great fun, so agreed happily. We were trying through emails, to set up a time to get together to iron out some details, and she was pushing to have the meeting at a time which is flat-out inconvenient for me.  I gently explained "That won't work for me, I've got other committments, so how about this time? Or this, Or this?"

Suddenly, this person who had replied within an hour or so of every other one of my emails, hadn't replied after four days. I just thought she must be busy, and I'd talk to her at the next meeting. She ignored me completely at the next meeting.

At first I found it rather amusing to be so obviously shunned, but as time went on, I began to feel a creeping anxiety. I know what this is, it's people-pleasing, feeling that maybe I'm being selfish to not agree to her time, and maybe it's more important to keep harmony in the group, and maybe I should this and maybe I should that. Slowly, silently rising, the way a fine mist in the woodlands rises to obscure first the undergrowth, and then the tree trunks, and pretty soon you can't see your hand in front of your face.

Fortunately for me, I have program habits which kick in, so that I (eventually) remember to step back from the mild anxiety, call a program friend, and reason it out with them. I know that it isn't my fault if another person decides that the way to get what they want from me, is to try to manipulate. I know that I've done nothing wrong, just stood my ground on a very minor issue.

I know that if I'm willing to suffer the discomfort of the feeling, the anxiety will pass if I just ride it out, and I won't have compromised myself to make someone else happy at my expense. I know that if this person decides to never speak to me again, I can live with that, too.

Today, I'm grateful that this has happened so early into the process, because it might have been quite a bit more difficult to withstand this sort of pressure once we'd been working on the project together for a month.

 All things happen in my Higher Power's time.

 Perhaps I've had a narrow escape; I like that idea.