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.


  1. That bowl is important. I so get that. I'm smiling because you have it to look at today. It's an Atta-girl-bowl!


  2. I understand those things perfectly. I'm glad that you kept the bowl. The talismans of our recovery are important.

  3. That was some black belt Al-Anon you pulled off in your early days.

  4. Great post! I love how the bowl turned into your first Al-Anon recovery trophy. Establishing boundaries around the behaviors of my addict son were always the same way for me. I can still remember the first couple of times that I really drew the line with him. I don't have a bowl to show for it, but I can remember almost every detail of the conversations. Have a great weekend!

  5. I thoroughly enjoyed this post. I never used to buy myself anything. Then, about a dozen years ago I bought myself a teapot and cups and canister set, all matching. My family was dumbstruck when they came home and saw this stuff because I just didn't do that. I sold the canisters at a garage sale and the cups eventually all got broken or chipped beyond use but I still have the teapot (which I will keep no matter how chipped it gets) and every time I look at it I remember the day I decided I was worth it.