Friday, April 30, 2010

Let There Be No Gossip Or Criticism...

One of the many reasons I wanted to move back to the city, was the variety of social life that is offered in such abundance here - one can find a group of like-minded people interested in gardening, books, hiking, cooking, or a specific breed of dog.

I joined one such group, and am enjoying myself enormously. The only jarring note, is the odd mild little criticism of one another tossed off, labelled as a joke. It grates on the ear, when one is used to Al-Anon groups.  So far, when someone does this, I've been responding with a comment along the lines of: "I really like so-and-so, I find him/her delightful/interesting/funny/great company." Or, if I'm feeling really brave, "I don't like to criticise other people, because I've got so many faults of my own, that I stay busy just trying to keep them in check."

Truth is, that second comment rather burst out of me, when I was cornered by someone determined to fill me, the newcomer, in on how she saw each and every member of the group - I had tried fending her off with changes of subject, but she was a juggernaut, and rolled right over my rather feeble attempts, until I desperately
came out with that one, and she stopped talking, looked me in the eye for the first time, and abruptly did a complete about-face, and began to tell me everyone's good characteristics. I relaxed, sipped my decaff and thanked my Higher Power. This woman hasn't offered me any criticisms since that time, for which I'm truly grateful. I guess I made it clear that I didn't want to hear it.

I've been thinking about this lately, and how that one reminder, "...but let there be no gossip or criticsm of one another..." helps to make our meetings, and our groups, a safe place for all of us.

My grandfather had a saying: "If they'll do it with you, they'll do it to you."

I've found that to be a pretty accurate way to look at these sorts of things, and it makes clear for me, who is safe, and who is unsafe. If a person will criticise and condemn other people to me, then they will criticise and condemn me to other people. I keep my distance from those people, choosing instead to make friends from the wide group of those who look to the good, and focus upon the positive.

We had two of those members of the group over to our house for dinner last night, and it was a wonderful evening of discussion and laughter, with not a single criticism passed all night. My kind of fun.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010


For many co-dependents, other people's opinions can be like a tide against which it is difficult to sustain our footing. For some of us, it's family members who push and pull at us, wanting us to behave in the way they decide we should. They make judgements about our situation and choices, and feel no compunction whatsoever about stating these, clearly, and often. Others have spouses, friends, or coworkers who do the same thing.

It can be somewhat of a balancing act to maintain our serenity while not allowing other people's opinions to affect our decisions.

How do we remember why we made a particular choice, when we are being buffeted by the opinions of others? (Others who may have a vested interest in our changing our minds.)

Write it down. Choose a time when you won't be interrupted, sit quietly, and then write down exactly why you are making this choice for yourself. Be blunt. Put it down exactly as it comes from your deepest self. Make it as direct and as uncompromising as possible, because you're going to need that clarity later on. 

Take this piece of paper and put it into a safe place. There might be a day when you truly can not remember why you made this choice, and the only person who can remind you, is you.

When you are being swayed by another person's opinion, or by pressure of any sort, whether loving or angry, you will be able to go find your piece of paper, and remind yourself - right, that's why I chose this.

If nothing has changed, you can put it away again, take a deep breath, and go on as before, secure in the knowledge that this is the best for you, and what other people think/say/feel about it, doesn't have to sway your decisions.

We can respect each other without allowing ourselves to be manipulated.

For those of us who know we are susceptible to pressure from outside ourselves, this little reminder can be incredibly helpful.

I've used this myself, and it was amazing to me how powerful it was, to read my own words stating my reasons for my life choice. I was instantly grounded: re-energised to choose the best for myself: able to withstand what as an old AA guy used to describe as "just a bit of breeze." This man had been sober for many years by the time I met him in an open AA meeting, and that was how he described other people's efforts to convince him to do something against his better judgement; he joked that he would smile, and shut his ears off, and then the air coming from their mouths was no longer words, it was "just a bit of breeze."

I loved that. I've had times in my life when I've been about to speak, and that has popped into my head, and I've decided to remain silent, because I didn't think I needed to be contributing a bit of breeze.

Write it down, put it into a safe place, and then you have it when you need it, when you are being blown about, swept back and forth in the gale winds of pressure from others.

Think of this writing as a gift you are giving to a future you.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Faith Knocking On The Door - Am I Out?

This morning I was awakened by a loud pounding on the front door - the dogs erupted, and I leapt out of bed and rushed to see what all the commotion was about. It was a Jehovah's Witness, wanting to proslytise me. When I'm awake and this happens, I will firmly state that I consider this an invasion of my privacy, and would they please note down this address as a no-go zone, but having not had my first coffee of the day, I refused (far more politely than I wanted to,) and closed the door.

A short while later, I read this in Courage to Change. page 117:
"Many of us need time to come to terms with the spiritual nature of the Al-Anon program. If we were required to believe in a Higher Power in order to participate in Al-Anon, we might never have continued to attend meetings. Eventually, many of us do come to believe in a Higher Power because we are free to come to our own understanding in our own time. That way, whatever we learn will have meaning for us."

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Reaching Out.

I hated the idea of calling anyone and telling them I was in need, when I was new to program. I had done it all by myself up until then, and I was going to continue doing it all by myself, until one day I heard someone at a meeting laughingly comment about this same thing, and realised I wasn't alone in that, either.

Breaking through the facade can be terrifying: feel shameful, to those of us who've lived with a false front as long as we can remember. But as the program reminds us, if we continue to do what we've always done, we'll get what we've always gotten.

So reach out - give another program member the chance to help by listening, and sharing their experience, strength, and hope - they may need the exercise as much as you do, and when you call, they gain as much, if not more, from the encounter as you do.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Numbing Out.

From Courage to Change:

"When I came to Al-Anon, I didn't feel. When I lost a job, I said, "No problem, I can take it." When had a child, I said, "No big deal, just another day." Nothing moved me at all. It was like being dead."

When I first came into Al-Anon, I couldn't weep - not one tear, not even a hint of moisture - if I was terribly upset, I might get the lump in the throat, then the door to my feelings would slam closed, the steel barrier plummet down, and numbness would result.

I considered that a very good thing, because I didn't feel my feelings for more than a short time before I'd go numb. It was like flicking a switch to the off position.

I was in Al-Anon for quite some time before I began to try to figure out how that process worked, so I could try to catch it in the early stages, and not go there automatically. I discovered that I had a mantra of sorts, which I'd begin to say to myself repeatedly, and that started the chain which ended in numbness.

In program I learned that by numbing out the "negative" feelings, I made an unendurable situation (my first marriage) endurable. That  realisation was of a magnitude I had trouble grasping - I remember going through my daily round in a bit of a daze, after that conversation with my sponsor. I was unable to think of anything else, stunned at how my own reactions, worked against me.

I've reached the stage in life where I'm a sentimental fool - I can get misty-eyed at nothing much, but oh the joy that's possible when one is this opened up! Miraculous.  I laugh a lot. My entrenched character defects have gone from something shameful, to a source of laughter, when I realise that once again, I'm doing this-and-such, and now need to make an amend. I used to wriggle and squirm about my amends - now I make them willingly, humbly, with a full heart, grateful that I have this amazing program to help light my way.

I will never be perfect.  As a program friend once remarked, "I've decided not to aim for the Personality Olympics this year."

I loved that; it stayed with me as a reminder to give myself a break now and then, allow myself to be merely human. I cannot do what isn't humanly possible, and my best is good enough.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Other People's Anger, con't.

One more post on this topic, and then I'll go on to something else.
I woke up today thinking about how I was trained to accept raging as a normal part of family life. I was trained from childhood to cringe away, but to keep silent, for fear of bringing down upon myself, something far worse than just screaming and shouting and hurtful words - hitting.

I think this played a part in my acceptance of my first husband's rages - they were "only words." It was "only shouting." At least he didn't hit me. He'd pushed me a few times, but stopped short of any other physical violence, and compared to the batterings I'd endured as a child, shouting and stomping and nasty words seemed more tolerable, and milder.

From today's point of view, I realise that this attitude of mine was tied to the poor and tattered thing that was my self-image. I didn't like the way he treated me, but it was just more of the same way that people had been treating me all of my life, and I felt helpless to change this. I had no understanding of how people relate to each other, because I'd never been taught.

Al-Anon taught me how to love myself. Al-Anon was the first place in which I encountered the idea that I have value merely for existing upon this earth. I didn't have to do, be, say, or produce anything to have value - I have inherent value. That was truly a long struggle to accept and believe - I had to let go of everything I'd ever been told about myself, all the negative labels slapped upon me, and sworn as truth, all the abusive controlling painful words used to describe my character and nature - I had to decide to hand them over to my Higher Power, and start afresh, making my own.

When I finally could accept and embrace my inherent worth, I was no longer willing to accept. or minimise, the verbal and emotional abuse dished out upon a daily basis, by my first husband.

I had learned that this was unacceptable behavior: that I had the choice of refusing to tolerate it. My spirit finally rebelled against it, when I truly honestly knew that I deserved better.

That's the process. Some come to it quickly, some of us are slower to arrive. But if we continue in Twelve Step, we will all get there eventually.

I reached the point where I wanted my husband to treat me with the same love, consideration and respect my fellow Al-Anon members did - all of the time, not just when he wasn't furious. He used his anger as a weapon and a bludgeon and a release valve for stress, and a driving force. I couldn't live with it, finally. Al-Anon taught me that I didn't have to.

During the honeymoon phase, he used to tell me that no-one else would ever love me the way he did. I knew I had reached the point of no return, the day I found myself replying, "And thank God for that!"

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Other People's Anger, con't.

Those who have never been exposed to domestic abuse of any kind, can have great difficulty in understanding the dynamic involved.

Most of us don't start out with our partners shrieking ragefully at us, we start out with a small trampling of our boundaries, perhaps only an apparently offhand hurtful commet, which we excuse and minimise. This gives the abuser the information that they can "get away" with at least that much. The next time, it's a little bit worse. Again, we excuse, minimise, forgive, deny. Gradually, in this way, does the cycle progress, with the abusive behavior slowly gaining ground, and the victim slowly being backed away from an position of equality with the spouse.

Denial plays a big part in this. It's our own denial which makes us turn our faces away from the truth, and refuse to gaze fully upon the fact that we are being treated cruelly, with a complete lack of respect.

Also, in between the explosions of verbal, emotional and/or physical abuse, is the "honeymoon phase."

That's the time in which the abuser sets out to smooth away our understanding of the reality, to charm and lull us into believing that which we want so desperately to believe - he will never ever do this again, things are going to be different from now on, that was the last time, he's come to his senses, he truly understands now, he sees the light, he doesn't know what came over him, he is under stress from the business, but that is going to change, he adores us, he is yada yada yada.

We are like fish, and he is slowly, gently, lovingly, carefully, reeling us in.

When we love, we want to believe.
When we love, we want to be generous and forgiving.
We want to give another chance.
We want to offer room to move and grow.
We acquiesce in our own destruction.

At some point we reach our internal Rubicon, cross it, and there is no way back to what was. The abuser often senses this, and will redouble his entreaties to be given just one more chance, don't we love him? Don't we care about our families? How can we just throw away all these years together?

When we have made a decision, we will not stick to it, unless we accept ahead of time that we are going to be bombarded with efforts to change our mind, and decide that nothing the abuser says will make us decide otherwise.

Sometimes the only way to stop this, is to remove ourselves from the room, or our home - take the dog for a walk, take the kids out, go out ourselves.

Sometimes we need to explain to our partner that if he is willing to seek help to stop the abuse, we will entertain the possibility of us living together again in future, but that for now, we are going to be living separately. That's what I did - I left the door slightly open. Once I was out, and living alone, the relief and feeling of safety from those verbal attacks was so great that I knew I would never be willing to live with him again, regardless of how he changed, and I sought a permanent end to the marriage.

The "honeymoon phase" is a classic sign of abuse, and I've heard counsellors speak of how some women couldn't classify their marriages as abusive by what was said during the explosion, but recognised the honeymoon phase immediately when it was explained to them. They'd heard the promises, seen the demonstrations of loving sincerity, dismantled their boundaries in that phase, and found themselves quickly back in the cycle again.

With no lasting consquences, the abuser will not change.

The victim of the abuse can affect change in an abusive relationship, and we do that, when we decide that we have had enough.

Until that time, we will go around endlessly on that downward spiral of tension, explosion, honeymoon/tension, explosion, honeymoon.

I had to reach a place where I could remember the abusive phase with utter clarity, and superimpose his raging face, upon the soft loving face turned towards me during the honeymoon phase. I had to choose to remember, rather than choose to forget.

My choice.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Other People's Anger.

Another blogger wrote a post recently, about living with another person's angry outbursts.

I lived with this for ten years, in my first marriage. I used the term "rageaholic," and because he was always so apologetic, kind and loving after one of his rages, I accepted his insistence that he "lost control."

Then, two things happened: I began training to be a volunteer on the Crisis Line, and I went to visit a friend who adored Dr Phil, and who, if I went to visit while his show was on, insisted we watch it. (I'd be sitting there, feeling slightly superior, trying not to roll my eyes, or sigh too heavily - I was so judgemental.)

That day, the show was about verbal abuse. I was barely listening, thinking about yet another of my husband's furious rages the evening before, when I tuned in again to hear Dr Phil asking a woman if her husband ever had one of his raging fits at a "large powerful man."
How about in a setting where he might face consequences, such as work?
In public, where he might face consquences such as having to deal with the police?
"No, no, only ever inside the home, and..." I watched comprehension wash across the woman's face as she thought for a moment, then finished in a rush: "...and if the windows are open, he closes them first!"

Exactly. Her husband was anything but "out of control" when he was raging; on the contrary, his rage was selectively delivered, and only against those weaker or less powerful than he, and unlikely to deliver consequences - his wife and children.

I sat there stunned, then denial clicked in (this was pre-Al-Anon) the moment passed, and I thought no more of it, until a few nights later, when I was at a training session for the Crisis Line. The topic that night was "Domestic Abuse."

The co-ordinator described the cycle of abuse as "explosion, which breaks the tension which has been building for days or weeks, followed by apparent remorse, begging for forgiveness, and then a honeymoon phase - gifts, particularly loving behavior, protestations of love and caring."

I was rocked back in my chair, in the realisation that she was describing my marriage. I was living with verbal abuse. I had never labelled it as such, because I had wanted so badly to make allowances, and, truth be told, I was the perfect spouse for verbal abuse, as I'd been trained to accept that behavior, along with physical abuse, from the time I was a small child.  It was "normal family life."

The rest of that training session went by swiftly, and afterwards, I drove home, picked up my dog, and took her to a small park we often visited. I sat on the swings under a star-filled clear night sky, and tried hard to think clearly.

There was no way around it - I was married to a verbally and emotionally abusive man. That was the beginning of change for me, that understanding. When I began attending Al-Anon a couple of years later, I learned how to deal with the rages by refusing to sit still for them. I'd excuse myself and leave - the room, the house, the car.

I didn't have children. Rage of that sort is utterly terrifying to a child - I was that small child cowering before a furious raging outburst. Children who witness this kind of treatment are deeply affected - their self-image, their view of the world as a safe place, their understanding of what makes up "normal family life." They are more likely to tolerate abuse from partners when they reach adulthood. They are more likely to display the same behaviors when angry. Kids can internalise the messages delivered with the rage, and it can negatively affect all aspects of their lives - relationships, careers, life choices, depression.

It wasn't until I had the cycle of domestic abuse explained to me in a teaching setting, that I recognised the parallels in my own home. Before that, I was manipulated into feeling guilty, convinced to minimise, promised that things would be different from now on.

For me, it's a sober truth that I teach people how to treat me, by what I will and will not tolerate and accept. If I continue to allow unacceptable behavior, by smoothing things over so that there are no consequences, I am enabling the abuse.

This morning, reading that blogger's post, and the description of her children's fear, I felt a moment's pull from my past. An icy shivering recall brushing through me, and gone again.

I am who I am because of the severe abuse I suffered as a child, physical, emotional, verbal, sexual - in some ways, I feel that I have been forever scarred by it. Also, perhaps, granted a sorrowful empathy for those still trapped with it.

There is no easy answer when we love someone "90%", but the other 10% is verbal abuse, or raging.
I pray for all children going through this.

Saturday, April 17, 2010


This week I was approached to ask if I'd "take phone calls" by an Al-Anon member. I happily agreed. This is a vital aspect of my recovery - service to others. Because I'm new to this city, I don't yet have any sponsees here, and I've missed the time spent listening and learning. I enjoy offering, with no obligation, what has worked so well for me. The more I give it away, the more solidly it lives within me.

I know that for me to feel truly happy and satisfied in my life, I need to feel useful. Fufilling my own needs is all very well and good, but if there is no service in my life, I begin to feel rather hollow and adrift. In my search for meaning after I stopped working, and through working the program, this became apparent: I have a strong desire to help, and I need to satisfy that desire, in order to feel balanced.

It's that desire to help which drove so much of my co-dependent behavior and thinking, so I know what happens when I don't find a healthy outlet for it - chaos, confusion, and attempts to control.

Isn't this what so much of Al-Anon is about? Finding healthy ways to satisfy those innate traits of our character, which, if ignored or dismissed, will run amok?

From Hope for Today, page 101:

"The God of my understanding wants me for my availability as well as for my abilities."

When I was first approached to sponsor someone, many years ago, I was terrified that I wouldn't do it "correctly." That fear led me to reflect and respond with far less assertion than I might otherwise have done, and that made me much more approachable, less judgemental, and a softer, warmer sponsor. I found my way by letting the sponsee find hers, and we learned and grew together. I'm not a directive sponsor - I'd never tell someone what action to take, or what choices to make. I am, however, the Al-Anon equivalent of what an AA friend calls "a Big-Book pounder." I talk program. I offer my insights for whatever they are worth, and let the sponsee assign whatever importance or value they may or may not have for their own lives.

I may tell them "Emotion is a drunk driver, don't let it get behind the wheel of your life," or "Stopping to think is never a bad thing if acting on impulse is your usual behavior" or any of the other phrases which were offered to me, and have been so useful, but I never tell someone what to do in their daily life. I see very clearly that this is not my place, and I don't want the responsibility, if it all goes to hell in a handbasket.

As a sponsor, I know I have been maddening in my refusal to tell sponsees what they "should do" - I had a sponsee once who, after working with me for a while, flatly told me that I was useless to her, because I wouldn't give her "life directions." I agreed that no, I certainly wouldn't, and hoped she could find someone more helpful to her.

When it comes to specific problems, I ask open-ended questions, and my sponsees find the answers in their own replies. We often already know what to do, we just need to hear ourselves say it aloud.

Sponsorship keeps me grounded, and keeps me humble - with my ego always in the wings, looking for an opportunity to strut onto the stage and take over, that is a very good thing.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Interesting Questions.

Syd's post for Thursday made me laugh when I reached the final paragraph, the idea of being "...pulled overboard by a killer whale." It's so Jaws. The whole idea that orcas are out there looking for a tasty person to have as a nice little midday snack, and have the motor control to get far enough out of the water, then bend themselves in half like a stooping human, and pluck a person from a boat? Mind-boggling.

I have my own ideas about why orcas in captivity kill people, and it has to do with taking a magnificent animal capable of ranging for thousands of miles in the oceans: a social animal, which in the wild lives in pods, cohesive family groups, and placing it into a tiny pen, alone, forcing it to perform silly tricks for food rewards. (All this as a money-making venture, regardless of the "educational"  rationalisations offered.) But let's not get me started on that particular rant. (She said, having already delivered herself of half of it.)

I feel the same about birds - I have never, from a small child, been able to understand how people can capture a creature which can fly, and then cage it and clip its wings, rendering it earthbound.

One of those mysteries of human nature, that we cannot just admire wild creatures in the wild, but must remove them from their natural habitat and put them into the miseries of captivity, for our entertainment.

We have that endless desire to be in control. I think the human species doesn't like the idea that other creatures on the planet can be our predators; we want to be at the top of the food chain, the ultimate predator, and with our technologies and our arrogance, in many ways, we are.

But one on one, it's a vastly different story. And some of us just hate that.

I'm a member of a gardening website, and cringe to read of how many people are still madly pumping poisonous pesticides into our environment, for no other reason than to make it easier to weed their gardens.

It's that whole "I want this, and my little bit of hubris isn't going to hurt anything" magnified a hundred thousand, a million, a billion times, that is killing our beautiful planet. We're on a spaceship, and merrily bashing away at the hull, saying cheerily, "I'm only making a tiny dent, one tiny dent won't matter, surely?"

I've ranged rather far afield from where I started; suffice it to say that the desire for ultimate control over our environment and all the people, creatures, plants and insects within it, has been our downfall, and will continue to be.

There are those of us going about asking the ones with the hammers to please stop bashing at the hull of the spaceship, and wrestling others to the ground and confiscating their hammers, and we do it for love.

Love of spaceship Earth, and all the miracles and beauty she contains.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Taking Time For Friends.

We had a friend from another country visiting for the last couple of days, so I pretty much let it all go, and just spent time with him,  enjoyed his company, knowing he'd only be with us a very short time.

Before Al-Anon, I wouldn't have been able to do this, I'd have felt compelled to stick to my routine, and if cleaning house had been on the roster, I'd have cleaned house. I was nuts.

I'm grateful to this program for having re-ordered my priorities for me. I'm grateful to have learned how to become a much less rigid, much freer sort of person than I was. I feel blessed to understand that people are truly all we really get in life, the rest is artificially induced by creating a desire through advertising.

Now that I am more my own person, I get to decide what matters for me, and I care less what others think of my decisions, or how they may judge me.

I'm much more accepting of who I am, and this leaves me less judgemental of other people; not feeling "less than," I don't have the need to try to pull anyone else down to the level I perceived myself to inhabit.

It was a wonderful visit, and I was sad to say goodbye to our friend, but after his truck pulled away, I felt gratitude mixed with my little bit of sadness. Gratitude that I have learned to value my friendships more than my facade - it didn't used to be that way.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Making Life More Difficult.

From the ODAT, page 103:

"Despair, how many of us suffer from it! Yet we do not realise that it is purely the absence of faith. We cannot despair as long as we are willing to turn to God for help in our extremity. When we are troubled, and can't see a way out, it is only because we imagine that all solutions depend upon us. We must remind ourselves that our human wisdom and ingenuity have often failed to bring the hoped-for results."

When I found Al-Anon, I'll agree with the bit about ingenuity, because I was forever coming up with new and different ways to try to manipulate the alcoholic, but wisdom? I was sorely lacking in the wisdom department.

I was too caught up in trying to control: raging in fear and fury: lashing out in pain - there was no quiet time in which wisdom could grow. I need some peace and serenity, for there to be any hope of wisdom making an appearance.

I needn't believe in anyone else's concept of a Higher Power; whatever works for me, is perfectly acceptable. I make my life much more difficult than it need be, when I believe that any and all solutions depend upon me - this adds stress and a burden I do not want or need to carry.

Some days, I may not have a clear concept of to whom I am "letting go" but it works nonetheless.

Don't ask me how, I don't have the requisite wisdom to answer that question. I've learned in Al-Anon to say "I don't know" and feel no shame or lack or embarassment. I don't know, and some days I don't even care that I don't know, because it works anyway, and given that truth, what else matters?

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Do I Think Like a Cat?

Our neighbour's cat somehow found an entry into their attic, and crawled out into their soffits, which had to be dismantled to let her out. I was chatting to our neighbour about the fact that cats, once having gotten themselves into this sort of situation, never seem willing to retrace their steps - panic drives them to a mindset where they are only willing to on, they utterly refuse to go back. This is why we gets cats stuck in trees, I'm sure of it.

They get to a point in the tree, decide they've gone too high for their comfort level, and instead of deciding to climb down, feel compelled to climb further up - it's a cat rule.

I was thinking about this tonight, My ex had a "might as well be hung for a sheep as a lamb" rationalisation; it wasn't until I was exposed to program, that I began to question the thinking. I heard that phrase all the time growing up - it seemed to suggest that once one had made a small mistake, all was lost, so why not deliberately continue to a major screwup, and have the pleasure of it?

From today's viewpoint, that's pretty wierd. It's that black and white thinking again - I'm either perfect, or I'm a disaster - no ground in between. Once my perfection is shaken, I am nothing.

My spouse is one of the first people I ever heard say, "It was just a mistake," when I'd be berating myself aloud.

Just a mistake? That seemed awfully...accepting. I wasn't sure how one could go about qualifying life, if we took mistakes in stride as a part of daily routine. Why, standards would collapse! Who would we blame?

From the ODAT, page 102:

"If we can recognise and admit our own shortcomings with increasing honesty, it opens the door to a new world for us..."

I still find it miraculous that Al-Anon makes this possible. Mistakes without shame. Confession without blame.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Relativity Isn't Just A Mathematical Concept.

I was reminded, by the story of a newcomer at my home group last night, just how fortunate I am, to live the life I have today.

That's another reason I continue to attend Al-Anon meetings - to remind myself of where I used to be, and to give newcomers a promise that "it works if you work it."

I may still have days when I just am not able to wrestle my mood back onto the rails, but I have to allow for that - I cannot do what isn't humanly possible. I have to forgive myself for those days, and also, not assign to them, too much weight. A less-than-wonderful day doesn't have to be a sinister indication that anything is wrong. A fretful state of mind can seem a portend of doom approaching, but only if I regard it with fear, rather than making allowances for these as occasional happenings.

When I get up the next day, and I'm feeling better - well, that's a blessing, and I'm also grateful for those who read my blog and leave encouraging comments.

I like this from today's reading in Hope for Today:

"Giving the program away is an affirmation that I have some program to give."

That's why these reminders are so helpful - I have a tendency to indulge in all-or-nothing thinking; and forget that where I am is vastly, marvellously, better than where I was.

The sun is shining again, so I'm going dog-walking.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

One Day At A Time.

Some days, the only way I'm able to push myself forward, is by recalling times in the past when I felt just this worried, discouraged, or disheartened, and the worst never happened.

Al-Anon doesn't promise that we will never feel any of these emotions, but over time, it does give us positive memories upon which to draw on days like this - when I feel bone-tired, and life is a slog.

One day at a time - close the door behind which all of my fears of the future lurk, waiting to consume me, and do whatever small bit I can do during this day. Let that be enough. Feelings are not facts.

No inspiration today, just plodding through. So it goes. I'm grateful to know that I've been here many times before, and when I look back, the shark didn't even take a nibble out of me,   just swam silently by.
This too shall pass.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Enabling, Or Acting As If - How Do I Tell?

This question was asked of me recently.

I was raised in a family in which the opinions of a mysterious "other people" seemed to direct our choices.
Also, I find displays of anger quite threatening - this makes me far more likely to accept unacceptable behavior, and tolerate that which I do not like, in an effort to avoid provoking displeasure.

I grew up with the precise thinking in place, to make me a top-flight enabler.

My dictionary offers the following synonyms for the word "enabler:" empower, allow, permit.

I empowered my first husband's consumption of alcohol when I agreed to drive him to the liquor store in an effort to stop him driving while intoxicated.

I've allowed the alcoholics in my life to continue to demonstrate unacceptable behavior, when I smoothed things over so there would be no consequences for that behavior, from myself, or anyone else.

I've permitted the alcholics to treat me in a way I did not like, when I sat and listened to my ex's abusive words night after night, let my sister speak to me with scorn, etc.

Sometimes the only way I can distinguish between enabling and acting as if, is to consider my motives. Why am I doing whatever it is?

If my motive is to make myself or the alcoholic look better to a third person, I'm most likely enabling. If my motive is to avoid dealing with conflict - enabling. If my motive is to please a person who is being rude or abusive - enabling.

If my motive is to forward my recovery along a new path, when I'm not sure how to go about it, then I'm probably ok to act as if.

So on a general note, I'd say that enabling is about events taking place outside myself, "acting as if" is about my inner workings.

Hope that helps.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Attending Meetings.

Garnet posted today asking for input on what her readers thought about skipping a homegroup meeting for a social event. It's a good question. On the one hand, we hear that "there are no musts in Al-Anon." On the other, we are told by our fellow members to do this, that, and the other thing.

I think it's vitally important to distinguish between program, and advice. Al-Anon will not work for us, if we are following its precepts while simmering with resentment because by doing so, we aren't having any fun.

I have a tendency to rigidity in my personal makeup, so I don't like change. I feel ever-so-slightly anxious if I am forced to miss my homegroup meeting. Not ditheringly, not hand-wringingly, just slightly. This is a direct result of knowing myself well enough to know that if I give myself permission to skip one meeting, it could be the thin edge of the wedge, and I might skip another and another until pretty soon I'm not attending at all anymore, and I don't want to go down that road anytime soon, thanks.

No matter that this is highly unlikely after many years in Al-Anon, and that my dedication to my recovery is strong - it's a minor fear I still have, so I give myself permission to keep that evening inviolate from all inroads made upon it. I give myself permission, I don't make it a rule.

I've learned in program that a lot of my resentment has to do with the way I frame my thinking - when I think in terms of "I have to do this" it is irrelevant that this thing I'm doing is recovery - when I feel that I "have to," I'll start to kick against it.

I keep my meeting nights inviolate because that is what works for me. I wouldn't tell anyone else that they must do this. I might suggest that regular attendance seems to help us commit to recovery, and that committment seems to drive us forward in our learning and growth, but given my own somewhat rebellious nature, I don't lay out ironclad rules for anyone else.

We each must work it as we work it, there's no other way. I have read blog posts written by those who feel they know how program should be worked, and who judge and condemn others for not working it "the right way" - (which just happens to be their way) but that's part of who we are as people, I think. We're control freaks, alcoholic and co-dependent alike. I take what I like and leave the rest. That's one of the mysteries of 12 Step - we can still receive wisdom from those with whom we wouldn't want to spend 5 minutes of time, outside of a meeting.

We're all in this little boat together, and some days we're actively bailing, and some days we're lying over the bow bemoaning our lot while someone else bails. So it goes.

Before program, if I read a post like that, I'd have stopped reading - now I know enough to know that I don't know everything, and that my faults and frailties are just as obvious in my blog posts, and I pray to be granted tolerance, and to receive it.
Take what you like, and leave the rest. And try to have some fun while doing so.

Monday, April 5, 2010

The Creation Of Art As A Gift And A Blessing.

Obsessing isn't necessarily bad in and of itself, it's what we choose as the object of our obsession. Art is one of my positive preoccupations - just like any other kind of obsessing, it pulls me into a time warp of complete fixation upon my subject.

I surface hours later, stiff as a board from sitting in one position, hand cramped, neck sore, feeling a satisfaction I find nowhere else in life. Art has been this escape into another universe for me, as long as I can recall.

Due to its engrossing nature, art can be an excellent recovery tool  when my mind will not quiet down through other means. I can't paint and worry - I need all my concentration to try to get that effect I'm aiming for. I'm completely caught up in it, and all the matters that seemed so important before I sat down at my worktable, fall silently away - I'm transported into a place of peaceful contemplation.

When I do stop, then all the minutae of daily life flood back in, and my critical voice starts up - I shouldn't have overworked that leaf, and the background is too blue, yada yada yada.

I've learned through years of working in various mediums, to plow through obstacles in my ability, and just keep doing another and another piece, regardless of my frustration level.
There have been many times when the only way I could see my progression was to haul out old pieces, and set them beside the new.

I've heard people talk in Al-Anon about feeling stuck, feeling that they are plowing the same ground interminably, while to the rest of us at the table, this person has made huge progress in their attitudes and abilities.

There are times when all I can see is my present dissatisfaction. I've forgotten (deliberately, in order to sustain my present sulky mood, or inadvertently, as is the way of humanity) the place from whence I came, its terrors and sorrows, and my vision is filled with the way whatever-it-is in the present doesn't fit my desires or specifications. All I can see is what isn't.

My spouse isn't doing what I want. My group isn't adopting something I suggested. My Higher Power isn't giving me what I prayed for. Life isn't the way I think it should be......and so on, you no doubt have your own list.

I was in this mood all day yesterday, feeling ill and out of sorts and grumpy and hard done by, and this morning felt only slightly better, until I read Mr.SponsorPants post of today, and burst out laughing - I'd been raining on my own parade since I first awoke, yesterday morning.

This is why it's so important for me to have daily reminders in the form of Al-Anon literature, meetings, blogs, and a sponsor - because even after all this time, I can still forget.

I need those jogs of my memory - I need someone pointing out that compared to where I used to be, life is a carnival nowadays, and what am I complaining about? Co-incidentally (right) I neglected to read any program literature yesterday, or I'd have found this reminder in the ODAT, page 96:

"The Steps are like a medicine which many of us won't bother to take, although we know they can heal us of the sickness of despair, frustration, resentment and self-pity. Why is this? It may be we have a deep-rooted desire for martyrdom."

Between that reading, and Mr.Sponsorpants' post, the message is loud and clear, and today, I can hear it. For that, I'm truly grateful.

Friday, April 2, 2010

Blogging Mysteries.

Seems like whenever I begin to wonder if I should continue with this blog, someone will write and thank me for a particular post...I guess that's my Higher Power answering my question.

From the ODAT, page 93:

"As I become less self-centered, I will have stronger defenses against being hurt by slights and injustices. Minor crises will not loom large because I will not allow myself to magnify them out of all proportion to their importance."

My dictionary defines self-centered as:
"concerned solely or chiefly with one's own interests, welfare, etc.; engrossed in self; selfish; egotistical."

Less self-centered...well, I'm not sure I have achieved that, in truth. Perhaps I've just slowly worked my way into a state of self-absorption which is more acceptable to others, in that I'm far less likely to insist on maintaining a stance of rigid immovability, when it's pointed out to me that another person's interests and welfare are overlapping mine.

I'm still concerned chiefly with my own interests, though - when one doesn't have kids, that is an easier state to achieve and perpetuate. I mostly do whatever pleases me, but I am more willing to share myself in helpful ways, and to undertake those tasks in a spirit of loving helpfulness, rather than one of insincerity, or quiet fuming.

I was asked today if I'd help with a project, and I readily agreed - not from any particular interest in the project itself, but because I have the time and the skill, I'm fond of the person asking, and it's a way for me to give back what has been so generously given to me.

I see these things from a different viewpoint, after my time in program. Having the ability to say "No" makes saying "Yes" a choice, rather than an expectation I feel I must fufill.  I still stumble on this now and then, but I've learned that I have the right to either change my mind, and say so, or take it as another learning experience with which to bolster my self-respect. No need to demonize anyone for my own craven inability to respond with honesty, which is precisely how I used to deal with that scenario - (How dare they take advantage of me in this manner? Don't they know how busy/tired/exhausted I am? Nobody cares what I feel...)

My own desire to be liked stood squarely in the way of my being able to decide what I wanted. I could only discover my feelings in the matter after I'd given my answer. Before I'd replied, all I could focus upon was the other person's desire to have me respond affirmatively.

It was as though I were standing in front of a mirror, unable to see my reflection - able only to see the other person's reflection.

I believe this is one of the reasons why people-pleasing is so destructive; if I cannot see myself with any clarity, the likelihood of my being able to change any of my behaviors is slight. I become like a leaf in a stream, twisting and swirling in the pull and push of the water.

When my time is consumed in service to others, any time left for me feels snatched, skimpy, and full of resentment. In Al-Anon, I have learned that time spent with myself matters, and I am the one who decides when it is necessary.

That's why some days I don't blog.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Morning People

Why do morning people feel morally superior to those of us on a different circadian rhythm? Must be all those years of hearing proverbs in childhood: "Early to bed and early to rise, makes a man healthy, wealthy and wise."  I don't shame those folks who cannot keep their eyes open past nine or ten o'clock in the evening, why do they feel perfectly justified in shaming me for not getting up early?

It isn't that I go to bed when they do, and just sleep for 3-4 hours longer - in most cases, I'm getting a significant amount less sleep than early risers. When I challenge these perceptions, I can often watch the other person struggling to fit this information into their pre-conceived notions about how those of us who sleep into the morning are "lazy" or "slackers."

We all have our ideas about what other people should be doing, in a world run along our personal guidelines, but how often are we operating under this type of misconception? I know I've seen my own faulty thinking challenged time and again, and every time, I find myself shaking my head and wondering - how did I get to the point I reached, without taking any of that into account?

I did it by assuming that I knew what was happening, (without bothering to find out if I was correct,) and then I went on to act upon my assumptions - always a shaky place from which to begin.

From the ODAT, page 92:

"With Al-Anon's help, I can make my battered old world into a shining new one."

Let me be someone who pauses in my thinking long enough to allow others the room to be fully who they are, without comparing, and without judgement.