Tuesday, June 29, 2010

How's That Working For You?

Years ago, I had a friend who was crazy about Dr. Phil - she watched his show every day, and if I happened to drop by while it was on, I had to sit quietly, and not interrupt. (I used to do the mental equivalent of rolling my eyes and sighing heavily, not having reached a place in my life where I could be tolerant or accepting, of that which I didn't like.)

One day the show featured a guest, who was expounding upon the reasons for his harsh treatment of his family. Each time Dr. Phil would point out the limitations of his choices, the guest would "Yes, but..." him. Several of these interjections, and the guest was then allowed to continue without further interruption, rationalising and justifying himself and his choices. When the guest fell silent, Dr. Phil asked: "How's that working for you?"

It was fascinating to watch various expressions chase themselves across the face of this man, as he considered the question - he was dumbfounded. He sat in silence for a moment, then replied, "It isn't."

I've been that guest - rationalising, caught up in defending, explaining: quite unable to listen or see, until brought up short by someone else's wisdom. That's why I'm grateful for program: for the people who faithfully attend meetings, and share their experience, strength, and hope with me.

I'm beginning to suspect that my 4 th Step inventory this time around, is going to be one of the tidal wave kind - washing away all before it.

I've experienced a couple of these over the years I've been in Al-Anon, and they are a wild ride. The wave sweeps through, and then recedes. I climb down from the safety of my observation point and wander around - a little dazed and shaken, but otherwise unharmed. I see to my astonishment that my house of self has been lifted completely off its foundations, given a quarter-turn, and set back down. My line of sight has changed. It takes a bit of getting used to, but the new placement offers me a view previously obscured by the walls of my assumptions and beliefs.

If I am willing, accepting, and open to the process, I believe that I'll be graced with a leap forward in my personal growth -understanding, compassion, love.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Renewing Old Good Habits.

Working Step 4 this time around, I've had some powerful revelations about myself and my behaviour choices with regard to those closest to me. Tonight I had a conversation with the alcoholic in which they completely dismissed, negated, invalidated and refused to hear. It was illuminating.

I sat in detached calm, and watched them bob and weave, duck and dance, all in service to their main point - I was wrong, my feelings were wrong, I was never satisfied, I was unreasonable.

After a while of this, a statement of blatant dishonety crossed their lips, and without stopping to think, I stated that I believed they had just told me a lie. Outrage! Martyred victimhood! Off they stomped, and I sighed heavily, and decided that I need to get back into a habit taught me by my first sponsor - with the alcoholic, always always say the full Serenity Prayer to myself before responding.

At least once, and under some circumstances, enough times to temporarily remove my desire for further communication with the alcoholic.

My decision to be completely honest with the alcoholic is causing great strain in the relationship - they're used to a fairly high level of people-pleasing from me, and this is not how it has been, of late.  As I've increased my honesty, they've increased their shaming, ridicule, negating and invalidation.

Tonight, I stood in my kitchen repeating the Serenity Prayer, asking for patience, stamina and to feel loved. When I'm getting that kind of nasty abusive behavior from the alcoholic, I need the love I get from friends in program, and my Higher Power, to see me through. Bless you all.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Begin As You Mean To Go On.

I recently agreed to be on a committee, and am second-guessing my decision, because I'm already being inundated with emails. My inbox is being stuffed with emails about minutiae, with seventeen  people all sending me an email stating their point of view, and then 289 emails responding to the first 17 points of view....eeeek!

I talked to another member this evening, and he supported me in my decision to write a blanket email saying: "Please do NOT send me this nonsense. (More politely stated, of course.) I will discuss committee matters at committee meetings, and no other time."

I don't want to hear what this person thinks about what that person wrote - it's enough to make my ears bleed. My serenity requires that I not get involved in triangle politics. I'd forgotten how tedious committees can be, when you have a few large egos all bashing into each other like bumper cars.

In my new spirit of absolutely no more people-pleasing, I have decided that if I'm going to be on this committee, I am going to honor myself first and foremost. This message I sent out was in service to that. In the past, I'd have just accepted the zillion blathering emails, read them all, and felt the need to reply. No more. I'm done. I'm going to say what I think. And what I think, is: Get up from your computer, and go talk to a friend or family member, take the dog for a walk, stop writing so many emails back and forth about such ridiculously tiny points!

I'd like to say that, but that sounds rude even to my exasperated self. So I sent out my milder version, which for me, is still pretty tough. I'm starting from the very beginning, to teach these people how to treat me. Respect my boundaries, and don't email me unless you are rescheduling a previously-set meeting. Other than that, you can argue amongst yourselves as much as you like, I'll be in the garden. Or painting. Or playing soccer with the dogs.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Sharing Ourselves.

Time and again in meetings, whether Al-Anon, or AA, members speak of feeling cut off from the rest of the world; lonely, with the kind of loneliness that permeates all we do, from shopping to social events, work, church, and play. We can maintain our facade so well that others are astonished when we begin to open up at last and admit our truths.

When I was new to program, I was unable to reveal myself in meetings. My self-image was such a pitiful little weed, yellowed, and kind of wrinkly and drooping (minds out of the gutter, people) - a plant I spent a fair bit of time bashing about, so no wonder it was in such a poor state. I regularly pulled it out of the soil, examined the roots, predicted a dire outcome, and stuffed it back into the ground.  I recall hearing someone at a meeting talk about "nourishing oneself" - I was so far removed from the idea of kindness to oneself, that I thought she was talking about eating.

Today I was out walking the dogs with a friend, and driving home afterwards, thought about how membership in Al-Anon has changed me - my self-image may have a few tattered leaves from normal wear and tear, but it's a positive Sequoia of a thing compared to the bean sprout it once was.

This is the first step Four I've done, where this has become so clear to me, as I work through the book and the process. I like myself. I feel comfortable within my own skin, most days. I have faults and character defects with which I struggle, and with which I often lose the round, requiring the making of amends.

But I'm quickly discovering that being honest in ways I've avoided up until now, (in the name of people-pleasing) really isn't all that hard. I can do it, it merely requires a determined effort and a goal on which to fix my focus. The more I do it, and succeed, the more empowered and serene I become.

A large part of this process, is speaking the truth to other people - friends in and out of program, and my spouse. I had another chance to practise this just today. I had asked my partner to build me a table at which to paint. I explained just what I wanted, he nodded, took notes, then constructed an item which bore no resemblance to what I'd asked for. In days gone by, I'd have swallowed my disappointment, lied and said I was delighted.

I've promised myself that I am not going to tell these kinds of "white" lies any more. I paused to gather my words, then asked if he remembered what I'd asked for. Yes, he did. Then why had be built this? Because he thought it was better. But it wasn't what I'd asked for or wanted, so why go to all that trouble to make something which didn't meet a single one of the reqirements for the space, or the use to which it was going to be put?

Long pause, then he carried it back out, lots of power tool noise, and half an hour later, he came back in with the perfect table. He could see the delight in my face, it was quickly mirrored in his own.

Had I told a "white" lie about the original table, he'd have felt I wasn't thrilled with it, but never have known why, or how to fix it.
Being honest in this way, allowed him to try again, and the second time, make something which I loved.

My telling the truth, made it possible for him to give me the gift of exactly what I wanted. My spouse enjoys doing this, it makes his whole face light up and his eyes shine, when he can build for me, just what I've been wanting for a while. If I'm not honest, I'm depriving him of this pleasure. This was brought home to me today, when I was happily playing with my perfect painting table, as he stood smiling at me, covered in sawdust, but with an expression of deep satisfaction on his face.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Noticing Changes In Ourselves.

An Al-Anon friend recently commented upon an area in which I've changed quite a bit since she first met me. It was good to hear it. I've been going through a phase in which I've had to pay pretty close attention, just to stay on course, and some days have felt a lot like slogging - just pushing my way ever forward. Trying to let go of my fatigue, my emotions, the outcome, other people, and just keep slowly keeping on.

Today was the first day in a while in which I've felt truly lighthearted. The sun was glorious today, and the dogs and I spent some quality time outdoors,  enjoying nature.
I indulged myself with a few hours spent on one of my interests, I read a bit, I floated instead of slogging.

I was making a salad for dinner, thinking about what my friend had said, feeling grateful for her words, and her noticing. It can be difficult for us to notice that we have moved along, made progress.
I know I get stuck in my picture of myself, and it's not always visible to me when my attitude shifts, or my serenity deepens.
Today I could feel it. 

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Love and Pain.

Love and pain are strange but close bedfellows. Today I learned that a friend I adore may be moving away. For a brief moment, as feelings swept over me, I felt an almost-nostalgia for the old me, the pre-program me, the one who was so shut down that she didn't feel much of anything in any situation.

I said as much to my friend, who laughed along with me, and agreed that there were times when a hermit's life seemed preferable to the endless pain we feel when we are loving, loved, and connected.

Small pangs, when the minor happenings of life twist off in a way we hadn't anticipated, or prepared for emotionally, and then the horror show of grief and anguish when we lose those with whom we are bound, in daily life.

Some weeks, some months, some years, seem to consist of one more jolting loss coming fast upon the heels of another, while we stand frozen under the sheer unimaginable weight of it.

I don't know how I'd manage, were it not for my faith.


One aspect of being involved with a charming alcoholic with an excellent social facade, is that I have people telling me all the time how wonderful they are. For most of the marriage, rather than say anything to the contrary, and regardless of how poorly they may have been treating me at the time, in the privacy of our home, I would smile weakly and agree.

I heard someone at an Al-Anon meeting recently, refer to this behavior as "polishing the halo" of a passive aggressive spouse. This person's spouse isn't their qualifying alcoholic, a parent is, but their spouse has some serious problems, none of which are ever displayed in their public persona. And this Al-Anon member has, as I did for so many years, gone along with the public facade, and agreed when people talk to her about how lucky she is to be married to such a great guy! He's so laidback, and so mellow!

When alcoholics have such a great public face, we spouses can feel that we have no-one at all who can understand, believe or relate, to the truth of the matter.

We polish the halo from shame, pride, embarassment, unwillingness to indulge in conflict or argument, many reasons. For me, it's been a lot about pride, and shame.

I've decided I'm not going to do this anymore. Next time anyone suggests that I'm married to the best of all possible spouses, I'm going to politely comment that as a human being, they have their own faults and frailties, just as we all do.

And if, (as has often happened if I've not responded with immediate eagerness to a comment of that sort praising them,) the speaker keeps nudging me with words, wanting me to agree that my spouse is just the most perfectly amazingly wonderful person, I'm going to reply sweetly that actually, the shoe is on the other foot; they're lucky to have me.

Thursday, June 10, 2010


From the ODAT, page 161:

"What wonderful things could happen in my life if I could get rid of my natural impulse to justify my actions!"

I only fall back on justifications when I know I'm in the wrong. It truly is that simple. When I hear myself justifying, I know I have something I need to examine, with regard to my actions, motives, thinking, behavior.

Why do I justify? Because I feel uneasy.

Why do I feel uneasy? Because I know I'm pulling a fast one.

That was quite a concept to wrap my mind around, when I was new in Al-Anon, and full of self-righteousness, self-pity, and bitter resentment.

I wanted retribution, compensation, something, for the childhood I'd experienced, and if no-one was willing to give it to me, then I was going to hate them. All of "them," everyone, myself first on the list. I was desperately unhappy,  achingly lonely. I had no inkling that my character defects stopped me from receiving the love and acceptance for which I longed, by making me a rather unpleasant person to be around, with my litany of complaint, and my ever-present anger.

In Al-Anon, I have learned that if I want to have good company, I need to be good company. To get, I must first be willing to give.
Service feeds my soul, while keeping my ego firmly in check.

I'm grateful for all the excruciating lessons along the way, because they've made me compassionate and willing to be there for the same kind of complaining angry newcomer that I was. I accept the coffee invitations, and the phone calls, and I do so with a heart full of gratitude.

This program has given me so much more than promised. I didn't believe 1/1000 of what I was repeatedly told, would come my way if I worked the program honestly, and I've surpassed my limited expectations in every area.
I have a good life.
12 Step has made that possible.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

What Prompted That, I Wonder?

This week, someone I do not know at all well, have barely spoken to, in fact, but who belongs to a club of which I'm a member, sent me an email which contained a quotation so amazingly, blindingly, apt to what's going on in my life right now, that I sat re-reading it, at first startled, and then feeling as though my Higher Power had just leapt out at me from behind a tree, crying "Gotcha!" (I mean no offense to those of you whose Higher Power is a dignified presence, who would never hide, or leap - mine seems to have a rather pointed sense of humour.)

Experience has taught me, that when I receive these snippets of wisdom, I ignore them at my peril. They will burrow their way into my brain like a cockleburr into a wool sweater, sticking tenaciously, refusing to be removed until I take the time to stop, examine them closely to discover the hook - how it works, why it works. Only then can they be successfully worked back through the fabric of my day, set carefully down, and admired for the beauty of their form.

At one time in my recovery, I found these thoroughly annoying. I knew the road to my destination, what was with these new signs suddenly appearing, suggesting that I was heading in the wrong direction?

Nowadays, I'm grateful. I never have to drive as far, before reversing and retracing my route. If I pay heed to the first sign, (such as this email) I'll hardly have convered any distance misdirected.

I used to think that wisdom was going to arrive in beautifully bound tomes with gilt edges, smelling of old leather and time past. Seems like most of the wisdom I've received, has been more like a sharp poke in the back with a bony finger, or an affectionate whack upside the head - never hard enough to cause injury to anything more than my pride, but often with sufficient force to make me raise my voice in outrage, at having my self-possession and my hair, mussed up like that. 

So it goes. I don't get a choice in how it's delivered, only in whether I'll accept it.

From Hope for Today, page 16:

"The Al-Anon program works to the extent that I am open, honest, and willing, each of which is an important component to a humble state of learning. Being teachable means I admit that I don't know it all. Walking the path of self-improvement is a lifelong journey."

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Manipulation, and Motives.

I've written before about trying to let go of the outcome in painting - trying to reach a headspace in which I bypass my ego, and all the little nattering voices in my head, which, with their endless critical yammering, render me almost immobile. I've decided that a good way to get there, is to stop doing a drawing first. That drawing, which I was originally thinking of in terms of a blueprint, was becoming more of a straitjacket. Rules about "how to paint," whether my rules, or someones else's, interfere with my enjoyment.
(I'm a great person for making rules for myself - of course, I then don't follow them, and feel guilty, but that's for another post entirely.)

In working my Step Four this time, I'm seeing in painful clarity that which has been creeping up on me for the last year or so. I cannot deny, defend, rationalise or pretend any longer. It is what it is, and I either make some choices for change now, or I feel as though I will be quietly consumed.

This isn't my first starkly unpleasant realisation, and I do not doubt there will more to come if I live long enough. I'm writing, reading, thinking, praying, talking, praying some more, railing against it, sighing, feeling martyred, writing another few pages, and then putting it down, turning it over, and letting it go for the day. I'm working to be open to, and willing about, the clarity I'm receiving - attempting to view it as a gift, rather than the burden it feels.

I was talking to a friend today about going with our gut instinct - we get those messages for a reason, they aren't just static in the universe. We get a clear message that "this is not ok," and we either listen, and act accordingly, or we deny deny deny, and wade out into the water while telling ourselves that those fins out there aren't really fins, they're coral outcroppings..

Thursday, June 3, 2010


I was happily reading along in MrSponsorPants post for today and came to something which stopped me in my tracks, and caused me to sigh in recognition. It was this:
"...I knew, in the predatory, shark-like way which all alcoholics have..."

"Shark-like way". Exactly. That's got to be the best description of the part of each alcoholic which functions only for supreme self-interest, that I've ever come across. Those of us who have loved an alcoholic have had many of those experiences - gazing into the eyes of this person you love, and seeing nothing but cold distance - shark eyes.

Some days, when you look into their eyes, you see the person; this is probably what keeps half of us hoping - the fact that the shark isn't there all the time.

In Al-Anon, we learn not to debate with marine life - just get out of the water - you can't win an argument with a shark.

From Courage to Change, page 155:

"When we take Step One, we admit that we are powerless over this disease. We do not have the strength necessary to fight it....Only a power greater than ourselves can restore us to sanity."


"By turning to my Higher Power for protection, rather than my wits or my will, I avail myself of the best possible defense."

A life-jacket is no defense against a Great White: my wits and my will are no defense against the cold insanity of alcoholism. I'm grateful that I can turn to my Higher Power, for comfort, strength, and humour, to reset my day at any time.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Keep An Open Mind.

When new to Al-Anon, this was not an exercise upon which I leapt with glee - since I was convinced that I was always right, why did I need to open my mind to any input from other people? I'll get back to this in a moment, but first, I want to talk about a casual acquaintance, and the marked difference in this person's personality, when I saw her first with various family members, and then by herself.

Around various family members, she was stiff, spoke in a monotone, forgot what she was saying half the time, repeated herself and seemed to be trying to impress through quite a bit of bragging about this and that..  She appeared distinctly uncomfortable, continually fidgeting.

When not around family, she was relaxed, calm, interesting, funny, and enthusiastic. It was such a marked change, that I've been thinking about it on and off ever since.

I had first met this woman in company with her family members, and had felt uncomfortable with the bragging statements, and that was about it - no empathy, no compassion, just a sort of mild irritation.

When I knew I was going to be seeing her again, I decided that I needed to set my initial impression firmly aside, and approach her with an open mind.

I quickly realised that much of what I'd felt uncomfortable with, was her own discomfort within her family, and the way that had affected her behavior. It was as though when she was not in their company, she felt free to be herself. Around them, she appeared to feel "less than." Afterwards, I found myself thinking about what an endearing and generous soul she has, doing the work she does, and just trying in general to live a good life. I felt ashamed that I had been, once again, judgemental. And on such paltry evidence - a bit of bragging.

Were it not for this amazing program, I'd have approached this woman with my mind slammed shut, locked down, and barricaded. I would have denied myself the pleasure of talking to her for a couple of hours, and being warmed by her spirit.

Some days, it's hard to articulate just how deeply program has enriched my life - and then there are days like today.