Tuesday, August 31, 2010

What's My Obligation Here?

Yesterday the neighbour's dog appeared in our back yard - he'd somehow escaped his fences, and was free to roam. He was perfectly willing to let me pet him, but the moment I appeared with a leash, he began to play that dog game of: "Yeah ok, I'll let you put that on me ... but maybe not!"

He'd leap sideways at the last moment, then strike that silly dog pose where they crouch with the front end, and elevate the back end - coupled with his goofy expression, it made me laugh. The more I laughed, the better he liked it - at one point he came over and gently shoulder-checked my leg, and it was just like a human being nudging with an elbow. I found it entertaining rather than frustrating, because he's such a big ol' happy dog, and he was having so much fun evading the leash.

I decided another approach might be more useful, and asked him: "Want a cookie?"

He snapped to attention, and came right over, to begin nuzzling my hands and my pockets, looking for it. When I didn't have one, he did the canine equivalent of a shrug and went off to sniff the grass.

Long story short, I got him into my car by showing him the cookie, and tossing it into the back seat. He leapt in after it, I closed the door, and I had him. I drove him home, and the people next door to his owner took him in, as the owner was out at the time.

Later, I was talking to someone about it, and was told, "I'd have taken him to the SPCA!"

"I knew where he lived," I protested. "I see him every day."

"I don't think they walk him enough, I'd have taken him to the SPCA."

It got me thinking, because when I was much younger, if I'd thought they didn't walk him enough, I'd have taken him to the SPCA, too. Back then, I was much more certain not only that my opinions were correct, but that I had the right to act upon them however I chose.

I don't have that certainty anymore. The wisdom of Al-Anon, and perhaps of middle age, has tempered my thinking. In order to take the dog to the SPCA and turn him over, I'd have had to lie. Many times. I'd have had to lie that I didn't know where he lived, that I'd tried to find his owners, yada yada yada. The entire enterprise would be one of deception on my part, and I'm not willing to do that.

If I thought he was being mistreated, I'd have contacted the relevant authorities to get him some help, as soon as I'd realised it, back when we first moved into this house, months ago.

Yes, I wish they'd walk him more often, but he has a huge yard in which to roam, a very nice doghouse, and when I see him with his family, he is the same bouncy creature he was in my yard. He shows no signs of fear or caution, as he would were he being abused.

It's not up to me to be deciding for someone else, how often they should walk their dog. If I saw signs of abuse, I'd do my utmost to get him help - I adore dogs. But I can't take him to the SPCA and tell a pack of untruths because they don't fit my concept of "ideal dog owners."  I saw my obligation to be: catch him, was I able, and take him safely home. That's where my responsibility ends.

Life is much more peaceful when I keep my hands in my own pockets, and don't try to change the people and the world around me, to suit my thinking. I cannot achieve that end, so why waste energy trying? I'd rather save my energy to do what I can do.

I'll never forget when we lived in a house in another town, several adult neighbours used to stop and talk when they met on the street, and they were always tut-tutting about a very nice border collie who lived her life on a chain alone in her back yard. It took a young girl to ask the owner if she could please walk the dog. She and the dog would head happily off down the street a couple of times a day. I loved that, it was such a perfect example of what really helps, and what doesn't.

You think a dog isn't being walked enough? Why not stop trashing the owner for his or her lack, and offer to walk the dog yourself, if you are truly concerned?

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Rigidity Of Thought.

I had an experience recently, in which I was confronted with the fact that I am still, even after many years in program, able to get caught up in rigidity of thinking. I think I am bendable, but then an occasion will arise, and (always only in retrospect, of course) I will see afterwards, that I've done it again.

I'd prefer to view this character trait as I did before Al-Anon, as "having exacting standards," and "wanting precision in all things" but the reality is far more along the lines of "being inflexible because of an underlying belief that I'm right."

When I follow the thought process to its conclusion, I can see that the road originates, as so many of them do, in fear. I have a fear that if I don't express my (unsolicited) opinion, I may lose something I value greatly, through watching it be slowly watered down or changed, while I sit and say nothing.

And since I'm trying to speak up more, I can get carried away, and start giving my opinion about something that is none of my business, which is what I've done recently.

So then, it's back to working the Steps, practise Step Ten:
"Continued to take personal inventory, and when we were wrong, promptly admitted it."

I'm so grateful for this Step - it keeps me clear that I will always be being wrong, and that I need to admit it, make an amend, and do these two things in a timely manner.

I have no control over whether or not my amend is accepted,  but if I am sincere in making it, and state my apology in no uncertain terms, with an explanation of how I believe I went wrong - that's all I can do.

I can't go back in time and make my wrong not happen, but I can learn from this one, so that I'm more careful and thoughtful in the same situation next time, and I can make an amend for this one.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Discussions of Religion.

Syd posted a comment regarding this post, mentioning the Lord's prayer being said at the end of Al-Anon meetings - I've never experienced this - any meeting I've been to, closes with the Serenity Prayer.  So, that's interesting, must be a cultural thing, I guess.
From the Al-Anon pamplet: 3 OBSTACLES TO SUCCESS IN AL-ANON.

"All Al-Anon discussions should be constructive, helpful, loving and understanding. In striving toward these ideals, we avoid topics that can lead to dissension and distract us from our goals.

Al-Anon is not allied with any sect or denomination. It is a spiritual program, based on no particular form of religion. Everyone is welcome, no matter of what affiliation or none. Let us not defeat our purpose by entering into discussions concerning specific religious tenets."
When I was very new to Al-Anon, I was grateful for that aspect of the fellowship, because I believed myself to be a confirmed aetheist, and  talk of anything religious made me clench my teeth and stop listening. I did NOT want to hear it. I'd had sufficient organised religion stuffed down my throat as a child, that I felt I'd reached my earthly limit, and couldn't swallow another morsel.
I still feel gratitude for this tradition, but my reasons couldn't be more dissimilar. My spiritual beliefs have changed considerably over my time in program, so now it isn't that I don't want to listen to any "Higher Power talk," it's that I have a far deeper understanding of the wisdom of this tradition/policy/suggestion/guideline - call it what you will.
I've seen two individuals who might have been of great help and comfort to one another, divided by their religious beliefs - they didn't respect this Al-Anon guideline, and were soon engaged in heated discussions in which the words "sinner"  "misguided" "one true way" and "deluded" were bandied about. From a possible source of support and encouragement, the relationship became a maelstrom of acrimony.
They went from always arriving at the meetings in the same car, to refusing to attend any meeting at which they thought the other might be present. 
I've had to set a boundary on this issue with several relative newcomers to Al-Anon over the years I've been in program; some have respected it first time, and some have not. 
One of my main beliefs regarding this issue has to do with organised religion's unfortunate habit of choosing to see their members as the only ones who have "Seen the Light."
People who do not believe as they do, are regarded as anything from a poor misguided soul who just needs to be told "the truth," to serious sinners on a road hellbent to destruction.
If I regard myself as in possession of "the truth," and you as either misguided, or flat-out sinning wrong, what possible equality can there be for the two of us, in Al-Anon?
Can I learn from you if I regard you only through that lens? What is the likelihood that I will be offering you "welcome and comfort," and giving the alcoholic "understanding and encouragement?"
12 Step doesn't work very well if one person sees themselves as superior in any way, to another member of our fellowship. The equality we practise, the "feelings we have for you," are only possible if we see ourselves as two peas in the earthly pod.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Mouths of Babes

A program friend and I were out walking the dogs recently, and passed a family in which a small girl was hopping up a set of stairs, repeatedly reciting the following in that sing-song way kids have:

"You get what you get, and you don't get upset!"

My friend and I turned to each other and laughed, saying it could be a new Al-Anon slogan.

So much of my past misery has been because I couldn't accept what I "got", and I was furiously upset about it. I raged and stormed about my life, and I fought and struggled and kicked against my fate. (I rarely use that word, because it always sounds like it should be accompanied by dramatic music.)

When I was new to program, and people would speak of acceptance, I thought they were either barking mad, or didn't have as an unhappy a home life as I did. Because if they did, they wouldn't be telling me to accept it - on the contrary, they'd be falling all over themselves telling me what a martyr I was, and asking how I managed so well.


I got what I got, and then spent the next nine years seething with futile resentment. I can see how far I've come in program, by the looks I received the other day when asked to agree that people who believed in ____ were boneheads, by a fellow member of a club to which I belong. I replied that I try to live my life, and let other people live theirs. I don't feel the need to make other people adopt my way of living, and I don't tell people what they should and shouldn't be doing. If it doesn't negatively impact me, then it's none of my business.

You get what you get, and you don't get upset.

I like that, it's a good mantra. Maybe I should write and see if I can get it accepted as CAL.

Monday, August 23, 2010

And, Which Personality Am I Speaking To At The Moment?

I was talking to a friend yesterday about something that has come up a few times lately - does a friend or lover or family member's behavior towards us change when a third person is around? (Out in public, etc) This can go either way, nicer to us, or ruder, but it's the change itself that is the important thing to recognise and identify.

I've been on the receiving end of both of those behaviors in my life, and having "ruder" first, was under the mistaken impression that "nicer" was different, or better.

It's nothing of the kind; they are two sides of the same coin.

Either way, there is falseness in the relationship.

Either way, there is something happening which isn't healthy. My first husband liked to be verbally and emotionally abusive to me in public - showing off how tough he was -  he could treat his wife like dog poop, and get away with it. (He didn't always get away with it, he once received a beating from a total stranger, who took offense to the words he was using to describe me, and pounded him into an apology.)

In retrospect, I find it hard to believe that I tolerated that behavior, but I've come a long way from the childhood which set me up to accept that sort of thing, as "just the way life and people treated me."

I've also experienced a relationship in which the person was nicer to me in public than in private - so that other people thought this person incredibly charming, and me incredibly fortunate to be with them - that's a wierd place to be, let me tell you.

There is nothing quite so guaranteed to make one feel as if one is deep in the midst of a Fellini movie, than to be in this sort of relationship. Most other people, (unless they've been in one themselves,) refuse to believe that this beguiling, marvellous person they like so much, could be being abusive behind closed doors. One gets strange looks, as they try to fit this information into the slot labelled "charming, kind, wonderful person named _____,"  and then, when it won't go in, discard it completely, and decide the person giving them the information must just be an ungrateful whiner, or much worse - barking mad.

One can be living with quite the disconnect between the public self, and the private self, when one's partner is this way. We can begin to doubt the information we are receiving from our own senses, and start trying to bend and twist ourselves to fit into the shape the abuser insists would cause the abuse to stop.

It can be a stunner when we realise - hey, wait a minute here, this has nothing to do with me, this is all about them.

That realisation can be the beginning of change and growth, if we are brave enough to grasp onto it with one hand, put our other hand into the outstretched hand of our Higher Power, and allow ourselves to be pulled from the pit, up into the sunshine.

It's a choice. (Maddening program this, always yarping off about how everything is a choice, but it is. There you are. Accept it or don't, that's a choice, too. I've made that choice many times.)

I choose freedom. I choose sunshine, even when it's so bright it makes me blink, my eyes water, and my head hurt. I know from experience, and the experience, strength and hope of my friends in Al-Anon, that if I just stand my ground, and keep blinking, my pupils will contract enough to allow clearer vision, and then I will be able to see life in its full beauty and wonder. I'll be able to view myself the same way - as a creature of beauty and wonder, lovable, and deserving of good treatment, just because I exist.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Live and Let Live.

Heard today, while out at the dahlia show:

"He says he wants to be my boyfriend, but he doesn't seem to like anything about me!"

Hearing that remark took me back - to my first marriage. We were engaged in a furious power struggle, each to change the other. I wanted him to: stop drinking. Oh, and change the way he dressed. And help with the kids when they came to visit, they were his kids, after all, not mine. Be nicer to me in public and private. Stop drinking. Change his attitudes towards _____ to a more accepting one. Be less aggressive in his discussions with friends. Stop having a dozen friends over for a party every night...it went on and on, my list of what I didn't like about his choices, attitudes, and characteristics.

At the time, I had no concept of how difficult it must be, to live with a spouse who was so unaccepting. My ex must have continually felt that he couldn't win - no matter what he did, I'd find something to criticise. Not only that, but I felt justified in my negative assessments of him.

Al-Anon teaches me that I do not have to agree with anyone about anything in order to give them a warm and courteous reception. I can disagree with their politics, their child-rearing, their dog-training, their taste in books, movies, music, and they can still teach me. They can still offer me priceless bits of wisdom, if I care to hear and recognise that.

I can work to rise above my own prejudices and tastes, to allow another person to live their lives as they see fit, with no interference from me, either in the form of "helpful advice" or "constructive criticism."

I pray to be always moving towards that goal of loving acceptance.

Saturday, August 21, 2010


I've been on the receiving end of some interesting assumptions lately; in the one instance, when the person's assumption was politely challenged, they flipped directly over into rudeness and verbal attack.

Rudeness from strangers is shocking - it takes a moment to process the situation, when I've made a calm and reasonable comment, and received rudeness in reply. I found myself standing with my mind blank for a second or two - and then had a momentary flash of how fortunate I am, not to have to deal with this on a daily basis anymore.

My first husband was exceedingly rude, and during the time I lived with him, I slowly became accustomed to his attacks upon my personhood - they lost their shock value, and became the norm.

When I began to work my Al-Anon program, I began to stand up for myself against these attacks, calmly stating that I wasn't going to stay and listen, if he didn't speak to me without yelling, and without rudeness.

I have no control over how anyone else behaves, and there are going to be times in my life when I'm faced with this kind of thing. How do I respond? Do I meet anger with anger, rudeness with rudeness? What would that gain me? A momentary satisfaction, perhaps, but when I tried that tack with my ex, I always felt a distaste for my own choice, once the heat of the moment had passed.

The other assumption made, was by an Al-Anon friend, and when it was explained that this was happening, we had a really interesting and in-depth discussion about how we each do this in our lives - make these assumptions about how someone else is living, how that feels, or what it means.

I need to be extremely careful that I am not doing this to another person. I do not know what life is like, for anyone but myself. When I assume, I'm deciding that my way of looking at the world is the only viewpoint, and this limits my understanding, and my tolerance.

I pray to be open to all ways of looking at life, whether or not they'd work for me.

Friday, August 20, 2010

NOOOO! Don't Pick That Up!

One thing I've noticed, over the years of my relationships with alcoholics, is what masterful manipulators they can be. We start out approaching them because we have something to discuss, and are hoping to have the conversational equivalent of a pleasantly calm drive to a known destination.

We can instead find ourselves, half an hour later, six miles down some gravel sideroad - livid, unable to see our location for the billows of gritty, concealing dust, and almost (or actually) weeping with frustration.

I hated being trapped inside that conversational vehicle, with no control over where we went, how long the trip was, or the speed of travel. I would try everything in my power, to wrest control of the steering wheel during these conversational "drives," and it has never ever worked.

It took my first sponsor to tell me in no uncertain terms that I was putting myself inside that car, and agreeing to go for that drive. She reminded me of a gag we'd seen on tv one time - a ten dollar bill tied to fishing line, and when the victims of the gag would bend over and try to pick the bill up, it would "flutter" just out of reach. Some folks could be led quite a distance in pursuit of that bait of ten dollars.

My sponsor explained to me that I too, was being baited, and I was the only person who could decide that if it looked too good to be true, it most likely was, and that it was my choice to glance down at the bill, reason it out for myself, and choose to keep walking rather than reach for it.

I have recently had another granting of understanding in how my alcoholic works. This has made it possible for the bait, instead of appearing as something I want and perhaps even need, like a ten dollar bill, to look more like a neon sign reading "To activate manipulation, please lift sign."

A lot of what we do with those close to us, is habit. We are accustomed to doing this and such, to which they are accustomed to reacting, by doing that and this. One the pattern is put into motion, it can be almost impossible to stop, without first travelling some distance. I say almost, not completely impossible.

Some days I can see that bait for what it is, and even knowing that, feel compelled to reach for it. Some days I can walk on by. I much prefer the latter, it's a long walk home from that same damn gravel sideroad, back to serenity.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

My Feelings Are Not The Alcoholic's Fault.

I was raised in a very blaming environment - I've written about that elsewhere so won't go into details again - suffice it to say that I promptly internalised this attitude as I moved out into the world.

It wasn't until I entered Al-Anon that I began to dimly perceive that perhaps there was another way to live - a way which didn't include the assignation of blame, before changes could be made.

When I detach, take a step back from the heat of my feelings, I can see that no-one makes me feel anything. They may do A, and then I may feel B, but the two things do not have to follow "as the night the day," if I'm working my program, and have a healthy amount of detachment operating at all times.

When I am blaming another person for the way I feel, the receiver of the line to my Higher Power, is off the hook. The connection is disengaged. I can't get through to Him, and He can't get through to me.

I asked someone to be my sponsor, and she accepted with delight. (Only in 12-Step would someone agree to accept long blathering phone calls detailing the minutae of another person's navel-gazing, and consider it an honor.)
I knew that I'd picked the right person for me, during the very first phone call I made to her.

I was wallowing in some feelings of being hard-done-by at the hands of my significant other, and she heard me out, then made a comment which at one time would have caused me serious offense, but due to the wonders of Al-Anon, and the personal growth I've achieved as a result, now made me burst out laughing.

As soon as I did, the self-pity vanished, and I was able to say to myself, "Okay, now let's get some helpful thinking done here."

I feel what I feel, and that's fine. Not only am I'm entitled to my feelings, but it's of vital importance that I recognise and identify them, because my feelings let me know what's going on, when my head can't quite grasp it yet, due to fatigue, manipulation, whatever.

So I allow my feelings. I give myself permission to feel them to the depth of the container (me) - I even agitate it a bit, through prayer, meditation, and reasoning things out with someone else, to make certain that I'm getting them all out. Then I have a choice about what I do next.

In program, I've learned that I cannot change another person. (If I can't make them wipe the crumbs off the counter, why would I imagine I could make them change their personality, or coping mechanisms?)

I can only change myself. I can choose to remain mired in my misery by railing against fate, the alcoholics in my life, and the wrongs they have done me, as I perceive it. Or, I can choose to do things differently this time, rather than go down that same tired old road. I can choose to see my feelings as an indicator that change is necessary, and work to bring that change about, by working the Steps of Al-Anon.

I can set boundaries, and be willing to maintain them, even when I'm in HALT, even when that little voice of unreason is murmuring, "Oh just this once, it doesn't matter, surely?"

That sneaky little voice is my disease of codependence speaking to me. When it starts up, I need to have a conversation with my sponsor, a program friend, and my Higher Power. I need to do the work required, if I want the result that's promised.

I feel what I feel, that's nobody's fault. I hated that idea when I was new in Al-Anon, because I had no idea how to manage if I wasn't blaming. I can still fall back into blaming if I'm not working my program, and maintaining my healthy boundaries.

It's easier to lie back, weep wail moan and blame, than it is to get myself up and go to a meeting. But I want what the meeting offers: experience, strength, hope, love, and a good laughing fit. I'm willing to let go of blaming, to gain what is only possible when I do so - serenity. Gratitude. I heard someone at a meeting say recently, that she cannot love herself, if she's caught up in hating the alcoholic. I need to hear that kind of powerful insight, those reminders, to keep me balanced, focussed and content.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Keep On Keeping On.

I had taken my blog offline for a while, until I could remove the identifying information, which I shouldn't have posted in the first place, but live and learn. I'm back on public readings again.

I haven't written here in a long time, over a month. I've been going through some changes, and it's been rocky, to put it mildly. I've written elsewhere on this blog about the fact that I seem to be a slow learner in some areas of my life and my recovery, and I've had that brought home to me quite sharply, in the last while.

I have been granted the ability to see where I've fallen far short of my program ideals, in my primary relationship with the alcoholic. I've been struggling to tread water, feeling fatigued and emptied out - feeling that I have had nothing to say which could possibly be helpful to anyone else. I mentioned this to a program friend, who sat in contemplative silence for a moment, and then suggested that we do no-one any favours when we are not willing to be honest in long-term recovery, about how we can still be brought to our knees by  alcoholism.

I could feel myself getting mildly irritated by this, so knew it was an excellent idea to pay close attention to what she was saying, and explore that further with her. It's only ever the truth that annoys me in this way.

I decided that I need to start attending some extra meetings in my week - where we lived before, there wasn't much choice, here in the city, there's plenty.

Just doing that one thing - going to more meetings, has pushed me over the speedbump I was stalled upon. I've had the fascinating realisation that in one area of my relationship with this alcoholic, I have never, ever, fully surrendered my will. I told myself I had, but circumstances have proven to me that this was not the case - I was keeping that little bit in reserve. I couldn't let it all go.

I've been clutching it, and it's been clutching me.

I've been working to allow myself, when I am in private, to feel all of my feelings, to give in to the desire to weep, instead of trying to muster cheer I haven't felt. I don't think I have ever wept so much in 53 years of life - it's been a torrent of salty water. Each time, it is agonisingly painful at the start, and peaceful at the end. I'm letting it all happen.

My own personal changes have, as is always the case, caused ructions on the home front - sustained, intense manipulation and  pressure on the part of the alcoholic to make me go back to the way things used to be. I'm working to detach, attend my meetings, speak up and speak my truth when it's my turn, and let go.

I've had love and acceptance given freely to me, by the people at these meetings, that I haven't been getting at home. It keeps me going, and it keeps me knowing that I'm a good person, I deserve to be treated with kindness and respect.

I've had some intense, startling revelations because I've been opened by the tears, and receptive to my Higher Power working through other people.

I've been granted another spiritual awakening. When I was new to Al-Anon, I had the idea that these would be like a Disney movie - I had no idea that some can only be given, after we've been scoured out by tears and pain.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

What Is The Purpose Of An Inventory?

An inventory allows me to gain a better grasp of who I am, what motivates me, and how I deal with the world. When I do a Fourth Step, I am taking myself into my own hands - taking responsibility for my own behavior, thinking, and choices.

I was thinking today, about realisations regarding myself, that I've had over the time I've been in Al-Anon. Some have been startling, like a book slapped down on the table in front of me - they make me jump and gasp - "Oh, my goodness! I had never thought about it that way before!"

Others remind me of the laborious removal of a particularly stubborn price sticker - one begins the process by getting a tiny corner lifted, and then slowly pulls bits off, one tiny piece at a time. Some come off cleanly, leaving a nice smooth new surface. Some, only the top layer comes off, the sticky residue remains, and then I have to find something to dissolve the "glue" which binds that piece of my old self to me.

I have days where I can spend an appreciable amount of time in the process, feeling calm, relaxed and patient, knowing that what I'm doing is worthwhile, and the end result is to be desired.

I also have days where I pull off a tiny fragment and then put it down in irritated annoyance and disgust - leave it alone for the time being, I'm not in the mood today.

The trick is to forgive myself for my lack of interest or patience on the latter days - not to berate myself for not wanting to spend time on the process. Yes, I do want to be ever moving forward in my recovery, but nobody is standing over me with a stopwatch counting the time off. (Well, life itself is, but that's a given.)