Sunday, October 31, 2010

A Quitter Never Wins; A Winner Never Quits.

That little saying, (and a few more along that same line,) were part of the reason that I was such a blindly stubborn and mulish person, when I came into Al-Anon. I had been well indoctrinated in the adoptive home, to believe that once one decided upon a course of action, the only shameful thing, was to change one's mind partway through, to "quit." That reasoning kept me in an abusive marriage for ten long years. It kept me in jobs where I was treated poorly, apartments where the landlord was a maniac, friendships in which I'd come away from an encounter with the friend feeling unheard, dismissed, negated, or mocked.

Why did I stay in those situations when I knew they weren't good for me? Because I'd chosen that apartment, friend, job, husband, and now that I'd "made my bed" I had to "lie in it."

In Al-Anon, I have learned that I may make decisions based upon the limited information available to me at the time of my decision, and then once the decision has been made, and I get further in, realise that things are not as they seemed.

I want to stop here, and explain that I'm not suggesting that it's acceptable for me to make weighty decisions and then throw them over on a whim because my ego has taken a minor bruising, or I'm feeling too lazy to follow through on my committment.

I'm talking about those times when I begin to get an uneasy feeling, which will, at first, hover just out of reach -  an amorphous sense that things aren't right, that this doesn't match what I'd been led to believe, but I'm unable at the start to determine quite how that difference is manifested. This will progress to a realisation that I'm feeling more uncomfortable with each encounter: beginning to dread time spent in that person (or person's) company: shutting down, to protect myself.

After careful consideration, and discussion, we joined a social group when we were new to this city. I was delighted to find that their mission statement contained many "12-Step-ish" principles, and that tolerance and acceptance was presented as their touchstone. This, sadly, has proven to not be the case. On the contrary, most of the members are of one mind, and not at all open to alternate viewpoints. As the membership has become more comfortable with us, the social masks are coming off, and the real feelings and attitudes are being expressed - gossip is rife, criticism is rampant, and I've been feeling increasingly out-of-place and discomfited when we attend gatherings. Those with alternate viewpoints are dismissed as anything from foolishly misguided, to uneducated simpletons.

I've thought about it, prayed about it, and last night, sat down with my spouse and told him that I'd decided that it wasn't good for me to be a member of that social group, because I felt distressed and disturbed to see the way they treated one another. We had a good long talk about how each social organisation, (including 12-Step groups) has a "culture" - how we can only go on the cultural information offered to us at the start, and that as we get accepted into that culture, and receive more information, our attitudes can change from embracing the culture, to feeling that we need to detach, for our mental, emotional and spiritual health.

It was important for me to be honest with my spouse about my feelings of shame for wanting to step back, how it triggered those "quitters never win, when you start something, finish it, yada yada yada" tapes inside my head. It hasn't been easy for me to validate my attitudes or feelings in the area of social groups or gatherings, because I had such a wierd and twisted childhood that I was socially inept, antisocial, resentful, and myself the poster child for intolerance, when new to Al-Anon. It can still require a fair bit of "reasoning things out with someone else" for me to be able to validate my feelings and ideas, and then act upon them to keep myself in healthy company.

I have only one life. I don't want to waste my time with those who indulge in gossip and criticism  I want to spend my precious time with those who will uplift me, teach me, enrich me, help me to grow in tolerance and acceptance.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

My Higher Power's Sense of Humour - chapter 2.

I think I've found the way to do these continuations-on-a-theme posts, I shall call them "chapters." When I call them "Part 2" or "Con't" I wonder if I'm not fostering confusion, since most times the previous day's post is on another topic entirely. So, Chapter 1 of "My Higher Power's Sense of Humour" can be found here.

Just let me decide that I know what is going on with another person,  and I will receive from my Higher Power, what I can only describe as an ironically humorous reminder, that I can still be stupendously mistaken in my perceptions. This will often be followed with a further pointed little nudge, with regard to what have I learned about acting upon/reacting or responding to, my assumptions, without first checking their validity.

This sequence has transpired with sufficient regularity during my time in Al-Anon, that after the first burst of laughter when I realise I've just received one of these reminders, and the moment of admiration for the neatness and economy of their construction, I've developed the habit of saying, half-laughing, still, (and much like an adolescent being reminded for the 300th time to "Pay attention, I'm trying to tell you something, here!") "Yeah, yeah, I get it, you don't have to belabor the point!"

I might attend a meeting one night, feeling rather out of sorts or grumpy, and think to myself that one person (who is unknown to me, but not to others at the meeting) isn't very friendly, and when it's his turn to share, he'll speak about how terrrifying it is for him, to meet new people: how rather than be able to make small talk, he'll tie himself in knots inside his head, imagining the dozen stupid things he's sure to blurt, causing horrendous offense and resulting intense dislike of him by the other person, so rather than say anything, he won't even make eye contact, he'll just pretend he doesn't see them.

He's then sure to go on, to describe a character defect he possesses, and a coping mechanism he's developed, which is a precise and perfect match for one of mine. I will be sitting across the table, cringing to hear myself described with such
exactitude. This happened recently - as soon as the meeting closed, and people began to mill about, I made my way over to him, to say, "Oh man, could I relate to what you said just now! I do the same thing, and I've been struggling with that for quite a while, but you know, for years, I couldn't even see that I did it!"

We then had a twenty-minute, deeply intense and personal conversation, with many howls of laughter, and a powerful connection felt on both sides. I walked out to my car after saying goodbye, smiling happily to realise, I'd just been graced with one of those reminders from my Higher Power.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Let There Be No Gossip Or Criticism of One Another, Part 2.

Part 1 can be found here.

When new to Al-Anon, I would sit in meetings, and judge those around the table - for the way they looked, what they said, how they responded to challenges in their lives. I couldn't hear the message, because I was too caught up in examining the envelope from which it came, deciding that I didn't like the stamp, and the paper was a wierd texture, and that was a different way to glue the flaps...

I wouldn't deal with the day's mail by slitting open an envelope, throwing the contents directly into the trash, and then carefully examining the envelope, now would I? Put like that, it's ridiculous. Yet that is precisely what I was doing with the messages from Al-Anon members.

That reminder about let there be no gossip or criticism of one another, doesn't refer only to our conversations with a third person - it also refers directly to the inner critic we all contain. That crow of negativity inside our heads, which keeps up a steady chatter of comparison and disparagement. It has been a monumental task, my ongoing effort to silence that monstrosity.

I began to pray: to ask for patience, tolerance, open-mindedness, during the moment of silence before a meeting started. Almost without my realising it, something magical began to happen: I could sit in a meeting, and for one splendid hour, hear not a murmur from that black bird. I could take what I liked and leave the rest, but what I left was put down, not with a feeling of irritation or disgust or impatience, but with a quiet interest, accompanied perhaps by that little sound (usually written as "hmmn") which we make in antique stores, examining an object apparently made to be useful in some way, but a mystery to us.

My inner critic-bird had retired to a higher branch, out of sight.  For that one hour, I was able to be accepting of everyone who sat in peaceful communion around the table. With that acceptance, came the ability to hear wisdom and help in the words of those I would previously have considered, the most unlikely of sources - people with whom I had not one opinion or interest in common.  People I would have dismissed with a contemptuous sniff (I've mentioned in previous posts, that I wasn't a very nice person when new to Al-Anon) would put out on the table, the one thought which would surface and resurface throughout my week, swinging and bobbing, catching the sun and flinging it back to illuminate an area of my thinking never before considered in quite that light...making me stop walking, and gasp, to realise what I was seeing.

I'd rush to call my sponsor, to tell her what I'd just this moment realised, and it was all because  of so-and-so's sharing on Monday - it was astounding, it was amazing, it was earthshaking; "It was," she interrupted, "your Higher Power."

My sincere prayer for tolerance was being granted.  I was being given the gift of seeing not the envelope of character and habit, education and upbringing, but the contents - the person. From a purely selfish viewpoint, this allows me to receive wisdom I'd have discarded unrecognised for the treasure it was. From the standpoint of unity, it allows me to be equally as welcoming, tolerant and accepting of those with whom I feel a personal connection, and those with whom my only apparent commonality, is that we are both human beings, both living, and struggling with loving, an alcoholic.

I pray to be granted the honest willingness to truly practise these principles in all my affairs, not just in the meeting rooms of Al-Anon.

Monday, October 25, 2010

When Going With The Flow, Takes Me Down The Drain.

I received a phone call this weekend, which reminded me of how important it is to choose my friends wisely. This person has had a difficult life in many ways, and has an unremittingly negative attitude. Work, friends, family, health, marriage, the family dog, the state of the world... I used to hang up the phone after a conversation with this person, and feel as though I'd been fighting a strong current for 57 minutes - worn out, and mildly depressed.

I've had to detach with love, from any emotional engagement with this (not in program) friend. I offer what support and encouragement I can, I try to make them laugh, but I keep my essential self back a few steps, so that I'm not sucked into that awful sweeping current, and dragged away downstream.

This stepping back to a slightly safer place on the riverbank, this detachment from this person and their litany of misery, is an act of changed attitudes on my part. At one time, I used to feel as though I must give whatever it was that a friend sought from me, that were I to refuse, I would be being a horribly selfish person.

That's co-dependency, to put the desires of someone else, above my own serenity. It's co-dependent to allow someone to grab me in an iron grip, rip me out of my good mood, and pull me down the drain with them, into that mental sewer of negativity.

It's all right for me to choose not to hang out with people who drag me down. It's perfectly acceptable for me to decide that my serenity is more important than letting someone else use me as a dumping ground for their resentments, bad moods, and roiling anger. I have the right to decide that I am going to pull back from a friendship, for no other reason than that I've realised that I'm not enjoying myself with this person, that in getting to know them better, I've discovered that this person is not a healthy friend for me.

Life isn't going to be all smooth sailing - Al-Anon doesn't promise me that I will be granted a reprieve from having to deal with life's usual trials and tribulations. It teaches me how to move through my life with a better understanding of, and compassion for - myself, and others. I still have to deal with the same problems, it's how I choose to do so that changes.

At one time, I'd have dealt with my dawning understanding of how this person could affect me, by cutting them off completely - total avoidance. I don't do that nowadays, but I do make sure that I'm emotionally detached from the parts of their character which are dangerous to my serenity.

If they call, I decide whether or not I've got the energy to listen, before I pick up.  When I do answer the phone to their call, and that current of complaint starts gathering momentum, I can stand on the bank, and watch the river flow. I no longer feel the need to dive in and try to rescue someone, who hasn't the slightest interest in being saved; someone who fights wildly any attempt on my part, to steer the conversation shorewards. I watch, I throw out a few flotation devices, and I wave as they are carried off out of sight. I have no intention of drowning alongside them.

That may sound harsh to those of you new to program, but we can only save ourselves. There is no way for me to force this person to choose a more positive and accepting attitude; I have enough on my plate some days, with the effort to steer my own thinking in a better direction.

I do what is humanly possible, and I turn the rest over to my Higher Power.

Friday, October 22, 2010

How Do I Usually React When I Feel Frightened?

That's a question from the "Fear" section in Blueprint for Progress, the workbook for Al-Anon's Fourth Step.

When I feel frightened, I become angry. This was a mystery to me for a long time; I couldn't comprehend why when I felt afraid, I would flip over into an anger so fierce, my heartrate rocketed, and my entire body trembled.

In one spiritual awakening, I saw the answer with a stark clarity: fear feels weak, anger feels strong. In childhood, fear was a constant companion. Fear of loss, fear of abandonment, fear of battering and abuse, fear of shaming and humiliation. These were very real fears, because that pretty much describes my life up to about 16, when I went out on my own.

I was thinking yesterday, about what a program friend calls, "the stories we tell ourselves." My stories before Al-Anon, all revolved around pain, fear, loss, shame. I was, I now understand, an unremittingly negative person. I learned early in life that it was better not to hope. I was trapped by circumstance and other people's decisions for me; I shut myself down, and endured, until I could escape.

Endured until I could escape: this set a pattern in my life, of always looking to a mythical future, when I could get out, get away, disappear, escape. I can still find myself falling into this default mode, when I'm under stress/not paying attention/not working my program.

In that mindset, I feel martyred, alone, trapped. I don't feel able to affect change; I'm merely enduring until I can escape. It's a coping mechanism that may have served me well as a small child, but now interferes with my recovery. When I'm in that place inside my head, I'm shut down. I'm not willing or able to take a different viewpoint, I'm just putting up with it, until I can find a break in the fence, and make a mad dash for freedom.

In Al-Anon, I have learned that feelings are not facts. Yes, I feel whatever I feel, but I have a choice as to what connotations or interpretations I attach to those feelings. I do not have to view them with the old filter, which only shows two options - endure, or escape. I can view them through an Al-Anon filter, which not only opens up a sightline of many choices, but also reveals how feeling trapped is a choice I make, when I am fearful.

Feeling trapped is a slithering away from my own responsibilities for where I am, and how I deal with life. Feeling trapped is a blaming of others for my pain, a way to keep an uneasy distance, from an intimacy which may feel threatening, only because I haven't come this way before - it's a further pushing forward of my personal frontiers.

When I'm frightened, I tend to flip over into anger. If I work my program I will stop to examine my anger when it arises, to eliminate the possibility that it's a response to having my boundaries violated. If that's not happening, then I need to look around to see: where am I fearful?

I'm going to a lot more meetings per week in the last while, and it's an amazing coincidence how doing so has affected my program. I'd been feeling very stuck; now, I'm like an old car with a faulty choke, I may be juttering and banging and lurching along, but hey, I'm moving forward, and I'm feeling my serenity flowing back to warm not only me, but all around me.

I sat here this morning, with my little dog making contented noises, as she had a little slurp on my shirtsleeve, (our vet says this can happen when puppies are weaned at too young an age - it can leave them with an apparently lifelong urge to nurse; eating a meal triggers this, and if she's cuddling with me after eating, she will either fasten upon my knuckle, which makes typing impossible, or refused that, my sleeve.) and felt a rush of gratitude, for all of those who show up at meetings, and speak their truth, and for all who blog, and do the same. 
Keep coming back, it works.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Washing Or Spinning, It's All Just A Cycle.

Two of my favourite bloggers have posted today about two very different matters, but I came away with much the same feeling, after having read each post - it's a cycle: wait it out, work it out, and it will come to an end.

A Tradition study group I'm in, seems to have evolved down to myself, and one other person. I can either feel resistant and irritated about this, or I can accept it as meant to be, and go with it. When I'm in the wash cycle, being cleaned of old thinking, feeling fresh and revitalised, I can relax and let it happen. When I'm in the spin cycle, if I don't work my program, those thoughts in my head can take me over, and I end up dizzy, disoriented, and flattened out.

I used to believe that I could speed the cycle up by working my program harder than usual. I discovered that while I couldn't change the length of time it took to work through, I could change how I felt while it was happening. I've had to learn to let that be enough, to not kick and moan, when it's not finishing as quickly as I'd like.

It is what it is, and it takes however long it takes.

I can be peaceful even through a wild windstorm, if I trust my Higher Power not to drop a 100-foot tree upon my head. What I can't do, is turn off what's going on around me, that's out of my control, and is going to happen, whether I like it, dislike it, or feel enormous resentment about the whole damn thing.

I cannot change other people. I cannot change other people's cycles.

Taking someone else's inventory, has been, at various times in my life, almost my favourite pastime. I could spend hours engaged in it: winkling through their behavior and their choices and what they'd said, and how they'd looked when they said it, and what that infinitum.

I'm trying to be kinder to myself when I forget to not do this; instead of berating myself, and adding to my unhappy feelings, I'm trying to laugh at myself, and let it go. I can choose to be kinder to myself.  I deserve kindness.

Two days ago, I spoke to person A, called her by name, and she asked if I could go tell person B she wished to speak with her? I walked across the room to person B, opened my mouth to speak, and could not for the life of me remember the name of person A. It was gone. I've long since given up being irritated by this kind of thing. I prefer to laugh about it - were I to let it annoy me, I'd be annoyed so many times in a day, it would begin to have a negative impact upon my serenity.

I'm getting older, these things happen; how do I choose to deal with it? If I find it humourous, I'm guaranteed a good laugh several times today. I have found in Al-Anon, that if I can find humour in my frailties, I am more willing to work to give them up, and turn them over. Laughing helps to loosen their grip upon me.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Control - A 7 Letter Word, Leading To Conflict.

In a recent email, a program friend wrote: "I never had control issues before I joined Al-Anon."

I laughed aloud when I read that; it's a good description of my state of mind, when I was new to program. Before Al-Anon, I believed myself to be a pretty well-balanced individual, it was just that I was married to a man who drank himself into a stupor every day. Were he to quit drinking, life would resolve into happily ever after, and we'd go tripping off into the sunset, a la Disney movie.
Then, after sustained nagging from me, and with enormous effort, he quit drinking for nine months, and the relationship was exactly the same, except that he was sober. I still wasn't happy, or satisfied.

I'm grateful that when we finally separated, it was amicable, and we could talk and hug and be grateful for the love we did share together. I had to be in program for many more years, before I truly understood the effort, and the force of will, those nine months of white-knuckled sobriety required.

I still have to work my program assiduously, to keep my desire for control in check. It may be a result of my childhood, or it may be simply a part of my genetic makeup, in the way that some small dogs have a gargantuan stubborness, out of all proportion to their size. I'm a rather small person in stature, but without program, my desire for control was a outsized windstorm of willfullness: mulish determination to get my own way.

It doesn't matter from where it originates, it just is. I need to deal with it, if I am to have a life worth living. Yesterday, I was asking my Higher Power for guidance, because I couldn't see the lesson I was meant to take from what has been happening.

The answer came in one word: "Humility."

Friday, October 15, 2010

An Extra Meeting.

Last night, I was feeling prompted to attend an "extra" meeting. I found myself in that interesting place of arguing with the part of me that was pushing me into my shoes and out the door; I didn't feel much like attending a meeting.  I was tired from having driven over to have lunch with my sponsor. But some part of me accepted the prompting from my Higher Power, and got me there on time.

It was one of those intensely powerful meetings, where every person who shares, seems to be speaking directly to my character defects. Ouch. And not-ouch, too, because when I hear that others struggle with the same issues, I feel comforted, that I am not alone in backsliding on this or that. I feel that I am human, only human.

There is an aspect of my character with which I occasionally have to struggle, not so much anymore, but in times of stress, it will fight to gain some ground, and that is the part of me which wishes to punish in return, when someone I love has hurt me deeply. I heard sharing on that very thing in the meeting last night, and it was welcome, because I've been feeling that gruesome sneaky guilt I feel, when parts of me that I dislike, want to put on a fashion show, and commandeer the runway of my internal dialogue.

I need those reminders that I'm not a cartoon character of evil, just a flawed human being. If I give the guilt any room to move around at all, it will begin to take me over, my self-esteem will plummet, and before I know what's happening, I will be feeling despaired and depressed. I need to have it proven to me, by the loving empathy I feel to hear someone else share about it, that I can also love myself, in spite of my "worst" character defects.

Being in Al-Anon, even for a time, doesn't mean I will not be faced with the normal human struggles, merely that when I am, I will have a repository of experience, both mine, and that of others, from which to choose healthy thinking.

Onward and upward, one day at a time.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Words of Wisdom.

A good friend  wrote to me this morning, "Relying on ourselves for happiness is the only chance we have of getting it."

So true. I am as happy as I choose to be. When I can let go of the desire to change another person, the desire to find the perfect thing to say which will be a catalyst for change, I am content.

When I decide I will take no person's inventory but my own, I am relaxed and grateful.

When I step back from harsh words, or acting out, and decide I will not let those make my life choices for me, but will instead detach, and find another way to go, I find serenity.

When I let go of thinking that I know the best way for another person to behave, I find calm.

So much of life comes down to this choice - happiness or misery, serenity or frustration? On hard days, when there is conflict, I may have to make this choice a hundred times, praying for guidance from my Higher Power, asking to have my character defects removed, that I may enjoy this hour, this one day with which I am blessed.

Today, I'm driving over to have lunch with my sponsor, in the town where we used to live. I'm looking forward to her lovely calm presence, and our shared laughter. Laughter, even the rueful kind, is a gift from my Higher Power. It's up to me, whether or not I choose to seek it out.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Step One.

"Admitted we were powerless over alcohol - that our lives had become unmanageable."

When I forget this, I will be reminded, either in a slight and gentle nudge by the universe, my Higher Power, life, or in a smackdown which effectively flattens me. I will find myself sitting on the mat again, wondering where that blow came from, it happened so quickly, I didn't even see it coming. I took my eye off the ball, I was hitching up my trousers instead of paying attention, I got lazy, I didn't feel like carrying my end of the load, whatever the reason or the excuse, it happens. I lose my focus, and when I do, I lose my serenity.

I'm not suggesting that it's easy, to keep our focus when the alcoholic is acting out, either in drunkenness, or in sobriety, but it's vital for our equilibrium.

From the Al-Anon ODAT, page 116:

"...although many of us feel we should be able to correct a situation which is causing us so much suffering."

That's where I get into trouble, I feel as though I "should be able."
I'm an intelligent, capable adult, I've managed other areas of my life successfully, I've accomplished this, I've mastered that, why can't I do this one thing? Why? WHY?

"Why" is irrelevant. I could be given a satisfying reason, and within a very short time, I'd be back, asking for another. Reasons do not solve my problem; reasons do not give me serenity.

Surrender allows the peace of my Higher Power to flood my heart and mind. There have been many days when I've suddenly come to my senses to realise that what has felt like trying vainly to hold the door of myself closed against a massive wall of water, is in truth, my having turned my face away in denial, from a truth I already know so well - that I am powerless.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Asking For Guidance.

Recently,  I was seated at a meeting, with my legs crossed at the knee, and leaned over to grab my purse from under my chair. For one heart-stopping second, I felt myself going over - and because of my position, I'd have landed on my head. I'm not sure if I flung one arm backwards, and that changed my centre of gravity, but whatever the reason, I managed to regain my balance, and sat up, feeling slightly shaken, as one does after a close call of this type.

I learned a good lesson from that near-miss; when seated on a chair without arms, don't try to lean sideways with my legs crossed at the knee.

Today I learned another good lesson. Must be my week for them.

 I took the dogs out today, to my favourite park, which runs along the coastline. The path runs along the cliff beside the sea, for part of the time, and through tall trees and heavy bush the rest of the trail. It's peaceful, and secluded. We've seen eagles, herons, otters, and sea lions. on various visits.

I was walking along, enjoying the sunshine, and the brisk tangy sea air, while part of my mind was involved in thinking thinking thinking, getting ever more dispirited and irritated (and yes, "unreasonable without knowing it," some of that, too.) I decided to wrest my mind back to the moment, and recalled what my new sponsor had said to me earlier in the week: "Don't forget to pray for guidance."

I had forgotten. Completely. I was, in that moment, aware that I haven't been practising Step Eleven enough lately - "Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God, as we understood Him, praying only for knowledge of His will for us, and the power to carry that out." Hence my disordered brain, and being right back at Step One.
And again and again and again.
Sheesh. I am a slow learner.

I began to pray for guidance, and received it in the first moment of asking. Clearly. No fuzziness, no vagueness, no way I could make that into something else, it was whacked down upon the table in my mind, with a certain ... emphasis.

When I got home, I called a friend I've made since moving here - I love talking program to her, because she makes me laugh so hard while she is roasting my toes at the fire.

True to form, a few minutes into our conversation, and she zeroed in on my discontent, asking sardonic questions which had me doubled over laughing. We are a lot alike, this friend and I - that similarity lets us read each other easily - and she won't hesitate to speak her mind.  She mentioned something that I really liked, which she had heard at a meeting:

"When I'm angry, I'm being self-absorbed."

I like that. I can't say I've ever looked at it like that, but I can already tell I'm going to find it helpful, just by the way it resonated with me, when she said it.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Am I Letting Go and Letting God, Or Fidddling While Rome Burns?

Experience in Al-Anon has taught me that I have many choices. I can live in fear: head ducked as if in expectation of a blow.

I can live in joy, with faith and trust that my Higher Power has not brought me safely this far, only to change His mind at this late date, decide He can't be bothered with me, and huck me out the window.

It may feel as if I'm being dangled upside down, seventeen stories up, and I may have to close my eyes and act as if I'm right-side-up in my livingroom, but I can do that, I've learned how.

I used to live in awful fear of the future: so much so, that my life went past unnoticed, while I tortured and tormented myself with what might happen.

It might, that's true, and if it does, I'll deal with it as best I can. I will not ruin the pleasures I can take in today, by constantly reminding myself, of the worst of all possible outcomes.

When this choice - of Letting Go and Letting God, was first suggested to me, I was doubtful. Supremely doubtful - how could they sleep at night, with their world teetering, like a newcomer to yoga, practising stork pose?

How? By deciding to, that's how. Oh, I groaned with frustration when I'd get an answer like that; I wanted a reply that would allow me to continue to worry, because worry felt as though I were accomplishing something, when dealing with those areas in my life over which I had no control.

At least if I worried, I felt as though I had some small part in it. I couldn't bear that feeling of whatever it was, being so completely, so utterly, beyond my reach. I wanted to have some input, so I tried to make myself feel as though I did, and I spent my time engaged in various disastrous scenarios.

I was in Al-Anon for quite some time before it dawned upon me, that my writing of my life always led to disaster and ruin - I never pictured things working out in a positive way. I was floored when I realised that - this was the inside of my own head after all, I should be able to write the thing however I wanted in my own fantasy life, right? Where had I learned to be such a pessimist?

No matter, I had and did, and now I was being offered the chance to change my interior landscape, to one of "sunshine and flowers."
(as I sarcastically commented to my sponsor one evening, bringing forth a reply of, "It's better than ruin and misery, isn't it?)

I have only this one day, this one hour, this one small space of time, in which to live - I do not know what the future is bringing. I don't want to be ignoring today, while always peering out the front window, to see if I can see tomorrow driving up the street, straining to see past the cedar in the front yard next door, to see if it's in a limousine, or a hearse.

I pray for acceptance, for the ability to live in the moment, and to take joy in this moment. I pray for the willingness to let it go - and to trust my Higher Power to look after me.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

The Three C's - I Didn't Cause It, I Can't Control It, I Can't Cure It.

I was thinking about Al-Anon's 3 C's  today. Alcoholics are good at shouldering off the responsibility for their choice of behavior, onto their partners, their employers, their friends, the guy at the tire store. I have a half-joking, half-rueful shorthand way of describing this, I call it the 3-pronged excuse:

"I did not do that!"
"Okay, okay, maybe I did do that, but I didn't mean anything by it."
"And anyway, you drove me to it."

This sloughing off of responsibility has a childish feel to it that can be distressing in an adult family member. We wonder how they can do the fancy footwork required to rationalise this kind of thing, we wonder how they....oh, right, I'm supposed to keep the focus on myself, and what I can and can't do.

I can't change other people.

I didn't cause the alcoholism, (or the consequences of drinking,) I can't control anyone's drinking, and I cannot cure alcoholism. It's not up to me to take up the plow for another person - it's beyond my mental or physical strength, and I'm treating them like an invalid when I rush to shield them from the consequences of their choices.

I've had to make a choice this week, about something which I thought was helping, but that I now have come to realise, was enabling. I need to step back, and allow the alcoholic to sink or swim under their own power. I was taken aback, to realise that what I was doing was enabling, and that realisation was only brought about, by the alcoholic having blamed me for something else entirely. It was in thinking about blame, and responsibility, and consequences, and all of those things, that I realised I have been overstepping my mark. (I haven't quite reached the stage in this, yet, where I feel gratitude for the initial blaming, because it led to my realisation, but I'll get there, I always do.)

I'm not culpable for what another person chooses to do, only for my own choices. I can't be held responsible just because they don't like an outcome, which they, themselves, have set in motion.

I can see that I need to put more effort into detaching - for the rest,  my Higher Power will guide me.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

What Day Is It, Today?

A new day, and to my delight, a sunny day. I revel in how often the sun shines here; after 14 years spent living in rainy, cloudy, gloomy climates, I am a grateful soul each morning that I arise to the light of the sun. Of such small gratitudes, is a life in program made.

I'm writing this with my little dog sleeping on my lap - this is her custom after her breakfast, to come in to where I'm seated at the computer, and do her little cajoling dance, asking to be lifted onto my lap. We then begin a power struggle for my lap, with her slowly, slowy rearranging herself one half-inch at a time, until I realise that she has pushed the keyboard in with her head, to make more room for herself, and I'm having to stretch too far to type. I rearrange her back into a more comfortable position, she makes hard-done-by murmuring noises, and begins again, trying to steal more room.

As so often happens, last night's meeting was on a topic I needed to hear - listening to the sharing of various people as we went around the table, I felt immense gratitude for their willingness to open themselves to the honesty of sharing. I sat in someone's car after the meeting, and we talked for another half-hour - I was grateful to listen, and to know they listened when I spoke - that feeling of connection, and of trust, is precious to me.

Today is a new day, and I treat it as such - I begin again. I try to let the day before pass away in my internal dialogue, as it has passed away in time. I work to allow myself to feel my feelings, and then let them go. I pray for guidance, and for acceptance, so that I may find a balance between looking after myself, and being in the world with other people.

I try to enjoy the pleasures that life offers - they are always there for me, it's just that my vision can be clouded by my struggles. Seems like I hear myself lately, frequently saying to myself, "Let it go. Just let it go."  I hope that means that letting go is becoming second nature to me - I like that idea.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Pronouncements of Blame.

Just a little while ago, my alcoholic looked me straight in the face, and coolly pronounced me to blame for something which has happened. I was sitting at the kitchen table when this was said, and after a moment of stunned silence, I got up and came into my workroom, closing the door. I was reeling.

Not only can I not follow the reasoning, I'm astounded to discover that they consider it to be my fault. All becomes clear, having had this piece of the puzzle plopped down onto the table in front of me; I find myself thinking that now I understand the resentment I've been sensing, the anger directed towards me for no apparent reason, the snarky comments, the contempt. It's my fault -  therein lies the justification for the behavior directed towards me.

I had to go call my sponsor and talk for a few moments, until I felt that my world view had reasserted itself on a balanced plane. I said with heartfelt gratitude that I was happy I had a meeting to attend this evening, and we both laughed.

Now that I'm on the other side of the conversation with my sponsor, all I can do is shake my head and detach from the utter insanity of the alcoholic reasoning. I can be grateful that I'm not on the inside of their head, and that I have my program to help me during these moments. I can insist that I be treated with respect, and I can calmly, courteously refuse to accept the yoke of blame.

I can pray for guidance from my Higher Power.

The Power of Old Memories - Why We Need to Keep Coming Back.

I was thinking tonight, about the power of old memories to slither stealthily up on us when we are feeling marvellous, and whoosh, the rug under our feet is fiercely jacked out, and we feel ourselves falling, can do nothing to stop it, and land painfully on our tailbone, wondering - what the hell just happened?

I think for some of us who have had severe trauma in childhood, we are hardwired a certain way. We can learn to re-wire ourselves in Al-Anon, but the old wiring remains, and can still carry a current - it's just disconnected. When we've been re-wired for a long time, we can forget just how that old wiring used to spark and crackle and threaten to burn the house down: how it couldn't carry much of a load before becoming dangerously overheated: how through doing Step Four we found places where for years, it had been quietly burning through the support structure.

Were I to stop going to meetings and working my program, it wouldn't take long before I'd be right back where I started - doing the equivalent of trying to run 6 air-conditioners, a washer, dryer, dishwasher, computers, various lamps and chargers and tvs and kitchen appliances, on old knob-and-tube wiring designed to do not much more than provide enough electricity for lighting. (Enough of this analogy, already.)

From Courage to Change, page 322:

"Keep coming back" is a phrase we often hear in Al-Anon. Why is it so important? Because many of us have grown so hardened in our fights with alcoholics, or flights from alcoholics that we literally found it difficult to sit still for the process of recovery. We had to have answers right away or take action right away. Yet we felt just enough relief at our fist meeting to come back once more.And then again and again. Sowly we learned to sit still, to listen, and to heal."

"...grown so hardened..." I can see myself in those three words, not only myself in my first marriage, but myself as a child growing up. I slowly became so armored against pain that I was dulled to all feelings. All except anger - anger burned in me like an pilot light. I believe that my anger helped me to escape my childhood with some of myself intact, but so well defended, that I went about my daily life unaware that it existed, unaware that I was so hardened that I might as well be made of stone.

I keep coming back not only to maintain my recovery, but because I keep learning. It's an endless process, and it becomes more fascinating as I go, not less. I keep coming back for those who are newer, and need to hear what I've heard all along - that life is good, that "it is possible for us to find contentment and even happiness, whether the alcoholic is still drinking or not."

I felt quite doubtful when I used to hear that read at each meeting I attended, but I learned that it was simply the truth.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Satisfaction As A Choice.

My spouse is trying to quit smoking. He's exceedingly grumpy. It seems to come in waves, perhaps as he tries to fight off a craving. This is the result of his trying to quit. Each time we go through one of his grouchy fits, I remind myself that I have wanted him to quit smoking ever since he took it up again, and that we discussed this before he tried quitting. We had a good long talk about it, and set some ground rules for how we'd deal with his moods, since anytime he's tried to quit in the past, he's been quite bad-tempered during the worst of the withdrawal.

This time is different, because he's had a spiritual awakening in his own program, which has changed the way he views the world, me, the marriage, himself.

This time is different, because not only am I feeling happier to be living in a place where the sun shines more often, and it rains about half the time it did where we used to live, but I, too, have had some growth in my program.

When I read two of my favourite bloggers this morning, both had posted on the topic "starting over" - as I read the first, I smiled, thinking about the evening before, when at about 6:30pm, I'd said to my spouse, "Can we please start the evening over?" and he'd immediately agreed; we had a nice long hug to seal the deal.

I went to the second blog, and this person had also posted on the same topic - I laughed, feeling as if my Higher Power was making sure I got the point.

For me, satisfaction in my life is a choice I make. It's not predicated upon how someone else behaves, or what "worldly goods" I possess. (On the topic of worldly goods, my first rude awakening along those lines came when I'd been in program for about 12 years. My spouse purchased a "luxury" car for me, a beautiful gleaming black sports coupe. That car was the most uncomfortable, poorly designed, corner-wallowing cow of a car I've ever owned. Just as one example, whoever designed the wipers had obviously never tried them out, since the washer fluid was released from halfway up the wiper blade, thereby missing cleaning the entire bottom half of the passenger side of the windshield. And that was just one of the design flaws, that car had zillions. I had the strange experience of having people (usually men) say "Nice car!" to me, while I grew to hate that car with a passion. I drove it for about 8 months, and then sold it and purchased a car which would be considered way down the food chain of desirable vehicles, but which was well-designed, and a pleasure to drive. This was a hugely powerful lesson to me along several lines: things aren't always what they seem, marketing can make a bad product seem desirable...all ideas which may seem self-evident to you, dear reader, but I'm a slow learner in some areas.)

I choose whether or not to be satisfied with my lot in life. I can wish for something different, I can strive to improve my lot, but whether or not I can live in satisfaction as my life is now, is my choice. I make this choice dozens of times a day. I pray to make it mindfully, joyfully, and with gratitude.