Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Short-Supply Thinking, Chapter 2

When I was very new to sponsorship, and still unsure about where was the defining line between "taking care" and "care-taking," I agreed to sponsor a woman who taught me the difference between the two. (When I stop to think before speaking, to consider my words, so that I do not thoughtlessly cause another person pain,  I'm being sensitive to them, and taking care. When I feel the need to "fix" their unhappiness by any means at my disposal, including twisting myself into pretzel shape, which is hard on the back, and sparks my own resentment, I'm care-taking.)

The first time I saw my new sponsee looking hurt when I greeted another person at a meeting with a bear hug and some silly joking around, I felt a wierd guiltiness. Soon, I found myself engaged in a tiring dance of trying to make sure that my sponsee wasn't feeling that I liked anyone else more than I liked her - toning down my delight to see my friends at meetings, and feeling responsible for my sponsee's looks of hurt. I decided I needed to reason things out with my own sponsor.

That was an interesting conversation, with me endeavoring to give enough information to be able to discuss it, without breaking my sponsee's anonymity. My sponsor listened in patient silence, as she always did, then when I finished, asked me one question: "Why is this your problem?"

I blathered on about being a good sponsor, and various other meanderings, then was shocked into silence by the next question: "Have you stopped to consider that you may be being manipulated?"

Nope, hadn't entered my head. It was as though, once that first uneasy feeling of guilt was stimulated into being, my rational mind went into another room and closed the door, leaving the rest of me engaged in that exhausting dance of people-pleasing.

My sponsor and I discussed ( she spoke, and I listened) the reality that we are most easily manipulated by the methods we, ourselves, use. That was a shocker, and not one I was interested in hearing at the time. I didn't understand how I could go to her thinking I wanted to talk about one thing, and somehow always end up discussing my own character defects - how did that work, exactly? Irritating woman.

I was vulnerable to displays of short-supply thinking, because that was the way I thought, at the time. I didn't quite understand that love is a never-ending spring, and the more widely we open the tap, the more generously does it pour out.

Love isn't a pie, wherein if I have to share my love among 3 people, there's less love to give, than there would be if I was sharing it with only 2 - your piece isn't going to be smaller, because Susie across the table is also getting a piece.

On the contrary, the more loving a human being is, the more loving they become, and the more good feeling there is to go around.

Love is a multiplier of itself - the action of loving, creates more love to give. The harder I work to be a conduit for my Higher Power, and the more I choose love before all other responses, the more love rushes in to fill the space, slopping over the edges, splashing on everyone around me.

Short-supply thinking believes that there isn't enough love to go around, and if you get some, I get less. I've found it to work in exactly the opposite way. If I get some, and looking over to you, decide to give you some of mine, to top up what you got, pretty soon we're both going to be looking for other people with which to share the abundance, because we're going to have so much we cannot carry it alone.

Love is a muliplier of itself.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Exactly How DO I Come To Believe, Though?

So you've admitted to your powerlessness, and now you're high-centred on the speedbump of Step Two: "Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity."

There have been aspects of my character which have given me pause, depressed me, caused me to feel as though I were not a very nice person. (This is not the same as the self-loathing I felt when I was new to Al-Anon. This is after an objective  - as far as that's possible when you both inhabit the same skull, yourself, and you looking at yourself - inventory of my character defects.)
Without a doubt, the character defect most disturbing to my serenity, destructive to my peace of mind, and damaging to my relationships, is: being judgemental.

When I'm indulging myself in judgements about what another person says, thinks, wears, does, or believes, I am blocking my ability to hear something useful in their words. I'm making it impossible for me to respect them, and I'm choosing to maintain my solitary misery, rather than reach out to the comfort sitting there, oh so close at hand, but unattainable, unless I'm willing to put down the judgements I'm clutching in both hands, and reach out with an empty hand to ask for it.

For me, Step Two has been both a slowly evolving process, and at the same time, an active choice. (When I was new to program, if I heard a line like that, within 15 seconds, I'd be so far gone down the road of appraisal, evaluation and assessment, I'd be gnashing my teeth in an arrogant superiority.)

I was what I've since heard described as a "closed system" - a mindset which does not accept input from outside the self.

I wavered so much, at first - I wanted what program offered/ no, they were all a bunch of wierdly cheerful nutcases warbling on about "how grateful they were to their alcoholics." (Want to upset a closed-system-type person? Speak fervently of your gratitude for the alcoholics in your life.)
I could see that they were different in their ability to be happy, although many lived in the same sort of chaotic home life I did/no, I wasn't about to get down on my knees to any Higher Power, thank you very much, I'd had that crap forced down my throat in childhood, and escaped it, so I wasn't fool enough to willingly start swallowing it again, what were they, crazy?

It makes me laugh nowadays, recalling how I flung about that label of "crazy" when in truth, I would have been a serious contender for the gold medal for insane thinking, had there been a contest.

"There are none so blind, as those who will not see." An excellent definition of denial.

The only way I could "come to believe" was by deciding that I wanted recovery more than I wanted the satisfaction of arrogance and judgement. I'd been doing the latter all my life, and hadn't managed to find serenity, what did I have to lose by giving open-mindedness a try?

12-Step stresses that we keep an open mind; that's how miracles happen. Whether or not we believe in them, they will still take place. We don't have to believe in them, a Higher Power, anything at all -  the only action we're asked to do, is open the door to our mind the tiniest amount, and prop it open, so it stays that way. Fresh air will slowly filter in, and find us, even when we're hiding in the closet, with the light off, and a blanket over our heads. Our Higher Power knows where to find us, but first, we must ask. Just ask. Not believe at first, only ask. We will come to believe, if we ask. What we will come to believe is immaterial to the person in the chair beside us, or the ones across the table in a meeting; it's individual to each of us, and can be the opposite to beliefs held by those we dearly love -  that matters not a jot.

It's the opening of that door, which is so vital.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

A Question.

A reader asked for my interpretation of this quote:

"The difference between my will and God's will is that my will starts out easy and gets hard, and God's will starts out hard and gets easy."

It's always easier to do what I want to do, but the consequences are often not pleasant - in contrast, it may feel incredibly difficult to accept my Higher Power's will for me, but when I do, the consequences will be positive, in ways I cannot imagine.

A good example of this, is making amends to my alcoholic - I have a hard time with this on occasion, because I'm offering my throat to the wolf - who, also on occasion, cannot resist taking a bite. When the wolf's canines are menacing one's carotid arteries, it's easy to lose sight of the end result (becoming a better person) of the action (making amends) and instead, give oneself over to fear (he's going to bite down!) and anger (what kind of fool am I, walking up to the wolf, and offering my throat, what am I, crazy?) It's not easy, keeping in mind that that I'm doing this because experience has taught me that not only is it the "right thing" to make amends, but that I grow and learn when I do this.

My  wolf   alcoholic is in early recovery, and old habits die hard. Some days, the urge to be right, to take advantage, to play those alcoholic head games, appears to triumph; those days, my making an amend to this person appears to trigger a meanness that the alcoholic chooses not to resist.

If I were follow my will, knowing that this resultant unpleasantness is a possibility, probably would stop me from making those amends which are so important for me to make, because they teach me humility and honesty and willingness. It would be a lot easier at that particular moment in time, but I'd be marching in place, and that gets very hard after a while. Watching others moving forward, while I put ever more effort into not moving?  That's hard.

When I follow God's will, and use the realisations he gives me, it can feel like pushing a tractor-trailer uphill on a hand cart - the very definition of impossible - but once I do get that sucker up the hill, it's a free coasting ride down the other side. (Until I reach the next hill, of course, then it's work, work, work, again.)

Friday, November 26, 2010

Admitting Our Imperfections.

Why is this so hard for most of us? Why do we kick and scream, (or if you have a different personality, sulk and emit poisonous waves of sullenness) when it's suggested to us in Al-Anon, that we too, are imperfect, and that we can improve our lives greatly by trying to do something about that fact, rather than change someone else?

I used to worry about the way other people would think about me, if I ever admitted to being wrong, or being weak, or being imperfect. My sponsor called me up one day, laughing; told me she'd just come across the perfect quotation for us, which we should write out and put up somewhere we could read it many times in a day:

"You wouldn't worry so much about what other people think of you, if you knew how seldom they did."

I, of course was deeply offended, but tried to pretend that I wasn't. I'd learned fairly quickly that although my sponsor was a woman who had enormous empathy for other's sufferings, she had little patience for me, when I was having a hissy fit, and being offended. She was well-acquainted with that defense mechanism, having used it herself for years. She'd pointed out to me that when she was offended, it was usually because she knew that what had been said was the truth, and she didn't want to face it. She suggested that next time, I try putting aside my desire to take offense, and work to be honest with myself - was I being offered a chance to see myself more clearly?

Most of the time, that's just what's happening: I only ever seem to feel upset in that precise way, unless I am recognising the truth about myself: my character, and habits of thinking. When, in the past, I've chosen to take offense, it has been an effective way to push that truth aside, and concentrate instead on the failings of the messenger - so rude! So tactless! etc etc, and after a while, I'd be wallowing in a stew of self-righteous indignation, and the chance for me to learn and grow, would pass on by, forgotten.

This week, I was finding it increasingly difficult not to worry and stress over an issue in my life. My present sponsor, is a wise woman with many years in program, and when I talk to her about something with which I'm wrestling, she always emphasises asking my Higher Power for guidance. When I did, the guidance came in the form of a realisation about a decision I'd made a while ago. I was granted the ability to see it from another angle, to realise that while some of the reasons behind it were healthy - not enabling, not allowing the other person to take advantage of me - another part of the motivation for that decision was a desire to punish by withdrawing my support.  I realised that I needed to make an amend.

That wasn't an easy amend to make, because in order to do it cleanly, I needed to admit to my less-than-delightful motives. I had to say, "I was wrong to do this, and this is why."

I've been in Al-Anon for quite a while, and there are still amends which curl my teeth to make, because I have to admit my lesser qualities. I will always have to admit to my lesser qualities, because I will always be imperfect.

Once the amend had been made, and we were talking about it, I was given the further realisation that on some level, I'd been uncomfortable with my decision from the start, but had been refusing to allow that discomfort headroom, because if I did, I might have to reconsider.

For me, when I admit my imperfections, it is always better afterwards. That "better" can range from the lightly giddy feeling of a clean conscience, to improved intimacy with whomever, to doors opening in my life. There is no downside to this that I've ever found, so why do I still occasionally find it difficult?

I think because of pride - I don't want to admit that I am still prompted by those imperfections, that there are going to be times when my decisions are made while I'm in the grip of my frailties and character defects. I want to be "all better now."
I can forgive other people their character defects, but I still judge myself for mine,
now and then.
So it goes. The sun is shining, and I'm feeling relieved.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

What Would Happen If I Didn't _____?

That question is one that we do well to ask ourselves. So much of our behavior is by habit, by rote, by unquestioning following of the same track round and round. So it has been done ... so it always will be done - plod, plod.

Al-Anon was the very first place where it was suggested to me that I could choose a different way. Instead of doing the same things over and over, hoping for a different result, I found sufficient relief from the pain, to be able to stop and consider: was this rational? Was this even possible? I think I moved through all the stages of grief in the ending of my first marriage - denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance.

I had to let go of all my old ways of thinking, seeing, and doing, and be willing to try something new - Step Two:

"Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity."

I didn't have to try the new at that stage, I only had to have reached a place where I believed it possible that a power greater than myself existed.

Arrogance is one of the normal human frailties, and one with which I've grappled in close personal contact; I like to be right. (No, be honest, I love to be right.) My maturity has been a slow progression:

- from denying my arrogance, heedless of  the pain dealt to myself and others by my being oblivious to this character defect,

-to awareness of my arrogance, and the shame and remorse which ensued,

-to working to "practise these principles in all our affairs", meaning that I strive to catch myself much earlier in the proceedings: let go of my arrogance and desire to be "right",

- to finding a different way to be satisfied.

If I am satisfied only if I "win" an argument, I have no motivation to stop fighting. I have had to choose another definition of "satisfied" - one in which I accept my powerless over other people, and am satisfied when I see that this time, I have chosen the healthy way to deal with conflict. I can feel self-love and self-respect when I make these different choices. I can then save up the energy which would have been expended upon the conflict, and splash out with it, on a pleasurable activity, whatever that may be for me.

I pray to be paying attention more often, and to decide that this time, I am not going to ____, I'm going to work my program.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

"It's All Too Vague -Tell Me Something I Can Use!"

Many years ago, that sentence positively burst from a newcomer to Al-Anon, at his first meeting. It was as though he'd been sitting there listening, while the shares went around the table, becoming angrier as he heard each person speak. A gentle request from the chairperson for further information, unleashed a tsunami of words. He'd come looking for help, and all we were doing was yakking about how it had been for us when we'd been new to program, what use was that to him? He needed something concrete, something he could use, a list or something. At that, he began to weep, red in the face, and horribly embarassed. Someone passed him the kleenex box, and we sat in silence, waiting for him to regain himself.

After he'd been in program for a few years, he'd laugh at how angry he'd been with us, and then how embarassed - a middle-aged man, crying in front of twenty women! He'd speak of how he'd left that meeting convinced that Al-Anon was utterly useless, and he wasn't going back. Only to find himself driving to the church at the same time the next week. He'd sat in his car for a few minutes, trying to get up the nerve to walk into that room full of women again.

My sponsor saw him there, opened his car door, and gave a gentle pull on the shoulder of his jacket, saying "Come on, dear, don't think about it for too long, you won't do it, out you get, you can slink in behind me."

He'd said stiffly, "I was a jerk last time."

She said, "You were in pain, as we all were. We love you anyway; come on."

He'd asked plaintively, "What if I cry again?"

She replied, "You'll live. What's worse, embarassment, or no help with your partner's alcoholism?"

He loved to recall this, and say, "It was a no-brainer."

He became a regular at our meeting, and would set other newcomers at ease by passing them the kleenex box, saying gently, "I cried at my first meeting, too; it was the first time I cried since I was six."

I learned several valuable lessons from this man - I learned not to be too vague when talking about what program has given me, when I speak to a newcomer. I realised that we each have our own way of dealing with intolerable pain; some shut down, pull the facade into place, and become unreachable, some are despairing, some are furiously angry.

There is no right or wrong to this - we feel what we feel. If we  keep coming back to meetings, and we keep an open mind, we will find help.

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 first meeting to come back once more. and then again, and again. Slowly we learned to sit still, to listen, and to heal."

I like that. I was definitely "hardened" - in my anger, my thinking, in my habits. I needed to first accept this, as just the way it was, before I could begin to work to change any of it. Step One was surrender for me  - I admitted that I was "powerless over alcohol, and my life had become unmanageable." This surrender freed me, from the ghastly struggling insanity in which I'd been entangled. Step One was the equivalent of flopping back in my chair, heaving a heavy sigh, and saying, "I give up; I can't do it anymore, it doesn't work anyway."

When I was a newcomer, I didn't understand anything but the fact that at the meetings, I felt safe, I felt heard, I felt understood. That kept me coming back. I'd shoot out of the room after a meeting to avoid all that wierd hugging that went on, but someone would always ask, "See you next week?" as I almost ran out the door, and I'd always fling back over my shoulder, "Yep."

Notice your newcomers; welcome them. They are the new blood of your meeting, and of this great program. They have wisdom to offer which you may not have heard before, and they offer you a chance to pass on the gifts you have received. Don't let a newcomer sit alone in their car, trying to work up the courage to come in again, while you walk past, see them there, and just keep going. Do what my first sponsor did - pay attention, and if they need it, give them a boost over the threshold. Love them in a very special way.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Now, Where Was I Before The Phone Rang?

I had such a productive evening planned for myself tonight - I've got a light black wool fabric laid out on my cutting table, with the pattern pieces resting on it, and had planned to get my new winter coat cut out this evening. I'm so well prepared I've even got the buttons - not usual for me - buttons are often the last thing I consider when making a garment. I had it all planned, but it didn't happen. A sponsee called, and we went off into that wonderful place:  a connection is made between us, we speak with honesty, and no fear of being judged.

When I finally hung up, the phone had reached the point of beeping every 30 seconds to warn of impending failure of the battery ( it's amazing what one can ignore, when the conversation is really engaging) and I felt bone-tired, but satisfied. Doing service work with other Al-Anon members makes me feel useful, in a way that nothing else does, or ever has.

No amount of money earned, or possessions gained, has ever given me the same feeling that I receive, when I share my experience, strength and hope, with others caught in the same desperate straits in which I once floundered. I try to give back to others, what was so freely, and lovingly, given to me.
I get emotional, when I think of the way so many people have kept this incredible program working throughout the years. All that generosity of spirit - it's amazing, truly.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Questions About Guilt

1. How do I deal with my friend who guilt-trips me when I don't do what she thinks I should?

2. An elderly family member tries to manipulate me with guilt, when my choices don't meet with her approval - any suggestions?


I've learned that in order to deal with something like this in my relationships, I need to break it down into small manageable pieces, and deal with each in turn.

I start with my feeling: what am I feeling?

- I'm feeling ashamed.

Next, I try to understand: why am I feeling this?

- Because for me, that's the natural progression: first I will feel guilt, then I will feel shame.

So why was I feeling the guilt?

- Someone I care about made it clear to me that they think I was wrong to think/act/feel in a certain way.

Was I wrong? Did I trespass a boundary? Break a promise? Not fufill an obligation?

- No, I didn't. I made a choice that this person didn't like, or with which they didn't agree. Perhaps my choice meant that they didn't get something they wanted from me.

Did I have the right to make this choice? Was it mine to make?

- Yes. This was entirely up to me. This choice could be anything from deciding how I will spend my free time, to the best way to raise kids, to the car I buy, to the life partner I choose. I may be wise to ask for input or wisdom from other people, to help me clarify my thinking, or ask them to evaluate their experience in a similar situation, but in the end, I'm the one who has to make the decision, and accept the responsibility for having done so.

Do I feel comfortable and safe with this person, to the extent that I feel I can state a modified and courteous precis of the above?

- No. I don't. Experience has taught me that if I try to confront in any way, the ladling of guilt over my head, I will be met with denials, righteous indignation, and the taking of offense.

What, then, are my choices in dealing with this?

- I can't change other people. I can't force another person to stop with the guilt-trips, already.
I can, however, stop rewarding this behavior with apologies, explanations, rationalisations, and justifications. I can respond to the attempts to make me feel guilty, by not responding. I can use variations on a theme:
"Oh yeah."
"Isn't that something!" (I love this one - an Al-Anon friend shared that she uses it when she wants to sound as if she's responding with a meaningful comment, while in truth remaining non-committal.)

With those in whose company I feel safe, I can be a little more direct:

"When you say ______, I feel _______. I'd like you to stop saying that to me, please."

I have a (not-in-program) friend who has tried several times to induce guilt in me with statements about how disappointed she was when I didn't do this, or I did do that, and I've learned that even the innocuous "I'm sorry you feel that way" will be taken as positive reinforcement of the behavior.

I once heard someone saying that they respond to guilt-trips thusly:

"I know some people might think me selfish to have made this choice, but I know that you are much more open-minded, and will be able to see what others might miss, and therefore understand why I made this choice."

I laughed when I first heard that, but I've since discovered that it works very well with my friend - it's as though I'm offering her an opportunity to display her better character, and she comes through each and every time. I love her for it.

Friday, November 12, 2010

A Familiar Face, And Open Ears.

I've recently begun to attend an extra meeting on Thursday nights, and I'm really enjoying the mix of people. I don't know if it's because it's halfway across the city, but up until last night, there hasn't been anyone I know at this meeting. Last night for the first time, someone I know from other meetings was there. I find it raises my comfort level in a new meeting, to see a familiar face. It can feel more welcoming - warmer. In some way, I feel as though I'm being heard in a way I might not when everyone else is a relative stranger. (I once expressed this to a friend, who joked that he was sorry, he'd been daydreaming when I'd been speaking, and hadn't heard a word; he'd had his face set on "autopilot.")

I've been thinking lately, about the fact that most of us don't listen very well. I first had training in active listening, when I volunteered for the local crisis line. The training had demonstrated, how poorly developed, are most people's listening skills. The trainers would break us up into small groups, one of whom would have been chosen ahead of time, and told to ramble, use sentence fillers such as "you know?" get sidetracked and never finish a thought, all the ways in which we make it difficult for our listeners. It was the first time that I considered listening to be an activity; before then, I'd seen the speaker as active, and the listener as passive.

It was enlightening to watch myself fasten upon "you know?" and be increasingly irritated with each repetition. Why was this? I realised that I'd been taught that this was an "annoying verbal habit." I judged it, and I judged the person using it.

Time and again, I'd catch myself getting hung up on the person's vocabulary, or their grammar, or tone of voice, and the content would slide past, half-heard. Active listening is hard work; it requires that we detach from our internal dialogue, and pay close attention to the other person.

I like to listen to program speakers while torturing myself with yoga poses; last night the speaker I had chosen, mentioned how difficult it can be to listen, with no assessing. and no judgement of the speaker, or what they are saying:

"To really listen, you have to temporarily surrender your personality - all your likes, your dislikes, attitudes, biases - you have to let it all go, in order to have room in your head to take in the message."

I had a situation recently, where a (not in recovery)friend and I, were in a small social group - 5 people - and afterwards, I'd mentioned that some of the language used had seemed negating or dismissive - lots of labelling, and assumptions. My friend asked that I elaborate, give her some examples - when I did, she responded that she hadn't heard any of that. I was surprised, as it had been gratingly obvious to me, perhaps because it was "criticism of others." The longer I'm in Al-Anon, the more aware I seem to become of this, and the more it bothers me.

In other areas of my life, such as my relationship with my spouse, I have not been a great listener. Too much emotion swirling, too much of allowing myself to get away with behaviors that I know in my heart, are not the kindest of choices. Too much rationalising about "not wanting to hear his excuses when his behavior" yada yada yada - I lose my focus, and when I lose my focus, I lose sight of both my listening training, and my program training. I know better. I pray to be aware and open-minded, to be a good listener, in all aspects of my life.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Why Write It Out?

When it was first suggested to me that when I was feeling irritated, agitated, frustrated, annoyed, resentful, I should sit down and write about it, I couldn't see the point. What was the difference between writing about it, and "reasoning things out with someone else?" Or just thinking about it?

I quickly learned that were I to write out all my feelings, and write about the event which had provoked those feelings, then leave it overnight, or for a few days, return to it when calm and serene, and read it, my character defects and negative thinking leapt off the page and did a high-kick dance before my eyes. It was all so obvious when I'd had time to calm down; because I'd written it in the heat of the feeling, I wasn't censoring myself, and couldn't pretend.

I was a great pretender before Al-Anon. I pretended I was fine when my life was completely unmanageable, I pretended that I felt what I didn't feel, and didn't feel what I did feel...pretending was a childhood coping mechanism which I'd carried into my adult life, and never questioned. Until Al-Anon, and some direct questioning from my sponsor, with regard to honesty in relationships, and whether or not I had any. (I didn't.)

I encourage my sponsees to use this technique of writing about it when they are upset in any way, and to be very detailed in describing their feelings, their assumptions, their expectations, all of it. Invariably, I will hear about how when they went back the next day/several days later and read it, they cringed to see how unreasonable/childish/petty/crazed they sounded. One or two have told me a long time later, that they have stopped using this technique after a few tries, because they "couldn't face the truth about their own thinking" at the time, or because they "didn't want to admit that they could be so unreasonable or resentful."

Because I try to keep the lightest of hands with my sponsees, (both to rein in my own control-freak tendencies, and to allow them to be fully who they are, without feeling in any way criticised) I will suggest this as a tool I found helpful, and then let it go. I don't nag them to do it, I don't ask if they have done it, I just offer it.

Not everything works for everybody. Some people will resist to their deaths any suggestion that they consider their own part in the problems in a relationship; they seem to attend meetings for a while, and then fade away. Some folks are so obsessed with their own bad points, that they will use this as a whip with which to lash themselves - with those sponsees, I suggest that they not look at it until we have a chance to go over it together. That way when they are starting to give themselves hell for being human, I can offer the ways in which I was precisely that crazed, and how I've changed, so they can see that they are not evil, not monsters, but only human. (That's presupposing that I'm only human, as well. Took me a long while to arrive at that destination, I promise you.)

Try it. You might be astounded. Write it out, then go back and read it when you've calmed down. You might find that things previously obscured in the murk of your subconcious, become clear: that, "Why do I do/say/think that?" is suddenly obvious.

What I'm finding so wondrous, is that because I've worked my program like a good little maniacal co-dependent, more often than not, nowadays, this "stop and examine what's really going on inside my head, stripped of any justification or rationalising" occurs in my internal dialogue within the space of a few seconds, so that I can decide before I say or do anything, that I'm being irritable, or unreasonable. Or that I'm setting myself up with an expectation. Or that perhaps my intolerance is in the driver's seat.

I don't need days of time to: write it all out, cool down, go back and read it, then deal with the truth of it. Many times, I can do that now, on the spot. And that is one cool thing.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Repeat After Me: "I Can't Control Other People, I Can't Control..."

Some days I have to go to a quiet place -  inside myself: inside my house: outside into nature - wherever I can find solitude and serenity at that moment, and remind myself of my powerlessness.

When I feel that irritation rising in my chest, I know enough to stop talking, close my mouth firmly upon the words fighting themselves to spill out and over, and walk away.

I can't control other people. I can't force them to do anything. Not one single solitary measly thing can I make someone else do. They do what they choose to do, and all my yarping, harping, moaning, reasoning, complaining and explaining, none of it will have the slightest effect, if they choose not to do whatever it is.

I can ask. I can request. I can suggest. But I cannot force my will upon another person, even if I am thoroughly convinced, (as I always seem to be at those moments, coincidentally) that I am in the right, and being perfectly reasonable in my asking.

It is completely irrelevent that I have requested twenty thousand times previously, that they not allow our male dog to strut out into the back forty, and bark like a raving lunatic, screaming dog warnings of imaginary monsters approaching, requiring that he exercise his lungs, letting all in the neighbourhood know to take cover.

Or perhaps he's just alerting the other dogs within a 30 mile radius, that there's a large black squirrel in one of our trees; who knows what goes on in dog brain?
Whatever he's doing with all that barking, he's doing it with surprising volume for a small 18 pound creature, and will continue unabated, unless I open the sliding glass door and correct him, at which point he will immediately assume that canine "picture of angelic innocence" pose, and pretend that it must have been some other creature making all that noise, because he's just out here sniffing, honestly! No really, barking? He hasn't barked all day, he doesn't remember doing it, anyway, he might have loosed off one or two in early morning, when he saw that deer, but not recently, goodness no....

I just have to open the door, stick my head out, and say quietly, "Stop that racket" and he stops. He knows that if he doesn't, he'll be in doggy time-out. My spouse, on the other hand, can open the door and roar a command, and be completely ignored - he won't follow through, the dog knows it, so he pays no attention.

I've said this many more times than I ever should have, and boy did I want to say it again just now. Instead, I went out, got the dog, put him into time-out and came into my workroom and wrote this post. That way, I don't have to make an amend later, for having said something I regret. In a tone I regret.

I close my mouth, walk away, and give myself a little spiritual time-out. It always helps.

Friday, November 5, 2010


I'm in the process of making myself a new item of clothing, from a material with a distinct pattern. I've realised how easily my perfectionism can still be triggered, by the length of time it took me to cut the pieces out. I had to match the material pattern in every possible place on the garment - front and sleeves, seams, pockets, inner and outer lapels...

Now I grant you, any tailored garment in a material with a repeating pattern, looks much more professional if the pattern is matched at seams, etc, but it was the obsession to get it "perfect" that took me over at moments. I spent twice or three times as long on the cutting process, because of this matchy-matchy thing going on inside my head.

I found myself, at one point, leaning down to check that one teeny tiny diddly bit on the pattern piece was lined up just exactly perfectly with the teeny tiny diddly bit on the other pattern piece, and had to stop, walk away, and give myself a mental shake. It was insanity in action. It's just a new piece of clothing, for me to wear. I'm not making it to sell, I'm not wearing it at a command performance before the Queen, my life does not depend upon matching the pattern on a microscopic level - it's just a garment.

When I catch myself in this craziness, after the little talking-to I give myself, well-laden with Al-Anon wisdom, and a slogan such as Easy Does It, inevitably, the next feeling which will wash over me, is gratitude for my program. Before Al-Anon, I thought my crazed perfectionism was a good thing; I had no understanding of the misery I inflicted both upon myself, and upon those around me, of whom I had such unrealistic expectations.

In Al-Anon, I have learned that my best is good enough. I can celebrate my efforts, and not be always picking at myself because I didn't achieve perfection. I have learned that my perfectionism was rooted in childhood experience, and that I can shake that off, and choose my own standards.

 In the major city where we once lived, I had a program friend who was also a mad perfectionist. I'd arrive at her place, she'd have her coat and shoes on, but getting her out of the house would try my patience. (Patience is not one of my virtues, I've had to work like the dickens for every drop I now possess.) She would almost get out the door, have one foot upon the sill, but would then drop her purse and rush across the foyer to pick a dead leaf from a plant, or rearrange the shoes on the shoe rack, or straighten the hangers in the closet, or ... I started saying to her, "Screw it! That's good enough; leave it alone. It's fine. Put that thing down, woman!"

The day that she said, "Maybe I should..." and I replied "Screw it!" and she agreed, "Right, screw it!" and marched across that doorsill without a backward glance, we knew she was getting somewhere with all her efforts to let go of her perfectionism. The next time she came to pick me up, and I hesitated when the phone rang just as I was closing my front door, she said firmly, "Screw it!" I closed the door, locked it, and we walked arm-in-arm out to the car, feeling enormous satisfaction. My time in program is filled with such memories of achievements. They might seem slight to someone whose life hasn't been ravaged by alcoholism, but to those of us who have been locked away in our own small and lonely boxes of self, they are our victories, and we celebrate them.

I have another piece of checked fabric in my stash of material; a lovely soft wool blend, in autumn golds and browns. I want to enjoy this fabric when I work with it. To achieve that, I may need to make a reminder sign for the wall above my cutting table, reading: How Important Is It?

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Why I Do The Things I Do - Motives.

"What would be your motive, were you to say that?"

A question my first sponsor used on me, and which I now use, with great glee thoughtfulness, on my sponsees. When I was new to program, that question was guaranteed to bring me to a screeching halt - tires smoking, long line of black rubber on the road behind me.

I understood the question, but I also didn't understand it. I had good language comprehension, but emotional comprehension? None at all. I would be in the strange position of having a clear picture of what was being asked of me, and no way to reply. I hadn't a clue where I could begin to search for an answer, because my motives were well hidden in the hoarder's house of my brain.

I like that analogy for several reasons, not least of which that I had a tendency (A "tendency," ha! Slight understatement there, dear reader.) to scorekeep. I could not let go of anything; on the contrary, I was always on the hunt for more evidence to add to my stash of "Look at what they did, it's only natural that I would ___!"
Any slight, insult, unkindness, emotional/verbal/physical abuse ever perpetrated against me, which I was old enough to remember, and all of those  which the memory retains, but over which it draws a curtain, (so that we may continue to function, albeit not very smoothly) were in that house of self. 

Somewhere. Buried under mountains of unidentifiable, dust-covered, mouse poop decorated - all right, all right, enough of this analogy, what's my point here?

I couldn't let go of any trespass against me. I couldn't forgive or forget, and because of that, my motives were poisoned by my resentment. I acted and spoke to "get back" at the alcoholic, and every miserable rotten person in my life who had hurt me. The drinking alcoholic became a symbol, a representative of that group. I knew that when he was in his cups, I could say anything I pleased, no matter how viciously cruel, and not have to pay the price for saying it. He was in blackout - his memory would not retain it.

When I did a Step Five with him about this, much later on, after we'd divorced and been apart for quite some time, I wept and shook with pain, fear and sorrow. He reached across the table and grasped my hands: his own were shaking: tears were streaming down his face, too. In that moment, I saw in the still-drinking alcoholic wreck before me, the man I had loved and married so many years before. I am so grateful to program, for giving me the ability and willingness to make that amend, to make my peace with him, to go on in my life with no unfinished business from that relationship.

Before Al-Anon, I was not in the habit of digging down to find my motives. They were a deep and dark mystery of self, and I feared them, if I considered them at all. In Al-Anon, I have learned that if I do not deal with my resentments, they will begin to poison the ground water, and I'll start to suffer from strange ailments, such as being "irritable and unreasonable" or restlessness, perhaps a feeling of being trapped by circumstance.  All those awful feelings, and the insane thinking which once ruled me, will once again begin to stir if I do not work my program every single blessed day, whether I wish to, or do not.

If I want to be able to answer questions from myself, or anyone else, about my motives, with something other than an abashed and shame-filled hesitance, I have to work my program. It's that simple.