Saturday, December 31, 2011

Common Denominators - Judgement, and Joy.

This morning I was thinking that for many of us, if we do not work against it, our character tends to solidify and become more rigid the older we get. Left unchallenged, our basic beliefs will harden like cement curing, setting into an impermeable foundation for our character defects.

Had I not been bailing against the tide for the last 26 years, I would be a very different woman today.

So much of my old judgement of other people was an effort to protect my insecure self - I kept people at a safe distance by judging, classifying, rating, was an exhaustive and time-consuming business, but it felt necessary.

When I was new to program, and began to slowly grasp the concept that it wasn't the world that was so cold to me, it was I who was cold to the world, and the world responded in kind, it felt like a formidable challenge to try to wrest my thinking around to that viewpoint. I didn't like the view from that particular outcropping, it made my self-pity an unwieldy and sharp-edged garment to don, rather than the soft comforting blanket it had always been for me.

Judgement, I thought, kept me safe. What it did, was keep me isolated. And when we're isolated, we don't get the necessary input to effect a change in our thinking; it becomes ever stronger, self-reinforcing.

I still have times when my internal dialogue is less than loving, and I most likely always will as long as I'm upon this earth. Al-Anon has taught me to be aware of that internal dialogue, and when I can't get up out of that rut, to seek help, whether that's to call my sponsor or a program friend, read some literature, or pray. I've evolved a little shorthand phrase for those times: "No judgement - God's love."

That little sentence blocks the negativity, and reminds me that I'm seeking to become more loving, and to have that loving be a pure and unconditional sort - no strings attached, no qualifications, no requirements. Love for the sake of love. Which brings me to the other topic - joy.

I believe that within each of us is a powerful expansive joyfulness, and we can tap into that joy through working 12-Step. You can see it in the faces of those who've realised that joy is an inner resource, not the result of the perfect exterior happening. It makes daily life a very different thing when we get there, because we become the spiritual equivalent of a self-righting boat. We aren't immune to the storms of life, and we may be swept under the surface by a wave of circumstance, but that inner buoyancy brings us back to the surface, and the "sunlight of the spirit."

Happy New Year, all.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

The Many Uses of 12-Step.

I'd forgotten what a bulldog arguer my brother can be. It slipped my mind, just how much he likes a rip-snorter of a debate.

Today in an email, I'd dodged one of his attempts to solicit an opinion from me, with a comment about not feeling comfortable making judgements about other people's beliefs. I'm sure it's very strange for him to be writing to me now, as I've said earlier in this blog, because when he knew me last, I was a very different, very opinionated woman.

He responded to my attempt to dodge the topic, with a strongly worded epistle about how if we don't judge and condemn other people when they are wrong, we are falling down on our job of protecting our fellow humans, upon whom they might prey.

I replied that I was only speaking for myself, about my discomfort with judging. I got another email in response describing the many ways in which I was wrong to not judge other people, because of this, and this, and that!
I read it and sighed heavily, wondering how I'd managed to elicit such a strong repsonse with my mild comments about my own discomfort with judging. I looked down at my little dog arranged in comfort upon my lap, and asked her, "How on earth did we get from me not being comfortable judging other people's beliefs, to whether or not it's ok to stone someone?" I know perfectly well how we got there - riding the tsunami of my brother's debating skill.

Sitting there, gazing at the screen, at a loss as to how I might reply,  I received the loveliest little nudge from my Higher Power. I wrote:

"You could be right."

and sent it off. I had been feeling slightly distressed by the force of his argument, (and his insistence upon having one) but after I sent that, I felt lighthearted, and free. I went to have a shower and go to a meeting. I don't have to argue just because he likes to. I don't have to step into the loop of rope lying on deck, and be swept over the rail into the ocean to wrestle with sharks. I can stop, detach, and avoid the "bite of the line."

I don't have to fall back into my old ways, not out of habit, nor to please my brother.

When I returned home from a wonderful Al-Anon meeting, his reply to my "You could be right" email was in my inbox; it read:

"Yes, but only partly."

That made me laugh, and wish that I could hug him. He's a dear man, my brother. I don't share his love of debate and argument anymore, but I do love him. I hope my love comes through clearly when I write.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Happy Christmas

We're having some "orphan" newcomers in AA over for turkey dinner tomorrow, and the last few days, I've been madly burning cd's of AA speakers for them, so each one can have a little travel cd holder with a starting collection of 14 cds, and some empty slots for more later. It's been great fun.

Then I cleaned the house from stem to stern, had a nice long soak in some luxurious lavender foaming bath -with the most intoxicatingly heavenly fragrance. My little female dog kept standing up to peer over the edge of the bath and try to get me to give her some suds to eat. (What is it with some dogs and soap? My last big dog would nibble any bar soap left within reach.)

Now, I'm feeling utterly relaxed, joyful, and deeply grateful for all of the blessings in my life.

Happy Christmas to all of you.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Accepting What I Can't Change.

Earlier tonight, I was feeling angry, frustrated, and knew that I needed some input from a rational mind in order to calm myself down. I called my sponsor, and sitting in my office looking out the big window at the lights on the hill opposite, talked to her until I could feel my irritation and annoyance slipping away, and serenity returning.

I am so grateful for this program. Without it, I'd have spent all the rest of the evening, and most of the next day, seething and roiling with my anger and frustration. I wouldn't have been able to enjoy my own life for the next 12-24 hours, because I'd have been totally focused upon the source of my frustration. I'd have chewed the conversation over until I was in a livid boil of raging aggravation.

I used to begin by feeling mildly annoyed, work myself up into a fury, then go "deal with the problem" while I was in that state of rage, rationalising any bad behavior on my part by pointing to what the other person had said or done as my justification.

Al-Anon was the first place where someone suggested that perhaps what I was doing was having a temper tantrum. Or, to quote my first sponsor, a "hissy fit."

I was terrifically offended. I had been provoked! I had been mistreated! I had been offered the perfect excuse to "lose it" and had taken that excuse and run with it, as I so often did. I couldn't see that in doing so, I was damaging my own self esteem, because on some level, I knew that behaving that way wasn't acceptable, provocation or no provocation.

When I focus on someone else's behavior, and how they choose to behave, I am handing them my serenity on a plate. I am offering up my peace of mind, my ability to enjoy life,  everything which makes my life worth living I'm handing over, and for what? The momentary satisfaction of  of stating my own unsolicited opinion, or chewing over the wrong I decide that someone else has done?

It's counterproductive to spend my life that way. I want peace, and I want serenity, and I can find both of those in the same place they always wait - within me, when I'm in conscious contact with my Higher Power. I can't get there when I'm feeling angry or frustrated. I have to sit quietly, offer it all up, and be willing to have it removed.

I have to want to let it go, more than I want to be "right." Being right never did give me more than a bit of fleeting satisfaction - nothing like enough to sustain me in serenity.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Common Denominators - Impatience & Intolerance.

For me, these two character defects are closely linked. Intolerance leads to impatience. When I'm not being convinced by intolerance that I know better how someone should think, feel, or behave, I've got endless patience. Conversely, when I'm feeling impatient, it's because I'm viewing another person through a lens of intolerance, and deciding that, measured against my standards of behavior, they fall short.

I was told by a sponsor, that whenever I would exclaim "I'd never do that!" I was demonstrating  intolerance. I remember sitting thinking to myself that "all I was doing" was pointing out that my choices were vastly superior to those of the person against whom I was comparing myself. At some point, perhaps after repeated reminders, I vocalised this thinking. And was, as I was so often at the beginning, supremely annoyed to see my sponsor fighting a smile, as she explained that it was somewhat arrogant to describe my choices as "vastly superior."

I've been asked by sponsees how I can describe myself as filled with self-loathing, when I was such an arrogant little snot individual. My arrogance was driven by insecurity, a secret belief that I was "not enough." Not tall enough. Not smart enough. Not pretty enough. Not rich enough. My car, clothes, house, none of these were expensive enough. Absolutely nothing in my life was enough. The only thing which ever escaped this incessant measuring-and-falling-short, was my dog. The dogs I've had through the years, were, to me, perfectly beautiful, and perfectly loving.

I had big dogs back then, not mini dachshunds, as I do today, but I've learned that the size of the canine package matters not, even the smallest of them have that amazing dog capacity for love; I think a dog is one of God's greatest gifts. I'd sit on the floor, hugging my dog, and my heart would swell with love and gratitude. I'd walk behind my dog through the woods, or beside the ocean, and feel a grateful contentment in that moment, long before I could identify that feeling.

I had what I once heard described in an open AA meeting as, "low-to-no self-esteem." The only way for me to deal with this, was to pretend first to myself, and then to others around me, that I was superior. I hid in plain sight, since the only person I managed to convince of this was myself - it seems as though it's fairly easy to identify low self-esteem in other people.

So, sneering at the choices of other people was the only way that I could feel a modicum of good feeling about who I was. But that passed off so quickly that I was always trying to find another way in which I could feel better than, superior, far above in knowledge, taste, attitudes, yada yada yada.

Intolerance led to impatience. Impatience tells me that I am being intolerant. And intolerance is never driven by a good feeling, a happy feeling. So when I feel impatient, I've learned to step back from the moment, detach, and ask myself, "What's going on? Am I hungry, angry, lonely, tired? If none of those apply,  what's lurking behind the impatience/intolerance? What am I not dealing with, elsewhere in my life?" 

It's never about the person cutting in front of me in traffic, or elbowing me out of the way to grab the last item on sale, or snatching away the precise head of lettuce I was aiming to get, or being rude in any one of the myriad ways of which we humans are capable. When I'm in a state of serenity, I can let that rudeness slide right on by, and just - notice it, without an accompanying rush of hot feelings. In serenity, I can wave them in front of me, get that lettuce for them; I can say with a giddy delight to my friend, "Guess I wasn't meant to have one of those sale items today, let's go have coffee," I can respond to rudeness with a calm courtesy that is sincere.

My state of mind affects the way I view my world. My world doesn't change - there's still the same percentage of lunatic misguided drivers on the city streets as any other day - but I'm driving with my Higher Power's love sweetening the air in the car, and I'm at peace with the world.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

How Not To Argue.

Mr SponsorPants has an excellent post this year, about surviving the holidays.

One lesson I've had to learn time and again before it really sank in, (and over which I can still stumble when I'm not paying attention) was this one:

"5. Remember, don't expect Program responses from people who aren't in the Program." 

When I've been brought up short to hear a truly nasty comment made, as soon as a family member left the room, it was, I later realised, because I was carrying an expectation. I've learned that I really don't want to be around someone who choses to behave in that fashion; I find it distressing.

I may have friends not involved in 12-Step who do not behave that way, but if they invite me to a family function, there's no guarantee that their family members are going to abide by my personal standards of courtesty and kindness.

I need to accept that reality, before I accept the invitation, and if I'm not sure, I can ask: "How does your family get along?" If the reply is an amused snort and the quip: "Bring your own stun gun," I might choose to avoid that particular get-together.

I have a dear friend who is an elderly man, and as long as he's not talking about his siblings, he is the soul of kindness and consideration. But let him swerve onto the topic of the shortcomings of one of those poor souls, and he will undergo a transformation into a vessel brimming over with an acid brew of judgement, rage and victimisation. I've learned to change the subject. Repeatedly. I mention the weather,  tell him a funny story about my dogs, I ask after his arthritic knee. I do not respond when he throws out those bitter comments, trolling the bait across in front of me, hoping to hook me in. I see it, but I pretend that I do not - I let it pass by unremarked.

I don't have to attend to every comment offered. I can smile and murmur something vague and noncomittal. I can remark upon the briskness of the air today. I can compliment the lovely sweater the person is wearing.

I can LET IT GO.

Monday, December 12, 2011


Last night we attended a celebration at the local John Howard Society's treatment and recovery house for men. One of my husband's sponsees is going through the program there, and he'd invited us to join him as his "family" because his birth family lives far away. This man has been in and out of treatment many times, and as the saying goes, "around AA" for a lot of years, but this time, something has changed. We had a few moments quiet conversation amidst the noise of happy chatter and laughter, when my husband went to speak to another friend. I could sense the difference in this man; his restlessness has gone, and so has the sarcastic and critical facade - he's found serenity.
Later, we all gathered in the main room and sat in peaceful communion, while the men in the house stood up one by one, and spoke of what it meant for them to be in recovery, to be clean and sober at this time of year, to have their family there to celebrate with them.  Many had to stop and swallow several times to regain their ability to speak, because their gratitude brought such a powerful wave of emotion. (I'm hopelessly emotional in these gatherings, and used to try to be circumspect about wiping the tears from my eyes - I gave that up years ago. I know I'm going to weep throughout, and I accept that as just the way it is.)

When my husband's sponsee stood up to speak, I glanced at my husband beside me - his eyes, too, were full of tears. He loves this man the way he loves them all, wholeheartedly, with no judgement or reservation, through their disbelief, their anger, their frustration and despair - no matter what is going on for them. He's a rock of calm to which they can cling, he makes them laugh, and because he is an alcoholic himself, he heads them off at every attempt to justify or rationalise.

One sponsee came up to me last night and said laughingly that he finally had to start working the program because my husband was the first guy in AA he'd ever met who was just that tiny bit more stubborn than he was himself. He said to me, "He wore me down!" I hugged him and replied, "Oh bullshit, _____, you wore yourself down, he just kept you company while you had at it."

He grinned at me, and said, "I forgot - you've been in Al-Anon since I was 10."

I love these 12-Step celebrations; for days afterwards, I find myself remembering, and smiling.

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Health And Attitude.

I've been sick with a wierd flu the last few days, and apart from some sniffles, and for one day only, the slightest of coughs, the main symptom has been an overwhelming exhaustion, and a hard time getting warm enough - I've been sleeping in a fleece sweater for about twenty hours a day.

It's been interesting to notice that since I've been ill, my attitude hasn't been the best - as though my ability to let go is down with my physical health; an extension of hungry, angry, lonely, tired, I suppose.

Yesterday was particularly maddening, it seemed as though each time I awoke, my mind would leap immediately to assure me that something terrible was about to happen, and I needed to be worrying full-speed in order to forestall this. It took until a middle-of-the-night awakening and a desperately exhausted plea to my Higher Power to "Please take this from me," that I was able to feel that lovely peace once more, and fall back to sleep.

This morning, I'm not feeling much better physically, but my mental equilibrium seems to have been restored.

This has been an uncomfortable reminder of how life was for me before program - I'd  be on the gerbil wheel of obsession about one thing or another almost every waking moment. No wonder I was "irritable and unreasonable;" it's a dreadful feeling. I'm even more grateful this morning, for all that I have gained and learned through 12-Step, and for the peacefulness I've been granted.

A long-time program friend laughs when she talks about these little reminders we receive now and again. She says she thinks of it as her Higher Power asking, "Are you really complaining because "you aren't moving fast enough in your recovery?" Here, have a day of what it once was like inside your head."

I'm still feeling lousy in the body, but today, I'm not projecting or worrying or obsessing, I'm relaxed, and grateful. Amazed that I ever managed to survive in that awful welter of negativity and fear that was the person I was, before Al-Anon. Deeply, wondrously grateful. I don't think I'll be doing any more complaining about how "boring" it is to be sick with the flu. Yesterday, I felt hard done by, being ill.  Today, I'm thnking it's a pretty fair indicator of  how good my life is nowadays, if that's my biggest complaint.

My friend says that for a long time, she wouldn't admit to these reminders, but now she does, to let the newcomers know that even those of us with a fair amount of experience, strength and hope are still on the same playing field as anyone else around the table; we're all in this together. And if for no other reason, let's be honest about ourselves, and give someone else a good laugh.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Forgiving Ourselves

A reader left a comment about the difficulty in forgiving oneself for past wrongs inflicted upon family members.

I used to be a person who couldn't let go. Of anything. Not what others had done to me, nor what I'd done. I carried my memories (of miseries received, and those I'd dished out) like a ratty old sweater which I'd come at last to understand I didn't like, both for its ugliness and lack of ability to warm, but which I grabbed and donned without a thought, because every day when I arose, I put it on. It was just part of my morning ritual: wake up, get up, put on that guilt sweater.

I was disbelieving when it was suggested to me by other Al-Anon members that I could choose not to wear it. I remember wondering, what could I wear instead? It seems as though we Al-Anons are creatures of sustained, intense habit, and any presentation of options to replace our habits can be met with considerable rationalisation and justification of why we do the things we do, even as we admit to the unhappiness they cause us.

I was recently introduced to an idea I've been mulling over - we argue for our misery and our limitations so strongly, because it gives us the excuse not to change. If it's ferociously complicated and entangled and convoluted, why, no reasonable person could expect us to change much, could they?

Whereas, if it's quite a simple process, we have not much excuse. Simplicity can be done. If this 12-Step truly is a simple program, then I'm not practising it because I choose not to. I can say "It's so hard!"  for as long as I decide to; there are no "musts" in Al-Anon, and nobody is going to tell me that I'm doing it the wrong way. I'm left to work at my own speed, and arrive at my own conclusions. I choose recovery, or I choose otherwise.

I used to believe that when I'd been in for many years, I'd be "fixed." I don't think that nowadays; I've got a greater understanding of the way this program works for me - what I get is directly proportional to my willingness to let go. I've given up trying to know why that is, and have accepted it as my personal truth.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

An Exercise In Humility.

Since having reconnected with my adoptive brother, we've been emailing back and forth several times a day, and the conversation ranges over a wide landscape. I've missed my brother's humour, it was always a delight, and we share a sense of irony.

It's an exercise in humility, reconnecting with my brother, because he thinks of me as I was before Al-Anon; that's how long we've been estranged. So he's talking to that person, and I can feel his confusion when it isn't that person who replies. In one email, he asked what I thought about how some people behave - this would have been an opening to a ranting diatribe of snarky humour on my part, all those years ago. This time, I replied mildly that I'd given up thinking that I knew best how the world should be run.

Because we were so close for many years, our reconnection was immediate, and the comfort is still there for both of us, but I think he's having a hard time wresting his mind around to the massive changes in my ways of thinking. He's writing to the person that I was, and it's the woman I've become who's writing back.

I was a furiously opinionated, sarcastic, self-centred, judgemental person when he last knew me. I get the feeling from his emails that he might be finding it rather astonishing to have the woman he thinks is still that person reply to his question soliciting my "opinion," with the statement "I try hard not to have "opinions;" they interfere with my efforts to achieve humility."

He's poking at me a bit now, with his questions and his teasing, and I can watch it happening - where is the person he remembers as his sister? Long gone to past history, thank God, and thank Al-Anon. I know we'll find our way to a peaceful relationship, once he realises and understands who I've become - he is an "old soul" with a kind and loving heart. I'm so grateful to have been granted the chance to make my amend to him, and to be able to answer all of his questions, and ask my own of him.

Love is a gift. I've been blessed in my life,

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Common Denominators - Hounding.

My dictionary defines hounding as "to pursue or harass without respite."
It doesn't matter why we do it - whether we are driven by fear or anger - our reason for doing this has not the slightest importance, although I've used that excuse to justify my constant pursuit and harassment of the alcoholics in my life.  I've done it when I had no idea that I was being verbally abusive to keep repeating and repeating and repeating myself, and I've done it when I knew better, but was so angry I was unwilling to stop. I've hounded because I wanted to punish and control.

It was supremely difficult to learn to say it once, and then stop talking. I felt as though I wouldn't be heard were I not to pound my message home with repetition. And therein lies the truth of hounding - we are beating on the other person with our words. I'm sure we've all seen a dog cringing before a furious voice and menacing tone - we don't need to hit to be abusive. We can strike just as vicious a blow with "only words"  - so did I defend myself to my first sponsor. The fact that we don't raise our voice, doesn't justify the use of words to hurt or shame.

I've had sponsees ask me, "But how do I make him see, if I don't repeat myself?" And I've given them that same blunt answer I received when I asked that question:

"You can't."

The 3 "C's" - We didn't cause it, can't control it, can't cure it.

Giving up the illusion of control can be threatening. We may feel as though we're stepping out onto uncertain ground. What we need to understand is that it's not our place to try to walk for someone else. We each walk our own path in this life, and the sooner we grasp that basic truth, the sooner we will be free of illusions which keep us stuck in pain and fear.

Reconsider - do you really need to say what you're thinking? Is it kind? Is it helpful? Is it loving? If it is all of those, then say it once, and stop. If you're afraid you won't be able to do that, either don't start, or when you finish, remove yourself. Go for a walk, have a bath, read your program books or any other, finish a task; whatever works for you, go do it.  Pray for peace - ask your Higher Power for serenity.

Let go. 

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Catharsis - A Deleted Post.

I wrote a post two days ago, with the title "Catharsis," then went back later and deleted it, because I felt too raw and vulnerable. I'm not sure why, perhaps because what's happening is so precious to me that I want to guard and protect it? A moment of superstition? No matter.

This week, I've reconnected with my adoptive brother. We'd had a blowout (my fault) and didn't speak for a while (my pride and stubbornness - this preceded my joining Al-Anon) then later, he'd moved to another country, and I'd lost touch with him completely. After some time in program, I'd tried to reconnect, but my adoptive parents wouldn't give me his contact info, or him mine. Later, I tried to find him online, with no luck. I've tried many times since then to search online, with no result. My first sponsor suggested since I couldn't make the amend to him directly, I do it by writing a letter and reading it to her, and I did that, but I just could not lay it to rest. I've had no peace on that one thing for many years. I've tried to forgive myself, I've prayed and meditated, but I couldn't get there. I've tried and tried to let it go, but it's always been there, underneath. We were very close as children, and I've grieved the loss of that relationship a hundred thousand times.

For some reason, this week, a few days ago, when I did an online search, I included his middle initial, which I'd never thought to do before, and up it came - he's a member of faculty on a university in that country. I clicked on the link, and there was his picture, and an email address.

I prayed for guidance, wrote an amends letter and sent it off, heart in mouth. He responded within about 3 hours, warmly, thanking me, "surely accepting" my amend, and signed his response with "Love."

That undid me completely.

I cried so hard for about the next day or so, off and on, that, as I wrote to a dear program friend, "my eyes looked like little boiled cherry tomatoes."

I've carried the desire to make that amend for about 24 years. I've been afraid that he would die before I could find him, and make that amend to him.

I believe that this has happened at last, because I've moved forward in my spiritual growth of late. I've been doing what one AA speaker calls "seeking more" - making a concerted effort to work Step 11, and improve my conscious contact with my Higher Power. I've learned some painful lessons about myself and the way I still think and behave. I've grown in humility, and I've wanted that humility with all my heart and soul.

I think it was finally time for the reconnection with this wonderful man, my brother. My joy is like a  heat in my chest, and the tears are washing out 24 years of close-held pain and regret.
"Gratitude" seems like such a small word to describe what I am feeling.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Common Denominators - Gossip

I heard someone describe her experience when very new to Al-Anon: after the meeting, she'd been standing in a group talking, and when she had a chance, had interjected some gossipy comments about  people in the group who'd already gone home. She'd expected the others to respond in kind, but there had been first a short silence, then one member started speaking about a major event which had taken place in his life recently, and the conversation proceeded. Until she got a sponsor, no-one had ever actually taken her aside and told her not to gossip. But she learned very quickly to feel the discomfort of the others in the group, and that is what stopped her from continuing this behavior - she didn't like being the cause of the discomfort.

No-one shamed her for it, no-one even laid down a boundary - which she freely admitted she would have trespassed, because of her character defect of defiance. She learned by example. She learned that no matter what, the members of her Al-Anon group would not gossip with her. She made us all laugh describing her astonishment that "these wierdos in this wierdo program" were all so nice -to one another, and to her.
From: "3 Obstacles To Success in Al-Anon,"

"Gossip. We meet to help ourselves and others to learn and use the Al-Anon philosophy. In such groups gossip can have no part. We do not discuss members or others, and particularly not the alcoholic; our dedication to anonymity gives people confidence in Al-Anon. Careless repeating of matters heard at meetings can defeat the very purpose for which we are joined together."

(Reminds me of an old AA guy who called Al-Anon "Our Ladies Of Perpetual Resentment." He'd coined that term when new to AA, and convinced that his wife sat around in her Al-Anon meeting telling terrible stories about him. His friend cut in with, "She had to, Al, it's an honest program.")

 I couldn't see the harm in gossip, when I was new to our fellowship - why did they fuss so much about interesting conversation? Then when I did begin to grasp the reasoning behind the no gossip or criticism suggestion - in order for us all to feel safe, we need to show each other special kindness and consideration - I would feel uncomfortable when listening to gossip, but had no way to set a boundary. I've learned to temper my response to the person - with newer members, I aim for the gentlest of explanations - with those who've been in program for a few years, I'm more direct.

I can't change other people. I can't make them stop gossiping, but I don't have to provide an audience. That's my part, to remove my ears from the equation, and make a "door and a bar" for my mouth. I'm much more content, and feel safer in the world, when I am as loving as I am able.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Common Denominators - Forcing Solutions.

When I consider the phrase "forcing solutions," I recall the sheer blind obstinacy I used to feel. I was a great debater, always prefacing my justifications and rationalisations with the same two words: "Yes, but..."  I marvel at my first sponsor's patience as she answered my smokescreen-creating questions, and listened to my self-pity and victimhood, as I tried to convince her that my case was different. She would allow me to speak, answer my questions, ignore attempts to lead her down a side-road (in an attempt avoid discussing my character defects,) and gently remind me that I was here because I was miserable, and that perhaps I could learn to be happier, were I to try to be more open-minded?

I'd listen (no, since this is an honest program, I'll admit that I wouldn't listen, I'd wait until she finished speaking, the two are not the same, as I try to explain to my own sponsees) then start up with another scenario I'd plotted, about how I was going to "make the alcoholic stop drinking." Or "make him see how his drinking is affecting me, his kids, his parents, his business." Or "make him realise that he's ruining his life." I was determined to make him ______,  and I exerted all my energy trying to force my personal solutions onto someone who had absolutely no interest in them.

20-some years later, my ex is still drinking.  10 years I tried to get him to quit, and I was spectacularly ineffective. Hours of plotting, time wasted on attempts to decipher his thinking, so that I could find a way to coerce him into doing what I wanted - ten years of my life slid past me relatively unnoticed, and definitely unlived. I may as well have slept through them.

One of my spiritual milestones, was the day that I first allowed myself to consider the miseries I had inflicted upon him, in service to my ego's belief not only that I could compel him to stop, but also that I had the right to try. Where did I get that idea? Most likely from having had the will of other people forced upon me, when I was a kid, and watching adults forcing their will upon other adults, and upon children. I think I grew up assuming that this was just what you did - manipulated and controlled, trying to get your own way.

When Al-Anon introduced me to the concept of powerlessness, I didn't like it one bit. I'd had enough of being at someone else's mercy, and I couldn't see how admitting that I was powerless, to the extent of not even trying to change the drinker, was going to bring me to recovery. Detachment sounded like lunacy - sit back and let him drink and ruin his life, my life, his kid's lives, his business? Detach what? My brain? My first sponsor and I had many conversations on this topic, with her patiently explaining one more time that if I couldn't stop him, I also wasn't "letting him."

When I surrendered, I was exhausted. I'd done everything in my power, and it had been like trying to bail the ocean with a spoon - kept me busy, but I could have been better occupied.

I try not to get in the way between people and their lives nowadays. It's not up to me to save anyone by trying to force solutions upon them. How do I know that their Higher Power hasn't arranged for precisely what I was trying to prevent, as a way to teach a lesson they desperately need to learn? It's freeing to step back, detach, and allow life to move along as it will. I can offer support, encouragement, hugs, love, and great ideas learned from those in program who went before me along this same roadway to emotional health.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Common Denominators - Envy.

I'm not a person who is particularly attached to things - I've moved so many times, and sold or given away or donated so much "stuff", that I have zero emotional attachment to furniture, dishes, clothing, any of that sort of thing. It comes, it goes, and one is equally as good as another. What I've envied is people. I've envied my friends and co-workers their loving parents and family.
I was born to alcoholics, and my mother walked out on us when I was two. My father turned us over to the Children's Aid, who separated my sisters and I and placed us into foster homes. When I met my sisters again in my mid twenties, I discovered that we had all been physically and sexually abused while in foster care. There were too many children, not enough foster homes, and a lack of oversight.

Back then, if the case worker thought a child was getting "too attached" to the foster parents, you were moved to a different foster home. I was in foster care for four years, and moved quite a few times. Then, at six years of age, I was adopted. I thought I was finally getting the loving family I'd always dreamed of, but within a very short period of time, I was once again being beaten - this time by my adoptive mother. Her rage terrified me, and she did an excellent job of convincing me that I deserved the abuse I received from her.

I looked at school friends, and their families, and I envied them with a desperation that was almost a physical ache in my chest. I was furiously angry and resentful that I had been "ripped off" when it came to family life. Why me? It wasn't fair.

Al-Anon has allowed me to make peace with my childhood.

That's something I wouldn't have thought possible when I was new to program. Now that I'm safely out of it, I can view my pain as compassion training. I understand sponsees who come into this program with a furious rage burning inside them, and I understand desperate loneliness. I've been there. I know how that feels. I also know that it is possible to heal. Friends in Al-Anon have told me that I have given them hope for themselves when I describe the person I was when I was new in program - vibrating with rage against the unfairness of life, resentful, depressed, despairing. They just can't picture me as that person.

I had to accept that my past was what it was, and I couldn't change it. My only choice was whether or not I allowed the past, and the people who had abused me, to ruin the rest of my life. I will never forget the moment when that idea finally registered with me: I felt the truth of it like a blow, and was staggered by the possibilities. (Until then, I'd been half hearing it, and giving it lip-service in a people-pleasing sort of way.)

I could go to my grave still raging against what had been done to me, or I could make a choice to let it go, start from this moment, and use that lessons of that old pain to be of service now, today. 
Now, when I hear people speak of their parents and family with love and gratitude, I can feel happy that they are happy, grateful for their gratitude, without wanting to exchange lives with them.
That's the difference.

Friday, November 18, 2011


A reader asked:

"So how do I begin to trust? I am very independent. My personal friends and acquaintances result in so much let down and are unreliable people. My famiy is entirely self absorbed. I have not begin to talk to others in the program at meetings beyond superficial hi and hello. I do not feel the need to call them on the phone or look for a person to be a sponsor.I conclude this is a trust issue.Need to change the isolation I am in. People = let down for me. I wonder, how can I get the support from people and a sponsor if I have a trust barrier? Any thoughts, suggestions or comments?"

My first thought is to notice the way you've written about the people in your life: your friends and acquaintances are "unreliable people,"  your family is "entirely self-absorbed."

I know that when I get caught up in judgement of another human being, not only have I lost my focus on myself and my own shortcomings, I've also put on a filter which has the strange effect of only allowing me to see the negative aspects of life and other people. And most people aren't saints, which means that if I'm judging and condemning them, always aware of their faults, and how they've fallen short of my standards for them, they aren't going to be rushing over to me, wanting to be supportive.

Our attitudes color our perception of the world, and other people.
We get back pretty much what we put out - that's why people who are positive and cheerful tend to have a better experience out in the world, than those of us who are negative, critical, and judgemental. I was all of those, and more.
How did I begin to trust? By deciding to. By deciding that I could handle it if this person wasn't perfect, or let me down. I decided first to relax, and then to let go of all of my standards of behavior for other people. I work to let go of my expectations, good and bad. When I have no expectations, I can't be disappointed when they aren't fufilled. If I want to have a friend who is loving, supportive and trustworthy, I need to be that friend first.

Instead of demanding that I get, I want to be a person who is delighted to give. I want to be open-minded, accepting, and a generous giver of love.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Common Denominators - Dwelling & Domineering.

My first sponsor used the description "chewing over" to describe the choice of dwelling upon, to the point of insanity, a passing remark made to us by another person. Seems to me that we members of Al-Anon tend to be dedicated dwellers - we can haul out a comment made weeks past, and commence a spirited and instense chewing, like some supercharged ruminant with their cud.  I know I'd go for hours, trying to work myself into the person's head, to decide if I could figure out "exactly what they meant by that.." and feeling more resentful and angry the longer I chewed it over.

I heard an AA speaker describe the start of each and every day for him before his Fourth Step - first thing he did the moment he opened his eyes was to turn on his "resentment replay machine" and replayed every perceived slight he could remember receiving. Hearing this, I was laughing, but it was with a painful sense of identification - I'm sure that were I to add it up, I've spent literally years of my life feeling that terrible, grinding resentment.

As I've grown in Al-Anon, and learned how I have been the architect of my much of my own misery, I've been able to let go of all of my old resentments. When I think of my childhood, and my first marriage to a drinking alcholic, it's with a calm detachment. I don't fill up with that hot anger and resentment anymore. It happened, what can I learn from it?

Now, when I catch myself starting to dwell upon something just said or done that I don't like, I stop and pray to my Higher Power:

"Please take this from me, I don't want to feel this way. I want to feel your love, and be loving. I want to let go of my anger, resentment, judgement, and be filled with your love."

This works for me, each and every time I choose it. I can be loving, patient, tolerant, compassionate and maintain my serenity. I can speak with loving calm to the person, if I need to reset the boundary. I can let it go if I don't. Let it fall from my hand, and be swept away downstream, so that all I can see is the sparkle of light on water.

Domineering: my dictionary defines this as to "oppress; assume authority."

Did I oppress? Did I assume authority? Absolutely I did. I tried with all of my power to oppress the alcholics in my life. I assumed authority which wasn't mine to take, and commenced to browbeat, hound, rant and rave. I justified this behavior by pointing to the wrongs they had done to me. I transferred all blame to them, and could see myself as being purely innocent. When I began to work my Fourth Step, I was shocked to realise just how "selfish, dishonest, self-seeking and inconsiderate" I had been. I didn't want to see myself in that honest light. I wanted to blame, and slide out from under. I wanted to continue to be domineering and get my own way, because that was the only way I could see to get what I wanted in life.

I've noticed, through my time in Al-Anon, that I become less and less focused upon what I want in life, and more open to the will of my Higher Power. I don't fight and squirm for weeks and months, trying to force solutions. I try to let myself be guided.

I can't work to be open to guidance from my Higher Power, and at the same time, be domineering. I no longer have that strong belief that I know the right way. I see that I have my way, and you have your way, and I don't have the right to try to force you to live your life according to my rules. I don't even have the right to try to force myself to live by those damn rules.

It's like trying to force jello through a straw - I've got things I'd rather do, such as live in peace and serenity.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Thoughts about Sponsorship.

To sponsees:

A sponsor isn't doing their job if they aren't irritating you on a regular basis. This might be because they're harping at you about getting together to work the Steps for your first time, or it might be because they insist upon pointing out certain annoying facts, such as, "Isn't that the twelfth job you've had this year?"

Don't pick a sponsor who reminds you of a family member. Ditto for accepting a sponsee. I did that once, and found myself gritting my teeth when she'd use the same phrases which made steam erupt from my ears when I heard them issuing from the alcholic's lips.  It's good to have a little detachment in this relationship.

Be willing to listen, if you want to learn. Allow yourself to be teachable.

To sponsors:

Remember how afraid you were, when you were very new. Be as kind and loving as you are able - dish out love in great heaping armfuls. Be willing to repeat yourself endlessly without getting angry if the message isn't getting through - it took you a while, didn't it? Make them laugh. Laughter helped me to swallow some difficult realisations about myself, when I was working with my first sponsor.

Pray to be a conduit for their Higher Power. Read the books so you can say, "Courage to Change has a great reading on that," and find it to show them. They're going to need that reading some night when it's too late to call anyone, and they can't find their way alone.

Open yourself to the wisdom of humility.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Old Men And Poppies.

Today, I had one of those moments in which our soul connects with that of a complete stranger, and we feel such a rush of pure love, it's almost painful.

Before I start, you need to know that apart from a feeling of gratitude for the lucky accident of birth which allowed me to be born in this country, I've never been particularly patriotic, and I consider myself a pacifist in every way.

I was at the grocery store late this afternoon, just as dusk was falling. Near the exit, were two elderly men in uniform, war veterans, standing behind a table with a donation box, some literature, and poppies. As my purchases were being rung through by the cashier, I realised that I was being moved to go over and speak to them, urged along by something greater than myself. I get these nudges now and then, and oftentimes it's when I'm feeling least like connecting and most like being a comfortable island unto myself, but I've learned to pay attention, and do what I'm being moved to do; it's always an incredible experience.

 I walked up to the table, and was greeted with a friendly detachment. They smiled politely at me as I dropped money into the box and chose a poppy, then thanked me nicely, and glanced away. A second later, when they realised I hadn't moved on but was still standing there, they really looked at me, making eye contact, and when they saw that I was struggling to speak through a wave of emotion, they both went very still, and waited.

I swallowed hard over the lump in my throat, and said, "I'd like to thank you gentleman, for what you did for us."

Their faces lit up, and they smiled brilliantly at me, each man's eyes suddenly wet with tears, as were my own. I reached my hand out first to one, and then the other, and when each man grasped my hand, I said softly, "Thankyou."

It was a powerful moment of connection, love and gratitude.

Common Denominators - Caretaking & Control.

Not sure how far I'm going to run with this, but please feel free to suggest any topics you'd like to see addressed.  A reader asked about "balance."

Prior to my finding Al-Anon, I had none. Over the years, I'd heard it suggested that it was a good idea to have balance in life, but I had no concept of how that might look, or feel. My emotional life was stunted, and largely negative - very rarely did I feel happy, and never, ever content. I was lonely and depressed when I was isolating myself, or put-upon and hard-done-by when I was trying to fix someone else's problems. (More on caretaking later in this.) In order to find balance, I needed to work the first four Steps. I had to admit my powerlessness, accept the concept of a Higher Power, turn my life over to that power, and do an inventory.

I smile with recognition, when I hear people talk about how they didn't work the Steps for a long time, because they "already knew they wouldn't work."  AA's Big Book has a quote about that precise attitude:  'contempt prior to investigation' and I was a master at it. I used that attitude to keep myself stuck in that awful place inside my head. I hated being in there, between my ears, but do any of that silly stuff my sponsor was suggesting to me that I try? I knew it was a waste of time before even hearing what exactly it was that she was trying to express. For someone in such terrible mental shape, I was deeply arrogant.

The first 4 Steps put us into position to rocket off into another, better world. If we don't do them, we never achieve ignition.

On to caretaking. Whenever I was involved in caretaking, I'd start out feeling empathetic and compassionate, (and judgemental) which would trigger my impulse to help (and try to control) and soon I'd be enmeshed in the person's life and problems, trying to make them do what I thought they should, feeling utterly infuriated at the way this person was "taking advantage" of me.

Madness. Complete madness, and I did it time and again, year after year. Before Al-Anon, that's what I thought I was supposed to be doing, but I hated and resented the person I was trying to "help," for their (as I saw it) use of me, and myself for not having the courage to say "No." I'd get caught up in another's problems, because I thought I could see so clearly what the best solution was for them, and also believed that could I just make them see that I had the perfect solution for them, they'd leap to implement it, and their life would be so much improved! Why could they not grasp this simple truth, that I knew better than they did how they should order their life?

When I caretake, I am deciding that my opinions, ideas, attitudes, and habits are superior, and should be implemented.

My own life was a wasteland of rage, resentment and self-pity, but I thought I had wisdom to offer - an excellent example of the insanity of co-dependence. I thought I needed to stop caretaking in order to be free of someone else's unreasonable expectations. I couldn't yet grasp that what I most needed to let go, was my own misguided belief that I, emotional wreck of a person that I was back then, had any useful life advice to be ladling out.

When first introduced to the idea of "caretaking" I didn't get it. Aren't we supposed to be loving and caring and do for others? Loving and caring, yes -  do for others, well, that depends upon the situation, and when I'm trying to force solutions upon someone, I'm caretaking. Enabling is caretaking. Putting someone else's needs before my own is caretaking.

Notice that I said "needs" not wants or desires. I need to eat, sleep, pray, exercise my body and mind, enjoy life, have time alone. I'm a person who needs time alone, to reflect, talk to my Higher Power, think, meditate. If I don't get some time alone in a day, I can feel myself becoming irritable and unreasonable. I used to think that this was selfish of me, when I was involved in caretaking of others. Now, I understand that this is how I am made - I need time alone. I desire it, and I deserve it - it's my right as a human being. I don't have to give up every moment of my time to other people, in a confused belief that being 'selfless' is either attainable or desirable.

Every time I refuse a request which would strain me to my limits to fufill, I am choosing not to caretake. I'm getting a much clearer idea of my own boundaries, and give as much as it is in me to give. Then I stop, and take the time I need to recharge. Doing this allows me to give with my whole heart, joyously, instead of grudgingly, seething with resentment.

When I don't give advice, I allow the other person to find their own way to sanity.

Friday, November 4, 2011

The Alphabet of Common Denominators - "B"

A reader asked "what would 'B' stand for?" in a list of shared characteristics of many of us in Al-Anon. First word that sprang to my mind was: blame. Right after that, boundaries. I've written quite a few posts on the subject of boundaries, they can be found in the topics list, so I'm going to write about blame today.

I grew up in a very blaming household, and I internalised the message that whenever you're unhappy, frustrated, angry, find someone on whom you can lay the blame, and if they are within earshot, let them have it! If not, berate them vigorously behind their back.

I have a friend who is going through some problems of her own making right now, and she can't see this, yet. She will rant and rave to me about it, and if I suggest that she has the choice of changing her attitude, since she can't change the situation without making some rather drastic choices, she will reply, starting each time with those two words (which when I utilise them, I've come to realise mean I'm justifying,) "Yes, but..."
She's becoming more and more unhappy with her blaming of another person, demonising them, sliding out from under any idea that she has control over how she deals with that which she doesn't want to change. She's starting to become rather annoyed with me continuing to suggest that she adjust her attitude. I remember how irritated I became when I was new to program, and people would offer the same suggestions, and I'm swept with a powerful feeling of gratitude that they continued to repeat themselves for my good, and I repeat myself to my friend, with lashings of love and encouragement.

When I'm blaming, I can't see clearly. As MrSponsorpants writes so beautifully today, I'm determined to be a victim. When I've been in that headspace, I've been in a box of detemined misery, crunched uncomfortably in there, yelling and screaming about how miserable I am, meanwhile, I'm the one who taped the box shut from the inside, with blame.

When I'm blaming, I am handing my power, and my very life, over to another person, and saying, in effect, "You decide whether or not I have a good day, I'll wait here for your decision."

Last night, I'd made new curtains for our livingroom window, and when I brought the first one upstairs from my sewing room, my husband said, "I broke two branches off your favourite plant." I said, "Doesn't matter in the slightest; can we hang this and see if it's okay for length?"  When I went back down and was working on the second curtain, I realised that at one point in my life, I'd have been really angry with him for breaking the branches off the plant - I'd have blamed him, labelled him careless for not thinking to move it out of the way, and ruined the evening for both of us. Over a plant. That confounds and amazes me, now. I felt almost gleeful to realise that what I'd said was nothing but the truth, it hadn't mattered one little bit - such freedom! The more I seek my Higher Power, the more I feel comfortable inside my own head.

It's a signpost of how far I've come with the help of this wonderful program. Let go of blaming. Pick up the reins of your own life, and take responsibility for it - only you can change your mood. Nobody "makes me feel" anything. I feel what I feel, and then I decide whether to nurse a grievance, lay blame and stew in that poisonous feeling, or let it all go, and be happy. Lighthearted, and content. Serene. If you can't let go on your own, ask your Higher Power to take it.

Blaming others kept me feeling victimised and desperately unhappy.  When I stepped back from that, looked at it, and decided to go another, more loving way, I was rewarded with serenity and peace. The more often I chose this way, the less of a choice it became.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

"Can Al-Anon Help Me With Anxiety?"

I've added "anxiety" to the list of topics, and attached it to several posts, because anxiety seems to be a common denominator in Al-Anon. From today's reading in Courage to Change, page 306:

"Likewise, when my thoughts race out of control, I need to stop. I may do this by breathing deeply and looking at my surroundings. It can help to repleace the obsessive thoughts with something positive, such as an Al-Anon slogan, the Serenity Prayer, or another comforting topic that has nothing to do with my problem."

I learned how to head off panic attacks with the help of a kindly intern at a hospital, years before Al-Anon, but it wasn't until I got into program that I learned how to quiet the mental turmoil. A popular AA speaker in the States uses the phrase "ravaged by thought." An excellent description of what we do to ourselves. If I don't want to be ravaged by thought, I must be willing to let go of my worries, and not be chewing them over like a cow with its cud, all the while running like a madwoman on the gerbil wheel inside my head.

I need Awareness of what's going on in my internal dialogue, Acceptance of what it is that I can and cannot do, and then I must take Action by using the program tools I've been taught. It's up to me, in the end, because nobody can surrender or let go for me, I must be willing to do it myself.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

When Life Isn't Going My Way.

I have never been a patient person. I've had to learn how to practise patience with the continual process of letting go. Then letting go again the next time that thought arises. And the next time. And again. Some days, I just can't find a way to let go which will allow me to step away from that train of thought, so I ask my Higher Power to take it; I can't get distance from it on my own.

I have to let go of wanting to "control the details." When I want to control the uncontrollable, I will be filled with frustration.

Patience requires that I trust I will be looked after, guided, fufilled. When I truly trust, amazing things happen - I've seen them manifested in my own life.

Today, I'm going to work to let go with a light heart, and an open mind.

Monday, October 24, 2011

A Killing Disease.

My husband came home one day this weekend looking exhausted and distressed. One of his newly-sober sponsees had received a cancer diagnosis several weeks ago, went back out drinking, and tried to kill himself with a mixture of pills and alcohol. He woke up to find himself still alive, and picked up the phone to call my husband and say, "Please help me!" My husband told him to call an ambulance, as he'd be admitted much more quickly than if the two of them went to Emergency, met him at the hospital, and spent a few hours with him, talking and listening, until he was calmed down. This man would not have tried to kill himself if he'd been sober - that happened after days of drinking, when the terrible despair, self-loathing and fear were consuming him.

My husband told me that as he was driving home, he was remembering when he used to drink himself into such a terrible physical state that he would end up in the hospital - seeing his sponsee in that state must have been like looking into an old mirror.

He's struggling with the realisation that he's powerless to help his sponsees past a certain point - he can give all his love and support, all that he has learned, and is learning, he can pray for them, but if they aren't ready, and they won't work the Steps, they probably aren't going to stay sober. He stood at our front door, taking off his coat and shoes, his face wrinkled in pain, speaking with love of this man who had just tried to kill himself.

He's visited this sponsee several times in the hospital, and is going to go take him to meetings in the hospital when he's well enough. I feel for his sponsee, and for him - he's facing the painful realisation that we cannot love someone into sobriety. Tonight, he built a big fire in our fireplace, and we talked about about what he can and cannot do.

 He can express the love that fills his heart, give of his time and program knowledge, and - pray.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Recognising Our Own Patterns of Behavior.

Last night we had friends over for dinner, one of whom brings his beautiful springer spaniel.  After dinner, we were sitting around the fire, and we watched as his dog picked up a stuffed rabbit, and headed off down the hall, in that mysteriously purposeful way dogs have, even indoors. We asked, "Where's he going?"

Our friend answered, from where he was sprawled in the depths of a chair, "He likes to snoop."

That got us talking about dog behavior, trying to figure out why our little female dog won't share any of her toys with our male dog, yet his dog can walk into our house and do whatever he pleases, even with her favourite toy, a small stuffed rabbit. If this rabbit gets mislaid, falls to the floor and gets kicked under the couch, she cannot rest until it's retrieved. She comes home from a walk, and runs to make sure it's still safely on the couch where she left it. Yet our friend's dog can walk up and pull it from right under her nose, and she will watch, unconcerned. It can be squeaking non-stop under his vigorous chewing, and she will fall happily asleep on my lap.

But just let our male dog try to wander over and have a little sniff of this rabbit, and she'll leap to correct him with a loud snap! barely missing his nose. Our friend joked that he has enough trouble trying to figure himself out, he's given up trying to figure out the dog.

Later on last night, I was thinking about trying to figure ourselves out, and how intensely difficult that can be, when we have no guidance, or understanding; how pride will always manage to convince us that we don't need to do any changing, because hey, we're fine as we are, right? It's someone else's fault that we aren't happy.

Today, I was reading in the Al-Anon ODAT, page 296:

"The search for self-understanding is a difficult if not impossible, thing to achieve fully. But we can learn a lot about ourselves if we have the courage to face our real motives, without deceiving ourselves with evasions. We can, if we don't allow uneasy guilt feelings to obscure our good qualities, which we must recognise and build upon."

"...the courage to face our real motives, without deceiving ourselves with evasions."  Time and again, what I hear from sponsees, when they get to this point in the process, is: "It's so hard!" And I reply, "Yes, it is hard. It's excruciatingly painful, like peeling a few layers of skin off without anaesthetic. But if you keep going, if you are willing to do this, on the other side, it's freedom, it's a blessing, it's a gift."

I had to be willing to say to that prideful self, that angry fearful self - "Enough. I've had enough of you being in control here - I want something different." I thought that humility was humiliation, and that it was kind of nutty to be always wanting to be more humble. But the more I work this program, the more willing I am to be wrong, to be mistaken, to accept that I have screwed up one more time, and I've been "deceiving myself with evasions"  - when I see that again, and am willing to accept it, make an amend, and work to free myself of that pride, that lack of humility, my daily life, each chance I am offered to become more loving, and to share that love with others, it's impossible to describe the feeling - we have to take it on trust, when we're new, because we can't picture it at all.

I started out in Al-Anon, believing that I hated people - truly, I feared them, and my pride was propping up that shaky fearful self in an attempt to project something that other people would respect. I don't fear people the way I once did.  I want to be loving, to give love and compassion, give whatever comfort and support I can, to be a conduit of God's love. That is truly the best way I can imagine living, and it's so far removed from what I once would have considered success ... not even on the same planet. The joy I have received from this, I can't even describe to you.  Joy, peace, and humility - that's my serenity, and I have received it all through this wonderful program for living.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Accept, Or Be Driven Crazy, That's Your Choice.

 "What's a "quiet mind" and how do I get one?"

For me, it's a mind that isn't full of stress, resentment, frustration, impatience, plans, worries, stress.

How do I achieve a quiet mind? Through a little exercise called "thought-stopping." I try to be aware of what I'm thinking, and when I start down a negative path inside my head, I say to myself, "No, I'm not going to go there today" and deliberately begin to think of something which pleases me - this varies with each person. I might find gardening a pleasant thought - you may find it stressful. Think of whatever works for you.

This is a learned skill, and the more you practise, the better at it you will become.  I've reached a wonderful place in my recovery now, where I can remind myself with two words: "God's love."

"How do I accept what I find unacceptable - the alcoholic's drinking?"

I understand that I have no control over what the alcoholic does. No control. Not some control, a bit of control, a bit of influence, some effect - none. When I was living with active drinking, and the alcoholic would pop that first beer of the day, I'd start up inside my head with all the angry, frustrated judgemental thoughts. I had to learn to be aware of what I was thinking, and not allow myself to think those things, because the more thinking I did, the worse I felt. I could barely begin to understand detachment at that stage, but I believed my sponsor had it, and she was firm in her belief that I could acquire it through working the first 3 Steps, so I chose to start out by trying to believe her.

"What if I don't want to accept?"

You don't if you choose not to, but if you don't accept, nothing much will change. I didn't want to accept, but I did want to feel better. I was promised that working the program would help me to feel better, so I decided to do it. It worked. Once I realised that, I didn't have any more difficulty in motivating myself to continue. If you can't believe for yourself that this will work, can you believe that it has worked for the other long-timers in Al-Anon, and start from there?

"Why do I have to work the Steps?"

Well, you don't - it's entirely your choice how far you get into this program, and how deep your recovery runs. Some people never do work the Steps, they just go to meetings - and they don't get all of the peace, serenity and joy available to them, they get just enough to manage. I wanted more than just to manage. I know that's maddening to read or hear, but it's the truth for me.

"Are you in a different place than you were 5 years ago?"

Yes, hugely different. And if I keep this up, and stay alive, I'll be in a hugely different place again, in another 5 years. But for now, I live one day at a time, and marvel at my gratitude and serenity, some days. I pray to achieve that every day, and I believe I can, if I'm accepting, and keep letting go.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011


I met with a sponsee yesterday, and the topic of judgement arose, as it so often does with those of us in Al-Anon. I came into this program with the firm belief that it was not merely acceptable for me to judge other people, but a necessity, to keep myself safe.

When my sponsor tried to show me that I was constricting myself with my judgements of others, I didn't get it. I judged her for not judging. I marshaled all the usual reasons for my thinking, and carried on, secure in the knowledge that I was right, and she was wrong. Loving, kind, accepting, wise in so many respects, but in this area, somehow confused and mistaken.

When I am loving and accepting, I'm open to my Higher Power; when I'm in judgement mode, I'm choosing to close myself off, and live inside that tiny box of self.

I'm not suggesting for a moment that I live in complete acceptance of everyone and everything - my ego is still far too strong to allow me an unrestricted journey. It offers me suggestions on how to think on a regular basis, and is particularly vociferous when I'm hungry, angry, lonely, tired - HALT. Then it's up on the soapbox declaiming about this, that and the other thing, and it takes concerted effort on my part to remember to stop what I'm doing, close my eyes (or not, if I'm driving) and ask my Higher Power to "please take this, I don't want to feel this way."

When I ask, I always get relief. That yapping in my head is quieted to a indistinguishable murmur, and I feel love, acceptance, serenity. It's my choice - do I want to have that channel to my HP open, and feel that loving wonder? It's hard to imagine not wanting it, but the ego is amazingly strong in us. Ego tells us many stories; before Al-Anon, I thought my ego was honest with me, only telling me the truth.  Regular, daily practise of Step 10 has made it very clear that my ego is often wrong. Spectacularly wrong, too, not just slightly mistaken.  I'm tired of listening to my ego. I want peace. I can only achieve peace when I'm willing to let go of judgement.

When I realised how simple it is, I couldn't believe it. You mean all I have to do is ask?  But what about all these other complications?

The longer I'm in Al-Anon, the simpler my life becomes.
I've only recently gotten over what felt like a major hurdle with regard to my spouse, and my judgements about what he should or should not be doing, in and out of his program. From the other side, that hurdle was massive, huge, it blocked the light, it made forward motion impossible, I couldn't imagine how I was going to get over that one, or even if I wanted to, in truth.

Until I decided to surrender completely, and ask my HP for help. Up until then, I thought I was surrendering, but I wasn't; I'd always kept a little piece of it aside, and that piece was a judgement. My HP can't get to me, if I've closed myself off with a judgement. The door only opens from one side. My side.

And finding myself on this side of it, I'm trying to see where exactly it was - you mean that barely distinguishable wrinkle was my hurdle? But that's impossible! It was massive, huge, it blocked the light. I couldn't get past it, Just that little wrinkle, that's what I've been trying to get over all this time? It's funny. It sure wasn't funny from the other side, but on this side, it's hilarious.

I pray to always want to be more loving, more accepting, to keep that door to my HP standing wide open, and propped open with the rock of Al-Anon.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Cherishing Opinions.

From Courage to Change, page 288:

"Do not search for the truth," said an ancient patriarch, "only cease to cherish opinions." For me, ceasing to cherish opinions is part of the Tenth Step. Much of what I find wrong in life is related to my opinions - that is, my prejudices, assumptions, self-righteous stances, attitudes."

I love that.

Which of my cherished opinions am I able to drop today? Can I let go of this? How about that? Oh, there's an old one, fling that sucker into the round file! 

So much of this is mental fluff, presented to me as truth when I was a kid, or an adult, and which I dutifully adopted to please - a teacher, a partner, a friend. The more of it I manage to clear out, the more loving and accepting I am able to be, and the more people I can be of service to, in program. Some of my newer sponsees don't get it yet - I can see in their faces that they don't understand how I can be accepting of them, but also of this other person whose opinions differ from theirs in every conceivable way. Sometimes they will try to pin me down on what I think, and I can see their frustration when I reply that I don't have an opinion on that.

"But you must!" one said to me, the other day.

"Why must I?"

"Because everyone does!"

"Why is it important to you?" I asked.

"I need to know where you stand." Her face was wrinkled with frustration.

"I stand right smack dab in the absolute middle - I could see all sides, I could agree with all sides, and I could disagree with all sides, so I decided to let that one go."

"But what do you think when you think about it?" Her voice was beginning to take on a note of irritation; perhaps she imagined I was teasing her.

"I don't think about it."

She leaned back in her chair, and looked at me for a bit, then said flatly, "I don't believe that."

I smiled at her with love and affection, and replied, "That's okay, too."

Her next question made me burst out laughing: "Was your first sponsor this irritating?"

Oh, easily. I was strongly opinionated, and it was beyond me that a person could be any other way but full to bursting with opinons, ideology, attitudes. I had that thinking of "I am this way, so everyone is this way, and anyone who says they are not this way, is trying to pull a fast one on me." It's why I had so much trouble with the concept of letting go - I thought I needed all of it. I belived that the mental stuffing was what made me "my own person." I had to be in program for quite some time before it began to dawn on me that I was anything but my own person.

It wasn't until I started trying to examine those parts of myself most strongly affected by people-pleasing, that I began to see any of this clearly. And as I go along in program, I find it happens all the time that I will come around a corner in my thinking and stop short, amazed to see yet another pile of bits and scraps taking up space in my head. I sift through, and some of that stuff is ancient, got shoved in there when I was just a kid, and never looked at closely again. It was put there and forgotten, but was still taking up space, and collecting dust.

I pray for the increased ability to stop "cherishing opinions." It started out being a painful exercise, but now it's like spring cleaning - feels so good to get rid of that stuff.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Carrying The Message.

I love it when I meet with a sponsee, and one of the topics which arises, is the idea that we have a choice as to how we respond to the events in our lives.  Without fail, this will be met with the same polite disbelief I used to show my first sponsor when she'd say that to me. I remember how simply impossible that sounded.

I'd been swept and spun and roiled and shaken by my emotions for all my life, and the idea that I could chose not to be miserable seemed highly unlikely. But what I have discovered, to my delight, is that this is nothing more than the truth. And with that truth, comes total freedom.

I read a blog the other day, in which the author stated that happy people don't "ring true" for him. For most of my life, I'd have agreed with that statement whole-heartedly. Why? Because I wasn't happy, so I didn't believe it was achieveable.

This is why carrying the message to others is so important, why we who have been in program for years and have attained a state of serenity unimaginable to us when we started, need to keep going to meetings and working with sponsees. I'm not always coasting through my life feeling joyful, gleeful and delighted, but the time I spend in those powerfully happy states of mind is increasing all the time as I work my program, and it will for you too, if you truly make the effort to work yours. Lip service won't get you far, neither will working the program once a week for an hour, inside your home group meeting. You need to extend your efforts to daily life.

I recall when the phrase, "You've nothing to lose but your misery" sounded to me like empty-headed Pollyanna piffle - now that I know it's the simple truth, I need to keep on carrying that message to those who are in that same state of miserable desperation. I do it to pass on what was so freely given to me. All those hours of patient listening, and patient reiteration, and patient loving which I received, I like to pass that forward.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Do Your Own Research

When we moved into this house, it was the first time in twenty years or so that I'd had to deal with an oil furnace. We've had every other kind of heat imaginable, but not oil. One night shortly after moving in, I was out for coffee with friends after a meeting, and the topic of home heating came up, and I asked if the fuel companies offered equal payment plans, since a full tank of furnace oil can be costly. I was assured by everyone at the table that they may have done at one time, but didn't any longer, for whatever reason. I thought that strange, since the hydro and natural gas companies offer this service, but shrugged it off, and it slipped my mind.

When I decided weeks later to find out for myself, I discovered that they do offer this service. Now had you been with me at that table, you might have been momentarily convinced, as I was, that the opposite was true, so firmly was it stated. This is an aspect of human nature that I've always found utterly fascinating - we are never so convinced of our rightness, as when we are wrong.

My husband and I were trying to recall the name of something the other day, and he kept stating with great firmness, "It begins with a "C", I know that." Of course, when I finally went and looked it up, it didn't. We had a wonderful giggling fit over that one, and how convinced he'd been that he was right about the first letter, even if he couldn't remember the word itself.

I think what's going on when we speak so deteminedly about whatever it is that we don't know for certain, is wanting to be seen as a person with something to offer, whether that's information, knowledge, learning, whatever our individual egos seek. We have a fear of appearing stupid, or unevolved; we fear being judged as somehow lacking. When most of us are relative newcomers to program, we have such ferocious negative judgements of ourselves, that we tend to assume that other people will be judging us with that same harshness. As we begin to understand that inside a meeting, we will be met with love and understanding, we become more able to admit to our mistakes, and then our character defects.

I know that when I came into Al-Anon, I was not a person who was very capable of loving - not myself, and not other people. I have slowly learned how to love. I have seen love and caring demonstrated, and over time, began to want to be that way. Each step towards being more loving has required that I let go. The biggest letting go for me has always been fear - fear of so many aspects of life. Fear of failure/ fear of success: fear of other people/fear of lonliness: fear of being loved, and the resultant obligations/fear of never being loved, and the resultant misery: fear of getting close to my Higher Power, and having to let go of my character defects/fear of never letting go of my character defects, and because of that, never getting close to God....the list was endless.

I've noticed that in the last couple of years, I've had a huge leap forward in my spiritual growth. I believe that this is a direct result of my deciding to let go of more. Of everything, really. And deciding that I was going to try to live more in this moment - not just today, in right now. Right now, I'm writing. Right now, I'm walking the dogs and enjoying the scent of the breeze from the ocean. Right now, I'm pulling laundry from the washer, and putting it into the dryer, looking out the window and seeing the beauty of the giant cedar in our back yard.

Right now, I'm sitting in a chair in my livingroom, with a small warm dog sleeping in my arms, talking 12-Step to my husband, while the fire crackles and spits.

One AA speaker said something that rocked me: "Can you think of anything that doesn't take place in the moment?"  For some reason, that one sentence kept popping into my head at the most interesting of times, reminding me that there is no other time but now. The same speaker talks about being "ravaged by thought" - that was another phrase that kept coming back. I was absolutely "ravaged by thought," when I was new to Al-Anon, and for many years into my recovery. I spent many years making my life a desperate misery in the present moment, by ravaging myself with thought.

The way it is inside my head now, pretty much as soon as I catch myself beginning to do that, I stop immediately, and ask my Higher Power to take whatever it is from me. I give it over with a sigh of gratitude, knowing I'm going to receive serenity. I've done that so much in my life, and I am not willing to do it one more hour of one more day. I don't know how long I've got on this planet before I die, but I want to let all of that crap go, and live my time joyously.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Personal Etiquette, or Character Defect?

Before Al-Anon, I had an attitude common to many people - that my personal rules of etiquette were the "correct" ones. So if you did things differently, I'd respond in various judgemental ways, but the end result was that you were wrong, I was right, and why wouldn't you change to fit yourself to my rules?

We all have various things we consider "rude." It's rude to read at the dinner table. It's rude to eat in the livingroom. It's rude to say "I don't feel much like talking right now, but I'm happy to listen." It's rude to wear shorts to church, not to remove your hat indoors, to walk in front of me, to cut in front of me when driving, to 'steal' my parking spot, to fold towels differently than the way I showed you way back when we first got together... 

The list is endless, and varies wildly from one person to another. If a friend, partner, or family member does something which contravenes our personal rules of etiquette, we have several ways in which we can respond. We can say, "I wish you wouldn't wear your hat inside the house," and then engage in a power struggle, trying to force them to remove it; they'll most likely be equally as determined to keep it on. We can harp and yarp along those lines each time they enter the house and don't remove their hat, and by doing so, create a major issue between us.

We can look at this "rule" and ask ourselves, "Where did this originate? Is this a rule I learned in childhood, or did I make this one up by myself? What is this about? Why do I care? How Important Is It?"

We can decide that we are going to let it go, stop taking it personally, stop allowing ourselves to extrapolate from that hat, all sorts of stories inside our own heads about what that means with regard to their respect for us and our living space, wishes, wants, blah blah blah.

When I decide to make a big deal out of the fact that another person's rules of etiquette differ widely from my own, I am creating a problem where none exists. Now, understand I'm not speaking here about someone stomping all over personal boundaries set to keep myself safe and comfortable - I'm talking about the wider range of etiquette rules such as "Towels must be folded in thirds lengthwise, then in half." "Cups go into the cupboard with the bottoms up." "Never put into the sink, anything which can be fitted into the dishwasher."  "Never put anything into the dishwasher without rinsing it first." "This is how you fold a fitted sheet. It's rude not to make conversation first thing in the morning. People should sit at the kitchen table to drink their first coffee, not at the computer, or the tv. You should never interrupt when someone else is speaking."

Some of us, (and I include myself in this group) have a tendency to rigidity in our personalities. If not carefully paid attention to, this character defect can cause problems for us, by insisting that everyting be done "our way." Why? Well, because that's the right way, of course.

When I learned that I could let go of all of this, and nothing major would happen, the house didn't disintegrate into a slum, the dishes still got clean regardless of how they were loaded into the dishwasher, (and if they didn't, that didn't matter either, they could be rewashed) that I was "taking offense" where none was ever intended, and I was doing it around these rules of etiquette, that was enormously freeing.

I'll share something which I suddenly realised about 10 years into practising this wonderful program of ours: I've never yet worked to let go of something, only to wish I had it back. Never. Those rules and regulations of mine kept me a prisoner in my frustration. When I let it go, and it's gone, and I can look at whatever is happening with no need to take offense or get all worked up, I feel delighted.

Friday, October 7, 2011

How Badly Do You Want Recovery?

Syd mentions in his post today, people commenting upon the distance he has to drive to attend meetings, and how for him, it's worth the effort and time. I can relate to that one. About 10 years ago, we were living in a tiny village up the island, and the Al-Anon meeting there was very small, with people who would come for a while, then not, then show up again for a few weeks. Apparently,  at some point in the history of the group, there had been a serious breach of anonymity on the part of one of the members, and it just never seemed to recover from that betrayal. I guess people in towns that small have long memories.

During one of the stretches when I was the only person who showed up, I sat there one night, and wondered what I was doing, trying to keep a meeting going, when nobody but me seemed to care enough to be there on a weekly basis.  I called the next-most-regular attendee, and said I would be dropping off the church key, as I'd decided to drive to the next town down-island to attend a meeting.

For a year or so, until we moved there, once a week I would get into my car and drive for an hour and twenty minutes through beautiful wilderness, on some of the worst road on this island, attend an Al-Anon meeting, and then drive an hour and twenty minutes to get home. The very first night that I did this, my way home was lit by a huge silvery moon.

I often had people marvelling at the distance I drove to attend an Al-Anon meeting, and I'd just smile and reply that it was well worth it.  I'm firmly committed to my recovery, and I didn't want to backslide the way I knew I would if I missed that weekly meeting. Al-Anon, and the wisdom I've received from it, is vital to my happiness today. My gratitude is boundless, but I've also got the willingness to keep on showing up. I've rarely missed a meeting since my very first meeting 26 years ago. I've attended meetings when I was in a stretch of back pain so severe that I had to stand through most of it, and I've attended when I felt I had nothing at all of positive worth to share. I keep coming back.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Life Is An Ongoing Lesson.

From Courage to Change, page 280:

"Although the crisis that brought me to Al-Anon may be past, there is always something new to learn, even after years of recovery. We change. Opportunities for spiritual growth, as well as new character defects, pop up like weeds in a newly-mown lawn, and we find ourselves turning to the Steps for a fresh look."

My Higher Power seems to be offering me lessons in patience on a daily basis, in the last while. Or at least, that's what I thought. Until yesterday, when something further was illuminated, and I realised that another interpretation entirely was possible. It seems that whenever I am open to learning one lesson, and really try to surrender to it, my Higher Power will lead one step further down the path, and then another and another. I can start feeling somewhat like a new puppy being coaxed along with a treat, to learn a lesson - I'm focused on one thing, the "treat" and I don't even realise that I'm being taught something, until the lesson is over for that day.

Yesterday was one of those days. I had a period of struggle and self-doubt, and then realising what I was doing, decided to let it go, surrender to it. As soon as I did let go, a realisation was offered to me which was quite difficult to accept. But I know, if I know anything, that these are the lessons which are powerfully helpful in the long run, the ones I have to choke down in the moment, so I tried to be open, and not shrug it off.

So that's where I'm at today, still fresh from yesterday's lesson, feeling a little bruised in my ego (blasted ego!) but accepting, and on the other side of the amend I made, once I understood the message.

Today is another new day in which I can practise these principles in all my affairs. I'm grateful for the blessings in my life, and the love which surrounds me.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Consistently Untrustworthy.

I'm trying to learn to "trust my experiences more than the untrustworthy words of others." This has always been a stumbling block for me in program - several times, I've negated my feelings of caution regarding the level of trust I should place in a person I've met through Al-Anon, and then regretted it when my concerns have proven to be accurate.

As MrSponsorpants points out, attending 12-Step meetings for many years does not indicate recovery, any more than sitting in our garage turns us into a car.

When someone consistently stomps my set boundaries, or refuses to respect my heartfelt requests that there be "no gossip or criticism of one another" what are my choices?

I can "say it one more time."  (And just how often is that effective?)

I can fall silent and tolerate unacceptable behavior. This will cause me no end of discomfort,  resentment and unhappiness.

I can avoid them -  treat them with respect and courtesy when I encounter them at an Al-Anon meeting, but sidestep any invitations to get together.

I can take the difficult path of being kindly direct, letting them know exactly why I will not be seeing them socially in the future. With a sponsee new to Al-Anon, I have much more willingness to restate and restate my boundries, remind them that if they want to feel safe, they must behave in a safe fashion towards the other people in (and outside) the meeting. I certainly needed to learn to adopt an attitude of loving acceptance towards my fellow members of Al-Anon, I didn't arrive at the doors of the meetings rooms with it.

I don't want to spend my precious time with those who have attended meetings for many years, but who still do not respect the principles of 12-Step. I can like some aspects of their personalities, and still know that for me, they are not a safe person with whom I can be friends. I don't want to listen to gossip and criticism about the members of my home group, I find it extremely distressing.

Some days, there is no other way for me, but to say "Thanks, but no thanks." That's just life.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Reader Questions

"How do you set boundaries with an alcoholic? Do you continue to let them live in your home? I just found your blog through Syd's so I really don't know your living situation. Many people say throw the alcoholic out, let them suffer the consequences of their drinking. What is your take on this?"


Some members of Al-Anon are able to live with a partner, child or other family member who is still drinking, and in spite of that, create a satisfying life for themselves - I'm not one of them.  I lived with active alcoholism for the ten years my first marriage lasted, and it was utter chaos. When I married my second husband, he'd been sober for 8 years, so I considered him "cured." I'd been in Al-Anon for a while by then, but was still relatively ignorant about the disease of alcoholism, and didn't understand that sobriety and recovery were not synonymous. I had some heavy denial operating around this, and have written about that here and here.

I do know that in both my first marriage, and this one, it's a painful truth that as long as I would tolerate unacceptable behavior, that's just what I got. Without consequences, there was no change.

It wasn't until I set clear boundaries, and became willing to deal with the results of setting and maintaining them, that behavior improved slightly.  It wasn't until I began to consistenly challenge  insults and blaming, and to say, "Please don't speak to me in that tone of voice" that they'd back down, apologise, and be more polite. 

It's a truism that we teach people how to treat us. Some folks will not respect us, unless we demand respect, and ensure that there will be consequences when they trespass against our boundaries. This consequence may be a refusal to do favours, it may be a calm and polite challenge of their treatment of us - whatever works for us. Perhaps it's a detachment and removal of our emotional connections.

I'm a strong proponent of the "don't give advice" school - I can't know the best course of action for you - only you can.

I can listen, I can help you reason things out, I can sponsor and support you, but I don't give advice. Best of luck, and I'll keep you in my thoughts.

Friday, September 30, 2011


"Can you give some concrete examples of how you've changed, since being in Al-Anon?"

 Here's two from yesterday:

I went for lunch with a friend, to a small coffee shop near here. I ordered decaf, a chicken salad sandwich, and a cup of soup. The soup was barely warm, the coffee didn't come until I'd almost finished eating, and I received an egg salad sandwich instead of chicken salad, and you know what? None of it mattered. It was interesting to notice these things, but I had zero emotional response to them, it was more along the lines of "Look at that, egg instead of chicken - lots of mayonnaise, just the way I like it. This soup is delicious, could be warmer, but tastes marvellous. I'm so grateful to have Mary as my friend, she's a treasure. Oh, here's my coffee, that looks nice and hot. Our waitress has a lovely smile and she's so friendly, I like that in a restaurant."

Before Al-Anon, each of those insignificant things would have annoyed me no end. I'd have complained nonstop to my friend, who wouldn't have been able to enjoy her own lunch for my nattering, and I'd have made us both unhappy with my ranting. Before Al-Anon, if one thing wasn't exactly how I wanted it, everything was ruined. I'd have taken those mistakes personally, and I'd have seen them as just another indication of how lousy my life was, how things never worked out for me, yada yada yada.

I was a chronic complainer, and now I'm not. When I was first learning how, I had to make a conscious effort to be grateful: now it comes naturally.

Later, I was out delivering flyers for the business on the beautiful fall afternoon, and as I started up one driveway, a very large dog came rushing out of the open garage, walking with his tail straight up, slightly stiff-legged, and growling a warning. I decide to respect his request to remove myself from his property, and turned to tuck the flyer into the lattice on the front gate. I felt a warm bump on my thigh, and looked down to see him doing that silly little dance dogs all seem to do when they want attention, tail wagging furiously, and quite delighted with himself. I pulled the flyer from the gate, and as I walked up the drive with him, we had a nice little love-in, consisting of him giving me gentle nudges with his muzzle, and then wiggling happily as I stroked his head. As I left him, I told him to "Stay" and he did. I walked down the driveway feeling grateful for all the dogs I've known and loved, and all the ones I've only met in passing, but still enjoyed.

That got me thinking. about the way that many of my greatest life lessons have arrived looking the way that dog did - a little intimidating. When I've heard, respected and accepted the message, instead of fighting or struggling against it, those lessons have moved me forward in great leaps of understanding. With the understanding, has come a greater sense of peace and serenity.

I used to try to control everything, and now I don't. When the dog comes rushing out to say, "This is MY driveway!" I don't try to cut past him on the grass, I raise a hand in surrender, and say, "Your driveway, right, got it." Respect goes a long way in relationships; most of us just want to be recognised and heard, and once we are, we can relax and say, "You can come in, if you want; I'll walk with you."