Monday, January 31, 2011


From Courage to Change, page 31:
"I want to be ready for shortcomings to be removed, and I will do what I can to prepare. I can develop a non-judgemental awareness of myself, accept what I discover, and be fully willing to change. But I lack the power to heal myself. Only my Higher Power can do that."
A friend jokes that when she was new to Al-Anon, and hoping for a spiritual awakening, she expected the burning bush, and was disappointed when it didn't happen that way for her. Doesn't matter how many times I hear her say it, I laugh - it so describes me.  I came into Al-Anon a determined and rigid sceptic.

My first spiritual awakening was a powerful experience.  I've had others since then, large and small. They all carry one similarity - my thinking is permanently changed afterwards.

Last week, I was granted another profound world-view-tilter of a spiritual awakening. I had been thinking, meditating, praying, and working towards acceptance in one area of my life. I had been "...doing what I can to prepare."

Acceptance is a powerful tool in Al-Anon. When I accept fully the person that I am, without judgement, and fearlessly, I am making myself ready for change.

I cannot change if I do not acknowledge the need for change. Honesty with myself, with my loved ones, with my Higher Power, removes the stubborn barricades of self-will, and says, "I see that I am this way. I see that this doesn't work well, for me or other people, and I'm ready and willing to let it go. Please take it." My Higher Power knows when I'm mouthing the words, but still feeling the resentment or irritation, and when I'm truly ready for change. I don't get to set the timeline, either, which I choose to see as more training in my powerlessness. My part is to do the work, and keep on doing the work, whether I see an immediate result, or whether I feel as though I'm marching in place.

How committed to my recovery am I? Enough to keep going when I don't get instant results? Enough to trust that there's a point to all this, and a reason? Enough to do what I need to do without complaint, and with an open heart? Enough to trust that I will be given the sponsor I need, who will gently point me in the right direction? My new sponsor here is a wonderful human being, but I've had times when I felt as though she were telling me what I didn't want to hear - I've learned to pay close attention when I get that feeling, and to plow right through it.

Al-Anon has taught me that there is no wasted time in this program - I move in fits and starts during some passages of my life - stumbling, barking my shins, stubbing my toes, falling. If I keep on getting up, brushing myself off, not merely letting go of my desire to lay blame for my pain, but accepting and even being grateful for that pain, as necessary for my growth, I will make progress.

When these awakenings are granted, they are life-changing. This last one has opened a door closed in my terrible early childhood, and revealed to me, that on the other side trying to get in, were not the monsters of my imagining, but love, abundance, and this pure joy running through me now.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

In All Things, Balance.

I strive for a balanced life.
I don't isolate, but I also don't spend so much time in the company of other people, that I leave no time for quiet communion with my Higher Power.
I make an effort to be there when my sponsees have need of me, but I teach them that I cannot be manipulated.
I do what I need to do for the business, but not to the exclusion of all else.

I am one person, and I can only do so much before I will begin to feel overwhelmed. This has required some firm boundary-setting and maintenance. I was thinking this morning, as I served breakfast to the dogs, that part of what I must be willing to do, if I'm going to have balance in my life, is accept that other people may dislike my choices, and say so, loudly. I don't have to take that harangue personally. I can detach from it, and either re-state my choice, if that feels necessary, or remain silent. I teach people how to treat me, but that teaching needn't be verbal. I'm learning that in some instances, silence is a reply.

I've made the choice to withdraw from a social group I'd joined last spring - the culture of that group is to pressure and cajole one another into spending as much time as humanly possible involved in various committees, groups, events. I began to feel hounded, and wasn't enjoying myself anymore. I'm grown used to the culture of Al-Anon, where there are no "musts", and nobody in the group is trying to force their will upon me.

I've learned that in order to feel grounded, safe and serene, I need to have a balanced life, with no one thing overshadowing all else. How I achieve that balance, is left completely up to me.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011


A few days ago, a casual friend sent an email to me, stating that she would be in town in a month or so, and would like to come for a visit, and was that ok with me?

This is the third request of this type I've had from her. I'd said yes the first time, and she was here for 3 very long days. Suffice it to say that this lady is not in 12-Step, and is very manipulative has some problems. After she'd left, my husband and I talked it over, and agreed that we weren't going to do that again.

The second time she wrote and asked if she could come to stay, I'd politely refused, and I politely refused this time, too. I will go on politely refusing each time I get the request, and I do so with no rancour, no resentment, no frustration. I've learned how to say "No" and it's a skill I need to keep practising. Life and my Higher Power seem more than willing to give me a plethora of opportunities in which to do so.

Before Al-Anon, I'd have been angry when she left, and I'd have stayed angry. I'd have seethed with resentment while she was here, and forever afterwards. (I heard an AA speaker describe the roots of the word "resentment" to be Latin, and the meaning to be "re-feel." I don't know how accurate that is with regard to the origin of the word, but it certainly is accurate in its description of how I operated - I could never let anything go, and I was always hauling things out and "re-feeling" the wounds, whether to my ego, my pride, or my sense of self.)

I have learned that if I don't want to feel resentful, I must behave differently than my old habit of saying nothing, people-pleasing, and stifling my feelings. With this lady, I've seen the way she operates at first-hand, after that visit, and I do not wish to be exposed to it again. Which means that when she writes and wants to come to visit, I must say "No."

It's acceptable for me to consider her feelings; that keeps me courteous, and kind in my refusal.

It's acceptable for me to consider my own feelings; that keeps me from continuing to do the same old thing - expecting, as I do it, a different result. I cannot change other people; I'm left with one person over whose behavior I have some control - me.

I used to be so insecure that I was willing to accept almost anything to be liked. An Al-Anon friend and I were talking about people-pleasing; he said that he'd recently realised, that even if he didn't like someone, he still wanted them to like him, and how sick was that? That little gem stayed with me, and I've used it as a measuring stick when I'm wanting to say "No," but having a hard time with it.

I have found that examining my motives can be of great help in clarifying my decision-making process. If I were to say "Yes," what is my motive for doing so? Am I doing what I really don't want to do, in order to please another person?

If I were to say "No," what is my motive for that? In this instance, my motive is to avoid the repeating of an uncomfortable and unpleasant experience. I don't feel anger or resentment towards this lady, but I also don't want to have her to stay in my home again. That's a good enough reason - I don't want to. If my husband had disliked her, and I liked her, I'd still say "No" to her staying here, because I need to consider his feelings in the matter. I'd want him to respect mine, so I must respect his.

For a very long time, I had a problem with the idea that "I don't want to" was sufficient reason. This was a result of being taught early on that what I wanted or didn't want was immaterial - other people's wants came first. Fine, that helps me to understand my old behavior, but now that I'm an adult, I make my own choices, and I accept responsibility for them. I don't need elaborate excuses or justifications, and if I find myself with an urge to make them, then I need to stop and consider the reason for that. Is someone refusing to accept a boundary? Am I being challenged because I'm saying "No" to a request?

Not long ago, I asked a friend who was pressuring me to do what she wanted, after I'd already stated that I appreciated her invitation, but had a previous engagement on that night, "Why can't I do what I want to do, instead of what you want me to do?" There was a short pause, then she laughed, and replied "Because I'm a control freak?"

I've been on both sides of the equation - pressuring, and being pressured, and it doesn't work for healthy relationships and no resentment. What works is being honest, while being as kind as I can be, and then it's out of my hands.
I pray for the strength to be honest.

Sunday, January 23, 2011


"In my family, everybody gossips, judges and condemns everybody else. How can I get out of doing this without being rude about it?"

I once was a rigid person, full of strict rules and regulations about how I, (and everyone around me) "should" live, work, play, grow, learn, behave. Al-Anon has taught me to be open-minded, to permit others to live their own lives as they see fit, with no commentary from my peanut seat.

I find this one of the most peaceful aspects of 12-Step, and when I hear someone (in or out of program) judging another person for their choices or behavior, this doesn't flow past me as "normal conversation" the way it once did - rather, I find it disturbing, and I feel uncomfortable.

When someone makes a decided judgement of another, and then says to me, "Right?" asking me to acquiesce in this judgement or condemnation, I have a choice: say something about my personal philosophy in this area, say something to sidestep the question, or say nothing. I used to think that I needed to state my philosophy every time something like this came up - I soon realised that this was another attempt to control. I was saying, in effect, "I am living differently now, and so should you."

My response will depend upon my own state of mind. I try to examine my motives, and if I feel comfortable, I can say something along the lines of: "I don't like to be judged, so I try not to judge others."

In some families, that kind of response will bring down much jeering and mockery: with my ex, I would hold one hand up, palm out, and say bluntly, "I don't want to hear it." and walk away. After a while, all I had to do was put my hand up, and he'd stop.

I can't change other people, but I can stop being an audience for cruelty and judgement of others; I can remove myself from the room, the house, the area. My ex learned very quickly that if he did certain things, he'd end up talking to himself; I'd have left the building.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

The Many Facets of Fear.

When I was in my early twenties, I began to have panic attacks - my heart would feel like it was going to pound right out of my chest, my entire body would shake, and, utterly transfixed by fear and an overwhelming claustrophobia, my singleminded focus was: get outside now!

I would walk out of the grocery store, leaving a full cart: pull over to the side of the road and get out of the car: be found out on the back porch/in the yard/walking my dog, no matter what the weather, or time of day.

I will be forever grateful to an emergency room intern, who, after listening to my heart, showed me how to calm myself through the use of shallow, slow breathing, and affirmations that this was just an anxiety attack, I wasn't going to keel over, I was fine. I learned to talk myself down.

I learned that anxiety attacks follow a pattern - once we've had one, we then worry that we'll have another,  and we become afraid of feeling afraid.

This intern explained to me that with the initial feeling of anxiety in a panic attack, comes a physical response - a little spurt of adrenalin, which causes our heart rate and breathing to speed up, our senses to sharpen, our hands to shake, perhaps we get a feeling of nausea. We then think, "Oh NO! I'm having an anxiety attack!" and then we get a big dump of adrenalin into our system, and the full flight-or-fight response kicks in, rational thought falls by the wayside, and we are in full panic mode.

I learned to head off physical panic attacks, but it wasn't until Al-Anon that I gained any control over my mental panic attacks - the gerbil wheel of obsessive worry and awfulising. I learned to deal with these quite effectively, most times.

Until menopause, and insomnia. When I wake up in the middle of the night and can't get back to sleep, not only is it difficult not to worry and obsess, but my sleep debt begins to negatively affect my daytime mental state, and I become far more likely to do that same worrying and obsessing during my waking hours.

I've had a bad few days with this, and no matter how hard I try, I cannot seem to get out of the hand-dug pit. I've read program literature, prayed, reasoned things out with someone else, prayed, practised thought-stopping, all of my usual ways of dealing with worry, and the moment I've relaxed my guard, I will find myself right back into it, full-bore.  I'm feeling physically and emotionally exhausted.

No wisdom today, apart from the knowledge that if I keep working my program, this too shall pass. I'm reminding myself to be grateful for the blessings in my life, and not to give this difficult period too much weight. When I wake up in the wee small hours, I read; this occupies my mind enough that I can't imagine various scenarios, all negative, with which to torment myself. When I become sleepy again, I say the Serenity Prayer, or pray to be granted sleep. I'm listening to a lot of program speaker tapes during the day, and going to as many meetings as I can.

I also find it's important for me to admit to my mental state to those who are safe, in program and out - only then do I escape the isolation of hidden worry and stress. Fighting the truth of where I'm at doesn't work - acceptance does. I'm not alone; I have a partner who loves me, friends who love me, dogs who love me, a Higher Power who loves me - these are my life gifts, and I treasure them all.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Finding What Works For Me.

N. asks: "Why do some people "get it" (Al-Anon, recovery, serenity) so quickly, and others (me) don't? Am I stupid, or what?"

First of all - no, not stupid. We all learn at different speeds, and that individual speed can be further affected by all sorts of environmental factors, so please, try to let go of those kinds of harsh judgements of self.

Secondly, try to stop comparing your insides to other people's outsides - when I've compared, all I've managed to do was to make myself feel even unhappier, and inadequate.

I consider various sponsees I've worked with - the different speeds with which they grasp program, and put it into practise in their lives. Intelligence has nothing to do with it, that I can see. I've had sponsees whose intelligence was impressive, yet they could be some of the slowest-moving in recovery, for various reasons, not the least of which, was their refusal to take anything at face value - they want to know why.

There are many areas of life in which we need to know why - knowing why allows us to make an informed decision.

However, when we refuse to take any action, until we know why another person does what they do, that's self-defeating. It can be an avoidance mechanism. I had a sponsee who used to do what I call behavior autopsies. She'd spend hours, sometimes days, lost in an obsessive examination of her alcoholic husband's words and actions. She would call me, wanting first to give me a detailed recital of a conversation she'd had with him, and then wanting to start again at the beginning of this conversation, taking each and every thing he'd said, try to figure out what his motives had been for saying this or that, and why did I think he...

I was new to sponsorship with this woman, and very much feeling my way along, but I knew that spending any time at all trying to understand what went on inside the head of a still-drinking alcoholic was madness; I knew this well, having wasted so many hours and days of my own life, engaged in that futile pursuit.

I think people move at wildly different speeds in recovery, and this is a result of character, feelings of safety, ability to trust, willingness to look at ourselves. I've seen people leaping in great bounds, and also seen them stuck and frustrated. I've moved at those varying speeds myself, depending upon all of the above factors.

The one factor which seems to effect me most, is finding out what works for me, and then being willing to put it into practise.

I can go to my "Al-Anon Tools" cupboard, and root around looking for help - I can take the tools out, examine them, polish them up, and shove them back in unused. That doesn't work for me. I have to be willing to take out a tool, and then use the darn thing: write out an inventory, study the Steps & Traditions, work with my sponsor, go to meetings, try to detach, let go, turn it over, set boundaries and put the effort into maintaining them, be honest.

Some suggestions over the time I've been in 12-Step have sounded like a great new tool, but when I tried to use it, I couldn't get a sense of comfortable grip even after repeated tries. This is not an indication that I'm an idiot, it just means that little tip isn't going to work for me, and I need to keep listening, and trying out more ways, until I find what works for me.

When I find myself stuck, perhaps it's because I am not willing to do what needs to be done in order to move forward,

or perhaps I'm just needing to relax into the newness of this destination I've reached so far,

or perhaps my Higher Power is trying to show me something I'm refusing to see,

or perhaps I am being offered a chance to rest.

All of these are valid reasons to be not moving forward at this precise moment. 

Lastly, it can be difficult for us to see our own changes; other members of our meetings can see that we are progressing, all the time that we feel we aren't getting anywhere much. You are learning what you need to learn, and moving at the speed that is right for you; can you try to just ... lean back into that affirmation, and not to be giving yourself grief for not being somewhere else? Al-Anon suggests that we treat ourself with loving kindness - that's appropriate, and it helps us to keep going on our journey.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Arguments and Self-Control.

I was reminded recently, of a tip my first sponsor gave to me, when I begged her for a way to avoid getting caught up in the endless, ridiculous, upsetting arguments my first husband so loved. She called it "ten-thousand counting." One thousand,  two thousand, three thousand, etc, counted off silently inside one's head, until that first rush of angry desire to respond in kind passed away, and sanity reasserted itself. In effect, what I was doing, was waiting out my own emotional reactions.

Another tip, was the novel idea that I "didn't have to attend every argument to which I was invited." When the alcoholic flung angry accusations, I didn't have to defend myelf. When slighting statements regarding my character and personality were made, I didn't have to argue that they weren't true. I could say one of those marvellous little phrases she taught:

"You could be right."
"Oh yeah." (said not in a challenging tone, but in the tone one uses when bored senseless, but feeling the need to make some sort of response to prove we are still awake)

Later in program, I learned to use "broken record" - one statement, repeated and repeated, as many times as required, until the listener hears us - this may take a while. It's very effective, because it doesn't allow the argumentative one to haul us down one of those side roads.

I have found self-control can be a matter of a second's choice to keep my mouth firmly closed, regardless of how overwhelming is my desire to open it. I have found it helpful to stay silent long enough to consider my motive in speaking - am I offering information, setting a boundary, or giving in to a desire to control?

I heard someone in a meeting joke that he was amazed how every year, when he turned to January 1st, in One Day At A Time In Al-Anon, and Courage to Change, the daily Al-Anon reading books, he was astounded to discover that somehow, his Higher Power had rewritten the darn things, because he was utterly convinced he'd never read that passage in all the years he'd had the book....

I find these little books of great help, because they remind me of program wisdom at times when I cannot recall it on my own. "Ten-thousand counting," followed by the polite excusing of myself, and the reading of some Al-Anon literature, teaches me self-control. I'm a work in progress, and always will be; I've come to terms with that. I try not to berate myself (don't always manage that, either) when I realise I've done it again, whatever "it" is. I work for forgiveness of myself, and pray for awareness and acceptance, so that next time, my action is a healthy one.

Now and then, my little dog will be unable to resist chewing just the outer edge of a piece of paper left within her reach, into a soggy mess.  I will come back into a room, glance over at her, see her sitting, head drooping, the picture of guilty misery, and that's how I know that she's been naughty. Chewing a piece of paper is pretty mild in the list of dog sins; I don't know if her previous owner chastised her for paper chewing too severely, or why she seems so distressed afterwards - I never catch her at it, and am no good at disciplining her anyway, because I love her so. I can't bear to upset her tiny loving self. I clear it up, while she sighs heavily, and can't make eye contact, silly creature.

I wonder why she does it, when she seems to feel so bad about it afterwards? Perhaps for the same reason I've done the things I knew I was better off not doing: being unable or unwilling to resist the urge. I pray for the strength and self-control to resist the urgings of my lesser self, and for tolerance of the alcoholic, so that I do not take their illness personally.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Honesty Can Be Painful.

On occasion, one of my sponsees will ask for my input, then when I give it, either fall silent with one of those pregnant pauses, or be direct about what they're feeling, with a statement along the lines of: "Why did I phone you, you're telling me what I don't want to hear!"

I believe that not only will I be unable to puncture someone else's denial, it's not my place to try, and I do not say things lightly when discussing program. I stop to consider before I speak, and I try very hard to be guided by my Higher Power. Many times I will open my mouth, reconsider, and close it again. That's one of the greatest gifts I've received from 12-Step - learning to be peacefully silent.

I've learned that there are going to be times when what I say is not well-received: remember how easily and regularly I was offended by my first sponsor: remind myself that if I've been careful before I spoke, I need to let go of the outcome.

My being unable or unwilling to be honest in my relationships, not only with the alcoholics in my life, but with everyone, was my part in the problems between us. I gave a false impression of who I was, and what was acceptable, when I didn't speak up. I can come up with many reasons for why I was this way, and how my denial was fostered by my childhood experiences, and the effect of my first husband - a furiously angry alcoholic, who raged and bellowed and slammed and ranted. I can justify, I can explain, I can rationalise. At bottom of it all was/is fear.

I have been afraid that because honesty can be painful, something I said, would cause the other person to reject me. I was so terrified of rejection, that I was willing to pretend to be someone I was not. I was willing to live a lie, in order to be accepted.

Before Al-Anon, I didn't know that, rather than try to manipulate another human being into acceptance of me by pretense and people-pleasing, I could seek out those who would accept me for who I truly am, "as is." I didn't believe that I was acceptable. I based my self-value upon what I accomplished in a day - how "productive" and "helpful" I was. I still get twinges when I look back upon a day and see that I didn't get anything done that I'd planned, but I'm learning to let those pass by - noticed - but not leapt upon and used as a blunt instrument with which to belabor myself.

When someone wants me to be what I am not, do what I have said I won't, I don't need to be giving lectures on how they shouldn't be wanting these things from me - that's an exercise in futility, and only causes a rise in the tension, with no change in the wanting.

Life is what it is, there will be incidents when that wanting from another person, feels strong enough to momentarily overpower my sense of self. I'm learning that if I keep quiet, and pray for strength and courage from my Higher Power, the wave of their wanting will recede a bit, and I can stand up, shake myself off, and speak my truth with courtesy and kindness. If I am true to myself and search my motives fearlessly, I will be able to withstand whatever then results.

I don't have to like it. I don't have to remark upon it. I only have to be able to hear it, and let it go. It's not my problem. My problem is finding the courage to be honest about who I am. If I cannot find any courage within myself, I can pray to be granted some.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

The Al-Anon Promises.

"We will laugh more."

I love British humour, and have recently come across dvds at my library, of two gentlemen by the names of Fry & Laurie. Last night I put one on, and was watching it, while sewing. When it got to this song, I had to stop what I was doing and find it on Youtube, to send to a friend. I knew he'd have the same response of helpless laughter I had. Clever and silly, my favourite:
Hugh Laurie singing "Mystery"
They do a marvellous job of skewering various sacred cows, in their skits.
I definitely laugh more than I did prior to my involvement in Al-Anon. I laugh at myself much more often. That ability to see the humour in our own human frailties, is what makes our coffee get-togethers after my home group meeting, so hilarious. Old-timers and newcomers alike, when we sit down and start to talk, the conversation always, at some point, ranges over our own various forms of insanity, and in that comfortable and loving venue, that insanity becomes screamingly funny. We laugh until we have tears in our eyes, and about what? Things we've done, and thoughts we've had. Being able to laugh like that about ourselves, means that we don't take ourselves so seriously.
I've noticed that newcomers seem to flourish in this environment. Perhaps watching the people who've been in program "for a hundred years" admitting to their own faults, makes it seem possible, and less intimidating.
I was having a conversation with a program friend the other day, in which she used humour to point out to me that I was treading a conversational path we'd  tread together not that long ago, and I'd been perfectly able to see where I was going wrong, but was still unable to put it into practise. For me, when I've had that kind of laughing fit over one of my character defects, I lose my embarassment or any shame I might have about it.
Shame or embarassment can obscure my motives or my driving forces. When they've slid away, I can see myself, and how I work, more clearly. That clarity is necessary for me to change. If I don't know where I am, a map won't help me.
Humour helps me to recognise and admit my present position, and enjoy myself at the same time. I'd have been quite disbelieving if you'd told me years back, that admitting my character defects could be so entertaining.

Friday, January 7, 2011

Negativity Is A Choice.

One of the aspects of living with (or being closely related to) alcoholics, which can be crazy-making if we get caught up in it, is their inability to deal with their painful feelings, and their desire to punish anyone within reach, when they're hurting.

We feel what we feel, and we have a right to our feelings, but sometimes, watching an alcoholic's dramatic posturing, I can find myself wishing that we could have the information about the feelings, without all the rest of it. I don't know if perhaps they feel that without the drama, the feelings wouldn't be either recognised, or validated? My wondering why they do what they do, is a path to madness.

My part is to maintain my boundaries when the drama is trespassing upon them, and to detach, when it all gets a bit loud and overwhelming. I used to feel obliged to sit still for the performance, because I was afraid the alcoholic would feel unloved if I didn't. Somewhere along the line in  my recovery, I had a realisation that by showing up for these performances, I was contributing to their continuation. Now, when I hear the opening bars, I try to remember to politely excuse myself.

Alcoholics can be the most endearing people on the planet when things are going well for them, and some of the most tiring, when life isn't working out the way they'd wished/hoped/planned. They can be vociferous in their complaints that they are in pain, and wanting out of it. They aren't just having a bad day, they're having the worst day anyone has ever had. Ever. Since the dawn of time.

At one time, I could easily be caught up in circular, insane talks, which went 'round and 'round, with me trying in my co-dependent way to fix whatever ailed them, and them sucking me in to their personal whirligig.
These talks would start with them throwing out a challenge: "Make me feel better, tell me something positive, improve my mood, help me get out of this awful state!"
If I took that bait, then there would be a declaration that life was shit, they were unhappy, they were always going to be unhappy, life sucked, 12-Step was useless stupid and annoying, they wanted proof of a Higher Power, they wanted a miracle...
Arguing against this sort of negative declaration, used to involve me in discussions which could have been rehearsals for a Monty Python sketch.
It never worked. I'd give up, finally, exhausted and frustrated, and they'd seem almost satisfied, in some perverse way, to have maintained their negative attitude.

I cannot change other people. Another person's state of mind is not my problem, regardless of what they might say.  If they throw out challenges which seem to suggest that it's up to me to make them feel better, I can courteously sidestep the challenge, and let go of the outcome. I can offer a program tool which has been helpful to me and some others, I can gently or sometimes directly state that they seem determined to be miserable, and then let it go. If they are open-minded, they'll come to that realisation on their own, if they aren't, doesn't matter what I say, they won't hear me.

How do I know this? Because this entire post also describes me when I was new to Al-Anon.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

It's All Relative, Ch 2

Yesterday, I was headed out to do something for the business, feeling hard done by, tired, and sorry for myself. I pulled up to a stoplight, and saw a young man out in the rain, carrying a sign reading, "BROKE. Hungry. Anything Helps!" I thought about the level of desperation he must feel, to be willing to stand in public with his sign, all the time getting wetter and colder, in the hopes that someone would help him. I watched as a driver a few cars in front of me handed him an orange, and seeing the way he responded to that orange, as if he'd been given a precious gift, I suddenly felt very ashamed of my bad attitude.

I had just had a very satisfactory lunch, eaten in a nice warm house, with a good book, and some dogs for company, then gotten into my warm comfortable car to drive to my destination, and I was feeling sorry for myself?  I drove to the grocery store, bought some food, took it back, and gave it to the young man. I then went on with my day, but the lesson has stuck with me. It takes not very much, and we can find ourselves in that young man's position. I'm familiar with food banks through the volunteer work I did for many years, and they can barely give enough food to keep a small woman going - tall young men who are continuously hungry have to find ways to supplement that, or their health begins to suffer.

It's easy to judge and condemn and mutter darkly that people should go get a job, but the ugly truth is that entry level jobs in this country no longer pay a living wage. By the time a person pays rent and utilities on minimum wage, there isn't enough money left over for much in the way of food. We have many hundreds of thousands of hungry people getting up every day with not enough food to carry them through the month, and food banks are stretched far beyond their capabilities.

I live a comfortable life. When I'm hungry, I go into the kitchen and make myself a meal. When I'm chilly, I put on a sweater, and turn up the heat. Many people can't afford both, they have to choose between one and the other.

That young man brought home to me, once again, the reality that when I'm feeling self-pity, and hard done by, it's because my other basic needs are taken care of, and I have the luxury of thinking about myself instead. In truth, I don't have much in the way of problems. It's all relative, and relatively speaking, I've been blessed.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Distorted Ideas And Attitudes.

From Courage to Change, page 2:

"In Al-Anon I discover in myself the power to throw new light on a seemingly hopeless situation. I learn I must use this power, not to change the alcoholic, over whom I am powerless, but to overcome my own distorted ideas and attitudes."

This is a fundamental acceptance we must reach in Al-Anon. Our ideas can be several degrees off true, our attitudes can be completely askew, yet we will cling to those same ideas and attitudes with the grasp of an iron willfulness, refusing to admit or accept that we could be mistaken.

I didn't like being mistaken when I was new to program, and I could argue my point with a tenacity capable of reducing perfectly kind people to first irritation, then frustration, and finally, an overwhelming desire to make me stop talking, please. Please!

I saw it as having the courage of my convictions. Other people recognised the obstinacy of martyrdom. I saw it as strength of character. Others identified the rigidity of fear. I thought of myself as persevering. Others considered me  relentless.

I had distorted ideas and attitudes: viewed my world through a refractive lens of bitterness and victimhood.

It wasn't until I had spent many meetings sitting quietly listening while others shared, that I began to have any inkling of this; until then, I was so well-defended that the perpetuation of my distorted ideas and attitudes was efficiently self-driven. I didn't take in alternate viewpoints, so why would I question my own?

I'd had enough pain in my formative years, (dealt to me by people assuring me of their undying concern for my well-being,) to make of me, a world-weary cynic about other people's motives, by the time I was six years of age. I trusted no-one but myself and my dog.

That was a supremely distorted idea/attitude, but just try to convince me of that, when I was new to program. You'd have more success were you to go quietly into a corner, and attempt demolition of the wall, through repeated applications of your forehead against it. (Less frustrating.)

I had to be given the "loving in a very special way" (That phrase gave me a wierd feeling. See? Paranoia. Rather than focus on the love, I focused on the way) for a long time before it became real to me, so real that I could no longer staunchly proclaim my own distorted attitudes and ideas denying it.

I'm going on a bit here, (what a surprise) but my point is this: we may not be able to understand to what extent we are barking mad, until we've regained some small crumbs of sanity. It can then feel distressing, frustrating, and hopelessly, hugely, impossible to deal with all of our insanity, when we get those hints of just how far it might extend. And that is why we take it one day at a time. I don't have to change each facet of my character simultaneously and have it all fixed by Friday - we each come to our recovery at our own pace, and if our way has more in common with the rambling course of a small rodent exploring the garden, than an arrow shot straight and true to its destination, well, that's as it should be. That's how people work - in fits and starts, with much doubling back, forgetting, confusion, and stuck times.

It's all acceptable, as long as I am willing to keep plugging along, to pause when I'm offered an alternate attitude to peruse, rather than pushing rudely past, secure in my own closed rigidity of thought and habit. That moment, when I gently move my ego off to the side, so it no longer blocks my vision, that is recovery.