Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Spiritual Awakening

What does this feel like? Look like? A speaker stated that they could see a new light in the eyes of those who had experienced a spiritual awakening.
For myself, and those I sponsor, I notice a change in thinking. We climb, with much effort, from the old ruts in our thinking, and once we have reached level ground, are astonished to find the perspective so altered. And then, once we've realised that our perspective can be changed in this way, we are never again able to believe the voices in our head to be the one and only voice of truth. We question our thinking on a continual basis, and the more we do this, the further we go in our understanding of how in error we can be.

I found it mind-boggling, the first time this happened to me - I spent hours with my sponsor, learning how not to berate myself for having been so blind. She was very firm on this point, told me that the desire to castigate myself was counter-productive, since if I bashed myself with sufficient force, I'd end up so miserable as a result of my new understanding, that I'd refuse to move another step, and would retreat back to the safety of my co-dependent cave of self. With her help, I began to understand the ways in which my own thinking had kept me trapped.

Each time I have been granted a new level of understanding, my joy in living has intensified, my tolerance has increased, my love for others, and myself,  has grown.

I can recall, years back, when moving was a fearsome hassle, and I'd be grouchy and bad-tempered and exhausted throughout the process. Over time it has grown to be fun, becase I'm doing it with my Higher Power right beside me, and I have no fear. Yesterday I spent the day phoning around getting utilities changed; I used to hate this part of a move. Nowadays, it's just another thing task on my to-do list, and I take delight in making the customer service people laugh - really laugh, and to thank them with true gratitude for their help - when I do this, I can hear in their voices that it has registered, and feels good.

I have changed so much in my view of life, and my attitudes.This wonderful program has given me a life I would not have believed possible, and my gratitude can bring tears to my eyes, it's so overwhelming and powerful.

I pray that you will feel this love and peace of the program today.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Selective Attention

Think you can text and drive at the same time?

Take this video test to see how well you can focus on a task:

You might be surprised.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Acceptance Is Not A Character Trait.

"Acceptance is not a trait that you either have or don't; it's learned behavior."

                                                                     Morrie Schwartz.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

God Can Do The Footwork, Too.

When it became clear that we needed to find a new place to live, because this space is too small, and I had nowhere to open the business I feel moved to start. I went around for a week or so, saying to my HP, "You know what we need, so I'm going to leave it up to you." I decided to turn it over completely.

The first house I looked at was perfect in every way - had everything I wanted - 3 blocks from the beach, fenced yard for the dogs, separate room on the ground floor for my office, and 3 bathrooms. (My idea of heaven, lots of bathrooms.) Not only that, but great landlords - they lowered the rent in order to cover the costs of oil heat, and gave us free rein to paint, landscape, do anything we wish.

I turned it over completely, and decided to believe that my Higher Power could do all the footwork, just as the speaker on the cd had claimed, and it worked. That was the easist, shortest house hunt I've ever experienced. It's interesting to see how when I believe something is possible, it becomes so.

Turn it over. Try it and see. What have you got to lose?

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Clear, Healthy Thinking.

I can't change other people.

If I'm predicating my happiness or my serenity, on the hope that someone else will change, to become the person I want them to be, I am handing them my life on a plate, and retiring to a corner to starve.

From Courage to Change, page 234:

"Searching for the real me, living according to my needs, and loving myself as a new-found friend have been the most rewarding benefits of the Al-Anon program. Strangely, they're the last ones I would have imagined receiving when I began.

Today's Reminder
Today I can choose to take responsibility for my own life. If I stay out of other's affairs and become more aware of my own, I have a good chance of finding serenity.

"Each man's life represents a road toward himself."
                                         Hermann Hesse

I want to be capable of clear, healthy thinking. That's not possible when I'm disturbed by someone else's behavior, or thinking. How do I get there?

First, I need to be aware of what's going on inside my head, so I can catch myself when I start obsessing, or taking someone else's inventory. So, I find I'm doing this, what's next?

I need to consider which character defect is driving my thinking - am I angry? Resentful? Arrogant? Judgemental? Impatient? Controlling?  I can ask my Higher Power to remove it. Right then, at that moment, I can ask to be set free of whatever character defect has risen to the surface, and is presently running my show.

Once I've asked to be relieved of my character defect, and have had it lifted, then I am capable of clear healthy thinking, because I'm not being swept along by my feelings. I can detach, step back, and decide exactly what it is that's best for me, without having my judgement clouded by high emotion.

What is best for me, is to be honest to myself and my own needs. If I don't do this for myself, I will be angry. I will be resentful, I will be _____. (fill in the blank)

Clear thinking makes many things possible. I pray for the wisdom to understand what I can change, and what I cannot.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Eager For Humility.

From AA's 12 and 12, page 73:
"To get completely away from our aversion to the idea of being humble, to gain a vision of humility as the avenue to true freedom of the human spirit, to be willing to work for humility as something to be desired for itself, takes most of us a long, long time."

I'd have to agree with that one for myself. It has taken me many years to reach the place I'm at now, which I've heard described as, "a sheer delight to find out we're wrong, because that means we have another chance to change and grow."

I'm finding myself and my ego-driven thinking, funnier as the years pass. I've got a little reminder up on the wall behind my computer:

SIOTSU - this stands for: Say It Once, Then Shut Up.

I joked with my sponsor that this would make a great new slogan - she dryly suggested I submit it to World Services, and see what they thought. I was reminded of this today,  listening to a 12-Step talk, when the speaker said he likes to tell his sponsees, after they've rambled on for a while about whatever it is: "Now distill that down to one or two sentences."

When I take 10 minutes to say something, that's my ego talking - I've noticed that my sharing in meetings is becoming shorter by the year, because so much of the time, I am able to distill it down to a few sentences.

My life becomes simpler all the time, and what a glorious feeling that is. I'm more able to let go of my old thinking, and open my mind to absorb new. Much of my fear has fallen away, and with its going, life has grown to feel more like an adventure.

I am far more loving than I once was. When I'm in a meeting, and someone speaks of the way this incredible program has changed their life for the better, it never fails to move me, because of my love for the people around the table who are sharing my spiritual journey. I'm not even close to achieving the perfection of which I dreamed when I was new to Al-Anon, and that's not a goal anymore.
Humility means that I turn my will and my life over to my Higher Power unconditionally. I spent a long time believing that it was my choice to turn control of my will and my life over to my Higher Power. When I realised that I was turning over an illusion, it was staggering. Mind-boggling, and quite the blow to my ego. But once that passed, it became hilariously funny.

That was perhaps the first time that I felt that "sheer delight in being wrong", because of what it meant for me in terms of my spiritual growth. If being wrong could teach me, I was finally, fully eager to be wrong. Being wrong went from something embarassing and shameful, to - humility.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

"You Can't Do That!"

One of my favourite AA speakers is a man with a great sense of humour, and a wonderful message. I was listening to one of his talks last night, and he was saying if you want to know whether what you are proposing is God's will, ask those in the program whom you trust: "I'm considering taking this action; do you think this is God's will for me?"

I decided to put this idea into practise,with regard to a major life change I'm considering. So far, those I've asked have replied with a resounding yes. It's a powerfully supportive feeling.

Yesterday, I received a negative response from a stranger, along the lines of "You can't do that, because of this, this, and this." Because I'd done my research, I knew she was mistaken on all three counts. It got me thinking, about all the people along the way who have told me what I can't do. I'm grateful for the character trait of determination, which has allowed me to push ahead, even when everyone around me has been giving me negative input.

I've arrived at middle age relatively unscathed, and can look back and see that if I'd listened to the naysayers, I'd never have done anything. I'd still be living in the same small town in which I was raised, because that was one of the first "You can't do that!" messages I heard; that I couldn't travel to see the country in which I'd been born, that I had to stay and follow the prescribed path laid out for me by others.

I've had an interesting and varied life; if I'd let the fears of other people keep me trapped, that wouldn't have been the case. I have one life to live; I want to live it fully. I want to explore, and I want to challenge myself.

When my husband decided to quit his job and go back to school at the age of 50, I was one of the few people urging him on. He was terrified, but he did it, and he sailed through his courses with honor marks, and a renewed confidence. When he graduated, he opened his own business, because that was his dream. I've seen the hugely positive changes that his courage has created, and I'm proud of him for it.

Don't let other people tell you what you can't do. Have the courage to change.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Allowing Ourselves to Experience Pain.

From Hope for Today, page 227:

"It helps to keep in mind that getting better doesn't always mean feeling better. When I need to walk through pain to let it go, I remember "This Too Shall Pass." I tell myself that just as thinking doesn't make it so, neither does feeling make it so. My life is going to work out according to God's will regardless of how I feel, so why try to manipulate situations to avoid the unavoidable - human emotions? Such behavior only creates more pain, and I certainly don't want more of that!"


This has been one of the toughest lessons for me to accept in Al-Anon: in order to work through a feeling, I need to allow myself to feel it. There is no way around this truth for me; if I don't allow myself to feel my feelings, they will stay with me. If I want to live "lightly but abundantly" I need to let go of my painful feelings.

How do I do that? By sitting with them. Sitting through them. Or walking; I find walking an excellent way to deal with my feelings, and the dogs agree, they are more than willing to go for what I call "a burn around the neighbourhood" - a fast-paced walk for a long distance, during which I may start out with a feeling roaring hotly in my chest and head, but I am always returning home the last few blocks, feeling spent and at peace.

I allow myself to think the angry, or painful, thoughts, then I identify the feelings behind them, and I let those feelings flood through me, without trying to stifle or resist them. I may weep, if the primary feeling is pain.

Then, I look for my part - the character defects which drive my thinking. I ask my Higher Power to remove them, and then I ask for peace.

A friend once commented upon the way the dogs start out one of these walks with a focused intensity on forward, and end up looking around with noses always moving - the canine equivalent of sight-seeing. I laughingly replied that we were all doing pretty much the same thing, it's just more obvious in dogs.

Before I learned that a hard fast walk is a great way to let out my feelings (or, if it happens to be bucketing rain, a ferocious bout of housecleaning) I used to numb myself out. I'd start repeating a little mantra of "it doesn't matter, it doesn't matter" and it would be like flicking a switch to the "off" position - shutdown, blessed numbness, no more pain.

Except it wasn't working quite that smoothly and effectively below the surface - I wasn't processing my feelings, I was storing them. I was, if you like, hoarding them, with new layers on top of old, so that the original landscape of my self became totally obscured from my view. That hoard of feelings was so overwhelming that I didn't know where to start. So I didn't, I just flung another on to the heap already there, and walked out of that room.

By the time I came into Al-Anon, I was pretty much living on the front porch of myself. The entire rest of my house of self, was stuffed to the ceilings: old moldering crap mixed with relatively untouched newer items, all mixed together in one giant seething mass. I tried not to go in there, if I could possibly avoid it.

In Al-Anon, I learned that if I wanted real recovery, I was going to have to do an inventory, Step 4, and sort through that massive hoard of feelings, thoughts, beliefs, unmet dreams and desires, expectations, disappointments, resentments, and unfelt, stuffed pain.

I was terrified that the pain would destroy me completely if I were to feel it - how was I to maintain mental stability while doing such a task?

By working with my sponsor and my program friends, by asking my Higher Power for help, and by taking it one small step at a time. I don't have to deal with the entire past today. I can deal with today only. One day. How am I feeling right now? Why am I having this feeling? Is it because of an unmet expectation, or is it the result of an unkind choice made by another person?

If the latter, can I let go of my people-pleasing and my fear of conflict, and say that "I feel this when you do that?" If not, can I accept that I'm going to have to put up with this feeling until it passes, as they always do? Can I make the effort to see this other person as sick, rather than demonise them?

Feelings can be painful, frightening, intimidating. But I want to have access to my feelings, without being controlled by them.

One of the Al-Anon Promises:

"We will begin to feel, and will come to know the vastness of our emotions, but we will not be slaves to them."

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Standing Guard At The Door Of My Mind.

From One Day At A Time In Al-Anon, page 226:

"Why do I allow myself to suffer? Is there any meaning or validity to the items I am permitting myself to suffer from? What if "he said this" - or "she did that." Even if it was meant to hurt, it cannot reach the real me, if I stand guard at the door of my mind."

The first few hundred times I read that paragraph, I felt distinctly annoyed with the writer - how was I supposed to not be hurt, when deliberately hurtful things were said and done by the alcoholics in my life?

And just how was I to "stand guard at the door to my mind" anyway? What did that mean? Following swiftly upon my annoyance would be a feeling of despairing frustration; I was never going to "get" this program!

Until the first time the alcoholic said something designed to wound, and my internal dialogue, rather than feed the fire with exclamations of "How dare he! The nerve! That (rude word) has been drinking all day, and I've been working, and I come home in a good mood and he ruins it by..." offered up the first line of the Serenity Prayer:

"God grant me serenity."

That's how I stand guard at the door of my mind. By changing my thinking - asking my Higher Power for help, so that my first response is not anger, frustration or despair, but a deep breath, a reminder to myself that this is a sick individual, and a refusal to accept whatever unkindness is being offered to me.

I don't have to take it on. I may not always be standing guard effectively, and some things may get past me, and cause me hurt. Learning this new behavior, can feel like trying to use one leg to block a determined cat from getting outdoors, while still opening the door far enough, to be able to have a conversation with the person standing on the step.

That's where another reminder to ourselves comes into play; let go of expecting perfection.  Good enough is good enough. We'll try again next time. We may not in this lifetime attain such a blissful state of serenity, as to never be affected by the unkindness of those who profess to love us. That's okay. We do what we can, with the knowledge and skills we have at the time.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Respect - From Others, And For Ourselves.

I've been having some staggering realisations in the last while, and they've been transforming the way I see myself.

When I allow another person to define me, I am limiting my choices. Family members (and partners) may have a vested interest in my remaining in the category or space, into which, they've mentally placed me.

I have only this one life. I want to live it fully.

My vista of possibilities increases with a wider perspective. How do I attain a wider perspective? By praying, listening, learning, and being open to hearing what's being said to me by those I trust. This most recent realisation came when I was out walking, and trying to honestly examine a fear of which I'd become aware. It was so stunning a recognition, it tilted my entire worldview, and that tilt has acted like a wide angle lens for viewing my life.

I've started asking those whose counsel I respect, for their viewpoints, and have received strongly positive responses. I can feel the power of my dream pushing me along, and I can feel myself evolving. (One aspect of blogging, is that one has to try to write about one's life happenings while not giving out too much information - so one occasionally ends up with this sort of post, which says not much, while trying to say everything)

I pray for courage, wisdom, patience, and clarity.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Surrender Anger, for Serenity.

I cannot achieve serenity, if I am engaged in the taking of someone else's inventory, and chewing over the myriad ways in which I've decided they are coming up short. The moment I begin to turn my gaze, from my own character defects to those of another, I have lost my focus, and I am about to lose my serenity.

I want peace.

How do I find my way to that glorious place? By following the road map drawn for me, by those who have worked out some of the best ways to get there. By relinquishing my desire to control, and accepting my powerlessness. By attending  meetings, reasoning things out with someone else in program, and seeking my Higher Power as I understand him/her/it.

By choosing the long-term goal of serenity and peace over the short-term satisfaction of anger and judgement.

Someone asked me, "Why do I keep choosing anger, then - I hate that feeling!"

We do what we learn. I have had to unlearn the lessons of how to deal with anger, which I'd internalised as a child, and relearn a different way.

We do what works for us - in everything, there is a payoff. It may be a payoff of being able to take what a friend in program calls "the moral high ground." Perhaps our anger at this person allows us to feel that we are right and they are wrong. We may feel self-righteous. We may feel superior. We may feel an awful pain, and wish for comfort, but have no way as of yet, to ask for that, so instead, we express it as anger.

I can feel angry when my boundaries are violated, my feelings are dismissed or negated, when unkindness is repetitive, when I am being treated with disrespect.

My anger may be a perfectly reasonable response, but I cannot change other people. I have to detach from what they are doing, and step far enough back, to be out of range of whatever slop is flying. When I am detached, I see what's happening, but it doesn't get to me the same way. I'm out of range, when I'm detached. I seek peace where I've found it before - in my Higher Power, in the love of my program friends, in the deepest core of my own self.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

One Day At A Time - Or One Hour. Or Ten Minutes.

I came across a wonderful quote about writing,  from E.L. Doctorow, but I think it can apply equally as well to working a 12-Step program. He said:

"Writing is like driving at night in the fog. You can only see as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way."

Al-Anon can be like that - we may only be able to see as far as the headlights of illumination given to us by other members, but we can make the whole trip that way the first time, until we become able to light our own way.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Keep An Open Mind.

I can learn from anyone, if I am sufficiently open-minded. I can see the beauty, hear the wisdom, and learn from each person around the table in the rooms of Al-Anon, if I am willing to let go of all the ways in which my culture and upbringing taught me to judge.

I've reached a stage in my recovery where most of the beliefs and attitudes I brought with me when I first came into program, have slipped away. There are attitudes that I've had to lose completely, before I could gain understanding of the way they limited my growth.

Others, it has had to be my choice each and every time, to put this down, let this go. I may have had to begin that choosing by using one hand to pry the other hand open, before I could let go the first few times, then I could let them go unwillingly, but under the guidance of my sponsor, then I am more willing to try when I see they are self-defeating. The last stage before losing that attitude forever, is the same sort of instant letting go that happens when I grasp the handle of a pot on the stove, and find it too hot for bare skin - a reflex, done so quickly I don't have time to think about it.

And then, one lovely day, I realise that I truly, in my heart and soul, don't believe that anymore - my Higher Power has set me free. But I had to be willing, first.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

An Interesting Experience.

Yesterday afternoon, I was out watering the garden, when I was stung at the base of my left thumb. I dropped the hose and ran inside to get anti-histamines - my husband had used them all. I quickly changed my clothes and drove to the drug store to purchase some. I took two while standing in the line to cash out, and hoped they would start working soon. As I was driving out of the parking lot of the store, I could feel the roof of my mouth, my tongue, and my throat beginning to go numb. I turned down the road towards the hospital, and prayed for calmness as I waited at red lights and the numbness in my mouth and throat progressed, and I began to feel as though I were wearing a too-tight shirt. (The literature about anaphylactic shock mentions "a feeling of impending doom" as a possible part of the reaction - I can now say I've experienced that.)

I parked in the Emergency parking lot, and walked quickly into the hospital, not stopping to get a parking ticket for my car. I was taken into the back, an IV port put into my right hand, and a large syringe of medication was shot into me - epinephrine. This is a horrid sensation; I felt the rush of coolness go up my arm,  into my heart, and suddenly that felt as though it were going to pound itself out of my chest. I also felt distinctly light-headed and strange. I had three seperate injections before the numbness in my mouth, and tightness in my chest began to go away, and after another long period of observation, I was released.

I walked outside to find a ticket on my windshield, with a notice on the back from the parking company, that if it had been a medical emergency, I could call and speak to one of their representatives about possibly having the ticket cancelled.

The doctor at the hospital gave me a prescription for 2 Epipens, and suggested that I carry them at all times.

The moral of this story is: Check the expiry date of your emergency epinephrine injector regularly, and, if you realise it is out of date, go and get a new one immediately! Don't throw the old one out, and forget to get a new one for 3-4 days - it's the laws of life that you will then get stung, experience a serious reaction, and put your life in jeopardy.

Today, I'm feeling as though I've had a narrow escape for my foolishness.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

How Will I Know?

The way it seems to work for me, I may not know that I've reached a decision, until I am caught unawares with the realisation that I'm now feeling peaceful, when I once again contemplate, that which has been causing me small (or great) distress.  I recognise my state of mind as the one which follows the hard work of consideration, reflection and choosing - a calm and centred place.
Then, all that remains, is the organisation required to begin working towards my goal. No more confusion, distress, self-doubt. Just: what do I do next? And after that? And after that?

I used to ask my first sponsor "But, how will I know when I'm ready to ____?" She'd smile lovingly upon my impatient self, and reply, "You'll know. Believe me, it's not something you can mistake."

I found that a deeply unsatisfying reply, until, some long time later, in a calm wash of awareness, I understood what she meant, because I felt it.

It's akin to having a dreadful cold or flu for days and days, and waking up one morning to realise: we're on the mend - we feel better in some idefinable way. We still have the symptoms, but not as severely, and our mental state has improved from wishing we could quietly be put down, to consideration of what we might have for dinner that day.

I'm off to the Saturday morning meeting - one of my favourites.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

What Are My Options?

I always have choices.

I may not like any of them.

Some days, the choice I make is more choosing the least objectionable option than the most delightful, because the list of choices contains nothing I want. On occasion, that's life. Maturity involves accepting that truth, and making the best of it. Grumbling and protest, uses up energy and time better spent in working to accept that least objectionable option, detaching from it, and moving on with my day.

That's also a choice. It's ok to give myself a short period of time in which to state my dislike about having options which don't appeal to me in any way, but it's counter-productive for me to indulge myself in extended complaint.

Say what I think - to myself, a friend, my Higher Power, and then move on. Let go, and continue to believe that I am safe. Recognise that we all have times in which we are given only options we dislike; I'm not being singled out for this. The world isn't punishing me, it's like housecleaning - there comes a time when I have to dust the blinds, unless I want them to have a strange furry appearance. Dusting the blinds is a royal pain, and I don't want to do it.

Some days, my life choices and working my program is much like dusting the blinds - one slat at a time, until - that's finished, and I can move on.