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."

Thursday, September 29, 2011

"Talk To The Hand..."

One useful lesson I've learned in Al-Anon, is to stop flogging a dead horse. If twenty zillion times of saying the same thing hasn't had the desired effect, why would I imagine that the twenty-zillion-and-first time would?

I can say what I need to say to reset a boundary, or, if asked, impart information, but I can stop to question my motives, and if I'm trying to control, then I need to let it go, put it down, close my mouth, walk away, just give it up.

I had one of those moments of illumination last night, and in the past, I'd have tried to share that with the alcoholic. Forcibly, if necessary, with a raised voice and angry tone. But I've learned the very valuable lesson that if the stove is hot, don't put my hand down on the burner just to check and make absolutely sure that it's as hot as it looks. If every other time I've tried to express my feelings about the way I'm treated, I've been met with disdain and dismissal, why would I think this time will be different? If the burner is red, the stove is hot. Keep my hands in my pockets.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Extra What?

I've been very busy the last few days, building the website for my new counselling practice. It's amazing the pressure involved in trying to get something like that done quickly. But it's online now, so I can turn my attention to other things.

Out walking the dogs with a close friend the other day,  talking about the ways in which we've changed in Al-Anon, I mentioned that I used to mutter angrily to myself about how much I hated my life, but through being willing to work this program, all of that anger has slipped away, and I will catch myself thinking exuberantly, "Life is good!" 

My spouse and I were looking at old photographs last night, and it was interesting to see the different emotions they evoked in the two of us. The time in which those pictures were taken, was a period of great disillusionment for me - I'd been coming to the realisation that a long period of sobriety didn't mean that a person was recovered, it only meant they'd stopped drinking. He'd been sober for 8 years, and I'd been fairly new to Al-Anon when we got together; I hadn't understood that the two were not the same thing.

Looking at those photos last night, and listening to him speak about that time, as though it had been a wonderful time in his life, I was bemused. I look back at all that went on, and wonder, how did I not recognise what was so plain before me? It's an indication of just how strong denial can be, when the reality is painful and unwanted. We were married, living in a tiny village where he knew everyone and I knew no-one, (he'd insisted and cajoled, until I agreed to move away from my support system, and all of my friends) he was working long hours and never home except to sleep, and I had myself and my dogs for company.

I had adored and trusted him; as I began to understand who he was when he wasn't putting on his public persona, I felt bereft.

Emotionally, I went underground for many years, and just endured. Eventually, I convinced myself that I hadn't felt what I did, and that life was fine, I was fine, our marriage was fine. I had help in this, because everyone was always telling me, (I still hear this regularly) what a great guy he was. I'd thought that too, before I'd married him. I doubted myself and my feelings, until one day when we were talking about the way he treated me, and he said, out of the blue, that he'd treated his first wife exactly the same way.

That was rather an offhand statement, in his mind, but it was the key to freedom for me.  Through working with my sponsor, and working the Steps with a renewed determination,  my denial about the marriage began to crack and break up. When I started to be honest about what I thought and felt in this relationship, I was met with a steely resistance. My spouse wanted it to be the way it had been, and it took probably a year, before he truly understood that it was never again going to be the way it had been, that I have changed in some fundamental way.

This change in me has been a real cage-rattler, but I'm enjoying it immensely for the added peace, serenity and detachment I'm feeling.

Friday, September 23, 2011

A Question About Distancing.

Between Syd's post, and a question I received:

"Is it okay to distance myself from a family member who continues to treat me with sarcasm and rudeness?"

 - what's on my mind today, are the sufferings we endure, when our fear precludes our setting boundaries around unacceptable behavior. I accepted many years of abuse - physical, emotional, verbal - because my self-image was so damaged that I didn't believe I had the right to say, "No more!"

When I was a kid, whatever happened behind the closed doors of a family home was the inhabitant's business, and no-one would interfere, as long as it didn't become blatant.

Things are somewhat different now, at least with the justice system in this country. If I were to call the police because the neighbour was screaming abuse at his wife and kids, they'd come out and talk to him, give him both a warning as to his behavior, and options for seeking treatment for anger management.

But how many of us convince ourselves, that we have no choice but to accept unacceptable behavior, for one reason or another? I know I struggled for years with feelings of hurt and distress, with "jokes" which were nothing of the sort, they were thinly-veiled insults. If I protested, I'd be asked, "Can't you take a joke?" or be told, "I was only kidding."

It wasn't until I decided that I was going to challenge each and every one of these "not-jokes," that they diminished in frequency. As long as I tolerated them, the alcoholic used them as a way to take digs at me, without having to take responsibility for what he was doing.

I have to decide what I will, and will not, accept from another person. If I allow myself to be treated abusively, it's likely the person abusing me is going to continue with that behavior, because it works for them.

I can lean on the support, experience, strength and hope of my friends in Al-Anon, as I set new boundaries. If I quietly and calmly state that I will be treated with respect, or I will remove myself - from the room, the house, or the relationship - I'm letting this person know that things have changed, and it's not going to be the way it has been. When I act with calm dignity, it's because I've had an internal change, and this is how it's manifesting itself - in a desire to be treated with the respect that I deserve.

We all have to decide for ourselves how we are going to deal with family - I don't give specific advice, but I do suggest that you talk to other people in Al-Anon, and find out how they've dealt with this problem in their lives. We get tunnel vision; another viewpoint can be helpful.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Sponsorship Is A Spiritual Gift To The Sponsor.

One of the greatest gifts I have received through being a sponsor in Al-Anon, is seeing the people with whom I work, grow in their love of self. As the old confused thinking, and automatic assumptions about themselves, are scraped away through the practise of this wonderful program, the self beneath begins to emerge, with the beauty and dignity that is the human spirit.

Perhaps we've been assigned roles in our dysfunctional families, which we've accepted as -  just the truth - never questioned. I find it awe-inspiring, to work with a person who has accepted this kind of family labelling, (and felt great personal shame about it,) and watch them begin, through working Step Four, to discover that it's not the truth, it's a convenient fiction which made it possible for the family to keep limping along in the same unhealthy groove. When a sponsee is granted that kind of realisation, it changes the way they see themselves, and with the dropping away of shame, comes a new peace and serenity. When I watch a sponsee working through the falling away of old shame, I gain a clearer picture of the ways in which shame kept me a prisoner, behind my public facade.

I love it when a sponsee begins to understand that they can't control anyone but themselves, and they can't change another person. With that realisation, they can drop the reins, because they realise that the darn things aren't, and were never, attached to the horse.

Letting go brings space and room to turn their attention to what they can change for the better - themselves, their own lives, their search for knowledge and understanding. Every time I share in their delight, it deepens my understanding of my own journey.

With each person I have sponsored in Al-Anon, I have gained a greater understanding of myself: how I think, what I fear, how I compensate and arrange, the ways in which I attempt to control, who I am when I'm alone with only my dogs and my Higher Power for company.

Your sponsor will benefit, just as you do, in your work together - that's one of the miracles of 12-Step. When you ask someone to be your sponsor, you aren't being a bother, you aren't intruding upon their time; you are offering them a great spiritual gift - try to keep that in mind, if you are feeling anxious or worried about asking.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Why Reason Things Out With Someone Else?

Undermine: "to attack by indirect, secret, or underhand means; attempt to subvert by stealth."

I had a conversation with someone last week which took me a few days to decipher. I knew what I felt afterwards, but I couldn't put my finger on exactly why that was. It wasn't until I spoke to a close friend in the program, and shared some of the content of the conversation, that I was given understanding. My friend was quickly able to recognise the behavior, and its result, because she's had long experience with just that thing - subtle undermining.

She used the word, and everything clicked into place and made sense. I "got it."

I cannot stress strongly enough, how helpful it can be to "reason things out with someone else." It's not always necessary to do this with someone in Al-Anon; it can be done with anyone with whom we feel safe, and in whom, we have complete trust.

We are each locked inside our own heads with our perceptions and our habits of thinking - this can keep us confused and frustrated. We need an objective viewpoint, sometimes many different objective viewpoints. When I was new to program, I used to feel that I was only allowed to ask one person to do this reasoning out with me, and it's not a good idea to be shopping around trying to get a specific answer. But experiences and strengths vary; the first person with whom we talk, may not be able to help us identify or recognise the patterns in an encounter.

I'm trying to pay more attention to how I feel after I spend time with someone. Do I feel vaguely unsettled, and suddenly full of self-doubt, when I went into the conversation feeling positive and happy? If so, something happened in that encounter, and I need to figure it out, so that I can make a good choice for myself about whether or not I want to have this person in my life.

It's a fact of life that some people aren't good for me. I don't have to explain or justify, condemn or demonise that person, in order to feel that I have a good reason to avoid them. I don't need a good reason. If every time I see them, I come away from that encounter feeling unsettled, confused, and less serene, those feelings are reason enough. Self-care includes picking my friends wisely. Life is too short to spend any of it with those who would undermine my confidence.

An old friend in program spoke movingly about the way that her father used to tell her that his criticism was "well-meant" and "for her own good," and that she couldn't "surround herself with only those people who would be cheering her on."

This woman said that her real recovery began the day that she realised she could do that very thing - pick friends who would be her cheerleaders, delighted in her successes, and supportive of her failures. That was the day that she understood fully and completely that she deserved to be surrounded by cheerleaders.

I, too, have been snared by that "for your own good" trap of negativity. I prefer cheerleaders.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Moving Makes Me Tired.

We had good friends over today, who stayed for dinner, and it was great fun, but now I'm completely exhausted, with no energy to do the unpacking and organising I'd promised myself I'd get done this weekend.

I need to let go, we haven't even been in this house a week yet, and already, I'm giving myself a hard time for not having it set up perfectly and completely - what a nutcase I am, still, in so many ways. I wouldn't expect any of my friends to have their house completely organised a week after a move, so why do I set these goals for myself?

Our friends helped us to rearrange the livingroom so that now it feels like home - neither my husband nor I are any good at that sort of thing, we just bung the furniture down along the walls, and then wonder why it resembles a waiting room. Our friends have the knack - move this, hang that here, pull the couch out so it's at an angle, put the rug in a different way, shove that chair over, move this plant, and suddenly, it all comes together and looks marvellous. It was fun, but I still don't know how they do it, no matter how many times I watch it happen; it's just magical. After the room was set up, we all sat down for dinner and some great laughing fits.

Now, the house is quiet, my husband has gone to bed, and I'm feeling contented and grateful. My Higher Power has granted me much joy, and many good people in my life.  People in whose company I feel uplifted, enriched, entertained, educated. Tonight I'm full of the knowledge that I have a good life, and I'm grateful to be aware of it.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

What Am I Doing With What I Have?

Online again at last. Our cable hookup resembled a Monty Python skit:

Installer: "There you go, all done."

Customer: "But it's not working!"

Installer: "Sure it is, you just have to squint - see, there it was! There it is again!

Customer: "But I can't watch tv with it flashing on and off like that!"

Installer: "Well, it's because the moon is too close to Pluto, eh? It affects the satellite signal."

Customer: "Well, can you fix it?"

Installer: "No need to fix it, it's working perfectly."

Customer: "But it keeps cutting in and out!"

Installer: "It's supposed to do that."

Customer: "No it isn't!"

Installer: "Well, I'm glad you're satisfied, I'm off now."

Customer: "I'm not satisfied, it's not working!"

Installer: "Oh, no need to thank me, I'm just doing my job, you know." (zips out the door)

(Customer beats head against wall, screaming loudly.) "AAARRRGGGHHH!"

The same installer returned, and we had the same result when he left. My husband is trying to work up the emotional strength to try calling the company again, since every call means at least an hour on hold.

With the internet, the installer came and left, and I had - nothing. Very strange. A different installer came, fiddled for about 2 minutes, and it worked perfectly.

I'm deeply grateful for Al-Anon, since the old me would have been furious and upset for days, and even angrier when she went over to the old place last night, to discover that someone stole our lifetime hoses, and hose reel. The neighbour saw someone in our back yard a day or so ago, and if it was she who stole the hoses, she very thoughtfully unscrewed the watering wand, and left it behind.

I was very angry about the hose for a few minutes, then said to my husband that I hated the feeling, and wasn't going to torture myself with it for any longer than that. I let it go. I can't do anything about it, and I don't want to allow the thief to disturb my serenity. Before Al-Anon, I'd have made a meal of it, chewed over that hose theft for days, told everyone about it, ranting and raving. I'd have seen it as further proof that the universe was against me, that things never went right for me, blah blah blah. I'd have been able to completely forget all the positives of this move, and I'd have chosen instead to focus on the one negative thing - the theft of my hoses. When anyone asked how the move went, that would have been the first thing I told them.

When I hear the phrase "a disease of perception," I remember that this is who I once was - an unhappy woman who focused solely upon the negatives in my life, and who couldn't let go of anything. I was talking to a friend last night, who mentioned that when his dad was alive, he would talk about the past and be just as furiously angry at whatever it was he was recalling, as he'd been when it first happened - he seethed with bitter resentment.

I know that without 12-Step, I'd have been that same way. An AA speaker jokes that one needs to be careful about praying to our Higher Power for help with being patient, tolerant, forgiving, etc, because we will then be presented with many opportunities to learn, and practise, these new skills.

From Courage to Change, page 259:

"My Higher Power's gifts sometimes take unusual forms. Perhaps something I regard as a problem is really a form of assistance."

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Offline For a Few Days.

I'll be back as soon as the phone hookup is complete, allegedly this will be on the 6th, but who knows?

I was just over at the new place, wandering around enjoying the sunlight pouring into the rooms, while my husband was painting the wall which the previous people had painted a rather, um... exhilarating shade of green. It's now a lovely shade of pale creamy brown - like chocolate milk.

Later, he took a break from painting, and we went out onto the deck, leaning over the railing to watch a fawn, which had come in through a loose slat on the back fence, and was wandering around looking for something good to eat. We talked a bit, and then fell into a companionable silence, enjoying the sun, and life in general.

I love this house, and the peaceful area - 3 blocks from the beach - that's how it goes, when we turn it all over to our Higher Power, and let him work it out for us.

Life is good, and I'm content. I'll be back here soon. Take care.