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.