Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Growing Pains.

Some realisations are joyous - we feel lifted up, connected to our Higher Power, eyes open to new possibilities, and bouncing with eager anticipation to get moving.

Some realisations hit with the force of a blow, and we "fall backwards onto a hard fact." Those are the ones for which I can have difficulty mustering gratitude. When I'm right in the midst of coming to an understanding about something firmly in the latter category, it's not only painful, it's disorienting; my perspective has been given enough of a knock to alter the appearance of almost everything in view.

These are the times during which I need to seek support and encouragement from my friends in Al-Anon. They lend an arm upon which I can lean while my eyesight adjusts to my new worldview. They can remind me that new perspective is always a good thing in the long run.  If I am as yet unable to find any way to believe that, I know that they believe it, and I'll go with that. Experience has taught me to take on faith, that which I don't have the inner resources to support on my own right now.

Life is good, and I will feel better. I know that much. I pray for gratitude, and for acceptance.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Common Denominators - Petulant

My dictionary defines petulant as: "irritable, impatient, or sullen." 

I have been all of these - irritable when my wants and needs were not being met, when another person was not responding favourably to my attempts to control them, when life has not been unfolding according to my expectations.

I've been impatient as I've waited for an outcome I wished to occur, for myself to fully grasp a new idea, (or put an old one into regular circulation instead of shoving it into storage and forgetting about it,) for the alcoholics in my life to gain understanding or display willingness.

I've been sullen when I haven't received that to which I think I am entitled or deserve, when boundaries laid down clearly by me are stomped upon and trampled by an alcoholic, when I believe that I am in the right, someone else is in the wrong, and no matter how much I ranted or hounded, I couldn't force them to agree with my interpretations.

My petulance has brought me nothing I want or need. Instead, it has sentenced me to many anxious hours of obsession, ridiculous imagined conversations with someone who is happily engaged elsewhere while I stew and fret, and a boiling dissatisfaction with my own life.

At one time, before Al-Anon, ( and many times afterwards, this has been a slow process)  I enjoyed feeling wronged, irritable and sullen. That attitude fed my self-pity, and justified my own bad behavior and negative attitudes. Just look at what I had to endure! No reasonable person would ____!

But I wasn't a reasonable person, that is the thing. I was a sullen and irritable snarled-up ball of rage and resentment. I spent so much time focusing upon what was going on around me that I had no chance to grow and mature. I was so intent upon changing other people, there was no time left to consider where I might be falling short.

To achieve forward movement in my recovery, to get that momentum in my program, I must focus upon the one person over whom I have some control - me. As long as I am engaged in a sullen enumeration of another's faults, I have lost my focus. When I am "rritable and unreasonable" I am robbing myself and my life of happiness and satisfaction.

When I catch myself engaged in old thinking, I can stop, take a moment, then ask my HP to remove this character defect of petulance, and grant me peace, instead. When I hear what I call the "opening bars" - thoughts about what someone else should not be doing, thinking or saying, I know that I am looking outward, taking someone else's inventory - I can turn instead to the areas of myself that are still in need of further investigation, and a good housecleaning. I pray for patience, tolerance, and peace.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Letting Go Of The String, Too.

Last night at coffee after the meeting, someone spoke of a kite analogy they'd heard used to describe the process of "letting go" - we must release not only the body of the kite itself, but also let go of the string. It does me no good to let the body of the kite rise away from me, if I've still got the string wrapped in a stranglehold around my neck.

This, as so often happens, is precisely what I most needed to hear right now. I've been watching myself trying to turn something over, and even though I sincerely desire the freedom I know I'll get when I achieve this, I can't quite manage to let go of that string. Or I let go, it falls from my hand to drag along the ground right in front of me, and I stoop to pick it up "just for a moment," and pretty soon, I'm in that same uncomfortable position of having my arm yanked up, with my shoulder aching from the constant pull.

Letting go of most of something, or almost letting go, or partly letting go, does not work.

I must release my (fearful) grasp, and watch the kite sail out of my reach, body, tail, string and all, come what may. I must be willing to lose sight of it completely, trusting that my HP will look after me. I must be willing to stop straining to see it - resolutely turn and walk in the opposite direction, opening my heart to gratitude. I pray for the willingness to relinquish my illusion of control. to let go of that string.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Other People's Opinions, Ch 3.

In life, seems like there will always be someone who will  not hesitate to tell me how they believe me to be wrong/mistaken/misguided/blind and/or foolish in my ideas, practises, beliefs, habits. I once was just this sort of person, who felt free to offer my opinions to all who would stand still long enough to listen. I justified unkindness as "just my opinion." 

Al-Anon has taught me to use the acronym THINK:

Is it Timely? Is this something that shouldn't be brought up in the present situation, ie, in front of a group of people, but dealt with at a later date, when the two of us are alone together?

Is it Honest? Self-explanatory - am I being truthful?

Is it Intolerant? Am I being judgemental?

Is it Necessary? Can I use this opportunity to practise letting go?

Is it Kind? What is my motive for saying what I'm about to say? Will it hurt someone? Then don't say it.

I can't control how another person behaves, but I don't have to substitute their judgement for my own. If I know that I'm doing a good job, that's enough. I don't have to take it personally when someone is critical of me, because I know from my own experience of being that same critical person, that it arose from deep insecurities. 

I've learned to use some noncommittal phrases:

"Oh, yeah."  (said not in a challenging tone, but with a sort of mild disinterest.)

"Isn't that something!"

"You could be right."  This last is hugely powerful in its ability to disarm someone who is riled up about whatever it is. It validates their opinion or attitude without agreeing to it, or submitting to it.

There's a critic in any crowd. I pray for serenity in the face of criticism, and the ability to learn from the constructive variety.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Resisting Manipulation.

We teach other people how to treat us. This painful truth can be a lesson I must learn time and again with regard to some of the alcoholics in my life.

It can be a matter of remaining polite and cheerful while the other person is settled in for a long siege of mind games, emotional withdrawal and/or ignoring, in an effort to make me do what they want, in response to my having stated firmly and courteously that I am not going to do ____ anymore.

So, how to resist this sort of manipulation? I focus upon my own program, work with my sponsees, and use prayer and meditation to increase my conscious contact with my Higher Power. I need that conscious contact to keep myself in balance, and be able to maintain my boundaries.

I also don't do anymore what I once did - bring the topic up repeatedly, trying to explain again my feelings, decisions, and reasons for my choices. I try my very best to say it once, then step back, and let it go. Turn it over. Turn them over. Don't keep going over and poking them with my words, trying to control them, wanting them to respond differently.

Let them do whatever they are going to do, and don't provide them with an audience for their tantrums and head games by wandering around the house following them, like a puppy trying to make amends after a scolding. If someone turns their back to me when I'm speaking, I stop talking, and walk away. If I were to stay and continue speaking to their back, I'm enabling that rudeness.

If I agree to have conversations during which the other person is playing head games with me, I'm enabling those mind games.

I'm realising that I still have some areas of life in which I can be manipulated through fear, and financial security is a big one for me, as it is for many of us. This is on my mind a lot lately, this fear, and every time it arises, I have been turning it over to my Higher Power, and then letting it go. It's all out of my hands anyway, so why would I torture myself with it?

I desire peace, and the way to peace for me, is through staying in the moment, because in the moment, I have everything I need, and through prayer and meditation. I need to be willing to do what I don't want to do - let go of my fear of financial security and believe that I am in my HP's care. I also need to be willing to stick to that which I know is best for me, regardless of how scary that may feel right now.

I need to feel my fear, and then turn that over, too. I pray for courage, for peace, for acceptance.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Three C's And Letting Go

I was wandering through my blog stats yesterday for the first time in months, and it's interesting to discover that the most read post continues to be the first one I wrote about the "three C's" - "I didn't Cause it, I can't Control it, and I can't Cure it."

In that one sentence are encapsulated two of the most powerful tools in 12-Step:


When I finally reach a place of understanding of just how far beyond my simple human power is the devastation and pain of this disease of alcoholism, that's surrender. I look at the world around me, I look at the suffering alcoholic, and I surrender to my powerlessness. I sink to my knees in defeat, and I say "I give up."

 I was raised to never give up - "winners never quit, quitters never win," and that may hold true for many human endeavors, but for the disease of alcoholism, it is only when we surrender and admit to our complete powerlessness that we win our freedom. 

I didn't cause the alcoholic to drink, or if sober, to behave atrociously - what they do is on their plate, and my plate is a separate piece of crockery.

I can't control a single aspect of their thinking, choices, or behavior, and when I've been caught up in trying to coerce or manipulate, I have been sunk in a particular form of insanity - a frustrated misery. When I let go of the notion that it is anything to do with me, when I step back and detach, my Higher Power has a chance to work in my life. We can't both steer my life, it's either my HP steers, or I steer, and I don't have the greatest record when it comes to driving my life.

I can't cure it. Nothing I can do will make a lasting change - real change for the alcoholic must come from within them. They have their own walk of surrender and acceptance.

Often the most loving thing I can do is get out of someone's way.  Even when I see the cliff approaching. Even when I know the brakes are faulty. Even when I've seen this crash before.

Detachment is a loving form of surrender and acceptance. I pray for detachment with love.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Setting Boundaries and Turning It (And Them) Over.

Major life decisions can start out with a mild unease, building slowly over a long period of time, to become an ever-present ache in the heart and soul.

Setting a boundary with another person can feel like an impossiblity, if we are terrified of what that boundary-setting might cause to happen. When I consider the outcome of setting a boundary, and get wound up in awfulising and fearing the future, I'm a lot less likely to set it and maintain it.

I was listening to an Al-Anon speaker I really like, Ellen C, and she spoke of how so many co-dependents will draw a line in the sand, and say, "See this line? You better not step over this line, or something bad is going to happen, and you won't like it!"
Of course the alcoholic promptly stomps all over that line. So what do we often do? We move back a few feet, and say "Okay, here's a new line - you better not cross this line, buster!"

Stomp stomp stomp. Glare.

We move back a few feet and start drawing another new line...stomp stomp...another new line even further back...and we do this over and over and over again.

I was thinking about that this afternoon, and could absolutely see where I've done this with the main alcoholic in my life. I've done that same backing up and backing up and backing up that so many of us do, until we're standing on our tiptoes on about a half inch of land, and they've got the entire rest of it, 40 acres to roam around in, while we're pushing up against the fence with the cows on the other side trying to bite the parts of us being shoved through the fence holes, and then we wonder why they don't respect us or our boundaries?

If I move my boundaries at the slightest sign of someone else's displeasure or anger or hurt or whatever they use to manipulate me, the bad news is that I have no boundaries - it's like trying to keep livestock contained with toilet paper strung from post to post - and then feeling all resentful and frustrated that the darn cows got out again

I'm faced with an understanding about how my own desire for control, and my fear, has caused me to move my boundaries in one area of my life right back to the fenceline. And then I've complained and whined about having to stand on my tiptoes, with no room to move around. I've backed myself into this corner.

Setting a new boundary has already caused a lot of flack - fury, resentment, ignoring, and nastiness - all of which have worked in the past, to cause me to relent and move back a few steps. But this time, it's maintain the boundary, or leave the relationship - the only choices left to me. And I've made my peace with both of them. I'm willing to accept whatever outcome results, because I've turned it all over to my HP.

I've let go. Completely. And the relief is so overwhelming, I cannot tell you what it feels like. It brings tears to my eyes to have finally said - "No more - it's your thing, you deal with it, I'm going to be busy doing what I need to do for me."

Ellen C also said, that when we do the right thing for us, it's also the right thing for the other person, too. They may not be able to see that, we may not be able to see that, but our Higher Power has a longer perspective.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Common Denominators - Obsessive Thinking

If I were asked to pick the one character trait I have found most destructive of my peace of mind, this would be it. I have the sort of mind that, without program intervention, climbs onto that gerbil wheel and runs for hours, sometimes days at a time, until I'm sick at heart with rage, fear and frustration.

For those who may be unfamiliar with the term, obsessive thinking is when I have one idea in my head, and I just keep chewing it over, angry, fearful and distressed, walking through my day with my body in the here and now, but my head somewhere else entirely. That one idea becomes all I can think about; it takes me over completely.

It wasn't until I joined Al-Anon that I began to grasp the idea that I have some control over what goes on inside my own head. I may not be able to stop thoughts from arising, but I don't have to latch onto them like a trap slamming shut, and carry them over to the gerbil wheel for a little workout. I can honestly state with full conviction that I have never climbed back down from the gerbil wheel feeling anything but worse than when I started.

Obsessive thinking drains my energy, poisons my day, and renders me incapable of enjoying my life. I will be moving from one thing to the next like a zombie, consumed with my obsessive thinking, while hiding behind my cheerful facade. It creates a feeling of tremendous alienation from the world around me, and makes me feel helpless and hopeless.

So how do I deal with this? How do I not get started, or once started, stop?  I ask my HP for help.

I call my sponsor, or another program person, and speak honestly of the madhouse between my ears. That breaks my isolation. I read program literature or listen to a speaker tape. That reminds me that we are all in this together, and I am not a solitary lunatic, but one of a large group, many of whom will take my phone calls.

If I can laugh at myself, I can break that pacing back and forth of obsessive thinking. Obsession requires total serious concentration - laughter makes this impossible, because I am given, through the laughter, some detachment from myself.

I I cannot change whatever it is, why expend all my energy and life-force obsessing about it? Back to Step One: I admit that I am powerless, and my life is unmanageable while I'm obsessing. I turn it over, I work my program, and I receive relief. For that relief, I feel a deep and abiding gratitude.

Friday, February 10, 2012

"Get Off Your Own Back!"

I love to sew, and have been trying, in the last while, to find a good t-shirt pattern to fit me. After several atttempts with purchased patterns, I gave up and did what I often seem to be doing when it comes to clothing - took apart one of my older ready-to-wear garments to use as a pattern. Tonight I was downstairs in my sewing room, putting the finishing touches on my first shirt made with this pattern, and listening to a talk given by one of my favourite 12-Step speakers, Father Tom W, who is a member of AA and Al-Anon, and wonderfully funny. (A talk of his from 2011 can be heard here.)

I'd been listening to one of his earlier talks, he was speaking about how we members of Al-Anon can be "viciously critical" of ourselves. That hit home with an audible thump - I realised that I'd been feeling disturbed and unhappy over the last 24 hours, because I've been engaged in vicious criticism of myself. (I had a conversation yesterday in which I reacted rather than responded, with predictable results: I've been giving myself a royal bollocking ever since.)

Father Tom went on to describe what that vicious criticism of himself sounded like, and how depressed he felt after bashing himself for a few days, and then after a short silence, he said, "Get off your own back!"

I started to laugh. I've been in program for a long time, but every now and then, I can still forget to give myself a break. If I get caught up in that vicious criticism of myself, I can't detach enough to be able to realise that 's what I'm doing - I'll be convinced that I'm "taking my inventory - working Step 10."

No. Inventory doesn't last 24 hours; it takes about two minutues.  No, I've got the mental sledgehammer out, and I'm whaling away.

If I walked around behind you for an entire day constantly telling you what a piece of crap you are for having made a mistake, you'd end up feeling angry, frustrated, raw, and depressed. Precisely the way I feel, when I do the same thing to me.

Forgiveness is a gift we can give to ourselves. Take inventory, make the amend, and then let it go, don't use the knowledge of our mistake as a club with which to rob the day of its pleasure. Let's all get off our own backs.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Question: Finding A Sponsor.

Craig asked: "In my area, there aren't very many men in the program, almost none still married to an active alcoholic. It's hard to find a sponsor and work the steps. I don't know what to do other than to pray to God for help. Any thoughts?"

Al-Anon's official site on the page entitled "How Al-Anon works for me" has an interesting quote down at the bottom of the page:

"Newcomers to Al-Anon are often interested in learning from members whose personal situations most closely resemble theirs. After attending Al Anon meetings, they begin to understand how much they have in common with everyone affected by someone else’s drinking, regardless of the specific details of their personal situation."

I don't need a sponsor whose personal situation mirrors mine, in order to find good help, support, and guidance in working the program. I might find that someone with whom I appear to share no life experience is the one person who consistently says what I most need to hear.

Finding a sponsor is not like picking a friend, (although most of us go on to become incredibly close friends with our sponsors over time.)  A sponsor is there to help us learn and use the Al-Anon program. We don't need to feel that spark of personal interest right off the bat which makes us want to pursue a friendship. We don't even have to like the person. I've sponsored people I wouldn't have chosen as a friend, and they've turned into friends. Choose people who have knowledge about working the 12 Steps, and whose life is calm and serene. I suggest that newcomers ask someone who has been in Al-Anon for a while, has worked the 12 Steps themselves, and has a sponsor with whom they consult on a regular basis.

You might find this interesting reading, also from the official site: forum-magazines-stories

Try asking the men you see at meetings, even if you think you have nothing in common with them, to sponsor you, and if they are unavailable, then you could ask a woman to be your interim sponsor until you can find a male sponsor. I think it's acceptable for a man to have a woman sponsor, as long as you have firm boundaries established right from the start - you both need to be comfortable with the relationship.  Perhaps you could ask one of the older women who has been in Al-Anon for quite some time, and that might make it more comfortable than working with a woman your own age.

Good luck, and please let me know how it goes.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Common Denominators - Negativity, Nervousness.

How I think affects my mood, feelings, attitudes, contentment, peace of mind. When I was consistently negative in my thinking, I was nervous, uneasy, and apprehensive, waiting for the next blow to fall, the next thing to go wrong. I approached other people with my guard firmly in place, mind shut tight.

In a weird way, I could have an encounter with the other person with hardly any input from them - I'd be responding to my own expectations, and acting upon my own assumptions. I couldn't see the other person clearly, because my own character defects were like a negative filter through which I viewed the world and its inhabitants.

That negativity created my nervousness. Not the world, not the people within it, but my own negative thinking. How do I know this?

Because as my thinking has changed, and my attitude become ever more positive, so has my life become ever more positive. I've met wonderful amazing people who are a delight to know. I don't go about in a sort of half-cringe, waiting for the next inevitable bad thing. When I go to the grocery store, and standing in line, joke with the other customers and the cashier, making us all laugh, that trip to the store is fun, rather than a boring, stressful experience. When I accept the daily round of life with a cheerful demeanor and a positive frame of mind as my reference point, life is good, people are kind and interesting. When I decide to let go of negativity, and focus upon the positive in every situation, my mood is powerfully affected, and life becomes an adventure.

Each day, each hour, each moment, I have a choice. It's mine to make. I choose whether or not I will enjoy my life. That doesn't depend upon my situation, it depends upon my attitude. I can enjoy life even
though I may not be utterly delighted with the changes over which I have no control. I don't have to like it to accept it.

Letting go of my original negative attitude, and choosing instead to focus upon the positive, has changed me greatly. I've become the sort of person who would have irritated the dickens out of me 26 years ago when I was new to program. Back then, if someone was cheerful, I thought it was because they didn't face the harsh realities of life as I saw it. I didn't understand that this was only my attitude, and not reality.

Acceptance is hugely powerful - it has created in me a source of joy, and peace of mind. I don't always manage to maintain this, because I get off course time and again - I am human, with all the attendant frailties. But when I work the 12 Steps, and this marvellous program to correct my course, I reap the incredible reward of serenity.

Until you have felt peace and serenity, you may not grasp why we work towards achieving it. Once you have, you will never be the same.