Wednesday, March 28, 2012

The Wild Windstorm That Wasn't.

Weather forecasters apparently were warning of a "wild windstorm" which was supposed to hit us yesterday  - you couldn't call the wind we received more than a "slight breeze" and even that sounds like an exaggeration.

My husband likes to watch the weather channel so that he knows what's in the forecast; seems to me that that all he accomplishes is to be warned about weather which never arrives. Snowstorms which turn out to last for ten minutes and then all evidence vanishes in the hot sun which follows - big storms which don't materialise, serious warnings given by grave-faced weather people who sound so certain, and can be completely wrong time and again, yet people still wait to hear their pronouncements.

Rain has a scent before it arrives, and I can tell when it's going to snow by the appearance of the clouds, they have a smooth, flat look. The birds become active before the wind, and the dogs are restless. Other than that, I tell the weather by gazing out my window.

Human beings want to know what's coming - we kid ourselves that knowing ahead of time helps us to prepare for it, but that's not how it works it real life. When the event actually arrives, and we're in the midst of it, all the advance preparation in the world doesn't ameliorate one moment of the feelings we go through. Life has to be lived in the present moment, and my serenity is undisturbed when I am undisturbed by the happenings of daily life - when I roll with the punches, they don't hurt any less, but I recover my equilibrium much more quickly..

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Facing What Life Deals Out.

A good friend dropped by yesterday to tell me that the testing had shown that he has a "mass" in his stomach. He's been having problems off and on for 8-9 months now, has lost 45 pounds, and does not look well.

He's a lovely man, my friend, generous, caring, imaginative, and wildly funny. He's dealt with cancer once in his life already with his partner, who was deathly ill and pulled through after treatment. They are bonded in the way that only 20-some years together bonds a couple, and are each other's support and comfort. He's got a great support system of friends around to help him though whatever this turns out to be.

That has to be enough, because in the end, that's all there is. Love, and people.

Tonight I'm going to see a play with another friend, whose daughter is in the cast, so that should be fun. I've been looking forward to it. I don't have much to say today, because I'm feeling balanced and content. I wish for all who read this, an excellent and serene weekend.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Anticipating Trouble.

When I was new to Al-Anon, one old-timer in my home group had a few stock phrases which used to make me gnash my teeth in silent irritation. (I've become so much less irritable, that I might almost be a different species than the frightened, anxious, angry woman who first entered an Al-Anon meeting 26 years ago.)

One of this member's pet phrases was: "Don't awfulise."  I found this supremely annoying when I was the recipient, because I believed that anticipating trouble was nothing more than careful planning. I didn't understand that she was simply trying to offer the crazed newcomer that I was, a way to find some serenity from the madhouse between my ears. I understood it to mean that she thought I was exaggerating, and I felt offended. I thought she was oversimplifying, and that my life was far too complicated for little two-word phrases to be of any help.

Now, as is the way in 12-Step, I say to my sponsees, when they begin to get themselves worked up about what might happen if this, or that, or even that takes place, "I think you're awfulising. Try to stay in the moment."

Staying in the moment means that I must completely, willingly, with gratitude, give up all of the mental tortures with which I occupied so much of my time. Anticipating trouble took up a great deal of my waking hours. I could work out huge long interconnected horrifying possibilities, and create much misery for myself doing it. I'd imagine a terrible outcome, and then feel depressed about it.

That's insanity, to be feeling upset and depressed about an imaginary outcome. My first sponsor pointed out that these outcomes were never positive, only and always negative. I was scaring the dickens out of myself with things that might never happen. She taught me to pay attention to my internal dialogue, and when I started up anticipating trouble, to "switch channels" to the one in which my Higher Power was taking good care of me, and I could just go for a dogwalk and relax.

"I am an old man and have known a great many troubles, but most of them never happened."

                                                                                         Mark Twain

Some of your hurts you have cured,
And the sharpest you still have survived,
But what torments of grief you endured
From the evil which never arrived.

~Ralph Waldo Emerson

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Busy And Tired.

An interesting combination, since the first requires energy to fufill my obligations, and the second makes me think longingly of sleep. I've been having less than refreshing nights for a couple of weeks now, and the exhaustion is cumulative. One good night, and I could feel rejuvenated, but I'm not getting one. I get up every morning feeling as tired as I did when I fell into bed the night before.

Being this fatigued strips life down to the essentials - do what must be done, and let the rest go by unremarked. No energy to complain, obsess, worry, stress, argue, or even think very well, which is why no posts for so long - I'd be sitting in front of the computer staring at the screen, mind completely blank.

Today isn't much better, but I was struck by a phrase in today's reading in One Day At A Time In Al-Anon:
"my own limited ideas."

So much of my problem in life before Al-Anon was just that - my limited ideas. Not only the limits of my thinking, but my inability to recognise those limitations, admit to them, accept them, and be open-minded to receiving new ideas from any source. I was a closed system, forever going around on the familiar cicuits of my thinking, unable to break free.

Accepting new ideas can be very difficult to begin with - we don't like change, and we don't want to have to make any changes, because the old and the familiar feel safe. They may not be working very well, they may be causing distress and discomfort and distance in all our relationships, but we can still be reluctant to let them go.

My first sponsor said I should work to accept one new idea every day. When I asked where was I supposed to get all these new ideas, she suggested I start reading the literature of Al-Anon every day - many new and helpful ideas contained in the Al-Anon books. I began with not much willingness, and grew to love these daily readers. They've helped me enormously, and continue to help me. For that, I'm deeply grateful.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Common Denominators - Rigidity

 In which areas am I rigid? What are my "rules?"  Rules are different for each of us, and can range from "Don't complain" to "Dishes must be arranged in the dishwasher in this order" to "Don't let the dog up on the furniture" to "A good friend would never do _____" to "When gardening, always deadhead before watering." It can be an interesting experiment to try to figure out as many of our rules as possible, then begin to work to let them go.

I was raised by a ferociously rigid adoptive mother who enforced her many rules and regulations with physical abuse. It wasn't until I had some time in Al-Anon that I gained an understanding that her rigidity was powered by fear - she lived in a constant state of fear. She'd had a hard childhood herself, had learned that the world and the people in it were not to be trusted, and as an adult, tried to cope with her fear by coming up with rules to cover any and every eventuality.

I didn't want to be anything like her, but I'd been well-trained into the idea that there's only one right way to do something, (and that when I became an adult, I could make up my own rules and enforce them) so it was a long hard haul uphill to try to change this way of thinking. Before I could begin to change it, I needed to understand which feelings drove it, and the purpose it served.

The feelings behind most of my rules were/are: fear, and a desire for control. If it's not one, it's the other, and  I've expended much energy trying to make the various alcoholics in my life follow my many rules. (Good luck on that one.) When I catch myself being rigid, I've learned to stop, investigate what my feeling is, why has it arisen, what do I believe will happen if my rule isn't followed to the letter, and can I choose to let this go?

So many of the things that I once believed should be done my way have been repeatedly proven to be equally as successful if done someone else's way. It doesn't matter one bit how they are done, as long as they get done. Muddling through works fine most times. There's very little in most of our lives that needs to be done precisely. This isn't rocket science, brain surgery, or computer programming.

Seems like I'm always discovering new areas in which I need to let go. Whenever I hear myself using the word "should" in a sentence, I know I need to stop and take a good look at that thought process - "should" or "shouldn't" has become a red flag for me. Much of my martyrdom was about other people refusing to follow my rules. How dare they? My first sponsor suggested a better question might be, "Why would they?"

The more I can let go, the more serenity I find. The plants don't care if I water before deadheading, or afterwards. They have a few basic needs, and as long as those are met, they will thrive. I too, have only a few basic needs. I too, can thrive if I choose to.

Friday, March 9, 2012

Word Verification

I've turned this off, after having it pointed out how maddening it can be to try posting a comment with it on. My apologies to all of you who've struggled with this - I've had difficulty seeing those sideways wiggle-words clearly, myself. I set it as "on" long ago when I started this blog, and promptly forgot all about it.

It's grey and drizzling today, but it's the night of my home group meeting, and that always permeates my Fridays with a pleasurable sense of anticipation.

From today's reading (March 9) in Courage to Change:

"Everything I do and everything that crosses my path - people, situations, ideas - all have the potential to contribute to my growth and understanding. Just for today, I don't have to know what that contribution will be."

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Common Denominators - Quixotic & Querulous.

Great word, quixotic; my dictionary defines it as: "impulsive and often rashly unpredictable." and "querulous"  is defined as: "full of complaints; complaining." 

Both accurate descriptions of who I was when I was new to Al-Anon. I would be swept by an emotion - fear, or anger -  act whilst in the heat of emotion, without stopping to consider the potential outcomes, and then later, when faced with the results of my rash decisions, I would complain. To anyone and everyone. In detail, at great length, and with no understanding of the reality that I'd once again put myself into an untenable position.

It can be painful, lonely, or just uncomfortable to "sit with a feeling," and many of us in Al-Anon will do just about anything to avoid this. In this way we are akin to the alcoholics, who douse their feelings with the anesthetising effect of alcohol - we often use action of some sort to relieve or escape our feelings.

I have learned in 12-Step, to use actions which don't compound the problem. Instead of staying and provoking an argument, I will go for a long fast walk with the dogs, work in the garden, clean house, do something requiring a fair bit of physical effort - this works for me, calms me down, and allows me to vent my feelings harmlessly. I don't make decisions when I'm upset or annoyed, because I've learned that I don't have good judgement at those times. It may feel immensely satisfying to behave immaturely, but it doesn't last, and I don't want to be creating any more wreckage in my life. I want to behave with dignity, maturity and compassion.  This requires that I be willing to feel my feelings, and wait out my own emotional response.

I'm no longer a champion complainer, because in order to complain, I had to be willing to view myself as a victim. I don't see myself that way anymore. I know I have choices in some areas, and no control in many others; that knowledge simplifies my life.

Today, I love myself enough not to act foolishly in order to avoid my feelings. I love others enough not to subject them to hours of complaint.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Heaven In A Fabric Store.

A friend and I took the ferry over to the mainland yesterday, and went shopping in the city - it was great fun. My friend took me to a huge fabric store with so many bolts of material and every notion imaginable, from thread to lace to silly wigs, that our few hours spent there barely scratched the surface of their inventory. It was wonderful. Then we went to a specialty cheese store, ate lunch at a Greek restaurant, did some more shopping, and took the ferry back home to our island.

The trip over was smooth sailing; the trip home was a little nerve-wracking.  I've ridden on these boats for 30 years back and forth to the mainland, and last night was the very first time I've had even the slightest feeling of nervousness. These are not small ferries, they're huge boats which are "over 130 metres long, and can carry 362 vehicles, and 1500 passengers, travelling at 22 knots" according to the website. I've been lucky, and hadn't yet experienced as rough a sailing as we had last night; the restaurant and elevators closed down shortly after we got out into open water, and passengers were asked to remain in their seats unless they had to use the washrooms. We were sitting in a bank of seats near the gift shop, which closed down at the same time as the food service - items were crashing off shelves onto the floor.

The boat was rolling from side to side, now and again smashing down into a wave with a report your could hear all over the vessel - WHAM! I was grateful for the darkness, as it made it difficult to see just how much of a roll we were experiencing - that is, until I said to my friend, "Oh, look at the moon" and just as we did look, it disappeared from the window frame at the top, then reappeared and was quite far down the window when it began its next ascent. We started to laugh, and agreed not to look at the moon anymore, because doing so made it possible to gauge the depth of the sideways roll. I had one moment of nausea at a particularly deep rolling motion, but other than that, we kept ourselves occupied talking about anything that came to mind. I've never before been quite so grateful to reach the dock.

When we went down to the car deck, all the vehicles were thickly covered in salt spray, so much so that it took a fair bit of washer fluid to clean the windscreen.

A wild ride, but a safe arrival.

It was blowing a bit of snow during the drive home, but today is glorious - sunny and warm, with no hint of snow anywhere but on the far mountain tops.

I'm feeling peaceful, grateful, and serene. And I owe it all to Al-Anon.