Tuesday, March 26, 2013


I got an email from my oldest sister on Saturday, someone she'd not heard from in 25 years had gotten her email address from a mutual acquaintance, and had begun sending her nasty emails. Why do people do this? It got me thinking about my husband, who would say hurtful things to me and if I protested, defend his meanness as "Just a joke."

I tried for years to accept his "jokes" and not feel hurt or offended or upset, until one day when I realised that I didn't care whether his latest remark had been intended as a joke, or not, I wasn't going to accept another sniping comment from him, and try to "be a good sport" and choke it down.  I began to calmly state that I didn't like what he'd just said, I didn't accept it as a joke, I thought it was unkind and mocking, and I would appreciate if he stopped making those sorts of comments. It took a little while, but he did stop, because I challenged the unkindness each and every time.

We teach people how to treat us. All the years in which I tried to tell myself that he was "only joking" while feeling hurt by his latest sarcastic remark, I wasn't accepting the validity of my own feelings. Somehow, the questions about "Can't you take a joke?" would play into my own lack of self-acceptance, and it wasn't until I could say to myself, and then to him, "I don't deserve to be mocked or treated this way" that I was able to set a boundary around this behavior of his, and tell him, "If you continue to make that kind of comment, I'm not going to have this conversation with you."

Before I could do anything about setting a boundary, I had to accept myself as I was just that minute. Not as I might be if, as he was prone to state, I "had a better sense of humour," but as I was right then. I needed to believe that who I was mattered, that I had the right to say I didn't like what was happening, and then, if it continued, to walk away.  For a lot of years, I was still trying to convince him that he was in the wrong for saying mean things to me and defending them as "jokes." It wasn't until I gave up trying to change his behavior, and instead, changed my own - stopped accepting his unacceptable behavior and blaming myself for it - that anything outside of me changed.

 I'm only now beginning to understand just how much responsibility I took on in the marriage, for his feelings, and his attitudes. I had to be away from him for quite a few months before I could begin to grasp that the way he treated me triggered the ideas instilled in my crazy abusive childhood  - that I was a bad person.

I hadn't challenged that below-the-surface feeling, I just accepted it as truth, it was an old fear I'd carried, that no matter how hard I tried, no matter what I did in 12-Step or out of it, I was a bad person, In the wierd way these things work, somehow, I think I believed that he'd "found me out" and was treating me accordingly.

The longer I'm in program, the more important I believe kindness to be - to others, of course, but also to ourselves.

I know full well how soul-destroying it can be, if we are the recipient of an unprovoked attack, as my sister has been, and instead of being able to see that attack clearly, we accept the given responsibility for it.

Re-reading this for editing purposes, it sounds a little - insane. I am grateful for my Higher Power, who is restoring me to sanity. I'm also grateful for the kindness I've been shown by so many other people in the last 8 months, and the kindness I've been able to feel towards myself. Self-acceptance is important for our serenity and our recovery.

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Spiritual Growth

I spent today at our local once-yearly Al-Anon Day. I began the day with a shift beside my sponsor at the registration table, greeting people as they arrived, writing them a nametag, laughing together, and wishing them an excellent day.  During a lull in arrivals, I was drinking a cup of tea, listening as my sponsor and another old-timer discussed whether or not this year's turnout was less than last year's, and wasn't it wonderful to see so many newcomers to Al-Anon here today?

Then our replacement arrived to take over the table, and we went in to lunch. I sat with some women from a group I attend once a week, and we laughed until we were gasping for breath. I love that kind of laughter, howling with delight, as we discussed our own insane thinking. There is nothing so funny as our character defects, once we begin to understand and accept the human frailties that we all share.

After lunch, I went to the workshop entitled "Spiritual Growth."  I had a choice of three, and the other two were "Fear" and "Forgiveness."

I have been working with my sponsor every week on a Fourth Step, because I knew I needed to do an in-depth Step Four when I left my marriage. I didn't want the grief and sorrow to overwhelm me, and drag me back down to a place I'm so grateful to have left behind, where I was obsessed with the alcoholic's behavior and choices, and full of anger and resentment. I knew if I didn't get myself a sponsor quickly when I moved here, I'd have a much harder time of it.

I've realised through working with her, that I don't have fear any more. Grieving the death of my friend, and the decision to leave my marriage when I did, and finding out that when I was in the depths of grief my Higher Power would always help me, allowed me to let go finally, of worrying and fear.  As I heard someone say today:

 "If you pray, why worry? If you worry, why pray?"

I've also realised,with the help of my sponsor, that the alcoholic was incapable of doing things any differently. He didn't do what he did because he wanted to hurt me, he did those things because that's all he knew how to do. That's how he's always managed in his life, and it's worked for him. I've come to an understanding, a peaceful forgiveness. I can look back, and feel compassion, because it must have been terribly stressful to try to keep that house of cards in the air.

So I chose the workshop on spiritual growth, and I'm glad I did. We were in a small back room, and when I walked in, there was my sponsor and a couple of my other friends from my home group grinning at me. I sat beside them, and felt enormous gratitude that I could be there, at that moment.

When I was moved to speak, I kept my sharing very short, and spoke of a quote which has always stayed with me since the first time I heard it a couple of years ago:

"We know that we are growing spiritually when humility is something we seek, instead of being something that we feel is being forced upon us."

Humility. That's what makes me willing. Willing to serve my fellow members in any way I'm able, whether that's chairing a meeting, working in a service position, or helping to clean up after Al-Anon days.

This afternoon, I stood and marvelled at the way that about 20-25 of us, with nobody organising or directing, had cleared the conference room out, washed and put away dishes, and left the kitchen and the big room shining and spotlessly clean, all without anyone telling anyone else what to do. It's an amazing display of humility and service, that we can work together in that way, with good humour and laughter, to do what needs to be done.

Hugging after meetings used to wierd me out when I was a newcomer, I would shoot out the door immediately after the end of the closing prayer so that I didn't have to take part in all that hugging, it just wasn't comfortable for me. I've changed so much in this program, because now I can go up to someone and offer a hug, or ask for one, and I can give hugs with no embarassment, and with a full heart.

I was lucky enough to be able to give a couple of friends a ride home, and I and sat with one in her driveway,  and talked for a half hour or so, both of us high on gratitude for the people with whom we'd spent the day, and for the God of our understanding.

I love Al-Anon, it has given me the ability to be a person I can respect and love, an appreciation and love for others, and a deep and abiding love for my Higher Power. 

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Blooming Cherry Trees, and Detachment.

From my front window I can see the deep pink Japanese ornamental cherry trees are coming into bloom. Another week or so, and they will be in full glory. I love this time of year - spring is on the way, and it lightens my heart, to see all the new growth starting.

I was listening to a speaker today, who said that one of the most difficult lessons in Al-Anon, is to fully accept responsibility for our own emotions. How many times have you heard someone say "He (she) made me so angry!"  There will often then follow an explanation of the way the other person  caused their anger.

When I was new to Al-Anon, I didn't realise how easily I could be manipulated. I didn't undetstand that as long as I viewed it as the other person "making me,"  I was stuck reacting to their behavior. I couldn't detach. They acted, I reacted, and thus began a chain of anger, frustration, hurt feelings, and obsession.

I've been asked to explain what goes through my head when I'm detaching. First, I observe, without editorial comment. If someone appears to be getting angry, I observe that, without deciding whether or not they have the right to their anger. This means I have let go of all of those "How dare she behave this way!"  or "He always/never..."  or any other of those self-righteous or critical comments with which I have responded, before I learned how to detach.

In order for me to believe that I have a right to my own feelings, I need to also believe that you have the right to yours. And I do believe this.

The actions we take while in the grip of those feelings, are usually a good indicator of whether or not we've grasped the concept of detachment. When I began to get better at detachment, I learned to observe my own feelings, without allowing them to sweep me away like a leaf being taken for a wild ride in a high wind.

I might think, "I don't like the way this person is speaking to me." Before Al-Anon, their anger would be met and matched by mine. Now, I can have that feeling, and respond with detachment by saying what I feel  - "I don't like it when you try to manipulate me into giving me what you want, by ignoring me or sulking when I refuse you."

I can decide if I want to continue the conversation, and if I do, under what conditions. This might be a matter of asking the other person not to make sniping or insulting comments because they are annoyed with me.  I might decide that their level of anger or determination is one that I'm not willing to deal with at this time, and I may bow out of the encounter by saying calmly that I'm not going to discuss it with them. I have choices all the way along, and I have control over my emotions. As the Promises in our book "From Survival to Recovery" state:

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

Detachment has allowed me to have mastery of my emotions, instead of being a slave to them. It's a much calmer life. I have compassion for other people, when they are slaves to their own emotions and acting badly. I don't judge them for it, because I recall all too well what it was like to be in that place, but I also don't take responsibility for anyone else's anger today - I don't make anyone angry, just as nobody makes me angry.  Anger often comes from the stories we tell ourselves about how the other person should be acting. Expectations create resentment. Resentment creates anger. Anger is a terrible master; I was a furiously angry person for the first 40 years of my life.

I'm full of gratitude for Al-Anon, because nowadays when I tell people that, they have a tendency to look at me, and start to laugh, saying, "I can't picture it." I have a hard time recalling that myself. That's the blessing of working the program.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Regaining Myself.

This evening, I spent a couple of hours engrossed in working upon a watercolor painting I'd started while still in the marriage, and haven't touched since. It was peaceful and deeply satisfying, to listen to a speaker cd while I happily splashed paint and water, mixed colors, and attempted to obtain certain effects. Some I managed, some I thought not such a success, but for me, as it always is, it's the creation that is so powerfully satisfying.

There's something about turning off my internal dialogue, and listening to 12-Step wisdom, while I work upon creating something, whether that be with fabric, or paint and paper, which allows me to let go of all of the day's happenings, and just be, with pure enjoyment in the feeling.

I've always done something creative, I made stained glass for 20-odd years, until I felt I'd reached a point where I'd challenged myself as far as I could in that medium, and then I turned back to an old love - painting.

I chose watercolor because it's a fiendishly difficult medium to master, and I wanted the challenge. It definitely gives me that, but it also gives me a peaceful feeling of nearness to my Higher Power, and serenity. I'm grateful to have been given artistic ability, because it has always been a source of such delight and satisfaction.

I'm thrilled to have moved through my grief to the point that my creative side is awake again, and wanting expression. Life moves on, and when we move with it, instead of hanging on tightly to the past, closing our eyes, and clutching at our feelings of justified anger, we are granted the lovely peace of being in a state of grace.

I spoke to a sponsee from the last city in which I lived today - we've kept in touch and I adore her. She's a brave, intelligent, witty, lovable woman, and I feel so blessed to know her. Life is good.

Friday, March 15, 2013

A Misty Morning

This was written yesterday, but I forgot to hit "publish" when finished.
It's foggy today. Before I lived up-island, I saw fog so seldom, that it was interesting and beautiful. After 7 years of living jn a small fishing village that was regularly "socked in", blanketed with fog so thick that anything past about 20 feet would be lost in a wall of pale grey, where I didn't see sunshine for weeks on end, winter or summer, I lost my appreciation for it. Now that I'm living again in a sunnier, warmer, altogether more amenable climate, I feel the way I once did, when I look out my windows and see that soft pale mist obscuring the distant view.

Denial is like fog - we compress our worldview down to a size we feel able to manage, by simply obscuring that which we don't feel able to address or accept. If we don't see it, it isn't there. We feel all the effects of the reality, while still denying.

The building beyond that stand of trees may be invisible when the fog is in, but it's still there. All the bricks and metal, all the residents and their belongings are just as real, whether or not I can see them from my vantage point.

So it is with life - I may deny with passion and fury, but the object of my denial, whether person or circumstance, is no less true for my refusal to see and accept.

I pray for the courage to see clearly.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

What A Blessing.

"Short arm needs man to reach to Heaven,
So ready is Heaven to stoop to him."

                            Francis Thompson

"When anyone, anywhere, reaches out for help, let the hand of Al-Anon and Alateen always be there, and—Let It Begin With Me."
                               Al-Anon Declaration.

I love those two quotes, because they remind me that I never have to go through anything alone again. Help is there for me, and all I have to do is be willing to reach out for it. I woke up today and felt rather down. Not shattered, not black, just a little down. At first, I began looking for reasons for it, then caught myself, and stopped that obsessive train of thought. That's old thinking, that idea that if I find out "why," things will change.

It is what it is. The question is, what can I do for myself? I asked my Higher Power to grant me peace and serenity. Through other people, I got the message 3 times today that I matter, that people are grateful for my existence, that I am loved.

I consider the abundance with which my little morning prayer was answered, and smile to recall a sponsee who jokes that her Higher Power is a bit of a showoff. I needed that today. Once would have been enough, but instead, it was given to me with a lavish hand, and I am grateful.

I love this program.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Unacceptable Behavior.

In the past I've written on this blog, about how difficult it has been for me to deal with other people's anger. I'm noticing that this is changing for me. Today I had a phone call from someone who was very upset about something that happened at a meeting we both attended last night. I was perfectly willing to discuss it with her, until her voice began to rise, as she became increasingly angry at what she saw as me refusing to give to her, a piece of information she was wanting.

Several times I explained that I couldn't give the information, because I didn't have it. Her voice got louder as the call progressed, until finally, I said I wasn't going to continue the conversation because she was raising her voice. There was one final explosion of rage, and the phone was slammed down at the other end.

As near as eight months ago, I would have felt disturbed and distressed by that phone call. I'd have struggled to not take on the guilt that was being handed to me, and somehow, I'd have felt responsible. Today, I could feel compassion for her upset feelings,without sacrificing my own excellent mood.

I realised later that this level of detachment was possible for me, only because finally I've been able to see clearly that her anger was not only not my fault, it was truly irrelevant to my life. I don't mean that rudely, I mean that it had absolutely nothing to do with me. In that past, if someone were to become angry with me, I would immediately feel that I was to blame for their anger. Some small part of me would feel that they wouldn't be angry had I not done something to "make" them angry. Through leaving my marriage, and working a fourth step with my new sponsor, I have been able to understand what an old, old message that was for me: "I wouldn't be raging/hitting you/ranting, if you didn't deserve it."

With that realisation has come the understanding that for some people, a calm response causes them to react with fury, and they will try to coerce me with their anger, to give them what they want. That's what happened today. I could see it as it happened, and I could remain completely, calmly detached from it.

There are going to be people who don't have good control over their emotions. I don't have to take it on if someone uses anger to try to control me - I didn't cause it, I can't control it, and I can't cure it.

Thursday, March 7, 2013

People Pleasing and Honesty

Today I met with my sponsor, and we talked about honesty. One of the questions in the Al-Anon Blueprint for Progress, in the chapter "Honesty" is:

 "Whom have I hurt with my dishonesty?"

Myself, primarily. An inability to be honest with myself about my marriage, and the alcoholic I was married to, caused me years of unhappiness. I couldn't face the reality of the man with whom I'd chosen to share my life, so I chose to deny that reality to myself.

I've had to struggle to forgive myself for that denial, but I've arrived at a place where I can feel compassion for the women I was and am, and I can forgtive myself for my character defect of dishonesty with myself about my marriage. I've worked hard with my wonderful, loving, wise and funny sponsor, and through her acceptance and encouragement of me, I've been able to feel love for the me who felt she had to pretend so much.

Live and learn.

My self-esteem, so bashed and beaten down, has begun to reassert itself, and I'm feeling more serenity and peace. For many years of my life, the truth was just too frightening, I didn't have the ability or the strength to face it. Being able now, to tell myself and my sponsor the truth about my marriage, and my husband, being able to let go of trying to force myself to feel what he was always telling me I should feel, gives me an almost giddy sense of freedom.

A line from the opening of the chapter on honesty, hit home today:

"Because reality is sometimes paintful, facts get distorted, and fantasy offers a way to cope."

I had a strong fantasy life while married to my alcoholic, I was always fantasising that he would hear what I was saying, change the way he treated me, and life would be better for us. What I couldn't face or accept, is that for him, the same life that made me desperately unhappy was quite acceptable for him. He was content to continue to use and abuse me, as long as I was willing to stay and accept his unacceptable behavior. Nothing changed until I made the change of leaving. All the talking, explaining, rationalising, expounding, begging and stating that I did for 17 years fell on deaf ears.

When I went to see him in the hospital a month or so ago, he spoke mournfully about some periods in the marriage, and how he wished "it could have been like that all the time." I sat in the half-light, listening to him, and realised that nothing I'd said had ever penetrated his defenses - those times of which he spoke with longing for their return had been some of the most miserable stretches for me.

He spoke of our years living in a tiny fishing village up-island, of about 1,000 people, with horrible weather year-round, lashing rain and howling windstorms in winter and in summer, endless cloud and fog - we'd go weeks and never see the sun. I found the size and isolation of that town depressing, and I was miserable there. He loved it. It was one of the first shocks in our marriage for me to understand that because he loved it, it was immaterial to him that I didn't. He truly didn't care. I told myself lies about that for 7 years, until I decided that the only way I'd ever get out of that awful place was if I stood up and said, "I'm going, you can come or not, as you choose."  He chose to move with me, and we stayed together for another 10 years.

Had I been able to be honest with myself from the start, life would have been very different. But I'm at the place now, of accepting that what I gained in those years has made me who I am today, and I'm liking who I am today.

No regrets. Regrets are pointless. I want to learn and understand so that I continue to grow in my recovery and don't make the same mistakes again, but I want to understand myself with compassion for my inability to be honest. So much of that was fear-based, and my childhood trained me well.

Life is good, and getting better.

If you are wondering if you need a sponsor, consider this - when we work the program with a sponsor, or sponsor someone ourselves, we are embarking upon a wonderful adventure in the company of someone who is equally as excited to be starting that journey. That's a gift.  Give it to yourself, you'll be glad, I promise.

Monday, March 4, 2013

What Is My Part?

Trying to be honest with myself about what was my part in various relationship difficulties, when I was new to Al-Anon, was supremely troublesome. My mind would automatically leap to defend my choices and behavior, while blaming the other person for theirs - I wouldn't be doing/thinking/feeling/saying this, if they were not the way they were! It started with them, and must be their fault.

Giving up being a victim can be a scary prospect. Victimhood leaves us feeling right, and sometimes righteously indignant. From the position of "right" we can feel protected, safe, and unassailable. We can also feel lonely.

I can detach when I let go of telling myself stories about what this other person is thinking, feeling, or doing. I detach when I let go of "why they said/did this" and also let go of deciding that the other person is acting in response to me.

When I can take myself out of the middle, when I let go of my "I'm the centre of the universe" attitude, then I can accept the other person for who they are, without relating their character traits, or their behavior choices, back once again to myself. Before I can detach with love, I need to understand that this is not a way of "letting them off the hook" because the reality is that I don't have them on the hook in the first place, I'm powerless.

When I can't detach, then I'm going to be jerked around by my own character defects. My own mind is going to drive me crazy, and the other person is happily oblivious. Detaching is a way for me to be able to live in the peace and serenity of my Higher Power. I make the choice to let it all go, and turn my focus onto myself, since I'm the only person over which I can have any control.

My part is to accept myself, accept the other person, accept my life for what it is, and be content in that acceptance. My part is to make a conscious choice not to judge or condemn. To choose love and serenity in the face of an opportunity to do otherwise.