Saturday, June 29, 2013


A reader has asked me for some input on self-care.

When introduced to "HALT" (Hungry/Angry/Lonely/Tired) in Al-Anon, I had no way of understanding what was being offered to me. I thought I was being told how to behave in a more responsible and mature way by not indulging in conflict under those circumstances; I couldn't begin to grasp the wisdom contained in that little shorthand formula.

Over time, I have gained an understanding of just how vulnerable I am in any of those conditions, and how easily able to be manipulated. I didn't believe, at first, that being hungry, angry, lonely or tired could make much difference as long as I were more aware. Over time, I've come around to the opposing viewpoint on this - I now know that being in any one of those states reduces my ability to put my awareness to good use, because it will override my higher learning, and bring me down to a more primitive level of functioning, one in which I am far more likely to react, rather than respond.

Self-care means that I need to look after not only my mental self, but that my physical being is also of importance, if I am to fully benefit from the gifts of this program. I need regular meals, a good night's sleep, friends with whom to talk, laugh, and share, and I need to make sure that I am not indulging in people-pleasing to the extent that I am feeling angry, but am not admitting or identifying this emotion honestly to myself, or to another.

When I feel hunger pangs, it's not self-care to think, "I'll eat later." If I'm too fatigued to cook, there are many healthy things I can eat which don't require much time or effort, but will restore my energy, and maintain my health.

When I'm feeling angry, it's not self-care to tell myself, "It doesn't matter." That's very different from "How Important Is It?" The former is negating my feelings, the latter asks me to balance them against the rest of the equation.

When I'm lonely, and I do nothing to relieve my loneliness, I'm not practising self-care. A short phone call may be all I'm in need of, to remember that I'm not alone in my journey, and I have many loving, caring people who will happily give me a little of their time to cheer me up, and remind me of program.

When I'm tired, driving myself to accomplish more in this day is not self-care. It's not laziness to rest when I need rest, or sleep when sleep is what I require - my Higher Power has granted me relative health, and for that I'm grateful, but I need to give this corporal body the same attention that I would give any machine in my care. When the vacuum overheats, I shut it off and allow it to cool down, I don't try to keep on vacuuming until the motor blows. Yet how many times have I tried to drive myself past overwhelming fatigue, determined to conquer the annoying needs of this body which carries me around?

Self-care is not selfishness, it's good sense, and it feels good to give ourselves some pampering and loving.

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Embracing Powerlessness As A Signpost To Freedom.

So much of my past struggle, and for those I sponsor, and friends in program, arises from my, and their, inability to accept our powerlessness. We fight it tooth and nail, for various reasons, not least of which is wanting life, people, or things to be the way we desire them to be.

When I finally surrendered, I believe it was more from exhaustion with the fight, than any real understanding that the fight itself was an exercise in futility. I don't suggest that my sponsees require that understanding as a prerequisite to accepting powerlessness; quite the contrary, it can be a relief to let it all go before we ever reach a place of knowing why we are doing the letting go, or what we may possibly gain through doing so.

All I need is to believe that there is something, anything, which is a power greater than myself - this may be the group, Good Orderly Direction, nature, whatever works for me. As long as I can grasp that I am not the be-all and end-all, I have everything I need to begin the process of letting go.

I had to be shown step by step what "letting go" meant, because I hadn't a  clue, and as someone who spent a lot of time in anxiety and fear, the prospect of letting go, detaching, removing myself emotionally from whatever was possessing my mind at the time, sounded near to impossible.

To start, I needed a willingness to change my thinking. That meant I had to accept that my thinking was not the best and clearest that it could be with regard to whatever the topic was, and that the solution to my overwhelming fear and distress could come through letting go, and letting the Higher Power take it. My illusion of control was not doing me any good, it kept me mired in a mindset which was foggy and unclear, and the mindset made me unhappy and fearful.

As I think so do I feel,

as I feel so do I act,

as I act, so do the consequences of my actions, make my life one way or another.

My thinking affects the way my life works, or doesn't.
I couldn't see that reality for the longest time, I was convinced that my life was more affected by the choices of another person, namely the alcoholic, than by anything I did or thought. I felt victimised, trapped, angry, resentful, frustrated, and hopeless.

How could admitting powerlessness help me with any of that?

It helped me by opening up great stretches of my time previously spent obsessing. When I let go of a struggle I cannot hope to win, I turn instead to the business of living my life with hope, peace, and freedom. I make time in which to do the things I love, to be of service, to offer to another person who is fighting their own inner demons, the experience strength and hope so freely and lovingly given to me when I was new in Al-Anon.

May you have an excellent Sunday.

Monday, June 10, 2013

Chasing Rainbows in Soap Bubbles.

A sponsee and I have tried a couple of open AA meetings of late, trying to find a good fit for us, and seem to have hit upon a meeting at which we both feel comfortable. We went to it this evening, and now that I'm back home, I find myself in a rather pensive mood, remembering the shares of those who spoke so honestly and openly about what it was like for them, what happened, and what it is like now.

Tonight's meeting brought up some feelings for me around dealing with the alcoholism of my two sisters, both of whom are still in active drinking, in mid-life. With my eldest sister, I can find a way to relate to her because she shares with me a strong spiritual belief, and that has been the place at which we can have a meeting of the minds, and find comfort and sustenance in each other's writing.

With my middle sister, I don't have this way to connect, so I find it much more difficult to relate to her. Her alcoholism takes the form of a powerfully negative view of life and people, and I can find  it almost impossible to respond to what brings up in me a feeling of frustration.

I'm frustrated because I'm not accepting of her, I realised tonight, again. This is not news to me, but it was underscored tonight by a couple of the people who spoke about their fears, lack of hope before 12-Step, and just general intense trouble in finding a way to live in the world.

I need to pray for tolerance and acceptance of my sister. I want us to be able to connect, and since I'm having trouble with it, I need to turn it over to my Higher Power and step back and let it happen within me, let go of wanting her to be something she is not, and work on my own lack of acceptance.
One topic at the meeting tonight was "relationships" - never an easy topic. But for me, tonight, as so often at a meeting, I heard just what I needed to hear.

Monday, June 3, 2013

Getting My Own Way.

From "One Day At A Time In Al-Anon" page 155:

"A program of self-recognition and self-change "reads easy and does hard."

I spoke with a sponsee yesterday, and she mentioned how difficult it is to work our program, because of the challenge of being honest with ourselves. Honesty with self is a necessity and a prerequisite, if we are to get anywhere in this journey to wholeness and serenity, but the very human difficulty in seeing ourselves with any level of perceptibility means that we will invariably reach a point of being stuck, and unable to progress.

When that point is reached, I've learned not to tell myself stories about what I'm doing, but instead realise that I've gone as far as I can with objective clarity, and when I can't get any further, ask for input from my sponsor and other program friends. I need to choose people who won't reassure me with people-pleasing, but will instead be direct and if necessary, blunt, in their take on my situation.

I don't offend easily anymore, and when I ask for help, I'm willing to hear whatever that person has to say. I don't have to agree, and I don't have to like it. But respect and experience has taught me to listen and give the words the weight they deserve. I've asked for them, this person has taken the time and effort to give me their take on it; I need to sit quietly and listen, and perhaps I'll need to sit in the feelings stirred up by their reply, if the issue is a particularly thorny one.

I've learned over the years to recognise a certain type of irritated feeling which will rise in my chest as a desire to defend, argue, or debate. Nowadays, when I feel that particular feeling, I know to pay close attention to what is being said to me, because I've learned that I only ever get that feeling when I'm hearing the truth about myself. The truth resonates with a power that something which doesn't apply can't reach. So I know to "sit down, shut up, and pay attention." Don't sit with a smile on my face, while arguing internally, don't ignore what's being said in favour of my own take, don't let this chance to learn pass by unremarked.

Other people are a conduit for our Higher Power, respect them!

Saturday, June 1, 2013

Do I Understand My Own Motivation?

When very new to program, and asked by my sponsor, when I called to check out with her, whether or not a course of action I was contemplating was healthy, "What would be your motivation were you to do that?" I was dumbfounded by the question. What on earth could she mean, my motivation? My motivation back then was all about trying to get what I wanted, but never by asking outright - I couldn't even imagine just asking for what I wanted, the person might refuse, and then where would I be? No, I manipulated and schemed, planned, considered, debated with myself, and then stealthily put my plans into action, all the while with one eye cocked to see how the other person was responding, and whether or not I needed to alter my course.

It was an exhausting and very sick way of relating to other people, but it was all I knew. I'd been raised by someone who is still a master manipulator at her present age of 91, and I had internalised the lessons I'd learned from watching her achieve her own ends, even in the face of strong opposition. She never gave up, she was inexorable. Rare was the family member, or stranger, who could stand unbowed in the face of her intense, immense pressure.

Being asked to consider my motivations before I took action, or spoke up, was disconcerting to me, I felt exposed - naked. I wasn't sure I was willing to be always looking at myself first. I liked it better when my focus was outward, upon the other person, because careful consideration of my own motives meant that there were many times during which I did this checking in with myself, and discovered that I wasn't going to be able to proceed as planned. I'd realise ruefully that not only  could I not deny that my motives were unhealthy, but acceptance of that truth meant that continuing no longer fit with the new moral code I was developing.

My moral code matured before some of the rest of me, and my conscience would be speaking quietly, remonstrating with the childish part of me, who wanted what I wanted when I wanted it. Some days, it would be quite the war going on inside my head, but continued exposure to 12-Step made some things impossible, if I wished to be able to live comfortably with myself. One of those impossibilites was to deny to myself that I was being selfish or unkind or demanding. Al-Anon brought me clarity long before I was ready willing or wanted to accept it. I got it from working the program with my sponsor, wanted or not, and that clarity forced my hand in many instances,

I can recall thinking with sadness that I wasn't going to be able to say or do something I really wanted to say or do, because my motive for doing so was inescapable, and my conscience was nattering at the very idea of it. It's funny now but it was a big struggle for me in Al-Anon.