Sunday, August 25, 2013

Accepting My Feelings

At dinner earlier this week, I was talking to my partner, struggling to express the confused turmoil of emotion which had been roiling inside me all day, and he was listening carefully and lovingly, reflecting back to me the reality that I am going to feel whatever I feel, and that's going to be the way of it, and if friends or family have trouble with my being less of a rock of support for them, well, so be it.

My sponsor called shortly after the end of that conversation, and I was telling her some of the ideas which had been crashing through my brain that day, and she said bluntly, "You're not accepting your feelings."

It was as though a load had been lifted from my shoulders the instant after she'd said it - I knew it was true, and that this is what my partner had been trying to tell me, although more gently, not so directly. My sponsor and I have been through enough together, that she knows she can slap whatever it is down on the table between us, and I might startle a bit at the impact, but I will be able to hear it, recognise it, appreciate it.

All day that day I had been fighting my feelings, and it made my life unmanageable. I was fighting against the grief and sorrow of the cancer diagnosis, the fear and the sense of loss. My partner and I had barely 3 months together before we found out I have cancer - it seems agonisingly unfair to have met the love of my life and 3 months later be diagnosed with cancer.

Because like it or not, cancer changes everything. Suddenly our lives are filled with doctor's visits, phone calls from doctor's offices booking tests to stage the tumour, and what seem like endless conversations about cancer, with friends, sponsees, my sponsor, family members, it goes on and on and on, and I feel like I am forgetting what it was like to live a life without people crying about me when they talk to me,  and conversations about the cancer.

This morning, I woke up feeling desolate, and that moved into anger - I stood in my kitchen and wept helplessly as a furious anger swept through me. I haven't cried much since being diagnosed because I don't want to cry. I will allow myself a few tears here and there, but I haven't really cried, not the kind of abandoned sobbing I did when my friend died last May. I'm beginning to realise that I may need to allow myself that kind of weeping because I am grieving, I'm grieving the purity of the relationship with my partner before cancer intervened, I'm grieving my health, I'm grieving ordinary life.

Not much of help here today, I'm afraid. Bless you all for your support and kindness.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Awake at 4 am, thinking.

I woke up just now out of a sound sleep, and lay there remembering the visit to the surgeon this afternoon. He seems to think I have an early tumour, but over the next 4-6  weeks I will be getting tested - an ultrasound, an MRI, a CT scan, etc, in an effort to stage the tumour, and find out how advanced the cancer is.

If it has spread; I may require radiation; if it hasn't metastasized, surgery will be enough.

When I got up out of bed a little while ago, my partner awoke and asked sleepily if I was okay, and did I want to talk about it? I sat on his side of the bed and we talked a little bit, and he made me burst out laughing with a silly joke.

Then I came here to my computer, and read a few emails from family and close friends to whom I'd sent the news earlier this evening, and found myself in tears, reading the loving words. I am fortunate indeed not to be having to walk this path alone. I have the love, companionship and humour of my partner to keep me balanced and sane, and good friends who love me. I have the Al-Anon program to help me through the more difficult aspects of this journey, and I have a loving Higher Power who has blessed me with all these people - a man who loves me whole-heartedly and without reservation, who has made his commitment to me crystal clear, and friends who have done the same.

I cannot imagine what it would have been like to try to endure this sort of experience before Al-Anon, when I was still such an angry, resentful, self-pitying and self-absorbed woman. I wouldn't have been able to deal with it, and the rage and anger would have been terrible.

Today, when we got back from the appointment with the surgeon, my partner and I went for a lovely walk in the large city park just blocks from here, then had an ice-cream cone, and a stroll home, secure in the comfort and love between us.

I am powerfully grateful for the people in my life, and the love and caring they give so generously to me. I am grateful that I can feel that love, that my own character defects no longer get in the way of my being able to accept love, or believe that I deserve it, which was the case before program.

I am grateful that all I have to do is ask, "Please help me with this, God" and I will be given comfort to soothe me, and to quiet my restless, questioning mind.

Thank you to all who have written messages of help and support, it means a lot. Bless you.

Friday, August 16, 2013

Other People's Reactions

One of the most difficult aspects of having received a cancer diagnosis, I'm finding, is the having to inform friends and family. Last night was the meeting of my home group - my sponsor was chairing, and we'd agreed yesterday afternoon, when we met, that it would be a lot easier for me to speak about it at the start of my sharing, rather than have to tell each person individually. I warned her that at the end of the meeting, I was going to quickly say goodbye and shoot out the door as quickly as I was able, so as not to have to deal with all the reactions.

I didn't manage very well, because no sooner had the serenity prayer been said, than I was engulfed in a hug from a woman I know well, who started weeping on my shoulder. I calmed her down, said goodbye, and tried to head for the exit, but was grabbed from behind by another woman who wanted to hug me and began to cry, and then another and... by the time I reached the doorway, I was feeling exhausted by the emotion and the people wanting me to soothe and comfort them, in their pain, about my health.

When just before the doorway, I was grabbed by someone who would fall into the category, "Although you may not like all of us, you'll love us in a very special way" I had had enough. I ducked her clutching arms and burst out into the hallway, up the few steps, through the outside doors, and into the fresh, cool night air.

I felt used up, stressed out, and wanted nothing more than to go home to my partner's love and comfort. By the time I arrived at his place, and he met me with open arms, I was teary-eyed with frustration and emotional exhaustion. I stood with my face pressed against his chest and him giving me soft kisses on the top of my head, and said grumpily, "They acted like I was being taken out to be hanged in the morning!"

I don't recall how he replied, but it wasn't long before I'd regained myself, and the evening went on as usual, in comfort, love, acceptance, and fun. He's such a treat to be with.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Health News Update

On this past Monday, I was diagnosed with cancer. The tumour is small, 2cm, .79 of an inch, and was caught as a result of routine screening finding an anomaly, so I underwent further testing, which revealed the cancer.

In truth, I knew it was cancer by the reaction of the doctor doing the testing, he exclaimed, "Oh no, look at that!" when he saw it on the screen, and then both he and the nurse present fell ominously silent. Before then, they had been joking a bit, and being a little silly with me, but as soon as he saw the "growth" (as they called it at the time,) his demeanor, and that of his nurse, changed completely.

I then had to wait for a week until the biopsy results came in. My partner went into the room with me to get the results from my family doctor, and looked as though he'd been hit by a truck, but when we walked out into the hallway of the medical building, drew me into the warm loving circle of his arms, and whispered his love for me.

For the rest of that day, I felt furiously angry and resentful - how unfair is it, to have met the love of my life 3 months ago, and now receive a cancer diagnosis?

By the next morning, my natural cheerfulness had reasserted itself, like one of those bathtub toys that will only stay submerged under the water if held there, as soon as one lets go, up they pop to ride the surface.

That's just how it's been for me; I have let this go, because it is completely, utterly, beyond my control. As soon as I made the choice to let go and give it all over to my Higher Power, my usual mindset returned. I spent far too many years steeped in anger and self-pity and resentment to be willing to let anything take me back to that miserable state of mind.

I don't want to be unhappy, and I don't have to be, even with cancer, if I choose not to be. I will most likely have times of tears, but I don't have to allow this to drag me into daily sorrow and anger - I have a partner who is a gift and a delight, and I want to be able to enjoy him wholeheartedly. I want to be able to do all the things that bring me joy, and do them with a light heart, and that requires that I let go of the cancer, turn it over, and release it. I will make decisions as I'm faced with them, but I will not let this define me.

I thank my Higher Power with a grateful heart, for all my years in Al-Anon, 29 next month - they make this possible.

Bless you and thank you for your supportive comments and letters.  I'll keep you in the information loop, among my usual hit and miss posting on here.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Health News

I will be updating this blog as of this evening, I have a sponsee who reads it with whom I need to talk first.

Monday, August 12, 2013

Humour and Gratitude

I'm hoping I can get in to see my doctor today to get the results of my biopsy. I'm feeling calm and relaxed this morning; I had a good sleep. Al-Anon has been a blessing to me; when I'm willing to do my part, it works during even the most stressful times in life. This is out of my control - I have a choice as to whether or not I spend my time chewing over the possibilities, or whether I let go, and decide to enjoy myself regardless.

Time spent with my partner yesterday was a peaceful and fulfilling part of my day - his love is a joy, and he makes me laugh. At dinner yesterday, after I'd been talking about some airheaded thing I'd done, he leaned towards me, straightfaced and serious, and asked, "Now that we're a team, do you think we could share the brain cell?"

I howled with delight. He grinned at me, and I was washed with a wave of gratitude for his presence in my life. I've been looking for a man like this all my adult life. He's gentle and kind, with a strength of character developed through his own sufferings; he's also wickedly funny, thoughtful, insightful and hugely supportive.

One of my adoptive parents was British, and she used the phrase "rub along together" to describe a state of contented enjoyment of each other's company - my partner and I rub along together very well. I've never felt the desire to get away by myself, that I felt with each of the two alcoholics who were my earlier long-term relationships - this man is the best companion a woman could wish for, and I find him enormously attractive. We each have our own pursuits, and when we get together again afterwards, I feel gratitude and delight in his company; he's fun. He's also a mad gardener, and has increased my stock of house plants exponentially.

I'd rather concentrate on those parts of my life which bring me joy and peace, than fulminate in a closed loop upon that which is beyond my power to control. I've done so much of that kind of obsessing in my life, and it's a terrible way to pass the time, because it's futile, and it winds me up from a beginning state of mildly upset, to a state of frantic frustration and overwhelming compulsion - I don't want to live like that ever again.

It works if we work it. I'll keep you posted.

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Forcing Patience

Patience was not one of my character assets, when I was new to program. I wanted what I wanted when I wanted it - usually "yesterday, already."

I have learned patience, and it seems to have naturally developed further through diligent practise of the Al-Anon program. I no longer feel the incessant nag of wanting, which used to echo through my head like a loud motorcycle roaring up the road. But this has been tested lately, waiting for the results of my biopsy. I missed the doctor's call yesterday, because I was away from home at my partner's place. I also missed the call from a local surgeons office, informing me that I have an appointment booked as of August 20th.

I can let go of what I cannot control, so waiting over the weekend to get the results is no worse than waiting for the 1-2 weeks I believed I'd still have to wait to hear. It is what it is.

What I've had to work to control, is internet-trolling for information regarding the possibilities facing me. It's not a good idea at this point, because my mind wants, like a contrary horse, to go down the gloomiest road, and I don't want to travel that path again, thank you. I travelled that path and only that path, for most of my childhood and adult life, and it makes for an unhappy and depressed state. I don't want to torture myself with imaginings.

Last night I awoke out of a sound sleep, and my mind immediately began to present me with horrors of one sort or another. I got up, got a book, and read for a good two hours before I could fall back asleep, and that was only possible through my repeating like a mantra, "God, please help me with this." I fell asleep with the sting of tears in my eyes, and a lump in my throat, and the fear held just enough at bay to allow me sleep. That's what this program does - before Al-Anon, sleep would have been utterly impossible.

I'm house-sitting for the next ten days for a friend who is on vacation. Her little dog is a pleasant companion, but I miss my partner's strength, courage, and support.

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Limits, Surrender, and Letting Go.

I have been working with a sponsee for the last few months, who has been the most difficult person I've ever sponsored. We've had many of those circular conversations which result when someone is so focused upon one subject that "all roads lead to Rome." We've gone around and around and around until my patience has been exhausted, and I've had to say "I have nothing else to offer today, you might find it helpful to read some program literature and talk to your Higher Power, I'm going to get off the phone now."

Yesterday this sponsee called to say that at the last meeting of my home group, she'd gone up to a newcomer who was in terrible pain and said something distinctly judgemental and unkind. I was taken aback and flummoxed; what was the point of this? I listened to the rationalisations, the justifications and the excuses, and then suggested that it had been none of her business, and she had violated the spirit of Al-Anon by saying something unkind to a woman who had been suffering, and who had attended a meeting in search of help.

An Al-Anon meeting is meant to be a safe place for all of us, why on earth this sponsee would have decided to go up to a woman who was in obvious pain and sorrow, and choose to say something mean, is beyond my understanding. I have had other times when I've felt that I'm being of no help to this woman. I seem to have nothing to say which is of any use to her, and we cover the same ground repeatedly. I wonder if our personalities are so diametrically opposed, that I am more of a hindrance than a help. Nothing I offer seems to even register upon her, it's as though I'm speaking to someone who is so turned inward that she is deaf to any input from outside herself.
I continue to repeat basic principles, only to have them challenged and argued about, and hearing one more time, "Yes, but what if...."

This sponsee is still ferociously fighting Step One: "We admitted we were powerless over alcohol - that our lives had become unmanageable."

She has not even begun to consider surrender. 

I know that I was this way when I was new to Al-Anon, and I believe that I must have driven my first sponsor up the wall with my stubborn refusal to surrender, and my complete unwillingness to even consider letting go. It wasn't that I was in opposition to the principles of the program; I was terrified. I couldn't begin to imagine what it would feel like to surrender and let go. I'd spent so much of my life up to that point with an iron grip on the few things I felt I could hold onto, and the rest was just a whirling miasma of fear, dread, anger and resentment. I was a mess, as this sponsee is a mess, and not only that, but I was bound and determined that nobody was going to change my thinking.

I'll never forget one conversation with my first sponsor, in which she said to me with some exasperation,  "You're like a drowning victim, going down for the third time, blindly refusing to be rescued, because you're still convinced that you can do it on your own!"

I recall quite clearly, looking at her in surprise, wondering, "Is that really how I look to her?" Which thought kept coming back to me over the next little while, until finally I asked her, "Do you think I'm stubborn?" She looked at me in astonishment for a moment, and then fell into one of those completely helpless uncontrollable laughing fits. She was overcome, howling, taking off her glasses to wipe her streaming eyes, finally subsiding into  "Oh dear. Oh goodness, that was priceless."
When she finally managed to regain the power of speech she said to me with great affection that I was without doubt the most pigheaded sponsee she had ever worked with.

I was hugely offended, and she could see it in my face, she knew me well by that point, but I think she'd reached the place where I am now with this sponsee - all effort spent, nothing else to give, and uncaring of how she looked or sounded, she had done her best, and it was all that she could do. The rest was up to me.

Fortunately, I decided that I would prove her wrong, and began the task of forcing myself to consider an alternate opinion to my solidly constructed, opaque beliefs. I learnt in spite of myself the glorious freedom possible with surrender and letting go, and it has made my life a thing unrecognisable to that woman of almost 29 years past.

God grant me the strength to carry on with this sponsee in loving kindness, with no judgement.

Friday, August 2, 2013

Faith and Trust

Yesterday I had a medical screening procedure which discovered a growth, which will have to be removed, and I'll be waiting for a couple of weeks to find out whether the biopsies taken yesterday prove it to be cancerous or benign.

It's an interesting position in which to find oneself, at this stage of recovery. I'll have been a member of Al-Anon for 29 years as of next month, and I'm a very changed person from the frightened and desperate woman who first walked into an Al-Anon meeting all those years ago. Now I have a strong faith in my Higher Power, and I'm deeply grateful for the loving support of my friends, family, and partner.

In the past, my response to a situation of this type would have been to tell no-one about it, to pretend that all was normal and fine, and to just go on as usual, carrying the weight of the knowledge alone. I can still have trouble reaching out to say, "I'm a little nervous and apprehensive, will you comfort me?" but I have one or two people with whom I can bare my soul completely, and know that they will hear me, and be there for me. Truth is, there are more people than I've listed, who would be willing to be there for me, it's just that I'm not good at being vulnerable. It can still feel like weakness to say "I'm frightened" and the old tapes in my head are all about not burdening other people with news of this kind, and keeping a stiff upper lip, etc.

I wrote to my family members before I had a chance to rationalise that it would be better to tell them later, and so far, I've heard back from my brother, who wrote a loving and kind email containing a silly family joke to make me laugh. I'm still waiting to hear back from my sisters and other friends.

I have the odd moment in which the fear will, as I wrote to one good friend, "grab me by the throat and give me a good shake" but I understand with crystal clarity that this is all out of my control, all I can do is the next thing which needs to be done, work my program to the best of my ability, have faith that I will be given the strength to get through whatever happens, and feel intense gratitude for all of the wonderful loving people in my life.

Most of all I feel huge gratitude for my partner; he drove me to the hospital yesterday, picked me up after the procedure, took me home, put me to bed, and looked after me with cups of tea and things to eat, and great helpings of love and support - he's a gift from my Higher Power, and I love him.

Life is good. It's all in our attitude.