Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Second Opinion

When I worked in police Victim Services, I was told during training, "When you go out on a call, never ignore your gut instinct. Don't try to talk yourself out of it. If you get a weird, uncomfortable, or anxious feeling in a situation, make an excuse, and leave immediately. Pay attention to your feelings. These things don't happen for no reason; that instinct twisting your stomach into a knot is originating somewhere, you aren't imagining it, you're picking something up, whether or not you are able to articulate just what that something may be. Get out of there!"

Working with that wisdom, I finally stopped trying to talk myself out of the discomfort I was feeling about the first surgeon I saw regarding my cancer. I'd been trying to rationalise and dismiss my bad feelings for a few weeks before I remembered that training talk, and thought, "I'm getting this feeling for a reason." I called my GP and asked for a second opinion.

I went on Monday to see the new surgeon, and both Robert and I liked him immediately. He was calm, relaxed, had studied my file, (unlike the first surgeon, who couldn't even tell me if the cancer had metastasized without looking up my file on his computer, it didn't occur to him that I might care to have that information, strangely enough) made eye contact with me, answered every question I had (and I had many unanswered questions from my 3 meetings with the first surgeon) and didn't give me that same feeling of wanting to get me out of the office as quickly as possible, so as to go on to the next appointment. After the physical exam, he said that he believed the cancer to be of an earlier stage, (he's been in his specialty for many years, with an excellent reputation) and he didn't believe I needed either radiation, or the radical surgery I'd been told was necessary to save my life.

So I've been spared pre-operative radiation, and the surgery I'm facing on Dec 5th will be as minimal as possible, to achieve the desired results.

Talking with Robert afterwards, we agreed that this guy inspires confidence, and we're feeling much less frightened by the prospect of surgery.

I've slept better since then, as well.

When I realised that I was once again trying to talk myself out of my gut instinct, I said a quiet prayer of thanks for all the wisdom that has been so generously shared with me over the years, both in program and outside.

May you have a pleasing and serene day, I know I'm going to.

Monday, October 28, 2013

Taking Responsibility For Ourselves.

Before Al-Anon, I had confused ideas about personal responsibility; I was so accustomed to feeling like a victim, that I was wary of the prospect of taking full responsibility for my own choices and decisions. I wasn't sure I was willing, or able, to let go of blaming other people for the way my life went. I can still recall walking my dog and talking angrily to a Higher Power that I didn't think I believed in, asking resentfully, "What do you want from me?"

I thought that I had been given "a rough row to hoe" and saw no way whatsoever in which my own choices contributed to my misery. It was all being done to me, and I was helpless. When my first sponsor began to try to show me the ways in which I made my own life unhappy by my thought patterns and my choices, I was furiously resistant. Even then, I dimly understood that if I was doing it, I could stop doing it, and in that process, I was going to lose the alcoholic as scapegoat.

For many years, I blamed the abuse I'd suffered as a child, for my behavior and attitudes.  My sponsor patiently reiterated the idea that this may have been the starting point, but if I remain stuck at root causes, I cannot live a full and rewarding life.  Were I to refuse to move beyond that starting point because I didn't want to give up blaming, I am the only one to suffer the consequences.

I'd be the one forever telling the story of my victimhood, keeping myself freshly outraged, not allowing time to do its healing work, continually looking for reinforcement of that story.

"Nobody can keep me down without my consent." Oh how I hated that phrase, when I was still wrapped in the self-indulgent cocoon of reliving past sorrows and creating new problems for myself.
I had to be willing to let go of hearing other people murmur commiseration for how hard my life was. I wanted attention, and didn't know any other way of getting it than complaining about my lot in life. I didn't understand that long-lasting friendships are not based on complaint, and that expecting other people to endlessly listen and support me while I inflated my minor problems into mountains which left me immobile, was not going to get me the attention I desired.

I remember hearing the phrase "Give what you want to get." That means if I want good friends, I need to be a good friend first. Most people can only handle a small amount of listening to complaint before they begin to cringe when they see our number come up on call display, or stop answering completely. We need to comprehend that others are not bottomless wells for our use. Other members of Al-Anon are people, they are not a resource to feed an endless self-pitying lament.

If I'm having a rough day, I can stop, thank my HP for all of the many things for which I'm grateful, and look for something humorous with which I can describe my day to a program friend, so that we are both laughing, and I'm still getting what I need in terms of loving support.

Before making a call, I can ask myself, do I really need to lay this all out on another person, or can I seek comfort from my Higher Power, read some literature, change my attitude?

My attitude after 29 years in program has changed to such a great extent that even while dealing with cancer, I am able to laugh helplessly over life's, and my own, silliness.

I go for a second opinion today, I'll keep you posted.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

What Do I Have To Offer?

In Al-Anon, a sponsor can be of invaluable help. For those of us who start out with firmly closed minds and determined ideas, a sponsor can, with a combination of direct speaking, humour and encouragement, create a safe enough environment that we can begin to step out from behind our social mask of "Oh, fine thank you!" to reveal the true feelings we carry. These may include rage, fear, frustration, loneliness, or despair that we will ever attain the serenity about which we hear so much.

When I was first asked to sponsor someone, I was terrified; I couldn't see what on earth she thought I had to give. I still often felt like I was barely managing to maintain my newfound serenity. When I asked her, a long time later, it turned out that she liked my ability to laugh. She felt as though she'd lost her sense of humour completely, and she wanted it back more than anything else she could imagine; she wanted to be able to howl with laughter. This member felt that she'd evolved into a dry and serious woman who could barely muster a fake chuckle, and she wanted to be able to laugh until her eyes were wet, and her stomach muscles hurt. She remembered laughing like that in childhood, and early adulthood, before her marriage to an alcoholic. The constant financial problems, other stresses, strains and heartbreak, had slowly eroded her ability to find humour in everyday life.

When I hear those who have a strong program declare that they don't sponsor, because they don't belive they've got anything to give to a sponsee, I will sometimes tell them this story. Perhaps they have the idea that they need to be deeply involved in Al-Anon, with many years of experience, and lofty things to share at meetings, before they will be of value as a sponsor. For me, it was my ability to see the humour in the small things we observe, the silly choices we can make, the ironies of our behavior, that were attractive to my first sponsee. She wanted to hang out with someone who laughed often, in the hopes that she'd be able to regain her sense of humour, and she did. We used to have long involved philosophical discussions punctuated by helpless laughing fits. She told me many times over the years that it was my ability to laugh at my own craziness which made it possible for her to loosen her iron grip on her self-control, and let go of her desire to be perfect.

So please, don't refuse to sponsor because you don't think you've got anything to offer - what you have in abundance, may be just what another member so desperately needs.

Friday, October 11, 2013


Yesterday morning, back home from the surgeon's office, with the good news of the positive prognosis about my cancer in mind, I sat down at my computer and composed a few emails to friends and family. I was feeling quite emotional; I took off my glasses to wipe a few stray tears, and when I went to put them back on, one leg broke at the hinge, rendering them impossible to wear.

Now, I am legally blind without my glasses, which means I can't see the end of my nose clearly without them, have worn them since I was six years old, and they are rather like a security blanket for me. In the past when I've broken glasses, or lost a contact lens, I've felt anxious and unsettled until I could get a replacement.

But yesterday, I sat and looked at the two pieces, and thought, "My cancer hasn't metastasized, so what if my glasses have broken?" I went into the bathroom and put in my contact lenses, then went looking for the reading glasses I use when I'm wearing my contacts. I found them in my purse, took them out of their case to put on, opened the legs, and the same leg as on my glasses promptly fell apart.

I burst out laughing, and said aloud to myself and my Higher Power, "Oh who cares!" I went downstairs to my partner, and he offered his spare pair of reading glasses, which are the same strength as mine, and I could once again see clearly for reading.

We went out for Chinese food before my meeting, and my fortune cookie read: "All facets of your life are looking up."

I told this story at my meeting last night, and when I got to the part about my fortune cookie, the room exploded into laughter.

Perspective is a wonderful thing. There was a time in my life when having both my regular glasses and my reading glasses break on the same day would have caused me to feel annoyed, frustrated, and as if the world were conspiring against me. I took this sort of normal happening personally, and felt anger and intense frustration when life didn't go the way I believed it should. Al-Anon has helped me to learn that things may happen, but how I feel about the happenings is entirely and solely my choice.

I found this concept almost impossible to believe when new to program, I thought how I felt was just how I felt, it was a long hard haul uphill to grasp the reality that I didn't have to live my life with all those old, habitual attitudes choking my response to life, until all I could feel was anger and negativity.

In the old days, I would have thought, "Isn't that just the way it always goes, I've got cancer, and now I'm going to have to buy new glasses to the tune of $___!" And then when the reading glasses fell apart a few minutes later, I'd have thought "Why does this crap always happen to me? Why can't I ever get a break?"

Yesterday, I thought, "Oh so what, who cares!" I felt almost giddy with the wonderful realisation that my cancer hasn't metastasized, and in spite of having to have radiation and surgery, I am going to have more time with my wonderfully funny, intelligent, loving R, more time to share with my family and friends. Having a life-threatening illness concentrates the mind in an unusual way, and makes a person appreciate all the glories and marvels which surround us on a daily basis, have we only the vision and clarity to see them.

Bless you all for your words of support, I wish you a good belly-laugh today. The sun is just coming up this morning, and it's a beautiful day again.

Thursday, October 10, 2013


Excellent news - I'm just home from the doctor's - the initial tumour appears to be the only one, no sign of metastasis, and it's an early stage tumour, so with luck, and some radiation to shrink it before surgery, I will get an operation in November for the removal, and life will continue with my wonderful, funny, adored partner, loving friends, and caring family.

It's an indication of my changed state of mind because of Al-Anon, that I can state with no hesitation today that life is good, cancer notwithstanding.

I'm feeling rather lightheaded with this good news, I wish for all of you a gleeful satisfying day!

Monday, October 7, 2013

Changed Attitudes Can Aid Recovery.

One thing I find most noticeable, as I go through this business of diagnosis, testing to stage the tumour, and then waiting for the results (I find out what's facing me this Thursday, the 10th of October, almost 2 months after having been diagnosed with cancer.) is that my essential daily mood has been, with a few exceptions, relatively unchanged.

I have had moments of fear and despair, I've had moments of a pure clean anger at the timing of all this - meeting the man who is the love of my life, and 3 months later being diagnosed with cancer -  but on the whole, I have been able to maintain my joy in living, and my delight in the friends and family who add so much to my life.

Nothing has changed there, I'm still waking up feeling gleeful at the start of a new day, and I can still spend time with friends having laughing fits over not very much. My attitude towards life has been irrevocably changed, so that in spite of what would have seemed tragedy to me, when I was new to Al-Anon, I can let go of that which is beyond my control (the cancer) let go of spending hours days or weeks obsessing about the fairness or unfairness of it all, let go of worrying stressing and fussing, and allow myself to be in the same peaceful state of serenity I felt,before having been diagnosed with a life-threatening illness.

I thank my Higher Power on an hourly basis for R, who is a delight and a treasure, with his warm,  supportive love, and who can make me howl with laughter, regardless of topic. I'm grateful for my sponsor, who is always there to listen, and to give my thinking a little tweak in the right direction when required. I'm grateful for my friends, who have spoken loudly of their love for me, and who make me feel like I'm wrapped in a wide-spread circle of caring.

Most of all, I'm grateful for Al-Anon, which has changed my attitudes to such an enormous extent. Had this happened before my time in program, I'd be in a very different headspace, - I'd be suffering, self-pitying, mournful, and defeated.

It's through dedicated effort to "work my program" that I've been able to face this life hurdle with my serenity largely intact, and my humour untouched. Bless you all for your support.