Tuesday, December 31, 2013


One of my character defects is stubbornness.

I've managed, as a result of years of hard work in Al-Anon, to be able to recognise when I'm feeling intransigent, and most often, why. I can understand what motivates the desire to persist, or resist, and what I'm going to gain, or lose, if I continue along that path.

Before program, I could be so single-minded that I can recall a friend saying to me, "You're relentless." It was neither an observation, nor a compliment. It was more a sighing acceptance of a disturbing reality. I was relentless. Once I'd made up my mind that I wanted something, I was determined to make it happen, and I was willing to plow over anyone who got in my way. I had a chip on my shoulder of mammoth proportions because of the abuse in my childhood, and I felt that the world owed me. I believed that I deserved to get what I wanted now, damn it!

That attitude kept me in my first marriage to the drinking alcoholic, trying with all my power to make him stop drinking. The only trouble with that being, he wasn't ready to, and he didn't want to stop drinking. He's still drinking now, and I've been through another, longer, second marriage.

It took all the combined wisdom of the members of my home group in Al-Anon, all those years ago, to help me to understand that it didn't matter what I wanted. I'd go to my sponsor, or call her, and I'd whine and rant and rave about how much I wanted him to stop drinking, and she'd let me finish, and then she'd say, "It doesn't matter what you want, if he doesn't want to quit. It doesn't matter. Do you hear me, it doesn't matter what you want him to do, YOU CANNOT MAKE HIM DO IT!!!"

I'd sit there feeling dogged determination rising in my chest, and I'd think to myself, "Oh yes it does, and oh yes I can." I just needed to try harder, use a different approach, make more of an effort. I turned myself inside out trying to please him so he'd quit drinking. That was unsuccessful.

I poured guilt over his head about what he wasn't doing for the kids from his first marriage, I pointed out all of his character defects, I was unkind. He laughed at me.

I was adamant that he was going to quit, and I was going to make him. Well, I didn't, and he didn't.

I finally had to admit defeat. I expected to feel shame, embarrassment, guilt and sorrow when I at last accepted that I couldn't "save" him from his addiction. To my astonishment, what I felt was relief.

I stopped demanding that he quit drinking, and I began setting boundaries for his behavior, stating clearly that were he to do ______, I would do ________.  Then he would test the boundary, I'd follow through, and the bad behavior would stop, when he realised I meant what I said. Eventually, when it truly sunk in to me that I couldn't change his behavior, I decided that I had to leave the marriage, and did just that, only to go on a few years later to marry a sober but not-in-recovery alcoholic who was a picture-perfect illustration of what is meant by a "dry drunk."

If there is one lesson I have learned in Al-Anon which has stood me in good stead over the years, it is that demanding doesn't work. I don't have the right to demand that someone else change to my specifications, and I don't need to get worked up if someone makes demands of me. I can say politely that I don't respond to demands, and let it go. I don't have to change their thinking, I only have to respond in a reasonable way to what may seem an unreasonable demand, and that is the extent of my responsibility in the matter.

I'm not anyone's Higher Power, and it's not up to me to make sure that they do this or that. I can offer my experience strength and hope, and let the results go. That's true freedom.

Friday, December 27, 2013

Refusing Negativity.

In the laundry room this morning, we met up with one of the residents. This person is unfailingly polite, but their attitude is overwhelmingly negative. If one suggests that the day promises to be a beauty, this individual will unfailingly find some negative aspect upon which to comment - "It's supposed to rain later," or "It might look nice, but it's probably cold," or some other remark full of doom, gloom or depression.

I feel for this poor miserable soul, unable to take any delight in life. I recall all to clearly just how dismal the world appeared to me before my attitude change in Al-Anon. When it was first suggested to me that I had a choice with regard to my attitude, I thought the speaker a hopeless Pollyanna. I believed that those of who saw the world through an unremittingly negative filter were the realists of life, and those who were cheerful were na├»ve. After all, with all that I'd been through as a small child, how could I be expected to have a positive attitude?

I encountered almost those very words in a recent conversation with one of my sisters. I was talking to her about how much more satisfying life is, when one has a positive attitude, and works to practise gratitude for one's blessings, rather than seek to find all that life is supposedly missing. She sighed heavily, and said, "Yes, but with our childhoods, how can you have a positive attitude?" She hasn't lived with her adoptive parents (the three of us were all adopted separately, that was the policy back then) for 40 years, yet she is still using them as reason for her largely negative attitude. I will occasionally get the shivers talking with her, and it's only because in her I see who I would have been without the changed attitude I learned in Al-Anon. I am so hugely grateful for all those who patiently repeated themselves as I tried my best to prove them wrong in their cheerful outlook.

I have been given such enormous blessings in my life, and one of the greatest of those is love, the love of my delightful Robert, whose patience, tolerance, and humour make him such a treat. I cannot imagine what it would have been like to come home to an empty apartment after surgery. I know my friends would have rallied around to help me, but I was lucky beyond words, I had a man whom I adore, who loves me the same way, and just being able to spend more time with him made me feel better physically. The body-mind connection is a mystical one.

Program has allowed me to deal with cancer by living one day at a time, and not terrifying myself with possibilities. It will be what it will be. My faith makes me willing to accept and to be grateful. There are no guarantees in life. I'm happy and serene today, and that's enough.

Sunday, December 22, 2013

You Can't Walk in Sand Without Leaving Footprints.

I have two sisters, both older than I. One, M, is two years my senior, the other, G, is four years older. M and I get along well. Although she's never had experience with program or 12-Step of any kind, with her life experience, she's evolved into someone who can question her own responses, ponder her own behavior, and be firmly on the side of improved communication.

G reminds me very much of myself before Al-Anon. I offended very easily, I was rigid in my thinking, and I was determined to "win" any conflicts or hassles in which I became involved. My way was not only the correct way, it was the one and only way. I will occasionally cast my mind back to the younger me, and feel empathy for those who had to deal with that prickly, mutinous, sullen and immature woman.

One of Al-Anon's greatest lessons is that I cannot change another person. No amount of heckling, badgering, whining, manipulating, wheedling or pressure is going to affect a permanent change in the thinking or behavior of any other human on this planet.

I can only change myself.  My only sphere of true influence lies within my own skull. The mind of any other person is only available to me as that person chooses to share themselves. I have no way of knowing whether or not that sharing is conscious, true or honest.

I've always loved the music of Tom Petty, and in the chorus of "The Waiting" he sings:

"...The waiting is the hardest part
Every day you get one more yard
You take it on faith, you take it to the heart
The waiting is the hardest part..."

I cannot have a relationship all my own way, no more than I could walk in sand without leaving my footprints. With my oldest sister, all I can do is do my best. When I feel the need to set a boundary, I make the effort to be as kind as is humanly possible in the way I state my need for respect. After that, I have to wait. I wait for her response, or lack of same. I let her, and her response go, as far as I'm able at that point.

These days, I'm fairly skilled at letting go of what I cannot control. If it's beyond me, I can see that with clarity, so I try not to let it eat at me. When I'm trying to let go, and can't manage it, I ask my Higher Power for help. My prayers for assistance seem to have simplified down to one sentence:

"Please help me with this."

I no longer specify how I  want to be helped, or when, or where. I just ask for the help, and then let that go, too. I've grown old enough now to have a wonderfully clarified sense of just how little I know about life and its mysteries. Suffice it that I've experienced them, I don't have a burning need to explain them anymore, not to myself, nor to anyone else.

All I have to offer is my love, my humour, and occasionally, the little bits of wisdom I've gained from this marvellous program. That and my gratitude; it overflows this earthly container on an hourly basis.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Holiday Season Thoughts.

If the only gift that you are able to give your family members this year is tolerance, you will be giving generously indeed. Tolerance allows us to accept with good grace, that which in the past, may have caused us to gnash our teeth and pass judgement.

When I am given a choice between kindness and any other response, I strive always for kindness - to those who are lonely, wanting a little human contact to make their lives feel less empty, and to those who are insecure, and with the insecurity, may act in a way that would once have irritated or offended me.

Can I spare, from all that has been poured so generously into my life, love to share with others? Can I seek to console, to greet, to make another person laugh with a joking comment upon our shared condition of travellers during this manic time of year?

Can I agree to help when it would be easier to make an excuse? Can I give a little more of myself, my time, my caring, than I might otherwise?

How can I be the human embodiment of Spirit this season?

Monday, December 16, 2013

Surgical Staples Out This Morning - Facets of Gratitude.

Apart from some serious back problems as the result of an accident many years ago, I have been blessed with good health. One of the strangest aspects of the cancer diagnosis, was the fact that I'd had no symptoms, and believed myself to be in the best possible health except for my back. It was decidedly strange to find out I had a cancerous tumour growing inside me. But I had much to be grateful for - a screening test had caught the tumour at a very early stage, and it appeared not to have metastasized, according to the staging tests available.

I'd taken my favourite Al-Anon daily reader, "Courage to Change" into the hospital with me,  and on the second day after surgery, I lay there and read every one of the 13 pages under the topic of "gratitude", because I was having a hard time feeling any. I was sick after surgery, with my stomach producing bile overtime, not having had any food for about 3 days by then, and the food offered as a fluid diet was, not to exaggerate, disgusting. I do not understand how hospital food can be so atrocious, but had it not been for Robert bringing me yoghurt and real chamomile tea, I'd have been subsisting on the cup of food replacement which was on each meal tray, as it was the most appetising thing available. How any dietician could consider instant pudding, sickeningly sweet and lumpy, to be food for a person who has just survived major surgery, is utterly beyond me.

The food, however, was my only complaint. The nurses were kind, funny, caring, and knowledgeable, the surgeon worked his magic, and the entire thing was covered by my medical plan.

My 26 surgical staples were removed this morning at my GP's office in a matter of ten or so minutes, then we came home, and I was taken out for lunch by a good friend who'd driven down to the city.
Examining my scar (still with the staples) the other day, I was idly musing that were it horizontal rather than vertical, I'd have a good start on the front grille of a '54 Buick.

Today, I'm feeling grateful. I had lots of program friends come to visit in the hospital while I was there, and coming home to my beloved Robert was a gift indeed. Now I have to await the pathology report to find out if the lymph nodes were clean, or if further treatment is recommended. Either way, life is good, the sun is beaming and it's a lovely mild day in December. Bless you all.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Home Again

I got home yesterday around noon, but went pretty much straight to bed, feeling utterly exhausted from just the trip home. I have a pretty impressive scar about 8" long, and am held together by staples, which actually looks rather barbaric. I'm not in too much pain now, but am still taking painkillers every 3-4 hours.

Walking from the hospital doors the ten feet to where Robert had stopped the car, I was overcome with gratitude for the sweet smell of fresh air. One never smells fresh air in a hospital anymore, it's all recycled and cleaned and swept and sterilised. It was wonderful to be out among daily life again.

I'll write more as I am able, thank you to those of you who've sent good wishes.