Thursday, February 20, 2014

Clarification, and Thought-Stopping.

Occasionally I will receive comments which quote literature other than our conference-approved literature.  When I created this blog, I decided to keep it strictly Al-Anon related. For this reason, if you quote from a book which is not conference-approved literature, I will regretfully delete your comment. I do, however, invite you to comment in your own words, and I appreciate all who take the time and effort to respond to any of my writings.

On to my other topic: thought-stopping. This was explained to me when I was new to program, as a way to keep myself off the gerbil wheel of obsession. In order for it to work, I needed to be conscious of my internal dialogue. That took me a long while to achieve, because I'd get started trying to pay attention to my thoughts, and would manage for short stretches, until one powerful surge of feeling accompanying a thought would sweep me along, sometimes for a few minutes, sometimes for hours at a time. When I finally surfaced, gasping and spluttering with the realisation that I'd been submerged in one of my obsessions, roiling and spinning wildly with the force of the emotions that were such a part of them, I'd start again to try to listen to the madness that was such a constant backdrop to my days. The madness inside my own head.

I learned that I needed to stop the thought before it got a chance to take hold of me. This required that I be aware of what were my triggering thoughts. I discovered that they usually began with "He shouldn't" or "she shouldn't" or "they don't" or some such judgement. I learned that I needed to stop at that precise moment, turn my thoughts firmly towards something which gave me pleasure, whether that be sewing, painting, gardening, the book I was reading at the time, my dog, a fun time with a friend, nature, whatever it was that I enjoyed in my life, and force myself to think about that instead.

I'm deeply grateful for having learned this skill so many years ago, it has served me well with my recent experience with cancer. I received a call yesterday that I need to go for testing on April 2, to see if they can detect any signs of recurrence. Without the skill of thought-stopping, the intervening time would have been filled with fear and worry.

Being able to decide that I am powerless, and don't want to go quietly mad with worry and fear of what might be, allows me to live from now until April 2nd, and enjoy my life with Al-Anon friends, and my beloved Robert. I'm so grateful for this wonderful program.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Spiritual Nudges.

For the last couple of weeks or so, I've been thinking about going back to a Tuesday night meeting that I always enjoyed. I have cut my meeting attendance down to once a week, but I've been thinking about this meeting lately, and remembering how satisfying it was for me, because I really like a lot of the members, many of whom attend faithfully each week, giving the meeting good continuity. It's a meeting with a lot of laughing, which I think is a sign of health and humility.

Then, yesterday afternoon at the office operating committee meeting, my first since the operation, I met up with one woman for whom this Tuesday night meeting is her home group, and after giving me a big warm hug, she asked, "Are you going to be coming back to our meeting again soon?"

Her question, coming on top of the meeting having been in my thoughts quite a bit, made me decide to start attending again. Once the decision was made, I realised that I am feeling a fair amount of delighted anticipation. I enjoy the positive nature and good humour expressed there. When I moved back here, I'd gone to a meeting within a night or two of arriving, but didn't like it particularly, as I was pretty much ignored. Now, this doesn't matter for me, because I've been in Al-Anon for 29 years, I knew there were another 10-12 meetings in a week here for me to check out, and I know full well that each meeting has a different flavour. But it bothered me because no-one asked if there were any visitors or newcomers, and I believe that's an important part of welcoming newcomers to our meetings - that we make the effort to acknowledge and welcome new people, trying to ease the way for them to feel comfortable and at home in the rooms.

This Tuesday night meeting was the second meeting I went to when I was first here, and as soon as I entered the room, a woman smiled at me, patted the empty chair beside her, and invited me to join her. She asked if I was new to Al-Anon, and when she found out I was a long-timer, we had an amusing conversation before the meeting began. It's a warm, welcoming meeting, whose members do their best to make it safe for all who attend.

There's a strong emphasis on the Steps and Traditions, and I always felt good when I walked back out to my car afterward.

So I'm going to pay attention to this spiritual nudge, and next Tuesday evening, I will be sitting in a church basement, listening carefully to all the people whose experience, strength and hope is such a gift and a blessing for me.

I've taken the pockets apart on the winter coat I'm sewing for myself, there was something about them which I found unsatisfactory, but only slightly. Nevertheless, over the many years that I've been sewing for myself, I've learned that I'm far better off to unpick and re-sew, than tell myself it's good enough - were I to do the latter, it would bother me for the life of the garment. Patience is a virtue.

Part of Al-Anon's teachings are learning when I need to let go, and when I need to re-do.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Some Days Are Better Than Others.

I was listening to an Al-Anon speaker yesterday, while I was making soup and seasoning a new wok, and have been thinking about one comment he made. He said that working the program doesn't mean that we won't feel pain or suffer during the stressful periods in our lives, it means that we have tools with which to deal with life's trials and tribulations.

Some of life's trials won't go away. We endure health problems, as I have done recently, and after the treatment, our body doesn't work in the same effortless way it used to. I've been very fortunate, but there have been changes, and I need to live with them, since I've no other choice. Some days, I can accept and let go. Occasionally, I'll have a bad night, as I did last night, with patchy sleep and physical complaints, and wake up feeling down, as I did this morning.

I'm feeling grumpy and dis-satisfied and in need of a spiritual boost. I know I'll get it when I go to the office operating committee meeting this afternoon. I'll see my sponsor and other members of my home group, women I love dearly, who make me laugh, give me hope, and life my spirits when I'm already happy. When I'm feeling a little down, as I am today, they are a lifeline to regaining my usual good mood.

Robert is out at the moment, but I know that when he returns, he will smile at me, and I will feel the comfort and blessing of his love for me, and mine for him, and my gratitude for the blessings in my life will dissipate this touch of melancholy, like wood smoke on the breeze.

In Al-Anon, I'm learning not to panic when my mood shifts occasionally. For many years, I was afraid of my feelings of pain or sorrow, because I feared that there might come a day when they wouldn't end. Now, I am aware that they are a part of me that can be acknowledged, accepted, and released.

This too, shall pass.

Friday, February 7, 2014

Controlling My Desire to Control.

A reader asked, "How do I know whether or not I'm being controlling, when I think that I'm being helpful?"

One way that worked (and still works) marvellously for me, was through using our slogan "How Important Is It?" This requires rigorous honesty with myself, none of the common self-justification which so often begins with those three words "I was just...."

How important is it that the towels be folded to my specifications, rather than the way Robert chooses to fold them?

Are they equally as absorbent, when folded his way? Do they still fit the linen cupboard and the towel rack? Yes to all three questions, and the reality is that it isn't of any importance whatsoever that they be folded the way I'd fold them instead. Let it go.

With regard to my relationships, whether they be with my beloved partner, siblings, friends or sponsees, when I ask myself, before I speak,  "How Important Is It?" it has the same ability to clarify my thinking. I may not agree with the way another person is running their life, but as I said to a friend yesterday, I'm not the language, behavior, or attitude police for anyone but myself. It's not up to me to try to change the way another person thinks or acts. If I feel that it is important to speak up, because of wanting to set or maintain a boundary, that's appropriate. But speaking in an effort to change another person is not only an exercise in futility, it's the fastest way I know of to ruin intimacy and destroy their trust and comfort in us.

It was hugely freeing for me to finally understand and accept, that my opinion is not the correct opinion, it's only mine. If my opinion is sought, I have the option of offering it, or being honest when I don't have one. (That has been an education in another area entirely, realising that for some, saying that I don't have an opinion sounds like a lie - doesn't everyone have an opinion about everything?)

I spent time with my sponsor yesterday, and she said that she admired me for something I've been doing, and I promptly began to argue about it, until I sputtered to a stop, and laughingly admitted that I still can have trouble accepting compliments. She grinned at me, and said "I'll admire who I want to!"

I chaired the meeting of my home group last night, and I have found chairing meetings to be a good way to learn to let go of control, so that the meeting may find its own level, and members to speak as they feel moved to. This may mean that the topic is not rigidly adhered to; at times the topic may seem to have been completely forgotten. That's okay, too. I can believe and accept that everyone is going to hear whatever it is that they need to hear, and that were I to try to control the direction of the meeting, I might interfere with that magical process.

I know I'm being controlling when I feel a determination to have the other person do what it is that I wish for them to do, rather than allow them to make their own choices. When I feel like it is important that I get my own way, I am being controlling. When I feel impatient and frustrated, I am most likely being controlling.

When I am serene, I am at peace with myself, and those around me.

Thursday, February 6, 2014


One of my favourite quotations is from Blaise Pascal:  "All of humanity's problems stem from man's inability to sit quietly in a room alone."

I have enjoyed solitude from early childhood, because solitude was safety. I thought that I liked solitude because I was self-sufficient, and in some ways that is true - I can easily amuse myself with various pursuits such as painting, sewing, reading, meditating, or walking. But another reason I liked solitude was due to my fears. I feared other people. I had been physically and emotionally battered by so many different people by the time I was in my teens, that I had an enormous fear of people.

I can recall saying bitterly to myself when I was in my early twenties "I hate people!" People were so seldom a source of love or comfort, and I hadn't even a dim grasp of how my own personality was to blame for many of my troubles. I was a furiously angry, resentful, bitter and prickly person by the time I was a  young adult, and getting involved with my first husband was a recipe for disaster, him being a full-blown practising alcoholic.

I went to my first Al-Anon meeting at the suggestion of my doctor, to whom I would pour out a litany of complaint about the alcoholic, when I was in his office for other reasons. I attended meetings faithfully for a while before I got a sponsor, the first of whom didn't work out for reasons I've gone into elsewhere on this blog.

When I first started working with the woman who was the most deeply influential person in my life for about ten years, and whom I consider my "first" sponsor, because she was such a source of information, help, support and humour, I had no self-knowledge of any import. I knew a few basic things about myself in terms of likes and dislikes, but about my motives, attitudes, thinking, or choices, I was utterly ignorant. Not only ignorant, but resistant to the suggestion that I needed to investigate those areas of my life - wasn't this program to help me deal with the alcoholic, and if so, why all this focus upon me?

I wasn't to blame for my misery, he was, so why were we spending time taking my inventory? It was a  long hard haul uphill, for me to be able to look honestly at my own motives and admit to my Higher Power, myself and another human being, the exact nature of my wrongs.

I've come a long way in 29 years in Al-Anon - this wonderful program has allowed me to shed the heavy weight of shame and self-loathing instilled by the early abuse, and I no longer find it difficult to admit to my wrongs. If anything, they have become funny to me - the ways in which my mind will still assure me that I know a better way to  - make the bed, fold the towels, cut tomatoes for salad - anything and everything.

Yesterday morning Robert was doing something, with me standing beside him, and I heard myself say, "Why don't I...." - realised I was about to say something controlling, and finished, "...shut my mouth?" We both laughed, and he replied good-naturedly, "That's an option."

It isn't that I've become someone who never has those controlling thoughts anymore, it's that I've learned to hear them as I'm having them, and most of the time, keep my mouth closed, say nothing, and let the moment pass. When I don't manage that, and do say something controlling, I will hear myself, and add, "Not that I'm a control freak, or anything." This always makes us both laugh, and the result is a shared intimacy, rather than the resistance and further efforts to control that have always resulted from my earlier controlling ways.