Monday, December 29, 2014

Pointless Rebellion

A reader wrote to ask me about rebellion.

I grew up with an intensely rebellious nature. I was a child, and then an adult, with no respect for authority. I've come to understand that this had its roots, in the sexual and physical abuse I received at the hands of several adults in my early childhood.

 I had enough fear of authority figures, to keep me behaving until adolescence, and then I began to stay out past my curfew, hang out with the wrong crowd, and run away from home for days at a time.

When I look back now, my rebellion was pretty tame, I didn't shoplift or commit other crimes, and the wrong crowd consisted of some people who smoked cigarettes (gasp!) and sometimes pot. That was enough to demonise them in the eyes of my adopted parents, so of course those were the people with whom I wanted to spend my time.

I'm grateful now that I was such a craven coward, because it kept me from doing anything which would have ruined my life through addiction to drugs or alcohol, or a criminal record. I think the police in our tiny town had a pretty good idea of what was going on at home, because they would find me, tell me I had to go home now, and then take me out for a hamburger or an ice cream cone, first.

That early relationship with the police, is probably why I spent 8 years working with the RCMP Victim Services - I've always been comfortable around cops.

I gave myself a great deal of misery with my inward rebellion. I rarely had the courage to express it openly, but before Al-Anon, I was very uncomfortable around authority. I rebelled against the authority figures in my life, because I seethed with anger and hatred towards the people who had abused me, and I had no way to deal with my rage.

 It manifested as pointless rebellion - rebellion for its own sake, not because of a cause, or a deeply held philosophy, or even a belief.  I rebelled because I felt no attachment to any person apart from my adopted brother. Since I felt no attachment, why should I care? was my attitude. As I've said earlier in this, I was afraid to rebel openly, so it was mostly through sullenness that my rebellion was expressed when I reached adulthood. I was a sullen, depressed, angry person before Al-Anon.

One act of pointless rebellion which springs to mind, was the day an employer asked that the women wear dresses or skirts to a work social function. I went to the function wearing dress pants, determined to rebel against what I saw as an unreasonable request. It seems silly to me now, because I often wore dresses to that job, and had many I'd made and enjoyed wearing. I justified my rebellion by telling myself that it was not fair to be asked to wear a dress just because I was female. Now I look back and shake my head at that stubborn creature I once was.

 I would have benefited from Al-Anon, long before I went to my first meeting.

Al-Anon taught me that other people (I do not include abusers in this) deserve respect, in the same way that I deserve to be treated with respect and courtesy. My rebellion faded as I matured in Al-Anon;  I have become much more accepting of reality, and of life itself.

I no longer have my childhood miseries driving an inner rage, because I have accepted that I cannot change the past. It was what it was, and although I was unhappy for most of it, I made it through to adulthood, and I have recovered, through time, and hard work in program. I've changed to such a degree, that when I describe the pre-Al-Anon me as continually angry and seething with resentment, friends in program say that they just cannot imagine me like that.

Another aspect of my life which has been changed and enriched by this wonderful recovery program. I'm grateful.

I have day surgery tomorrow, to get the PICC line removed, and a port installed. I'm feeling happy anticipation, to be relieved of the endless maddening itch caused by the allergy to adhesive bandages, and to know that if all goes well, I'll get out of the hospital within a few hours of entering. I like that idea. I might even make it to the meeting tomorrow night.

Bless you all.

Thursday, December 25, 2014

Happy To Be Alive And Well This Christmas

I got up late this morning and am having tea and breakfast before I shower and go to the Christmas Day meeting here in town. I like to go to these meetings, because I've noticed that they are usually full of newcomers who are suffering high stress at this time of year. I think it's good to have some old-timers there, it balances the meeting a bit more.

As of May this year, I was told by my surgeon that I had six months to a year to live. (This was challenged and disputed by my oncologist, who said I could live for years with cancer in my lymph nodes, with regular chemo)  I wasn't sure if I'd live to see another Christmas. My last CT scan was clear, so it may still be in my lymph nodes, but the rest of my body is cancer free at the moment.

That's pretty much the best Christmas present I can recall receiving.

I'm grateful for time with my beloved Robert, who can make me laugh no matter what the circumstance. I'm grateful to be alive, and feeling well, and also because I'm getting a port installed in my shoulder this coming Tuesday. I've developed a ferocious allergy to the adhesive in the plastic bandages used to cover my PICC line, so it's coming out, and a port is being put in. I can't wait - the port sits just under the skin, so no more bandage changes, no more wrapping myself up like a sandwich before showering, and NO MORE ITCH!

The itch from the allergy has been driving me to distraction. But it will be over soon, and my arm will feel much better.

 I'm grateful for Al-Anon, which is where I learned about the practise of gratitude.

Bless you all, and Happy Christmas.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

We Are All Siblings Under The Skin.

Anxiety is one aspect of being co-dependent that I have found to be universal - I hear people share at meetings about anxiety, old and new, and every sponsee I've ever had, has been well aware of the level of anxiety they carry. I used to get regular panic attacks before program.

People-pleasing is another character trait that seems common. I learned in childhood that if I could please someone, I had a much better chance of getting what I thought I wanted or needed.

Denial is rampant among those of us who deal with alcoholism. My denial was so thick at first that I was completely unaware of its existence.

Self-loathing is a phrase I've heard many times in the 30 years I've been in Al-Anon. I know I felt self-loathing because I'd been trained by abuse to think of myself as "less than." I considered myself to be a terrible person, and incompetent because I couldn't make my first husband stop drinking. I believed that had he just loved me "enough" he would have stopped. Al-Anon taught me that this kind of thinking was akin to believing that if he'd just loved me enough, he wouldn't have pneumonia. Alcoholism is an illness.

Judgementalism - I still struggle with being judgemental at times, although nowadays I can hear myself thinking that way, and will respond to my own thought with a correction, or reminder that most of us are doing the best we can at any time, I'm not the thought, activity, clothing, or behavior police; I need to keep my side of the street clean, and not be meddling in the affairs of others; even if that meddling is only inside my own head, it's still a loss of focus.

Fear is another emotion with which so many of us in program have had a long-term connection. I feared my own fear, which led to panic attacks. I feared other people, which led to loneliness. I feared authority, which led to my doing what I didn't want to do, in an effort to ingratiate myself.

Mistrust was my major defense against closeness with others. I can recall going around muttering to myself,  "I hate people!"  From a very young age, other people had caused me a great deal of physical and emotional pain, and I feared getting close to anyone, because I feared yet more hurt.

Al-Anon, and a zealous and impassioned working of the Twelve Steps, is helping me to lead a more peaceful, satisfying and enjoyable life. I can revel in the delights of a friendship, I can feel enormous gratitude for the gift of my partner Robert, I can greet a new day with happiness for the sight of the sun lighting my way. Any winter day with sun, rather than being overcast and cloudy, is a good day in my book.

If we stay in program, and work our program, the Promises will begin to come true, and we will be amazed at how different our lives can look and feel. Bless you.

Friday, December 12, 2014

The Progression of Addiction; But First, A Silly Joke.

Robert and I were talking earlier today, about some of the alcoholics in our lives - whether in immediate family, or extended family, we agreed that often, they seem to be living in their own little universe, and that those of us who are not addicted, can have great difficulty understanding the thinking or the choices. He went on to joke that most alcoholics are the centre of their, and our, "soon-it's-worse."

That joke is silly, but it speaks of an unfortunate piece of reality. Alcoholism is a progressive, increasingly destructive disease, which if left untreated, will cause nerve, heart, liver, kidney, and brain damage - the list goes on endlessly. Over the ten years I was married to an active alcoholic, I watched him go from a man who could drink a 12-pack of beer and seem only moderately intoxicated, to a man who was drunk out of his mind on 6 beer, consumed over the same time period.

When I asked my doctor about this, he shook his head, and said that this was one of the signs that the alcoholic had moved into the latter stages of the disease. His body could no longer excrete the alcohol quickly, because his kidneys were no longer functioning at their previous level.

One afternoon, while I was rooting through the junk drawer in the kitchen looking for something, I found an invoice from a ambulance service. When I asked him what had happened, he refused to answer me. I phoned his best friend to ask if he knew - he told me that my first husband had started to vomit blood.

At the hospital, it was determined that he had thinning of the esophageal walls, a result of heavy alcohol consumption, and he was told if he didn't stop drinking immediately, he was courting death, that he could bleed out from one of the swollen veins in his throat before help could arrive.

He continued to drink, and I left the marriage about a year later. Almost three years ago, I was out walking my dogs, and encountered one of his daughters, now an adult with children of her own. She told me that her father was still alive, but in dreadful shape, because he was still drinking.

He was looking bad by the time I left him; I shudder to think what havoc and destruction another 26 years of drinking has wrought upon him. I pray for him, as I pray for my sister - not that they stop drinking, because that's not my job. I pray for their safety, and for my HP to bless them.

I feel enormous gratitude that Robert is not an alcoholic. Also, he has about 6 years of 12-Step experience, from the time when he was trying to quit smoking cigarettes, which he did manage to accomplish. As a result of this, he understands program principles, philosophy, and language, which makes for another area in which we are intimately connected.

I don't live with an alcoholic, both my birth parents are dead: the alcoholism in my family is my two sisters. The middle one is sober now, and the oldest is not.  I have recently ended contact with my oldest sister, because I am no longer willing to subject myself to her verbal and emotional abuse. It was getting worse as her alcoholism progressed.

The last time I spoke with her, was when she called to rant and rave at me, because I'd asked her politely in a recent email to please not criticise our middle sister to me. That brought on a torrent of verbal abuse about how "people like you are so self-centered and selfish," - on and on she went, ad infinitum. I listened in astonishment for a minute or two, astounded that she would make a call and say things like that to me, when she knew I was going into hospital the very next day for the second major cancer operation, not knowing if I'd come through it, and yet she felt quite comfortable with calling to upbraid me, for setting a boundary with her.

That was the proverbial straw that broke the camel's back - I prayed about it, thought about it, talked to my sponsor, Robert, and a couple of program friends, then decided that I don't need to subject myself to that level of abuse just because we're related. A friend asked would I accept that from a stranger? I said I certainly would not. She smiled and raised one eyebrow, and we laughed together.

I cut contact off by writing another courteous email to say that's what I was doing, and why, then blocked her from my email. I recently changed my phone number because my ex got my old one, and she hadn't been given that yet, so she has no way of contacting me, since she doesn't have my address, either.

I find I can lose sight of what is and isn't appropriate, possibly because I've had so much verbal abuse earlier in my life from various family members, that it can feel almost like a normal family interaction.  Al-Anon is teaching me that I have choices in these matters, and blood may be thicker than water, but it does not justify abuse.

Monday, December 8, 2014

Detaching Without Anger.

Before Al-Anon, the only way I knew how to detach, was with sufficient anger to keep me motivated to withdraw.

With  years of program behind me, I can recognise, accept, let go, and detach, all without any anger at all. Some times, many times, what I'm feeling is wonder, at my own inability to see a situation with clarity, even when I've experienced it's like, many times in my own past.

Denial is like that, though - once I stop denying and begin to accept the reality of a situation, I can  be stymied and baffled by my own ability (and willingness) to ignore red flags, ignore my own body sending up signals which indicate my discomfort, ignore the evidence of my own eyes, because I don't want it to be that way. I want it to be this way, instead. I'd like to rewrite reality, please.

When I heard in Al-Anon that I had a part to play in every situation in which I was personally involved, I fought the idea tooth and nail. I wanted to blame the alcoholic for everything, I didn't want to believe that I had any responsibility, and was completely resistant to the idea that anything I was doing, or had done, had contributed to my misery.

In Al-Anon, I have learned that if I'm there in the room, I have a role, and although it may be a small one, it's got my name on it.

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Other People's Feelings

I grew up believing that it was my job to make other people happy, however that could be managed, and I tried to do so, even if it meant that the outer me was smiling and pleasant while the true, inner me seethed with resentment, judged, blamed, and felt I was being used.

I've slowly, sometimes at a snail's pace, been able to let go of most of my people-pleasing. A newcomer approached me after a recent meeting, to ask if I'd sponsor her. It wasn't until afterwards that I realised that I'd stopped to consider carefully if I felt physically or emotionally up to the job. I don't want to do her a disservice by not being able to offer her the time she may need, but I also don't want to take on, that which is beyond my capabilities because of my health challenges.

I will be seeing the oncologist tomorrow to find out whether or not they are going to offer me another 12 rounds of chemo. If they offer, I will accept. I've been supremely fortunate in not having had much in the way of side effects, and if it can extend my life, I'd like that. I still have many yards of fabric, with plans for the garments I can make, with all those lovely materials, and patterns.

I also have lots of paintings I'd like to do.

Last week, Robert was talking to a friend who lives with alcoholism, and is miserable, but whom, after having been taken to his first meeting by Robert, didn't choose to continue with Al-Anon. I feel for him, but was astonished to hear that he had dismissed a remark made by Robert about how good it feels to accomplish goals, even the smaller kind, with a contemptuous: "People don't set goals!"

I thought that was sad. I know I get enormous pleasure from achieving my goals, whether they may be to: create a painting: make myself a coat, or other garment:  clean my apartment until it sparkles and gleams. There are many times, and many areas in which I set a goal for myself.

Before Al-Anon, my goals were mostly to change another person in some way - show them the error of their ways, perhaps, or make them feel better.

I believe that we cannot change the feelings of another person. I also believe that we don't have to be slaves to either our own feelings, or the feelings of someone else, even if that someone is a loved one.

We can detach, allow them to have their feelings without blaming, for as long as they need to work it out. While we are waiting for them to come back to a even keel, we can be doing what gives us pleasure and satisfaction.

It used to be for me, that if  a loved one was angry, I was distressed until I could "make" them happy again. I felt it was my fault if they were upset, that I needed to "fix" it, that somehow it was my problem.  I can recall my shock the first time my first sponsor said to me, "It's not your problem, stay out of it."

Stay out of it? But I had so many great ideas about how to fix it!

That makes me laugh now, the arrogance inherent in that thinking, but I was oblivious to it at the time. I merely thought I wanted to be helpful; I was unaware of my controlling.

I'm learning that everyone has the right to their own feelings, and that it is neither my responsibility nor a chore I wish to take on, to make anyone but myself happy

My main goal in life is achieving serenity.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Friendship and Fabric

When I moved to this city at the end of my 17-year marriage, I became friends with a woman who is  a sewing enthusiast. Two days ago we went together to a fabric store she frequents, but with which I was unfamiliar.

What a treat that was - luscious high quality fabric of every type and pattern. Rich solids in deep dark shades, as well as light, crisp colors. Rayon, velvet, wool, cotton, and notions galore. I bought some royal blue melton wool to make myself a new winter coat. My present coat was made about 5 years ago, and is showing its age. I am grateful that I have the skill and ability to make clothes for myself. It permits me to make what I want to wear, instead of being restricted to what is available in stores.

I made a coat last year, but don't like it much, so I'm going to donate it, and make a new one.

I'm grateful that I've learned to let go. I spent many hours tailoring that coat, but the finished product doesn't satisfy me. I don't like the way the fabric handles, and I don't like the feel of it, it's too heavy, and not nearly as warm as it should be, with all the lining and underlining and block fusing I did.

I can easily and happily donate it, to a charity shop here in the city, and walk away hoping that it will prove to be a delight for someone who finds it there. It's okay that I spent time upon it, but it didn't turn out the way I'd wanted. That doesn't matter to me anymore. I see that, accept it, and move on.

I can do this because of Al-Anon. Life doesn't have to go my way in order for me to feel satisfied, happy or content. I have matured in my ability and willingness to go with the current, instead of always trying to fight my way upstream. I can relax and float, admiring the scenery, enjoying the gift of the wonderful loving people my Higher Power has placed in my life.

I'm working on a painting for my brother at the moment, and when I'm in my little workroom slopping paint onto the canvas ( I find my paintings are much better when I work quickly, with not too much time allowed for picky little brushstrokes) I am filled with joy. Just as I was bursting with delight at the fabric store with my friend, or when my sponsor came over for a hug before last night's meeting. What a comforting feeling that was, to get a big warm hug from someone I love, admire, and who will give my tail a yank, when I'm wandering off the path.

I was walking out to my car last night when a newcomer from the meeting approached me to ask if she could have my number for twelve-step calls. I gave it gladly. I'm grateful to have something to share, which may be of some help to a new member of our incredible program.

The sun is glorious today, and I'm feeling good. I see the oncologist on the 8th, to find out if I will be given another 12 rounds of chemo, or if they are taking a "watch, test, and wait" approach. Either way, no matter how this goes, I'll be all right. I know that now. I'm at peace.