Al-Anon Lifer

Anonymous sharings from a long-time member of Al-Anon, which is a safe place to recover from the effects of alcoholism in a friend or relative...

Thursday, September 28, 2006

A Decisive Day...

I woke up feeling fine yesterday. The sky was blue. The leaves golden against it. But then I remembered the girl who died in a school shooting on Wednesday. "Time to move on," I said to myself. "Kids die every day. You need to live." I sat down with my coffee and daily readers. A note slipped out of my "Hope for Today." It was the email I'd printed from my sponsor a while back.

Then I remembered the phone call I'd gotten from work the night before. The new manager told me not to come in the next day because they weren't busy enough. I had said it was my only shift this week. It didn't matter. "Was this a sign?" I asked myself. I had been thinking about leaving for greener pastures for a while and had asked my sponsor for advice.

"Of course, we don't give advice in Al-Anon," she said in the email I now held in my hand, "but why are you staying? Is it because of other jobs you've had? Are you being treated fairly?" I silently answered her yesterday morning with NO. Then I had lunch with a friend who dittoed my answer. I left feeling down, burdened. I probably knew what I had to do, but I was tired, emotionally exhausted from this week's personal and public events.

Nevertheless, I stopped by work to pick up next month's schedule and they seemed plenty busy. Plus the new schedule limited my shifts again. "They want me out of here," I thought. "So I'll go, peacefully, if that is even possible." It was. I didn't give them notice, though. Some employers don't deserve it. I used to be a good employee - you know, the kind who works her bum off and doesn't ever complain.

But that was before I stopped taking this kind of crap from people. I have my own part-time business at home and finally fired a client last year after years of her abuse. A few months before that, I began the process of leaving my husband. His drinking and driving was going to jeopardize my future. I just couldn't handle being tied to the legal and financial ramifications should he get arrested or worse, kill someone. He got sober in AA, though, so I stayed. But since then, I quit two part-time jobs, besides this last one. Both for about the same reason - I was not being treated fairly.

So here I am again, feeling like a failure, when really I am just taking care of myself. Both my spouse and my children think I should either just work for myself or work for a real company, one with rules and most importantly, money. Don't work for people who keep complaining that they don't have enough money to pay the bills so shortchange you. Don't work for people who make promises they can't keep. Don't work for people who treat you the same way your parents did and still do.

No wonder I'm hurting. It isn't the job that seems to have rejected me, it's "the parent I hardly knew" knew who didn't even want to share a meal with me, and the other parent, my mother, who has emotionally abandoned me since I was a child, when she was emotionally abandoned by my father. I'm seeing her this weekend, and it is always hard to detach with love from someone who has admitted she doesn't love me as much as she loves my baby sister, the product of her second marriage. How awful to tell your child that. I would never do that.

But then I am in recovery. I have the gifts and tools of Al-Anon, one of which I better use today. I should go to a meeting or call my sponsor and maybe one more friend. I have plenty of time to get ready for my weekend trip. For one thing, I have two extra days next week to take care of all the stuff on my desk now that I quit my outside job. I should feel free. I should feel happy. Especially since I don't have to see "the parent I hardly knew." But I'm not feeling that way. I'm feeling rejected and unloved.

They are the feelings I didn't have as a child when my father left. I'm hurt. My brain says, "It's for the best. Now you can have fun. Now you can explore other things. You can really enjoy October, one of your favorite months. September went by in a blur. And you are loved. Your husband loves you, and is sober. Your children love you and speak to you (something that would not be the case had you not got help through therapy and Al-Anon). And you have loving friends and a sponsor in Al-Anon. Plus you have a loving mother-in-law, sisters you can hang out with this weekend, a 101-year-old grandma who tells you you're her favorite, and your whole life ahead of you."

Now if I can just transfer those thoughts to my heart, which feels like it is breaking. I want to roll into a ball in a corner and disappear. Instead, I know I'll take care of the little business I need to today, pack for this weekend, and make contact with a healthy person or two. Plus I'll publish this blog because it may help someone else out there. Although it has helped me already. Thank you, God. Thank you.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

A Sweet 16 is Dead

The girl who was shot at Bailey, Colorado, today has died, they just announced on the news. Oh, God... I can't wait until my child gets home from work to give her a big hug.

Another School Shooting...

Here is a picture of children in Iraq sent to me by a relative serving over there... I hope they're all still alive and well...

I heard it on the radio and stopped to make sure it wasn't here like I thought I heard. But it was, and too close to home again. It takes me back to 1999, when my last child was a senior in high school, and Columbine was just a few miles away. Close enough for a "friend" from my high school days, who flew in from D.C., to show up on my doorstep with a cameraman to interview me and my child - about our feelings. I was so glad my child wasn't awake at the time, or he/she might have slugged him. How do you think we felt? We knew kids in that room. I knew mothers of children in that room. And now I'm wondering if I know the mother of the girl who was shot and is in critical condition today. I certainly know quite a few people who live up in Bailey. And to think I was feeling sorry for myself just a bit ago when my spouse got two phone calls from people wanting to hang out with him. Boo hoo! Where were all my friends? I'm working at home today so have hardly talked to a soul. I know, I know, I could go out and exercise to see people, and then I have some errands to do, but I think I'll just watch the news on the big screen and pray. Pray that somehow this will work towards good for everyone concerned, and that someday this won't be such a comman occurrence, and that I am so thankful that my children got to grow up and become functional adults. Thank you, God, and take care of those parents up in Bailey. And the family of the gunman...

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

An Answer from "the Parent" and My HP

So "the parent I hardly knew" has turned down my invitation to see me. I do not know his real reason, perhaps it is the one he gave me. What I do know is that despite all my stepwork and therapy, I got angry. But only for about a half hour. It didn't take me long to realize that what I was really feeling was hurt, the hurt I never felt as a child when he left. I was angry then, too, and continued to be angry for a very long time. Unlike this time when I called my sponsor, then I called a good Al-Anon friend to get together for coffee. Afterwards, I took care of myself by going to the grocery store and buying the healthy foods my daughter and I had put on our menu for this week. (We're dieting for a wedding we're going to in Hawaii.) By the time I got home, I was okay. A bit exhausted, but okay. And I slept great. Thanks to the tools I've gotten from Al-Anon.

One of those tools is prayer, which I found myself doing while driving to Starbucks to meet my friend. I remembered the spiritual awakening I had at our state convention over Labor Day weekend. It was one of the Ah Ha! moments we get after an excrutiatingly difficult time understanding something, even something as simple as what I heard that day for the first time, although I had known it for a very long time. I had just heard that my father had decided not to go to my niece's wedding because my mother was going to be there, whom he hadn't seen or spoken to in almost 45 years. He said he wouldn't be in the same room with "that woman." Which I find strange since he was the one who had had the affair with his business partner's wife and caused both marriages to crumble.

Anyway, I was in crisis mode because now I had to decide whether or not to see him outside of the wedding. (I had no inclination that he wouldn't want to see me.) I had a couple of other items on my plate, too, so I did what I've been told to do - I called my sponsor. After she let me scream and yell and stamp my feet, and after we had discussed pros and cons for a while, she said something that I know I had heard many times before. I had also applied it to other relationships in my life. She said, "You do know that you can forgive the person without forgiving their behavior?" "No," I said, "we're supposed to forgive people just as God has forgiven us." Well, we talked about the Lord's Prayer and our past religious beliefs for awhile and then I went home.

Later that night, while listening to an AA speaker, I suddenly had a vision of my father. Because I really don't know him well and have spent so little time with him, I had equated his behavior to who he was. Suddenly, he separated from his behavior - he went to the left and his behavior went to the right (not pun intended). I could suddenly see him as the sick, suffering human being that he was, apart from his behavior. And I knew then that I could forgive him without forgiving the unacceptable behavior that continues to this day. And I recalled what my sponsor had said that day, what the Lord's Prayer really says. It does not say "forgive us our trespasses as we forgive the trespasses of others." It says "forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us." I had been trying to forgive my father's "sins" because to me, he had been his "sins," when all I had been asked to do is to forgive him.

Some people say "forgive and forget," but I never want to forget my own trespasses, even though I have forgiven myself as has God and others. I would lose the humility I have gained from looking at my part in order to clean my side of the street. Which is what I was attempting to do by inviting my father to breakfast this weekend, giving him the opportunity to meet me face-to-face perhaps one last time. Giving myself the opportunity to forgive him even if he should not say what I want to hear, that he is sorry for everything. I really doubt that will ever happen. I doubt if I will see him again. Both my sponsor and therapist have told me to consider emotional divorce. I don't quite know what that will entail, but if my HP leads me there, I will follow. It may be the way to put this original resentment to rest.

Although I have to say that since yesterday, when my blood boiled and I wrote a nasty email in reply to my father, deleting it rather than sending it, the pain in my body seemed to leave. It seemed to be the exorcism I needed to finally let go... one last time. Oh, God, please let it be so.

Saturday, September 23, 2006

Pausing to Ponder...

The poem in my first posting may never be read by its recipient. He doesn't know I'm in Al-Anon, and unless he responds to my latest invitation to see me when I'll be only 35 miles from his home next weekend, we will probably never meet again... This is one of those cases where we do what we can to make our amends, to make up for our shortcomings, but leave the results to our Higher Power... for we are powerless over the insidious disease of alcoholism and its behavior in other people. We can only change our own attitudes and consequent behaviors.

I have decided to share my story in this format, as anonoymously as possible, in order to pass on the Al-Anon program to anyone who has already discovered its rewards and anyone out there who is still suffering from having lived with the disease of alcoholism in a relative or friend. My plan is to share my program backwards, from where I am now to where I was, inserting what happened in the middle. This doesn't mean that I am completely recovered. Far from it. I have simply reached a mountain top this month where I believe I am finally letting go of the original resentment in my life - of my father for having abandoned me as a child and for continually abandoning me as an adult.

Many women out there have been damaged by their relationship with their father. If a little girl doesn't have a loving one, she is often prone to pick men who treat her the same way her father did or a man, she thinks, who will replace the loving father she did not have. I did just that. My pick was an alcoholic. We have been married many years, and I found Al-Anon a long time before he found Alcoholics Anonymous. My program helped me to be content whether the alcoholic was still drinking or not. But just as my spouse's drinking no longer made me miserable, his sobriety did not make me deliriously happy. In fact, the opposite seemed to happen. I truly realized that my happiness depended on my relationship with my Higher Power and my own behavior - my relationship with myself and how I treated other people through my thoughts and actions.

I came to understand that I still held deep resentments that were clogging my soul. In Al-Anon, we talk about peeling the onion - peeling off the layers of resentments we have built up against people who have harmed us, some significant, others a lot less so, everyone from the person who cut us off in traffic to that parent who failed to nurture us. I've been peeling my onion for years, working the 12 steps of the Al-Anon program and giving back to Al-Anon through volunteer work and helping others work the steps. But I never really got to the core of my onion until this year. Oh, I've gotten close before, but I immediately covered it up with new, fresh resentments in order to avoid the fumes with the potential to poison me for the rest of my life. This is called denial, and I was denying that my father abandoning me was a resentment I had not yet exorcised.

This spring and summer, the time had come. My body was beginning to feel the effects of this powerful resentment. It was as if I'd gone through rolfing to rid myself of the emotional pain and the result was the pain coming to the surface where I could actually feel it, yet it has yet to be released. Some days, I can hardly walk, my hips and knees hurt so much. I got some relief this summer, but only because I escaped into depression for a few months. Depression, for me, is not only anger turned inwards, but denial of the destructive nature of resentments - not harming the resentee, but the resenter. Depression for me is tuning out, wanting to escape, contemplating a way out of the misery that is my inner life.

But after getting help for the depression, when it lifted, the pain came back. And no medication or massage seemed to aleviate it. In fact, I am still suffering some as I write this, for this exercise is part of my releasing it to the universe, asking my Higher Power to take it from me. I am still wondering what the outcome will be of my reaching out to my father one last time. I stilll want to control the situation, or to react to it rather than respond to it. I still want to get angry, to lash out, to complain to others, to wail and bemoan my horrible childhood, to exaggerate the awful things my father has said and done to me. In other words, I still want to drown in the problem rather than swim in the solution. Why? Because it is familiar; it is what I have been doing since I was seven years old, since the day my father left.

Yet it is time. Time to let go of my original resentment. The resentment that turned me into an angry, hardened, I-can-do-it-by-myself, leave-me-alone, little girl who grew up to be the typical Al-Anon, bouncing back and forth between the extremes of burning bridges to building them with I'll-do-anything-for-you-just-don't-leave-me! I have just recently learned that I don't have to leave yet another job because everyone there isn't perfect, and I can't seem to be perfect there either. I can work through the problems by fixing myself and my behavior, with the help, of course and always, of my Higher Power. I don't have to participate in the gossip and griping. Neither do I have to be the victim of such. I can look at my own behavior, correct and make amends, if necessary, and then establish my boundaries. If someone crosses them, I let them know as graciously as possible.

I'm working through the same type of situation in a family relationship. These problems are helping me to be true to myself while not rejecting and condeming others. They are helping me to put into practice the principles we learn in the Al-Anon program by working the 12 steps. We sometimes call this awareness, acceptance, and action. I am in the action stage, at least in the aforementioned relationships and certainly in one of my oldest relationships, that with my father. Although I don't feel like I've taken much action since there is no response from him and therefore no interaction, which has been the case most of my life, beginning with the almost total lack of correspondence for 12 years, and no connection either by phone or in person during that time...

Yet I have taken action. I have sliced into the core of my onion and its poison is seeping out through my muscles, slowly but surely. It is almost gone. I can tell because it isn't as deep. It is more on the surface. Often, just the warm touch from my hand can relieve the pain. All I have to do is remember to touch where I hurt rather than feel the kind of self-pity that says, "This will always hurt, this will only get worse and worse, I am doomed to a life of pain..." I am not. I have learned that. I've lived with the chaos of alcoholism and learned to be content and even happy. I can certainly do the same with this original resentment. I only have to be willing to let my Higher Power take it from me. That doesn't mean it is instantaneous. It is too old and I've held it so deep inside me, that even a supernatural healing takes time and causes pain, like surgery of a deeply imbedded tumor which affects all the nerves and organs around it.

And feeling the pain of its release also serves to teach me to not take it back, ever. To right now know that once it is gone, I can finally begin to become the loving, kind, creative, humble, and authentic person I was meant to be - before I reacted so harshly to my father leaving. And my mother's hurt clouding her ability to be an emotionally available parent. But that is for another blog, another day. Today I am releasing by reaching out to any reader out there the seriousness of what can happen when we hang on to our resentments. They will kill us one way or another. I have a choice here. I can walk upright with no pain or I can hobble to a drugstore and buy myself a cane. My Higher Power and the Al-Anon program and all it offers can be my "crutch" or I can work my way towards needing a walker or wheelchair long before I am an old woman. I've seen it around me. I feel it happening to me. And I choose to not take that path.

I choose health - beginning with my spiritual health which helps heal the emotional, mental, and physical health. I chose this week to contact my father with an invitation to meet with me. We haven't seen each other since his mother's funeral, which I took the time to travel to to be with him and my brother and pay my respects to the grandmother I hardly knew... The last time we saw each other before that was eight years ago. My spouse and I stopped over for a few days on our way to another destination. My father told me that because our trip wasn't solely to visit him, our stopping over did not count. Yet he has not made any attempt to come visit me, my spouse, or my children, not in 13 years. Yes, he is a very sick man. He was damaged as a child, by an alcoholic, and has not received the gift of recovery that I have. Thus, it is up to me to make one more, for my sake, attempt to see him.

After this, I am through, unless by some miracle my father sees his part and makes his amends. I can no longer participate in this one-way relationship. My counselor has told me to consider emotional divorce. To stop sending birthday, Christmas, and Father's Day cards. After all, this father did not raise me. He even easily gave up his rights as a parent when my step-father adopted me. So I had a daddy of sorts, although not the real deal. He loved my mother, and so tolerated me. I was not an easy child to be around and for many years as an adult, I was hostile and unyielding, spewing out hateful words and blaming everyone but myself for my problems and lack of love in my life. Yet he never gave up on me and always left the door open, even visiting me and my children, his grandchildren, along with my mother, who also had every reason to reject me, unlike my blood father whose reason for rejecting me was his own guilt of falling in love with another woman and parenting her children....

So I've told you enough. I've typed enough this cool fall morning. I am so grateful it is fall, my favorite time of year. Even when there are so many painful anniversaries this month, I can be happy. Perhaps that is why my Higher Power has given me the desire and the tools through the Al-Anon program to take care of my core resentment this month, by attending a family wedding only 50 miles away from my father. I'm leaving it up to him whether or not to drive the 50 miles to see me. It is, at this point, his choice. The proverbial ball is in his court, once more. However, if he takes any cheap shots, as he often has in the past, I can leave the game. And it won't be as a sore loser. It will be as a healthy adult who is willing to play fairly but not put up with being bullied anymore. I'm suddenly feeling light. My hips no longer hurt like they did when I woke up this morning. This can only be a God-thing. Thank you for listening...

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Monday, September 18, 2006

To the Parent I Hardly Knew

I have a few memories
as a child—your letting go
of my bike seat, not letting me know,
letting me think you were there
holding me up, while all along
I was on my own,
like I would soon be.
And you buying me the gray
stuffed poodle for my birthday,
the one I left outside in the rain,
ruining it—I remember peering
through the window, seeing it
in the far corner of the yard,
just like I had first spied it
through the window of the drugstore,
on that first visitation weekend
we would have after the divorce.
One of the few we would have,
for it was that same year you would
say goodbye, telling me you were
moving to another state and you
wouldn’t see me much—little
did we know that would be the
last time, until I was grown.
Even then, the visits were short, just
a few days in the summer—hardly
enough to rebuild a relationship
broken by years of silence,
that have now turned into months
we don’t speak, and years
we don’t see each other, again.
So now it is time, perhaps the last,
that we’ll meet face-to-face—
it’s time for me to truly forgive you,
time for me to at last, let you go—
the parent I hardly knew.

©2006 Al-Anon Lifer

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