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...

Friday, February 29, 2008

Negative No More

Since my last post, I went to a meeting and that has made all the difference. I knew something was wrong with me, that I was sick with the "ism," but nothing seemed to work - not my morning reading and meditation, not the Serentiy Prayer, not slogans, not trying to be grateful. I just couldn't change my "stinking thinking," which I even asked God to remove.

Nope, what I needed was to name the problem, which of course was me. And the meeting, that I didn't really want to go to, that my husband had found while looking for an AA meeting for himself, that was right by our RV park, did that for me. The topic, which I've never heard before in almost 18 years of program, was "negativity." Bingo.

That's what I'd been experiencing - not self-pity, not anger, not resentment, not judgement - just plain old the glass is half empty negativity. Just hearing the word lightened my load. Naming the problem took away its power over me. I could then examine the circumstances that could have sent me into negativity. This time it was this trip where I would see people from my past.
The problem is that I'm grieving those relationships, of what might have been and isn't.

Now that I know why I was not looking forward to the trip, I can give myself permission to be sad but not let that sadness infiltrate every aspect of my life. You can still grieve and find joy in your life at the same time. I know this because I've experienced it. I can also be grateful that that part of our trip is in the past and since then we've enjoyed sunny weather and beautiful scenery. (Strange how the visiting people part was snowy and windy and in the desert.)

Well, it's a beautiful day out so I think I'll enjoy it.

Sunday, February 24, 2008

One Week Later

Just thought I'd check in to let you all know that I'm alive and well, just on the road with limited wifi access. The weather hasn't been cooperating, but then what did I expect for February? Reminds me a lot of marrying an alcoholic and then expecting a smooth ride, all sunny days, and that proverbial bed of roses. Nevertheless, we're having a good time, visiting a few friends and relatives along the way. It also gives us the chance to get to know each other a little better, on a much different level than when there was active drinking. After 30 some years of that, though, I am still leary to open up about much of anything. I learned a long time ago to basically keep my mouth shut unless it was obvious that I had to speak up for myself or set boundaries. Anytime, it seemed, I stated my opinion, I was put down or trumped with superior knowledge. That still goes on. The alcoholic personality does not dissolve when the alcohol is replaced with program. A.A. after all only promises alcoholics sobriety first and serenity second. In Al-Anon, we learn how to live, just not how not to drink. And I've had program a lot longer than the alcoholic, so I can't expect immediate perfection. So I still protect myself from attacks and one-up-manship. It takes a long time to learn a new behavior, to regain trust, to allow intimacy when that is what got me into trouble in the first place - trusting the wrong person. Which I learned in my childhood from trusting my parents who were the wrong people. So it's understandable that we drive down the road in silence most of the time. It's still better though than the fights and arguments that used to pass the time, while the children sat in the back holding their hands over their ears. I can't beat myself up about that now as I've made my amends and continue to make my amends. I do need to work at communicating without confrontation or fighting, though. Which I'm doing, slowly but surely. Trust the process, my sponsor says. Progress not perfection I hear in meetings. Well, thanks for letting me share. I love your comments. P.S. I've been on my computer all of 30 minutes while the alcoholic has been on his computer most of the morning as well as most of the evening last night. So what does he say to me but are you going to visit with your sister or hang out on your computer all day? That's what I'm talking about. Good grief!

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Lois Wilson's Family Home in Brooklyn

By pure luck, we ended up staying in Brooklyn on our last
weekend trip to New York City. We had some time on our
hands so were able to walk the couple blocks to Lois Wilson's family home, the home she and Bill Wilson were living in when he finally got sober. It was also the home where Bill not only held the first A.A. meetings in New York, but housed a lot of drunks. It is privately owned and not a museum, unlike Dr. Bob Smith's home in Akron, Ohio, where Bill W. and Dr. Bob had their first meeting which was the beginning of A.A. We were able to see that home in 2005 on our way back from the A.A. International in Toronto. In the future, I hope to visit Stepping Stones, the Wilsons' next and final permanent home which is outside NYC (see blogroll).

The significance of seeing Lois' beautiful home in Brooklyn Heights is knowing that even though her father was a doctor and her upbringing was that of privilege, she married an alcoholic. And even though Bill got sober, Lois was the only one working and bringing home a paycheck for years. She was also cooking, cleaning, and doing laundry for all the drunks that came and went in her beautiful family home. But it wasn't enough. She eventually lost her family home and she and Bill were essentially homeless for a long time until they were able to buy Stepping Stones.

When I read her biography, The Lois Wilson Story: When Love Is Not Enough by William G. Borchert, I realized just how sick Lois was. For 15 years after her husband co-founded A.A. she continued to take care of most his needs, enabling him to put most of his time and effort into A.A. and thus stay sober, but also to be a part to Lois losing her family home in the process. Of course, she didn't have Al-Anon like I do, and I'll be forever grateful to her for helping start a recovery program for me and all the other family members and friends of alcoholics who need a "home" for themselves to recover from the family disease of alcoholism.

Even with recovery, I stayed married to an active alcoholic for 15 years while in Al-Anon. I didn't lose my home, but I lost a lot of friends and jobs along the way, and wasted a lot of energy on negativity, anger, and dire unhappiness. My husband is sober now and I am grateful, even to Lois for enabling Bill to work with a bunch of drunks right in her home, 24/7. I can't imagine. I don't even let my husband use our family phone line for taking A.A. calls. I've asked him to use his cell phone.

I know I need to work harder at being compassionate towards alcoholics; after all, it says in one of our traditions that part of our primary purpose is to encourage alcoholics in their recovery. At the same time, I need to keep a balance between being there for them and taking care of myself. I believe that Lois learned this later on, after she lost her family home, but only after she had her own program and began minding her own business. How wonderful that she did, and that she passed it on through Al-Anon. Because of her legacy, I have discovered my own ability to "Live and Let Live." Thank you, God!

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Thursday, February 14, 2008

NOW I Know I Am Loved

Okay, so I couldn't come up with anything that works for NOW the way that Honest, Open, and Willing works for HOW. But that's okay. Maybe I can come with something for the PRESENT or the ZONE, or maybe I should simply hang out there "Just for Today." Even if it is snowing and cold compared to warm in the upper 60's yesterday and I'm already wishing this day away so I can sit by the fire tonight. It feels so much more cozy when it's cold and dark out than during the day when the light is dim and the clouds block the sun.

I've always had trouble with the afternoon, the in-between hours of the day. Maybe that's my problem, that I haven't learned to live and appreciate every hour of every day. That each day, I only like certain times and activities. So maybe this living in the NOW has to do with regarding each hour, minute, and second as precious as the next and as the previous. One is not better than the other. So what can I be grateful for at 1 PM in the afternoon, after lunch, when I am inspired to do nothing in particular? When I'd really like to have a coffee date with somebody later - something to look forward to besides dinner cooked by my hubby this evening and maybe a DVD to watch.

It's like time has stopped today, as if it is waiting for me to fill it with something, anything, other than my own thoughts of discontentment, impatience, and ingratitude. Think of how many people out there wish they had an afternoon with nothing they had to do? Think of all the time you spent in your life wishing you had an afternoon off to read, to watch an old movie, to write... Now be grateful for this space in your life to do whatever your heart desires, that is conceivably possible, and then do it.

Sounds easy. But it isn't for someone who was raised to fill every moment with being productive, that Sundays were the only days to be spent in repose. That the rest of the time, especially if you were female, was to be filled with taking care of someone or something other than yourself. Guilt surrounds me even as I write this, that I didn't have to fight the icy rush hour this morning and won't have to fight it home tonight to get back to my loved ones after a hard day at the office.

I should be looking at my list of household projects and following through, headstrong into the wind of "Idle Hands are the Devil's Workshop" or the much more modern "Time is Money." I like what Oprah's magazine has to say in the March issue, that we are not our salary, or something to that effect. We are not our cashflow. We are not our GNP (gross national product). We are not our accomplishments or our number of friends or our children's education and jobs.

Our worth is the same thing we came into this world with - nothing more or less than we are children of creation and worthy of love and loving. Whatever your belief system, your self-esteem - how you feel about yourself - is intrinsically connected to your relationship to others and a God of your own understanding. If you were raised in a home like I was where your self-worth was based on how well you cooperated or fit in with the system set before you, then you have had to change those negative messages - those core beliefs about yourself that do not serve you well.

What does serve me well is realizing that my parents are sick and as such were not able to love me unconditionally. But through working the steps of Al-Anon, through helping others work the steps, through going to meetings and following the traditions, by doing service work and trying to follow the concepts, I have finally come to believe more than not that I have value and am loved and lovable. It still feels uncomfortable to open up to other people, to let them love me. To love them. But I'm doing it slowly, surely, like a rose slow to bloom, its petals finally freeing themselves from the safety of isolation.

I expose myself to the air, cold as it is today, knowing that I will falter and fail and sometimes fall, eventually wilting away, but not Today. Today, in this moment, in the eery afternoon light we're so unaccustomed to on the Front Range of Colorado, NOW, I know I Am Loved.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Time to Move On - Live in the NOW

Okay, so enough of the woulda, coulda, shoulda stuff. Time to get into the NOW and to move on. To live my life today. HOW? Well, that's being Honest, Open, and Willing. So what is NOW? What is living in the NOW really mean? I'm serious. I spend so much time in the past and the future that living for today is new to me.

I know my dog lives in the NOW. Every moment of every day is as new to her as the last. She gets just as excited with me coming home after two hours as three weeks. And each snack, each meal, each scratch behind the ear is as welcome as the last or the next.

But she's a dog. And I am not. I have this human mind that wants to rewind, replay, fast forward, pause, anything but stay in the moment. I'm getting a massage today and have tried, in the past, to enjoy every moment of that hour. But do you think my mind will let me do it? No, I keep thinking, thinking, thinking... It's like a curse, the proverbial squirrel cage that can't even slow down, and stopping isn't an option.

Or is it? I know I've done it before when I've been so in awe of something or found something so humorous that I got out of my head and enjoyed the moment. And then it passes with me saying, oh, if I could just stay in the zone like that all the time. Sometimes I do when I'm writing or editing, but I often get interrupted by family, the phone, or the doorbell. Or sometimes my dog comes running in from the backyard excited about getting a snack.

I'm actually in the zone now but need to remember to leave in 3 minutes to make my massage appointment. I'll remember while driving there to enjoy the sunshine today, knowing that I'm getting the vitamin D I need and that I have nothing pressing after my massage. I can just enjoy the day and have plenty of time to get the rest of my tasks done according to my own schedule. How nice. So maybe NOW is Nice, blank, blank.... Help me out here, folks.

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Sunday, February 10, 2008

To the Parent I Hardly Knew

Note: This poem was my first post on this blog. I'm reposting it because it is as true today as it was 18 months ago, especially since today is this parent's 80th birthday. I've changed the ending a bit due to changed circumstances.

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 for me
to truly forgive you,
time for me, at last, to let you go—
the parent I hardly knew.

©2008 Al-Anon Lifer

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Saturday, February 09, 2008

Spiraling Upward...

Recovery and progress in this program have often been described as a spiral, that we deal with the same issues over and over again, only on a different level. Many times, it seems like we're sprialing downward - you know, the one step forward, two steps back feeling. As we grow, however, by really working the steps, reasoning it out with others, attending meetings, and doing service work (vital, in my opinion), our spirals tend to go upward more than downward.

I had this type of growth spurt recently. Just a few blogs ago, I mentioned my blood father again. I had actually started this blog with the last time I was in contact with him. Since then I've been working on forgiving him for not only his past behavior but his current behavior towards me. Watching the movie The Savages last month brought it all to the forefront again. I saw these adult children who had been abused as children forgiving their father by taking care of him in his last days. It was moving considering they hadn't had much contact with him for years and years.

But that didn't mean that I had to take care of my blood father in his old age. As someone said to me early on in the program during a step study, you can forgive someone but that doesn't mean you have to take them to lunch. And as my current sponsor says, you can forgive someone without forgiving their actions. Also, you don't need to put yourself in harm's way if that person continues in their destructive behavior. Which my blood father has, continuing to abandon me over and over again while at the same time blaming my mother and me for his estrangement.

So what happened recently besides seeing the movie The Savages? I went to NYC last weekend and visited Ellis Island. It occured to me that I didn't know enough about my father's family to look up if any of them had come through Ellis Island. (I knew about both sides of my mother's family, that they had hit the states and the West around 1852.) When I got home, I found the genealogy book my father had given me in the 1990's about his father's family, and in it was a family tree with his mother's maiden name and her parents' names.

With that information, I went on the Ellis Island website and found three women who could have been my great-grandmother. Then I went on websites in Minnesota to find my great-grandparents' wedding certificate or my grandmother's birth certificate, to find out more about my great-grandparents. I didn't get anywhere, although I didn't make any phone calls to find out more. Instead, I decided that I might have to contact my father to find out more. Then I was reminded from the family tree that tomorrow is his 80th birthday.

Suddenly I felt like it was time for me again to try to contact him. After all, it was his 80th birthday, and his mother would be 100 next month were she still alive. Now I have been advised by both my sponsor and therapist to emotionally divorce my father, and I've been working on that for several years. So I called my sponsor who did not give me advice but told me to pray about it, determine my motives, and think about the consequences, if I could live with the outcome. I pleaded with her to tell me what to do and she said I already knew what to do.

I didn't, but I did know - and I told her so - that I do believe I had finally forgiven him. I had finally let go of that deep resentment that was my original resentment. I didn't really realize it until I said it, but it was true. My insides match my outsides now. I no longer have to fake it till I make it. I truly am serene about the whole situation. It is what it is. I have accepted it and moved on or upward into a different level of living, no longer pulled down by the past.

So after dinner, I started to write a letter to him about Ellis Island and wanting to know more about his mother's side of the family. I fully intended to say Happy 80th Birthday and all that, but just a few paragraphs into the letter I felt very strongly that I was wasting energy and time, and this wasn't in God's will for my life. That I could be open to having a relationship with him, but he would have to initiate it this time since he was the one who broke it the last time. I learned last year that I don't need to mend a relationship that I didn't break!

Even though I used to try, over and over and over again. And where did it get me but not serene. Yet here I am now, serene, although things don't appear right with my world, they are, because they are right in my heart, with my motives, with my God, and with the universe. Each of our stories is different. Each of us follows a different path in recovery. One friend may forgive her father and take care of him in his old age. Another may have to forgive her father after his death.

As for me and my heart, although I don't see or talk to my father, I have forgiven him and wish him a Happy 80th Birthday. He is, after all, a child of God and suffering from this family disease called alcoholism. And because of that, I can be compassionate, but I can also detach with love for myself, moving ever upward in the spiral of recovery.

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Tuesday, February 05, 2008

Laying Low...

I'm laying low today after a fun weekend in New York City. Hubby and I ended up walking all the way across the Manhattan Bridge to our hotel in Brooklyn. We got to see the Brooklyn Bridge in front of the lights of the city, only dimmed by the fog covering the tops of the skyscrapers. Even though it had been raining, since the wind wasn't blowing, it wasn't that cold.

I say that now even though I caught a cold. Fortunately, I had nowhere to be today so I could truly take care of myself and get better before getting worse.

A physical illness like a cold is obvious, but what if I had caught some al-anonism while in NY. It would have been understandable since I was with my sober spouse but not-sober son and his girlfriend. I could have reacted to their behavior but I knew better. I knew that they are on their journey and it took me a long time to get into recovery.

I also remembered all the times my Greater Power has let me know that She cares deeply for my children and has protected them many times, although not always in the way I thought they should be protected. I am not here to question Her wisdom. She knows best. Besides, I don't have any power or control over my adult children. I hardly had any control over them when they were minors.

So because of years of Al-Anon under my belt and the serenity I have both earned and been blessed with, I didn't get spiritually, mentally, or emotionally sick. I only caught a cold, and a little one at that. It is manageable, unlike the "ism" I had years ago before I found Al-Anon. Just for today, I am grateful. Just for today, I am at peace. Just for today, I am laying low.