Saturday, February 27, 2010

Oops, I Did it Again!

The last couple of days, I’ve been noticing little slips.

This morning, my husband cooked breakfast. I usually make the toast, but I was preparing grapefruit when the toaster popped. The bread we use is too big to fit into the toaster, so we toast one side a little, then flip it and toast the other side.

I noticed my husband turned the bread slices, but did not flip them, as I would, to be sure it browned evenly on both sides. I corrected him.

I realized what I was doing as soon as I did it. I caught myself before telling him to be careful he didn't let them get too brown.

What was going on with me?

Yesterday, he came home from the store without half-and-half. When I asked about it, he said it wasn’t on the list.

It was on the list. I was sure of it.

I actually asked him to see the list. He was digging around in the trash when it hit me that I was trying to prove I was right. How important was it? Watching him root around in the garbage, I was embarrassed.

These are the little things that remind me why I need Al-Anon. I am grateful that these little slips are the extent of my problems--so far. But they are warning signs that I need to tend to something in my spiritual maintenance.

I have heard people share in meetings about relapses when they stop going to meetings, reading literature, calling their sponsor, praying… all those things we are taught to do in this program.

I experienced the same thing a couple of times. Once, when my schedule changed and I thought I could get by with only one meeting a week. The other, when I was sick with the flu for two weeks.

But sometimes, like now, I feel myself slipping even when I seem to be working a good program. Heck, I don't even need an alcoholic around.

When that happens, I need to remember the three As: Awareness, Acceptance, Action.

Awareness. These days, thank God, I usually am aware of my relapses right away. They make me feel uncomfortable.

Acceptance. I remind myself that my goal is progress, not perfection. I will make mistakes. That’s okay. Today, I can forgive myself for being human.

Action. I need to take some sort of action.

I didn’t understand the action part for a long time in Al-Anon. Action seemed the opposite of acceptance. When people talked about taking action, I thought it meant taking action on the external things. Today, I understand that action has to do with fixing something internal.

I need to talk with my sponsor. Maybe I need to do a fourth step around an unresolved issue. Maybe I need to make an amends.

One thing I know I won’t do is to vow to do better. That doesn’t work. If it did, I’d have cured myself long ago.

I will start with prayer. There is a little 12-step "rosary" I do, symbolically working my way through the stps. Lord's prayer, serenity prayer (the long version), third step prayer, seventh step prayer, prayer of St. Francis.

Then I will spend some extra time in meditation, make my mind quiet so I can hear the voice of God, as I understand God. This always makes me feel better, whether or not "more is revealed," as we say.

I See, Said the Blind Man

The other day I was reading that geese will ignore their own eggs in favor of a volleyball that is painted in a certain way. The male stickleback will attack anything red. These fish even become agitated at the sight of a passing red vehicle visible from their aquarium.

These are examples of something one author termed “supernormal stimuli.” Primal urges that overrun their evolutionary purpose, wreaking havoc along the way.

It got my attention, because this is just how I see the effects of alcoholism on friends and family members of alcoholics. Alcoholism is a supernormal stimulus. It triggers self-defense mechanisms that overshoot the mark. These defenses serve a purpose and keep us safe, in one manner or another, but at some point get in our way of living fulfilling lives.

No matter what type of Al-Anon we become, our reactions follow a fairly consistent pattern. I was thinking about this as I watched a wonderful slide show Lou posted. They include:

Guilt. We wonder what we did to cause this. We think that if we had not said this thing or done that that thing, we would not have set off our alcoholic in search of a drink.

Fear. We fear the changing moods of the alcoholic, which can include physical or verbal abuse. We are afraid that one day, if we do nothing, we will find them dead.

Isolation. We become isolated from the alcoholic because we can’t talk about the problem without getting a defensive reaction. We may become afraid to have people over for fear of what our alcoholic might do. We may be afraid to go out because the alcoholic might drink. Out of shame and guilt, we may begin to keep secrets.

Disappointment. Promises broken for a nice dinner, a ballgame, to stay sober.

Suspicion. We believe the alcoholic can’t be trusted.

Resentment. We resent the disruption to our lives, the extra roles we take on because the alcoholic will not or can not. This often spills over into other relationships. We may leave this relationship, only to find ourselves in relationships that have the same dynamic. We do this because our minds think this is what love feels like.

Control. Control is what we try to do in response to all of these emotions. It is the hallmark of our disease, and what makes our life unmanageable. That's why step one is admitting we are powerless. Because control is an illusion.

Unfortunately these responses—while perfectly understandable, normal even, in that they are such consistent and predictable responses—make the situation worse. The good news is that we can retrain our minds to react differently. But first we must become aware of the behaviors that get in our way.

The other day, I was working step one with a sponsee. She hadn't yet made the connection between trying to control and her life being unmanageable. Her life was unmanageable, she said, because of all the people in it. She had trouble seeing her part.

She had been describing something she did when her mother was too sick with depression to get out of bed.

“We learn to manipulate to get our needs met,” I said.

She looked stricken. I recognized that look. It’s the look we get when we finally get it. When we understand that we are not victims. When we finally see our part.

Our unhappiness is an inside job. But so is our happiness.

It’s just the first step along the journey. But the journey won’t happen with out it.

Friday, February 26, 2010

Inquiring Minds

I attended a birthday meeting the other day. These are meetings at which we celebrate our length of service in the program. In a sense, our mental sobriety.

At this meeting, the last person to share was celebrating 12 years. He began by saying that people make much out of 10 years or 15, but to him, 12 was a more significant milestone.

After all, he pointed out, we have 12 steps, 12 traditions, 12 Just for Todays. There are 12 months in the year. Our clock is divided into two blocks of 12 hours, and we have to live through every one of them.

It all got me to wondering. Why 12?

So I went home and did a search on the number 12. It seemed promising. A website about numerology said: “Twelve is … an indicator of great understanding and wisdom. Much of its knowledge is gleaned from life experiences, which enables a sense of calm to prevail in even the most turbulent of situations.”

That seemed perfectly in keeping with the spiritual enlightenment of the 12th step.

Twelve is also considered to be the ancient number of completion. It signals the end of childhood and the beginning stages of adulthood. (Still works. Wasn’t Bill W. clever?)

The website went on to note that ancient numbering and measuring systems are based on the number 12. There is a dozen, of course, and a gross (12x12). There are 12 pence in a shilling and 12 inches in a foot. It also appears many, many times in the sacred texts of several religions.

Then I started looking for something more specific that tied the 12 steps to the number 12. I found one reference that said AA’s founders chose the number 12 because there were 12 apostles. But that sounded suspect.

Eventually, I found this link that reproduces an article from the July 1953 issue of the AA Grapevine in which Bill W. explains the origins of the 12 steps.

The original steps were based upon the principles of the Oxford Groups, an evangelical movement of the 1920s and ’30s. Bill W. wrote, “The moral backbone of the ‘O.G.’ was absolute honesty, absolute purity, absolute unselfishness and absolute love. They also practiced a type of confession, which they called ‘sharing;’ the making of amends they called ‘restitution.’ They believed deeply in their ‘quiet time,’ a meditation practiced by groups and individuals alike, in which the guidance of God was sought for every detail of living…”

The second influence came from Dr. William D. Silkworth of the Charles B. Towns Hospital, a sanatorium in New York City, who pioneered the idea that alcoholism was a disease. Finally, from William James came the idea that a spiritual awakening could make people saner. That it could “transform men and women so they could do, feel and believe what had hitherto been impossible to them.”

The original “steps” evolved over a three-year period as a way to offer a specific program of recovery. There were six:

1. We admitted that we were powerless over alcohol.
2. We got honest with ourselves.
3. We got honest with another person, in confidence.
4. We made amends for harms done others.
5. We worked with other alcoholics without demand for prestige or money.
6. We prayed to God to help us do these things as best we could.

That was the program until 1939. Bill W. was working on the book “Alcoholics Anonymous.” When he came to Chapter 5, he decided it was “high time to state what our program really was.”

Bill W. expanded on the steps. “Knowing the alcoholic’s ability to rationalize, something airtight would have to be written. We couldn’t let the reader wiggle out anywhere.”

Working on a “cheap yellow tablet,” in about 30 minutes Bill W. wrote out “certain principles, which, on being counted, turned out to be twelve in number.”

And so now you know. The significance of the number 12 is… well, there isn’t any.

Isn’t that just like an Al-Anon to try to find the reason why when there is none?

Isn’t it just like an alcoholic to teach us that it simply is what it is?

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Brave New World

“Maybe you could talk to him,” my hair stylist was saying. “He can say no to his son, but maybe if you ask him really sweetly, his heart will melt and he won't be able to say no to you.”

The target of this advice was my stylist’s young assistant, who was upset because her father-in-law didn’t want to wear a tux for her wedding.

They discussed this over hand-held hair dryers while standing on either side of me, taking turns tugging at me by the hair with circular hairbrushes.

I kept quiet.

“Don’t you think that would work, Kathy?” my stylist asked.

The question startled me. I had been thinking about the meeting I had attended recently on the topic of manipulation. How before the meeting, I had hardly given the subject any thought. And how since then I seemed to see it everywhere.

I thought for a minute, wondering what I should say. Finally, I took a deep breath and told her I’d stopped trying to get people to do what I wanted them to.

“I’m a lot happier when I accept people and things as they are,” I said.

No one said anything else for what seemed like a very long time.

Sometimes I feel like I’ve lived too long in a strange and foreign land, and returned with customs that no one here can quite comprehend.

But having caught a glimpse of the other side, I find there’s no going back.

A happy coincidence?

My home group is looking for a new home.

The group has been meeting in a homeowners association building, but we started to get the idea they didn’t want us there.

It all started during football season. It’s a large group that meets twice a week, and our format has been to have the chairperson share then break up into three smaller groups.

The employee who works at the counter likes to watch football and, on Monday night, would turn the game on in one of the rooms we occupy. When our home team was playing, she declared that room off limits.

When another group had a function on one of our meeting nights, the association raided our meeting room chairs so that we didn’t have enough. That bothered me because we pay for the privilege of meeting there and we had been there for years. But I’m not the group representative, so I kept my mouth shut.

Then we got notice that the association wanted to start charging us for three rooms for both nights, and we simply couldn’t afford to pay that.

We took a group conscience, which is what we call a vote by show of hands, and found that our members would prefer to move rather than change our format to a tag meeting or ticket meeting and stay in one room.

So several of us volunteered to form a committee to find a new meeting place. Each volunteer was assigned to call a church in the area. At a business meeting, the group voted for the church I had been assigned. I was glad, because I really liked the woman I had been talking to. Other groups met at this church. AA two nights a week, NA one night a week. There was no rent. We could make a donation as our budget and group conscience saw fit.

After the meeting, the group representative and I made an appointment to visit the facility and iron out the final details. It was a beautiful campus, and the church seemed very glad to have us there.

The church representative, as it turned out, had studied to be a substance abuse counselor but never got certified. Now there is someone in her life whose drinking bothers her and she had just decided that she should go to Al-Anon when I called.

She plans to attend our meetings. A happy coincidence? I think not. I prefer to see it as God working in her life, and ours.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Lucy I Can ‘Splain

I’m finding that one benefit of blogging is that I can see my character defects in black and white. It’s kind of an awareness accelerator.

For example, I posted recently an explanation of a previous post. People had questions. They seemed reasonable. I hesitated. Would answering be trying to justify my behavior?

After I posted, I realized what it was that was bothering me. Part of my pathology is the desire to explain everything I do.

I had almost forgotten that. My sponsor and I hadn’t discussed it since I felt I owed my ex-husband an explanation when he called and said “we need to hire a lawyer” for our daughter and I had to tell him I wasn’t going to contribute this time.

“No is a complete sentence,” my sponsor had said.

But I felt I owed him an explanation. We had always done this together. Whenever I asked him for something, there was never any question. I couldn’t just say no.

My need to explain is closely related to my need to say things over and over. I think you just didn’t hear me. If I repeat myself, eventually you will hear me and do what I want you to do. Attend that NA meeting. Clean the kitchen. Whatever. It's all about trying to control.

Hence the “say it once, then drop it” rule.

And if you acknowledge that you did hear me and still don’t do what I want you to do, then I think I needed to explain. Because what I want you to do seems so reasonable. I just need to explain it, then you'll understand.

And then you'll do it. Because I know best. Right? Right?

I still want to explain everything. The difference is that now it makes me uncomfortable when I do, even if I don’t always know why right away.

Did I just explain my need to explain? (sigh).

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Thanks Technobabe!

Heartfelt thanks to Technobabe for this award. I feel honored and humbled at the honor. Technobabe's blog is one of my favorites, and richly deserving of an award called "Honest Scrap." If you haven't yet found it, don't waste another minute. I found this post particularly moving.

The rules are to link back to Technobabe, share seven things about myself you might not know, and pass this award on to other bloggers.

Here are my seven things:

1. I grew up with 30 cats. Most of them lived in a guest house out back. We called it the cat house.

2. As a kid, I loved the TV show "The Lone Ranger." When I was six, I announced that I was leaving home to move "out West." We lived in California. My step dad wanted to know what they were teaching me in school.

3. I'm probably the worst bowler in the history of the game, but my grandfather was a famous bowler. He is in the bowling hall of fame and was once voted the best bowler of the first half of the century. His business partner in the bowling alley he built in 1940 was silent film star Harold Lloyd. The facade of the building still stands (it's considered historic for its architectural style), though it now contains condos.

4. I've lived in 17 cities in seven U.S. states and one foreign country.

5. When I was in high school, my boyfriend gave me a gold, S-chain necklace. I wore it until I got married to my current (second) husband a little more than seven years ago. While I have no problem moving on (see #4 above), I have a harder time letting go.

6. My mother used to take me to Dodgers games. A friend of hers had season tickets for box seats along third base. To this day, I can't think of baseball without remembering her.

7. When I feel sad, I like to watch "Anne of Green Gables." It always makes me feel better.

One of the things I love about reading these awards on other blogs is that they introduce me to new friends.

I'm going to pass this award on in recognition of posts that have moved me with their artistry, honesty and mettle. Had I not gotten this from Technobabe, the post I linked to above would certainly be on this list. Here are two others:

This post from Midnitefyrfly at My Sacred Insanity.
This post from Gabriella Moonlight at All Who Wander Are Not Lost.

Thanks to all of you for sharing your lives and thoughts with me.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Hard to Believe...

... but here it is... my prison ID.

I had begun to despair I would not ever see it. On the way to our land, my husband and I stopped by the prison for an appointment with the chaplain to take care of the photo, which was the only thing I had left to do.

I sat in the waiting room for an hour with my husband and my dog waiting in the truck. The chaplain never showed. Those of you who have been following this saga will know that this was my third trip to the prison, which is 50 miles from my home, to try to get fingerprinted and photographed. Every time something malfunctioned.

I left my number and the prison chaplain called me back with his apologies. I told him we could stop in again on our way home on Saturday. He said he'd be there. I called as we were leaving our property and again when we were nearly there to be sure he would be there. He met me at the door, and had even been back to check the equipment to make sure it was working.

I told him I was starting to think God didn't want me to do this. I said that in my experience, when I was doing what I was supposed to be doing, things went smoothly. When things seemed harder than they should, I could usually figure I was on the wrong path.

He said, "Maybe someone else (meaning the devil, I supposed) didn't want you to be here because you'd be doing some good." He said that whenever he was doing what God wanted him to, there were always obstacles.

I said I hadn't considered that possibility.

The photos are taken in the prisoner intake area. He joked that I had probably been there more than any of the inmates. I said God willing it would be the last time.

He took my photo, which wasn't bad for a mug shot, I thought. I told him he did better than some professionals I could think of. And that was it.

Everything worked. The camera, the printer. In a few minutes, my ID card popped out and I felt elated, way beyond what seemed appropriate.

The only thing remaining is my background check, but he saw nothing in my background that would disqualify me.

There were some volunteers that would not make it because they had sold drugs in the '80s. That was too bad, he said, because they were people he'd really like to have there.

So my first meeting is on March 8. I won't be working with Barbara and Barbara after all, but with Cyndi B, who is the Al-Anon prison volunteer coordinator.

We'll be holding meetings at a different minimum security facility. The meetings have been small, four to six girls and they are trying to grow the program there.

I'm looking forward to it.

The chaplain said I'd really enjoy it. He started working in the state prisons in 1982 and planned to be there for six months. He's still there, he said, because he loves it. He never knows what his day will hold.

Meanwhile, I'm happy to be home. And rested. I slept 10 hours the first night, and 11 the second. We took naps both days. I guess we were tired.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Sacred Truths

My husband and I are often out of town on Friday nights, but when we are home there’s an open AA meeting I like to attend.

Early in our work together, my sponsor suggested two Al-Anon meetings and one open AA meeting each week. Sound advice. I’ve found that when I can make only one Al-Anon meeting a week, I regress. Attending open AA meetings gives me an extra shot. More importantly, these meetings help me understand the disease from the flip side and learn compassion.

This Friday night AA meeting fills an auditorium. It’s intended for newcomers, but when the chairperson asks for a show of hands for various lengths of sobriety, at least one hand at every meeting waves in the 45 to 49 year category.

I like this meeting because the speakers come from all over and always have at least 10 years of sobriety. Also, it’s a speaker meeting. As Al-Anons, we don’t share in open AA meetings, so in a speaker meeting there is no awkward passing in the more common format of breaking into small groups where everyone shares in turn.

I’ve been fortunate to attend for the last two weeks with my first sponsee. For me, it has become a way for us to bond. These stories are now part of our shared history, part of the road we’re traveling together.

Last Friday, the speaker was from a Canadian First Nation, what we would call a Native American in the U.S., and his background gave him a particular perspective on the program. Not long into his talk, I found myself fishing around in my purse for a pen and paper so I could take notes.

He contrasted the perceptions of Native cultures with Western values. His culture, he said, did not have our Seven Deadly Sins (wrath, greed, sloth, pride, lust, envy, and gluttony). Instead, it had what he considered to be their opposite: Seven Sacred Truths. They are wisdom, love, respect, courage, honesty, humility and truth, which sounded to me an awful lot like the principles of the program.

But the main difference between the cultures, he thought, was one of perception. His native culture, he said thought in terms of verbs rather than nouns.

He talked about an assignment he was given in grade school to write about what he wanted to be. His mind swam with possibilities: policeman, fireman, truck driver. Not sure how to decide, he went home and asked a relative what they thought he should be. Responsible and generous, came the reply. Verbs, not nouns.

That was also the lessons he was taught in AA, he said. That it’s not what we can get out of the program (nouns), but what we can give (verbs). It’s all about taking action.

He mentioned that he once asked his grandson if he had written his Christmas list for Santa. His grandson said no, he hadn’t. “Why not?” He wanted to know. “Because I don’t need anything,” his grandson replied. He was amazed that a boy so young could have grasped such a profound truth. That’s the essence of faith. Knowing that what you have--what God has given you--is enough.

“I always believed there was a God,” he said. “I just had a resentment.” His program in AA was essentially a healing of that resentment. I thought that was an extraordinary perspective.

Asked about how he practiced his 10th step, he said it was very simple. Every day he thought about his day, whether it was good or bad, and what his role was in it. Not the nouns but the verbs.

February has been a month filled with verbs for my husband and me. In the last five days alone, we’ve entertained houseguests, hosted two dinner parties and attended two others. I’ve attended two meetings and helped find a new location for my home group. I took on a new sponsee. We’ve both worked every day. So the verb I’m most thinking about right now is rest.

This afternoon, my husband and I will head two hours north to a piece of land where we’re slowly building what may be our retirement home. We’re paying for it as we go and doing most of the work ourselves. It’s four and a half miles off the highway on a dirt road. Our closest neighbor is two miles away. At night, we listen to coyotes carol.

This will be the first chance we’ve had to get up there for three weeks. We’ll spend the weekend. It’s a good place to ponder sacred truths. There is no TV or radio or Internet. So I will not be posting. But I will be thinking about my blogging friends and all the other people amazing people I’ve encountered on this amazing road of recovery. And about the most important verb of all which, to me, is love.

The Family Grows By One

I have another new sponsee, and I have to say this is really starting to feel strange.

I've been going to my Monday night meeting for more than a year now, and every meeting, for all that time, I've raised my hand when the chairperson asks who is willing to be a sponsor. Not a single person has approached me. Until a month ago.

Then, three weeks out of the last four, someone has asked me to be their sponsor.

On Monday night, I didn't even share. It was a tag meeting in which the chairperson shares, then tags someone else, who shares and tags someone else, etc. I didn't get tagged.

Funny, it occurred to me that because I didn't share no one was likely to ask me to be their sponsor. I felt a little disappointed as I thought this because I had the simultaneous thought that I had room in my life for one more. And then the meeting ended and this woman stood there looking at me with an expression I now recognize.

So I have to wonder: What changed?

I asked my sponsor that. She said what changed was that God decided it was time.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

A Tempest in a Tea Jar

I want to thank everyone who commented on my last post. As always, your comments made me reflect on what I'd written.

I wanted to address a couple of reader questions from an Al-Anon perspective, and share a silly story about my husband's tea.

Why didn't I call the pool man myself?

Because we have always made financial decisions jointly. If he wanted to hire a pool service, and I didn't, he wouldn't hire one either.

Since the recession, frankly, a pool service is no longer an option.

The dilemma was that neither one of us wanted to do maintenance on the pool. I had a solution. He had a different one.

One characteristic of my disease is that I always think I'm right and I want people to do things my way. So in letting him try his solution (salt-water system plus barracuda), I was allowing him to solve the problem in his own way.

It didn't work out as he hoped. But I didn't want to "force a solution," as we say in the program.

I could respect that he didn't want to spend the money on a regular basis, but I didn't have to clean the pool, either.

When the pool got green and I asked him to take care of it, and he said he would (the second part is critical), then in following my principles, I have to trust him to do it in his time and his way. If I don't, then I'm trying to control the situation by deciding when it gets done.

Of course, if I had asked him to take care of the problem and only assumed his consent because he didn't answer, that would have been wrong.

I do have choices. Of course I do. One thing I've learned to ask myself is "how important is it?" which is an Al-Anon slogan. It wasn't important enough for me to make it an issue.

One of the things I'm learning in Al-Anon is that everything doesn't have to be perfect. I've learned to let a lot go.

Of course, reasonable people could argue that letting a pool get forest green has taken that principle to far. LOL

This comes with a major caveat. I didn't talk this out with my sponsor. Often, I do things I think are according to Al-Anon principles to find that I'm just distorting them. I didn't get into this program for my clear-headed thinking. LOL I find it's good to bounce things off someone else.

So thanks for being those people.

Another story of something I let go:

I had a resentment over making my husband's sun tea. I don't even drink the stuff, yet I had taken it upon myself to make sure his tea was always made. I put it into little containers he could take to work. If we went out of town, I put it in little containers to take with us. I actually stressed about this.

One day, he was on his way to work and emptied the tea container. "I'm running late," he said. "I'll leave this to you."

Well, that did it.

"Why is it that I don't drink this stuff but it's my job to make it?" I wanted to know. I was indignant. I quit making his tea.

For a while, I worried when his tea got too low or he left it outside overnight or in general took less care about his tea if I did. Then I realized he wasn't concerned about it. Why should I be?

Talk about a tempest in a tea jar! The whole thing makes me laugh now, how upset I can make myself over small, unimportant things. These things remind me why I need Al-Anon.

BTW, my sponsor disagreed with my decision to stop making the tea. She very astutely pointed out that I had created his expectation by my own actions. She would have liked to see me work on the resentment without refusing to make the tea. "How important is it?" would be a great slogan to apply.

But for me, this was a clear case of "if it doesn't have your name on it, don't pick it up." I was relieved to be free of tea duty. Though I could have been nicer.

In such situations, I always hear the voice of a certain Al-Anon member who used to offer this advice: Mean what you say, say what you mean, but don't say it mean.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Seeing Green

My pool is green. Not just a little algae around the edges, needs to be brushed kind of green. It’s forest pond green. The shade of green that concerns neighbors of foreclosed properties. The shade of green that breeds disease-carrying mosquitoes.

The saga of our pool is almost as long as my seven-year marriage. We live in a part of the country where it's difficult to find a house without a pool. When we got married, my husband owned one of those rarities. For reasons that had nothing to do with the pool, we decided that I should move into his house after we got married and sell mine.

It worked well for a while. It was a nice house and we were both happy, except for the storage situation. Even after selling or giving away much of my household effects, we had too much stuff. Our garage and closets groaned with the weight of it. We considered ways to add on or expand, but none of them seemed feasible. So eventually, we set out to look for a house that would neither be his nor mine, but ours. One that was right sized.

It didn’t take us long to find a house we both loved. We tell people that we liked the house but bought the yard, which looked like a lush, green park. In the center, stood a large diving pool.

I’m more a soaker than a swimmer, but I enjoy a pool. Until I got skin cancer a few years ago, I spent many happy afternoons on the top step of my pool with a book. Throw in some cheese and crackers, a glass of wine and a nap, and you have my idea of a perfect afternoon.

My husband worried that the pool would be maintenance issue, but I wasn’t concerned. I had pools before and they were never any trouble. I always hired a pool man. It cost $25 a week, and was money well spent.

But my husband didn’t want to pay a pool man. Unfortunately, he didn’t really want to maintain the pool, either. If prodded, he would tend to the chemicals, but the brushing fell to me.

This was before Al-Anon, of course. I brushed the pool every week, and resented every stroke. I begged for a pool man. Instead, my husband installed a saltwater system, which would produce its own chemicals, and a barracuda, one of those rubber things, that roams around vacuuming the bottom. Once outfitted, it would be virtually self-maintaining.

Except that it wasn’t. The cell had to be cleaned, the barracuda didn’t reach everywhere and the salt-water system couldn’t keep up in the summer. Soon I was back to weekly brushing. I whined and complained. I asked for a pool man for my birthday, thinking that would certainly make my husband do what I wanted him to do. But he remained unmoved.

Then I started going to Al-Anon. I learned that I was powerless over my husband. He could choose not to hire a pool man. I could choose not to brush the pool if it created resentment. I let the pool go.

So we entered a new phase of pool maintenance. My husband would ignore the pool, and I would tell him when it was green. I never suggested what he should do about it, I just mentioned its color, and my husband would eventually take care of it.

This worked fine until the cell needed to be replaced. Last summer, between the bad cell and the summer heat, the pool got quite green. Then we had some sort of event and I asked my husband about the pool. He called a pool man, who got it cleared up in two or three visits. Then winter came and we were out of town about half of every week, and the pool was once again neglected.

My sponsor has taught me that I can say something once, then I have to let it go. If I say something twice, it’s like a yellow warning light. Three times, and I’m definitely trying to control.

So the pool became a dilemma. I mentioned it was green. Months went by. It got worse. We had company coming and I asked if we should do something about the pool. That made two times and I was seeing yellow, but the pool was still green.

By now I’m thinking this is an issue for the health inspector and I’m in a quandary. If I say something three times, I’m in the red zone. If I take matters into my own hands, it’s still an attempt to control. It’s me saying, nonverbally, “You obviously can’t do this, so I’m going to do it myself.” Either way, it’s a manipulation.


I realize that this is a luxury problem. It’s the type of thing Al-Anons struggle with when we are no longer struggling with the things that brought us to Al-Anon in the first place. I’m happy to have this problem. But it still presents a conundrum because either way I’m screwed.

So on the way to work this morning, I asked my husband what he thinks we should do about the pool.

Turns out he called the pool man that morning.

Which brought me back to one of the first Al-Anon principles my sponsor taught me. Sometimes, if you keep your mouth shut, things will work themselves out.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Hi Mom, I Love You

I had two calls today.

I used to cringe when the phone rang, because I was afraid it might be my daughter in some sort of distress.

Then I started going to Al-Anon, and everyone adjusted to the new normal. My daughter stopped calling me every time something was wrong. She could count on me to listen, but not to offer a solution. Then, mostly, she stopped calling.

She called this Christmas for the first time in years. Al-Anon is teaching me not to have expectations, but to enjoy each gift as it arrives. This was a gift for which I was truly grateful.

Today, my first call was from a sponsee, who is going through a divorce. Being Valentine's Day, I thought she might need some encouragement. But she had finished her step 1 reading assignment and was just calling to find out what to do next.

The phone rang again a few hours later. I thought it might be sponsee #2. Then I saw the area code and my heart did a little jig.

It was my daughter, who had to borrow a phone to call me. She just called to say Happy Valentine's Day and to thank me for the card I sent to the only address I have for her. She hadn't picked it up yet, but she heard it was there.

I had two thoughts, almost simultaneously.

1. My daughter called me just to say 'I love you.' (Yay!!!!)
2. When I saw the number, my heart was glad, not fearful. (YAY!!!!)

My heart is overflowing. I hope yours is, too.

Happy Valentine's Day!


Saturday, February 13, 2010

Remember me?

This morning I sent a birthday message to an old friend. In a sense we had grown up together, then we lost contact for nearly 30 years. When me met again, he gave me one of the greatest gifts I've ever received.

There is a slogan that floats around 12-step programs: More will be revealed. That promise took on a literal connotation for me, when I discovered that I had a gaping hole in my memory.

I had reconnected with some childhood friends and we were talking about old times and people we knew growing up. Then this friend came up. I'll call him Bill. He was a former boyfriend, but I realized I couldn't remember much about him. I couldn't even conjure a mental image of what he looked like.

The only thing I could remember was that Bill and I had a suicide pact, and he had chickened out. For months he had been sneaking sleeping pills from his mom. When we had enough, we were going to take the pills together.

Then one day, he called and said he had been thinking. He had been thinking about the future. About the kids he might have. He didn't want to miss that.

I felt furious and betrayed. I pulled out all the pills and got a tall, plastic tumbler from the kitchen. I walked into laundry room where my mom kept the vodka and filled the glass to the top. In my room, I arranged all the pills on the night stand, then took them two at a time, washing them down with the vodka and trying not to retch. Then I laid down and waited to die.

I woke up in my bed three days later. I found out many years later that I couldn't have killed myself with these sleeping pills. They were part of a "new generation" of pills meant to reduce the possibility of overdose. God looking after me again.

My mother had come in to tell me that a friend was there and wanted to see me. I couldn't believe that anyone would want to see me after what I had done. I was filled with shame and love, all at the same time.

I remember that as being a turning point for me. The time when I decided that I was not going to continue to use my parents' alcoholism and my step father's abuse as an excuse to destroy my own life. I could make different choices.

And I did. Sort of. I did begin to turn my life around. Though not all at once. I continued my self destructive behavior for years. But this marked the beginning of a long, slow climb.

That was all I could remember about the incident. I didn't remember what led up to it or what came after. I remembered that Bill had gone to juvenile hall, and that we had a big fight after he came home. That was it. Aside from that, the tapes had been erased.

Because my attempted suicide was such a key moment in my life, I had wanted for a long time to call Bill and ask what happened. No one else I had asked could answer my questions. But I couldn't see myself doing it. In no way could I imaging calling someone after 30 years and saying, "Hey, can you talk to me about that time we wanted to commit suicide together?"

I was in the throes of my fourth step when I got a call from one of the old friends I had been talking to. She said, "You'll never guess who I just talked to."




"Yeah," she said, explaining that her daughter had bought a car from his dealership. Recognizing the name, she had called and found that it was, indeed, the same Bill we all knew in high school.

"We talked about you," she said. "He said you were the love of his life. I have his number. Do you want it?"

I was stunned. I couldn't remember what he looked like, yet I was the love of his life? How could it be that I didn't remember him?

I was convinced this was not a coincidence, but God doing for me what I could not do for myself. I called the number.

Bill and I had a series of conversations that day as he kept having to hang up to deal with something or other, but he'd call back. It was a blessing because every time we hung up, I was able to process what we had talked about.

He told me unbelievable stories. That he used to sneak into my room at night and spend the night, but one morning we overslept and my mother walked in to find us.

How could I forget that?

Or the time, he said, he nearly got into a fist fight with my ex-boyfriend at the end of my driveway who had come over to "kick his ass."

Bill said we were together for a year and planned to get married. A year. That's how I realized how much of my life I had lost.

Bill filled in the blanks about that day. He had called my mom at work to tell her she should check on me. I hadn't broken up with him after the incident, but with a Dear John letter while he was in juvenile hall, where he had written to me every day. Did I remember that?

No. I didn't.

The fight we had? It was about getting back together. He wanted to. I didn't.

He remembered the conversation we had on the phone the day I took the pills. But he remembered it differently. That future? Those kids? Those were things he had wanted to have with me. He loved me, he said. After I joined the Navy, he looked for me for years.

It was all so hard to imagine. I walked around in a daze for the rest of the evening trying to make sense of it.

In meditation the next morning, a thought occurred to me. God had taken the memories of that painful time and had given them to someone who loved me. Because Bill loved me, he would remember. And he would give my life back to me in the most loving way possible.

I had remembered that time as the worst in my life. I had remembered myself as the worst me. But Bill didn't remember me that way at all. He thought I was the one. He remembered the best me.

I had heard that sometimes meditation penetrated some wall and people would cry. That had never happened to me, but it happened that morning. I cried and cried. Then I felt a little more whole.

Bill and I have kept in touch. And now, every year on February 13, I send him birthday message. It seems fitting that it's the day before Valentines Day, somehow, because the gift he gave me, the gift of my own life, was all about love.

Friday, February 12, 2010

The Best Medicine

I had been going to Al-Anon for just a short time when someone in a meeting said the program had given him tools that he added to his tool belt. I thought, "I want tools!" I had no idea what he was talking about, though I had already begun using them. They were all around me. I just hadn't recognized them yet.

I loved the Just for Todays, but I didn't see them as tools. To me, they provided a road map for a fulfilling life. Something to aspire to, not something to apply to situations.

I also had Al-Anon literature. At my first meeting, I bought "One Day at a Time in Al-Anon," which I read as prescribed: one day at a time.

While I was waiting for a sponsor, I also read the book "How Al-Anon Works," where I first discovered that I should not be asking my daughter about whether she had attended a meeting or if she called her sponsor. I was astonished. Really? I wasn't supposed to do that? I thought I was being a good mother.

"How Al-Anon Works" also had a whole section on slogans, which I skimmed over. I thought they were corny. I couldn't see how they would help me.

Of course, all of these were tools. Even before I realized that, they began to work in my life. I'd be rushing off somewhere, and the phrase "Just for today, I will save myself from two pests: hurry and indecision" would pop into my head, and I would take a breath and slow down.

The first tool I was conscious of using was detachment. And it was the slogans that helped me understand what that meant. When I found myself wanting to fix something, I'd remember "Let Go and Let God." I clung to that slogan like a lifeline. I could never "let go" of my daughter to fall into nothingness. But I could release her to a loving God. It reminded me that my daughter had her own God, and it was not me.

Soon, "Live and Let Live" became my daily motto. That happened as I began working the steps (another tool!). I had heard this slogan for what seemed my entire life, but it began to take on new meaning. I had always thought of the heart of the slogan as "letting live." My new emphasis was on the "live" part. By then I had began to really live my own life.

It was in working the steps with a sponsor that I really began to recover. A personal story I read recently in "From Survival to Recovery" put it well, I thought:

"Now I like to think of the slogans as bandages, the steps as the cure, and God as the doctor. When I am hurt, before I can get to the doctor to cure it, I usually need to patch it up temporarily to stop the bleeding. That's what bandages are for. Then I seek out a doctor to prescribe the best remedy. Finally, I take the prescribed cure and heal."

Thursday, February 11, 2010

For the (Adult) Children

When I spoke at the rehab center recently, the substance abuse counselor in training told me she wasn’t sure she belonged in Al-Anon because she was an adult child of alcoholics, but she didn’t hear anyone talking about parents.

Instead, they talked about spouses or children. I assured her that Al-Anon was also for adult children. I’d wager that a majority of people I’ve encountered in the rooms grew up in this disease. It may have been their children or significant other who got them there, but in many, many cases the disease started much earlier.

Maybe we don’t talk about our childhoods as much because we’re usually grappling with how our disease is affecting us today. I don’t know. I was surprised the other day when a man in a group I attend regularly approached me after a meeting in which I had shared and said, “I didn’t know your parents were alcoholics.”

I thought you could look at me and know that.

I shared that with the counselor and mentioned that there we even two books that were written with adult children in mind. They are two of my favorites. “Hope for Today” is Al-Anon’s third book of daily meditations, and it’s written from the perspectives of adult children. The other is “From Survival to Recovery.”

I have been reading "From Survival to Recovery." I've related to and enjoyed the whole book but one section, in particular, got my attention. It says that the prescription for the alcoholic is difficult but obvious. But "for those affected by someone else's drinking, the prescriptions and triggers are less obvious. Unlike drinking, behaviors of excessive responsibility or caretaking are not necessarily characteristics e want to wipe out entirely.... Often we suffer from an excess of a good thing."

I’m generally not a big list person, but this book offers a list of questions to help recognize the need for recovery work that I found helpful.

1. When difficulties occur, do you need someone to blame, even if it is yourself?

2. Do you feel uncomfortable or draw a blank when asked what it is you really want?

3. Does a dark cloud of despair or a creeping depression sometimes seem to appear from nowhere to weigh you down?

4. Do you feel guilty or selfish whenever you say "no"?

5. Are you lonely and isolated? Do you feel like an outsider in the midst of a crowd?

6. Can you identify only one or two extreme feelings, such as anger or fear?

7. Do you think in all-or-nothing terms? Is life either wonderful or miserable, with little in between?

8. Are you numb or flat, with no extremes in your feelings whatsoever?

9. Does you memory fog out or have giant holes where you remember nothing?

10. Do you feel suicidal or have a need to hurt yourself or others?

11. Do you tolerate unacceptable behavior even after you have said you won't?

12. Do you have difficulty relaxing and having fun? Would you not recognize fun, even if it were right in front of your nose?

13. Are you frequently impatient with yourself or others?

14. Do you think you are the only person in the world you can depend on?

15. Do you feel compelled to do things for other people that they could do for themselves?

16. Do you do things you don't want to do, rather than risk disappointing other people?

17. Do you have difficulty trusting your own perceptions? Do you need to prove you are right and others are wrong in order to convince yourself?

18. Do you feel embarrassed or ashamed because of someone else's behavior?

19. Do you startle easily?

20. Do you think the best way to take care of your needs is not to have any?

I was surprised by how many questions I could answer yes to, either now or in the past. That surprised me. Years ago, a friend decided I was an adult child in need of help. He had a book that had a checklist on the back. He sat me down and made me read it.

“Do you see yourself there?” he wanted to know.

“No,” I answered truthfully.

“What about this part about having trouble finishing things?” he said, as if he had just uncovered proof positive.

“I don’t have trouble finishing things,” I said.

“What about it taking you until you were 30 to finish your degree?” He looked smug.

“I finished my degree,” I said, feeling equally smug.

My friend and I had this discussion shortly before I moved. Moving frequently wasn't on his list, but it might have been. We saw each other a few times after I moved, then lost contact. I heard from him not long ago. I told him I was in Al-Anon. That he was right all along.

My sponsor told me that we recognize truths only when we are ready. That’s been true for me. It took me most of my life to accept that I had been affected by the disease of alcoholism. I take it as a measure of my progress how many of these questions I can answer “yes” to. I imagine it’s only a matter of time before I answer “yes” to them all.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

AA vs. Al-Anon

I had a good question on a previous post that I wanted to address for the benefit of anyone who might have the same question. The question is this:

What is the difference between AA and Al-Anon?

AA is a program of recovery for alcoholics. Al-Anon is a program of recovery for people who are affected by another person's drinking, whether that be a friend or family.

Alcoholism is a "family disease." What that means is that those of us who have loved ones who struggle with the disease of alcoholism become "sick" ourselves. Often we behave in ways that don't serve us well, and we need recovery, too. These often start out as defense mechanisms that overshoot the mark and ultimately get in the way of our happiness.

In my case, that meant trying to control everything, because so often the things in my life were out of control. I became a fixer. I thought I knew what was best for everyone. I obsessed about my alcoholic loved ones, to my own detriment.

To try to keep people around me from becoming upset, I learned many coping strategies. I tried to be perfect. I tried to become invisible. I tried to adjust myself to the needs of those around me. I tried geographic cures, leaving behind relationships, jobs and places thinking that happiness was just around the bend.

Since I have been in the program, I have heard countless others say much the same thing. This helped me to see that these traits were not inherent in my personality, but a result of this disease. The good news is that there was a solution. I could never cure myself of this disease, but there was a treatment. I could experience a daily reprieve, dependent on my spiritual condition.

While alcoholism is a disease of "drinking," I have learned to think of my disease as a disease of "thinking." I can read the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous and replace "drinking" with "sick thinking" and recognize myself. They are two sides of the same disease.

The treatment is the same, but with a different focus. Al-Anon was founded by Lois W., the wife of Bill W., who founded AA. She discovered that when Bill stopped drinking, her problems didn't go away as she imagined they would. She needed recovery, too.

In Al-Anon, we work the same steps as those in AA. Only our emphasis is not on quitting drinking, but on changing our thinking. We find a loving fellowship and learn to tools to deal with this disease. We learn to "mind our own business" by getting busy with our own lives. We take our own inventory, make peace with our own past, develop a relationship with our higher power, as we understand Him or Her.

Most importantly, we learn that it is possible to be happy, whether our alcoholic loved ones are drinking or not.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Motives and Manipulations

At my home group meeting last night I was trying to take my sponsor's advice and not try to rehearse what I was going to say. I tend to overprepare for everything. It gives me the illusion of control. But I understand that the ideal is to ask God to give me the words when the time comes. If I am thinking about what I'm going to say, then I am likely to miss something I needed to hear.

I admit that my ego and a lack of faith have kept me from practicing this principle. But last night I gave it a try.

Last night was a ticket meeting, so rather than go around the room, everybody got a number. If your number got pulled, you got the chance to share. If your number didn't come up, you got to listen. So it was a good time to practice this idea. In a group where everybody shares, I find myself getting more and more worried about what to say as my turn draws near. In this case, I had no idea if or when it would come.

As it turned out, my number came up pretty quickly. I said a silent prayer that God would give me words because I had no idea what to say.

I never thought about myself as a manipulator. More the opposite. I tended to say whatever came into my head, and if I bludgeoned you to death with it, I'd say, "I was just being honest."

But I could see that when I tried to control my daughter, that was manipulation. I was willing to "help," but only if she behaved the way I wanted her to.

Motive was easier for me to talk about. My sponsor is always asking me about my motive, and sometimes the same action is right or wrong depending on what my motive is. It's okay for me to call my daughter because I love her and want to see how she's doing. It's not okay for me to call her because I want to control her in any way.

I also talked about other people's motives being none of my business. That my job was to take the next right thought or action and leave the rest to God. If I try to figure out another person's motives, it's a losing game for me. I just drive myself crazy.

After I spoke, a lot of other people talked about their manipulations, and I realized I had done most of them, I just never recognized them as such. Every time I listened to my daughter's phone conversations to try to discover what she was up to, I manipulated. Every time I waited for my daughter at the coffee house across from the movie theater so I would see if she tried to sneak out and go somewhere else, I manipulated. The list goes on. You get the idea.

I felt a little dumb, really, that I hadn't gotten that. Like I had taken a test and put the wrong answers.

So I was surprised at the end of the meeting when one person approached me with her call sheet and asked which Kathy I was because she'd like to call me. And I was even more surprised when a woman came up to me and said, "Have you ever heard the phrase 'no good deed goes unpunished'?" She wanted me to be her sponsor.

I was floored. Of course, I told her I'd be honored to be her sponsor. But secretly I didn't get it. There have been plenty of times in the program I've thought I had something to offer other women. But lately, I feel like I'm just struggling to get this myself.

My sponsor is fond of saying, "My God has a sense of humor." I couldn't help thinking that about myself last night. I just pray he gives me the words for my sponsees when they need them.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

May the Circle Be Unbroken

My husband and I just got back from a business trip we take every year to my home town. When we go, I always try to gather up old friends.

In a way, it's a marker of my progress in Al-Anon.

My mother moved during my senior year in high school. Our new home was only about 15 miles away, so I was able to finish my senior year and graduate with my friends. But then it got harder to keep in touch. I worked for a couple of years, then joined the Navy. No one heard from me again for the next 20 years.

I'm not sure why, really. It was part of moving on. The beginning of a long string of "geographical cures." There was the Navy. I got married. Had a child. Got out the Navy. Worked and went to college. Divorced and became a single parent. I was busy. That much was true. But mostly, I was in the process of closing the door on my past.

The past included alcoholic parents, a suicide attempt, my own substance abuse and drug- and alcohol-fueled bad behavior. I guess I thought I could leave it all behind and my life would be better. It was and it wasn't.

I first reconnected with one of my best friends in high school at my 20-year reunion. It was great to see her, and we spent most of that night talking. That was before e-mail. We exchanged phone numbers and addresses and promised to keep in touch.

She called once after the reunion and left a message. I meant to call her. I really did. But for some reason the phone seemed too heavy to lift. Time passed. Enough time that I was embarrassed. Then I couldn't have found her information if I wanted to.

About eight years later, a couple of years before Al-Anon, I was possessed by the idea of writing a memoir. I don't know why, but I felt driven to do it. The only problem was there were big gaping holes in my memory. I needed help.

I found my friend through the internet. She was beyond gracious. The next time I was in town for this business trip, we got together. We visited the grave of a childhood friend together. She answered my questions with patience and love. This time we stayed in touch.

Fast forward again a couple of years. I hadn't made much progress on my memoir, but I had researched my past and my family history. I had read microfiche copies of my hometown newspaper. Located a few other friends and asked them for help in filling in the gaps. They were always generous with their help. And they always wanted to get together.

I had no desire to get together. I don't know why. I had just wanted answers to my questions. But I felt obligated, so I got together with two of my other oldest girlfriends and it was amazing. We had been strangers for almost 30 years at that point, but they told me the most intimate details of their lives.

In the process, the name of an old boyfriend came up. I could barely remember him. It occurred to me that I had a big hole in my memory. He was a central figure in my suicide attempt and there were questions no one else could answer. One of my girlfriends knew where he was and what he was doing. I found him on the website of his employer, but it listed only a phone number, no e-mail address. I knew I'd need to talk to him at some point, but I wasn't ready to do it yet.

Fast forward another couple of years. Now I'm in Al-Anon. My 30-year reunion is coming up. I'm working on my fourth step, and my girlfriend calls to say that she just spoke to this old boyfriend--a complete chance encounter--and my name came up. Oh, and by the way, she had his number. Did I want it?

That contact turned out to be a key moment in my recovery. An example of God doing for me what I could not do for myself. But that's a story for another time.

The part that is important here is that I organized an unofficial reunion of all my friends. Most of us hadn't seen each other in nearly 30 years. Getting everyone to agree on a time and place was a little like herding cats, but nearly everyone made it. We spent three days together. It was a moving experience for all of us.

I had just finished my fourth step, which had already begun to transform me. But I still felt a lot of guilt and shame over the things I had done. The reunion went a long way toward helping me reconcile with my past.

I had remembered all the bad things that had happened. I remembered myself as bad. But these people didn't remember those times or me that way at all. In sharing their memories of me, they gave me the best and kindest version of myself. They simply loved me.

Just as cleaning my closets can feel like a mental housecleaning, this reconciliation with my friends helped me make peace with my past.

The section of the AA Big Book that talks about steps eight and nine, promises that by the time I am through, I will no longer regret the past or wish to shut the door on it. When I first reconnected with my friends, that didn't seem possible. But that promise has come true for me. Just as the others have.

So every year when my husband and I come to town, I gather my friends. They are like no other friends in my life, because they have known me better than anyone, and for longer.

My husband looks at us and can't see what drew us together. On the surface, we are all so different. But we share a common story. We bear witness to each others' lives. We love and understand each other the way no one else ever could.

Thursday, February 4, 2010


My Wednesday group lines up Al-Anon speakers to talk about the program at a local drug and alcohol inpatient facility. I was the guest speaker yesterday.

The forum was a group therapy session with maybe a half-dozen guests, who each had one family member attending. There was also a substance abuse counselor and a counselor in training. I had 20 minutes to share my story in Al-Anon, then was encouraged to participate in the group discussion.

It was interesting. I had been in AA meetings and NA meetings and Al-Anon meetings, but never in meetings where both the addicts or alcoholics and their families were together by design. Or where everyone was a newcomer.

The family members represented the usual suspects. There was the angry, tearful, wife who felt like a victim. There was the mother who didn't think she had a problem. There was the grandmother who said she didn't care what decisions her granddaughter made, then proceeded to tell her granddaughter what she thought she needed to do. And if she did otherwise? "Don't call me."

Most of the addicts and alcoholics said their family members were controlling. The family members, for the most part, agreed but felt justified. There was little awareness that they played a part.

I remembered very well feeling and behaving like each of them.

The girl with the grandmother reminded me of my daughter. She was quiet, talked softly, had huge blue eyes and a beautiful smile.

Her grandmother called herself strong. She called the girl's husband a loser. She spoke with pride about the girl's brother who had recently gotten out of the military. I saw the look on her granddaughter's face as she said these things and it nearly broke my heart.

The thing that struck me was this. The alcoholics do a lot of damage. We're quick to point that out. It's obvious. What's less obvious is the damage we do.

This family session was like a big, ugly mirror in which I could see my part. All the roles I had played flashed up along the big screen, in technicolor.

I don't know if I had any affect on the family members. Oddly enough, the one person who seemed most moved by what I had to say was the counselor in training, who had 16 years of recovery in AA. She thanked me profusely, asked if she could hug me. She had had a bad experience with Al-Anon, but she was ready to give it another try.

But who knows? You never know the effect you might have on someone without realizing it. I saw the down side of that today with the parents. But on the flip side, I may have planted a seed of hope in someone.

I live in the Southwestern desert. Here, wildflower seeds can lay dormant for years waiting for the right conditions. Then, one year, given enough rain, they germinate and bloom in riot of color.

I can't say if that will happen with anyone I met today. All I know for sure is that the experience changed me.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Restored to What?

In my Wednesday meeting, on the first week of the month, we study the step for that month. So yesterday's meeting was on Step 2. It was a great meeting.

Step 2 says: "Came to believe that a power greater than myself could restore me to sanity."

Such a short, simple sentence. So packed with landmines.

First, there's the whole issue of "came to believe." This assumes you believe that there is a power greater than yourself, which I've written about in another post.

Secondly, it assumes that the Higher Power in question can restore you to sanity.

And third, it assumes that sanity is something you once had.

I was among the fortunate souls who came to Al-Anon with a relationship with a Higher Power. So I could stroll over the first hurdle without breaking a sweat.

Skipping the second for a moment, the whole sanity thing was more difficult for me.

I grew up "in this disease" as we say in the program. My mother and father were both alcoholics. There was abuse and neglect in our home from before I was even born. As a young child, I lived with my grandmother by court order.

I wasn't sure sanity was something I ever had. How could I be re-stored to something I never stored?

My sponsor helped me understand that being restored to sanity didn't have to mean returning to some previous condition. It could mean being restored to the way God intended me to be had it not been for the effects of alcoholism.

I could get behind that.

So the question became believing that the God I had a relationship with, who frankly wasn't very good at doing what I wanted him to do, could restore me to some condition I had never had and wasn't sure I would know when I got there.

No problem.

But I was willing to try something new. We "fake it till we make it," is the popular phrase. So I acted "as if" I believed. As a kind of experiment.

I prayed only for guidance as my sponsor had suggested.

I prayed on my knees. At first I had trouble with this. I had a million excuses: What difference did it make how I prayed? God would still hear me. I was getting older, kneeling hurt my knees. It hurt my back. It reminded me of masses I had endured as a child.

But I did it.

I got a pillow, and I kneeled on it. And I prayed. And I felt better.

Eventually I understood that by kneeling, I put myself in a position of humility. I couldn't be a know-it-all on my knees. And when I was humble, I was teachable. And when I was on my knees, I was praying. Period. I was not driving or in the shower or doing the dishes. I could still pray while I did those things. But for a few minutes each morning, I gave God my full attention.

And it worked.

And so I came to believe that a power greater than myself could restore me to sanity.

I'm still not sure what sanity looks like. God's not done with me yet. But today, driving to the meeting I thought about how we'd be studying step 2, and how I felt "happy, joyous and free." Just as God intended.

Ready and Willing

I had my call time with my sponsee last night, and I'm feeling fortunate that God blessed me with a person who is ready for change, open to suggestions and willing to work a program.

So far, she has done everything I suggested. She has begun a daily gratitude list in her journal. She is reading "Courage to Change," one of the three, conference-approved books of daily meditations. She is attending an open AA meeting every week. She has started to pray.

She also started a quilting class on Saturday, which was her idea not mine, but which delighted me. She says quilting completely absorbs her. It's complicated, so she has to pay attention. She can't get carried off with her thoughts. It keeps her in the moment. Her class is turning into a club. They are meeting again this Saturday.

What a gift that is. I know when I get involved with something I love I lose my obsession with my alcoholic and start to really live my own life.

Also, the quilting club is social. It will keep her among supportive people instead of isolating, which is what so many Al-Anons (myself included) often want to do.

She also finished the first assignment I gave her, which was to read "Alcoholics Anonymous," the AA Big Book, up to the personal stories.

So now, we're ready to start working the steps. Last night, I gave her the step one reading assignment.

I didn't think it would happen this fast.

I'm excited.

I'm excited because I can't wait to see how working the steps looks from this vantage point. I know working the steps helped me to learn and change and grow. I'm excited to see them work in someone else.

At the same time, I need to be careful of that awful "e" word, "expectations." I know that expectations are premeditated resentments. I want to stay open and humble and teachable myself so I can be the best sponsor I am capable of being today.

I must remember that I don't have all the answers. That I am not perfect. That I will make mistakes. That she will make mistakes. That she will teach me as much as I teach her. That I need to be loving and gentle with us both when that happens.

So today I prayed to be guided in this new role by my Higher Power. I prayed to be ready to change, open to His guidance, willing to work my program however He leads me.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Controller's Prayer

I was looking through my Al-Anon books the other day, and a small piece of paper fluttered out. It was a small "prayer" that I had nearly forgotten about. I say "prayer" in quotes, because it's a bit tongue in cheek. A take off of the serenity prayer. But it helped me in the beginning when I was learning to detach with love, probably because it doesn't take itself too seriously.

It's not conference-approved literature, but I did pick it up at an Al-Anon meeting, and it kind of floats around certain Al-Anon circles. So here goes:

Controller's Prayer

God, grant me the serenity to accept people as they are,
Without wanting to "help" or "improve" them,
the courage to do or say nothing,
And the wisdom to mind my own business.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Cell mates

The Al-Anon prison coordinator called me last night. She was trying to decide where to put the new kids.

Sounds like there are teams of volunteers who go into various units at various times. The units are at various levels from minimum to maximum security. One team has been going twice a month to a minimum security facility, on the first and third Monday nights. They'd like to cut back to once a month.

So the coordinator was hoping that two of us new kids would take one of those weeks. We'd go with the first team for several weeks, then take over that night.

The existing team is a very nice pair of ladies named Barbara. Yes. Both of them. Their first names are Barbara. Their middle names are Jean. Honestly. One of them is maybe 80, the other is probably in her 50s. So they go by Barbara Sr. and Barbara Jr.

The two Barbaras are delightful, and have been conducting this meeting for eight years or more. So they should be wonderful to learn from.

I'm looking forward to it.

I'm told the meeting generally draws 12 to 15 inmates. Sometimes as many as 25. I hear it's a good meeting.

I may be able to start as early as February 15th, if they pick the third Monday, and if all my clearances come in by then. But I'll have to wait and see.