Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Animal Magnetism

Here’s something I’ve noticed lately. Since I’ve been in recovery, my pets like me better.

I’m not kidding.

My husband has always been the runaway favorite with both of our pets. He got the dog as a puppy before we were married, so there was always that.

But the cat, which was his mother’s, came to live with us after his mother died. I suppose you could say he had a longer history with the cat. But for all intents and purposes, the cat only came into our lives in a meaningful way after we were together.

And, honestly, I didn’t get it.

My mom was the infamous cat lady. Growing up, we had 30 of them. They lived in their own house. A guesthouse we called the “cat house.” It was my hangout. Where I went to watch TV and get away from the craziness in my home. And it was my job to take care of the cats.

So I knew cats. And, besides, I always thought of myself as the nicer of the two of us. My husband will pester that cat to within an inch of her life. She’ll get all huffy and growly, and he still won’t quit poking and yanking at her. And yet, he could hardly sit down without her climbing up into his lap.

But lately, I’ve noticed that’s no longer the case. Our dog no longer favors his “dad.” If I’m upstairs and Hubby is downstairs, he’ll position himself near the stairs where he can keep an eye on us both. And the cat? Now, I can’t sit down without her getting up from Hubby’s lap to sit on mine.

So I started thinking about why that is, and found it had less to do with a change in the animals than a change in me.

I realized I gave the animals a lot more time and attention these days. It used to be that I was too wrapped up in the dramas that were consuming my life to pay a lot of attention to them. I was irritable often, and when I was feeling like that, I was likely to push them away.

Up at the land, I’d get up in the morning to go for a hike that would be too strenuous for our dog, and I’d let him out to do his business and take off alone. When we came home, I wouldn’t pay any attention to the cat until everything was unloaded and unpacked, laundry and mail sorted, dinner made etc. I had work to do. I wouldn’t pay any attention to the cat until I sat down, which often wasn't until just before bed.

I was pleasant enough to our pets and I would never have thought of doing them harm. But, really, there was not much to love about me.

These days, when we go up to the land, I’m much less likely to go on a long hike alone, but grab our dog for a more leisurely walk. When we get home, the first thing I do is call for the cat and give her some love. In general, I’m more aware of our pets. I don’t walk by without acknowledging them in some way. I’m more patient. Kinder.

In truth, I love them more. And now they love me back.

None of this was a conscious effort on my part. It just came with recovery when, as the Big Book promised, I began to lose interest in selfish things and take more interest in my fellows. It spilled over into everything. Even my pets.

As I write this it occurs to me that my daughter might be a little jealous of my new relationship with my pets. Because the truth is that I treated her, and all the other people close to me, in the same way I used to treat my pets.

I didn’t mean to neglect her. But I was always busy. I worked a lot, put myself through school. When I wasn’t doing those things, there were chores: groceries, laundry, bills. I wasn’t likely to take notice when there was so much work to be done.

I got involved in my own dramas. I thought my life as a single parent was hard and I couldn’t see my part in any of it. I was the victim. I was tired and irritable, and in the down times I had, I just wanted quiet and to be left alone.

I didn’t cause my daughter’s addiction. But I did contribute to her dysfunction. And that’s what’s so hard to finally understand. I always thought God gave me a child who was my spiritual sandpaper because she pushed every button I had. Where I craved quiet, she was loud. When I just wanted to disappear into my work or a book, she was always in my face.

I understand now that she was only trying to be seen and heard.

“LOOK AT ME,” her actions screamed. “LISTEN. TO. ME.”

But I didn’t know how to do that. I treated her the way my mother treated me. It was the only thing I knew.

Knowing that makes me sad, but I can’t change it. I can’t go back in time and be a different mother than the one I was. I did the best I knew how. The only thing I can do today is make different choices. I have made my amends to my daughter. But more importantly, I try to be a better mom.

Not by trying to fix her problems or by offering advice about how she should live her life. I used to think that was love. Today, I know that when I help my daughter I hurt her. But by loving her unconditionally.

I never knew how to do that. If she made choices I didn’t agree with, I was not okay with that and I let her know. Today, I allow her the dignity of making her own choices and finding her own solutions.

I also allow her the dignity of accepting the consequences of her choices.

That’s made all the difference. Now that I accept that the consequences of her actions are hers alone, I’m able to love her, without judgment, whatever her choices and circumstances. And yes, it’s true. I love her more. And that’s the miracle of recovery.

Hubby and I are off to the land today. I hope you all have a wonderful 4th of July weekend. Please let me know you stopped by while I was out so I can return the courtesy when I get back. Meanwhile, take good care.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Here's the Thing...

Some people get into Al-Anon and seem to thrive right away. Others change little, and very slowly. The difference, it seems to me, comes down to one thing: willingness.

At my last Al-Anon birthday celebration, I was surprised to find that my sponsor didn’t see a lot of willingness in me when I came into the program.

In her introduction at the birthday meeting, she recalled that I said I couldn’t do this and I couldn’t do that, but over time I had done everything she had suggested—except go on a retreat—and she felt that was just a matter of time.

I had to admit what she said was true. I didn’t want to do anything that involved being away from home at night or overnight. That meant no night meetings, no Big Book studies, and no retreats.

I was determined not to let my recovery negatively affect my husband because I didn’t want any pushback. Today, I call this people pleasing. But that’s a topic for another post. And I've made progress but, well, there is the whole retreat thing.

So I can see how she might have seen this as one big “no” on my part.

But I did everything else. I attended the recommended number of meetings every week. I just went to day meetings. I also went to open AA meetings. I prayed on my knees, meditated and read Al-Anon literature every day. I called my sponsor at both prescribed and unscheduled times, and took her advice. I worked my steps as well and as diligently as I was able.

And I felt better.

So while my sponsor saw one big “no,” my insides felt like a giant “yes!”

It didn’t take long, maybe a few months, to feel real progress. I behaved differently. And people noticed.

And now, as a sponsor, I find that my sponsees who are doing best are the ones who are most willing.

When someone tells me they “aren’t there yet” or seem resistant for whatever reason, I tell them to pray for willingness.

I can’t control the pace of my recovery any more than I can control other people. But I can do the necessary groundwork. In my experience, the more I’m willing to do, the faster I’ll feel better.

In Al-Anon, there are no “shoulds” or “musts.” Willingness is the closest thing to a requirement in Al-Anon, and even that is optional.

Willingness isn’t something I can given anyone. All I can do is make suggestions, then “Let Go and Let God.”

There are many, many reasons we say "no" to recovery. At the end of the day, willingness comes down to making a choice. Do I want to remain stuck in the problem or do I want to live in the solution?

I know that if I do what I’ve always done, I’ll get what I’ve always gotten. I also know that pain is inevitable, but suffering is optional.

But I have to be willing to do the next right thing.

And that's entirely up to me.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

First Things First

Something I hear often, particularly among newcomers, is that they find it difficult to fit working a program into their already busy lives.

For me, the slogan “First Things First” helps me keep my priorities in order.

“First Things First” is an Al-Anon slogan, but the idea behind it is one of the few principles I retained from my corporate days. The primary thing I took away from all those time management seminars was to do the important things first.

For me, the important things are to tend to my spiritual and physical health. I don’t squeeze them into a full schedule. I build my schedule around them, by doing those things first, and asking God to set my priorities for the rest.

Early in my recovery, a woman at an open AA meeting said she liked to give God the first word. I loved that, and I’ve done it ever since.

In the morning, the first thing I do is get on my knees and pray. I always begin with the Lord’s Prayer, because it's complete in itself. When I pray this prayer, I acknowledge that my Higher Power is God and that I am not, I express a willingness to do His will, I ask Him to give me whatever I need and to guide me. I could easily stop praying right there, and I sometimes do because, really, aside from a short prayer of gratitude and prayers for others, what else is there to say?

From there, I move on to my daily reading of Al-Anon literature. Generally, I spend about 30 minutes each morning between prayer, reading and meditation. But if I only pray the Lord’s Prayer and read the one-page meditation from one of the daily readers, how long would that take? Five minutes? Ten? It’s hard for me to imagine that even the busiest person couldn’t find 10 minutes to do something as important as that to set the tone for the whole day.

Then I exercise for 30 minutes. Exercise not only keeps me healthy, it’s a natural mood booster, it gives me more energy during the day and it helps me sleep better at night. If I turn off my TV, it can also be a kind of moving meditation. I get some of my best insights on the treadmill. On a rushed day, I might exercise for 20 minutes. But I try never to skip it.

By the time I’m done, my husband is up and we sit down to breakfast together. Having done those things, I feel prepared for whatever the day has in store.

My other priorities include meditation and sleep. When I have time, I like to meditate in the morning. But sometimes my head is full of all the things I need to get done and it’s hard to get it to settle down.

Whether I’ve meditated in the morning or not, I like to meditate at the end of the workday. Most of the things that I had to accomplish are behind me then, and my mind is more willing to be still. It helps me to start with a centering prayer, such as the long version of the Serenity Prayer.

When I can, I like to spend at least 20 minutes in meditation. It’s one way I connect to my Higher Power and seek His guidance. Whether or not that comes, it always leaves me feeling refreshed. Then I’m ready to be of service to my family, my sponsees, alateens, prison inmates or the people at my meetings, depending on what’s on my agenda for the evening.

Finally, I make sleep a priority. Because I get up early to do the things I need to do for myself, I also go to bed that much earlier. If I don’t, I find myself needing another slogan: H.A.L.T. If I’m Hungry, Angry, Lonely or Tired I know can’t function well.

But not before I take five minutes to look back over my day, thank God for the blessings that have come my way and ask myself honestly if I have managed to keep my side of the street clean or if I have an amends I need to make.

It’s been my experience, that when I make time for all these things, my days go more smoothly. I don’t waste time thinking about the past or worrying about the future. Confident that I have the guidance of my Higher Power, I’m able to concentrate on whatever task is before me until God puts something else there.

In the past, I spent a lot of time trying to overcome obstacles that cropped up. Today, I see these obstacles as guidance. I figure, I’m not supposed to do that right now. Rather than try to power my way through, I move on to the next thing.

Of course, for me, giving up trying to control other people and fixing their problems left an astonishing amount of time I didn’t have before.

I hear people at meetings say they find it hard to do these simple things for themselves because it feels selfish. But I know it’s when I do these things that I’m able to be the most service to others. It’s like the oft-recounted airplane analogy. When the masks drop in the cabin, the flight attendant always tells you to put on your mask first. Otherwise, you can’t be of much help to anyone else.

I know there is no cure for my disease. I can only get a daily reprieve based on my spiritual condition. "First Things First" reminds me to do the things I need to do remain spiritually fit.

Above all, when I take time to feed my spirit each day, I’m a nicer, calmer, better person. I’m slower to anger. More quick to forgive. My heart expands along with my gratitude.

For me, the question has become not how can I find the time, but how I cannot.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Funny Thing Redux

This was not my plan. I had hoped to blog on a different topic today, but the day got away from me, and Hubby and I must depart to the land. So...

I just got home from one of the best meetings I've been to in a long time. The topic was humor, which we almost never get to talk about in an Al-Anon meeting. As one member put it, "What we usually talk about is the opposite of humor."

So true. I've only been to one other meeting on humor in Al-Anon, and it was a meeting in which I had an insight about myself and the effects of this disease. I blogged about it at the time. It was one of my first posts. I didn't have many readers then, and few of them are still around.

So in the tradition of public radio, I offer you this archive edition of "Grace Calling."

Today, there was one thing I heard today that I'd like to add. One woman shared that she had decided to pray for more joy in her life, and the past month was one of the best she'd ever had. The difference? She started saying "yes" to things. In the past, she had always said "no."

It's always up to us.

Or, to quote our "Just for Todays," As Abraham Lincoln said, "Most folks are as happy as they make up their minds to be."

If you'll be so kind as to let me know you stopped by, I'll return the visit when we get home. Now, without further delay...

Funny Thing

The other day at an Al-Anon meeting the topic was humor.

Normally at a meeting, the inside of my head sounds like a garden party, with various members of my "committee" chiming with with their two cents about what I should share. As I find things to relate to in each successive share, the voices multiply so that by the time my turn comes around there's a veritable din in my head.

The other day, the topic was humor. The response from my committee?


I got nothing. Nada. Zip. Zilch.

Humor? What did I have to say about humor?

I thought something would surely come to me as I listened to other shares.

Thing is, most of the people in my group seemed as flummoxed as I was. As we went around the room, one thing did occur to me. Nearly everyone, to a person, confessed to being deadly serious.

There were only two exceptions. Interesting, to me, is that both were also members of a different fellowship. (Does anybody but me think AA meetings are just more fun??) One of those two people confessed that she used humor as a shield to deflect from her feelings.

I never thought of myself as being deadly serious. I've been mostly happy in my life. I'm just not what you'd call lighthearted, fun, devil-may-care. I said this to my sponsor during our weekly call time.

"You're way serious," she said.

My sponsor has always told me the truth. I have no reason not to believe her.

So sitting in that room it occurred to me that maybe, like so many things, my serious nature was not hardwired but an affect of this disease. And if that were true, than restoring me to sanity might also mean restoring me to good humor. It's an intriguing thought. I warmed to it.

Before I came into Al-Anon, I thought I knew myself. I didn't know anything.

I've always believed in an examined life. There are so many things about myself I thought were just "who I am." I accepted this. In Al-Anon, I'm finding out that so many of these things are not "who I am" at all. They are traits I share with so many people in this program. All the "isms" of this disease: perfectionism, the need to control, people pleasing.

Now I see that most of these characteristics were self-defense mechanisms that overshot the mark. The good news is that, with a program, I am beginning to unlearn the old behaviors that now stand in my way.

Will my future self include Funny Girl? Probably not. But I'm guessing she'll be a lot lighter. I can hardly wait to meet her.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

What do You Want to Do?

That’s what I always ask when I get a call from a fellow Al-Anon in a crisis. The call usually begins with a lengthy explanation of their alcoholic’s latest drama, wrapping up with “I don’t know what to do.”

Lately, I’ve been getting a lot of calls from parents of adult children. Usually, the adult child has a housing crisis. Either he or she is living with the parent or about to be evicted from whatever living situation they were in. Usually, the adult child’s situation is the consequence of actions they have taken or choices they have made.

When it comes down to that, I tell the parents that I’m going to give them the Al-Anon response, but it all comes down to this: What are you comfortable with, and what are you willing to do?

The Al-Anon response is very simple. Your adult child is experiencing the consequence of his or her actions. In Al-Anon, I eventually came to believe that it’s best not to get in God’s way by putting a cushion between my loved one and her consequences, no matter how painful. When I do that, I only delay her from making changes in her life. Because if I’m willing to give her an easier alternative, why should she change?

For me, the best answer is to be loving, but not offer a solution. I say something like, “That sounds very hard, honey. I’m so sorry to hear you’re having such a hard time. No. I can’t [let you stay here/give you money/whatever else] But I love you and I know you’re going to figure this out.”

Not every parent is ready to do this. Hence the question. What do you want to do?

Usually, the parent will tell me their adult child has no options. Usually, I point out that their adult child has other options, but has chosen not to exercise them.

One parent told me her newly sober adult son had been offered rehab but “that would be like jail.” His old network of friends were alcoholics, she said, so he couldn’t call them.

I asked if he had been to AA, a ready made support group with a mission, known as the 12th step, to help other alcoholics.

He is an atheist and refuses to go, she said.

I rest my case. What I hear is that the son prefers being homeless to going to rehab, and refuses help that is freely given. That’s a choice.

None of this makes the situation the problem of the parent to fix.

Another parent told me that her town didn’t have a homeless shelter. This is a suburb of one of the largest metro areas in the country. There might not be a homeless shelter in that suburb. That doesn’t mean the metro region isn’t crawling with shelters and half-way houses and social service organizations. But this is how we think. We think our kids will not survive unless we help them. It’s just not true.

So we’re back to the question: What do you want to do? What are you willing to take on?

There are two things I suggest in this situation: Don’t take on anything that will cause you resentment. And don’t set any boundaries you can’t enforce.

Sometimes, allowing an adult child to stay at home for a few days while he or she figures things out can buy both parties some time. The adult child can have a few days to research options, and the parent can have a few days to pray and meditate, attend meetings, talk things over with a sponsor, read literature and do whatever else they need to get some clarity.

But what the parent needs to do, IMHO, does not involve fixing the housing crisis. Even if the adult child is sick or unemployed or both.

I generally don’t recommend allowing adult children to stay under certain conditions (you can stay as long as you do this and/or don’t do that). Things may start out well, but an addict or alcoholic is bound to push those boundaries at some point, and then what are you going to do?

To me, that’s just offering them the rope for that old, familiar game of tug of war. In my case, for my own sanity, I had to drop the rope.

My own experience is that I had to get out of the way completely and let my daughter find her own solutions. When I did, she did. At first, her solutions included finding other enablers. It’s in the nature of addicts and alcoholics to find a “softer, easier way.”

But eventually, those enablers fell away one by one. Only then, when her options were either to change or to face the full consequences of her choices did she choose change.

For me, it was the only truly loving thing I could do.

Monday, June 21, 2010

The Hyena and the Wildebeest

An article in the paper caught my eye the other day. It was about Ray Dalio, the founder of one of the world's largest hedge funds and the philosophy on which he runs his company.

The firm runs on a set of 295 principles that Mr. Dalio distributed to all his employees. He calls his philosophy hyper-realism, drawing on lessons of the natural world.

One of his most eye-catching principles is "Be the hyena. Attack the Wildebeest... Like the hyenas attacking the wildebeest, successful people might not even know if or how their pursuits of self interest helps society, but it typically does."

Another principle is "There is nothing to fear from truth.... Being truthful is essential to being an independent thinker and obtaining greater understanding of what is right."

Apparently, at Mr. Dalio's company, being truthful "also requires a bit of ruthlessness," according to the article.

One employee admitted he found the truthful policy difficult, because colleagues were encouraged to critique his ideas and drill into his weaknesses. "I would go home defeated every day," he said.

Reading the article, I couldn't help but wonder what it would be like to run a company on Al-Anon principles.

What if, rather than "Be a Hyena," the principle was "Live and Let Live" or "Let Go and Let God."

And I have nothing against the speaking the truth. But what if the guiding principle was "THINK." That before we opened our mouths to speak, we took a minute to think about what we were going to say and asked ourselves if it was not only True but also Honest, Intelligent, Necessary and Kind?

What if no one went home feeling defeated by his or her colleagues?

I'm not sure that company would become one of the world's largest hedge funds. Maybe to be successful on Wall Street requires a bit of the hyena. But maybe making money isn't the most important thing. If we were to run this company on Al-Anon principles, we'd ask ourselves the question, How Important Is It?

Sunday, June 20, 2010

My Daddy

For years, the only real clues I had about my dad came from a handful of thick, black-and-white studio portraits.

I had two favorites. One pictured my grandmother, young and beautiful with scallops of shiny dark hair and milk-white skin with a boy of about six in a sailor suit.

The other showed my grandmother, still young but with the beginnings of crow's feet around her eyes and hair that was beginning to lose its luster next to a young and handsome man wearing an Army uniform with pilot's wings pinned to the breast.

On each of these photos, I had written, with green ink in my best 4-year-old handwriting "my daddy."

As I had never met my dad, those were the images I carried with me. I didn't know much else. I knew he had some connection to Green Bay Wisconsin. I learned later that his father's family emigrated there from Ireland in the mid 19th century and stuck. My grandmother told me he had saved my life by rescuing me from drowning in a pool when I was about a year old.

Later, I learned from my mother that his IQ tested in the genius range, though he only completed high school and worked at manual labor jobs. That he was an alcoholic. That he had put her in the hospital twice.

I have only one picture of them together. It was on the day of my christening. My father was older than my mother, in his late-30s. His hairline was already receding, but he was still handsome. There were cans of Schlitz malt liquor in the foreground.

With so little information, these pictures became the basis of a rich fantasy surrounding my dad.

When I was very young and living with my grandmother, she used to play a song by Harry Belefonte called "Scarlet Ribbons" about a man desperately searching the night to find scarlet ribbons for his daughter's hair. I imagined that was my dad. I believed he wanted to find me, that, like the man in the song, he was out there somewhere scouring the streets at night looking.

Even as I got older, and was returned to my mother, I kept that fantasy. That one day my father would find me and rescue me from my life.

Of course, he never did.

My grandmother took me back to my childhood home of Milwaukee once to see him. My grampy, her second husband, had some sort of bowling event to attend and I came along. We stayed in the Red Carpet Inn. But I never met my dad. I learned later that he had "taken off" two days before our arrival with no explanation.

He died when I was 12 from alcoholism. As my mother put it, he had lung cancer and died during the operation from liver failure. She showed me a recent picture, a Polaroid. It showed a balding, overweight, middle-aged man leaning against a car. It looked nothing like the pictures in my head.

That day, my fantasy of rescue died along with my father.

A few years ago, I decided to find out what I could about my father. I started with his Army records. Much of his records were lost in a fire in the facility where they were kept. But enough remained to give me a glimpse into his life.

From his application, I learned that, as a child, he had a tonsillectomy and the removal of a bit of bone in one ear as the result of an infection. He played softball, basketball and football in high school, though did not excel in any of them. He graduated in 1940 and listed his only hobby as flying.

His enlistment physical noted that he had a deviated septum and a small facial scar.

From his service record, I know that he worked for Douglas Aircraft in Santa Monica, which was then gearing up for World War II. It had recently won a government contract to build warplanes.

In 1942, he enlisted as an aviation cadet. He was 19 and married to his first wife. They had a daughter.

He was honorably discharged in June of the following year to accept a commission. He completed pilot training at various bases and learned to fly the B-26 Maurader. By June 1943, as a second lieutenant, he was qualified for overseas duty. I imagine it was about this time that the portrait with my grandmother was taken.

Then things started to fall apart. He faced two courts martial for being AWOL and was dihonorably discharged after having been AWOL for 37 days, and sentenced to three years of hard labor at Ft. Leavenworth prison.

His divorce became final a few months after he began serving his sentence. The records were lost, so I can only speculate about the reasons.

After his release, he married again. This marriage was brief and childless, and ended in an annulment.

His third marriage was tumultuous and produced two children. His wife, a reputedly beautiful welder in a factory, filed for divorce three times.

When the divorce was eventually finalized, my father had abandoned the family without support two years prior. He didn't even show up for the proceedings.

The divorce papers are telling. In those days, you had to show cause for getting a divorce. His wife had plenty. Court papers say my father drank to excess, disappeared for days at a time and returned spoiling for a fight. He heaped abuses "too vile" to be printed in court documents. There were physical abuses and "acts of cruel and inhuman treatment."

These abuses, the complaint claims, caused his wife to "become nervous and lose weight" and left her "sick and broken in mind and body."

Just a few months after the divorce was final, he got a young woman (my mother) pregnant. She was a young physical therapist. He was 36 and working as a warehouseman for the temporary agency Manpower. They got married.

The marriage didn't last long. But at the end, my mother committed herself to a mental hospital for shock treatments and agreed to my father's suggestion that she sign over custody of me to my grandmother. At the time of the divorce, my grandmother was given legal custody.

My grandmother sounded like a classic Al-Anon. In a letter to her lawyer, my mother describes her as "domineering."

In a letter to my mother, my grandmother describes finding my father and his third wife living in squalor with a sick child, "a cold wind blowing under the door." She bought them a house and a TV.

In a drunken rage, she wrote, my father had smashed the TV. At one point, she found the house trashed and abandoned. His wife had said my father had made such a fool of himself, he was ashamed to face the neighbors.

A clearer picture began to emerge.

My husband wondered why I kept digging.

"Don't you find it depressing?" he wanted to know.

But I didn't. I wanted some answers. Even then, I had romanticized my father. I fancied that I looked like him, was smart like him, inherited his restless gene. I wanted to know who this man was. Now I knew. I could let him, and the fantasy, go.

Of course, I had more to process. Al-Anon helped with that. More than anything, Al-Anon helped me see my father with compassion. Compassion for the shame he must have felt. Compassion that he never found a solution.

Not everyone was meant to be saved. For some reason, I escaped the compulsion to drink. And for some reason, I found my way into a program that has taught me a better way to live than he knew, or my grandmother or my mother. I don't know why God chose me. But I am grateful.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Are You An Al-Anon-aholic?

Before Al-Anon, I had read checklists for the characteristics of adult children of alcoholics and never particularly saw myself in them. I remember one particularly memorable time when I friend sat me down and made me read a checklist off the back of a book. I was unimpressed.

"What about this?" he kept asking.

"That doesn't describe me," I'd respond.

He tried to insist. It only irritated me. Of course, he was right. That was my denial.

But the other day when I came across a quiz to determine whether I was a workaholic, I was astounded by well I recognized myself in the questions. Here's a sampling.

* I prefer to do most things rather than ask for help
* I overcommit myself by biting off more than I can chew.
* I spend a lot of time mentally planning and thinking about future events while tuning out the here and now.
* I get upset in a situations where I cannot be in control.
* I tend to put myself under self-imposed deadlines.
* I spend more time working than socializing with friends or on hobbies or leisure activities.
* I get upset with myself for making even the smallest mistake.
* I make important decisions before I have all the facts and have a chance to think them through.

As I took the quiz, I couldn't help thinking the quiz might as well have said "Are you an Al-Anon?"

Out of curiosity, I printed out an Al-Anon checklist. There were really only two questions that directly correlated.

* Do you overextend yourself?
* Do you have a need for perfection?


I held my breath and tried to take the quiz honestly, giving each question a response of 1 (never true) to 4 (always true). I could see that, if not for the program, my scores on each question would be much higher. This quiz would be a kind of "Does Al-Anon work for you?" test.

To my relief, my final score placed me in the category that said "You are probably a hard worker instead of a workaholic. You needn't worry that your work style will negatively affect yourself or others."

Phew. I guess I got my daily reprieve that day, because I know those character defects are still just under the surface.

The reading in "Hope for Today" was particularly pertinent. It said "[My shortcomings] are not magically, completely and irrevocably banished from my life. If this truly were the case, I wouldn't take them back on occasion. However, my Higher Power does separate my defects from me.... The concrete action of setting them aside becomes apparent as I work on the program on a daily basis."

It works if you work it.

BTW, the acronym for this assessment is WART, which struck me as appropriate. It's a kind of inventory of my warts.

I'm going to keep this quiz. I imagine coming across it at some future date. Then I will read the questions and hold my breath, and see how I do on that day.

Perhaps not surprisingly, the suggestions that accompany the article could also have come straight from Al-Anon: Manage expectations, Breathe (as in meditation), Practice mindfulness.

Good advice.

Hubby and I will be practicing just these things up at the land. I hope you all have a great week, and I'll stop in for a visit on our return.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

What I Got

Hearing my sponsee's fifth step on Sunday got me to thinking about the type of Al-Anon I am and what I got from my character defects.

In alcoholic families, different family members take on different roles. Each role plays an important part in keeping the family together. At different times in my life I have been all of them.

When I was very young I was the quiet child, who was no trouble to anyone. As a teenager, I became the wild child, the one who gave the family purpose. As I got older, and especially when my daughter struggled with her own addictions, I became the hero, the fixer, The Doer Of Things That Needed To Be Done.

I've said before that this role left me exhausted and resentful, because control turned out to be an illusion. But I clung to this role because I got something from it.

There's tremendous ego gratification in being the hero. For starters, I was the command post in any crisis. I was always at the center of things, and so all information flowed through me. There's a tremendous feeling of power in that.

I saw myself as the high-functioning person amidst the dysfunction. I got to feel superior.

People I loved came to me for help. And I helped them.

And here's the rub. I was good it. I couldn't fix my daughter, but I was good at finding solutions to the trouble she found herself in. It was a role I grabbed and held onto fiercely, but others were happy to give it to me. I had support and encouragement.

"Get your mother on it," my ex-husband used to say to my daughter. Because I was capable. I swooped in with my checklist and my computer and my cellphone, and we were going to do this thing, whatever I decided it was.

Different players had their own motives for allowing me this role. I imagine my ex-husband was relieved that Things Were Being Taken Care Of, and that he didn't have to do it. My daughter got my undivided attention. In return, I got her gratitude. She owed me one. It was a rush. And I didn't have to think about my own issues.

It was a closed feedback loop. The system fed itself. And that's the problem with character defects. In a way I was the victim of my own success. I got so much from behaving that way. Why would I want to give all of that up?

Only it didn't work. Not really. Nothing really changed. At least not for long.

But the ego! So hard to let it go. I had to pry my fingers off the wheel at first. Before I became willing, life had to bring me to my knees.

At first, surrender felt like raising the white flag on a battlefield. Not so much "I surrender" but rather "I give up!"

In order to give up all I got in this role, I had to replace it with something else. Attending meetings, working the steps, building a relationship with my Higher Power provided those things.

The lure of The Other Way was still strong. But after a while, the siren song of the old ways grew more faint. Slowly, slowly I became entirely ready to have God remove these defects of character. Finally, finally, I started to enjoy the ride.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010


The prison meeting seemed to have taken a turn last night.

The inmates have really taken responsibility for the meeting. The chairperson actually read a page out of "Courage to Change" and shared on what was in the book instead of trying to find a page that would fit the drama she wanted to share and, failing that, sharing on that drama anyway. We talked about solutions.

The women seemed to listen more intently to what my Al-Anon partner and I had to share.

The one woman who had attended our meeting faithfully is getting out in a few days. There was one meeting in which she was the only one in attendance, and we wondered what would happen to the meeting when she left.

But there was another woman there tonight who attended her sixth meeting and so "earned" her book. I heard her share for the first time. She stepped up and took over the meeting folder. And when another inmate who had sometimes attended was not available, she went and found a newcomer. So we had a little meeting of five: three inmates, plus my Al-Anon partner and me. And it was a good meeting.

The topic was yesterday's reading in "Courage to Change." It was about attraction rather than promotion, and I could have written it. It told my story.

When I was new in Al-Anon, I went through what I call my evangelistic period. I was so delighted to have found a solution, that I wanted to share it with everyone else. My son-in-law used to call regularly during that time begging me to "do something" about my daughter. He thought I had some special power over her. I must have given him that idea. I thought I did, too.

I remember clearly that I was taking an evening class. I came back to my car one night to find my phone beeping to alert me to a missed call. It was my son-in-law. There had been bigger-than-usual drama.

I told him I had been going to Al-Anon. I explained that my daughter was an addict and what he was seeing was addict behavior. I told him that I could not fix it, and either could he. I told him he needed to go to Al-Anon in the most urgent terms. Then I sent him literature.

The next time he called I told him he needed to go to Al-Anon.

I see now that I did that because I was still thought I knew what was best for everyone. I was still trying to control.

Of course it did as much good as telling my daughter that she needed to go to an NA meeting or call her sponsor. My son-in-law never went to Al-Anon, which distressed me just as much.

My sponsor explained gently, "You've told him, now let it go."

That's when she told me the "say it once" rule. I've found that it's usually best for me to keep my opinions to myself. But if I feel I absolutely must say something, I can only say it once. If I say it twice, it's a yellow flag. Three times and I'm definitely trying to control.

What I still didn't understand was the tradition of attraction rather than promotion. I already knew what that looked like, I just didn't realize it.

I had attended several NA meetings with my daughter and was impressed by what I heard. These people seemed grounded and wise.

I didn't think there was anything wrong with me. My daughter was the one with the problem.

But I could see that these people had something I didn't and I wanted what they had. So when my daughter's sponsor suggested I go to Al-Anon, I could hardly wait to go. I understood that if I did, I could have what they had, too.

My daughter didn't stay in NA, but went to Al-Anon and stuck.

The last time my daughter visited, she went to Al-Anon meetings with me. I didn't suggest it. I simply said I was going to a meeting, as I always did on those nights. She wanted to come.

When she left, she told me I was inspiring.


That was new. She used to tell me in great detail all the ways she didn't want to be like me. I could only hope that one day she'd want what I had.

And eventually, she did. Last I heard, she sober for the first time in a long time, back in NA and AA and "into it." I say last I heard because I don't ask her about it when I talk to her. I leave that between her and God.

That's how it works.

Monday, June 14, 2010

The Poo Problem

I heard something truly shocking yesterday.

I had called an Al-Anon member who had recently moved here from another state to ask him to be a speaker at my Alateen meeting. We had struck up a conversation in the parking lot on the way to my meeting on Monday night.

He was 19 years sober in AA and had 18 years in Al-Anon. The Alateen sponsors in my group had decided on a mix of AA and Al-Anon speakers and, combining both, he seemed perfect. Then he told me he had been an Alateen sponsor. It felt like a God thing.

But that's not the shocking part. What he said on the phone is that he felt comfortable approaching me in the parking lot because he had seen me at other meetings and found me "friendly and approachable."

That makes three times in recent memory people have referred to me that way. They used those exact words: friendly and approachable.

And that's the shocking part. Because I've never been what people call "friendly and approachable." They've always used other words to describe me. Words like "aloof."

I never meant to be aloof, but that was the pronouncement. It's been one of the constants in my life.

A couple of weeks ago, after I shared on the topic of selfishness, a sponsee told me she couldn't even imagine me being selfish.

I was speechless.

So the question is: Who is the person people are talking about? And what have they done with me?

Change has been a lot on my mind these days. Change used to be another constant in my life. I changed jobs, relationships, cities. I liked to say I was born with track shoes on. I was always running.

These days, I'm as settled as I've ever been. I've lived in this house longer than I've lived anywhere in my life. I've been happily married for years now. But it seems change is still a constant. It's just a different kind of change.

It reminded me of a story I heard recently about a zoo. Seems the zoo had a $60,000 problem. That's how much the landfill charged it to dispose of its poo.

Then someone had the idea to compost the poo. It became a hot commodity. People lined up around the block to get bags of composted zoo poo for their gardens. After deducting expenses, the new poo netted the zoo $20,000.

The problem was utterly transformed from a liability to an asset.

And this is poo we're talking about. Excrement. Waste.

So this is what I was thinking about yesterday. I had spent the afternoon listening to a sponsee's fifth step. As is the tradition in my line of sponsorship, I presented her with the gift of a butterfly to symbolize her shedding of old skin in preparation for spiritual rebirth.

Because that's what the program gives us. New life. The old stuff, our character defects, get thrown on the great compost heap of the program and are transformed into something valuable. The liabilities of our past become our greatest assets.

I can't think of anything more remarkable. Shocking, really.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Let It Begin With Me

I have been pummeled by this slogan lately, which is usually a sign I need to pay attention. But I can be a little slow on the uptake. Fortunately for me, my God is patient and persistent, and He has a sense of humor.

Here’s a brief recap of my recent history with this slogan. It was the topic of my meeting last Monday night. The next day my sponsor blogged about it. On Wednesday, the meeting topic was slogans, all of them. Participants were invited to talk about whichever slogan spoke to them. Guess what? One of them was “Let it Begin with Me.” Then, this morning, I picked up a current meeting list to give to a sponsee. The slogan on the cover? Well, you know. I don’t need to hit you over the head with it.

But God sometimes has to hit me over the head.

You see, I’ve been praying for some time about what to do about a key relationship in my life. I’ve been wondering if this relationship is still meeting my needs. I’ve been praying about it. Asking for guidance. Then I got it.

A program friend brought up a relationship she wasn’t sure was meeting her needs or her expectations. She had relationship envy. She had been observing the same relationship among some of her other program friends and those relationships seemed better and more satisfying.

Setting aside the problem of comparing her insides with another’s outsides, I reminded her that she was the one who had withdrawn from the relationship in question. I didn’t say “Let it Begin with Me,” but I could have.

Then it hit me. I had answered my own question. Since I wasn’t listening to all of the messages He had been sending me, God put the answer in my own mouth.

I was the one who had withdrawn from the relationship in question. If I didn’t like the current state of affairs, I had to “Let it Begin with Me.”

I looked up the slogan in “How Al-Anon Works” and found it full of fresh meaning. Ironically, I had highlighted the very phrases that were appropriate to my situation. But I’m a great forgetter. Sometimes I need to be reminded.

Here are a few things the book says:

“When we are tempted to blame others for our problems or to justify our own poor behavior by pointing to the poor behavior of others, this slogan reminds us where our focus rightfully belongs…. ‘Let it begin with me’ is a way to change the things we can—especially our own attitudes—instead of waiting for everyone else to change to suit us.

This is like going hungry while waiting for someone who doesn’t cook to make dinner. ‘Let it begin with me’ might suggest that we go ahead and cook for ourselves, go out for dinner, or make plans with someone who cooks. In short, we take responsibility for getting our own needs met.”

So today, I will “Let it Begin with Me.”

Thanks to all of you who left such thoughtful comments concerning memorable posts. I hope to catch up with all of you in the next couple of days.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Wash Your Hands of It

This isn't Al-Anon, but it's interesting.

I read this recently in The Wall Street Journal. Research has found that when subjects washed their hands after making a difficult moral decision, they felt less guilty about it. A recent study found the same for non-moral decisions. It was a small study, and didn't compare washing hands to other activities with no relation to cleansing. Still.

When I have a difficult decision to make, I always pray and meditate on it until the way seems clear. Then I turn it over to God.

Next time, I'll also "wash my hands of it." I like the idea that the act is symbolic of "cleansing and purifying." And who knows? I might also ward off a cold.

I have a question for regular readers. Is there a past post you've found memorable? I've been asked to submit some posts for an E-zine and find that I'm a poor judge of my own work.

So, without making this seem like a homework assignment, is there something that comes to mind? If so, I hope you'll leave me a comment. Thank you.

Hubby and I are off to the land of no computers. I'll drop in for a return visit when we return. Till then, take good care.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Standing on Ceremony

Earlier this year, I wrote a story about the chief judge of one of the Native tribes in Arizona. He is a remarkable man, a graduate of Stanford and Harvard, and the first in his tribe to have graduated from law school. From the bench, he gained a unique perspective of the tribe’s problems.

He told me that 99.9 percent of the crimes he passed judgment on were the result of alcohol, either directly or indirectly.

"We’re a nation of adult children of alcoholics," he said.

This judge was very interested in Native traditions, especially ceremonies, and developed a court system that would incorporate those elements.

But what stuck with me at a practical level was what he had to say about ceremony. At Stanford, he taught a course on the subject which, he says, basically comes down to four things:

1. Purifying and cleansing
2. Putting things in order
3. Remembering and reconnecting
4. Prayer and meditation

In his class, he encouraged people to create their own ceremony using these elements. He told them not to overthink it. To keep it simple.

Wash the dishes, he said as an example. Then put them away.

When you wash the dishes, you are cleansing and purifying. When you put them away, you are putting things in order, restoring them to their proper place.

A program friend recently lamented that her job mostly consisted of cleaning. She was grateful to have any kind of job, of course, but this didn’t feel very satisfying.

I told her the story about my judge friend and his view of ceremony. I said it had helped me to reframe the way I think about things I need to do.

When I’m doing the dishes and feeling resentful about it, I think of the judge. I remind myself that I can think about it as doing a dirty job I'd rather not do. Or I can think of it as ceremony.

If I think of washing the dishes as ceremony, it changes the way I feel about my task, instantly. It transforms the ordinary into something sacred.

I’m powerless over many of the things I have to do in my life. But I can change the way I think about them. That’s the one thing that's within my power, always.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

The Daily Reprieve

When programs friends or sponsees who have been doing well call at unscheduled hours to say that they are depressed or that obsessive thoughts have returned, I generally start by asking one question:

How’s your prayer life?

The longer I’m in the program the more important this question seems to me. This isn’t a disease we cure. We only get a daily reprieve based on our spiritual condition. And that means exercising our spirit every day.

When I agree to take on new sponsees, here’s what I recommend:

Pray on your knees, at least once a day
Go to two Al-Anon meetings and one open AA meeting every week
Buy one of Al-Anon’s books of daily meditations and read it every day
Practice gratitude, actively, by writing a daily gratitude list

Those are the basics. And when people who have been doing well, suddenly aren’t, I have found they’ve stopped doing one (or several) of these things as regularly as they once did.

There are often good reasons for that. But the result is the same.

It happened to me several months ago during a bout of what may have been the swine flu. I was unable to get out of bed for two weeks. My only prayers were a fevered “God, just take me now.”

I didn’t attend a meeting, read any literature, talk to my sponsor. Then I got a phone call from my daughter with a request that threw me for a loop. She wanted money. It seemed like for a good reason. I didn’t know what to do.

I couldn’t reach my sponsor. My mind started its familiar spin cycle, its obsessive feedback loop. By the time my sponsor called, I had sent money and was agonizing over whether I should send more.

It took her about two seconds for my sponsor to set me straight. She reminded me that the reason my daughter needed money was because she had taken certain actions. What she was experiencing were the consequences of those actions.

Oh, yeah. I thought. Duh.

But without the tools of the program, I couldn’t think about it clearly.

I’ve seen much more dramatic examples from people who have been in the program for much longer. People who work a good program.

A very dear friend fell dramatically off the beam after she stopped praying. She experienced a storm of difficulties and after one particular incident, she just couldn’t pray. Then she started skipping meetings here and there. I visited her after an elective surgery and was surprised to find her completely undone.

Through it all, she could still give good program advice. She had been in the program a long time. She knew Al-Anon chapter and verse. But this is a program of action. Knowing everything about recovery doesn’t do a bit of good without taking the actions we’re taught in this program.

Or as I read in another blog recently, God will put wind in your sails, but he won’t raise the sail.

Another friend admitted that after 16 years in the program, he had to call his sponsor and “turn himself in.” He had lost his faith.

She had him rework step 2. At the same time, he was working with a sponsee on the same step. God makes no mistakes.

He asked himself: What did I do when I was new?

The answer:
I prayed on my knees
I went to meetings
I read Al-Anon literature
I practiced gratitude

He did those things and climbed back on the beam.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Let’s Talk about Sex

I will begin by saying, in the tradition of public broadcast, that while this post does not contain content of a graphic nature, it does contain themes that may not be suitable for younger readers.

There is no part of our lives in recovery that we do not examine. So eventually, we need to talk about sex.

I’ve just completed my annual fourth step. This one was an AA-style inventory right out of the Big Book.

To be honest, I was a little skeptical that it would reveal anything I hadn’t already dealt with in my first fourth step, which I wrote in narrative form. But I prayed that God would reveal what needed to be revealed, took the action and waited to see what came up.

To my surprise, by putting things in a different format I saw different things. Nowhere was that more apparent than in the part of the inventory the Big Book refers to as “Sex Problems.” (Found on page 69, of course.)

Interestingly, that was the part of the Big Book we read and discussed at my last Big Book study. So it was fresh in my mind as I sat down to my task.

In the first column, I was to review my past conduct and indicate where I was selfish, dishonest or inconsiderate. Where did I unjustifiably arouse jealousy, suspicion or bitterness?

There was no new ground to tread. I had revealed every sordid event in great detail in my first fourth step. But in such a condensed form, a few things stuck out.

The first is that I have behaved very badly. No surprise there. But seeing my behavior in it’s most concentrated form was bracing.

But the real insight I gained is that most of the sex I’ve had in my life, I didn’t enjoy. Rather, I used sex as a tool. I used it to draw men into a relationship with me. I used sex to keep men in relationships and to lure them back when things got bad. Sometimes it worked. Sometimes it was spectacularly unsuccessful and just left me filled with shame.

I believe my sexuality was God-given. But that gift became twisted and distorted as a result of sexual abuse at a very early age.

I did things I didn’t want to do, because I thought it would bring me love and allow me to keep it.

Of course, I was trying to fill the God-sized hole I felt with another person. When one person wasn’t enough to fill the hole, I thought more would be the answer. Or doing more or different or more exotic sex acts with the same one. Of course that only filled me with more shame and left a bigger hole.

I just kept digging a deeper, wider hole in a cycle of self-destruction that didn’t stop until I began to feel my first spiritual stirrings. That path eventually led me to Al-Anon and recovery.

I stopped behaving in self-destructive ways. I learned what a healthy relationship looked like. I’ve been blessed with a happy marriage for going on eight years.

But what I didn’t realize until now was this:

Without going into the details that have no place here, I will simply say that God, in his wisdom, took away the one weapon I had deployed in all my relationships. In my marriage, I could not use sex in this way. It simply had no power.

And I was loved and accepted anyway.

What I learned is that love and acceptance are like God’s grace. It’s not something I can earn by doing things I imagine someone else wants me to do. But if I make myself right spiritually, it is a gift that is freely given.

And for that, I thank God.

Friday, June 4, 2010

The Breakfast Club

I attended my first Alateen meeting last night.

When I walked in, my first thought was "Breakfast Club." There were a couple of kids with gloves with the fingertips cut off. Three of them wore winter hats, one with ear flaps.

Should I mention the temps hit 100 yesterday?

I tried not to stare at one girl, whose side part seemed to originate at about her ear. I kept looking to see how she kept her hair from cascading down her face.

One of the older boys brought his new iPad. Another showed the other Alateen sponsor pictures of his new dog on his cellphone.

After my certification training and my conversation with my sponsor, I had certain expectations. (I cringe to have to write this, but it's true.)

I was surprised to find kids ranging to 8 to 18. There are differing thoughts on this. At the certification training, the Alateen coordinator said that groups are often age segregated, as the things the older kids want to talk about is not always appropriate for the younger ones. She also said the older kids use a fair amount of profanity.

"Don't expect them to behave like adults in an Al-Anon meeting," she said. "They will sit on each other's laps. They will be texting while other people are talking. This will bother no one but you. Don't think they are not also listening."

The Alateen sponsor last night told me that this group used to start the meeting together, then break up into two, age-segregated groups, but they haven't had enough certified sponsors to do this for some time.

But the kids were all respectful. One boy started to say a swear, but caught himself. They all seemed to like and care about each other, and to want to be there. They had voted not to allow texting during the meeting, and the chairperson (an Alateen) enforced the rule.

At the appropriate time, the other Alateen sponsor introduced me and asked me to say a little about myself. I said that I was recently certified as an Alateen sponsor. (At this point, the boy next to me offered me his fist in congratulations, which I bumped with my own.) I said I had grown up in an alcoholic home, that I had been in the program for a couple of years, that my daughter was the reason I was in Al-Anon, that I was happy to be there.

The other sponsor explained that they would get to vote me in.

"You don't have to take what we give you," she said.

"I vote for her," the boy next to me said.

"Well, let's wait until we know she's interested," replied the other Alateen sponsor.

"Are you interested?" a boy sitting across the table wanted to know. His gaze felt intense. The room got quiet.

"Yes," I said. "As a matter of fact I am."

"Okay, then," the boy said, slapping the table. "I vote yes."

Then hands went up around the room and there was a little cheer and they boy next to me said, "There, now you're in. You can't back out of it."

The kids run their own meetings, and the chairperson shared on the topics of laziness and trust. They passed by getting up and hugging the person they were passing to.

There was a lot of giggling and side whispering which, as the Alateen coordinator had said, seemed to bother no one but me. The kids all shared, but one, who asked the other Alateen sponsor if she was allowed to pass. They seemed to talk easily and honestly.

Laziness was the chief topic. They confessed to not doing their homework and barely passing classes as a result, cleaning their rooms by stuffing everything in the closet. One girl said it took her, "seriously" all day to clean her hamster's cage, while it took her mom just an hour. The older kids talked about putting off filing financial aid paperwork, looking into colleges, looking for jobs.

As for trust, more than one kid said, "I trust you guys."

The girl with the side part shared that she had invited a friend to the meeting, whose parents were alcoholics. "It's really fun and awesome," she told her friend. But her friend didn't want to go because "then everybody would know. It was sad."

After all the kids had shared, the other Alateen sponsor shared. Then she passed to me.

She did this with by offering me her fist. I hit her fist with mine, and then we both opened our hands flat, as the kids had taught us to do. We both laughed as we did it.

While I talked, kids looked at the table or their hands or fidgeted with the tassels on their hat. They sneaked sideways glances at me. But they got quiet. I could almost hear the Alateen coordinator say, "Don't think they're not listening."

Then we all shared "happys and crappys," of each. Me included. My happy was that I had been voted in, and they all cheered.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Entirely Ready

A relative newcomer in Al-Anon once confessed to me her reluctance about steps six and seven.

If God removed her defects of character, she wondered. What would be left of her? Would she be full of holes like a piece of Swiss cheese?

At the time, I confess that I couldn’t relate. Of course you won’t be like a piece of Swiss cheese, I answered. You’ll be the person you’ve always been, just without the character traits that have gotten in your way.

I sailed through step six. I couldn’t wait to humbly ask God to remove my shortcomings. I knew them all too well:

I was controlling, introverted and selfish.

I knew those character defects had started as self-defense mechanisms. I tried to control things because life in the family I grew up in felt so out of control.

I became introverted because I had learned early in my life that I could not count on other people. Life became easier and less painful when I relied only on myself.

I was selfish, because when I was growing up, it felt like there was never enough. There wasn’t enough money or time or love. So I horded these things. I was afraid that if I gave them away, there wouldn’t be enough for me.

I also knew those self-defense mechanisms had overshot the mark. Now, they just got in my way.

Good riddance, I said. I’m ready. Bring on step seven.

But as I got farther into my program and started to gain more insight, I realized that those obvious defects of character were just the beginning. One by one, I began to see how traits that I believed to be at the core of my very nature seemed to have been shaped by this disease.

There was my restlessness and need for constant change.

My serious nature.

My love of quiet and solitude.

Even my love of stories. I was an English major. I became a journalist. One of my greatest pleasures is reading. I couldn’t think of anything that was more central to my nature. But was that innate, or had it been an escape? I couldn’t be sure.

A some point, I made a list of the characteristics I was sure were not shaped by alcoholism. My list included my shoe size, my eye color and my IQ. The rest was pretty much up for debate.

I started to think that newcomer had been more perceptive than I had been.

For the first time, I realized I had no idea who I really was under all those layers. But I did believe that God could restore me.

And I could hardly wait to meet myself.

In the process, what I learned is that God doesn’t remove all my character defects at once. And for everything He took, He left something in its place.

As I became less introverted, I became more loving. As I became less selfish, I became more generous. As I became less controlling, I made room in my life for spontaneity and guidance from my Higher Power.

In every case, God didn’t leave me with holes. He left me whole.

And, no matter where I was in my program, He only removed my defects when I was entirely ready.

Grace Calling

God came calling the other day.

At least I’m pretty sure it was Him. Sometimes it’s hard to be sure. He takes so many forms.

But I’m pretty sure it was Him, because I had been praying for guidance, and this seemed to be His answer.

If you have been reading this blog for a while, you probably know I recently got certified as an Alateen sponsor. It’s something I’ve wanted to do for a long time.

Then Alateen certification training just happened to be held on a Saturday I was going to be in town, which was rare. So I went and got certified.

I knew there was a need—a desperate need—for Alateen sponsors in a couple of groups. The problem was that those groups were held on nights that I’m almost never in town. So I’ve been praying about it, knowing that God would put me where he needed me.

Then last Monday, when I saw my sponsor at a meeting, she said: “Remind me to talk to you about Alateen during our call time.”

So I did.

My sponsor has been an Alateen sponsor for three years, in one of the groups where there is a desperate need. At this point feels she’s probably been there too long. She feels burned out. But she’s unwilling to just walk away.

“I know you’re not usually home on Thursdays,” she began. “But I was wondering if you’d be willing to commit to one week a month.”

I had thought about that myself but I worried how my husband would react, and whether one week a month was enough to forge a meaningful relationship with the kids.

But now I was feeling led.

I agreed to talk with my husband about it. As it happened, I knew this weekend we’d be home, so I could attend the meeting and meet the kids.

She told me the meetings varied between 10 and 20 kids each week.

“I have to tell you, it’s a rowdy group,” she said. “That’s part of the reason we’ve had trouble getting sponsors in there. You definitely have to be able to be willing to be tough with them and tell them to cut the crap.”

Yikes! This was beginning to sound tough.

But I reminded myself that God puts me where he needs me. That I always get more than I give. That God doesn’t choose the equipped, he equips the chosen.

I talked to my husband, and he was supportive.

So tomorrow I will attend my first Alateen meeting.

Pray for me.