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.
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