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.


  1. Great post, Kathy. Resigning all my "jobs" was difficult for me, but it continues to provide amazing rewards in terms of serentiy.

  2. It is one thing to understand something intellectually but something else to get it emotionally. For me to actually let go and let God I had to start from zero and see if I truly did or did not believe in a God. That took some time. It was not comfortable for me to say God. Higher Power was better. I honestly didn't think I was running on ego power, but working the steps stripped away the delusion and hidden agendas.

  3. Oh the beloved ego, how it likes to cling and try to keep its tight grip on me. Although I have not worked the steps yet, I have found that I am feeling the releif that comes with the beginnings of working a program. Most days, I am able to let go and find peace from that. I do believe the ones that are used to being "taken care of" by me are a bit confused! Another home run here Kathy.

  4. Oh my gosh...LOL. Have you been watching me from afar?? I love this part..."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." Who doesn't feel important when handling a crisis with their grown-up tools in hand??! lol

    Yes, I know those great, awesome, feelings of being so important, so crucial, to anothers existence. Its sad huh. I must have not had much self worth at all if I could only feel important when rescuing someone from their crisis. I feel like now, since Alanon and all that I have learned there, that when I look out in front of me, I see a big open area that I can move around in. It is beautiful. Not the closed little space I kept myself in for so many years.

  5. You are one awesome lady!! This post speaks volumns!!

  6. So familiar!
    "I saw myself as the high-functioning person amidst the dysfunction. I got to feel superior." Yeah, and at the same time I was so busy playing martyr that I couldn't even admit I had an ego - and I had/have such low self-esteem, I didn't realize I COULD have an ego. But of course no one could handle anything but me... or at least handle it the right way... and of course I could help "all these needy people" with anything... ha! Time to take care of my own life... onto the next step...
    God bless.

  7. Wow! You've been peeking inside my life haven't you? Lol.
    I've always been the caretaker, always been the hero. But it's so exhausting. I am wrung out from it. It's gotten to the point where I want to have an actual temper tantrum and tell everyone in my life TO BACK OFF. I don't want to fix anything for anyone else anymore. I just don't. I just want to fix myself.
    Great post. You've given me a lot to think about today.

  8. Thanks for the post Kathy. I too was brought to my knees after so many years of trying it my way. My way didn't work and would never have worked. When I got out of the way, my alcoholic got into recovery. I am thankful that my fixing is about me now.

  9. This is beautiful. I LOVE to be the hero! Yet, the high no longer worked for me either. Becoming ENTIRELY ready to have my God remove the blocks that keep me from being TRULY useful to others was a long time coming. And, I still hear that faint call to return to the old ways. That's why I keep coming back. Thank you!