Saturday, January 30, 2010

Two Windows on My Life

"There's one," said the woman riding shotgun, pointing.

The driver raced up to the open spot, turned wide, then braked as a sign came into view. "Rideshare only."

"We're a rideshare," shotgun woman said.

"But a permit is required."

All four women in the car responded in unison with a disappointed "Oh."

"Before Al-Anon, I would have taken that spot, no problem," the driver said.

"Before Al-Anon, I would have judged you for that," said the woman sitting next to me in the back seat.

We all laughed.

That was yesterday, on the way to the prison volunteer potluck. Three of us were brand new to the prison program and still trying to get our requirements done. So we stopped by the prison to take care of some business. Being Saturday, the parking lot was full.

Something about that insignificant exchange made me think of my first Al-Anon meeting. Two women were having a conversation about buying hand towels. They were laughing at themselves.

Is that the biggest problem these women have?, I wondered. My problems were serious. My daughter was in all sorts of trouble. These people would never understand. I was different from them.

What I saw then as women who made a big deal out of trifles, I see now as evidence of the success of the program. The fact that I was able to relate to and laugh with the women in the car showed how far I had come.

I got a glimpse of the old me last night over dinner. My husband and I invited a neighbor out with us to get a burger. His wife had just flown to Seattle to help one of their sons. Our neighbor was sad and distracted. He had hardly slept. His attention wandered. He apologized. He couldn't help but wonder what his wife and son were doing.

His wife might have to be in Seattle for a week. She might lose her job as a result. That was okay. They'd learn to live without that income if her employer couldn't understand the situation. His wife had told him that he might need to fly out, too. And maybe their other son.

Before Al-Anon, that was me. I got on a plane at the drop of a hat. I spent lots of money trying to fix things. I didn't sleep well. I obsessed. And yet, nothing changed. I'd put out one crisis and other would pop up. But I would do anything to alleviate the guilt I felt over my daughter's unhappiness. The cycle would begin again. Wash. Rinse. Repeat.

I was miserable. I couldn't enjoy my own life. And I wasn't doing anyone a bit of good.

Today, I understand that everyone in the rooms of Al-Anon could tell a story to break your heart. So could I. But I no longer feel the need to. I'm happy to talk about hand towels and parking spaces and life's other trivia. Key words: I am happy. Because in Al-Anon, I've learned tools to deal with this family disease. I learned to face calamity with serenity. (At least on the best days.)

The dynamic of an alcoholic home is that the alcoholic/addict acts and other family members react. It becomes a game of tug of war. Al-Anon teaches me to drop the rope.

Sometimes, this makes the alcoholic/addict uncomfortable enough to get help. Often, he or she needs to go through more pain before becoming willing to try a different way. That was true of my daughter.

But by constantly putting a pillow underneath my daughter to cushion her fall, I kept her from feeling the consequences of her actions. I just prolonged the process.

My daughter's life has not improved since I came into Al-Anon. In many ways, her situation is much worse. She found other enablers. But today I know that I am powerless to help her. That this is not my problem to fix. Yet somehow, our relationship is better for it.

Yesterday, after the potluck, we pulled into the parking lot where we had all met earlier that morning. I was sitting in the back seat. The other woman in back got out and left her empty Starbucks cup in the cup holder. I almost said something, but held my tongue. Then I started to grab for the cup because a) it seemed rude to leave it and b) I was afraid the driver might think it was mine and think badly of me.

Funny thing was, the woman who left it was the one who had said she'd have judged the driver for taking that parking spot, and now I was judging her. Then I remembered something we had said earlier: "If it doesn't have your name on it, don't pick it up."

I left the cup, got out of the car. I couldn't help but laugh.

The Wheels of Justice Go Round and Round

I spent quite a bit of time this week finishing up the requirements for prison work. It didn't all go well, but I won't belabor the details. I'll just say that after driving the 100-miles round trip to the state prison three times since Saturday's orientation, I'm not finished, thanks to an equipment malfunction. But all that's left is my photo. As of Thursday, the chaplain was still waiting for the results of my drug test to be forwarded to them and the fingerprint clearance from the FBI.

Today I attended a potluck hosted by the Al-Anon prison coordinator, and got to meet many of the other Al-Anon volunteers. I knew several of them from meetings I attend. It was the first time I got a really good idea about what going out to the prison was going to be like. Some of the volunteers had been going into the prison for years, and everyone there said they got a lot out of it. So now that I've gotten through all the red tape, I'm looking forward to being of service.

But it won't be for a while. I probably won't know what unit I'm assigned to until the end of February. I first expressed interest in the program before Thanksgiving. One lesson I'm learning is that the wheels of justice move very, very slowly.

But listening to the discussion today, I did learn some things I didn't know. For example, the prisoners have to earn their seat at an Al-Anon meeting. It's considered a privilege. And they have to attend six meetings before they get a donated book of daily meditations. Some women try to scam additional copies. To me that said these books mean something to them.

I couldn't help but think of how for me Al-Anon is given freely. I may have had to "earn my seat" in one sense. But all I need to do is to show up to get the help I need. The next time the thought crosses my mind that I'm too tired to get to a meeting or too busy to do my morning reading, I'm going to remind myself of the women who would love to be in my place.

Friday, January 29, 2010

Happy 101 Award!

Wow. This is cool. Thank you Akannie at Elegant Blessings for this sweet little award!

The rules are to link this award back to Annie, send it on to at least three other bloggers and list 10 things that make me happy.

So I'm passing it on to Garnet, Tammy, Lou, my "twin sister" Technobabe, Susy-the-Undertaker and Ms. Hen because your steady stream of kind words gave me encouragement as I was trying to get this blog up and running and have kept me going ever since. Thank you friends for your kind words and sweet thoughts.

Here are 10 things that make me happy.

1. A sound night's sleep
2. Staying in on a rainy day
3. A good meeting
4. Homemade turkey soup with wild rice and carrots
5. My husband
6. A good book
7. That little click I feel when I've understood something for the first time.
8. Hot apple pie with vanilla ice cream
9. The feeling I get when I've done something well
10. The serenity that comes (at least sometimes) from applying the principles of the program

Thursday, January 28, 2010

With Gratitude

Many thanks to all of you who shared your experience, strength and hope with me on my last question. Your perspectives all helped me get clarity.

I am reminded of something I heard at yesterday's meeting: "I have to be careful not to make my sponsor my higher power or put her on a pedestal. I'm still responsible for my own decisions."

I couldn't help but notice that my dear sponsor, whom I love dearly and continue to respect, nodded her head in agreement.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Making the Call

Last night, my new sponsee brought up an issue I wrestled with not long ago. Funny how that works.

She has a son not much younger than my daughter, and she's tired of calling. He doesn't call, ever, or send a card or gift on her birthday or Christmas. Sounds just like a conversation I had with my sponsor sometime around Thanksgiving.

I had decided I wasn't going to call anymore. I told my husband that, and he agreed. My daughter is not his daughter. But he has a son who used to do the same. So he stopped calling, and sending cards and gifts. Now his son calls. Heck, his son (my step son) calls me on my birthday.

If I stopped calling my daughter, it would not be to try to get her to change her behavior. That was one of the first lessons I learned in Al-Anon. I'm powerless over another person, and if my motive is to change their behavior, it's a bad idea.

So that wasn't my motive. I was just tired of having a one-way relationship. I had begun to feel like I was forcing the relationship and I should let my daughter be the one to decide if and when she wanted to have that relationship.

My sponsee said much the same thing.

I was certain I had made the right decision. I mentioned it to my sponsor, thinking she would be proud of me for having seen the light.

Instead, she said, "That's very selfish of you."

I should say that this isn't her memory of our conversation. But I remember it clearly (or at least I think I do) because I was so shocked. She's usually less pointed in her comments, but her reaction was immediate.

She said calling our kids is what good parents do. I didn't have to call my daughter every week, but I shouldn't stop calling.

Now, normally, when my sponsor gives me advice, I feel the sting of truth. I didn't this time. But I was willing to concede that my thinking is diseased and I can't always see things clearly on my own. Also, she had never steered me wrong. So I gave her the benefit of the doubt. I decided to call less often, but to continue to call. And that year, she actually called me at Christmas. I was delighted.

But I also prayed about it. And soon, God took the situation out of my hands. I can't call my daughter because there is no phone where she is living. She gave me a number where I could leave a message if something came up. Once, I got a call for her on my cellphone and I called the number and left a message. She may or may not have gotten it. She never called me back to let me know.

I'm a big advocate of having one sponsor and not confusing myself by polling all my friends, program or otherwise.

But in this case, since it's come up again, and involving someone other than me, I'm curious. If you have experience, strength or hope to share, I'm all ears.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Oh to be a Good Sponsor

I chaired a meeting last night. The topic was "losing it and getting it back," how we "relapse" like our alcoholics and the tools we use to get back on the beam.

I shared an embarrassing story about "losing it" recently over something inconsequential, so I was surprised when I was finished and we were breaking up into our groups and the woman next to me asked me to be her sponsor.

For people who have years and years in the program and have sponsored many people, this may not sound earth shattering. But it is for me. I've never had the privilege of sponsoring anyone before.

So I feel humbled and a little scared.

My sponsor calls her sponsees her "bugs." She told me that one day I would have my own little bug in the room who was attracted to my light.

Now I think I will have to walk a little straighter in my program, because my sponsee will be watching me just as I watched my sponsor.

I have a good role model. I have seen my sponsor attend all her regular meetings (three Al-Anon and one open AA meeting) every week, rain or shine, good times and bad. I've seen her mentor something like 14 sponsees with wisdom, and make each of us feel cared for and loved. I've watched her walk through difficulties at work, the illness of her mother, a death in the family. All with grace and dignity. I will look to her example.

And I know that I don't have to do it alone. The beauty of being part of a line of sponsorship is that it contains the accumulated wisdom of all who came before us. The way we work the steps is bounded by that tradition. And if something comes up that I don't know how to answer, I can ask my sponsor, and she can ask her sponsor, etc.

Of course, I will pray.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Body Parts

I had one of those moments Mary Karr talks about in the optometrist's office when the lens right clicks over and something comes into sharp focus.

I was listening to someone whose spiritual path I respect. He was talking about Haiti, but I couldn't help but think that what he was saying applied as well to alcoholism.

He was trying to answer the question "why." If there is a God, how could he let this happen. Or more generally, its the question as old as Job. Why do bad things happen to good people?

It's a question I've been hearing a lot lately, particularly in the blogosphere. Garnet wrestled with this question a few days ago and found comfort in a post by Mr. Sponsorpants. I have my own beliefs about this, but I've never known how to answer this question to someone else's satisfaction. I suppose that for each of us, the answer is different.

But listening to my friend, something clicked. He said that Haiti happened because we live on a living, dynamic, molten planet that has plates that are constantly in motion. But if the planet were not always changing and dynamic, we all would die, he said.

Did God cause the earthquake? No, he said. Earthquakes happen because this is the world we inhabit.

I can answer the question of "why?" he went on. But the more important question is "what are we going to do about it?"

In the case of disaster, whether its Haiti, Katrina or something else entirely, it's often said that we are all responsible to one another because we are all related. The people in Haiti are our brothers and sisters.

But my friend believes that this isn't quite right. We're not all related, he believes. We are all part of the same body. All of us. Some of us are eyes, some ears, some toenails. All of the parts work together, according to their purpose. They do not get together and decide the elbows are most important. That we should all be elbows.

If a piece of glass becomes imbedded in our foot, our body parts don't get together and vote it off the island. When we injure our foot, we care for it. Because a hurt foot can hobble our whole body.

White blood cells are dispatched. Nerves fire. Eyes guide fingers, which work together to pluck out the glass.

We don't help the people of Haiti because they are our brothers and sisters, but because they are part of us. We offer what gifts we have been given, according to our purpose. For some, that's time. For others, money. Still others can only pray.

So what does this have to do with alcoholism?

I used to spend a lot of time wondering why. Why the alcoholic drank. Why God allowed alcoholism to exist in the first place. Eventually I understood it's a moot question.

Alcoholism exists because that's the world we live in. I called that acceptance. The more important question is what to do about it.

I learned early in Al-Anon that I couldn't cure my daughter, no matter how much I wanted to. Nor should I try to vote her off the island. I couldn't do this anymore than I could remove a toe. Instead I had to learn to care for her in a way that would not cause additional harm. This I called detaching with love. I call it letting go and letting God.

But I could deploy what skills I have to aid the response to this disastrous disease.

Some of us are communicators. Some are healers. Some of us are strong. Like the backbone, they hold us up. We do what we can. We chair meetings, set up chairs, support each other.

We don't try to vote our alcoholics off the island. Instead, we love them. Not because they are our brothers and sisters, but because they are a part of us. And when they are hurting, our whole families, our whole society, suffers.

What I Learned at the Circus

I've been told that when elephants are very young, their owners tie them to a stake in the ground to keep them from escaping. Baby elephants can't budge the stake, no matter how hard they try.

A full grown elephant can easily dislodge the stake and walk away. Only they don't.

They don't because they believe they can't. Because they couldn't move the stake when they were young, they don't even try.

I have often felt like an elephant. There were lessons I learned when I was young that I believed to be true for all time. What I now call my character defects were "just who I am."

In Al-Anon I've learned that these things do not have to remain fixed. These character defects are simply self-defense mechanisms that have overshot the mark. I am stronger now, and I can pick up the stakes that have held me in place. Sometimes easily, sometimes not. But only if I try.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Some Days Feel Like a Country Song

My husband got up early this morning to see me off to prison. I told him I had to take the pickup because of flooding from the rain. He said this was starting to sound like the perfect country and Western song.

I reminded him that it couldn't be the perfect country and Western song because we hadn't said anything about mama or trains or getting drunk.

We agreed that it would be unseemly for me to get drunk before an Al-Anon orientation, so for the sake of the song it would have to be him. The opening chorus started rolling through my brain, a la David Allen Cole. If you know the song I'm referring to, feel free to sing along:

I was drunk the day my wife drove off to prison...

But at least I was going, despite my not having submitted my background questionnaire on duplex, double sided copies. It's surely a sign that my disease is still active that I worried a little about it.

But getting rejected by the prison is a little like getting rejected by the Army. How do you explain it to your friends?

There was, of course, the whole duplex, double-sided copy thing. I wasn't sure if I had answered all the questions in the 50-page training manual correctly and "legibly." Maybe I had left some spaces blank that would "cause my application to be delayed or rejected." And then there was the matter of the frustrated, late-night e-mail to the chaplain asking if he was serious about wanting to know the date of every parking ticket I've had. He never answered.

There were 17 of us in all, consisting of a half a dozen volunteer programs. Al-Anon, AA, some religious ministries. We met in a classroom on the prison complex. It looked like you might imagine a prison classroom would look like: scuffed linoleum floors, folding tables and banquet chairs. Plaques on the wall had slogans like "security" and "teamwork."

I liked the chaplain better in person than on paper. He did not speak in bolded and underlined admonishments. He even joked a little. "I know you didn't get enough paperwork already, so I'm going to give you more."

It was interesting to me that the code on the drug testing form for my category of volunteer is SAVOL. It stands for substance abuse volunteer, but sounds like "save all," which is what so many Al-Anons try to do.

The chaplain told us that patience is a great virtue. "If you're not a patient person, don't even start," he said. "This is the government, after all."

Boy am I in trouble.

My patience would have to begin immediately, since the fingerprinting machine was not working and I'd have to make an appointment and drive back to get that done. Along with my TB test.

Meanwhile I have until Tuesday noon to get a drug test on my own.

But then I'll be done.

Wish me well.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Statement of Purpose

In most of the Al-Anon meetings I attend, a Statement of Purpose is read at the beginning of the meeting along with the steps, traditions and Just for Todays.

I love this because it keeps the important principles of Al-Anon at the forefront. Meeting formats vary considerably, but these things are universal.

A blog I read this morning got me to thinking about this blog. What was my Statement of Purpose, and was I living up to it?

At Al-Anon meetings, the Statement of Purpose is intended to let you know what to expect. It varies slightly from group to group as decided by the group conscience, but usually goes something like this:

"We welcome you to the (group name) Al-Anon meeting and hope you will find here the help and fellowship we have been privileged to enjoy. Our meeting lasts approximately XX minutes.

Al-Anon is not allied with any sect, denomination or institution. We come together for mutual help for one purpose: to help friends and families of alcoholics.

We ask that you avoid the use or mention of any material other than Al-Anon conference approved literature and avoid discussion of other institutions, treatment centers or self-help programs. Such discussion is confusing, especially to the newcomer. We thank you for helping us stick to Al-Anon principles."

I've spent the day mulling my own purpose in starting this blog. The idea began as part of my 12th step work.

I wanted to be of service and carry the message of Al-Anon. The Al-Anon Declaration says "When anyone, anywhere, reaches out for help, let the hand of Al-Anon and Alateen always be there, and Let it begin with me."

I do other things, of course. I take service positions in my home group, sign up to chair meetings. I hope to volunteer in the Al-Anon program in the state prison. But as a journalist, a blog seemed a way to do be of service that was also in keeping with my skills and background. I talked it over with my sponsor and off I went.

Over the course of the day, I've reflected that I've written things here that I wouldn't have said at a meeting. I was comfortable doing that because this is not a meeting, and it's all been in the spirit of sharing my experience, strength and hope.

But I've presented this blog very specifically as journaling about my recovery in Al-Anon. For that reason, I feel I need to restrict what's in this blog according to the traditions. I've gone back and deleted the posts I felt uncomfortable with from that perspective.

Here's what you can expect from me, my Statement of Purpose:

"I welcome you to this Al-Anon inspired blog. I write for one purpose: to share my experience, strength and hope with anyone who is interested in learning about Al-Anon. I pledge to do so as honestly as I am able.

I plan to avoid the mention of other institutions, self-help programs or treatment centers, and the use or mention of materials other than Al-Anon conference approved literature.

Here are my exceptions: I may use a small excerpt of something other than conference approved literature that I see or read that reminds me of an Al-Anon principle, but only as to how it relates to my program. An example is the Wall Street Journal article that inspired my post on amends.

In my line of sponsorship, we study 'Alcoholics Anonymous,' more commonly referred to as the AA Big Book. Some of the meetings I attend have agreed by group conscience to use AA literature. I will do the same.

I may also discuss the Al-Anon promises. I have heard it said that these promises are not conference-approved, but they appear in an Al-Anon pamphlet and in the book, 'From Survival to Recovery.'

I may refer to, quote or hyperlink other recovery blogs.

I'm not perfect. I don't pretend to have all the answers. This blog reflects my journey of recovery in Al-Anon. I welcome you to follow along and share your reactions, questions and your own experiences. I will do my best to let the understanding, peace and love of the program infuse these writings one day at a time."

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Will You Be Mine?

When I first got to Al-Anon, one of the most perplexing issues for me was how to pick a sponsor.

I had attended meetings in another fellowship with my daughter and in every meeting, the chairperson asked who was willing to be a sponsor. That seemed helpful to me, because it at least narrowed the field, and you wouldn't have to suffer the humiliation of being turned down by someone who simply had no interest in sponsorship.

But none of the meetings I attended followed this practice. I asked about it at the first meeting. The person I spoke with said she would bring it up at the business meeting, which was that day. The next time I went to that meeting, the announcement was read that there had been this request and the group conscience agreed and would all those willing to be a sponsor raise their hand.

So many people raised their hands that I couldn't even take them all in before their hands went down again. The number of people able and willing to sponsor someone at this meeting spoke for the strength of that group. But it all happened so fast, I couldn't process it. And then the question was never asked again.

In my daughter's case, the choice of a sponsor seemed obvious at the end of a week. (Unfortunately, I hadn't yet learned that her program was none of my business, but that's another story.)

I asked someone how I should go about finding a sponsor. She told me that I should ask someone who had something I wanted.


I had no idea what she was talking about but didn't want to look dumb. Back then I thought I had to know everything.

So I approached looking for a sponsor the same way I had approached looking for the love of my life. I made a list.

The fact that this never worked with men did not deter me. I am reminded of the definition of insanity: doing the same thing over and over expecting a different result.

The desirable characteristics of my perfect sponsor were these: She should be the mother of an alcoholic/addict. She should have worked all 12 steps and be well grounded in the program. She should be older than I am. She should be a she.

That didn't strike me as a particularly high bar or an unreasonable set of qualifications. I didn't know how someone who was, say, married to an alcoholic could possibly understand what it was like to be a mother to one.

I wasn't looking for someone to call in a crisis. I thought I knew how to handle those. I wanted a guide to the steps. Someone who had not done them could not guide me through them. Finally, someone younger than I could not possibly have more wisdom. Right? Right?

I wanted to get a sponsor right away so I could get to work. I'm that kind of Al-Anon. Tell me what to do and get out of my way. I thought finding a sponsor would be easy.

By the end of a month, I hadn't found anyone who fit those categories. First, it was hard to evaluate potential sponsors when all I had to go on were what people chose to share. I was looking for a mother of an alcoholic. Frustratingly for me, people in meetings often shared things that did not have anything to do with their qualifiers. They had this annoying habit of keeping the focus on themselves.

I did identify some mothers. Some of them were even older than me, but they hadn't worked the steps. There didn't seem to be a single person who fit.

So I did what I finally did out of desperation in my romantic life. I threw out my list and prayed for God to guide me.

I did that with my husband, who, by the way, possesses exactly zero items formerly on my list, and we've been happily married for going on eight years. If it worked once, maybe it would work again. And anyway, what did I have to lose?

Not long after that, I was in the same meeting mentioned above. My soon-to-be sponsor lead the meeting. She's never done that since.

She was younger than I was, and her kids were all too young to be her qualifiers. But she had obviously worked the steps and seemed well grounded in the program. I don't remember the topic or a single thing she said. But I do remember that she seemed to really know what she was talking about. She mentioned seeing something on a listserve for 12-step groups. I remember thinking that if she was on a 12-step listserve, she must be pretty serious about the program. Finally, there was something about her I was drawn to.

The lightbulb flashed.

She had something I wanted.

After the meeting, I said I thought God had been speaking to me. I asked her if she was open to taking on a new sponsee and she said, "Of course. I'm always open to a new sponsee."

Turns out that in our line of sponsorship, we generally don't refuse these requests. We believe that God has brought someone to us for a reason.

But even before I learned that, I realized that her name had come up in my first meeting.

As with so many things, God was talking to me but I wasn't listening.

My sponsor has lead me with grace and wisdom ever since. I have no doubt that she is who God intended for me.

Having a sponsor was huge for me. We had a regular call time. In meetings, I could only absorb what people chose to share on a given topic. Some of it was confusing. With my sponsor, I could ask questions about any aspect of the program. I could ask for advice. Of course, I could have asked anyone either before or after meetings, but I didn't want to impose.

Even though I wanted a sponsor to help me work the steps, I found things went better when I asked for her advice before I did or said something. When I took her suggestions I felt better.

I quickly realize that sponsorship was one of the chief benefits of the program. I couldn't believe I had wasted so much time with my list.

Now, I smile when I see people who are shopping for the perfect sponsor. One woman who has been in the program for a year still hasn't found one. "I'm not looking for the perfect sponsor," she said. "I'm looking for the perfect sponsor for me."

I suggested a temporary sponsor. She worried about hurting someone's feelings if it didn't work out. I could only smile and share my own experience, then let it go. I could hear my sponsor's voice in my ear saying, "She's not hearing you."

Why is it that at times like these, the best advice I can offer seems to come from TV commercials? "Just do it," I want to say. Or "Try it, you'll like it."

I Resemble that Remark

In Monday's Big Book study, we were reading about step 4, so the big topic of the evening was resentments. We talked about it from every conceivable angle. It generated a lot of discussion, because we've all had them and they have created all sorts of havoc for us.

A woman with nearly 20 years of recovery shared that a resentment that began as a tiny twinge, grew so large that she nearly walked away from what was then 16 years of recovery.

Someone brought up the commercial of the woman with the stuffy nose whose head blows up like a balloon until it looks like it's ready to pop. We all agreed that's what resentments can feel like.

We reminded ourselves of the old Al-Anon adage, that nursing a resentment is like swallowing poison and hoping the other person dies from it.

Here's what the Big Book has to say about it, in part:

"Resentment is the 'number one' offender. It destroys more alcoholics (here, we substitute 'Al-Anons') than anything else... It is plain that a life which includes deep resentment leads only to futility and unhappiness. To the precise extent that we permit these, do we squander the hours that might have been worth while... For when harboring such feelings, we shut ourselves off from the sunlight of the Spirit. The insanity of alcohol (here, I substitute 'sick thinking') returns and we drink ('get crazy') again." (pages 65 and 66)

The stories we shared played out just like that.

We talked about the tools that helped us get over our resentments. There were many. But one that the women in our group said has worked consistently is the resentment prayer. It's located on page 552 of the Big Book. Here's what it says:

"If you have a resentment you want to be free of, if you will pray for the person or the thing you resent, you will be free. If you will ask in prayer for everything you want for yourself to be given to them, you will be free. As for their health, their prosperity, their happiness, and yout will be free. Even when you don't really want it for them and your prayers are only words and you don't mean it, go ahead and do it anyway. Do it every day for two weeks, and you will find you have come to mean it and you want it for them, and you will realize that were you used to feel bitterness and resentment and hatred, you now feel compassionate understanding and love."

Many of the women said they had to pray the resentment prayer for longer than two weeks, but to a person, they all said it worked.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Divine Secrets of the Al-Anon Sisterhood

I attended a Big Book study tonight.

In my line of sponsorship, we study AA's Big Book, and these Big Book studies are scheduled every other month. It's like a big family reunion, when the whole "family" gets together. It's always at someone's house. There is much food and many hugs. Then we all crowd into the biggest room of the house in some semblance of a circle. With so many people, it's a tight circle.

Everyone in our line of sponsorship is invited, the whole big, wide web. Laura is my great-grand sponsor and the matriarch of our clan. Karen is my grand sponsor. My sponsor is there, of course. And all of them have their sponsees and they have their sponsees, etc. There's a lot of wisdom in the room. And a lot of love.

Laura opens the meeting with the "Set Aside Prayer." It goes like this:

"Please God, help me set aside everything I think I know about you, this Book, Al-Anon, the steps, my relationships and anything else I'm having trouble with today so that I can have an open mind and a new experience in these areas. Please God, help me see the truth."

I love this prayer, because it's about humility. It's about acknowledging that we don't have all the answers, even though our disease makes us feel as if we do. It makes us right-sized.

Then we get down to work.

We introduce ourselves and say who our sponsor is, so we understand our relationships to one another. All the women who share my sponsor, and there are many, are my sisters. My sponsor's sisters are my aunts. They have their own sponsees, who are my cousins. The point is that we are all connected.

We read take turns reading from the Big Book and we share on what we've read. Unlike a meeting, we are encouraged to interrupt, ask questions, engage in cross talk.

After Laura introduces herself, she explains who her sponsor is (she lives in another state and so does not attend), and who her sponsor is, and who her sponsor was before she died, and who her sponsor was, all the way back to the beginning, in Texas, before Al-Anon was Al-Anon. It gives me a sense of history, of permanence, of belonging to something bigger than myself. It makes me feel rooted. It makes me feel secure.

I have come to love these women. We share things with each other we'd be embarrassed to tell anyone else. With each other, we can laugh at our foibles. We've all been there.

Women with decades of recovery tell tales about things that nearly undid them, even with years of recovery and earnestly working their program behind them. At the end of the meeting, Laura said: "You're going to get there (recovery), and you're going to lose it.

"That's why we have these events," she said. We bear witnesses to each others lives. More importantly, "When we're slipping someone is there to see it."

It's a wonderful reminder that we can't do it alone.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Can You Hear Me Now?

When I was a kid, I tried to be invisible. Not in any metaphysical sense. But literally.

I skulked, shadow-like, around corners and along walls, one arm stretched out ahead, like an antenna. My 5-year-old mind believed if I pressed myself close enough to the wall, I could pass by without being seen. I thought that’s what spies did.

When my mom and step dad didn’t look up from the TV, I was convinced it worked.

I also spent hours playing Cowboys and Indians in the backyard. Mostly, I was the Indian. In the movies, Indians could creep through the forest silently, without disturbing so much as a twig or leaf. I practiced this for hours but failed utterly. Beneath my feet twigs snapped and leaves crunched. I didn’t understand why I couldn’t get it. I must have been doing something wrong.

I wanted desperately to learn to creep around the edges of things, silent and unseen. If I didn’t upset anyone, if I didn’t ask for anything—if I were silent and invisible—then everything would be okay. When that didn’t work, when things broke and fists flew, I wanted to melt into the wall. I longed to disappear.

Paradoxically, I also craved attention. When I got older, I learned to get attention from boys. If I did things other girls wouldn’t do, I thought it would make boys love me. And sometimes they did. But their conception of love was as distorted as mine.

I adapted to my surroundings, became a chameleon. I gave up everything I wanted and instead wanted whatever my current boyfriend did. I threw myself into their lives completely. I made them my life. In a different way, I made myself disappear. I wanted to.

Until I didn’t. Eventually, I mourned all the things I gave up and resented the person I gave them up for, even though he had never asked me to. Then I would insist on doing everything my way. There was no middle ground.

The only love I witnessed involved drama. So when things got too quiet, I made noise. I was like a manic-depressive, swinging between extremes. I shouted, wailed and beat my chest. My highs were high and my lows were low, but at least I was feeling, I told myself. I thought I was Living Out Loud.

When I made such a mess of things I feared they could never be fixed, I ran. If I left, the other person couldn’t leave me. I had control. I left relationships, careers, states. My life became one long series of fresh starts and new beginnings. I told myself I liked it that way. I longed to keep moving and never stop.

My biological father was a runner, too. I decided that running must be genetic. I had inherited the restless gene along with his eyes.

Eventually, I came to Al-Anon, and began to listen. I heard pieces of my own story when other people shared. It began to dawn on me that the traits I thought were “just who I was” were things I had in common with all these people. I began to understand that they were self-defense mechanisms that had once served me well, but had outlived their usefulness. Now they got the way of my happiness.

These character traits had been passed down from generation to generation. But it wasn’t the restless gene I inherited, it was the family disease of alcoholism.

Like someone with bipolar disorder, there was no cure for my dis-ease. But Al-Anon assured me there was a solution. If I were open and willing, and did what was suggested I could be restored to “sanity.” Not permanently. But I could receive a daily reprieve according to my spiritual condition. Suffering was optional.

Eventually, I stopped looking to others to fill the hole I felt inside. Instead, I strained to hear the small, still voice of my Higher Power. I had to learn to be quiet, to silence the voices in my head. But I didn’t have to be invisible.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Everybody Says 'I'm Sorry'

A couple of days ago, a national newspaper ran an article about how the Internet is giving rise to the phenomenon of the decades-late apology. The article claimed 12-step programs fuel the trend.

The reporter listed several real-life examples of apologies gone wrong: The apology for the trivial slight that the alleged harmed party did not even remember, for example. Then there was the callous, offhand apology delivered via social-networking site that served only to reoffend. The worst, of course, was the apology that reopened old wounds.

It made me cringe to read the article because making amends is one of the most important steps we take in recovery. My sponsor told me that Dr. Bob, who co-founded AA with Bill W., relapsed after he refused to make amends, believing it would harm his reputation. The founding of AA dates from Dr. Bob’s subsequent sobriety.

I’ve heard horror stories in meetings about amends gone wrong. They generally fall into the same categories as the examples in the article. It’s always seemed to me that people most often made these kinds of mistakes when they tried to follow the steps without the guidance of a sponsor.

My sponsor helped me sort through which amends I needed to make directly, and which I shouldn’t. The financial ones were easiest. The textbook I failed to return when I moved was remedied with a check. Some minor harms were addressed by means of living amends in which I would behave differently in the future. Some amends I didn’t make at all because they would cause further harm.

All of this was dictated by the collective experience of my line of sponsorship. It’s an old line, firmly grounded in AA principles, and handed down from “generation” to “generation” almost since the beginning of Al-Anon.

Tradition and experience also dictated the wording and the manner in which I made my amends. I could not justify my actions or talk about the other person’s part. I was to take responsibility for my own part. Admit I was wrong. Ask if there was anything I could do to make it right. I had to listen to whatever the person said in response without interjecting or justifying.

I did my amends face to face, even if that meant getting on a plane (and in some cases, it did). Social networking sites were definitely not allowed.

It’s also important that I made my amends only after I had worked steps 1 through 8. Only then had I done the groundwork that prepared me.

The article concluded with tips for making an apology, including this: “Make sure you are apologizing for the sake of the other person and not yourself."

That runs completely counter to 12-step philosophy. Let’s be clear. We do this for ourselves.

In my line of sponsorship, we study the Big Book of AA, which provided the basis for the Al-Anon program. The Big Book tells us that we make amends to “repair the damage done in the past. We attempt to sweep away the debris which has accumulated out of our effort to live on self will and run the show ourselves….

“If we are painstaking about this phase of our development, we will be amazed before we are halfway though. We are going to know a new freedom and a new happiness. We will not regret the past nor wish to shut the door on it. We will comprehend the word serenity and we will know peace.”

This is what is known in AA as “the promises.”

I believe there is great wisdom in all of this. Having made my amends, I have no horror stories to offer. I can say that making amends the right way strengthened key relationships in my life.

But I've been taught not to expect this. Only to do my part, without expectation, and leave the rest to God.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Powerless Over Alcohol

In many Al-Anon groups, it’s customary to dedicate one meeting a month to step study. Generally, in January, we study Step 1. So I don’t want to let January go by without some discussion of how Step 1 worked in my life.

Step 1 says “We admitted we were powerless over alcohol, that our lives had become unmanageable.”

In Al-Anon, we work the same steps as those in AA and, at first, that confused me. I didn’t come to Al-Anon because I had a drinking problem. So how could I be powerless over alcohol?

I’ve heard some people they think of it as being powerless over the effects alcohol has on their loved ones. Others mentally substitute “alcoholic” for “alcohol.” That worked for me. By the time I came in, I knew I was powerless over the alcoholic.

Because I had grown up in an alcoholic home, I had seen what substance abuse looks like up close, and I was determined to save my daughter.

At the height of my insanity, here are some of the things I did to keep her straight.

Wherever my daughter went, I was close by. If she went to a movie, I drove her there and sat at a nearby coffee house where I could see her go in and watch to make sure she didn’t come out early.

Once, when my daughter asked to go to the bowling alley, I sat in the parking lot and watched the doors (for hours!) to be sure she didn’t leave without my permission.

As a journalist, I had a voice-activated tape recorder hooked up to the phone. A few times, I turned it on when my daughter was on the phone so I could listen through the headphones and find out what she was up to so I could try to stop it.

If I could have put an alarm on her bedroom window, I would have. But I didn’t have the money. So there were many nights I lay awake at night because I thought my daughter might try to climb out her window, even though we lived in a second-floor apartment.

When her attendance and grades tanked, I asked my daughter’s teachers to e-mail me every day with her attendance and homework assignments. When my daughter wanted to do something after school and said she had finished her homework, which she always did, I made her show me the assignments.

I didn’t go anywhere because I was afraid of what my daughter might do if I was not home.

Once, when she was still in high school, my daughter started hanging out at a boy’s apartment who was over 18. I suspected they were having sex. I knew they were smoking pot. I tried to get the boy evicted using the apartment complex’s zero-tolerance crime policy.

Her father and I checked my daughter into a drug rehab program against her will.

I subjected her to psychological testing, counseling, psychiatrists, psychiatric meds and hospitalizations.

I couldn’t distinguish small crimes and misdemeanors. If my daughter failed to check in with me after school, I went looking for her, getting madder and madder with every step until I had worked myself into a fury. Her failure to check in with me after school was a serious to me as running away.

Once, I was having coffee with a friend outside the movie theater. When the movie let out and I didn’t see my daughter, I got increasingly frantic. My friend was struggling at the time with a daughter who had a drug problem, yet she looked at me with alarm. Her look said, “You’re getting a little crazy.”

I saw her look, but instead of thinking “Maybe I’m acting a little crazy,” I thought, “You just don’t understand.”

Do I need to tell you that none of these things worked? Do I need to say that our home became a battleground? Do I need to tell you our relationship was—to put it kindly—strained?

I was determined that when I looked back I would at least be able to say I did everything I could. Yet all my efforts only alienated my daughter from me and left me feeling beaten, demoralized and exhausted.

When my daughter was 16 or so, she went to live with her father in another state because I'd tried everything I could think of and didn’t know what else to do. While she was there, she had been checked into a mental hospital (the choice being that or jail). She refused to talk to me on the phone except to say that if I came out to see her, she’d refuse to see me and make me sorry I came.

Even after all of this, I didn’t go to Al-Anon.

By the time I found Al-Anon, my daughter was grown and living in another state. Our relationship didn’t feel confrontational by then. Instead, I had been flying out from time to time, despite my daughter’s insistence that this was not necessary, to “help” with whatever difficulty she was having. I hired lawyers and counselors who told me I was doing the right thing. It felt good to be on her side for a change. She seemed to appreciate my help.

My daughter eventually found her way to a fellowship, which delighted me. Of course, when I came out, I tried to take over her program. I dragged her around to a meeting a day. I bought her books. I suggested who should be her sponsor.

She accepted my “help” with grace, asked the appointed one to be her sponsor, then, after I left, she never attended another meeting again. From home, I carried around a meeting schedule so I could “helpfully” suggest what meetings she might try that day. It still pains me to wonder what would have happened had I not been so “helpful.”

It was my daughter’s sponsor who gently suggested I try Al-Anon. “You can work your own program,” she said. “You won’t have to go to your daughter’s meetings.”

Wise woman.

I got off the plane and got myself to a meeting the next day.

At that point, I was willing to concede I was powerless. But was my life unmanageable? I couldn’t see it. From all outward appearances, I had it all together.

I still couldn’t see my part. Or why jumping on a plane at the slightest provocation and obsessing about my alcoholic from thousands of miles away, to the point that I couldn’t enjoy my own very good life, was unmanageable.

But I could admit that when my daughter was in school and living with me, I was trying to control (That I didn't think I was still trying to control shows how little self-awareness I had.) and my life was unmanageable. It was a start. Al-Anon is a gentle program, and awareness comes as we are ready.

My sponsor tells me that the first step is the only one we have to do perfectly. The rest we just practice.

I’d like to say I did it perfectly. That the clouds parted and I was bathed in white light and became the perfect mother and always knew the right thing to do.

But I can tell you it didn’t happen that way. I’m still learning about things I’m powerless over. And some days, I feel like I’ve never been to a meeting. Only now, whenever I start to feel my head go into its familiar spin, I know I’m probably trying to control something I am powerless over. Once I realize that, I can let go.

I can work Step 1 as many times as I need to.

In working the steps I have, of course, made amends to my daughter for my part. She was unbelievably gracious.

When she came to visit me over the holidays, she told me I inspired her, and that I was therapeutic to be around. That's amazing.

One of my favorite Al-Anon tools reminds me: Just for Today, I will have a program. I may not follow it exactly, but I will have it.

Peeling the Onion

Insights come when I least expect them. I have Mary Karr to thank for this one.

In her memoir “Lit,” about her battle with alcoholism, she describes working on her forth step, though she doesn’t call it that.

She described it as “listing stuff I feel most crappy about—every single grudge and humiliation. Her sponsor directs her to make three columns, with the “crappy thing” on the left, the way it hurt her in the middle, and her part on the right.

In the case of being sexually assaulted as a girl, she says: “My part has been burying or ignoring the awful event in a way that restabs the wound.”

I had something similar on my eighth step. Mine were repeated sexual assaults that took place over the course of a year or so. But I couldn’t see that I had a part.

I was 9, I said. My assailant was an authority figure whom I had been taught to obey. He was bigger than I. He was scary.

If my sponsor saw it differently, she kept it to herself. But then she’s always been wise enough to know that I would only understand things as I became ready.

I didn’t bury what happened to me. I wore it like a badge and used it as justification for bad behavior for many years. And I picked it raw.

That was my part.

That’s the wonder of this program. You’re never done. There are always new insights to be gained. It’s what my sponsor calls peeling the onion.

Every time you work the steps, with each meeting, each reading, you get closer to the core.

I’ve always thought that was an apt metaphor because the process sometimes makes your eyes water.

Try This at Home

After my daughter went home, my sponsor and I talked briefly about what had happened on the way home from the airport.

It was like holding up a mirror, she said. It allowed you to see your part.

Which was true. There's no denying that my daughter's behavior changed, once mine did.

Our conversation reminded me of a tool my sponsor shared at a meeting once.

She said to take a piece of paper and fold it in half. On one side, write down something the alcoholic did that caused you to react in some way.

On the other side of the paper, write what you did in response.

Keep going with the chain of events, listing what the alcoholic did on the left and what you did because of it on the right.

When you're all done, tear the sheet in half and throw away the left side.

Everything on the right side of the page is what you're left with. That's your part.

Another way I like to think of it is that everything on the right side of the paper is "my side of the street." I want to do my best to keep it clean. If I've got a bunch of stuff on my side, I need to clean up my mess. I've got some amends to make.

Friday, January 8, 2010

Prison Bound?

I have spent a frustrating day and a half negotiating what I have come to affectionately call the volunteer prevention system at a nearby state women's prison.

There is an Al-Anon program operating in the prison and a handful of Al-Anon volunteers attend meetings there. It's both a way to carry the message and to be of service. I've been thinking about it for a while now, and after an impassioned plea for more volunteers at a recent meeting, I decided to make the commitment.

It sounded easy enough. Attend one meeting a month on a regular meeting night. It would just be a longer drive. There would be a background check, an orientation. No problem, right?

After an initial screening interview, I was told to expect an invitation from the chaplain to orientation.

I got the call on Christmas Eve. Before I would be invited to orientation, there was the matter of a little paperwork. He'd e-mail it to me that day.

The paperwork included a 50-page training manual, with something like 15 pages of exercises to be completed. An 8-page background questionnaire. A volunteer application, which, frustratingly, asked many of the same questions that were on the background questionnaire.

The cover letter came with bolded and underlined admonishments such as:

* All forms must be completed in black ink and returned to me no later than January 11, 2010.

* When you make copies of the background questionnaire (Form 602-1), only duplex (double-sided) will be accepted.

* On the Volunteer Application (Form 204-4), if you do not indicate why you want to volunteer or what training and experience qualifies you to present services, your application will not be processed.

*Unless you return this book by the close of business January 11, 2010, you will not be invited to attend orientation.

The exercises in the training manual must be completed, it said. "Please write in a legible manner, as I have to grade each book."

The 8-page background questionnaire wanted me to list

* the dates of all my parking tickets and the disposition. (Seriously, who can answer that question?)

* Scars and identifying marks (So they could ID my body?)

* Every school I attended beginning with high school, with dates and addresses.

* My personal references (three people who have known me well for five years or more) must include addresses in addition to at least one phone number!

The exercises included scenarios that would undoubtedly be useful at an Al-Anon meeting such as: "You direct inmate Collins to clean up an area. He ignores your directions. You tell him again to get the job done. Inmate Collins tell you to clean up the *&#@* mess yourself. What would you do?"

In all, I'm mailing 25 pages of materials today, so that I may be invited to orientation. (Which, by the way was rescheduled from two months ago.)

I had to laugh, really. Getting upset would serve no purpose other than to make myself unhappy.

I had to admit that I was powerless over the state prison system.

I had to remind myself that I needed to be willing to go to any lengths for my recovery.

I had to remind myself that I was not doing this for the people who run the prison, but to be of service to the women who might benefit from this program.

When I had finished, I was reviewing my paperwork and the cover letter to be sure 1) I had not left any blanks (which could result in my application being delayed or rejected) and 2) that I had included everything asked of me.

I had to call the prison coordinator when I saw that I had failed to copy my background questionnaire in duplex. Would this be grounds for immediate rejection of my application? It was getting late, it had to be in the mail the next day to make the deadline. My willingness was waning.

She put me in touch with another woman who was doing her own application. She hadn't done that either, and hers was already in the mail. I decided that if they would reject me for this infraction, at least I wouldn't be alone.

That's the best part of this program. I never have to do it alone.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Came to Believe

I've been reading "Lit" by Mary Karr, about her descent into alcoholism and the break up of her marriage. Karr wrote the classic memoir "The Liar's Club." "Lit" is her third memoir. So she's no novice to the genre. But I read that it took her something like four years and three tries to get this one right.

I find myself drawn to memoirs of addiction. With each one, I gain a little more understanding, a little more compassion. It's a popular genre, too. It's interesting to me that no one writes memoirs about Al-Anonism. Why is that?

Anyway, being something of a student of the genre, it strikes me that the biggest obstacle to recovery initially is the inability to believe in a higher power.

I was fortunate that I had a God when I became a member of Al-Anon for real. But it wasn't always that way.

As a very young child living in the home of my devoutly Roman Catholic grandmother, I believed in a God. That God was loving and resided in picture books and in my grandmother's Bible, which was illustrated with gorgeous reproductions of famous Renaissance paintings. But my mother didn't attend church and after I went to live with her, I gradually lost faith.

It wasn't that I didn't want to believe. I did.

I envied people with faith. They seemed happier, more at peace somehow. But I didn't know how to do it.

I tried to intellectualize my way to a belief in God. In college, I took a survey class of Western Philosophy. It seemed that proving God's existence was priority number one among the philosophers I was studying. I read with intensity, looking for the proof that would allow me to finally believe. But faith always eluded me. There was always some leap of faith I couldn't follow. Rene Descartes, for example, went from "I think therefore I am" to therefore there must be a God.

I just couldn't make the leap.

Then one day, I found myself in the fallout from another failed relationship. I was miserable. I knew something was broken, but I didn't know what. All I knew was that all my relationships turned to dust. I couldn't find any pattern in the men I had been seeing, so I could only conclude it was me. I made up my mind to figure out what was plaguing me and fix it.

Ironically, this was also the first time I attended Al-Anon at the suggestion of a friend. With my upbringing, I certainly felt like I qualified to be there. But at the time I wasn't living with an alcoholic, so I felt like I was cheating to be there. I didn't think my problem had anything to do with the family disease of alcoholism (how little I knew!), so I didn't get a sponsor or work the steps. After a few meetings, I quit going.

But a friend invited me to church. For some reason, I went.

I don't remember a thing about the service, except that I felt foolish because I couldn't stop crying. I started crying at the first note of the first song and struggled to regain my composure as people filed out around me at the end of the service.

I had no idea what was happening. I only knew something was. Until I figured it out, I had to stick around. I kept coming back, as we say in the program. All I knew was that I felt good in church. And eventually--and I mean years--I realized I did believe.

I believe so completely that I often forget that there are many people in the rooms of AA and Al-Anon who are still struggling with the idea.

Here are some suggestions I've heard in the rooms:

Your higher power can be anything. It just needs to be a power greater than yourself.

For many people, that higher power is the program itself. That would have worked for me. I can't deny the mysterious power the program has or how it seems to work so well for so many without anyone being in charge.

Some people have "fired" the God of their former understanding. This was often a mean and punishing God or a neglectful God. One technique I've heard is to write down all the characteristics of your ideal God and "hire" that God.

In "Lit," a speaker at a meeting tells Mary: "Faith is not a feeling. It's a set of actions."

The line reminds me of a time in my own early recovery when my husband and I were on vacation and I was worried that I would not be able to attend a meeting. We were staying at a resort in a remote part of Costa Rica. As fate, or God, would have it, I signed up for Yoga. I was the only student.

What seems obvious to me now, though I didn't realize it at the time, was that my Yoga instructor was in program, and he talked program to me every day. "It doesn't matter what you practice," he said. "It only matters that you practice."

In "Lit," the speaker tells Mary: "Pray every day for 90 days and see if your life doesn't get better." Even if you think you are praying to the air. "Call it a scientific experiment... You can make up your own concept of what to revere. Like Nature..."

Another AA member tells her: "Get on your knees and find some quiet space inside yourself... Let go. Surrender, Dorothy, the witch wrote in the sky. Surrender, Mary.... Yield up what scares you. Yield up what makes you want to scream and cry. Enter into that quiet. It's a cathedral. It's an empty football stadium with all the lights on."

She did, and her life did get better. Like so many others before her.

I don't know how electricity works. But I know I flip a switch and there is light. I don't know how prayer works. I just know it does.

More on all that

I'm happy to say my husband, my daughter and I got back to town yesterday with a minimum of bloodshed.

Actually, despite the initial shaky moment of my last post, I had a great visit with my daughter. We got to spend some good mother and daughter time. We hiked together, saw a chick flick, talked. She told me yesterday that she found me "inspiring" and that it was "therapeutic" to be around me.


I had a request to clarify something in my last post. Madison wondered how talking with my sponsor caused me to behave differently. I’m grateful for the question, because it made me think about what had actually happened.

First, I have to say that one of the principles of Al-Anon is to keep the focus on me and not on the alcoholic. So in this blog, I’ve resolved not to talk about things any one else has done, only things I have done and thought. So forgive me if I sometimes sound kind of vague on the particulars.

Still, I think I can convey the gist of what happened without getting into specifics.

When I picked up my daughter from the airport, she told me there was something urgent she needed to take care of. It couldn’t wait.

“The committee” in my head reacted in the old way. Here are some of the things that started swirling around in my head:

It’s New Year’s Eve and we’ve got company arriving in two hours and I’ve got things I need to do to prepare for company.
She knew that.
Tomorrow is New Year’s Eve. Everything is closed. And we’re supposed to be going out of town to a place where these is no prospect of dealing with this problem.
She knew that, too.
Why didn’t she take care of this before she got here?
She expects me to pay for this, and it’s going to be expensive. Is that why she waited?
She's 26. Why does she still expect me to take care of things for her?
She did this the last time she came, too.
Why does she back me into a corner like this? Why do I always end up feeling like I have to do things I don’t want to do?
I had such hopes for a nice visit. Why does there always have to be crisis?

I didn’t say all of these things, but with every new thought, I got myself more and more worked up.

I asked her why she didn’t get this taken care of before she came. It was past 7 on New Year’s Eve. Tomorrow was a holiday. What did she expect me to do about it?

This only prompted a list of reasons she couldn't deal with it before (committee says: "Really? You're serious?") and more adamant insistence that this was a dire problem and had to be handled immediately.

Eventually, we came to an impasse and spent the rest of the ride home in stony silence.

This was old behavior. Mine and hers.

When I called my sponsor, she asked some questions to assess the situation. She also asked me if I wanted to pay for this. I said no.

She told me that it was reasonable to give my daughter a ride to take care of this problem, since she was staying with me and didn’t have a car.

I reminded her of my company. Did she think this was an emergency?

No. She didn’t. But if my daughter did, I could offer to give her a ride, then pick her up when she was finished.

I shouldn’t feel responsible to pay, because the nature of the crisis was the result of a choice my daughter had made. It was the consequence of her actions.

As far as the timing and my daughter’s particular circumstances, there was only one option before Monday, and it would cost my daughter not inconsiderable money. They could send her a bill. She could choose to do that, or to wait until Monday when there was a less expensive option. It was an option I hadn’t thought of, and it sounded like a good one, one that would address some of the reasons my daughter told me she couldn't take care of this before.

My sponsor reminded me to breathe. She told me she loved me. She said to call again if I needed to.

Just talking it over, I felt better. I felt clear about what was reasonable for me to do or not to do.

I came out and found my daughter.

I told her I had talked to my sponsor and she had offered some good ideas. I told her if she felt this needed to be taken care of now, there was only one option. I’d be glad to drive her there and she could call me to pick her up when she was ready. I said that there was another option, which would cost her less money, if she thought she could wait until Monday. I told her to give it some thought and tell me what she wanted to do.

She responded very well. She said she only brought it up so I would understand why she was irritable. She came downstairs and helped me set up for our company, and behaved delightfully for the rest of the night.

My own irritation and anxiety evaporated and I was able to enjoy her company.

The next morning, she told me she wanted to get the problem taken care of. So I gave her a ride. There was no tension. She thanked me, gave me a hug. I gave her change for the pay phone so she could call when she was ready.

I went home and spent a lovely morning catching up on blogs, reading the paper, exercising. When I picked up my daughter, she had a whole new set of concerns. I was able to listen with love and not offer any solutions.

What would have happened if my sponsor didn’t pick up the phone? Today, I would have called someone else. I could have called another Al-Anon sister. I could have called my sponsor's sponsor. I could have called anyone on the phone list at any of the meetings I attend.

Had I not called anyone, I can’t say for sure what I would have done, of course, but I can tell you what has happened in the past. I would have grudgingly taken her on her errand. I would have waited with her for the hours that it took, martyr like. I would have paid for it, and resented it. Probably, I would have nursed the grudge for a while, making it difficult to enjoy my daughter during the short time we had together.

In the past, my daughter has not responded lovingly to this behavior from me. Things got tense. We’d be short with each other and/or chillingly polite. I would be glad to see her go. We’d give each other stiff hugs at the airport curb.

As it was, we were able to spend an enjoyable visit. I was glad I could be there to offer support and encouragement. I was glad I could give her a hug.

At the time, it felt like magic. Now that I break it down I can see that my reaction just didn't make sense. It was based on a whole senario I concocted in my head, rather than the reality of the situation. It wasn't rational. It wasn't sane. (After all, I was listening to "voices.")

Feelings are not facts.

My sponsor just pulled me back to reality.

As Tammy said in her comment, it reminded me that I can't do this alone.

I heard a speaker say once "My mind is like a bad neighborhood. It's nowhere I want to be for very long."

I knew exactly what she was talking about.

Friday, January 1, 2010

New Day, New Year

This morning's reading in "One Day at a Time," an Al-Anon book of daily readings, really spoke to me. It said:

"This year is a book of clean blank pages on which I will write a record of my experiences and my growth through the daily use of the Al-Anon idea.... If I allow myself to be influenced by what the alcoholic says and does, it will make blots and smears on the pages of my year. This I will try to avoid at all costs.

Today's Reminder: I can live my life only one day at a time. Perhaps my confusion and despair are so great that I will have to take it one hour at a time, or one minute at a time, reminding myself constantly that I have authority over no life but my own.

'Realizing that nothing can hurt me while I lean upon my Higher Power, I ask to be guided through the hours and minutes of each day. Let me remind myself to bring every problem to Him for I know He will show me the way I must go.'"

I picked up my daughter (aka my qualifier) from the airport last night. I was on the phone with my sponsor within the half-hour. I might have called sooner--like within the first five minutes--except my daughter and I were in the car together. As soon as I got us to the house, I went in search of a private spot to make the call.

So today, the idea of clean fresh pages seemed particularly appealing to me. I need to remind myself that I need not be influenced by what my alcoholic says or does. I want to remember to stop when doubtful or agitated and ask my higher power for the next right thought or action.

But having a good sponsor really helps me to sort out what the next right thought or action is.

I have to confess that my problem was partly one of expectations. Expectations of what this visit would be like. That she might be different and at least I would be. I had envisioned us coming together cumbaya like, holding hands and singing songs.

What was I thinking?

This disease is cunning, baffling and powerful, and it's been doing push ups in the back of my head just waiting for an opportunity. It nearly threw me. But I picked up the phone and my sponsor answered, and in about five minutes I was back on the beam.

That five minute conversation changed everything. Don't ask me how. It's a mystery to me. But I came out of the room and had a very different conversation with my daughter. She behaved differently when I behaved differently. It's a little spooky really, how well the tools of this program work when you use them.

I can only say that my sponsor helped me sort out what was reasonable, what was my part, what wasn't. She makes it sound so easy, so reasonable, I always hang up the phone wondering why I couldn't figure that out myself. It was so obvious.

And, always, after I talk to my sponsor, I feel calm, my problems right sized.

So today on my gratitude list, item number one is that I have a wise sponsor. That she picked up the phone. That she gave me the guidance that I needed, so that today might, indeed, be a clean page. Fresh, with no mistakes in it.

Later today, my husband, my daughter and I will leave town for a few days. There is no internet service, so I won't be posting. But there is cellphone service. I have my sponsor's number on speed dial. Two more things to be grateful for.

Wishing you a year full of things to be grateful for.