Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Eye Exams and Other Tests

Hubby and I picked up new glasses the other day. It had been two years. During the recession, we didn’t feel we could afford them, but we couldn’t put it off any longer.

I found myself struggling to read the small type in my daily readers in the morning. Working on building our house up at the land had also taken its toll. There was a spot on my left lens that would not come clean. I wiped and wiped but it would not go, and without my glasses on I couldn’t even see what it was.

So once I got through the December deadlines that kept me so busy, Hubby and I decided it was time to take care of the things we had been neglecting. New glasses were at the top of the list.

The salesman at Eyemasters hooted when he looked at my lenses.

“You’ve had some fun in these!” he said.

Yes, I admitted, I had.

When our glasses came in, we went in to have them fitted. The instant the salesman put them on my face, it was like a veil had lifted. I could see! Everything looked crisp and sharp. I marveled over it all evening. Hubby and I went down to the dock to watch the sunset. I felt like I was seeing everything—t he lake, the birds, my husband—for the first time.

With my new glasses on, I looked at my old lenses. They looked cloudy. There were nicks and scratches. On one corner, a film had started to separate from the glass.

My prescription had changed significantly, but looking at the condition of my lenses, I thought, “No wonder I couldn’t see!”

I won’t be the first to say that joining Al-Anon was like getting a new pair of glasses. Through the lens of Al-Anon, I could see things I simply had not been able to see before. Through the lens of Al-Anon, I understood for the first time how significantly my vision had been distorted.

But my new glasses remind me that I also need to check my Al-Anon lenses from time to time. They, too, get old, scratched and cloudy. I need regular check ups.

In my line of sponsorship that takes the form of an annual inventory.

The idea is not universally accepted, of course. There are those who believe that once you’ve worked the steps, regularly practicing steps 10, 11 and 12 is enough. And I’m not saying they are wrong.

But it doesn’t work for me. I need to take a closer look from time to time, and a second set of eyes from my sponsor.

My second fourth step did, indeed, yield fresh insights. It wasn’t as dramatic as when I got my first pair of glasses. More like a prescription adjustment, where everything felt crisper. Something I’d noted on my first fourth step finally made sense. More was revealed.

“You can’t pass a test you haven’t taken,” I heard someone say recently. My inventory is like an annual eye exam. I can measure my changes and adjust my “prescription.” I can see everything come into a little sharper focus.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Can You Hear Me Now?

Listen and Learn

That was the topic of a recent Al-Anon meeting.

This particular meeting features a slogan or Just for Today once a month. I appreciated this one because it’s a slogan that doesn’t often get much discussion. And I know my Higher Power is working in my life because this is a tool I need.

I have a listening deficit. I never realized this before, but now I can clearly see it’s part and parcel of my disease.

This particular defect of character was aggravatingly brought to my attention about a dozen years ago. I was dating a guy who used to get furious with me because (he said) I always interrupted him when he was talking.

“I do not,” I said, interrupting him to argue the point.

So every time I interrupted him, he’d point it out to me.

“There,” he’d say. “You just interrupted me again.”

It was infuriating. Probably because he was right. My stock response to someone pointing out a defect of mine was to deny or get angry, or both.

If I ever run into this guy again, I need to thank him because made me acutely aware of when I do this.

For a while.

I’ve caught myself doing it again. A lot.

If I’m honest, I will admit to less than honorable reasons for interrupting someone.

Something the other person said reminds me of something and I’m afraid I might forget it by the time they are finished.

I interrupt because I think I have the answer to some problem. Or I think relating my own experience in this area is very, very important to share.

Or I want to demonstrate how smart/educated/sympathetic/right I am.

The common denominator, of course, is me.

“Selfishness—self-centeredness! That, we think, is the root of our troubles,” the Big Book says. In my line of sponsorship, we read this section out loud as part of our step work. But we change any references to the alcoholic with “I” and references to “drinking” with “thinking.”

Every time I read this with a sponsee, it rings more true. Every time I read this I’m reminded that my disease is just the flip side of the same malady the alcoholic suffers from. We are really not that much different. Our diseases just manifest themselves differently.

The real trouble with all this self-will run riot is that it’s the opposite of humility, and I need to be humble if I am to get better. For without humility, I am not teachable. If I know everything, if I have all the answers, nothing you can say can have any value to me.

Yet, if there is anything I’ve learned in this program, it’s that you never know who your teacher is going to be.

If I am busy formulating my response while you are speaking, then I’m not hearing you. I’ve missed what you’ve just said. And maybe you’ve said something I needed to hear. But I won’t know that.

Meetings are the perfect place to practice. It strikes me as genius that we must listen without responding until it is our turn to talk. But instead of thinking about what I’m going to share when it’s my turn, I’m going to really try to just listen instead.

Maybe I’ll learn something.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

New Year, New Day

It is New Year’s Day as I write this, though it will be a few days yet before I can post it. Hubby and I have been up at the land since just before Christmas, and we have no internet service here.

It snowed all day Wednesday and into Thursday. If you’ve been reading this blog for awhile, you know this place is 4 ½ miles on a dirt road. Our closest neighbor is 2 ½ miles away. No one is coming to plow. The only thing to do is wait it out.

We knew the storm was coming, so we went into our little nearest town on Tuesday to make the rounds and pick up odds and ends. We dropped off a contribution at the Book Barn donation box, bought some fresh eggs from a couple we know who have chickens, stopped in at the hardware store, spent $10 for a Black and Decker food processor at the Senior Center Thrift store.

So today we are happily marooned. We have everything we need: plenty of food and firewood and work to do, and that’s what we’re happiest doing these days.

A cold front followed the storm, which has preserved this beautiful winter scene. It was 10 degrees this morning. The cold water in our kitchen sink is not working, which is not good. On the other hand, I’m looking out at icicles three feet long hanging from the porch roof and a pristine blanket of snow, broken only by a few animal tracks.

The clean, white landscape feels just right for a New Year’s Day. I do not go in much for resolutions, but there is something hopeful about a new year. Even my Al-Anon readers, which it seemed to barely acknowledged the holidays are full of talk about clean fresh pages and new beginnings.

And why not? Every day begins fresh with no mistakes in it. Was it Anne of Green Gables who said that? If not, it at least sounds like something she’d say. I’m sure Anne (with an “e”!) was not thinking about recovery, but I am. New Year’s Day reminds me that we live through this day only. Every day in recovery is a fresh start.

But in recovery I also know not to burden myself with expectations for the future. I will make no resolutions. I know I will get busy and overwhelmed and make mistakes. Harsh words will cross my lips. I will have unlofty thoughts. I’m only human. It’s not perfection I’m after. I will forgive myself. Make amends when I need to and move on.

I also love New Year’s Day because it’s an excuse to look back over the year that’s just ended. Take a spot inventory of my life, if you will.

For me, it’s been good year. Even with the economy, Hubby and I have everything we started the year with: our home, our work, each other. God has provided everything we’ve needed and we’ve found a way to do everything we wanted. Our lives have felt rich beyond measure.

Looking back over the blog I’ve kept on our construction, I see that at the beginning of last year, we were just hooking up the kitchen sink and installing propane heat stoves. Our interior walls were pink from newly installed insulation. Now, we're preparing for a final inspection.

After two very difficult years in my industry, I’ve had my best year in a very long time. December was especially hectic, work-wise. I admit I was a little worried about whether I could pull it off. And there was this little thing called Christmas that came with its own demands. Every day, I asked God to set my priorities and to help me focus on what was in front of me and it all got done.

Just a few days ago, my husband told me he thought he was ready to put his employees back on full-time. They’ve been working a reduced schedule for two years now. Not long ago, he thought he’d have to make further cuts.

This year, Hubby and I celebrated eight years of marriage. My daughter is celebrating something like 10 months of sobriety. She’s working a program and getting ready to meet with her sponsor to work her 10th step.

The amends her sponsor assigned her concerning me was to keep in touch. So now she calls regularly just to talk. She’s working and saving money.

In Al-Anon, I began my prison service a year ago, and Alateen service not long after that. Both have been rich and rewarding experiences.

I also became a sponsor to a group of wonderful women, who teach me so much. I gave my first sponsee her one-year chip in December. Now she has a sponsee. It is a wonderful feeling to be the hand of Al-Anon for someone. To watch them grow and then to see them reach out the hand of Al-Anon to someone else. That’s the miracle of this program. That’s how it works.

I have so much to be grateful for. If you’re still reading, I’m grateful for that, too.

Whatever your past year has been, I wish you a New Year of fresh starts, one day at a time.