Understanding My Higher Power

Something I find intriguing at both the Al-Anon and AA meetings is when people discuss their higher power. It’s helped me to understand why the 12 steps work so well, how thankful I am for my parents not dictating my sense of God, and how I define my own higher power.

The 12 steps don’t require a rigid God; rather, they stress the importance of a higher power as each person understands it to be. In order to tackle the steps, we need to embrace a higher power who we believe is capable of healing us, thus Step 2: Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity. Implication and truth: we enter the 12 steps already at a loss for sanity.

Growing up, my family went to church for events here and there, less and less. Although my parents were both religious, they never pushed religion. My mom would just remind me to count my blessings and give thanks, and so God was like a nice, distant relative who would send me gifts. I quietly thanked him for friends and family every so often. We never really talked, I’d never think to go to him for help, though somehow I knew that he knew a lot more about me than I knew about him.

When I became part of Al-Anon, I realized I’d have to develop this relationship with the distant relative, and at first it felt like a pain. However, it was soon clear to me that I could not go through this fire on my own. It was swallowing me, and the alcoholic couldn’t help, my family and friends couldn’t help, my counselor couldn’t help. Then I began to use the Serenity Prayer, more and more. That small request directly to God is the most powerful, beautifully crafted weapon ever. We’re talking deadly ninja star level with the ability to cut through weaknesses like anger, obsession, fear. I have experienced it working, and I’ve deconstructed the parts, marveled at them, paraphrased, injected expletives when I was angry. It works.

Maybe six or seven years ago, I spoke with a friend who absolutely is in love with God. This friend would glow when she spoke of her higher power, and I had the feeling that when she prayed to him, he surely listened. I asked her who he was to her, and she told me that he was like a parent: she imagined herself sitting at his feet, absorbing his teaching and basking in his love. I know my God and I weren’t that touchy feely, but I’ve always appreciated the idea of him as an accessible parent, not the “Father” with the capital F. My God is a force who would love me even if I swore him out, who would comfort me in my failures and celebrate the successes.

I knew Step 2 wouldn’t be a big issue for me, but I had wanted to give it the time it deserved, or to give me the time I deserved to process it. I have to believe there is a power greater than myself or I am doomed to my weaknesses. The strength I generate might be helped by past experiences and people, but when my soul is haggard and dry, it is something greater than my empty self that replenishes me. It is the quiet and the honesty of prayer that I believe combats the obsessive thoughts, the anger, and the fear: three of my largest weaknesses.

In closing, I wanted to include a story about an act of kindness I received when I was living abroad. I believe God is in all acts of kindness, and this one has always stuck with me.

I was living abroad and had just seen someone off at the airport. I felt entirely lonely, sad, tired. I didn’t know if I wanted to be there anymore. Made my way to the airport restroom and was crying quietly at the sink, trying to wash my face. This older lady with white hair came to my side, put a hand on my shoulder and said, “It’s going to be okay.” I looked at her in the mirror and she smiled reassuringly and walked away. It was so wonderful for me to hear it in English (I was living in abroad, remember), and I have always been so thankful to her, offering this kindness at a point when I really needed it. My angel lady. Her kindness has never faded.

This is Me Trying to Fix Me

My recent anger explosion made me realize an ugly truth in this sea of recovery–I have turned into a codependent shadow, far from who I know I am.

I denied having anything to do with the term “codependent,” even responding to another blog because I was offended at that suggestion that those tending to alcoholics are called “codependents.” I am not dependent on anyone, I thought. I’m self sufficient. I can survive fine on my own, and physically I can. It’s what’s changed in the way I’m processing things.

Before this spiral into all things alcoholism, AA, and Al-Anon, I had healthy self esteem. I loved traveling on my own, domestically and abroad. I was the one to break off all of my past relationships if (er, when) they felt wrong. I cherished my independence, relished being alone, even. I knew how to make myself happy, and I pursued all of those things within reason. How I’ve changed.

Partly, I’ve made the life changes necessary to settle down and have a family. There is no traveling abroad on a whim with a family, there is not a lot of alone time and me time with children around, period. The little time I have between work and exhaustion is spent usually on family members or the house and yard. I still was in denial about codependence until my anger episode a few days ago when I clearly realized how my self esteem has begun to hinge upon how my recovering alcoholic husband treats me: how my happiness hinges upon if he is still sober, if he is angry, if he is relaxed. The realization disgusts me. The me before would likely never choose to be around the me I am today. She would sense the weakness, give wide berth, and find people who lived without anxiety about tomorrow.

I read that codependency can be “fixed.” I just need to remember what it is I love and…do it. I have to make me the center of me again and be absolutely unapologetic for tending to myself. Codependency is a displacement of self worth, and over the past few years, I’ve forgotten that my self worth is something that comes from MY happiness with my SELF: it should not ever be dependent upon anyone other than me. Damn alcoholism. This is not who I ever thought I’d be. I can’t stand the term codependent. Focusing on me shouldn’t be difficult but I seem to have lost practice with all the focusing and energy devoted to the alcoholic.

Yesterday I began my own self treatment. I made sure I kept the Serenity Prayer close, repeating it when necessary. Made myself get out and walk the dogs several miles which I have always loved doing–but keep putting off for a variety of inadequate reasons. I called around inquiring about a guitar teacher, as I’ve wanted to take lessons for at least a year now. I made an appointment with my counselor for next week. It was a good start. I’ve been repeating quietly, “I will take care of myself. I will take care of myself.” It blows me away how I’ve forgotten to do that regularly. I am the only one I can change. Here’s to being healthier today.

P.S. I’ve been neglectful of working the steps. I still haven’t munched on Step 2 nearly enough even though I have no problem with it. It works…if you work it. I have a lot of work to do.

Screw Your Emotiheart

My husband decided to post for the first time about his alcoholism on Facebook…without giving me a heads up about it first. This should be a good thing, but it’s turned ugly. 

It’s his disease, his story, why shouldn’t he post? Well, it’s largely my story as well, and anonymity in Al-Anon is just as important and protected as it is in AA, though in the traditions, Al-Anon members are reminded to protect, especially, the anonymity of those in AA. I doubt AA traditions mention the same courtesy.

So I was outted by the one who propelled my attendance in Al-Anon,  which pisses me off. His counter is that I had told people without asking his permission first. We counted. I told four close friends outside of family. He argues this is no different than him posting on Facebook. 

This is not what got under my skin. In his post, he sings the praises of his “incredible friends” who have stuck with him along the way. “God’s miracles,” he called them. So touching. He speaks directly to one in particular. Great. Except aside from one guy who I know has known him forever, who are these incredible friends who have stuck by his side? I have not seen them. 

The two paragraph post is done and I am outted but am left strangely absent, like I’m just as anonymous as before but I know I’m not. Not a word about me. I *know* it’s not about me. I know it’s all his struggle and his posting is a good thing, but holy crap, I have been there and back, over and over through all the shit with him, supporting him every fucking day in multiple ways, left constantly emotionally drained trying to learn through the 12 steps how to be SANE. Thank you, incredible friends from somewhere or other, for whatever it is you do. Nice learning about you. I’m just the wife. I used to be anonymous but now I’m just absent.

The subsequent comments were very supportive, and I am grateful for that. But if I may be catty, this one girl he knew from high school wrote “Proud of you! <3” Ah, the Emotiheart, the greater than 3 representation of social media love. In my anger, I felt that the past few years, all the unbelievable fucking hell we have been through, was tied up with a nice fucking bow in that little Emotiheart. I could have grown claws. Poor girl meant well. Yay support. Yay fucking emotihearts that try to really mean something and FAIL.

Anyhow, my husband is pissed that I’m pissed. I’m “making too much of this.” My anger never gets us to a good place and still I find myself sometimes choosing it over sanity. I’m a slow learner. I’m a bitch. But it really hurts to feel unappreciated, especially after having gone through so much and trying to be as supportive as I know how. I should have known not to expect anything.

A Familiar Face in an Anonymous Room

It’s happened several times now – I look up to see who is entering the meeting, and I recognize the face. Surprise. Sadness. Discomfort. Adjustment. Hope. Gratefulness. The feelings come in this order.

After the meeting ends, I’ve tried to gauge whether to approach or not. It is usually clear if the person is up for speaking or if exiting is a priority. I’ve always appreciated when someone is open for a hug, and understood entirely when they just want to get out the door. The truth of these Al-Anon rooms can be painful even with the cloak of anonymity. Either way, I am overwhelmed at the amount and range of people alcoholism continues to affect. The number of familiar faces speaks sadly to how we keep things secret, how we are ashamed, or at least uncertain, of bringing up the problem of alcoholism to those around us. We choose isolation when there are so many of us affected.

Today I was proud of myself for speaking with another member about a disturbing story she had told several weeks ago. I don’t know her outside of meetings, and she had told the story at the first meeting I’d seen her attend. It stuck in my mind and I really wanted to comment on it but I wasn’t sure it was my business. A good opportunity presented itself today before the meeting and I broached the topic very carefully and slowly, giving her time to cut me off if she wanted. She listened and seemed glad I said something. Whew. It worked out well this time. She hugged me at the end of the meeting and thanked me for talking to her.

There are so many of us in these rooms, and I know many haven’t found their way yet or forego Al-Anon for their own reasons. Before I attended meetings, I felt alone, singular, afraid, like I was in a tiny row boat on a huge ocean. I had no idea who I could talk to. I never need to wonder that in the meetings. Our stories share a lot of similarities, regardless of who the alcoholic is to us. When we share, we get rid of the negative and we take in the support and the positive. I am so thankful for the created space of sanity and for the tools to work toward serenity.

Each time a familiar face has come in the room, I find myself saying a little prayer that that person finds comfort in the our group and understands that his or her anonymity is not something I’d ever give up.

Ending with my favorite quote by some anonymous person (fitting, no?):

Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a battle.

Separating the Addiction from the Person

I recently read a vivid description of what alcoholism feels like in another WordPress blog, Living Life Flat: “It’s the thing I turn into as the Sun descends toward the western horizon. It’s the monster with fangs and claws eager to be soaked in alcohol, along with my brain and liver.” I think these lines capture the raw nature of a disease that the author sees as both separate *and* inextricable from himself.

When my husband was actively drinking, he was no one I wanted to be around. Eventually, he did not even need a drink in his hand to be moodily preoccupied with what, he could never put into words. He was angry, impatient, irritable, brooding, short tempered, entirely defensive and almost always combative, especially when the topic was his drinking. Conversations that started off benign would turn into cruel arguments in a matter of minutes, sometimes less. The disease worsened over the years, flying under the radar as it gradually destroyed family time, happy moments, and trust.

A few days ago on the Humans of New York (HONY) Facebook page, this post caught my attention. The featured person is an adult child of an alcoholic who was able to forgive her mother by being “able to separate the addiction from the person.” I think this is such an important part of letting go of the past and being able to make healthy progress. Even after my first meetings of Al-Anon, I was seething at what I felt my husband had put us through. The anger was almost delicious: a self-righteous poison. I could finally point a finger and fume, “YOU did this. It is YOUR fault our marriage is shitty.” Even in remembering these things, I can feel that anger just below my skin, but I also know now it is unreasonable and unhealthy, and I choose to leave it dormant. If I really want to move forward emotionally, and work on the 12 steps, I can’t have my fists up and in the way.

Another thing this woman said about her alcoholic mother resonated with me: “Even with how bad it got, and with everything she put us through, there was never a moment that I doubted she loved us.” This is how I felt through the murky years. I didn’t doubt my husband loved me and our family, but why he was increasingly resolute on being such an asshole I couldn’t understand. Now, when I look back at our fights, those times when I told him, “I don’t know who you are!” I was speaking to the disease. That unrecognizable part of him was the disease as it strengthened and spoke for him. It made excuses, accused, lied. It was not the husband who I knew still loved me, and I am able now to view it as separate from him, though inextricable.

I loathe the disease and what it turns people in to–not just what it does to alcoholics, but how it also destroys loved ones as well. It is relentless unless the alcoholic is still able to recognize and pursue the dire need to be sober. Had my husband kept drinking, I’d likely be paying a divorce attorney about now, changing the locks on the house, having grueling discussions with the kids. I could not take much more: our lives had become so unhealthy and filled with anger. It’s no way to live, not when there can be happiness and peace instead. Trying to beat the disease back in an active alcoholic is like taking on a huge wildfire with a garden hose.

My husband has this disease and will always have it, even when he maintains sobriety. It lays just beneath his skin the way my anger sits just below mine. We are, on any given day, vulnerable to succumbing to our weaknesses. Today, we choose to love and lay low. He went to a meeting. I’m blogging. It’s not exciting: it’s our life as we choose to live it, and it’s a LOT more peaceful than what it used to be. I’ll take it. One day at a time.

On Quick Judgments from Armchair Warriors

Since my husband started AA and I, Al-Anon, I’ve been paying more attention to published articles and social media posts about alcoholism. While I find some solace in reading the experiences of others in similar situations, I’ve had a difficult time digesting the negative comments, misconceptions, and pure ignorance about alcoholism. The Washington Post recently published this article written by a recovering alcoholic. It is the retelling of the author’s spiral into the depths of the disease.

While some of the response was supportive, a large amount of comments was condescending, judgmental, and negative. People cried white privilege, like the disease was somehow a joke because the guy had money and was not considered a minority. Diseases don’t discriminate, but we sure do. Others wrote it off, saying the story was simply about a spoiled rich kid who drank a lot, like every other college kid. No recognition of where the author’s heavy drinking turned into drinking at all costs: addiction.

Negative commenters could not see the value in the retelling of the story. I doubt many of them them are honest with themselves about their own difficult times. Some of them referred to prior bad experiences with alcoholics and were not yet open to the possibility that some alcoholics actually do maintain sobriety. Then there were those of the quick judgments: the holier-than-thou armchair warriors who surely have never done a shameful thing in their lives.

Think about your darkest story or secret: would you be able to share that with another person, let alone with a larger group? Have you even taken responsibility for your part in that story? No matter what, it takes courage to share personal stories of failure and times when you caused pain to others. Stories need to be shared not just for self improvement and self cleansing, but also in hope that they might reach others who are struggling and encourage those people to find help.

I need to work on letting the negativity go and not become my own. It’s hard to not feel protective of the community that has made us feel welcome and supported. God, please grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change. I’m having trouble with that one. Amen.