Ugly Surprise

I was emptying the trash into our outside bin just now and what do I find but a can of beer stuffed into one of his brown bag lunches that he just tossed. And we’ve been doing well. Ugly, ugly thing. How strange that when I see you, you now represent an absolutely unwelcome guest, something that I would gladly kill so that I wouldn’t have to see you again. And because of my program, I have more calm and clarity now than I did before, and I don’t transfer my anger and sadness to the alcoholic. But my heart still drops to the ground. I still feel some kind of defeat.

Just last night I went out with one of my girlfriends and had a beer for the first time in three months. The restaurant we went to carried my favorite kind, and I hadn’t drank in so long in support of my husband’s sobriety. That amber in that cold glass was so so good. I only drank half the pint and stopped because well, that’s all it takes and I don’t need more. Beautiful beer in a cold glass. But when it shows up in or around my house, it is nothing but a threat. It’s a reminder that we are still fighting this thing I can’t easily see, especially when it has its hooks in my husband and makes him lie, quietly, and expertly. I hate that empty can in my trash outside. But I love my husband. Will bring this up softly tonight and see how deep the hooks are embedded. I know that I’ll be able to tell very quickly by his response. Good times. One day at a fucking time.

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When My Higher Power Said Hi

At Al-Anon meetings, we’re encouraged to share stories of strength, hope, and courage. And two months into going to meetings, I finally have such a story to bring to the room.

I’m a newcomer to prayer, on Step 3, and my words to God aren’t nearly as eloquent as those I’ve heard from prayer warriors. This past week has been a difficult one, and after hearing the shares of fellow Al-Anon members, I started asking God for guidance. This usually happened before I went to bed or when I awoke in the mornings. Please guide me. Please help me find my way. I can’t do this on my own. Over and over. I told you I’m not eloquent: these are early attempts at asking for help.

Yesterday, we spent the majority of time cleaning house. Early in the morning, my husband brought down a few things from the attic, one of which was an empty frame, no glass, no cardboard. I had no idea why it had been up in the attic. Since I couldn’t think of a use for it, I put it in my Goodwill pile and kept cleaning.

Later that evening, I was rearranging pictures in different rooms. One of our family portraits had been neglected in a side room, and I brought it to hang in the dining room. It’s a Christmas shot of of us at home in front of our Christmas tree that I had transferred to a large canvas. Everyone looks relaxed and happy. I hung it in the dining room but it didn’t quite fit. Something was missing.

My gaze fell on my Goodwill pile and at the empty frame that somehow made its way down from the attic that morning. That’s way too lucky, I thought, but as I eyed both, they looked like they might fit. I brought the frame over and the canvas fit in perfectly. The hue of the frame even complemented the colors in the print.

Stunned at that point, I said “Thank you” quietly as I stood there staring at the newly framed canvas. This is what is important, something told me. I started crying.

It may not sound like much to someone else, I realize, but I’m not a lucky person. I don’t win things, I rarely have coincidental moments. I believe this was the guidance I had asked for. In my angry brain, I’ve still weighed the pros and cons of a life separate from the alcoholic. In weak moments, I feel like I want to throw everything out like a useless empty frame. The message I received instead was a beautiful gift and reminder.

When my husband came in the room, I asked him if he noticed anything different with the canvas portrait. He looked at it and then stared at me blankly. I explained briefly what had happened, and he shrugged and looked at me like there should be more to the story. Seems like the story would go downhill here, but this is what I quickly understood: the message and gift were for me from my higher power. It didn’t matter if anyone else understood it or not. I could not change how my husband saw it, and that was fine. I could still bask in it and it was certainly no less of a gift. The person I was before Al-Anon would have let my husband’s reaction depress me, then anger me. This time I chose Serenity, and it made the rest of my day happy.

So there it is. My first story of strength, hope, and courage. I hope there are more to come.

Different Rooms, Different Vibes

Places come with their own personalities, then they’re further altered by the group of people who fill the space. Al-Anon rooms are no exception. I’ve been trying out different meetings recently to see where else I might fit. If you haven’t been to a meeting, here are things you might notice:

(1) Some groups are largely composed of a particular age group. This has happened to me a few times. I step in, and I’m the only one under the age of 50, sometimes 60. If you are not elderly and are not sure how you’d fit, stick it out–some of the old timers have the best wisdom to share, especially the ones who have been working the program forever. They’ve got the Serenity deal DOWN. Also, it’s amazing to watch people accept their coins for their 30+ years in the program. I personally feel strange about taking an Al-Anon coin, but I enjoy watching others do it.

(2) Some groups rely heavily on the Al-Anon literature. If you don’t have your own books yet, you can sometimes borrow them at the meeting or share with someone sitting next to you. If you’re tight on money, look for them at your local second hand stores. I found three of the main books that way for a quarter of the cost. The groups that focus on the literature inevitably take turns reading. If you don’t want to read, you can say “Pass”.

(3) Certain groups feature different things. One I visited allotted 5 minutes for group meditation. Another group has hug time in the middle of the meeting. Regardless of the smaller features, all of the groups I’ve visited stick to a familiar structure. Serenity Prayer, the welcome, self introductions by first name only, Al-Anon announcements, then possibly a topic or a literature reading, followed by sharing. Sharing takes up the majority of the time. At midpoint, the collection basket is passed around: Al-Anon is a self-supported organization. At the end, you’re reminded of the importance of anonymity and encouraged to take what you like of the talks and leave the rest. You end as you began, with the Serenity Prayer or perhaps the Lord’s Prayer.

(4) During sharing, there are people who keep talking, regardless of how many people are in the room. Some groups use an actual timer with beeper to give more people a chance to share. Other groups just remind people to keep shares under x minutes. There are people who keep going and going, even after the timer goes off. I am thankful to the ones who tie it up quickly and allow for others who haven’t shared yet to have a turn. Oy. Still, the shares to me are invaluable. The raw honesty keeps me honest with myself. The openness allows for us to see our commonalities and we support each other, not caring about the differences.

I also led a meeting for the first time this past week. It was very impromptu, as no one was scheduled to lead, so at the beginning of the meeting, I said why not. Decided to go with the topic of detachment and someone else thankfully had a handy reading regarding just that. I helped shepherd the meeting along and it really wasn’t that nerve-wracking! Afterwards, it was really nice that people came up and thanked me for leading. I feel very humbled and so grateful to be part of my home group.

Are there things that have stood out to you as you explore the different rooms? I’d love to hear your experiences.

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.