Category Archives: Al-Anon

Victimhood, Martyrdom, and Other Codependent Poses

I’ve already written a kick-ass post on Self-Pity (Just Say NO to Self-Pity), but today I’d like to discuss its cousins, victimhood and martyrdom. Life becomes such an incredible teacher if we stay sober and pay attention to our part in things, past and present!  Drinking, we’re carried down the same old rivers of emotion our egos generate, over and over, never questioning their truth. Sober, we can learn to see from new angles.

It’s easy for me to look back at my drinking days and see that I cast myself in the victim role for a good reason: it absolved me of all responsibility for my own happiness. Lacking a connection to god, I clung to people, places, and things with the sense that they should respond to me in ways that buoyed me up.  They didn’t.  Or maybe they seemed to for a while, but more and more as my drinking progressed, unfair circumstances seemed to pile up against me.

I blamed others and developed resentments, or blamed myself and wallowed in self-loathing, but I never questioned the whole enterprise of trying to make things happen. I didn’t want to look at my model for interactions, my mindset, or the patterns of my perceptions.

That’s what a fourth step allows. And as we continue to grow in sobriety, additional fourth steps yield insights even deeper and more fundamental, until our whole weltanschauung evolves.  That’s what’s so exciting about recovery through an earnest application of the 12 steps as opposed to just quitting drinking: the whole universe changes!

I began to recognize that the vending machine ethic I’d applied to interacting with others — I put in my chit of friendliness and you deliver a soda of doing what I want — was selfish.  It began to dawn on me, first, that I loved no one truly for themselves and, second, that I didn’t actually need a soda from anyone, because god was a constant wellspring of love. Eventually, I could approach others in a spirit of curiosity, empathy, and usefulness rather than need.  It’s way more fun.

Martyrdom was my favorite posture in romantic relationships. Because throughout my childhood the supply of love in our alcoholic home varied drastically between romping, playful, inebriated evenings and tense, brittle, hungover mornings, I developed a belief that I had to make people love me. The best way to do that, I assumed, was to be whatever I gathered they wanted me to be.

In relationship after relationship, I effaced myself in hopes of earning “good partner” points. Yet, infuriatingly, my partners usually took for granted all my “sacrifices.”  They seemed to assume I was just doing what I wanted.  This led to preposterous arrangements like my teaching classes at three local colleges while pregnant so I could put my partner through school, taking only two weeks off to give birth; my buying gifts and celebrating Christmas with family members who had just mocked and ridiculed my addiction memoir on Facebook; and my continuing a relationship with a relapsed, selfish alcoholic whose job placed him in distant hotels 85% of the time.

These were choices I made, but at the time each seemed a movie plot I was stuck in. Leave the relationship? Who would I be?!  Not participate with family?  Wasn’t it better to be “loving” by doing whatever other people wanted? And didn’t god see how I sacrificed and suffered? Wasn’t I earning some kind of selfless saint award in the greater scheme of things?

In fact, god did see how I was sacrificing and, with a sigh, rolled consequences into my life to teach me to knock that shit off.  In both relationships, grotesque sexual betrayals ended what I could not, and with toxic family, a big fat cancer diagnosis drove me to assert boundaries and focus on taking care of me.

The shift of weltanschauung was giving up control I never had to begin with.  I can’t make anyone love or respect me.  I can’t do anything the “right” way.  I can’t even know anything for certain!  I can just be me and do what’s next: clean house, trust god, help others.  Keep trying my best.  The results are up to god whether I struggle or not.

Artwork by Nic J. Bass

And yet.  Victimhood still calls to me seductively like a siren among the rocks: Be wronged!  Feel hurt!  Retreat into the familiar cave of suffering where you huddle with that precious, lonely ache of being unloveable. It calls with the lure of false freedom because, again, whenever I go there, I don’t have to look for truth or try new ways.  I don’t have to figure out my part in the problem.  I can just slump into my victimhood, stagnant.

I’ve known people who were downright addicted to victimhood and suffering like a drug they went back to again and again.  Such people can take a benign and insignificant situation and inflate it into a colossal source of pain because they need drama, they need suffering as the most familiar landmarks in their navigation of life. Without this anguish, in a life of light, hope, and constructive action, they’re utterly lost.  There’s nothing to obsess over and they miss the grand self-importance that victimhood lets us feel.

I’ll admit it takes some getting used to — a life of humble happiness and cheer in the simple events of the day, a focus on what’s good and growing, and the simple okayness of me and you here now.  I can’t write intense short stories anymore (I won prizes as a drunk) now that I don’t hate the world.  But believe it or not, we move closer to god, closer to heaven, when we let go the weight of dramatic suffering.

Most important, we keep learning more about how to break out of old patterns and, in passing these tools on, offer healing to others as we used to spread hurt.

 

 

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Getting Through the Goddamn Holidays

‘Tis the season when the spiked eggnog, hard cider, and hot buttered rum are flowing.  At office parties everywhere, coworkers will be pushing drinks, unwittingly or wittingly, on their recovering alcoholic colleagues.  To offer some strategies for getting out of a party with your sobriety intact, I wrote Holiday Parties a few years back.

But that’s not the real bane of Christmas.

There’s also that obligatory holiday spirit crap attacking your serenity.  You’re supposed to feel a certain way.  Something’s wrong with you if those Sinatra/ Crosby/ Cole clichés piped into practically every public space don’t incite in you fond recollections of some Rockwellian ideal you’ve never really lived — the chestnuts not roasting on your open fire, that cheery ring-a-ling of sleigh bells you’ve never even remotely heard, and, of course, your deep reverence for the virgin birth that fuels smiles at… uh… bustling shoppers.  Not so much.

Even if you enjoy it, there’s no denying that, particularly in the US, Christmas amounts to a ridiculous spectacle of compulsory consumerism.  It’s an orgy of buying, an onslaught of marketing, with the omnipresent need to fill wrapped packages under a mandatory tree.  And it’s never quite enough.  Every year, tens of millions of us overspend in an effort to conform — which adds up to financial stress.

Wasn’t it just a few months ago that you packed away those lights, ornaments, and various kitchy nutcrackers, etc., back into their faded, half-torn boxes?  Now you’re supposed to not only get them all out again but feel excited and seasonally schmoozy while doing so.

Please, dear god — why??

Alcoholics need to place their serenity foremost.  This means we recognize the pressures that disturb us, triggering feelings of frustration, not-enoughness, not-a part-of, or just plain loneliness.  For many, the holidays trigger all of the above.  But more than parties or overspending or obligatory cheer in the darkest part of the year, what most threatens our serenity amid the holidays are the stresses of…

FAMILY.
Rarely does the stork drop off a lone alcoholic-addict in an otherwise functional, mindful, emotionally honest and loving family — if any such families exist.

Most of us grew up in homes where one or both parents drank, where the truth remained veiled and no one modeled emotional availability or loved us unconditionally as our authentic, vulnerable selves.  Rather, we and our siblings learned to jump through life’s countless hoops using fabulous springboards like selfishness, self-seeking manipulation, and dishonesty, playing a role nonstop in an effort to wrestle from life what we thought we needed to survive — a battle we drank to escape.

In other words, families were the very hotbeds where we generated all our character defects, all that we’ve since dredged up in our 4th and 5th steps so we could open them to god in the 6th and 7th, asking to be relieved of an approach to life that no longer served us.  Every day and in every meeting, we strive for more rigorous honesty to further our spiritual progress.

But then along come the holidays, and we have to head back to that swampy hotbed where, often, no one else has changed.  Siblings, parents, and other relatives continue to follow whatever works for them — frequently a continuous pursuit of short-term feel-good.  Some will still be chasing feel-good, as we used to, through alcohol and drugs.  But there’s a myriad of other ways to chase it: being smarter than everyone else, or more successful or hip, or politically goading others.  Egos will be crowding the house, overreaching one another, whether in loud, competitive conversation or exchanges of subtle smirks.

So… here we stand on the banks of this oh-so-familiar swamp, the old emotional reflexes itching to kick in, the family calling to us, “Jump on in!  The slime is great!  Play your damn role!”

What do we do, alcoholics?!  Do we chameleon our former selves?  Do we judge with spiritual superiority?   Or do we dig deep and practice…

BOUNDARIES.
Up until 2013, I’d have told you here that “all you need is love.”  I’d have claimed that if you didn’t enjoy yourself around family, the problem lay in your holding on to resentments or self-pity.  But today I call bullshit on that view.

Sick people hurt others.  Toxic people spread poison.  To every wild creature, god has given means of self-defense or escape.  And to sober people dealing with alcoholism-affected family, god has given boundaries.

How do we practice boundaries?  There are two basic steps:

  1. Know who you are and that you’re okay, flaws and all.  In other words, carry with you a sense of what matters to you, how you respect and treat others, and how you require others to respect and treat you.  Claim your space. But… temper this with a sense of humor and awareness that the flaws we notice most in others tend to mirror our own.  For example, if I’m annoyed that my cousin is hogging the dinner table’s attention, it’s probably because I want to do it!  Humor and humility let me replace that annoyance with compassion.
  2. Know when someone is infringing on your dignity/space.  If someone keeps running over your foot with a lawnmower, it’s up to you to move your foot.  If you’ve previously asked the person not to run over your foot, and yet you see them heading down a line that’s gonna intersect with it again, then withdraw your damn foot!  For me, this means I no longer attend functions at which the lawnmowing person will be present.  For you, it may mean leaving before a certain person gets drunk.

Love and tolerance is our code – now and always.  But that love must include ourselves, and that tolerance an admission that some vulnerabilities and triggers persist despite all our work.  Just walking into a house where trauma occurred can be exhausting.

So, as with any dicy situation, have a plan in place before you go.  Bring your own Martinelli’s — lots of it.  If alone, text sober friends ahead of time that you may be calling.  If with a partner, have a “safe phrase” that means “I need to get the hell out of here.”  Then smile, say your goodbyes, and get the hell out!

Looks kinda freaky but it’s not!

If you find yourself out of sorts, get your ass to a meeting.  Most Alano Clubs and big meetings host all-hours alcathons throughout the holidays.  Go.  Sit down.  Be initially disappointed that the group appears small and motley, or huge and you don’t know many.  But just sit there, just listen, and let the feeling of sober sanity and spiritual guidance seep in through your skin.

Reach out to someone with kindness.  We all struggle with this holiday stuff.  You are never alone.  ❤

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Acceptance

And acceptance is the answer to all my problems today. When I am disturbed, it is because I find some person, place, thing, or situation – some fact of my life – unacceptable to me, and I can find no serenity until I accept that person, place, thing, or situation as being exactly the way it is supposed to be at this moment… Until I could accept my alcoholism, I could not stay sober; unless I accept life completely on life’s terms, I cannot be happy. I need to concentrate not so much on what needs to be changed in the world as on what needs to be changed in me and my attitudes.

                                                                                                                  -Paul O.                                                                                             “Doctor, Alcoholic, Addict”

Acceptance was the topic at my homegroup last night, and I’ve been thinking about it since.  The only sane response to life, acceptance is also the arch-nemesis of ego, which much prefers its minions – denial, control, and resentment.  Ego says, “What is shouldn’t be!”  Acceptance says, “What is, is.  Now what?”

Acceptance Oops!is closely tied to humility and surrender. Our faith in a higher power lets us surrender to the workings of a universe beyond our comprehension, or to the irrevocable fact that we just stepped in dog shit.  Life brings a lot of what we don’t want, and we’re often powerless over it: the dinosaurs didn’t screw up in any way; neither do victims of disaster and disease.  Other times, we do play a part. Maybe we were too busy daydreaming to watch where we stepped.  Either way, acceptance means being honest with ourselves about what transpires or exists, whether we like it or not.

Last night a young newcomer shared that the hardest things for her to accept had been that A) she was alcoholic and B) that abstinence was, according to the medical community, the sole way to arrest her disease.  Her voice, still ringing with that forlorn loss of her best friend and coping tool, reminded me of the savage fight I’d put up years ago against those same facts.  Real alcoholics did X and Y, and I didn’t – so I wasn’t.

But awareness of the truth grows ever so slowly in our bones, no matter what skeletonrationalizations our brains light up as the neon truth of the day.  Layer by layer, truth gathers substance beneath our superficial mind babble until it grows too prominent for us to stuff into the strongbox of denial any longer.  For years I’d been a maybe alcoholic or even a sure but who gives a fuck? alcoholic. Yet there came a day, a minute, a second – yes – when I acknowledged reality: addiction ran my life, and I didn’t know how to live otherwise.

So it goes, to an extent, with every acceptance.  The process can take years or seconds.  In 1998, driving down a familiar street that passes under a highway, my partner and I encountered a handful of pedestrians mulling in the middle of the road with no inclination to step out of our way.  When I looked where they were looking, I saw a Metro bus in an odd place – the rockery of an apartment building – with its middle accordion bent at a sharp angle.  Dust hung thick.  Piles of what looked like dirty laundry littered the grass nearby.  I took in all the pieces, but they made no sense to me until, like a bowling ball rolling down the alley of my mind, the thought struck: look up.

When I craned my neck to peer up at the highway fifty feet above, I saw… open air where the guardrail should be and something hanging by its wires – an inverted lamppost.  Those little piles of laundry were bleeding, suffering human beings flung where they lay.  I still remember the fight my mind put up: This can’t have happened, can’t be true!  It was not unlike the silent fight I waged when my boss told me the best job I’d ever had had just been cut; or after I picked up my cell phone and was told I had cancer; or when I looked at my boyfriend’s texts and learned he’d been seeing a girl from work for years.  The mind whirls, searching for outs.  But denial, in big cases like those, is like a frantic little terrier scratching at a closed steel door.  The weight of the facts precludes wrangling.  Shit. has. happened.

Thank god I have a place where I can speak of my loss, my fears, my broken heart and be heard and hugged by friends or even strangers with full hearts – people who carry the message of god: everything’s gonna be okay.

In daily life, what’s denied may be less dramatic, yet we go through the same process of looking for outs and telling preferred stories about what’s going on.  This bill is so stupid I don’t need to pay it.  It’s not gossip if I only tell one person.  I waste a little time on Facebook.  My shit’s so together now, so I don’t need meetings.  It’s not my fault.  I never promised.  Just one won’t hurt.  The list goes on.  Because if there’s no undeniable steel door, that little denial terrier is likely to scamper down a happier avenue, a story we make up to avoid whatever truth we’d rather not accept.  All the red flags of non-reality we take for roses along our hallucinated garden path.

garden path

As Don Miguel Ruiz puts it:

We only see what we want to see… We have the habit of dreaming with no basis in reality… Because we don’t understand something, we make an assumption about the meaning, and when the truth comes out, the bubble of our dream pops and we find out it was not what we thought at all.

Life strikes me as a series of popping bubbles. After I’d accepted my alcoholism, I had to accept the need to let god change me via the steps.  Next, I had to accept my character defects – all my selfish fears and judgments.  And if that wasn’t bad enough, I somehow ended up in Al-Anon where I became aware of my codependent people-pleasing.  I also learned the Three A’s of Al-Anon: Awareness, Acceptance, & Action.  With annoying pithiness, these three words sum up the entire process of emotional and spiritual growth.  I have to recognize a problem before I can accept it; only then can I ask, “so, what now?” and begin to change.

Acceptance most certainly does not mean giving up.  I accept getting old.  But having accepted my arthritic left foot, messed up meniscus, radiation-scorched lung, and the general creakiness of life in my 50s does ballet shoesnot stop me from killin’ it in advanced ballet class.  An extra half-hour warm-up, trimmed Dr. Scholl’s pads, pre-class ibuprofen, and all the weird stretches I’ve invented – these are the changes I’ve made, along with knowing those first fifteen minutes are gonna hurt.  But after that,  I’m 26 again – all music and technique – and grateful, so grateful!  I take the same approach with every obstacle life throws at me.  I accept the unpalatable truth: Dammit – this is how it is!  Then I ask what tools, what changes, what creativity can I use to make the best of this?  The answers always come if I’m honest, open-minded, and willing.

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The Serenity Prayer

The word prayer repulsed me in early sobriety, and in some ways it’s still glitchy. It can call to mind a penitent worshiper hunched over clasped hands in some austere setting – and for the non-religious, that just ain’t us! So I’ve come up with ways to make prayer real to me – since fortunately, religion has no monopoly on access to god.

It’s amazing how many people assume it does – that spiritual DSC03916seeking and religion are inseparable.  That’s like claiming I-5 is the only way to get from Seattle into Canada.  Not true.  Recently, hiking the Pacific Crest Trail, I jumped in and out of Canada about five times in few seconds, just for fun.  You can always find your own pathway to god; the important thing is that you seek it with your deepest sincerity.

So instead of prayer, I just frickin’ talk to god. I may gab away and cuss and laugh, or I may get on my knees and weep, depending on how I feel. I may address my lost sister, or guardian angel, or the font of all that lives. Whatever works.

But what do I say?
Fear-based prayers are an extension of self – and a very natural one. All day, from the moment we wake, we’re responsible for meeting our own material needs. We engage our brains and bodies to make shit happen. I want a bagel so I open the fridge and get one. I want it toasted, so I get a knife to slice it and then pop that baby in the toaster. By applying skills, I get what I want.

Problems arise when we apply this approach to spiritual life: I feel restless, irritable, and discontent, so I gulp down some booze and get what I want – relief.  Great!  But fast-forward to the point where that survival tactic has quit working, so I’ve suffered agony at the level of emotional disembowelment, finally become willing, and – with god’s help – gotten sober.

Now I need new ways to fix those old pains, but I don’t know it. So it’s only natural that I try a skills approach: I identify the external problems I think are responsible – the people, places, and things I perceive as fucking up my happiness – and try to manage them to suit my needs.

It doesn’t work.  Dammit!  So I try harder.   Still, no dice.

Now I’m freaking out.  Will I ever get X?  Oh my god, does this mean I’ll always be stuck with this crappy Y?  What’s that I’m hearing in the rooms?  Ask god for help?

Okay… I turn to prayer: “God, please put this damn life-bagel in the goal-toaster for me. It should be toasted.  Surely you can see this. Thank you!  Your child, Louisa.”

Anxious prayerI may think of it as supplication rather than giving god orders. Still, however respectful I may be, I’m backseat-driving the universe. And it doesn’t work!  Yes, god may make some related good of my prayers (especially if they’re for others), but it won’t involve my specific bagel.  The great danger here is that I can feel ignored and get pissed… and turn my back on god.

True prayer, as Richard Rohr and others have written, is not about managing the world. It’s about changing ourselves. It’s about strengthening our relationship to god and accessing the power that god can channel into our lives.

Bagle

Enter, Serenity Prayer

Thank you, Reinhold Niebuhr, for writing this gorgeous prayer for a Sunday service in Heath, MA, in 1943.* You could not have imagined the role it would play in so many lives today.

“God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.”

The prayer asks god to change us, to help us grow beyond whatever we ourselves can muster. We can say it over and over, thinking about what it means, how it moves us.   At different times it takes on different nuances.

Here, unpacked and named, is some of what this prayer can mean for me:  God,

grant me = help me, because I can’t seem to do this myself; I need your love, your guidance, your gifts
the serenity = to fricking calm the fuck down about this stuff, to quit panicking, to quit judging, to let go this urgency
to accept = to allow into my reality, to acknowledge as what is, to give up shoulding on and just let it be true – because it already is
the things I cannot change, = the past, what’s happening, how this person is, what they won’t do, everything I don’t like and wish were different… that isn’t me
the courage = a conviction, faith stronger than my fears, a power drawn from my inmost heart, a little spark of you
to change = to take action, to re-see, to step out into empty space, to quit procrastinating, to dare, to just do it !
the things I can = attitudes & assumptions & habits that don’t bring goodness, cycles I’m stuck in, people I hang out with, my default defects.  Reluctance to begin those baby steps of action I’ve been too afraid or proud to take
and the wisdom = god-inspired honesty, open-mindedness, faith, harvest from the experiences you’ve already given me
to know the difference = to intuit what’s my business and what’s yours

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Good thing it’s a lot shorter, eh?  But for me it still carries all that meaning.

Resistance
I don’t know that I’ve ever, in 20 years of saying this shit, had a problem instantly vanish.  With bigger issues, sometimes the best I can hope for is for me to shed a layer of denial or feel a little less pain.

But the courage part has been literal and concrete. This prayer has emboldened me to act where I’ve been scared and reluctant: I’ve made phone calls, shown up at events, applied for jobs, thrown parties, forgiven rosietheriveterpeople, entered dance studios, climbed volcanoes, started a business, and walked into the mountains alone – all deeds inspired by this little prayer.  And those actions do transform my reality incrementally, with a cumulative effect beyond anything I could envision or orchestrate.

Ultimately, the Serenity Prayer condenses into twenty-seven words the essence of all 12 Steps: surrendering of self and the willingness to collaborate with god to cultivate meaning and integrity in our lives.

Never underestimate it, no matter how many cutesy places you see it embroidered!  It’s a compact tool we can carry in our back pockets like a humble but priceless compass.

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*http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/05/15/serenity-prayer-origin_n_5331924.html

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Just Say NO to Self-Pity: 10 Reasons

“What we must recognize now is that we exult in some of our defects. We really love them” (12 Steps and 12 Traditions, p.66).

Somebody or somethin’ done ya wrong?  Let’s stew on it.  After all, you’ve tried so hard for so long, earnestly doing what’s reasonable and right.  You had faith things would work out.  But then what did they do – this person or group or life in general?  Did they recognize the facts?  Did they acknowledge what was really going on, see their obligations, and grant you your just reward?

No!  No, they did this other thing, this wrong thing, 858617_4584888544779_993860787_othis business that is so, so hurtful!  You had hopes and they dashed them!  You were innocent and they shot you down.  And hasn’t it always been like this?  Fuckers.  They’re just plain cruel – that’s the truth!  It’s all so unfair!  Why do you even keep trying?  Why get hurt like this again and again?  Sometimes it feels like even god – that’s right, your gonna just go ahead and say it – plays favorites, walls you out, prefers a frickin’ clique!  So you’re utterly alone.  You have nothing.  Only this lonely ache and this rusty iron conviction you’ve been wronged…

Man, I just LOVE me a warm bath of self-pity!!!  Sing it, bring it, tell it!

Except – wait a minute.  That stuff’s poison.  It’s toxic thinking guaranteed to sicken and imprison a person in resentment quicker than they can say “running the show.”  Whenever I senseTears glass self-pity pooling in my thoughts, I have to draw myself up short and try my best to redirect my focus.  Otherwise, I’m taking steps backwards in my recovery.  For all of us prone to addiction, self-pity is a dangerous spiritual ailment, and  indulging in it without check is the emotional equivalent of guzzling drinks.

10 Reasons

    1. Self-pity ain’t nothin’ but ego:  We know the storyline of how things were supposed to go because we wrote the script.  It was a really good script, too!  We had “the lights, the ballet, the scenery, and the rest of the players” all set in the best way – that is, the way that would turn out ideally for us.  We deserve what we want!  Really, everybody would be better off doing things our way, if only we could make them see it! —————————————-  ——————— —————  —————-
    2. Self pity lies like a rug: I know what’s best. I know what everyone’s thinking and exactly why they did what they did – all their petty, biased little motives!  That’s why I’m sure this turn of events is wrong.  What actually happened is NOT god’s way: it’s a big mistake!  Or if it is god’s way, then god’s an asshole.  God should put foremost what makes me happy.  The universe is either with me or against me, based on what I see and think! ———————— ——— ——————————————- ————-
    3. Self-pity is drama crack: I’m not only the heroine of this tale but also the audience. Look at this poignant twist of plot!  I’ve persevered through so many difficulties, only to be wounded by this undeserved blow!  Oh, the pain!  The audience (me) can see the other characters all plotting around the player spotlighted in center-stage (also me).  I can play the drama forward; I can draw out the future with swelling musical notes.  Someday, damn it, they’ll realize X and be filled with Y.  This show is so intense!  So deep————————————– ——————- ————- ———
    4. Self-pity is addicting: The more we hang out in self-pity, the more trammeled those neural networks become and the more likely we’ll go back for more.  Dwelling on injustice brings the intensity of something exciting, something dire!  That delicious ache of martyrdom fills the gaping hole in our spirits.  Yes, it’s a low, but it’s also a high – an all-consuming escape from real life.  By contrast, a level-headed look at our situation going forward seems either boring (acceptance) or intimidating (action).  Can’t I just sit here and savor another hit of “poor me”?! ————————————– ————————————      ————————————————
    5. Self-pity ain’t self-compassion: Compassion is positive.  When we feel it for others, we open our hearts to them; we empathize lovingly.  The same goes for self-compassion.  It prevents us from judging ourselves negatively, acknowledging instead the efforts we’ve put in and the disappointment we feel.  But it does not stew, blame, resent, envy, or hate.  In self-compassion, we love ourselves as god loves us.  We nurture our own healing, not our pain. ———————————————————————————–
    6. Self-pity ain’t self-care: Self-care is, by definition, pro-active.  It considers my constructive options for healing and strengthening.  I ask god what I can do now to better my emotional state so I’ll develop the means to help myself – and then I do it.  Self-pity, by contrast, attributes all the power to others.  I’m a victim!  I have no responsibility!  Nothing I could have done, nothing I can do now can help me. —————————– ——————————————————– ——- ——–
    7. Self-pity turns our backs on god:  God dwells only in reality.  It can be met only in the present moment. It’s also the power of love – a love that motivates us to accept what life brings and see how we can grow, make, and be useful under those circumstances.  When we collapse instead into self, when we rail against reality, we encase ourselves in righteous resentment. Fear and scarcity wall out the very faith we need in order to recoup. ————————————————————————————–
    8. Self-pity makes us useless:  Your problems?  Are you fucking kidding me?  I’ve got my problems!  What do you have for me? ———————————————————————————–
    9. Self-pity attracts misfortune: This is karmic law.  I don’t know exactly how it works, just that it does.  Self-pity renders us a black hole of need.  We’re not generating; we’re sucking, sinking, retreating into darker and darker recesses of self.  The forces that gain energy in that darkness – forces we feed with our anguish – do not bring goodness into our lives. —————- ————–  —————————— ——————- ————
    10. Self-pity is frickin’ boring: For god’s sake, don’t we know this song and dance too well?  How many times have we been here?  It never changes.  It interests no one.  There are so many better ways to spend our time and energy.

Every time I’m able to recognize that self-pity is having its way with me, I pray something like this: God, help me stop right now.  Steer my thoughts toward the path of healing and usefulness.  Change me, dear god, in whatever way will free me from this dumbass horseshit. 

It truly helps.  Try it and see!

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Memoir Out in Paperback

Just an announcement:

For those non-Kindle readers interested in getting my addiction memoir as a hold-in-your-hands, physical page-turning book, it’s FINALLY available on Amazon here:

Click here for paperback addiction memoir

Click here for content description/reader reviews

It reads just like an AA share.  You’ll feel like you’re at a speakers’ meeting where I’m telling you my story with that unique funny/sad tone we all use – except somebody gave me 12 hours to tell it!  I can promise you, it’s not dull.  I quote wet journal entries – I was a prize-winning writer able to articulate problems but not solve them.  I also, as the subtitle indicates, describe the vivid Near Death journey to the Light I experienced at age 22.  The series of paranormal after-effects that followed over the years culminate in the concrete faith in a higher power grounding my long term sobriety today.

The last chapters recount my recovery from codependency – an ongoing process.

Please feel free to pass on the link above to anyone in/attempting recovery from any form of addiction who you think would enjoy a wild tale of experience, strength, and hope.

New blog post for y’all tomorrow!

yours,

-Louisa

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On Wreckage and Forgiveness

The ironic thing about forgiveness is that when we truly achieve it, we realize there’s nothing to forgive.  We experience a shift of perspective, a widening of the lens we’ve been looking through.  The person we needed to forgive goes from being a beetle mounted on a card and identified as faulty in various ways to a piece of our own soul – the part of us that also struggles and often fails.

Resentment works by keeping score.  But we can keep score only when we have rules, agendas, and an assumed point to the game – all of which tend to be the work of ego.  To bring about the outcome we would have preferred, the mounted beetle in question should have chosen to do X and Y.  They should have seen and realized how important X and Y were.  Why the hell didn’t they?  What the hell were they thinking?!  Now the outcome is all fucked up and it’s totally their fault!

40803_10150244489590608_8125380_nTwo weeks ago I brought home my boyfriend’s old iPhone and discovered that for two and a half years – ever since we got back together after a one-year break-up – he’s been leading a double life.  He’s had a second girlfriend whom he saw just as much or even more than me, a chunky girl half his age who clearly worships the ground he walks on and matches him drink for drink as they get bombed together.  I had trusted him completely.  I believed he was still the Good Man I fell in love with while he was sober.  Because of this, I gave him ample room to do his own thing (we lived 90 minutes apart) and never checked up on him – ignoring the fact that he was a relapsed alcoholic who merely didn’t drink in front of me – and that active alcoholics tend to lie.

My agenda was as follows: the relationship I thought I had with him was meant to flourish and endure. For this to happen, we both had to be committed and true to each other.  Those were the rules of the game as I saw it, and when I first discovered their porn-style sexting and rendezvous set up around my visits (she sometimes left the same day I arrived), I did very much know the rage of betrayal.  That rage has faded now, but what puzzles me is that it hasn’t morphed into resentment.  Somehow, I’ve jumped straight from rage to forgiveness.  Mind you, I don’t intend to see the man again – his future is god’s business and no longer mine.  But anger I do not feel.

I let go my agenda.  The whole thing.  Clearly this relationship was not supposed to be.  For a woman like me, 20 years sober, to be with a man who drinks in her absence was not a good set-up.  It could not have worked.  Yes – there was a lot of love over the nine years we shared, and the loss of that remains tragic to me.  I’m grieving it.  It hurts.  Further, what my boyfriend did is clearly heinous on a number of moral levels.  You don’t have to be the one cheated on to see that.

beerBut I’ve been there.  I’ve done that.  Okay – I’ve never developed a sex addiction with someone young enough to be my child, but by the final stages of my drinking, I lacked moral sense to an equal degree.  In the fifteen years I was drunk, I cheated on three partners in a row – the first one physically and the second two emotionally.  I developed wild crushes on people while pretending to be in committed relationships and chased down the high of those infatuations regardless of their eventual impact on my partner.  I didn’t care.  In fact, it seemed to me at the time that I couldn’t care.  I needed the fix of the person I was addicted to just as much as I needed my next drink.

In every fifth step I’ve heard, sponsees have felt failed and betrayed by important figures in their lives – often a dysfunctional parent either alcoholic or affected by alcoholism.  Time and time again, the 4th column comes down to the question, “Do you think this person would not have done better if they were capable of it?”  Sponsees struggle with this.  Their minds wrestle with the dichotomy of who they wanted the parent or person to be, with all the power to choose wisely they believed that person possessed, versus the truth of what actually happened – the fact that the parent or person simply did not have the integrity, self-awareness, or the moral resources to show up any better than they did, let alone with honor.

Who wants to be a shitty parent?  Who wants to betray and abuse the partner they’ve loved?  Nobody.  In the case of alcoholics, prolonged alcohol abuse actually atrophies the emotional centers of the brain; we reach recklessly for whatever we think will bring relief.  Compassion shrinks.  We become selfish monsters.  We do shameful things.  It’s part of the disease.

Resentment at these facts can do nothing but harm me.  Nurtured anger traps us in our heads, our stories, our righteousness about what should have been, whereas the sunlight of the spirit is cast only on what is. And it’s only once we accept what is that we can feel gratitude for all reality offers us and try to lead useful, constructive lives, granting others the freedom to seek their own path.  24350_10150106518895608_1574989_nSo forgiveness, really, is just acceptance of a person exactly as they are.  In my case, I also have to accept the toll of addiction.  The Big Book even tells us, “More than most people, the alcoholic leads a double life.” My guy was just a late stage alcoholic doing what drunks do best: dishonesty with self and others.  He’s consumed in tearing down his own emotional life and perhaps career, veering obliviously toward alcoholic decline.  None of this will end prettily for him.  My mistake was fighting reality, closing my mind to his addiction, trying to love him as though he were sober.  So much I wanted better things for him!  But when I let go that agenda, it’s all just life unfolding as it should.

 

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Essential Prayers: Please and Thank You

Rejoice always,

pray without ceasing,

give thanks in all circumstances…

(1 Thessalonians 5:16-18)

I ain’t a Christian, but them’s some wise words for how to tackle the challenge of living a happy and meaningful life.  For some, the “always,” “without ceasing,” and “all circumstances” parts might present a problem.  Actually, they’re problematic only if we segregate our spiritual life from the rest, as if the little things we did all day had nothing to do with our spirit.  The fact is, they have everything to do with it! Our spirits are just as present when we’re comparing cans of beans at the store as when we’re kneeling by our bedside doing what we label “prayer.”  We’re just too caught up in piddly-shit to be aware of our awareness – to focus on what we actually are.

In the rooms of AA, we often hear the advice to use two simple prayers – Please and Thank You – to forge a relationship with our higher power.  This is an excellent start!  For newcomers who have no idea what might be entailed in talking to their god, these instructions open the door.  It’s suggested that when we wake up, we ask god to “Please help me to stay sober today.”  When we go to bed, we pray, “Thank you for keeping me sober today.”

2014-12-25 14.58.27But there’s a whole lot more potential behind these two simple prayers.  They can change your life.  Just as step 1 is the only one to spell out the word “alcohol” while the remaining 11 deal with the matters that made life so painful we needed a damn drink, so the lens of the Please and Thank You prayers can be dilated from mere drink avoidance to apply to all of living.

Please.  By all means, when we wake up, we can ask god to keep us sober today, but we can also expand that request to “ask God to direct our thinking.”  What I ask is, “please guide me today,” by which I mean not only my thoughts and actions, but my level of awareness.  I might even say, “help me stay awake.”  What I mean is, god, help me to stay in contact with you all day long; help me remember this life is not about my little fears and agenda, but about being the best human being I can be today; help me know that whatever’s going on right now is just a single pace in the journey of my life, so when it gets tough I can hang onto hope.

As I proceed through my day, my biggest challenges all center on emotions.  Not what happens, but how I feel about what happens.  I’m a wa-ay codependent child of an alcoholic, which means that, left to my own devices, I tend to be a “reactor” aboriginemore than an “actor.”  Boy, do I hate that!  It sounds so wussy, but it’s true.  Most of the time, what you think (or at least what I think you’re thinking) carries more weight than what think or do.  I need you to be okay with me.  Better still, I’d prefer you be favorably impressed.  That way, you’d hand me a chit of personal worth I could add to my lowly little scrap heap.

But, damn it, I don’t want to live that way!  So I pray pretty much “without ceasing.”  I ask god, not to strike me well, but to show me, “If I were well, how might I see this?”  My experience has been that god nudges me toward compassion – for myself and others – which helps me reframe what’s going on and strengthen new neural pathways so that my thinking will change over time.  And slowly, gradually, it’s been working, which brings us to…

Thank You.  Again, it’s fine to start with the matter of whether I swallowed any booze today.  Even after 20 years’ sobriety, I still hop into bed some nights and think, “Geez!  I didn’t drink or even think about drinking all day!”  I still get this little image of my insides as all clean and healthy compared to that slimy feeling from back in the day.  And I thank god for it, for having let me be just one of Earth’s creatures, a gizmo fit to walk the planet exactly as I was made.

But I also “give thanks in all circumstances.”  What a trip it is to be alive!  What a freaking awesome world this is to cruise through, filled with miracles we can take for granted any time we switch to autopilot.  Bits of nature (outside my window, a finch just landed amid the gently stirring leaves of a cherry tree), goodness our culture has produced, signs of caring between strangers, and my chance to be part of it all – I thank god for this over and over.  Sure, there’s plenty of darkness; just read the news.  But there are also many who unite in trying to combat it, connecting in their commitment to… love.

CloudmoonGrowth.  How can the “Please and Thank You” prayers change your life?  For me, they’ve expanded my awareness a tiny bit, like the rings on in a tree, with each challenge I walk though sober.  eye

I am a tiny bit more aware.  It’s how we grow in sobriety.

At the core of my consciousness is my spirit.  It’s not my body: my body includes all my brain’s thoughts, all my body’s issues, and all the emotions they stir up between them.  I love those guys – don’t get me wrong – but they’re not my spirit.  My knowingness, my receptiveness, the live wire of my presence – this is the essence that sprang out of my body during my Near Death Experience, but it’s also the core of what I am as I brush my teeth or drive to Goodwill.  I am a little piece of god.  So are you.  And that reality becomes slightly more vivid to me with every clod I break as I plow through the lumpy terrain of being alive. I am the plowwoman, the driving force behind one individual human experience.  I need help to push on (please), but with every step taken, I see a little better what a tremendous privilege I’ve been given (thank you)!

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Reality, Denial, and god – Alcoholism and Codependency

Reality is a tremendous nuisance to active alcoholics and Reality intersectioncodependents.  It’s so damn stubborn, but we’re more so!  We have a firm idea of how things really are and we’re stickin’ to it, however painful our grip.  The pain in both cases comes from everything that refuses to align with our story of how things can be okay – usually involving other people and their actions or views.   When I was living alcoholically, people kept misinterpreting my drinking.  Now that I’m sober but battling codependency, they keep not doing what they should.

The trouble is, as long as I’m in this mindset – I know shit – I’m cut off from god.  God animates reality, but its truth can’t be admitted by my sick thinking.  In other words, god’s guidance is heard via  honesty, but denial makes us deaf.

First, let’s talk about alcoholism.

During the 14 years that I drank pretty much daily, I had a good story:  I just liked to drink!  There was no big deal about it, though some people liked to pretend there was.  My life was as normal as anybody’s except that I was maybe a little more free about kicking back.  Alcohol was a just a feature of the good life – something that accompanied relaxation, candor, humor, and the ease of not taking stuff so damn seriously.  Didn’t I still have a job and a car?  Hadn’t I earned a fancy degree?  Wasn’t my health still good?  Okay, then, get off my back, everyone!

hot air balloonHitting bottom was the result of losing my levity, my ability to float a hot air balloon of egotism just enough to skim over the landscape of consequences beneath me.  Many people were hurt and angry, but they couldn’t reach me.  Many people would be hurt and angry if they found out certain things, but so far I’d dodged those impacts.  In the end it was the intensity of my own pain and self-loathing that weighed down my balloon basket more heavily every year, every month, and, as I gradually lost altitude, every day – until the ground of reality came up to meet me and I crashed.

I had no more escape.  My entire life was rife with lies.  Everything I’d been fleeing caught up with me and the pain was unbearable.  Finally, I admitted: “This is the truth.  This is how it is.  Addiction powers my every thought and deed, and without it, I have nothing.  I am nothing.  I have no power.”

Finally!  That’s when the door swings open.  It’s when god says, “Bingo!  That shit just doesn’t work.  How about I show you how to live in the world instead of your head?”  In my case, god showed me through the loving words spoken and written by people in AA, both living and dead.  “Here,” they explained, “is how you can live a meaningful life.”  The 12 steps were a means of clearing from my head the false stories I’d used to deny reality.  I began to work with what is to become the woman I want to be.

Now let’s talk about codependency.

It’s actually a whole lot like alcoholism, because it, like alcoholism, centers on denial.  Here’s the American Medical Association’s definition of alcoholism, tweaked just a bit to describe codependency:

“CODEPENDENCY is a chronic disease with genetic, psychosocial, and environmental factors influencing its development and manifestations. The disease is often progressive and fatal. It is characterized by continuous or periodic impaired control over ATTACHMENT, preoccupation with the ADDICT, use of OBSESSIVE TACTICS despite adverse consequences, and distortions in thinking, most notably denial.”

Look at that!  The denial part, I didn’t even have to mess with; it’s the mainstay of both diseases.

Just as denial let me pretend my drinking harmed no one, so it lets me pretend my attempts to change the alcoholic harm no one.  Now I’m riding in the hot air balloon of dependence – actually the offspring of ego and fear: a conviction that my well-being depends on someone else.  I need them to change so that I can be happy.  My levity comes from the certainty that if I just _______ the right thing, the alcoholic will come to his senses.  (Insert do, say, offer, model, threaten, etc.)  There have been some great attempts, but they haven’t quite worked yet.  Failures pass under me.  So do the alcoholic’s betrayals, lies, actions that clearly show he has no intention of doing anything other than being himself – an alcoholic.  I keep skimming over them all, using my will and my hope and my love with all my might!  I’ll say this and he’ll realize that!  I run the videos in my mind day after day: I say my lines, watch my ideation of the alcoholic comprehending.

But gradually, I lose altitude.  The weight of pain brings me down again – that my love is not reciprocated in the form of whatever integrity I long for the alcoholic to achieve.  The alcoholic remains deaf, is blind, stays asleep to everything but his own dream of denial, and there is nothing – nothing – I can do to wake him.   All my efforts are futile or, worse still, galvanize his denial.

I have no more escape.  This is how it is.  My entire life is rife with lies.  Everything I’ve been grasping for has evaporated, and the pain is unbearable.  Finally, I admit: “This is the truth.  This is how it is.  Codependent illusions power my every thought and deed, and without them, I have nothing.  I am powerless.”

Here again god steps in.  “Correcto-mundo!” says god.  “But you don’t have nothing, sweetheart!  You have you.  You have me.  You have all of life and this beautiful world to thrive in.”  I begin to listen.  I realize what god offers is real, not projected.  It doesn’t have to wait for someday; it can start now.

Just as I took my first shaky steps sober and wide awake all those years ago, now I begin to take my first steps on my own.  No one needs to live as I see fit for me to be happy.  Whether my attachment has been to a family member or a lover, I can free them to live their own life, make their own mistakes, and suffer their own consequences, whether through wasted potential or death.  I can do it because, in reality, I have no other option.

This actually exists somewhere, unlike my sober alcoholic.

Reality, in both cases, is so much simpler, so much easier, and so much richer than my thinking.  Now I have choices, and I can hear god’s guidance as I weigh them.

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Boundaries = (honesty + humility) x self-esteem

The term “boundaries”  used to irritate me.  It’s always seemed such a pop-culture concept.  I guess it’s a psych term popularized during the assertiveness craze of the 80s – actually, I have no idea – but I first heard people throwing it around a lot in the 90s.  “That’s a boundary!” some woo-woo friend would exclaim, or, “You need to develop your boundaries” around this and that.  Like a lot of pop-psychology terms, it’s always kind of made me barf.

I’m just that way.  Whenever I don’t understand something, I’m quick to label it bullshit.  Contempt prior to investigation and all that.

The fact isBud ad, though, I suck at boundaries and always have.  I’m a people pleaser.  Why?  I grew up in an alcoholic home where we had trouble being honest about feelings because the most fundamental truth in the house had to remain that there was absolutely nothing wrong with Dad’s drinking. And because Dad was several different people depending on where he was in the cycle of irritable dryness, calm drinking, jubilant drinking, or self-disgusted hangover, while Mom and everyone else reacted to his state, I learned to look outside myself for the climate of reality.

But more subtle still was the thin film of doubt between the truth inside me and the truth inside my family members.  It isolated each of us.  It prevented love from sinking in through my skin.  I always felt valued for my various accomplishments rather than treasured for just being me.  All this is pretty classic for alcoholic homes.

I also grew up being quite bossy to my younger sister.  My older siblings had a sort of club that excluded us, so, as I relate in my addiction memoir, my younger sister was stuck with me.  I could run the show in all our doings, but whenever conflict came up, Mom would frame me as the oppressor.  Long story short: I grew up to suspect that my true self was mean, controlling, and unlovable.

When I got my first boyfriend, I remember so clearly the decision I made to play a role and stuff my true self!  If I expressed what I really thought or wanted, he’d be repelled and leave me.  It felt like some kind of vow of chastity or something, this inner resolve that I would win love by conforming myself to my best guess of whatever he wanted.

And I lived like that for decades.

split-rail-fence

Back to Boundaries.  What are they, anyway?  How do they work?

Working the 12 Steps of AA let me recognize the dance of Fear and Ego that orients so much of how I interact with others.  I learned that I fear I won’t get what I think I want/need, so my ego steps in to try to arrange and control the players as I think best, and then resents them when they don’t follow my script.  All true.

What I never saw until I went to Al-Anon was that one way – actually, my favorite way – of trying to control others was by doing exactly what I thought they wanted.  It’s all about management through martyrdom.  I’ve put not one but two partners through college, working at jobs I didn’t like to pay the rent and arranging my life around their syllabi.  This was love by transaction.  I sacrificed my needs for them so they’d be corralled and obligated to “favor” me with love – and if, along the way, I didn’t follow my own dreams, it was all their fault.  Both those relationships crashed and burned.

Unfortunately, all I really learned from those experiences was: “Don’t put people through college.”  In my current 9-year relationship, I’ve been blind to all the ways I’ve arranged my life around my current partner’s preferences.  We don’t live together, and he’s rarely in town, so I seem quite independent.  I have my own friends, my own programs, a busy life apart from him.  From the outside, I’ve got it goin’ on.  So it’s been harder to see the fact that I’ve dropped from consideration any requests I fear might displease him.  I’ve preferred to resent his “selfishness” for following (martyred) signals I put out rather than seeing my own choice to edit those signals.

Upshot: I can have no boundaries unless I’m honest with myself.  And I can’t be honest with myself if I lack humility.  Who wants to say, “I’m afraid I’m not loveable; I’m afraid you’ll decide to leave; I’m afraid I’ll be alone forever” -?  Humility is what lets us name and face this unglamorous truth: “I am flawed and frightened.” Once I can cliffname it,though,  I can have the self-honesty to see where I’m bending over backwards to be loved.  If god sees that with me, and we know it ain’t right, maybe I can muster the self-esteem to risk everything and trust god’s plan for me instead of my relationship management skills. Maybe I can take the plunge.  I can ask for what I want despite fear, in the faith that no matter what happens, I’ll be okay.

What Al-Anon has helped me see is that I’ve always misconstrued boundaries as a fence to keep other people from intruding on my inner sensitivities.  I’ve experienced angry siblings trampling all over my dignity and wanted protection – so that, I thought, would be a boundary.  But today I see that boundaries actually delimit my own choices and behaviors.  They’re about what I will and will not sign up for.  For years I chose to stand within the trajectory of my siblings’ insults.  Now the boundary is actually for me, the point at which I’ll remove myself.  Likewise, for years I’ve chosen to mute my own needs for the sake of my boyfriend’s.  Of course, any relationship involves compromise.  But the boundary signals those compromises that actually detract from my life and well-being.

Boundaries, I’m learning, are not directed at other people.  They’re about me recognizing the limit, the degree, the subtle gradation of that point at which my choices amount to self-harm – and refusing to cross it.  They represent a deal with god to honor my innate worth rather than trying to wrangle it from others.

I’m so grateful for a set of programs that has opened my eyes to the difference!

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