Category Archives: Codependence

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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Reaching for god, Healing in the Mountains

I want to describe a moment of insight, but to get there, I’ll have to take you on a little odyssey with me.  The Enchantments are a chain of lakes carved out by glaciers in Washington’s Central Cascades – a series of cirques in pale granite amid jagged peaks so lovely you need a very elusive permit to visit in summer.  But this year, with the snow level so low, I decided to seize the chance to see them before permit season began.

I invited along a friend who recently completed the Camino de Santiago Pilgrimage, walking 500 miles from St. John, France, to the cathedral of Santiago, Spain – with virtually no money.  I chose Kacie not only because she’s sober and a skilled through-hiker, but because her connection to God is knowledge rather than faith. Though she’s Christian and I’m non-religious, our spiritual convictions align perfectly.  At 33, she’s an absolutely beautiful soul.  Here we are, starting out our trip at Colchuck Lake.

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Aasgard Pass is behind us, where the trail gains 2,000 feet in 3/4 of a mile

I wanted Kacie with me not just to help me tackle this trail, but because I knew she could help me along a second, inner trek.  Maybe I’m trying to tell too much in one post, but for me, this trip was more about healing than hiking. I recently posted about having discovered that for two and a half years my alcoholic boyfriend concealed an ongoing affair with an alcoholic girl half my age – named KC, ironically enough.  Though I’m glad to have escaped with my sobriety, there’s much grief to process in losing someone you thought you loved for nine years.

Early on, I asked my Kacie for her take on my “happy” memories from those deceit-filled years with Grayson – our teasing as we played ping-pong, comparing cloud pictures as we lay in the sunlit grass, decorating our tiny Christmas tree.  She answered straight up: “You need to let go the lie before you can embrace the truth.  That was manipulation, it was false, it was poison – every minute of it.”  I knew she was right.  Her words solidified the ones hovering in my thoughts for weeks: emotional robbery, abuse, even molestation.  Because, yes, to con someone into prolonged intimacy, fully aware the truth would both horrify and repulse them, is that bad.

We hiked on.  I’d heard a lot about the dangers of climbing Aasgard Pass, with its 2,000 foot near-vertical gain.  We didn’t reach the base of the chute until 4:15.  There’s no trail per se; you scramble amid sliding talus and scree; you search above you for cairns – stacks of rock people have left to mark a course – praying nothing falls on you.  Chest-high boulders with divot toe-holds demand you heave yourself up them despite the 35 pounds on your back and hundreds of feet below you to fall.

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Kacie picking her way up the rubble

We climbed for an hour.  Two hours.  The wind picked up, and we began to encounter pockets of ice and snow.  There were times I thought I’d lost the way completely, boxed in among boulders, until I’d sight a cairn someplace seemingly impossible to reach.  Then I’d pray, find handholds, pretend I wasn’t exhausted, and heft Louisa + pack one more time.  Ten minutes later, repeat.  Finally, three and a half hours into it, a moment arrived when I rounded a rock face and recognized from the outlines of slabs against the sky that we were nearly there.  To Kacie, over the whipping wind and cataract tumbling to our right, I shouted, “We’re almost there!  We’re gonna fuckin’ do it!”

That’s when the tears came. Thank you, god.  Not just for getting me here, but for showing me I have what it takes to do this.  In the past, on all our toughest climbs, Grayson led.  But no one led me this time, not even a frickin’ trail: just god and the bright life it kindles in me.

While the sun set amid 20 mph winds and the temps dropped below freezing, Kacie and I made camp at about 7,ooo feet.  Kacie was so chilled she began dropping things, getting confused.  Our stove wouldn’t light at this altitude and the winds snapped at the tent as we pitched it.  But we were never scared – not really. I gave Kacie all my extra clothes and released enough gas from the canister to blow up a small dog before my lighter finally ignited it. Once the water boiled I told Kacie to go eat inside the tent while I made her some hot water bottles and picked up for the night.

Neither of us slept much because the elevation throws you off, but in the morning we encountered this, along with the delicate music of snowmelt everywhere running down to Aasgard Lake:

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and this:

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and lots of these guys:

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After breakfast, we packed up and set off again, like this:

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We covered about 10 miles that day, talking on and on about god, about how god has built right into us our capacity to see, feel, and appreciate beauty as a spiritual language to connect with Him/it.  Here’s are some glimpses of what we saw, did, and loved:

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Kacie took

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Among the many things Kacie said that struck me deeply was this: “The only thing God asks is that we participate in the relationship.  It’s like if I were going on this hike saying, ‘Hmm… Louisa might be with me on this hike. That might be her I see ahead of me, that could be her voice…’ but I ignored you the whole way because I wasn’t sure you were real.  I mean, what’s more hurtful than just ignoring someone who loves you?!  We do that to God all the time, and yet He just keeps loving us.  He keeps saying, I’m here when you’re ready.”

Eventually we began our descent to Snow Lake, where we’d spend our second night.  That’s when I felt something welling up in me, stronger with each step I advanced between the huge rock escarpments toward the meandering valley below.  Thoughts churned.  Why did it still hurt that Grayson had ignored my love? Why was it so hard to love myself ?

Here came the revelation: I understood, as I started bawling silently, that to love god in these mountains was to love god in me as well.  So I began saying silently to each beauty, however tiny or vast: “I love you, god.  I love you in this flower.  I love you in the tops of those trees.  I love you in that tremendous and intricate stone wall above me older than I can conceive.”  Each time I sent out this energy, whatever came back seemed to redirect my inner periscope just a tiny notch or two – away from Grayson’s insult and toward my own wealth of spirit, away from the story of what happened and toward the openness of whatever might.

I crossed some threshold.  I saw my journey was on course, that god had sent me a precious gift through every person I’ve ever loved – including Grayson. In the thousand-plus miles we covered together, he taught me most of the skills that embolden me today, skills that let me dare to venture out and meet my god in the rough and dangerous beauty of the wilderness.

What a gift!  Not just for me, but now through me to Kacie. “Churches are like big, fancy worship bathrooms,” says Kacie.  “I want to be here.  God’s Cathedral is here.”

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The next day we were met at the trailhead by kind, sober friends who drove us back to my car. The minute I got home, I showered, threw on a dress and heels, and drove to a downtown restaurant to celebrate another sober friend’s 50th birthday. We sang to him as he blushed.  Love – that same echo of god’s goodness – rang in our voices.

“God is such a show-off!” I remember Kacie saying as we hiked. “He is!  Because He has infinite beauty to show off!  Fucking infinite!  He pours it into the mountains, into this stream, into us!  He wants it  a-l-l  to be felt!”  We joked about the fears that make us check our inner share of god’s beauty, like a bird halting in mid-song for fear of fucking up.  This blog is part of my song.  I’ll show off, I’ll sing, I’ll fuck up, and I won’t apologize.  Because god put inside me what it wants me to share.

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What is Goodness?

Words can be dead or alive.  My big, fat Webster’s dictionary devotes a full page to the word good, yet conveys almost nothing.  Definitions range from dictionary“making a favorable impression in terms of moral character” to “wholesome” or “noble and respectable.”    Words – nothing but lexical connections.

Yet words can also be alive when they resonate with what we know to be true.  Years ago at an AA meeting, for instance, I heard these: “Love from the heart is a one-way street.  It goes out.”  The guy saying this gestured from his chest into the room, his hand unfolding from from fist to open.  I knew the truth of what he was saying.  I’d never heard it so succinctly put.

Goodness.  What is it?  Most of us know it when we’re feeling it.  If we’re around a good person, something emanates from them.  A work of art or beauty can evoke the same feeling.  It’s a warmth, a light, a glow – maybe an aura.  But of what?

Love.  Goodness is the product of love.  When that inmost heart of ours, the font of our being, our life energy, reaches out to connect with something in the world, the energy around that connection is goodness. Love has a direction, a flow along the one-way street, while goodness is the product of that connection.  It shows up in any act or effort of integrity and honor that is untainted by selfishness.

A friend of mine experienced a Near Death Experience far more protracted and detailed than mine.  Hers occurred in the seconds before a head-on car crash, which for her expanded to hours of interaction with spirits.  She was a teen at the time, verging on a dark turn of acting out from pain in her past.  An ugly, squat demon at her feet in the passenger’s seat invited her to join him, promising her a chance to “get even” with everyone who’d ever wronged her.  But she declined, and found herself suddenly pulled up out of the car, rushing into the sky with her very serious, earnest guardian angel whom she realized she’d known all her life.  Among the things she was shown was a whirlwind tour of the globe, zooming in on all the pies being made right then.  Yes, pies.  She saw countless homemade pies, all different styles and types, until finally her guide showed her the very best pie on earth at that point in time.

It was a cherry pie made by an older woman somewhere Cherry-Piein Europe. The pie was just coming out of the oven, perfectly browned with woven crust and beveled edges.  The woman loved the pie.  Into it she had poured everything she knew about pie-making, every skill acquired in years of baking – not to impress anyone, but purely to manifest the best of her abilities.  The guide flashed into my friend’s awareness that the same can be true for anything we do in life.  When we care enough to learn something, when we respect the skills involved enough to apply them with dedication, we can bring into the world a work of goodness – even when tremendous faith and courage are needed to do so.

Any time our efforts are powered by such love, they become acts of goodness – an emblem of the plenty we’ve received from god.  They are, in essence, acts of gratitude: “Life is God’s gift to you; what you make of your life is your gift to God.”

Conversely, when they’re powered by the desire to get, which is actually rooted in a sense of lack and the driving fear behind it, which is ultimately a distrust of god, our efforts become acts of aggression.  They devolve to a way of “showing” and outstripping others, of getting even with those we feel have wronged us.  The recognition is all for me.

For these reasons, addiction cuts us off from goodness entirely.  Compulsive use of alcoholalcohol, drugs, sex, shopping, etc., or the codependent urge to steer another’s life – all these keep us constantly in the mode of wanting.  We try to suck from the world whatever we think will fill the gaping hole in our guts.  This time, we’ll get what we need to feel good about ourselves.  We’ll score it from the people we impress, from the places and things that infuse us with status, lend us power.

What we have in addiction is wrong-way traffic.  As long as I’m trying to suck up whatever addiction promises will fix me, I’m incapable of even recognizing goodness.  I’m numb to it entirely.  In fact, as told in my addiction memoir, by the time I neared hitting bottom, I’d quit believing goodness even existed!  It seemed a sickly sweet delusion manufactured by conformists, when the hard core truth was that I had to grab whatever I could from a mean, barren world.

But goodness not only exists, it’s the ultimate expression ofsunshine1 living.  It can emanate from any relationship founded in sincerity – in creativity and playfulness, in compassion and affection.  Whenever I reach to connect my spirit to yours without seeking to get something from the deal, the energy from my heart streams toward you, and I become a channel for god – which is love – to flow through.  God is the source of all beauty, and as soon as we give ourselves over to expressing it, that flow simplifies life radically down to being present in gratitude.  We are complete.  In fact, we have a surplus, because the wellspring of our life-force is constantly flowing, flowing.  So we can try to give it shape, to bring goodness into the world.

That’s why I wrote this, from me to you.

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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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Being Right vs. Just Being

If you happened to see last week’s blog, I was pretty hot under the collar.  I have plenty of beliefs about anger, but none of them seem to show up when it’s flaring in my system.  angry-face“Anger rises up in defense of something sacred,” I’ve been told, which was certainly true in this case – AA is precious to me, and I felt it had been attacked.  But that anger’s gone now.  Gabrielle Glaser makes some good points.  AA is not for everyone.  Some heavy drinkers do have a mere “bad habit,” and no clear line distinguishes their condition from the sort of fatal alcoholism that has ravaged so many lives – which I do believe only a spiritual experience can conquer.

In other words, for some, Glaser may be right.

“Do you want to be right, or do you want to be happy?”  That question, often voiced in AA and Al-Anon meetings, has always bothered me a bit, because I don’t experience the two as a direct trade: being happy may not come in exchange for releasing my grip on rightness.  Today I settle instead for the peace of being uninterested.  That’s why I prefer to frame the choice in these terms: “Do you want to be right, or do you want to just be?”

In the heat of anger, my world shrinks down to two dimensions: right and wrong.  Only one of us can claim the “right” end of the stick, and the loser is left with the “wrong” end, because they’re… well, a loser.  But life is way more complicated than that!  If I can keep my mind open, I can drop the stick and say, “I have this perspective, which differs from yours.”  That way, I open an avenue to peace.  I may argue and stay pissed a while, but either way my goal is to move on, to continue with the business of living my life while you live yours as you see fit.

honey mushroomThe largest single organism on earth is currently thought to be a colony of honey mushrooms living in the Blue Mountains of Oregon which occupies an underground area about the size 1,665 football fields.  It’s a system of genetically identical cells communicating for a common purpose – i.e. one living thing.  Now, if I were to pick a single one of these mushrooms and contemplate it as an individual entity – that would be analogous to assessing the behavior of a person in a particular situation.

Because behavior is only the tip of the shroom colony!  Sprouting that person’s choice is the vast underground network of family, culture, and life experience that has cultivated that person’s principles and beliefs, along with the vast simultaneity of feelings and motives churning beneath their surface in the present moment.  But I don’t consider all that.  I see only something that contradicts my own ideas.

What do I want to do when I feel someone else is wrong?  Judge and gossip.  But, no, wait!  I don’t judge – I morally evaluate.  I don’t gossip, I process verbally with people I trust.  The temptation, in any case, is to “prove” that my truth beats the hell out of that asshole’s skewed rationalizations.  In the process, I can get downright mean.  In my Glaser rebuttal, for instance, I resorted to sarcasm: “Gosh, Gabrielle, that’s right! …Oh, I see!” I could have made the same points without mockery.

An even crazier response is trying to change the person, also known as “trying to talk some sense into” them by driving home something that will make them see they’re wrong “for their own good.”  What I’m trying to do is uproot the entire underground spore system by yanking the “right” way on a single mushroom: it’s just not going to work!

I do wish my boyfriend would give up his traveling job and go to AA.  I also wish he’d quit saying “oriental” and badmouthing Obama.  Having told him these things, I get to decide if I want to accept him as he is – or leave.  In the same vein, I wish my siblings would live by the principles of Al-Anon, practice loving kindness, and respect my sobriety, but I can’t make them do so.  What I get to decide is whether I want to hang out with them.

My job is to build my own meaningful life.  That’s it.  You get to do the same.

In Herman Hesse’s novella, Siddhartha, the young Siddhartha siddharthaabandons everyone close to him in his search for truth.  He leaves his father, the monks who’ve taken him in, his best friend, and even the Buddha himself, eventually landing in a life of material and sexual indulgence that slowly sickens him.  A few decades later, after having “awakened” from this stupor, he’s built a new life of spiritual purity assisting a simple river ferryman when his illegitimate son comes to live with him.  The son is a major asshole: spirituality’s a bore, dad’s a loser, and he runs away as soon as he’s old enough.  But when Siddhartha anguishes that he can’t teach his son how to live, the ferryman sets him straight: “Have you forgotten that instructive story of Siddhartha…?  Could his father’s piety, his teacher’s exhortations, his own knowledge, his own seeking, protect him?  Do you think, my dear friend, that anybody is spared this path?”

I take two points from this story.  The first is that I can’t impress my views on anyone who isn’t open to seeing them.  But the second is to live my own life fully, to blunder ahead at times as I blaze my own path of learning – along which, really, there are no mistakes!

There’s nothing wrong with being “wrong” sometimes.  Accept difference?  Are you kidding?  Of course I’ll still get pissed off!  Of course I’ll think I’m right and those assholes can stick it where the sun don’t shine!  Screwing up is part of being human – part of how we steer the course of who we do and don’t want to be.  That’s why Step 10 exists – because the process never ends.

I’m certainly no saint.  But loving tolerance remains my North Star, the direction in which I seek to move a little further every day.  That’s the point.

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Step 3: A Decision

What if I trusted god?

Doesn’t trust by definition mean not knowing?  Isn’t god by definition something I can’t know?

But what if I truly trusted trust?  Could I place mine in this unknowable god?  What if I surrendered this constant fight to fend off invisible threats and beat every dark fear to the punch?  Maybe I could give it up this constant need to choreograph the people and events around me if I decided it wasn’t necessary.  What might that feel like?  Why is it so difficult?

I could try thinking about how I got here.  embryosHow much say did I have about what I thought ought to happen in my mom’s womb?  Innumerable complexities aligned with inconceivable precision to bring about the organism that is me.  My mom herself had no clue what was happening.  All life originates from a process far beyond anything humans could ever comprehend or rig.  To give that process a name or classify it as “biology” doesn’t make it any less dumbfounding.

At birth our consciousness consists of trust and little more.  What is crying but half a bridge-?  As a survival strategy, it’s founded on the blind, helpless trust that someone will respond, someone will care.  That impulse – a precursor to prayer – is the only power given a human infant, but it’s the only one we need.

All that for what?  So I could grow up to earn money and buy groceries?  So it seems.  What if god has no extravagant “plan” for my life but loves me overwhelmingly regardless, simply for being me?  What if all the love I’ve ever felt and absorbed, every embrace from intimates and each kindness from strangers, every affection to ever move my heart – what if all of that energy pooled together were just the tiniest smidge of god?  What if an ocean of love is what generates every leaf and imbues every living thing with the urge to venture and delight and to rest and heal?

I might decide that, in ways far beyond my understanding, this intelligence orchestrates the outer world as much as inner, shapes every circumstance as much as every cell.  What if I could see that there is even more beauty, grace, and agility in the spirit of the gazelle in that moment when the cheetah’s jaws close on its throat than there was in its spirited flight, as it escapes the bonds of muscles and neurons to rejoin its brilliant source?  What if my perspective let me understand that from the beginning those two have been one, because the cheetah (in its mother’s womb) and the gazelle (in its mother’s womb) are two notes of the same symphony, one wave overtaking another with the same momentum?

earthMaybe then, in the same way, I could be okay with whatever happens.  Maybe I’d get it that my life is just a life, a storyline beaded with random incidents but beautifully embedded in some enterprise both gargantuan and exquisite, more vast than I can ever conceive.  It could be that the universe is indeed unfolding as it should, with me in it, so that I am still, in a sense, within a global womb.

Maybe I should think about the clear-eyed toddler I saw today outside Fred Meyer whose mom had just put her astride a fiberglass horse (without even feeding it quarters), who squealed with the uncontainable delight of now: something AMAZING was happening!  The mom’s love showed in her eyes, but my love for the two of them flooded inward from my smile – just some lady walking by – with intensity neither could guess.  Why?  Because they were me with my son ten years ago, and my mom with me half a century ago.  With them were the echoes of children long since aged and dead from centuries past, their horses of ceramic or wood now crumbled to dust.

That child will die.  My friends and family and pets have died.  And, yes, sometimes shit happens that is not of god.  There’s suffering and loss and disease and unfairness, so that my eyes teared at the child’s tender vulnerability, like mine and like yours.  God can’t guard us from pain and mishap.  But always, always there is love and more love – growing back, surviving, passed down – and the chance it gives us to cast its brightness on the now, to delight in our sheer being, to know joy.  The avalanche takes down trees centuries old, but amid the rubble, with the season, springs a tiny seedling.  These are the ways of god.

 

Fir Seedling

What if I put my trust in that ongoing love – mine, yours, god’s – as a tremendous net I can fall into?  What if all of it is good – not just striving but failing, not just birth but death?  Then I can fill in the dark unknown future with a flickering faith that god’s goodness is the ultimate power underlying all life, that it has always supported me whether I’ve known it or not, and that it always will.

That way I’m freed to seek out my own fiberglass horse in whatever form it takes.  I can rejoice right now just because I’m alive.  I’m here solely to be me and love you, not to stress and plot and worry about stuff I’m powerless over anyway.  I seek god’s guidance, try my best, end of story.  My ideas of how everything should come about or end up are just that – ideas.  As for reality, God’s got it.

I’ll roll with that.

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Doing the Opposite: A Christmas Story

Night before last I was in the dumps – just tired of frickin’ everything.  So I threw a party.  I shit you not.

This is the principle we hear of a lot in the rooms – to do the opposite of what we feel like doing.  I’ve been around long enough to know it pays off, and to understand that the loudest voice in my head is usually not the wisest.

Take day before yesterday, I was sitting in my empty house in the same odarknessld chair where I always frickin’ sit, looking out the same damn window at that same damn tree.  I was also looking at the weeks ahead – the darkest of the year (in Seattle, dusk begins to fall around 3:30).  I don’t do well in the dark.  My brain’s amygdala gets its mitts on a little fear-powered megaphone, so it was broadcasting loud and clear like this:

“What is my life, really?  Work.  Pay the damn mortgage – house falling apart.  More work.  Buy groceries, eat ’em, pay the damn sewage bill.  Clean my ever-dirty house.  Exercise to fight getting old.  Get old.  Ach! – how much longer do I have to do this shit?!  I’m 54, so… like… 35 years, and then maybe I’ll get put in a home.  God, I hope I don’t Facebook there!  I am SO sick of EVERYTHING.”

Screen Shot 2014-12-13 at 11.55.41 AMAt that point, some little alarm light tripped in a different part of my brain.  It said, as god often does, “BULLSHIT! BULLSHIT! Re-examine!  Spot inventory!”

Scanning myself, I realized I was angry – unconsciously hurt and angry.  I’d been planning a weekend with my boyfriend on the beautiful island where he lives, even rearranged clients so I could catch an early ferry, then he texted that he was being sent to Copenhagen.  Boom.  Empty weekend.  My son would be at his other mom’s.  I’d be alone.

Somehow, the part of my brain that’s been paying attention in Al-Anon kicked in, letitbeginwithme1saying: “Let it begin with me!  Your happiness does not depend on what Grayson does.  Your life is rich and you are loved by many.  Be grateful!  Spend time with friends!”

Jesus, what bunch of goodie two-shoes platitudes!

Here, dear reader, is where one has to have eaten one’s spiritual Wheaties.  Because it takes a huge surge of faith to hoist yourself out from that dark groove fear has carved, turn away, and begin to do the thing you least feel like doing.  I know that loving other alcoholics helps me.  I know my house is very near my homegroup.  So I reached for my phone.  The dark voice threw everything in arm’s reach at my head as I texted a homegroup friend.

ME: If I have a game night tomorrow after the meeting will you bring games?  I don’t have any fucking games.

ROB: Sounds great.

ME: Should I do it?  I’m depressed so it seems like a huge deal.  I just want to sleep.

ROB: Me every day.

ME:  But will you come over even if nobody else does?  We can just play hangman or tic tac toe.

ROB: I’ll bring Suspend.

I took that as a Yes.  That’s all I needed – just one friend who understood.  Forcing myself, and with the dreariest look on my face, I created an Event entitled, “Post-Meeting Games and Shit” in our local Facebook AA group, which promptly invited all 97 members.  By the next day, my best friend, a sponsee, and one other person had accepted.  The dark voice gloated about my pathetic neediness, how I should just watch TV alone like normal people.  It buzzed in the background like a big zizzy fly while I cleaned my house and bought four jugs of spiced apple cider.  Just getting the dining room table cleared of clutter for games took literally hours!

After the meeting I checked in with some non-Facebook friends, who had other plans.  A few said they might be over.  So I went home and plugged in the Christmas tree.  I turned on Pandora carols and set a big pot of cider on the stove.  My dog looked at me.  I got down a bunch of cups while the voice warned, “You’re going to feel so stupid putting these away again!”  No one came.  I added a bunch of wood to the fire.  The carols played on.  My dog scratched himself.

Then, finally, he barked.  The doorbell.  One or two at a time, a dozen homegroup friends plus two newcomers climbed those freshly swept steps with food in their arms and light in their eyes, and they brought… god.  That’s the only way I can say it.  Because I loved them!  All ages; all walks of life; all sober.  Each had overcome their own dark voice to show up.  Rob unpacked Suspend on the shining wood table where people gathered talking about how Bing Crosby beat his kids or how expensive that bakery up the street is, and, wait, what are the rules again?  Before long we were ooing and ah-ing at daring Suspend feats.

Human voices, their teasing, their laughter filled up my lonely house – and I remembered what life is, saw it like a forgiven lover.  I am so in love with my life!  We went through the cider.  We ate the food.  My party2sponsee’s gift was an updated Trivial Pursuit that a bunch of us played in the living room, awarding pie slices that people hadn’t even won because fuck it!  That question was dumb!  I saw the goodness, the vulnerability of the new people joining in, and the beauty of my friends in ever-more subtle colors.

The dark voice shriveled, its megaphone dead.

Last night rekindled something in me – Love – enough to carry me through the darkest days ahead.  Once again I remember that all my difficulties – my loneliness, my endless bills, my sorrow at getting older, and stings of life’s disappointments – are not mine.  They’re ours.  We do this thing together.

.

“We know what you are thinking.  You are saying to yourself, ‘I’m jittery and alone.  I couldn’t do that.’ But you can.  You forget that you have just now tapped a source of power much greater than yourself.” (A Vision for You, 163)

Life is yours.  Go n’ git it!

CAM00419

Left by one of the smokers on my front step. To me it reads, “I love love”

 

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