Tag Archives: character defects

Change the World: Courage, Candor, Kindness

We can’t control the people or events in our lives, but we can ask god to help us change the ways we react to them.  When we respond from a place of judgment, knowing best, and general superiority, we usually have no idea we’re doing so.  I certainly don’t.  It just seems to me I’m right!

One contrary event or difficult person is no big deal, but if I live daily from this vantage point of superior insight and right-of-way, pretty soon I’m going to feel like the world’s turned against me.  But guess what?  It’s really I who’ve turned against the world.  I’m butting my head into mountain cliffs that need to fucking move, swimming up Niagara which is hella stressful, “burning up energy foolishly… trying to arrange life to suit [myself].”

God grants me the power to change this entire landscape by accepting the things I cannot change.  Not tolerating them with rolled eyes, not putting up with the stupidity of it all, but accepting that things are the way they are so I can respond constructively.  The attitude I need to live this way comes as a reward of working the 12 steps: humility.

The Ultimate Selfishness Test: Driving in the City
When we drive cars, we mechanically take on the very “self-propulsion” described in the Big Book’s preamble to Step 3, so the temptation to assume Director status becomes huge.  All the other drivers are pawns, and we’re rightfully a queen – or at least a bishop!  We gots places to go and these others are obstacles, obstructions, assholes.

I once attended a stadium concert with a young woman who shares beautifully in AA meetings and seeks god daily.  I treated and she drove.  After the show, when we finally emerged from the parking lot, the line of cars to the freeway extended in front of us maybe a mile – an endless chain of tail lights.  To my surprise, my friend veered into the empty oncoming lane where she zoomed on and on past everyone.  I didn’t know what to say or do, but I felt tremendous relief when, at the freeway overpass, we encountered a traffic cop.  Instead of letting us turn, he made us pull over and wait.  Ten minutes of watching the line go by.  Twenty minutes.  Thirty minutes.  My friend was beside herself with the cop’s “unfairness.”  Finally, when all the cars had gone, the cop chirped his whistle and signaled us to go.

All selfishness stems from spiritual myopia.  If my friend could meet the people from those cars individually, if a dimension were to open in which she could converse with each, see photos of their ancestors and childhood, hear the tragedies and delights that have shaped their experience, no way would she have acted as she did.  But her driving “dimension” was just as unreal.  Normally a kind person, she could see only her own importance, her own “right of way.”

Driving simply underscores the fact that we all live selfishly.  To an extent, we have to.  We’re each in charge of caring for ourselves, providing for our own needs so we can prosper – a responsibility that often feels overwhelming.  But that’s our lower purpose.  We also have a higher one.

For me, the analogy of cells in a body works well.  Each cell is a distinct entity.  It’s busy absorbing nutrients, sending off waste, sensing everything going on around it, and doing all the work of them four stages of mitosis (which, I learned when I underwent radiation for cancer, requires fancy footwork).

“I got shit to do before I can divide, man!” a cell might say.  “I got hundreds of mitochondria to manage here, not to mention this long-ass chain of chromosomes to tidy up!  Gimme a break!”  Yet it’s only because each cell serves a higher purpose, doing its tiny, insignificant part among trillions, that I’m able to write this and you’re able to read it.

We all have shit to do – lots of it – to keep our lives going.  But we also have a higher purpose – a collaborative one – “to be of maximum service to God and the people about us.”  Each of us with our tiny role to play animates humanity, and thus the world.

A little bit of god: Courage, Candor, Kindness
In every interaction, we can choose to contribute or withhold love from the world as a whole.  Every time we hit that crossroad where we might utter words of kindness, and we muster the courage and candor to speak them, we introduce into the cosmos a tiny surge of god-energy.  It takes effort sometimes.  “You did that beautifully!” might sound dumb.  We have to overcome self-consciousness and the dark suspicion that we’re just buttering people up.

I see it as my higher job to maximize goodwill around me.  Politically, that means resisting the designs of those who advocate greed and phobia. On a day-to-day scale, it means seeking to leave each person a little better off than I found them.  True, I can’t let others walk all over me because I need to care for myself enough to be able to show up in this role.  But that’s my means, not my end.  Every act of kindness is a positive.  A tiny positive, but positive nonetheless.

When I live this way (even when I’m driving!) I feel uplifted.  I’m happy.  I carry a glowing sun in my heart that I can, I swear, physically feel more with each year of practice.  And I can also sense when it’s eclipsed by selfish fear: I feel lonely, self-pitying, and overwhelmed.  In essence, I’m dying.  A cell cut off from the energy of its sisters will die – no way around it.  Or in my case, it just might reach for a drink.

PS: My son’s Mothers Day gift to me:
Japanese kanji for mind-heart-logic meaning
“to think with consideration for others”

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Thinking in Sobriety: A Suggested Playlist

A thought is harmless unless we believe it.  It’s not our thoughts, but the attachment to our thoughts, that causes suffering.  Attaching to a thought means believing it’s true.   (-Byron Katie)

One of the greatest gifts I’ve been granted in sobriety is a thin layer of mental insulation between having a thought and believing it’s true.  Back when I was drinking or newly sober, I used to experience a barrage of hopeless, self-deprecating, and judgemental thoughts that seemed to come at me from nowhere.

And they still do!  The miracle now is that today I know I’m thinking. I’m also aware that my thoughts are fickle: sometimes they’re guided by my higher self, and others they’re broadcast by that parasitic asshole camped out in my amygdala: Addiction.

Thoughts in themselves are just mental activity – nothing we have to sign on with.  But doing so becomes habit. As Eckhart Tolle explains, “Strictly speaking, you don’t think: Thinking happens to you… Digestion happens, circulation happens, thinking happens.  Most people are possessed by thought… [while] the greater part of [their] thinking is involuntary, automatic, and repetitive. ”

The majority of my thinking, unfortunately, tends to diagnose what’s not right.  (For instance, I’m telling you now what’s not right with my thinking.)  Why is that?  For one thing, as a human I’ve evolved to be on the constant lookout for survival problems. As an academic, I’ve been trained to evaluate everything critically.  Add the fact that, as a codependent, whoamiI’ve always had a hell of a time gauging where I stand relative to you, who I think you want me to be, and my fleeting sense of self.  (Are you disappointed?  Bored?  How do I fix it?)  And lastly, as an alcoholic, I’m prone to self-centered extremes of self-aggrandizement and self-loathing: I’m the best or the worst, totally the shit or a total piece of shit.

Maybe that’s why I experience so much downright back-assward thinking.  I kid you not: this morning I got up for a second cup of tea, and as I crossed the threshold of the kitchen, the thought came to mind that my entire life was a pathetic failure.  Why?  That’s hard to say. My thinking voice was wielding some punishing club, like: “Why do you constantly deny this?!  Why don’t you just quit your strained pretensions and admit you’re nothing but a fuck up?!” Further back I sensed accusations about my lack of material wealth and a relationship, but I didn’t look into them.  Instead I pulled away, thought: “Wow!  Harsh!” and focused on my lovely, cozy tea.

The thing is, I was once addicted to that harsh voice.  I used to grab at those thoughts saying, “AHA!  Now I face the TRUTH!”  Granted, the harsh voice possessed a dismally limited supply of diatribes or, if you will, a chintzy jukebox of dark songs it played over and over.  But I knew them all so well that, whether about your faults or mine, it was great fun to sing along.  For years, they all led to a frame of mind that clearly called for a drink.  I drank not so much to vanquish them as to join with their story: “I don’t give a shit anymore.  Cheers!”

table-jukeboxHere are some of the dark jukebox’s Greatest Hits, sequenced from inner to outer attacks:

  • You Suck  (verses include your life sucks; you’re incompetent; your job/ creativity / social skills suck; no one likes you)
  • You’re Gross  (includes you’re fat; your clothes/ hair/ belongings are stupid; your ____ is too ___)
  • Poor, Poor You~! (includes cruelly denied X;  you’ve tried so hard; never even had a chance; assholes always win; god is frickin’ mean)
  • Your Way’s Right  (includes you told them X ! ; they think they’re so smart; they’ll be sorry; fuck those bastards)
  • That Bitch (includes why is shit so easy for her?; why do all the guys like her?; why won’t she just shrivel up and die?)
  • How D’they Like You NOW??  (includes a myriad of stellar comebacks, snide putdowns, and scathing witticisms to put assholes in their place)
  • Some Day You’ll Show ‘Em (includes Academy Award-winning footage of you accomplishing great things amid vast admiration, or talking thoughtfully with vanquished rivals about your victories)

As I noted above, I still have all these thoughts.  But… by virtue of having worked the steps and listened to a variety of 5th steps, I’ve learned to recognize their hackneyed tunes as part of the human condition – nothing unique to me.  And by a miracle of grace, I’ve actually grown bored of them.

Sometimes, to break a dark train of thought, you need a light one.  The Saint Francis Prayer rocks, of course, but it’s a bit abstract.  Here’s a playlist of thought trains I pursue when I’m having trouble shutting down the jukebox.

  • Be grateful.  I’m not in a war-torn country; I’m healthy; I’m sober; I know my god; I have friends; all I need to live has been gifted to me, plus a wonderful son, home, and abilities.
  • Send love to someone struggling.  I call to mind friends having a hard time and pray for them, maybe text some kind words, or decide on something I could do to help.
  • Plan something happy.  This past kidless weekend I saw the blues coming, so I took my dog, drove 2 hours, and climbed 4,000 feet from old growth forest to a snowy peak – sheer heaven!  All it cost was gas and gumption. I also throw parties, meet for coffee, and play at silly sober stuff (like sober karaoke this weekend).
  • Remember I’m going to die, as are you.  This may sound morbid, but holding in mind that life is finite renders every detail of the present moment infinitely precious.  The more loved ones I lose, the more easily I love all of us – this uppermost layer of humanity like fresh spring grass on an ancient prairie.

Living sober doesn’t mean just not drinking.  It means cultivating a beautiful life with the help of a loving god – and saying no to those habits that drag us back toward our dis-ease.

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Me not watching TV alone last weekend (across from Glacier Peak, tagged last summer)

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Insides to Outsides: Envy vs. Compassion

I get envious.  I hate to admit it.  Envy’s such a low-down, ego-driven emotion, but sometimes the best I can do is admit I’m feeling it and maybe ask god to help me stop.  Lately, god’s been doing just that – showing me how little I know.

Envy can happen only when we compare our insides to other people’s outsides. And what a beautiful (AA) phrase that is, too!  We get lonely, assuming others are capering about with friends.  We scroll bored and depressed through Facecrack, convinced everyone else is reveling in a kick-ass life.  Always, we imagine other people have it easier.

In my drunken 20s and 30s, even after my Near Death Experience showed me otherwise, I clung to an objectivist, mechanical view of the universe that kept things pretty straightforward. But as the years brought on a series of paranormal experiences – knowing stuff I shouldn’t know, seeing stuff I shouldn’t see – I had to expand my realm of possibility.  Quantum physics increasingly shows researchers what an elusive, pliable, witness-influenced phenomenon “reality” can be.  And the spirit world is constantly showing me the same.

Angels & Demons

For me, it’s no longer beyond the bounds of possibility that when I pray for help with a specific character defect, god will provide the grist for just that – if I’m willing to perceive it.

So, anyway – I asked god to remove my envy.  It had been plaguing me particularly since I brought home my alcoholic ex-boyfriend’s cell phone and discovered his extreme, prolonged deception around his sex addiction.  I felt like an idiot for having banked all my love in a rotten vessel.  And all around me, it seemed, were couples savoring romantic bliss.

Left outFor reasons I can’t explain, my comparisons swarmed around a particular friend.  She and I had known each other only faintly from art class on the day when, less than a month after my horrific break up, I sat in the Department of Motor Vehicles, still skinny and shaking, waiting to renew my driver’s license.  In walked gorgeous Jane with her two beautiful children, so I waved her over.  Ten minutes later I knew that, just like me, she was a sober alcoholic who’d had her kids late in life.  She’d been married 10 years to a wonderful non-alcoholic man.

I trusted her.  By the time I left with my license, I’d confided the entire gruesome betrayal story, exposing all my wounds down to details I’d told no one else.  For some of the lewder texts and fetishes I’d seen on my boyfriend’s phone, I even spelled out words while her wholesome preschoolers played nearby.  Jane’s stricken face showed genuine empathy.  Even so, I berated myself afterwards for sharing TMI: “Why did you do that?!  You’re such a freak!”

Days, weeks, and months later, Jane’s husband would stop by our class lovers runningto pick up their kids, the two of them exchanging a brief kiss.  Mind you, I have plenty of friends in happy relationships, but for some reason that image, or even the thought of it, would spur me to beat myself up mercilessly:  I’d fucked up my whole life by choosing the wrong man.  If only I’d chosen more wisely, held out for a normie, found a good, church-going father like that, I’d have the happy intimacy Jane enjoyed!  Instead, I had nothing.

~

We never have a clue what’s coming.  Last week as I arrived at class, Jane rushed up to me in tears. “Thank god you’re here!” she said.  “My husband’s been cheating on me for years and years!  He’s a sex addict!”

I hugged her.  My heart flared with empathy as I understood this bomb had blasted not only her heart, as in my case, but her entire hearth, home, and family beyond anything I could imagine.  Still, the knife of betrayal – that I did know.  I looked into her eyes and spoke the words that had saved my sanity: “His sickness has nothing to do with you.”  We went to a coffee shop where I sat and listened while ‘crazy’ words spilled from her mouth – words of rage and agony and violence!  I nodded with recognition at even the harshest threats of retaliation.  I remembered that white rage.  Because when everything falls apart, there are no rules – except to stay sober.

To help Jane do that, I made up my mind to offer everything I could.

Love is the ultimate risk.  There’s no protecting yourself.  You open your heart and let someone live in there.  The more you love them, the deeper into your core their roots grasp.  So if a day comes that those roots are suddenly torn out, chunks of your soul get ripped out with them.  You die a little bit.  This is true for all of us.

backside embroideryWhat I’ve learned in AA is that nothing I’ve felt, thought, or done is unique to me.  Nothing!  In meetings we reveal our knotty, crisscrossed under-stitching instead of the smooth embroidery we show the outside world.  That’s how we learn to trust each other.  God reminds me over and over: in spite of whatever differing externals ego and envy harp on, our pains and our joys are the same. Helping one another through them, whether in ways big or small, is indeed the ultimate purpose of being alive.  Nothing matters more.

Jane is a strong woman.  She’ll walk through this hell, and she’ll do it without a drink.  And I’ll walk with her as much as I can.  I remember all the little kindnesses friends offered that helped me through my darkest days – frequent texts, maybe a positive CD, a bouquet, and most of all, listening.  Today, those are things I can do for Jane.

Why did I decide on that particular day, that particular hour, to head for that particular DMV to renew my license?  Why did Jane?  Was it merely by chance we shared the hour that bonded us?   You can think what you like, but I believe god sows at our feet the seeds of all we need to heal each other.

Everything is in divine order.

 

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Awkwardness ~ !!!

Hi.  So I’m Louisa.

This is my blog.   Yeah.  It’s about alcoholism and spirituality.

I write it – the blog, I mean.

This one’s about…. AWKWARDNESSSSSSS

What the hell is it?  Why the hell does it happen? What’s the feeeeling it causes, and why does alcohol take it away?  Is it really so torturous that some of us, cornered at a dumb-ass party that in truth means nothing to us, are tempted to throw away our life-saving sobriety just to fit in?

awkward-momentOf course, awkwardness doesn’t strike just at parties and weddings and barbecues. It’s everywhere. It can plague us as we try to mingle after an AA meeting: I remember storming away from a smokers’ crowd in 1998 cursing them all – “Fuck ‘em! Fuck ‘em! Fuck ‘em!” – with every step.  Friends today Facebook about ducking down grocery aisles or waiting to leave their house until they can avoid an acquaintance or neighbor.

The dreaded nightmare?  It’s that bumbling, uncertain, inadequate feeling – awkwardness.

What’s the experience?
Awkwardness, I would say, is an involuntary onset of stiffness, verbal paralysis, and general lack of spontaneity that comes over us in conversation in such a way that we can’t think of good stuff to say, and stuff we do say sounds incredibly stupid.  We feel encased in something, as if our mind were struggling to sprint in a five-inch-thick wet suit.

What I still count as my all-time most awkward moment happened for no reasoncartoon whatsoever.  I was 17 and reading a textbook in the sun on the front steps of our house when our neighbor came through the gate calling hello – a young, cheery woman I idolized as cool. What we talked about, I have no idea. But for some reason, the intensity of awkwardness I underwent in those minutes is branded forever on my memory – I’d have gladly sawed off my left leg for a supply of witty rejoinders, and by the time she left, I longed to commit hari-kiri.

But then something rare followed: a passing moment of self-compassion. I reflected that I was like a student driver new to adult roads, still unskilled and unsure of the rules. I thought, “Maybe some day I’ll get good at social driving.  Maybe someday, I’ll always know what to say.”

Enter Alcohol
As it turned out, I was on the brink of discovering a drastic shortcut to an Indy 500 social experience: booze. That’s right!  Alcohol is not only liquid courage, butcool cat liquid ANTI-AWKWARD.  A few drinks and we “loosen up” so we can converse smoothly and easily.  We’re suddenly cool cats.  A few more and we just don’t give a fuck.  What a simple switch to flip: wracked with self-consciousness  ⇒  charming, maybe even scintillating  ⇒  “I fuckin’ love you guys!”

But what really happened?  What does the drug change in us?

Self-judgment.  Self-monitoring.  As noted in my previous blog, alcohol compromises the prefrontal cortex, responsible for monitoring impulsive behavior.  The trouble for many of us alcoholics (and codependents) is that for a variety of reasons, we tend to over-monitor.  In fact, we censor ourselves right out of perfectly valid expressions and sharings right and left.  But the good news is, if we do this to ourselves, then with god’s help we can learn to un-do it – sans alcohol.

Over the course of my sobriety, I’ve found it possible to make peace with awkwardness by drawing back the curtain on that little wizard generating all the noise and smoke.  Another approach is to go ahead and embrace awkwardness as a precious part of being human and flawed.  And the third is to simply remind myself that all moments pass, so even if I were to find myself living out a “forgot to wear pants” dream, ultimately I’d be okay.

What’s really going on?
Okay, you’re not gonna like this.  I know for me, any time I’m feeling awkward, I’m also feeling selfish and self-centered.  Selfishness for the alcoholic is such a deeply ingrained defect, one “driven by a thousand forms of fear,” that we may not realize we’re in its grip.Womensayinghi

I’m afraid you won’t like me.

I’m afraid I’m boring.

I’m afraid I’ll reveal ignorance.

I’m afraid – let’s just sum it up – that you’ll figure out I’m not good enough.

So since I secretly believe I’m not good enough, I have to falsely impress you.  While my conversation may seem motiveless on the surface, it’s actually an attempt to manipulate you into a favorable view of me that, deep down, I believe I don’t deserve.  I’m busy crafting an image, doing PR work with every nod, every chuckle, every response.

And it’s a fuck of a lot of work!

In fact, it’s so much work that my poor brain doesn’t have enough bandwidth left to actually be interested in you, in what you’re saying or feeling or whatever the hell we’re purportedly talking about.

I want something from you.  Approval.  Increased trust.  Intimacy.  I probably don’t even know what it is, but at some level I fear my ship will sink without it.  YOU are a means to an end…  and our conversation, interesting or needed as it may be, is really all about ME and my needs.

What’s the alternative?
Sorry, guys, but here we go again!  The way out is Step 3.  It’s trusting god.  It’s having made a decision to live from a place of knowing that my worth derives from god’s love – and that god is not wrong to love me.  I have inherent worth.  I am trying.  I have love and kindness to offer.  Further, regardless of whether our conversation turns to a big fat stinky turd on fire, I will still be worthy and lovable.  I don’t need you to like me.  What will be, will be.  I trust god that, just by being loving and useful, I can play the role I’m meant to.

What happens when we adopt this attitude?  Amazing things!  I can pay attention.  I can wonder about you.  I can think clearly about what I really mean, what would be helpful, what I have to offer you.  And I’m free!  God has sliced through the five-inch-thick wet suit to let me out so I can dance!  I laugh, say what I think, am playful – and it’s fun!  I’m able to love you for just being you.  All this I can do stone. cold. sober.

Embracing Awkwardness
Let’s face it, there are times when I do want something from someone, because I’m human.  Recently, for instance, I was on a group hike with a guy I found attractive – the first spark I’d felt since the demise of my relationship.  So guess what?  Whenever we two were alone, I felt awkward.  I couldn’t think of shit to say, or I said “stupid” shit, and three-second silences loomed like eternities.  But I forgave myself for it.  “How cute we are,” I thought, “all awkward and goofy like this!  How predictable I am, like a high schooler!”  Even awkwardness, reminding us we’re alive, can be a gift.

And Besides, No One Cares!
Eleanor Roosevelt, that great vanquisher of personal awkwardness, left us with this gem on the topic:

“You wouldn’t worry so much about what others think of you if you realized how seldom they do.”

We’re all self-centered by nature, each of us the central protagonist of our world’s story. Everyone’s too busy thinking about themselves to dwell on anything we say or do.

Lastly, there’s that bit of AA wisdom: “What you think of me is none of my business.” We’re here to be kind, loving, and useful.  Let others make of it what they will.

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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 a 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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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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Off the Beam – Head Static Returns

Sorry, there’s no inspiring blog this week because Louisa doesn’t have her shit together.  That’s right, I’ve wandered off the spiritual path and found myself befuddled in some remote, unspiritual bog surrounded by brambles and having just accidentally used my only map as TP.

Why am I so off the beam?  I guess because I’ve been deluged with work, something I kept praying for with those stupid Santa prayers that aren’t supposed work.  For the past few weeks I’ve been zooming around town meeting clients and editing like a mo-fo in between, so my eyes are all bloodshot and my poor brain feels encased in pantyhose.  Every now and then I feel a lurch of vertigo that would flare into a full blown panic attack if I couldn’t spot their wolf-cryin’ asses a mile away by now.  Hyperventilating, again!  In other words, I’m running on fear.

So, how does being off the beam show up?  Regression!  It’s ridiculous.  I get to go through high school all over again.  Take the other night, when I went to my mountain climbing group’s annual gratitude embarrassedbanquet, where the faces of the (cool kids’) Glacier Climbing Course I was once so active in have all changed for the younger.  I arrived late, so there were no seats.  I felt like a has-been.  But then my ego got a great idea to fix this: I tracked down two of the new leaders and said I’d be happy to deliver some of this year’s presentations if they needed someone – you know, sort of like Barry Manilow offering to perform at the Grammys.

Or at least, so it seemed to me the next morning.  I was mortified.  With dozens of new grads able to present, why had I nosed in?  Ach!  What should’ve been dismissed with a quick “f*ck it” prayer seemed like a huge deal and colossal embarrassment.  My old buddies – wounded pride, concern with what others think of me, and self-loathing – stopped by for breakfast and hung out all morning.  We hadn’t seen each other in a while, so we chatted for hours about how pathetic I was, how dumb I must’ve looked – lots of productive stuff.  There was even a dark, dreary day plus some menopausal symptoms toThe-Scream set the stage.  Good times!

To knock that stuff the hell off when I’m in spiritual disarray seems next to impossible.  No matter what I tell myself, I’m back to square one, worrying about the same shit.  It’s like waving away a determined yellow jacket.

Contrast me in this tizzy with the Native American panhandler I talked to last week while the light was red at the Aurora Denny exit.  He described the “irony” of having felt lucky the day before to find a sheet of plastic so he could wrap his backpack against the rain, only to return from walking the car line and find it – everything he had – stolen.  “Who would do that?!” I asked, incensed.  He flashed me a toothless smile.  “Just somebody being a jerk,” he shrugged.  “I’ll be okay, though.  Today’s been a good day.”

This man’s acceptance blew me away.  He wasn’t drunk.  He was just unafraid of life with nothing.  Can I say that again?  Unafraid.  Of life.  With nothing.  Every bit as poor as Jesus or the Buddha, his outlook was brighter than the majority of us schmucks lined up in  traffic.

In only one area do I have that man’s caliber of faith, and that’s around my sobriety.  I know I’ll be okay, so long as I hang on to god.  No matter how frazzled I get, whether by small stuff or big stuff, this description from the Big Book’s pages 84-85 still applies:

“For by this time sanity will have returned. We will seldom be interested in liquor. If tempted, we recoil from it as from a hot flame… We have not even sworn off.  Instead, the problem has been removed. It does not exist for us… That is how we react so long as we keep in fit spiritual condition.”

How does that work?  I know that on one level, I have nothing to do with this gift.  As described in the Robin Williams post, I’m sober because of grace alone, for reasons I’ll never understand – a miracle that is never guaranteed.

Yet there is such a thing as underlying spiritual fitness, which offers grace a landing strip to show up in our Starry Night Skylives, even during tizzies.  Mine shows up as an understanding that I’m never in charge, ever, of anything – least of all emotions that come over me.  I’ve somehow internalized Step 3.  In the past, thoughts, emotions, and judgements that defined my reality amounted to an unacknowledged false god, one that used to tell me I could fix stuff with booze.  Through practicing the steps consistently, however, I’ve withdrawn my trust from those voices and given it instead to a higher power, a god of love.  Nothing that happens to me can shake that.  It’s in my bones, even when self-defeating thoughts ricochet around my silly brain.

If I live to be 100, I think I’ll always have episodes like this, when I transform into SUPER TWIT and anguish for hours over a visible booger or even an imagined visible booger.  I’m kind of glad about that: I’ll always be a fool.  Being a fool – freaking out about piddly-shit – is actually one of the most endearing aspects of being a fallible human being.  Part of me misses it already, and I’m not even dead.

I know I need to slow down, maybe even decline some work to make time for self-care.  I will.  But listen, my lovely alcoholic readers, I do want to add this:  No matter how busy or pressed for time, I always go to my meetings, meet with my sponsees, and pray all over the place.  No matter how wacky I get, I know these actions are my only recourse against the disease that wants to ruin my life.  On them, I never compromise, because if that monster ever escapes from my brain stem, it won’t compromise with me.

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POST SCRIPT, 2/8/15:  It turns out I was asked to give a presentation on gear to this year’s Glacier Climbing Class, which I delivered yesterday in front of about 100 people.  And out turns out I do have long term wilderness experience that proved valuable to climbers both new and old, for which everyone was extremely grateful.  Who knew?  I guess listening to my head-critics, once again, has proven a bad idea.

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