Tag Archives: codependence

Like me, like me (!): Neediness vs. god

Leaving an event recently, in the parking I saw the most charismatic (gay) guy from the group chatting with a woman who wasn’t me, and I became filled with jealousy.  Not romantic jealousy; like-me jealousy.  I thought: “He thinks she’s special! He thinks I’m boring!  Dammit!!  How can I make him like me?!  What if I…”

Then — because for 22 frickin’ years I’ve been working a program — I flagged my own attention, informed myself I was temporarily insane, got in my frickin-ass car and drove off.

Really, ego?!” I thought, driving.  “Will you never stop this shit?  It’s older than high school, older than one of Mary Ann’s banana cream pies in the face–but you keep on!”  I resolved to not care.

But it was hard.  I still felt mad at the woman for “winning,” mad to be denied the fix I wanted — that big fat hit of dopamine from feeling liked and appreciated by someone who “counts” (because, as we all know, that shit is DOPE) — but at the same time, mad at my ego for leading me back into this dumb game of hungering parasitically for worth.

Okay, I’m human, a social primate.  I have instincts around “belonging” deeply linked to survival.  That’s normal.  We all need to have friends, feel loved, etc..

But as a recovering alcoholic/ love addict, I still have needy ego that can wreak havoc with instincts and gratification. When I used to guzzle alcohol and whip up huge love-addiction crushes, I’d  take frickin’ baths in the imagined admiration of whomever I’d idolized.

When the magic one liked me, my brain would release these motherload hits of dopamine and endorphins — which I experienced as a thrilling glow of self-worth and delicious excitement — from what I imagined that magical person thought about me. The “good stuff” seemed to come from that person, though in reality it came from my brain’s model of their favorable impressions of me.  In other words, it was my brain triggering my brain to flood itself with feel-good neurotransmitters — meaning I gave myself permission to get internally high as a kite.

People, that’s not love.  That’s not even admiration.  If we want to be nice, we can call it codependent self-worth; and if we want to be harsh, we can call it projected narcissism.

Either way, this is a totally ass-backward way of living.  It’s
parasitic and delusional.  The trouble is, because I grew up in an alcoholic home, that’s how my brain is wired!  Because the supply of affection waxed and waned depending on whether my parents were drunk or hungover, and because I assumed the variable was, not the presence of absence of a drug, but me, I developed a core, bone-deep belief that I had to perform to win love — which does not serve me now that I’m a sober adult.

Here are the steps not to take:

Step 1: Elevate someone.  Decide they’re “cool.”  Make them larger than life, overflowing with charisma.  Now (sweet!) you have a stash to chase: their “good stuff.”

Step 2: Chase the “good stuff.”  If the attraction is sexual, try like hell to seduce them.  If it’s social, show off how fuckin’ exciting and funny you are.  If it’s business, find ways to impress them with your amazing knack for getting shit done.

Outcome: You’ve whored out your worth.  Even when you seem to win, you’ve lost.  Regardless of whether you’ve come off as hoped, someone else holds the keys to your human value.  Your dignity is in the goddam toilet.

What’s the alternative?  Here I go again!  It’s god.

When I say god, I mean not only a connection to the energy of life, but all the shifts in ways of living and thinking that connection brings about — if it’s real.  The whole purpose of the 12 Steps is to help us achieve a psychic change (p. xxix) that will reverse the direction of our “flow.” We go from being black holes of neediness, trying to suck okayness out of people, places, & things, to becoming more and more a channel or outlet of the warmth and energy loaned to us by our higher power: unconditional love.

The 12 steps to this change are in our Big Book, but here’s a quick-check version:

Step 1: Seek humility.  Give up the fuck up chasing anyone or anything.  Let be.  Hurt if you’re hurting. Mourn if you’re lost.  But acknowledge that you are powerless over people, places, & things.  Only one source can you count on: your higher power’s Love for your simple, confused, inherent goodness.

Step 2: Love with intention.  Forgive.  Practice gratitude (loving your life and nurturing your little inner garden).  Embrace yourself with all your flaws and look for ways this admittedly flawed self can do good, help others, and “pack [more] into the stream of life.”

Outcome: A worthiness built from the ground up.  You and god know your worth.  No one else needs to.  You slowly grow self esteem from doing estimable acts.

I just can’t say enough about the freedom of humility.  Dude.  Whenever I hike in the wilderness for a week or so, the inner gem I polish is humility — to understand I am just a critter.  I need to drink & eat and pee & shit.  I need to stay warm in my little nest for the night.  I get to laugh with my friend and witness god in a wealth of meadows, forests, and towering peaks.  I GET TO live!  That is wisdom.

When I come back to city life, hanging on to that same humility gets tricky, but I can still try.  I talk & listen and think stuff’s important & screw up.  I can glimpse god in the vulnerable humanness of friends and strangers, all of us trying to feel okay.  I GET TO love!  That is spirituality.

Near Death Experiencers (people revived from death who bring back memories) frequently report having been shown a representation of the spiritual connections uniting all living beings.  They perceived countless “golden threads” or “beams of light” interconnecting our hearts.  The bottom line, they’re told, is that we’re each a unique expression of the same god/life energy, like countless leaves on a huge tree, or countless cells in a single leaf.

No one is higher.  No one is lower.  All depend on each other, on the whole, which is god.  I’ll never forget how my first sponsor wrapped up my first major 4th step 20 years ago.  Alongside my character defects, she drew a No-Stepladder symbol.  As she put it, “Whenever you want to rank people, think of the night sky.  You may gravitate toward one constellation more than another — sure.  But you can’t rank the stars.”

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Forgiving Shame

Even though I’ve been sober many years, I find my codependent symptoms still crop up like Whack-a-Moles: I get over one and another shows up.  Shame is a particularly pesky mole with big front teeth that keeps popping up no matter how insightfully I whack it.

Brené Brown, a shame researcher, makes this key distinction:

GUILT – says what I did was bad

SHAME – says I, myself, am bad

When I got sober, I carried a lot of guilt – and rightly so!  I’d screwed over just about everyone unlucky enough to have let me into their life.  But over the next year or ten, I learned to stop engaging in harmful behaviors (at least, those I can perceive) and seek a life rooted in the values of honor and kindness.

So when I say I still experience times when shame seems imbued in my very cells, when the conviction flares that I’m secretly wrong, bad, even evil, I’m not crying out for help.  I’m trying to help us both.  Because if you, too, were raised by parents who somehow shamed you or are simply prone to self-criticism, then that same undertone of shame reverberates in your bones as well.

shameMost of the time, we ignore it like some kind of emotional tinnitus, so the feeling doesn’t register.  “What, me? shameful?  That’s absurd!”  But then life happens.  We screw up or feel exposed in some way and ~ BOOM!!  That accumulation of denied self-condemnation drops on us like a Monty Python 16-ton weight.  We’re flattened, aching from a wound that has far less to do with what just happened than scars buried deep in our soul.

For example, years ago I felt so free from shame that I wrote my addiction memoir, trusting that no matter how sick my thoughts and behaviors, even those readers who couldn’t identify would empathize.  When my relatives learned of it, the backlash was intense: they dropped dozens of 16-ton weights – all via email, texts, and online reviews, of course.  I found myself catapulted back deep into shame for who I was and what I believed, as well as for having had the blind audacity to write about it publicly.

vat-of-slimeEver since, I find that whenever some mishap shakes me up, those same shame feelings resurge – even when I’ve done nothing wrong!  I swear, I’d qualify for the Shame Olympics if there were such a thing.  It’s like some huge, soupy vat of shame is just waiting for me to lose my spiritual balance, spin a double pike and topple back in.

Chronic shame cripples our efforts to live authentically.  It hisses that we’re never to question others’ expectations, make waves, or stand out.  It’s the voice of fear, not god.  To be exactly who we’re created to be, to share our gifts unabashedly with the world – that’s what we’re here for.

Significant to sober alcoholics is the idea that getting buzzed will banish shame – along with guilt.  It certainly used to.  That’s why first few times I drank felt like flying.  I was every bit as good as you – hell, even better!  Because that oversized ego I’d stoked to make up for my abysmal self-worth was finally cut free of all those painful, heavy burdens to soar above the world.

Un/fortunately, the highs of addiction gradually diminish until our fix offers no lift at all.  My last drinks  left me as sodden with self-loathing and shame as ever.  Relapse, I know, would bring on not only shame but guilt at having shat on everything sacred to my higher self: integrity, honesty, courage, and faith.

Luckily, shame has several other nemeses.  It thrives on secrecy and silence; the deeper we bury it, the more power it gains. Like botulism, shame cannot survive exposure to open air.  When we talk about our triggers sincerely with trusted others, shame withers.  Meetings and sponsors let that happen.  Voicing our secrets takes courage, but when love lets us embrace our foibles (or even sickness) as merely human, a beautiful humility emerges to eclipse shame.

The audacity to be authentic is one of the tools Brené Brown calls for.  But having recently undergone yet another bout of shame (triggered by a naïve hope disappointed – with the vat waiting), I stumbled on another approach in the teachings of Pema Chödrön.

pema-comAbout 13 years ago, a sponsee/friend moving away gifted me a 6-cassette Chödrön lecture series entitled “Awakening Compassion” that I always meant to listen to – even after I ditched my cassette player.  A few months ago, forced to do boring PT exercises nightly before bed, I tossed Tape #1 into an old boom-box; I’ve been listening for about 15 minutes per night ever since.  Pema keeps speaking about “the raw stuff” of life being more important than our mental evaluations of it, and of “the open heart” being like a “sea anemone” that doesn’t retract when disturbed, but rather “softens” to life. Meanwhile, because I’m lying on my yoga mat, my dog Cosmo keeps coming up and dropping his drooly tennis ball on my stomach or maybe my hair, hoping I’ll chuck it across the room for him one more time.  I keep aspiring toward Pema’s lofty wisdom and enlightenment, and then – PLOP!!  Ew!!

The other night I realized – PLOP!!  Ew!! – that Cosmo’s drooly ball and my reaction to it are precisely what Pema means by “the raw stuff” of life. In Cosmo’s place, put any people or conditions that don’t suit me – including unwelcome emotions.  Woven through Pema’s words is encouragement to love this life with an open heart, not retracting into slanted stories and shoulds.

louisa-cosmo-mt-si-2016

Me & Cos on Mt. Si

Whether I snap at Cosmo or whack at shame (“I shouldn’t feel this!”), I am closing my heart to what is, to life.  I don’t have to toss the ball every time, but Cos is almost 12 and before long I’ll lose him.  By the same token, I don’t have to buy into the story shame tells, but I can accept my dance with that emotion over the years as part of my human experience, which is likewise finite and precious.  In other words, much as I’ve learned to accept and forgive shortcomings in other people, so I can begin to practice the same love and tolerance within myself.  Whacking is never our only option.

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New Year’s FOMO and other Alcoholic Horsecrap

What is FOMO?  Fear  Of  Missing  Out.

It’s that sinking feeling that someplace you’re not, lots of amazingly cool people are having an absolutely stupendous time. Maybe there’s kickass music and people are lookin’ sharp n’sexy and having a fuckin’ blast and – oh my GAWD!!! Can you believe what those two did?! That is so hilariously outrageous!  It’s not just goin’ aParty-Dancing-Vectorll over Facebook –it’s like a “fun times” montage out of a Hollywood flick!  If you could be there mixin’ it up you’d feel – oh my god – so damn good! You’d be dialed into life, you’d be carpé-ing the fuckin’ diem all night long!   But you’re missing it!

As Katie Perry sings:

Last Friday night

Yeah we danced on tabletops
And we took too many shots
Think we kissed but I forgot

Yeah we maxed our credit cards
And got kicked out of the bar
So we hit the boulevard

We went streaking in the park
Skinny dipping in the dark
Then had a ménage a trois

Yeah I think we broke the law
Always say we’re gonna stop-op
ooh-ohh*

Here’s what the song leaves out: live those lyrics and you end up with a busted ankle from falling off the damn tabletop, years of credit card debt, and maybe even salmonella because you skinny dipped in a fucking duck pond.  You’re lucky if you don’t end up in jail with charges on your record or an STD from the ménage a trois with morons.  Of course, it goes without saying that you’ve poisoned yourself again ‘til you’re heaving up bile.

Lets-partyNo, Katie doesn’t really mention that part. Neither does your FOMO.  It airbrushes away all those pesky consequences and lures us with the promise of a bright and shiny “great time.”

It’s Also Called Immaturity
For normies, FOMO spikes in youth when they’re highly peer-oriented, but as they mature into adulthood, FOMO diminishes to a rare blip on the screen. The trouble for alcoholics is, once again, our perspective is skewed.

Our disease carries many tricks in its bag.  Though normies don’t understand, we  often speak of it as having a mind of its own, exploiting whatever ploys avail themselves to keep us using or, in recovery, to trigger relapse.  A lot of alcoholics crave adventure – a sense of living on the edge.  So addiction broadcasts FOMO to persuade us that swallowing a neurotoxin is really the key to livin’ large.

Much like the craving for alcohol, alcoholic FOMO can never be satiated.

For example, New Year’s Eve of 1982, after snorting coke in the car and paying some absurdly high cover charge, my future (ex) husband and I sauntered into a hip and glitzy Boston nightclub. We scored a table near the dance floor, ordered champagne, and lit up our smokes. We danced. But at as the countdown for midnight approached I was struck by the realization I still recall so clearly: We were at the wrong club! The one down the street was way cooler! No one here was even worth impressing because they, too, had fallen for the wrong club!  If only I’d known! If only we’d gone there! I was missing out!!

This pattern would repeat itself for over a decade. I never did find the right club or party or even picnic, because if I was there, a better one had to be someplace else.

Recovery = Reality
FOMO is really just another guise of codependence. It’s not actually a yearning for fun; it’s a belief that we can gain something that will deliver a shot of wellbeing by being seen in the right places doing the right things. At some level, we believe others hold the power to validate us, though we’re actually validating ourselves through projections of those people’s imagined esteem. The esteem has to seem to come from them to be any good – we can’t feel it simply by knowing and valuing ourselves.

More and more I’m convinced most alcoholics are also codependent. The source of pain for all codependents is an external locus of self-worth – often because we grew up in dysfunctional families where we did not get what we needed to develop a strong sense that we are loveable and worthy. We keep chasing and chasing it in others and never getting any closer.

While non-alcoholic (classic) codependents try to subdue their pain by concerning themselves with what others should do and ‘winning’ love by caretaking, alcoholic codependents subdue it not only with alcohol, but with attempts or impress and winCodependent over others, often becoming social chameleons and regarding friends as something like collectible baseball cards.  Active alcoholics can’t really love our friends. We can only seek relief via people – and “love” that relief.

When we get sober, we begin to seek a higher power that can grant us the worth we’ve so desperately sought in all the wrong places. With guidance from sponsors and a growing sense of Good Orderly Direction, we can begin to live a life of integrity that lets us discover our worth as loving and lovable human beings.

But FOMO still nags at us to forget all that. It can wheedle into our minds at any time, but New Year’s Eve is its favorite holiday – especially for the newly sober.

The Big Book’s authors knew all about FOMO.  While they do instruct us “not to avoid a place where there is drinking if we have a legitimate reason for being there” (p. 101), they also caution against attempting to “steal a little vicarious pleasure from the atmosphere of such places.”  They warn us to “be sure you are on solid spiritual ground before you start and that your motive in going is thoroughly good.”  Not just good – thoroughly good.  In other words, don’t bullshit yourself.

In my almost 21 years sober, I’ve never found a thoroughly good reason to go hang with drinkers at a New Year’s Eve party.  I prefer to usher in the new year with a good night’s sleep and a cushy set of earplugs.  Sobriety fills my life to the brim, and I know it.

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* Katie Perry Lyrics – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Cdyfr4lU8sk
See also 6 Tips for Holiday Parties

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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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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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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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