My Insecurities made me vulnerable to criticism. Fear of rejection prevented me from developing normal healthy relationships. I would either try too hard to make someone like me or I would hang back and expect them to make all the moves. If something went wrong, or if I perceived that something was wrong, I would feel desperate to set things right. I could not stand to think that someone was mad at me. It felt as though I had ants crawling all over me.
It required deliberate painstaking work on my part to change my self-defeating attitudes. I had become so sensitive that I could not trust my own opinions and perceptions. The greatest obstacle in my recovery journey was me. I was scared to death of change but hated the way the I felt even more.
The self words and how we use them plays a pivotal part in our recovery journey. Words like – self-pity or self-esteem, self-righteousness or self-love, self-will or self-acceptance. The list goes on and on.
When my sponsor told me that I spent to much time thinking about myself she hurt my feelings. But I trusted her to tell me what I needed to hear and I knew that whatever she said to me she meant it with love. She suggested that I do things like random acts kindness, help others with less than I had, and she even suggested that I make a gratitude list. I am embarrassed to think of how many times she said to me – “get out of self.” That always meant don’t be self-righteous, be less self-centered, stop self-justifying and let go of self will and live God’s will.
My recovery home group and my sponsor became my life line. They loved me when I wasn’t lovable. They helped me to focus on the solution and not the problem. And they believed in me when I didn’t. I was not alone.
Today I am in a good place. Every once in a while I jump the track and get back into my stinking thinking. But that does not happen very often anymore. At least now I know what to do about it.
My alcoholic did whatever he darn well pleased whether I liked it or not. He had NO Boundary problems what-so-ever! I was the one with boundary problems. I was the one left holding the bag. I was the one stressed about finances, taking care of the kids and their needs, the house and the yard and facing our problems.
I struggled trying to out-wit him and keep him out of trouble. I covered for him and lied for him. No Sir! He did not have a boundary problem because I handled all of his problems for him. He pretty much did what he wanted to do, when he wanted to do it, however he wanted to do it. Or he chose to do nothing at all. I worried about feeding our kids and finding enough money to buy them a coat. Interestingly enough he always found the money to buy alcohol and to drink in bars.”
I polished my halo and griped and complained about all my responsibility. I was afraid if I gave him boundaries he would leave me and I was mad at myself because I could not leave him. Confusing isn’t it. Both of us were drowning in our sicknesses. I would promise myself I was never going to do all those enabling things for him anymore. But I did do them – over and over over and over again. I told him and I told myself that I deserved better and that I was going to leave – but I stayed. So I tried harder to make it work. It didn’t work. Nothing I tried made it work.
My sponsor helped me to understand that when I looked at the big picture I was overwhelmed. But, if I broke things down into little pieces it was manageable. So I tackled the small things first. My sponsor told me to tackled one thing at a time, until I was comfortable doing it on a regular basis. I started with the little stupid things that he did and I allowed him to experience the result of his decisions. Next I concentrated on taking care of the kids and myself and letting go of the things that he needed to do to be responsible for himself.
This process helped me build my boundary muscle. I had one small victory at a time. Over time I got out of the way and allowed him to make his own decisions and experience his own consequences.
Anytime I am obsessing about something I am in trouble. Obsessing means that the problem owns me. It means that I have lost site over what I am powerless over and what I am not. I can kid myself into believing that I am just stating my opinion, but in my heart it is not just an opinion it is a need to be right or a need to control. And, it is an obsession.
My sponsor told me that anytime I am unsure if something is an opinion or an obsession I should pay attention to how much I talked about it. Have I become a nag? Am I sarcastic, pouty, angry or manipulative because I did not get my way? She told me that if I really needed to voice my opinion, to say it once and shut-up. If it really was my opinion I could voice how I felt and be at peace that I was heard, whether anyone agreed with me or not. I may not like it that they did not agree with me, but their lack of agreement was not going to push me over the edge of reality. One little signal that could tip me off that my opinion had become my obsession was how many times I kept repeating “my opinion.” If I kept saying it over and over again, fifty different ways, then I needed to look at my motive. Was I on a mission to be vindicated?
When something trips me up and pushes me over the edge of reason – when I can not let something go, I know now that I need to look deeper and try to understand what is really bothering me. There was a time that I would not have known to look deeper. As a consequence I would have been miserable and made everyone around me miserable. Recovery has given me great measures of serenity and it has taught me how to get my serenity back when I jump the track. Serenity. How sweet it is. Serenity is why I keep coming back after all these years.
I thought that if he just stopped drinking that our life would be perfect. It never occurred to me that he may never stop. I never thought about putting my life in order and letting him accept the consequences of his own actions. I never thought there was even a possibly of a life with out him. Don’t get me wrong. I did think about leaving him. But there was a but a the end of that thought. I would leave him. He would see the light and beg me to come back. The few times I did try to leave he did not see the light and he did not beg me to come back. And I came back anyway.
Once the blinders were off I began to realize that over time I had been lowering the bar on acceptability in my life. Once the fog cleared in my head it shocked me how much I was sacrificing just to keep this one person in my life. While at the same time he did not sacrifice anything for me. He let me give as much as I was willing to give.
I was the one that lowered the bar and I was the only one that could raise it. I had spoiled him by always giving in. There was no way he was going to “allow me” to raise the bar without resistance. Y’all – it was so hard to stand up for myself. I found that sometimes the more resistance he put up to the changes I was trying to make, the more likely I was to fold. So in the beginning I had to start with little things and when I got stronger I could graduated to more difficult challenges.
Some times it was two steps forward and one step back. The support of this program was paramount in my recovery journey. Just knowing that I wasn’t the only one that handed over the keys to their life to someone else helped me to forgive myself. No one ever told me what to do. They knew they would not have to live with the consequences. They understood it had to be my decision. They did not judge me or criticize me and they helped me to get back up when I fell down. I no longer felt isolated and alone. Not any of this was easy but it was definitely worth it.
Denial led me on a merry goose chase trying desperately to force my wants into something real. I had this vision of happy families and of what I thought was a happy marriage, but my vision was not my reality. So I just kept trying to fit a round peg into a square hole. I kept placing my trust in what I wanted my husband to be, not what he was, and of course he could not live up to that expectation. Not that he didn’t want to or that he didn’t try from time to time. But you see he was an alcoholic and there was no way he could fulfill my hopes, expectations and dreams. He could not even fulfill his own.
I thought that it was my fault. I felt like a failure. I felt that I had done something to create this problem. That maybe I was not a good wife. So I tried harder. I sacrificed more of myself and I did things I did not want to do trying and force the solution I wanted. After a while I would get angry and rant and rave my frustrations. Then I would sulk and become withdrawn. Nothing worked. His drinking got worse and I totally lost prospective of what was acceptable and what was not. I hated him but I hated myself more.
I was at a crossroad and did not even know it. A friend, a dear friend, took me to my first meeting. I resisted and insisted that I was not like “those people.” My husband was not an alcoholic. My friend could not understand my resistance. After one meeting she ask me why I would rather blame myself for his drinking than to recognize that he his drinking problem had nothing to do with me. I did not have a “wal-la” moment at that time, but what she said to me came back into my thoughts over and over again. In fact it haunted my thoughts.
Was alcoholism a disease or was it a moral choice. I honestly didn’t know. Up until I began to question the “disease or a conscious deliberate act” issue in my own mind, I had assumed that his behavior was somehow because of me. It all boiled down to whether or not I believed in the 3 “C’s” – I didn’t cause it, I could not control it and I could not cure it. If all of that was all true then it could not possibly be my fault. It was the life line I needed to start my recovery journey.
The very first step is admitting our powerlessness. It is admitting that our life is out of control and unmanageable. Well I just did not want to do that. I was struggling to survive. If I let go and admitted that I could not fix this problem then things would definitely go to heck in a hand basket. I was the wall of protection between disaster and my family. If I were powerless then what? I felt like I was carrying the weight of the world around. I took on responsibilities that weren’t mine desperately trying to mold, manage and control possible impending disaster in my life. The tighter I held on the more painful my life became.
So the first stumbling block to my recovery was me. Before I could get the help that I needed I had to admit my powerlessness. I had a problem that I was powerless to control or fix. If I looked, if I really looked, at the chaos in my life I would know that my life was definitely unmanageable. I was close, but not willing to surrender. I had lived in denial for so long that I had begun to believe my own lies. So life go worse.
Isn’t it interesting how we fall into the trap of believing that our problems are unique and that our circumstances are different? But we really aren’t unique and our circumstances are typical of the chaos of living with alcoholism. The only thing that does make our problems unique is that they are our problems.
Someone ask me how much more of my life I was willing to sacrifice and waste being unhappy and miserable. Life was not a blame game. Was he an alcoholic or not? Did it really matter at this stage how we labeled it? His drinking caused problems in our life. The reality was that the label was not the issue. It was the symptoms that spoke for themselves and the symptoms of alcoholism created havoc in our life, whether we called it alcoholism or not. Knowing who was at fault would not solve the problem.
In the end it was recognizing where I had power….and it was not over his drinking that is for sure. I could not do anything about him or his drinking but I could do something about me. It was time for me to be responsible for me. I took the first step and began the road to recovery.
Truly one of the most difficult aspects of my recovery journey was learning to be a friend to myself. There is a quote by Randall Jarrell that says, “If you have been put into your place long enough, you begin to act like the place.” All of my life, from childhood until I came to this program, other people had defined my self-worth and according to them I wasn’t worth much.
I had a fierce internal struggle going on inside all the time. Part of me felt worthless and another part of me was defiant and demanded that I be accepted and treated with respect. Unfortunately the defiant side came out just that way – defiant. That attitude did not endear me to anyone. Of course that rejection just added to my low self-esteem. Every time I compared myself to someone else I came up short. Every time I made a mistake, regardless of how small, it just confirmed that I was a looser in my own mind. I would beat myself up for the smallest of things. Even for things that were not my fault.
It was through my recovery programs and these steps that I learned about self-acceptance. It was through my recovery programs and these steps that I began to understand, recognize and acknowledge how the events in my life had molded me to the person that I was at that time. I learned that other people did not define my self-worth. The support system I received supported me through the difficult trials that I had to face and at the same time they helped me to understand that I was responsible for me and for the choices that I made. I began to realize that as long as I chose to continue to live as a victim – I would never have the kind of life I needed and wanted. I began to understand that I was the only one that could make the choice not to be a victim any more.
Fear and insecurity tried to derail me all along the way. The uncondtional love and support of people who had walked this walk before me have helped me to not give up. They could recognize when I wallowing in self-pity when I was over confident. They supported me through every triumph great or small. I desperately needed them to help me stay on track.
My life is much different today. I’m not perfect. I am still a work in progress but I am light years from where I was.
The Serenity Prayer talks about the wisdom to know the difference between what we can and can not change. Where I get tripped up, where I struggle, is in the technicalities of what is right and what is wrong, and also when something is unfair. I want to demand what is right to prevail. I want to demand that fairness be recognized.
Unfortunately not everyone in the world plays by the same set of rules, and some people could care less about the rules. When righteousness (the quality of being morally right or justifiable) does not prevail I really struggle with my powerlessness.
The key for me in having the wisdom to know the difference, between what I can and can not change, is recognizing who is really in the drivers seat and who is in the passenger seat. Back seat drivers can give directions and shout out orders all they want to but they still don’t steer the car. Back seat drivers don’t have their hands on the wheel. If I am not in the drivers seat, if I am not the one with my hands on the wheel, I am still just a passenger.
The courage to change the things I can comes when I am brave enough to make decisions based on what is right for me, and NOT based on what I am afraid someone else may or may not do. There have been times when I felt more comfortable trying to change something I could not change, because for me to have the courage to change the very thing that I could change seemed selfish and self-centered. Crazy isn’t it. Crazy! Crazy! Crazy!
The entire recovery process constantly keeps moving me a long. Some days I am stronger than others. Now I am more aware than ever of my options and most of the time I exercise those options in a way that is healthy and good for me. But when I don’t that is when the Serenity Prayer reminds me to look and see who is in the drivers seat and who is in the passenger seat.
Acceptance does not mean I approve. It does not mean that I have to like it. It means that this is the way that it is and there is not a darn thing I can do to change it – in other words I am powerless. I can accept my reality and stay or I can accept my reality and leave. I can accept my reality and be miserable or I can accept my reality and get on with the business of living a good life. The choice was mine to make.
When I finally got it, when I finally accepted that I was powerless, there were times it left a bitter taste in my mouth, because at that time I did not want to leave or I could not leave. So the disappointment, frustration and sometimes anger I had felt for husband shifted from him to myself.
My sponsor helped me to let those feeling go. She reminded me that this is a one day at a time program. She told me to ask myself where am I better off today. My decision, my acceptance, did not necessarily mean that this had to be for the rest of my life. This is where I needed to be right now.
After that it was up to me to do the things that I did have the power to do. I went back to school. I got a job. I joined a church. I went to meetings. I rolled up my sleeves and went to work on these steps. I was determined to do whatever it took to feel good about myself. To put myself in a position to help myself. To be independent.
All of these things took time and it was a good thing. If I had not laid the foundation for a better life and had just ran away to a new life, I would have simply created a newer version of my present life. I did not want that. I wanted to be happy. I wanted to feel good about myself and running away would not have done that. There is no geographical cure. I would have just taken the old wounded, broken and needy me where ever I went. I did not want the same song second verse. I wanted a whole new song.
I got my new song and a whole lot more. I learned compassion and empathy for my alcoholic. I forgave him and I forgave myself. I also learned not to be so hard on myself – to give myself a break when I messed up. I am never going to be perfect. We did not get this way over night and we aren’t going to change over night either. Awareness, change and growth is a process.