My alcoholic and I were both in denial about his drinking, about our life together and about our responsibility as individuals. Distorted thinking created a lot of insanity in our lives. I will tell you this – I have learned that what ever is the main focus in my life is what becomes my reality. Sometimes it is real and sometimes it is just in my head. But it was real just the same. Therefore it became imperative for me to stop focusing on trying to save him and start focusing on trying to save myself.
This was the beginning of learning about detachment for me. There is only one way I could truly detach and be free and that was to detach with love. Any other way for me was not really detachment. I might shut the door on the problem and never look back but that problem contaminated all of my other relationships. It affected decisions I made, places I went and things that I did. It robbed me of other joys in my life.
But detaching with love taught me how to separate truth from fiction. My alcoholic was a child of God just like I was. He was wounded and hurting. I had been judging him and in turn I set myself up to be judged. He was addicted to alcohol and I was addicted to him and our chaotic life. I was looking down on his behavior and myself and others looked down on me for “allowing him to drink that way” and then for staying with him when he would not comply.
Detaching with love freed me from judgement. Detaching with love help me to separate the man from the disease. That was the only way I could free myself from the unrealistic expectations of being responsible for everything that goes wrong in the world. It freed me from the constant need to make others think nice of me. They did not walk in my shoes. They did not understand my life. Therefore their judgement no longer had power over how I saw myself.
It was interesting that when I stopped judging him it helped me to stop judging myself as well. When I detached with love, when I stopped judging him, when I separated the man from the disease, I was also able to do the same thing for myself. The whole process was liberating. It took that knot of fear, anger and resentment out of my chest. It freed me to laugh and taught me compassion. It taught me to be a gentler kinder person without being a doormat.
This program and these steps have worked miracles in my life.
I lived in limbo for a long time because I was familiar with limbo. It was kind of like that saying better the devil you know than the devil you don’t. Don’t get me wrong I did not like it. In fact I hated it and I dreamed of living happy ever after. I just did not know how to free myself from my misery and I was waiting for someone else to do it for me.
Then I went to one of those darn 12 step recovery meetings and it totally messed up my acceptance of living in my little victim martyr world. Now I knew I had a choice and I knew I had several options for my life and I still could not help myself. I was afraid. I was a coward to take responsibility for my life. It was just so much easier blaming someone else for my misery than it was for me to rise up and accept responsibility for my life and my happiness.
Did you know that one of the definitions of limbo is living on the edge of Hell? That was how I felt about my life. What if I made the wrong decision? Was I willing to risk throwing myself over the edge? I knew that if I took responsibility for my life that my relationship with my alcoholic was going to change. It could get better but it could also get worse. If I could have had a guarantee that it would be better the decision would have been easy. It was the idea that it could possibly be worse that worried me. So it was easier to just stay miserable than to take the chance. There is no doubt about it, I defiantly had some distorted thinking.
That mentality tells you how much I valued myself. Obviously I did not regard myself as valuable at all. But the nice thing about the 12 step recovery process is that it helps us to peel back the layers of pain and hurt in our life. It helps us to define who we are and who we want to be. And he helps us to navigate the land mines in our lives so that we can be free of self defeat.
It was in the third step where I made the decision to turn my will and my life over to the care of God where my recovery gained strength and momentum. I made a decision. I was no longer on the fence. I wanted to be free of the hurt in my life. I turned my will and my life over to God’s care. The operative word his is turn. There is nothing neutral or safe about the word turn. The word turn is decisive and involves action. But the good news about this step is that it comes with a built in safety measure. Oh yes! I did not have to do this on my own. I was finally standing up for me and I was accepting the only help that I needed to gain my freedom. I was “turning” ALL of my life over to God’s care. I knew that God had not created me to be a human sacrifice for my alcoholic or anyone else for that matter. I finally got it. I finally understood that I was worth more than what I had willing to accept for my life.
I thought that my husband’s irresponsible drinking was standing between me and living happy ever after. Raised in a totally dysfunctional home, on the wrong side of the tracks, I had this fantasy of my knight in white shinning armor saving me and the two of us riding off into the sunset and living happy ever after. He was my knight. He did save me from the hurts of my childhood and then he transferred me to a new and different kind of hurt. A hurt that involved alcohol.
In my fantasy, I thought that people, places, money and things were the key to my happiness. I had a taste of all of those things but I was still hurting on the inside. I was still insecure and fearful. I was still lonely. I was still waiting for someone, something out there to heal the brokenness inside of me.
You know that old saying, “Be careful what you wish for you might get it.” Every time I looked in the mirror that phrase seem to mock me. I got what I thought that I wanted and I was still miserable. I no longer lived on the wrong side of the tracks. I married and educated professional man and – quote had a very good life….. on the outside it looked good. But behind closed doors alcohol was his mistress and alcohol controlled both of our lives.
Many times I made choices based on what I wanted my life to be and not on what was my reality. Every single time I had disillusionment and disappointment. I desperately tried to control and force my husband to comply with my dream. Every single time I lost.
Then my dream, my fantasy, died and I had no hope. I was angry at God and life for all of the hurts in my life. Even though my bubble had burst and I had given up hope I still did not surrender. In my sick mind I survived by winning people over to feeling sorry for me. So many sympathized with me and that became my claim to fame – sympathy. And I coasted like that for a few years. And then all my sympathizers weren’t so sympathetic after a while. And then I felt abandoned again.
His alcoholism progress and my misery also progressed. I just couldn’t take it anymore. Then and only then did I surrender to this program. Then and only then did I began to see how so much of my pain was from choices that I made trying to force my fantasy into reality. It was time for me to get out of my way. It was time for me to participate in my happiness and stop participating in my misery.
Through this process I learned that I could choose to heal or stay on the misery treadmill. The choice was mine.
My perception of myself and my happiness was wrapped up in my families problems. It was almost like I got up everyday and looked to the other people in my life to see if I was going to have a good day or a bad day. Anytime during the day my world could get turned upside down if their world got turned upside down or if they jerked my chain.
It took time for me to learn to take care of myself first – especially during difficult circumstances. Usually, during a crisis, I was so focused on what was going on with the alcoholic’s wants and demands that I neglected my own needs.
There is an Al-anon slogan that says “let it begin with me.” That slogan reminds me of the Flight Attendant giving safety instructions at the beginning of the flight. When they explain about the oxygen mask they tell you to put your mask on first before you help your child or another person.
When I don’t take care of me and my needs my thinking becomes distorted and I don’t make good decisions. I have learned that it is not selfish to treat myself with respect and dignity. I have learned that my purpose in life is not to be a human sacrifice for someone else. I was given a life and they were given a life and each of us have the right to grow that life or blow that life for ourselves only.
One of my first tentative steps to stop participating in his irresponsibility came with my budget cuts. My husband gave me an allowance to buy groceries (which included beer and cigarets for him), paying for his dry cleaning, clothes and incidentals for me and the kids, gas for my car, utilities, etc.
One day he told me that finances were tight and he may not be able to give my full allowance. In the beginning I allowed that. I cut corners wherever I could to get by. I was furious and we had many spirited debates over it, and I always lost. He was spending all this money in bars and I was worried about buying the kids a coat. Even when he was cutting my budget I was still buying beer and cigarets for him. I was still paying for his dry cleaning. Duh! That was enabling.
The stress of not having the money I needed as well as the arguing was taking a toll on me. It took me a while to understand just how many ways I was enabling my alcoholic. And it took me even longer to get the courage to stop.
It took a little while for me to see the many little ways I enabled him. Every time I ran interference for him when he was being irresponsible I enabled him. Every time I shielded him or helped him avoid a confrontation by justifying his behavior to others I enabled him. I finally got it. I would never ever be able to help him by meddling in his business. The only way I could truly help him was to get out of the way and allow him to face his own responsibilities.
The paradigm shift occurred when I was able to be firm in my resolve about what my needs were and what I expected. That did not mean that he always did what I wanted. It meant that I recognized where I was powerless in this situation. I learned to state my needs without drama, and if I had to, too accept the things I could not change.
I will never forget the look on his face the first time I was calm cool and collected when I told him that I knew that he knew how badly I needed that money and I had no doubt that he was going to do whatever he had to do to make sure I had my full allowance. We just stood there and looked at each other. I said what I had to say and shut up. He tried to push my buttons and I just shrugged my shoulders and walked away. I am not saying that he stopped cutting my budget after that because there were times that he did.
It was also a light bulb moment for me. Sitting around waiting for him to do the right thing and then blaming him for my predicament when he didn’t, was my way of enabling myself to be a victim.
That was truly the beginning of a complete turn around in my life. I realized it was time for me to be responsible for me. I stopped waiting for him to get his act together. If he helped that would be great but if he didn’t I was going to be all right anyway. One Day At A Time I was learning how to take care of me and allowing him to be responsible for his own life.
When I left home at 18 I felt unloved, unwanted and I felt the odd one out in my birth family. I truly believed that my existence was resented and I left as soon as I could. I married an alcoholic and my self-esteem took another nose dive. I was in a dark hole and I did not see anyway out unless all of the people in my life had a heart transformation, apologized for hurting me and spent the rest of their life trying to make it up to me. And I could not ever see that happening.
Denial helped me to survive and escape reality. I excused other people’s unacceptable bad behavior by blaming myself. Everyone thought my parents were awesome. My husband was smart, educated and a professional. In my mind that meant that everything ugly in my life had to be fault. I just needed to try harder.
I took responsibilities that weren’t mine trying to win approval. A character defect I still have to monitor and manage to this day. I escaped through books and when I hit the wall I was a raving witch that justified that I really did deserve their bad behavior. Like many of us that show up at these doors my recovery had to start at ground zero. I had to learn that my normal was distorted and I had to learn a new normal. My sponsor use to say to me to stop trying and to just be me. She said just be Sharon and that is plenty good enough. But I had no idea who Sharon was until I found her in the steps.
I found that I am compassionate and caring. I’m loyal, competent and capable. Sometimes I am funny. I found out that I really was a good person covered under all that pain. I found that I tend to walk to the beat of a different drummer and that it was totally okay to do so. Those qualities never stood a chance to surface until I faced my fears and faced my past. My past cannot be changed but my perspective about it and how I allow it to affect my life could. I learned of all of these possibilities for my life because someone before me, who had walked my walked, shared their experience, strength and hope with me.
My husband and I were talking over dinner last evening about how our life has grown and changed over the past 28 years. We were able to laugh about some things now, that at the time had us so upset we could not see straight. We blended 6 kids when we married and from day one it was hang on for dear life. All 6 of our kids had been traumatized from in our previous relationships and they were not exactly on board when we began this journey.
At that time I was the only one in a recovery program and I can tell you that I was pushed beyond the limit to utilize everything that I was learning about how to live my life. I can also tell you that I did not always past the test. Instead of having one alcoholic pushing my buttons I had six adolescence teens pushing my buttons. My husband traveled in his job. I had a full time job and 6 kids to come home to every night. I was not always little miss merry sunshine either. There were many times I did not give myself time to stop and ask myself how important is it or took the time to remind myself to easy does it. There was no way I could keep it simple or live and let live. Some times I just blew it.
But the wonderful thing about our program is that there is always a solution to our personal miss behavior. Sometimes it is as simple as making an amend – even to an ungrateful teenage, and a lot of times it is making an amend to ourselves. Sometimes it is to knowing what is worth fighting for and knowing when to let something go. It is living one day at a time and it is keeping it simple.
Our kids are grown and some have kids of their own. They all love each other dearly and make time to do things together. My husband and I are still happily married. He tells every one that I was the glue that held us all together and I tell everyone it was this program that held us together.
This program works in every aspect of our life: Not just in living with and dealing with the chaos of living with an alcoholic. I have also used this program at work. There are so many walking wounded out there, untreated codependents, and untreated functioning alcoholics. It was not my job to seek them out and save them but I did have to work with them and keep my sanity.
I shudder to think of what my life would have been like without this program. I have always had someone to call to talk out my frustrations and fears with that truly understood what I was going through. I could share my vulnerability and know that I was not being judged. What is so amazingly wonderful is that I still have that loving support system. My life is blessed.
How many different ways have we manipulated circumstances in our life to survive the chaos, self doubt, broken dreams, broken promises, and the embarrassments to get through another day? Why do we want to?
I can tell you why I wanted to. I wanted control so that I could feel safe, accepted, important, special and significant to someone. It was my way of maintaining hope. As long as I denied the truth then I had a chance to make my dreams come true.
So I lived in major denial because the truth was not what I wanted. I just had to figure out how to make my dreams become my reality. I had to learn the hard way that ignoring the truth would not make it go away and that denying the truth would not change it.
I was my own judge and jury and when something did not measure up to my expectations then I painted everything in my life with that disappointment. One of the most difficult truths I had to face is that my idea of what it was going to take to live happy ever after may not be the way it would happen for me. My way was not necessarily the only way or the right way. It never occurred to me that my way may not even be in my best interest. Even then I stubbornly held on to self-will. The harder I held on the more pain I had to feel. I was wounded and empty on the inside and that is when I finally surrendered to my powerlessness to save, fix or change my alcoholic or to force my dreams to come true.
Thank goodness that my recovery program was focused on me because that is where I learned to love and respect myself. Interesting enough when I did that my focus shifted. I wanted more and better than what I had been willing to settle for in the past. I raised the bar on what was acceptable and I learned how to laugh and enjoy life for the first time in my life.
I still have my moments when I can get myself out in the weeds but they are only moments now. In the past I would have wasted days, weeks, months and years to being miserable. Now when stinking thinking sneaks into my life I immediately call someone and talk out. I just don’t like being miserable any more.
A lot of our character defects do not start out as character defects. They start out as survival tools. Take fear for example. Fear is defined as a vital response to physical and emotional danger. If we were unable to feel fear we wouldn’t be able to protect ourselves from legitimate threats.
But, I had lived in fear for so long that it became my enemy as well. Fear paralyzed me. I was so afraid of doing the wrong thing that I could not do anything to help myself. Every time I allowed fear to prevent me from standing up to myself it stripped away another piece of myself esteem. Over time I began to believe that I deserved the hurtful things that happened to me. That is how fear transitioned into a character defect for me.
Trust became another survival tool that became a character defect. At one time my inability to trust others protected me and kept me vigilant. It kept me from being sucked into trusting the unstable people in my life to do what they said or what they should do. But my inability to trust also sabotaged my ability to have warm and loving friendships and relationships with other people that I could trust. It pushed me from trust to paranoia which caused me to suspect everyone.
My denial – my ability to deceive myself into believing that things were not as bad as they looked kept me from completely giving up on life. I lied to myself and I lied to others to get through an other day. But when I got into recovery and the blinders were taken off my denial completely cripple my recovery for a long time.
Many times there is a delicate balancing act surviving and living. It was the lonely emptiness that was the clue to know the difference for me. I either felt nothing or my feeling were out of control. Relief for me came in the sixth and seventh steps. In the sixth step is says we become entirely ready. For me to take this step I had to make a commitment to do whatever I needed to do to change.
The reason I had to be entirely ready, and the reason I would have to make a commitment, is because in order to take the next step of humbly asking God to remove my character defects, meant no more hiding. God does not sprinkle us with angel dust and say a few magic words and we are changed. He gives us every opportunity to change and grow into the best person we can be. Without doing the work it is easy to slip back into old habits.
In my ongoing recovery journey I have seen this process work over and over through the years. Each victory has taught me more about myself and helped me define who I wanted to be and to change and walk away from who I did not want to be.
A paradigm shift is when we change from one way of thinking to another. Our circumstances don’t change but the way we see our circumstances changes. This shift is not instant but gradual. It is a process driven by circumstances or events in our life that transforms how we see things.
And, that my friends is exactly what the 12 Steps and my recovery program did with my life. My circumstances did not change. My alcoholic still drank and did all the crazy stuff that goes with his problem. The only thing that changed was me and how I saw my circumstances. It did not happen over night. It was definitely a process that is still transforming my life to this day.
In the first step my perspective changed from frustration and hopelessness to hope and relief. I was powerless over his alcoholism. Which meant that I did not have to keep hitting my head against a brick wall trying to do the impossible. In the second step my perspective changed from knowing that just because I was powerless to create peace and harmony in my life that it did not mean that there was not a power that could. There was definitely light at the end of the tunnel now.
In the third step I stepped out of the boat and walked on water trusting God not to let me sink. Obviously my way was not working. So many times when I had forced the solution that I wanted, it backed fired on me and created more problems than the ones I started with. It was time to let go of the strangle hold I had on my life by thinking that my way was the only way, and trusting God to know what was best for me.
In the fourth step my perspective changed from running and hiding from my problems to facing them head on. It was the first part of a cleansing ritual that helped me look at my life without blame and shame. I was on a mission to find the truth. In the fifth step it was show and tell. I faced the truth head on without rationalizing and justifying what happened to me, what I did ,and how it changed me. It was listening and learning from my own words and from seeing them from someone else’s’ perspective so that I could identify the changes in me that I needed to make.
In the sixth and seventh steps my life shifted from victim and martyr to being responsible for my own behavior. There was no way I could make this transformation without acknowledging my character defects and asking for God’s help to change them.
In the seventh and eighth steps it was time for me to clean up my side of the street. Once I had taken away the rationalizations and justifications I knew that I had hurt others. Regardless of how I had been hurt that did not give me the right to hurt someone else. It was in these steps I took responsibility for my own bad behavior. Without the paradigm shift on how I viewed my own behavior I would never even have thought of making amends to someone else. If I were going to get better then I had to be responsible for my own bad behavior.
In steps ten, eleven and twelve I maintained a conscious awareness of what I needed to do to keep my life from getting back out in the weeds. Instead of going along and accepting what ever life through in my path now I was being proactive in how I wanted my life to unfold and always trusting God with the results.