I can remain part of the problem or I can become part of the solution. The choice is mine to make

There is a saying that says we are as sick as our secrets. The secrets that hurt me the most were things that happened to me that I was ashamed of, things that I did that I was ashamed of, or it was something that someone else did that I was ashamed of. Did you notice that in all three circumstances I had shame. But shame wasn’t the only emotion that those circumstances invoked. They all so unleashed anger, resentment, rejection, self-hatred, fear and the negative list goes on and on.

Most of those negative feelings were interwoven into every fiber of my being. I felt them in my heart, in my mind and in my sole. Those emotions were habits that had instant reflexes that I did not seem to be able to control. I had accepted every hurt in my life as truth and fact and I could see any way for me to recover from them. Many of them I ignored or refuse to acknowledge because they would either cause to much pain or I would be filled with self-loathing. I felt powerless to do anything to help myself. It was just much easier to remain a victim than to help myself.

Needless to say, when I began my recovery journey I was living in a whole lot of denial especially about my part in my problems. I could pick out every flaw and every miss step my alcoholic made, but when I looked at myself I justified my mistakes by blaming my alcoholic or I did not even see them at all.

In the 12 steps I began the process of transforming the hurts of my past into what I wanted to become in my future. I wanted to be confident, self-supporting, loving, caring, joyful and happy. There was no way in this world that was going to happen with all of the baggage I was carrying around without major change on my part. So, it was time to own up, confess up and do whatever I had to do become the person I wanted to be.

It was in the 4th step that I learned a lot of how I got this way. No more denial. No more secrets. Just plain facts of my life. But, writing down the events of my life was not enough. I had a tendency to look at my hurts through the eyes of justification because I only saw the victim side of myself. With God’s help, my sponsor helped me to remove the blinders. It was an amazing experience because my sponsor, with love, helped me to see the part I played in my hurts without self condemnation. After all, I was a survivor. Thankfully, she also showed me that now that now that I know better I now have the choice to make better decisions for my life. I can remain apart of the problem or I can become part of the solution. The choice was mine to make.

Wishing, hoping, dreaming and praying did not change my life – I actually had to do something to change my life

The third step says that we turn our will and our life over to God’s care. It does not say that after we do that we sit on our hinny and wait for our world to right itself. I have come to realize that God provides many opportunities as well as the tools we need to transform our lives, but we are the ones that has to do the work to make it happen.

There have been several extreme make over reality shows on TV. In extreme make over home addition they bring in the building construction experts and lots of money and build someone a new home. In another extreme make over show they actually physically transform a person’s body through plastic surgery. Both of those extreme make overs are external solutions. Neither one of these shows addresses the hurt and the struggle in a persons heart.

My extreme make over came through my recovery programs and they helped me transform my life from the inside out. There were no group of trained professionals working on this transformation. There were many who shared their experience, strength and hope with but only to help me understand that I would get out of recovery what I put into it.

Wishing, hoping, dreaming and praying was not going to change my life. I had three options before me. One – I could despise the hurt in my life and be filled with resentment and anger. I could build walls around my heart never allowing anyone to get close enough to me to hurt me again. Two – I could submit myself to my unfulfilled life and accept that this would be all there was for me or Three – I could learn from it, change in me what I need to change, and in the process create a life worth living.

I spent one-third of my life in the first two because my life’s problems seemed to complicated for me to fix. Not only that the hurtful people in my life did not want me to change and they made it darn difficult to go to meetings and they challenged every step of progress I made trying to make me doubt the process. Living with alcoholism had distorted my perspective on life and I second guessed everything.

It was through my recovery programs that I learned that my life is not about what I have been doing all of my life up until now. It is about what am I doing today. Sure I can look at my past failures, hurts and disappointments but only to see what I need to do to not repeat them. Regardless of what we may think, past failures are not a life time sentence. I have also learned that recovery is not necessarily in the giant steps, but in the small steps that build our confidence over time.

No wishing, hoping, dreaming and praying did not change my life. Taking responsibility for my life and my happiness changed my life. Trusting God’s guidance to help me do the next right thing changed my life. Making a decision that it was better to try and fail than it was to fail to try, was a better choice for me. I no longer wanted to stand on the side lines of my life; I wanted to get in the game and live out the experience.

I lived the “Someday” life

I did not have a loving, warm and fuzzy childhood. I escape from my reality through reading. I could go anywhere in the world, do anything I wanted to do, and be anybody I wanted to be through books.   And I had big dreams for my future.  I had it all planned out in my mind. I was going to grow up and marry prince charming. He was going to love me and make up for all of the hurt from my childhood. We were going to be perfect parents to our kids. We were going to be a perfect family and live happy ever after together.

So at eighteen I made my great escape and ran off and married prince charming, only things did not quite work out how I planned for them too. He was an alcoholic at 21. Both of us were broken immature people. Our marriage did not stand a chance from the get go.  In my mind, I thought the reason I was powerless growing up was because I was a child and adults made all the decisions about my life. Now that I was all grown I wasn’t powerless any more.  So it was up to me to fix things and make things right in my marriage. Right? NO WRONG!

When I could not fix things, I coasted into denial and started living the “Someday” life. Only “Someday” never came. I could not admit my powerless because I would have to let go of my fantasy of the perfect family. I can’t say that there was one particular defining moment when I let go of my dream, it just wasn’t there any more. There was no defining moment when I decided that I no longer deserved a happy life or that I deserved better than the life I was living, I just slowly accepted that happiness was not going to happen to me.

Every once in a while I would get angry about my life but most of the time I was resigned to this is how it had to be. And then a friend took me to my first recovery meeting. I didn’t want to be their, but for some reason I kept going back. I learned that I really was powerless – but only powerless over him and his drinking. I also learned that I was not powerless over me. I was afraid because I always had someone else to blame for my unhappiness.

Now that the blinders were off I no longer had a built in excuse for not standing up for my life. I learned that if someone did not treat me with respect it did not mean that I did not deserve to be treated with respect. I had to look at the source. I learned that my happiness and well being did not depend on what broken people thought about me. My life up to this point did not define my whole life – it only defined my past. I have a choice how I am going to live now forward.

There is no quick fix

For some reason I can’t explain, it always seems so difficult to tell someone what Codependency means. Every time someones ask me I stumble around trying to explain it. There are a lot of definitions out there on Codependency. In fact if you google Codependency you will come up with over 1,000,000 links. On my blog pages (here and fb) I have even had people send me a nasty emails because I did not hyphenate the word Co-dependency. So there is a lot of passion and a lot of opinions about what is Codependency.

To me, it is when I become excessively involved in someone else’s life. I am not only involved I am dependent in every aspect of my relationship with them. If they feel good I feel good. If they feel bad I feel bad.  In my mind I have a very clear understanding of how I think they should live their life and at the same time I have no idea how to live my own. Why? Because my life, my existence, my well being depends on them.  That is not good for either of us.

There is this unhealthy obsessive need for control going on between us. My need is to control every aspect of my relationship with them so that I can make my own world, safe and happy. Their need is to avoid my control by taking away my options and hope. It is a constant tug of war going on all the time. I win a few skirmishes but they win most of the battles.  And every time I lose I lose a little more of myself in the process.

Codependency is most often associated with families and friends of alcoholics and with people with other types of addictions. Codependency are the coping tools of behavior we use trying to save, fix, or survive in our relationship with them. It is a challenge we will never win because we are powerless over their addictions and their behavior. There is hope but it lies in taking care of and helping ourselves regardless of what is going on in their life.

They say Codependency is a life style that we learn one painful lesson at a time. You know what else they say? Anything that is learned can be unlearned. What they don’t say is how blooming hard it is to do. You see, the reason it won’t be easy is because the way we unlearn it is the same way we learned it in the first place; one lesson at a time. There is no quick fix.

ABC’s of Self-worth

All of my life I have seen myself as different and for the longest time I hated that feeling. I just wanted to feel “normal” (whatever that was). I wanted to be accepted and I wanted to blend in. I just did not know how to do that. I did not like the real me and I did not expect you to like the real me either, so I tried to be all things to all people. I tried to be whatever I thought that you wanted me to be.

Sure, I had likes and dislikes, wants and needs just like everybody us. The problem was that I would sacrifice any of those to be liked by someone else, because I did not trust anyone to like the real me. I learned in childhood that love was conditional and punitive and it hurt. Healing for me required me to learn how to trust and to know who to trust. AND I had to learn to trust myself.

It is through these steps that I claimed my sense of self-worth. In the 4th and 5th steps I learned how to separate the wheat from the chaff. Which means to separate things that are useful and valuable from things that are aren’t. There were and are (I’m still a work in progress) things in me that needed to be changed and there were other things that needed to be embraced, polished and fine tuned. In other words I had to learn the ABC’s of self-worth.

A – Accepting myself was not easy. I had been brain washed for so long on my short-comings that it felt awkward finding good things in myself to like. B – Learning to believe in myself was huge. I had failed so many times in my relationships that it was difficult for me to believe that I could have healthy relationships by just being me. Learning to recognize unhealthy people to stay away from them was a major step toward learning how to believe I could have a healthy relationship. C – How could I possibly expect someone else to care about me if I did not care about me? I couldn’t. So I had to learn how to care about me. I had to learn how to care about my wants and my needs and how to make them a priority in my life. In order to do that I had to spend a little time thinking about just what I did like about myself. In the beginning there was not a whole lot. It was putting things down own paper in my 4th step and talking it through with my sponsor in the 5th step that a like able me began to emerge.

Today I still feel different and I am fine with that. I know that  I walk to the beat of a different drummer. I walk to the beat of my drummer and I like how my drummer drums just fine. My friends and family tease me about some of the unique character traits. I know they do it out of love and now that I can accept myself I can accept their love.

While sitting in a meeting I had an epiphany that warmed my heart!

They say in our program that we don’t change anything in our life until the pain of not changing is greater than the pain to keep things the way they are. My life was a good example of the phrase. At one time in my life denial was my best defense against my reality. I could justify and rationalize any situation to make it tolerable. I told myself lies, and I believed lies, that I knew were lies, in order to keep the status quo. In my heart I knew better but without the lies I would have to do something about my situation and I was not strong enough to take a stand because I could still tolerate the pain.

I felt like I was drowning and I was giving up. I just didn’t care any more. The only thing that kept me going was my responsibility to my kids. A friend took me to my first meeting. I was totally unimpressed. I just didn’t care what they had to say. I had a “yes but” response to everything they had to say. I sat there like a big snob looking around the room. I was not like these people. My life was not like theirs. I did not belong there.

But for reasons I can’t explain I kept going to meetings with my friend. I told myself I was doing it to support my friend. After a couple of months of meetings a new person came. For some reason I was drawn to her sad story. Her eyes were almost blank and her mouth was turned down. I sat in meetings looking at how her turned down mouth and patted myself on the back because at least my life wasn’t as bad as hers. And then something amazing happened. Gradually over time I watched her change right before my eyes. I had been coming longer than she had and I did not understand how could she be getting better and I was not. I ask someone about it after the meeting.

I was told that recovery is not based on attendance but on desire and willingness to change. Recovery is not for everyone – only the people who want it. Of course I was offended by that comment and decided I wasn’t going back. I only stayed away for a few weeks, but in those few weeks my life went down hill real fast. I had reached the point of no return. I either got the help I needed or resigned myself to a life time of misery. So I went back to the meetings.

It was a while later, while sitting in another meeting, that I had an epiphany that warmed my heart. It was here in these rooms, for the first time in my life, I felt unconditional love. I sat through the whole meeting with a big smile on tears running down my face. I knew then that I was going to be all right.

Once words are spoken they can not be unspoken

So many times I have had entire conversations in my head of things I wanted to say so that someone else that had or was hurting me. I wanted them to understand how they hurt me, or I wanted them to know how angry and resentful I felt toward them. I wanted them to hear what I had to say, feel ashamed and guilty as hell and then beg for my forgiveness.

Unfortunately the few times I have tried to do that it backfired on me. The other person felt backed into a corner, they felt attacked and they let me know in no uncertain times how wrong they thought I was. And every single time it changed our relationship in a negative way. I have learned the hard way that once words are spoken they cannot be unspoken.

I talked to my sponsor about my pent up feelings and my almost desperate need to make someone else understand how I felt without putting them on the defensive and alienating them. My sponsor’s advice was to put the whole situation in God’s hands. Prayer about it; Ask for God’s guidance, about what to do, when to do it and what to say. After that wait for God’s instructions.

It is so interesting to me how the opportunity for me to say what I wanted to say  came my way. Usually it came when I was calm cool and collected whey totally transformed how I said what I felt.  Sometimes it would happen in a few days, sometimes weeks, months and even years. And sometimes it never happened at all. That is when I new I was supposed to keep my mouth shut and deal with my issues through a 4th and 5th step. Sometimes during the wait I found that I had been completely wrong in my thoughts and I was relieved that I had not shot my mouth off.

My love runs so much smoother when I leave my will and my life in God’s hands.

Seriously? What could I possibly say to a person that has ever lived with an active alcoholic that would shock them?

I loved and hated my alcoholic. When I was angry with him I wanted everyone else to be angry with him too. But when I wasn’t angry I wanted everyone else to forgive him for all of the bad things I had told them about him. Unfortunately most people that I shared the hurt in my life with could not let go of their anger towards him. After a while they became frustrated with me for allowing it to continue.

So I learned to keep my problems to myself and I became even more isolated and alone in my own world of misery. When I was finally hurting bad enough to go to recovery meetings, I still held back from embracing the program and getting a sponsor for fear of exposing to much of the truth. I was afraid of being judged and rejected again. I knew that I desperately needed a sponsor and eventually I did get a sponsor. But then I promptly put restraints on how often and just what I would actually share with her. I told myself that I did not want to impose and her time. And, I definitely didn’t want to scared her off with my crazy messed up life.

If that weren’t so sad it would be laugh out loud funny. Seriously! What could I possibly say to a person that has ever lived with an active alcoholic that could shock them? Really! We who live or have lived with an alcoholic have most definitely been lied to. We have been used and manipulated. We have experience pain and disappointment beyond measure and we have filled gallons of bucket with tears.

Much of my life had been controlled through intimidation. So I was afraid of my own shadow. But my thoughts toward my life and the people in it could be pretty mean and sometimes down right hateful. On the outside I looked like a doormat. But my thoughts sometimes scared me about myself. There were times I was filled with rage. Times when I fantasied and dreamed of all of the ways I wanted the people who hurt me to pay for what they had down. There were times I was filled with self loathing because I allowed unacceptable in my life. I felt sure if my sponsor, or anyone else for that matter, knew the things I thought I would definitely be an outcast. So I held back the real hurt inside of me.

My sponsor saw right through the veneer. She really understood all of those painful thoughts and she helped me to sort through them and let them go. It was such a relief to not walk around with all of that pain in my heart and in my mind. They say that alcoholics are one drink away from a drunk. Well, I am here to tell you I am one thought away from slipping back into my unhealthy way of living.
Now when I am broadside with stinking thinking I call my sponsor right away so that she can help me put things in proper perspective. This program does work if we work it.

The ingeniousness of these steps is mind blowing

The ingeniousness of these steps is mind blowing. When I first started looking at these steps I got stuck at the first one. At the time powerlessness screamed hopelessness. My sponsor reminded me that there were 12 steps in a specific order that would guide me through the process. She assured me that there was hope and that I would find it in the second step. The big deal was that in order for me to embrace the hope that these steps offered I would have to step out of the boat in faith and follow their directions.

Even then I still had a misconception about the meaning of the first step. I thought that the only way my life could be restored to sanity would be for my alcoholic to either stop drinking or control his drinking. I thought that if I followed instructions that he would see the light and change. Imagine my surprise that as I grew and changed how my perspective changed. You see, no where in the second step does it say that a power greater than me will restore sanity to my alcoholic. It says it can restore sanity to me.

I can assure you that if I had had to accept my powerlessness without knowing there was hope for me I might as well accept that my life is over. Living with alcoholism had distorted my perspective on everything. It kept me pensive and on edge always waiting for the other shoe to fall. I could not trust what was right in front of me. I was always looking for the ulterior motive behind the action.

My sponsor and I had many conversations about powerlessness and acceptance. In the end I really didn’t have a choice. As long as I resisted I was just swinging in the wind at the mercy of anything that was floating by. And then one day I finally got it. Acceptance did not mean I approved. Acceptance did not mean that I had to like it. Acceptance simply meant 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 could accept that I was powerless over my alcoholic and stay or I could accept I was powerless over my alcoholic and leave. But I could not control my alcoholic whether I stayed or left. The choice was mine to make.

The next decision involved my attitude. I could accept I was powerless over my alcoholic and be eaten up with bitterness and anger making sure everyone around me was miserable too, or I could accept I was powerless over my alcoholic and get to work on the one person I was not powerless over – Me.

That’s a no brainer – right? Again I face a huge obstacle. I had habits, thoughts, attitudes and perspectives of a life time that had to be retrained. Some of those character defects were comfortable, some were defense mechanisms that I used to protect myself from hurt. Some were so ingrained in my personality that they were as natural to me as breathing. The problem was they now stood between me and healing and happiness.

I needed to let go of the anger that I used to keep people at arms length. I needed to let go of the pride that could not admit that I needed help. I needed to let go of the paranoia of looking for something bad in everything. Again I felt overwhelmed. Again the ingeniousness of the program saved the day. This is a one day at a time program. It taught me to do first things first. I no longer had to anticipate next week, next month or next year. I only needed to focus on what needed to be done right now? Then after that I could tackle what needed to be done next.

Changing character defects was not a one time fix. Every time they reared their ugly heads I was given another opportunity to change, grow and learn. Every time I succeeded it became easier to do it the next time. The steps, the slogans, the Serenity Prayer are resources that have help me to navigate through the process of reclaiming my life so that I could learn how to be at peace with myself. I am still a work in progress.

With a personality like mine I had to consciously choose to give this program a try

This may sound confusing or even strange. I am not even sure I can articulate what I want to say this morning in a way that you will understand so here goes.

For the longest time I struggled with negative feelings toward myself. Even today, every once in a while, out of the blue they will sneak up on me. From childhood until I began healing in recovery, deep inside, I believed that I must be a bad person.

I wasn’t sure what I had done that was so bad, because for most of my life I was forced into compliance from people in authority over my life. Now, I did have a lot of ugly thoughts toward the people who hurt me. I didn’t give much thought as to why I felt so bad toward myself. I just felt that everything was somehow my fault. That I had done something bad or wrong. That I wasn’t good enough or worthy enough to deserve anything different.

Now this is the confusing part. At the same time I was angry toward the people who hurt me. I saw myself as a victim. As a child I was trapped. They should have loved, cherished and protected me. As an adult I had 3 little kids and I was married to an alcoholic. Oh yea – I was definitely a victim. Poor Poor Me.

I learned a lot about myself through my fearless moral inventory when I discussed it with my sponsor. I learned that as a child I had been trapped. I was a victim, but not because I was a bad person. I was a victim because I was being raised by emotionally broken untreated people who had problems of their own. And most important of all I learned that their problems were not my fault. In fact, I had not even been born when their problems began. Through recovery I also learned that my husband’s alcoholism was not my fault either.

But knowing it and understanding it did not erase my negative hurtful feelings toward myself. What did change those negative feelings was a couple of things. First I had to made a conscious decision that I was worth more than the life I had been living. Second I decided that sitting around waiting for someone to save me wasn’t going to happen; If I was going to get out of this deep dark hole I was in I was going to have to do it myself. It sounds easy enough but I can promise you that there was nothing easy about it.

My inventory revealed something else to me. It showed me how I accepted a lot of unacceptable behavior in my life because I was to afraid to stand up for myself. I was afraid to admit that I needed help and I was afraid of failing.

In the end I learned that I would only fail if I continued to allow unacceptable in my life. With a personality like mine, I could convince myself of all the reasons why this program would not work for me or I could convince myself of all the reasons why it was worth a try. It really was up to me. But for this program to work, I would have consciously choose to override the negative thoughts in my own head and reach out for a better life for myself. I guess what I am trying to say, is that for me, recovery was definitely a choice I made.