To get beyond suffering there were somethings I had to forgive and other things I had to accept

My mind was fragmented, scared, scarred and confused when I first started going to meetings. Half the time I had an exaggerated sense of responsibility. Other times I saw myself as a helpless victim. I felt judged by outsiders and inside I had a fear that all of the hurts that had happened to me were somehow my fault. I felt personally responsible for my alcoholic’s unacceptable behavior. I blamed myself for all his problems. Funny thing he blamed me too – so I was sure it must me true….wrong!

As his alcoholism progressively got worse, my self esteem slowly melted away. I was defeated and lost. Eventually my feelings shifted from being responsible and guilty (for what I had no idea) to anger and resentment. Desperately I tried to keep a tight lid on my emotions but I could only stuff them so long and then they would burst out. Many times over something small and insignificant.

There is a well known quote that says pain is inevitable but suffering is optional. My sponsor really encouraged me to feel my feelings and talk them out with her. Denying my feelings only prolonged the pain and forced them to resurface when I least expected. To get beyond the suffering there were some things I had to forgive and others things I had to accept that I was powerless to do anything about. My sponsor constantly reminded me that healing and recovery was a process. Each step that I took toward regaining control of “me” also develop my confidence and self-esteem.

Things happen to us in our life that we have no control over us. Sometimes we make make wrong choices that we would give anything to take back and do another way. Either way, neither of those things define us unless we allow them too. Learning from our experiences is how we grow and change.

Even though I could not do it for myself I still struggled with trusting God

If I were to choose anyone thing from this program that completely revolutionized my life it would be the 3rd Step. I really struggled with the 3rd step. I believed in God and I believed that he could do anything. What I didn’t believe was that God would do it for me. Somewhere deep inside of me I was afraid I wasn’t good enough. I was afraid that I deserved what was happening in my life.

Somewhere along the way I had come to believe that God was punishing me. I think part of the problem was that I had humanized God. He was no greater than anyone else in my life that I had depended on or trusted that had let me down or hurt me.

Another reason I had difficulty with this step, is that I wanted guarantees that things would turn out the way I thought that they should be. How funny is that. For me to trust God, I wanted Him to guarantee me something that I did not have the power to give myself.  Even though I could not do it for myself I still struggled with letting go and trusting God.

I have come to believe that everything in recovery and in life is about the choices we make. I truly believe that the 3rd step is pivotal in our recovery. We can hang on to self will and one of 2 things will happen. 1- the situation will continue to get worse and become so painful that we are forced to let go and give it to God. That is what happened to me. The more desperate I became the more willing I was to surrender. And 2 – we can live all of our life with constant pain and heart ache and with a hollow aching need that never goes away. When we die, we die without ever feeling complete, happy or satisfied or at peace.

Ted Turner says that life is like a B grade movie. You don’t want to get up and walk out but you definitely don’t want to watch it again. Ted Turner is a very wealthy man who can have just about anything he wants and he still doesn’t understand. Our life is like a B grade movie only if we choose for it to be because we do have a choice to trust God with our life.

Is this a skirmish, battle or a war?

One of  my favorite slogans of the 12 Step program Al-anon is How Important Is It? I can’t tell you how many times that one slogan has prevented me from driving myself right over the insanity cliff.

Looking back I can see that even though on the surface I was fine, underneath I was seething with anger over the other times in our lives together, that my alcoholic had hurt or disappointed me and let me down. This insignificant battle was not the real issue. The real issue was the times in the past when I had been powerless to defend myself against his thoughtless words or actions. I don’t believe it was a conscious thing on my part, but I think that, in my heart, I had had enough and I just wanted to win some skirmish no matter how small or insignificant.

There were also times when I was wrong, I knew I was wrong, he knew I was wrong and I knew that he knew, and I still could not stop myself from digging in. It was like I wanted to defy anything he said because he had defied my dream of happy ever after. I allowed my pent up frustrations to lash out even though sometimes I was hurting myself more in the process. I know. I know. The whole thing sounds sick doesn’t it. Of course it does. It was a sick way that my disease of codependency manifested in me.

When I would talk things out with my sponsor she would ask me questions that made me stop and think about my part in what happened. She helped me see what I lost in those fruitless battles and what I had NOT gained.

20/20 hindsight is so much more accurate than 20/20 foresight. I can look back now and see so many times when my alcoholic started something with me to help ease his own guilt. Or he had picked a fight so that he felt (in his own sick mind of course) justified in going out and doing what he was going to do anyway. He just pushed the right buttons and I reacted just the way he wanted me too.

I was reminded, that in the future, to ask myself “How Important Is It? Is this a skirmish, a battle or a war? My alcoholic had lied and disappointed me so many times, what about this situation had enough integrity for me to dig in and fight over it. Even if he conceded could I trust anything he had to say? After it is all over, life for him would go on as usual and for days after I would still be hurt and wounded.

Is this situation really worth it? Really – How Important Is It? Is it important enough to lose my serenity and my peace of mind over? I can not control him but I can control me. In the grand scheme of things, if it is not that important, just let it go.

It was all so obvious to me. Why could they not see it?

I have had two alcoholics in my life: My first husband and then a step-son that I raised and love dearly. My husband died because of his drinking and my son came pretty darn close. I knew and believed that I did not make them alcoholics. What I could not accept was that I could not save them from themselves. I loved both of them and believed it was up to me to rescue them.

I could see the hand writing on the wall. I knew there was going to be sever consequences if they did not stop drinking. One way or the other their drinking was either going to kill them or get him killed or they were going to cause harm to someone else on the road. I had no doubt that their drinking was affecting there jobs and had a negative influence in all of their relationships.

It was all so obvious to me. What I didn’t understand was why they could not see it too. So I decided to ride in on my white horse and safe them. I had a partial excuse with my first husband. In the beginning I did not know any better. After I was in my recovery program for a few years I was able to see how my desire to help or prevent catastrophe in my husband’s life and mine only enabled it to continue. It continued because he had no reason to change. Why should he? I was the buffer between him and his consequences.

But I had no excuse what so ever where my step son was concerned. I had quite a few years under my belt by the time he came into my life. There were many times when I walked this program where he was concerned, but there were many times I totally blew it. He had been this precious little boy that I loved and raised and there was no way I could look at him as an cunning manipulative alcoholic.

I really believed that my attempts to “help” was out of love. I later my motive transferred to fear and with that fear came resentment. It was a while before I could see that I all did to help only made matters worse and prolong both of our suffering. There is a saying that no good deed goes unpunished and every time I interfered with their drinking it came back to hurt me and haunt me. Most of the times they did not experience the consequences of their drinking because I was taking their consequences for them.

My attempts to help and save the world always come back to the first step. I was powerless over other people and my life becomes completely unmanageable when I forget that. My first husband died at 43 because alcohol. My son has 10 years of sobriety.

“Inch by inch anything is a cinch”

There is a famous quote that says:

“Inch by inch, life’s /it’s a cinch”
“yard by yard, life’s/it’s hard”
“mile by mile, Life’s it’s a trial”

To me that quote describes recovery to a T. When I first came, I was looking for a quick fix and I was looking for someone else to fix it. Hurt, angry, depressed and miserable I was waiting for a miracle to happen that would fix everything and make things right in the world of Sharon. And I waited … and I waited … and I waited. Things did change all right; they got worse. I felt like the helpless hopeless victim of other people’s mess-ups and abuse; and I was waiting for them to get their act together and to fix things so I could live happy ever after.

Recovery is a personal decision; One that only we can make for ourselves. Our program teaches us to break things down into manageable segments. Slogans like One day at a Time remind us to stay in the moment. Take care of and do what we need to do today, and when we get up tomorrow we can take care of and do what we need to do for tomorrow tomorrow.

Recovery is not like some cosmic explosion with parades and fireworks. It starts with a decision and a commitment. It is doing at least a little something everyday and building on those accomplishments.

I met my first husband, my alcoholic, right after I graduated from high school. He had just graduated from college. We married a year later. I worked while he went to law school. After he graduated we had three daughters. I was a stay at home mom. I was not educated or trained to do much of anything to support myself and my three daughters.

As his drinking spiraled out of controlled I felt trapped and helpless. As long as I did not do anything but cry and wring my hands I stayed helpless. When someone recommended that I go back to school all I could see was that kind of help would be at least 4 years away and I wanted help right now so I did nothing. Another year went by. My sponsor pointed out that if I had started back to school a year ago I would already have one year behind me. Now I still had 4 years in front of me. It was the doing nothing that drove me crazy. It began to dawn on me that “if it was going to be that it was up to me.”

I got a part-time job and started back to school. I had a plan and a purpose. I took small baby steps every day to climb out of the hole I was in. But life does not always work out the way we plan. My husband got a terminal illness. I had to go to work full time. Things were tight but we were making it. I learned a lot about myself during that time. I learned that I was stronger and more competent and capable than I ever imagined.

During that time I did not necessarily get what I wanted but I got everything I needed. I could no longer afford that arrogance and pride that had held me back waiting for someone else to fix my problems. I was backed into a corner and there was no place for pride. It was all about survival for me and my family. The support system that made me strong and helped me do what I had to do were the people in my program. No one said to me, “You poor thing.” I did not need pity and could not afford to go there mentally. My recovery people helped to keep me focused on what I needed to do one day at a time. I did it “inch by inch” one day at a time.

I could not see how time and time again I set myself up to fail

There is a quote that says something like if you have been put in your place long enough you become that place. Stealthily like a thief in the night I was stripped completely of my ability to trust. Each disappointing and painful lesson taught me to second guest everything good in my life. It undermined my ability to trust others as well as my ability to trust myself.

Time and time again people that I should have been able to trust hurt me and let me down. Were they broken people that could not be trusted or was it because of some flaw or defect in me? Which came first the chicken or the egg. I did not have an answer.

Time and time again I would rush in were only fools would tread and lay my heart out there only to be hurt and disappointed again. And again I would get the proof that I needed to prove that I was not good enough or worthy enough. My inability to trust pushed me to reject you before you could reject me. All of this insanity left me with a lonely aching need to be loved and accepted.

I could not see how I had set myself up to fail by expecting something from the wrong people; people that I knew in my heart of hearts were either going to let me down or who were incapable of being trust worthy. In other words, I kept going to the hardware store to buy bread. It was a self-fulfilling prophecy that confirmed just how little I thought of myself. It proved to me that I was not good enough.

My sponsor helped me to understand that I would always gravitated towards unhealthy people until I learned to love and respect myself. I would never be able to trust myself as long as I did not like myself. Years ago I at a program conference one of the speakers ask us to ask ourselves how much we thought we were worth. Then he said that we go after and settle for what we think we are worth.

Changing my self-defeating attitude was beyond challenging. Every negative thought, not only had to be challenged, but it also had to be overcome. There was so much to learn in this process. First and foremost was to learn how to love myself. This transformation for me came through the 12 steps.

It started with accepting my powerlessness over others. Each step after that helped me to begin the healing process. Next was accepting that I could not do this in my own power. Then came the most important trust decision in my entire life – trusting God with my life. After that I had to clear the way from ghosts past by dissecting and diagnosing the source of my wounds in a fearless moral inventory. In order to learn how to respect my self it was necessary to own up to my past mistakes and make amends where possible. It was, and is, critical for me on a daily bases to keeping the line of communication open with God through prayer and meditation. And just like an athlete training for the Olympics I have to practice these principles in all my affairs on to reaffirmed to keep from slipping back into old patterns. It works if you work it.

It took me a while to understand that my happiness may not come the way that I had planned it

When I began my recovery journey my emotions and my feelings were all over the place. They ran from one extreme to the other. I was confused and overwhelmed by the pain in my life. My emotions were held in check with a hair line trigger and could swing from one extreme to the other. And usually it was my alcoholic who had his finger on the trigger.

Most of the time I felt completely powerless but at the same time I had not accepted my powerlessness. I would surrender and bend and do whatever I needed to do to keep the peace or to try and control my alcoholic’s behavior. But somewhere in the back of my mind I was just waiting for the opportunity to triumph over his drinking.

My alcoholic had out foxed every attempt I had tried to control him and his drinking. At times I was depressed, overwhelmed and defeated. But in my mind I could not let go of the dream of how I thought things were suppose to be. I was afraid that if I accepted that I was powerless to control my alcoholic’s drinking that I was giving up on my dream of living happy ever after.

My refusal to accept my powerlessness was like a childish tantrum demanding that other people make me happy. In accepting my powerlessness I was being grown up and in control of my own happiness. Accepting my powerless did not mean that I had to leave my alcoholic and it did not mean that I had to stay with my alcoholic to be happy. It meant that whether I stayed or left I was responsible for me and I could choose to be happy no matter what he did with his own life.

I wanted to be happy and it took me a while to understand that my happiness may not come the way I planned it. Sure it made me sad to watch him self-destruct. But I did not put my life on hold while he did it. There were times I was unhappy but I did not have an unhappy life. I did not get everything I wanted and things did not always work out the way I thought they should. But my life was still good because his drinking, his behavior, his hurtful words no longer defined me.

I had to learn the hard way that life is not always fair and it does not always play by the rules. The good guys in the white hats do not always win. So when the bottom fell out of my world I was forced to choose between misery or taking a stand for my own personal happiness. I have this little plaque that says God answers our prayers in one of 3 ways – yes, no, and I have something better in mind. Why I had to arm wrestle God over my happiness I have no idea. God definitely had something better in mind.

I can forgive and overcome my hurt or I can hang on to my hurt and be overcome by it

I have tried running from my hurts and failures, I have tried ignoring them and forgetting them, I have even tried forgetting them. But no matter how hard I tried, or what I tried, they never went a way. They simply laid dormant in my soul and when I least expected it they would rise up and create havoc in my life. In reality pretending it never existed or that I was not affected did not eradicate the damage.

Facing my hurts, failures and fears has been the only way I have been able to create something positive out of the negatives in my life. I have found that facing them with truth and grace has been the only way that my life could be transformed in a good way. For me to face them and learn and grow from them I had to be willing to forgive even the unforgivable.

I have learned that without forgiveness I am still held in the jaws of the hurt and I remain a victim. Without forgiveness I allow what happen to color other areas of my life with the same hurts. It puts walls in my relationships. It prevents me from trying new things or it pushes me to try things I should not. It literally rewrites my emotional DNA and effects how I think and feel.

Facing my hurts objectively allowed me to feel the pain and move on with out the negative side affects. It made me wiser and smarter in my relationships. I know now there are some relationships that should have a wall in them and there are others I can trust. It gives me courage and strength to step out of my comfort zone and do the next right thing for me. It gives me hope and a good future.

Locking down my life and pretending never happened or believing that I can protect myself from ever being hurt again will not insulate me from ever being hurt again. For one thing with out forgiveness I am still living in the hurts of the past. I do know this, I have a choice to grow and learn from my hurts or they will continue to hurt me…. one way or the other they will continue to hurt me. My sponsor helped me realize that I could either forgive and over come my problems or I could hold onto my pain and be overcome by what happen to me. The choice was mine to make.

One of those “cute” little sayings

One of the things my recovery program drilled into me was how important it was to take care of myself. If I am not careful I can get so caught up in this business of life that I don’t do the small things that help keep me in a good place. When my mind is bombarded with negative stinking thinking it is usually when my world is out of kilter for some reason. This is when it is time for me to stop and regroup and look at my personal circumstances to see what I need to do to get myself out of this rut.

When I am overwhelmed with negative thoughts that I can’t seem to shake, the Big Question is, am I taking good care of myself? Usually not. When I let myself get to busy that I miss eating, or I am eating on the fly, or eating the wrong thing to take the edge off, that is usually a red flag that I am pushing myself into a crisis. When I am running on empty physically, emotionally and spiritually, that is usually when I have allowed unacceptable in my life. This makes me mad at my situation and mad at myself for allowing it. Anytime I have gotten too busy to nurture healthy loving relationships I fine myself isolated, alone and lonely. It is when I am tired and exhausted that negative thoughts sneak in like a thief in the night and robs me of chance for joy, peace and serenity.

Our program has an acronym that is part of the antidote for our stinking thinking. H.A.L.T. It stands for Hungry, Angry, Lonely and Tired. It simply means to halt (stop) all that nonsense and slow down and take good care of ourselves.

Some negative thoughts are habits that we have to retrain into something healthy. Others are the ones that broadside us when we are vulnerable because we haven’t been taking good care of ourselves. Taking good care of me had to become a priority in my life in order for me to be able to face any curve ball life threw at me. When I first got into the program I was not especially fond of all of their “cute” little sayings. They just seemed too easy to work. Then I realized that everything sounded easy. But in reality all of it was work. I also learned the hard way that I would only get out of this program what I was willing to put into it. It was then that those “cute” little sayings became a life line when my life had gotten off in the weeds and I needed to get my life back on track. Sometimes it was easy to just follow instructions other times I had to be focused and determine to be able to follow through. But the bottom line was I had a plan and I knew what I needed to do. It works if you work it.

Just because something should be done does not mean that I am the one that should do it

The Serenity prayer talks about the wisdom to know the difference of what we can and can not change. One of the things that gives me the wisdom to know the difference is the effect the situation has on my life. Is it about something that is current in my life or is it something from my past or something that could happen in the future? Does what I am trying to do drive me crazy? Am I obsessed and out of control in my efforts to make someone else realize something? How many times have I failed in my attempts to force the solution I wanted? Is what I am trying to accomplish about me? Is it for my own good or someone else’s. Am I minding my own business?

When I first began my recovery journey I struggled with trying to change and control everything in my life. Today not so much. Most of the time I can just look at a situation and determine if it is something I am powerless over or not. But, there are still times when the only way I can get the wisdom to know the difference is to try and change something that I can not change.

I guess what I am trying to say is that life is not always black and white with clear defined choices. The Serenity Prayer has become an amazing resource for me in helping me make healthy decisions in my life. It is the Serenity Prayer that helps me to keep my cool in the midst of chaos. It helps me to make decisions based on what is the right thing for me so that I don’t put myself out there in a vulnerable position trying to help someone who is emotionally unavailable or incapable of doing the right thing.

The Serenity Prayer has helped me to realize that just because something needs to be done, or should be done, does not mean that I am necessarily mean that I am the one that should do it.