I did have power – it just wasn’t over his drinking

I bought into his broken promises over and over again. I wanted his promise to be true this time. I have since learned that was denial. I didn’t want my reality so I chose to have selective memory. I could not see how pretending that everything was fine or that next time things would be different was, in reality, denial and that my denial held me prisoner. I fought desperately against the truth that was staring me right in the face because it was not what I wanted for my life. This time he meant what he promised and things were going to be different. If I could just hang on for a little longer things would get better. Only they didn’t get better. They got worse – much worse.

I would like to tell you I made a clear decision to help myself and never looked back. But that would be a lie. I worried and struggled with choosing to move forward while my alcoholic chose not to change and struggled to control his drinking. I blamed him for everything and at the same time I blamed myself. I was not willing to do anything to help myself because I thought it was his responsibility to make things right. So I kept waiting for him to do it.

My thinking was distorted to say the least. But I could not see that it was distorted. To me the things I thought were normal. I dreamed of us living the happy ever after and I dreamed of being free from him. I blamed him for everything and at the same time I thought it was somehow my fault that he drank the way that he did. Another funny thing is that I never saw my actions for what they were. I had a front row seat watching him self-destruct and I thought I was trying to save him from himself. I did not see that I was enabling. There was only one little problem with my thinking. I could not save him from self-destruction. He was the only person that had the power to make the decisions that needed to be made.

I did have power – it just wasn’t over his drinking. I had the power to help myself but I lived in misery and chose to do nothing for a long time. In that regard my alcoholic and I were a like. Both of us were living in denial. It was crazy. Even though I felt defeated I still struggle with letting go of trying to control to his drinking.

A friend took me to my first meeting. I kept going back because I had no where else to go. Even though, in my mind, I didn’t think I could take any more it was obvious that I could still handle the pain because I was not willing to do anything to help myself. I was still waiting for my knight in shinning armor to save the day. I was very resistant to this program and these steps because the focus was on me. Why should I have to change or do anything? Unfortunately I had to learn the hard way that when the pain to keep the status quo is greater than the pain of change you will change. I will always be grateful that I had started attending recovery programs before we faced the worse of the worse.

Recovery is not by accident. It is a choice. I sat in meetings for a long time walking on the treadmill of misery. Half-heartedly I listened to what they were saying while quietly, in my mind, I was judging everyone and explaining to myself why my situation was different. I’ve said this before, but I am going to say it again. I haven’t met anyone yet, that could not benefit from this program. I feel sorry for the people who have a hurt habit or hangup and they don’t have a 12 Step program to help them find their way. Through this program my life has been transform into something better than I could have dreamed on my own.

I had to learn how to express myself as a grownup

When I was growing up I was not allowed to have an opinion. Children were to be seen and not heard. I was not allowed to disagree and when I was told to jump I was supposed to say how high. It is no wonder that I went into my marriage with my alcoholic without good communication skills.

Initially I was afraid to have an opinion or afraid to stand up for what I wanted. But over time I became angrier and angrier over how unfair my life was. So I would stuff my feeling and then something would happen that pushed me over the edge, and “BOOM,” all of my feelings and frustrations would come gushing out. I that point I had no filter. I am sure I sounded like a crazy person ranting and raving. I would dig up wounds past; things that had happened six months or a ago year or more. At that point I had literally handed my heart and my head over to my alcoholic on a silver platter. Always I felt ashamed of how I had lost control and for a while I was putty in his hands.

Through this program I found that talking my hurts and frustrations out with my sponsor was like taking the lid off of the pressure cooked before it was blown off. My sponsor would help me look at my frustrations with a different perspective. She helped me to understand that my instigator did not play fair. For me to expect him to understand my feelings, and be respectful of those feelings, was not realistic. As they say in our program that would be like going to the hardware store to buy bread. At the same time that did not let him off the hook or give him the right to do the things he did.

Talking it out with my sponsor help me approach the problem with a different perspective. She taught me to not let things build up. She taught me about timing. Counting to 10 or postponing what I was going to say so that I

could cool down has helped many times. I learned how pointless it was to discuss anything with my alcoholic when he was drunk or hung over. Praying about it and asking for God’s timing and God’s words helped tremendously. AND sometimes it was even necessary to just blow my stack, while still in control of me, was necessary too. I guess what I am trying to say is there is no textbook solution. For me it is prayer and practice.

I also had to learn that it was not necessary to speak everything that popped into my head. I had to learn how to state my opinion in a reasonable way without becoming a nag. The slogans helped me to express myself as a grownup even when my alcoholic was still acting and talking like a spoiled child. Slogans like – Easy does it, How important is it, Keep it simple, Live and let live, Think, First things first, Keep an open mind, Let go and let God, and Let it begin with me. I have said “I am sorry you feel that way but we just have a different opinion about this” and I have even shut up because the whole conversation was ridiculous to begin with or because I had more to lose than I had to gain by speaking up.

Now I am not saying that this is easy. Many times I have reacted in a way that I should not have. But over time it has become easier for me to think first and decide if this battle is worth losing my peace of mind over. It takes lots of practice. Sometimes I mess up. But not as often as I use to. This program is never going to make me a robot. So the big thing for me is to learn from every experience so that I am not living in denial about my part in it. I don’t want my behavior to perpetuate the behavior or the problem.

I’ve been to fortune tellers, seminars and workshops looking for answers

The first thing we ask God to help us do in the Serenity Prayer is to accept things we cannot change. Interestingly enough, in the first of the twelve steps we are admitting that we are powerless over alcohol. We always have a choice. We can continue to fight it, hate and loath it, and resist it at every turn, but in the end we will change nothing. And we will live a miserable life. Or we can surrender, not submit to, but surrender to the inevitable?

Don’t get me wrong, I am not saying that we surrender to a degrading situation, or to hopeless ness. In the Serenity Prayer we are asking God for the “Serenity” to accept what we can’t change. For me that meant I was free from he responsibility of trying to solve his problem, or from trying to make him do the right thing. It meant I was responsible for my own happiness. He could add to my happiness and he could make me sad at times, but he was not my reason for existence. I had a life and I was responsible for how I lived it.

Accepting things I could not change and admitting my powerlessness was not instant. There was an entire process that was constantly moving me to that serenity, that peace that transcends all understanding. The word transcends means to go beyond the range or limits, it means to surpass. How appropriate! I ask you, how do you have peace living with an alcoholic? Most people would say that you don’t. But that would be the wrong answer.

For me it came with accepting that Jon was an alcoholic and accepting that alcoholism was a disease. That meant that there was nothing personal about his drinking toward me. It had nothing to do with me. I did make him and alcoholic and I could not make him not be an alcoholic. His issues with alcohol had nothing to do with me. Therefore I could stop getting my feelings hurt over his behavior and over any foolishness that came out of his mouth. It was simply not about me. Believing this helped me to detach from his problems with love. I loved the man, hated the disease and prayed for him to find peace.

Before I could take the first step and admit that I was powerless, I had to accept him the way that he was. I began to realize that his alcoholism had robbed both of us of a healthy life together; Not just me, but both of us. It is funny but for a long time I never thought about how alcoholism was robbing him. I just saw how it was robbing me. Little did I know that alcoholism would rob him of life itself. My life went on. I saw our children grow up, helped them move into their dorm rooms at college, saw them marry and have children of their own. I found love again and remarried. My life went on. His stopped at 43. His alcoholism hurt me and our marriage. It killed him. So sad, so incredibly sad! It did not have to be that way.

I’ve been to fortune tellers, seminars and workshops looking for answers. But I did not find it in any of the places. I found it in my recovery program. That’s right, I found the solution for me was right in those 12 Steps. I found that no person, no amount of money or possession could fill that aching hole inside to make me feel good about myself, feel safe and feel at peace. The important people in my life can add to my happiness but they cannot make me happy. They can also make me sad, and angry, even unhappy from time to time, but they do not define my sense of well being. I found that in the 3rd and 11th Steps. Knowing that God loved me no matter what started the healing process for me. Trusting God with my life has helped me through some of the most difficult and scary times. It has been interesting to me how I could have peace and still hurt at the same time and it is because I trusted God to get me through difficult situations I did not believe that I could get through on my own.

My “over reactions” caused Me as must distress as the things that my alcoholic did to provoke me

My “over reactions” caused me as must distress as the things that my alcoholic did to provoke me. Every time I lost control ,and over reacted, it left me feeling ashamed and angry with myself. Every time I over reacted my alcoholic came off smelling like a rose and I ended up apologizing. And every time I would promised my self that I was never going to do it again. But I did – over and over again. My sponsor told me that every time I over reacted I gave him control over me.

It definitely took some 4th, 5th and 10th step work to help me figure out why and what I was over reacting too. What nerve, what hurt in me was the trigger point. By dissecting the circumstances, I was able to see a pattern. Many times it was when I was fed up and insisted on “discussing” something at the wrong time. Sometimes I instigated the situation because I was so worked up over his behavior that I said things that did not have to be said. Sometimes it was an old wound that had never healed.

My sponsor ask me what did I hope to achieve by talking about the same thing over and over again with an alcoholic. True or not – talking about it again wasn’t going to change the situation. True or not – after putting my two cents in, I was not going to be free of it once and for all. How many times had I brought this same subject up in the past – how many more times was I going to bring it up in the future? What did I hope to accomplish? What was my motive – was it to punish, hurt, or embarrass or gain control. How many more times was I going to beat that dead horse and push myself out of control trying control what I was powerless over.

The Serenity Prayer says courage to change the things I can. I was the only who could change my behavior. Regardless of how inappropriate his behavior was, it did not mean that my behavior had to be or should be. Identifying the trigger points was helpful. It helped me see how I took things personal. Just because my alcoholic said something that did not make it a fact. It helped me see how I was being manipulated so that my alcoholic could get me off his back. It helped me define my self-worth and not put it into the hands of a broken person.

But understanding me was not enough. I had to make some changes. It was up to me to take control of me and my emotions. I did not need to hurt myself because of his boorish behavior. I had to learn to forgive him and Let Go and Let God help me in order to be free. I learned that I could not change this character defect in my own power. My past behavior proved that I couldn’t do it on my own. I had to ask for Gods help and it became easier over time to be in control of me.

He just knew how to push my buttons

In the beginning of my recovery everything was so hard to do. Many times I knew what I should do but I was so blooming angry at the time that I literally had to force myself to stay quiet. In my mind I repeated slogans and the Serenity Prayer in between thoughts of anger and resentment. When I did that, most of the time, I could get through a difficult situation without allowing myself to get sucked into the drama and chaos.

It was, and is, never easy to ignore the insanity that comes with living with an alcoholic. He knew just how to push my buttons. Sometimes he would do something to directly embarrass me and sometimes I was embarrassed because of his behavior and I was also embarrassed because I felt others were judging me by his behavior.

The hardest part for me was knowing when to back off especially when I could see that things were starting to get out of hand. My first inclination was jump in there and either neutralize the problem or remove the problem from the public view. I would to try to get him to leave or stop some foolish behavior. Oblivious to his own bad behavior, he only dug in and refused any attempt on my part to stop things from getting worse. One of his favorite tricks was to challenge me loudly in front of other people to leave him alone. Before this program I did not have enough sense to walk away and I would try to coach him into leaving. Before I knew it we would become the center of attention in a negative way. I felt humiliated. But after a while I learned to never go anywhere with him without having my own exit strategy. I would go and stay as long as it was fun for me. If he did not want to leave when I did then I would leave without him.

There were many times he would leave when I wanted to leave, and then on the drive home he would go on and on in the car about what a party-pooper I was. I just remained quite. Sometimes he would kick the yapping up a notch and try to antagonize me by saying hurtful things. But in my head I would remind myself that it was drunk talk. Understand one thing here though – I did not always do the right thing. There were times when I would just loose it and we would have a very unpleasant conversation all the way home that continued even after we got home. Every time I did that I would berate myself for not working my program and for allowing myself to get sucked into his chaos again. My sponsor would remind me that I am human and then she would ask me if I learned anything from what had happened.

I guess what I am trying to say is that, for me, there was no easy 1 – 2 – 3 plan that made me always do the right thing. I believe that we all have good days and bad days. Times when we are more sensitive than others. Of course many times, even though I was trying not to get sucked into his insanity by remaining calm on the outside, the truth was I was seething on the inside.

The key to real recovery for me was learning to be at peace on the inside. That did not happen for me until I took the focus off of him and began to focus on me. The inventory steps helped me to understand why I did the things I did. All of these steps helped me to learn how to love and respect myself. They also helped me to see him as a child of God just like I was. They helped love the man and hate the disease. They helped me to be strong when I needed too and have compassion when I needed too. I am still a work in progress and grateful everyday that I have this program to help me be honest with myself about what is going on in my life.

“The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.”

When I looked down at the mess that was our life I was overwhelmed trying to figure it all out. I was confused. Part of me wanted my alcoholic to be okay and the other part of me wished terrible things on him. I hated him and loved him. I fantasied about being free and at the same time I desperately tried to hold onto my marriage.
As his alcoholism progress it was no longer possible to hide it from our friends and family. I began to dread social events and family gatherings. He did not get loud obnoxious he got sloppy. Spilling things, dropping things, stumbling and slurring his words. If I tried to push him to do something, like leave, then he would dig in and things definitely when down hill fast. I started dreading the “next time.” This ticked me off so bad and made me resentful. Why did my good time have to be destroyed or missed all together? Why couldn’t he just drink normally or not drink at all?

I wanted him to change so that we could have a normal life. Believe me, I tried everything to make him do what I thought needed to be done. I was nice, I was mean. I begged, pleaded and threatened. Nothing worked. My resentments grew. I was angry. I projected into the future and did not like what I saw. I cried and cried some more.

But he wasn’t the only person I was mad at. I was mad at myself because, for reasons I could not explain, I just could not leave him. I wanted too. I really wanted too. But I wanted someone else to make the decision for me. I was drowning. That is when I knew I desperately needed help. I really did not want to go to those recovery meetings but I had nowhere else to go. I had exhausted all of my family and friends. Everybody had advice and an opinion. No one walked in my shoes they did not understand.

When I first started going to recovery meetings I wanted to talk about him and the things that he did. They told me that this meeting was for and about me and they kept me focused on me and what was going on with me. They told me that I could be happy whether he was drinking or not and I almost walked out. They did not tell me to leave him and they did not tell me to stay. In fact they advised me not to make any major decisions (unless I was in danger) until I had an opportunity to get a little recovery under my belt. But the thing that stood at the most to me is that really did understand what my life was like. They did not judge me and they did not judge my alcoholic.

There is a Chinese Proverb that says, “The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” I went to a meeting. That was the first step. They told me that this was a one day at a time program and gave me the following little slogan to help me get from one day to the next – “Just for today, I will try to live through this day only and not tackle my whole life problem at once. I can do something for twelve hours that would appall me if I felt I had to keep it up for a lifetime (unknown author).  Breaking things down to a manageable size and living one day at a time is exactly how I began my journey of a thousand miles. I thank God everyday for helping me to find my recovery program.  As I grew, healed and changed, I became more in control of my life and I found a peace I never even knew was possible.

I could no longer afford being a child in a grown up body

So many things about the way I lived my life were in conflict with each other. I tried to control everyone, and every event, in my life and at the same time I wanted to be taken care of. I blamed everyone else for my problems and I was afraid that somehow someway it was my fault. I desperately wanted to be loved and accepted and at the same time I kept people at arms length in fear of being rejected. I had placed myself in a no win situation.

My sponsor challenged me NOT to have a closed mind. She challenged me to let go of my preconceived ideas of what I thought was necessary for me to be happy. I did not challenge her ideas at the time, because I felt sure she did not understand me or my life. I was convinced that I knew exactly what was needed for me to be okay. It never occurred to me that my way was not the only way or the right way. It did not occur to me that I was standing in the way of my own happiness because I refused to be responsible for my own happiness. I truly believed that it was someone else’s job to make me happy.

Through my recovery journey I have been able to look back at my own life experiences, my own personal life history, and see how I grew up with this distorted view of life and how to live it. I was a grown woman with three kids before I ever began to understand how to be an adult; and in order for me to do that I had to get honest with myself. I was not intentionally being with dishonest with myself. I just did not understand what I was doing. I now believe that true recovery cannot happen without self-honesty.

My sponsor had me keep a little journal of my thoughts and attitudes for an entire week. I was shocked at how often I had negative thoughts toward myself. She had me journal the events in my life; my interpretation of what happen and how I internalized it. At the end of the week we analyzed it together. Again I was surprised how I saw everything as though it were all about me. How I took things personal whether they were true or not. And how wishy washy I was in how I felt about things. I would internalize and beat myself up over something and at the same time blame someone else for what happened. It was a true exercise in how I interacted with people and events in my life. It was an eye opener. They say in our program that, “Changed attitudes aid recovery” well let me tell you it was definitely time for me to change my attitude. I can assure you it was easier said than done.

They say what is learned can be unlearned and I had a whole lot of stuff to unlearn. It was definitely a process. There was no light-bulb moment that transformed my life in an instant. I had to tackle each negative thought and transform it to something healthy. I could no longer afford being a child in a grown up body. It was beyond time for me begin the process of being responsible for my own happiness. Over time I have taken ownership of my own life and at the same time I have given up the struggle to control someone else’s life. I am better than I have ever been but I am still a work in progress.

Proud to be a 12 Step Junkie

The Serenity Prayer begins, “God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change.” How could I ever accept some of my past hurts and move on? To be honest you I did not think that was possible. I had been suffering over some of my past hurts for a long time. I kept them alive by reliving them over and over again in my mind. I wanted to understand why the hurt happen. I wanted an apology and I wanted for the hurt to be “undone.”

My past haunted and taunted me. As long as I could not forgive past hurts they came back and contaminated and sabotaged every relationship I had. This created a circle of hurt and failure in my life. Some of my past hurts polluted and poisoned how I thought about myself and how I saw life. Some hurts left me feeling lonely and inferior and some left me feeling negative, afraid and angry.

It wasn’t just about forgiving the person that had hurt me. I had to “untell” the lie to my soul that I had bought into through that hurt. No, for me, forgiving was just the first step, because after forgiving the person that had hurt me, I had to then overcome the residual damage that remained long after the initial hurt had passed.

Navigating through these steps (with the help of my sponsor) helped me to understand the events in my life – past and present – and how they influenced how I made decisions and how I thought about things. These Steps helped me to understand how events in my life colored my perception of the world and that they also helped me to see how those perceptions were not necessarily always correct.

They helped me see my part in it. Seeing my part did not mean that I did anything to deserve what happen to me. Seeing my part was showing me how I had bought into the lie that it was my fault; That I didn’t deserve any better; that I wasn’t good enough.These Steps helped me look back and see how I made unhealthy decisions over and over again expecting a different result only to be let down again and again because of the scars of my past.

Even today, turning my mind around from a negative tantrum in my head is especially hard for me. Many times I have used these Steps and the tools of this program to talk myself down off the ledge of stinking thinking. I know I sound like a 12 Step junkie but these 12 Steps have been the classroom where I have learned about myself and learned how to change my life from hurt to hope. They have helped me understand why Sharon does the things she does. They have helped me understand how many of my hurtful thoughts were created from ghosts past that were not founded in truth. And, they have helped me face painful truths and make healthy informed decisions about my life and my future.

I was not an extension of him

My childhood was harsh and difficult. I was going to make sure that when I grew up and had my own family it would be nothing like my childhood. So for a long time I was in complete denial about my husbands drinking. His drinking, and the problems it created, did not match my dream so at I ignored all of the warning signs. 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.

But the truth was that my alcoholic was addicted to alcohol and I was addicted to my alcoholic. He would go to ridiculous lengths to drink without my interference and to get his way. On the other hand I went to ridiculous lengths trying to control his drinking while pretending that everything was all right. At that time I saw myself as nothing more than extension of him. My perception of myself, my identity, my likes, wants and needs was all based on what I thought he wanted or needed.

It was almost like I got up everyday and looked to him 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 his world got turned upside down. He was my world and I was desperate to make it right.

Stepping out of denial was not easy and sometimes it was painful. But, the only way I could get off this roller-coaster way of living was to stop pretending. The most difficult thing to me was learning how to love and respect myself because I felt selfish and guilty when I put my needs above his needs or his wants.

They say in our program that we can be happy whether the alcoholic is drinking or not. When I heard that I thought they were crazy. In order for me to do that I had to love and respect myself. When he was sabotaging his life it broke my heart and made me sad for him. But it did not take away my own accomplishments and joys in life. It was sad to watch him struggle when I chose a different path.

I know now that 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 he was given a life. Each one of us have the right to grow our life or blow our life.

Through the 12 steps and the program I learned how to get honest with myself. Without self honesty I would have gone on blaming him for my unhappiness. Self-honesty put me in charge of me. My recovery did not depend on whether he wanted recovery or not. I could make it with or without him. The choice was mine.

“The secret to surviving”

In 1978 Kenny Rogers recorded the song the Gambler. There is so much to learn from the lyrics of that song. The chorus says, You got to know when to hold’em, know when to fold’em, Know when to walk away and know when to run. The next verse says E’vry gambler knows that the secret to survivin is knowing’ what to throw away and knowing what to keep, Cause every hand’s winner and every hand’s a loser, and the best that you can hope for is to die in your sleep.

In 1978 I had been in the program about 6 years. I was just beginning to understand the concept of How important is it. I was just beginning to understand that I had to choose my battles. I was just beginning to understand that to survive that, fair or not, there would be times it was better for me to walk away than to stand firm and demand fair. I was just beginning to learn that acceptance was not condoning, that it was not putting the Sharon’s seal of approval of it on it, and it was not saying that it was acceptable. It was simply acknowledging that this was the way that it is and that there was not a darn thing I could do to change it. I could stay or leave but I could not change him – only he could do that. Live and let live did not mean that I approved of what he did. It meant that for today this was where I was better off. That could change tomorrow, and if it did I had an option to make different choices tomorrow if I wanted too.

“Knowing what to throw away and knowing what to keep – is the wisdom to know the difference. The line that says every hand’s a winner and every hand’s a loser is all about attitude. Acceptance is not grim resignation with the hope that someday I can change things. Acceptance for me meant that under no circumstances can I change him. When I could accept that I was powerless to change him, when I could accept that I was powerless to do anything about his problem, it took away the torment and it took away the struggle. It left me free to work on me and what I could do to help my self.

 

This is a repost from January