Make a decision and have a plan

December 31 – The last day of the year. Depending on what kind of year 2014 has been, some of us will be celebrating because it is over, others of us will be celebrating because it was a wonderful year. So many times on this day in years past, I have made many promises to myself that starting tomorrow things would be different in my life. For the most part they were empty promises. It is not that I didn’t try to do the things on my list, I did try, and for a short time and I kept my promises to myself. Then slowly I would slip back into the same only bad habits.

The times that I have made positive changes in my life was when I broke things down into a manageable sizes and worked on it One Day At A Time. It did not matter if it was December 31 or July 31, the only hope of “changing the things I can” always happened when I approached it One Day At A Time.

For me personally, I had to have a plan. I may approach it One Day At A Time. But I had to have a plan. I had to know in my heart and in my mind what I wanted and I had to have an idea of how I was going to get there. It did not matter that there would be detours along the way, what mattered is that I had a goal and I had a plan. My plan always included recovery meetings and working my program. My meetings, sponsor, and my program were my accountability partners in my recovery journey.

There is an Ancient Chinese Proverb that says: “If we do not change our direction we are likely to end up where we are headed.” Sitting around waiting for the world to change so that we can be happy is not a good plan because we will just keep walking on that merry-go-round of misery.

Four years ago my son started a college program at 37. He was frustrated because he felt he had wasted a lot of years and here he was at 37 trying to restart his life. He moaned over the fact that his goal was 4 years away. I reminded him that if he did not go back to school that four years from now he would be in the same place he was right then. This December he graduated. He worked full time, even worked a lot of overtime, during the past four years while still going to school full time. I am so proud of him in every way. You see in February he will pick up his 12 year sobriety chip in AA. At 27 I was fearful that he would not live to be 37.

All of these things happened for my son One Day At A Time. He made a decision and he had a plan. A plan to live Sober One Day At A Time. He did this by going to meetings, working with a sponsor and working the steps. Once he cleared the cobwebs from his mind he started making plans for his future and went back to school. He had a plan.

Resolutions are important. Did you know that resolution means two things. It is a firm decision to do, or not do, something and it is also an action to solve a problem. The answer is in the word itself. Make a decision and have a plan.

Many times we are between a rock and a hard place

Living with an alcoholic made me want to protect my kids from as much of the insanity as possible. It also made me a helicopter Mom. I hovered around them getting overly involved in their lives. As they grew they resented my over protectiveness and they also learn how to manipulate me in to trying to give them everything they wanted.

I heard a woman say that by doing everything for her children she had deprived them of an opportunity to grow and be responsible for their own lives. She said that until she got into this program she never realize that by doing everything for her kids, that she had elevated her own importance and had crippled her kids by not allowing them the opportunity to grow and learn how to be independent, and at the same time she had given them an attitude of entitlement.

I understood exactly what she was saying. I needed to be important and valued somewhere and I also wanted to protect my kids. My intentions were good but the way I went about it hurt all of us. There were times I could not hide from them what was going on, but I did prevent them from being exposed to his drinking problems as much as possible. I did such a good job of it that when their Dad and I separated and were later divorce, I was perceived as the bad guy. It was especially difficult after the kids went to visit his family. They were just beginning those teenage years which can be a difficult time anyway, but it was kicked up another whole level because of our divorce. Threats of I want to live with Dad. This is your fault our family is messed up, etc were especially hard to navigate without putting their Dad down or defending myself with the cold hard truth.

My sponsor helped me to understand how important it was for the kids to know that they were loved by both parents and that what had happened between their father and me was not about them. Rarely did I say or tell them negative things about their Dad. I desperately tried to keep my relationship with my kids between them and me and I allowed them to have their relationship with their Dad without my input. He died two years after our divorce and one of our daughters elevated him to sainthood. She gave me a lot of grief. I told her I wasn’t going to die so that she would like me. It is a good thing I bleach my hair or it would have turned snow white during that time.

The alcoholic family dynamics are complicated. I was very fortunate in some ways because my alcoholic was quiet and tried to hide his drinking and drunkenness from our kids. He came home many nights after they were in bed. I walked on egg shells and did whatever I had to do around the kids to keep from having disagreements in front of them. I am not saying I was right or wrong.  I am just saying what I did at that time.  I do know that in some families the alcoholic is be aggressive and mean and there is no way to keep it away from the kids.  No matter what kids in an alcoholic family suffer.

Many times, we – the spouse, are between a rock and a hard place. It is often difficult to know the right thing to do.  My sponsor ask me if my alcoholic was physically abusive.  I told her no.  She told me to ask myself where am I better off today.  She told me that I if I allowed myself to grow and heal I be would know when or if it was better to leave or stay. Every situation is different yet in many ways the same.  For a long time staying was the right thing to do.  But as our situation changed I reached a point where I knew it was time to leave and I was at peace with my decision.

I used the principles of my recovery program to deal with hurt, angry troubled teens as much as I did with my alcoholic. I needed my recovery meetings and the help of “my people” during that time to keep my serenity. I use the principles of my recovery program to my live everyday life.

Recovery requires a mental house cleaning

I was very resistant of that 4th Step Inventory. For those of you who aren’t familiar of the 4th Step, it is when we take “searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.” I just wasn’t sure that I needed that step so I avoided it for a while. And when I did begin writing out my 4th step it was extremely difficult because some events in my life had been glossed over and painted much prettier than they were in reality. There were also many events that I had totally rationalized and justified to make them tolerable and there were some events that were steeped in guilt and shame. I had transformed myself so many times to be accepted I wasn’t even sure what the truth was anymore.

When I came into my recovery program I was not really a whole person. I had lived in denial for so long that I was not really even honest about my life. What I was, was desperate. My sponsor stressed to me the importance of not starting the 4th step without asking for God’s guidance and protection. I have done several inventories through the years and each time I peel another layer back and discover something more about who I am. As I go through the process of what I feel guilty about, what I resent, what are my fears, where do I see myself as a victim, where am I trapped in self-pity, how did I get in this situation, how did this affect me, and what was my part in it?…….. All of these questions help me to understand what happened to me in the past and how it is affecting my life now.

The big book of AA it states that the only people in this program who cannot get better using this program are the ones who are constitutionally incapable of being honest with themselves.
The purpose of the 4th step is to help us understand what we need to know in order to heal and grow. It is to help us find the road blocks to our happiness so that our past will not be a mirror image of what our future is going to look like. Living it once is more than enough thank you very much. But we can’t fix something if we don’t know where it is broken.

My sponsor assured me that this was not a bashing Sharon event. She assured me that this was not about blame or incrimination. A searching and fearless moral inventory is a clinical evaluation of our life that helps us to understand who we are and how we got this way. It is looking at the bare facts. No embellishments, not excuses; just the plan old bare facts about the events in our life that has shaped us into the person we are today.

Let’s face it most of us have a distorted view of life. Our normal is really not normal at all. Step four is nothing more than facing down the truth. There are several clues that help guide us through the process. The first is the word “searching.” It tells us that the walk down memory lane is going to be different this time because we are going to look beyond the surface to the hidden core of our pain. The second clue is the word “fearless.” This step requires courage to step out of our comfort zone and challenge and face down the hurts of our life. The next clue is the word “moral.” Simply put moral means honest. Our attitudes, assumptions, rationalizations and justifications have no place here; we want only the facts about what happened to us. This is not about blame; it is not an inventory only of what we think are our faults; it is recognizing the good and the broken so we know what and how to begin the road to healing and recovery.

I have learned also that sometimes I cannot recognize the good until I remove the bad that has been covering it up. Remember there is nothing beautiful about and oyster. You have to crack open that hard ugly shell to find the pearl. Each of us has a pearl inside waiting to be polished. We just have to be willing to crack open the hard ugly shell that surround our heart and our mind.

The Third Step Way

I have a situation in my life that makes me sad. I don’t like it one bit. I believe that it is wrong and unfair. It has been going on for a couple of years, it involves me, and there is not a darn thing I can do about it. No, it does not involve an alcoholic, but it does involve an untreated codependent. At one point in time I tried to sit down and talk to the other person about the problem. They were not receptive at all and got very defensive and angry with me. They have a closed mind and discussing the problem now is not an option.

Looking back I can see that they felt backed into a corner. My bad. I should have known better. You see, a couple of years ago, I called this person up and ask them if we could talk. Automatically I put them on the defensive. I knew better than that. My sponsor taught me a better way. The third step way. Turn it over to God and wait for his timing and his words. When the time is right, if I am supposed to do anything at all, it will come to me. But now the damage is done. We have a reasonably good relationship accept in this one area.

At this point I can accept how powerless I am in this situation and keep my relationship with this person or I can bow up, make ultimatums, which I will lose, and walk away from the relationship all together. Walking away from the relationship is not an option for me. I am not interested in that at all. Therefore I have had to find away to accept the relationship on their terms. Enjoy the good and find a way to accept the parts that I cannot change with serenity. Most of the time I can do that reasonably well. But, oh well it is the holidays and at lot is going on. All the different family dynamics are like giant sensitive nerves sticking out in all directions. Every day I have had to put this person, this relationship, and my feelings in God’s hands and trust him to lead me through the potential problems that could pop up.

I am telling you this because sometimes people get the idea that recovery mean that life is going to be perfect if you jus to all the right things. Wrong. We live in an imperfect world with imperfect people dealing with their own stuff. We are just one piece of the puzzle. It is possible that we can do everything right and still not get the results that we want. Why does it have to be that way? Well, for one thing some of us are sicker than others. For another, we don’t all have the same priorities in life. What is extremely important to me may not be important at all for someone else. That is why there is chocolate and vanilla. We don’t all want the same things.

In the Serenity Prayer we pray for the serenity to accept things we cannot change, courage to change the things we can and the wisdom to know the difference. In this particular situation the wisdom to know the difference is very important. I am powerless to change this situation to the way I think it should be. The situation can be changed – just not by me. I do have power though. I most definitely can make things worse. The important part of this prayer that applies to my situation is accepting the status quo with serenity. In my own power I can’t do that. The only way I can do it is by putting it into God’s hands and trusting him with the results. The only time I don’t have serenity with this issue is when I get possessive envy and try to take control back. And, every single time my feelings get hurt.

I am pleased with myself because for the most part I sailed through the holidays without allowing this problem to hurt me. I had short relapses but I had quick recoveries by immediately giving it back to God and praying for serenity.

If one of us was going to be miserable I decided it was not going to be me

The holidays are filled with expectations. Some are wonderful and some are with dread. Through the course of my life time my expectations have been all over the board. I have been in recovery for many sunsets now, and I am a reasonably happy person, but I am here to tell you that life is not perfect. Don’t get me wrong. My life is pretty awesome but for some reason this holiday season was really difficult for me and for several of my friends, in and out of recovery.

I have untreated codependents in my life that can really throw a monkey wrench into the best of situations. And for some reason this Christmas they seem to really act up. Without this program I would have allowed myself to get sucked into their childish behavior by tying to please them even at my own expense. It started Christmas morning with a phone call. I am in my kitchen chopping, dicing, and slicing and working on Christmas dinner for about 20 to 25 people. That phone call was full of demands on my time and I did not have the time to spare. At one time this people pleasing person would have tried to accommodate those foolish demands. My first response was to be gracious but firm by putting the brakes on their unreasonable demands in the kindest way possible. Unfortunately my untreated codependent tried to guilt trip and bully me into getting involved in their chaos and that is when I had be firm in my decision or lose control. They were angry. The way that I looked at it, if one of us was going to be resentful and miserable it was not going to be me. You see this program has taught me to set healthy boundaries.

I believe that part of being able to understand when to stand my ground came with understanding where I do have power and where I do not. I am in charge of me. I know what was best for me and what is not. The issue was whether I was going allow some else suck me into their chaos. I was not powerless to say NO to their unreasonable demands.

So many times in my life I have run around like a crazy person trying to please everybody. I have made my self miserable and have over extended myself so many times I can’t count them. I did this because I wanted to make everyone happy. I did this so that I could keep the peace and so that other people would like and accept me. Working through the steps helped me to learn about the real me. Trying to be all things to all people and I had no idea how to be at peace with me. I use to do things I did not want to do, go places I did not want to go, I even ate things I did not like trying to please other people. I was a chameleon no doubt. My program helped me to find the real me. To understand my assets and my character defects and my boundaries.

I talk about powerlessness a lot on my blog but that is because it has been, and sometimes still is, the root of a lot of what is chaos and insanity in my life. It is the root of much of my codependency. Powerless means without ability or influence, without power. Without influence means that no matter what I do or I don’t do my input has no influence on the outcome. Which means that I have nothing to gain by getting involved in the first place; I can beg, threaten, bargain and manipulate to get the results I want and it won’t happen. I can give into their selfish demands and I can jump through hoops, I can waste time and energy trying to save them from themselves and it will not make one infinitesimal bit of difference and it will frustrate the heck out of me.

Where I do have power is to not allow myself to get involved in the first place and that is exactly what I did on Christmas morning. I decided that if one of us was going to be miserable and unhappy it was not going to be me.

I learned that the private conversations I have with myself determine my direction

Things can get very dicey this time of year. Lots of celebration and good cheer; sometimes too much good cheer. Expectations run high for that perfect family Christmas. And, in some cases, expectations run low because we are anticipating their bad behavior based on past experience.

My sponsor kept me in the moment by reminding me that we live one day at a time….in the present…..not in what happen yesterday or last Christmas….or what can happen next Christmas if he is sober. There is no sense borrowing trouble before it finds you. Nope we have today and we are going to stay in the moment. Staying in the moment means having control over my thoughts. If I allowed my thoughts to run wild they can build me into a heighten state of anxiety anticipating the worse.

In my recovery journey I have had to learn to talk differently to myself. I learned that the private conversations I have with myself determine my direction. I could not always control the thoughts that popped into my head but I could control whether I was going to keep thinking about them and allowing them to take root in my mind or not. Was it easy? Of course not. Sometimes I drove down the road singing rock and roll (I guess that dates me) at the top of my lungs. Sometimes I scrubbed toilets. I danced in the living by myself. I walked on the beach and yelled at my negative thoughts and told them to find someone else’s head to mess with. I repeated the slogans and called people on the phone. I did not allow myself to listen to sad music or watch sad movies. Whatever it took. This was war and it was all about reclaiming my life. To change I had to be deliberate. No more victim. No more pity-pot. I was worth more than that.

No Quick Fix

Through the years I have talked with many people in my boat who had no idea how they got so far into the chaos and insanity before they realized they were trapped. I receive emails from people telling me about the merry-go-round of insanity they endure with their alcoholic. They tell me how the alcoholic will push them to the breaking point and then back off only to reel them in again. I can hear their pain, their desperateness, their insecurity, their anger and frustrations and their fear of letting go and walking away from that life and the fear of staying in it.

I ask my sponsor why I could not make the decision one way or the other to stay or leave. She told me that I was making a decision one way or the other. No decision was deciding to stay. That really ticked me off. I was not deciding to stay. I just did not have the courage to leave. She told me that when I was ready to leave that I would. That was not much comfort to me either because it was almost like saying I was some kind of masochist or something.

She hugged me and told me no – that I would only be a masochist if I was not doing anything to help myself while I was waiting until I could make the right decision. She told me that if I just forced myself to make some kind of prideful stand, and left, that I would just find me another one like the other one….now that would me masochism. As long as I was not in physical danger then I needed to give myself time to heal and understand myself and the problems that I could face with my decisions.

I was so confused because there were so many people (not in my recovery program) that told me that I should leave him. Some even acted like I deserved what I got because I could not leave him. When I talked to my sponsor about this she told me that it was important for me to ask myself where I am better off today. Only today. Then tomorrow, I could make that decision for tomorrow. We have a one day at a time program. There were a lot of things to consider about staying and leaving. Finances for one….how much money did I need, the bare minimum to survive, to make it on my own to take care of myself and 3 kids. She told me to plan for the worse and work up from their. Health benefits – how was I going to cover that? What about support and help in taking care of my kids when I went to work. Was I mentally healthy enough to face the challenges of being a single mom? What were my priorities, my boundaries, my hopes and my dreams?

To work out all of those issues sounded like it was going to take time. I wanted a quick fix. I wanted someone else to make the decision for me so that I would not be responsible if things went wrong. My sponsor assured me it was better to take the time to make the right decision than it was to try and recover from making the wrong decision.

In the mean time while I was getting my ducks in a row I had to learn how to leave in the insanity and chaos without allowing it to destroy me. I did that by going to meetings and working on my own recovery and by talking things out with my sponsor when I got out into the weeds. The bottom line, in my situation anyway, was there was no quick fix. It is a process that happens over time. Just knowing what to do did not change my life. I had to actively participate in my own healing process.

God is pretty polite he doesn’t barge in where he is not invited – the Third Step is definetly a choice

This is the that the Lord has made. Well, actually he made all of them, its just that this is the day I want to talk about the 2nd and 3rd Steps. The 2nd Step is where we come to believe that a power greater than ourselves can restore us to sanity. Let’s face if the second step did not immediately follow the 1st step we would not have any reason to get out of bed in the morning. Admitting that we are powerless and that our life is unmanageable is kind of a doomsday forecast. After that admission we would be totally vulnerable, exposed and without hope it we did not have the second and third steps.

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 in 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 even give myself. I truly believe that trusting God with my will and my life was a pivotal point in my recovery journey. Without trusting him I had nothing but desperate frustration hoping for the impossible. By trusting God with my will and my life I knew that I may not get everything that I wanted but I would get everything that I needed.

God is pretty polite he doesn’t barge in where he is not invited. We can hang on to self will and one of two things will happen. One – 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. Or two – 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.

Step 2 is all about hope. Our situation is not a life sentence if we don’t want it to be because there is a power greater than we are.

Step 3 is THE choice. We can continue to struggle in our own will power (which is not working for us by the way) or we can surrender to God’s will. We can have more pain if we want or we can surrender -it is our choice.

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.

Say it once and shut up

My husband was educated. He had two degrees. He was an attorney. He was an alcoholic. He was trained to win arguments and disputes. I was just a little stay at home mom with a couple of years of junior college. But that did not stop me from arguing with him or trying to control his drinking. No sir-ree! It did not stop me at all.

Why in the world I thought that I could make my husband understand anything when he was drinking was beyond me. But I argued with him many times when he was in an alcoholic stupor. I thought if I could just reach him, if I could just make him understand how what he was doing was hurting all of us he wouldn’t do it any more. For some reason in my mind I thought that if I did not challenge things that I thought were wrong it meant that I was agreeing with or approving of what was going on.

Even under the influence he was quick and sharp. I thought if I talked louder he would understand what I was trying to make him understand. He would talk louder too, but there was no way he was going to back down to me. Before it was all over I had become the bad guy. By the way, the only thing talking louder accomplished was that it made me feel embarrassed and out of control later. For some reason the hurtful words between us sounded meaner and uglier when we yelled them at each other. The hurt rang in my ears long after.

Arguing with him sober was another whole problem, after all he was an attorney. He would be calm cool and collected with an air of contempt and disrespect toward me and my viewpoint and that attitude really pushed me over the edge sometimes. I was right darn it! I knew that I was right and he was talking to me like I was being childish.

Until I got into recovery I thought that the reason I lost almost every battle was because he was smarter than I was and because he was a trained litigator. My sponsor laughed when I said that to her. She told me the reason he was winning the battles was not because he was an attorney, it was because he was an alcoholic and I was trying to change something that I was powerless over. It says in the big book of AA that alcoholism is “cunning, baffling and powerful.” The first word is cunning. An alcoholic will not let you say or do anything to come between them and their drinking. Dah!

She told me to sit, listen and observe at the next meeting and I would see people from all walks of life, all levels of education struggling with the same problems I was struggling with. This was not a formal education issue. This was a life issue. Only the names and faces change. The stories are pretty much the same. I realized then she was right.

I had to learn a totally new way to express myself with my alcoholic. First of all, educated or not, they are not stupid. Saying the same thing over and over will not make them understand any better. My sponsor told me to say what I mean and mean what I say, and most importantly of all to say once and shut up. Saying it ten more times was not going to convince him of anything and it would amp up frustration and show how desperate I was. No ultimatums unless I was willing to back it up if he challenged me because I had a 99% chance that he would challenge me.

She talked to me about the power of silence. Her next words of advice was to choose my battles wisely. Somethings were just not worth loosing my peace of mind over. Timing is important. There is a time to talk and a time to be quiet. Trying to have a meaningful conversation with anyone under the influence is not the time to talk. It is interesting to me that when I gave myself a little time to think about what I wanted to say how often I did not feel the need to say anything at all. Once the wave of emotion had passed over me I was over it. There is a phrase in my recovery program that ask How Important Is It? I must confess that it did take me a little while to separate the small meaningless concerns over really important issues. Tomorrow, a week from now, a month from now a year from now is this really going to be important? Am I allowing my frustration to push me into arguing over every little thing? Am I participating in my own chaos and misery by demanding to be right. If I am right I am right and arguing and trying to convince someone who refuses reality won’t change the fact that I am right. Just understanding that one thing helped me to say it once, shut up and walk away.

All 12 Steps walked me through the mind fields of my life

No matter how painful the hurt it will have to be dealt with if we want a real life. One way or the other our hurts will define how we live our life. We can build walls to protect ourselves; No one can get in and we can’t get out. We exist and go through the motions of living. We will never have a healthy relationship with another person whether it is a friend type relationship or a romantic type of relationship as long as we have our walls.

Everyday brings us many choices; everything from peace and happiness to sorrow, misery and regret. We can allow fear to paralyze us, we can wallow around in self-pity, or we can choose to learn from our situation and find the happiness we deserve.

In the Serenity Prayer we ask God for courage to change the things we can. To me everything about recovery involved change and it scared me to death. For me anything that involved change took courage. I was holding on for dear life because I was afraid to dream, afraid to hope, afraid of disappointment, afraid of the unknown. But I was also afraid that this was all there would ever be to my life.

All twelve of the steps walked me through the mine fields of my life. Each one played a part in helping me to find the courage to do what ever I needed to do to have a full life.

The first step was not just about accepting my powerlessness over my alcoholic it was realizing where and what I did have power to change and that was me. The second and third steps released me from my doomsday, there is no hope for my situation, nothing or no one can help me. Those steps took away my defeated attitude about my life. There really was a power great than me, there had to be for me to have hope.

The 4th and 5th steps was cleaning out the closets and taking out the trash in my life. Understanding that my past was my past. It was up to me how I was going to allow that past to affect my life. The tools that I had used in the past to protect my heart did not fit in my life anymore. The things that had harmed me in my past did not have a place in my future and needed to be put to the curb. I was moving on. My sponsor (mentor) helped me in the 5th step to understand that letting go of the past and moving on did not mean that I would forget my past. She told me pretending that things never happened would not make them untrue.

Nope we were going to hold that personal inventory up to the rest of the steps and free me past hurts. My past hurts would always me a page in my life story but we were going to learn from those pages how to build a better future and that is what we did.