My way isn’t the only way

I was prideful. I did not want anyone to know. Both of us thought we were be so careful and discreet hiding his little drinking problem. The problem was that there is no such thing as just a little drinking problem. It is kind of like being pregnant; you either or you are not. It’s the same way with alcoholics – you are either an alcoholic or you or not.

Everyone knew and for a long time, to my face anyway, they acted like there was not a problem. Then they began to avoid doing things with us. We weren’t invited to parties and events that we had been invited to before. When I would run into them in the grocery store, or somewhere, they were always polite and before they moved on they would say something like we need to get together soon.

When our fiends finally did say something to me about his drinking it was almost accusatory; like it was somehow my fault; or like they did not understand why I didn’t do something about it; or they didn’t understand why I put up with it. They didn’t understand, and I could not explain it either, not even to myself. Their attitude towards me only reinforced my feelings of failure. I wanted to shout that I was not contagious. I felt isolated and alone. I felt embarrassed, ashamed and enormous guilt.

There seems to be more understanding towards the disease of alcoholism and addiction today than there was when I started going to meetings. I believe that part of the reason is because there are very few families out there that do not have a sufferer somewhere in their family. But even when you accept that it is a disease you still have to deal with the fallout from that disease; the lies, the financial impact, the embarrassment, and the chaos, humiliation and insanity of it. And after a while if those friends with the best intentions want to avoid you.

On the other hand, the people in my program totally understood where I was coming from. There was no condemnation, no judging, no pushing me into doing something I was terrified of doing. And, they did not avoid me or treat me like I had the plague. Even though I was grateful to have found understanding and acceptance I still had a problem of fitting in because just I did not want to be one of “those people.”

Today, many sunsets later, I am grateful that I am one of those people. Everybody that knows me knows I am in a recovery program. I have friends, not in the program, that I know are dealing with alcoholism or addiction in their family. Even though they know I am in the program they never say a word to me about the problems going on in their family, and I never say a word to them either. I don’t because I respect my friendship with them. They don’t ask me for advice and I have no intentions of trying to force my advice on them. If they ever do ask I will help them find a meeting, and if they want me to I will go with them to a few meetings with them.

As far as I am concerned a 12 Step recovery program saved my life. My friends do not have to do it my way; they don’t have to do it at all if they don’t want too, because recovery is an individual choice. I have finally learned that I can’t save the world and that my way isn’t the only way. I know that what works for me but it may not be the right solution for someone else. There are professionals in this arena and of course there is the church and other sources as well.

Each of us have the right to deal, or not deal, with our problems the way we want without the outside interference of others. Took me a long time to learn how to Live and Let Live.

Alcoholism the equalizer

You never know what goes on behind closed doors. I can remember sitting in the bleachers at the soccer field watching one of my daughters play soccer. Every week I sat there by myself without her dad. For one reason or the other my alcoholic husband, my daughter’s father, could never quite make it to her games. Every week I watched the sweetest family cheering on their daughter. They ate hogs, popcorn, and cheered. I watched him hold her hand and they hugged each other when their daughter scored. I was eaten up with envy. I desperately wanted my family to be like that family.

Imagine my surprise when she walked into one of my meetings for the first time. I was already there and seated when she walked. She was mortified when she saw me. Our eyes met and I could see the look of fear on her face and I knew that if she could have backed out of the room without me seeing her she would have. But I did see her and so she came in and sat down. Half way through the meeting I thought about all the times I had watched them at the soccer field and wished that my family was like her family and it dawned on me that wish came true because my family was like her family.

Later on I learned a lot about what went on behind closed doors in their home and I can tell you this, I would never have traded places with her. At least most of the time my alcoholic was not a mean drunk. Her husband had a huge job with many employees. He was use to being King and everyone else his subjects. At home he expected the same thing only he was much worse. His domineering, controlling overbearing personality was exacerbated because of alcohol. His rules became unbearable and the tension, anxiety and fear levels were off the chart in their home. She attended day time meetings so he would not know.

One day I was looking around the circle in my meeting. What a collection of people! People whose paths would probably have never crossed if it were not for alcohol. Alcohol was the great equalizer. Alcoholism and addiction does not discriminate. Young or old, rich or poor, educated or not, male or female, and of course it does not discriminate against any race.

I have been going to meetings for many sunsets now and I have noticed that the dynamics have changed a little since I began. When I first started going to meetings about 95% of the people there were women and they were there were there because they had a spouse or signifiant other that had a problem with alcohol. Now it is about 60-70% are women and half of the people there or there because they have a child with a problem of alcohol and drugs. What hasn’t changed is the pain that comes with having a loved one suffering from alcoholism and addiction.

I have learned, in my life anyway, that life is never going to be perfect. I don’t always get what I want and I get things I don’t want and haven’t planned for. I have two choices I can live under the problem or over the problem. People and circumstances may never be what I want them to be or what I think they should be – but that doesn’t mean that I can’t be happy anyway.

The wealth of benefits of my recovery programs is not measurable. We can find an excuse for anything that we do not want to do. I had many. But in the end his alcoholism defeated me and if they had told me to crawl over cut glass I would have done it to make the pain inside of me to go away. I was sick and tired of being sick and tired. I was tried of feeling guilty, of being ashamed, of feeling like a failure. Nope! It is true. This program is not for everyone. Only the people who want it.

I was my own worse enemy

Often times I was my own worse enemy. It was beyond my ability to trust and therefore I rejected people and opportunities in my life to avoid being rejected. Like a thief in the night every hurt and disappointment, every unloving and unjust experience I lived created a lack of trust in me that made it impossible for me to have normal happy relationships.

I never trusted anyone with the real me; therefore I could never be transparent with my real feelings. There was no one out there that I trusted to love and accept the real me. I did not even like me so how could I trust anyone else too? How in the world was it going to be possible for me to do a 4 Step inventory, (a narrative of my life’s hurts and mistakes) and then actually share that with another human being. So for a long time I avoided going beyond the 3rd Step.

Interestingly enough my sponsor never pushed me to do these steps. But, what she did do was teach me trust. She broke down every wall and barrier I had by showing me unconditional love and friendship. She would invite me to go to lunch and I was suspicious. Why was she inviting me? I was such a porcupine that no one did that. I was always the one that initiated things. When I was at my lowest ebb she showed up at my door one morning for coffee and gently encouraged me to get dressed, put my makeup on and comb my hair and she did this day after day until that routine became a habit in my life.

She sponsored a lot of people over the years and to my knowledge she did not do the morning routine with anyone else. I ask her why; Why me? She said she did not know why either, she just knew that I was going down for that last time and that that was what I needed at the time was somebody to care. I was blow away. She never told me what to do and she would not make decisions for me. She listened to my pain and ask me questions that made me look at what was going on in my life objectively. This process taught me how to make decisions in my life. Her unselfish unconditional acceptance of me was mind blowing.

When I talked to her about doing a 4th Step inventory she talked to me about the benefits of the 4th Step. She told me that I could overcome the hurts and mistakes of my past or that I could allow those hurts and mistakes to overcome me. The purpose of the 4th Step was not about blame or pain, it was about understanding the root of my deepest wounds so that I would know what to do to allow them to heal. Some things were going to require my forgiveness; some were going to require me to accept and move on; some were going to require me to acknowledge my character defects and to also recognize my good qualities as well. I took both of these steps because I trusted this woman.

I do realize that my relationship with her was unique. She went over and beyond the responsibilities of a sponsor. I have not done that with anyone I have ever sponsored, but I have shared the experience, strength, hope and knowledge that she shared with me.

We talked about our unusual relationship before she died. Neither one of understood why she did what she did. Both of us are convinced it was a God thing. Thank you God!!

Acceptance is not hopelessness

In the first sentence of the Serenity Prayer we ask God to give us serenity to accept things we cannot change. In the First Step we admit that we are powerless over alcohol. To me, this translated to mean that I had to stop expecting my alcoholic to be something he wasn’t. Alcoholics drink. That’s what they do, they drink. Just like drug users use and abusers abuse. This acceptance shifted the burden of responsibility off of me and back where it belonged. In other words it took the monkey off of my back and put it on his.

This acceptance did not come without a price. Believed me, I grieved over the lost of a dream of what our life could be together. To be honest with you I had been grieving for years over the broken promises and broken dreams that alcohol brought into our home. You would almost think that in acceptance I lost hope but that is not what happened.

Even though I was sad I also experienced a paradigm shift in the model of what happiness meant in my life. I was now responsible for me. I grew up with this concept of getting married, having a family, being taken care of by my husband and living happy ever after. Obviously that model was not working for me. It was now up to be to be happy whether he was drinking or not. My self-worth did not and could not depend on him. You see, after accepting what I could not change it was now up to me to change what I could and that was me.

This acceptance helped me to see the boundaries more clearly between me and my husband. I did my part. It was up to him whether he wanted to do his part or not. He did not. I had to accept that or drive myself crazy trying to change what I could not change. Acceptance meant that my job was no longer trying to fix or save him.

One of the best things about my recovery journey is that the focus was on me – my thoughts, my feelings , my choices and my actions. It was the beginning of learning how to be grown up. It is making informed decisions. It is making choices because they where the right thing to do for me not because I was trying to control or manipulate someone else.

Yea, my recovery journey helped me define who I was and who I wanted to be. It taught me how to be in relationship with others without being consumed by them. Don’t get me wrong I have struggled from time to time because I really wanted someone else to fix my world the way I wanted it for me. But in the end this program pushed me to grow and change to be the best me I could be.

First things first

I learned the hard way that I could make all the plans that I wanted as long as I did not give them more than a 50-50 chance of becoming a reality. Living with an alcoholic on a good day is hard. Just like Forest Gump said about a box of chocolates you never know what you are going to get. He could be charming and accommodating or he could be a bad dream. Usually when he was charming and accommodating he was trying to manipulate me into doing something he wanted or he was trying to makeup to me for something he had done. The bad dream part was when he was hell bent on doing what he wanted to do and I could get on board or get out of the way.

I had big time control issues. I would do whatever I had to do to keep the peace and to hide what was going on from our family and friends. Trying to control the outcome or the collateral damage kept me on constant alert. It never occurred to me to establish boundaries in my life. At that time in my life decisions were made for our family without my input. Many times I was told what was going to happen and I could like it or not. I was an easy victim at that time. And then I reached the end of my rope and I became a bear to deal with. I was tired of being pushed around. I was tired of being taken advantage of and felt it was me against the world. Anger and resentment was boiling inside of me and I had no filter over my feelings. I would tell anyone where they could get off in a heart beat. Well, that did not make me any friends. As my grandma always said you can’t hug a porcupine and I was definitely a porcupine. I was also miserable.

I had tried being a doormat and tied to be all things to all people for a long time and during all of that time I did not have a real meaningful and trusting relationship with anyone. And of course when I reached the end of my rope and showed my hinny that definitely did not endear me to anyone either. I felt isolated and alone. I wanted instant relief but that is not how it works. As they say in our program – we did not get this way overnight and things aren’t going to change overnight either.

Another thing they say in our program is First Things First. Well, the first thing I had to do was learn how to be in a relationship with myself before I could be in one with anyone else. I did not like or respect myself. I had no clue where to begin. My emotions and feelings was so twisted together with my husband and my family that I did not know where I ended and they began. But I learned how to figure it all out through the 12 Steps. And in case you haven’t noticed the steps are designed to be implemented by one person. It is not a group project. It is singular. It was through the steps that I was able to find out where I ended and someone else began. I learned what was my junk and what was not. I learned what I could and could not do something about. I learned that even though it was designed to be done by one person at a time I was not alone and that God would help me do what I could not do in my own power.

Through this process I took baby steps replacing hurtful things in my life with empowering things. As long as I kept the focus on me and what I was responsible for, and what I was doing, I learned how to accept things I could not change. I learned how replace hopelessness with hope by changing the things I could change. I learned how to look at my motives so that I would have the confidence to do what was right for me. Sure I made mistakes along the way. Sometimes it was two steps forward and one step back. But as long as I kept the focus on me and what I was responsible for I had progress.

Understanding that Alcoholism is a disease does not make the hurt go away

Even though they told me that my recovery program was for and about me, when I first came into recovery, there was also a lot of emphasis on understanding the disease of alcoholism. That insight into the disease of alcoholism was important and over time it helped me to separate the man from the disease. This also helped me to have compassion for him and the war ragging inside of him with alcohol. I understood it all right but that did not mean that I had to like it and I can assure you I did not like it one bit.

Understanding that alcoholism was a disease that I did not, and could not, cause control or cure did not make the pain go away. I did understand the reality of his disease but the hurting part of me still hurt. The hurting part of me did not care that it was a disease because it created pandemonium and insecurity in our day to day life. Intellectually I knew not to take things personal, but there were many times that I was hurt anyway. I was hurt not because I took the words or the situation personal, but because of the fact that both of us had to endure the wreckage of what this disease was doing, and did do, to our marriage, to our family, and to our lives in general.

So Yes, intellectually I did understand about the disease of alcoholism and I still struggled with the first step of accepting that I was powerless and that my life was unmanageable. It was beyond hard to accept what I could not stand, and I could not stand the disease of alcoholism. But what choice did I really have? I could resist all I wanted too and there was no way I was going to change the facts. I was powerless over alcohol and as long as I did not accept my powerlessness my life was totally unmanageable.

The reason I made myself give this program a chance is that I simply could not stand being miserable anymore. My insecurities fought me at every turn. They whispered negative things in my ear and dared me to be brave.

The only way I could do this was through the 12 Steps. The Steps helped me to see how I had been hurt in the past. They helped me to see how those hurts had changed me. They helped me to understand how I had lashed out in my pain and hurt others, and how that behavior only reenforced my feelings of self loathing. They helped me to understand how forgiveness would free me form the past. They helped me see how important it was to forgive myself, how to love and respect myself and how to grow into the person I really wanted to be. Most important of all, with God’s help, these Steps helped me find the strength and determination to do the right thing.

I have learned, in my life anyway, that life is never going to be perfect. I don’t always get what I want and sometimes I get things I don’t want and haven’t planned for. I have two choices I can let life choose for me or I can take responsibility for my life about how I am going to allow those things to effect my life. Sometimes this means accepting something I cannot change and moving on. Sometimes this means stepping out of my comfort zone to change something that I can change. The choice is mine to make. It means that sometimes I will make a mistake and have to forgive myself, dust myself off and get back in the rhythm of life. But, in the end it all boils down to my choice.

Learning to make my own decisions

Life is not always fair. There has been many times in my life when I have had to deal with the fall out of someone else’s problem or mistake because in someway their mess affected me whether I liked it or not. This usually created a king size resentment in me that made me react without thinking.

Many times during a crisis I would be overwhelmed with the situation. Where do I start. What do I do now? How and when do I do it? Emotions are high, and from one extreme to the other. Their has been times I was almost paralyzed by fear and other times I reacted without thinking or even considered the consequences. Many of those times I only made the problem more difficult to deal with.

Learning self-control has not been easy. When I make myself stop and think before I react, I am amazed how different my response usually is. When I give myself time to break things down into manageable pieces it helps me to navigate through the fallout in a way that helps me to keep my sanity. Sometimes the problem is difficult because my life was so intricately connected with someone else’s life that it is difficult for me to see what was my responsibility and what was not.

Take finances for example. I was a stay at home mom at the time and my husband made all financial decisions. Whether I like it or not those decisions affected me. I can’t count the times he hand me documents and told me where to sign and I just signed without even looking at it. It was only later that I learned that I had made myself liable for debts that he made that should never have been made in the first place.

The lesson I learned in all of this is that I had a responsibility to pay attention to what was going on in my life. Because I did not do that when everything went to heck in a hand basket I saw myself as a victim. In reality I was a victim because I did not know any better a that time. But I have learned that the first time we are deceived by someone then the shame is on the person that deceived us. The second time we are deceived by that same person then shame on us.

Learning to take responsibility for what was going on in my own life was not an easy step for me to make. I was afraid of making the wrong decision. My sponsor laughed when I told her that. Then she asked me if any of my wrong decisions could be anymore disastrous than the ones I was allowing my alcoholic to make for me. She taught me to break things down into manageable pieces so that I could make an informed decision.

I learned that I was powerless to control him. I learned that I was not powerless to control me. This opened up a whole new way of life for me. By taking responsibility for my life I became an adult. Sure I made mistakes that had consequences. But they were my mistakes and my consequences. Learning to be an adult reduced significantly the times I paid the consequences for his mistakes. I know now that if I don’t learn it I will repeat it.

Denial is living half a life

For many years, too many years, I was half a person living half a life. I did whatever I had to do to avoid pain and avoid my feelings. I did this through denial. I accepted unacceptable in my life because I was too afraid to stand up for myself. I stayed in an unhealthy relationship because I did not have the courage to leave. So never followed through on my dreams and I lived this half of life.

The problem with denial is that even though it was a buffer and it cushioned me from my reality it never quite eliminated the truth. I can tell you living half a truth is living half a life. Denying there is a problem or placing blame everywhere but where it belongs did not solve my problem. As long as we deny “it” – “it” has the power to devastate us when we least expect it. And every time I was lulled into a false sense of security, something would happened and I would be broadsided by my reality.

Accepting responsibility for my own life was intimidating. It was a lot easier to exist and live this half a life blaming my alcoholic for all of my unhappiness and missed opportunities in life than it was for me to take the risk of being responsible for my own life. The fear of failing again was the chains that held me a prisoner. I was taught that fear was being afraid that I was going to lose something that I had or I was afraid that I was not going to get something I wanted and that it was always a signal that there was something about the situation that I need to learn from so that I did not repeat it.

Ancient Chinese Proverb: “If we do not change our direction we are likely to end up where we are headed.” In order for me to change the direction of my future I had to learn to talk differently to myself. I’ve learned that the private conservations I have with myself determine the direction of my life. I cannot always control the thoughts that popped into my head but I can control whether I am going to keep thinking about them and allowing them to take root in my mind. Yup! What I think about is up to me.

There were times I fantasied leaving my alcoholic, finding prince charming and living happy ever after. There were other times I fantasied leaving him and never ever, ever, ever allowing another man in my life period. There were times I fantasied about moving to another city and starting over. Thank goodness fear kept me from jumping out of the frying pan into the fire, because I now know that I can’t change my life by running away, because I always take me wherever I go. Nope running away has ever solved anything for me. The only thing that has ever worked was changing my attitude and my point of view, and the only way that has ever happened was when I became willing to change and be changed.

Recovery is a choice. We make the choice to go to our first meeting and we make the choice to go back. The Serenity Prayer talks about the “courage to change the things we can.” Many times that courage came in a series of small steps for me. Taking small steps helped me to overcome my fears and to keep moving forward. After taking the 3rd step, I knew that as long as I was trying to live God’s will and not my own, that God would give me the power to do his will. I didn’t have to do it all at once – just one step at a time.

Is detaching with love an oxymoron?

In the beginning the only way I could detach was to shut down my feelings. I had walls around my heart. My intention was not to be mean to my alcoholic, my intention was to protect myself. Every time I allowed myself to get emotionally sucked into his chaos I found myself trying to fix, save, cover up, or punish him for his alcoholic behavior.

All of this left me with fear, anxiety, anger and resentment and many times exhaustion. In the mean time he seemed to be going on with his merry way and I was left with cleaning up the debris and wreckage from his behavior. I was especially vulnerable whenever I choose to try and reason with him when he was under the influence. He could say words that cut met the core and the next day not even remember what he said. I would take those hurtful words to heart and be devastated for days.

Detachment became critical to my emotional well being. Whenever he was drinking I avoided him like the plague. The more I with drew and ignored him, it seemed the more he tried to push my buttons. There was no detaching with love for me. At that point I was in survival mode and I withdrew all emotional feelings for him. Family and friends, who did not have to life my life minute by minute, thought that I was cold and mean to him and I caught myself defending myself to outsiders. That really ticked me off. How dare they!!!! This made me even more determined to protect myself emotionally. I was becoming hard and cynical. Completely disillusioned I felt empty.

When I first heard someone talk about detaching with love I thought the whole concept was an oxymoron. But I listened because I hated the void and emptiness that I was feeling. By shutting down my feelings toward my alcoholic I found that I could not allow myself to accept compliments, hugs, affection, and even love from anyone else. In order for me to detach with love I had to separate my husband from his disease. I made myself see him as a hurting wounded person suffering from a terrible disease. Instead of building walls I defined my boundaries of acceptability in my life.

I finally understood that I was not the person that could save him and I stopped trying. I took the first step and accepted that I was powerless. Just taking that first step stopped me from trying to have meaningful conversations with him when he was drinking. Seriously! What the heck was I thinking anyway? Another side benefit was that I removed myself as judge and jury of his behavior. I did not feel the need to criticize, condemn and punish his conduct because I had let go of the obsession of trying to save him. Besides, his disease condemned him every time he drank and it sure as heck punished him more than I ever could.

Detaching with love gave me permission to love all the things about him that attracted me to him in the first place, and it helped me to separate the man from the disease. For the first time I could have compassion for the war raging inside him over alcohol. I felt bad for him. This did not mean that I liked or approved of the choices he made. This meant that I knew that there was nothing I could do about it. His drinking problem was not about me, in fact it had nothing to do with me.

The most rewarding benefit from detaching with love for him, was that it allowed me to feel again. I could not begin to heal with my feelings shut down. Even though I could not heal or restore the brokenness in him I could heal and restore it in me and I could only do that if I could feel. Detaching with love helped me to have serenity in the middle of chaos.

Denial was the way I coped

For a long time denial was the way I coped. If I ignored it then it wasn’t real. If I made excuses for it then it made it acceptable. And through denial I lived half a life. We were going to live happy ever after someday and so days, months and years rolled by while I was waiting for someday. I told myself that he loved me more than anything in the world, but that was a lie. He loved alcohol more.

I could not see that alcohol was the mistress that stole him from me so I made excuses for his drinking. Many times I blamed myself for failing him in some way. I was obsessed with trying to control his drinking and with trying to save him from himself. I did some pretty crazy things trying change things I could not change. His only concern was trying to get me off his back and out of his business. I learned the hard way that the person who cared the least in the relationship controlled the relationship.

Accepting I was powerless was bitter sweet. Part of me was sad because no matter how much I told myself how much he loved me, I knew that he would not and could not stop drinking for me. The sweet part is now that I knew, now that I had surrendered and accepted that I was completely powerless to control or cure his drinking, I no longer felt it necessary to live my life in limbo any more.

I still loved him. I still wanted the best for him. I still wanted us to ride off in the sunset and live happy ever after ….. but now that I had accepted my powerless I was no longer waiting for someday. I took the focus off of his life and put it on my life. No more sacrificing my needs for his wants. No more postponing my plans because of his alcoholic antics. I went to movies, parties, events for our children, went back to school, and did all sorts of things that I wanted to do…. and I did them without him.

In the beginning it was a delicate balancing act to choose life over existing. Thanks to my sponsor and going to meetings I knew the difference between detaching and detaching with love. I did things that I enjoyed doing without him not to hurt him or manipulate him, I did them because I wanted to enjoy those things and I wasn’t going to wait around for him to get his act together to do them. He had a choice and I had a choice.

I can tell you this right now, it is a whole lot easier for me to tell you about the steps I took to enjoy my life than it was to do. It is not like a flipped a switch and changed my feelings and emotions. Many times I had to look at my motives and make sure that I was doing the right thing for the right reason. Many times I had to convince myself that it was okay to do things without him. Many times I had to choose not to participate in his tantrums. But each time I took a step reclaiming my life it became easier for me to do it the next time. Over time it became a natural way of life to me. Sure it made me sad sometimes to watch him continue to struggle while I was learning to enjoy my life and have peace of mind. The thing that kept me going was knowing that he had the same choice I had; we could choose to get in the life boat or go down with the ship.

I have no regrets choosing life.