Somethings you just have to live and hurt through

Everyone had an opinion on what I should and should not do in my marriage. It was kind of interesting how our families viewed our situation. My family gave me sympathy but encouraged me to stay and fix my marriage, to do whatever I had to do to make things right. Like I said they gave me sympathy for the hurtful things I shared with them, but in the end they put monkey on my back to fix it.

His family on the other hand were conflicted. Sense they were heavy drinkers they didn’t see anything wrong with the way he drank. Sense they never thought that I was good enough to be in their family in the first place, they pretty much thought that the reason he drank so much was because of the mistake he made in marrying me. As his drinking problems escalated they began to be concerned. I can even remember one time my brother-in-law telling me that he did not know why I put up with it. He even told me that he would not blame me if I left my husband.

Then my husband got sick. Alcohol had damaged his heart and he was given a few years to live. The doctors told him that if he did not stop drinking that he would not even have that. So he stopped. That changed everything. Again, both of our families gave me all the responsibility. My husband was self-employed and worked when he could. I was working and between the two of us we kept ourselves financially afloat. I took care of the kids, of him and everything else and at bed time I collapsed into exhausted sleep.

Then one day he told me that he could not take the stress of family life. He got a job in another city and moved away. Three months later he showed up for Thanksgiving and said that he missed us and wanted us to join him. I wanted to give our kids an opportunity to be with their Dad for as long as he had, so I moved. All of my friends thought I was crazy to do that. Our families were convinced it was the right thing to do. Our children were young and could not wrap their minds around the fact that their father had a terminal illness. They could not understand why we were moving and they had to leave their friends. That was the beginning of rebellious behavior that made my life a nightmare long after their father had died.

My husband had been sober about two years when I uprooted our family and moved to join him. I moved in December. In March I discover he was drinking again. Even after all of my years in recovery I had this little voice that said that maybe it really was my fault that he drank. After all he was a dying man that had been sober two years and three months later I joined him he started drinking again. Never mind that we had really only been apart three months of his two years of sobriety. Never mind that he had been drinking long before I found out in March. Never mind all that I had learned about alcoholism – I did not cause it, I can’t control it and I can’t cure it. Just like that I had been sucked right back into the chaos of his drinking.

Four months later he showed up at my work and invited me to join him for happy-hour after work. I felt like he had sucker-punched me, but I went anyway to see what he was up too. It was almost like he was trying to pick a fight with me. But I was not playing his game and that made him even more angry. He started to tell me how things were going to be from here on out. When I said I don’t think so he told me he wanted a divorce. I felt angry and I felt relief. I looked at him and said no problem and walked out of the bar. What I did not know at the time was that he had already rented and apartment and had the utilities turned on. You know what they say about alcoholism – cunning, baffling and powerful.

But you know what our families saw? Both of our families blamed me. In their eyes it was my fault that he started drinking again. They thought that I was the one that had ask for the divorce. To them I was a horrible person because I was divorcing a sick and dying man. Neither of our families ask me what happened. I was not even given and opportunity explain or defend myself.

I called my sponsor back home. She ask me if I was going to meetings. I hem-hawed around and told her I had tried but not any of them were like my home group. She told me to get my but back to meeting and work my program. Without the love and support of the people in my program I could never have gotten through that time in my life with any shred of sanity.

They told me to just keep doing the next right thing for the right reason. They helped me to always be aware of my motives and be honest with myself. They loved me when I felt the whole world was against me. There were many times my husband wanted me to engage in tit-for-tat behavior but I was able to avoid that trap because I had learned in my program that I did not have to react or engage in his unacceptable behavior.

I am not saying any of this was easy. There was nothing easy in my life at that time. There are just some hurts in life that you just have to live and hurt through, but thanks to my program I chose how I wanted to live through those difficult times. And I only had to live through it one day at a time. Some days were better than others. Because of the self-honesty my program requires I was able to look at things through the eyes of the Serenity Prayer and get the wisdom to know what was my responsibility and what was not.

My husband had also been in recovery and in the end he had two years of sobriety when he died. Thanks to both of our programs we had we did not hate each other when he died.

The flaw in my expectations

An expectation is a strong belief that something or someone will be a certain way or behave in a certain way. It is an assumption, and a presumption, a predictable outcome. In many situations we have already formed a conclusion in our minds. Many times, for me, it has been a state of mind that had nothing whatsoever to do with my reality. It was a want and a dream, it was a need and a hope, that I desperately held onto, because I believed that it was something I had to have to be happy, to validate me or because I thought I deserved it.

The big flaw in my expectation belief was that I had put that responsibility onto my alcoholic’s back. Therefore I set myself up over and over again to be disappointed, to be hurt and to develop a king size resentment. The only thing predictable about my alcoholic was that he was unpredictable.

The first step says that I am powerless over alcohol. I was powerless over my alcoholic and my life was unmanageable. But what I heard, was that I was going to have to let go of my hopes and dreams of happy ever after. When I heard powerless I heard hopeless, I heard unconquerable, I heard impossible, I heard unattainable. In reality all that was true if we were talking about my ability to control my alcoholic. It was NOT TRUE over me finding peace and happiness in my life.

I morned and grieved over letting go of my expectations. Darn it! He was my husband. He said he loved me. Doesn’t love mean that he will stop drinking and put our family first? Doesn’t it? To me it is supposed to be that way, but unfortunately, that is not how it worked in our life. Unfortunately my husband had a mistress. Her name was alcohol and no matter how much he loved me he loved her more.

Even if it were possible for me to be the perfect wife, lover and friend to this man I would never be able to compete against alcohol and win. His drinking wasn’t about me. The harder I tried the worse it became, because I was a reminder of all of the ways he was failing in his life. The control that alcohol had over him really hit me in the face the day I told him he had to choose between alcohol and our family. He did not even blink. He just walked into the bedroom and started packing.

I was angry, devastated and afraid of being alone with three kids and no job or job skills. In the end I swallowed my pride and he came back home on his terms. Believe it or not, I was in the program at that time, obviously I did not have much recovery under my belt, but I did have a sponsor. She taught me to never deliver an ultimatum that I was not ready to back up. She taught me to prepare myself to survive with or without him. No, she did not tell me to leave him. She told me to do what I had to do to financially take care of me and my girls if I had to.

BUT!!!! Let’s back up the train here. The first thing she did was tell me that since I was not in any physical danger, that I did not need to make any major life changing decisions in my life until I had at least a good year of recovery under my belt. She told me that she could not make me do anything, just like I could not make my alcoholic do anything. She reminded me that I could stay a victim or I could take control of my life. That meant going to meetings. Reading the literature and studying and working the steps; It meant a commitment to work on me.

Interestingly enough the more I put the focus on me and what I needed to do, the more empowered I became. The stronger I got, the less I looked to him for affirmation. The more capable I became the more I let go of trying to be responsible for his life. The more I understood about the disease of alcohol, the more compassion I had for him. The transformation in my heart and in my mind and in my life was mind blowing. My life did not get easier living with an active alcoholic, but it was easier for me to live with an alcoholic, because I knew his drinking had nothing to do with me. I learned how to set up healthy boundaries for myself and I learned how to live and let live.

My “helping” fed his problem

The dictionary defines “enable” as to make possible, to give power, to give someone the authority or the means to do something. On the other hand the definition of “help” is assist and to make it easier; to do something by offering one’s services.  So the big question is why do we rescue our alcoholic from the pain of their repeated poor decisions and choices? Why do we do that? Are we improving their life when we bail them out, and when we lie and run interference for the same mistakes over and over again? What is our motive?

When you think about, it every time we “rescue” our alcoholic from their chaos we make it possible for them to do it again. We give them the power and the means to continue on their path of self destruction. In our mind we are helping them right? Well, in a way we are helping by making it easier for them to continue to repeat their mistakes. We help them continue on their path of self destruction because we offer our services to clean up their mess-ups.

Oh we have good intentions. We are going to help them, they are going to see the light and clean up their act. Sure they are. Bahhahaha! Somewhere in the literature I read that the first time someone does something we justify it in our minds as an accident. We give them the benefit of the doubt. The second time they do it we justify it as a coincidence. But folks, by the third time we need to wake up and smell the coffee. There is no justification for their behavior. It is not an accident or a coincidence; it is a habit.

I don’t know why other people keep trying to save the alcoholic from themselves, but I can tell you why I did it. I was afraid. I was afraid of losing what I had and I was afraid of not getting what I wanted. So I was buying time until I could figure out how to stop him from self-destruction. I was trying to figure out how I could control him and save him.  Another reason was that I was trying to protect myself. If he lost his job we would suffer financially. Also I was prideful. I did not want anyone to know how bad things were.  And there were even times I felt guilty like it was somehow my fault that he drank the way that he did.

To me, living with my alcoholic was like watching a volcano blow and standing at the bottom of the mountain looking at the burning lava slowly come down the side of the mountain. There was no way I was going to stop it. I could stay and get burned and be destroyed by it, or I could get out of the way and let it run its course.

It took me a while to realize that my “helping” did not help my husband with his drinking problem, but instead it helped him feed his problem; I was enabling. It was a while before I realized that my “helping” was an attempt to control the fall out from my alcoholic’s drinking. I took over his responsibilities so that he would not have to suffer his consequences. I even took the blame sometimes to divert his consequences. I adapted my schedule, my needs, my life to “protect” him. It seems that my best intentions often times had disastrous results.  My sponsor ask me why I thought that I was less important than my alcoholic? I told her I did not understand. Then she ask me why I sacrificed my needs to accommodate his harmful conduct? I did not have an answer. I had never thought of it that way.

Accepting my powerlessness helped me understand that even though I was powerless over him I was not powerless to change the situation to protect myself from the effects of his behavior. My rights ended where his began and his rights ended where mine began. Knowing that allowed me to get off of that merry-go-round of setting myself up for failure by trying to save or fix him.

Forgiveness and acceptance

Forgiveness and acceptance does not make us stupid. It does not mean that we have to trust the person that hurt us. In fact, it can mean that we have finally learned that we cannot trust that person. It doesn’t mean that we have to be friends, lovers, or buddies with that person either. It means that we have learned some healthy boundaries.

Acceptance was a game changer for me. As long as I tried to force the solutions that I wanted onto to the other key people in my life I was frustrated. Accepting my powerless over my husbands drinking released me from the frustration and hurt involved with trying.  Acceptance is not degrading it is empowering because it means that we aren’t going to waste any more time trying to fix or save someone else. We are off the hook of participating in their chaos. It means that we now have the time to do something good for ourselves. It means that we have been liberated.

Finding serenity and accepting what I cannot change

The Serenity Prayer – “God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can and the wisdom to know the difference.”

The first request is for God to grant us the serenity to accept the things that we cannot change. The key words are serenity and accept. Their has been many times, in life, that I have been forced to accept something that I could not change, and I can guarantee you there was no serenity involved. For me, being forced to accept something I could not change, without serenity, filled me with, either anger and a king size resentment, or with defeat and pity.

When I have been forced to accept without serenity my mind was filled with hours and hours of thoughts on how I was going to overcome and become victorious, or how I was going to get even, or I wallowed on my pity pot and became the world’s great tragedy queen. It was like I had a giant X on my forehead that marked me as a victim.

That part of that prayer used to tick me off. What I heard is that I was supposed to walk around happy as a lark and they were going to get away with hurting me. I told my sponsor that I was angry because this meant that I did not have a choice. She reminded me that I did have a choice. Acceptance was not approval. It was making the best of a bad situation. This is the way that it is and there is not a darn thing I can do about it. I could learn how to have peace and be happy or I could stay miserable the choice was mine. I could allow this situation to continue to hurt me over and over again or I could take control of my life back. She told me that as long as I had the ugly negative feelings that I had, that I was handing over control of my life to someone else.

Then came the hard part. Well, it was hard for me anyway. How in the heck to get serenity over something is unacceptable to you and you are powerless over. It is not like I said this prayer and God sprinkled Angel dust over me and all of a sudden I had visions of rainbows and lollypops. No, it was nothing so simple as that. It wasn’t just one thing that helped me achieve serenity. It was a series of steps that healed my heart.

One important thing was understanding what I did have power over. I have power over is me. The second part of the prayer says to “have the courage to change the things I can.” I can change me and I can change my attitude. I can choose the kind of person that I want to be but I cannot choose to force those standards on someone else. I can choose to be a loose cannon and react to everything in my life, or I can take control and decide for myself how I am going to respond to life’s ups and downs. Instead of being so focused on me and my problems, I can get out of myself and help others in need. It is being grateful for the good things I do have and not focusing on the things I don’t have. It is doing the next right thing and it is not planning and scheming how I am going to win or get even.

Forgiveness, without a doubt, is a key component in finding serenity. It took a while for me to understand that forgiveness did not mean that what happened was okay. It did not necessarily fix the wrong, it did not mean that we had to be friends or that I even had to have the that person in my life. It means that even though you hurt me in the past you are not allowed to hurt me for the rest of my life.

Finding serenity was an evolutionary process for me. It was a process of learning about myself. It learning how to set health boundaries in my life. It was liberating and empowering.

Healing requires self-honesty

I have had a lot going on and I haven’t posted in almost two weeks. Even though I haven’t posted life was still happening. Good stuff and challenging stuff too. In a couple of situations I have had to reevaluate the circumstances in some of that challenging stuff.

When I came into recovery I was looking for answers. I am one of those persons that needed or wanted an answer for everything. For some reason I had it in my mind, that if I just understood why, then I would be able to fix the problem. Then I found out that some things were not my responsibility to fix. I found out that somethings are not fixable and somethings cannot be reversed. There really are times in life when “all the kings horses and all the kings men cannot put Humpty Dumpty back together again.” So then what?

I had to learn how to live with the consequences of decisions that I made, or decisions that someone else made in which I had no control. Stop right here! I want to say that learning how to live with the consequences of other people’s behavior does not mean that I have to accept unacceptable in my life, and it does not mean that I do not have choices about what I am going to do about their behavior.

One of things I learned early on is the importance of understanding my part in the situation. There is a darn good reason I need to do this, most important of all, if I don’t learn from it I will repeat it. Every provocation challenges me to look at my part in the circumstances in which I find myself. How did I get here in the first place? Many times, not all the time, but many times, there were red flags of warning all over the place, and I ignored them because I wanted what I wanted. Many times I had unrealistic expectations. There were other times I was too broken to see the forest for the trees. I was so focused on certain details that I failed to look at the total picture.

Progressing through the 12 Steps has helped me see my own strengths and weaknesses. Yes, I did say strengths. The first time I did a 5th Step, my sponsor helped me to realize that I was not all bad and I was not all good and perfect either. I had character defects and I had strengths. My sponsor told me that the focus of my recovery journey was learning to live comfortable in my own skin, and to be at peace with myself regardless of what was going on around me in my life. I could not even imagine such a thing.

I had this internal struggle in my head, a rigid dichotomy, between believing that everything was my fault and that I did not deserve any better, and being arrogant and angry because I believed that I was right and everyone just needed to get on board and do what I wanted them to do. Many times I acted confident and strong on the outside and on the inside I was afraid that I was not even average.

Looking at my part, and being honest with myself, is one thing that has been drilled into me from the beginning of my recovery journey. Recovery is built on self-honesty. The big book of AA says that the only people that do not get better using these steps are the people who cannot be honest with themselves. I know I am in trouble, and that I am deceiving myself, when I say things like, I know what I did was wrong, but I only did this because they did that. As soon as those words come out of my mouth I know that I am trying to excuse my own behavior.

To this very day I still examine my part in a situation. I still seek other people’s advice, my sponsor, or someone I trust, not to tell me what I want to hear but what I need to hear because this is how I grow. I can’t grow, change and heal by lying to myself.

The program was our saving grace

I tried every thing I could think of to make my alcoholic “understand” what he was doing to himself and to our family. I tried reason and logic, I threatened, begged and pleaded, I defended and argued my case over and over again expecting the light to come on, and for him to finally understand, and do whatever he had to do to change. I said the same thing over and over again a thousand different ways. But not one thing I said made a difference, because he was in complete denial that he had a problem with alcohol. The sad thing is that he really tried to control his drinking, but he could not, and even then he could not accept that he was powerless.

You know what else is sad? I could see how obsessed he was with alcohol, but I could not see how obsessed I was over trying to control his drinking. We were the perfect storm, the yin yang of an alcoholic relationship. We were on opposite sides that absolutely encouraged our sickness. He could not look me in the face and not feel guilty, but he could not stop his destructive behavior either. I struggled trying to out-wit him and keep him out of trouble.

Every time in the past, before I got into recovery, that I had tried to change, or pull away, I failed, and I failed because of my motive. I was trying to control and manipulate my husband to try and force him to change. It was pretty scary standing up for my life. It was hard to wrap my mind around, and accept, that he did not have to change for me to change. What if I changed and things did not work out the way that I wanted them to? Many times it was painful to do the right thing. That is when the doubts came. Sometimes I was fearful and second guessed my decision.

My alcoholic had no reason to believe that things were different this time and he did everything in his power to keep the status quo. He wasn’t going to let me tell him what he could and could not do and his drinking got worse. As he began to see changes in me, he became even more determine to get me back in line. He tried to manipulated and guilt tripped me to try and make me believe that everything was my fault. I gave him an ultimatum and he threatened to leave. He left. The first time he left I was not strong enough, or well enough, to hold my ground, so after a few weeks, I folded and he came back home on his terms. The second time he left, he had about a years sobriety under his belt. He told me that he needed his own space and he moved to a different city. I was better and stronger, but he wasn’t and after about four months he made grand promises and “took me back.” The third time he left, he left for good.

You know what is so interesting about the third time? It was a mutual agreement. He knew, and I knew, that I had changed enough where I would no longer accept unacceptable in my life. His disease changed me, it changed him, and it changed the love we shared. It was only through recovery that I learned how to have compassion for his struggle; it was through recovery that I learned how to separate the disease from the man – which helped me to hate the disease but not the man.

It was in recovery that I learned how to love myself enough to not to allow his disease to destroy me. Which in my case meant that I had to walk away. Believe it or not, thanks to both of our recovery programs (he was in and out of the program) our breakup was rather tame. There was no war. We just knew that we could not make it work any more.

I am sharing my journey this morning, because recovery will create change in your life. Sometimes that change is not the way you envision it to be. Most couples stay together, but a few don’t. We didn’t, but the program was our saving grace. Without the program we wold have hated each other when the break came. Don’t get me wrong the break was not easy. It did not come without tears. Both of us were sad with the result, but we knew that in order for us to walk away without hating each that was what we had to do.