Learning to live in the real world

I arrived to adulthood with no idea how to relate to normal people. How could I? My childhood home could be described as dysfunctional at best. The foundation and building blocks to live in the real world were not taught in my home. Looking back, I can see that I was the peace maker and the caregiver. I avoided negative consequences at all costs. I can assure you, I arrived at adulthood Codependent and broken; A perfect candidate for an alcoholic’s wife.

I knew exactly how to take unacceptable events in my life and choke it down. I knew exactly how to bend over backwards to keep the peace in my home, and I knew exactly how to take care of everybody but myself. Sure this bothered me. Their has many times I would become very angry with myself for allowing unacceptable in my life. I would even bow up from time to time and throw my little hissy fit only to back down to keep the peace.

The other thing character defect that my childhood taught me was over sensitivity. I took everything personal. My feelings were hurt easily, and when they were I would either withdraw or I would strike out at the person that I had perceived was trying to hurt my feelings. Everything was my fault or I caved and saw myself as a complete victim.

I married the first person that showed any interest in me. He was my savior; my knight in shinning armor. Honestly he really was. He understood without me telling him how difficult things were for me at home and he was protective and kind. He was also an alcoholic.

Since alcohol was not a culprit in my home growing up – oh yes there are a lot reasons for dysfunction and codependency without alcohol and substance abuse – I never recognized the signs that he had a drinking problem. The only thing that I saw was that he was shy without alcohol and a little more social with it.

I have learned that everything in life has consequences. Some that are good and some that are not. I learned a lot about the bad ones before I healed enough in my 12 Step Recovery Programs to be able to recognize and enjoy the good ones. I have been in recovery a long time. My life and how I live it has changed dramatically since I began this journey, but even to this day, I have to be on my toes to not allow some of my old ways of thinking not back into my life. I know now that when I have an over reaction to step back and look at the situation to see if I am “over sensitive.” I know that when someone hurts my feelings to step back to see if I have done anything that I need to apologize or make and amend for. If there isn’t, then I know that the person that hurt my feelings has a problem and it is not about me. Once I realize that, it is easier for me to not take whatever they said and did personal because I know that it has nothing to do with me. Sometimes my feelings are still hurt but the difference is that I don’t beat myself up and blame myself for their bad behavior.

It is now much easier for me to recognize manipulation from the broken people in my life. Yea, even though I have had some healing and recovery not everyone in my birth family got it, in fact, none of them did, and that has created a gulf between us because I don’t live my life the way they do anymore. Their lives make me sad but I know that I can’t make the changes in their life for them anymore than I could make the changes in my alcoholic’s life that he needed to make. The very fist lesson was learning that I was powerless over other peoples’s lives. I was not powerless over mine. It took a while for me to learn how to become responsible for my own life but every single step was worth it.

Holiday Attitude

The holiday season officially starts tomorrow. For many of us it will be a time of great joy, for others of us it will be a challenge, for some of us it will be an endurance contest and for others of us it will be nothing short of torture.

For some of us, this is the time of the year when we are thrown together with people that we look forward to seeing, that we have not seen in a while, and for some of us we will be thrown together with people that spend all year trying to avoid. And for some of us, we will avoid these gatherings all together, because we refuse to put ourselves in the middle of the the chaos and misery. In other words all of us have personal choices to make about the holidays. I personally was waiting for the holidays, because now I will have time to play my favorite online video games and be able to acquire the best boosting services from ElitistGaming.

In the past, the only thing that has ever helped me face these challenging times was keeping my expectations in check and to have an exit strategy. I no longer approached these holidays expecting that the person or people that have created scenes and chaos in the past to all of a sudden behave themselves this year. I knew that they could act out just as easily as they could get through the day without causing a problem. When possible I avoided hosting the holiday events because it was easier for me to leave when things got uncomfortable for me.

I used all the slogans. “Just for Today” I reminded myself. I can do anything for a few hours and thank God I don’t have to do it all day every day. “Let it begin with me” helped me approach the day without dread, anger, or negativity.   How important is it, played a huge part in avoiding unnecessary conflict, especially conflict that I could not win anyway.

And hey, it is Thanksgiving so my attitude was really important. I was taught early on that you can’t be grateful and hateful at the same time and I have learned through personal experience that is true. I have also learned that being grateful did not mean that I had to be happy about everything happening in my life but there was always something happening in my life to be grateful for.

Learning to control my reaction

In the beginning I confused powerlessness with hopelessness. It took a while for me to realize that my personal battle trying to control other people was sucking the life out of me, and it perpetuated a desperate hopelessness that never went a way. Nothing I tried to do to “save” or control someone else ever made those feelings of insecurity go away. Trust had been destroyed and I always felt like I was waiting for the other shoe to fall.

In my desperate attempt to control my alcoholic, often times I was critical and mean. I justified my own nastiness by telling myself that I was only telling the truth. Or I would justify it by telling myself that it was his fault because he pushed me over the edge. The problem with either of those justifications is that it never helped the situation and it always made me feel bad later. I hated that I had lost control. I hated that I sunk down to his level.

One of the most amazing choices I realized from this program was that I did not have to react just because someone else was out of control. I did not have to let what someone else said or did define or influence how I behaved and how I thought about myself. I did not have to defend, justify or explain, and neither did I have to retaliate.

In one of my daily readings there is a page that says normal, happy, well adjusted people do not hurt other people. I memorized that phased and said it to myself when I was faced with unacceptable behavior from someone else. I reminded myself that I was in the process of healing and therefore it was not necessary for me to engage in the same behavior with them. It did not always worked for me because there were times that I just wanted to get my two cents in no matter the consequences………..until I faced the consequences later and then I would be disappointed in myself.

I also used one of the slogans, “How Important Is It” to help me maintain my composure when all around me was going to heck in a hand basket. I was determined to not get into that basket with him. Over time and with practice it became easier and easier for me to do this. Regardless of what someone said to or about me I was the one in controlled of my reaction.

Don’t get me wrong, I am not saying that I allowed other people to walk over me. I am saying that I learned how to be in control of my response to someone else’s bad behavior. Sometimes it was to be quite and walk away, other times it meant that I did defend or explain myself. But when I did, I was not out of control, screaming and crying and over the edge. Maintaining my composure when provoked was a sign that I was learning that I defined my own well-being.

Moving forward from the 4th & 5th Steps

I have spent most of my adult life analyzing myself. The fourth, fifth and tenth steps, in my recovery program, at times, has been a double edged sword for me. I analyzed things to death. My sponsor used to say to me to stop analyzing and start utilizing.

Step 4 says that we make a “searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.” My first attempts were full of self-loathing, self-pity and self-justification. In other words, I wrote out my inventory the way I thought about myself and my life, and I colored everything with my own negative attitude. I did not know how to do it any other way. I went into this process looking for the good guys and the bad guys. Somebody needed to be held accountable and somebody need to undo my hurt and make me feel better about myself and my life.

I thank God for the 5th Step – “Admit to God, to ourselves and another human being the exact nature of our wrongs, “ and I thank God for my sponsor. I know now why that fifth step is so critical after writing a fourth step. But, what is even more critical is the person that you share that inventory with. With the patient help of my sponsor I was able to strip off the veneer and write the honest facts without the embellishments.

My sponsor guided me to look at the facts. It was not easy being honest with myself. I could justify and rationalize everything that I said, and everything that I did, to the point where it made sense and seemed right to me. But that superficial honesty was a recipe for failure. It was only when I could face being honest with myself that real growth began to happen. I was very good at being the bad unloveable person, or the victim. It has taken me years to be objective about the hurts in my life. True, there were some people who hurt me on purpose, other times, the person never intended to hurt me at all. There were even some people did not even know they hurt me.

Examining the hurt was one thing, moving on from it was another whole ball game. You see, for years I had nursed and fed some of those hurts and kept them alive without realizing what I was doing. I had wallowed in self-pity or self-loathing for so long I did not know how to let them go. I allowed those hurts from my past to sabotage many opportunities for happiness in my life. I drug those hurts from my past around like a ball and chain and allowed them to distort how I felt about myself.

I used to put myself first by demanding that other people meet my needs and when they failed me it confirmed the insecurities I had about myself. One of the hardest things I have ever done was to put myself first in a healthy way. I had to shout down the negative voices in my head and decide for myself my own worthiness. Regardless of what someone else did or did not do, I am the person defines myself worth. 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. I am the only person that can live my life.

I am a work in progress. This is the first time in my life that I have many charming delightful friends. In other words, it is the first time in my life that I have healthy relationships. When I look at my friendships today I can see progress. This has been a long and difficult process for me, because I have struggled with accepting friendship from “normal people.” I don’t feel the need to suck up or kiss up to them, the only thing I have to do is just be me and being me is good enough.

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.