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.

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.

Attitudes about recovery programs

For a few years I struggled with my attitude about going to my recovery programs. I needed them, but I didn’t want to need them. I just wanted to go get the magic recipe to fix my life and get on with the business of living. I did not want to be one of those people, I did not want to be a 12 Step groupie that didn’t have a life out of the program. Mind you that was my interpretation of those people who were solid in the recovery journey. They couldn’t possibly have any other life than that, right?

But I was so wrong about everything. One year became two, two became three and now I will not going to tell you how many years I have been going to meetings, because you will think I am too old to still be living. Yes, it has really been that long.

I have since learned that thanks to my recovery program I can now live whole in the real world. Through the years my life has been blessed beyond measure. Today, thanks to the 12 Steps, I have beautiful friendships IN and OUT of the program. When I began my recovery journey my motive for not wanting to be one of those people, for not wanting be a “12 Step groupie,” was wrong. I was ashamed that my life was such a mess that I needed a 12 Step program. Now I am proud that I did not live the rest of my life broken and a victim. I am proud for this program and the changes that it helped me to make in my life.

Today, anyone that knows me, knows I am in a 12 Step program, several in fact. They know that the blueprint, the model, the template that I try to live my life by is the 12 Steps. In my heart, I believe that those steps help me with anything in my life but the common cold.

To be honest with you, I have never met anyone, in or out of my recovery programs, that could not benefit from these steps in some way in their life. I say this because I have never met a perfect person yet. We either have or live with, work with, live next door to, have a family member, or a friend that has some type of problem that impacts our life in a challenging way.

My recovery journey has liberated me from living in negativity, from waiting for the other shoe to fall, from being suspicious of good things in my life. It challenges me when I mess up, to fess up and make amends. It challenges me when I get stinking thinking to talk them out with someone I trust, to help me be objective and help me see things more clearly. It reminds me that I am not God in other people’s life. I cannot fix anyone else. It reminds me that just because something needs to be done that it does not necessarily mean that I should be the one to do it. It reminds me to have empathy and compassion for the walking wounded out there. It took me a while to learn how to have great measures of peace, joy and happiness in my life. It reminds me to have an attitude of gratitude.

I believe that if this program works in our life the way that it supposed to work, that we should have close healthy supportive friends and relationships, with people who are not in recovery as well as ones that are. When healing takes place, it takes place on the inside, in our hearts and minds. It makes us stronger, healthier and free.

Half measures did not bring peace and harmony in my life

I will never forget my first recovery meeting. I could’t talk without crying, or exploding in anger, so I sat there twisted in knots. I can remember being there. I can remember bits and pieces of what they said, but I could not grasp or understand what they were trying to tell me. What the heck did it mean that I was powerless over alcohol. Somebody had to be, and it sure as heck wasn’t going to be my husband. I wanted them to tell me how to control his drinking not tell me that I was powerless.

When I heard that I could “be happy whether he was drinking or not,” I was really ticked off. In my mind all I heard that I was that I supposed to stay with him and allow him to do anything he darned well pleased; I was supposed to be like some Pollyanna and just be happy in that hurtful chaotic situation. I wanted someone to tell me to either leave him or tell me how to fix him, and all they wanted to talk about was how to fix me. Didn’t they understand that if he was fine I would be fine?

I resisted this program, but at the same time I kept going back because I had nowhere else to go. It took weeks, I am guessing eight to ten weeks or more, for me to thaw out enough and calm down enough, to actually begin to hear the message of healing and recovery that was the cornerstone of every single meeting I went to. I was so focused on my problems, and the hurt and pain in my life, that I could not here the message of healing, courage and hope.  They were very good at keeping the meeting focused on talking about the solution and not the problem.

Half measures did not bring peace and harmony in my life. It was total and complete surrender before I could see beyond my circumstances, and see that I was hurt and wounded to the center of my being.  A change in my outside circumstances would not instill in me self-confidence and self-esteem, because I had lost the ability to trust. Until I was willing to change, and be changed, I would never know peace in my life. People, places and things were not the solution.

My recovery journey has been long and challenging. It has required me to look inside myself and see things about my self that I had never seen before. I vacillated between self-righteous, where I believed that I knew what was right and wrong for everyone else in my life, and being overwhelmed with self doubt and insecurities. It was through recovery that I learned how confused I was in all of my relationships. I had tried to be all things to all people desperately trying to earn their love by doing things I did not want to do or even like. It was through recovery that I learned that my life counted too just as much as anyone else’s. I was not an extension of someone else. I was important regardless of what the other people in my life did or did not do.

These life lessons did not just happen. I have had to reprogram how I think and feel. Progress for me required a commitment to say no to the voices of self doubt in my head. Unless you have been there you have no idea how hard that is to do. Those voices were so entrenched, and deeply seated, into my heart and mind that even today, every once in a while, they will pop up when I lease expect them too and cause me to doubt myself in the most basic way.

Forgiveness and gratitude has been the healing balm that has helped me overcome some of the deepest and most hurtful wounds in my life. But the Third Step – Turning my will and my life over to God’s care was when I was liberated.  Today when I get caught up in something that is causing me grief I know that the only way to have any peace is turning it over to God’s care. I can make all the plans I want as long as I leave the results up to God. When I do that, I really do experience peace over the circumstance.  I have learned that God is not on vacation and I am in charge.

It takes time and practice to retrain a life time of negative self talk

One of the effects of growing up in a dysfunctional home was being stripped of self-confidence and self-esteem. I was a needy glass half empty kind of person. Emotionally I was all over the place. Harshly criticized for every nit-picky thing I constantly walked on egg shells trying to avoid repercussions and to keep the peace at any price to myself.

I got married and left home at 18. I was running away from the dysfunction and the hurts of my childhood. Immature and naive, I thought all my insecurities and hurts were going to go away because I was finally going to be special and important to someone. I thought that they were going to make me feel loved and confident. I thought that they were going to fill in all of the broken places in my life and make me feel whole.

Unfortunately, even on his best behavior, my husband was not the panacea for the hurt inside of me. First of all he was an alcoholic. His focus in life was alcohol not little ole me. He was just as powerless to help me feel whole as I was powerless over his drinking. We were the blind leading the blind.

Looking for him to make me feel whole put a lot of pressure on him. When I heaped all of my emotional needs and insecurities on his shoulders, I set both of us up to fail. Even if he had not been an alcoholic he still could not have filled that hurt inside of me. He could not rewrite the past and make it better. He could not promise me that I would never be hurt again. He could not have reassured me or complimented me enough for me to believe it.

Just like I could not help him find sobriety and freedom from alcohol, he could not help me find emotional sobriety, self-esteem and self-confidence either. As strange as this may sound it was his alcoholism that became the catalyst that pushed me into doing whatever I needed to do to take charge of my life and my happiness.

It was through the 4th and 5th Steps that I began to identify self-destructive patterns in how I related to people; I was needy, desperate, and willing to sacrifice my needs for someone else’s wants. I could see it. I just did not seem to have the power to stop myself from getting involved in those types of relationships over and over again. Fortunately for me there are 12 Steps so I just kept moving forward through the Steps. My sponsor told me that they were in a specific order for a reason and she wanted me to follow the 12 Step format. So I did.

Another thing that came out of those steps was identifying positive qualities about myself. Funny thing! Before I worked steps 4 and 5 I had been so focused on the negative I totally ignored anything good or positive about myself. It is not that I did not have any good qualities, I had them all right, I was just so focused on what I thought was negative about me that I never gave my good qualities an opportunity to surface.

It takes time to retrain a life time of negative self talk. With practice, one baby step at a time, I have learned how to love and respect myself. Every once in a while stinking thinking will pop in my head and challenge the progress that I have made. As soon as my mind gets out into the weeds I call someone in my program and talk it through. At this stage of my life I am not willing to waste a lot of time with backward thinking. My sponsor helps me to see through the deceit of my stinking thing. I am living proof that this program works if you work it.

It is all in the attitude

Life is not always fair. Some of us, from the get go, right out of the womb, are dealt a bad hand. We can’t help the environment or the circumstances that we are born into. From the minute that we draw our first breath until we leave home to go out on our own, we are more often than not, at the mercy of others. Those early life experiences have a profound impact on how we feel about life. Some people never get over it or get beyond it. They let those circumstances define who they are. Others use those same harmful circumstances to rescript their life.

There is a quote by Randall Jarrell that says, “If you have been put into your place long enough, you begin to act like the place.” It never occurred to me that I had a choice. For years I recycled the broken negative attitude of my parents. It wasn’t until I grew up and married an alcoholic and ended up in a 12 Step recovery program that I had my first dose of being responsible for my own attitude towards life.

My recovery program talked about how changed attitudes can aid recovery. Sounds easy enough, but I am here to tell you that changing an attitude that has been brainwashed and indoctrinated into every second of every day of your life is not easy. It felt unnatural and awkward. It felt like a lie. It was a battle because my old way of thinking constantly challenged every positive step I made. I had to do things consciously until I could do them unconsciously. I had to challenge stinking thinking many times a day. I question every good and every bad thought because my good and bad attitude was playing tug-of-war over control.

So much of the way I thought was a contradiction. I blamed myself for everything and I also blamed all of my problems on all the people in my life that had hurt me or let me down. It was a no win situation. No matter which side I took I could not win. It was either all my fault that they hurt me or I was a victim. In the end it wasn’t about blame. It was about what are you going to do with you life now Sharon Ann. Are you going to continue to beat yourself up for everything wrong in the world, or are you going to acknowledge that you aren’t all good and you aren’t all bad and then go to work to become the person you really want to be? Are you going to hang up your tragedy queen crown once in for all and start living life? So What’s the plan? Those are all of the kind of questions that my sponsor challenged my stinking thinking with. There was no wiggle room; No more hiding from life.

I can’t count the times my sponsor had me make up a gratitude list. She was a firm believer that an attitude of gratitude keeps us focused in the present. This exercise helped me to appreciate the things that I did have and kept me from dwelling on the things that I did not have. People and circumstances may never ever be what we want them to be or what we think they should be, but that doesn’t mean that we can’t be happy anyway. We are human and we will be hurt and disappointed from time to time. But we decide how long we are going to stew in the misery juice. Our attitude decides if we are going to let those hurts and disappoints to take root and hurts us more or are we are going to find how to grow from that experience is a healthy way.

The challenge of changing my emotions, thoughts and feelings has been a life time endeavor. This program helped me define who and what type of person that I wanted to be; And, it gave me all the tools – Steps, Slogans, Serenity Prayer, Sponsor, and Recovery Meetings to help me reach that goal. No one could do it for me; It was up to me.

Fighting the Attitude Disease

To me, my recovery journey is all about the transformation in me, in my thoughts, and how I live my life. Over the years I have learned and relearned many things about myself. Without a doubt one of the most difficult things for me do is to retrain negative thoughts or feelings into something good. Their has been many situations that I have analyzed, prayed about and believed that I had overcome, and then out of the blue, something will happen, and stinking thinking will broad side me when I least expected it too.

I use to beat myself up when that happened. As far as I am concerned living it the first time was more than enough, and I did not want the hurts of my past sabotaging my life anymore. I have come to realize that when I am ambushed like that that it is a conditioned reflex of what I call temporary insanity. The reason I call it temporary insanity is because it is temporary. I can usually work myself out of it in a short time whereas in the past it consumed and obsessed my whole life.

This happens to me when I am most vulnerable; when I am physically exhausted, when I am under a lot of stress and I have not had an opportunity to recharge my physical and emotional batteries. My husband’s disease is alcoholism. My disease is stinking thinking, (attitudism), distorted thinking, (beliefism & perceptionism). But most people called it codependency.

The goal for me is, and has always been, mental sobriety and learning how to have healthy relationships. One baby step at a time I have work to retrain and reprogram how I think and feel. I have learned that there are many things that can sometimes trigger unhealthy thoughts and feelings. I say sometimes because most of the time those triggers are ineffective , but every once they will trigger temporary insanity in my life. When that happens it is up to me what I do with my stinking thinking. I cannot control thoughts that come into my mind, but I can control whether I am going to entertain them and allow them free rein by giving them power or not.

This I do know….Those thoughts and feelings are not going to go away by themselves. I have to face them head on and consciously work to neutralize them until they are no longer hurting me. I have to stand up for my needs and stare down my fears.

Happiness was not an adjective that I thought would never describe my life. I have a good life now and I am happy but that doesn’t mean that I don’t have a bad day. It doesn’t mean that I never have stinking or distorted thinking, and it does not mean that I always make the right decision. In other words I don’t become little Miss Merry Sunshine without life challenges. I don’t live in Utopia. I still live in the real world.

Life is never going to be perfect and I am never going to be perfect. I may not get what I want and I may get things that I didn’t bargain for. I do have a choice when negative things happen – I can gravitate back to my old negative habits and slowly slip right back to where I started, or I can call someone, go to a meeting, read and pray for the right attitude adjustment that is needed for my serenity. No matter what curve ball life throws me I always have a choice of how I am going to allow it to impact my life. Recovery has spoiled me, and even though I may get down, I am no longer willing to stay down and wallow in self-pity, anger and resentment anymore. I love the peace, joy and serenity I have gained through recovery too much to get down and stay down.

I did have power – it was just not over him

When I first started my recovery program I wanted to understand why he drank the way he did. If I just understood why then I could fix the problem and we could ride off in the sunset and live happy ever after. Then I learned that he drank the way he did because he was an alcoholic and there was not a darn thing I could do about it. His drinking was not about me. I did not cause it and I was completely powerless to control it or cure it. I was devastated. Now I understood why and it did not change the situation at all.

There was no doubt that I felt powerless, I just had not accepted that I was powerless. Intellectually I understood it. Emotionally I could accept that there was not anything I could do about it. I believe the reason that I could not let it go is because I believed that everything that was wrong in my life depended on this man to make it right.

Boy was I wrong. I was not an extension of his life. I really had a completely separate life. I could choose to be happy even if he wasn’t. I could choose to improve, grow and change in a good way, even if he was running his life in the ground. I learned early on in my program that it was ridiculous to try to talk sense with him when he was under the influence of alcohol. Therefore, I did not have to argue or get into “spirited debates” with him just because he was upset and angry and I did not have to defend, justify, or explain myself to him when he was unreasonable and out of control. When he was trying to push my buttons I said things like, okay I will think about it, or I am sorry you feel that way, or really, you don’t say. I had a whole list of responses that did not agree or disagree and did not engage.

I learned in my program that alcoholism was cunning, baffling and powerful. The first word in that description was cunning. I learned to take that warning seriously because even when he was not drinking he was always trying to manipulate and control me so that I would not interfere in his drinking, and so that he did not have to feel guilty.

What appeared to be a game of tug-of-war between us over control was nothing more than an illusion on my part. He held all the winning cards. He was going to do what he wanted to do and there was not a darn thing I could do about it. As long as I held onto my end of the rope he always had the power to pull me across of the line. The only way I had a chance was to let go of my end of the rope and take charge of my life and leave him in charge of his.

In the end I learned that I did have power, lots of power, it just wasn’t over him and his drinking. I had power over me. I could choose to make a happy life for myself regardless of what he was doing. I went to dancing recitals, plays and events for our children without him. I went to movies, concerts, ballgames without him. I went back to school and got a job and went to church without him. I did not exclude him I just did not wait for him to show up to go, and I definitely did need for him to be there under the influence.

The key to doing all of those things without him and being happy in the process was to appreciate what I did have instead of pouting and morning over what I did not have. Sure I would have liked for us to do those things together, but that was not the option that was good for me. An attitude of gratitude helped me to get off my pity-pot when he was a no show or when he had had to much to drink that he couldn’t participate. I did not have to have him go for me to enjoy those things.

Another big step for me was learning that I did not have to lie or make excuses for him. When people ask me where Jon was, I simply said that he could not make it. I did not owe anyone an explanation and I did not give it. These little baby steps empowered me to take control of my life.

believing in myself when no one else does

Another character defect strong hold in my life has been learning to live with myself and be happy with me. Being a card carrying Codependent I have struggled with accepting myself. I was a chameleon. I became whatever I need to be at the moment to be accepted and blend in. Their has been many times when I was afraid that people would be able to see inside of me and then I find out that I was a fraud.

This self deprecation manifested itself in my everyday life with how I related to others. Every time I acted like someone else’s life was more important than my own I was saying to myself that I wasn’t good or important enough. Every time I accepted someone else’s opinion of me to define me I devalued myself.

We all have opinions about everything. We may not voice them, express them or defend them but we do have opinions. Every time something happened to me or someone said something negative about me my knee jerk reaction was to feel it first and then think about whether it was true or not later.

I allowed the hurt and suffering in my life to define me as inadequate and unwanted. For a long time I allowed the hurt and suffering to destroy my hopes and dreams. It is not that I did not have hopes and dreams. I had lots of hopes and dreams, I just never believed that they could come true. Most of the time this made me depressed and sad. Sometimes though I was angry and defiant and would lash out at anyone and everyone over the injustices I felt in my life.

I have come to realize that I have a choice of how I am going to react to other people’s negative opinion or actions towards me. I can get angry and detest it; I can fall down in defeat, hopelessness and despair or I can learn from it. I have also learned that other people’s opinion is just that – it is their opinion and their opinion does not make it a fact.

I would have to lie to you if I said that other peoples opinions or actions toward me did not matter to me, because it does matter. But in the final analysis it is up to me to look inside myself for the truth. If I have done something wrong to create this negativity then it is up to me to make amends for my actions. But, if there is nothing that I need to make amends for then it is really their problem. At this point I am not responsible for their thoughts. What I am responsible for is how I am going to react to it.

A couple of weeks ago I was participating in an event with a group of women. Something happened that really hurt my feelings. I sat through a two hour program close to tears with my feelings hurt. During that time I tried to figure out what happened and why. Once I reached the point that I knew that I had no culpability in this situation then my mind started asking God what I was supposed to learn from this experience. Well, the first and most obvious thing was that these women were not really my friends and I needed to limit my time with them in the future. The other things that I learned from it, and there were several, had nothing whatsoever to do with them at all. Through this process I saw value and strength in myself. Don’t get me wrong my feelings were still hurt but I was not devalued in the process because I believed in myself.

To believe in myself regardless of what other people think about me is huge. This never ever could have happened without the growth and change I have experienced in my 12 step recovery program. I feel so grateful for the healing and change that I have experienced through this program and my heart aches for the walking wounded out there who are still allowing other people to define their self worth.

Life is now; Not yesterday and not tomorrow. Life is right now

Life is now; Not yesterday and not tomorrow. Life is right now. Every day we write another page in the book of our life story. We can’t change what happened in the previous chapters but we can make sure we don’t repeat it in this chapter or the next. We are the author of our autobiography and a changed attitude can change the direction of our life.

Our past is just that – our past. It has the power to have great influence in our day to day living. It can provide insight and wisdom to help us build a better life for today and all the days to come. Or, it can contaminate everything and every relationship in our lives. The thing is that we are the only one with the power to determine how we are going to let our past affect our life now.

We know our history. Now it is time to look at what our intentions are for our future. Do we want more of the same or do we want something better? The only way that we can prevent our future from being a repeat of our past is to make recovery our first priority and allow ourselves the opportunity to heal. The best gift we can give ourselves is to be a whole person.

Recovery took longer than it had to for me because I stubbornly held onto how I felt wronged in my life. I wanted to be vindicated, apologized too and I wanted other people to not only change but to fix me and make me feel better. But it wasn’t happening and I stayed miserable. Until I was willing to change and to be changed nothing got better. I had to want it for me and me alone. It was time for me to let go of past hurts. It was time for me to stop believing the lies from others in my past that said I was not good enough, smart enough, or any other kind of put down. Broken unhappy people were no longer allowed to have negative impact on how I felt about me or how I live my life. Their voice and their opinion was no longer the yard stick by which I measured my self-worth.

It was not easy taking control back and it was not easy reprograming my emotional DNA into something loving and positive. No, it definitely was not easy, but it was a whole lot easier than it was living in the pain of ghosts from my past. It was up to me. I was the only one that had the power to change how I felt about me.