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.

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.

Learning to say what you mean and mean what you say

I was very confused about boundaries. Most of my boundary setting came in the form of an ultimatum. And even then, I did not draw the line in the sand until I had been taken advantage of over and over again. Resentments would build. I would get mad as all get out, then boom out came the ultimate ultimatum.

That would last a day or two, some times even a week or two and on rare occasions a month or two, before I broke down and put myself right back into the same situation again. What I learned from all of this is that if I don’t mean say then don’t say it, because alcoholics and other dysfunctional people will call your bluff every time.

Another reason I struggled with boundary setting is that I made them at the height of emotional out of control situations. Usually I shouted my boundary ultimatums. Sometimes I repeated them over and over because I wanted to be sure they understood that this time things were going to be different.

At the time that I said them I meant them. Then when the emotional adrenaline rush subsided I regretted and had remorse over my own decision, because I was afraid of losing that sick relationship. You see, I had made those decisions without doing anything to change the hurt inside of me that drove me to allow unacceptable in my life in the first place.

It was very difficult for me to demand respect from others when I really did not respect myself. As long as I remained broken, needy, insecure and full of self doubt I could never stand up for myself in my relationships. At that time in my life I needed those broken people to be in my life, whatever the price was to me, more than I needed to respect myself. Pretty pathetic isn’t it.

One of the beautiful benefits of the 12 Steps is that they took me through a process to help me understand me and why I did the things I did. They helped me to understand the dynamics of my personal relationships and they kept the focus on me and what I needed to change in me to have healthy relationships. The 12 Step process freed me from the hurt and baggage in my life that held me back. Through each step I became stronger and stronger. My self-esteem grew and I learned what the real “NO’s were in my life. In other words I learned what were the true deal breakers; The boundaries that when crossed gave me the courage to stand up for myself regardless of what the other people in did or did not do.

For the first time I began to see how off kilter my expectations were. They say in our program that expecting the alcoholic to do what we think they should do is like going to the hardware store to buy bread. Through this process I began to see how many of my expectations were unrealistic and I stopped going to the hardware store to buy bread. I became stronger through this process to do what was the right thing for me when I was faced with difficult circumstances.

I was warned going into my recovery journey that when one person in the relationship changes the relationship will change. Some times for the good and some times not. Every action has a reaction. I found that the broken people in my life did not like the healthy changes taking place in me. They were used to manipulating or intimidating me to get their own way. When I started to change, in some situations, their unacceptable behavior got worse. But by then I had changed enough, and respected myself enough, to do the right thing for me.

Giving ultimatums and drawing lines in the sand did not work for me until I changed enough to only do those things when I was willing to back up my mouth.

Unrealistic expectations

Without realizing it I put all my eggs in one basket. My husband was the center of my world. If he was fine I was fine. If he was happy I was happy….well kind of sort of happy. You see it never occurred to me that my wants and needs were as important as his. I was nauseatingly dependent on someone else to make me happy, someone else to define my self-wroth, someone else to fix what was broken in me.

I was confused and I put unrealistic expectations on my husband. My husband suffered from the selfish disease, alcoholism. I wanted my husband to put me first and I resented him when he did not. We could not win. I was in my recovery program for a long while before I accepted that my survival and my well being depended on my me. Other people could add to my happiness but they were not the source of that kind of happiness that brings peace to your soul. The only way I could have that type of peace and happiness would be if I learn to accept and be at peace with myself, but it seemed selfish to put my needs and wants first.

I have found through personal experience that other people can encourage and mentor me through my life. I have also learned that it is very important to select those people with care. As they say in our program you don’t go to the hardware store to buy bread. Every time I expected my husband, my alcoholic, to meet my needs I was going to the hardware store to buy bread. He was not capable of giving me the support that I needed and demanding that of him would not make him capable.

In the end I looked for people that had that peace beyond all understanding, people comfortable in their own skin, people who did not need to make someone else look small in order to feel good about themselves, people who knew how to set healthy boundaries in their own life and people who did not want to run mine.

It was my first sponsor in my recovery program that taught me how to live and be at peace with myself. I watched how she conducted her own life, the way she interacted with others and the joy that seemed to permeate in every aspect of her life. I wanted what she had in the worse way. She told me to just be me. She said I was good enough. She taught me to seek out my good qualities and to work to correct my character defects.

But the bottom line is that I had to make a decision to choose recovery over misery. I had to be willing to change me. Then I had to do the work. I am the only person that is with me twenty-four seven, 365 days of the year. I was responsible for my own well being and if I wanted better then I was going to have to do what ever I had to do to be better.

Unhealthy relationships are always one sided

Some hurts in life just hurt more than others. For me, some of my deepest hurts involved people that I trusted. Some times it was nothing more than a mistake. Other times it was thoughtlessness. It was a lot easier for me to forgive and move on when that happened. But the times when it involved deliberate action of betrayal, I felt wounded to the center of my being, and I just could not let it go. At that time I believed that the only way that that hurt could go away would be for the wrong to be made right, and for the person that had hurt me to apologize and be remorseful. I really believed that I needed their apology in order for me to get better.

When I found myself caught with hurts like that, it was usually because of erroneous and flawed expectations that I had placed on a relationship. The first flawed expectation was because I expected fairness from someone that did not play fair. I had placed myself in a position of vulnerability with a person that I should not have trusted in the first place. So I had to ask myself, whose fault is that? How do I find these people and why do I set myself up over and over again to be hurt with people who are dubious to start with? Why am I so needy that I will ignore all of the red flags warning be to proceed with caution with a person?

It took a 4th and 5th Step for be to begin to have insight into why I seemed to gravitate towards the same type of broken people over and over again. Until I could see my part in the situation I could not even begin to understand what I needed to do to help myself to be more discriminating in my personal relationships. I had wounds that need to be healed and problems to be resolved, in myself, in order for me to take off the blinders toward other peoples’s character defects.

Wishing and hoping and dreaming will not turn a frog into a prince. It will not turn a witch into a fairy god mother. Through my 4th and 5th Steps I could see how all of the warning signs were there and yet I still proceeded without caution. I saw what I wanted to believe and not what was real. My desperate need to be liked and accepted blinded me to the dangers that right in front of me. Those unhealthy relationships were always one sided. They were definitely give and take relationships; I gave, they took.

Because of my insecurities I felt privileged to be their friend or anyone else’s friend for that matter. I assumed they cared about me the way I cared about them but nothing could have been further from the truth. My gut and my heart tried to tell me otherwise and I ignored all of the warning signs. I was always afraid of saying or doing the wrong thing and being discarded.

Recovery has taught me to search for the truth in everything and in everyone. It has taught me how to recognize the manipulators, users and abusers in my life. It taught me how to recognize character and integrity in my relationships. But one of the most interesting things I learned was to recognize when I was dishonest with myself. Anytime I tried to be something that I was not so that someone would accept me I was being dishonest. The self-honesty this program requires has helped me to have the wisdom to know the difference (more often than not) of who I could not trust with the real me.

We do not live in a perfect world. Even the Garden of Eden had a snake in it to shake things up. Thanks to my 12 Step programs my life, and how I live it, has changed dramatically for the better over the years. That does not mean that my life is perfect; it does mean that I get what I want when I want it; it does not mean that I never make a mistake or I never get stinking thinking anymore. It does not mean that I am never disappointed, or that I don’t get my feelings hurt or that I never have a bad day. What it means is that now I more realistic about my day to day life. When I have a bad day or a bad experience or when that snake in the garden tries to mess with me I am now better equipped to deal with my problems and to recognize a snake when I see it.

Unrealistic Expectations

It is not like I had some loving nurturing childhood, so how in the heck did I ever get expectations of love you, take care of you, protect you, cherish you, those live happy ever after with you expectations. It was movies, books, and watching the way I thought other people lived behind closed doors; and it was a longing inside of me that ached to be filled. I really don’t believe that it was so much that I thought I deserved it, as it was that I longed for the dream of happy ever after….based on my expectations of course.

My expectations pushed me to try and make my dreams come true. The problem with that is that I tried to do that with broken people who could not ever meet those expectations even if they wanted too. Sometimes my expectations were reasonable and sometimes they were not. Being married to an alcoholic it did not matter if my expectation was reasonable or not – it was not going to happen.

I coped with unrealized expectations several different ways. One, was denial. If I denied it or ignored it then it wasn’t real. Another way was that I tried harder. If I were perfect then “they” would want the same thing I wanted. If I manipulated and pushed everyone else to make it real then I would get what I wanted. But I was married to an alcoholic and you can’t out fox the fox.

When I was finally able to let go of my expectations of what I thought someone else should be, it changed the scope of my understanding of that relationship completely. No past, no future, this right here is all there is, and this is the way that it is. What they did or did not do was not about me, therefore, I could not take it personal.

The most difficult expectations that I had to let go of, was the ones I had placed on myself. The ones that said if I were perfect that other people in my life would want to meet my expectations. The ones that said I had to try and be something I wasn’t so that other people would like, love or except me. The ones that said if I had all the right “things” (car, house, memberships, mone) I would be successful. The ones that said if I were thin enough, blond enough, smart enough and better looking I could be loved. It took a while for me to understand my pursuit of happiness was not about other people – it was about learning to be at peace with myself.

That did not mean that I did not need to make changes in myself, because for me to be at peace with myself, I definitely had to change. I had to let go of my distorted thinking, I had to forgive people that had hurt me. I had to forgive myself. I had take responsibility for my decisions and learn how to make better decisions. I had to learn how to say no when it was something that was not good for me. I had to stop waiting for someone else to meet my needs and learn to take care of myself. It was all of those things and so much more.

The good news is that I did not have to do it all at once. I did not have to do it over night. This is a One Day At A Time Program. Just my taking responsibility for my own life, my own happiness I felt a sense of purpose and of accomplishment. Through the steps I learned how to let go of the past. And yes, I did make plans for the future, but they were not cast in concrete so I did not plan the results. I left the results up to God. There is no quick fix. Baby step by baby step I have changed through the years to learn how to be at peace with myself.

Expectations of others

I have talked about expectations before, but always in the context of our expectations of others. But today I want to talk about the expectations of other people on us, and the pressure we feel to meet their expectations. Oh yea, I am talking about our need to people please; I am talking about the fear we feel that they may be mad at us; I am talking about the anger and resentment that we feel when we don’t agree with someone else’s expectations of us and we do what they want anyway.

It never ceases to amaze me how many times I have allowed myself to be sucked into someone’s demands and then later had a king size resentment about it. As a child I did what I was told, when I was told, for fear of reprisal and punishment. I also tried to anticipate what was wanted and did things before I was told to do them in a desperate need to get praise so I could feel loved and accepted.

As an adult this mentality morphed into a card carrying people pleaser that sacrificed my own needs just to satisfy someone else’s wants. I did things I did not want to do to be liked and accepted. The problem was that the results were never wanted I wanted. First of all even if I did receive praise it was never enough for me to feel secure. More often than not I had set myself up to be taken advantaged of from people with an attitude of entitlement.

This character defect, is without a doubt, a life long battle I struggle with. I am so much better than I was, but I still catch myself getting caught up into trying to take care of the world. There is a little difference now. I am more selective who I get off track with. Now it is usually with people that I love and care about that would do anything for me as well. In the past I did things for people who never appreciated what I did for them, people that felt entitled, and people who did not reciprocate. So there is some progress.

It took a while in recovery for me to be able to recognize the good guys from the bad guys. Through my fourth step I began to see a pattern of how I related to other people. What were the traps that I stepped into time and time again where I allowed other people to suck me into doing what they wanted me to do? What kind of relationship did I have with these people? What was my attitude toward myself that made me insecure so that I did not have the courage to say no? What was my motive for doing things I did not want to do? Or better yet, what did I fear would happen if I did not do it?

I believe that the purpose of the fourth step is to help us understand why we do the things we do. It is to help us define what we need to do differently so that we can grow and change so that we can be comfortable and at peace in our own skin. Through the years I have used the fourth and tenth steps for almost everything in my life that causes me a problem. These steps help me do the postmortem so that I can understand what went wrong. You have heard me talk about looking at things 360 – that means from all sides, from every angle. It is through these two steps where I analyze my motive; these steps help me see the hidden traps that cause me pain.

There is one thing I know for sure and certain in my life, and that is if I don’t learn from it and change I will repeat it.

Serenity and Resentments are not compatible

There are things that happen in life that we have no control over. But what we do have control over in those circumstances is how we choose to respond to those situations. Many times in my life my reaction only compounded the pain and suffering in those circumstances, because I allowed those events to brand me as a victim. The minute I allowed myself to be a victim I gave my control away and empowered the person that had hurt me.

My victim mentality made me feel like a loser. Sometimes I felt sucker punched for trusting that person in the first place. I kept myself a victim through my resentments. I have learned that resentment is a very destructive emotion. An emotion that I cannot afford to nurture and maintain any level of peace and happiness in my life. Serenity and Resentments are not compatible.

It is interesting to me how that 4th step helped me to see my part in the situation. It helped me to understand how I was hurt and how I was allowing that situation to continue to hurt me through my resentments. For me, most of my resentments have been directly proportional to my expectations. I had these ideas of what family and friendships should be. My ideas became expectations and my expectations became requirements. Anything less than my requirements meant failure. Desperately I held on to my expectations because they seemed perfectly normal to me. Shouldn’t a mother love and cherish her child. Shouldn’t a husband be loving and dependable. Shouldn’t a child respect their parent. Shouldn’t friends be loyal…..etc.

And the answer to all those questions is Yes they should. But that will only happen if we are dealing with normal, happy well adjusted people….(Bahahahaha – does such a person exist?) Yea I believe that they do. But for me, and most of the people reading this page we have a lot of important people in our lives that are not. The closer and more important that person is to us the more power they have to hurt us.

In the Serenity Prayer we ask God for the Serenity to accept things we cannot change. Acceptance is not stuffing our feelings and it is not pretending that we don’t care or that it never happened in the first place. We are not praying to suffer in silence. We are praying for God’s help to let go of a problem and be at peace with doing it. All of this comes through forgiveness.

Forgiveness is letting go of the pain. Forgiveness does Not meant that we are to continue to accept unacceptable behavior in our life. Sometimes forgiveness strengthens our relationships and sometimes forgiveness also includes letting go of a hurtful and destructive relationship. Forgiveness allows us to let go of and walk away from those hurtful relationships with a clear conscious. Forgiveness is a step of taking control of  our own life.

Forgiving him did not mean that I had to trust him.

There had been times in the past when I had reached the boiling point and I just wanted to lash out and hurt my alcoholic in someway. I wanted him to be punished. I wanted him to understand the frustration, hurt and betrayal that he had made me feel. There was only one problem with that. I could not hurt him without hurting myself. Enjoyment and satisfaction would only be temporary, because sooner or later, you see, I would realized that I had allowed him to reduce me to something ugly and I would have stooped to his level. Was that really how I wanted to live my life? Of course not. Forgiving him did not mean that I had to trust him. It meant that I had finally learned that I could not trust him, and therefore my relationship with him was on a superficial level. It meant that I could not trust him with my heart, my needs, or my well-being.

Accepting that I was powerless over his alcoholic behavior at first was galling. I had this love hate tug-of-war in my heart for this man. I wanted to leave him and I wanted to stay. I thought I should leave him and was angry at myself because I could not make that decision. Why was I even caught in this dilemma in the first place? Why did I have to accept anything? Why couldn’t he just be what I wanted him to be? In away acceptance relieved me of some of my biggest expectations. It meant that I no longer expected this man to be what I wanted him to be. If I did not have expectations then there were less chance of being disappointed. In many ways my serenity was directly proportional to my expectations.

My sponsor remained me that we have a One Day At A Time Program. She reminded me to not look at this situation like I was going to live like this the rest of my life. I was going to live like this one day at a time while I prepared myself for something better, if and when I ever made a decision to leave him. I got a job. Went back to school. I started stashing some money away. I did not have much money to save so it seemed like I wasn’t saving much, but over time my little nest egg was growing and it made me feel like I was doing something to protect myself.

But even after being proactive in my life there were still times I felt helpless and sorrow for how things were. Other times I felt helpless and infuriated over my powerlessness. Those were the times I called my sponsor and then made sure I got myself to a meeting. I can’t even count the number of times that doing one or both of those two things help to dissolve my negative feelings so that I could get control of myself. Getting control of myself was extremely important because as long I was not in control I was handing over my serenity and my peace of mind to my alcoholic. It was a proven fact that he wasn’t capable of handling his own life so why in the heck was I going to allow him any type of control over mine.

Through this program I turned the anger I felt towards him into the push that I needed to help myself. Instead of fantasizing about how I was going to hurt him for hurting me, I used that anger to take control of my own life and stop waiting for him to be what I wanted him to be. That step empowered me in ways that I never dreamed. The transformation in my self-confidence and self-esteem grew every day. We have a choice. We can allow what is happening to them to destroy us or we can use that problem to empower us. It will not be easy but it will definitely be worth it.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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