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.

I had to fake it until I could made it

Ha! What in the world was I thinking? So many times I allowed myself to get sucked into a “spirited debate” trying to talk reason with someone who was completely unreasonable. They were so much more clever than I was. They knew exactly which of my buttons to push to revert me from the truth. They knew exactly how to make me react in the most unreasonable way. When it was all over I was angry with myself for being so out of control.

My recovery program was a reality check for me. Since the focus of my program was on me, it required me to look at those situations where I lost control. It required me to look at why I did the things I did, and why I allowed myself to become unhinged by a cunning manipulative person. This program helped me to see where I started slipping and sliding in my life; where I had surrendered and allowed my peace of mind to be decided by someone else.

As long as I allowed myself to be sucked into those senseless discussions I was at his mercy. How many times was it going to take for me to accept that I was not dealing with a normal reasonable person, therefore, logic was not going to make a difference?

Every step of my recovery journey was learning and recognizing where the sinkholes were so that I did not fall in and disappear and lose myself respect and my self-esteem. I had this extraordinary sponsor and she was very good at helping me to recognize the places in my life where I seemed to get derailed. What were the issues that seem to make me become unglued? What were the “straws” in my life that seem to “break the camels back?” How many times did I argue the same issue? What were the things he said that seem to send me right over the edge of insanity? Before I got into my recovery program I never analyzed it that way. I just reacted.

Recognizing these issues gave me an opportunity to learn how to respond in a different way. There were hurts and insecurities inside of me that generated an automatic negative reaction. A lot of healing would need to happen before those hurts did not create those automatic responses. That too, healing the hurts, was part of the recovery process. So in the beginning I had to do things consciously until I could do them unconsciously. In the beginning I had to fake it until I could made it. In other words I had to practice saying and doing things differently until I could do them differently. The slogans helped me a lot. I would ask myself, “How Important Is It, for me to respond or react to his antics? What did I hope to gain? What did I have to lose? How many times, how many different ways was I going to keep trying to make him understand?

Pride and fear were the motivating force that pushed me into engaging in his idiocy. At what point in my life did I allow myself to be reduced to this obsessive desperate person trying to make my fantasy a reality? By allowing myself to become ensnared in his madness I become someone I did not like. I was the only person that could stop it. I could not change his behavior but I could change my reaction to it. Oh ho ho. I am here to tell you it is a whole lot easy to say than it is to do. It was like having an itch that needed to me scratched. But now I recognized that if I scratched I would take the scab off and my sore was never going to heal. There was no quick fix. But what choice did I really have? I could stay miserable or I could do whatever I needed to do to change so that I could be at peace in within myself.

Why I go to those recovery meetings

Someone ask me recently why I still went to meetings. I told them that this program was the blueprint that I lived my life by. You see I apply these 12 Steps and the concepts of this program to every thing in my life. Alcoholism forced me to go to my first meeting but life kept me coming back.

I had a jerk boss once that made my life miserable. He had power over my financial stability and he tried to make my life dreary five days a week. I was really good in my job and still he did his dead level best to try to strip me of my self esteem. He had a little “g” god complex. He was an untreated adult child of alcoholics. He especially had contempt for women. He was an angry man with an ego problem who tried to make life stressful for everyone.

I had been in recovery over ten years when I met him and I had to apply every concept of this program towards him just to be able to continue to excel in my job and to neutralize his negativity in my life. I did that by not taking personal the negative way he treated me. His problem with strong women had nothing to do with me. I was just where he vented it. Was his behavior acceptable? Of course not. There were times when I would have loved to punch his lights out. But I just kept doing the next right thing and talking things out with my sponsor when I felt pushed to the wall.

I had to 10th step him every day (continue to take personal inventory and when wrong promptly admit it) This one step gave me confidence, one day at a time, so that I did not feel compelled to try defend or prove anything to him. I let my actions speak for themselves. I knew that the problem was in him and not in me . He wasn’t ever going to treat me right. I was a straight commissioned sales rep. I consistently exceeded quote and I did not need him to affirm that I was good at what I did.

But I am not going to lie to you, it was not easy. I could not look to the future or question how long I had to do this. It was one day at a time with me. There were many times I had to ask myself how important is it to get into it with him. There was no doubt in my mind that I was powerless to fix or change him. I did not want too.

I had another person in my life, a relative by marriage, that from day one tried to make me feel inferior, and she was successful for a very long time. And then I got some recovery under my belt and I things changed between us, because I changed. She no longer had the power to define my self worth to me. There is a page in one of my daily reading books that says, “normal happy well adjusted people do not hurt other people.” The first time I ever read that I thought of her. One night at a party when she had been drinking she began to ask me a lot of questions about how I had changed. She even slipped up and told me that she wished she was strong like me. I wanted to tell her I was not strong, that there were times, because of her, that I had to work my program minute by minute to be able to stay true to myself. But I did not say anything I just thanked God for my program.

When I remarried my husband ask me why I still went to those meetings. I told him that everything that he liked about me was a result of going to those meetings. Then low and behold, we one of our kids that desperately need a 12 step program of his own. And I had another reason why I needed those meetings. Our son picked up his 12 year sobriety chip this month. His sobriety had nothing to do with me. He did that all on his own with the help of his 12 Step program.

As long as I am breathing and can get to a meeting I will still go to those meetings because this program is the blueprint that I live my life by. Just saying!

Changing what I can

I believed my own lies. I had made excuses to myself why I stayed. I made excuses to myself why I accepted unacceptable in my life. I made excuses to myself why I overextended myself to other people. I made excuses to myself why I did not go onto higher education. I made excuses to myself why …… But the real problem was the excuses were really denial. If I could not, or did not, want to face the truth I made up excuses and gave my denial legitimacy in my mind.

Self-honesty was not easy and it was uncomfortable as all get out. It was easier for me to accept a criticism than it was for me to accept a compliment. It was easier for me to not even try than it was to try and be disappointed or to fail. But until I faced the truth there would be no progress, no peace, no joy in my life.

I had an amazing sponsor that did not allow self-deprecation and she sure as heck would not allow me to make excuses why I could not do things to help myself. I could always do something to help myself. Even when I did mess up she helped me to recognize what I needed to do to not repeat my mistakes.

For a long time denial was a coping mechanism to survive. Other times it was the excuse I used to keep the status quo. If I didn’t acknowledge it-it wasn’t true. But denying it did not change my reality and it did not buffer me from the consequences or the pain. There were times that denial had such a grip on me that I went to desperate measures trying to force my dreams into reality. But no matter what I did I could not make my dreams come true.

It took a while for me to see that denial and excuses were nothing more than self-punishment. Folks I am here to tell you that just facing the truth and understanding the problem does not fix the problem. Interesting enough when I confronted my reality as it was, and not how I wanted it to be, it began to lose its power to dominate my life. Even then it was hard to make changes because my knee jerk reaction was to sink right back into my old way of thinking and doing things.

One of the things that helped me was giving myself time before I reacted. The person that could not say no learned to say – I will get back with you. Usually when I allowed myself time to respond I was less inclined to volunteer myself for something I really did not want to do anyway. When my alcoholic pushed my buttons I would ask myself how important was it for me to get into this with him. Was it something that was really going to make a positive difference in the grand scheme of things. If it was not going to make a positive difference I did not care if his opinion was different from mine. I gave both of us the right to disagree.

I sometimes took two steps forward and one step back before these responses came natural to me. Every time I took a step back I would evaluate how I could handle it differently if there was a next time. It is all in the baby steps. It is staying in the moment and living one day at a time. Doing what I needed to do today and face tomorrows challenges tomorrow.

One of the biggest challenges was to fight stinking thinking. Stinking Thinking could derail me so fast it was not even funny. I simply could not allow negative thoughts to stay in my mind, therefore I had to challenge my own mind almost all day long in the beginning. Changing a negative thought into a positive thought was a must if I were going to ever have any kind of peace of mind. Over time I’ve leaned that I’m never going to get it right all the time and I’ve learned to forgive myself when I don’t.

This was not about me winning over him – this was about me winning over me

There is a slogan in my recovery program that ask “How Important Is It.” When emotions were high and I was at the breaking point of frustration, it is extremely hard to put on the brakes on and ask myself “How Important Is It” to continue this battle with the alcoholic. I just wanted to get my two cents. I just wanted him to know that I was fed up. I just wanted him to know that I knew exactly what was going on and that he is not fooling me about anything. I just wanted him to know……..

But the bottom line was I was being sucked into his chaos again. Once I lost my cool, then he felt justified in his mind to get drunk. I can’t count the times that he told me it was my fault that he got drunk, that I had pushed him there. He believed that he still had a hook in me because I was still engaging in his mayhem and pandemonium. Or who knows what he thought. But I could tell you what I thought after. I felt defeated. Angry with myself that I got sucked in again to a battle I could not win. Sometimes I was even embarrassed that I was so out of control, and sometimes I felt guilty for being so ugly for some of the mean things that I said. It was definitely a no win contest.

The only way that I could stop that snowball from getting larger and larger rolling down hill was to learn to recognize the signs before I was out of control. I knew that my alcoholic was notorious for pushing me to the limit and then going off and getting drunk. He was going to go off and get drunk anyway so why should I be left with the fallout. When he started his little agitations I ask myself – was this issue anything I had the power to control or change. If it was not then I decided if it was necessary to say anything at all. If I felt compelled to say something then I said things like “ Hum” “really,” “You don’t say,” or sometimes I said I’m so sorry you feel that way.” The key was to not wait until I was steaming and at the breaking point to recognize the signs of a “spirited debate” in the making. There is no debate if I don’t participate.

Well, let me tell you, when one person in the relationship changes the relationship changes; Sometimes for the better and sometimes not. Sometimes the above response worked. Other times he need a disagreement so bad that he could not tolerate the indifference. When that happened sometimes I lost it and gave him the battle he wanted. But I learn to minimize that response because of what it did to me. You see, learning to control my feelings was never about him. It was not about trying to control or neutralize him. It was about me and taking back control of my life. Therefore, I had to allow him to get as mad as he wanted to get mad without me. Was it easy? Many times not.

But I kept working on it and working on it until it became easier and easier to recognize the symptoms of his disease in action, and then making a conscious decision not to be a part of his disease. That phase above, “I am sorry you feel that way, “ well during those times I added a few more words, “I’m sorry you feel that way. On this you and I just happen to disagree. I am not saying that you are wrong. I am not saying that I am right. I am just saying that in this situation we have a difference of opinion. The first time I said that he was flabbergasted. Then after a while he would try to mock me with what I said. It was okay because I was in control of me. This was not about me winning over him. This was about me winning over me.

Winners and losers in the war of words

For a long time it was the day to day grind that wore me down and stripped me of my self-respect and my dignity. I looked at my future and was overwhelmed with sadness. I felt defeated and sometimes I was angry at what I saw there. There were times I felt desperate to make him understand how he was hurting me and hurting our family. Those times always ended in a war of words between the two of us. Words that should have never been said in the first place. I started the war of words and he ended it. And each time I was left emotionally raw and wounded. And each time I lost a little more of myself to his disease and I promised myself that that was the last time I was going to try to make him understand.

It was the injustice of it all that galled me. I would take and take and take. I would stuff my feelings trying to avoid another ugly confrontation. The voices in my head eventually overrode my promise to myself and then “BOOM” there I was trying to make him understand my feelings and my needs again. I would demand, I would cry, I would bargain, I would plead and then I would lose my self control completely and through anger I would let him know in no uncertain terms how I felt. Every single time I walked away defeated and more hurt than I was before I got into it with him.

I wasted a lot of time putting my life on hold, stuffing my feelings until I lost control the next time, for someone who was not capable of meeting my needs much less my expectations to do what I thought was the right thing. I lived the “someday” life. I sacrificed and wasted hours, days and years waiting for “someday.”

I held on for dear life trying to force the solution that I wanted. I could not let go of the dream of what it could be. It was a pride thing. I had chosen this man. I had time and kids invested in this relationship. Why didn’t he want the dream anymore? At one time he said he had the same dream as me. So what happen? It was a heart thing. Did I do something wrong? Was I not good enough, smart enough, pretty enough? What happen to our dream?

I’ll tell you exactly what happen. Alcoholism happened. Alcoholism was the “other woman” so to speak in our life. It seduced him and stole him away from me, our kids and the dream that we started with. And no, I was not good enough, smart enough, or pretty enough to seduce him away from alcohol. There was not anything I could do or say that would make him walk away from the grip that alcohol had on his life. For the first time I started to understand that I was powerless. Defeated and filled with despair I attended my first meeting.

At first I could not grasp what they were trying to tell me. They told me to come back for at least 6 meetings and give the program and myself a chance. I learned just enough in 6 meetings to know that I need more and so I kept going back. Thank goodness we are taught to take it one-day – even one moment at a time if is necessary.  Once the fog of war began to lift in my mind, I was less tempted to enter into useless vocal confrontations with my alcoholic.

Slogans like “How Important Is It” made me less inclined to even start a conversation with him over some issues. Another thing that helped me to keep my mouth shut when I perceived injustices in my life, was whether or not I could make it better or bitter. What I mean is, that sometimes things aren’t fair and aren’t right but at the same time if it is something that we are powerless to change even thought it isn’t right. I have learned that when I am powerless to change something then I have more to lose emotionally than I have to gain by getting into a verbal confrontation. In other words if I can’t make it better – don’t make it worse.

Say it once and shut up

My husband was educated. He had two degrees. He was an attorney. He was an alcoholic. He was trained to win arguments and disputes. I was just a little stay at home mom with a couple of years of junior college. But that did not stop me from arguing with him or trying to control his drinking. No sir-ree! It did not stop me at all.

Why in the world I thought that I could make my husband understand anything when he was drinking was beyond me. But I argued with him many times when he was in an alcoholic stupor. I thought if I could just reach him, if I could just make him understand how what he was doing was hurting all of us he wouldn’t do it any more. For some reason in my mind I thought that if I did not challenge things that I thought were wrong it meant that I was agreeing with or approving of what was going on.

Even under the influence he was quick and sharp. I thought if I talked louder he would understand what I was trying to make him understand. He would talk louder too, but there was no way he was going to back down to me. Before it was all over I had become the bad guy. By the way, the only thing talking louder accomplished was that it made me feel embarrassed and out of control later. For some reason the hurtful words between us sounded meaner and uglier when we yelled them at each other. The hurt rang in my ears long after.

Arguing with him sober was another whole problem, after all he was an attorney. He would be calm cool and collected with an air of contempt and disrespect toward me and my viewpoint and that attitude really pushed me over the edge sometimes. I was right darn it! I knew that I was right and he was talking to me like I was being childish.

Until I got into recovery I thought that the reason I lost almost every battle was because he was smarter than I was and because he was a trained litigator. My sponsor laughed when I said that to her. She told me the reason he was winning the battles was not because he was an attorney, it was because he was an alcoholic and I was trying to change something that I was powerless over. It says in the big book of AA that alcoholism is “cunning, baffling and powerful.” The first word is cunning. An alcoholic will not let you say or do anything to come between them and their drinking. Dah!

She told me to sit, listen and observe at the next meeting and I would see people from all walks of life, all levels of education struggling with the same problems I was struggling with. This was not a formal education issue. This was a life issue. Only the names and faces change. The stories are pretty much the same. I realized then she was right.

I had to learn a totally new way to express myself with my alcoholic. First of all, educated or not, they are not stupid. Saying the same thing over and over will not make them understand any better. My sponsor told me to say what I mean and mean what I say, and most importantly of all to say once and shut up. Saying it ten more times was not going to convince him of anything and it would amp up frustration and show how desperate I was. No ultimatums unless I was willing to back it up if he challenged me because I had a 99% chance that he would challenge me.

She talked to me about the power of silence. Her next words of advice was to choose my battles wisely. Somethings were just not worth loosing my peace of mind over. Timing is important. There is a time to talk and a time to be quiet. Trying to have a meaningful conversation with anyone under the influence is not the time to talk. It is interesting to me that when I gave myself a little time to think about what I wanted to say how often I did not feel the need to say anything at all. Once the wave of emotion had passed over me I was over it. There is a phrase in my recovery program that ask How Important Is It? I must confess that it did take me a little while to separate the small meaningless concerns over really important issues. Tomorrow, a week from now, a month from now a year from now is this really going to be important? Am I allowing my frustration to push me into arguing over every little thing? Am I participating in my own chaos and misery by demanding to be right. If I am right I am right and arguing and trying to convince someone who refuses reality won’t change the fact that I am right. Just understanding that one thing helped me to say it once, shut up and walk away.

Getting through the holidays

I don’t know what it is about the holidays that brings out the best and the worse in people. The phone calls and emails that I receive seem to triple during the holidays. The key for those of us in recovery is to not allow the chaos and drama of other people suck us in.

The Serenity Prayer has been my life line during these times. It reminds me to mind my own business. There are things that I can and cannot change. Just because it is the holidays and we are thrown together with a lot of different personalities that we don’t usually have together all at one time, does not mean that I have to sacrifice my serenity being the police of the family gatherings.

The things that I cannot change are the untreated dependent and codependent personalities in the room. I can’t change how they think or what they do with their life, but I do have the power to stop myself from getting sucked into their sickness. There are certain key words and phrases that I use a lot – like “really,” “you don’t say,” “no kidding,” I’ll think about it.” I am not agreeing or disagreeing and am I not engaging in the sickness either.

I also use the slogan “How Important Is It” to remind myself that just because someone is trying to push my buttons it does not mean that I have to respond. If what they are saying has no impact or influence on my life it is not important enough for me to challenge what they are saying. What difference does it make anyway. Foolish talk is foolish talk. If I engage or defend myself I am foolish too. I know what I think, what I believe and what I feel. I do not have to explain, defend or justify it to someone who is still messing up their life.

Our slogan “Let it begin with me” reminds me that my actions say more than my words can ever say. Engaging in rude and unacceptable behavior of others only adds fuel to the fire. I have learned to first minimize my exposure to miserable people. Second, I try not to sit next to them at the table or engage in a conversation that is more than a few minutes before I excuse myself to go to the bathroom or do something that will disengage myself from time with that person. Sometimes when exposure can’t be avoided I keep reminding myself that they are the sick one and I am the one in recovery. While they are running their mouth I pray for them and somehow it helps me get through it. I have also learned that kindness goes a long way. Many times a simple act of kindness has neutralized a difficult situation.

Of course some people are so caustic that not any of those things work. That is when I am pleasant but firm in my dealings with them. My grandma always said you cannot hug a porcupine and she is right. I don’t even try.

When I first started my recovery journey I was on a pink cloud and I wanted everyone to learn what I was learning in my recovery programs. No one wanted to hear it. They thought I had become a fanatic. I know now that it is not my words but my actions that is important. I also know that no one will accept this journey until they are ready and it is their idea.

I don’t have to relinquish my serenity to miserable unhappy people

Some times the holidays are hard. It is busy, often times expensive, and don’t forget the large family gatherings and holiday parties where we are with people we sometimes try to avoid. For years I was on constant alert trying to avoid unpleasant people. When I did have to be around them then I was always trying guard and control my response to their rude behavior. My program helped me to overcome my natural tendency to react to other people’s mean or thoughtless words, because to react would put control of my peace of mind in their hands.

There is a page in one of my recovery readings that basically says, normal happy well adjusted people don’t hurt other people. Their has many times I have chanted that phrase in my head when I was talking with rude people. In reality what I wanted to do was let them have it, but I knew that anything I had to say would have been like throwing sand in the wind.

As a child I was powerless to do anything about the rude and hurtful people in my life so I learned a lot about self-control when someone was pushing my buttons. I knew I was powerless and I knew for me to react would have created more problems, so I just took whatever was dished out. But inside I was seething. I may have been forced to respond or behave in a certain way but no one could control what I was thinking.

That response was a survival tool as a child, but as an adult it manifested itself into two ways. I would either stuff my thoughts until they could not be stuffed anymore. Then when I did react it was an over reaction, and usually over something silly and unimportant. And, usually had nothing to do with what was really bothering me. I would end up looking out of control and foolish. Another way I reacted was being super sensitive. I would overreact to every little thing. Either way it did not sever me well as an adult.

I have come to realize, that for me, it is not just about thought control, although there is a degree of control that is sometimes necessary. It is the motive behind the thoughts that has helped me be in control of me. It has helped me define when someone else’s opinion or actions is worth losing my peace of mind over. My serenity is under my control and I don’t have to relinquish it to miserable unhappy people. Just because they say it doesn’t make it fact. I don’t have to defend myself to foolish narcissistic gibberish. Their opinion of me will not change if I agree or disagree with them. On the other hand my opinion of me will defiantly take a hit if I take personal or feel guilty over or I allow them to make me overreact to their trash talk.

None of this is easy without healing first. Once I began to heal, I began to build the confidence to stand up for myself in a way that allowed me dignity. Sometimes it meant smiling and saying I am sorry you feel that way. We just happen to disagree on this. Some times all I said was, really you don’t say. But every once in a while it was necessary to put my foot down, while maintaining control, and tell someone to knock it off.