Learning to live in the real world

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Holiday Attitude

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

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

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

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

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

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.

Standing up for me

I had a dream, a want, that became a need, that was so compelling that it influenced how I looked at everything in my life. I desperately wanted to like and feel good about myself. I wanted self-confidence and self-respect. I wanted other people to do what ever they needed to do so that I would know that I was okay.

The problem was that the key people in my life were other broken people. Some were angry and miserable to be around and others were self-centered and manipulative.  They were not capable of helping me do or feel anything. If anything they were parasites that had no problem taking things from me that I needed just to satisfy some silly want of their’s. In other words I had unrealistic expectations from broken, selfish and incompetent people.

Our lives were so entwined that many times I did not know where my rights ended and theirs began. My whole life had been dysfunctional and I had nothing healthy to compare it too. As they say in our program you don’t go to the hardware store to buy bread. Every time I looked to my family for emotional support I was going to the hardware store to buy bread.

My sponsor reminded me repeatedly that other people did not define my self-worth. She told me that just because the key people in my life were too selfish, narcissistic, and broken too treat me with respect, that it did not mean that I was’t worthy of it. She told me that there was only one person on this planet that defined my self-respect and that was me.

I heard what she said. I even believed what she said. But to undo years of emotional abuse and put-downs was not quick and easy. I had been trained and conditioned in negativity and it was as automatic to me as breathing.

We have a slogan that says, “Let it begin with me.” I realize now that everything in my recovery journey begins with me taking the initiative. I was not powerless to change me. Baby step by baby step I began taking responsibility for my own life and my own happiness. Believe me it was not easy because every step seemed selfish. My sponsor would remind me to look at my motive. Was my decision the right thing to do for me?

In order to reclaim my life I had to learn how to detach with love. I did not stop loving my alcoholic but I did stop taking personal the hurtful things he said and did. He was no longer the yardstick that I used to measure my self-worth. Every time I refused to accept unacceptable in my life I became stronger. Every time I did not sacrifice my wants and my needs to his disease I became stronger. Every time I gave myself time to pause before I reacted, so that I could decide how I wanted to react, I became stronger. It was all in the baby steps.

Every once in a while I will get broadsided by stinking thinking. As soon as that happens I call someone in my program and talk out my feelings or I get to a meeting. I just can’t stand to feel miserable any more.

Recovery is sink or swim time

It wasn’t that I could not help my alcoholic, because I could help him deny there was a problem for him with alcohol. I could help him get out of one alcoholic jam after the other. I could help him cover up his mess ups and I could help him by financially by balling him out of trouble. What I could not do was help him find sobriety by taking away his responsibilities and his consequences. I had to learn the hard way that I could not help someone else recover and be restored who did not want to be helped and restored, and he did not want my help to do that.

The Serenity Prayer reminds me that I need wisdom to know the difference about what I could not change and had to accept over what I actually had the power to change and do something about. The wisdom to know the difference meant that I took the focus off of him and put it squarely on me. Clearly I was at Step One. I was powerless over him and his drinking. I was not powerless over me and my attitude.

This wisdom to know the difference helped me to realized that I had put all of my eggs in one basket. Without realizing it I was living my life vicariously through him. When he was okay I was okay. When he was happy I was happy. When he was sad I was sad. When he was angry or mad I tried to make everything better. I wanted what he wanted and did what he wanted me to do when he wanted me to do it. My world, my happiness, totally depended on this man. It never occurred to me that I could be happy whether he was happy or not.

There was no way I could apply this program to my life, and work these steps and focus on him. This program and these steps are designed to focus on the person working them. To be honest with you I felt extremely selfish and self-centered when I began my recovery journey. He did not want what I wanted and I felt selfish for going after what I wanted without him.

I had been treading water with him for a long time. Through this program both of us were thrown a life line. It was time to sink or swim. I was tired of the struggle. I could not make him change and he could not stop me from changing. I begged him to try. He was not interested so I swam without him. Was it easy to swim away while he still floundered? Of course not. As I looked back I could see his life line floating all around him. All he had to do was reach out and grab it. But he just did not want it.

When one person in a relationship changes the relationship will change. Parts of our relationship got better. Other parts deteriorated at lightening speed. When that happened I felt vulnerable and less confident that I was doing the right thing. My sponsor helped me get the wisdom to know the difference by reminding me look at my motives. Every choice in life has a consequence. Some consequences are good and some aren’t. Was I trying to control or manipulate his choices? Any time that I was trying to interfere with his right of choice and his consequence then I was not doing the right thing for the right reason. Again, I was reminded to focus on me and my choices. Was I doing the right thing for the right reason for me?

Through the years I have had to make some pretty difficult decisions. The only thing I had any real power over was me. I could not control what other people did but I could control how I was going to respond. I could not always avoid pain because it was very painful to watch someone I loved self-destruct. What I could do was choose to participate – OR NOT – in there self-destruction. I have not doubt in my mind now that this program is not for everyone. Only the people who want it.

What are we teaching our kids?

I could see the harm that my husbands drinking had on our children. What I could not see was the harm my reaction to his drinking had on our children. It was so easy to blame my bad behavior on his drinking. I taught them how to be codependent by my own actions.

I taught them that his drinking and the problems in our home was our families dirty little secret. I was over protective and tried to hide or cover up our problems. This secret taught them denial and it taught them to lie. The instability in our home taught them insecurity. They knew that they could not dependent on their dad to do what he said he was going to do. And I made them fearful and insecure when I over protective and when I was depressed and weepy.

I went through the super Mom stage trying to make up for all of their disappointments. I got so involved in their lives they almost felt smothered. Then I went through a stage of over compensating. I tried to give them things to make up for all the chaos them had to experience. This gave them an entitled attitude. The more I gave them the more they demanded. I did not know how to say No to them, and they were just kids after all, and they worked me to get what they wanted or do what they wanted to do.

I was a drama queen and my kids had a front row seat watching me try to manipulate their dad and this taught them dishonesty. In other words, say what ever you needed to say, and do what ever you needed to do, even if you didn’t mean it, to get the results that you want.

When I finally got into recovery and had some healing I began to see how harmful my actions had been for the first time. I felt so guilty for what I had put our kids through. I could see the negative impact in their lives in how they related to their friends and how they lived each day. The really hard part for me was forgiving myself for how I had hurt my girls. My natural tendency was to blame and punish myself. Through recovery I could see where and how I had failed them. And, it was through recovery that I began to teach them, by my actions not my words, a better way.

There were times they acted out, and there times they made some pretty bone head mistakes, and I was powerless to prevent their pain or their consequences. Sometimes I was eaten up with quilt, other times I realized that they had to grow and learn from their mistakes just like I did. Today all three of my daughters are fine women with a good head on their shoulders. And, I believe that the “recovering me” help them become the successful women and mothers that they are today.

Letting go of enabling

We codependents are big into rescue. We see a problem. We believe we can help, or fix it, and our knee jerk reaction is to fix it. We think we are helping, but in reality we are delaying someone else from learning, changing and growing. Then we are surprised that they keep making the same mistake over and over again. It never seems to dawn on us that we are also making the same mistake over and over again by constantly coming to their “rescue.” It is a lose lose situation and we don’t even see our part in the insanity. How many times is it going to take for us to recognize that our attempts to rescue is not rescuing at all – it is enabling?

We are enabling when we deny someone else the opportunity to be responsible for their own actions. We are enabling when we torture and blame ourselves for their irresponsible behavior. We are enabling when we cover for them, when we lie for them, when we bail them out over and over again. We are enabling when we financially support them because they are irresponsible and can’t keep a job, when we live in denial and pretend with them that everything is all right when in reality it is going to heck in a hand basket. We are enabling when we comfort, encourage and help them blame everyone else in their life for their mess ups. We are enabling when we do not allow other people the right to solve their own problems.

I did all of those things trying to avoid the fall out of the bad choices he made. It was completely unnerving for me to let go and let him handle his life, and it was even scarier for me to start living my own life in a way that was happy and healthy for me. I had denied my needs, my wants and my dreams for so long that I did not even know where to begin to live my own life. Looking back I can see that my enabling allowed Jon and I both to ignore responsibility in our own lives. I blame myself for his drinking and his failures and I blamed him because I did not have the time or resources to fulfill my own expectations in life. Without him to blame it was now up to me to succeed or fail in my own life.

There were many things that I never attempted and used his chaos as an excuse. In reality I was scared to death of failing. It was just easier to sit back and let life pass me by and blame him for my lack of opportunity than it was to make the effort to make my own dreams to come true. So you see my enabling gave both of us an excuse not to be responsible for our own life.

Trying to fix things and control the fall out of the chaos in my life was a survival skill that crippled both Jon and myself. It never occurred to me that I could love him and not participate in his chaos. It never occurred to me that loving myself was not selfish. To be honest with you, I had to sort out who the real me was before I could let go and give myself permission to love and respect myself. I had tried to be all things to all people for so long I wasn’t even sure what was right for me any more. It took time for me to learn to take care of myself first – especially during difficult circumstances. Usually, during a crisis, I was so focused on what was going on with the Jon’s wants and demands that I neglected my own needs.

I have learned that it is not selfish to treat myself with respect and dignity. I have learned that my purpose in life is not to be a human sacrifice for someone else. I was given a life and Jon was given a life and each of us had the right to grow our own life or blow it. It was growing up time for both of us.

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.

Many times we are between a rock and a hard place

Living with an alcoholic made me want to protect my kids from as much of the insanity as possible. It also made me a helicopter Mom. I hovered around them getting overly involved in their lives. As they grew they resented my over protectiveness and they also learn how to manipulate me in to trying to give them everything they wanted.

I heard a woman say that by doing everything for her children she had deprived them of an opportunity to grow and be responsible for their own lives. She said that until she got into this program she never realize that by doing everything for her kids, that she had elevated her own importance and had crippled her kids by not allowing them the opportunity to grow and learn how to be independent, and at the same time she had given them an attitude of entitlement.

I understood exactly what she was saying. I needed to be important and valued somewhere and I also wanted to protect my kids. My intentions were good but the way I went about it hurt all of us. There were times I could not hide from them what was going on, but I did prevent them from being exposed to his drinking problems as much as possible. I did such a good job of it that when their Dad and I separated and were later divorce, I was perceived as the bad guy. It was especially difficult after the kids went to visit his family. They were just beginning those teenage years which can be a difficult time anyway, but it was kicked up another whole level because of our divorce. Threats of I want to live with Dad. This is your fault our family is messed up, etc were especially hard to navigate without putting their Dad down or defending myself with the cold hard truth.

My sponsor helped me to understand how important it was for the kids to know that they were loved by both parents and that what had happened between their father and me was not about them. Rarely did I say or tell them negative things about their Dad. I desperately tried to keep my relationship with my kids between them and me and I allowed them to have their relationship with their Dad without my input. He died two years after our divorce and one of our daughters elevated him to sainthood. She gave me a lot of grief. I told her I wasn’t going to die so that she would like me. It is a good thing I bleach my hair or it would have turned snow white during that time.

The alcoholic family dynamics are complicated. I was very fortunate in some ways because my alcoholic was quiet and tried to hide his drinking and drunkenness from our kids. He came home many nights after they were in bed. I walked on egg shells and did whatever I had to do around the kids to keep from having disagreements in front of them. I am not saying I was right or wrong.  I am just saying what I did at that time.  I do know that in some families the alcoholic is be aggressive and mean and there is no way to keep it away from the kids.  No matter what kids in an alcoholic family suffer.

Many times, we – the spouse, are between a rock and a hard place. It is often difficult to know the right thing to do.  My sponsor ask me if my alcoholic was physically abusive.  I told her no.  She told me to ask myself where am I better off today.  She told me that I if I allowed myself to grow and heal I be would know when or if it was better to leave or stay. Every situation is different yet in many ways the same.  For a long time staying was the right thing to do.  But as our situation changed I reached a point where I knew it was time to leave and I was at peace with my decision.

I used the principles of my recovery program to deal with hurt, angry troubled teens as much as I did with my alcoholic. I needed my recovery meetings and the help of “my people” during that time to keep my serenity. I use the principles of my recovery program to my live everyday life.

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.