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.

The flaw in my expectations

An expectation is a strong belief that something or someone will be a certain way or behave in a certain way. It is an assumption, and a presumption, a predictable outcome. In many situations we have already formed a conclusion in our minds. Many times, for me, it has been a state of mind that had nothing whatsoever to do with my reality. It was a want and a dream, it was a need and a hope, that I desperately held onto, because I believed that it was something I had to have to be happy, to validate me or because I thought I deserved it.

The big flaw in my expectation belief was that I had put that responsibility onto my alcoholic’s back. Therefore I set myself up over and over again to be disappointed, to be hurt and to develop a king size resentment. The only thing predictable about my alcoholic was that he was unpredictable.

The first step says that I am powerless over alcohol. I was powerless over my alcoholic and my life was unmanageable. But what I heard, was that I was going to have to let go of my hopes and dreams of happy ever after. When I heard powerless I heard hopeless, I heard unconquerable, I heard impossible, I heard unattainable. In reality all that was true if we were talking about my ability to control my alcoholic. It was NOT TRUE over me finding peace and happiness in my life.

I morned and grieved over letting go of my expectations. Darn it! He was my husband. He said he loved me. Doesn’t love mean that he will stop drinking and put our family first? Doesn’t it? To me it is supposed to be that way, but unfortunately, that is not how it worked in our life. Unfortunately my husband had a mistress. Her name was alcohol and no matter how much he loved me he loved her more.

Even if it were possible for me to be the perfect wife, lover and friend to this man I would never be able to compete against alcohol and win. His drinking wasn’t about me. The harder I tried the worse it became, because I was a reminder of all of the ways he was failing in his life. The control that alcohol had over him really hit me in the face the day I told him he had to choose between alcohol and our family. He did not even blink. He just walked into the bedroom and started packing.

I was angry, devastated and afraid of being alone with three kids and no job or job skills. In the end I swallowed my pride and he came back home on his terms. Believe it or not, I was in the program at that time, obviously I did not have much recovery under my belt, but I did have a sponsor. She taught me to never deliver an ultimatum that I was not ready to back up. She taught me to prepare myself to survive with or without him. No, she did not tell me to leave him. She told me to do what I had to do to financially take care of me and my girls if I had to.

BUT!!!! Let’s back up the train here. The first thing she did was tell me that since I was not in any physical danger, that I did not need to make any major life changing decisions in my life until I had at least a good year of recovery under my belt. She told me that she could not make me do anything, just like I could not make my alcoholic do anything. She reminded me that I could stay a victim or I could take control of my life. That meant going to meetings. Reading the literature and studying and working the steps; It meant a commitment to work on me.

Interestingly enough the more I put the focus on me and what I needed to do, the more empowered I became. The stronger I got, the less I looked to him for affirmation. The more capable I became the more I let go of trying to be responsible for his life. The more I understood about the disease of alcohol, the more compassion I had for him. The transformation in my heart and in my mind and in my life was mind blowing. My life did not get easier living with an active alcoholic, but it was easier for me to live with an alcoholic, because I knew his drinking had nothing to do with me. I learned how to set up healthy boundaries for myself and I learned how to live and let live.

My “helping” fed his problem

The dictionary defines “enable” as to make possible, to give power, to give someone the authority or the means to do something. On the other hand the definition of “help” is assist and to make it easier; to do something by offering one’s services.  So the big question is why do we rescue our alcoholic from the pain of their repeated poor decisions and choices? Why do we do that? Are we improving their life when we bail them out, and when we lie and run interference for the same mistakes over and over again? What is our motive?

When you think about, it every time we “rescue” our alcoholic from their chaos we make it possible for them to do it again. We give them the power and the means to continue on their path of self destruction. In our mind we are helping them right? Well, in a way we are helping by making it easier for them to continue to repeat their mistakes. We help them continue on their path of self destruction because we offer our services to clean up their mess-ups.

Oh we have good intentions. We are going to help them, they are going to see the light and clean up their act. Sure they are. Bahhahaha! Somewhere in the literature I read that the first time someone does something we justify it in our minds as an accident. We give them the benefit of the doubt. The second time they do it we justify it as a coincidence. But folks, by the third time we need to wake up and smell the coffee. There is no justification for their behavior. It is not an accident or a coincidence; it is a habit.

I don’t know why other people keep trying to save the alcoholic from themselves, but I can tell you why I did it. I was afraid. I was afraid of losing what I had and I was afraid of not getting what I wanted. So I was buying time until I could figure out how to stop him from self-destruction. I was trying to figure out how I could control him and save him.  Another reason was that I was trying to protect myself. If he lost his job we would suffer financially. Also I was prideful. I did not want anyone to know how bad things were.  And there were even times I felt guilty like it was somehow my fault that he drank the way that he did.

To me, living with my alcoholic was like watching a volcano blow and standing at the bottom of the mountain looking at the burning lava slowly come down the side of the mountain. There was no way I was going to stop it. I could stay and get burned and be destroyed by it, or I could get out of the way and let it run its course.

It took me a while to realize that my “helping” did not help my husband with his drinking problem, but instead it helped him feed his problem; I was enabling. It was a while before I realized that my “helping” was an attempt to control the fall out from my alcoholic’s drinking. I took over his responsibilities so that he would not have to suffer his consequences. I even took the blame sometimes to divert his consequences. I adapted my schedule, my needs, my life to “protect” him. It seems that my best intentions often times had disastrous results.  My sponsor ask me why I thought that I was less important than my alcoholic? I told her I did not understand. Then she ask me why I sacrificed my needs to accommodate his harmful conduct? I did not have an answer. I had never thought of it that way.

Accepting my powerlessness helped me understand that even though I was powerless over him I was not powerless to change the situation to protect myself from the effects of his behavior. My rights ended where his began and his rights ended where mine began. Knowing that allowed me to get off of that merry-go-round of setting myself up for failure by trying to save or fix him.

Forgiveness and acceptance

Forgiveness and acceptance does not make us stupid. It does not mean that we have to trust the person that hurt us. In fact, it can mean that we have finally learned that we cannot trust that person. It doesn’t mean that we have to be friends, lovers, or buddies with that person either. It means that we have learned some healthy boundaries.

Acceptance was a game changer for me. As long as I tried to force the solutions that I wanted onto to the other key people in my life I was frustrated. Accepting my powerless over my husbands drinking released me from the frustration and hurt involved with trying.  Acceptance is not degrading it is empowering because it means that we aren’t going to waste any more time trying to fix or save someone else. We are off the hook of participating in their chaos. It means that we now have the time to do something good for ourselves. It means that we have been liberated.

Finding serenity and accepting what I cannot change

The Serenity Prayer – “God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can and the wisdom to know the difference.”

The first request is for God to grant us the serenity to accept the things that we cannot change. The key words are serenity and accept. Their has been many times, in life, that I have been forced to accept something that I could not change, and I can guarantee you there was no serenity involved. For me, being forced to accept something I could not change, without serenity, filled me with, either anger and a king size resentment, or with defeat and pity.

When I have been forced to accept without serenity my mind was filled with hours and hours of thoughts on how I was going to overcome and become victorious, or how I was going to get even, or I wallowed on my pity pot and became the world’s great tragedy queen. It was like I had a giant X on my forehead that marked me as a victim.

That part of that prayer used to tick me off. What I heard is that I was supposed to walk around happy as a lark and they were going to get away with hurting me. I told my sponsor that I was angry because this meant that I did not have a choice. She reminded me that I did have a choice. Acceptance was not approval. It was making the best of a bad situation. This is the way that it is and there is not a darn thing I can do about it. I could learn how to have peace and be happy or I could stay miserable the choice was mine. I could allow this situation to continue to hurt me over and over again or I could take control of my life back. She told me that as long as I had the ugly negative feelings that I had, that I was handing over control of my life to someone else.

Then came the hard part. Well, it was hard for me anyway. How in the heck to get serenity over something is unacceptable to you and you are powerless over. It is not like I said this prayer and God sprinkled Angel dust over me and all of a sudden I had visions of rainbows and lollypops. No, it was nothing so simple as that. It wasn’t just one thing that helped me achieve serenity. It was a series of steps that healed my heart.

One important thing was understanding what I did have power over. I have power over is me. The second part of the prayer says to “have the courage to change the things I can.” I can change me and I can change my attitude. I can choose the kind of person that I want to be but I cannot choose to force those standards on someone else. I can choose to be a loose cannon and react to everything in my life, or I can take control and decide for myself how I am going to respond to life’s ups and downs. Instead of being so focused on me and my problems, I can get out of myself and help others in need. It is being grateful for the good things I do have and not focusing on the things I don’t have. It is doing the next right thing and it is not planning and scheming how I am going to win or get even.

Forgiveness, without a doubt, is a key component in finding serenity. It took a while for me to understand that forgiveness did not mean that what happened was okay. It did not necessarily fix the wrong, it did not mean that we had to be friends or that I even had to have the that person in my life. It means that even though you hurt me in the past you are not allowed to hurt me for the rest of my life.

Finding serenity was an evolutionary process for me. It was a process of learning about myself. It learning how to set health boundaries in my life. It was liberating and empowering.

Healing requires self-honesty

I have had a lot going on and I haven’t posted in almost two weeks. Even though I haven’t posted life was still happening. Good stuff and challenging stuff too. In a couple of situations I have had to reevaluate the circumstances in some of that challenging stuff.

When I came into recovery I was looking for answers. I am one of those persons that needed or wanted an answer for everything. For some reason I had it in my mind, that if I just understood why, then I would be able to fix the problem. Then I found out that some things were not my responsibility to fix. I found out that somethings are not fixable and somethings cannot be reversed. There really are times in life when “all the kings horses and all the kings men cannot put Humpty Dumpty back together again.” So then what?

I had to learn how to live with the consequences of decisions that I made, or decisions that someone else made in which I had no control. Stop right here! I want to say that learning how to live with the consequences of other people’s behavior does not mean that I have to accept unacceptable in my life, and it does not mean that I do not have choices about what I am going to do about their behavior.

One of things I learned early on is the importance of understanding my part in the situation. There is a darn good reason I need to do this, most important of all, if I don’t learn from it I will repeat it. Every provocation challenges me to look at my part in the circumstances in which I find myself. How did I get here in the first place? Many times, not all the time, but many times, there were red flags of warning all over the place, and I ignored them because I wanted what I wanted. Many times I had unrealistic expectations. There were other times I was too broken to see the forest for the trees. I was so focused on certain details that I failed to look at the total picture.

Progressing through the 12 Steps has helped me see my own strengths and weaknesses. Yes, I did say strengths. The first time I did a 5th Step, my sponsor helped me to realize that I was not all bad and I was not all good and perfect either. I had character defects and I had strengths. My sponsor told me that the focus of my recovery journey was learning to live comfortable in my own skin, and to be at peace with myself regardless of what was going on around me in my life. I could not even imagine such a thing.

I had this internal struggle in my head, a rigid dichotomy, between believing that everything was my fault and that I did not deserve any better, and being arrogant and angry because I believed that I was right and everyone just needed to get on board and do what I wanted them to do. Many times I acted confident and strong on the outside and on the inside I was afraid that I was not even average.

Looking at my part, and being honest with myself, is one thing that has been drilled into me from the beginning of my recovery journey. Recovery is built on self-honesty. The big book of AA says that the only people that do not get better using these steps are the people who cannot be honest with themselves. I know I am in trouble, and that I am deceiving myself, when I say things like, I know what I did was wrong, but I only did this because they did that. As soon as those words come out of my mouth I know that I am trying to excuse my own behavior.

To this very day I still examine my part in a situation. I still seek other people’s advice, my sponsor, or someone I trust, not to tell me what I want to hear but what I need to hear because this is how I grow. I can’t grow, change and heal by lying to myself.

The program was our saving grace

I tried every thing I could think of to make my alcoholic “understand” what he was doing to himself and to our family. I tried reason and logic, I threatened, begged and pleaded, I defended and argued my case over and over again expecting the light to come on, and for him to finally understand, and do whatever he had to do to change. I said the same thing over and over again a thousand different ways. But not one thing I said made a difference, because he was in complete denial that he had a problem with alcohol. The sad thing is that he really tried to control his drinking, but he could not, and even then he could not accept that he was powerless.

You know what else is sad? I could see how obsessed he was with alcohol, but I could not see how obsessed I was over trying to control his drinking. We were the perfect storm, the yin yang of an alcoholic relationship. We were on opposite sides that absolutely encouraged our sickness. He could not look me in the face and not feel guilty, but he could not stop his destructive behavior either. I struggled trying to out-wit him and keep him out of trouble.

Every time in the past, before I got into recovery, that I had tried to change, or pull away, I failed, and I failed because of my motive. I was trying to control and manipulate my husband to try and force him to change. It was pretty scary standing up for my life. It was hard to wrap my mind around, and accept, that he did not have to change for me to change. What if I changed and things did not work out the way that I wanted them to? Many times it was painful to do the right thing. That is when the doubts came. Sometimes I was fearful and second guessed my decision.

My alcoholic had no reason to believe that things were different this time and he did everything in his power to keep the status quo. He wasn’t going to let me tell him what he could and could not do and his drinking got worse. As he began to see changes in me, he became even more determine to get me back in line. He tried to manipulated and guilt tripped me to try and make me believe that everything was my fault. I gave him an ultimatum and he threatened to leave. He left. The first time he left I was not strong enough, or well enough, to hold my ground, so after a few weeks, I folded and he came back home on his terms. The second time he left, he had about a years sobriety under his belt. He told me that he needed his own space and he moved to a different city. I was better and stronger, but he wasn’t and after about four months he made grand promises and “took me back.” The third time he left, he left for good.

You know what is so interesting about the third time? It was a mutual agreement. He knew, and I knew, that I had changed enough where I would no longer accept unacceptable in my life. His disease changed me, it changed him, and it changed the love we shared. It was only through recovery that I learned how to have compassion for his struggle; it was through recovery that I learned how to separate the disease from the man – which helped me to hate the disease but not the man.

It was in recovery that I learned how to love myself enough to not to allow his disease to destroy me. Which in my case meant that I had to walk away. Believe it or not, thanks to both of our recovery programs (he was in and out of the program) our breakup was rather tame. There was no war. We just knew that we could not make it work any more.

I am sharing my journey this morning, because recovery will create change in your life. Sometimes that change is not the way you envision it to be. Most couples stay together, but a few don’t. We didn’t, but the program was our saving grace. Without the program we wold have hated each other when the break came. Don’t get me wrong the break was not easy. It did not come without tears. Both of us were sad with the result, but we knew that in order for us to walk away without hating each that was what we had to do.

The enabling merry-go-round

Funny thing about enabling, at the time we think we are helping, but in reality we are feeding the monster. Oh yes, every time I run interference in someone else’s life, every time I do something that prevents them from facing their own consequences, I feed their brokenness, every time I do something for someone else that they can and should do for themselves, I feed their brokenness……..and at the same time I am feeding mine.

You know what my brokenness is? Fear, arrogance, pride and denial. I am afraid that if I don’t jump in and save the day, that the life I have envisioned for them and for me will never happen. They might go to jail, lose their job, lose their car, be homeless, won’t have anything to eat, or they might end their relationship with me, etc. Sometimes I am afraid because their stupid decisions not only cause them negative consequences, but they cause me negative consequences as well. Arrogance comes into play when I think, and make them believe, that they can’t handle their own problems as well as I can handle them for them. Pride is fear that everyone will know. What will people think of them and what will they think of me? If I don’t admit it, if I fix everything to make it better, then it is not true. The reality is that my denial keeps me chained to the problem.

My “good intentions” is to save them from a calamity that they created by choices that they made, so that I can help them turn their life around. The problem with that, is that, “My good intentions” is not what turns their life around. I am powerless to turn their life around. All of my hopes, dreams and prayers for them will not make them change unless they want to change. Nothing that I do, or that I do not do, will make them change if they do not want to change.

We did not reach this point of chaos in our lives by a bunch of weird coincidences. Our choices, theirs to mess up, ours to fix or cover up, is what put us on this path that wrecks both of our lives. For most of us, this is not our first redo. We have repeated this behavior over and over again, believing that this time things will be different. Our “good intentions” have not once altered the course of the path of destruction. It may delay it from time to time, but we are still walking toward a dangerous cliff. The truth is, that we cannot prevent them from walking off that dangerous cliff. But, we do have a choice if we want to walk off that cliff with them or not.

Sure it hurts. Sure it is painful to watch them self-destruct, but what choice do when have? It is also pain living this way with them.  Their life belongs to them and our life belongs to us. We can hang on and live in a revolving door of fear, pain, and chaos or we can let go, and let them live in it by themselves. Back in the old days we said that can let go and have a short term pain for the chance of a long term gain or we can just hang on in constant pain.

It is not easy to let go, and they definitely won’t like it either. They will whine and try to make us feel guilty because we aren’t bailing them out again. They will get angry and display all sorts of antics trying to suck us back in. But they don’t want our help to change, they want our help to support and feed their problem.

Our relationship was convoluted and complicated to say the least. Tying to figure out when I was helping and when I was enabling was confusing at times. My sponsor taught me to look at my motives. Was I interfering with their consequences from choices that they made? I am trying to do something for them that they should be doing for themselves? Am I doing the right thing for the right reason? Where, and how, am I better off in this situation? Am I doing what is best for me?

Enabling is nothing more than riding the merry-go-round of chaos and insanity with them. Nothing will change for us as long as we stay on their merry-go-round.

Attitudes about recovery programs

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Abuse is a form of brainwashing

I get so annoyed when I hear talk show host, celebrities or people in my every day life, talk about the hurt in someone else’s life and they say things like “that is ancient history you need to get over it.” Obviously they have never been brainwashed, scared, hurt, or had their trust destroyed or lived in fear. Because if they had, they would know that it is not as simple as just making a decision. I agree that a decision has to be made to rescript the harm that has been done to us, but there is nothing simple about it.

How in the world can a person make a good decision, when they have never been allowed to make a decision in the first place? Or when they have had severe consequences for making a decisions without the permission of someone, or when they have been forced to make a decision that they did not want to make. Most of the time the abuser is very stealth in how they gain control. I have talked to many people along my recovery journey that never saw the abuse coming until they did not know how to get out.

I truly believe that abuse of any kind is a form of brainwashing. The dictionary defines brainwashing as: “to make someone adopt radically different beliefs by using systematic and often forcible pressure.” That is what abuse does. It makes you feel unworthy, inferior, unattractive, dumb, incompetent, unloveable. It destroys self-esteem and self-confidence. It destroys hope and it destroys trust.

Some people surrender to the negative rhetoric, and or, the fear of the consequences, and live their whole life a prisoner of war they endured in the past, or what they are living at that moment. Some people retaliate and suffer even more consequences for doing so. They end up in jail or prison, or they are alone without the ability to cope in a normal world. Many times they choose another one just like the other one and repeat the cycle. But the ones who seek help have a war on their hands. Stinking Thinking will try to sabotage them.

I used to believe that I was a weak person. Now I know that I am not. My life experience proves that I am anything but weak. Just the fact that I survived, even with battle scars, shows strength and courage in the face of pain and adversity. I survived, now what? I have learned that surviving is not enough. I have a choice how I am going to allow the hurts from past to impact my life from here forward. I can allow those hurts to contaminate my live and choose that path of being a professional victim, or I can learn how to turn all of those hurts into something good, not only in my life but in the life of others. The 12 Step says, “Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these Steps, we tried to carry this message to others, and to practice these principles in all our affairs.

Did you catch that word “practice?” That word right there says that we don’t graduate life. Every time we are challenged by our old way of thinking we get to practice thinking and doing things differently. Many times it doesn’t feel natural. So we have to do it consciously until we can do it unconsciously. Even when it doesn’t feel honest or natural. Opportunities come and go in our life that will make us or break us. We are the only person that gets to decide which one it will be.