Saturday, January 30, 2010

Step Six:

Were entirely ready to have God remove these defects of character

Notice it *doesn't* say "I removed all these defects of character through my perfect strong will," OR "I am now without defects of character."

At this point all that is being asked is to be entirely ready.

From the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous:

How It Works

We have emphasized willingness as being indispensable. Are we now ready to let God remove from us all the things which we have admitted are objectionable? Can He now take them all, everyone? If we still cling to something we will not let go, we ask God to help us be willing.
-A.A. Big Book p.76

Have the other Steps worn me out by this point? Maybe it's because I have been trying to do my Higher Power's part of the process as well. This is a Step that will stop me in the tracks if that is what I have been doing.

This Step doesn't ask me to do anything other than be honest with myself and my Higher Power (I call her HP for short.)

Am I entirely ready to let go of these defects of character?

My defects for the most part are linked either to my immaturity (spiritual and emotional) or to actual character strengths that I took waaayyy overboard and used to death, and now have manifested themselves into character defects that haunt me rather than coping mechanisms that help me.

Case in point: Being aware of what's going on became taking other's inventory, projecting catastrophe before it happens, nosiness, intrusiveness and overwhelming, overdeveloped responsibility. Being a person who does not drink became self-righteous indignation and judgemental-ness of anyone who dare take a drink, or take cold medicine to help them sleep.

(I became aware of this part last night at a meeting where several people who are stressed out by their lives with their alcoholics stated they wanted to go home and take cold medicine to sleep, and they did not have colds. I made a noise like I was going to put my two cents in there about that being medicating a problem, not unlike an alcoholic might do, BUT then I shut up. I am not living their lives, not walking in their shoes.)

What this Step asks of me is to be ready to let go of the barriers to my living a more balanced and healthy life. It doesn't say I have to do it in a day or a week or a month. It doesn't say *I* have to do it at all.

What it does say is that I need to be ENTIRELY READY for HP/GOD to do HIS/HER part.
All I have to do is let go.

I am so ready.

My best thinking, they say, got me here. If I am to get past "here," something better needs to happen to and for me. I have to have help.
And I accept the help because that's why I came.

Keep coming back.

Friday, January 29, 2010

Happiness 101 Award!!!!

Thank you BettyAnn, AKA Ms Hen, for the award!!! You are an inspiration to lots of us out here in Blogland!

In keeping with the tradition, I am giving this award to Syd of I'm Just F.I.N.E. - Recovery in Al-Anon, Kelly of Just Kelly Here, and Little M of "Came to Believe."

The 10 Things that Make Me Happy

10. Sleeping late when my bedroom is not too hot, not too cold and nice and dark
9. Reallllllly good Indian food
8. A hot bath in total silence
7. A great book
6. Getting published
5. My 4 year old daughter's hugs and kisses on my forehead when I have a migraine
4. My 14 year old daughter's drawings
3. A really good massage
2. Al-Anon meetings
1. Meditation and the peace it brings

Hmmm, what a nice opportunity to think about what makes me happy. Betty Ann already took sushi, so I wanted to branch out. If I only did one of these things a day I could add even more gratitude to my world.....

Stay tuned for Step Six!

Step Five:

Admitted to God, to ourselves and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs

This, like the step preceding it, is one of those steps that everyone dreads, makes a big deal out of, and then once it's over, breathes a huge sigh of relief. And release.

There is an old adage, confession is good for the soul.

I won't pretend to know much about the care and feeding of the soul (obviously, on so many levels), but I can share that this was a very liberating piece of the process for me.

That doesn't mean I'm not going to do it again as soon as I can.

How It Works

This is perhaps difficult, especially discussing our defects with another person. We think we have done well enough in admitting these things to ourselves. There is doubt about that. In actual practice, we usually find a solitary self-appraisal insufficient. Many of us thought it necessary to go much further. We will be more reconciled to discussing ourselves with another person when we see good reasons why we should do so. The best reason first: If we skip this vital step, we may not overcome drinking. Time after time newcomers have tried to keep to themselves certain facts about their lives. Trying to avoid this humbling experience, they have turned to easier methods. Almost invariably they got drunk. Having persevered with the rest of the program, they wondered why they fell. We think the reason is that they never completed their housecleaning. They took inventory all right, but hung on to some of the worst items in stock. They only thought they had lost their egoism and fear; they only thought they had humbled themselves. But they had not learned enough of humility, fearlessness and honesty, in the sense we find it necessary, until they told someone else all their life story.
-A.A. Big Book p.72-73

This past year, I began working the Steps for the first time in my life. I had reached rock bottom, and could no longer stand being in my own skin, in my own life. Being married to, loving an alcoholic was too much for me. I had no solutions and my life was so far from manageable, it wasn't on the same continent. So I was clinging to the Steps like a lifeboat's ladder out of the depths of my hell, my depression, and basically my death. Life was entering into it less and less.

I completed my 4th Step in May, 2009. However, because of my sponsor being too busy, my job being too frantic, my depression isolating me from my fellow human beings, I did not get to complete my 5th Step until November.

That's a long time to carry around all your resentments and the ugliest set of emotional baggage you ever saw.

I do *not* recommend it.

I also had the scary experience of having groused and come clean about my relationship with my maternal grandmother, but then lived through her death a month later in June. By November I had to rip the scab off and spill my guts again about my complicated relationship with her.
However, in the hospital the night before she died, I was able to tell her I was sorry for being a royal pain in her ass and bank account. And she said she loved me, and that she knew I loved her.

If I hadn't done my 4th Step, I'm not so sure I could have taken responsibility for my part in the complicated web we wove for 40 years.

If I hadn't been in Al-Anon, I don't think I would have known how important amends are to my life. In life in general. And how I would be able to let go of 40 years of resentments so I could really know and feel what a real gift my grandmother was to me. And see that I, in my own bumbling way, had been a gift to her.

The other wisdom I have heard regarding a 5th Step has come from AA members. More than one has told me that leaving out anything in this Step will cause relapse and incomplete recovery. Kind of like healing with a band-aid when there's gangrene underneath.

We are only as sick as our secrets. So when there's no secrets, we get rid of the sickness so we can begin to heal.

Yes, it is scary. Yes, it can be brutal.

But it can also be fulfilling, and even save your life.

So spill your guts. Leave nothing out. And emerge fresh and new for your healing.

Because that's what happens next.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Step Four:

Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.

This is one of those Steps that everyone spends months - or years - dreading, even actively postponing, and yet, when it is finished, it feels great.

Searching - means I look in my past and present, in my actions and my thoughts, and I keeping asking, "Why?" and "How?" questions.

Fearless. This task can be daunting. However a consult of the AA Big Book gives a clear format of how to make this inventory:

1. What are my resentments?
2. Why do I have these resentments?
and most telling,
3. What is my part in it?

Of course, this is my distillation of the format. The Big Book puts it better. You can check out the Big Book online here.

The hardest part of my inventory was the writer's cramp. Seriously. It can be tempting also to try to justify why I did what I did. However, the most clean and honest thing to do is just admit my part in it. After all, it is between me, my Higher Power (who - guess what?!?- already knows all that crap!) and my sponsor (who has more than likely heard worse, and may have very well done worse).
Another hard part of my Fourth Step is that I began it in May 2009 and through a serious of traumatic events in my world, was unable to complete Step Five until November 2009. During this time, I wrote about my complicated relationship with my grandmother, and then in June, she died. So when I was sharing my Fifth Step, there was a bit of resentments about my grandmother. That was hard.

HOWEVER, because of this program, I was able to make amends to her the night before she died. That was a gift. The last thing she said to me was: "I know you love me. I love you too." That was the nicest thing she had said to me in my entire life.

A moment to breathe here....

Anyway, back to my searching and fearless moral inventory. After I made this Step I attended a Big Book Study with a strong local AA group (who welcome this Al-Anon mess with open arms!) . Person after person shared about their own Fourth Steps. The common theme was that if they left off the one, most terrible thing that they felt they could not share with another human being, then they lost their recovery. That one thing, omitting that one (to them) most scary detail was just enough dishonesty to derail their entire program.

I wish I had heard this before I completed Steps Four and Five.
It's not that I feel I have left my most hideous skeleton(s) hanging in my moldiest closet.
But I am still horrified by my bouts of anger, flares of temper, and seemingly boundless capacity for frustration. I am still less able to control my bouts of depression, anger, and malaise than I want to be, than I need to be to take care of myself.
In my searching and fearless moral inventory, I discovered that I have been guilty of all or nothing thinking, and self-depressing inner dialogue. I also have engaged in jealousy, and general bitterness. And when there has been a time to grieve I had done so haltingly and not respectfully. Gratitude has not even been in my dictionary. (Which I why I recommend the Al-Anon blogs I have linked in the sidebar - these folks really teach me what it is all about! Thanks, Syd and BettyAnn!!!!)

There are more truths I've uncovered, but I think I will save them for my post on Step Five...

And regarding Step Four....

I will be posting on Step Four later this evening. I want to work on that post from home so I can share more about what it truly means to me.....

Also, want to share that I went to an excellent training the last three days about one of my old passions. Here's a link to check it out.

Supported Employment Training Project

This past weekend's read....

Her Fearful Symmetry Her Fearful Symmetry by Audrey Niffenegger

My rating: 5 of 5 stars
I really enjoyed this book. I am not sure I can put my finger on it, but suffice it to say that it was a nontraditional ghost story, an unconventional love story, and it was peppered with info on the Highland Cemetery in London. Good stuff. Enjoyable read.

View all my reviews >>

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Step Three:

Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him [or Her].

As you can see, I have added the "or Her" part to this Step. I do this for a couple of reasons.

1. I feel that a Higher Power is not really a Male (or even Female) aspect, but both or neither.
2. If I were to try to describe my Higher Power I would have to say that HP has more feminine that masculine attributes.
3. I want to respect earth-based spirituality, and the Goddess.

This Step was the hardest for me thus far. WIth the first two, I had little problem admitting that my life was unmanageable. I knew that something more powerful than me would be the only thing that could fix it.
However, here is where I felt compelled to define that Something.

I digress here to include words from last March's blog on my idea of a Higher Power and my spirituality.
{ SUNDAY, MARCH 22, 2009

I am working on my Fourth Step in my program right now, and it has brought up some interesting things for me so far. I have learned that depending on myself is what got me in the total mess I am in today, and I want to find my way out of it. Everyone I talk to says to *Have faith.* Yet I have no faith in anything, least of all myself. So today I am being strongly led to look into the faith issue.

The whole concept of God/Higher Power/religion/spirituality is one that I have basically glossed over, run from, ignored and otherwise avoided like the plague in my program so far. I have only looked for reassurance that I don't have to be a Christian to be in the program. I don't really have anything to fill that gap, however. I have talked to friends who say they see the universe or fates or something larger than themselves as a Higher Power, and I understand and applaud them. I don't see them having a dearth of faith, and I know they are good and intelligent people. What they have said gives me comfort.

However, at one time in my life I had an abundance of faith. I was raised Catholic (irish Catholic, no less) and while I did not always agree with it, or love it, I did believe it. I felt like there was some truth there, and I was feeling like Someone cared. But I lost this. I lost it when my fiance committed suicide in 1990. When all I truly loved with passion was taken cruelly from me and by his own hand, no less. He willfully chose to leave me in the most permanent way possible, and this convinced me that I was no longer worthy of love. And this God-dude, well, he took him from me, let him do what he did, so that pretty much convinced me that I was not worth bothering with from a God-perspective. This God-dude did not love me, did not want me to be happy or have a life like other people, so either I accept that I am worthless and not worthy of life, or I find how this God-dude is telling me to live. Fast forward a year or so, and I am not able to live with the God-dude's hate, and I am listening to people tell me that it was God-dude's will that my best friend and lover and man I wanted to spend the rest of my life with was not in the picture. So my sick mind reads this as God-dude telling me to be a nun. I try out the whole nun-business, and find out that nuns are as mean and weak and hateful as anyone else, and decide that no one there wants me either, and God-dude is booting me to the curb. This time I get the message, I think. So I lose my faith again.

In a few years I had fashioned a marriage, had a baby, and was miserable. I loved my baby but hated myself. So I went back to college, got a BA and a Masters in like 3 or 4 years total, and threw myself into school. I made Deans List every semester, graduated with departmental honors and magna cum laude, then when on to grad school with an endowed scholarship and the support and grudging admiration of even my toughest professors. I made academia my church. And I was good at it. Especially after I ditched the husband, who was at best an obstacle to progress.

Then I graduate. I decide to go out and "help people," because I now think the God-dude is telling me he has allowed me to be miserable so I can understand and help others out of their misery. So I abandon my hopes of being a writer and go out to help people with disabilities. I mean, I am mentally ill, right? And my first baby is born with a deformed shoulder and arm, and then does not talk when babies/toddlers are supposed to, so I think I am supposed to make this a better world for her. So here is my career. I think. Because I am still listening to this God-dude's will.

And yet, I am still miserable. So I decide, no more God-dude. He has messed with me long enough. I go back to other spiritual paths I had looked at and felt some resonance with after the 1990 event. I look at Buddhism, which I had loved from an intellectual as well as gut perspective since childhood. And I look at paganism, which tells me that the beauty that speaks to me in the natural world is there to comfort me and show me there is a natural earth reason for my being. But paganism loses its appeal for me when the pagans I meet end up being even more screwed up than the Christians I had run from. And I cannot afford the classes at the Buddhist meditation center.

In the midst of this, I meet another man. I tell him about my past, my PTSD and mental illness and this hole in my heart where a God-dude is supposed to be. This man is not a church-goer. But he has no hole where the God-dude is. His God-dude is a good guy. He tells me that he thanked his God-dude for bringing me into his life. And he wants the same things I do - a real life, a stable life, happiness and a family. And when everyone else treats me as worthless, he tells me I am not. He tells me I have value. And I *almost* start to believe him. So we are married four months later, and in a year we have my second daughter, his first. Even though he drinks daily, is plainly an alcoholic, he is still more normal than the rest of my family and there with me. He does not leave me. Even when he is angry with me, and even when he almost hates me, he still loves me enough to stay. And so here we are.

So now I have no faith. And part of my "searching and fearless moral inventory" is to determine why I am so screwed up, and what need I am trying to have met by my outrageous behavior and lost choices. And my only answer is to get my needs met. And the only need I have right now - on a non-material plane- is the gaping hole in my soul where the God-dude used to be. So i am trying to be open to see what is supposed to go there.

I am interested in others' spiritual paths, and I am interested and begging for Divine Intervention. I would prefer that no one I love dies for this Intervention this time. I cannot handle any more loss of love or dreams. I just can't.

Yet when I read this Step, it says nothing about me having to name and describe this God of my understanding. If anything, recovery has taught me that my understanding can be expanded and enhanced at any time. Hell, if anything, it should be expanding throughout this process of working on myself.

This Step does not say, "You gotta pick a God and know everything about that God and never deviate one iota from what your puny human definition has been set."

This Step does say I need to make a decision. And that decision needs to be about my will. And my life.
And if I admit the truth, even making that decision is act of my will.

I have to make this Step everyday, and sometimes multiple times per day. Being a puny human with limited understanding, I keep flubbing up. And then I realize that I am making a terrible screw-up when I try live by only my own will, wants, desires. And don't think about the bigger picture.

With this Step comes a willingness to trust that the Universe is running as it should with no help from me. This is a huge relief when I slow down and let it be. It also asks me to trust Something intangibly bigger than myself. And believe that things are working out as they should....
In one of my readings I learned that even my mistakes can be used to work out into something fabulous. I've even seen this happen firsthand.

Probably the biggest gift this Step has given me is that I am no longer responsible for anyone else's happiness but my own. I don't have to carry others slung around my neck, nor do I have to carry their problems on my back like a huge burden. I can let others carry their problems, because they have access to their own Source/Higher Power/Universe, and it can take care of them more than I ever can.

It's a hard Step. But it is liberating.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Step Two:

Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.

On the face of it, this Step was a logical one for me to take.

If I am to be restored to any kind of sanity, it will have to take Something much greater than me to do it.

My best thinking got me here, I have heard others say.

All I know is that the choices I have made have made my life unbearable. And so someone else- someone with more power and sanity than me - has to take over. And so far, I have not met a human that fits that bill.

In my next entry I will tackle the idea of that Power.

For right now though, all I can say is that when I accepted and became *aware*, sanity started to seep back in. And therein lies the hope.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Step One:

We admitted we were powerless over alcohol - that our lives had become unmanageable.

I am not sure when I realized that my life had become totally unmanageable. Strangely enough, it may have been *before* I married an alcoholic.

But I digress. For those of you who are living with the disease of alcoholism in your lives, please be aware - and I have lived this, and can personally claim this as truth - that you can substitute ANY ISSUE in the place of alcohol in the above sentence, and it works. If you work it.

For example, I realized my life was unmanageable BEFORE the alcoholic entered my life. Growing up, there was only one alcoholic in my family, my uncle (by marriage) and he lived about 100 miles away and we only saw him for three hours a year, so he really wasn't a big impact upon my world.

However, growing up, I could plainly claim that Feelings/Emotions/Lack of Self-Esteem could have fit in that sentence quite nicely.

Once I hit college, I could substitute the word FOOD and it would have been my program.

Now, alcohol *and* food *and* lack of self love will all fit in that sentence.

I don't drink. Alcohol is one of those things I can take or leave. And usually leave. I don't enjoy the taste, don't particularly like to feel drunk and I HATE HANGOVERS.
However, alcohol has kicked my ass.
About six years ago I fell in love with an alcoholic. And I had no idea what kind of ride I was in for.

It is a demented roller coaster.

There have been moments of bliss. They were fleeting and I was left wondering if they had happened at all. There were moments of misery, agony, and wanting to die. Thankfully, they were also short-lived *most of the time* and I was left later questioning if it had really been so bad. But overall, the only thing I could count on is that I HAD NO CONTROL. I did not know what was going to happen next.

I had no hope for the future, no trust in the present and I questioned and doubted my past.

I had no idea who I was from day to day, nor did I remember that capable person I had been in the past.

I had no control.
I still have no control.
I am powerless over alcoholism. And my life - without working actively towards serenity - is unmanageable.

When I admitted this, I did not have to look back to the past for answers. Whatever I had done before did not work. That's why I am here.
I cannot look to the future. No one knows what that will hold.
So it is today I look. Not necessarily for cures or control. But for a moment of happiness and truth. And the courage to take the next step.

Friday, January 8, 2010

Parenting is the pits.

This was Day Four of the Freakin' Migraine. Thankfully the tooth only hurt for about 30 minutes total today, because I really might have lost my mind.

This morning the 14 year old daughter watched me writhe in agony with the migraine, and stood over me, demanding that I go pick up a friend of hers to spend the (THIRD) weekend (in a row) with us. Never once thought outside herself. Never once accepted the numerous "No"s that I (and my husband, her stepfather) gave her. Until he got in her face and yelled.

Yesterday she spent over 12 hours on the phone.

Tonight she harassed me until I let her use my computer (yes, the same one that cost $250 for the new hard drive and UNSUCCESSFUl data recovery attempt less than TWO DAYS AGO). When I asked her 15 minutes later to return the computer to me, she refused. I prompted her three more times, and then I physically took my MacBook back. At this point she ran into the living room and said if I wasn't going to let her get on chat, she was going to start calling people on the house phone again. I reminded her of the rule that she cannot use the phone after 10pm (a rule that has been in effect in our home for the past 5+ years) and yet she picked up the house phone and started calling people. I went into the living room and took the phone from her as well. As I returned to my bedroom, my 4 year old burst into tears. The 14 year old had hit her. And that earned the angsty little jerk a spanking.

So now she loses the cell phone. Period. And she loses phone use for a month. As well as seeing the bratty friend who she started the day whining for.

So now I wonder. Maybe my parents had a better idea when they kept me scared of them and kept stricter rules on me. When they didn't spare the rod. When they used discipline.

Or maybe I created this monster by being "so mean."

What was I thinking?

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Snow Day

My dog sits at my feet watching snow fall. I sit here pondering the third day of my migraine, and a toothache from a lost filling that is also throbbing. Short of taking pliers and pulling the tooth myself (an alternative that grows more attractive with each bit of pulsating agony), a nap would be blissful.

Yes, I should be at work. But here in the midsouth we are having a snowfall of between 2 and 5 inches, and that should be sufficient to give everyone a day off. Schools are closed. And I am lucky enough to work for a small company that realizes I work nights and weekends as well as regular office hours, so they are pretty understanding that the migraine that I worked through yesterday is now owning me with the toothache from Hell as well.

I am also smothering an impulse to throw away all the solid food in my house, as basically anything with a nut or other chewy texture is enough to put me into paralysis of toothache agony. Soup is getting dull, folks.

So, here's my question to the populace: Where and how is the cheapest way to get a tooth pulled? The closest dental school has a 6 month waiting list. I have no dental insurance or any medical insurance either. Any and all ideas appreciated!

Monday, January 4, 2010

2010 - A new year

To say that I am sorry to see the end of another year would be a total lie. This past year kicked my butt and took my name. Well, in a manner of speaking.

Good things did happen. I took part in blogathon, got real about my recovery, and grew up a WHOLE lot. The growing up part sucked, but as I turned 40, it was bound to happen sometime.

This morning I dropped off my 14 year old at her new school. Where she knows no one. And felt like absolute shit for uprooting her from her school and her life at her old school, in our old neighborhood. I promised her I would try to do better for her, and she actually said, "There's nothing wrong with where we live now."

My jaw dropped.

I am in awe of her.

How did this little SURVIVOR spring from my loins?

Much like my HP (Higher Power NOT hewlett-packard), my children seem to take the mistakes I make and flourish in them like so much manure. They are the living example that HP can take any action of mine and use it for the good. Inspiring, and surprising.

So with this new year of blog, I am going to work on some stuff. NO, I'm not making any resolutions. However, I am going to use this forum to work through the process of recovery. And I am going to be more objective, instead of wallowing in my stress.

Maybe I can be a survivor too.