My Experience, Strength and Hope...
For most of my life, I was living in a world of Right - defending all the time and Wrong - constantly apologizing, a world without happiness. Playing victim was familiar, I was surrounded by complaining, it was natural, maybe even expected.
My perception and attitude create my experience.
I read in Courage to Change: Humility is said to be perpetual quietness of heart. It means I do my part and trust God to take care of the rest.
I can only recover when I know what I am recovering from. I’ve decided recently that I am recovering from being angry and unhappy.
For decades, I was stuck looking through a lens cultivated in childhood. I grew up feeling, thinking and believing my mom didn’t love me. Which meant she didn’t like me and didn’t want to be with me. I spent most of my time trying to get her attention. She worked nights, so I handled the morning routine with my siblings. I slipped into doing as an effort to show her my value. Most of the time, she met me with anger, I was always hearing “What’s wrong with you?” It seems that all my trying was irritating. Yet I persevered. My determination only increased. I became hardwired to seek affection from people who couldn’t give it. Alcohol lived in our home. My mom thinks she raised us from the inside of a wine bottle. The disease took my father when I was 17. I learned early how to give to get. My actions were conditional, they could be considered manipulative. And if my expectations weren’t met, I got angry, sulked, judged and criticized. What would happen when I did get what I was looking for? That is at the root of this story. Basically, I didn’t know what to do with it. I had no experience with feeling adored, special. So, pleasure was a fantasy and not something I really understood.
Feeling deficient is challenging to live with, it is a vicious motivator. It feeds on hatred and loathing, a silent attacker, gnawing at my self-esteem. Pretending to be happy was all consuming, my secret was cunning, baffling and insidious. I felt compelled to hide my brokenness, I had no true moments of calm, relax, or joy. Mental anxiety and stress had me constantly on the move, I was scheduled to the minute, kept myself super busy, making things happen, taking on responsibilities that weren’t mine. My life was filled with extremes as I was driven to prove myself. I woke up every morning with a huge problem to solve. And I would crash hard too, hole up in my room, not doing anything for long periods of time. I thought it was depression.
My life was unrelenting. I could embellish and exaggerate, I would lie. I could cut corners to get there faster and fake success, I would cheat. My insatiability drove me toward more, to take things that weren’t mine, I would steal. It was constant. I lugged around so much shame and guilt that I couldn’t breathe. And I couldn’t stop. I was oblivious to the cycle of abuse I was instilling upon myself. As I hear often in the rooms Al-Anon, I had a big hole I was trying to fill. I did not possess a moral compass, at least not one that I could find. My tune, the song I was singing deep down inside, was every man for himself from the show called Survival. I was not conscious of it, if asked, I would swear I was doing the opposite. Dictated by fear, panic, and desperation, my actions were urgent. I was addicted to people pleasing, fixing, controlling others, gossip, needing everything to be just so, feeling less than, pretending I was okay. My thinking was non-stop, rumination and story lines centered around what might happen plagued my existence, all designed to fuel my cause. I was constantly on guard. My life had become unmanageable, and yet my days, hours and minutes were filled with what I would describe as taking care of everything, for everybody because that was my job, my purpose. This reality I am describing had no space, everything was squished, rushed, exhausted. I was insane. My relationships were unhealthy. I kept looking outside myself, for somebody else to fix me. My will held me captive. My practice of giving myself away to get your attention was depleting. I was convinced the world was acting against me, that everything happened to me. The burden was unbearable.
Ten years ago I came to Al-Anon because I didn’t know where else to go.
I cried. I explained. I repeated often how his behavior, his choices, his neglect, his everything was my problem. My life kept spiraling. I hid bottles, I emptied bottles, I was nasty, I felt justified, I was mean, I yelled, I let my misery take over. I was obsessed. His silence made me feel invisible. All this chaos mirrored my childhood, the feelings were the same, and I could not connect the dots.
The emotional tension feels impossible to describe. I was furious with the world. My marriage was meaningless, we were living a lie. How do people do that? And by this time in my life, I had been married twice. I was angry and full of blame. I was terrified of losing all that I had gained … can you hear that? That’s ego talking. “This is the best you can do, nobody else will love you”. And that was a lie. I wasn’t being loved, by myself or anybody else. Fear. My scarcity had me believing I was nothing and deserved little, it held me hostage. In this place, abusive, unhealthy attention kept me small. And small felt safe, familiar. And still, I couldn’t see what I was doing, how my behavior was causing my pain.
Denial: Don’t Even kNow IAm Lying
I am only as strong as my readiness to surrender. I became ready.
I have come to know I am in Al-Anon for me. I learned, in these rooms, how to take responsibility for myself, my actions and my thoughts. It is a slow process, and it continues to unfold.
My first aha moment had me driving south on the 101, in the midst of a deep hearted rant toward my husband when I realized all the qualities I was complaining about were, in fact, my own. I said to myself, as my jaw fell open, “OMG, those are mine, not his. I am thoughtless and inconsiderate and selfish.” Ownership tasted amazing on my lips. How long have I been blaming others for my shortcomings? Anger, bitterness and resentment can do that. They make me crazy. My inability to see myself fully had me living a fractured existence, wrought with pettiness and deceit.
Everything changed in that moment.
Choosing to be happy is possible, I resisted it for a long time in these rooms. I couldn’t grasp it initially, it felt absurd, alien. This is changing.
For so many decades I thought my mom was responsible for my happiness, and I was super mad at her for not making me so. I thought her love -- the way I wanted it -- would make me happy. Today, I know she loves me, in her own way. My happiness is mine to create. Blaming her doesn’t feel good anymore. I can easily slip into that space, and it tastes sour now, unfair, unkind, unnecessary. Old. My recovery has brought me to understand that she parented me the only way she knew how. And that most likely, she passed on what she learned from her mom. Enough stuff happened to me as a young girl to make me feel unsafe in our home. I’ve spoken with my mom about it and she admits, uncomfortably, that she didn’t know how to handle it. She couldn’t put her arms around me and hold me, assure me it wasn’t my fault. Her emotional unavailability made it impossible for her to share openly in my pain.
Radical Self-Care is at the heart of my recovery. My sponsor asked me once if I considered my kids a gift. He then told me to look at myself as one too. THAT did it. I never once learned to value me. It stands, to this day, to be the hardest thing I’ve ever done. And I didn’t completely know where to start. Getting underneath all my protective covering wasn’t easy, you know, the one that says: “I like to binge watch tv, for days on end, hide from the world and order in, that makes me really happy.” For me, feeling joy is related to my living, a place for creative expression, inspired and motivated with a sense of ease from a deeper calling. A resonance. It is a far place from my hiding. It took me a long time to understand and appreciate my coping mechanisms, understanding them helps me. Learning to take really good care of myself, I mean deep down, like setting boundaries, saying NO, not putting myself in harm’s way, trusting my intuition as the voice of my Higher Power, having Faith and developing a truer connection with me, feeling my body cues to guide me forward, slowing down, getting quiet, and putting myself first have brought me home. Feeling safe? That is new. I learned slowly, with real moments of paralysis, how not being electrically charged could allow me to smell the grass and taste the breeze. How the absence of my incessant thinking could ease me into a smile, where I might hear a joke and then laugh out loud. I need to take small steps toward living, because years of survival kept me hidden. My transformation is gradual. It takes time for me to recognize unhealthy habits, born out of protection, to grow the courage to let them go and discover another way. When I view myself as whole, I can handle anything.
Working the Steps grew me up. Again, from Courage to Change: I used to believe if I ever looked carefully at myself, my secret fears would be confirmed. I’d see that I am hopelessly flawed and unworthy. Al-Anon has shown me that if I face the effects of alcoholism by working the Steps, this belief will fade away. I’ll see that the truth I’ve avoided is my own inner beauty. The Steps showed me what I was bringing to the table. All that blind conditioning from childhood, all those belief systems centered around unworthiness kept me running in circles. My Higher Power provided the unconditional love I sought. She gave me the compassion and the understanding I so desperately needed. And being gentle with myself through all of this uncovering is not always easy, and it absolutely happens. As I become more forgiving of myself, more accepting of me, the way I am, my relationships begin to change. I know where to start. Choosing me is the medicine. Knowing myself is the elixir. My self-respect allows me to behave with dignity. I am learning to love myself, through and through, by working this program and sitting in these rooms. THAT is a miracle.
My recovery has naturally and beautifully influenced my parenting. My transition from doing motherhood to becoming a mom is thanks to the program. And this is where I can generate gratitude for my mother. Without her teachings I would not have become the mom I am today. THAT is another miracle. I am better at letting my kids be their own people without trying to control them or make them into something I want. Their actions and choices are theirs, not mine. My part? I get to love them. All I have to do is listen, they invite me to change often: Mom, I don’t want to argue. Mom, why are you so mad? Mom, why would I want to talk with you if all you are going to do is yell? These are the statements that invited me to change, I didn’t want to be the person they were experiencing. They are refreshing contributors, their impact delivers a connection of adoration, something I never knew was possible. It is our openness that is so fulfilling. Our willingness to be honest makes us stronger. We give each other space to process. We forgive each other. We take pleasure in sharing ourselves, our victories as well as our vulnerable. We are learning together WITH love.
I heard yesterday “Be yourself, everybody else is taken.”
Less gripped by a formula of painful reaction to everything around me, I can feel more curious instead of afraid. Less controlling sounds like: What is here for me to learn? I can now offer you a kinder, more generous and helpful expression of self, without needing anything in return. A third miracle. Today, I am designing my life on my terms.
In Courage to Change I read: “…since coming to Al-Anon, I’ve learned that every problem can help me to change for the better, deepen my faith and add to my self-esteem”. I now consider life is happening FOR me, especially the tough moments, which help me to grow and expand my capacity. When I get confused, or my fear fills my throat or when I am wading through all the judgement that lands on my doorstep, I have an opportunity to guard my Serenity. I can sit with myself, listen for my Higher Power, I can even cry and get it out-because a lot of this stuff makes me sad, I can go to a meeting, call a friend, reason things out, apply the Al-Anon Principles, pick up a reader…. My resources are abundant. I can be happy when the alcoholic is still drinking…because his pain is not mine to heal. I finally feel a part of a greater whole and know that my contribution is valuable, even when it is not accepted or even appreciated. That is not my responsibility. Being me, heartfully, is my purpose.