Friday, December 2, 2016

Birthday Remembrance

Another year gone by and it's my Al-Anon birthday again.  When I first strolled into the rooms, one of the first meetings I went to was a birthday meeting.  A couple people had been there one or two years, and then a woman stood up and said, "I'm so grateful to this program.  It's been twelve years since I came through the doors and......", immediately I thought to myself, "Twelve years?  Good grief, she must be a slow learner!"

I had come into program, clipboard in hand (no kidding!), and all I wanted was for you to tell me the twelve little things I needed to do to get my husband to stop drinking.   I stood perched with pen in hand, "So tell me these twelve things, because I need to have this tackled by next Tuesday."

The birthday girl and a few other old timers chuckled, cleared me a seat and said, "Sit down and put your clipboard away, honey.  You're going to be here a while."  I was genuinely annoyed, because that's who I was back then.  Snarky and superior.  Clearly they did not know who they were dealing with!  But I had no where else to go, and nothing to lose, so I did what they asked.  Why?  Because they were smiling, and I was miserable.

Nine years later I'm still here, and I'm not embarrassed to admit that I'm not even close to scratching the surface.  This program is so complex, so rich, and so resourceful that I could plug away at it for another twenty years and never come close to tapping all it has to offer.

It may look simple.  Twelve little steps, a handful of books to read, a couple sing-song slogans to memorize, but don't let it fool you.  Each time I plunge headlong into my program to tackle whatever it is that's bothering me, another nuance is revealed to me and I am better for it.

So if you're an old timer, I want to thank you from the bottom of my heart for teaching me these steps and traditions, so that instead of enduring my life, I have the opportunity to embrace it.  And if you're a newcomer, well, all I can say is "Sit down and put your clipboard away honey, because you're gonna be here a while!"

And I promise you,

it'll be worth it.

Saturday, November 19, 2016

Looking for the Prize...

Two years ago, as part of an amends to myself, I  gathered the courage to let go of some big things in the my life that didn’t serve me anymore.  A big house, big debt, big lies…..all gone.  It was a hard thing for me to do because over the years, I had convinced myself that holding onto these things somehow kept me anchored to the things I didn’t want to give up.  It was twisted thinking, but that’s what we do, isn’t it?  We tweak a little bit to the left and a little bit to the right until we’re all tied up in knots trying to convince ourselves that the world looks like we want it to.  Until my sponsor comes along and says, “Why are you standing on the ceiling, folded in half, looking left when life is right?”  I had been holding on for dear life to things that didn’t anchor me to anything other than the past, and pain.  Dead weight.  To go forward, I had to let go.  Literally and figuratively.  So I took a big breath and sold a house, made financial amends to a long list of creditors, learned to say “No” to a few people, and started over.

Change is not always as clean as we would like it to be though, which is why it takes courage.  We want the benefits of change, but we’d be pleased as punch if it came without consequence.  To sell my house, I had to move quite a long distance away from my beloved Al-Anon community.  To pay my debts, I had to get disciplined about spending, which meant I had to have some uncomfortable conversations with important people in my life that weren’t going to be popular.  Neither of these were welcome consequences, but they were a necessary part of the progression.  

I guess I was hoping that if I did the hard things, there’d be a big visible prize for me at the end.  The Al-Anon version of a gold star.  My old training told me, “Do something good and you will be rewarded!”   But here’s the rub.  There’s no rewards program in making amends.  There’s no promise that if I muster the courage to make that one or two life changing alterations, that I’ll get an extra present under the Christmas tree.  It just means that I can stop dragging that old bag of rocks around as I move about in the world.  I don’t give up pain and get joy in return.  I let go of pain and joy becomes possible.  I start to make room for breath, and life, and god.

To mine that newfound space, I still need to work, not desperately but steadily.  I need the rigorous daily training of my Al-Anon program.  I may have accomplished a few big things, surely, but it doesn’t mean I get a pass on the daily grind that got me there.  I am still me and I still fall back into co-dependency and resentment like a old pair of comfortable slippers.  For now, I’m learning to give up the dramatic highs and lows of my former life and be patient enough to see the grace that lies in the middle.  Better but not perfect.  Fewer rocks and more space.   

Letting go doesn’t mean we get something in return.  There’s no bartering with god.  There’s just letting go, and trusting.  And therein lies the prize.

© Copyright 2016

Hi Again....

For quite a while now, I've been offline.  I have a crazy schedule, and with limited time to write, I found myself having to choose between continuing with the blog, or dedicating my writing time to a little dream I have of writing a book.  My foray into fiction has been fun, but I have missed writing this blog.  Recently I received a few lovely emails from readers asking if I would be back, and I sat down to revisit my decision.  

I've been telling myself lately that I need to work my Al-Anon program harder.  I've been a wee bit of a slacker.  And aside from my sponsor, nothing has taught me more about my program than writing my way through problems from an Al-Anon perspective.  I learn when I work through things on paper.  These writings are my classroom.

Secondly, I have discovered that out in the world of fiction, the writing that most affects a reader is writing that speaks the truth.  Writing that comes from the heart, and tells what we know.  We write and read to make a connection, an honest connection with another person.  Al-Anon is where I learned to be able to do that.  It's in the rooms that we learn to be honest and vulnerable with others, and I don't want to lose that. 

Lastly, this program is meant to be shared.  Step Twelve tells us that we must try "to carry this message to others" and this blog, I suppose, is one way I can contribute to the fellowship.   If it helps one person, then it's worth it.  Funny thing is that it's like sponsorship, reaching out to help another person always seems to benefit me more than the other person, so it's a no lose situation.

If you're still here reading, thank you for being patient with me.  I have learned that the online community can be as strong as the one next door, and I am grateful to be a part of it.

Saturday, November 8, 2014

The Path of Change

I’ve been off the grid for a few months, working through some massive changes in my life.  By off the grid, I mean off of blog writing, not my Al-anon program.  I guess you could say I’ve been more in tune with my program than ever during this time.  But I needed to focus, limit distractions, because I knew that real change would require it.  I am so easily distracted by the bright shiny lights my ego tosses out for me. 

In these past few months, I have noticed an almost unrecognizable person inhabiting my body.  Unrecognizable, but more authentic than before.  Sounds like an oxymoron, doesn’t it?  How is it that authenticity could be so hidden that it’s unrecognizable? I guess I have my character defects to thank for that.

When I look back a ways, I can see that there was turning point for me; the day my sponsor asked me to make amends to myself, and with her guidance, I did so, wholeheartedly.   Like most change, there was no big Shazam!  Just a subtle shift that altered perspective enough to set me on a different path.

The geometry of change is an interesting thing.  Take something headed due north, and turn it one little click to the right, then let it keep running.  At first the change is almost imperceptible.  But over time the distance grows exponentially between where it was going and where it is.  One small change builds on itself over time, and over time, the cumulative result becomes surprisingly large.

It took six months or so for the effects of change to start showing up in my life, but they did.  Decisions I made were different.  Resentments I let go of freed me.  Each little thing that I did differently set me on a path to a whole new place, and now the landscape of my life looks wildly different than it did a year ago. 

The changes have not been small.   We sold the house we’ve lived in for the last fourteen years, and moved to a more affordable area, where we rent a house less than half the size of our old one.  This week I will go from being a person with a ridiculous amount of debt to a person with almost none.  And I experienced the beauty of Europe this summer, something I have “waited for” my entire life.  A gift from a friend, which up until now, I would not have accepted.

It’s been a big summer.  One click to the right and the places I find myself in now are nothing I could have imagined.  The hardest part of all of it is that I have physically moved away from the Al-Anon community that helped me get to this place.  I miss them.  I feel like a teenager leaving the womb to take the next indicated step, off to college.  It’s the bittersweet, but inevitable result of growth.  And even though the specific people I have grown up with cannot come with me, the program they taught me will.  They have been an expression of my higher power, one that I have been able to hear.  So today I will attend an Al-Anon meeting in my new community.   My guess is that they will accept me, and love me, in the same way the old group did, because that’s how it’s done in this program.  And I am grateful.

© Copyright 2014 12stephummingbird

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Step Six: Letting Go of the Handrails

Were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character.”  Al-Anon's Step Six

I have always been hesitant to change my habits, because I know that up until now, they have helped me to survive.  Being an over-achiever has helped me stay valuable to others.  Being hyper-vigilant has helped me to avoid dangerous situations.  These character defects of mine have come in quite handy, and they worked for me when nothing else in my life seemed to.  They have been the handrail on which I leaned whenever I felt insecure, but they have not made me happy.  They have made me stiff, and cold, and tired. 

My issue with Step Six is that I’m not inclined to loosen the grip on my handrails until you show me that there’s something else to grab onto.  To be “entirely ready” means I have to trust that whatever you’re asking me to do will work.  And I’m not a very trusting person.

But I’ve been in program for six years now, and although I have not yet seen a single burning bush, I have been slowly gathering evidence along the way.  Some of it has been heard in shares at meetings.  Some of it has been gathered by mining the literature for proof.  But the evidence that bred the most trust in me came when I found the courage or surrender to try things differently, and it worked. Evidence is a powerful thing, but only insofar as it helps me to develop trust.  Trust is the real key to Step Six for me.  Evidence leads to trust and trust leads to surrender.  

But there’s also that tricky God concept.   What does it mean to me to have God remove my defects of character, when my understanding of a higher power is a what, instead of a who?  For me, I know that life keeps throwing me the same challenges over and over again until I learn what I’m supposed to learn.  Maybe it’s not so much that it’s being thrown at me, but I keep bumping into the same brick walls over and over until I learn how to walk around them.  When I’m entirely ready to surrender my way of doing things, I suddenly see opportunities to do things differently.  When I learn to take that one step to the left and go around the bricks instead of thru them, I feel the ease and grace of that step, and I find the trust to let go of my old familiar path, the one that historically led to a whole lot of bruising. 

It’s the unfolding of life, with all its inherent challenges, that removes my defects of character.   I will be presented with every lesson I need to learn.  When I am ready to give my current character defects up, life’s challenges will look different.  I'll experience doing things a different way, and my needto hold onto those old character defects (my fear) will be removed.  I will develop the trust required to let go.

In the beginning, I wanted hard evidence to try things differently, but now, not so much.  I am learning now to trust my program, and with each passing year I am more willing to try things differently, even when there is little evidence that I can trust whatever challenge I face.  Trusting my program is helping me to trust life – life without my character defects.  And it’s getting to the point where I can say, “Well, I’m not sure how this will all work out, but the last ten times I followed my program, it worked”.  And that’s enough for me now.  

© Copyright 2013 12stephummingbird

Photo credit: © Ivan Bastien

Sunday, June 1, 2014

Carousel of Progress

If I don’t get too attached to any one way to approach life, I adjust to change with a lot less stress and strain.”  Courage to Change May 26th

There used to be an attraction at Disneyland called the “General Electric - Carousel of Progress”.  The audience sat stationary while the stage turned slowly around, each passing set marking a decade of progress in technology.  The clothes changed, appliances were updated, even the quality of the light adjusted with each passing decade.  It used to drive my brother crazy because it was so slow and methodical.  You had to be patient to see what each new turn of the carousel would reveal, and it gave the audience ample time to search out all the corners of the set to see what had evolved that decade.

I feel like I’m watching one of those set changes in my life right now.  Menopause has taken over my body.  My youngest son is about to be married.  We listed our home for sale last Friday and I spent the better part of the weekend watching other families wander thru my home, imagining their children growing up in my kid’s bedrooms.  Most importantly, I have changed considerably this past year because of the work I have put into my program.  But it feels like I’m between sets right now, waiting to see what the next turn of my life’s carousel will reveal.

When I first came to Al-Anon, there was a honeymoon period where every day felt different to me in the new light of program.  I was looking at my part in things for the first time, and learning how to let go of other’s behavior.  All the changes felt so enormous to me that I thought it wouldn’t be possible to maintain that level of transformation for long.  And it wasn’t. The honeymoon was eventually over and the real work began.  Since then, I have learned to see progress not in the big things, but the little things; like the subtle changes in the light, and the new toaster on the counter.  I am learning to be patient and lean into change. 

Each time I think I’ve experienced all the movement I could possibly make in a certain area of my life, life shows me that I have only scratched the surface.  More is revealed as the stage turns and I discover a character defect I missed before, or positive progress I hadn’t recognized until I watched myself handling some new challenge with greater ease. 

It's a process.  Life, program, growth.  It’s all a process. I guess the one thing that program has helped me with the most is in being comfortable with that process and trusting of the unknown.  It teaches me how to sit in the audience and wait for the next quarter turn to reveal something new to me.  It is accepting that I am a member of the audience, and clearly not in control of how fast the carousel turns, or what the next stage will look like when it arrives.  And that patience is helping to foster the serenity I so desperately need.

© Copyright 2013 12stephummingbird

Monday, May 26, 2014

Receiving Grace

For most of my life, I thought of myself as a giver.  I took care of others.  But if truth be told, it was a good manipulation technique, one that kept me in charge of others. I used caretaking to earn brownie points, to be noticed, and extract from others some external confirmation that I was somehow important in the world.  It was like a drug to me and I’d say that I gave myself over to the pursuit of brownie points as fully as an alcoholic surrenders to the bottle.   Just a different drug of choice.

But the fix was never enough.  In fact, a wise friend pointed out that when genuine love, approval, or acceptance wasgiven to me, it bounced off me like shrapnel.  I threw back downgrading rebuttals that said, “I’m not really good, and I’m definitely not worthy”.   And I realized that I must be a very hard person to love, because it’s difficult to show affection to someone who refuses to take it in.  

So I began working on my inability to receive, because that’s what we do here. We identify our character defects and we muster the courage to do things differently.   I needed to learn how to open up, be vulnerable, and risk interaction and connection with both my higher power and the people who really do care for me on some meaningful level.   

It began with trying to make amends to myself.  I agreed to stop punishing myself for not being what others wanted, and I gave myself permission to start engaging with the universe as me.  It was really just plain old vanilla Step One work.   I’m powerless over what others think, so I might as well drop the whiny shtick about unrequited care because it’s not going to change anything and everyone’s getting really annoyed.  I needed to let go of others’ thoughts and opinions, and start working on my own, because that’s where the problem was.

Then came Step Two, came to believe that a power greater than myself could restore me.   For me, I needed to start thinking about myself differently.  I needed to know I was cared for, not makethem care.  So I started paying attention, really paying attention. When I got a hug at the end of a meeting, I took two, three, four long seconds to really take it in.  When someone complimented me, I tried for once not to deflect it. Just take it in. And it started to work.  I stopped manipulating long enough to see that I was already cared for.   It started to change how I felt about myself, and slowly the restoration began.   Restoration that comes when when we learn to soak up the care around us, like a salve on damaged skin.

But like always, as I started to work this process and really surrender myself to it, my willingness was tested.  My higher power has a way of laughing at my half baked attempts at surrender and always seems to throw me a curve ball.  So right in the middle of my working on learning how to receive, and in the middle of my worst financial crisis to date, a once in a lifetime travel opportunity was dropped in my lap by my oldest friend.  I immediately wanted to deflect, all my instincts said you can’t accept this.  You don’t deserve this.  But I couldn’t deflect, because I knew it was a test of my willingness.  Then my boss and his wife offered to bolster the travel fund so that I could truly enjoy the experience without worrying about the cost.  More testing, more surrender.  I was overwhelmed, and wildly uncomfortable with all of this, but I leaned into it and tried to take it in.  

There have been lots of tears, and an incredible rush of gratitude.  Not for the money part of all of it, but for the message it sent me.  God was clearly pressing me to learn something here.  I will never understand the depth of my connection with others, or with my higher power, unless I open myself up to receive it.  

Gratitude isn’t about being grateful that I got what I asked for.  It’s about truly taking in the restorative power of connection.  It's about taking in the very thing I refuse to give myself and witnessing what it does to my heart.  

© Copyright 2013 12stephummingbird

Photo credit: © Olaf Simon