I went to a meeting this morning. I was so grateful there was an Al-Anon meeting on Christmas Eve morning that I could attend. The topic around the meeting was taking care of ourselves, but I heard a smattering of frustration and fear on the topic of holidays in general, my own included. I talked about how I was trying to remember the Three C’s: I didn’t cause it, can’t control it, and can’t cure it . . . and the Three M’s to avoid for myself: manipulation, martyrdom, and mothering.
It all comes down to the wisdom of knowing the difference between things I can change and things I can’t. It should be such a simple thing. All I can change is myself or things about myself. Period. Can’t change circumstances or other people.
Circumstances will be different for me this Christmas Eve with my family. I can’t control the outcome. I can’t control whether or not people have a good time, or are upset about something. I can control my own responses and reactions. That’s about it. There’s not a lot I can do otherwise.
When I think of the word detachment it helps. If I’m too enmeshed with someone or something, I can’t possibly back off enough to even BREATHE, let alone know the difference.
Have a great day today. Whatever you do, take care of yourself. Even if you just need to go to a quiet corner and meditate, do that.
Sometimes the limited choices we have can make us feel as if we’re caught between a rock and a hard place.
Try and imagine the following situations, and think of how you would honestly respond:
The telephone rings. You answer it before checking the caller I.D. It’s your alcoholic loved one.
“I need a ride to get cigarettes/to get to a meeting/to get groceries/to get to my doctor appointment. I wouldn’t bother you, except I’ve tried everyone I know.” You know she’s had her car taken away due to four DUI’s but also know she lies and manipulates.
“Will you drop me off some cigarettes/take me to a meeting/to the grocery story/my doctor appointment?”
HOW WILL YOU RESPOND? THE EASY WAY OR THE TRUE-TO-YOURSELF WAY?
The easy way would be to drop whatever you are doing and take care of what she needs. Even though it’s inconvenient, and it might cut into your day, and you grumble about it to whomever is within earshot, it’s still the easy way. The true-to-yourself way, and the harder way, is – simply – to politely say “no,” without even having to explain (that invites argument and more manipulation) and then say, “if there’s nothing else, I’m hanging up now. Good bye.”
Yeah. It sounds harsh, I know, because I’ve had to do it. And my heart aches afterwards. But it’s SO much better for the alcoholic, and that’s what I remind myself. We BOTH have to grow up, and the easy way doesn’t allow for growth.
How about one more example? It happened this morning.
The telephone rings. You check the caller I.D. but don’t recognize who it is, so you answer. It’s a collect call from jail. Your daughter is trying to reach you, and in order to talk to her you will have to set up an account on your credit card for fifty dollars, after which it will cost you another twenty-five dollars just to talk to her. You know she’s fine, and have everything she needs. If she’s sick physically, they have doctors there. All she might need are cigarettes, and you’re not willing to take a collect call for cigarettes.
This happened to my mother early this morning. She was unsure what to do, and I happened to be sitting right there. I told her to say no, and she did, and then felt worried and guilty for an hour afterward. I called my super sponsor and asked if we had done the right thing. She said absolutely, because for one thing – jail is like discipline and getting to make a collect call would be like having an ice cream cone. You don’t get an ice cream cone when you’re in jail. Also, we’re staying out of God’s way when we don’t take the call. She has to lean on the resources she has there in the jail right now, and we are not them.
Is it normal to feel like crap when you don’t take the easy way? Absolutely. Expect it. Pray through it. It will ease up.
Sorry this was so long. It felt important.
As always, love you bunches. Peace out.
When people are laughing, they’re generally not killing each other. ~Alan Alda
I am thankful for laughter, except when milk comes out of my nose. ~Woody Allen
Here’s the thing. I’m a perfectionist. I never would have thought of myself that way before yesterday. But when I came home from the Saturday meeting, and Mom wanted to watch a movie on Lifetime with me while I really needed to post to this blog, I almost cried. About a post to a blog! What would I do if I got sick? Post from my sickbed?
Seriously. Sometimes you gotta laugh.
At the meeting yesterday, we talked more about detachment, because two of the women at the meeting know my sister and love her too. They understand all about detachment from the perspective not only of Al-Anoners but as alcoholics. As they shared, these beautiful women, they laughed. They shared memories from their own drinking days, and looking back on it, they laughed at the insanity of it. Everyone else laughed with them.
Finally, through my tears after just sharing my own worries, I laughed too.
Because sometimes you gotta laugh.
Let’s be real. There’s so much information we are confronted with on a daily basis, it’s a wonder we can absorb even the infinitesimal amounts we do, without losing our minds. It’s even worse if you are a student. But think about it. From the time that we wake up, we are bombarded with thoughts, facts, questions, demands, statements, exclamations, commercials, hypotheses, fantasies . . . and all of that gets sorted through the amazing filter of our brains.
Al-Alon’s slogan, “Listen and Learn,” reminds us that if we have the self-discipline to be quiet and pay attention to others’ words, we can learn a tremendous amount about ourselves and our world. –How Al-Anon Works for Families and Friends of Alcoholics, p. 99
I don’t believe in coincidence anymore. When something happens to me that just seems to click for me, like it was supposed to happen, I call it a “God thing.”
A God thing happened for me Wednesday night when I went to a meeting and listened to the person opening the meeting as she read about detachment (Please do click on this – I don’t normally tell my gentle readers what to do, but this is pure gold. Read it.).
As I’ve been praying for help in getting off the train (no, I’m not all the way off, for I still carry this cloak of despair), I listened intently. I listened to everyone talk around the circle before I shared. There was laughter, as there always is at these meetings, and there was plenty of wisdom.
On my way out the door, the woman who had opened the meeting stopped me. She wanted to share a personal story with me. She knew about that train, she said. Her therapist had told her it’s normal to feel some grief after you have detached and pulled away from a loved one who is bent on self-destruction. It’s like, yes there is quiet and there is peace and there is not the constant tugging on your sleeve to drive you here and drive you there . . .
But it is never easy to watch someone self-destruct. Anyone who tells you they have detached and it doesn’t bother them a lick that their loved one is dying or pickling themselves is lying.
What lightens it is getting involved in the living around me. A couple of hours ago I got back from auditions for solos and small group ensembles for the September production of our Senior Broadway musical. I’m a Tenor Alto. I was nervous but so excited to be trying something new in my life. We won’t know what parts or songs we will be singing until Monday.
Woot! Life can be very very good.
Learn to detach…Don’t cling to things, because everything is impermanent… But detachment doesn’t mean you don’t let the experience penetrate you. On the contrary, you let it penetrate fully. That’s how you are able to leave it… Take any emotion–love for a woman, or grief for a loved one, or what I’m going through, fear and pain from a deadly illness. If you hold back on the emotions–if you don’t allow yourself to go all the way through them–you can never get to being detached, you’re too busy being afraid. You’re afraid of the pain, you’re afraid of the grief. You’re afraid of the vulnerability that love entails. But by throwing yourself into these emotions, by allowing yourself to dive in, all the way, over your head even, you experience them fully and completely. You know what pain is. You know what love is. You know what grief is. And only then can you say, ‘All right. I have experienced that emotion. I recognize that emotion. Now I need to detach from that emotion for a moment.~ Mitch Albom, Tuesdays with Morrie
Give up the feeling of responsibility, let go your hold, resign the care of your destiny to higher powers, be genuinely indifferent as to what becomes of it all and you will find not only that you gain a perfect inward relief, but often also, in addition, the particular goods you sincerely thought you were renouncing.~ William James
Confession: I have felt shrouded in a heavy cloak of despair since Friday, or maybe even before. Walking is difficult, because it’s so heavy. I’ve contemplated taking my very life.
This morning I saw my therapist, because I realize that is not an option, and I needed her help figuring this out. Heather is wise and, although younger than I in chronological years, she has an old soul. She listened to me spill everything that had been happening, all that had gone on in the past while.
“Chris,” she observed, “You have detached somewhat from your sister but not all the way. It’s good you are saying no to her, but you are still carrying her and the worry of your mother around. It’s like you and your sister are on the same train. Even though you’ve moved about five cars down from her, giving you some breathing space, you are still on the train.”
That was eye-opening. That means that if my sister, on her self-destructive path right now, should crash . . . I’ll get hit right along with her. I’ll fall right off the tracks.
I AM GETTING OFF THE TRAIN. I love you, my sweet. I carry you in my heart always . . . but I will not go down with you.
The tenth step of Al-Anon says: “Continued to take personal inventory and when we were wrong promptly admitted it.” It’s one of those steps I take on a daily basis, or try to, before I hit the sheets at night, during my prayer time. I ask God to point out to me any areas where I might need to make amends. I also acknowledge any successes or achievements throughout the day, and am grateful for those. It’s a time for me to make any adjustments in my life.
The adjustments aren’t always easy, and sometimes take much longer than the recognition comes. You know?
So this morning I was aware when I spoke with my sister that I had been stepping over boundaries left and right into her program. Worried, I had been speaking out of that and telling her what I think would happen or what I think she should be doing.
When I look at my hands and my arms, I see the scars still there from self-harm (cutting and burning). The ways I coped in the past with my codependency were so varied, convoluted and harmful. I still mess up, as witnessed by stepping on boundaries. I took the picture to remind myself I’m so very human. I’m no better than anyone else.
So I spoke with her, I apologized, told her I overstepped my bounds. This time I said, “I only know what I can do. I don’t know what’s going to happen. The only thing I know for a fact is that I love you.”
“All I have to do is keep my hands off and turn my heart on” –…In All Our Affairs
Detachment is the ability to let go while living with or loving an alcoholic (or in any other destructive or codependent relationship).
In the lovely booklet Detachment: The Art of Letting Go While Living with an Alcoholic, Evelyn Leite says, “Before you begin to list real solutions to the problems of living in an alcoholic family, you need to understand that nothing you can do is by itself going to stop the drinking.”
That’s pretty basic and crucial stuff to understand. Also not easy. Simple things in Al-Anon, or in codependency and abusive relationships for that matter, never are. It takes a while to let these things sink in. I know when I first started attending Al-Anon, it took me forever even to start to read the Big Book, How Al-Anon Works for Families & Friends of Alcoholics. It was easier for me to take in and understand the shorter bursts of Courage to Change, One Day At A Time in Al-Anon, or Hope for Today.
But that was enough. That, listening to the people at the other tables, and sharing my own story, got me through.
Detachment, however, at least physical detachment, wasn’t that difficult for me. One of my biggest survival strategies growing up was isolation, and I can still get into it if I’m not uber-vigilant today. It’s easy for me to walk out of a room, away from a situation that is too difficult for me, all in the guise of wanting a smoke, or checking my email, whatever.
Detachment, emotionally, has been trickier. Doing it with love I might classify as an Olympian event. I read in meditation book (can’t remember which one just now) that an Al-Anon-er thought she’d conquered detachment when she’d learned to leave her drunk spouse on the floor as he fell out of bed and step over him to get into bed herself. LOL I can laugh, see, because that sounds so much like me.
Later, as she grew in Al-Anon, she decided that detachment in love meant she still didn’t need to rescue him from the floor when he fell out of bed, but she could cover him with a blanket before she stepped over him.
When my nephew passed out in my house that day and could not be moved for the life of me (trust me, I tried), and I later shared about it at table of women at Al-Anon, I was surprised at the number of people who came up to me afterwards and said they would have “kicked the bum out” or “made him sleep on the porch.”
I understand people care about me and those are mostly knee-jerk responses, but to me that’s not even close to detachment with love. When he woke up – or came to – the next day on the couch, he felt terrible and to my knowledge has not had a drink since.
It’s possible to love the person and not like what they do. I know for a fact that not everyone likes what I do, but I sure hope they still love me. I make as many mistakes as the next person, probably more. That’s detaching emotionally, to be able to take a step back and say, “Without the alcohol (insert whatever behavior you need to here), this person is the one I’ve always loved.”