alcoholism

B is for Blaming

My sister’s three children, who are grown adults now — the eldest is forty, and the younger two are in their late thirties — like to blame her for the way their lives are now, drawing on countless stories of a “horrific” childhood raised by a sometimes absent practicing alcoholic. This is always heartbreaking for Carol but she has learned to say “Goodbye, I’m hanging up now,” when it gets redundant and too difficult.  I’m sure their childhoods were indeed difficult, but at what point does one say, “What’s happening in my life now is up to me. These are my choices. No one else is responsible and no one can change those choices except me.” 

It’s easier to blame, though. It hurts less, and pointing that sharp finger at ourselves takes blind courage. I know, because for years I went to Al-Anon meetings missing the point. I talked about the alcoholics in my life: my dad and my sister, and how they had wronged me; how screwed up my life was now because of them. Sound familiar? ūüėČ I reasoned that since Carol had started drinking when she was 16 and I was an impressionable three, my childhood was essentially taken away from me. I vacillated between the placater/pleaser and the lost child/adjuster in Claudia Black’s family roles  For those of you from alcoholic families, which role(s) did you play?

Naturally, I felt tons of victimization in these roles, and I played it to the hilt. Poor me, poor me, I cried at the meetings, and — I love them so much — no one at  those meetings ever  once stopped me, trusting the process.

It has taken years, and I mean years, for me to get to the place where I can sit down at an Al-Anon meeting and know I’m going to talk about some facet of my life that I need help with. Because that’s what it’s all about. Al-Anon is for me. AA is for the alcoholic.

Not that I still don’t play  the blame game every now and then. Who doesn’t? It’s  like something that almost rolls off my tongue and I have to consciously stop myself. Oh wait —noooo, what happened  was my own choice! ūüôā

A is for Acceptance

Acceptance is a difficult concept to deal with, even if we’re not talking about alcoholism. None of us wants to be unacceptable, or excluded from a group, whether we’re small children, adolescents, or older adults. The synonyms for¬†acceptance¬†are many, among them approval and recognition.

I know a young woman who is gay. She has found a woman she loves, is very happy, and engaged to be married. Most people she knows are very happy for her happiness, but not all are as accepting. Some are even judgmental, saying she and her partner would always be welcome in their home, but they would never attend her wedding. This makes no sense to me, and seems more than a little hypocritical. If you accept the fact that someone is gay, you recognize it, you approve of the lifestyle she/he has chosen.

With my sister, it’s different, but somewhat the same. She’s been sober for a while now, and attended several family gatherings as a sober alcoholic. I don’t drink often, mostly at major holidays, like Thanksgiving and Christmas. In fact, my mom laughs at me, because I will see a drink recipe shown on¬†The Chew¬†or something, get all excited about it, buy all the ingredients, bring them home, and then the liquor sits in our cupboards, because I’ve immediately lost interest. :P)

Back to my sister. I never used to drink around her. I thought it was a sign of solidarity if I joined her in not drinking. Recently, I’ve realized it was actually codependency, and I was not allowing her a sense of self-esteem, and achievement all her own. She’s very capable, and strong in her own right. But I’m sure she feels that exclusion, that¬†non-acceptance¬†among non-alcoholics, even though she’s accepted by her recovering alcoholic friends. I still laugh when I remember going with her to an open talk AA meeting at Sacred Heart in downtown Detroit. I was so nervous I wouldn’t even smoke, even though I badly wanted a cigarette. One of her friends finally leaned over to me and said, “So, do you have¬†any¬†vices?”

“And acceptance is the answer to¬†all¬†my problems today. When I am disturbed, it is because I find some person, place, thing, or situation — some fact of my life — unacceptable to me, and I can find no serenity until I accept that person, place, thing, or situation as being exactly the way it is supposed to be at this moment.” (Alcoholics Anonymous, p. 417)

Positive Psychology

comic-positive-psychologyTo prepare for this blog post, I read Martin Seligman’s Authentic Happiness¬†in two days. It was a pretty major feat for me, since I’m usually a slow reader, especially when it comes to nonfiction material. This book, minus the index pages, notes, and acknowledgements, came to 260 pp. But I was excited about it, especially since my sister had recently begun therapy again with someone who used only positive psychology techniques. She had recommended this book to Carol, and when I tried to get two copies at B&N, they only had one, so I read it as fast as I could.

I have a few criticisms, mostly that it’s so non-measurable. Positive psychology believes in emphasizing a person’s signature strengths, rather than focusing on weaknesses, and I can get behind that for sure. There are 24 signature strengths, but if you take the test, which you can, at the Authentic Happiness¬†website, you’ll find 250 separate questions. It takes some time, but be as honest as you can. When you are all done, it will spit back your strengths to you. For instance, mine are: appreciation of beauty and excellence, kindness and generosity, creativity, ingenuity, and originality, humor and playfulness, and forgiveness and mercy. My top strength is appreciation of beauty, so I’m supposed to use that as much as I can, but all of them really.

“Authentic happiness comes from identifying and cultivating your most fundamental strengths and using them every day in work, love, play, and parenting.” — Martin Seligman

What I really didn’t like was the chapter on love. It was all about romantic love. Now, honestly, I’m not against romantic love, truly, I’m¬†all¬†for that, you know? But there are other kinds of love that deserve mentioning. What about familial love? What about mother daughter love? Or Father son love? What about friendship?

And Seligman seems to believe the bedrock of all this is some sort of faith. Sorry, but faith and I parted ways a while ago. I’ve been Roman Catholic, then Protestant by way of Presbyterian and lastly Southern Baptist. I haven’t been to any church at all in years. I don’t even think I remember how to pray. If I have any faith at all, it’s in nature, that the sun will rise every morning and set every night.

According to Seligman, we can’t blame our past for the fact that we are on welfare, or that we have become unemployed, alcoholic, or whatever. If we were abused, or our parents divorced, it’s history. What we make of our lives today is¬†on us.¬†

In the end, I think we could all do with a little more positivity in our lives. I’ve been to too many therapists where the first question out of their mouths was, “What can you tell me about your childhood?” AAAUUUGGHH!

Have a great and productive day!

Ciao Bella.

Why I Don’t Like Al-Anon Meetings

sinceOkay. This post might make a whole lot of people angry. Let me just start by saying I¬†love¬†Al-Anon itself. It literally saved my life and my relationship with my sister. So let’s just clear that up, while you are looking at the silly meme on the left. It’s¬†not¬†about Al-Anon as a whole. Whew. There.

This¬†is why I don’t like the meetings anymore:

1.¬†People complain about the same old things.¬†I’ve been to a lot of meetings, and okay. I get that some things are harder to let go than others. But it’s really tiring and sad to hear the same person time after time not healing over the same issues. Why aren’t we helping each other?

2.¬†The same variations of experience, strength, and hope are usually shared.¬†Similar to the above, when I go to meetings, what I seem to hear are almost “rehearsed” sharings. I’m afraid that when they hear me talk they might be to shocked from a sound slumber, because — well, I stutter, I cry, sometimes I’m unsure of myself . . . very un-put-together.

3. People generally don’t talk about THEMSELVES. They talk about “their” alcoholic.¬†Last time I went to a meeting I didn’t have any time to waste. I was going through a personal crisis,¬†me.¬†It had nothing to do with the alcoholic, it was all about me. I don’t think I mentioned my sister’s name even once. Now, maybe people are wondering, “Why have a group like that, if you aren’t going to talk about the drunk in the room?” Because, my friends, the alcoholics¬†hove¬†a group that’s all about them. It’s called AA. Al-Anon is and should be all about us.

Please,¬†please,¬†tell me how you feel about all I’ve just said. I know people read this blog; so, while your reading it, take your time and comment about what you’ve just read.

I welcome diverse opinions! I like the interplay of discussion. Please, let’s have a discussion about Al-Anon meetings!

I wish you the best of days. Peace out. xx

Putting On That Other Pair Of Shoes

forgivingGentle readers,

I’ve been trying and trying to write this blog, wanting it to be gentle and light, to bring you good vibes so you’ll come back and keep reading. But my mind and heart are heavy with all the colossal blunders I’m making that I keep wanting to slough off onto my illness. A mixed episode of bipolar disorder is nothing to laugh about. It’s like a modern version of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. My loved ones never know who they’re going to be speaking to from one minute to the next.

Until I got into Al-Anon, I used to get¬†so mad¬†at my sister when she wold blame her absurd or borderline abusive drunken behavior on her disease. Even after becoming a regular around the tables, it took me a long time to¬†get¬†that being a drunk is a disease and not a choice. I know, ridiculous right? Who in their right mind would choose the humiliation and shame attached with being an alcoholic? She is responsible for any¬†fallout,¬†and she has to try to amend as much as she truly can, but she has to love herself first and foremost. That’s why it’s called a selfish program.

I wish there was such a thing as a teleporter, so I could teleport myself to a tiny, solitary island far, far away from any living people until I Get Better. Until then, I keep apologizing, then praying and trying again. I’ve started taking my Flexeril (20mg per pill, a muscle relaxant), which I had a WHOLE¬†bunch left over from when I initially hurt my back years ago along with 3x daily dose of Xanax. It makes me sleepy, and a little loopy, which is a weird trip to be on with all the racing thoughts and flighty ideas in my brain. But it makes me a little less prone to blurt out the first thing I’m thinking—I would do anything to not hurt my mom or my sister. Go ahead. Let me have it. Tell me I’m using, that I’ll become a drug addict. I’m already addicted to prescribed Xanax, what’s a little Flexeril thrown in?

I better stop now, because I’m very tired, and I know I’m not making sense. I guess the take-away from this is: be very careful when we go to judge or feel resentful of someone else. We never know when we’re going to be the one struggling with a problem which can easily be judged and resented. But only when we accept ourselves and love ourselves where we are can true change begin to happen.

When I talk to my sister now, and I hear her go into “beat up on Carol” mode, I try to jump in and get real logical with her. She did the best she could at that time with the information that she had. Now she knows better, she can do better.

This is my first ever dysphoric mania episode. I feel so lost at sea. And it’s¬†super hard¬†to take that same advice and apply it to myself. All I keep thinking is “Idiot. Stupid. Mean. Jerk. Way to go, jackass.” It is probably the reason that I still have suicidal ideation and that many with this type of mania¬†attempt¬†suicide.

Argh. I’m blabbing and I’m getting totally incoherent. Please be gentle with yourselves today, no matter where you are on your journeys.

Peace out. xx better

The Easy Way Or The True-To-Yourself Way?

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.

Undertow

When I was a kid, out attending my sister’s wedding in Miami, when my nieces and nephew were still just a future twinkle, we all went down to the ocean.

I loved to swim. I mean LOVED it. Had been swimming since around three, and if there was water, it was nearly impossible to get me out of it. Every time we went on a family trip that involved an overnight stay, my parents tried to find a motel with a pool, because they knew I would make good use of it. And our neighbors, the Warrens, who still lived on Faust in Detroit, had a pool that we took full advantage of.

I was twelve years old this time, I think, and we were warned to stay close to the shore. To stay where we could feel the sand beneath our feet, was the warning I remember. But something  terrifying happened that day, something I remember with startling clarity.

I don’t recall exactly how it happened. I do remember that I couldn’t feel the sand under my feet anymore, and when I looked at the shore it seemed much further away than it had been just moments before. I was caught in an undertow, and it sucked me down, hard and fast. I managed to pull up enough to cough out a yell for help before being pulled under again. My sister, who was probably only feet away but seemed miles away, did what in retrospect was a very stupid thing to do and swam out to me.

Then she too got caught in the undertow. But she is 13 years my senior, and her first instinct was to save me. The lifeguard came out and rescued us both. I coughed up a lot of water that day, and could have killed my sister for coming out to get me. But I love her to death, and would have switched places with her had the shoe been on the other foot.

There are many things in life that draw parallels to “undertows” in life. Alcoholism is one such thing. It can drag us under if we are not careful. Finances, love, among other things.

Have you had an “undertow” experience? A real undertow or a metaphoric one? Care to share?

Book Review: Sober Siblings: How to Help Your Alcoholic Brother or Sister – And Not Lose Yourself

hope If you have a sister or brother struggling with the disease of alcoholism, and need help, look no further. Sober Siblings, by Patricia Olsen and Petros Levounis, M.D., M.A., provides some of the best help out there on the subject. In fact, it is the only book I have encountered so far in my search on alcoholism that addresses the difficulty of the sibling relationship.

Through Patricia Olsen’s own personal experience, along with personal stories throughout the book of other siblings of alcoholics, as well as supplemented by the experience of Dr. Levounis, Sober Siblings offers practical tips and advice on several topics.

From the Introduction, “To love an alcoholic is to watch in despair as that person sinks to a level he would never willingly choose.” (p. 1) To me it’s like Patricia Olsen really gets it, and I sensed that more from her personal knowledge than anything else. I mean, no one wakes up and thinks, “Gee, I think I’d like to be an alcoholic when I grow up.” But some people still believe it’s within one’s control and willpower to choose. In this book, Olsen and Levounis make it clearer than ever that alcoholism is a disease that robs one of willpower, self-respect and many other things before it’s through.

But what’s also clear is it’s important to take care of ourselves if we are a sibling of an alcoholic. It’s important to know what is our responsibility and what is theirs; to decide what sort of relationship we would like to have; creating and maintaining appropriate boundaries (even to know what a proper boundary looks like); to honor our feelings; and find help and support for ourselves.

There are wonderful examples of how to communicate effectively with our alcoholic sibling. Real examples, with actual scripts to practice. I found this very useful.

Family interventions are no longer thought of as a useful tool, as they are too confrontational to the alcoholic. It’s considered more helpful to confront the alcoholic on a one-to-one basis, one family member at a time.

It’s not an easy read. There’s even a section which discusses cutting off all ties with the alcoholic if it’s too difficult to maintain a relationship. This is as a last resort sort of effort. The authors are not at all judgmental, and provide stories of people in the book who had to do just that. It’s all very individual, as all alcoholics are different and all sibling relationships are unique.

All-in-all, I highly recommend this book. Professional expertise interwoven with personal experience and stories from other siblings make for a very well done work.

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