“Our pressures and anxieties don’t disappear just because we are sober.” –Living With Sobriety, p. 18
My father was an alcoholic. Though he never missed a day of his job as a police officer, he drank daily, and it sometimes caused him a problem. For me as his daughter, I was powerless over his mood swings, harsh criticism and belittling comments. When I got older, I couldn’t understand why I felt so defensive whenever I was criticized.
Because of the alcoholic environment, I had developed defensesthat somewhat protected me as a child. As an adult, these defenses got in the way. The threat wasn’t there anymore, but I still reacted as though it was. There was no reason to be afraid, but I felt plenty scared.
In Al-Anon, I learned that even as I grew older, I was still powerless over the effects of my father’s disease. I was powerless over the effects of his behavior while he was drinking.
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? 😉 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/adjusterin 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! 🙂
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)
“Change is inevitable We can depend on that. By letting go of our efforts to influence the future, we become freer to experience the present, to feel all of our feelings while they are happening, and to more fully enjoy those precious moments of joy.” –Courage to Change, One Day at a Time in Al-Anon
So, you might think, as you read this, that bringing humor to the situation is insanity. But you know me and my sarcastic wit. Would you recognize me any other way? 😉 Besides, the alternative is too stupid to consider, and useless. Plus really, who doesn’t love a little Tina Fey?
But seriously, I have had such a hard time writing this (it’s been on my mind for a while), because I honestly don’t want to come off sounding pitiful, or elicit sorrowful responses, most of all. What has happened to me could happen to anyone–could happen to you. So please–don’t feel sorry for me. I’m here, I’m alive, and that’s a good thing.
It has not been the greatest year so far. Lol. First, I had to go back into a psychiatric partial day treatment program to get my bipolar meds adjusted. But what I learned shortly after I was admitted was that this therapist had noticed my hypomanic episode building since before Christmas. Why she didn’t say something earlier is still a mystery to me, but hey–at least she copped to it when my mom finally told me my agitation and irritability were getting hard to deal with. All of this explains why I had such a hard time decorating for the holidays last year. Seriously, I was like a slug, and even when I’m depressed it’s like my favorite time of year. I barely put up lights on the ceiling and yanked out the tree (with lights already on), no ornaments—voila. There. Be happy. Ha ha.
Psych partial started on January 25th. My psychiatrist there (it’s like you no longer have the shrink you had on the “outside;” this shrink, the one in the hospital, calls the shots) tried several different meds, at different levels, and suddenly—instead of hypomania, I started feeling incredibly depressed. Yeah, I know–I should have my own channel on Youtube, because my life is just that fascinating.
Then, I went home early from the program on February 13th, because my back and left leg were just killing me. All I missed was relaxation therapy, but you’d think it was chemical engineering, for all the tap dancing I had to do to get out of it. So I went home.
That night, I woke up in the wee hours freezing cold with my teeth chattering. Yikes. I can’t remember the last time my teeth chattered. So I got up, took my temp, and it was elevated; something like 101. (I’m not totally sure at this point; my baseline temp is 97. I just know I had a fever) I also noticed like a big cyst or something high up on my inner left thigh. I wasn’t too worried at this point. I took a couple aspirin, ran some hot water on a washcloth to lay on the cyst and went back to sleep under like 5 blankets.
The next I knew it was morning and I was in a sweat. Good. So my temp was down and the cyst had also diminished. But then, my fever spiked back up again at around eight. I told my mom I thought I needed to go to the ER, and she agreed.
Long story short, what started out as a simple cyst turned out to be necrotizing fasciitis, or flesh-eating bacteria. Yep. My WBC, which is supposed to be 10 or under, was 21, so I was admitted—instead of let go from the ER—on Valentine’s Day. I had three surgeries in four days in that most private of areas–whether you are a woman or a man–and spent eight days inpatient. Granted, I was on morphine, and much of the pain is now a blur, but still. My fever was up and down, up and down. They had me on I.V. antibiotics, three at a time (once I read a label, and it said 2,000 units!!)–like throwing paint on the wall–trying to see what would work. Finally the WBC came down enough that they could let me go with Amoxicillin for one week.
I had to have the surgical sites packed (with gauze) by home care nurses for at least two months, my surgeon said. So yes, I’m positive 2,000 people have seen my va-jay-jay at this point. I kept forgetting to charge an admission fee. I always meant to, though. At least I still had some self-respect. Just kidding. The nurses were so kind and gentle with my body and my heart. I couldn’t have asked for nicer people to care for me.
Now here’s the best part. I saw my surgeon yesterday for our weekly checkup of the surgical wound sites, right? She was SO pleased with how well everything is healing. Everything has closed (from the inside out, to prevent future infection) at least halfway, in some cases more. In fact, I’m doing so well that she said I can say goodbye to the daily nurse care and she doesn’t want to see me again for a month. After that, who knows? That’s exactly five weeks from the day I was admitted, right?
What an incredible journey!! I wonder what the rest of the year has in store? Bring it on.
Happy ninth day of Twelvetide. I wish you health and prosperity this day, and a modicum of sanity as we go and be with various family and friends that we may have a genuine love it or leave it sort of ambivalence toward. Living with ambivalence is not for sissies.
Let’s assume for a bit that you don’t live in or anywhere near Flint, Michigan, and as far as you know it’s safer than it’s ever been (since that great white shark in the 70s) to dip your toe back in the water. I give you three simple words.
NEW YEAR’S RESOLUTIONS
If your heart beats a little quicker than usual at seeing those three words, or you feel your shirt getting damp and wonder to yourself, “Did it just get hot in here?” … I am here to tell you that you are never alone. Don’t get up and check your thermostat. Don’t worry you might have a heart attack if you even allow the thought of those three words to linger in your mind.
You are absolutely fine. After all, they’re just words, right? Still, if you’re like me, the past 365 days of your life flashed through your mind’s eye on New Year’s Eve. Also, if you are hopefully like me, you’ll find some peaks and valleys in the past year along with maybe one terrific thing you did for yourself or someone else (or both). There will be those times we wish we could take back something we might have done or said. But no, Virginia, there are no takesie-backsies, regardless of how much you wish there were. And it’s useless to go back and wish we stuck with our diets, exercised more, quit smoking, read better literature, or whatever else happens to pass through your mind. That time’s gone; say bye-bye and face today with unflinchingly optimistic hearts. I have a few guidelines, as we go through this next year:
Be yourself: I don’t think I can stress this one enough. Always, always be your best self in any situation you find yourself. For me, if I have a bad time at a party or gathering, the largest reason I can trace it back to is that in some way I wasn’t being genuine to myself. When we work too achingly hard at pretending to be other than who we really are, when we strive to always be prettier, smarter, more interesting…than everyone else at the party, it falls flat. After all, we wouldn’t be invited in the first place if we weren’t so beloved by being exactly who we were meant to be. So, whatever happens, take a breath, square your shoulders, and open the door. You are wanted.
Be kind: I didn’t think this up, but it’s a great question to keep asking ourselves this year. That is, “What is the kindest thing I can do/say?”
Be forgiving: Forgive quickly and often, beginning with ourselves. Try not to be too quick to judge, because–well, we know what that feels like. Try, though surely we won’t often always be successful, to give the benefit of the doubt, to those you cherish, as well as yourself.
Be goal-oriented: This is essentially quite different from resolutions. Goals are infinitely good to have, for without them, we despair and languish. If your only goal is to make it through the day unscathed, and when you collapse into bed that night, having counted all fingers and toes and found none missing, then that’s a good day’s work.
Most of all, don’t live back there. You can’t get there from anywhere in the rational world that isn’t met with opaque glasses, never seen quite clearly. And for all the goodness in the world, don’t spend too much time in the future. You might start finding yourself too old for this or that, that it’s inevitably too late. I’m of the opinion it’s never too late. Not for marriage, not for love, for education, etc. It’s not even too late to have children, regardless of age–one can always adopt, or be a stupendous aunt or uncle.
I sincerely hope you have had nothing but happiness this past Christmas, and that Santa Claus was good to you. You deserve it. Moving forward, let’s join hands and step into 2017, with our eyes on trying hard to be better in every way. Here’s to you, plus a cartoon to make you laugh:
Amazingly, it’s been almost five months since I last posted to this blog. And I pay for it! LOL I’m not sure I still remember how to do it. Have I been through some struggles in that time? Of course, but you know what? So have you, so have we all! I’ve experienced some major triumphs, too. Do tell me yours.
Here’s another thing. I don’t know how you feel about it, but I’ve really missed you guys. I’ve missed the camaraderie, the comments, the back-and-forth, and just knowing someone out there is reading silly things I’ve written.
You probably don’t know this, but there is a radio station out of Detroit (near where I live) which plays all Christmas music starting November 1st. Right? A little whacked, but I love it since it’s my favorite holiday. In fact, I was thinking of going to buy lights to put up around the ceiling. And, for the life of me, I cannot understand why it’s so important to wait until the day after Thanksgiving to put up the tree, even if it’s fake. Seriously?
Well, I won’t keep blabbing on and on. I read in a blogging book that the shorter the post the better (we’re all so busy these days!).
This will be my new schedule for posting: SU-T-TH-S. From now until just about Christmas I’ll be writing about trying to get my Christmas gifts crocheted in time. Yikes!
See you Tuesday. Until then, take care of yourself, and take care of each other.
Last year, on one of his visits home from San Francisco, my brother Paul brought a t-shirt he’d bought which bore the saying “Mom loves me best.” He wore it to an outdoor picnic at which most of the family was in attendance; it was very funny and caused quite a lot of discussion. Even more funny, he left it with me when he went back! 😛
Paul is the second to youngest of seven siblings. I’m the youngest. My sister Carol is the oldest, then there’s Greg, Steve, Jerry, Jimmy, Paul, and me.
My sister said she prayed and prayed for another little sister and when I came it was like a miracle. We’re 13 years apart, and so I was like a little doll for her, and she loved to dress me up. I sure never suffered from lying in the crib too long, with five brothers, a sister, a mom, and a dad all eager to hold or cuddle me.
Carol did get that part of being the eldest where the parents made all their “mistakes” on her, and learned on her, and on each child to come really, so that by the time Paul and I came around they had this parenting thing down pat. Carol also still has a huge sense of responsibility, borne out of being the oldest child. She felt more was expected of her.
I thought my brother Greg would have that as well, being the oldest boy, but he has a very laid-back personality, and is never in a hurry. A story is told of Greg when he was quite little and the lady was waiting outside to take the boys to school. Everyone else is ready, and Greg is looking out the window, one shoe off, and one shoe on, marveling “Hey look! That lady is here!” He couldn’t understand why his mom was so excited. Ha ha ha
Every one of my sibs seemed so much older to me. The closest in age was, of course, Paul, and he was still five years older. So even when they tried to play with me, it felt odd, like I was playing with much older boys. When I was in grade school, they were in high school, after all. When I was in high school, they were in college, and beyond. I played by myself a lot, and with invisible friends, until I made friends in the neighborhood. After that I was rarely home before the streetlights came on.
Anyway, there isn’t a lot of scientific evidence to support the theory that birth order affects your personality. Ultimately environmental conditions, such as socioeconomic conditions, shape who we are and what we become.
(N.B.: We’re skipping neuroplasticity. Sorry for any grief this has caused.)