Taking Care of Ourselves

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self care

Who do you think about first thing in the morning or last thing at night before you fall asleep? Who do you feed first in the morning? Remember the airplane instructions about putting the oxygen mask on yourself first before you put it on your child or even the hurt person next to you? There are reasons for those.

When I was a kid coming up in the world, the last thing I thought about was myself. Sure, there were a few times that were carefree, like I remember playing Red light, Green light; Red Rover; Hide-and-Seek; Say-say-oh-playmate; Mother May I; all those games that kids play in their neighborhoods or towns growing up. But underlying it all was that elephant of drunkenness, anger, and violence. Towering over the elephant stood the giraffe of secrecy.

On the outside we had to look the part of perfect normalcy. Very proper, well-cared for, every hair in place, not a bruise showing, no tears no tears, mustn’t let the world think you are anything but absolutely ordinary. No, more than that: extraordinary. After all, my father was an officer of the law. If his children couldn’t be expected to behave in public, whose could? Our outsides, of course, terribly mismatched our insides. We hurt, we ached, we carried bruises (some physical, some emotional) . . . we carried secrets about drunkenness and violence, secrets in the words only our childlike voices could tell.

In Al-Anon and in therapy I’m learning to take care of myself – not better care – but to actually take care of myself for the first time. Dori (my sponsor) helps me to see my limitations and what I can and cannot do, before I actually hit the wall of exhaustion (as I’ve done). There is a whole chapter in the Al-Anon Big Book, How Al-Anon Works: For Families and Friends of Alcoholics called -oddly enough- Taking Care of Ourselves. Hey, is there some plagiarism going on here? How did they know I was going to write this blog?

What’s best about the Al-Anon Big Book, for me, is it’s simple enough that I can understand it when I’m distressed. Because when I’m in a situation and I need it, if the language were too complicated or flowery, I wouldn’t be able to absorb, intelligence not withstanding. Intelligence goes straight out the window when one is panicked and in distress.

There is a strong connection, in many ways, between the techniques taught in the Al-Anon and in the AA Big Book. For instance, I was pleasantly surprised to read under the SETTING PRIORITIES AND LIMITS section of this chapter, the acronym for H.A.L.T., which is usually often discussed in the AA Big Book.

This reminds me of my doctor’s appt yesterday for a re-evaluation of my chronic fatigue syndrome. I’ve been feeling much worse, dragging all the time, and lots of “brain fog”, which is upsetting. Well, the nurse took at least 20 vials of blood and I have to go back in a week to get more blood for a cortisol draw, since that needs to be done in the morning, and to go over the results of the lab tests thus far.

Here’s hoping they’ll have some answers for me. Even the slightest hormone mishap can cause a lot of fatigue, and if that can be corrected, I’m all over it. Taking care of myself is one of my number one priorities right now! ­čśë

How about you? Are you taking care of yourself?

You did NOT just say that!

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I object to your objection!

Okay. I know for a fact that how we say things is just as important if not more important than what we say. I’ve been attending these lectures on alcoholism and have been learning better ways of communicating, how to express “I Statements.”

(Stay with me for a minute, here, I know this is technical but it’s important for later on.) There are three steps to an I Statement:
1. State very specifically what behavior led to your feeling.
2. State what you are feeling.
3. Explain the consequences of the behavior for you.

In correct usage, it might look something like this:
1. I feel “I feel scared . . .

2. When when you stay out all night

3. Because because I don’t know where you are.”

Simple, right? Well, Saturday afternoon, I forgot all about these I statements when my sister called and said she had just gotten through a therapy session and her therapist told her she needed to work on anger. Mind you, I knew she had already been through one crisis that day. She’s an alcoholic, and I try to be careful about putting too much on her at once. I save my verbal “vomit” for my sponsor because I figure it does no good for my sister to know all the irritations and frustrations that go through my mind regarding her.

But when she said that, all my good intentions flew out the window. Everything I had learned just kind of took a back seat and my mind went on autopilot. Verbal vomit flew out before I could stop it.

“Well, you do have problems with anger,” I said.

“What do you mean?”

“Do you know that every time you get drunk – or even when you’re sober – you complain to Mom that I got sent away to college to live in a dorm and you had to go to a local college?”

“Yeah, I do know that,” she replied.

And the verbal diarrhea continued, unchecked.

“Do you know why Mom sent me two hours away to college?” I asked, and I knew there was some sarcasm in my voice.

“No, why?”

“Because I had become a permanent babysitter for your three kids who were all living with us at the time. She wanted me to get away.”

There you go, coming up first again. Mom always thought of you first.”

“Oh, and taking you and your whole family into her house to support didn’t count.”

“You babysat my kids? Well guess what? I babysat all you kids from the time I could walk.”

I laughed at that point. I couldn’t help it.

Eventually we talked it out. We can never stay mad at each other very long. In a family of seven siblings, we are the only two sisters. But – she’s the reason I’m writing a book about alcoholism, because I truly believe her drinking changed my whole life and a lot of the choices that might have been available to me. I wish I could say I’m better, but I’m still such a sick codependent. I don’t ask her anymore if she’s going to meetings, or if she’s working her program.

I have a smaller hoola hoop now, and I’m only concerned with my own program. It’s enough for me. It’s enough for a lifetime.