Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Soap-Trimmers Anonymous

My family-in-law came to visit a while back, and for those of us who don't have the most kept-up homes - shit, even for some of us that do - this kind of visit is perfect for sending us into an apocalyptic panic.  As my very good friend explained it:

"Of COURSE you're panicked - you're allowed to be panicked.  You SHOULD be panicked. Your mother-in-law is coming to your house.  Your mother-in-law is coming to your house!"  My mother-in-law with the impeccable everything.  My grandmother-in-law with the even more impeccable everything that taught MIL how to be impeccable.  At everything.

Meanwhile my everything was a mess, and each issue of our modest space was cause for alarm - there's not enough room at the dinner table.  The coffee table is missing a drawer (broken from when husband turned it over in a rage).  Our couch has been known to cause severe lower back pain.  The hallway smells like cat pee no matter how many times I attack it with "urine be gone."  Our dogs bark excitedly and jump on you and embarrassingly behave like their people haven't really ever bothered to train them (this is mostly true).

Also - I don't buy alcohol anymore since they last visited.  Neither does my husband, really, for that matter (not openly).  This gave me a brief anxiety attack.

They will notice this.  They may not say anything, but they'll notice.  And then they'll look at me like "..."  And I'll know that they notice.  Dammit. 

But what I was really upset about was the complete lack of organization of our crap.  Crap that was everywhere, on every counter and table and side table.  Even the dryer.  And in my book (my book on households gone to shit) if there's crap on the dryer that's a bonafide situation.  

All I could do was stare at it.  I tried to move things but some of them didn't really have homes.

What IS this?  Why do I have this?  Where do I put this?  
Hmm....Can't throw it away - that's wasteful.  
Okay.  It stays here.

After anxiously walking around the place the piles were all I could see.  I had to get away to a safe and quiet place.  So I hid in the bathroom.

That's when I noticed the soap.

The soap on the bathroom sink.  A lovely-smelling bar that had melted during the last move and was now, in my frazzled myopia, horribly, unacceptably disfigured.  And suddenly I was mad with my new-found power and control over something completely meaningless and insignificant - This! I will change this!  My frustration had found its focus.

This soap.  This soap.  It is completely and categorically unacceptable.  It's so used-looking.  And melted.  Disfigured soap.  Unclean.  Un-okay.

I rushed out to the kitchen, grabbed a sharp knife*, skipped back and went to work, checking to see the exact spot that I could cut the soap and have it be Just So.  Once that was decided it was quick.  It was done.  The self-satisfaction afterwards could only be described as "certifiable."  I glanced up into the mirror, the knife still in my hand, my unwashed hair in a nest on top of my head.  There's a crazy woman cutting soap in my bathroom.  Fitting that the only other scenes combining knives and bathrooms are horror movies.  Knives should never be in the bathroom - this is what can happen.  Well, this and murder.

Outside in Reality every horizontal surface was still covered.  All the piles continued to surround me, yelling at me for reform.  The laundry laughed at me.  The crumbs on the counters did a jig.  Then the magic happened: slowly the energy from my insane soap-trimming fueled me into action and efficacy and the superficial changes were made.  Everything else was shoved out of sight into the bedroom.

Family-in-law arrived and soon it was time to eat dinner, which was the parade of my faux-pas as a result of being you know, too busy on more important details.  There were no place mats.  And I can only explain it as plainly as this - in this family there is nothing more embarrassing than putting plates of food down on a naked table.  Also, I forgot to hand out napkins - or in my case, paper towels folded to look like napkins.  And, based on grandma-in-law's passive-aggressive commentary, I had a serving spoon out when I should have had a serving fork (she stood there and stared at it, not so much actually helpless as just irritated and confused at my total stupidity and complete domestic ineptitude).  For shame.

But let me tell you people.  20 feet away I had the sharpest, most evenly cut nicest-looking bar of used soap anyone has ever seen.  It was fit for an OCD museum.  Or one of those random highway attractions in the middle of nowhere, like the World's Largest Ball of Yarn.

And you know what?  The whole night went by and no one even noticed.  No one said a damn thing to me about my amazing soap.

It's not just in these emergency situations that my focus dwindles down to a frightening pinpoint of the most senseless and inefficient kind.  Each day I become distracted by the unimportant, the unnecessary.  Then I become overwhelmed, as it all becomes very urgent and must be done NOW.  Then the helpful, meaningful things get overshadowed by the small, the insignificant.

It's a different kind of procrastination, but procrastination nonetheless.  In college it helped me avoid writing papers so I could clean, or go out to buy groceries instead of clean.  Or watch TV to avoid having to buy groceries.

The compulsion to avoid is still there but now I'm aware of it.  And awareness is the first step!  The first step to leaving your soap the hell alone.

*For those of you curious culinary connoisseurs, the knife used was a santoku.  Based on my very light research (i.e. Google image hunting), "santoku" means "three virtues" or "three uses" in Japanese - slicing, dicing, and mincing.  Worth mentioning, I think, because if it weren't for the embarrassment I would freely advocate for a fourth use thanks to its trusted combination of precision, balance and separation improvement.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Geographical Cures Part 3 - Wherever You Go, There You Are.

I'm writing this from my new living room, in my new city, while my husband is at his new job.

I'm so so happy to live here.  Each morning the songs of birds I've never heard before wake me, their melodic messages twittering through my window.   It is a city we've visited before and loved, but never would have thought we'd end up.  It's not a tropical island or anything, just a random beautiful place where the grass seems greener, even to me.  When we visited last, I remember looking around and thinking, wow.  I mean, who lives here?  What do they do?  Like, for work?

It doesn't seem possible people get to live here and also have to live normal lives, like waking up and realizing you're out of milk or the cat threw up on the couch, or having to put up with impossibly loud upstairs neighbors who seem to never leave and instead only slam doors, scrape heavy furniture across the room and cackle with laughter.  But nope, it's true - normal lives exist here.  We're out of milk, my cat threw up, and I hope I never have to see my upstairs neighbor face to face because I am convinced in my frustration that she is making noise on purpose.  On the bright side, there are so many Al Anon meetings that I am able to go everyday, even twice a day (and I have - on some days to check out new meetings and on others because I just needed another meeting).

Last fall when I heard my husband had applied to a position in our new town, my first reaction was a drop in my gut and an almost inaudible sigh, complete with a closed eyeroll (passive-aggressive communication could be on my resume under "skills").  There had already been other positions applied to in other towns and other states, moves threatened to be made with or without me.  I got through it by telling myself three things:

1) Apparently, the last several moves have taught me, I can really be happy almost anywhere.  It's comforting to know that somewhere in me, there is resilience.
2) Wherever we end up, it probably won't be for long anyway.
3) I could always decide not to go.

I didn't like #3.  But I had my choices.

Soon the reasons for the job change were collected and announced to me and I waited, we both waited, until companies responded.  It did take a bit longer this time.

Though not a tough competition by any stretch, this location was paradise compared to the other options.  And I was actually mad.  But mad because I couldn't figure out how to be pissed at my husband for moving us, yet again, to a city that absolutely beckoned me.  For weeks I managed to show mostly displeasure at what I felt was another manifestation of his disease; that again he seemed to become irritable, discontent and restless, confident that he would be happier at yet another job, in another city.

Soon I realized how exhausting it was to remain so resentful, and despite my reservations I let it go.  I let it go and decided that what will be, will be.  Maybe I could just enjoy this decision and see what comes of it, making decisions for my own welfare along the way.  Tiring myself out with anger and resentment is a huge part of my disease - I could have voiced my concerns, stated my opinion and then come what may, stuck to my desires.  This is beyond difficult for me, because any rejection or disagreement feels like abandonment, and so I begrudgingly cope with fear and worry instead of facing what could be The Truth.  And The Truth is there amongst the worry, fear, and avoidance of confrontation, whether I make those decisions or not.

Moving day came and went, and my husband was so happy.  He beamed at me, and in his excitement doled out random hugs and kisses.  He sighed contentedly, crossed his arms and seemed to survey what he had put into motion.  "I haven't been this excited about a job in a long time" he said.  It was bittersweet, but I admit I was glad to see him so enthused.

Though our time there was fraught with struggle, I looked around at our empty apartment and felt the familiar pangs of grief over another home left behind.  I said goodbye to many the things I'd miss and to the things I wouldn't miss, of which there were few.

Goodbye, royally-huge bathtub.
Goodbye, double-door fridge.
Goodbye, scenic pool.
Goodbye property manager, who always called me "sweetie."
Goodbye old, always dirty-looking *no matter how many times I cleaned and vacuumed it* carpet.
Goodbye cozy living room, where I served so many meals.

At each of these farewell scenes the sights, feelings and thoughts upon moving-in come flooding back to shadow against those of our departure, and I grieve for the blank canvas of our space that was once so large with hope.  I turned my key for the last time.

The move was strenuous.  So, so much driving.  Miles that seemed to stretch on for longer than miles, and as I drove I purposely avoided any road markers ticking away our progress.  A little over halfway there, my husband lamented that our new city "didn't feel like home, and probably never will."  I was shocked, but I wasn't - even though I have learned so much about alcoholism, even though I have been to so many Al Anon meetings and grown in the almost two years I've been in recovery, I myself had been fooled into thinking this move would change things, this move would fix it.  He loves it here too, I would tell myself.  Naturally he'll be happier here - how could he not be?  It just "fits" us both so much more.

My friends called it before our last move.  "You know you're not going to stay there long, right?"

"No," I insisted. "We'll live there for a few years, he even said so."  I completely believed this.

Most said the same this time as well.  We haven't been here too long, and after a few short weeks everything was familiar again.  "Wherever you go, there you are."  It is so, so true.  Though I will say not much has changed, there is less good and more not-good.  So I am trying as hard as I can to pull myself out of my own struggle and make the good for myself, wherever I can find it.

And it has been a struggle - I haven't written in so long not only because of my very loud, inner self-critic but because it's been hard, and when times are hard it's hard to find what to say.  I'm fuzzy, foggy, forgetful, fearful.  Lots of F-words.  And that too - sometimes I feel F-d.  But I started this little online project here, and I want to see it through no matter how many bumps and sinkholes in the road.  There is still so much for me to share, and I hope that it will make sense through all of this.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

You Are Not Alone

One of the benefits of having a blog are the nifty gadgets that come along with it, analysis sputtered out to me by Google that shows me what people search for that leads them here.  (Hello whoever is reading this!  You are welcome here.  Don't worry - I don't know who you are.)

Some examples:

"How to stay married to an alcoholic"
"How to live with a functional alcoholic husband"
"Secret drinking"
"Help my husband is an alcoholic"
"How to help keep a family functioning with alcoholism."
"Successful wife alcoholic."
"He hides his drinking"
"Alcoholic husband won't have sex with me"
"What to do I hate my alcoholic husband"
"High functional alcoholic help"
"Signs of a secret alcoholic"
"My wife is a functioning alcoholic"
"Arguing with alcoholic"
"What it's like to be married to an alcoholic"
"How to hide drinking at work"
"How to help high functioning alcoholics"
"Is my husband a functioning alcoholic how to tell"

So, if it makes you feel any better to know this - there are literally hundreds, thousands of people searching for information on being married to a "functional" alcoholic.  And these are just the people that happen to click on my humble little online rag here.  They are all over the world, too:  Norway, United Kingdom, USA, Australia, Japan, United Arab Emirates, Malaysia, South Africa, China, Switzerland, Nicaragua, Belgium, Uganda (Uganda!), Russia, Ireland, Spain, India, Philippines...

There are so many of us wondering what's going on, why we are so maddened by our loved one's drinking, even though "it's not a problem."  Why we feel so alone and confused, frustrated and angry.  And it's so easy to feel alone - after all, we can't point to any outside sign as justification.  We have roofs over our head.  We have money or enough of it anyway, no DUI troubles (yet? hard to when we don't go out!), no job losses.  To the outside world things seem calm and settled, and around others perhaps our spouses even seem charming and friendly, and so we end up doubting ourselves thinking that maybe everyone else is right, maybe our alcoholic is right - there's nothing wrong.  Maybe we're just imagining things.

Swimming in my own doubts (and a little bit of denial), I wondered if I would belong when I first came into Al Anon.  Someone had told me before going, "Eventually you will hear your story in those rooms."  Sure enough my stereotypes of alcoholism were quickly shattered - the woman who handled my newcomer meeting was married to a prominent surgeon who couldn't understand why she had still felt like something was wrong.

We who live with active alcoholism know the problem as it manifests in our marriages, relationships with significant others, children or siblings.  There can be "nothing" fights, accusations, blame, isolation, provocations, distractions, drama, secrecy, a lack of intimacy.  We struggle with our want to control or fix, and our reactions to the alcoholic's behavior and our pain.  Some of us blame, lecture, scold, condescend, insult, berate, sarcastically attack.  Some of us have tried to rationalize with, inform, manipulate, scold, nag or beg them.

When I realized that yes, this is a problem, my husband could be an alcoholic and this is a contributing factor in our troubles, at first I was relieved.  But then I was heavy with the somber reality of my situation; because the hardest part for me was finding out that I cannot make my husband stop drinking or get into recovery.  I cannot make him behave or think in a way that I desire, nor is it appropriate or healthy for me to do so, because obsessing about that is a good way for me to lose myself.

Now that I have fully accepted this, it has been a tough time.  In addition to having a more realistic view of our marriage and my husband's behavior, I'm stuck looking at myself now.  I personally have my own ups and downs, my own problems to deal with on top of (and that stem from) our relationship issues.  It would be really easy to abandon all that and focus on my husband's problems - in fact I've done that for a long time.  But instead, the more I focus on how they've affected me, and how I deal with stress, pain, and my environment, I feel like I'm taking my power back a bit at a time.  It's not easy, and some days are harder than others.  But it's real, honest and true.

So, now when I attend a meeting, look at my blog stats here or talk to a program friend, I am comforted by the fact that I truly am not alone.  There are so many others in my shoes - and yours.

Hope you are all hanging in and changing the things you can.