Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Mary Bailey Was a Friend of Lois* (Or: Tips on How To Get Through A Holiday).

It's late here on Christmas Eve, and my lids are falling as I type this, stiff-thumbed, on my phone.  So I apologize beforehand for what will be a rushed post.  But I was watching "It's A Wonderful Life" tonight and I couldn't help but notice the striking resemblance between George Bailey and my husband.

In a couple scenes we see George with Mary and he is (somewhat understandably) distracted, agitated, confused, self-absorbed and at times looks a little crazy.  When he comes home after finding out the $8,000 is lost like, for sure, his face is drawn, his eyes are wild with worry, fear, and he clutches his child and cries desperately.  Mary sees him, and we watch as, slowly, the bewilderment and then acknowledgement of the situation registers on her face. And then...she does nothing.  She turns back to the tree and the kids and she goes about her business.  She goes about her business. THEN, even after George lashes out and wonders why they had all these kids anyway (a little unacceptable, methinks) she tries to guide him into the kitchen and away from the kids, and she doesn't even look angry. You can see the love on her (concerned) face. 

She speaks up for the kids after his outburst (because she's not a doormat) but doesn't argue with him, and when he leaves she doesn't follow him to ask him what the hell is wrong with him.  Sure, she does call around to the entire town and try to help George and figure out what's wrong (after all, she's an Al Anon) but she didn't nag, scold or complain, she didn't lose her temper.  She observed his behavior as his property. 

Today was a tough day for me.  My husband is in the mood where he just seems to completely hate me; his demeanor with me fluctuates from barely-concealed disdain to complete ambivalence.  He isn't saying anything mean or being abusive - he is just withdrawn in a silent rage.  It's been a while since I've attended a good meeting, and though I could blame my slips on that fact, I fear I am reaching the end of my rope.  In the past few days I've seen myself behave as the kind of person I never thought I would be (after recovery) - extremely passive-aggressive, sarcastic, short, on edge, and just rude. Here I am with my family at Christmas and I am letting this trip and this holiday be about my husband's alcoholism and my pain.  That's not fair to me, my family, or my husband.

My home-meeting's lead today was about expectations. As I've mentioned before, there's the saying that "expectations are resentments waiting to happen."  Last Christmas my husband behaved just the same way he has been the last few days.  It wasn't always like this, and sure it's hard to find the similarities in a once-a-year celebration.  I can't reasonably expect my husband to behave in whatever way I deem desirable "because it's Christmas."  I can't think to myself, wishfully, "Sure, he acts this way all the time - but it's Christmas."  Unfortunately addiction doesn't honor holidays, or birthdays, or anniversaries.  I can't expect him to be thoughtful, selfless, affectionate, interested in spending time with me and my family, curious about my day, the list goes on and on.  That's just how it is, and to wish or hope or expect otherwise borders on masochism. 

At this point, my only expectation should be that, as an alcoholic, my husband will continue to drink until he reaches his bottom, if that ever happens.  Even on Christmas. 

Some things that I will try to keep in mind tomorrow, that I hope can help some of you as well:

1) This is not about me.  I have done nothing to deserve the treatment I'm getting, so I can stop trying to figure out what I did, or why he is this way. 
2) Alcoholics drink because they're alcoholics.  Not because (fill in the blank). 
3) I didn't cause it, can't control it and can't cure it.
4) This day will not be about his disease or my pain because of it.  I am going to enjoy the day and be happy regardless of his drinking. 
5) I will "let it begin with me."  Other people's moods do not dictate my moods, do not control my behavior and do not make me the type of person who isn't kind on purpose, who reserves her affection for others and punishes her husband with a cold and silent shoulder out of retaliation.  Living this way is exhausting and just for today, I can't do it.
6)  I will keep my focus on the conversations I'm supposed to be paying full and complete attention to, really enjoy whatever movie we're watching, savor our meal and smile with an open and easy heart.

Time to go to sleep now, this elf is wiped.  And though I'm a little sad I'm not giving that emotion or my husband's alcoholism the power over my day.  My family and friends have blessed me with their love and friendship and support; I have so much for which to be grateful and this day is about so much more. 

To all a good night and may we all have peace, comfort and joy. 

*Al Anon was started by Lois Wilson, wife of Bill Wilson (the founder of AA). Those in Al Anon are sometimes called "a friend of Lois" as AA members are "a friend of Bill." 

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Working On My White Space

I need to stop staring at the black dot.

A program friend of mine attended a newcomer's meeting recently, in which she heard a fantastic share: a woman recalled how her sponsor held up a blank sheet of paper, and then on the sheet of paper put one black dot.  When asked what she saw, the woman said "a black dot."  Her sponsor then wisely pointed out the overwhelming amount of blank space around the dot.  

"The blank space is waiting to be filled with our lives, our hopes and our dreams.  Our passions, hobbies and interests."

When I heard this I thought - "I. Am so. Tired."  

The other morning I woke up with a migraine.  Woke up, after a full night's sleep, with a migraine.  And all I could think was, "Hey, wait a second - isn't the wrong person hungover, here?"  

But just like my husband may become sick with withdrawal from alcohol, I make myself sick - with the constant obsession over what he's thinking, planning, drinking, and the subsequent withdrawals of ME.  

MY plans.
MY interests.
MY passions.
MY life.

Back in the day, I used to be a much more interesting person.  I used to you know, know stuff.  Stuff that I could talk about intelligently and passionately, like books.  Books that I was able to read cover to cover without stopping because it was before the time that it became too much work to read something so completely unrelated to anything having to do with alcoholism, recovery - basically anything that I was too busy worrying about to actually live my life.  And to boot, all this has left me feeling oh, a tad socially awkward.

I have lost myself.

A few months ago, a kind soul opened her home to me while I was traversing the country on a wee road trip.  A planned lunch stop was quickly rescheduled.  "I think you should stay the night :o)" she texted.  So it was a lovely two days of lounging, chatting, drinking tea, exploring, doing everyday things, drinking more tea, and being in the world again.

At one point my friend asked me The Question.  The Question which I had so much trouble answering that made me think, something is really wrong here.  Why is this so hard?  It went like this:

"So what kinds of movies do you typically watch?"
"Well what was the last movie you saw?"
"Hold on I'm thinking."

Finally I squeaked out "Yeah, um, dramas?"  I was in a panic.  The fact of the matter was I didn't even know what movies I like anymore.  I may as well have answered with something like "Movies good.  Popcorn.  Actors."  *Facepalm*

So as I'm thinking about all this I had a little epiphany.  Have you ever seen one of those optical illusions where you look at a picture for a length of time and then afterwards, the picture remains in your sight?  That's the problem with focusing on the black dot so intensely.  Even when you try to look away YOU SEE IT EVERYWHERE.  Dot.  Dot.  Dot!  DOT.  A hologram haunting every attempt at refocus elsewhere.  

Sure, the black dot is there.  There's nothing we can do about the black dot itself - it exists in our lives, I mean, it's there.  To pretend it's not there is denial, and I was there for a long time.  If we want the black dot to "go away", that would mean a few different things: after some serious thinking about whether to stay or go, either the removal of ourselves from our relationship...or?  That's it.  If we don't want the black dot in our lives, that's it.

For those of us who remain, or for those of us who may have a relationship with a high-functioning alcoholic and cannot break up or divorce that person (they are our parents, our children, or other family members) what we can do is work on our white space.  Fill up our own lives with who we are, what we're passionate about.  Maybe it's a favorite charity to which we haven't devoted much time, maybe it's taking more time to care for our own health and well-being - making that yoga class on Wednesday nights that we "never have time for" or asking a friend or neighbor to watch the kids so we can catch a movie.  Or relaxing and reading that book that's been gathering dust on our nightstand, getting back into an old hobby or interest, catching up with friends.  I guarantee you there are tons of things I can't even think of because I'm just not completely there yet myself to even fathom what they are.

What it means, ultimately, is to be more present in our own lives.  To honor our own spirits, our amazingly varied and special personalities, and to nourish the relationships we have with friends and family.  I can tell you this - sure, I am geographically handicapped and am miles and miles from those I love, but I sure miss my friends.  A few in particular, who had been such a bright, fun source of friendship and support, that surely I was not a proper friend to, as I was too busy dealing with "everything" to really be there for them.  And they spent so much time being there for me, lifting and filling me up.  They knew my circumstances and I felt safe with them, free from judgment.

My heart misses them, and as we're right in the middle of the holiday season it makes me want to drive all the way to their houses, skip wildly back and forth in front of their front lawns with signs and say "Thank you!  Thank you for seeing ME in the middle of everything, thank you for loving and caring for ME.  Now it's your turn!"  My friends and family are such a huge part of ME, and who I am, and fostering relationships with my wonderful "family of choice" is a tremendous blessing.  And I hope that I can get closer to being the real ME as I come out of this dark cloud, to be the real and great friend, daughter, sister and loved one that I know I am.

We are so fortunate to have those in our lives that do this for us, and it's completely and totally okay that sometimes we are that person that do those things for us, that we are enough.  A couple weeks ago I ordered a gorgeous flowery electric tea kettle, and a dainty cup and saucer set, just one of each.  And at night, after a lovely bath with essential oils, I truly relish sitting down to a great cup of Earl Grey, reading my new favorite book, surrounded by my snoozing animals.  It doesn't sound like much but it's a huge step for me, and I love it.  Maybe it's serenity that I'm experiencing, and it's a feeling that I didn't think I could have in my situation.  It makes me feel stronger and more able to take care of myself, and build my own life.  That I can and will be okay.  That I am enough.

There are certain things that make me feel like myself again.  The Real Me is in there, and when I do these things she opens her eyes, yawns and stretches at the day, looks around and says "Ah, here I am.  I am here."

What are those things for you?  What helps you feel like yourself again?

It's That Time of Year, and it can be challenging to focus on our white space right now.  But as always, my hope stretches out to you that you can find a small corner of your own white space, curl up in it or stretch out, throw some pottery, go hiking, sign up for that beginner's French class you always wanted to take, make your grandmother's ravioli, dance around and frolic or take a nap.  Whatever floats your boat.

As for me, time to go study up on Netflix.  If someone else asks me The Question anytime soon, I want to be prepared.