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Forging a new path

Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I -
I took the one less traveled by,
And this has made all the difference.

Robert Frost

This week at an AA meeting a guy with a lot of sober time repeated a sentiment I’ve frequently heard from him. He said, “I realized when I got sober I had a lot more problems than just drinking and I had to work on myself.”

This is so true and I’m glad he keeps reiterating that point. I anticipated the hard part would be done after I hit one year of sobriety. My mind and body would be free of alcohol and I’d feel good.

That’s not how it’s gone down. Sobriety doesn’t mean the work is done. Far from it. I removed only the top layer, my drinking.

The underlining problems are still there.

I’ve got issues. Big issues. Major flaws with my coping mechanisms. The DSM 5 manual of mental disorders lays out many of my psychological conditions and personality defects. I would say the biggest obstacle to a normal existence is I’m ill-equipped to handle any emotional state. My default is to be impassive.

I’m not comfortable being happy, sad, angry, or fearful. I’m inexperienced recognizing feelings like frustration, embarrassment, nervousness, and pride. Feeling loved and loving isn’t easy for me either. I previously functioned by denying I felt anything. My drinking behavior supported and sustained my emotionless life.

The drink has been removed and I’m forced to be present and sensitive to how I feel. Here’s where the personality defects enter the scene. I don’t handle emotional stress well which leads to a great deal of mood swings and depression. I cope by isolating myself because moodiness does not fit into societal norms. To the world outside my home I’ve spent my life self-monitoring so I look normal. I’ve taken impassive to a new level of appearing composed and unaffected.

There’s one relationship that has suffered the most throughout the years. My marriage. My husband and I developed really unhealthy habits after 25 years of marriage. Namely, we lived a secluded and extremely private life. I’d also say we were codependent although I’m only recently learning that term. I think it’s reasonable to assume that if a couple lacks outside support systems then they are overly dependent on each other.

My sobriety was the catalyst that changed everything. I mean the whole kit and caboodle. When I started going to AA I left behind my sheltered life. I actively sought to alter the negative patterns that led to drinking in isolation. Unfortunately my husband didn’t agree or have a similar readiness to change things up. He’s been taken hostage on this mission of mine. First alcoholism and now recovery.

I get that he’s not happy with the changes. He’d grown accustomed to my dependency and it’s a whole new world. We’re having a great deal of arguments about how many meetings I go to, how long I stay after meetings, the long conversations I have with my sponsor and the new level of intimacy I’ve developed with a girlfriend I’ve known for 16 years. I’m broadening my social circle and the repercussions within my marriage suck. For example, I stayed after an AA meeting and talked with J for an hour and when I arrived home my husband had 20 questions.  I didn’t reply because what I say fuels the fire.  I no longer want to feel I’ve done something wrong when I haven’t; so I try not to defend something that is not indefensible.

I’m gaining self-esteem and developing an ability to acknowledge my feelings. I beginning to know when I feel comfortable and loved and when I don’t. I like who I am when I feel at ease; it is a place of alignment with the positive energy in the universe.

The problem is I don’t often like who I am with my husband. I feel uncomfortable in my own home because we’ve unintentionally developed a pattern where I feel subordinate to my husband’s wishes. He controls how, what, where, when and who does anything. That’s an exaggeration but it makes the point that I was a minor player in our life together. It’s as if I’m the child and he’s the fatherly figure.

I played right into that dynamic when I was drinking.   I was comfortable with isolating and detaching. In this way I could drink and the authoritative atmosphere in the home continued. Regrettably over time the patterns became firmly set. I sensed I was inferior and disappointing and I did what I could to conform but mostly I shut down and became depressed. I drank to withstand my unhappiness.

This pattern has worn out its welcome. Through sober eyes I recognize this behavior is unhealthy. I am working on recovering my self-esteem and a sense of worthiness within the fellowship of AA.

However, my husband doesn’t know me any longer and I’m not so sure he likes the new me that he sees. I’m maturing and growing up. With this change I’m becoming aware of when my husband’s words and actions are hurtful and I let him know. I’m certain the changes I’m making are healthy steps toward discovering who I am, how I feel and gaining self-acceptance. But, this is new territory and my confidence waivers because I know he doesn’t like the changes.

change your ego

I’m viewing my problems from a new angle. The issue is not really anything concerning my husband, except when my desire to be content in my own skin is thwarted by bitter words and interactions that cut me down. I lose discernment and take on his critical view of myself. Admittedly, this issue is mine. It is how I view myself when I’m under emotional stress at home. I allow an external event to cloud me from my innate sense of goodness.

My wish is that he and I can let our unhealthy habits go and begin to rebuild our marriage. We have to rewrite the vision we have of each other. I can’t continue to see him as the savior or enforcer.  I no longer want to be inhibited by alcohol, driven by personality defects, or fearful of letting my husband down.

life-story author

The marriage counselor encourages me and my husband to put some space between us. He emphasizes that separation is important because we have been too closely attached. I see what he is saying because for me I need to have distance and new support systems in place so that I can realize the true vision of myself.

Do not let the behaviors of others
Destroy your inner peace.

~Dalai Lama

♥ Fern ♥

 

woman with wine

That may not be funny to a recovering alcoholic but it rings true.

The change my marriage is going through is painful. My husband does not like me going to AA and making connections. He freely admits it and our therapist told him, “You don’t have to like it.” Of course the therapist meant that I can do it anyway and my husband has to come to deal with it. But, some days I can’t keep perspective. I do not like this ongoing conflict within my marriage. I feel defeated and I lose a connection with my husband, my sponsor, the AA fellowship and my spirit or higher power.

I’m hiding out and isolating. Sadly, when I turn inward I feel somehow I’m protecting myself. It’s quality time where no one can get me. It’s not perfect because I’m lost and feel like a tortured soul being split in two.  The nightly wine gave me a reprieve from those hurt and fearful feelings. I’m not going to drink and thus I must ask, “How can I ever live without it?

Please do not answer that question.  I’m being rhetorical and melodramatic.

xoxo Fern

Working on my marriage is the biggest challenge thus far in sobriety.

AA and Al-anon complement each other

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

dilbert

My husband sent me this comic via email from work.  He wrote, “I bet you’ve never heard this one in AA.”

My life is changing since my husband got involved in Al-anon and we began going to counseling together.  Good stuff is happening and I must acknowledge it. He and I are weaving our lives back together after years of my alcoholic isolation keeping us apart.

Last night my husband and I got into bed early. He respected my request to read for a while and fall off to sleep peacefully (without expectations for more).  He was reading from the Al-anon book Courage to Change which has daily reflections, reminders and prayers.  I was reading a novel on my Kindle.  I watched out of the corner of my eye as my husband turned pages and I asked why he was reading ahead.  He answered that he has to read things more than once to get it. I didn’t want to sound judgmental so I replied, “That’s good.”  He continued on to explain his pattern of reading today’s passage and the two days ahead.  His tone was calm and soothing to me.  After he closed the book, I saw him shut his eyes and go into deep reflection.

May miracles never cease!!!

This is a guy I’ve known for 30 years and I’ve never known him to read anything but a manual and the occasional book if it’s about guitars or fishing.  He’s never been a reader let alone opened a self-help book.

I’m tickled, really.  It makes me so happy to see my husband wanting to change with me.  I believe he really does see how I’ve broaden my support system and how AA has had a positive effect on me.  For a while he was jealous and felt threatened which led to me feeling trapped and confused.  I didn’t know how to work the program and give myself to my husband.  And when he initially got into Al-anon I was suspicious.  I believed its’ focus was the problems I’ve caused in our lives through alcoholism. On the contrary, I’m coming to realize Al-anon is complementary to the AA program. I read the first page of Courage to Change and it says part of its mission is to give “understanding and encouragement to the alcoholic.”

I often wondered why people in AA recommended loved ones try Al-anon.  I truly thought it was contradictory and hostile toward alcoholics.  It confused me when people sounded pleased that my husband was going to Al-anon meetings.  How can you think it’s good he’s talking with others about my defects?

I see now I was wrong.  Al-anon believes “alcoholism is a family illness and changed attitudes can aid recovery.”  That means everyone changes their attitude.

Therapy also has been so helpful for both of us to understand our expectations and each other’s feelings.  The counselling sessions haven’t been easy, though, because some days it’s about my selfishness and overly sensitive personality, which I have difficulty accepting.  I must give back in order for my husband to help me in recovery.  So, I am learning to balance my desire for emotional distance with his need for closeness. Conversely, he is beginning to seek emotional support through Al-anon so he is better equipped to handle the reality that I don’t need his emotional support for everything.  A weight has been lifted from me — I no longer have to provide him with constant reassurance.  He’s accepting that I have my own thoughts, feelings and behaviors that won’t always be in sync with his needs.  Since he’s given up trying to control me, I’m more open to giving freely back to him what it is he wanted in the first place.

I am grateful today for this new sense of acceptance for what I have right now.

•♥•♥•♥ Fern ♥•♥•♥•

Change how you think

think positive

Negative thoughts have the power to invade my brain and completely possess my mind, body, and spirit. I have the type of personality that takes self-blame to a new level in that I believe there is something really wrong with me.

I turned against myself at a very young age. My parents were over critical, I have a sensitive personality, and life’s experiences caused me to develop an overpowering sense of inferiority. Childhood stresses such as abuse, separation, rejection, fighting, divorce, and death were managed internally. I felt powerless, betrayed, confused, and worst of all, guilty. As a child in this state of confusion my thinking became illogical and unreasonable. Negative self-image and self-blame make no sense and this kind of distorted self-image definitely hinders the healing. It’s been impossible for me to get out from under the unhealthy things I tell myself because I believe them.

I exposed these thoughts to my sponsor in a rambling self-berating text. He responded by giving me an assignment. I’m to look at the text I wrote and tell him how many mentally unhealthy things I find indicators of and then imagine the person writing them was someone else. What would I say to her and how would I help her?

I have to put aside my arrogance to do this assignment because I can give the answer in one sentence. I already know how I think is wrong and the thing to tell myself is I’m not bad. That said, I will dig deep and try to expose my unhealthy thinking in a compassionate way. Pride and egotism get in the way of my ability to truly acknowledge and have empathy for myself. It’s a further dilemma that I judge myself inferior for feeling inadequate. This is the distorted thinking I must break through and stop.

Enough with the intellectual bullshit. On with the assignment…

I wrote these words to my sponsor:

I hate everything about myself.

My depressive thinking is too heavy to shake off.

I’m not joyful, loving, smart, witty, happy, or spiritual.

A person who has those positive traits wouldn’t want me as a friend.

No one wants to be around me because I’m depressed.

No one should be around me because I will suck all of their positive energy.

My problems are all self-imposed.

I’m not reachable or teachable.

Even the most unconditional love isn’t enough.

There’s nothing anyone can do.

Give up on me.

From those words I picked out many examples of unhealthy thinking. I see a person who believes they are:

  • worthless
  • powerless
  • inferior
  • unchangeable
  • alone
  • unlovable
  • different
  • helpless
  • hopeless
  • overwhelmed
  • defeated

What I would say to try to help a person who felt such a way…

Dear Self,

No words can express how sad it makes me that you feel so awful about yourself because I see your goodness. You are forgetting all of the wonderful qualities you possess. You must not allow the light within to be blocked by false beliefs about yourself. None of those things that you tell yourself are true.

I came across a flower you made to recognize your positive personality traits. These are words you used to describe yourself:

thoughtful

supportive

loving

straightforward

moral

organized

truthful and honest

non-judgmental

always ready to laugh

rational

strong

neutral

patient

empathetic

loves and protects animals

peaceful

sensitive to others

(The flower was first posted on 10/2012 to My old blog )

I can hear your inner voice trying to overpower those words you wrote. You want to disown them by feeling bad that you wrote those words 2 years ago and you still struggle. Your mind wants to go down the negative path of believing your unchangeable. I know you still struggle with feeling negative about yourself but that doesn’t mean you can’t change. You can always change your thinking.  

You are smart. Make a conscious choice to not fall into the negative thoughts that want to pull you down.

See if you can recognize when the negative thoughts come. Let’s name them so they can be identified and destroyed.

falsehoods

untruths

stories

fiction

lies

insults

deceits

tales

misrepresentations

offensive

hurtful

damaging

dangerous

disingenuous

derogatory

harmful

hateful

mean

false

irrational

immoral

backwards

unloving

unsupportive

obstructive

hindering

unhelpful

That list says it all. It’s time to live the truth. Don’t believe the lies you’ve grown accustomed to. When your mind begins to go negative try to stop the thoughts. Just don’t go there. Remember that it hurts the true self and causes harm.

I want to help build up your self-image. Those things you tell yourself are not true. Let’s call them what they are. LIES. You are none of those negative things you tell yourself. If someone tells you a lie you know not to listen. You see through it and don’t believe it.

Let’s start by changing your habit of listening to the lies in your head. You know you are not worthless, powerless, inferior, unchangeable, alone, unlovable, different, helpless, hopeless, overwhelmed, and defeated.

You are worthy because you are a part of this universe, no more or less than anything or anyone else.

You can change by changing how you see yourself. Believe you are as beautiful as the most spectaular sunrise, and as deserving as the tallest tree in the forest that has flourished with what the universe offers to it. Always remember that you have a right to that which nature accepts without question. Stop listening to the lies in your head and take that which you deserve and which you have a God given right to for the simple reason that you are one with the universe.

With love,

Self

My past is holding me back

I watched a video of a guy talking to a group about how to do a 4th step in AA.  The speaker obviously knew the members in the workshop so it seemed like a meeting that regularly meets and this time they recorded it.  I liked the speaker so I watched the full 60 minutes.

A thought went through my head that maybe I shouldn’t be doing this by myself. I kind of know that the point of a sponsor is to walk me through the steps yet here I am thinking I can do it all on my own.  I’ll just learn how to do it from this guy in the video, I thought.  So, that’s what I did.

I made 4 columns just like they do in the big book with a place to write resentments, the cause, how did it effect me, and what did I do wrong and/or why am I behaving this way? (I’m no expert so that’s the short version).

I watched a woman talk about the resentments she has for her son and I thought, I can do this.  I tackled my biggest resentment of all — a childhood event when I was sexually abused. I wrote down the perpetrator’s name (a family member of all people), how the person effected my developing instincts, and finally, what this incident did to me in terms of developing faulty thinking and behaviors.  The speaker broke it down into simple terms — You can’t change the other person but you can change your SELF.

I came up with a dozen ways the event effected me, such as a sense of feeling unworthy, dirty, and shameful, which eventually led to my actions that were promiscuous and unsafe. The exercise became a ticket to beat myself up for every part of the event from start to finish. Hindsight  is 20/20.  I should have NEVER started with the biggest issue without some forethought.

I talked to J who listened to my feelings and fears; like a fifth step I admitted to another person the exact nature of my wrongs with regard to this resentment.

The repercussions were enormous.  I went into a deep funk and felt awful about myself.  I skipped my home group meeting this week and shied away from everyone.  My alter ego got the edge and I spiraled into a pit of despair.  I wrote J a text that showed just how unhealthy my thinking gets, ultimately writing that I’m not worth the trouble.   I think the trauma from the past and the fallout from bringing it all up was too much for me to handle.   I cried and cried. Worst of all, I wouldn’t answer J’s phone calls.  I kept my distance from my husband and that hurt him too.  I recognize this was a missed opportunity to get support when I was at my worst.

Old habits die-hard.

When I was cried out I sought the support from those who love me.  My best friend, my husband and J.  My best friend was sympathetic and I discovered feeling unworthy was something she understood.

My husband seemed envious that I talked to my girlfriend and J.  This makes me sad because I wish it weren’t such a “them or me” thing.   He said, “You used to come to me but you are detached so I have to accept it’s not me you rely on.” His vision of what is going on with me and my sponsor is this: “You just need to find a guy to feel sorry for you and then get him to make you feel better.”

I attempted to explain to my husband that those behaviors are what I’m working on changing.  I wanted him to understand it is a handicap for me, feeling like I’m not worth it and acting all pitiful is keeping me from the life I want.

“I want to feel happy so that we can have fun together.” My husband’s response, “You can only change yourself so don’t talk about what will happen with me.”

Lately my husband continually uses Al-anon slogans that make it very clear he knows he can’t control what I do, say or feel.  This is a conflicted message because it leads me to think he doesn’t want to be a part of my recovery.  Perhaps not, and I need to learn to stop talking to him.  It feels like it always backfires and he uses it against me or I take it the wrong way because I expose my vulnerabilities and the response I receive is based on his fears and hurt.

J and I talked for almost an hour.  He offered a healthy perspective and gave me many things to consider.  First he told me to write a letter to the person that wrote the sorry ass text (my words) and respond as I would to a friend (not as the inner critic).  J says I must see that the negative thoughts are not me and I will learn to head them off before going down that path.

What about the 4th step and taking personal inventory?

J said, “You don’t want to stay in that state of mind.  You look at the past, see how it’s effected you and then release it into the universe.  Don’t keep going back.  That’s the ego and you don’t want to keep falling into the muck.”  J went on to give specific examples of how to change my thoughts and actions and I felt relief from my self-loathing.  After talking I could sense that the negative thinking is not the true me.  It’s a false ideal that I continue to fall into.

J acknowledged that I’m in a state of despair.  There was a discussion about how I don’t like to feel out of control and life is not in my control.  J suggests I celebrate that feeling of not knowing.  I admittedly say, I don’t know a lot and J pointed out that those words come with anxiety and fears.  He can hear it when I answer in such a way.  He said, “Try to be happy with not knowing.”

My sponsor gave me another assignment.  I’m to listen to the universe and wait to see a vision of where I’ll be once I get through this despair.  What does the universe have in store for me?  The answer can’t be forced but it will be revealed if I’m listening.  Lean into where I want to be.  Those simple words choke me up.  I can’t say why.

Perhaps it is that J is giving me hope.

Fern

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bridging the emotional distance

Bridging Emotional Distance

 

 

 

 

 

 

Alcohol has significantly impacted my ability to emotionally connect with people.   The relationship I have with my husband is where the emotional distance feels the most obvious. And, as the fog of alcohol clears from my head, I see just how much our relationship has been breached.

We started out with a deep emotional connection where we shared intimate details about ourselves. My husband recalls these bygone days and longs for the time when I depended on him for just about everything. Of course, I remember those early days too; but I’ve changed so much that I don’t see those days ever returning.

I can’t pinpoint exactly when and what caused the distance between us. 7 years of infertility? Fulltime jobs? Children? Depression? It was all of the above plus a lack of effort to make time for each other.

But, most of all, I mustn’t forget my drinking.

When my husband and I graduated college and got our first apartment together I began to drink after work to decompress from any feeling that came up during the day. Good, bad, happy or sad. I don’t even think I put a name to emotions that were more complicated than that. I simply drank to obliterate all of them. Every night I sought the reliable sensation of being emotionally disconnected that predictably followed my first beer or glass of wine.

25 years went by before the amount of alcohol escalated to a point where I avoided most social engagements. Prior to that, I could moderate my drinking, but in the last 3 years my primary concern became when I could begin drinking at night. My mind became obsessed with all-things-wine. My emotions were completely shut off at this stage. I had 2 different states: drinking or recovering so I could drink again.

My emotional life suffered and a wide gap grew between me and my husband. I could offer unconditional love to my kids, be polite to my extended family but my moods fluctuated a lot with my husband. None was pleasant to be around, either; most of the time I was distant, resentful, and full of self-pity.

To my husband’s credit he never gave up on me but his demanding job of 30 years also impacted our lives. He frequently brought his work stress home and he was quick to criticize and become angry. That and my addictive personality took its’ toll on our relationship.

My first year of sobriety caused subtle changes to my marriage. I didn’t join in the fights any longer, instead I repeated The Serenity Prayer over and over. But the biggest transformation occurred within when I began to change myself. I was calmer, less reactive, and no longer complained about his behaviors.

My husband began to notice. He became curious and took more of an interest in the new, sober me.

I believe he saw the change as me returning to my old self; but, actually, the AA recovery program was helping me recognize and accept the old me played a huge role in how my life turned out. In order to make improvements and not live a life of self-destruction I began to change my thinking.

I realize I have many fears and my ego and pride block me from having healthy connections with others. When I began talking about my fears in AA a dramatic change occurred. I discovered I wasn’t the sum of all of my fears. I discovered there is a power greater than me and if I surrender to that idea I give up living with the false illusion that I can control others. This revelation opened my world and I am beginning to discover who I really am.

August was a tough month for me because my husband tried his damnedest to get the old me back that relied on him for all emotional support. He showered me with attention, gifts, getaways, fancy restaurants and love, physically and emotionally. I was conflicted between the support I got in AA, the desire to be taken care of and my husband’s need for more of me.

We started marital counseling and it has been helpful because we both have different expectations of how our relationship should be. I am eager for it to broaden out to allow me to continue getting the benefits from the fellowship of AA. My husband desperately wanted me to lessen my dependency on AA and increase my reliance on him. He became frustrated that all of his efforts to completely satisfy me didn’t work. I still needed my meetings, my sponsor, and the AA program.

I suggested my husband try out the AL-Anon program and when my husband was ready he went. He discovered like-minded people and found a place where he belonged. He is a smart guy and almost instantly picked up on the philosophy of AL-Anon. I can see a change; he is learning he can’t fix me and the only person he has control over is himself.

September has been a difficult month for me because I spent the early weeks still feeling conflicted. When my husband pulled back on trying to save me from my own moods, it depressed me and I felt really low. The reality of our newly established relationship was hard for me to accept. I struggled with wanting my independence but also liking my husband’s full attention, which he withdrew. So, for a short time (which seemed like forever) I was full of self-loathing and a sense of despair. I didn’t like where I had been, I didn’t like where I was and I feared the unknown future.

My husband noticed my mood but this time he allowed space for me to deal with it. During all of this, my husband began to focus on himself. He started a diet and exercise program and has lost 30 lbs. He now goes to AL-Anon meetings. He stopped watching TV at night, we go to bed at the same time and share meaningful talks and intimacy. We both know we are doomed if we don’t make an effort.

Looking back, I realize I’ve been emotionally shut down with my husband for quite a long time. There were many years where I feared his anger and criticism. I distanced myself with drinking and isolation because fear of rejection and disappointment were too great.

These last few months I’ve been going through extreme growing pains. I’m beginning to recognize more of my feelings and I’m able to talk in therapy about them. It was hard to tell my husband I was scared of his anger or that his controlling ways are too much. I could not remember how to talk to him without fearing his antagonism. But, he and I are both changing. He’s seen my metamorphosis over the last year and now I’m beginning to notice that my husband is less controlling and not as reactive. I don’t have to live in fear because he is listening to me and trying to be supportive of my desire to broaden my support system. I’ve turned a corner and I see how my own fears held me back. My husband really didn’t cause my emotional withdrawal it was my reaction based on my own fears.

It’s a gift that my husband and I have been together for so long (married 25 years). We have an amazing opportunity to build a healthy relationship that will allow for individual growth as well as a deeper love for each other. I am grateful that he hasn’t lost his love for me because his efforts are what’s really getting us through this. He loves me just as he did when we were younger even though I lost my way.

I’m learning to be patient and loving in my marriage while also beginning to believe I deserve to feel worthwhile and safe. That sounds so simple but it is a real challenge for me. Thankfully, today I’m sober and can face my fears. Underneath my fears I will discover the person God meant me to be. I have never been a dreamer but today I can say I dream to be free of my old self. That old self was spiritually bankrupt. I dream of being  spiritually fit.

The fruit of

the Spirit is love, joy,

peace, patience,

kindness, generosity,

faithfulness,

gentleness, and

self-control.

~Galatians 5:22-23

♥ Fern ♥

 

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