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M(3), 2/27/2017: It’s a Family Disease


I’m not sure I’ve ever been more excited for a month to end… it’s so exciting to write that date out.  We are almost there!

Today’s reading came from the book Forming True Partnerships, and this morning’s chapter concerns the family.  The author is an alcoholic in recovery, but her story focuses on the way she handled the alcoholism she found in three out of her four children.  She learned early on that the most effective way she could help her children was to let go of the need to fix them, and to be a good example of sober living.  The story has a happy ending in that all four of her children find sobriety (even the one that did not become a full-blown alcoholic),  and together they have 73 years of sobriety.  Inspirational stuff for sure.

My first reaction to reading this story was horror.  I have a healthy fear of even one of my children having to grapple with this disease, and how I will handle that issue should it arise.  To have three children suffer, and to know that powerlessness, would seem too much to handle.

The silver lining I heard in this cloud is that she got to experience the miracle of recovery over, and over, and over again.  By doing what she had to do to stay sober herself, she was able to be there for her children when they needed her, and she got to see them recover.  What a blessing that must have been.

The larger message I read, the broader issue that impacts each of us, is learning to let go of the need to control and fix our loved ones.  Even if it is not as serious as the author described, three children facing the crisis of full-blown alcoholism, virtually all of us struggle with the need to “fix” people in our lives.  It is so easy to see the problem when we are outside of it… surely people would be happier if they just did what we can so clearly see they should be doing!  But of course we are powerless over the actions of others, as well we should be.  This lesson is an important one for me to hear on a regular basis.

And that was only what I got from the reading!  Here are some other great insights:

  • This message applies to all sorts of family issues, and it is all too easy to get sucked into the drama of a family member’s life.  A 12-step program is a true gift in times of family crisis, because it is a reminder that we can only control ourselves.
  • Even without children, we all experience the situation where we are asked to fix someone else’s problem.  When this happens, it can jeopardize our own sobriety.  It is important to remember to put our own recovery first.  We are of no help to anyone unless we are on solid sober ground.
  • There are so many side benefits to a 12-step program besides helping us get sober, and this reading touches on an important one:  using the tools of the program to more effectively parent our children.  So many of the pithy expressions we take for granted in our fellowship are useful messages for our children.  Take things one day at a time, do the thing right in front of you, first things first… these are not just ways to stay sober, they are ways to live the best life you can live.
  • This story is more common than you think.  An alcoholic parent of multiple children is likely to go through this, and it can rip a family apart.  It is so useful to read a story such as this, and learn the things the author did to keep herself sane and sober, and to put yourself in the best position to help your children.  The biggest piece in the puzzle, and the most challenging part, is to learn to let go and let God.
  • One of the sneaky ways to parent a child that you worry might have some of the characteristics of a potential alcoholic, is to let them see how your recover.  Let them read the things you are reading, let them help you get sober, and hopefully a seed has been planted should the problem surface for them later in life.
  • It is frightening as the parent of small children to spot the characteristics that could lead to the disease of alcoholism, so it is important to learn how to detach from this fear and live in the present.  Again, we have no control over this type of outcome, or of the future itself.  We only have today.
  • When caught in a situation where you feel like you need to fix someone, it is critical to share what’s going on with someone you trust.  For those in a 12-step program, a sponsor is critical… make sure you are bouncing your thoughts, feelings and actions off someone who has an objective view of the situation.
  • This whole reading seems like it is about setting boundaries, something that is tricky for almost all of us to do, especially with our children.  An expression that is helpful when trying to create healthy boundaries is “let go or be dragged.”

Hope everyone is enjoying seeing February end as much as I am!

Today’s Miracle:

My initial reading of today’s story did not do a whole lot for me.  But thanks to the miracle of the wisdom of the group, I gained a wealth of ideas and perspectives that really helped me appreciate the story.  I am so grateful for my Monday morning peeps!


My Mind Says No, But My Mouth Says Yes

I have a very limited ability to set, or, more accurately, to enforce personal boundaries.  I can imagine all the different, healthy boundaries that I could set, but the reality is that I don’t currently possess the chutzpah to vocalize them to another human being.

Here is a real life example:  I’ve mentioned on numerous occasions (read: every Monday morning),  I started and run an AA meeting.  The meeting takes place in a new clubhouse, less than a year old, where the goal is “to provide a clean, safe environment for recovery, spirituality and fellowship.”

I entered the picture about 6 months into this project.  They had a building, and they were looking for people to start meetings, and so I said yes when I was asked.  And I have never looked back; I am proud of the decision, proud of the way the meeting has grown, and deeply grateful for the personal growth the meeting has provided me.

Other than my meeting, however, I spend little time at the clubhouse, mainly because I don’t have a lot of time to give.  I frequent others’ meetings there as often as I can, and I support events by providing food as they need it.    But as a wife and a mother of 2 (relatively) small children, I have a full life outside of AA, and I got sober so that I could appreciate that life, so I will always opt for supporting my family over supporting a social AA function (please note that I am making a distinction between social AA events and AA meetings themselves, my recovery comes before everything else).

So imagine my surprise when, about a week ago, the clubhouse board members approached me and asked me to help them with their leadership.  I was surprised but flattered, and of course I said I would do whatever I could to help them out.  Then they said they would like me to serve as… drum roll please… the Director of the Clubhouse.

If I could provide an audio right now, it would be of car brakes screeching… WHAT THE WHAT?!?

This request makes sense to me on ZERO levels… I am not part of the original group, I am not even technically a charter member, I don’t attend business meetings, all I do is run one AA meeting a week… how exactly does that qualify me to be a Director?  And of course there are my own personal reasons, such as the time commitment and the fact that I have NO EXPERIENCE with this type of position… I don’t even know what the heck a director does!

So I say to them, “I am happy to help, I will attend the next business meeting, but I do not wish to be a director, I just want to help out where I can.”

My words, apparently, fell on deaf ears.  I have seen one of the board members twice this week.  Each time he jokingly referred  to me as the “head drunk of the clubhouse.”  At the business meeting, which I attended last night, they asked me why I wasn’t sitting behind the desk.  I calmly say, “because I am not the director, I am just here to help out.”  There were several other mini-references, which I largely just ignored.

I left that meeting feeling like a failure.  Why did I not just take the bull by the horns and address the issue as I saw it:  I do not want to be a director, I stated that fact, and my statement has been ignored.  Instead, I joked back with the guy, ignored the other references, and never let them know that I was entirely uncomfortable.  Basically, I skirted around the issue as much as I could, which, in the end, gets me no closer to solving the problem.

Why is it so hard to tell someone No?  I have been talked through this issue numerous times in my life (because this is far from my first experience with not communicating my feelings), and the process I have been given goes something like this:  if you tell someone honestly how you are feeling, imagine the worst case scenario.  Usually the worst case scenario is not so bad, thus prompting me to communicate in a healthy way.

So what worst case scenario can I imagine if I had just spoke up:  “I am uncomfortable with how hard you are pushing me to take this position, and I am unwilling to contribute more than I have already offered?”  I imagine unease, awkward silence, and subsequent internal discomfort.  Now, I don’t know for sure what would have happened in terms of the first two points I just mentioned, but guess what?  That internal discomfort was felt by me anyway, and that was WITHOUT me voicing my concerns!

Here’s the good news:  I will have ample opportunities to correct my behavior in the days to come,  I will keep you posted.  All advice is gratefully welcomed!

Today’s Miracle:

Getting ready to enjoy a quiet, stress-free family night, and I cannot wait!

Setting Boundaries

Change the changeable, accept the unchangeable, and remove yourself from the unacceptable. -Denis Waitley

In addition to my daily AA meetings, I also attend a therapy group once a week.  This session is more or less a thorn in my side, because I am being mandated to attend it (the legal consequences to which I have referred in previous posts), and I tend to go into each session dragging my feet.  As the weeks have gone by, however, and as I have developed relationships with my fellow group members, I have been able to gain more and more from each session.  Today was particularly interesting, so I thought I’d write about it.

A man in the group was talking about his discomfort at being asked to do something he did not want to do.  The person asking was a member of AA, and they have developed a friendship.  But the request is time-consuming, and, as I said, uncomfortable for the man in my group, and he is not sure how to proceed.

Here’s why this is interesting to me:  I had been asked by an aggressive young woman to give her a ride, one time, since it was on my way home.  To make a really long story short, this has turned into an annoyance of monstrous proportions.  I have said yes to every request (and there have been many), but I am getting increasingly agitated by each interaction.  On the other hand, a big part of my 12-step program is to reach a hand out to those in need, so I have this recurring argument in my head…

Bad Angel on Shoulder:  Tell this girl you are done giving rides.

Good Angel on Shoulder:  No, that goes totally against the 12 steps, and you are basically driving by her anyway, what is the big deal?

Bad Angel:  The big deal is that you are starting to get irritated before you even get in the car, and you can’t afford to let this resentment build.

Good Angel:  But why even have the resentment?  Stop being so self-centered and pick the girl up.

Bad Angel:  ME self-centered?  That girl does nothing but complain about her life for the entire time we are in the car together, pausing only to demand the next thing she needs!

Good Angel:  Yes, you are self-centered, and this ridiculous debate is proof of it.  Now stop whining and get on with it.

…And so on (and believe me, I am abbreviating this internal debate).  So when this topic was introduced, I was able to ask the group (which includes a therapist) the question:  how can you differentiate between setting boundaries for yourself, and being available to help another person in recovery?

It was a lively conversation, and the solution I heard was this:  personal recovery comes first.  If you are being asked to do something that compromises your own recovery, then the line from” helping others” to “boundary issues” has been crossed, and it’s time to assert yourself.

I will end by saying that I am getting very close to that line with this young woman, but it has not been crossed… yet.  But now that I have this distinction in my mind, I really feel a lot better about knowing when it’s okay to say no.

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