“Gratitude unlocks the fullness of life. It turns what we have into enough, and more. It turns denial into acceptance, chaos to order, confusion to clarity. It can turn a meal into a feast, a house into a home, a stranger into a friend. Gratitude makes sense of our past, brings peace for today and creates a vision for tomorrow.” – Melody Beattie
There are times that I can begin to let the challenges of my life become my total focus. Even though I know that living my life from a place of gratitude is where I find the peace and serenity, it is not always easy. I know that there are concerns and life cannot be totally stress free. But it is how I deal with these situations. Do I face them head on and look for the learning and silver linings? Do I see keep things in perspective or let them run rampant in my mind to a place that is not healthy? Sometimes I do well and other times I need to self-correct.
When I come from a place of gratitude it is like the quote from Melody Beattie above. I can turn chaos into order and I can turn confusion into clarity. Being grateful starts your day with a sense of calm and a place of serenity. I have to remind myself daily to be grateful. Sometimes I write down a list of what I am grateful for. You can also keep a journal and refer to it when you are feeling down or stressed. Keep the gratefulness in your heart and that will help to keep the peacefulness in your head!
One day I was driving my son to a local transit station. I quickly glanced his way to see if he was wearing his seat belt. The last time I was driving him he did not have his seat belt on and I realized it just when a police officer pulled up next to us. This panicked me and bothered me to no end. I don’t want any trouble. At the time he was 28 years old, by the way. Now he has acquired a ginormous tattoo that runs from his shoulder to his wrist on one arm. I’m struggling to accept it. I kept seeing it in my periphery. Soon I noticed other things around me. At an intersection, the car just next to me pulled up to the stop light. Here was a young driver who had all the earmarks of a young drug dealer. There were several young people at the corner gas station, loitering; they too looked suspect to me – did I just see them nod to that drug dealer driver? And the car on my right, the driver also had a very noticeable tattoo… Somewhere there was loud music BOOM BOOM BOOMING… Everywhere around me were suspicious people, my son’s age, in cars, on sidewalks, parking lots and bus stations, all seemingly with no direction or purpose. It was like the ZOMBIES had all come out in the afternoon. This is an area I drive daily and I never noticed this before!
What just happened here? I was uneasy about his tattoo. Why? One word: Judgment. I was placing judgment on him AND would be lying if I said I wasn’t a little concerned about how people would judge me! So, as sneaky as my EGO can be, I involuntarily defaulted to my old defects of character – placing judgment on those around me – they looked suspicious! This tactic used to work good when I did not want to take a good look at myself. Let’s face it. If I put the focus on them, I don’t see where there is any “me” in the equation. This time, however, I CAUGHT ME!
I never know when I’m going to resort to old habits where character defects surface, but I am able to recognize what I’m doing and stop it soon after. Before recovery in the Al-Anon Family Group I would not have considered my viewpoint the problem. I sometimes look forward to finding another thing I’m wrong at because it’s so humbling! What a gift!
I learned, over time, how dysfunctional my thinking became after spending so much time and energy focused on my sons. It was not obvious to me how much I had relinquished control of my self-worth to others – an effect from alcoholism and drug addiction in the family. When I took the focus off of them and began to look at me, I could see how I perceived the world around me – how my thinking was distorted. But old habits and thoughts can be changed – rehabilitated. I sometimes find myself beginning the think in negative ways. Thoughts that range from taking blame for other’s actions or feelings, to not feeling worthy enough to voice my true feelings. My top favorites:
1. She didn’t call me back; I must have done something wrong!
2. I don’t have anything to say… no one would listen anyway.
3. I can’t ask them, they seem so busy – I don’t want to impose.
4. I can’t say no, what would they think of me?
5. I’m sorry he behaved so badly; let me make it up to you.
6. I feel bad about charging X dollars per hour for my work, anyone could do it, really!
7. I’ll just pretend that did not happen, why stir up the bees?
As silly as Stuart Smalley’s affirmations were from his SNL episodes, there’s a point behind the humor.
Today I will try to be patient, kind and accepting of the person I am. I can learn to appreciate the progress I’m making. I know I have skills and abilities that are useful and I’m working on developing a better sense of self! After all; “I’m good enough, I’m smart enough, and doggone it, people like me!”
Researchers recently re-visited the phenomena that we do not see everything that is in plain sight. A new study shows that given a specific task to focus on, people can filter the world around them so aggressively that it literally shapes what they see. This phenomenon has a name: inattentional blindness. The recent story, titled “Why even radiologist can miss a gorilla hiding in plain sight” was aired on NPR radio and I found it fascinating and relative to co-dependency.
I related to the study as it applied to my own life at a time when obsession and tunnel vision regarding my son’s behavior was a 24/7 focus. I saw concerning problems, but I did not see alcoholism. I’d see where I could help, but I did not see it as getting in their way. When I ran through the “tomorrows” and the “to-do’s” for them, I did not see my control. Each time they told me a lie I did not see their contrary behavior. When I lay awake at night fearing the worse, I did not see my powerlessness.
I was alert, focused; giving it all my waking thoughts, yet there was a gorilla in plain sight that I did not see. And I was dancing with the gorilla. It’s not an indicator of weakness or a matter of intelligence. It’s just the way my brain framed the problems that addiction created. I believed what I saw to be true.
In recovery I’m learning to see things differently and at best, accept that what I see may not be the truth. I’m learning to be aware that there may be something more to a situation than what I see. I’m learning to put on my Al-Anon glasses and recognize the gorilla is asking for a dance.
Whenever I was in the presence of my son, I found myself talking. A lot. I’ve learned to shut up. I’ve learned that my talking is nervous energy and can be destructive, meaningless, and often disguised as caring, but actually manipulative. I’ve mentioned before how my talking gets me in trouble -see blog post “my parole agent is checking in”, September 14, 2012. The question, “why am I talking” can often be used as a tool to remind me that maybe this time, if I try to be quiet, I can be a better listener. This is what I know about myself and my mouth whenever I’m in the family disease – what’s behind the mask of the excessive talking:
1. I will dominate the conversation as a shield against open and honest communication
2. I know better than you so I’ll correct you
3. I don’t want to hear untruths so I’ll emit non-verbal responses that scream “LIAR!”
4. I’m uncomfortable with silence so I take control
5. I’ll ask questions that put you on the spot on matters that are not my business
This doesn’t describe someone I’d want to hang out with! This isn’t open communication! Today I make an honest attempt to be very aware of what I say or why I want to dominate the conversation because I have chosen to change my ways. When I keep the focus on me, my loved ones may not be able to describe exactly what changed, but I’ve noticed that my relationships with them have improved.
I heard someone say, “nothing like Arkansas in the rearview mirror!” to illustrate a point about running away from problems. It’s also been termed a “geographic” – meaning, if I move away to another city, state, country, I will leave the problems behind. This sounded like a good idea – boy was I ready to escape! I had entertained those thoughts myself because addiction and drug abuse was creating havoc in my life and I was at wits end. I felt cornered where the only way out was to pick up and move!
I have since learned that running away doesn’t solve anything because I still have to live with myself! I can’t run from me – but early on I did not see my part in the equation. I only saw what THEY were doing. Detach with love! Detach with anger! Detach however you can! These were recurring suggestions. Not knowing how to detach, one thing that did work was to take “mini geographics” with my husband in our travel trailer. These little escapades, new to us, in an old used hunting trailer my husband brought home, became my way to detach. For one long weekend I would go to the mountains, the ocean or a lake and have serenity. Eventually I found my higher power. Eventually I learned how to focus on my life again with no outside influences; phone calls, knocks at the door, newspapers, neighbors. We detached, if but for one weekend at a time!
These road trips were my time: to read, paint, take walks, kayak. I could sleep; sleep some more and read my recovery material. I worked on me, and what I gained was health: spiritual, physical and mental. I fondly think of my old trailer as my “mobile serenity” which helped me understand the solution to my problems begin with me.
There was a time I used the siblings to debrief my anguish and worry about the other “one” – the child whose absence or drama was taking center stage and getting my full attention. Unaware of how damaging this would be to the remaining family members, I did this for a long time. The realization that my actions might have contributed to a form of suffering on them was a hard nut to swallow. I had to learn it the hard way; it seems to be a recurring theme for me. I first pondered the notion when listening to Alateens share their hurt, abandonment and other issues they kept to themselves while watching mom or dad get progressively worse in their futile attempts to straighten up the “affected” one’s life. I’d hear how some would become overly protective and sometimes take the role of caretaker, worried about the troubled sibling. Some would get resentful about all the attention given to the other. The entanglement of the family disease is cunning, baffling and powerful. To the “normal” sibling, the desire for mom and dad to get happy again would become their focus. So, in a sense, young co-dependents were forming as the family disease reached epidemic proportions. I wondered which role my children fell into.
Becoming aware didn’t actually help me with how to do better…the Al-Anon Family Group and 12 step recovery program was my road map for change. I had to start over with training wheels, in a sense, beginning with me and my contributions to the family disease. It began with accepting I had problems of my own to work on. The hope for me was that I could mend broken relations with all those who mattered in my life.
Today, with guarded mouth and awareness of the family disease, I try to keep the focus and be present with those who stand before me. I no longer ask prying questions about the “other” one whose lifestyle is concerning. I consciously choose to seize those opportunities with gratitude to be allowed the accompaniment of their presence. Most critically, I get to be PRESENT with no conditions and that is my GIFT to them.
Just as I had hopes and dreams for my daughter to be happy, healthy and whole, it occurred to me that I have the same hopes and dreams for myself and my family. Somehow along the way we all became fractured and a little bit lost from our path. It isn’t that we weren’t responsible; it was more that we were a bit distracted from what we needed to do for ourselves. For me it is similar to any Mom who has kids. You enter into motherhood and you get swept up in the day to day responsibilities that become all consuming. Then before you know it, you look in the mirror one day and wonder where you went! It isn’t necessarily that you don’t like where you are, you just wonder at times who you are and how you want your life to be. Typically as Moms we are too busy to be concerned with these deep questions.
At one point in my Mom journey I had taken a major detour which felt like I veered into a dark alley and I was trying to find my way back out into the light. I then knew it was time to focus on my life and my entire family and put less focus on just my daughter’s life. I also knew that the struggles we had all gone through lead to major personal growth for everyone. I became aware that there were many gifts that lie just beneath the surface of the path I had been on. I was open to explore these gifts every step of the journey forward.
I sometimes ponder how quickly my fear and sadness of having a child with a drug problem resulted in my own physical issues: The teeth grinding at night, hair loss, weight gain, and high blood pressure to name a few. Initially, throwing quick fixes to the symptoms has had high costs: dental work, medical bills and revenue recovery.
With righteous indignation, I had plenty of excuses. If you walked in my shoes, you might understand why. It was easy to blame THEM for what THEY were putting me through. To add insult to injury, the disease of addiction and alcoholism were also affecting my immediate family and I resented that too.
But further contemplation while working the 12 steps of Al-Anon has shown me that I am better off doing a self-examination of myself, my motives and reasons. I had to relearn how to take ownership of my own actions and quit already with the excuses.
My attitude, if left unchecked, models the addict/alcoholic. I can easily blame others and have a distorted view on life. When I take the focus off THEM and work my own program of recovery, I am given gifts beyond measure. Here, true rehabilitation begins at the root cause – ME. I am able to deflect and change the course of how I feel both emotionally and physically.