I was reminded the other night about my self-will and if I don’t turn it over to a Power, greater than myself, I limit myself, hurt myself or others and quite possibly alter an event that could have been the best thing ever had I not interfered. I’ve often wondered how many times my fears and self-will actually got in the way of my son’s path. The Al-Anon program helps me see this better.
I recently experienced this phenomena of seeing how my self-will gets in my own way! Today I call these “lessons in humility.” Being humble means I am teachable. I have learned how to recognize my stinking thinking and stop myself before I do or say something I’ll regret later – or missed opportunity! Before Al-Anon, I did not even know I was a hindrance to my own growth and enjoyment much less my sons. Just the other day my art instructor sent us a photo of a Starbucks cup, napkin, empty Splenda packet and a partially eaten donut as the “watercolor painting” we were tasked to do. I rolled my eyes in that familiar, “OMG, what a boring subject and what could possibly be of benefit doing that picture?” I considered not showing up because my self-will tells me I know everything. Fortunately, I did go to class and had my good dose of humility. Turns out, this was the best subject painting I have had to date. The subject was fun, the shadows were colorful, I enjoyed every minute working on it! Had I kept my mind closed and been unwilling to try, I would have missed something really wonderful. Yes, the color of humility is vibrant and necessary for reminding me to keep an open mind, turn my will over and let the day embrace me. Such examples are priceless to my recovery.
At some point, I questioned my self-worth as a parent. I wanted to blame society and sub cultures that emit beliefs: All good kids take classes that prepare them for college. Good kids are happy, well rounded and driven. Good kids = good parents. If my kids were not that, would the opposite imply something about their parents? Seeds of doubt were forming. I thought I encouraged individuality, promoted their worthiness with heartfelt belief, but did I? Because when addiction took residence, I became overly involved in trying to mold, re-direct, manage and control what they were doing. Irritatingly unsuccessful, it was here that I started to have DOUBTS about my parenting ability and second guess decisions I made. The family disease progressed and my confident motherhood went haywire. On the outside I was doing fine. On the inside…a different story.
With counseling and support groups I learned how I was measuring myself against what others thought of me, even society. I was measuring my worthiness as a parent against my child’s success, happiness and failures. IF THEY ARE NOT DOING WELL, I WON’T BE DOING WELL EITHER! This was during the daytime. At nighttime my mind would re-play past events, I would question where I went wrong, what I should have done differently, why I did not see the signs; I reminded myself that a competent parent would have! Days turn to months, then years. Over time, this skewed thinking and behavior affected my self-worth.
I chose another way: I chose to learn about the family disease and the effect on me. I chose to relearn how to care about me, to accept that I too am worthy and worthwhile and to stop relying on others to measure myself. I was my own best critic and enemy. I sometimes say, “don’t believe everything your mind tells you, it may be a lie” and the rooms of recovery remind us that “you didn’t cause it, you can’t control it, you can’t cure it.” Most importantly, I had to get over myself. I was so vain to think that this was about me.
My Mind can be dangerous. All of a sudden, I’m enveloped in doubt and self-centered thinking. A slight comment, no response, snippy, or quiet behavior from a loved one and I immediately think it’s about me. Something I’ve done, something I did not do – a misinterpretation, maybe I said something offensive, rude or worse, I let them down. Before Al-Anon, my mind was often out “ there .”
In recovery, I began to accept my powerlessness over the addict and that transitioned to powerlessness over other people. Powerless, but not helpless, I do have the ability to break through my mental wall! There is a calming sense of relief if I lean into the fear. I say fear because I’m afraid of the unknown, being hurt, hearing truth, embarrassment, humility, or scenes created. To lean into the fear, I face the opposition (my mind) and address my concern with the help of my Al-Anon program and friends in recovery. Taking the offense, I have options and relief. Doing nothing only fuels doubt and self-deprecating behavior. Offense action points 1-5:
- Call my Sponsor
- Turn it over to my Higher Power and ask for guidance
- Think good thoughts / pray for them
- Reach out and be prepared to LISTEN. THINK. WAIT. I’ve been thinking about you and wanted to say hello…You seem quiet…Are we OK? I sensed a problem when we discussed “x”.
Rarely am I the cause of the concern I observed, so offense action points 1 – 4 will relieve me of uncertainty. I’m reminded that people have ups and downs. In the past, I took accountability for other people’s emotional well-being and behavior. That did not work so well. Sometimes I was blamed. It’s easy to blame someone else for the lousy way I feel – been there done that!
Whoops! I’m not perfect! In fact, I am quite capable of hurting another person with words or actions. Knowing that I have done this and not addressing it, will only fuel my unease about myself. In recovery, I’m committed to being the best that I can be. I can review my inventory, and recognize if I was acting respectfully, kind and loving. If not, my offense action includes point 5: amends.
I’m getting fed up with news magazines and talk show hosts poking fun at people with health concerns and chronic diseases, like addiction. How many more times are we going to be subject to Lindsey Lohan jokes and ridicule? Wasn’t the Charlie Sheen exhibition sad enough? You don’t see anyone laughing at Michael J. Fox’s stuttering or shakes – no! But his disease comes with society compassion and understanding. Addiction is a disease too but the general popular opinion has not been as caring.
I get frustrated with people whose ignorance about addiction and recovery causes them to judge, jury and sentence others who struggle. People who don’t believe in the power of recovery and the ability to overcome and change are often the loudest opponent for any support or reform. People who are so stringent in their own beliefs, they are unwilling to change themselves.
Then I remember my humble beginnings. I once held beliefs and opinions that had no sound basis. I judged others too. The difference between then and now is my own experience with adversity and a desire to stop being fed up. I made a decision to change – and if the people around me had tried to force solutions and answers down my throat I would have resisted to the end. I’m reminded that I can only share my experience, and let people have a right to their own opinion. I have to stop taking it personally and Let Go and Let God.
I read that humility means having an attitude of honesty and simplicity along with a mindset of being teachable. This seems like a trait I’d like to possess more, especially in light of having loved ones in their addiction. There have been circumstances where I see my own humility. It seems to show up when I have a negative reaction to something. I ask my Higher Power, “What’s my part in this?” I most always get an answer (sometimes the answer is there but I ignore it). This is an opportunity to recognize my shortcomings and turn them back over to His care. My serenity is restored. I’m willing to listen. I am willing to learn.
One day during the holidays I was outside on our back deck. While outside, my son had called from prison and I missed the call. If you don’t pick up, they can’t leave a voice-mail. Often they lose their turn for that day. I immediately went into ANGER for having missed the call. What was I doing outside? Why did I have to do that? Then I went into blame, I blamed the dogs who were whining to go out…then I blamed my relative for having her dogs at my house and me having to “dog-sit” them. I was getting irrational yet my emotions were very strong. My part? If I were to be honest, I’d have to admit I wanted to go outside and pull a few weeds in the beautiful rare sunshine we were having. The dogs were just the excuse. My sponsor would say “life goes on – you can’t wait or live your life with expectations from someone else.” My son will call again when he is able and I will receive his call when I am able. And this is exactly what happened. Upon reflection, I realized how sad I was to have missed his call and I was able to feel that sorrow but not have it dominate the rest of my day. Old behaviors pop up and I’m reminded how easily I can relapse. With a program of recovery, I have tools to help me rebound. I turn my old behaviors into moments of humility and my serenity is restored.
I did not come to the rooms of the Al-Anon Family Group to get what I got. That said, what I got was so much more that what I expected. And what I expected I never got! In fact, many times I find that the contradictions, counter-intuitive measures, completely unexpected outcomes are points of humility which reveal how the universe (Higher Power) is more complex than my simple thinking. Things I use to say I don’t say anymore. I recall a time I said “well, at least there are no grandchildren involved!” Shortly thereafter my son’s girlfriend announced she was pregnant. Wrong again! (Truth is today there are no grandchildren, but this too may pass!) Another time I thought, “at least my youngest son hasn’t substance abused.” Wrong again.
I have learned to remove (or use very cautiously) some words from my vocabulary: NEVER, ALWAYS, MUST, IF ONLY, and WHAT IF, to name a few. I have replaced the old adage: “no news is good news” to “no news is no news”. This reminds me that when I make assumptions based on non-truths, I’m in trouble. Though the saying “its 5 o’clock somewhere” rings some truth to it, if it’s not 5 o’clock where I am, then I don’t need to think about it somewhere else! Seems simple enough, but this type of thinking is very difficult to break. With no news right now I stay in the moment and accept that bad news, good news, world news, whatever news may be occurring, is not for me to dwell on. Put simply, until presented with news of any kind, I can live today, in this moment, and not react to upcoming unknowns out there that I have not yet heard about. Notice I did not mention any problem of obsessing with what wonderful experience and good news story is waiting to unfold? I’m hard wired for doom & gloom. By saying “no news is good news” I was fooling myself into believing this as true. It’s a form of denial and self imposed set-up for a possible disappointment!
A couple of years ago I was driving my son to a local transit station. What happened then is as crystal clear as if it were yesterday. At the stop light, I quickly glanced his way to see if he was wearing his seat belt. I had not forgotten a previous time I was driving him. Shortly released from prison, the police officer pulls up next to us and I realize his seat belt isn’t on. This panicked me to no end. How could I not have noticed and insisted “car rules” but then again, why would I have to?
This time he has acquired tattoos that runs from his shoulder to his wrist on one arm. I’m having trouble accepting it, and I’m aware of it. Soon I noticed things around me. At an intersection, the car just next to me pulled up to the stop light. Here was a young driver who appeared to be a drug dealer. There were several young people at the corner gas station; 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 Al-Anon 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!