Pain is in the Resistance

I haven’t seen anyone turn water into wine or part the red sea but I have witnessed several, of what I call, everyday miracles throughout my time in Al-Anon.  It happened again two weeks in a row.  It seems the topic of the meeting is often the exact topic someone needs to hear on that day.  It has happened so many times I can’t count.  Two weeks ago the topic of our meeting was grief and it turns out there were two women in particular truly suffering with grief.  The topic allowed them to release some of the pain they were holding inside.

This week, I felt like the reading was meant just for me.  It was from Hope for Today on October 10th and the sentence that struck me was….

“The pain is not in the surrender and acceptance.  It’s in the resistance.”

 

I have been trying to break down Step 11 into three parts; (1) Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscience contact with God as we understood Him, (2) praying only for knowledge of His will for us and (3) the power to carry that out.

Growing up the God of my understanding was not a loving God.  I felt my prayers were never answered to the point that by the time I was in my late twenties I gave up God for my New Year’s Resolution.  This lasted for two decades until I found Al-Anon.  This meant that I had to start from scratch.  I had to become willing to turn my will and my life over to the care of the Higher Power of my understanding and choose to believe he could help restore me to sanity, earlier in the program before I could seek anything through prayer and meditation.

At first I was very mechanical about prayer.  When I sought out sanity through prayer and meditation my first prayer was literally, “God I pray for knowledge of your will for me and the power to carry that out.”  Done.

But very quickly I realized the word power was not working for me.  Through Al-Anon I was trying to give up my will, give up control, give up trying to get my way and I perceive those things as power.  So I changed my prayer to “God I pray for knowledge of your will for me and the courage to carry that out.”

It turns out I am very stubborn about giving up my will, just like in the reading, and that is when I had to start breaking down Step 11 into parts.  I started by praying only for knowledge of his will for me.  However, I have come to learn I am resisting his will.  So I have added to my prayer, “God I humbly ask you to help me remove remove my shortcoming of my will overriding thy will.”

For the time being I am holding off on asking for the courage to carry out his will.  I still haven’t figured out his will.  When I learn what his will for me is, I will add part three of Step 11 and ask for courage.

Just like in the reading I had to learn my thinking was unmanageable and then I had to become spiritually teachable.  I had to learn the difference between spiritual and religious.  I have become a spiritual person and I choose to believe.  It has brought me much inner peace, sanity and serenity.  I have witnessed too many everyday miracles, not only in the meetings but in my own life to choose not to believe anymore.  I am truly grateful for these everyday miracles and my pain has lessened greatly.

I have made much progress in giving up controlling others.  I will always need to work on this, but I won’t experience a full release from pain until I can surrender my will for my own life.  I choose to think my higher power is a loving God and therefore his will for me would never cause me additional pain.  I guess I still need to get to the point where thinking is believing.  I will get there.

My new theory is that God tries to communicate his will for me every time I experience pain, but I am resistant to hearing it because my will to control my life is still too strong and my fear of additional pain is still too great.

I choose to believe surrender and acceptance will make my life better and that it will come on his timeline, not mine.   “God, I pray for less resistance.”

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No is a complete sentence.

Adult Children of Alcoholics (ACoA), such as myself, often deny their own boundaries to keep the peace and avoid arguments.  While reading the book Boundaries, by Cloud and Townsend it has come to my attention that by doing this we are trying to control the other person by being nice.

This is an eye opener for me.  I’m aware of negative forms of control, but control by being nice is a new concept.  However for me it is definitely true.  I’m often nice so the other person will continue to be nice to me.  There is no guarantee of course, but I am now seeing this as form of control.

 

If I were to reword Al-Anon’s Step 1 it might sound something like this, “I cannot control other people or my resentments stemming from unhealthy boundaries will become unmanageable.”

One Friday night, my significant other calls me on my way home from work to say we are going out to dinner with his friends.  I had a challenging week and I did not feel like going out.  I failed to set a healthy boundary and agreed to go.  But I resented the fact that I was told we are going instead of asked if I would like to go.

In an effort to improve my boundaries I mentioned that next time I would prefer he ask before he commit us to going.  Turns out, he didn’t want to go that particular night either.  But he failed to set a healthy boundary with his friends.  He didn’t want to be the one to say no, so he said yes.

I said yes to make him happy and he said yes to make them happy and now we were both somewhat unhappy.   In the end, we both had a really good time that night and enjoyed the dinner and the company.  But my point is we each need to take responsibility for our own actions and learn to set healthy boundaries.

To see another person’s thinking, feelings, actions and possible reactions as a problem gives that person control over me.  I am the only one with the power to solve my own problems, set boundaries and say no.

There is no guarantee that by being nice to others, to avoid hurt, anger, disappointment, arguments, etc. we have control over the outcome.

Let’s pretend we said yes but another couple said no.  All night the host complains that the second couple said no.  Then not only are we unhappy we are there, when we don’t want to be, we have to listen about the couple that was able to set a healthy boundary and say no.

Prior to Al-Anon I thought of boundaries as a permanent, high and great defensive wall.  Al-Anon taught me boundaries do not have to be permanent.  It could be a line drawn in the sand.  For example, if you are drinking I am going to leave.  Not if you are drinking I never want to see you again ever.  Or in this example, I’m sorry we can’t make dinner tonight.  Can we do next week instead?  But I am a very visual person and I struggled with the line in the sand when trying to set boundaries.  I just kept seeing the waves washing away my line.  The sea still had control over my boundaries and not me.

The book offered me the visual of boundaries as a fence with a gate.  I can close the gate to keep the bad out or I can open the gate to let good in.   Since I own the gate I have control over the boundaries I set at any particular moment.

The other thought this book teaches is that I must learn to accept other people’s boundaries.  If someone tells me no, I need to accept that it is not a wall but a fence with a gate.  My initial request could not be granted, but that does not mean the person is trying to hurt me.

I have a long way to go on setting healthy boundaries, but I appreciate this new angle from which to view them.  I bought this book looking for the secret on how to sugar coat the word ‘no’ so that I could continue to be the nice person and avoid conflict, only to learn I am not responsible for the other  person’s reaction, nor can I control the outcome.  I only have the power to change and control myself.  And more importantly, communicating healthy boundaries is good for both me and the other person.

I am not my Past. People can become better. I am better.

A while back @911well posted the following tweet, “Don’t bring up the past of a person who is trying to improve their future.”  Days later, @CreationNA posted a similar tweet, “If someone is working on themselves or changing for the better, it’s unnecessary to keep bringing up their past. People can become better.”

These two Twitter posts have me thinking.  There are several people I wish met me after I had been in Al-Anon, a recovery group for friends and families of alcoholics.  I am grateful I had them as friends prior to the program because they were there to support me even when my thoughts and behavior was less than my best.

 

On the other hand, they may never fully know me at my best and this thought makes me a bit sad.

A few months ago I had dinner with two friends who knew me prior to Al-Anon.  I hadn’t seen them in a couple years.  Over the course of a couple hours, I began to realize I was a very different person than the woman they used to know.  It was an eye opener to see how far I have come, but it was also an eye opener that they may always know me as the person who thought, said or did xyz.

I need to clarify; these are friends- true friends.  They did not bring up my past in an effort to make me feel bad about it.  My past came up in reference to their own lives and challenges they were now going through.  As I listened to the changes in their lives I heard many familiar topics and sentiments.  I knew then, I have truly changed.  Everyone changes over the years, but I was definitely not the person I used to be.

My feelings about certain people or past events were not the same.  My outlook on life was not the same.  The way I communicate, the way I cope, it’s all different.  There are so many things that are different that even if I shouted them from the rooftop they would be almost unbelievable to the people in my past.  When I mentioned one of these differences the look on their faces and the tone in their acknowledgements were trying to be positive, but also almost one of disbelief as well.

I felt like I had lost a connection with these two women who I love and value as friends.  However, the dynamic of the friendship has changed.  They were no longer my soundboard and support group for all the negativity that swirled in my head prior to Al-Anon.  You know that saying misery loves company?  I could no longer identify with the person they used to know and they could no longer identify with the person sitting at the table.  While I listened and contributed to the conversation in my new style I realized the relationship hadn’t evolved in a way that they were able to see- I was now the soundboard.

There is a big part of me that wants them to know the new me.  Know that I am a better person.  But telling someone you’re a better person is not the same as them experiencing it for themselves.  It’s not the same as having them let go of the past.  It’s not the same as having their approval, love and acceptance of the person I am today.

Maybe if they didn’t live an hour away and I saw them more often they would come to know who I have become.  What it boils down to is that the approval, love and acceptance I seek must come from within.  And I do truly love the person I am becoming, the changes I have made in my life.

However, I grieve they knew the old me.  I grieve the fact that they may never fully know the better side of me.   The thought in my head is that they will always be waiting for the old me to show up again.  I guess I have more work to do on myself if I still fear the worst.  They may not have been thinking this at all, but it was where my thoughts went.  Maybe I am the one who fears seeing my old self again.

Now that I see it in writing, it’s true.  I do fear seeing my old self again.

A part of me feels like maybe there is an amends to be made, but I haven’t identified exactly what I need to apologize to them about.  I am sorry for all the negativity I subjected them to.  I couldn’t have been much fun to be around.

I don’t like the person I used to be.  I need to forgive myself.  I didn’t know any other way to communicate prior to Al-Anon.  I didn’t know how to choose positive thoughts or healthy coping skills.  I’m sorry I didn’t know a better way to live and that I brought myself so much unhappiness.  I was the best person I knew how to be at that time, but I was not at my best.

I’m grieving the loss of the connection I used to have with these women, I look forward to reconnection with the hope they can come to know the new me.  I am also hopeful the connections I make in the future will know the better me.

I deserve better and the people around me deserve better.  I am better and I will continue to work the Al-Anon program to improve my future, one day at a time.

How important is it?

Anonymity is an important principle of the Al-Anon program.  However, Al-Anon has made such a positive impact in my life I share my “membership” with almost everyone.  All my friends and my family know I attend Al-Anon.  The exception is that I do not share it at work.  At work, I try to hide my crazy as much as possible.

Growing up my Dad could not keep a job in part because of the disease of alcoholism and in part due to mental health issues.  And living with a single Mom there were always job and money issues there as well.  I’m always afraid that if I show my crazy at work I will no longer have a job and the saga will continue.

However, I must say I was tickled pink to see my bosses crazy this week.
Na Na na BOO Boo …. I’m not the only crazy one.
Not that I wish crazy on anyone, I just don’t want to be alone in my crazy.

My boss is usually the most even keeled person I have ever met.  He seems to lose his cool about once a year.  Lately though his agitation level has been elevated and has stuck around for a while.  I have never seen him cranky for more than a day and it has going on a few weeks now.

Well the other day, he flipped a gourd over bread.  Yes, completely lost it over a loaf of bread.

See I work for a very small company and as a perk my boss provides lunch.  Nothing fancy, but items like PB&J or ham and turkey on … you guessed it … bread.

There is a person who makes out the grocery list each week and a different person who goes to the grocery store to buy said bread.  The list maker reports to my boss and the shopper reports to the list maker.

Here comes the problem.  The person who makes out the list likes your everyday brands of bread, the cheaper the better.  But my boss likes bakery bread.   The person who does the shopping interprets bakery bread to mean, not brand name and comes back with store brand bread which he happened to find near the bakery.

The store brand bread is already half stale the minute he walks in the door with it so no one eats it.  Eventually, it turns green and the list maker throws it away.  This lasts for a few weeks, in an effort to make the boss happy by having “bakery bread” on hand, until the list maker gets sick of throwing away food and demands the shopper go back to buying the everyday brands of bread.

Now instead of my boss putting ‘my employees love cheap bread’ on his gratitude list he gets angry that the one or two times a year he actually eats lunch at the office there isn’t any bakery bread.  Yes, that’s right – he doesn’t even eat there.  So about every six to twelve months there is an argument amongst the three men over bread.  And each one argues the exact same points every time the topic comes up.

  • List Maker: “Bakery bread is more expensive and no one eats it”
    (they don’t eat it because it not truly bakery bread but I digress)
  • Boss: “I don’t care.  I pay for the bread.  Buy bakery bread.”
  • List Shopper: “I buy the bread he tells me I have to buy.”
  • Boss: “I don’t care.  I pay for the bread.  Buy bakery bread.”

In Al-Anon, I learned there can be more than one right and this is the perfect example.
Did I mention this is three grown men arguing over a loaf of bread?

I can see plain as day that what my boss is really asking for is artisan or gourmet bread.  This translates to …. buy me the kind of bread my wife buys.

I know what you’re thinking.  You’re thinking why don’t I just explain to the list maker and shopper what “bakery bread” means.  The answer is because I am working my program; they did not ask me to solve their problem and I am minding my own business.  No one is mad at me over bread and I would like to keep it that way.

The list maker did not grow up in an era of Great Harvest, Panera and Atlanta Bread Companies and the like and doesn’t have a clue that store brand and bakery bread are not the same thing.  The shopper grew up in a family of 10 kids on a tight budget and he has no clue the boss truly means bakery bread.  The boss only eats in the office once or twice a year; he doesn’t see that store brand is being mistaken for bakery.  So it’s a circle.  No one understands what the other is upset about.  And so they argue over bread.

I’m almost getting to the crazy part.  Oh, you though arguing over bread was crazy?
Oh no.  We haven’t seen crazy yet.

My boss usually has a very good sense of humor.  The company is too small for memos, but I have seen fake memos from my boss.  I can’t think of an actual example right now, but it’s usually a paragraph about anyone who does XYZ will be forced to watch YouTube videos of crying babies.  Or something completely made up.

But not this time, this time there was a full page memo.  Due to his already high agitation level, if it was supposed to be funny, the humor was completely lost.  It had a lot of paragraphs that included italics and several bold sentences.  And it explained in full detail his frustration over bread.  Then it was placed in the break room for everyone to read.

The memo included ….”Anyone who requisitions cheap bread or anyone who buys cheap bread with company funds shall be considered insubordinate and the money will be deducted from your paycheck.”

Ah, this kind of crazy just makes me chuckle.  I don’t have a clue what he pays for cheap bread but I just wanted to reach into my purse and say … here’s your two bucks and 87 cents.

The next morning, I stopped at the local Bread Company and I bought my boss two loaves of fancy, gourmet, artisan bread.  And I placed it on his desk.  At first he thought it was from our FedEx sales rep because sometimes FedEx has been known to bring us bagels.  But the shopper chimed in and said they were from me.  So what does he do?  He places the two loaves of fancy, gourmet, artisan bread in the break room.  It was very nonchalant as if he had already forgotten about having a canary over bread just the day before.  [And the memo was still sitting there.]

The kicker was, all the employees were too afraid to eat it.  They were like… I’m not touching ‘his’ bread.  So when leaving for the day I told him he should take the bread home and share it with his wife and kids.

A day later, his wife showed up to thank me for the bread.  I said they have this fight every six months.  She said, “I know.  I hear about it every time.”  She said, he probably didn’t tell you but the bread was very well received and very much appreciated.  (What I heard her say was … He takes his crazy home.  Oh how I love not being the only crazy one.)

Sometimes it’s the little things.  The boss-man likes good bread.   What can I say?

In Al-Anon the slogan is … “How important is it?”

 

Blame, Expectations, Resentment and Forgiveness

Recently, I told you I was “scolded” by someone I depend on.  I was frustrated because I was scolded for doing it their way.  If doing it their way isn’t good enough, what is?  This was only half the reason I was livid.  The other was because I was lumped in with another person who may be doing his best but, in my opinion, his best truly sucks.

Since I was unable to use the first two words that came to mind, you probably figured out this person I depend on is my boss.  The other person is a co-worker.  I watch my co-worker surf the internet from the moment he gets to work until the moment he leaves, every day.  I see him perform the least amount of work possible that he can get away with doing.

My boss upgraded my co-worker’s computer a few weeks ago.  My co-worker asked my boss if he could get access to his old “work files” he had on the old computer.  Instantly, I knew these were files completely unrelated to work.  My boss agreed to transfer the “work files” to a location where the co-worker could access the files.

In Al-Anon we have a saying to mind our own business.  But I guess you could say I had an Al-Anonic relapse because I couldn’t help myself.  I felt I needed prove (to myself) this co-worker was a real slacker.  And I found it.  All 1,192 non-work related files downloaded from the internet during work hours.  And my boss didn’t say a word.

Until, that is, he lumped me in with this person and indicated he was un-happy with our work.

When I first saw the “you’re doing a bad job” email I thought I was being blind copied so my boss knew he was addressing the problem.  But as I kept reading we were being equally blamed.

Last weekend, I watched this YouTube video and realized I too am a blamer.  I made a new and huge amount of effort to be grateful for what little work my co-worker was doing and am working like crazy to stop blaming him (in my mind) for anything and everything that went wrong.

If you were to look on my work computer you wouldn’t see FaceBook, Twitter, Reddit, YouTube, ESPN, MLB, NFL, fantasy football and 1,192 music downloads.

Comparison is the thief of happiness, but if you were to compare the responses my co-worker sends to our clients (which contain words like “yep” and “nope” and “huh”) and the responses I send you would see a night and day difference in the amount of effort put into making sure our clients are happy.

My conclusion… blaming me gave my boss a semblance of control.  It allowed him to discharge his own discomfort and pain.  It meant he was not accountable, in his mind, for the problem.

The part I have left out of this story is that my boss and my co-worker are childhood friends.  My boss allows him to get away with downloading 1,192 music files and knows he is surfing the internet all day and yet allows this behavior to continue.  By blaming me for his friend’s lack of effort he did not have to be accountable for his own actions.  At that exact moment, it was too difficult for my boss to admit to himself he hired his childhood friend who was taking advantage of his generosity and kindness.  And treating our clients so poorly more than one client filed a complaint.

In an effort to keep the focus on myself; what I do and do not have control over I choose not to have expectations that my boss will apologize for his behavior because he is obviously not in that space, at this moment.  I also choose not to have expectations that my co-worker will change.  He may change.  I hope he changes.  But I will not expect that of him.

With that said, I need to work on resentment.  I resent that my co-worker downloaded 1,192 music files on company time, onto his company computer and while I was making the effort to do things the way my boss asked me to do them.  And I resent my boss knowing about it and enabling him by transferring those 1,192 music files so he could continue to have access.

I also choose not to blame myself.  And that is huge.  By not blaming myself … I am not a doormat.

If you are thinking to yourself, why don’t you look for a new job? It is because I truly like my job. And with all this said, I like all my co-workers and my boss. There will always be bad days no matter where you work, and I am grateful there are more good days than bad. We all have character assets and character defects. Even slackers have some redeeming qualities. No single person is either all good or all bad. I choose to forgive. Maybe they deserve forgiveness and maybe they don’t, but one thing is for certain. I choose to forgive because I deserve it.

Carrying around all that blame and anger isn’t going to improve my day or bring me to my happy place.  I’d rather sit with my feet up, relaxing in a hammock under the warm sun with a cool breeze.

A girl can dream, can’t she?

When Your Best Isn’t Good Enough

Recently I went from thinking I was doing really well in a specific area of my life, to realizing I was focusing on the wrong thing, to doing the work to change but with varying amounts of success.

What do you do when your best isn’t good enough for someone you depend on? If you’re a teenager you might depend on your parents, if you’re a stay-at-home parent you may depend on your spouse, if you’re single you depend on your boss to earn a living and put food on the table.

Sometimes I don’t take criticism well. When a person tells me I did something wrong my mind goes straight to the worst case scenario. I’m the worst person in the world or I am the best person. There was black and there was white, but gray did not exist. Today I have to look for the infinite shades of gray.

Before Al-Anon there were times in my life when I was told I was the crazy one. I truly did not understand. I was the one who graduated in the top ten of my class, I went to college and got a degree, I got a job and supported myself, and I paid the bills on-time. You get the picture. How can I possibly be the crazy one? I get it now, but prior to this program I did not.

First I had to get control over my thoughts, actions and reactions. I had to learn to control my thinking. I had to learn to keep the focus on myself and not try and change others. I had to learn there is more than one right. I had to learn and try and do things differently or try someone else’s way of doing things. I have learned a lot and I have a long way to go.

Two days ago, I was “scolded” by someone I depend on and I was not in a position to say the first two words that came to mind. Those words were … hhmmm, how shall I say … unkind.  I was livid.

The most frustrating part, was that I was scolded for doing it the way that very same person told me I had to do it. I have been doing it that way for two years. Now that person forgot they instructed me to do it that way and I was to blame.

This person has no idea what-so-ever how hard I worked to change from my way to their way. They have no idea the pride I felt for finding out there was more than one right way to doing things. I was stunned to be scolded for this very same thing I worked so hard to achieve and the pride for accomplishing it. I felt like no good deed goes unpunished. Dammed if you do and dammed it you don’t.

So what did I do you ask? I thanked this person for their feedback. It made me feel like a doormat. But when you depend on someone to put food on the table … I can be right or I can be happy. I choose happy. This person may be upset with me, but their feelings don’t have to be my feelings. I truly did my best and that is all I can ask of myself.

Additionally, if this person wants to change the way I handle this task. I will change again. I choose to look at this as an opportunity for growth and not a worst case scenario. And I will ask my Higher Power for help. If you pray, why worry? If you worry, why pray?

I may not be the best person in the world, but I am certainly not the worst.

Do You Ever Feel Lost in Translation?

Do you know anyone that is bilingual? Are you bilingual? Have you ever heard the expression, “lost in translation?” Let me give you an example of lost in translation. In English you can say, “The projector is running.” If you translate those words directly into a different language it may say the projector literally has legs and it is running. English speakers know this figure of speech simply means the projector is on. There is a difference between direct translation and translating the sentiment or meaning of the words.

I often feel misunderstood. I feel like I am speaking a different language. I have been seen as negative, pessimistic, argumentative, a know-it-all, etc. Now in part, this is the communication style I learned growing up so there have been times when this assessment has been correct. That is hard to admit but it is the truth. I am sorry about this and in an effort to make amends I am working to learn a better way of communicating. However, there have been many times when my intentions are very good and still I was seen in a negative light.

One of the things Al-Anon has taught me is that my father did indeed love me even though he was never able to tell me or show me in the way I needed him to. Today I am able to see love and support in words where I had only seen “not good enough” in those exact same words.

Knowing that is true, than it is also possible people hear the negative in me when in fact I am being positive and supportive. This week I had success telling someone the purpose of my words and stating clearly that my words were not criticism. It is important to note I was not trying to convince, change control another person. I was not saying I was right and they were wrong. It wasn’t a justification of negativity and there was no blame, but there was a clear and purposeful intent that if addressed would result in a positive outcome.

I don’t know if this approach will work every time or in every situation. It may be the person receiving my words was ready to hear them. But it is something to keep in mind.

A positive outcome can be achieved after acknowledging something is not perfect if we are able to see it as an opportunity. I am not perfect, but I am working to be better than I was yesterday.