Thursday, February 28, 2013

How I Learned about Relationships with Other People

For a long time I kind of disagreed with the saying in recovery communities, "Act as if..."  It means you can act like a courageous, responsible adult even if you don't feel like it.  It means that if you act like one long enough, you will start to actually be one.

In my heart I really thought that I needed to work out my "issues" first and that then I really would be the way I wanted to be.  I worked on changing my thinking which did indeed change my emotions and therefore changed my behavior.  It does work.  But it's really, really slow. 

Since I didn't actually know how a courageous, responsible adult acts, I was a little lost anyway.  So I consulted people who seemed to have good relationships with other people and who were farther along in recovery and then I worked at applying what I learned.  For example, along the way I learned that when I stopped thinking of myself as a victim of other people, I stopped getting mad at people.  "Victim thinking" caused me to feel hopeless and helpless when I wasn't and caused me to believe the only solution to my problems were to somehow make other people do what I wanted.

Finally I surrendered to the truth - I didn't actually know how to behave in relationships.  I just reacted emotionally.  I felt happy when I thought I was being approved of and was extremely unhappy when I thought I was being disapproved of.  I was happy when they acted like I wanted them to and very unhappy when they acted in ways I didn't like.  So I began to collect information from other people and I read stuff.  I also went to counseling.

Little by little I learned how courageous, responsible adults behaved in relationships.  For example, I learned that when someone criticizes you, you don't have to go straight up in the air and criticize them back.  In fact, that strategy just leads to fighting and no solutions.  I learned that you can just listen (even though your emotions are trying to get you to attack).  It is a skill that can be learned if you are willing to put your back into it - keeping your mouth shut, that is.  You will never, ever regret learning to zip your lip.  When I did that, it gave me the opportunity to "act as if..."

I collected a lot of knowledge.  I wrote it down.  I practiced (and I still practice).  I make mistakes but clean them up as quickly as I can.  I am still learning.  Every day I get a little more comfortable "acting as if..."  I am a courageous, responsible adult.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

How I Changed My Mind

For most of my life I had no idea that my problem was my mind.  I thought my mind was me and I believed everything I thought was correct.  No one had ever enlightened me that it's actually a dangerous thing to listen to your own mind; let alone believe it. 

I think there's a very good chance that an awful lot of people are like me, and they picked up the ideas from random sources when they were kids that play over and over in their heads.  As kids they had no ability to decide what to believe so they just believed everything. 

As I grew up I began to be suspicious that maybe some of the stuff I had been taught might not be true, but it wasn't until I got into recovery that I realized my thoughts were not the same thing as me and that a lot of what I thought wasn't true at all. 

It's a radical idea but I've come to believe that it really isn't possible to be absolutely sure of anything.  Since I am just one flawed human being on the face of the earth, and will only be on the earth for a tiny time, how could I know anything for sure?  Only God can know anything for sure.

So, I learned that the little bit of power that I have as a flawed human being would be best used to enjoy my life, make it the best life I can, and live from the heart so I can love myself and all the other flawed beings on the earth.  If I am confused about what action to take on any given day, asking what love would do will give me direction every time.

It's a challenge to remember the decision I made to live from the heart, so I have to take time in the morning to remember when I make my to-do list, again during the day, and again before I go to sleep.  I have a very different life since I changed my mind from believing random stuff to attempting to live from love.  I highly recommend it!

Friday, February 15, 2013

Guilt vs. Shame

I've been noticing for quite awhile now that a lot of people are riddled with shame and have it mixed up with guilt.  Lucky for me, in the very beginning of my recovery, my dear sponsor told me the difference:  Guilt is the feeling I have when I've violated my values and shame is my fear of being judged or of someone being mad at me.

Of course, I had to do the work of discovering what my actual values were.  Her belief was that our values are formed pretty early in our childhoods and from then on they may be largely unconscious.  She encouraged me to do a lot of writing about what I thought was right and wrong, from the small things to the large things. 

For example: Is it wrong to leave your grocery cart in the store's parking lot without putting it back where it belongs?  Is it wrong to park in handicapped parking when you're not handicapped?  Is it wrong to have sex with someone other than who you're married to?  When you're single, is it wrong to have sex with someone who's married?  Is it wrong to gossip?  Is it wrong to yell at your kids?  Is it wrong to call your spouse a name?

It's amazing how many things there were to consider about what I really believed was right and wrong.  She also helped me see that all these rules I had absorbed in my childhood were often quite different than other people's rules, but that I as well as those other people would expect that everyone's rules were the same.  This belief causes endless conflict!

When you violate any of these values on any day, she said, you start carrying a heavy load of pain, and your self esteem gets smaller and smaller.  The fourth through ninth steps of the program allow us to unload that pain and the tenth step allows us to stay out of pain. 

Then, she said, shame is the fear that all of us have of being judged by other people.  That fear is why we keep secrets that weigh us down and shrink our self esteem.  A lot of the secrets are not about violations of our values - just things we think others would judge us for.  If we're single, we worry that others are judging us for not being married.  If we weigh more than we think we should, we think others are judging us.  We have fears about what our clothes are like, what our home is like, what kind of car we drive and on and on.  Secrets are a different burden to carry than guilt but are just as heavy and make us think less of ourselves too.

Luckily, the same steps will relieve the burden and keep it from coming back if we practice them every day.  I have no secrets anymore.  Of course, I don't tell everyone everything about me, but I make sure that at least one person somewhere knows.  I also manage to go against my values, but I correct those mistakes as quickly as I can. 

Sometimes it's kind of a pain to always put that grocery cart back and put trash in the nearest trash can, but the lingering, nagging discomfort of not doing it is not worth it.  I've only yelled at someone once in the last few years and I caught myself quickly and apologized.  Living fairly free of guilt and shame is an incredibly wonderful freedom.

Saturday, February 09, 2013

"Denial is inertia with attitude"

"Denial is invigorating - like inertia wih attitude.  It allows you to be defiant while doing nothing at all."  (from a short story by C.J. Gall in the latest issue of The Sun.) 

I was very struck with this quote.  Since I sponsor quite a few folks in 12 step programs, I am very familiar with denial - which seems to be the main problem with all of us.  I especially like the "attitude" part of the quote since we all seem to react with anger and resistance when someone challenges our denial.  Also, our denial seems to be characterized with extreme stubborn resistance to taking any useful action while at the same time exhibiting a lot of emotional energy (the "invigorating" part). 

Denial also makes us seem either crazy or stupid to other people because they can clearly see what our problem is and what we could do about it.  What they hear from us seems like we're not living on the same planet at all. 

For example, if we're living with someone who constantly criticizes us and we're angry about that, but defend the person when someone else points out that we have the option of getting away from that person, we really do seem either crazy or stupid. 

Of course, our denial is protecting us from a truth too painful for us to face.  In that example, maybe we can't bear to see that the person is unlikely to change, and that our problem solving choices are limited to 1.  learning to accept constant criticism without anger or 2.  getting away from the person. 

In every single case, denial just means that the truth is too painful to face.  The 12 Steps break that denial which is why only people who are really desperate to get out of the pain they're in will actually work them.

Wednesday, February 06, 2013

The Great Book Purge

For the past several weeks I've been gradually going through all my hundreds of books and ditching the ones that I don't need anymore.  I ditched a whole bunch of books on supervising difficult people.  I hope to God I never have to do that again!  It seems to me that once a person has been trained and has a job description plus a weekly meeting to solve any problems that come up, the person should just do his/her job.  It turns out that isn't how it works.  

I still need to decide where to put a few of the remaining books, but for the most part I'm finished.  This little chore only gets done every few years, but is eminently satisfying.  I have so many wonderful books that I end up with a huge pile of books I want to re-read.

I am grateful to have learned to read at around four years of age. As an only child of schoolteachers, I entertained myself by reading.  I also learned a tremendous amount.  I am probably educated to the level of a doctorate even though I barely got my undergraduate degree.  I've read thousands of books - both fiction and non-fiction.

One of the things I learned is that there's a lot of information about how to live life in all those books that you won't be able to think up on your own.  Of course, now we have Google but even though I utterly adore Google, I still enjoy books more.  I'm not a fan of electronic books because I can't share them with other people and I wouldn't have the happy task of handling them with love.

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