Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Taking Care of Myself in Relationships and with People in General

After learning to take care of myself physically and emotionally, my spiritual mother began to teach me about other people and how to be in relationships ranging from the person at the checkout counter to my spouse.  I'm pretty sure I will not be finished with this learning process in this lifetime.

I still attend meetings in both recovery programs.  I still especially need to get information and hear sharing from other people in order to continue to change my part in interactions with others.

Most of my trouble with people came from my fear that I would be hurt.  When others judged and criticized me, my feelings were hurt and I fought back.  Of course, there are other ways people could hurt me and I feared that possibility also. 

First of all I learned that there were a myriad of ways I could take care of myself around other people.  Up until that point I had believed that the only way to take care of myself was to make other people change.  It turns out that making other people change is completely impossible.  No wonder I was chronically upset!

I was taught that after I've prayed about a situation I have going on with another person and talked to a wise person, it's perfectly acceptable to ask for a change in the other person's behavior - if I ask in a way that has no elements of demand, criticism, or judgment.  (That can be difficult!)  I was also taught that asking once - or at the most twice - was the limit for the number of times to ask.  I was told that beyond twice was unhealthy; that I was trying to control the other person instead of taking responsibility for my own feelings and desires.

If I am truly being harmed, I must consider the possibility of ending the interaction with the other person - either temporarily or permanently.  But sometimes I wasn't really being harmed - I was just taking offense when I was misinterpreting the communication I was receiving.  I realized that sometimes I was unconsciously putting myself in a position to be hurt because I was so narrowly focused on what I wanted instead of caring about the other person's well being as well as my own.

My teacher also pointed out that everyone has their own rules.  One of the major problems human being have, she said, was that we all thought our own rules were the only right ones and that everyone knew what the right ones were.  When people were not behaving as we thought they should, we believed that we should straighten them out.  Actually, she said, no one's "rules" are exactly the same, and there are a lot of "good rules" that are different from other "good rules." 

The concept of solving my own problems without trying to change anyone else was totally new to me.  So my teacher had to remind me over and over again.  I had a lot of trouble with the "rules" thing.  I wanted people to follow mine and I was offended when they chastised me for not following theirs.  It was a hugely new concept that for most part, there were no universal rules.

She kept encouraging me to look within and discover what I believed the rules were and where I had learned them.  Then she encouraged me to explore what values and "rules" I really wanted.  For example, my self-searching and exploring eventually lead to my belief that I wanted love, peace and compassion for everyone as well as myself to guide my actions.  I began to feel deeply that I could live by those values more than I could arbitrary rules.

So, with those values in mind, I found it pretty hard to judge other people as "bad."  When they judged me, I reminded myself that they were just going by their rules. 

I have found that living by those values is complicated and requires lots of prayer and guidance from my spiritual community.  So far, though, I haven't accumulated any lasting resentments, I have very little shame, and I usually don't take offense when others judge me by their rules.  Boy, is it ever a lot more peaceful inside my head.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Taking Care of Myself: Letting Go of Guilt

By the time I had reached recovery, guilt was my middle name.  I felt like a total failure at everything.  I especially felt terrible about the harm I'd done other people.

I was well informed about the basics of the Christian religion - that God sent his Son to redeem us from our sins.  But when I went to church what I heard (even if that wasn't what was said) was condemnation.  So the concept of being forgiven was of no use to me in my heavy load of guilt.  There were quite a few people in my life who had judged and condemned me as well.  Although I didn't want to believe them, I was pretty sure they were right.

I had given up on myself so I was pretty sure God had too, if there even was a God.  My dear sponsor and spiritual mother assured me that I was the only one who had given up on me.  She said God hadn't and she hadn't.  She explained that I hadn't had what I needed to live the life I was created to live, but that now I did have what I needed.  All that was necessary was to  put it into practice.

The missing piece, she explained, was that action was necessary to amend the harms I had done.  Of course, it's impossible to change the past, but it is possible to do our best to make up for our wrongs.  Amends are not the same as apologies either.  It's necessary for us to actually correct the mistakes to the best of our ability.

The process of making amends was and is a very complicated process.  The simplest ones are the financial ones - paying back what is owed. 

Of course, it's at least a beginning to express our regret to the people we have harmed, but that needs to be followed by a change in our behavior so that we don't do those things again to anyone.  Even if a person has left the earth, we can make amends to the world.  For example, if we owe that person money, we can give the amount we owe to a charity that we think the person would like.

The ultimate goal is to be able to look back at our lives and know that we have done and are doing every day, everything we can to amend our mistakes and that, therefore, we have no reason to condemn ourselves or to accept condemnation from anyone else.
What an amazing freedom that is.

Of course, it's necessary to keep up with current mistakes and correct those.  There's a step for that - continuing to take personal inventory (daily) and correct our mistakes.  That keeps resentments, fears and guilt from piling up again.

I've often wondered what purpose any of those negative emotions serve beyond alerting me to problems that need my attention.  I really believe now that that's really what they were created for.  They let me know to take care of things as they come up and then let those feeling go.  It's been a long time now since I've felt guilty for any length of time.  I believe if I have uncomfortable feelings for more than a day, it's time for me to solve (with the help of God and a wise person) the problem that's causing them.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Taking Care of Myself: Outgrowing Fear

When I first read about "outgrowing fear," I thought it was a crazy idea.  I believed that fear was more or less an instinct and had an important purpose in keeping me alive and out of trouble.  But my dear first sponsor in recovery assured me that letting go of fear by relying on God was essential to sobriety.

Of course, it's true that some fears do help me stay out of trouble.  I have a healthy fear of running red lights, for example.  But most of the fears that were running my life were actually just mental - ideas I had that I was scaring myself with.

I had a big fear of being judged by other people.  I don't know what I thought would happen to me if I were judged.  Of course, I thought people that loved me would stop loving me.  But the thing is, if I pretend to be something I'm not, I'm not actually being loved because those people don't even really know who I am.

So I learned that pretense would just create a life where I never really knew how I stood with anybody.  Little by little I learned to just be who I am.  I tell the truth about who I am, what I think and how I feel.  I don't hide my mistakes.  Every once in awhile I get mad because someone judges me, but I get over it pretty quickly.  I do my best.  If that's not okay with them...well, what can I do about that?

Most of my other fears were about what might happen in the future.  I didn't think good things were going to happen - just stuff I was sure was going to be terrible and cause me great emotional pain.  Some stuff like that did happen and sure enough I had pain.  But all the worry ahead of time didn't make it hurt less.  Besides, a lot of the things I feared never happened.

The bottom line was that fear was not all that useful.  So I was more willing to consider the possibility of outgrowing it in favor of reliance on God.  Stuff does happen that I don't like, but my job is to let go of my resistance and be willing to let God be in charge.

Saturday, August 03, 2013

Dream Hangovers

I dreamed last night that my dearly departed husband had left me for another woman.  I was devastated and tried to talk him into coming back.  He was mad at me for refusing to do something he wanted me to do so I guess he found someone else to do it.  I really wanted to give in so that he would come back but I didn't.  I just tried to explain why I said, "no" and that I loved him very much.  He was hugging me but I got the impression he wasn't coming back when I woke up.  I remember feeling very, very sad that he was leaving but a little bit proud that I didn't sacrifice what I believed was right to keep him.

I've been up three hours now and I still feel really sad.  I hate dream hangovers.

Thursday, August 01, 2013

Taking Care of Myself: Getting Rid of Resentment

After she taught me the basics of physical self-care, my dear spiritual mother began to show me the next vital responsibilities I had - taking care of myself mentally, emotionally and spiritually.  At that time I was prey to intense fear, anger and guilt.  I was in emotional pain pretty much all the time.  I seemed to have been born that way (me and Lady Gaga).  So she taught me the tools for dealing with myself.

We started with the resentments (coming from chronic anger) that were torturing me.  She told me to pray for the people I resented every single day until I didn't resent them any more.  She said to pray for them even though I didn't mean it and to pray that they have everything I wanted for myself.  And that helped - a lot. 

Next she pointed out that my thinking patterns were really what caused resentment - not the actual behavior of other people.  That seemed incredibly obscure to me.  So we took specific incidents that had caused me to resent someone - incidents where I felt victimized - and looked for ways that I could use the new information, support, and spiritual help I had recently acquired but didn't have at that time in the past.

In every one of those incidents, we were able to identify several ways the problem could have been solved without having to try to make someone else change their behavior.  A very simple example is that when someone is talking to you in a negative, critical, hurtful way, you can just excuse yourself politely and go to the bathroom.  If they persist, you can leave the whole area.  If you don't stay there and listen, you are taking care of yourself and don't need to get a resentment.

This strategy will work on bigger problems too.  Talking to a wise person when you lack ideas will work too.  It is never necessary to try to protect myself by getting resentments.

Little by little I learned how to take care of myself.  By doing that I stopped blaming other people for my problems and began solving them myself. 

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