Something was very different last night.
I have been on the fence whether or not to give up going to my Adult Children of Alcoholics and Dysfunctional Families meeting. I was upset about a few things – the time limits for sharing, the no cross-talk rule (you can’t even directly refer to another person’s share), what happened after last week’s meeting that left me feeling judged and ashamed. I forced myself to go to my meeting…at least to see if the one woman was going to be there that I liked so that I could tell her I’m not sure if I was coming back. I was sick to my stomach with anxiety and the closer I got to the meeting hall, the more I felt ill.
But I wanted to face my fear and I wanted to practice making some positive action in the face of my fears. I thought of some things I might have told that woman who thought I was insane for staying with my husband. I realized she only knew the trouble that had happened, long ago. She didn’t know the good stuff about my husband – that he helps take care of the kids, he takes turns with me to wash the dishes, knows how to use the washing machine and dryer and helps with folding the laundry and yes, matching socks. He cuts the grass and shovels the snow. We take turns cooking. We take turns shuttling the kids places. And I get FREE massages and craniosacral therapy. And he is different now. He hardly ever goes out to drink anymore.
She judged my situation and my husband based on HER experiences, without even knowing this other side of my husband. I couldn’t even get to his good parts, because I was cut off with her laughter and her “well, let me tell you about MY experience with these kinds of men…” and I walked away without trying to further defend my choice to stay with my husband.
Part of the only reason why I wanted to come back was to address this lopsided, judgmental, unfair and inaccurate view of my husband. But I found I didn’t need to.
Something else happened.
Because the door to the meeting hall was locked, the person who meets us there wasn’t there and the key we had had been lost, we ended up relocating to a local restaurant, and while it was crowded, the seven of us were still able to conduct an informal meeting. I wasn’t worried about privacy as much as I was worried I wasn’t going to be able to hear much. I’m losing my hearing a bit (probably because I spent many times holding my daughter in my arms when she had a screaming meltdown due to her overwhelming sensory and emotional sensitivities – which fortunately have been improving) and find it difficult to hear when there’s a lot of noise going on. But I ended up hearing all I needed to hear.
Since we didn’t have the privacy we normally are afforded, we dispensed with the usual formality. We ditched the timer. We ditched the strict ‘no cross talk’ rule. We ditched the rigid format of the meeting and we ditched the reading from the Big Red Book. We just ordered our drink (hot or iced tea) or a light meal and shared how our week went and what came up for us.
I volunteered to start. I originally thought I was going to share about my relationship with my husband and my intention to stay married, but that didn’t happen. I shared the two things most pressing on my mind…my best friend’s month-long sabbatical and my father’s poor health. One of the girls asked me, “Wait, so your husband’s not your best friend?” And I honestly replied, “No. I’ve always had my husband and a male best friend/confidante who was not my husband.” It’s just how it’s always been for me. There was a time when my husband WAS my best friend, too (so I felt I had TWO BFFs), but the difficult things that happened between us changed that.
I continued on with my share. I said that while I accepted he wasn’t abandoning me, I still felt abandoned and how I felt it really unfair because I was really struggling with my ACA program and feeling angry about it since I didn’t have much help in understanding what ‘working the program’ looked like on a daily basis.
a moment of reflection on this, if you don’t mind….
I’d always been a good student, so when there was homework assignments, especially writing assignments, I’ve never minded doing them.
The problem with the 12 step program step 4 ‘homework’ is that it asks you to take inventories of very personal things in your life. What your family was like, how your family treated you, how you felt about it, what bad habits you have inherited, the people you’ve harmed and should make amends to, the PTSD triggers you have, and where they might come from. There’s some tough, tough stuff to work through. Because it touches on areas of weakness you’ve been shamed for, it’s emotionally intensive stuff and you end up ramming right up against your defense mechanisms. It’s scary because it’s like meeting your very own monsters in the dark.
A lot of people flee the 12 step programs when they hit that scary place. If you aren’t ready for this intensive look into what your ego is so firmly defending, and if you don’t have a strong belief that your Higher Power has your back…it’s as if you are being asked to undergo a tooth drilling without any novocaine. Or rather, 10 tooth drillings without any novocaine.
So, I would resist this.
I resisted this from the moment my friend suggested I give 12-step programs a try in the first place.
And I did not just resist. I got ORNERY in my resistance.
I refuse to be assimilated…even in this.
And my friend tried to be patient with me.
And as the weeks drew on, I had periods of safety and ease interspersed with periods of tension and fear.
Sometimes I’d get mad at him about my group when HIS groups seemed be so wonderful when mine weren’t and complained to him about it.
I wanted to stay mad and I wanted to blame him for my bad feelings – because if he hadn’t
forced encouraged me to go, I wouldn’t have to face these people I couldn’t seem to bond with and I wouldn’t have to face these scary places in me.
This work is tough.
A lot of us feel this fear and resistance.
It’s a good sign…I think…to recognize your fear and your resistance and still want to stick with it, even though you what you really want to do is run like hell far in the other direction and hope that life will get better without having to do any hard work on yourself and excise those pesky little
quirks character defects we all have.
There are no guarantees that this program will cure what ails you.
When I read, either in the Big Red Book or Tony A’s The Laundry List (not sure which book), they had admitted that some people, while they come into the program and work it as best they can, they don’t make it out alive.
This work is tough.
It asks you to go back to places and ages and feelings you NEVER wanted to go back to ever again.
It’s a spiritual program because without some hope that a Higher Power has your back, it’s nearly impossible to go it alone.
And most of us recovering adult children have been asked to go it alone our entire lives.
You need to break it all down before you can rebuild a stronger foundation.
The personality you’ve adopted (your ego) needs to be stripped so you can let who you really are come out. And let’s face it, the very process of socialization is meant to keep who you really are buried alive.
Hey, show of hands…how many of you are willing to give up your carefully crafted protections and bare the absolute naked truth about yourself.
The beautiful parts AND the ugly parts.
Who is willing to expose your tender underbelly and risk having what you’ve been hiding about yourself from others AND from yourself for decades be seen?
The light AND the dark.
The thoughtfulness AND the insensitivity
The compassion AND the judgment.
The emotional tranquility you claim you want AND the things you do to sabotage that peace.
Yeah, I saw at least one of you raise your hand.
It’s good to know I’m not the only one.
Yet, while there are others going through the same thing you are, ultimately, when it’s just you and your fears in the middle of the night…you just have to ride them out til daybreak when the monsters recede to their corners of your mind.
Hence, the need for the HP. I am the first to admit I’ve been skeptical that my HP had my back. Until these past couple of days, at least. I’ve been very surprised. Very.
okay, end tangential line of thought….
thanks for the interlude
I also told my group of my father’s worsening health problems with his lung cancer and how far away he is and how it is quite possible he might not make it to summer (when I plan to see him again) and how I’d just realized that I’d only seen him once in 33 years.
The next time I will see him might be the last time I see him alive. It’s a hard thing to think about.
And I shared how I hoped to learn to accept this feeling of powerlessness to do anything about these things.
And then when my share was over, the other women shared their experiences in turn, and what came up from them. I wish I could tell you some of the beautiful things shared, but I won’t because I don’t want to violate their privacy. I will say this: there were common threads of fear and uncertainty and the overwhelming feeling of being suspended between our old coping mechanisms and new, healthy behaviors we have not yet learned.
If I ever wanted to know what my children are going through as they’ve had to master the various developmental tasks, I simply need to remember that feeling of hanging suspended without a safety net as I learn my own.
I am working on cultivating a loving Inner Parent to say, “atta girl, Casey, you are doing just fine…you’ll get there”.
And, as I’d been reminded by Paul this week in his comment to me on this post,
We battle, and we let go and we learn and we tumble and we triumph. it’s all a part of His plan, I suppose. It’s in the hard that we grow. We grow, my friend. You are growing in leaps and bounds even if feels like you’re still in quicksand. I see it. You are a beautiful person and mother and wife. Shine on..continue growing, my friend.
I am going to keep this reminder in my back pocket. I’m going to pull it out and read it when times get tough, that “it’s in the hard that we grow”.
[You should hear the voice in my head when I read those words to myself. Paul, I’m imaging this amazing voice which is no voice I’d ever heard before…but is so incredibly soothing and comforting].
Shine on…continue growing, my friend.
I sat there, listening to the stories of the hardness and the hope, sipping my hot tea while the other girls had a light meal, I noticed how much more deeply intimate I felt with them and how the change of venue – from the sterile meeting room with the glaring fluorescent lights and the long, white utilitarian tables to the cozy warmth of the restaurant with the subdued lighting and the rustic, dark wood table – changed my feelings towards them. No longer did I feel we were just acquaintances having a meeting about stuff (albeit intensely personal stuff), it felt like we were friends, sharing the intimate spaces and hurt places in our hearts while breaking bread.
I looked at these faces intently as I listened to their stories. I saw my pain reflected in their eyes, their tears were my tears. I saw my fledgling courage and hope in the promise of a better way to live in the eyes of these fellow travelers on the path to healing.
I realized that this was the first time in about 2 years I had gone out to a meal with anyone other than my husband or outside the usual social customs like weddings and baby showers. This was the first time in an incredibly LONG time I felt that sharing a meal with others wasn’t accompanied by shallow and tedious conversation and bragging about the latest toy or home improvement.
I felt the earthy soil of our common humanity where the tender shoots of our hidden hopes and dreams are being fertilized by the compost of our life’s tragedies and lie in wait for just the right moment to burst forward.
I realized it wasn’t our brokenness that brought us together; what brought us together was our deep desire to be whole and to learn how to attract healthy people that may further enrich our lives; this time, however, nourishing us in the light, not the darkness.
H3nry J3kyll left an incredibly thoughtful comment on one of my recent blog posts:
Someone once told me that the more daunting the tribulation, the more majestic the transformation. And to always remember that life is a continuous process of becoming.
I’m reminded of an incredibly poignant piece my friend-on-sabbatical was inspired to write and share with me that was all about this becoming.
It wasn’t until last night that I truly understood what he was saying about how transformational it can be to work on restoring wholeness in the presence of other recovering people.
And while a part of me still feels hurt…still feels mad…that my friend stepped back for a time…and that part of me irrationally worries he might never come back (even as I know it and I would be okay if he didn’t come back)…I’m realizing he had to step back.
Not only or not just for himself…but for me.
And in one of his parting thoughts he’d written,
I don’t know what The Allness has in store for you (precisely). But I am sure that it is wonderful beyond your wildest imaginings. Its ways are so much higher than ours.
I wish that I could have known then he was right. That he did the right thing by setting me loose to struggle with my feelings a while. I’m learning a whole lot in just a few short days.
I realized something else last night as I looked across the table at the people who made it out to the restaurant: the Universe provided these very people to me, to perturb me, to challenge me, to prod at me until I investigated my feelings and my defenses, so that I might meet some of my triggers head on and decide to grow from them…or not.
I realized too, that I loved these others in my life. That they, too, had known suffering. That they, too, had wisdom. That they are teaching me the things I need to know just by sharing those intimate spaces and hurt places and the wisdom they have gleaned from their own recovery process.
Am I going to miss my friend?
Am I going to cry again?
Is it going to be all right?
And in parting, I have to remember one last thing H3nry J3kyll said to me.
When the ride gets rough, my friend, it also helps to remember that it’s only a ride.