Control. Who ME??

I’ve been wrestling with and dealing with ideas and issues of control over the past few days. Well, longer than that I suppose, but a few things have come up in the past week that really brought it to the forefront. Two specific situations and I would love your feedback on what you think. So feel free to pipe in!

First let me start off by saying one of the first things we learn in Al Anon is that we only have control over ourselves. We can not an alcoholic anymore than we can control the sunrise. This is very true and also very very hard to grasp. We think to ourselves that if only I (insert your choice here: try harder, love more, get mad, take away affection, look through email, drive by where I think s/he may be, on and on) that it will get them to change their behavior. That in itself is a sickness. It becomes an obsession of what am I going to do to change this person. It doesn’t work that way.

Too many times in a relationship, we become so enmeshed with the other person we tend to lose ourselves. We start to think only about “us” and not as separate people. We allow others to look at the behavior of one as a reflection of both. Isn’t it strange how this works with addiction but not other diseases? If a spouse has cancer, it’s not a reflection of the healthy spouse. There is sympathy and empathy and help offered. Maybe addiction is such an anomaly that others outside the family don’t know how to respond? But I digress (as usual! )

When someone becomes so focused on controlling the other person in a relationship, whether addiction is in play or not, that they can’t see what they are doing in their own lives, it becomes dangerous. Delusional. Lost. Only when you can truly come to terms with the fact that you can only yourself that things can begin to change. Strange, right? When you learn to take control over your own life, your own dreams, your own future, that’s when true change begins. True change. And guess what also happens? The other person in your relationship is then free to change too. Or not. But it’s their choice. And that alone is one of the most freeing aspects of letting go of that control you held on to so tightly. When your partner sees change in you, and I’m talking real change, not manipulation, they have a few decisions to make of their own. They can continue to do what they’ve been doing or they themselves can decide to change.

There’s an empowerment that comes with letting go of the control over someone else. You get to decide what you will tolerate and what you won’t. You get to decide if you want to live the way you are or if you want something different. If you want something different, you are in control of your own life to make that change! Do you see how freeing it is? Stop controlling and get out of your own way! Life is too short to be unhappy.

control of life

The second part of this has nothing to do with addiction but much more about parenting and how things have changed in the past, um, few decades. This comes from a discussion over the past few weeks with Michael about Ryan. Ryan seems to have a problem with not texting us when he arrives some place. I know, shocking right? I’m sure he’s the only teenager who “forgets” to text his parents. But it was seriously driving me crazy. After everything that has happened the past 6 months, I think a simple text saying “I made it” or “I’m here” shouldn’t be difficult.

Yesterday I had a little epiphany. He was going to the zoo with his girlfriend. I asked him to text me when he got to her house and again when he got to the zoo. I didn’t think that was asking much. Guess who didn’t text me? Yep. So I texted him. “You get there ok?” No response. Tick. Tick. Tick. “Hello?” No response. Tick. Tick. Tick. So I texted the girlfriends mom. “Ryan make it there ok? I haven’t heard from him.” No response. Tick. Tick. Tick.

So by now you’ve probably guessed that I’m about .03 seconds away from calling hospitals, police, jail, wherever I need to in order to track down my son who I’m sure is laying dead or injured in a ditch and they were only able to reach the girlfriends mom who has now rushed to her daughters side and no thought to call me. Seriously, this is the way my sick mind works.

I finally get a text back from Ryan. “We were driving and just pulled into the zoo.” Ok. He’s alive. Close Google window with local hospital phone number listed. Breathe.

And then it hit me. Out of nowhere. What in the hell was I doing to myself? I got myself in that panic. I was trying to control a situation I really didn’t need to or should control. I started thinking about how when I was a 17 almost 18 year old. When I took my car and told my mom I was going to the zoo or the movies or wherever, I sure didn’t have a cell phone. I wasn’t texting her telling her I arrived at the movies ok. I was holding a device that allowed her to ping my exact location at any given time. I told her where I was going and she would tell me to have fun, be back by curfew and out the door I went. I don’t know for a fact, but I bet she wasn’t pacing the floor every minute I was gone. And look how I turned out!!!! (Ok, that made me laugh!) But why, just because we have this amazing technology, do I use that to try to control my almost adult child? Especially when it does nothing but frustrate me.

So I’m making a conscience effort to let go. He has a phone. He can call if something happens. I don’t need to track or ping or worry. Because I’m only driving myself further insane. I’m not saying he’s going to be given some free-for-all with no accountability. After all, it’s MY cell phone he has and it’s Michael’s car he’s been given with permission, and it’s OUR house rules he has to abide by, but I think I’m going to try, really really hard to not demand a text that I don’t get.

I’m giving up that control too. I can learn to unlearn that behavior. And just maybe, he’ll learn something too.


Addiction – The Family Secret

I really wanted to write about this subject today after giving it much thought. I hope I can be succinct and cohesive, but I am also asking for feedback if you would. That’s kind of the point of the blog post.

How many of you have an addict in your family? Any kind of addict. Alcohol, drugs (<– that was whispered like the mom in St. Elmo's Fire….lol), gambling, sex, shopping, eating….anything that causes a problem for the person and the family unit. I bet you do if you're honest with yourself. I bet there's the crazy Uncle you only have to deal with during the holidays because he drinks too much and gets obnoxious or starts telling dirty jokes around the 5 year old kid table. Or your sister who eats her entire meal telling everyone she's not really hungry, but then grabs some extras and hides in the bathroom finishing off another piece of cake plus 3 more rolls. Or the niece everyone thinks is perfect but has been secretly getting high every night and no one notices. What about the guy at work who can't turn down the next project/phone call/email/business trip/etc because he's afraid of not getting the next promotion or being valued enough?

Or maybe it's you. Can you stop drinking? What if you've never been told you have a "problem" before but now you're being asked to stop. Can you? "Well, **I** don't have the problem. My mom, well, SHE was the one hiding bottles through the house, not me. I can stop when I want." Uh huh. But do you? Can you go a month without drinking? Excess shopping? A little weed? A little pill? Working on a day off? What about exercise? Are you addicted to something "good" for you? Do you push it too far? Are you running 7 days a week? Should you?

Anyone who has dealt with an addict will tell you the above scenario is classic denial. There's always always ALWAYS someone worse off than the person you're talking to. Or an excuse for the behavior. And that's a convenient rationale to not admit your own problem. Yes, admitting you have a problem with (insert addiction here) is a first step. Admitting powerlessness over the addiction and that your life has become unmanageable. Step One in AA. And starting at Step One is always the best place to start. The whole one foot in front of the other thing, right?

But what is YOUR role in all of this? The non-addict family member. Do you cover for the gambling spouse who just spent your electric bill money at the craps table? Do you call in sick for the spouse who can't quite make it to work again this morning? Do you explain to your kids to stay away from Aunt Dee because she can't help but to act the way she does? What if it IS your kid? Do you cover and and hide and put on the happy face for the world to see?

Now I'm certainly not suggesting that everyone open up the four walls of their homes and let everything be a gawking free-for-all. Every home has its secrets that most are sure would be horrified if the outside world could look in and see during your most raw, emotional times. That's not what I'm getting at. I AM suggesting that addiction is so incredibly prevalent in our society, and that the old way of thinking is not what is healthy for the entire family. Talking about it, discussing it, sharing it, help to bring it out of the shadows where it can grow and fester. That helps take away that stigma that unfortunately still exists today.

Which brings me back to the non-addicts role. My role. Most of my readers know my husband is an alcoholic. I don't hide it. It's hard. It's difficult. I've written many blog posts about it. I'm active in an Al Anon group. It's been amazing to find that everything I thought I was dealing with alone, someone right down the street was dealing with too. And right around the corner. And all over the city, the state, the country, the world. But no one knows because everyone hides and covers. It's the family secret.

Here's a great saying in AA: "Nothing changes if nothing changes". Simple right? Simple and true. Changing the way WE act and will bring about change in US. Not others. Ourselves. It's a very empowering feeling when you truly start to put yourself first and change the way you think.

I wish I could get more people talking, and in doing that you could realize you aren't alone. You're family isn't the only one. And perhaps helping to shed some light on what is happening will also encourage the addict to seek support and help. Don't let another generation continue the cycle. There's a Step One in AA and in Al Anon. But there's more than one step. Keep moving, keep growing. You can do ANYTHING for a day. Today can be Day One in your life, whether you're the addict or just love someone who is.



Overwhelmingly Overwhelmed?

Have you ever just had a day, where you feel the weight of everyone else’s world on your shoulders? Where you don’t know where to look or who to help or what to do, so the easiest thing to do is close the curtains and pretend you aren’t home? Uh huh. You know you have.

And the thing is, it’s not one or two big things. It’s more a culmination of many many many MANY little things. Sprinkle in a few big bombshells and BOOM, that crushing feeling is upon you. Divorces, family members not speaking to other family members, (some family members just fine with never speaking to a certain other family member again), affairs, lost loves, bankruptcy, cancer, alcoholism, recovery, friends struggling with friends, friends struggling with family, lost friendships, lost spouses, lost pets, children sick, weight loss, weight gain, kids struggling in school, with friends, with peers, with boyfriends or girlfriends…..OMG, I could seriously go on longer and that’s just in the past week!!!!!

This is the overwhelming part for me. And I have cried on enough shoulders and vented enough to my family and friends that I owe them my shoulder in their time of need. At least my shoulder. A few of them need me to call the divorce lawyer and pack up that spouse and kick them out. A few need me to get a shovel and a rural (unfrozen) parcel of land and start digging, if ya know what I mean. The fixer in me wants to wave my magic wand, sprinkle some fairy dust and make those impossibly difficult, narcissistic, egomaniac, selfish people into decent normal human beings. But I can’t do that and watching them struggle with this idiotic spouse/friend/person can be overwhelming.

High school kids are hard enough to deal with on good days. When they get mean for the sake of being mean, and hurtful for the sake of being hurtful, what can you do as parent? Most of the time they don’t want you involved anyway. So it gets tricky sometimes. But when the meanness causes your child to weep, do you step in? When and how do friends become enemies? It’s sad and overwhelming.

No matter how hard you try to be optimistic, or looking for the silver lining, what do you do when it’s hard to find? For the parent who finds their child suffering, suggesting they look on the bright side seems callous. What bright side? But do you allow it to make you become withdrawn? Bitter? Angry at the world? Or do you try to be a friend and walk a tightrope of not knowing what to say? A friend found out her daughter has cancer. How do you comfort them, especially when she wants to push everyone away? I don’t know how to help. It’s heartbreaking and overwhelming.

So how do you handle it? No really, I’d love to know. For me, I’m thankful today is a barre day, because even thought my triceps are still sore from Tuesday, I’m gonna work the hell out of them today! It’s gonna be a “sweat dripping off my nose” kind of work out. I know that I can’t be the fix it person to anyone but me. I can lend an ear, a shoulder, support. But I can’t fix it. Great lesson learned in Al Anon is that I can only be in charge of me and my behavior. No one can change someone else. You can try, but then you’re just manipulating. You don’t want to do that, do you? Cuz that’s just not nice. So I’m going to try to focus on me and what I need (this is the year is ME, right?) and I’m going to go work out. And I’m going to remember this:

Just try to be a good person. That’s enough. ~~ The Dalai Lama



Relapse or Slip?

These terms could fit a myriad of issues. And for good reason. They are interchangable with what we all struggle with. All of us. Don’t think you have a problem? Ha! I bet if asked, people could come up with at least “Fault”. I use fault in quotations because obviously not all struggles are exactly equal in scope and size, but at the same time, let’s not diminish any type of internal wrestling with right and wrong.

As some of my most loyal blog followers know, I had to have surgery on my back, again, for a melanoma that thankfully my doctor caught early. Surgery is a general term. She calls it surgery. I’m sure billed like a surgery. But it’s not in a hospital, its outpatient in her office surgical room. (Plus, as a side note, since it’s the beginning of the year and no deductible has been met yet, I’m sure this bill is going knock me off my feet. Sigh…..) So as a result of this “procedure”, I’ve had to miss a few yoga classes and a few barre classes. Throw in the Super Bowl and lots of not-so-good-for-me snacks, and well, you can probably see where this is going. I stepped on the scale this morning and was horrified and saddened to see I’ve gained 1 and 1/2 pounds since last week.

I’ve held my 70 lb weight loss to the pound since I hit that goal. Even though it was frustrating to not continue to lose more when nothing had changed. Maybe my body needed some time to recalibrate. I don’t know. But I went into a quick inventory of what I’ve been doing, what I’ve slacked off doing and how and when I need to refocus my efforts.

Do you know someone who struggles with an issue of trying to change and they have the tools, they know what to do, and yet……even after much success something switches in their mind and they give up all the progress they made? I think we all know someone (at least one) who has gone through this. The alcoholic who is sober for days, weeks, months, and in a moment, has the bottle? No thought about about what is being thrown away. What about the drug user who is out of rehab, made changes and suddenly an opportunity is there and they take it without a second thought. Until it’s too late.

So I’ve been thinking about this relapse or slip terminology. I’ve talked to some very knowledgable people in my Al Anon group as well as some in AA. The difference seems to be what happens after the fall. Do you continue on a shame-spiral and think “Screw it. I messed up. I have to start all over. I can’t do it. It’s too hard. I don’t even want to try anymore. This is who I am, if you don’t like it, YOU leave.”


Can you pick yourself up, dust yourself off and realize how much you’ve learned since your last Day 1? Can you start Day 1 with renewed determination and focus? Can you call someone who is helping you along your journey and honestly ask for help?

This is the difference between a slip and relapse. It’s not that you have to start over (because you do) it’s that you start over with serious gusto. You add more tools to your toolkit so that it doesn’t happen again.

I’m choosing to look at myself as the latter. I’m going to go barre Thursday and do what I can. I’m going to drink more water, because I know I’ve been seriously slacking in that department. I’m going to confess to my trainer that I had more than a few bites of ooey gooey yummy homemade soft pretzels Sundays, and yes, one or more may have fell into some cheese dip and then stumbled into my mouth. Mmmmmmmmm.

But I can tell you what I won’t do. I won’t allow it to derail me. I think about people who have lost significant weight by going on a fad diet or one of those pre-packaged meal deals like Jenny Craig or Nurtisystem. Those people all lose weight. I did when I was on Jenny Craig decades ago. But it doesn’t really teach you to keep it off. It teaches you how to use the microwave. Long lasting change isn’t easy, or fast, or without trials. But it’s soooooo worth it.

So even if your “slip” is falling away from your New Years Resolution, or you’ve fallen off the diet/alcohol/drug/sex/gambling/whatever wagon that you’ve been trying to stay on, fear not! Today is a new day. And today is a great day to call Day One.


dont give up

Alcoholism, nerves and yoga

One of the side effects of living with an alcoholic is having nerves of steel. Well, maybe not steel. Maybe more like wet noodles. Not so steel-like. I think when you have lived with this disease for a long period of time, it somehow leeches onto the family that surrounds it. Not that I have become an alcoholic, but it affects my life in myriad ways.

Some of the feelings that come up with having been almost conditioned to it remain, even after the alcoholic is in recovery. Some fears and shadows remain, below the surface, just waiting to spring up into your life. To take you right back to where you were and said you would never be again. (See how that sounds just the alcoholic himself?)

Last night I was just about to go crazy. And it was all me. My brain thinking, my hands shaking, my stomach sick. All of my own doing.

He said he was leaving work, on his way home. It was 4:15. Woo Hoo! Coming home early, we could do some yard work that the rain of the weekend prevented us from doing. Then I could go to yoga. Perfect!

He wasn’t home at 5. That’s ok. Traffic coming from downtown to the suburbs can be bad some nights.

He wasn’t home at 5:30. Wow. Over an hour seems a bit long. Don’t panic. But don’t call. Don’t let him know you’re worried. Just relax.

He wasn’t home at 6. Ok. I’m calling. This is crazy. I call. No answer. I text. No reply. OMG! I call again. No answer. Why isn’t he answering???? It’s been almost 2 hours since he told me he was leaving! What is happening??

Full force panic has now set in. I’m sick to my stomach. I’m imagining him on the side of the road, crumpled, waiting for an ambulance to make its way through rush hour grid lock. I’m imagining him in cuffs in the backseat of police car after getting another DUI. I’m imagining his phone going off on the front seat of the police car and he knows its me calling.

I’ve broken into a sweat and my entire body is literally trembling.

He walked in the door at 6:09. I literally burst into to tears as I collided with him in the hallway, hugging him, crying, squishing him in a monster hug.

He has no idea what’s even going on. He’s alarmed. Why is she crying? Did something happen to Ryan? Rob? Her parents? He pushed me back and searched my face for a clue. He doesn’t know what to do or say to make me stop crying.

So after I explained my completely irrational thinking and behavior, thanking God that he was home, he tells me he was on the phone on his way home. He didn’t leave the office until 4:50 after getting pulled into a meeting. He stopped for gas. He thinks his phone is on the Do Not Disturb setting which he uses frequently at work because he is on so many conference calls that he can’t have his phone beeping. My calls didn’t beep through. My texts were received but no notification signal.

He apologizes profusely. He’s so sorry. He didn’t mean to scare me or worry me. And most of all….he’s SOBER. He wasn’t trying to pull a fast one where he was drinking but oh-I-didn’t-hear-my-phone-ring BS. He was truly sorry for causing me to worry to the point of tears.

So I tried using my yoga breath (the suggestion of my dear sweet friend!) and tried to calm my shaking. He tells me about the phone call and the weird but potentially good news from his office. He’s made quite a name for himself and I’m very proud of what he has achieved in his company.

In through the nose. Out through the nose.

I changed and went to yoga (which of course in my doomsday thought process, I figured I would have to miss since I would be down at the police station and/or hospital) and tried to channel my fears and calm my mind. Find that stillness that is sometimes so elusive to me. I just need to trust, relax, let go, and breathe. All the things my yoga instructor teaches me every class. Find a way to put them into practice in the middle of a manufactured crisis in my head.

In through the nose. Out through the nose…..

Yoga Warrior Pose 2

Death and the Dysfunctional Family

Death is a funny thing. I don’t mean funny as in ha ha. I mean is funny like peculiar. We’re all going to die. (Yea, like you didn’t know that) But how people deal with death is so different that it strikes me as odd.

You hear shrinks all the time saying how everyone deals with death differently, or how to be careful because you never know how someone is going to handle the loss of a loved one or friend. That’s all true. Not discounting it. But don’t you find it curious how people even in the same family handle it differently? Siblings deal with it completely different from each other. Parents deal with it different than their spouse. But what happens when you throw complete dysfunction into the middle of it? Chaos. Pure chaos.

I think in a “normal” family, these types of events tend to bring families closer. They lean on each other for support, they feel comfortable crying, reminiscing, even laughing about the past. I think the dysfunctional family has a way of drawing the worst out of each other. When you add alcohol to the mix, it’s a recipe for disaster. Complete chaos. And when everyone is fighting, or manipulating, or being a complete ass, where is the support that is needed to cope with the grief? Does it ever get dealt with properly?

I also wonder about how that event gets looked back on after time. Does the funeral become so tainted with the bad memories of what happened there that the person who passed away gets lost in the drama and chaos? Is that what you want to remember when you think back to that person? Or can you compartmentalize it or even try to forget the scene and only remember the person? I would like to think so, but I don’t know.

At this point though, I can only hope for the best in what is going to be a horrible situation and pray that everyone escapes relatively unscathed. And pray for peace….not just for the one who passed away but for the whole family as well.

Alcohol and perceptions

I’ve already told the story of Michael’s motorcycle accident, so I don’t need to do a retelling. If you didn’t read it, it was my blog from 3/28/13. Feel free to go back and read it. I try not to sugar coat what happened, or hide it for what is was.

Hiding alcoholism is never the way. It doesn’t help the alcoholic, the family, or anyone who cares about them. It doesn’t make it go away, or hurt less, or lessen the severity. Unless you know or live with an addict, you have no idea what daily struggles are present. You can sympathize, you can nod or hug, but you don’t know the pain. Some people are in denial about it and think the family is making a bigger deal out of it than it is. I think this is especially true for alcoholics. Drinking is so socially accepted, almost expected, that when someone turns down a drink the reaction is usually shock or bewilderment. “Oh sure ya do!!!” as he’s handed a bottle. “You can have just a couple, I’ll make sure you don’t get too drunk.” Or how about the best one, “You can have just one, it’s my birthday/anniversary/job promotion/insert the reason here.” If he could have “just one”, he wouldn’t BE an alcoholic, would he????

Alcoholism never goes away. Someone can achieve sobriety, but it doesn’t ever go away. A person in recovery can go years without a drink, but something triggers a response in them and after that first sip, it’s all over with. Hopefully, they can get right back to whatever helps them stay sober; 12 step, counseling, friends, church, rehab, whatever worked for them, they need to work it hard! But so many can never right that ship once it’s off course. The shame they feel internally can not be expressed outwardly. I call it the “Shame Spiral” because that’s what it does. They continue to drink because of the shame they feel for drinking. Makes a lot of sense, right?

I go back and forth on my feelings about people drinking in front of or around him. I think it’s rude most of the time. I think it’s mean-spirited, selfish and inconsiderate. I also think that if you can’t go an evening without drinking to support a friend, maybe you need to look at your own drinking habits and seriously evaluate your own life. I’m not saying non-alcoholics shouldn’t drink, it’s a trillion dollar a year industry (I just made that up, I have no idea how much they make a year, but it’s a LOT) and it’s a lot for a reason. Happy Hour is one of our favorite past times, right? But here’s what I want all of you non-alcoholics to realize….if an alcoholic (especially a recently in recovery alcoholic) attends a social gathering where alcohol is sure to be present, it has taken a tremendous amount of nerve to even show up. S/he sees everyone drinking. S/he feels like they are sticking out like a sore thumb. If S/he stays for 15 minutes, that might be all they can take. But to come to the alcoholics own home with alcohol, drink it in front of him, is just…..just….. WRONG!! How selfish do you have to be?? Is it REALLY all about you that you can’t give one precious evening of drinking soda? Or tea? Or water? Can you really not have a good time unless you’re drinking? Again, I would say that calls for some self-evaluation. Sorry if that’s harsh. I’m calling it like I see it.

If you know someone who is an addict, please do what you can to support that person. Support them where they are right now. Not where you want them to be, or where you think they should be, but where they are. It is soooooo hard to do that. It’s hard to live it every day. It’s hard not knowing what each evening will bring. Encourage that person you know to get help. Attend a meeting with them. Offer to drive. But always remember, it’s there, lurking below the surface. Because one thing an addict is great at doing besides using…is hiding.