Tuesday, September 16, 2014

The Shadow

Yesterday was one of those days that I would like to not have. I went to bed on Sunday evening watching news about Hurricane Odile on a collision path with Cabo San Lucas.  Now I have only been there one time, but the place was amazing. I thought about the open air restaurants, the simple houses where the residents live, the beggar lady Maria I met at the marina, the marina with all the boats, the horses at the ranch where I rode through the desert, the economy that depends almost totally on tourism.

So I awoke yesterday in the wee hours to see Cabo decimated by a Cat 3 hurricane.  I saw the beautiful airport in shambles, the barrios destroyed, the fancy resorts blown out and the marina trashed.  I heard some people being interviewed saying that everything will be cleaned up in two weeks. How is that possible when it is likely that power won't be back on for at least that long? Anyway,  seeing the damage in photos was bad but living through a Cat 3 gives a whole other definition to hell.

After looking as long as I could at the damage in Cabo, I checked email to learn that a long-time friend died in her sleep early Monday morning. She had just been at an event on Saturday with one of her beloved dogs.  Her last post to everyone on Sunday night was about how happy she was that her dog did well. I'm glad that she had a good two days and died happy.  She was a quiet, unassuming person who loved animals and her family.  She also suffered from rheumatoid arthritis which took her away from riding and competing with her dogs. But she still managed to get around with a cane.

I am not stunned anymore by people dying.  I am sad but realize that more and more of my friends are going to die as time passes.  Over the past year, death has simply been a factor in my life.  It is there like a shadow sometimes, especially on days like yesterday.

I prefer to not have the shadow near me and opt for bright sparkling water, ocean breezes and light days.  I keep the shadow away by traveling to the edge of the marsh.  The grass is going to seed, swaying in the breeze, changing color with the season.  It's an unsettled time of year with thunderstorms threatening in the distance, large cumulonimbus clouds building, and the light changing and moving like the leaves up in the trees.  At these moments, I am so glad to be alive, fully and with such a feeling of love deep inside my soul.

That's what I am feeling at this moment.  Love and peace to you all.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

On the boat

I have been out on the boat since Tuesday. I taught sailing on Monday evening, spent that night on the boat and left the next morning to make the tide to the island anchorage. The weather has been cooler after so many days with high heat and humidity. Then the rains came for two days, but I decided to leave on Tuesday regardless. I need the water just like I need to breathe. 

I am sitting in the cockpit now with two snoring dogs nearby. Later, I am going to row to shore and take the dogs for a walk on the beach. A lot of erosion has occurred since my last visit. But it's still peaceful and comforting to know that there is a place nearby to enjoy the quiet of a deserted island. The waves are lapping against the hull and the ocean waves are crashing on the far side of the island.
I have lectures to prepare for Monday evening over the next nine weeks. I do enjoy teaching and know that it's good to refresh on information that I haven't studied in some time. I still feel as if there are so many others more qualified than me to teach the course. But I keep telling myself that I was the one asked to teach it and know that I can prepare as well as anyone can. It's my old insecurity that I need to be the "expert" when in fact I remain still a student in my mind. Ah well....i have felt like an imposter for a long time, even at the pinnacle of my career. Old feelings of inadequacy are hard to entirely give up. 

Anyway, I am heading back in tomorrow. I'll ride the mare on Friday. Horseback riding has been fun. I'm enjoying trail rides on her. She is sturdy, beautiful and sweet. I'll end with some photos of her and the dogs. 

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Not my zoo, not my monkey

I've heard the expression "not my zoo, not my monkey" a lot lately.  It reminds me of my desire to mind my own business and not get caught up in a lot of drama that wreaks my peace of mind (=serenity).

I have spent a lot of time wreaking my peace of mind by being involved in situations that were not only dramatic but harmful and unhealthy.  I do my best to avoid people that create a lot of drama, beckoning me to be part of their "zoo".

Things go well for me when I am around healthy, intelligent, mindful and compassionate people.  Some of these are working a program of recovery and some are simply enlightened enough about themselves to be in harmony with those around them.  I learn a lot from people who are loving, vulnerable, humble and authentic.  I seem to be at peace when I am with them.

But social interactions aren't always idyllic.  Plenty of people out in the world are restless, irritable and discontent with who they are and emit a negative vibe that can ensnare me in the zoo.  Like the saying, "monkey see, monkey do", if I am around "unhealthy" people enough, then I begin to take on their attributes.

Take, for example, a discussion with my wife who is my touchstone in so many ways.  We both have found a healthy way to express our feelings. We have learned to navigate in a relationship that was unhealthy to where we respond to each other with love, empathy and understanding.  Consequently, our love has grown.  We talk about how we feel when there is a misunderstanding, rather than trying to justify, argue, be defensive or make excuses.

Have you been around someone who goes on the attack when a problem comes up?  I have a friend who is a dry drunk but sober for 24 years.  He is definitely restless, irritable and discontent with much in his life.  After a few years of unemployment, he now has a good job.  Yet he complains about having to be "on call" when it doesn't suit his agenda. Nothing seems to be his fault; rather, everyone else is messed up or is making mistakes. If I am around him for any length of time, I begin to feel impatient and irritable too.

So instead of getting sucked into being captured in a cage in the zoo, I detach and get away from people when they are in a hurtful, blaming, angry and vindictive state of mind.  While it is important to me to work on myself and my behaviors, to see my past and present, one of the things I have learned is it is impossible for me get mentally and emotionally healthy while I am involved in unhealthy relationships. If I stay too long, then all of my worst shortcomings emerge. Generally, there isn't just one sick person in a relationship: there are two.

My choices are important because if I find myself in the same situation again and again, then it's my doing that put me in the zoo. I am a "stick it out" kind of person, loyal to a fault. But what that has meant is that I have done the same dance with different people over and over.

I do see my reactions to others have changed in recent years. I don't focus so much on what needs to be changed in them, but about what I need to change and what my motives are for being in a relationship with difficult and unhealthy people. I don't have a magical solution. But I trust my gut feelings.  I observe my dynamics with others, inventory my feelings, detach rather try to change people. I ask myself if what I am doing and who I am with is what I want in my life. Do the people bring me peace? Do I feel loved? Can I trust the person? These are hard questions but necessary for me if I am going to feel uncaged. And that, my friends, is what I place as being most important in life these days.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Getting away

We decided to take a trip up to the mountains over the weekend.  It was unbearably hot on the island, with a new record set on Saturday.  The mountains were cooler and stunning in their beauty.

We watched the fog creep up from the valley and continue up the mountain where we were staying with a friend.  His drive way is straight up on a gravel road.  No room for error either on these roads with no shoulder and steep drops into gorges and ravines.

I was reminded of hiking in these mountains when I was in college.  I would spend a weekend every once in a while hiking on the Appalachian Trail.  Those were the days when I was in love with a graduate student who was a few years older than me.  We would camp out under the stars, wash in cold streams, and walk for miles.  Once we walked through a patch of nettles which caused our skin to sting and itch.  Tending to those spots where the nettles hit against skin was soothing in many ways.  We ran naked through meadows, picked wild flowers to put in our hair and made love every chance we got.  I haven't seen her in years but still remember that magical time in the mountains.

Now my wife and I make our own magic but without the wild abandonment of youth.  Likely there will be some good times because we are going to continue our vacation by going on the boat for a few days starting tomorrow. Off the grid again which is okay by me. A time to chill out and be rocked to sleep on the water.

I just hope that my back feels better--pulled a muscle in the lower back over the weekend and the pressure on the nerve is quite painful at times. I took a muscle relaxer and a hydrocodone pill this afternoon.  I don't like to take prescription pain killers, but I was hurting so badly that it seemed the best thing to do.

I picked up Pandora's ashes this morning.  She was reduced to a small container. I look for her in the morning, expecting to hear her meow.  No more worries over her now though.  We can go away knowing that the animals are doing well.

I can feel my eyes getting heavy.  The muscle relaxer is relaxing my whole body. Time for sleep.  Hope that your week will be a good one.  I'll leave you with a few shots of the Smoky mountains.  
Fog over the lake near Robbinsville, NC
Old log cabin near Robbinsville, NC
Nantahala National Forest

Tree of Shame at Tail of the Dragon

All kinds of parts and pieces of motor cycles are hung up on this tree at Tail of the Dragon. 

Monday, August 18, 2014

Letting go of Pandora

Today, we are taking our 18 year old cat, Pandora, to be euthanized. It is time. She has steadily been losing weight and what little she eats goes through her. Her breathing is labored and she is lethargic today.  We give our animals every opportunity to tell us when the time has come. And now it has.

Pandora belonged to my wife's parents who adopted her as a one year old. Mom and Pop loved that cat. We got Christmas and birthday cards from Pandora. And Pandora was the one who was with Mom when she died, having moved from the adjacent bed to lie next to Mom on the day before and the day after she died. Pandora then came to live with us, adapting to the other cats slowly but relishing the attention given to her.

It seems oddly coincidental that Pandora looks like a skeleton, having lost so much weight over the past month.  She is the cat version of what Pop looked like before he died.  "Failure to thrive" seems to happen to both humans and animals when life has dwindled to the point where the body is wasting away. Every time I look at her now and stroke her bony frame, it tears at my heart because I am reminded of Pop's last days.

I don't have much more to say about this. Our love for animals is huge.  But the animals tell us when they are sick and suffering. Keep us in your thoughts as we carry on with letting go of Pandora.
Pandora on the bed after Mom died

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Thoughts on a full life and a life gone

Time has once again slipped away here.  I have been nearly consumed with the bathroom renovations, working out, gardening, horseback riding, sailing, working on lectures for a class, and going to meetings. Some days it feels as if I have taken on so many projects that I will not get any of them done.

I don't think that I am running away from anything by keeping busy. I have looked at my motives and find that I have so many interests and not so much time to get to them all.  At any rate, I am having fun with what I am doing. I suppose that's the important thing.

Today is my Al-Anon anniversary.  Eight years ago I walked into my first meeting knowing that if I didn't change my outlook on life, I would not make it. I was thinking that suicide would be a good way to end the turmoil in my life. After all, no one would really care whether I was gone or not.  That kind of thinking is what brings a person to their knees:  wishing that things could be different, wishing that words could be taken back, wishing to stop the anger and the fear but not knowing how to let anything go or make anything right.

Fortunately, a good friend in the AA program told me that I needed to go to Al-Anon.  I had resisted an earlier suggestion years before that I needed it, because I thought that therapy would be the answer.  Unfortunately, therapy didn't make me feel better about myself.  Instead, I felt more angry than ever because I tended to blame my feelings on what others had done to me.

And so here I am eight years later.  My wife is in AA, sober and loves me.  I have friends in the program that I treasure.  I no longer want to end my life but live it to the hilt. I have struck out to do new things, pick up some old hobbies that I gave up years ago, and have learned to not obsess about what others are doing.  I have a lot of joy in my life these days.  Every day is a new adventure and a chance to live as fully as I can.

I do have moments when I worry.  I sometimes feel sad that we have no family left, except for cousins.  I fully admit that I don't know what I would do without my wife.  She is my heart.  My fear of losing her is kept at bay for the most part. But as we age, it gets harder to ignore the ticking clock.

Her depression remains a concern.  For the most part, she is happy and stays busy. But then there are the quiet days in which I know instinctively that she is depressed. Alcoholism and depression are so often companions in destruction.

Occurrences like the suicidal deaths of Robin Williams yesterday and so many others, including friends of mine, remind me of just how fragile our psyche is. When my friend, K., decided to end her life a few years ago, I was distraught. She had 26 years of sobriety, died sober,  but had suffered terribly over the past year with severe depression which had occurred on and off throughout her life.

People are taken to the depths of despair by depression.  I watched my own mother struggle with deep depression. There is no way to know when a person has run out of options and has decided to make the final decision to end their life.  Most of us wonder if there was something that we could have done.  If any one of the people who decide to end their life had reached out, a dozen or more hands would have been there ready to grasp theirs. But would that make any difference?  I don't know.

Lots to think about today.  A full life, a life gone, and the circle repeats again and again.  Hope that you are all in an okay place today.

Thursday, July 31, 2014

What makes a healthy Al-Anon meeting?

Fairly regularly in Al-Anon, we have what's called a group inventory.  We talk about how the group is doing and whether it is "healthy".  There is actually a check list that people in the group can look over and discuss in deciding how the group is doing.

I think that the regular meetings I attend are healthy.  We have a step meeting, a tradition meeting, a literature meeting, and an open discussion meeting each month.  Members follow the traditions which guide the group in their interaction with other groups and how members interact with each other.

That being said, each group is autonomous.  There isn't a one size fits all kind of format.  And I have been to some unhealthy meetings in the past.  So I can attest to the fact that not all Al-Anon meetings follow the three legacies of recovery, unity and service. Some are filled with discussions of problems (self-pity and hostile martyrdom) with no solutions offered. And some are filled with endless talk about the alcoholic and how he/she is to blame.

What makes a meeting healthy, in my opinion, is one in which the traditions are practiced.  Some of the most important words for me to remember from the traditions are unity, authority, anonymity, and outside issues.

Religion is an outside issue and seems to be one of the most misunderstood part of meetings.  I am not a religious person in the sense of being a part of any organized religion. Religion is not something that I want to hear at meetings. When people pass out poems of platitude and offer up biblical sayings, I want to roll my eyes.  Al-Anon is a spiritual program, however.  And the God of our understanding is mentioned, as is a Higher Power (HP).  Whatever a person believes to be more powerful than they are is their HP.

We have many "Gods of our understanding" in this world:  Catholic, Jewish, Muslim, Protestant, Mormon,  etc.  People may have Nature as their Higher Power.  Perhaps the group or a sponsor is their HP.  Many are Christian in their beliefs.  I'm not offended by what others believe.  I just prefer not to have their beliefs discussed at meetings.

Al-Anon is about unity. And when religion is brought in, unity goes out the window.  Scripture quoting in meetings, especially when it is done in the fashion of  "It's in the Bible so it's the law of the land" is uncomfortable for me. I wonder "Who's land?" Not the land of a Muslim or Jew.  If I were a Muslim and quoted from the Qur'an, that would be my Bible.  If someone consistently quoted scripture from the Qur'an, Christians could be offended and given the times, such might seem blasphemous and create divisiveness.

So, I think unity and harmony comes when we don't bring up religion in meetings.  Some groups opt to say the Lord's Prayer, but others simply say the Al-Anon declaration. If a person is uncomfortable about the Lord's Prayer, then they can step back and not say it.  They can also call for a group conscience to ask that another closing be used. I am glad that everyone is included in Al-Anon regardless of their religion and that the "God of our understanding" can be as defined by each of us.

Dominance (authority) is another obstacle to success in having a healthy group. Dominance means that egos run the meetings.  There isn't much room for spirituality when ego has run amuck.  I have heard the saying that ego means "edging God out". I believe that it is important to check our egos at the door.  There is no place in Al-Anon for governing and telling others what to do.  If the Al-Anon "police" are at a meeting, then it may not be particularly healthy.

Anonymity is important and makes a meeting safe.  Talking about others or the reason they are attending meetings is not healthy.  Gossip is hurtful.  To me, meetings must be a safe place where we do not discuss members or others, and particularly not the alcoholic.  While it is important to take our own inventory, it is not part of our program to take the inventory of the alcoholic, and especially not air it out to others.

Not gossiping reminds me to keep the focus where it needs to be: on me.  I spent way too much of my life making alcoholics my Higher Power.  It did nothing but harm when I focused on what others did and then used that as ammunition to justify my feelings about what I was doing.

I realize now that by seeing what others do and inventorying how that affects me, I can use the information to make good decisions for myself.  I cannot fix the alcoholic's problems.  That is not my business.  But treating others in a dignified way is my business.  Gossip robs me and others of dignity.

A healthy meeting is where you can share with others and learn from their experiences. Yes, there are slogans and expressions that may seem corny at first.  I remember when I kept hearing "Let Go and Let God" at meetings, it made me want to leave/heave. I disliked that slogan so much.  Now I realize that letting go means to quit tugging so hard at someone and let their own HP, what ever it may be, guide them.  When I stopped resisting and started listening, I found out that "take what you like, and leave the rest" is taken very seriously in Al-Anon.

Another sign of a healthy meeting is when no one gives advice and tells you what to do.  This is a program in which we share our experience, strength, and hope.  It does not mean that I tell another person how to live their life.  In a healthy meeting, no one tells you whether to stay in a relationship with your alcoholic.  A meeting isn't group therapy where we "cross talk" or give advice.

In a healthy meeting, you may learn some tools that can help save some relationships, *if that's what you want to do* -- but some relationships are beyond saving.  Al-Anon encourages you to take some time before making any big life-changing decisions, but ultimately, you make the decision that's best for you, and sometimes that means leaving the alcoholic.  I made a decision to stay with the alcoholic in my life. And I'm glad that I did.

Al-Anon isn't the only way to recover from the effects of someone else's alcoholism.  What I find comforting is that it feels good to be among those who have the same problem and have been affected by alcoholism. We share similar patterns of behavior and emotions. And we share about our solutions.

This is a program that isn't a cure all. It works for me if I take it seriously. I look on this as a spiritual program that has enhanced my life. There are other ways to get help for co-dependent behavior with an alcoholic. I tried therapy and never understood why I was so angry and miserable. I resisted going to Al-Anon for years, but eventually found that it helped me to understand more about myself than therapy did.

I know that I deserve to have a healthy meeting. So when I find myself in a meeting where there is dominance, cross talk, or religion, I share my own experience, strength and hope that is based in the steps and traditions.
It is wonderful to know that there is somewhere that I can go to be with people who share a common interest in recovering from the effects of alcoholism.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

First world problems and my humanity

I haven't been a ball of fire lately.  My wife and I are feeling the fatigue that having viral bronchitis brought. And it has been raining just about every day. The rain started again this morning, coming down in sheets. Rainy days are relaxing. I didn't have anything that had to be done, although I did spend time reading and preparing for a course on sailing that I am teaching in September. And I took a nap in the afternoon, Tonight, my wife and I cooked dinner together. So it was a pleasant and generally relaxing day.

I am leaving to go on the boat tomorrow for a few days. It won't matter that the forecast calls for more rain.  If it rains, I will hunker down and read.  If the rain stops, I'll go for a long walk on the beach.  I don't think that I have had many bad days out on the water.

We are entering the dog days of summer now with humidity through the roof. Mushrooms are sprouting up in the yard.  And by tomorrow, the mile long dirt road leading to the tarmac will be nearly impassable. All my problems are definitely first world ones. Sometimes I feel awkward even writing about my life when there are so many that are suffering terribly all around the world and, shamefully, in this country that has so much.

I have friends whose worst problem is that their driveway at their second home didn't get paved on the day that they wanted it to be.  I know others who speak of the children coming into the U.S. from Central America as vermin and lice infested "illegals".   How is this possible?  When did the insensitivity to others and their plight happen?  Have we become so entitled that we don't see the ridiculousness in our complaints?

I know at one time, we were all innocent and trusting.  Sometime in this lifetime, people that I thought I knew became filled with hatred, bigotry and disgust towards others. And yet, many have animals that they profess to love. When did people lose their compassion for other human beings? Even if I find my own species to be difficult, pugilistic and destructive, I would not think of another person as vermin or not worthy of living.

We all have a story. And our lives are shaped by so many things. I can't begin to know what it feels like to wake up hungry each day, to not have enough water, to try to avoid being captured and killed, or bombed without warning. As I go about my day,  I will do my best to remember that I am one of the fortunate ones who hasn't lost my ability to help others or to care about what happens to people whose daily struggles are unimaginable. Thankfully, I still have my humanity.

“We're so self-important. So arrogant. Everybody's going to save something now. Save the trees, save the bees, save the whales, save the snails. And the supreme arrogance? Save the planet! Are these people kidding? Save the planet? We don't even know how to take care of ourselves; we haven't learned how to care for one another. We're gonna save the fuckin' planet? . . . And, by the way, there's nothing wrong with the planet in the first place. The planet is fine. The people are fucked! Compared with the people, the planet is doin' great. It's been here over four billion years . . . The planet isn't goin' anywhere, folks. We are! We're goin' away. Pack your shit, we're goin' away. And we won't leave much of a trace. Thank God for that. Nothing left. Maybe a little Styrofoam. The planet will be here, and we'll be gone. Another failed mutation; another closed-end biological mistake.” ― George Carlin

“Love and compassion are necessities, not luxuries. Without them, humanity cannot survive.” ― Dalai Lama XIV

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Keeping the focus on myself

I have had some good meetings lately with one of the fellows I sponsor.  He is learning how to get his life back after spending years focusing on his son who is an alcoholic and addict. I think that learning to focus on what I am doing and not on the alcoholic was a major turning point for me in my own journey of recovery.

I was told many years ago by a psychiatrist to focus on me and not on my wife. I didn't have a clue what he was talking about. It sounded selfish to focus on me, and I didn't understand how to put it into practice so I ignored the idea. Then, in Al-Anon, it finally came together for me. I understood that I didn't have much of a life because I was focusing every molecule of effort and attention on my wife.

It took me a while to see that focusing on me wasn't selfish. Instead,  it was about my being my own person and my chance at getting my life back. If I don't focus on me, then I too easily lose myself in others. I make them my HP. I also will not address what bothers me or my character defects if I put the focus on someone else.

Our relationship has had many ups and downs over the years, but I have to say that since being in recovery, both of us have come to love each other more than ever. And I am not the angry, resentful, fearful and sad person that I used to be. By taking my own inventory--looking at what my part is--I learned that I was filled with resentment and fear. Now I inventory what I am feeling daily. It is second nature to look at my part. And then I can take appropriate actions to remedy what I have done.

One of the things that the fellow I sponsor is trying to do is have fun.  He has had a lot of trouble extricating himself from the drama surrounding his alcoholic son.  He actually has a hard time thinking of anything positive about himself and can't seem to grasp the concept of doing something fun for himself.

I remember so well that when I was stuck in my misery before recovery that I hated for anyone to ask me what I did for fun.  I would hesitate, feel uncomfortable and generally answer by saying that I liked cycling, running, reading, photography, and gardening. But mostly, I liked to work. The other things that I did were my way of escaping from home and work.  I think some of my happiest times were actually when I was at sea on research vessels and away from home and the lab. 

It feels good today to be able to answer enthusiastically about the things that I like to do.  I finally found more balance in my life where the focus is on what I want to do and not what I have to do.

I am focusing on me when I take time in the morning to have coffee sitting out in the yard and relax instead of going through a mental checklist of what I must get done.  I am focusing on me when I decline to be on boards and committees out of a sense of obligation.  I am focusing on me when I go on the boat for a few days to smell the ocean and listen to the waves and wind. I am focusing on me when I can go to the barn and brush the horses, listening to them breathe or eat hay. 

I know now that my wife and I are individuals and not bound to spend every waking moment together.  We worked together in graduate school and at the same laboratory. We love each other a lot.  But I know that I am not responsible for her happiness.  It's not up to me to solve every problem that she has or to tell her what to do.  

So, if you are thinking that you don't have much of a life because of alcoholism being so prevalent in it, maybe it's time to focus on creating your own bliss and focusing on what you want to do.  Don't put your life on hold waiting for the alcoholic/addict to come around. They either will or they won't. What matters is that each day can be special for you, if you choose to make it so.

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Convalescing and some Smoke

Woke up this morning to thunder and lightening with rain pouring down. Both of us have been sick with a cough, wheezing and then coughing so hard that our heads hurt. I knew that I was going to go to a doctor today if I woke up coughing, but my wife had refused to go--until this morning when she coughed up blood. Both of us took care of the animals and then headed to the nearest ambulatory care center.

So the upshot is that we both have asthmatic bronchitis, with her condition being more serious than mine. She had two treatments with nebulized albuterol and a couple of shots.  We are both feeling better this evening.  I have an albuterol inhaler and antibiotics. My wife has the same, along with some strong cough medicine.  I hope that in a few days we will be back to feeling good again because the last week has been rough.

I am supposed to go on the boat next week.  I don't know whether that will happen.  For right now, I am doing the necessary daily chores and getting some rest.

I haven't been to the gym in a couple of days.  But I did go riding on Wednesday and am contemplating getting back into riding, perhaps leasing a horse and doing some dressage.  It's been a long time since I was a serious rider. I am older, but my muscle memory came back when I had my first lesson with the dressage instructor down the road.  Time will tell about where this goes. But I have a new animal friend named Smoke.

Sunday, July 6, 2014

July in the Lowcountry

It's a rainy day with thunder in the distance.  Everything is refreshed from the downpour of yesterday and today.  It's the kind of day to relax, read, write a little and take a nap.  I have to say that the rain is a relief from the 90 F days we have had over the past week.

I was out on the boat when Tropical Storm Arthur decided to become a hurricane. I had planned to come back in on Thursday afternoon but pulled up anchor on Wednesday and came back to the dock. It was a wise decision because the rain bands, winds and seas from the storm would have been unpleasant to ride out at anchor.

Then July 4 came on Friday. It was a bright sunny day that could have used a bit more wind. We sweltered at the marina where some friends gathered to watch the evening fireworks and have a pot luck dinner.  But the sea breeze came in later in the afternoon and cooled us down.

We had a nice evening. The fireworks were good. The conversation was thought-provoking. A British lady and a couple from France were there to give thoughts on the American Revolution.  We talked about how the French were our great allies in defeating the British. And we joked with our British friend about whipping up on Cornwallis, leading to the surrender at Yorktown. We talked about so many things until the wee hours of the morning--dangers of processed food, compromised auto-immune systems, medical care in the US compared to Britain and France, and how good it is to be able to have these discussions without rancor, without the animosity that seems to pervade the news and labels a person as being right wing or left wing.  I believe these were open-minded people, willing to listen and discuss.  Good times, good food, and intelligent conversations.

My wife has a head cold that she is nursing.  And I am nursing her as much as she will allow.  The coughing makes me concerned because a sponsee has pertussis, Whooping Cough, and has been very sick. Evidently, Whooping Cough has reached epidemic proportions on the West Coast where he recently visited. I am protective of C. and don't want her to do too much.  But it is hard for her to not do.  But I suspect today we will take a nap together and snuggle next to each other.  It is one of those days where not much can be done, except relax.

I talked with my first sponsor who has stage IV lung cancer.  He is moving in with his son and his family because he can not stay at the retirement home where he has been living.  He is accepting of what is to come. I have accepted it also. But I can imagine how hard it must be to give up personal freedom and know that a sick diseased body is what is left. I sincerely hope that his remaining life won't be difficult with prolonged suffering. He says that some nights are hard because he is afraid. I understand and ask myself if any person can be fully accepting of death.  Do we not still hold out hope that some miracle will happen to restore vitality to our body?  I don't know but hope that he is content surrounded by his children and grandchildren.

So I'll leave you with some photos from the past week. This is early July in the Lowcountry.

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Being an adult child of an alcoholic

I have met quite a few adult children of alcoholics.  Some of them also became alcoholics themselves. And many of them find themselves in Al-Anon trying to figure out why they have felt different, left out, and emotionally abandoned for most of their life. My own story illustrates the characteristics that so many children of alcoholics/addicts feel.

I don't know whether my father was an alcoholic, but I definitely was troubled by his drinking.  One of my earliest memories was of the sheriff bringing him to the house after he broke his shoulder in a single car accident. He was drunk. I was afraid and instantly knew that I did not like what was happening. The town doctor came to the house to set his shoulder, but it was never properly set and had an offset to it from then on.  My father suffered no other consequences--no arrest, no mention by my mother or any one else in the family that I can recall. All just went on as if nothing happened

But I believe that I was also offset from that accident too. Low self-esteem that channels itself into perfectionism, anxiety, and abandonment issues were what I experienced.  My mother did not acknowledge that my father drank. She chose to live in denial. The message that I got was "Everything is fine".  Except to me, it wasn't.

It took me a number of years to get the courage in 7th grade to ask my mother to tell my father to stop drinking. I was embarrassed, angry at him, fearful of him and totally conflicted by the fact that nothing in our house seemed to be okay, even though I was told that we were elite and better than others. I didn't feel elite or better at all.

In order to cope, I learned to play by myself.  I had a little farm set that had a barn, horses, cows, chickens, etc. And I would set that up and play for hours, pretending to live on that happy farm that I invented in my head. I also would visit other families occasionally and wonder if they were "normal".  If I thought something looked "normal", I would try to mimic it.  In so doing, I learned at an early age to invent the ideal family and the ideal self, but I kept running up against the reality of my unhappiness at home. The mask would crack when I realized that the fantasy I was creating of my home life didn't really exist. I kept trying to be perfect and began to blame myself harshly when I wasn't.

My father was a harsh critic of me.  Both parents expected a lot from me in terms of academic achievements. But my father would remind me of all the things that I didn't do right.  I began to think of myself as being better off not having been born. After all, I was born 16 years after my parents were married. I was a "surprise" because they had decided not to have children. And then, here I was--a big disappointment.

In spite of my self-criticism, I learned to be mischievous away from home. I had fun with my friends at school.  I had fun in the summer when my father was at work.  I dreaded the days when he was off work because I knew that he would be drinking. When he was home, I generally went right to my room where I listened to rock and roll on a tiny radio or read books. I remember being on edge when he was around. And when he was gone, I would cut loose with wild abandon.

I tend to be reckless to this day. At certain times in my life I was so responsible it was frightening. At other times I behaved so recklessly that it was amazing I survived.  Often, I was impulsive and didn't give much thought to consequences of my actions.  I try for balance in my life today--not being so rigid with responsibility and enjoying adventures that are not life threatening.

I don't think that I really understood what a healthy adult relationship was like. I didn't see my parents kiss--ever. I didn't see them hug each other.  I didn't hear them tell each other "I love you".  So what I applied in my relationships later in life was not healthy. I was attracted to women who were unpredictable, wild, and who drank alcoholically. I wanted to make someone who was erratic and rejecting fall in love with me.

So in order to get through life and relationships, I learned to be controlling.  I believed that if I were in charge, then somehow things would go my way. And the exact opposite happened.  The love that I wanted, the approval I longed for wasn't given because I was controlling and manipulative. I was often rejected and when I wasn't or when I was successful at something, I didn't believe I deserved it.

It was hard for me to believe that I deserved good things. And even today, I don't like to talk about my successes.  I prefer to hear other people talk about theirs. I feel comfortable isolating and work at putting myself out there to be a part of groups.  It is still hard for me to believe that I can be accepted and actually liked at times. I have gotten much better though at being comfortable around others.

An adult child of an alcoholic is loyal to a fault.  I have often thought that the devil you know is better than the one that you don't.  My mother stayed married to my father.  People in my family didn't get divorced, except for one female cousin who was married three times and was talked about because of it.  And so I learned not to walk away--from anything--when the going got tough.  But alcoholism also pushed me to the point that I was ready to leave my wife. It took me so many years and a lot of sad times to even get to that point though. I learned from my parents that I had a duty to stay with a person, no matter how I was treated.  I thought that it was better to stay with someone no matter what they did because my fear of being abandoned was so strong.

I have long thought that a lot of my behavior is like that of an alcoholic--the "isms" are present--but the drinking is not. Some of us who have been affected by drinking feel most alive when things are in crisis mode. Wanting things to be done right now, instead of deferring decisions is a definite character defect of mine.  I like instant results and have had to learn to disengage from that type of behavior over the years. Being a scientist helped me to temper the sense of immediate gratification. I could look toward the end result but had to make sure that all the steps were done along the way in order to get there.

So for those who have grown up with alcoholism or have children who are in the midst of active alcoholic/addictive behavior in the family, the effects of the disease are likely manifesting themselves right now.  The confusion, denial, and too often chaos of an alcoholic home lead to so many of the things I wrote about above. Don't kid yourself by saying "Everything is fine". The people affected are FINE--*ucked, insecure, neurotic and emotional. And that's not a good way to go through life.  Don't let the drama surrounding the alcoholic/addict be the most important thing in the family.  I hope that you will decide to get help--a 12 step program, therapy, or speaking to a trusted friend will help in letting go of the shame and burdens of alcoholism and addiction.