Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Pause when agitated

My wife had a good birthday, celebrating with a lunch out the day before and opening her presents on the day. This year, I got her an Italian pizza oven with accessories.  She enjoys cooking, especially out doors where we can sit on the deck or near the outdoor fireplace. And we both enjoy a thin crust pizza now and then.  She is going to try out the cauliflower crust soon.  Anyway, it was a good time, although much too short as I had to be on the road on the morning of her birthday.

I traveled to Raleigh to do some work.  In the meantime, I had a chance to go to the Al-Anon Literature Distribution Center where many of the books and pamphlets are shipped to groups in NC, SC and surrounding states. And I had an opportunity to go to dinner with my Service Sponsor, a person who guides me in the practice of the Traditions and Concepts.  I continue to do a lot of service work, but I also recognize that I can talk to this fellow if I have questions about whether I may be taking on too much.  I do have a tendency to say Yes to things that I really don't want to take on, but do so out of a sense of duty.  It's all about balance.  And it was a great chance to meet face to face with him.

When I got home on Sunday, I was catching up on news when I saw that a lady who was a passenger on a weekend cruise I captained had shot her husband during a domestic dispute.  As more details come out, it appears that she shot him and cut herself with a knife to fake self-defense.  I knew that she was a hunter and carried a gun.  She talked a lot about guns and her belief in being armed. I cannot understand the love of guns or the need to have them around.   I don't know what went on in her head to decide to shoot him, rather than walking out the door and leaving.  I don't think I can know how lives get so messed up.

I have thought about this tragic situation for the last couple of days.  No matter what, it seems that understanding the motives of people is baffling.
"...... when someone commits a violent crime, they always report in the news about his possible motive. As human beings, we need to somehow make sense of things. If someone murders someone, do you think it makes the family of the victim feel better to know the murderer's motive? No. Except for self-defense, there really is no excuse for murder. Motive, if there is any, is irrelevant. 

You want to know why. In many ways, you might feel like you need to know. But, if you could come up with a reason or a motive, it wouldn't help you." — Beth Praed (Domestic Violence: My Freedom from Abuse)

By no coincidence, last night's meeting topic was on motives.  It was a good reminder for me to examine my motives and understand what kept me in destructive relationships and accepting of negative behaviors and humiliation. What came across is that each of us is entitled to live without fear, uncertainty and discomfort.

Before Al-Anon,  I did not think about motives.  I had reasons to stay for many years with an alcoholic,  and those stemmed from beliefs that had been developed from outside influences and from poor self-esteem.  Then when I learned there were layers of truth underneath the reasons, I did not want to examine them because sometimes the truths about me were unacceptable to the mask I had created.  There was shame amidst my shadows.

Looking at the real motives and truths is an ongoing inquiry. My true motives may be unclear in the heat of the moment, but for the most part, I stay clear of people and those tasks that are unhealthy for my emotional well being.  I used to stick around for unacceptable situations simply because I didn't think that I deserved any better.  I stuck around to please another or because I was afraid of a negative reaction.  I let fear dictate my actions--fear of loss, of abandonment, of worthlessness.  Now, I do know that I can sort out my thinking in time, so that I realize what my motives were at the time I opened my mouth or made a bad decision.  It has helped me to not react until I have asked myself what my underlying feelings are at the moment.  "Pause when agitated" is a good mantra.


Saturday, March 14, 2015

Taking time to breathe

Time has slipped away from me once again in a string of days.  I am having the time of my life.  Not being in a demanding job has freed me up in a lot of ways. I'm no longer scheduled in my life.  Blogging used to be on a schedule of a daily write.  I don't feel the need to do that anymore.  And I don't feel guilty. Well....maybe a little because I wonder what each of you is doing and if you are okay. 
My hobbies of sailing and riding and working out at the gym keep me physically fit and sane.  My service in Al-Anon keeps me spiritually fit in a compassionate and humble way.  And I have the usual life stuff to do like car maintenance, yard work, gardening, house chores--I hate calling them honey do's because I live here and share the house with an amazing person so I am glad to do my part in our partnership.  
I love everything I do, but I also need time to not do anything and just be. The boat is my best escape for that.  No people around--just me, the waves and the wind. If I don't get that time to myself, then I can feel the gypsy soul take over. I need the recharge time to be the free spirit that I now embrace.  
Having been a driven scientist for decades, I hardly know that person now.  Who was that guy? He thought that what he was working on was the most important thing.  He had to publish a certain number of papers every year and get multiple grants.  He had to do a lot of administrative BS that felt like sheer drudgery. He sat in an office overlooking a beautiful harbor and hardly ever looked out the window.  Most every day, he was tied to the computer, analyzing data and writing.  It was hard to shake off the harness and simply be free. Add to that the stress of living with an alcoholic, and life was not a lot of fun.  
I now take time to breathe.  I have space in my life now.  I make the space and the time to do what I feel is good for my mental and spiritual health.  I don't know how long I will have the stamina to keep sailing, riding, and cross train. I am hoping that I have at least 20 good years left.  But I don't know about any of that.  I just have this day that's ahead of me.  And it seems good and filled with promise.  
I hope that you have some breathing room in your life.  Some time to just be and refuel your purpose and your spirit. 

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Peace and love on a dreary day

It's another rainy day--one among many this month.  The ground and fields are so saturated that large chasms have been cut on the dirt lane from sheet flow of water that gushes over the cross drains and ditches.

All of the pastures have standing water.  It's colic season for horses because the temperatures are fluctuating between the low 40's to nearly 70 F tomorrow.  My horse's hoof abscess is long healed, and he is healthy and apparently happy. Sadly, his stablemate had to be put down due to severe cellulitis.  The loss of this beautiful animal has had all of us out of sorts, sad and concerned.  His owner has taken this very hard.  I doubt if she will get over this any time soon, if ever.  I am reminded that these large animals who have such power are really such fragile creatures.

When I ventured out in the yard this morning, I saw a few signs of Spring.  Some brave daffodils are blooming, as are the forsythia and camellias.


But most of the beautifully landscaped yard is brown and the plants look forlorn. I know that soon enough budding and regrowth will occur.  But today I am staying close to the fire and warmth of the house.  I had wanted to get to the garden to put in some more seeds.  With the rain pouring down, it seems unlikely that will happen today.

Tomorrow C. and I are going to a concert.  This is the first one in a long time.  I am sure that there will be a lot of middle aged folks like us there.  The band is Pink Floyd Experience.  We both wish that we had seen the original Floyd back in the day but since that didn't happen, we are going to see this tribute band that is supposed to be quite good.

I have some particularly interesting memories of rock concerts.  Some were fairly tame while others such as a particularly raucous one at American University in DC, were drug and drunk fests.  I was too young for Woodstock but this had to be a microcosm of what happened there.  Aside from smoking some weed on occasion, I wasn't into drugs or alcohol.  A young woman standing next to me, freaked out on acid, had to be carried out.

I wonder what happened to all those hippies.  Are they still going to rock concerts? Are they old addicts/alcoholics or working on Wall Street?  Do they still care about peace and love? A lot of idealism was part of our culture then.  I prefer that to the blatant hatred that seems to be the overriding sentiment among so many today.

Anyway,  time for me to get back to reading and maybe taking a nap.  I think watching the fire is going to be a good way to spend this dreary afternoon.




Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Pain and desperation

My little home group that has been struggling with attendance lately suddenly had three newcomers show up the other night.  A mother and two daughters came through the door looking for help for a husband/father and son/sibling who are active alcoholics.

The first night they didn't say much, but all of them indicated they were in a crisis.  Last night, the wife shared about the husband's DUI and fears that he is going to kill himself or others driving drunk.  The daughter shared about her brother who has severe health issues resulting from alcoholic drinking.

This sad story is repeated over and over again in countless rooms every day.  The sad part is that the people who come to Al-Anon as newcomers think their story is unique.  They are so demoralized and beaten down by their situation that they can't understand why any of the other people in the room could be smiling and actually enjoying life.  All the newcomer feels is pain and desperation.

I know that when I first went to a meeting, I didn't want to hear the laughter or see the smiles. How could anyone possibly be happy when I was so miserable? Long before going to Al-Anon, I called the AA hotline hoping to get help for my wife.  We had a particularly bad evening that night.  Most evenings were bad when she drank, but this one was particularly volatile.

We had gone to a party and that meant there was no way to control her drinking. My whispers of "Don't you think you've had enough?" were ignored.  She drank more, and my anxiety increased.  When I was able to eventually get her to leave, she was angry, and so was I.  The anger boiled over after we got home. Arguing with a drunk is pointless.  I know that now. But back then, I didn't know anything except how to provoke the situation.

So I proceeded to tell her that she needed help; that she had a problem; that I was embarrassed with her drinking.  She began to talk about wishing she was dead. She cried and ripped her silk blouse open, mumbling that she could see that I didn't love her.  It was a terrible night.

After getting her to bed,  I sat for a while in the dark.  And then I decided to call the AA hotline.  I explained what had happened and that my wife needed help.  I remember the person on the line told me that my wife had to make a decision about going to AA--she couldn't be forced by me.  And I was told that I was the one who needed to get help in Al-Anon.  I could hear laughter in the background. That was the last thing that I wanted to hear.  How could anyone be laughing when I was in such pain?  And why would anyone suggest that I needed help?  I just needed my wife to get sober, and I would be fine.  I was more despondent when I hung up the phone.  Feeling utterly alone,  I remember sitting up until well after 4 AM, feeling as if my heart was being ripped from my body.

Today, so much is different.  My wife has been sober for over 8 years, and I have been in Al-Anon for that long as well.   I can laugh now.  The lonely days and nights aren't filled with the anxiety of alcoholism.  My situation wasn't unique. The common denominator was the fear and self-loathing that alcoholism creates.

I know that these newcomers will come to find happiness and will laugh again if they keep coming to meetings.  It is a safe place where we are all equals and are on the same journey.

Saturday, February 7, 2015

Gossip

I was floating on a pink cloud being at the barn where I ride my horse.  That is until I found myself surrounded by a whole gaggle of 20'ish females and some 40'ish females who love to gossip.  They gossip about each other, about the barn owner, and about the trainer who says that she knows everything that happens there.  And I am sure that they gossip about me since I am the only male that rides on a regular basis there.

I've never liked gossip.  I can recall my mother and her friends talking on the phone, going on and on about other women.  I didn't get it then, and I don't get it now.  I don't find people so fascinating that I want to think or talk about them for hours.  I suppose that if one would examine motives, it's all about tearing down others.  And that has to have something to do with ego.

I understand why gossip is considered one of the obstacles to success in recovery in Al-Anon.  Here is what we read at meetings about it: We meet to help ourselves and others learn and use the Al‑Anon philosophy. In such groups, gossip can have no part. We do not discuss members or others, and particularly not the alcoholic. Our dedication to anonymity gives people confidence in Al‑Anon. Careless repeating of matters heard at meetings can defeat the very purposes for which we are joined together.

Not gossiping means to me that there is a safe place in the rooms of recovery where I can share without fear of having it repeated.  I have become more cautious though at meetings because I realize that not everyone recognizes how destructive gossip can be.  Breaking a person's anonymity through gossip can have severe consequences for their business, family, and general well being. And it can damage the harmony of a group.

As far as being at the barn, I know that the less I say, the better off I am.  I go about my business of riding; however, it is a little more difficult now when I realize that the shortcomings of a few people have tarnished the experience a bit. I keep in mind the words of a fellow I know in recovery: "Never miss an opportunity to keep my mouth shut" seems particularly apropos in so many situations.

My horse has had an abscess in his hoof.  I have been treating it with soaks in Epsom salts and slathering some nasty drawing salve called Ichthymol ointment on the bottom of his hoof.  Fortunately, it is getting much better and should be healed up in time for his showing debut at the end of the month.  The abscess seems to have come from bacteria entering the hoof as a result of so much rain and the pastures draining poorly.

Here is the boy keeping an eye on me.  We keep an eye on each other, but he is constantly looking for an apple or carrots!



Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Happenings

I thought that I had better catch up here.  As usual, my excuse for not writing is that I have been incredibly busy and for the most part enjoying every day.  My birthday came and went.  It was a good day spent at a riding clinic, having lunch with horse friends and having a great dinner with my wife.  I had few expectations as birthdays go, but what resulted was delightful.

I spent three days on my sailboat during my birthday week, enjoying a few days of good weather in which the sun actually shone.  It was my escape to serenity-- a temple for me to rest, read, cook, and bask in the sun.  I came back feeling totally relaxed and rejuvenated.

On Sunday, I went for a 7.5 mi trail ride on my fancy dressage horse. He handled the woods, the scary farm machinery, the wide open dirt road--all of it, like he was born to trail ride. The ladies riding with me were impressed by his calmness and his being so level headed.  Every day I go to see him, he greets me with a soft nicker.  My wife is quite taken with him also.

On a more somber note, a young local high school student has died over an altercation with a fellow student about a Snap Chat message sent to his girlfriend.  The kid visiting his girlfriend told the other fellow to come over and he would kill him.  So the young man went over and was stabbed in a fight. Both are from affluent families, no drugs involved, and were not in trouble before. Now one is dead and the other is messed up for life.  I don't understand the anger that drives a 16 year old to kill a 17 year old over anything, much less a phone message.

I don't know about you, but we settled things in a civilized manner--no fights, no knives, no guns.  Parents have so much to worry about these days. Drugs and alcohol, and more guns and violence than ever before.  It is a tough world out there.  And I often wondered how I made it this far--maybe because when I was a kid, I feared my father's wrath more than anything else; and as a teenager, I decided that not much was worth dying over.  And that attitude carried into college, although I did some reckless things. And for some reason, I am still alive. I feel a great deal of sorrow for the parents who are suffering the horrible death of their child and for the parents who are dealing with the horror of what their son did.

My little home group has been struggling with low numbers of people attending. Several meetings in the area have closed.  I wonder if this is simply a reflection of the time of year or does it bode problems for an aging fellowship.

Certainly, the number of those with substance abuse problems has risen.  And that means that a lot of families and friends of alcoholics/addicts are suffering from the effects of the disease.  But are they trying to tough this out alone?  I hope that they are getting some kind of help to cope with the anxiety, anger and fear of living with an alcoholic/addict.  They certainly aren't pouring into the rooms of Al-Anon around here.  What really matters to me is that people get some kind of help because it is a very lonely thing to deal with alcoholism/addiction on your own.

I hope that all is going well with you.  I think of you and will catch up some this week.

Saturday, January 10, 2015

What's been happening here

It has been cold here for the last few days.  I went to the boat to spend the night in the worst of it.  And there was ice on the inside of the V berth bronze porthole when I awoke on Thursday morning.  I fired up the propane heater and the oven which helped to bring the temperature up to 70 F.

The cold would likely have killed a little puppy that I picked up off the highway when I was heading home on New Year's Day.  I had been to the gym in the early evening.  As I was turning onto our dirt road from the tarmac, I saw movement out of the corner of my eye.  It was a puppy, scared and a bit wet from coming out of the field ditch.  I brought the little one home, fed him, and picked about a dozen ticks off.  We both thought that he was the smartest pup because he did not once use his crate for pooping or peeing.

I sent emails to the local vets and rescue groups with his cute photo.  Several people called about him. Last night, he was adopted by a couple who seem to be a good fit for the puppy.  As with any animal, I told them that if he didn't work out, to bring him back.  He definitely is adorable and very smart.
Sadly, there is tragedy already started so quickly in 2015.  Sickening world news of senseless killing, martyrdom, and all the other crazy happenings that make me want to retreat to the island, boat or barn and isolate. 

And locally, a man who I have known for over 30 years lost his only son to suicide on January 6.  The young man, age 22 was a senior in college, and had been distraught because of a breakup with his girlfriend.  I cannot begin to imagine this kind of pain for the parents or the kind of despair that the son felt to want to die.  

And I keep thinking to myself that I am lucky to be here. To have survived this long in spite of so many things that might have also taken me down.  I hope that my luck in living continues.  And I hope that those who are in despair today will find some comfort eventually.  I remain upbeat today.  Happy to be healthy and to have a lot of living to do.   

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Fast Approaching New Year

It's New Year's Eve. I have lots of plans but am under the weather with a cold. I may just stay by the fire today and perhaps take a nap. 

The past year was good for us. No major upheavals. We are missing those who are gone, while we celebrate our own lives. I am still here, not broken in spirit but filled with compassion and love for all of us who have made it to this day, the last one of 2014.

May each of you have good things happen in the New Year. 

THE NEW RULE

It's the old rule that drunks have to argue
and get into fights.
The lover is just as bad. he falls into a hole.
But down in that hole he finds something shining,
worth more than any amount of money or power.

Last night the moon came dropping its clothes in the street.
I took it as a sign to start singing, 
falling up into the bowl of sky.
The bowl breaks. Everywhere is falling everywhere.
Nothing else to do.

Here's the new rule: break the wineglass,
and fall toward the glassblower's breath.
~ Rumi


Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Those little complications

The shadow of drug and alcohol addiction seem to complicate things even when I am not directly involved.  Yesterday, the complication came up out of the blue.

My wife and I invited a fellow I sponsor and his mom and dad to come over for Christmas dinner. Recently, he told me that his older brother had re-entered the country and was coming to live with them.  The brother had left the US to return to Mexico because he was wanted for drug use and had stolen money from the young man I sponsor.  J, who I sponsor, was concerned about his return and what that would mean in terms of family dynamics.

Anyway, yesterday, J asked if the brother could come here for Christmas dinner too.  I had anticipated this question which is why I had only invited J, and his Mom and Dad.  So I said that I was sorry, but I wasn't comfortable having the brother here, whom I had not met.  My wife wasn't comfortable having him either.  He is not in a recovery program in the US, although he has told J that he has been clean for 3 years while in Mexico.

So now it appears that J's mother won't be coming and probably his father either, because the brother is not invited.  I am okay with this.  My wife was not happy last night because she did not think that J should have asked about the brother and is now hoping that none of them comes here.  Sigh....I explained that J doesn't understand a lot about social etiquette here in the US.  And that he seemed okay with the boundary, wanting to still come over here for Christmas dinner.

I understand my wife's anxiety because we have invited people into our house who have stolen from us.  I feel comfortable with the decision to reiterate that J, his mom and dad are welcome. And perhaps in the future after we meet the brother, he will be included.  For now, it's a little complication that I am not allowing to mess with our Christmas.  I am okay with just C. and me on Christmas.

Personal boundaries are about keeping my serenity.  In this case, a boundary is about feeling safe with someone coming into our home.  Christmas is a time of good will.  I feel good will.  And I wish a holiday of peace and joy for all of you.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Not just one day

I am doing my best to be happy in this time when there are so many things going wrong with the world. Little kids and teachers are killed by terrorists.  The police and citizens are killing each other. And it all seems that the world has gone madder than usual lately.

In the midst of it, I escape to the barn and to ride my horse. He is adjusting well, and his closeness and nuzzling of my hair and chest fill me with love.  It is a simple uncomplicated love here.  Not much asked of each other except respect and good manners.

I hear at meetings the sadness of those who are struggling with family and the expectations of Christmas.  It is another day, albeit one that has lost meaning in its commercialization. For me, every day needs to be about caring and kindness, compassion and empathy.  Not just one day. Every day.

I am at a loss to understand the amount of dysfunction in the world. I cannot change the hearts of madmen and murderers.  I watch the garden growing and see the dogs playing. I hug and hold my beloved close at night. I go to the boat to have a night alone and listen to the waves slap the hull.  And I whisper to my horse and feed him carrots, knowing that I will be with him to the end.

My thoughts are with those who are sick and suffering today.  I wish that I could touch you and hold you and whisper that all will be okay.  And that what isn't okay today may be righted for you tomorrow. I hope so, and send that thought out to the universe and a world in chaos.  Not just one day, but every day I wish you peace.
PS: I just learned that dear Kathleen over at Sittin on a Porch died this morning. Her last post was beautiful.  You can read it here. And then this quote on her page:
Everyone dies. I died. Someone let the air out of my balloon. I'm free. Don't focus on the left over carcass of a deflated balloon. Open up a window. Blow up a balloon. Life/death. It's just a breath away. ~Susan Hunt

Sunday, December 7, 2014

If I had a pony

The leaves are falling from the trees here with the last bits of bright color from the gums and maples.  The weather has been unusually warm for the past week. It has actually been really beautiful to be outside and to ride on the farm with all the trees ablaze.

I spent a few days in north Florida at a horse breeding farm. I rode many times a day, trying out different horses.  Ultimately, I chose an older dressage schoolmaster who was imported to the US several years ago.  I had a pre-sale veterinary check done on him, and he received a glowing report. So I am wiring the money tomorrow, and he will arrive sometime this week to his new home here with us.

After making the decision to get him, I struggled for several hours with the feeling that I don't deserve to have him. I felt a bit of panic and anxiety over the responsibility and the idea that I am being frivolous in spending quite a bit of money on a horse.

These feelings aren't new.  I have struggled for many years with the idea that I am not deserving of "things".  My parents made sure that I knew how much things cost and how I was to take care of what I had because something would not be replaced if I broke it.  They bought me cars and a horse, nice clothes, paid for college--yet, I had the feeling that I needed to realize how lucky I was.  And I did feel lucky and grateful but not deserving.

I don't think these feelings are unusual for someone growing up around heavy drinkers or alcoholics.  The low self-esteem generates feelings of not being good enough, not being worthy.  The interesting thing for me is that I didn't feel this way when I got my sailboats.  But purchasing a horse seems to make me wonder if I am not thrusting myself into a world where snobby people stand around and sip on fancy drinks and talk about the latest hunt club gossip.  That makes me anxious because I don't like gossip or fake people.

I realize that I am building up a lot of this in my head.  We have the money to have a horse and maintain him.  I enjoy riding and live in an area where there are lots of trails and horse farms.  The dressage barn is within walking distance of our place. I know the logical answers to my fears.  Yet, I still alternate between being excited and having anxiety over having something I want that seems not necessary, not critical to my survival.

I am sure that when he arrives this week, my feelings will be those of excitement. My wife is happy and excited.  I talk to her about my anxiety and she tells me that I have not gotten over missing a horse for many years. Now things have come full circle, and the time is now to have another. She loves the idea of my getting him and being able to visit him to groom and feed with carrots.

Funny how the mind reruns the old tapes of "you're not good enough" when there needs to be joy instead.   Anyway, here he is.  He will be here soon. His call name is Star (His registered name is something long and difficult to pronounce). Hopefully, there will be years of adventures together.  I don't think he will fit on my boat. But the song of Lyle Lovett comes to mind:
If I had a boat
I'd go out on the ocean
And if I had a pony
I'd ride him on my boat
And we could all together
Go out on the ocean
Me upon my pony on my boat



Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Lots of years

Today is our wedding anniversary.  I surprised my wife with the dozen reds. And we are going to lunch and a movie. What we do on this day isn't the most important thing. Rather, it's how we feel about each other.

I am grateful for every day that we have together, as partners in this life and best friends. We have worked together, fished together, birthed animals together, sailed together, cried together, and laughed together.

All these years were part of a growing process in our relationship.  We didn't know how to be a couple at first because neither of us understood how to have a relationship.  We weathered a lot of storms over these years. The love that we have did not lessen over time but has grown. Hoping for many more years together, C.