I heard the idea of being a loving mirror in a recent meeting. I related to the story told about a wife whose alcoholic husband would go straight to a bar every night after work. Because most of us hang onto the idea that a change of heart will occur for the alcoholic, she would nonetheless be waiting up for him each night with dinner made, long past midnight.
They had a routine. He’d walk in, drunk as could be, and she’d get angry, telling him about what an unreliable asshole he was. Then, the next day, she would be the hostile martyr regarding his drunken state of the night before. He, in turn, would respond with the appropriate remorse and promised to come home straight from work.
Of course, she would believe him, make dinner, and he invariably wouldn't show. So she stayed up with a plate of cold dinner and a huge chip on her shoulder, waiting to scream again. This is the classic example of the awful dance that so many of us do with the alcoholic. The repetition of this insanity hit me hard because it is so similar to what I did with the punishing silences and the desperate belief that I could change someone else.
But the story doesn't end here.
After going to Al-Anon for awhile, the wife decided to change the routine. She made a decision to begin living by the serenity prayer. In her life, this meant accepting her husband as he was, without judgment or resentment, and changing her actions and reactions to his behaviors.
So she made dinner and set the table as usual. When her husband didn’t come home in time to eat, she serenely sat down and ate her meal. Afterward, she put his food away, cleaned up the kitchen and went to an Al-Anon meeting. When she came home, she read a bit, relaxed, and went to sleep.
Imagine his surprise, when he came home, drunk as ever, to a quiet home and a sleeping wife. When he nudged her, she just said, “Hi honey. I’m sleeping. Hope you had a nice evening. There is food in the fridge. Talk to you in the morning” and went back to sleep.
The next day, he woke up to a wife who was pleasant and cheerful. She was looking forward to her day. He was no longer the center of her conversation or concern. She didn’t ask why he had been late or try to extract promises from him for the upcoming evening or say anything sarcastic.
Instead, she talked about what a lovely day it was. She wished him a good day at work and told him she was looking forward to seeing him at the end of the day. When he asked her details of his behavior the night before, she simply described what had occurred: "I made dinner, you didn’t make it home for dinner, so I simply put it away for you and at bedtime, I went to sleep". Of course, he was stunned and confused because he had every intention of coming home and had no memory of how it happened that he didn’t make it. He was also curiously impressed with his wife’s newfound calm in the face of his own erratic behavior…
That evening she made supper as always and set the table. For a day or two, he continued his usual routine of staying out late at the local bar, and she continued to practice being someone who accepted him and detach with love. He would ask her how she could stand his behavior, and she told him she loved him and accepted him as he was, though she was very concerned about what could happen to his health over time, working all day and partying all night. Again, she said all of this with loving concern, not anger, judgment or resentment.
Then, one evening, to her surprise and delight, her husband not only came home for dinner on time, but he stayed home all night and the two of them had an enjoyable meal and evening together.
With that first "normal" night behind them, she continued to stay focused on the present and mind her own business. He no longer had her bad behavior as an excuse to escape to a bar, which freed him up to make decisions based on his own behavior and the reports she had objectively given him about what it looked like.
Interestingly enough, her husband showed up for dinner again and again, and went to the bar less and less. And things only got better from there…
It sounds like a fairy tale. But in reality, such a transformation may occur. It didn't exactly happen that way for me. But I realize that I can be the change that I would like to see in another. I can be a loving mirror.