Friday, July 1, 2011

Being a loving mirror

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.


  1. Thank you. This is a beautiful post. I'm working on this myself too more recently, in responding and interacting with my addict son in a loving mirror type of way. He's currently in early recovery(again) and I see how appropriate it is that I respond to him in a positive way, not to try and manipulate anything at all, but just because it's the right thing to do, for me. Again, I loved this post. I get so much out of your posts, so thank you.

  2. so difficult. nice story and great outcome for them. it's a nice reminder for everyday life.

  3. "Loving mirror" is a great goal for all of us. I know that sometimes I feel a nudge to get salty or snappy about something, and then instantly I look at my hubby's face and think of all the goodness behind that loving face and by then I have forgotten the ouchy junk. Works for me.

  4. A loving mirror. As always, this is good relationship advice no matter what your situation is.

  5. that is a wicked cool story syd...some great wisdom there...thanks for this one...

  6. I'm smiling, only because you knew what I was thinking- sounds like a fairy tale is right.

    This story shows how the wife's life changed, dramatically, when she let go. Yes, she felt better and her outlook on life changed because she was not focused on the alcoholic, but would this story be as attractive to a true Al-Anon if the alcoholic didn't change his colors, too? Probably not. The stories of the peaceful Al-Anon even though the alcoholic is still drinking and neglectful are not nearly as satisfying, are they?

    Sorry- this story kind of rubs me in all the wrong ways.

  7. An amazing and such a true post, these miracles do happen, when we actually work the steps and I love the idea of being a loving mirror, very lovely image.

  8. Another wonderful post, Syd. I emailed it to one of my sponsees. Her husband could really benefit from Al-anon but I think I've told you that there are no men that attend in our area. Maybe we'll be able to convince him to go to's only about 4 hours away !

  9. Be the change you want to see.

    But, I've got to tell you, this does sound like a fairy tale. If my alcoholic's job wasn't in jeopardy and he was a "nice" drunk, this may have worked. This wasn't my situation and my detachment had to have a bit more distance to it. btw, he's in recovery in the program and we are still married. ... and they lived happily ever after. :)

  10. Brian Miller, the Red Sox are in town one weekend and you adopt their lingo. The post proves the power of protecting our own serenity

  11. You have described the (potential) scenario perfectly.

    However, I need a lot of help with this.

  12. Loving mirror, what a beautiful metaphor. I think the piece I just submitted to a magazine in your area, could use that image too!

    I was, alas, used as a mirror for my dry drunk, but it was not a loving image that was reflected back to me.....

  13. It does seem a bit like a fairy tale, but I do know of behaviors, circumstances and relationships that change as we make changes to our acceptance and loving powers :)

  14. Very engaging story and feedback which I appreciate very much.

    Ultimate results depend on the persons and their condition and situation of course. But that "He no longer had her bad behavior as an excuse," is an all-important point in the story in and of itself - aside from the favor she did for herself. To me, whether fairy tale or true is beside the point: if it's conceivable and it speaks to me and particularly if it's a source of clarity and peace, then it's worthwhile. Maybe my higher power is even involved in the 'find.'

    In my case, this story completely contrasts with the construct and opportunities of my days with one of my alcoholics. Nevertheless, I do know that when I've got something good going on and behaving with pleasure and composure and no needs, the alcoholic starts seeing or starts remembering what's at stake.

    Much appreciated for the springboard of thought...

  15. I do that dance! I am going to try to be a loving mirror. I will let you know how it goes...


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