Sunday, March 25, 2012

A delicate balance

I was thinking about Al-Anon's new book on intimacy in relationships with an alcoholic.  I've noticed over the years of living in an alcoholic relationship, I've wanted to say "get sober, grow up, be responsible, quit making excuses, get over yourself" so that we can share the joys of having a real relationship.  It's so easy to point the finger at someone else and make all that is wrong their fault.  But in living and loving another person, you get out of it what you you put in.  Or do you?

It takes time in recovery to understand that both parties are responsible when it comes to a relationship.  No one gets away unscathed.   I've learned that my partner is not my emotional punching bag, my therapist, my scape goat,  or a continuous fount of love, tolerance and forgiveness.   There are many human limitations that just are, whether a person is alcoholic or not.  

But what about life before recovery.  What was that like in terms of having a loving relationship?  I thought that the narcissistic selfishness and total disregard for the feelings of others was a relationship killer.  Blame is one of the hot potatoes that gets tossed around in a relationship with an alcoholic.   In the past, I was blamed for a lot of things.  I was blamed for not doing things well, for doing them too well, for not wanting to go along with what others wanted, and for being too compliant.  I know now that this was an attempt to take the focus off them so that no guilt would be felt. If you can't control your own life, then it is much easier to blame others rather than face and own your own problems.

The solution, as one therapist put it, is to learn to say "NO" and mean it.  I can remember being angry at myself for putting everyone else first.  I was trying to please and getting no where.  I was furious that I did this, but seemed powerless to stop.  I didn't understand the alcoholic's selfish inability to empathize with others or understand why I might be angry or hurt by their selfish behaviors. It took years before I realized that I was not making anyone happy, including myself, by agreeing to do what others wanted and disregarding my own feelings.

The behavior of the person living and loving an alcoholic is as crazy as that of the alcoholic.  I would say I was sorry for things that I didn't do.  I would try to make the peace over some argument that I didn't start.  The therapist I went to told me that I had to stop accepting the blame for those things that weren't mine to own.  And that message is also echoed in Al-Anon--that I don't have to pick up the baggage of another or own someone else's problem.

As a result, I have learned to say what I mean without saying it meanly.  And that includes being able to say "No" when I don't want to do something.  I don't accept being blamed for things that I didn't do, nor do I feel overwhelming guilt that I am not doing something that someone else wants me to.

I am getting better at saying, "Screw guilt".  And our relationship is much more in balance now than ever.  We agree on things that we will do together.  And we discuss those things that one or the other of us doesn't want to do.  We make compromises, not excuses.  But we have each other's back.  Loving and caring for others is part of having a relationship.  It is a delicate balance in which both parties have a voice.

And then finally this thought about how we are just trying to get along in this life:

"there is a loneliness in this world so great
that you can see it in the slow movement of
the hands of a clock.

people so tired
either by love or no love.

people just are not good to each other
one on one.

the rich are not good to the rich
the poor are not good to the poor.

we are afraid.

our educational system tells us
that we can all be
big-ass winners.

it hasn't told us
about the gutters
or the suicides.

or the terror of one person
aching in one place

unspoken to

watering a plant."
— Charles Bukowski (Love is a Dog from Hell) 


  1. thank you for sharing your valuable ideas on the subject of being human in a relationship.

    It seems to me that addict issues are human issues amplified in a funny way that make the stake higher, so that we either crash spectacularly or succeed wonderfully.

    The unexamined life yields less gold than our struggles do.

    Aloha from Honolulu
    Comfort Spiral

    >< } } ( ° >

  2. dude love me some buk....

    and learning to say no is more people pleasing...and no more resentment...

  3. I am forever grateful to Alanon for teaching me to not own someone else's problems.

  4. Today I relate to the irritants of continuing to say yes, cave, lose ground to the fear of abandonment,

    "If you can't control your own life, then it is much easier to blame others rather than face and own your own problems."

    Isn't it funny how from that fear, the disease of driving them away with sticks and stones comes into play ... for some of us it's after we have chosen over and over to do it "their" way... the excuse for fear.

    The fear leaves when we provide for independence of thought, word and deed. "I am responsible" for what is... and move accordingly. :)

    Love these thoughts that are parallel in the programs of recovery.

    That as I take responsibility instead of playing victim, I become free to enjoy life. :)

  5. Learning to say no is huge and people pleasing has always been my downfall. Worried about how people would feel if I said no, or what would they think, or I can't say no. It's an ongoing process and sometimes I have to work on it daily. Thank you for your post it was a great reminder on a Monday morning!

  6. BINGO. This is the real meaning of "put yourself first.". Bounderies are hard as hell.

  7. It's all so complex, isn't it? Relationships. We dance around and in them and we are formed and informed in our parent's homes and we try to grow up to do, not do, to be, not be what we were taught and shown.
    You are right though- it has to begin with ourselves and being honest there first.
    So simple. So difficult.

  8. I was horrified to discover just how far my people-pleasing went in my personality. Since learning how to set and maintain boundaries, I'm happier, and people in my life know that if they want to know, they have only to ask.

  9. I learned to say no so well. Now I have to teach myself to say Yes to myself more often. Good write.

  10. Very timely for me. As you know, I'm trying to figure out what to keep, and what has to go to live a more time-balanced life.

    Problem is...I love all the areas I'm directing my energy too! LOL. But certainly, Alanon has shaped who I am today.

    As always, you say it so well. Thx!

  11. A delicate balance for sure. Most of my energy in life went towards making others happy and dis-regarding my feelings and wants.

    I will forever be grateful that Al-Anon has helped me let others own their own stuff. And allow me to own my mine.

    Great post, thank you for sharing!

  12. enjoyed the Charles Bukowski poem.
    Learning to say no in a pleasant manner took time for me. My people pleaser just wanted to say "yes" at my own expense..too many times

  13. Syd, this is a spot on post for me right now. Thank you for posting and I want to read that book. My hubby is going through AA and so much of what you've said I get on a very concrete level. Much to think about. Thank you

  14. I went to my first meeting tonight. I love the blog I just read. All of it makes so much sense. I am just beginning to know what it means to have boundaries. I am thirsty for all and any information I can get and use to help me be strong enough to end this sick relationship I'm in. if anyone knows of different sites that would be helpful I would love to know what they are. Thank you for all of these comments, I already feel that there is a lot for me to learn and do to lead a healthy life.

  15. Wow.
    The perfect reading I needed- and ended with some CB. *swoon
    I'm apparently relearning to say no. I had it, but have fallen back into appeasing and pleasing.


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