Let it go, or suffer the consequences

can-t-keep-calm-cause-i-m-so-angryIn my last post I mentioned that my husband lost his job a few weeks back.  I panicked and freaked out and wanted to drink that night…briefly.  The desire to drink was really a fleeting feeling, it came and went and I didn’t act on it, thank God.  The panic and freaking out lasted longer, evidenced by the red eyes and tears that I wore to work for the next couple of days.  Once I calmed down and realized that everything would be ok and that we wouldn’t be destitute, living under a bridge, a different emotion set in.  Anger. Lots of it.

I don’t know if you remember from earlier posts, but my husband and I worked together at a local vocational college.  He was a teacher of general education classes for the Bachelor’s program and I am the registrar.  I was thrilled when he got the job, as we would get to spend more time together, and it was something that I knew he would be good at and enjoy.  And he was, and he did.  The experience he had there was almost all positive, and nearly all of his students loved and admired him.  So it was a shock to find out that because of a few lazy and manipulative students, he was let go from his position.  (I want you to know that even though I am mostly over the anger now, it takes an enormous amount of  restraint to only use the words lazy and manipulative.  My head and heart feel that only much stronger, uglier words, are truly appropriate to describe the students who went on the warpath.)

I was so angry.  I did, at first, have a resentment against my husband, if only for being naive and not getting how the corporate world works.  He has spent the majority of his adult life as a minister, not working in the secular realm, and there is a big difference.  He was simply not prepared for the bureaucracy that is involved in a for-profit college these days.  And so he got canned.  And I was angry at him.  Not for long, though.  I let that anger go quickly, almost without a second thought.  I know my husband’s heart, and I know that for him, this was an extremely unfair decision.  He was as devastated as I was.

The hardest part about this whole thing was that I had to go back to work the next day – at the same place, with the same boss, where my husband had just been treated unjustly.  I need my job, I need health insurance, and I must have a paycheck.  These are the thoughts that kept me going that first day back, but I was so very angry.  I somehow made it through the day, not without tears though.

Now, I have made it through several weeks of work since my husband was let go.  I have kept my head down, nose to the grindstone, and gotten my work done.  I have gone from ignoring coworkers, to crying with coworkers, to acting like everything was completely normal.  But I did all of those things with a huge amount of underlying anger, that I had yet to express.  I was angry at my boss, and her boss, I was angry at the coworkers who said nothing in support of my husband, I was angry at the students who started this whole witch hunt.  It was hard to go to work everyday, and it was hard to care about anything that I was doing there.  And I thought maybe that this was just going to be the new normal.

After a while of that, though, I came to the realization that my anger was not serving me well.  I was grouchy and lazy and I was taking it out on those closest to me.  It wasn’t pretty.  Here’s  the thing though, even knowing all of the things that the program teaches about letting go of resentments, and having worked so hard on forgiveness of others in the past, I couldn’t seem to let it go, it felt like righteous, justified anger.  When you take those feelings with the added feeling that if I were to let it go, I would somehow be betraying my husband, the task of giving up my anger seemed impossible.  I knew intellectually that I was doing myself more harm than good by hanging onto it, but my heart wasn’t aligned with my head yet. I get the whole anger is like drinking poison and waiting for the other person to die thing, I get that resentments are the “number one” offender.  I have heard those so many times in the program, and I know that they’re true.  So why was it so hard for me to do what I knew I needed to do? Anger

My nature is to be friendly, talkative, helpful, and caring at work.  It took a lot of energy and negative thinking to keep myself in the state that I was while at work.  I knew that I wasn’t exactly punishing anyone else, their lives went on as usual, even my boss treated me like nothing negative had happened.  I also knew that it would be “easier” for me to go back to the way things were before.  I could feel the talkative, friendly person I usually am trying to get through the surly grouch that I had become.  I had to figure out how to let go of this anger and feel ok with doing so.

In the end, there were two things that helped me through the anger.  One was talking to my husband about what I was feeling.  I told him how I felt like it would be a betrayal against him to let it go.  I admitted to him that I knew that staying angry was taking too much effort and having a negative impact on me.  I was surprised to hear that he really didn’t want me to stat angry, and that he thought that it was best for me to let it go, that he already had!  He would not feel like I wasn’t in his corner just because I could no longer hold the grudges I had been clinging to.  What a relief!  I thought that when I went to work the next day, things would be better…and they were, sort of.  I still felt the anger well up though when I had to deal with my boss, or her boss.  My anger, while lessened, still lingered.

The second thing that helped me happened the next week.  I was approached by the “big boss” (my boss’ boss) for a chat.  He clearly knew that I was angry and unhappy and he took the time to sit down with me and he allowed me to express my feelings about what happened.  Admittedly, the first sit-down wasn’t exactly pleasant and I was still feeling righteous in my anger.  I’m sure he picked up on that.  But he came back, later in the day, and expressed how he felt about me as an employee and friend, and he said that he didn’t want to lose me, but that he would like the old Jami back.  He left it at that.

I didn’t go home feeling light and full of peace and serenity.  I wasn’t sure if I was being manipulated or if the sentiments that he expressed were genuine.  I wanted to believe the latter…I needed to believe that.  I talked again with my husband and he again encouraged me to trust that what I heard was true, and to let go of the anger.  So I made a decision – just like that! – to let it go.  It turns out that it doesn’t really matter what the truth was.  I was headed in the direction of letting it go, and I think that I just needed a little bit more of a push to get past my last shreds of holding on.  This was the nudge I needed.  Work was much more pleasant in the days that followed, I wasn’t the grumpy, clock-watching, sour-puss that I had been, and it felt really good.

I guess the lesson to be learned here is that all of those trite, seemingly silly sayings that we hear in AA, are repeated and repeated for a reason.  They are true.  They work.  I just hope that next time something like this happens, I realize that sooner.

Let go

 

Dance, anyone?

Dancing

Recently, I have had to deal with a family member that has always brought out the worst in me, pushed all my buttons, and has been able to make me feel completely inadequate and unloved since my teenage years. This family member contacted me about a week and a half ago via text, and because of the situation, I was obligated to respond.  That led me to over a week of non-face to face interaction that I didn’t want or need.  Last night the interaction came to a head, and she baited and baited me, trying to get me to engage in an argument.  It all felt so familiar, it was a dance that we have done a million times before – she baits, I react, she gets defensive, I attack, she uses passive aggression to put me in my place, I feel guilty and cry and wallow in self-pity and self-loathing.  It would’ve been so easy for me to jump right in and start dancing the way we used to.  This time, though, I refused to get on the dance floor.

But it wasn’t easy.  In fact, it was pretty damn hard.  Changing the way that I think about and react to things like this has been a slow process.  I have always been quick to anger and hurt, with guilt and shame following closely behind.  Those first, almost instinctual, feelings come up now, but I am quicker to realize what’s happening and I can sometimes work through things before the guilt and shame set in.

As I sat and read the hostile, accusatory and just plain mean texts, I felt angry.  Very angry.  It took every ounce of restraint that I had to not react the way I always have – by reciprocating with sarcastic insults and laying guilt trips of my own.  Sentences that I could text and that would cause the most amount of harm went through my head.  I even said some of them out loud to my husband.  I went so far as to type one into my phone, but in the end, I deleted it without hitting send.

Along with all of the possible confrontational scenarios that were going through my mind, one rational thought kept stopping me in my tracks – “what is the right thing to do?”  That was new.  Where did that come from?  As I sat there thinking, I realized that was doing something that I hear about all the time in meetings, I was pausing when agitated.  Not only that, but I was trying to figure out what the right thing to do was.  I was trying to figure out how to handle the situation without setting myself up to have to make a new amends.  How should I respond?  I didn’t want to end up volleying mean comments back and forth, but I didn’t want to just roll over either.  Holy cow!  That sounds like I might have actually been thinking about setting some boundaries.  Another new thing!

I was still in fear though.  Not engaging was uncomfortable.  After all, I knew those dance steps.  I didn’t know how to do these new ones.  Have you ever seen someone learning a new dance?  When they’re a couple of steps behind the instructor, confusion and concentration easily visible on their face?  That’s how I felt.  Out of my element.  Fumbling and clumsy.

The tools that the program has taught me were clearly helping me to think and not just react.  But where was I to find the courage to behave a different way than what was comfortable?  I know the outcome of my old way of doing things, and that seemed easier even though I also knew how it would turn out, and that wasn’t a pretty picture.  And then it hit me.  I don’t have to be in charge of this.  I don’t run the show, because when I do, I screw things up.  God runs the show for me now.  I know it, I believe it, I have faith in it.  So, if I have faith in God’s will for me – and that keeps me sober, gives me hope and feeds my soul – couldn’t it also give me the courage to step outside my comfort zone and behave differently?

Yes!  It could.  And it did.

It was my faith in God and the gospel that allowed me to answer questions and express myself without malice, and without feeling guilt or shame.  It gave me the strength to set a boundary and cut off the conversation when it was no longer accomplishing anything, even though I was still being baited.  I reacted with grace, and because of that, I don’t owe anyone an amends.  If you ask me, this bad situation couldn’t have ended better.  There was no resolution really, but I have no reason to feel badly about it, and that is a step in the right direction.  For that, I thank God.

I know that I will hear from my family member again, there is more to be done.  But I know that when she steps out on the floor, she better watch out….I’ve got some new moves.

Follow the rules, or change your thinking?

This morning, on our way home from a meeting, my husband and I were talking about a woman that we know in the program.  She has been sober for a long time, over 30 years, I think, so she is obviously doing something right.  But to hear her in meetings, you would think she was a newcomer.  A very angry, contrary, newcomer.  Whenever she shares, her words are full of anger, and she almost always points out just how different she is from all of the rest of us.  If someone shares about things they used to lie about in the past, she has to comment that she’s always been honest.  If someone mentions that they have found peace and serenity in sobriety, she has to comment that she finds sobriety as shitty as any other way of life.  But she stays sober.  I have been told, over and over again, to look for the similarities, not the differences when I am in the rooms.  And that has really served me well.  I feel at home with other alcoholics, because I think that, even though our stories may be different, deep down we are all the same.  We’re addicts.  We are all reaching for the same things:  sobriety, happiness, a new way to live.

As our conversation went on, my husband said something that really made me think.  He said that some people in the program need to be told what to do to stay sober, and some people need to be told how to think to stay sober.  When I really thought about that, I found it to be true.  When I have heard AA members tell their stories, there are some that say that their sponsor gave them very specific instructions on what to do and when to do it.  As long as they followed those instructions, they stayed sober.  It was essentially a behavioral thing.  They needed someone to make their decisions for them and when they did, they had a favorable outcome.  I think that the angry woman we were talking about fits into this category.  She did what she was told and she has stayed sober….for a really long time.

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On the other hand, I have heard other members say that even when they “thoroughly followed” the path that their sponsors and other oldtimers laid down for them, they still couldn’t get sober until they learned to think differently.  They had to have a heart change in the way that they thought about themselves, their lives, and the world around them.  Until that happened, even following all of the instructions, they couldn’t stay sober.  I definitely think that I am a part of this group.  Being told what to do really didn’t do much for me.  My first sponsor (who, incidentally, was a lot like my mother. Ugh.) gave me a lot of instruction – call everyday, go to a meeting everyday, avoid triggers, read the big book, talk to other women in the program, be honest, work the steps, the list goes on.  Those are all really good things to do, and when I get to the point where I have sponsees myself, I will ask them to do the same.  But just doing all of those things didn’t keep me sober.  I had to be trained to think differently.  I had to learn to shut down the thoughts in my head that I was so used to listening to.  The ones that told me I was a horrible person, that I would never be well, that I was destined to die drunk.  Then I had to learn to replace them with the truth – I am not a horrible person, I can be well, and I don’t have to keep drinking.  Really telling myself the truth, thinking differently, is what is keeping me sober today.  And both my current sponsor and my husband played significant parts in helping me change the way I thought.

change-thoughts

So, which way is right?  Neither, and both, I guess.  I can’t imagine maintaining sobriety without having a real heart change (maybe that’s my sprirtual awakening?).  But I have seen sobriety work for people that have just followed the rules too.  Whatever works for us is the right thing to seek out, and when we find it, we can have sobriety, happiness and a new way to live.