If you are persistent, you will obtain it. If you are consistent, you will keep it.
We can waste time searching for our own reflection in others, or we can focus on reflecting what we love in others.
So much of my life has been spent watching or experiencing one abusive situation after another and seeing how my loved ones sweep it under the rug and pretend it’s OK. It really shook me and caused me to lose faith in myself. When I saw something happen that I felt traumatized by and everyone in my life pretended it was normal, I started assuming that I was too sensitive or imagining things or just plain wrong. And if I brought up the situations with others, often I would get punished for bringing it up. So, unable to express my feelings and told I am wrong, I started just shutting down when an uncomfortable situation was occurring. When I did this, I began to lose my connection with myself because I no longer trusted myself. I treated myself as a crazy person that had no concept of reality. So I would constantly seek myself in others. As the quote says, I would look for my own reflection in others. I would look to others for validation of myself and my feelings to see if they were “correct.”
Now that I am in program, I learned that my feelings are my feelings and I cannot control my feelings. Having feelings, no matter what they are, is never “wrong.” However, when I am not self-aware enough to allow myself to feel and accept my feelings, my actions can be controlled by them. I learned through the Steps how to love myself by accepting my feelings and then giving them up to my Higher Power, take inventory of a situation, and do the next right thing. I learned this by practicing program, reaching out to others to hear their experience, strength, and hope through phone calls and meetings. When I heard something that I resonated with and met someone who exhibited the peace that I wanted to have, I listened to what they had to say. And I began reflecting their behaviors in those situations. I began reflecting what I loved in others because it helped me learned new skills to deal with difficult situations. And stopped looking for others to reflect back to me who I was because I had a strong connection with my Higher Power. When I practice these principles in all my affairs, I achieve serenity.
I walked out of my first Al-Anon meeting the same way I walked in—sobbing. While I was there, I heard the phrase, “restore us to sanity.” What? Were there other people on this planet who felt insane? Were they actually admitting it in public? Did I hear someone say we could be restored? How could that be? I’d been a misfit since childhood, so I knew there was no sane place for me to return. I’d have to start from scratch. Maybe I could pretend I used to be sane.
That was one of the first things to go—the pretending. I became aware that the group accepted me right where I was—sitting in an Al-Anon meeting, crying. No one tried to make me talk. They were not embarrassed or propelled into action to see what was wrong. They were not ignoring me, either. They simply let me cry.
I cried through the next six meetings. I felt as thought I’d been crying all my life. These people cried, too, but sometimes they laughed. I couldn’t remember myself ever laughing, even as a child. What could possibly be funny to anyone in an Al-Anon meeting? Apparently people felt safe enough here to laugh or cry. I wondered what else could happen in the crazy group.
Someone got angry! The group sat and listened without any apparent shock or shushing. No one got up and left. These people even accepted anger! I wondered how they did all this. How could they deal with these horrible stories and not want to kill someone—or themselves?
One bite at a time, they said. I didn’t like that. I wanted it all NOW! I bought an Al-Anon book and read it all that night. It was a new language, a new school of thought. Still, only one tidbit per night registered inside of me.
No matter what I did, I got only one crumb at a time. Each reading, meeting, conversation, or hug provided some new insight. Fortunately it also worked in reverse. If I tuned out, stayed submerged in my world of self-pity, anger, and righteousness, one nugget still followed me home. No matter what I did, I got it. Slowly I began to understand.
Much of what I learned I did not like. Why should I forgive the horrible things that happened to me? How could I? Wouldn’t that make me forget to hate the people who did them and set myself up for the same things to happen again? And the things I had done in retaliation—weren’t they justified? I had to show people they couldn’t run over me, didn’t I? Wasn’t that setting boundaries? No—even I knew that. People still ran over me and I ran over them.
Through all of my questioning, the group did not reject me and they didn’t argue with me. They accepted the fact that I was confused and searching. In the process, I found out that I was powerless. What a relief. Then a bigger relief came when I discovered I had an ally who was not powerless. I could take care of my own business and let God take care of His. I could let go of the mind and spirit-crushing responsibilities I dragged around behind me. I knew I could, but I didn’t know if I would.
Knowledge did not necessarily result in action. It was mind-freeing, though painful, to know the truth, yet no one condemned me for my inability to act or make decisions sooner. They knew I had more steps to take and they accepted me anyway.
My sponsor encouraged each baby step I took. Nothing seemed too small because I was growing. I still cried, but I began to accept that I was not alone. After all, someone had written the slogans I used during the worst parts of my day, so I knew I was not the only one who ever felt this way. At long last, I was among friends.
My Al-Anon friends showed me new tools and taught me how to use them. I had no particular plan. I just grabbed whichever tool was at hand at that moment. I used a sponsor’s ear, One Day at a Time, slogans, meetings, other literature, tears, laughter, hugs—whatever it took.
Because the spirit of my Al-Anon group is acceptance, I began to feel safe. When I started accepting other people, I learned to accept myself. I found out that I am worthy and so are others. I still feel ready to cry if I need to, but it’s the laughter that keeps my soul clean.
By Rosialnd N., Georgia April, 1998
Reprinted with permission of The Forum
Al-Anon Family Groups Incorporated, Virginia Beach, VA
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