Friday, February 26, 2010

when life happens, how do you respond?

Day by day, hour by hour, moment by moment, life appears in all of its many guises...One day we make a sale at work; the next day we don't. One day our son or daughter is on the honor roll; the next day we are making arrangements to take them into treatment. One day we win the lottery; the next, our home is in foreclosure. Extreme examples perhaps, but you get the picture. So my question for you today remains: When Life Happens, How Do You Respond?

This is a particularly important question for families of addicts and alcoholics since for us, the extremes of life can too often show up as reality.

Recently, Gloria Ramirez (, a teacher of mine, talked about this issue of how to respond when life shows up. "It's a matter of managing our energy," she explained, meaning, not being thrown by the good or the bad, but staying centered, present, and calm regardless of what comes our way.

This management of energy, whether we are celebrating getting a promotion or being given a foreclosure summons, provides us with a rule of thumb that can serve us well when dealing with the situations that addiction brings into our lives. For instance, let's say your spouse doesn't come home one evening, and when he does come he reeks of alcohol and has lipstick on his shirt.

You might stay up waiting for him, expecting the worst, scream and yell at him and call him every name in the book when he does get home. How would that work for you? How will YOU feel if you do this (beyond the value of venting)? Will he even remember it happened in the morning? What will it accomplish?

Or, you could put him in God's hands and keep the focus on yourself. What is best for you right now? An early night's sleep? Being fresh for work and your children in the morning? Keeping yourself in a positive frame of mind so that no matter he is doing you are able to live your life well?

These questions could take you to sanity or you could reject them as absurd. But the fact is, the day by day decisions we make as family members of addicts can have a HUGE impact on our emotional health and sanity, as well as on the addict's potential recovery...

The next day, if you stayed up and screamed the night before, chances are you are in no mood to talk to or even be civil to your spouse.

But, if you took care of yourself, you can wake up and be pleasant, say good morning, and move forward with your day, letting him deal with the uncertainties of his life without your judgment of him clouding his own judgments of himself.

And if he asks you any questions about the night before, you can describe what you did and saw without judgment, sarcasm, anger or criticism, "Honey, you weren't home by the time I needed to go to sleep, so I did so.When I woke up this morning, I noticed your shirt had lipstick on it." (It is so important not to have any anger or judgment in your voice as you describe this! You are an observer. A mirror. NOT a judge! In this moment, you are not even a jealous wife. You are a mirror!)

Remember: when we let them experience their behavior without getting in the way by judging and criticizing them, they get to face themselves, they get a mirror of their behavior without any distortion that would keep them from seeing their behavior for what it is. And even if they don't choose to use the opportunity to grow, we haven't ruined another day of our lives with fruitless rage.

If this approach brings up questions, confusion, even anger in you, take some deep breaths. Take a look at the classic Alanon book The Dilemma of the Alcoholic Marriage and let's keep talking.

Being married to an alcoholic or addict who is still in their addiction is one of life's great challenges. And it can be one of life's great opportunities for inner growth! Learning to manage our energy is one of the tools which will really help! Write and tell me some of your experiences along the journey!

Family Recovery Coach Bev

Thursday, February 11, 2010

how is moving similar to being in relationship with an addict?

My husband and I moved on Sunday from the four bedroom home (2400 square feet) we had lived in for the last 12 years to a two bedroom apartment. (1200 square feet). In preparation for that move, we threw, sold, or gave away about half of all we had amassed over the past 24 1/2 years of marriage.

As I watched a second bedroom set, a wrap-around desk, 40 boxes of books, countless knick knacks, dishes, serving platters, utensils, linens, and bags of clothing make their way into the arms of friends, family and strangers, I observed a parade of memories and feelings move through me. Some I allowed to pass quite easily. Others I clung to and cried over as they made their way out of my life.

And then there were all of the books, knick knacks, files, notebooks, blankets, etc., that I just couldn't let go of, that are sitting in my new home, taking up more space than I have, piled high in boxes that hug the walls and cover corners of my new four room home. When I decided before the move not to buy storage space, I made a commitment to get rid of whatever doesn't fit. Many of these, I stacked in the den closet, with a plan to take them out, one by one, and reassess their contents, only keeping them if I could find something else in the apartment to give away.

So now that we are all here, my husband, our stuff and I, I am working with those parts of myself that simply don't want to let go, in order to get brave and strong enough to let the past and much of its material evidence, go. And there is the rub: if I let go of the stuff, does that mean the past never happened?

On some level, the part of me doesn't want to let go says yes. Without the evidence, it truly never did.

In this way, moving is much like being involved with an addict. Over the course of the years of relating to an addict, there are invariably some events, situations and interactions that come and go, leaving memories in the form of scars, wounds, sadness, anger, and resentment. If we choose, at a certain point, to let go of the bad old days, and to simply live in each new moment that presents itself, are we denying the very real pain we felt, the negative actions of someone we loved?

Sometimes it feels like we must remember all of the many ways we were wronged in order to keep them from happening again. But, much like extra shoes, books, sweaters, and knick knacks that we no longer need, these old hurtful feelings, when nurtured beyond their time, end up owning us, overwhelming us, boxing us in  to days gone by, and drowning us in a sea of sadness and resentment, keeping us blind to the potential  'open spaces' we could be enjoying without them in our life.

My answer to the part that says it never happened if I don't hold on to it is "I disagree. It did happen, but it's over and it is time to let it go in order to make room for new memories to be made." What is your answer to the part that is demanding you hold on to all of your things or all of the bad feelings you have accumulated over the years? I'd love to hear from you! Write your comments below or send them to me at

Next week, we will look at how to decide what to let go of and what to hold on to and how to actually let go of things, feelings, places, ideas, etc., that no longer serve us.

Coaching Thought:
This day offers possibilities of spacious freedom, both in our hearts and in the environments we occupy. All we have to do is ground ourselves in each moment, in each precious in-breath and out-breath and we can begin to enjoy the possibilities.

Coaching Question:
What are you holding onto beyond its time? What are you feeling and refeeling over and over again that is keeping you tied to the past and out of the peace of the present moment?