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

No comments: