I’ve made a commitment to change and hope small changes in my behaviour will eventually cause bigger shifts in my life
We are missing a shoe. I misplace keys, my handbag and the cat several times a day. I put the youngest child in sandals – a little chilly for this time of the year, but a temporary solution. I will no doubt find the shoe later under a pile of dirty washing, the vacuum cleaner or the cat.
In the past, this minor inconvenience would have led me to think I am doomed! My debit card was declined in the supermarket, R went to a parents’ evening drunk, my bike was stolen, and I sent an email to a prospective employer with the “if your around later” grammatical blunder. And I have lost a shoe. Children, we are doomed.
I can now see a lost shoe for what it is. Not the same thing as terminal illness or civil war. This new way of thinking – that is, trying to skim over small problems with a positive attitude – is due to my commitment to change.
If someone described me as a commitment-phobe when R and I were together, I’d have defended my corner savagely: “But I am the one who wants to make my marriage work. I can’t walk out because I am holding the baby. And I am not the one with the drink problem, so if I’m still here then I must be committed to love.”
But, somewhere, I know that I have lacked commitment. I pee with the regularity of a very old man, but rather than do daily pelvic floor or Kegel exercises (which can, with care, be practised at traffic lights) I regularly cross my legs in the hope that my bladder will hold on. A year of teenage problem skin, brought on no doubt by evening meals consisting of crisps, chocolate and cigarettes, recently cleared up after I began eating properly again. Then I went back to my lazy ways and my skin became spotty once more.
It’s clear that I am reluctant when committing myself to change for the better. I often hold on to the conviction of hope, praying that things might improve if I do absolutely nothing at all.
I instigated a major change, however, when R and I separated. “Change something that’s very much broken” was a decision I felt compelled to carry through. After that, I had to find help to stay strong. A sick body requires medical help. A sick mind? Well, there are options. I was not depressed. I was dealing with the aftermath of a relationship drowning in drink. R was unwell, and so, I had to admit, was I.
“Have you tried Al-Anon?” a friend asked a few months ago, when I bemoaned the fact that R had stopped going to his AA meetings. I was, at the time, attending the aftercare group where R went to rehab.
(Al-Anon family groups exist all over the world. They do not subscribe to any religion, and all people who attend are affected by the drinking of a family member or friend.)
“I went a few years ago. It really helped, but then I stopped going because I couldn’t find a babysitter,” I said. See a pattern here? I go every week now, and have made a commitment to keep going back. I have met some brilliant people in the groups.
There is no doling out of advice – it is all about listening and sharing. Some of the Al-Anon principles are based on those of AA, but in the meetings it is normal for the alcoholic to be absent from discussion: alcoholism is a family affair and the ugly spread of disease occurs when the alcoholic becomes the centre of everyone’s attention. Al-Anon gives the power back to the group and they are encouraged to discuss their experiences and their goal.
I’ve had to let go of the notion that if R stopped drinking, everything would be better. It simply wouldn’t. But as I continue with Al-Anon, I start to feel the benefit of small changes in my behaviour, which will eventually cause bigger shifts in life.
At the moment, all I can commit to is 8pm on a Thursday evening. I have not approached the Twelve Steps. I’m not very clued up on the literature (all with slightly dodgy book covers, but an important lesson in not always judging a book by its cover). I do regularly pick up Courage to Change, a book of daily readings, to help with the tougher situations relating to addiction.
I wouldn’t say I miss sharing a home with an alcoholic. It’s not fun to live with dishonesty, instability and a husband trying to piss in my shoe at 3am. But, in a way, R’s problems have forced me to look at my own.
At the end of Al-Anon meetings, we join hands and say, “God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.” Good advice for any challenge in life, I think.