Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Blog Audit Expansion 2: Why I want to marry an alcoholic

I would like to start over and not include anything from my original blog entry “Why I want to marry an alcoholic”. I wrote it the first time because I was thinking about what things were most important to me and my own recovery is the single most important thing I’ve got going in my life.  It’s what I value most, and being with someone who understands that is going to be key. I don’t think there was anything wrong with my first entry, but I do think there’s more to say on the subject.

The lesson for the week I did this blog the first time asked students to reflect on the question “ What is most important to you in a partner? What is your deal breaker?” Drinking would be a deal breaker. Not a normal drinker. I know Wisconsin is famous for drinking and it’s a deeply ingrained concept and part of our culture. It’s the idea that at every event there’s alcohol, and we drink. At parties, at football games, with food, after work all have drinking elements to them. There are plenty of normal drinkers in Wisconsin. In fact, 90% of the people account for, only 10% of the sales. Which means, if you flip it, that 10% of the people are buying 90% of the alcohol sold. True statistic. Being with someone who drank sometimes, maybe had one drink or two on a wild night would be fine. But being with someone who understood what it was like to start drinking and be unable to stop would be better.

Being with someone who had beaten this disease, or recovered as we say, would be amazing. It’s not easy. If anyone reading this would like some more statistics, they’re hard to compile but on average 18% of the people who go through treatment are still sober a year later. The figure drops to 6% after five years. I’ve got 8 now. If I was with someone who had at least 5, I’d know a whole lot about them already.

The rubric asks the question “Why do you think your real life examples played out the way they did?” I ask myself that sometimes, I truly do. How did I get so lucky? What did I do differently to make me one of the 6%? I think that it’s where I needed to go to grow. Not anything silly like “God gave me this so I would learn”. People get diseases all the time. But what you do with what you have in life, there’s the opportunity to grow. Many parts of this class actually reminded me of AA, in many ways. Some of the examples are the same ones used in AA. It’s an awesome program, done correctly. I like sharing it with other people. The people I work with, the women I sponsor, and other people in meetings. AA’s, people in recovery from addiction, have to work very hard at overcoming many of the things that lead to problems in relationships. We practice these things all the time.

I started this course thinking that what I wanted to learn how are people intimate? More specifically, how can I learn to be intimate? People are a part of a couple all the time. I’d like to be too. The idea of spending, what was it called? The epistemology of intimacy? I learned that I already know most of what I need to know in order to do so. Except possibly how to be vulnerable with another person. Even there I’ve made some great strides. You can’t work day in and out with alcoholics and not learn to say: I don’t know all the answers. Which come to think on it is humility and right out of everyone’s favorite Step, number 7. 

Maybe I know more than I think I do.

I had to laugh the other night, because surely this, meaning this learning, and this class, was indeed a part of the Universal Being’s plan for me. I was speaking at an AA speaker meeting. That’s where one person spends the entire hour in front of a group telling their story. They talk about what it was like, how they decided to stop and what their lives are like now. I’ve done it before, and sure, I get a little nervous beforehand but once I get going, it goes away. You do have to be venerable, if you do it right. I get up at 5:00am most days, do homework, and then go to work from 9 to 5:30 or so, taking time out to go to my one in person Spanish class. So, that being said, by 7:00pm that night I was pretty tired. The story part of my talk way fine, people nodded, as they do, and it went well, but I ran out of things I felt like I wanted, or was able to, talk about with a solid 20 minutes left on the clock. I thought, let’s open this up some, and asked for questions. That’s when it got good.

A women asked: “What about relationships? How do you be a part of a couple in recovery and what makes it work?” That’s the bottom line honest truth, and I laughed and remarked that that was interesting because I’d been in a class for the past eight weeks looking at just exactly that question. And I said: Here’s what I learned.
I was honest about it too, and made the joke that I’d written an entire blog entry called “Why I want to marry an alcoholic” and just exactly why. It was awesome fun. I said I was still trying to figure it out and would be taking applications afterwards. And people laughed. Because I was right. I am right. We get each other. We know these things about how to be people who can get along in this world and how to make it work with others. Largely because we spent a whole lot of years, on average, making a right mess of things, for ourselves and everyone around us.

Afterwards three men came up, and asked me a few more questions. Just general things, and program things, and talked. I left afterwards thinking about the talk, and relationships and how people went about getting into them. And thought that someday I would be able to do that too, and I’d figure it out.

And then it hit me full in the head like a smack.

I do indeed miss the obvious sometimes.

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Blog Audit Expansion 1: The Adventure Begins

In lieu of expanding a blog and including previous material, I would like to start from scratch and expand on a subject. I shall do a whole new entry.  I mentioned the Four Horseman of the Apocalypse in my first entry and always meant to come back and explore it further. This never happened over all ten entries, so let’s have some fun and take a look at these wild horses now.

The origin of the phase appears to be mostly Biblical but I ran out of patience four websites in. If there’s one thing you can be certain of with all things Biblical, it’s that everyone has their own interpretation. In short, there may be four horsemen showing up, on white, red black and pale horses. These have cute names like “Conquest”, “War”, “Famine” and “Death” respectively. Not my little pony at all. They’ll apparently start tally-ho’ing about and this shall herald the beginning of the end of all. Nothing you can do, complete and total end of the world as we know it.

Here in modern times we use them as a metaphor for anything that signals an end. For a truly fantastic read try page 151, paragraph 2 of the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous. It’s a chapter called “A Vision for You” and it most assuredly is, Four Horsemen and all. But I digress.  For our purposes we’re going to talk about the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse in regards to relationships. They are, in short: Criticism, Contempt, Defensiveness, and Stonewalling. Once they come clippty-clopping in, you can pretty much admit defeat and throw in the towel right there.

The idea of the Four Horsemen of Relationships was the brainchild of John Gottman. One of his more famous moments was when he famously said “I can predict if a couple is going to get divorced or not by spending 3 minutes with them” Or something very close to that. He knew and understood a lot about relationships.

Let’s start with criticism. This isn’t complaining. Complaining is different, we all complain at times. An example of a complaint might be: I was worried when you didn’t call and let me know you were staying late at work, I woke in the night and you weren’t home” Criticizing would go a little more like this: “YOU STUPID ASS, you never think of anyone else, you’re so selfish and you never care what I’m feeling” Sometimes couples do criticize each other, and they are critical. That’s ok. If done with love, and not fear. People need to be careful however, because this horse is the one that opens the paddock gate for all the others to come trotting out. One this horse come around it also takes on cat like qualities, in that if you feed it, it will come back for more. And will come back more often. People who are feeling rejected and hurt often retaliate. Creatures protect themselves.

Contempt is sometimes thought of as the most deadly of the bucking broncos. It will throw you right off, and you’ll land hard. Think Mean Girls. This is about disrespect, mocking, sarcasm, ridicule. And a few more things. I like to call it Crush Them Like a Bug. And anyone who has been on the receiving end knows it makes a person feel pretty much worthless. You can’t ride this horse, not for long. In Mexico the call it Loco Caballo, the crazy horse. There’s no riding contempt either.

The next horsie we’ll see that we don’t want to hop on is defensiveness. Everyone gets defensive but we all know that person, or possibly have been in a relationship with this person who takes every single remark personally and defensively. There’s always a reason and it’s never their fault. I’m wondering if as a society people have become too defensive, too accustomed to having to defend their positions? I can tell you that people tend to get really surprised when you own up to something, and own their own faults. Sometimes the accusation is something that we need to defend, we might feel accused unjustly. We might try and find a way to make the other back off. This almost never works, and relationships are work.

The fourth horse is Stonewalling. Like the jumper who gallops up to the wall and refuses the fence. Stop. Dead. Nada. Ain’t going to do it, and there’s not much you can do. It’s when one person withdraws, and closes off. I think too there are degrees, it takes a lotof time for the first three horses to get in the way, but things build up when they aren’t dealt with. Stonewalling is closing the barn door after they’ve left. Chances are one of you is done. It may even seem at this point in the relationship like this is the only way to deal with the situation. Sometimes the person stonewalling simply can’t move, can’t talk and can’t quite literally, handle the emotions. The river has flooded.

How then do we saddle up and ride into the sunset? Hand in hand with our partner? Home on the range? There are some ways to avoid falling into the manure pile, or things you can change in yourself, to get out of it. You will need ot remember that change takes work.

Dismounting criticism: Use your I-statements. Complain without blame. Ask yourself if you’re starting every sentence with YOU…Start instead with I feel. Use a gentle start up, ease into a thing that needs changing. Slow down with it.

Reining in defensiveness: Accept responsibility, even if only in part. Chances are you might be a little to blame, and even if you aren’t, find something that gives the other a chance to own up some to. When people feel attacked they defend, but being defensive isn’t going to solve the problem. Dial it back a little.

Curry contempt: You have to get rid of this. If you don’t, it’s over. If you’re feeling that way about your, start with trying to find things you like. Anything really at this point, and put it out there. Go for the positive. Hurting someone isn’t going to help and you might just try and see what you can do to make them feel better about themselves and not worse. What’s needed is a culture of appreciation.

Stabling Stonewalling:  Take a break if you’re feeling flooded, or if you can’t respond. Say something really obvious like, hey I need a break, or I have to think for a moment, or how’s about I walk the dog, get some air, then we’ll talk some more. All of these will help. And when you’re dealing as a couple with the four horses, anything you can do to help is going to be good. You aren’t perfect, and you aren’t a victim, avoid acting like it.

I think to make a relationship work a person needs to work on themselves, and take a constant inventory. Asking oneself questions like, where was I wrong, what can I do better, was I responding out of love or fear, what are my defects of character are all good places to start.

Remembering that you love each other and that it’s about both of you is good too. People aren’t perfect and you’re just as dumb as the next person. Growth is hard, and change is hard. 

But you can ride the white horse.

Blog Audit: Reflection

Ah, reflection. I’m noticing in most of these classes there is all kinds of reflecting and going back and making the material personal. Which is awesome, actually. In this field, broadly known as Human Development and Family Studies, you have to know yourself. Whatever sort of job a person ends up in, it’s most likely going to involve working with people. How you come to know and understand them, and you must if you’re going to be successful, will depend on how well you know and understand yourself.

In this blog I wanted to write about what I was learning. Specifically I wanted to discover how people are part of a happy couple. I’m not. Not sure I ever have been. I worked a long time in a job that didn’t leave room for a personal life. It was my life. Now Id like to see what else is out there, and I’d like to see what being a pert of a coupe would be like.

One of the themes that kept coming up for me was that of being in Recovery. I am, and it’s the most important thing I’ve got going. If I lose that, I will die. I’m not being dramatic here, just truthful. I see people all the time that do die from addiction to alcohol or drugs. I’ve been sober now for eight years and what I want is to help others get what I have. Living with addiction is a nightmare, and a whole lot of work, to be frank. Living in recovery is a lot of work too but it’s the good kind of work. Exploring how a person in recovery can be part of a healthy coupe has been wonderful fun.

Something that surprised me was that I used pictures of myself throughout it. I never do that. I’m on social media but it’s very rare I post any pictures of me. Just my cats. I take lovely cat pictures. I take many, to say the least. I go through them, I edit them, I pick the best ones, and write a funny or fun caption on them. Then I post a vignette of something like school or whatever. Very rare it’s personal. My public self, sure. My real self? Not so much. Mostly I’ve looked at pictures of myself and not been thrilled. Showing my real true self is very different.

And that was brave. I don’t actually like comments of how brave I am to talk about being an alcoholic. There’s much stigma going on about it, or mental illness, but for me it isn’t hard to talk about. It’s a disease. It happened. It’s how I cope with it that matters. Being brave is about being afraid to do something and doing it anyway. If you aren’t scared, it’s not bravery. Like getting up on stage and playing violin. I can do that. I do it all the time. It’s not brave. For someone who hasn’t done it, it’s scary. If they do it in spite of being scared, that’s brave.

Let’s flip that around. People are in relationships all the time. They are part of couples. It starts when they’re teenagers, and continues through life. They know how to do this. I’m late to the party. I don’t know how to do it, I’ve never done it, and it’s scary.

Now I want to. Now I have tools and I know myself better. I’m going to try, and for me:

That’s brave.

Top Ten Characteristics of a Healthy Relationship

This is not one of my expansion blogs we need to do for end of course, but it is actually an expansion of our last assignment, "Top Ten Characteristics of a Healthy Relationship". I was trying to think about what to write for this Last Blog and kept coming back to what actually IS important for Healthy Couples to know. For those enjoying, I may well keep blogging here, because it’s fun and I like to write. As long as you like to read them, it will work.

At any rate, here’s what I’ve learned and I believe is important.

1. Gary Chapman’s five emotional love languages. I think that how you express love and caring, and how your partner does can have a huge affect on a relationship. If your language is say, Words of Affirmation and you are needing to hear them, and your partner believes that just being together, or doing things is the way to show love, confusion could arise.

How many couples get together at the end of the day where one of them thinks, great, I just cleaned the whole house, now they want to touch me? It could easily bring about misunderstandings. Which brings me to my next point.

2. Encoding and Decoding. How a couple does this is so important. Here’s the idea: On one hand we have the senders private intentions, what are they really truly thinking? And then there’s the senders public ones. Then we get the receiver, the listener. Which is private. What are they hearing? Because there’s a whole lot of interference in between what the sender meant, and what they said. Also in what they said and what the listener actually heard, if you see my point. If what a person says and what they mean are not interpreted the same way, problems are going to arise. Coming home to a partner sitting on the couch with tv and saying “You look relaxed, I’m so tired” might mean, it is so nice to come home to you at the end of a long day. But if the other hears “Well, there you are doing nothing while I’ve been working all day, didn’t you do anything???” That’s a problem.
Another example might be I have a friend who is very defensive. I know her love style, anxious/fearful, so I try and be patient, but whatever I say, she reacts defensively. It’s all about her. When I say “I bought some new blue shoes I really like” she is hearing “You don’t have blue shoes, why not?” I can be wearing, so to speak.

3. How people change their attachment styles. To be a part of a healthy couple a person should know their attachment style. If a person finds themselves as one of the unhealthy ones, they’re going to need to change. Which is possible. This requires taking a really good look at oneself. Not everyone can do this, and much blame gets put on the other person. Changing an attachment style is work. Healthy couples work at it. One of the things I’ve been working on the last few years is I used to think I knew why the other person did a thing, or didn’t. It was all about me. As in they didn’t call back, they must hate me. I know, I know, that’s an extreme one, but it makes my point. A healthy couple, or person, isn’t jumping to I hate you. They are far more secure than that, and would likely ask the other, why didn’t you call me back? Knowing that it most likely had nothing to do with them.

4. Couples who are working well together do look at themselves. I know I sort of said this in the last example, but to elaborate: Healthy people clean up their side of the street. They ask, what is my part in this? What is my fear? Why am I reacting this way? They don’t put it onto someone else, and try and control things they other person does, or blame them. Healthy couples look at themselves first. Healthy couples know that what the other person does is not something they can control. They know that the little irritations are just that: Little irritations. If a person is stomping around unhappy, angry, fearful and unhappy, it’s not because of the fact that your partner stayed out late, or didn’t pick up his towel off the floor. It’s because there’s something wrong with you. Deal with your own mess before you decide it’s all about the other person.

5. Sometimes people don’t act the way we want them to. Sometimes we get mad because of something they did. Saying honestly to oneself “I’m upset because of their actions” And figuring it out from there, is far more healthy than saying “I hate you, you did this because you don’t care about me” Healthy couples acknowledge this, and separate the actions from the love, and work on the specific problem. Specific problems can be discussed. And sometimes, when we’re part of a couple, we have to know and understand that people are people and people are going to do stupid things. How you handle these things, without letting the Four Horseman in, will determine the success or failure of your coupleness.

6. Speaking of arguments, healthy couples know how to have them. They are going to happen. How a couple argues can determine the success or failure of the relationship. Once a couple gets the four horsemen clipping and clopping around, things are going to deteriorate quickly. Using I-statements, letting things go, having great make-up sex all work. Healthy couples know this. They know that winning isn’t important. Life isn’t a battle and you don’t have to win. Kind of like drowning. Once you stop struggling. Ok, bad example, but the idea is once you cease fighting anything and everything, your life is going to get a whole lot better. That doesn’t mean you aren’t going to argue, but arguments have a beginning, a middle and an end, and it’s good to keep the thought in your head while you’re having them that the other person probably has just as good and valid a point as you do. Will it matter in a year? If not, let it go. Don’t sweat the small stuff.

7. Healthy Couples aren’t in early recovery from substance abuse. This is going out on a limb, but it is important to me. If one partner, or both have a substance abuse disorder, they are going to have a special set of problems. How they deal with these, and their own recovery is going to determine not only the success or failure of the relationship but also possibly if they live or die. Being in recovery takes a lot of work and being healthy again takes a long time. The first danger sign I see in people in early recovery is when they start talking about the new love of their life. You don’t at this point have the skills to cope with a relationship. You’re just learning to cope with general life with about alcohol or drugs. A new person to love you isn’t going to solve that. Relationships are tricky. You have to be grown up and be secure. Being in a relationship while in recovery is going to be hard. Wait for it.

I suspect we could apply this to mental illness as well, or any physical illness. Both of those would require much work. Possibly we could include trauma. It might be fair them to say healthy couples have tools and coping mechanisms in place to deal with traumatic events.

8. Healthy Couple remember that this person chose them out of all the possible people in the world. When a person decides to enter a relationship with another, that person first sends them through a set of filters. The second person has also sent the first through the filters, which are completely different filters. And these two people have both made it through ALL of each other’s filters and decided to be together. Out of a gazillion million and one possible people on the planet. They chose each other!

That’s amazing right there, if you think about it. So, I would say healthy couples are grateful and they show it. Let’s add unselfish in there too, healthy couples spend much time thinking about and asking themselves: How I am I helping the other? Am I showing them I’m grateful they’re here and with me? I should add people can go too far into unhealthy and become doormats, but I’m speaking of a healthy gratitude respect here. Healthy couples love and care for each other and show it.

9. Healthy couples are healthy people. I know, obvious and too simple? True, but it’s also important. People who take care of themselves physically, eat the right foods, work out and practice all kinds of self-care are more likely to be a pat of a healthy relationship. If a person is ignoring taking care of themselves, it’s very possible, if not probable, that they aren’t going to do such a great job with anyone else.

10. At the risk of sounding like a textbook I’m going to say they have serious knowledge and skills across five areas: Caring, interdependence, mutuality and trust with each other. They are intimate. Not just sexually, though that is part of it. They’re intimate with each other across the board. They know each other and care deeply about the other and aren’t afraid to let the other in on knowing that. They trust the person both in day-to-day matters and to be a part of the couple. They have that sharing of feelings, actions and such mutually. They work together as a unit, knowing they are stronger together and depend on each other. 

There was a man named Karl who did a project called the Legacy Project, which was nifty. He distilled this project into a book called “30 Lessons for Living” It was tried and true advice form the wisest Americans, very old people who had been together a very long time. He found there were a few things they all said, over and over.
Marry someone a lot like you.
Friendship is as important as Romantic love.
Don’t keep score.
Talk to each other.
If you’re having trouble talking to each other, get out of the house.
Find a way to blow off steam then engage with your partner.
Watch out for teasing.
Let the other person have their say too.
Let go.
Don’t commit just to your partner, commit to the marriage itself.

And there you have it. I’ll keep you posted on my own Romantic life. I have high hopes for it. And you know what? I’ll rock this.