the express permission and acknowledgement of the author.)
Sometimes it is easier to deal with emotional pain by writing about it. From the pain and the act of committing thoughts to paper comes emotional growth. Much of the following was written during a time of great pain and tremendous emotional growth. Thanks for sharing it with me.
"Serenity is not the absence of conflict, but the ability to cope with it." When I first read these words in the "Grapevine", they jumped off the page and hit me right between the eyes. I had been waiting for all the problems in my life to be resolved before I found complete serenity. However, after reading those words, I came to realize that in order to find true serenity I had to learn to deal with problems as they occurred.
Sounds simple, doesn't it? Believe me it is not as easy as it sounds, However, I have faith that it can be done. There are a lot of people before me who have accomplished true peace and serenity. To reach that goal I will have to work on my coping skills. The skills which I will need include: not worrying about happenings both past and future, in other words, living one day at a time; turning negative thoughts into positive thoughts; accepting things which I can not change; and being enough in touch with my own emotions and feelings to be able to hear and understand my higher powers will for my life.
I also need to learn to give without expecting something in return. As one of the people who wrote their stories for the E.A. Big Book said "If I am the one doing the giving or the loving, then no one can take that away from me." If I keep my expectations at a reasonable level, then I will not be disappointed when they are not met. However, I will be pleasantly surprised, if things turns out better than I expected. I need to trust that my higher power will give me what I need only when I really have a true need for it.
Last year, my wish for Christmas and the new year was for "Peace, Serenity, Acceptance and Love". Recently, I realized that during the last few months I have started to achieve my goal. Not only do I seem to be able to handle problems more easily but the days on which I feel depressed or anxious are definitely becoming fewer. I also am finding when I do fall back into my old habits of dealing with stress or worry, I am better equiped to rid myself of them. I still have an occasional day when I don't feel right with myself, but I am usually able to keep to just that one day by using the new coping mechanisms which I am learning and practicing daily. I now realize that in the real world there is no way to remove all possible conflicts from my life, I will just have to learn to cope them as they happen.
Worry, Worry, will I have enough money to pay the bills this month? Worry, Worry, will this relationship work out or will I find myself alone again? Worry, Worry, what if this happens or that? Worry, Worry, why did I..., if only I..., I shouldn't have..., maybe if I..., I can't..., when will I...?
I do it to myself every time, get on the worry train, worry about what I should not have done yesterday, worry about what I should do tomorrow, worry about what I'm doing now, is it right? Should I or shouldn't I? When will I let go of all of this emotional garbage.
I worry about my physical health, my emotional health, my finances, my pets, my family, my lack of a mate, being alone, being able to perform my job and sometimes I even worry about why I worry so much!
I still get on the worry train occasionally even after two years of working to get off it. However, now I can usually turn off the anxious thoughts in my mind, either by not allowing myself to dwell on them, by turning the negative thoughts into positive ones and/or by turning the whole problem over to my higher power.
The major problems that I worry about have changed also. I seldom worry now about not having enough money or paying bills, even though I still have those problems. What usually starts me worrying is "have I hurt someone by what I've said or done", "will this friendship last" or "will I be accepted in this group of people". In other words I worry about the impressions which I make on other people. This shows me that I need to work harder on my self-confidence, self-esteem and self-worth.
Over the last two years I have discovered that the best way to stop worrying is to live one day at a time, although sometimes I find I have to live one hour or one minute at a time to avoid anxiety. I still worry occasionally if I will ever learn to stop worrying, but I am finding it easier every day to think positive, live for today and not to worry about something until it happens.
This is a trap which I try not to fall into now. I used to be on an almost constant self-pity trip until I slowly discovered that was one of the reasons people avoided me. I've found I attract more people around me by being positive and I feel much better in the process.
In the past when people asked me "How are you today", I would answer "living" or "I've got a cold" or my "My back is bothering me". Now I say, with enthusiasm and a genuine smile, "Great" or "Fantastic". Just sounding positive helps me to feel up even if I'm feeling a little down.
I have also found if I look for something positive about every negative I can accept the negatives better and don't tend to become depressed as much. Also, by stopping myself from worrying about things which haven't happened yet or which happened in the past, I am much more serene. I have learned "depression comes from living in the past and anxiety comes from living in the future". I am trying now to live "One day at a time".
Slowly, I am learning that I am responsible for my own happiness, it has to come from inside me and not from other people. The only person that can "make" me feel good is me!
The dictionary defines self-esteem as: "a confidence and satisfaction in oneself". Although it doesn't have a definition for self-worth, it describes worthy as: "marked by personal qualities warranting honour, respect or esteem". So, perhaps we could take self-worth to mean: "confidence that I deserve to be treated with honour, respect or esteem".
When I first came into a twelve step program I thought I was self-confident and had a sense of self-esteem and self-worth. However, as I started looking at myself I began to realize I had been letting people walk all over me for years. I would do almost anything for another person just to be accepted and loved. I went so far as to change parts of my personality to please someone else. I was so mixed-up I didn't know who I was, and although I am much more confident now, there are times when I still wonder!
I am trying to be myself now, instead of pretending to be someone I am not. I am finding this takes a lot of courage as my tendency is still to look for acceptance by behaving the way I think people want me to. However, I have found when I stop being phony and act in a manner with which I feel most comfortable, the more friendly and caring people I attract.
It has been a long struggle over the last two years to try to establish my own identity and I still have a long way to go. How far I don't know, but I do know I am finding out more about myself every day by listening to people and by reading self-help books.
I am learning to set my limits and trying not to feel guilty when I have to say "no". I believe by setting my limits, not only I am showing respect for myself, I am also encouraging others to respect me.
I know I still have a lot of work to do on my self-worth as I am still astounded and amazed that people will accept me as I am.
I believe that your own self-worth, begins with acceptance.
THE ARMY OF THE SEA
On a warm summer afternoon I love to go out on a long shallow beach at low tide and watch the battle which is taking place there. Creeping in on its belly, like a soldier, the sea quietly sneaks over tiny hills and slowy slithers into small valleys quickly filling them. Then after carefully peering over the next hill, it stealthily creeps forward again, slowly covering its foe - the enemy sand.
The advancing sea-army sneaks around a sandbar, cutting off a battalion of the sand-army from retreat. Meanwhile, a gaggle of Canada Geese feeds contentedly in the shallows, then playfully rides the tide into a small estuary.
Confident now of success the sea speeds up its assault, covering the sand in increasing volume. A boat, which only an hour ago was laying half on its side like a beached whale, is now sitting up proudly as if it was confident all along that the sea would come to it!
The sea moves more slowly upon reaching some rocks near the shore. This seems a much harder enemy for it to conquer. The geese, their belly's full, contentedly fly for home. The sound of a motor boat splits the silence, while squawking seagulls arrive in fluttering confusion to scavenge on a remaining sandbar.
Soon the bay is shimmering from side to side with the victorious sea. But the victory is short lived. For, in a few short hours the sand will fight back with renewed energy and win another brief freedom from the army of the sea.
A TORTURED SOUL
"I have a hole inside me, a very large void. I can feel it deep within. My heart is heavy and my soul so lonely. I really don't like this empty feeling and I wish it would leave. I have tried many different things in an effort to get rid of it, but still it lingers on."
We have all experienced this void at some time in our lives, some people more than others. Some of us have tried consuming alcoholic beverages to relieve the pressure of the void. However, we have found the relief to be only temporary, usually by morning the feeling was back. Besides, alcohol often made us feel ill, as well as causing problems with our family and friends.
Some people have asked their doctors to give them a pill or purchased drugs on the street, but the empty feeling just seems to get worse. A few people have combined alcohol and drugs, legal and illegal. The damage to our bodies from consuming such a lethal combination is, in many cases, irreparable.
Another method which some of us use to relieve the heavy, lonely feeling inside us is to become promiscuous. The relief from becoming sexually involved with different partners is usually very fleeting, depending on how much we care for our current one.
Also, we have tried long-term relationships, giving love in the hope that by receiving love in return the hole would go away. However, the partners we have chosen are often not able or willing to give enough love to completely fill the yearning inside us. In a lot of cases they are having the same problems coping with life as we are.
We have adopted pets in the hope their unconditional love will fill the gap. While they are often good company, it is just not enough. Besides which they are often expensive and time consuming to care for.
Sometimes we try spending money, either on ourselves or others, to buy their friendship, until we find ourselves deeply in debt. However, the momentary lift we get from spending money only lasts until we look at our bank balance and then the anxiety and depression return two-fold.
We try dancing, walking, gardening, physical exercise, admiring nature and talking to people all to no avail. One method that seems to help is to give and receive hugs from other people. For just the instant another's arms are around us, we feel safe from the world. But as soon as we are standing on our own again the feelings come flooding back.
"So I have another cigarette to relieve this anxious feeling inside me. But in a short time I need another and another. And even though I can feel what it is doing to my body, I can't seem to quit. Its almost as if I have a subconscious death wish. But I don't really want to die, I still have a lot of things I want to see and do in my lifetime."
All of these things we've tried so far are somewhat like taking a geographic cure, substituting people and things for places. Some of us have actually tried a geographic cure. Thinking maybe, by just taking a long or short trip away from home, the lonely feeling will go away. However, if the feelings don't eventually catch up to us, they are waiting to haunt us when we return. Sometimes we feel if we moved to some other town or even some other country we would be happy, but everywhere we go we take the same problem, ourselves. We just can't seem to run away from the hole, it follows us everywhere.
"I can feel the tension building up inside me again. I take a deep breath to relieve the heavy feeling in my chest, but it doesn't work. I am so angry and I don't know at what or why. I feel like punching someone or running down the street screaming. There must be an answer, somewhere. What have I not tried. I know, food! No, I have to admit, sadly, that would not work either. It would just make me gain weight."
Some people say there is no way to fill the void inside of us, we just have to learn to accept it. Others say, if we can truly believe in and accept the love of our higher power, we will eventually find the true peace and serenity which we are so desperately seeking. The answer we are told must come from inside ourselves, not from people, places and things. "But how long, God, how long will it take, I'm getting so tired of waiting."
"Dear God, please, I want to be happy. I am tired of laughing on the outside and crying on the inside. Tell me do all people have these same feelings or are most of them happy. Lord, please help me, all I really want is to be normal."
Question: What is normal?
July 1st, 1996 - I finally quit.
EULOGY TO DEPARTED FRIENDS
Today I attended a memorial service for a valued friend. The circumstances were similar to another memorial service which I attended a little over a year ago. Part of the irony is that both services were held in the same place. During their lifetime both these people had a marked effect on my life. Now with their passing, I am still learning valuable lessons.
They had a lot in common: both died of heart attacks and both were more concerned with their children's welfare than with their own. Although one was in more serious condition, they each had advance warning of their health problems. However, they still choose to ignore the warnings and continue their lives as before. They both left dependent children, one had two children and the other had three, also they had each recently separated from a spouse. They were both very concerned about the upkeep and remodeling of their homes, although one had more money than the other to do so. They were both very well liked and had a fair amount of friends. However, I don't really think either of them realized just how good a person they really were. There were probably more parallels in their lives, but the most important feature which they had in common was that each was more concerned with their own will, rather than your will.
I learned a lot from their friendship when they were alive. They both treated me as an individual, encouraging me to be myself. Also, I profited from some of the mistakes which I could see them making in their lives. From one, I learned the value of a loyal friend. The other one treated me with such dignity and respect that I realized I deserved to be treated that way and today I will not accept any treatment which is callous or allow myself to be taken for granted.
I also learned some very valuable lessons from their deaths. A month before suffering a massive heart attack, one was diagnosed as having congestive heart failure, which the doctor said was probably caused by alcohol abuse. That gave me a valuable lesson in what would happen if I returned to drinking. The other one had been warned to slow down by a doctor two months before having a sudden heart attack. That has been a good reminder to me to set my limits, and to live within them.
However, the biggest lesson I've learned from these two people's lives is to take time. Time to stop and smell the roses, pet a cat, walk a dog and tell someone I love them. Time to appreciate nature, visit a friend or relativeand read a book But the most important lesson I learned is to take time to listen to my higher power. To be enough in touch with my own emotions and feelings to be able to hear and understand my higher power's will for my life is very important to me today. It is, I believe, the key to my serenity.
I prayed for these people while they were alive. I asked you to help them find the peace and serenity which they were so desperately seeking. However, I don't blame you for their deaths as I realize you can seldom help anyone who is not ready or willing to accept it.
So, it is with a tinge of regret and sorrow that I say good-bye to my departed friends: Margaret who left us on Friday, April 13, 1984; age 41 years and Harry who left us on Monday, July 8, 1985; age 48 years. It is my sincere hope that I will never have to add my own or another friend's name to this list of unnecessary deaths.
Thank you for listening to me God, I love you,
Acceptance: To respect and accept each other as you are, without feeling it necessary to say "I love you - but".
Enrichment: To have enough interests in common to share experiences, but also enough different interests to enrich the relationship and keep it growing.
Sexuality: To enjoy each others bodies and the mutual enjoyment that giving and receiving sexual pleasure brings.
Mix together in varying amounts, depending on the man and woman chosen, and ice with gentle, tender love.
Note: Do not attempt to bake this cake unless you have a lot of time and patience.
COURAGE TO CHANGE THE THINGS I CAN!
In 1983, I was living in a situation which was rapidly becoming intolerable. I attended a meeting at which I asked them to discuss "courage to change the things I can", from the Serenity Prayer. The best comment I heard on the subject that night was "When the time comes that you have to change it, you will find the courage".
The next evening an incident occurred which caused me a lot of fear and anger. Somehow that gave me the courage to change the situation,and was the point at which I began to grow. As I look back at the incident, I realize I have not had to face as difficult a situation and decision since then.
Over the next few days I received a lot of sympathetic encouragement from my friends in Al-Anon and A.A., which helped to relieve the anxiety which I was feeling about making a major life style change.
Since then I have used the strength which I gained from dealing with that situation, to change other minor problems. Today I try to live by my comfort level. If I feel uncomfortable or anxious in a situation, then I realize I have to find the courage to change it. If it involves another person, I try to handle it in a manner so neither of us is hurt and we both win. I don't always accomplish this, however, I feel with practice I will succeed more often.
I find situations which need changing that don't affect others, just myself, are the most difficult to deal with as they most often require a major change in my life style. Again I go on my comfort level and when I feel comfortable about making the change, that usually means I am ready. Then when I make the change, I usually feel good about it.
I think it all comes down to listening to the voice of my higher power and trying to stay in touch with my feelings. I am still finding the courage to change the things I can only when I am finally ready to make that change!
THE TEACHER'S GOAT
Now for a bit of fun. I wrote the following story as an English exercise in Grade Nine when I was 14 years old. With only minor changes, mainly in spelling and grammar, I present it here for your amusement.
Once upon a time (a short while ago in fact) there lived a teacher who kept a goat (the kind that runs about on four legs). Now this goat was very sweet tempered (quite unlike the teacher who was the exact opposite) and loved the teacher very much. The teacher loved him too.
One day we were walking in the woods and wondering what to do when Dick said, "Let's create some mischief." Thinking it was a good idea, we sat in an old pine tree to think further on the subject. Suddenly, Tom jumped up and said, "Let's kidnap the teacher's goat."
We all thought it was a good idea so we made up a plan and decided on the ransom, which was to give no tests the following week (we had been told to expect some), then we would return the goat. We agreed to meet after lunch.
Accordingly, after lunch, we met under the old pine tree and walked off towards the teachers house. When we arrived, we found that as we expected the teacher was out. Leaving a note in his stall, we put a rope on the goat and hauled him to the place we had chosen in the woods.
Everything went smoothly the next week. The goat was in excellent hands (ours) and the teacher gave no tests. Contrary to what you might think, he didn't try to find the culprit or even mention his missing goat. We thought we were pretty safe, so we turned the goat loose the following Saturday and watched him head for home. Oh what fun we'd had.
On Monday morning, when we walked into the classroom, the teacher had a surprise for us. On the board was a note which said, "All last week's tests were held over to this week and will be included with this week's tests, for reasons known only to me and a few boys"
The joke was on us. Someone found out what had happened and who was to blame. To this day they still tease us and remind us of the time we got the teacher's goat.
"I'm so lonely." "I'm tired of living alone." "Why can't I find someone to love me?" "This is my last chance for happiness. If this relationship doesn't work out I'm going to give up looking for someone to share my life with." "Where is love?" "What is love?"
How many times have I heard these phrases and others on the same subject spoken by friends and acquaintances, as well as voicing them myself? How many songs, plays, books and movies have been written on this theme over the past few centuries? Why do we have this intense need to connect permanently with another human being?
People have fought, killed, committed suicide and even started wars over love. We seem to spend a good part of our lives either in love or looking for it. Even some of those people who appear to have found the perfect partner are not completely fulfilled and are still searching.
I am single and have been so for ten years. I thought at first it would be fun to be on my own and have no one to answer to or be responsible for. However, I have spent most of those ten years trying out different relationships, always with the hope; this one will be the one that works and I will no longer have to face life alone. Even as a teenager most of my daydreams were of finding a mate and settling down together in a perfect union of love.
Today, I have everything I need. A good job, a roof over my head, clothes on my back and food in my cupboards. So why do I still feel like a jigsaw puzzle with a couple of pieces missing? Why do I still have this empty, unfulfilled feeling deep inside me which repeatedly sends me out looking for another human being to share my life with?
Maybe, I should take another look at the situation. Maybe, just maybe, I don't have everything I need today. Maybe, it is a basic human need to have a mate.
I am beginning to wonder if seeking a mate isn't perhaps partly an evolutionary trait, bred into us over centuries of human life. When humans first appeared on this planet they had to work very hard just to stay alive, so it became quite necessary to pair-bond. A woman who was carrying a baby for nine months and then having to carry it in her arms for another two or more years, needed a mate to help her gather food for her and her children, as well as to help her protect the children against the threat of wild animals and other people. The people who pair-bonded were the ones who survived to produce more children. In other words it was survival of the fittest. After centuries of evolution it is quite possible it could have become a built-in need to have a permanent partner.
In nature, there are other examples of pair-bonding amongst non- human animals and birds. As they don't have a higher brain to learn such a response, it must surely come from the primitive part of their brains. We also have a primitive brain, which produces our emotions. Fortunately, we have a higher brain as well, with which we can control our emotions and also learn proper responses from society.
This brings us to the other possible reason for our need to mate with another human being. It could be, partly, a learned response. From the time we were very small, we were taught that our main goal in life should be to seek a mate and raise children. I believe our need to have a mate is actually a very strong primitive urge to pair-bond, modified over the centuries by a society which has conditioned us to think of pair-bonding as "love".
So be being single, we are not only going up against centuries of evolution, but also against the teachings of our parents. Of course, like any other inheritable trait, this need to pair-bond is stronger in some of us than in others, and we have all met people in whom it seems to be missing altogether. But, for those of us who feel this urge strongly, being single becomes a real problem. We keep "falling in love" over and over again in the hope that this time it will work. Of course, this means we are continually being hurt when a relationship ends.
What is the answer to this age old question? I really don't have a complete answer, I can only share what is working for me today. The main method I use is to live for today and not to think too much about the future. When I think about the future, I try to envision myself as still being on my own, and my aim is to be financially and emotionally independent.
Another method which I find works well is to keep so busy that I don't have too much time to be lonely. I spend as much time as possible with other people both in groups and on a one-to-one basis. I find the best people for me to spend time with are ones who have the same problems and are in the same situation as I am. They have a better understanding of how I feel than someone who is involved in a fulfilling relationship. I am trying to keep any dating friendships as casual as possible, until such time as I feel I am emotionally strong enough to handle to pain of a breakup without breaking down.
You may have noticed I have not mentioned our sexual urge at all. I have a very good reason for that. In today's world of changing values, it is easier to satisfy that need without being in a permanent relationship. Besides, I believe a good part of a persons need for sexual contact is a need to feel that close to another human being. Most people who are in a permanent, fulfilling relationship find over time their desire for sexual contact decreases. They seem to find the contentment they need by touching, hugging, kissing and simply by just being together. I firmly believe our sexual urge has very little to do with our need to seek a mate.
Another question that needs to be answered is "What is a satisfying relationship?". Again, there is no single answer, for each persons or couples needs and wants are different. However, there are a few basic requirements to having a happy, long-term relationship. The main requirement is that it be equally interdependent. In other words, in areas where one person is weak the other should be strong and vice versa. When one member of a couple is stronger in more areas than the other, the relationship is in danger of becoming extremely one-sided.
The second requirement is a sharing of common interests. This does not mean, that to be fulfilled a couple needs to have all their interests similar. Having a few different interests will serve to enrich the relationship, but not having any common interests could eventually destroy it.
Some other important requirements are: an ability to accept your partner as they are without feeling it necessary to change and/or control them; a mutually satisfying physical attraction; a similar intellectual level and educational background; an ability to communicate well; emotional independence; and, of course, that indefinable thing called "love".
If we can put all these together, we may find it possible to have the relationship which we so desperately desire. If we cannot, we will just have to accept that the need to seek and have a mate is very much a natural part of us. Which may make it easier to find a way to accept the fact that we currently don't have one.