29 September 2015

Blogging versus Al-Anon

It suddenly dawned on me the other day that it has been a whole year since I last went to an Al-Anon meeting. The  Al-Anon meeting I used to go to always seemed to coincide with appointments I needed to take my mother to, so it had to be missed and then as weeks went to months and now to a year, I have got out of the practice of going. I daresay the people I got to know there have moved on too, so, even if I did turn up, there'd be few faces I recognise.

Al-Anon works for some people and not for others. To some people Al-Anon is a drug that keeps them sane and helps them cope with living with an alcoholic. Some people swear by how it has helped them. They are often the people who have been going for years and not only that attend several meetings in different locations each week. (That's the beauty of being in London. There's always a meeting somewhere at some time of day every single day. It's probably less often in smaller towns, but you can guarantee there will be one somewhere reasonably close.) 

Personally I have mixed feelings about Al-Anon. First there is the whole ethos, which I find a bit difficult to swallow. There are slightly religious overtones although it is stressed religion does not come into it and you choose "the God of your understanding" to help you. Nevertheless, there is talk of turning to your "Higher Power" for help and guidance. It took me years to work out what my Higher Power was. Having been raised a Christian, I am no longer particularly religious and nowadays only make it to church for festive Carols every other Christmas. I sit on the fence about a lot of things to do with Christianity. I don't buy into seas parting or water turning to wine or immaculate conception. I don't care to burden my God with all my problems in prayer as I am sure He (or She) has quite enough to do without me adding to the list. It was only recently I decided if anything my Higher Power was probably Fate. Yes, I am quite a Fatalist, when it comes to it. What will be, will be. I found the mantras and advice from Al-Anon did not really fit in with the way I see things. Probably the best bit of advice I gleaned from it was "One Day at a Time" and I do still use that a lot when I get overwhelmed with things.

Another problem I have with Al-Anon is the fact that inevitably there are other people there. I am quite a shy person at heart, which comes from being an only child, I suppose.  I've got better as I have got older and  better still since Greg died and I have had to push/assert  myself to get things done. But I have never liked public-speaking. My tongue gets in a  knot if I know other people are hanging on my every word and I find it impossible to string a sentence together without feeling a complete idiot. [I once had a job as a 24-year-old which involved giving lectures to a room full of businessmen and I used to dread them. I'd often take a sickie to avoid them.] With Al-Anon, people sit around in a circle and take turns to speak on a given topic for that meeting. There is absolutely no pressure to speak at all. Once a person starts to speak, the others remain silent and listen to that person's "share" on the topic. Each share lasts about 5 minutes on average. Of course, if there is a small meeting of, say, up to ten people, it is quite normal for everyone to have taken a turn to share, so if you are then the only person who has not shared a view at that meeting, you DO feel pressured to say something. For me that was always purgatory. Instead of the meeting making me feel calm and relaxed (as it obviously did for the others), I felt nervous that I had to say something as it was blatantly obvious I was the only one in the room not to have said something. Sometimes, the silences between speakers would be embarrassing, where we all sat there in the circle waiting for someone - anyone - to speak again. If I was  the only one who hadn't spoken, all eyes seemed to be looking at me as the obvious next choice. So I would blurt something out and feel incompetent and stupid. It often came as a surprise when the meeting had wrapped up that people would come up to me and say I'd made a very useful contribution and provided food for thought. It certainly did not seem like that to me at the time.

Conversely, I did find the other people at the meetings the main reason I went. When you are living with a huge problem like alcoholism in the family, it helps to know there are others out there who have gone/are going through what you are. Before Al-Anon, I felt I must be the only person in the world encountering the problems I faced. That my alcoholic was in some way peculiar to any other. Meeting other people in the same situation was a huge relief and it was interesting to compare or seek advice or comfort from them. They were all lovely people from all walks of life and by large from well-to-do backgrounds. Not your typical prejudicial  stereotype of what constitutes an alcoholic's family. We all got on well and at the beginning when my alcoholic was still alive and causing me all sorts of upset,  I found the hourly meeting once a week a huge escape among "normal" people. However, I much preferred the informal chats at the end of the meeting as we stacked chairs back up and put away the literature into the boxes for the next time. On the rare occasion we would even move on to a nearby cafe and just chat, which I also found more useful than the meetings themselves.

Having started my blog before I even discovered Al-Anon existed was, I suppose, the main reason why Al-Anon did not help me personally. I was able to pour out my frustrations and to reason with the whole situation on the blogosphere. It didn't matter at first whether I received comments or not, but when I did, particularly from those going through similar situations, it reassured me the blog was a good idea. (I had felt uncomfortable at first about washing dirty laundry in public.) If I was having a particularly bad day or night, I could just go to my computer at any time and hammer out my thoughts. It immediately helped rid me of tension to deal with the situation and to cope with the management of the alcoholic, the home and raising Kay, not to mention care of the animals and my aged mother (at that time some 60 miles away).

As I said at the start, Al-Anon works for some and not for others. Al-Anon recognises this and suggests people give it six sessions before they decide whether it helps. I gave it 5 years. It helped in some ways, not in others -  "Take what you want and leave the rest" is one of their slogans after all. I think I have moved on now. If I have not missed the meetings in a whole year, I am not likely to need it any more. I'm still in touch with one or two of the people I got to know and we meet up every few months for a chat - as friends. 

If you are living with an alcoholic and feel Al-Anon might help you, click here for your nearest meeting in the UK. (Al-Anon operates all over the world so just google your nearest meeting place for you.) There are blogs a-plenty and organisations which offer advice- whatever you find helps, but do not  suffer the burden on your own. There are definitely others out there going through the same as you.

10 September 2015

End of an Era

The last of the Alcoholic Daze menagerie has sadly met her maker. 

In the summer of 1999, we took on two kittens and a puppy. We must have been mad to take them all on in one go. Initially we had hoped to cure Kay of her fear of dogs, brought on when she was attacked at the age of 3 by a farm collie, when we were camping on a Yorkshire farm holiday. However, trying to find a suitable dog that would not intimidate her proved difficult and we had all but given up, settling for two kittens from a rescue centre instead, as at least they had a leg at each corner and would give her something to care for and love.  The kittens (Tabitha and Velvet) were still being weaned off their mother, so we had to wait a while before we could collect them from the rescue centre and near the end of that wait we were shown a batch of abandoned puppies that had just come in. We fell hook, line and sinker for Snoopy and ended up bringing the kittens and Snoopy home all on the same day in June 1999.

The kittens, Tabitha and Velvet, on their first day with us

Snoopy as a puppy

After much toilet training on their part and a big learning curve on our part, we all settled down together happily ever after. Except after two years, Tabitha (the tabby) got run over by a car, leaving just Velvet and Snoopy.

As regular readers will know, Snoopy had to be put down two years ago aged 14½ following ill-health  and yesterday Velvet had to be put down too aged 16½ , as she too had become very ill and the treatment was not working. The vet said he could feel a tumour. It was unthinkable to put her through tests and operations at her age, so a decision had to be made. I didn't like doing it, but it had to be done for her sake. It's the end of an era. I don't fancy replacing any of them right now and do think a pet-free environment suits me for the moment, but I don't rule out changing my mind in the future. Meanwhile, Rest in Peace, dear Velvet.

04 September 2015

Rain, rain, go away!

Well, September's here, the kids are back at school and the shops are getting ready for the usual Christmas retail madness. So that was summer! Did I blink and miss it? It's been a strange one this year. For nigh on 20 years, I have been conditioned to the usual six-week school summer holidays (starting late July and ending beginning of September) and then latterly uni summer holidays, but this year was so different.  Kay's final days at uni were in early June, she then went on an inter-rail tour of Europe and started work at the end of July, just as schools were breaking up, so the summer was already over by then for us. The last 6 weeks since seem to me to have gone slowly.  It would have helped if the weather had been more, well, summery. It seems to me that  August has been cold, wet, wet, cold and wet with a lot more wet thrown in for good measure. And here we are at the start of autumn with more wet and cold stretching into the distance.

I live in a small private cul-de-sac development where we pay in so much every month to a communal kitty used for issues such as the communal garden or road and this includes having our houses painted externally every five years or so. This year was the year to have it done. The committee made up of volunteers in our road appointed a painting firm to start at the end of July. When the painters first approached me in late July, I was unable to let them start on my house, as I was away a lot at that time, so there would have been no way to leave windows and doors open for the paint to dry.  Instead they started on my house in mid-August. Every time they painted the top-coat (with dark grey clouds swirling overhead), it not only rained a few hours later but really bucketed down. The paint bubbled up. They had to sand down the next day and start again.... and again.... and again. I have no control over the painters really as I do not pay them and I do not employ them, but any pleas to leave it to a drier day fell on deaf ears.They were back again yesterday to do yet another remedial repair on the mess that now looks like my front door! Two hours later the heavens opened and stayed open.  That was not the only thing open........my front door had to remain open for at least 6 hours for the paint to dry. I closed it finally at 10pm last night. The snails climbing up the doorpost were most annoyed, as I think even they were fed up with the rain and wanted to come in to say hello. This morning I needed a ten-ton truck to pull open the front door - it had swelled and stuck to the frame. 

I could be marooned for some time!