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Al-Anon Forum Magazine Featured Article

Understanding the Roots of My Pain, and Finding Peace in Step Three
I'm the daughter of an alcoholic, and I married an alcohoic. Step Three calls into question a life-long belief that in order to obtains something, it is best to trust in my own capabilities, strength, and tenacity. Every time I put myself in someone else's hands or delegated a task to another person, things didn't go the way I wanted them to. The results became even more disappointing in relation to my expectations, and my distrust of others grew. Relying on myself and being in control seemed easier to me than waiting for others.
I always had the impression that I was surrounded by incoherence, inconsistency, and indecision. I felt different, even messed-up, because others didn't fulfill their promises. It seemed as if the entire world turned in the opposite way from what I wanted. However, without realizing it, little by little I had also become an incoherent, inconsistent, and indecisive person.
As a child -- like all children -- I had to depend upon my parents to satisfy my needs and desires, even the simplest, as for gelato. Promises were broken -- or they were fulfilled when I didn't expect them to be. I lived in a state of perpetual upheaval and uncertainty. The "I don't know, we'll see" attitude toward life became a nightmare. Slowly, insidiously, the "we'll see" became "I myself will see." The "I don't know" became "I'll discover it myself."
I tried to attain what I wanted without asking for or expecting help, but I was in such fear of making a mistake that I would eventually turn to others for the approval I needed to go forward.
While my father approved of my independent efforts, my mother discouraged them, which led me to feel insecure about the actions that I would take. Caught between these two extremes of character -- the reason my parents often fought -- I went forward alone, without involving anyone, much less my family and friends, throwing myself into things without giving them much thought.
I followed the example my father set: never to fear anything or anyone, to struggle, and to win. He would tell us never to let ourselves be walked on by anyone. (He always spoke in the plural to his two daughters, rather than speaking with us individually.) I viewed my father as strong. I idealized him and wished to have his bold and authorative manner. I feared and hated him for his violence to my mother.
As an adult, these dynamics continued. Unpredicatable authoritarian people surrounded me (or I attracted them). And through all my uncertainties, I persisted in my belief that acting alone and not asking for help were best. I was convinced that the fewer persons I involved in my decisions, the less I would have to depend upon from others; and there would be fewer conflicts. The more I acted alone, the more my mistakes reinforced the lack of trust I had in others. But as this lack of trust grew, so did my dependence on others because the evaluation and criticism of what they did or didn't do boosted my ego.
This is how I fought against my fear, emotional fragility, and growing need for protection. It came to me spontaneously to protect my mother, though I distanced myself from her, seeing her as insecure, unsteady, melancholic, and under my father's knuckles. I also protected my partners, who always needed care and affection. To be up to the task I couldn't permit myself any weaknesses, either physical or mental, and I had to cancel out my own needs. Today I ask myself: how and above all to whom might I have trusted my life in the midst of such a scenario, which lasted for 44 years?
For a long time I had been tired of being Atlas, supporting the weight of the world on my shoulders. Only today, thanks to Al-Anon, am I aware of how exhausted I was from that role. Now I feel ready, "One Day at a Time," to get myself out from under that weight. With love, I want to free myself from it.
Today I decide to put my will aside and to ask my Higher Power to guide me through the day I have ahead, situation by situation, so that I don't become wrapped up in obsessions and fixations; so that I accept the reality of my life and that of others, above all of my alcoholic family members; and so that I act only when I am free of impatience, rage, and desire for revenge. In these moments, more than others, I strive to concentrate on the present. I make this request every morning in the silence worthy of a church, and I renew it at every Al-Anon meeting.
In this way I take on the new day, constantly keeping my impulses under control. Now I know that these impulses come from fear. When I am fearful and sense danger I cling to my old unhealthy habits of imposing my will on a situation, and I realize it because I sense the uncontrollable urge to act without reflection.
In these moments renouncing my will, trusting a Higher Power is difficult because my thoughts become ungovernable. When it happens, I feel guilty (before I felt guilty for not acting, now when I act wrongly.) I know that stopping to think is always good for me, just as it is good for me to tell myself that I am not indespensible, that things will adjust themselves even without my intervention, and that the sense of emptiness that I feel in that moment is only a sensation that will pass if I maintain an open mind. I do not necessarily have to act or to assert myself to fill that void.
I repeat to myself that it is I alone who am hurting myself. The reality is something else entirely, and I have only to wait until the moment passes, which it will, only if I can trust in someone else. I say it over and over, recalling deeply the words of the Serenity Prayer. I manage, because I have left space to my Higher Power, and my mind clears.
When I feel calmer, when the crisis and the compulsion have passed, I evaluate the situation with the help of my Sponsor and try to do the best thing, which might be either acting or not acting, as the specific case calls for. In general it is the exact opposite of how I would have acted in the moment of crisis.
Listening to my Higher Power means that it is not my will that guides me, nor my intelligence. It is my faith in the good and positive; it is my faith in hope. Before, when I had repressed my urge to act alone, I would feel a void inside myself; I now feel the sensation, new to me, of trust. I can feel my body relaxing. All of this is thanks to Al-Anon.
Luisa G. - Rome, Italy
May 2007
Alcoholism is a family disease. Those of us who live with, or have have lived with, this disease as children or adults sometimes have problems which the Al-Anon program can help us to resolve. If you have answered yes to some of all of the above questions, Al-Anon may be of help to you. You can contact Al-Anon by checking your local telephone directory, or from the Resources page. Phone numbers and Contact Information for the Austin Area are listed on the Contact Page of this website.
These articles were reproduced with permission from 'The Forum', the monthly inspirational newsletter of Al-Anon. Al-Anon World Headquarters, Inc. is located in Virginia Beach, VA. See www.Al-Anon.org for more information.