October 29: Relationships

Topic for the week: Relationships

I wasn’t very good at dealing with people prior to getting sober. I still have some difficulty at times, especially with particular personalities, but I’m much improved and most of that improvement is due to working the AA program (therapy has also helped).

As an active alcoholic I would either be a people-pleaser or if I didn’t like someone, I’d ignore/be obnoxiously passive-aggressive to them in social settings. I didn’t know how to deal with anger so I’d just blow up at someone, I didn’t know how to say “no” so I’d get a major resentment toward someone and never tell them why, I didn’t know how to set boundaries regarding personal information or physical space so I’d say and do embarrassing stuff sometimes, especially when drinking, and I had no idea how to apologize and repair a broken relationship (and didn’t make any attempt to find out how to do that).

I stole from family and friends, I slept with boyfriends or husbands of friends, I wasn’t faithful to guys I was seeing, I used people to get what I wanted, and I rarely thought of what I could do for others – it was all about me and what I wanted or needed.

All of this behavior fed into my alcoholism; the shame, anger, resentments, guilt, sadness, and frustration surrounding my inability to create and maintain healthy, loving relationships drove me to drink more and more often. I had a few long-term female friends throughout this time but family, work, and social relationships were strained, for the most part.

I gave birth to two sons during this time – one in Nov. 1982 and one in Sept. 1986. I wasn’t in a committed relationship with either of their fathers, I didn’t have the support of my family, and I didn’t know I was an alcoholic and drug addict but knew I didn’t want the responsibility of a child or children so I gave my sons up for adoption (the adoption in 1982 was open so when I found myself pregnant in 1986, I contacted the couple who adopted my older son and they adopted my younger son). It was both a selfish and self-less act, as incongruent as that may seem. I’ve dealt with a lot of sorrow, grief, and loss as the result of giving them up, but have never regretted my decisions as I firmly believe my alcoholism would have destroyed my relationship with them, and I might well have had my sons taken from me by state welfare authorities because once I started drinking, I couldn’t guarantee I’d be a responsible parent and am pretty sure I wouldn’t have been. I’ve heard stories from other women in AA who’ve said they’d leave their children at home and stay out all night, or be at home but drink until in a blackout, or do any number of the other things we do once we start drinking and can’t stop.

Repairing relationships and/or maintaining good relationships is a crucial aspect of being a member of Alcoholics Anonymous. It’s written into the Steps, and the Traditions place great importance on maintaining good relationships among AA’s Trusted Servants, our own group’s members, and society in general. For me, a good barometer of my sobriety is how well I deal with others, especially those I find it difficult to understand or accept. In all interactions I try to remember to put the principles of AA into practice and to really listen as others are speaking, to ask questions before assuming an answer, to know when to walk away, respectfully, when it’s clear we must agree to disagree, and to “err on the side of compassion” as I heard at a meeting long ago. These are my guidelines in relationships, and I’m acquiring other helpful ones as I go through each sober day.

Having spent so many years unable to create and maintain good relationships, I treasure the healthy relationships I have today. It’s taken a lot of work with some of them – getting over past difficulties and establishing better communication – and it’s a work-in-progress with all relationships as people change, life happens, and so on. But the fact that I have useful tools, the willingness to do the work, and I’ve received positive encouragement in the form of acceptance, forgiveness, invitations, fun shared memories, etc., has helped demonstrate to me that I have the power to change how I interact with others, how I interpret my interactions with others, and what I want to get from my interactions with others.

Finally, regarding my sons, I was able to meet them for a number of years, together and separately, starting in 1996. I was invited to my older son’s high school graduation, which I attended, I had lunch with my younger son several times once he was older, and I was invited to and attended my older son’s wedding in 2011. However, it was at that event that I was made aware that our relationship had changed and I’m still not sure why. Both of my sons fairly avoided me during the wedding and I haven’t heard from either of them since then, with my younger son unfriending me on Facebook. It’s frustrating to not understand what has happened, and I feel I can do little about the situation other than continue to remain in touch via Facebook with my older son (he doesn’t respond to my posts, but at least he knows I’m still here) and I’m also in touch with my sons’ adoptive father and his (second) wife via email. I hold my sons in my heart and am willing to wait to see if they want to re-establish a connection, but it’s like losing them all over again only this time it wasn’t my choice.

Relationships are really hard sometimes, loving people is really hard sometimes, forgiving people is really hard sometimes, and accepting people is really hard sometimes. But I believe my HP is always with me, helping me navigate life and my relationships, and that I’ll be okay as long as I stay sober, help others, and stay grateful for the many gifts I’ve received in sobriety.

The meeting is now open to anyone who would like to share on any of the following: (1) how you’ve repaired relationships, (2) how you’ve changed your behavior in dealing with others, or (3) what you do when it’s clear a relationship (family, friend, romantic partner) isn’t able to be repaired.

Thanks for letting me chair this meeting.

Michele R.