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Sunday, March 23, 2014

Learning by Watching

Sometimes I laugh out loud at how God teaches me about, well, me.

There is an old adage in my 12 step program that whenever we are disturbed by someone's behavior it is because we are seeing a reflection of ourselves. I have not always liked reading or hearing that because it just feels icky - I mean, come on…do I always have to look at my own behavior no matter what is going on?

I had an experience recently, however, that made this old adage a bit clearer.

The other day I watched someone go from happy go-lucky to snappy and irritable within a matter of hours. They were disappointed, I think (I could be wrong), over how some things had gone that day and because the day did not live up to their expectations their mood changed drastically, seemingly without a reason and certainly without warning. Their tone changed, the words were sharply delivered with a definite and hard edge. The entire atmosphere went from pleasant to tense.

Now, I have to make something very clear - this is MY perception of what happened. There is a very good chance that no one else heard or felt what I heard and felt. In fact, I would not be at all surprised if I was the ONLY one in the car that felt that way. I say that because I know one of my character defects is I react to the sounds and tones of voices. I am overly sensitive in that area of my life. My father was a screamer and a yeller and went for the jugular with his words whenever angry and so if I hear that kind of tone I have a physical reaction. I get tense, my stomach clenches, my jaw tightens - typical fight or flight reaction and in my case I really, REALLY want to run and not fight.

With the understanding, therefore, that my experience the other day may not have been the experience of others around me, what I saw was more than just the unattractive side of someone I really love. It was a brilliant reminder of how I behave, how I have done the same thing to others and how I have improved over the years because of two things: sobriety and the Sacramental Life of a practicing Catholic.

I too would punish those around me whenever things went wrong in my day. My tone of voice would pitch upward, I would get whiny and angry sounding. I would become demanding of attention, convinced that those around me were somehow responsible for everything going wrong. If I could tell that they had not actually done what had caused me to go sideways, it wouldn't matter. If I was unhappy, or bored, or angry or hurt then by golly THEY were not going to get away with having a good time. I am an alcoholic. I do not suffer well - and I do not suffer alone.

This kind of behavior is, of course, a manifestation of self obsession. How I feel, what I feel becomes the all consuming passion of the moment.

As I stayed sober, I could sometimes see myself act in this manner and it would feel as though I was outside myself, watching me behave like a spoiled brat. I would inwardly cringe. I knew it was bad behavior but it was like I had no control. I could not stop myself.

My sponsor would suggest I pause and deliberately pray that God stop me, that God remove the need to spray my foul mood all over the people around me.

Sometimes that would work, but often it wouldn't and I got so tired of constantly asking for forgiveness. The people around me also got tired of it. After all, there is only so many "I'm sorry"s one can take before you want to grab the perpetrator and yell, "Why not stop being such an ASS, Leslie?".

That is when my spiritual advisor stepped in and advised going to confession at least twice a month, if not more.

Here is what happened: suddenly, I became aware that I had the ability to control my temper and my emotions in ways I had not had before partaking of that Sacrament on a regular basis. I was not perfect, not by any means, and I still have a tendency to react internally to the perceived bad behavior of others. I am still impulsive at times, though my intentions are good, and I can occasionally be pulled into someone else's freak out or tantrum.

But I am getting better.

The combination of good direction from my sponsor and Sacramental grace has allowed me to do what I was not able to do on my own - begin to conquer my own wayward emotions. More than that, it has given me insight into other people's behavior as well as allowed me to show compassion to those still stuck in the mire of early recovery.

It is up to me to cooperatre with that grace. It is my responsibility to keep walking towards heaven. It is up to me to be a woman of dignity and walk with my head held high as a daughter of God. However, I have no doubt that I would not be who and what I am today without the combination of sobriety and Catholicism that has become my life.

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