Twice in recent times I’ve gotten into trouble by thinking that I could change my attitude just by deciding to. I’ve thought I could refocus my obsessions just by recognizing them for what they are and trying like hell to think of something else. Invariably, my mind returns to that which is upsetting me in short order.

I forget sometimes that everything has a process. When I decide to turn my will and my life over to the care of my Higher Power, it hasn’t been accomplished yet. Doing the rest of the steps is the how, the process. The same is true of forgiveness. I’ve never been able to just up and forgive anyone through sheer force of will. It only ever happened as a by-product of a vigorous fourth step.

So it is with changing my attitude. I have to do a process. One great process I sometimes forget to use is the first process my first sponsor taught me – the control list.

I take a piece of paper and draw lines vertically that divide it into three columns. In the first column I list something that is on my mind. In the second column I list all the aspects of that situation that I cannot control. In the third column, I list the things I can control.

This process serves a few purposes. First, it organizes my thoughts. When they grind around in my head, they are unclear and infused with emotion. Second, it makes clear what concerns I can let go of. Whatever I can’t control, I feel absolved of responsibility for. Third, the column of things I can control gives me ideas for how to build my boundaries. I can decide what to do to take care of myself.

All of this gives me a feeling of purpose and optimism. I feel less lost and more able to meet my situation sanely. That’s a much better attitude!

I recently left a sick situation. It was a group of people who had a task to complete, but the focus of the task shifted from “how can we build our group” to “how can we keep people like this one we know from being jerks in our group” to “how can we keep that jerk out of our group”. I gave my input about this several times and finally had to set the boundary that if all group members are not invited and if the group can’t maintain its focus on its primary purpose, I would have to stop participating.

I stopped participating.

The members continue to email me about their progress, but it’s more of the same. Mostly I don’t respond. One member has been trying to get me to re-join the group, with lots of explanations about why I need to be there and what the group dynamics are and how my influence helps, etc.

It still boils down to those boundaries, though. That situation is about personalities instead of principles, and that’s a bad foundation for building something. I can’t get on board with that.

I’m done explaining. One thing I learned from working the program is that I am responsible for what I say. I am not responsible for what someone else understands. If I am as clear – simple and brief – about my boundaries as I can be, and they still don’t understand, they may never understand. It serves neither of us for me to keep explaining. My rule of thumb: I usually give it one first try and two clarifications before I give up.

The above graphic appeared on my Facebook one day. I laughed and told my spouse, expecting to share the laugh. My spouse did not think it funny, instead considering this as an excuse to shut someone down, or shut them out, refusing to discuss a situation at all. I explained that the graphic isn’t about how to have a conversation. It’s about sick situations where someone is (or some people are) trying to gain control.

  • One tries to control by explaining in an effort to turn the other person around.
  • One tries to control by claiming not to understand in an effort to wear the other out. 

Guess which one I generally was? If that person would only understand, they’d know how right I am and they would do the obvious right thing, which is what I want them to.

I had to learn to simplify my thinking and my language. I need to admit I might be wrong. If I can’t express my idea simply in few sentences, I really, really need to examine my thinking and my motives. Over-explaining is for me usually means I am making justifications. I’m trying to build a case for what I want. And here we are at control again.

The House was waiting for us when returned. Right where we left it. The spouse and the pet were happy to be home. I was relieved to be done with the traveling for a bit. But the House was there. Right where I left it.

Sometimes I kind of get used to it and don’t think about it very much. I’d like to get into that state today. It would make me more comfortable. I have so much to be grateful for. I have a warm, dry place to sleep where there isn’t any violence and where I can put some of my stuff. That hasn’t always been the case in my life. The animals have sufficient space to do what they need to do comfortably. If they need to chase or hide or stalk or whatever, they can do it pretty easily.

My internal whiner is whining yesterday and today about not really having a home. My spouse was widowed before me. My spouse is also something of a hoarder. So the house is full, and it’s full of their life together. I have to try to fit myself in the edges and the cracks of what there is.

My spouse wants to be supportive but doesn’t know how. I’ve been told to change whatever I want, that it’s my home now too. So I make some changes. To be fair, many are met with approval and encouragement. Some are not. I’ve asked for two less-important rooms of the house to do with what I want and was given the go-ahead. In one, it’s gone well. The other is much, much harder. If my spouse can’t find something that lives in that room, there is hardship for both of us.

It’s in my nature to want a swift and radical fix to any situation, so of course what I want right now is a different house. Hopefully in a different place entirely. Maybe with a different job and everything.

On our trip, we discovered a lovely little town in a lovely little area, and in it, a lovely little house that’s for sale. My brain is all over that. We could move there and in the process jettison so much redundant stuff, and we could put away so much of the life-that-was-theirs stuff and replace it with life-that-is-ours stuff. It would all immediately be fixed and we could Live Happily Ever After.

That sort of thing never works of course. That’s how I wound up with a house before, more or less, thinking that a different structure in a different place would solve all our problems, and instead we wound up with a whole new set of problems along with several of the old.

Then I remember a thing that went right. I accepted that my HP might never let me move away from the place I hated to live. So I had to find some way to accept that place and be happy with it. I realized it was the region that I hated but it had a lovely town in it. So I chose the town and my HP made available an affordable place in a delightful neighborhood. I moved in and personalized it completely and was so content with it.

I kind of tried to do that with this house. I tried to accept that my HP may require me to live here until my spouse dies, so I asked for the two rooms so that I can personalize them completely and be happy with them. But I don’t actually have one of the rooms, really. A bunch of stuff is stored there that I don’t feel at liberty to move or store somewhere else.

Maybe I need to stand up for this room. Maybe I need to relocate these things.

It’s just so much easier to daydream over the lovely little house in the lovely little town, isn’t it? And make myself miserable in doing so.

I just got back from a long weekend with my spouse, and it was wonderful. I didn’t completely expect it to be, but it worked out really well. Acceptance was the key. I need to develop more fully the practice of acceptance, of keeping my mind on right now, and turning things over to my HP.

Before the trip, I was concerned that my spouse’s control issues were going to make me crazy the whole time. The week leading up to it was anxious and fraught with tension as my lover tried to get things satisfactorily organized. My sweetheart prepares. A lot. A whole lot more than I do. And my dear heart was suffering from self-inflicted strife over it.

I did my very best to prepare what I could for my part and stay as far out of the way as possible. I didn’t want to get sucked into insanity and I believe I did rather well at that. But it was so intense that I worried it would come along with us on the trip.

It didn’t. At least mostly it didn’t. And what little control-itis crept in was easily handled by good boundaries. I didn’t take things personally and I had a great time. A really great time.

I guess I need better boundaries. My usual response to other people’s attempts to control me is to simply not let them. I use How Important Is It to decide whether it matters to resist or not, and if it does, what form. I can say, “You may be right,” and then just do what seems best to me anyway. Or if it’s something unimportant to me but very important to them, I may accommodate them anyway, if it doesn’t feel resentment inducing. Or I can say, “No, thank you.” Or even just, “No,” since it’s a complete sentence.

But constant evaluation can wear me out. I don’t want every interaction to be something I have to weigh. So the more controlling people are, the tireder I get. Plainly I am not taking care of myself.

I don’t know what I can do about it. Limit interactions? Maybe take regular short breaks?

I blogged yesterday about one of the things that has been bothering me lately. The other thing, I believe, has to do with control of my environment. I’ve recently moved in with another person, and each of us has lived alone for a long time, so each of us is used to being able to make whatever changes we want. Each of us is used to an environment where changes do not happen without us.

Now, I feel insecure, because changes happen that I do not expect. Doors that have so far been unlocked are sometimes locked. Keys that usually live in certain locations now live in others. Items that were stored here are now stored there. I get used to the new environment, but then the new environment changes, and it wasn’t me doing the change, and the change wasn’t mentioned to me when it occurred.

My conditioned reflex, my old way of being, is to react defensively. It is to blame the other person for making changes unfairly. It is to keep a resentment about the changes. It is to read meanings into the changes. My security instinct feels threatened, although no actual threat is occurring. It is all about control, and the loss thereof.

All of this disquiet is happening on the inside of myself. This is my stuff, my issue. I cannot see into the inside of the other person and they cannot see into the inside of me. Outside of ourselves, in the physical reality, I don’t think there really is any threat or danger. There might be inconvenience if I need to get something that I cannot access, but I’m not likely to die of it, and I can ask how to get to it again. I can ask that it not be moved. I can ask what place would be better. I can participate and communicate.

And I can, like yesterday, presume goodwill. There is no reason to expect that the other person is out to get me, that they need to obtain some advantage over me or that they enjoy keeping me off balance. It is entirely reasonable to assume that they are just living life and getting things done the best way they see to do them.

Just writing about these things, I feel better already. I can keep praying for acceptance, the ability to detach, and the ability to set healthy boundaries in this as in all things. Then I can focus on the present, the next right thing to do, and be grateful for what I have right now.

So, after all this time I’m still having trouble not obsessing over an alcoholic. Maybe I shouldn’t read so much AA literature. It might be giving me the “if only”s. Well, I am acquiring the “if only”s via whatever source they come. I very much regret that my former life partner is still living in a seething ball of resentment and self-will, and that there is nothing at all I can do about it.

I tend to think, Oh if I send that book or this T-shirt or that medallion it would be the thing to prompt the other person into seriously working the steps, into genuinely becoming open minded. If I just say the right thing in an email or a greeting card, if I just nudge them just the right way …
That person has all the tools of the program they’ll ever need; if they don’t pick them up, that’s entirely between them and their HP. I know that. My brainmeats know that. More mysterious parts have yet to wake up to that.
I have a set of prayer beads I made myself that reflect my own spiritual and religious views. Most of my prayers are, “Thy will, not mine, be done,” and “God, grant me knowledge of Thy will for me and the power to carry that out.” Maybe for the time being I need a prayer to commend the person to their HP and move my focus back to me. Maybe I need also a prayer for freedom from obsession.
Think it’ll help?
By the way, I reached the end of Alcoholics Anonymous (The Big Book) tonight. Spoiler: they all lived happily ever after.

This morning I was re-making a custom set of prayer beads I had erred in constructing. I had intended each section to either have 4 sets of 3 beads or 3 sets of 4 beads, but in my distraction had set up 4 sets of 4 beads.

So I got out the needle and cord, a thicker cord than usual, and began stringing beads. At the first bead, there was some difficulty getting the bead over the eye of the needle and the doubled-up cord going through it. Grasping the needle was difficult, so I got a set of needle-nose pliers for that part.
Lesson one: Get a grip.
I put three tiny beads on the needle and got ready to draw them over and onto the cord. The first bead stuck fast, but it was hard for me to do much because the other two beads were on the needle. I had to take them off.
Lesson two: One bead at a time.
No matter what I tried, I could not get that bead to move over the eye and down the cord. The more I pulled, the more the teeth of the pliers dug into the needle, dimpling it, and the more strain occurred on the loop of cord through the eye, making me worry whether it would hold up.
Lesson three: I was trying to force a solution, and was becoming irritable, soon to be unreasonable.
I took the bead off the needle and tried another. It went just fine. I kept the things I’d learned so far at the top of my mind, and the set of beads came together smoothly. I tied my knot at the end and was satisfied.
Later, waiting for the bus, praying my beads, my prayers were suddenly thrown off. The wrong bead had occurred next. Looking at the beads, I saw that one section had two beads instead of three.
Lesson: I am human, and humans make mistakes.
I laughed out loud. Tomorrow I will make the beads again, but I will lay them all out at once to be sure I have them right.
Just for today, I will pray the beads I have and not let my perfectionism ruin the moment for me.