A Recovery Blog

This blog is about my continuing recovery from severe mental illness. I celebrate this recovery by continuing to write, by sharing my music and artwork and by exploring Buddhist ideas and concepts. I claim that the yin/yang symbol is representative of all of us because I have found that even in the midst of acute psychosis there is still sense, method and even a kind of balance. We are more resilient than we think. We can cross beyond the edge of the sane world and return to tell the tale. A deeper kind of balance takes hold when we get honest, when we reach out for help, when we tell our stories.

Monday, April 23, 2007

Thoughts Before An Al-Anon Meeting

I go to an Al-Anon meeting tonight. I haven't gone for a couple of weeks due to bad weather but today the weather is lovely.

The meeting lasts for about an hour. Someone starts the meeting with a welcome message, then we read the 12 steps and 12 Traditions and then we read the meditation for the day out of two of the daily readers and discuss them. Today, from the first reader, One Day At A Time In Al-Anon, the reading starts: "Among the many weapons we use to castigate the alcoholic--or other people we disapprove of--is sarcasm." The reading goes on to say that sarcasm is not a good reaction to difficult problems. It does much more damage than good.

I don't think I've been a very sarcastic person and I don't remember being sarcastic with Brendan, but with Brendan there was always the possibility of punishment or even violence. I learned to stuff my feelings and be submissive to his moods. But I was sarcastic within my mind towards him when he was behaving particularly hatefully. This might have been basic self-preservation and an act of defiance within my mind when I couldn't speak my mind aloud. There was a point where I was hating him this way but I couldn't live mirroring his hatefulness and so I stopped, tried to detach with love when possible. Because I was so inextricably linked to him, when he suffered more, so did I, not just on occasion out of empathy but because he would act his frustration out on me.

It was Brendan who was the sarcastic one and his sarcasm hurt me so badly. I think I vowed in a way to never be like him when he was most full of hate. He badgered me with his anti-semitism, homophobia and sexism and I feel a kind of pride that I did not accept his prejudiced views even when he was threatening to kill me or kill people I loved. But a part of me knew that his sarcasm was a part of his sickness, a frustrated way of acting out and to return his sarcasm with my sarcasm would only make both of us suffer more. But unlike living with an alcoholic who is non violent, living with one who is is a much greater challenge. Gentleness, kindness and tolerance given to a non violent alcoholic can lead to positive changes. So Al-Anon teaches and I believe. But when an alcoholic turns violent the whole emotional dynamic changes. Then the relationship turns into one of a victimizer and a victim, a study of tyranny, a private hell. When you're alone with a drunken maniac and ruled by fear what can you do to defuse the situation? At those times, even my kindness was looked upon with suspicion by Brendan. I still don't know what one can do when endangered by an alcoholic partner. I managed to survive those times. Eventually I had no option but to escape and turn my back on him.

Even now, eight years after Brendan's suicide, I wish he had embraced some of the 12 step program. When I was most psychotic (after the voices told me to get in touch with him) I remember encouraging him to go to AA meetings. I even gave him one of my Al-Anon readers. I really thought he had it in him to turn his life around despite his addictions and paralysis. I fantasized about him becoming a speaker who could warn other people against the path he had taken. But it was too soon and he was too wounded and caught up in his addictions.

Despite Brendan's abusiveness, I saw a lot of good in him. While I was with him I held onto that goodness as long as I could. He loved nature and animals, even children though he wouldn't admit it. He could be very respectful towards others and he had the capacity to appreciate honesty and be honest himself. But he wouldn't take responsibility for his actions and he wouldn't ask for help which kept him stuck and spiralling downwards in his addictions.

It is possible to love those who have abused you. Possible to forgo all sarcasm and forgive. I'm grateful that I could do this with Brendan. It made me realize that I did the best I could and that the rest was up to him. Al-Anon has taught me that the only person I really have control over is myself. In the beginning I thought I could heal Brendan but then I became sick and finally I realized that I was part of the problem and not the solution. And so I left. I prayed for Brendan to be helped, wished him well and let him go. His fate was a harsh one and I can't help but regret and wish that we had broken out of the cycle of addiction and violence together and changed the direction of our lives early on. But I could only do my part, I couldn't do his part too.

Going to Al-Anon meetings helps me to remember Brendan and the lessons I once learned in Al-Anon but have forgotten. I've blocked out a lot of memories due to trauma both with Brendan and in psychosis but I want to remember my life now. Remembering my life means remembering what's been important and why. It also means that I might be able to help other people just as other people have helped me.


Anonymous said...

Wow Kate,

I have never realised the extent sarcasm can cut. What a wonderful insight you have shared. I know that I am very sarcastic towards my partner and he to me. I will go back and reflect on your ideas of changing the cycle and put it into practice. This may be a break through for me.

Anonymous said...

That was J.P.

Kate Waters Kiernan said...

Hi J.P.,

I just wanted to say thanks for all your comments, it's a pleasure to hear from you.

I learned in my Al-Anon reader that the word sarcasm comes from the Greek verb "sarcazo" and it means to tear flesh. So it's a form of verbal attack, often said without thinking. More from the reader: " I have no right to scorn anyone, since I can never know what creates the need to behave as they do....I will make an effort to blend gentleness with firmness, to add a note of harmony to my relations with others instead of tearing and destroying. I will realize that the wounds made by sarcasm are slow to heal, and may defer the longed-for improvement in my life."

It's hard to change habits but I think it's well worth it. So, set a good example for your partner by not responding when he is being sarcastic towards you. It might make him think twice the next time he wants to say something unkind to you and it could change the dynamic of your relationship towards the positive. Good luck!

Anonymous said...

Have tried sarcasim against sarcasism, keeping quite but have been told to try excplaining that a particular sarcasim has hurt me works better. Maybe the person being sarcastic doesn't realise the extent of the cut.


Kate Waters Kiernan said...

J.P., I think you're right most people don't realize how cutting their sarcasm is, they just are sarcastic without thinking. So it makes sense that explaining that the sarcasm is hurtful can maybe change the other person's behavior. But the main thing, according to the Al-Anon philosophy is to change your own behavior and learn to detach, with love if possible, from other people's bad behavior. Have you ever heard the Serenity prayer? It goes like this: "God, grant me the Serenity to accept the things I cannot change, Courage to change the things I can
and the Wisdom to know the difference." Try saying that to yourself the next time your partner is sarcastic to you.