Tag Archives: writinggroup

Writing Group Topic: Asking Questions

Thanks so much for the lovely birthday wishes last week. I had the greatest time, in Denmark, where people kept surprising me throughout the day – I never even suspected some of the things they did, and got surprised every time! It was such fun.

Today I’m not feeling so good… there’s definitely a cold coming on and I feel short of breath and generally unwell. Finding it hard to concentrate, too.

Well on to the reading – asking questions? Goodness, that is a tough thing. I very much relate to another person’s share, I used to always feel like I had to pretend I knew what was expected and try to fumble through, fearing to be “found out” as a fake any second. I have to admit I still do that when I’m insecure. When I feel affirmed and safe, I have no problem asking questions… it’s when I feel like I have something to lose.

I really like the question of “How can I be most useful to you right now?” I’ve been asking how I can help before, but this way of phrasing it is really helpful because it implies usefulness, not that I think the other person needs help (which can be received in the wrong way).

I had a good conversation with David, my boss, yesterday when we did the yearly appraisal (an exercise you have to go through for HR). To put it in context, David and I get along very well because we’re very similar. He told me again yesterday, as he has many times before, that I’m a lot like himself when he was my age. He never really told me why, so yesterday I asked, and he explained what he saw in me: a quick-thinking, practical, capable and intelligent person (thanks!) but he said that he’d had some lessons to learn that I could also profit from. Particularly in listening. And he is so right – not saying I don’t listen, but he explained I need to learn how to assess what’s behind the words someone is saying. This is in a business context, of course, but definitely it’s the same on a personal level. David said I shouldn’t just respond to what the other person is saying; I should try to see the bigger picture and the agenda behind it: there is always a reason for why someone says what they say. So rather than respond to the actual spoken words, try to look behind them and respond to the underlying issues.

David’s very good at that, I’ve often noticed that. He responds thoughtfully and addresses underlying things that the other person hadn’t even mentioned, but that he sees from the context or bigger picture. Me, on the other hand, I tend to take what people say and respond to that. It’s a skill to learn. Asking questions is definitely the way to go there, too…

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Writing Group Topic: Reframing

I like the idea of reframing my thoughts. As one person mentioned, Paul’s suggestions are simply a redirection of thinking optimistically vs. pessimistically. I have a coworker who struggles with clinical depression and her pessimistic thinking is incredibly obvious – but there are many other people, less extreme, whose negativity I notice and I have always used this technique without even knowing. My housemate Helen for example is a lovely, warm-hearted person but my goodness she is very negative. I very often reframe what she says, just to get the conversation off a particular track, towards something more positive.

Helen is moving out, by the way. She has lost her job, for which she moved here, and is now looking to move back to her parents. I have all sorts of fears to deal with about this. We’ve just started to get along really well and become friends; I’m not clinging on to her but I worry about who may replace her. Previously, my landlord Duncan let me choose who moved in; this time, he told Helen that he would place an ad for the room and I would only get to meet & approve people. Duncan also emailed me to say that gas & electricity bills are such that he will have to make changes to the contract when it ends in February. I’m already very stretched for this place, so I’m concerned: not yet worried, but concerned. Moving again wouldn’t be a big deal but it’s a hassle I don’t want to undergo yet again if I can help it!

So how do I reframe this situation? Not sure – this place is wonderful, great landlord, large and spacious house. I could move to the smaller room that Helen is vacating, if I have to, but I don’t want to so I’m not suggesting that to Duncan… only if worst comes to worst.

I think the bigger picture of reframing is simply the idea that I get to choose my own attitudes and thoughts, which determine my emotions. The way I think about something – and I can consciously choose that – determines how I feel about it. I’m quite good at choosing my thoughts in many ways, like redirecting my thoughts away from food when struggling… but often there are conditioned, instinctive thoughts where it doesn’t even occur to me that I could think about something differently. Guess it’s all a matter of growing!

Thank you for being with me on this journey.

Writing Group Topic: Communication Formulas

I think it’s been taught pretty much everywhere that communication is addressed that you should always use “Me” messages – making communication about the way *I* feel about something, rather than becoming accusatory or generalising. That one I can definitely agree with!!

Not everyone will respond in kind, though. I guess this isn’t entirely on topic for this issue, but one thing I’ve found is that while I use “I” messages and try to talk about my side of the street, lots of people then concentrate and respond to MY feelings – when the intent was to get them to open up about theirs. For example, at meetings we’re told to talk about our own ESH and people respond with their own; outside programme, though, people will listen to what I share and not reciprocate. I find that difficult…

The statement that I am obliged to communicate my feelings to the person struck me. I don’t do that. In fact, the more important someone is to me the less I tend to communicate my feelings (because I think they’re not valid, because I’m afraid of disappointing or hurting them, because I’m afraid of showing my true colours because I think they’re awful…). If I don’t care about someone, I’ll give them my feelings – no problem – and yes, I can do that concisely and professionally without personal offense. But with the people that matter to me, the more they matter, the less I’m willing to show myself. I hate it when others do it to me, but I do have a tendency to try and be whatever the other person wants me to be.

Probably – no, definitely – it has to do with self-value and a subconscious conviction that what is inside me would repel people.

Writing Group Topic: Responding vs. Reacting

I have never come across anyone who “fed back” or “paraphrased” me. If someone were to do that to me, it would irritate me no end! If I say something, I don’t want to hear it repeated back; if something is unclear, it’s always possible to ask a question about what I said, isn’t it? I think I have quite a negative reaction to the idea of people using a “programme” to communicate with me, a deliberate (and what I perceive as manipulative) effort as opposed to a simple, straightforward reaction.

One thing that has happened to me, many times, was people trying to “sandwich” a criticism. They would spend several minutes telling me good, complimentary things, and all the while it is very clear that they are not saying this sincerely – they’re just trying to soften up what the real point is. I can’t stand this! If I deserve compliments, I would want to be told; if I deserve criticism, I would also want to be told. But I can’t stand someone rummaging around their memory for anything praiseworthy to say to me just so they can get a criticism in. I find it dishonest.

I think the lack of spontaneity in communication is what I find dishonest. Of course, paraphrasing or stating, “You seem to be angry,” isn’t dishonest… that’s simply condescending. I do see some of my own stuff here – growing up, feelings of any kind were something to be embarrassed about, and all the more anger, which I associate with childish behaviour like stomping feet. This is not how I want to behave and if someone called me “angry” I would be quite offended. I don’t get angry anyway, not really – if something’s in danger of making me angry, I usually get out.

Writing Group Topic: Emotional Independence

A very timely topic for me, this. I don’t have a marriage relationship to look into but my visit to Austria in a few weeks’ time looms heavily on the horizon and I know there will be many days when I need to retain (or reclaim?) my emotional independence.

In our family, we didn’t argue. My solution has always been to “check out” – emotionally at first because that was the only way I could, and later on of course, physically by moving away as far as possible. Now when I go I still check out emotionally. It’s what I want to do. But the problem is that I’m only able to check out superficially: I don’t really become emotionally independent from my environment, despite having worked on this for the biggest part of my life! To be honest, apart from being away at a distance, I still don’t know how to do it and that’s why a week with them drains me so much. I can do a week per year, but I come back needing lots and lots of healing every time.

When I get together with my father’s side of the family, there isn’t open conflict so much as there is underlying seething resentment. After less than a day with all of them together last year at our birthday celebration I was literally unable to smile for the photo. I could not do it. I had a pokerface on so firmly that I couldn’t even break it for the photo. I don’t know how to describe the emotion, the list of words in Paul’s book doesn’t seem to list an adequate word – I think hatred is the best word, although it’s not a fiery angry kind but a cold one, and not just in myself but underlying every interaction within that family. They resent, undermine, disrespect, and hate one another with a cold detachment disguised as civility. And I can’t seem to isolate my emotions effectively enough.

How do I become emotionally independent in such a situation? I don’t participate in the needling of hurtful comments that fly around, in fact if anything I will defend the person attacked; I say good things about others; I refuse to engage in character assassination behind someone’s back – all of these are completely counter to their ways. I do this, but it’s not enough. It’s not like I can take my stand once and for all; the same person will continue to try, and try, and try to draw me out just a little, to get just a tiny slip, chipping and chipping away at me. That’s what is wearing me down.

I hate it all. I have chosen to abandon my family (my father’s side, anyway) by moving away and it was the best decision ever, and I’m emotionally healthy enough to take the drain for a week. But it’s not easy and I don’t look forward to it.

Writing Group Topic: My right to do badly

I have a right not to do well: this is something I need to remind myself of because it’s a revolutionary concept to my way of thinking.

For me, it’s not that I have to keep anyone else in check to see that they are respecting my rights – it’s myself who is taking those rights away from me. I don’t have to continually improve? I have a right to be wrong? I can let myself off the hook occasionally?

These are dangerous thoughts because they make me fear that once I open up the door for one of them, I’ll lose control and totally go down the wrong way. Like taking the first bite in my perfect abstinence. Part of what keeps me abstinent is the fear of what would happen if I let go of that control. I have to learn that abstinence is a special case, whereas “doing well” (doing the right things, performing, etc.) is not a 100% black/white issue.

Case in point – just yesterday I picked up gum again. (I am tired of this, and I’m sure you are tired of reading about it, but I have to get this out there). I had every intention of having “just one”. Needless to say, I consumed all I had and hated it! Somehow I’d managed to convince myself that I don’t have to be abstinent from gum because that doesn’t mean losing my abstinence, so I can be “imperfect” and have just one. The problem is, I lost all control. That’s exactly what I’m afraid of when it comes to letting go of *any* of the things I hold myself accountable to!

Exercise is an example where I kind-of have a balance now, but not really. I want to exercise, but right now I’m “allowing” myself off the hook and to be imperfect by trading my requirement to exercise for walking to and from work (a total of 40 mins. brisk walking per day). So I don’t do nearly as well as I want to, or think I ought to, but I am doing something and that is some sort of success. Except that each week, I have this urge to do better the next week and add to what I’m doing. No matter how much exercise I do, I get this urge each week to add to it. More, more, more – better, better, better. Then, if one week I don’t do more or improve, I feel like I’ve lost it all. Then it’s so easy to just let it all go.

It’s a pointless roundabout and I can see my thinking patterns here. With exercise I’m sort of getting there mentally (content with just walking, and recognising / refuting the inner self-talk to HAVE TO do more/better next week), with gum I’m not (I’m OFF it now), and with many other things I haven’t even recognised these patterns yet. Sigh. I’m my worst enemy and critic.

Writing Group Topic: 12-Step Communications

I’m going to use one of the questions listed in the reading. Most of them don’t apply to me – seriously – because I have no “home life” as such. In my friendships I do practice being loving, but that’s easy I suppose if you know you can go home or leave anytime.

So I’ll talk about question 12: do I have a sponsor, and do I have a working relationship with my sponsor? I’m very fortunate to be able to say yes to both. That hasn’t always been the case – I have had a number of sponsors. Each one has left a mark in my life, has contributed to my abstinence, and passed on the miracle in some way…

  1. My first ever sponsor, back when I was in New York getting abstinent the very first time, marked up my Greysheet and explained in person exactly how things worked. She relapsed after I was abstinent for about 2 weeks, and shortly after that, I went out too.
  2. My second sponsor, a year later, responded to me because I posted on Greynet. She was the first person to respond, and I just grabbed on to the lifeline she offered. At that time, I was absolutely desperate and would have done anything… and as a sponsor, this woman was fantabulous. She structured our phone calls to be 10 minutes long, I would read something from the Little Black Book and comment on it, she was available to answer her phone almost every single day. She had an enthusiasm for abstinence, told me to eat the foods I loved, and just exuded gratefulness. She had what I wanted: JOY. I worked with her for over a year, until I moved to England. I did not want to let this relationship go, but it became clear soon that there was no way our schedules could be worked out together (8 hours’ time difference!). So I looked for, and found, a sponsor in the UK.
  3. My first sponsor when I lived in the UK was herself a UK’er, and also gave me a set amount of time each day as I called, to talk about things. She structured our phone calls, too, and gave me much insight into her own recovery. Our personalities, however, just didn’t work for either of us (plus, after my previous sponsor, it would have been very hard for anyone to fill those shoes), so after a few weeks I decided to find another sponsor.
  4. Having met several UK GS’ers at the Roundup, along with some Americans who visited, I met my next sponsor there and she was American. I called her mid-day every day, having to sneak away from work, because that was the only time that worked for her. She was usually babysitting her grandchildren during my call and I didn’t feel much of a connection happening. At that time, I was being pulled away from Greysheet by well-meaning friends, I discussed my need for it, and eventually it wore me down enough to let go of Greysheet. Worst decision ever.
  5. Three months later or so I was desperate, and decided to go back onto Greysheet no matter what. This time, I called Sponsor 2, and asked if there was anyone she sponsored that would be able to sponsor me – reasoning that her style would trickle down. She matched me with one of her sponsees and I worked with her for several months… but again, connection just didn’t happen, apart from the fact that I had to call at the same time every evening (and evenings are usually social times, it’s hard to take that time out). After some months, I was looking again.
  6. I contacted a Greysheeter I had met at the Chicago Roundup several years before and had chatted with there briefly. She was on the phone list, but her sponsorship status was listed as “please inquire”. So I did, and she had an opening. She remembered meeting me, which I found really surprising! I’ve been working with her now for, hm, I think almost two years and I could not ask for more. The one thing I could never share with Sponsor 2 was how the programme works through, and in, my Christian faith (she wasn’t a Christian). With this sponsor now, I can commit by email – and I type very quickly, expressing myself this way is almost easier than verbally! – and we share both abstinence and faith. This relationship is going to a depth that no other sponsor has ever come near, and I think at this point my sponsor is the person who knows me the best in the world. She knows who I am, how I am, and never fails to challenge me when she feels I’m veering off programme (NOT abstinence, I’m talking about living in the solution). I don’t always follow or agree with her suggestions, and she doesn’t get offended by that, just lets me live my life as I see fit but without her input I would have done many things differently, and for the worse. I have come to value her insights immensely, and she is always available. Not everyone would sit down and type out page-long emails in response to my questions, or even to explore with me some life issues or decisions… whatever it is, she gives of herself and of her time so freely it humbles me. I can only hope to be a sponsor like that!

So… I am grateful beyond words for everyone who is willing to sponsor others, as I have been blessed by six people, but the best thing is that I have someone now who’s just a gem – I suppose it’s a personality thing to some degree, and we have had to work out some differences and ways of communicating without taking or giving offense, but I genuinely share so much with my sponsor that this relationship is just incredibly precious to me.