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when "principles before personalities" works... the hard way!

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Nov. 8th, 2007 | 03:51 pm
posted by: kaleidescope in joyousfreedom

Well, I had the craziest conversation EVER last Saturday with a woman who WAS my new sponsor in another program.

Our relationship so far has been a little difficult. Like, our first conversation on the phone was pretty good, and we were both excited about working together. But once she decided that she was interested in being my sponsor, it all went increasingly crazy.

First I noticed a weird short-term memory or dissociation problem, where she'd ask me the same question repeatedly in one conversation. And a lot of the time, it made it seem like she was just so convinced that I hadn't done my homework that she couldn't keep my answer in her head. Like, I'd have to tell her repeatedly that yes, it was done, or yes, I was working on whatever it was.

And then she gave me an assignment that at first seemed really oddball, and didn't acknowledge my questions about it. She asked me to make a list of my expectations about my girlfriend moving in. Like, here's how I think we will handle the bills, here's what I think it will be like, etc. Which was fine, although even that turned out a little bit weird because she was really, really insistent that I did not need to share it with my girlfriend or mention it to her at all or even let her know I was making the list, because it was just for me and my sponsor. I was like... yeah, I KNOW I don't need to share it with her... and also, I don't have any problems sharing it with her, and I think it would be better if I did. But no!! I was not to do that!! This list was just for me and my sponsor!! (I read my girlfriend parts of it anyway and got her to help me brainstorm stuff about finances.)

That was fine, although it really highlighted that we were coming from very different places around relationships. I'm like, it makes sense for me not to share it with her if I'm doing it in a weird codependent way. But I am not actually in a place where I need to be ordered not to show someone a list I am making. Or to keep it a secret from them. I am in a healthy recoveryful relationship and I am more than capable of deciding for myself whether I want to share this list with my partner and, for gods' sakes, of knowing that I don't have to!

But then - once I managed to get it through to my sponsor that I had finished the list, rather than that I had never even started it as she seemed to think was the case - she told me to make a second list: one of my expectations about her expectations about me about us moving in together.

I asked her why I would try to guess what was in someone else's head, when my experience in recovery has been that I need to really AVOID doing that. She didn't really have the language to explain it, but she said a bunch of words, and eventually I think I understood that she wanted me to look at my own crazy and that it had nothing to do with what was actually in my girlfriend's head. A friend of mine said something totally brilliant about it: that it could be a list of what I was afraid she would think about me.

I was like, I could totally do THAT. But I could not understand at all what my sponsor wanted me to do. Like, all my answers to her question were about me, or about how I trusted that my girlfriend would let me know what her expectations and boundaries were. And I called her up a few days ago and left her a message saying that I didn't understand it, and giving her my best guess about what she wanted me to do, and brainstorming my list, and asking her to let me know if that was what she had meant. I never got a response from her. I think it would have been a good idea to set a boundary with her when we first talked about it, that I am happy to write about how I want the finances to work but that I want to do the relationship work with people who know me, who know my relationship history and the work I have already done there. I don't think that would have gone over very well, though. At no point was it a suggestion. That was weird too; when I objected, she told me why I would do it, but she was always very firm that "this is why we are doing this". As opposed to it being my choice whether I want to work on this with her, or to work on it that way with her.

It would have been especially great to set that boundary because the only other experience I have with this woman around relationships is that she has told me several times how she wants to get back together with this chick who she had really crazy addict-y relationship with, because it was exciting to be with her and she wants to find out what was going on for her back then. Like... getting back into the crazy relationship is not a good way to find out what was going on for you the first time. Working on your shit is a good way to do that. Getting into another relationship with the person, if your motivation is to relive the adrenaline highs and stuff, is more likely to get you into the insanity and way far away from any idea of what is going on for you. But I digress.

She also seemed to forget that she had offered to find a meeting place that was central to both of us, and that she had found out where I lived in order to find that meeting place. And THAT is where it went NUTS.

So she called me yesterday morning. Not to reply to my message asking for help with her assignment, or to reply to my message or emails about all of that IRS/bank chaos last week and whether that means I lose my sobriety in this program. Just to answer the one about when we should meet.

See, we had been going to meet this last Tuesday at 4. And the meeting place she gave me was all the way over in the city where she lives. Not a central place. Just a convenient place for her. And I should have said something about it when she first suggested the place. (She didn't even give me the address or the name of the cafe. She gave me a Google Earth link and mentioned that it was a struggling local coffeehouse. So I had an overhead view and a latitude and longitude. I had to "search for nearby businesses" and then find the closest one that was not a chain.)

I realized this last week that scheduling things during my workday doesn't work for me. I always want to think it does - that I can go out and buy groceries or run other errands or work at Mandana or meet with someone during those hours - but the reality is that then I don't have time for my writing or for all the other work I need to do or... lots of stuff.

So I called her at 3:30 on Tuesday afternoon. She answered the phone with, "We're still on, right?" and I was like, um, actually, nooo, I realized this is not working for me and I am not done with my work for the day so I was calling to see if we could reschedule. And she told me to call her later about it, and I left a message asking if we could please meet on a weekend or a weeknight but saying that I realized that if I made a point of getting up an hour early and doing everything earlier in the day I could meet in the late afternoon after all. And she called to suggest 4 NEXT Tuesday. And I said sure but can we please do it someplace more central?


She wanted to know how her place was not central. She wanted to know where I lived. She wanted to know why that was not close enough. She wanted to know why I didn't just take BART. And when I gave her all those answers, she told me that they were not answers but reasons and reasons were excuses and excuses are just obstacles and they are not reality and if I really wanted this then I would make it happen whatever it took.

I am making that sound way faster than it was. It was so much repetition and brow-beating and haranguing me.

At some point in here, in the vast brick wall of questions and lecturing, she went back to her leitmotif of "I don't care where we meet, when, where, anytime, anyplace, Tuesday, Sunday, afternoon, whenever, wherever, as long as you show up for it, just show up and do it" and I said "Sunday? Sunday would be GREAT. Let's do SUNDAY." And instead of picking a time and place, even to challenge me on my supposed tendency to throw up obstacles, she veered off into another big rant.

And there was so much more. Apparently I wasn't answering her questions. What I was actually doing was just giving her like five reasons that I didn't want to do this. Which, as we've seen are unacceptable. She didn't want to hear that from me. She had no time for reasons and excuses. She interrupted me several times to tell me so.

Basically, I wasn't allowed to talk. Every time she finished, I would try to say something, because I REALLY wanted to object to the way she was treating me. She seemed to be projecting some entirely different person onto me and railing at their shit. But every time I tried to say something, she would cut me off, tell me that she didn't want to hear my excuses or something else like that, and then start in on repeating her rant some more.

She wanted to know what "far" was. What WAS far? Was Guerneville far? (I meekly but firmly said that YES, Guerneville is far. I mean: GUERNEVILLE? Guerneville is like... a tiny-ass town 74 miles from here. It's an hour and a half or more to drive there.) Was New York far? (Yes... New York is far too....) (it would take 42 hours to drive there!) My answers were apparently irrelevant. Far meant nothing. If I wanted this, I would go to any lengths for it! What does far even mean! I'm just saying things and throwing up obstacles! A crystal meth addict will do anything to get the next fix! (What??)

And that's not all. She accused me of being sarcastic. (When did I even have the time to be sarcastic? I couldn't get a word in edgewise for most of the phone call!) She told me that if "it" was going to "be like this," then she didn't know if this was going to work. (Truer than she realized.) That if I was putting up all these obstacles I needed to back and look at the first step. And on and on.

After about the fourth iteration of her cutting me off and stopping me from getting to say anything, I finally managed to say that I understood the idea that you have to call sponsees on it if they are not working on their shit, but it seemed like she was treating me like people sometimes treat the total newcomer - like I was coming in drunk, flaking out on everything she asked me to do, had never worked any of the steps - and that that was not where I was. That she was reacting as if I was objecting over and over to every possible meeting, and that all that had happened was that she suggested a time and place, and I had asked for a different place. So that I wouldn't have to double the time I was taking out of my workday. That I would be perfectly happy to drive that far for a meeting on a weekend, even. And that then she had said Sunday and I had said SURE. I had AGREED to Sunday. Already. I just needed a place and time.

I think this threw her. There was a pause. She said same time. I said, "same time, same place?" She said yes. I said, okay, tomorrow Sunday or... a different Sunday...? She said something I couldn't understand and I asked her to repeat herself. She said something I didn't hear again and I asked her politely to repeat it again. And then there was a long pause, and (in a manner that sort of suggested that me not hearing her was YET ANOTHER OBSTACLE) she said that actually, she was going to have to get back to me about this. Think about it and get back to me. So I clarified that I would be waiting to hear from her before I did anything. And I wished her a good rest of her Saturday.

It was THE craziest conversation I have had in a while. I was literally shaking. I have not had a conversation that intense or that insane since I last talked to the woman whose emotional abuse got me into program in the first place.

My favorite thing about it (at the moment) is how her whole premise always seems to be that I am not doing my work and I am trying to avoid showing up for shit. Oh my god. I started writing my first step because she told me to. I did that whole other writing assignment about my girlfriend moving in because she told me to. I even did the one that I think was a bad idea to do with her, and never got any kind of acknowledgment about it much less the clarification that I asked for. Like, that she picks a place right by her that only meets her needs, and then when I say it doesn't work for me, I get a twenty-minute diatribe about how I am not doing what it takes. Because it is totally appropriate to play games with your sponsee and make your first meeting into a test. If you're not willing to come out to where I am, you don't deserve recovery! It's also hilarious that she seems to think that if I don't do whatever she demands I clearly don't want recovery bad enough - especially since she has NO idea what else I have worked on or let go of, or (although I have told her this) how long I have been in program. As far as she is concerned, apparently, anyone she works with is starting out with no recovery and needs to be browbeat and lectured until they understand how bad they need to do every single thing she tells them!

This is not recovery or sponsorship; this is taking out your control issues on another living thing.

I strongly suspect that she will come back with the decision that she's not willing to work with me. If she doesn't, though, I am going to have some frank words for her about our conversation.

The ironical thing is that the whole reason that I asked her to be my sponsor is that I was doing "whatever it takes" to get recovery in that program. Like, I went with the idea of principles before personalities, that the program works no matter who you do it with, that you will both always get what you needed out of the sponsor-sponsee relationship (or whatever you are doing) even if, sometimes, what you needed was to have the experience of having to "fire" that person. Or being "fired". Like, I went to a meeting and asked the first person who seemed to have something good to be my sponsor, and then the very next day I went to another meeting and asked people to be my PRG. But I don't need to convince any of you people that I am working my ass off around money stuff. (Actually, even if you didn't see me talk about it all the time, I wouldn't need to convince you, because what other people think of me is not the point. But sometimes it's hard to let go of!)

So, I got some great things out of this experience:

1. I got to see that I can really stay focused on reality in very triggering conversations. I got to sit there and know that what she was saying about and to me was not reality, and hold on to what I wanted to say instead of losing it to adrenaline and dissociation, and keep on fighting and showing up until I got to say it.

2. I got to experience how different it is to have that kind of conversation now that I am not buying into what the other person is saying by default. Like, instead of part of my brain being all "Maybe she's right! I don't know what is true! I should just defer to her and do what she says and then she'll be nice to me!" I got to be like "This is ridiculous. Did she seriously just ask me if Guerneville is far away? And tell me that I don't want it bad enough if I am not willing to spend as much time driving there and back as meeting with her? What the fuck!"

3. I also got to experience how much the same it is to have that conversation. Like, I got to see how much people can just ride the waterfall of crazy sometimes, and also, how now when those people enter my life and I see the waterfall, I can quickly know that it is time to kick them right back out. I actually almost hung up on her at a couple of points in the conversation.

4, 5, and 6. When I thought back on the conversation, I got to learn so much about how much more I get to learn and grow. Like how I wanted to have reacted, how I will automatically react someday. And also, how all the different things she said and did were emotionally abusive. I got to learn more about what emotional abuse looks like, be reminded viscerally of how it feels, and learn more specific aspects of it as I thought back over our chat. For examples:

* The Bait and Switch. In this case, saying that she would come up with a central location, then choosing a place right by her and browbeating me at length when I asked her to change it.

* The Repeating Rant. Repeating her problem with me, or her argument, over and over and over. Especially when paired with:

* Stonewalling. Shutting someone down completely when they try to talk. When paired with the Repeating Rant, you could call this The Filibuster. Making up names for things is fun!

* Projecting. Casting someone in an old role and dumping all the baggage from that relationship on them. Especially when refusing to allow them to be anyone else (like themselves). Like by pairing it with The Filibuster!

* Boundary Rejecting. Like... the whole conversation started out with me saying that this location wouldn't work for me. That's a boundary. She did the exact same thing that my abusive qualifier used to do when I said I couldn't have our kid some specific extra night: keep asking me why not, and keep arguing with every reason.

* Changing the Rules/Changing the Story. All of a sudden, I can only get recovery or work the program or have her as my sponsor if I am willing to go meet at this one place and time. (I'm throwing time in there because she kept picking Tuesday at 4 even when I was like, please can we do any non-work time? She never said anything about that being a good time for her or the only time for her for any reason - it was just the time she picked that it seemed like she stuck to specifically because it symbolized a way to challenge me.) All of a sudden, the story is that I am challenging her, or that I don't want recovery, or that I have blocked her a thousand times. It's usually a bad sign if you have a story you've made up about something that's going on and you're still in the middle of it. Like, you've been talking to someone for two minutes and you suddenly are introducing a brand-new story about how they are resisting you and they don't want it bad enough and crystal meth addicts and the first step and they should do this and that or else nothing? Maybe come back to the present. You know. Just for a minute.

* Make Crazy Stakes. If I stuck to my guns, my abusive qualifier would respond by telling me that she didn't want people around our kid who weren't supportive of both of them so if I wasn't willing to support her by having him that night then maybe I just shouldn't get to see him anymore. Ridiculous for a number of reasons: she had a lot of other support people who would take him, I was already being plenty supportive by providing him his own bedroom/meals/clothes and even paying for a third of his preschool tuition at one point, and also just because it's emotional blackmail. It's a stupid imaginary zero-sum game: if you're not willing to do this small thing, then you get NOTHING. If you're not willing to do everything that I say, down to this small level, then you lose EVERYTHING.

My erstwhile sponsor was doing the same thing by spinning it to seem like if I wasn't willing to meet wherever she said, I wasn't willing to do whatever it took to get recovery. That if I was going to continue to object to that meeting-place, she might refuse to be my sponsor at all. That if I was refusing that, I was refusing recovery itself and might as well, I guess, go do some crystal meth for some reason. It's taking it very quickly from the smallest detail to the biggest possible level to totally bewilder people and throw them off guard. If you can convince them, even briefly, to go with you into this insane world where that is at all a reasonable way to look at it, then of course they have to choose to do what you say. I don't visit that world anymore. Also, I like how if you substitute Guerneville or New York as her meeting place it becomes blatantly obvious that it's ridiculous to insist that it is that one place or nowhere. I'll drive to El Cerrito on a weekend. But right after work and then back? After a full day of work that I had to start what would really be an hour and a half early, in traffic?

And all of that in twenty minutes. And probably more things that I didn't name. There were certainly plenty of small warning signs before that, but you know, I've known a lot of people who had a ton of recovery to share who also still had some warning signs hanging around that let me know that I shouldn't just buy everything they said wholesale. But they had cleaned up all the big shit. Most of the stuff I saw before this I think was just fine, except for her bait and switch (and terminal vagueness in giving me just the google earth link) with the location and her refusal, several times, to hear me when I was telling her things about having recovery. And ignoring all my emails and most of my messages. (Actually, there's something about the way that she sent me just the google earth link and the way that when we first talked she told me to google her email address instead of just giving it to me that is like... it's partly just being geeky but there's also a weird vibe about it, like that she doesn't want to just tell me things, she wants me to figure them out for myself. That doesn't sound bad. It's the kinds of things that she's hiding. There's a weird culty aspect to it. Especially since googling her only turned up one, really old email address that bounced. My girlfriend pointed out that there is something very borderline about it being all about her - like, she won't just give me the information, I have to want it, I have to pursue her - which is exactly what she was doing with the location too! She won't just meet with me, I have to "pursue" her, want it bad enough to go to the "right" place and time, which is whatever she says it is.)

My gf says that "it's all a bunch of distraction techniques. It's all about getting the attention away from where it belong and being like, 'All eyes over here!' Getting the focus away from the reality of the situation and on to whatever it is, basically onto the person - the crazymaker." It's like a magic trick! It's like a psychological sleight of hand and misdirection, and, my gf adds, subterfuge.

So: SOMEDAY, before too long, I am going to be able to not just stay in reality while those things happen, but name those things when they happen and stop them in their tracks. Like, I could have:

* Objected right away when she changed the location (bait and switch)
* Objected on the phone like I did, but recognized the smokescreen of boundary rejection and refused to answer her questions, and instead stuck with "That location does not work for me"/insisted on finding a time and place that works for both of us.
* Insisted on talking when she stonewalled me; even told her point-blank that it is not okay with me and that we will not be having any kind of relationship if she does that again.
* Recognized wanting to hang up on her, thought about why, and set the boundary that I wanted to set.
* Called her on the crazy stakes, like "It sounds like you're saying that if I am not willing to meet at the place you picked out, you're not willing to work with me" or "if I can't meet you there, it means that I don't actually want recovery."
* Recognized the repeating rant and instead of waiting it out, come up with something out of left field like suggesting a place between us myself, suggesting that I email her a list of three places that are actually central to both of us and let her pick one.
* Noticed that her response to me saying yes Sunday was to go back into the filibuster and stopped her to ask again about Sunday. Or responded to it by ignoring the filibuster and just saying, so, are we going to meet on Sunday?
* Asked her flat-out what Guerneville or New York had to do with anything; actually, I did this a number of times. There were several points in the conversation where I asked her to clarify what she was trying to say.
* Or my favorite: just told her that if she is going to react to me rescheduling by browbeating me (or whatever) then obviously this relationship is not going to work, but thanks anyway click.

7. I got to recognize things I used to do. Like, I remember when conversations felt the same way to me that this one seemed to to her. When I was the one who was stuck in this fog of vagueness and not being able to track what either of us really said until later and projecting onto the other person. When getting triggered meant that I would project onto them and/or get freaked out and argue a ton over nothing, instead of meaning that I stick to my guns and stay aware of what is going on but don't call the person on what they are doing until they have done a good handful of fucked-up things - and then learn from it. Or later, when getting triggered meant that I would look for ways to control the situation like staying in and arguing with the person some more, which I also did not do this weekend.

8. Another thing I got out of it is that she said she thought I should call her every day. Which sponsors sometimes do. So most days, I called and either talked to her or left a message. And it helped me take action on some stuff I was avoiding, like calling the landlords. But also, I discovered that when I "had" to call her every day, my fear/avoidance of calling other people miraculously disappeared. I got to use the phone for all kinds of things! This is especially true of program calls. Normally even if I notice that I could deal with something by calling someone in some 12-step program and telling them about it, I immediately try to find reasons not to. Instead, I was seriously coming up with reasons to call people. Awesome!

9. There are lots of places I can recognize in retrospect where I noticed that something was wrong but didn't act on it. Like the bait and switch, or like when I wanted to hang up, or like at the end when I normally would have asked her to tell me when she would get back to me, but I suspected that she was just going to use this to ditch me and I wanted her to so I didn't ask. Putting personalities before principles! The more I notice that kind of thing, the more I learn that those are times when I need to take action, and the more I become willing to make different decisions. If I had asked, I wouldn't have to worry about this:

The fun part is that I expected her to call Sunday to let me know if we were meeting that day. I mean, if she was going to call at all. (I also half-expected her to just call me at some point to say a bunch of ridiculous shit like that she just didn't have the energy to take on someone like me right now who didn't really want this. Ha.) And she didn't. And while I haven't articulated this to her, I don't call her on Sundays. My higher power led me not to and maybe this is part of why: I got to just not call her today. But I realized that if I am waiting for her to call me - basically acting like she is still my sponsor until we say otherwise - then I "should" be calling her every day. And that if I don't, it seems like doing the same thing I suspect she is - just avoiding my way out of the relationship. So I think I have to actually call her and tell her that I am not interested in meeting with her or being her sponsee, and probably I should just flat-out tell her why. And I don't know what to say yet! That should be really interesting though. I don't think I've ever exited a fucked-up relationship (of any length) AND told the person that it was fucked-up and that that was why I was leaving. I told the HR department why I was quitting at Mills, but that was different than telling my boss that she was fucked up and I wasn't going to take it anymore.

So 10. I get to have that experience now too.


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