Kelli hosts Swetha and Spencer as they share their experience, strength, and hope about detachment. Kelli opens with a reading that links detachment to self-acceptance and self-care. The first time that Spencer heard about detachment was when his uncle told him, “I hear that you’re supposed to ‘detach with love’”. Spencer had NO idea what that meant. He did not understand how he could detach and love at the same time. When she came into AlAnon, Swetha wanted certain people to just be gone from her life. She received a sheet about detachment, which started “Detachment is neither kind nor unkind…” and felt relief. Kelli thought that “detachment” sounded like giving up on a person. Her black and white thinking told her that she should either love and help (and enable) someone or just leave them. She couldn’t find a middle ground.
Kelli relates to a reading that said, if a friend had the flu, we would forgive their inability to meet a commitment, that we could detach the person from their disease and realize that the behavior was a result of the disease. Another reading, related by Spencer, explains different forms of detachment: Your alcoholic passes out on the front lawn. Detaching with anger, you turn on the sprinkler, then go to bed. Detaching with indifference, you go to bed. Detaching with love, you put a blanket over them, and then go to bed. The outcome for you is the same; the outcome for the alcoholic is very different. But perhaps more importantly, the emotional outcome for you is very different. Spencer thinks that before he came to AlAnon, he would have obsessed over getting the person to get up and come to bed, and that he would not have have been able to detach in any way.
An important part of detachment for Spencer was to detach the disease from his loved one. With a disease that affects behavior, such as alcoholism, this is much harder than it would be for someone with the flu. Kelli was familiar with “numb” detachment, growing up. Her typical response to something she didn’t like was to just shut down and walk away. When she came to the program, she swung over to angry, “middle finger” detachment. Now she has some tools she can use, such as calling her sponsor, praying, or just using her “pause button”. Swetha had practice with angry and fearful detachment. She would “suppress, suppress, suppress” then explode. About the flu analogy, she says, “well, I would go over and make soup and take care of them!” But she has come to see that if someone with the flu sneezes, she can move away, or say, “please don’t sneeze on me.” She can apply the same thinking to behavior from alcoholism or co-dependency.
A friend in the program used a wonderful visual analogy. She said “I was entangled in a relationship with an alcoholic”, holding up her hands clasped, with fingers interlaced, “so whatever happened to him, happened to me,” moving her hands — as one moved, the other moved with it, willy-nilly. “Loving detachment,” she said, “is more like this,” holding up her hands palm to palm. “We are still close, but if he goes somewhere I don’t want to go,” moving one hand away, “I don’t have to go there with him.” This really helped Spencer, and he hopes it might help you, too.
We had an email from Erika, who heard about detachment at her second meeting. She had not understood that she did not have to be affected by someone else’s actions. In Al-Anon, she learned that she has a choice whether to feel others’ feelings or to be involved in others’ problems. Kelli connects to this, relating that she used to “take the emotional temperature” of a room when she walked in, so she would know how to act so as not to trigger reactions. We all agree that we would mirror others’ emotions and moods — we could not detach ourselves. Learning that we are not responsible for other people’s feelings was difficult, but so important to our recovery, and pretty much necessary for real detachment. A tool we can use to detach is to remember not to “pick up the rope.” It takes two people to engage in a tug of war, and if we decline to pick up the rope, the conflict can be defused or avoided.
Kelli reminds us that when we practice detachment, we are able to attend to our own needs and take care of ourselves, which can also make us better partners and more pleasant to live with. When she is not able to detach, she is so focussed on the other person that she forgets what is going on around her. Swetha echos that she gains a better sense of herself. But sometimes she puts her focus on another person to avoid dealing with her own feelings. When she can process her own feelings, she stops feeling like a victim and feel more connected to her higher power and to serenity. Obsession with another person, to the cost of his own life, is also a familiar feeling to Spencer. Conversely, being able practice loving detachment enabled him to stay in a loving relationship with his loved one as her disease progressed. Even in sobriety, we need to practice detachment, as Kelli relates, that when alcoholic behavior surfaced (without the alcohol), she did not follow her “normal” reaction, which would have been to just walk away. She is grateful that she could stay connected in detachment.
Our topic for next week is Shame. Please call us at 734-707-8795 or email firstname.lastname@example.org with your questions or experience, strength and hope. Or just leave a comment right here.
Music from the show
The singer of I Am a Rock seems not able to detach, and is instead distancing himself, walling off anything that might cause pain and missing out on love in consequence.
I hear that she really wants to have him in her life (“you have to wear life well”), but recognizes that he has his own things to do, and “for now I want you to be happy.”