We talk about asking for help. When we came in, we did not have experience asking for help in a healthy way. We didn’t want to impose on people we barely knew, we still thought we could do it ourselves. How did we come to understand that reaching out was not weakness, that others gained as much as we did by being asked, and that asking for help did not mean giving up? How do we feel and respond when someone asks us for help and support?
We start with “why did (do) we have trouble asking for help?” Spencer relates that he learned from his family, from society that asking for help was a sign of weakness, that he was supposed to be able to fix everything himself. Even when he wanted to reach out, to find some way out of the pain that brought him to the program, he had trouble knowing how and who to trust with his feelings and problems. Swetha’s father told her at a young age that she could not rely on anyone other than herself. When she did ask for help, she would be reprimanded, and then her parent would “take over”, even if she was just asking for a “look over.” She felt that her control over her own life was taken away when she asked for help. Kelli received the response “you have to figure this out for yourself” when she would ask for help with homework, and she extended that attitude to everything in her life. She still struggles with that attitude that makes it hard for her to reach out.
Kelli asks whether we have less trouble asking for help now. Spencer replies that coming to trust others in the program has helped. He shares that for him, another aspect of asking for help is just in getting a different perspective on a problem, in “getting out of his head”. Swetha felt that she was “supposed to” ask for help in the program, but still avoided it for a long time. She came to a point where she was in too much pain, and had to reach out, even though she was afraid that someone would take over her life and “fix” things for her. But that wasn’t what happened, instead she got support to figure it out on her own. She is not sure it’s easier to ask for help now, but she knows that she can, and slowly she’s gotten more comfortable with it. This has carried over into her life outside the program, where she can set boundaries on what kind of help she is willing to take. Kelli, too, has found that her willingness has increased. The pivotal point for her was when she finally asked someone to be her sponsor. At first she was afraid that she would be judged. She didn’t know who she could trust.
How do we develop trust? By observing other people trusting the group and exposing their own vulnerabilities, we grow in our trust of the process and the people in the program. For Spencer, an important component of his developing trust was participating in a small group, an AWOL (A Way Of Living) group, which worked through the 12 steps together over a period of a couple of years. Swetha still has some trust issues. Her first share was a positive share, “here’s a thing that happened, and here’s what I did about it.” The response she got was “we’re glad that you worked through it”, not judgemental. Experiences like that have helped her to gain trust. Kelli reads a section from How Al-Anon Works about developing trust that echoes our experiences. She also participated in an AWOL group. She noticed that her own responses started out somewhat reserved, but as time went on and she heard the others being honest and open, she became willing to do the same.
How do we reach out for help now? The first way we reached out was to go to meetings, to listen, and maybe to express a problem in hopes that someone might share some experience that could help us. Spencer asked someone to be his sponsor after only a few months, following a meeting about sponsorship, but he didn’t use that person very heavily, calling mostly when there was an immediate problem that he didn’t know how to deal with it. Swetha has several program people in her speed dial list. She calls when she’s not sure how to deal with something and panicking. Sometimes, just seeing that there are people she can call is enough. Swetha often writes on her wrist, “Be still and know that I am with you.” She can look at her wrist at any time and know that she is not alone and her Higher Power is there. She also uses the literature, recalling when she was feeling helpless and looked up helplessness in the index of an Al-Anon book, finding a reading that helped. Kelli remembers picking up How Al-Anon Works, flipping it to the stories in the second half of the book, and spending hours reading those stories. They helped a lot, and also encouraged her to look at the front of the book and to read more about the program. Spencer had a similar experience early in his program.
We also might call our sponsor or another program person for a “sanity check” when we have an idea or are considering an action, but we’re not sure whether it is a “good” idea. Swetha knows that it’s a good time to call someone when she starts using certain words or phrases such as “always”, “never”, or “they made me”. It helped her to have a “rule” to get over her resistance to calling her sponsor. Later, she found that when someone would call her, it really helped her to see her program in a new perspective and to give her new insights. For the first time, it clicked what people meant when they would say “your sponsor is probably getting a lot out of your call, too.” Kelli finds that she often gets a phone call asking for help when she is struggling with something, and that the call helps her with her problem. Spencer found that he can hear someone else’s pain without taking it on himself, and is glad that he can call others when he is in pain without feeling that he is loading it onto them.
We talk a bit about how we respond when we are asked for help. Our “job” is first, to listen, and only second to share our experience, strength, and hope, but never to give advice. We have to remember our “pause” button, so that we can get past our co-dependent reaction to say “yes, of course, I can fix your problem”, to want to have the “right answer.” We have learned (or are learning) that we don’t have to, and probably shouldn’t, answer a call if we are not able to give of ourselves at that moment.
Kelli asks, “what do we do when the response we get doesn’t help us?” Spencer suggests that he might first check that his expectations are realistic. Maybe he’s asking for something is not theirs to give, or maybe he needs to talk to someone else whose experience is closer to the problem he is asking about. Swetha uses her developing self-awareness to ask herself what she really wants, and can then find another outlet for her need. When Kelli isn’t getting what she’s asking for, she goes back to her Higher Power. She had an experience recently when she needed to reach out, but because it was during working hours she expected that nobody would be able to respond quickly. She sent an email to three support people and got responses back throughout the rest of the day.
Our topic for next week is blame. 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 Beatles – Help!
Sia – Breathe Me
Links to stuff we talked about
The book How Al-Anon Works for Families and Friends of Alcoholics is available in hardback or soft cover editions from the Al-Anon online bookstore. It can also be purchased at most Al-Anon meetings, and at many bookstores.
Spencer mentioned the Recovered podcast episode 402 about the persistent illusion, “the thought that someday I can control and enjoy my drinking [that] is the great obsession of every abnormal drinker”.
This Spotify playlist has the songs we considered for this episode on asking for help.
We discovered a song, Be Still, by The Fray that includes the quote that Swetha mentioned, “Be still and know that I am with you.”