Tolerance. What a loaded and confusing word for those of us in Al-Anon. Where does one draw the line? I looked the word up in the dictionary, hoping for a some guidance, but even those descriptions didn’t help. The dictionary definitions were all over the place, but I decided to start there anyways, and prayed that clarity on the subject would reveal itself.
“Tolerance - Acceptance of different views and/or deviation”. I suppose it’s a good thing to be open minded and allow for the views, opinions, religions, etc of those who differ from ourselves. Sounds like a healthy dose of inclusionary thinking, the kind of thinking that led to the Civil Rights movement, or our careful non-definition of a Higher Power.
“Tolerance – The ability to remain unaffected”. This seems like the definition of serenity. Not the absence of chaos, but the ability to remain unaffected by the chaos around me. Balance, rooted in program.
“Tolerance – The ability to endure hardship”. I doubt that any of us would have walked through the doors of Al-Anon had we not felt like we were enduring a living hell, watching those we love try to kill themselves with alcohol. We are experts at enduring hardship. Experts at putting up with the bull*! that comes living with or near someone who’s focus in life is getting to their next drink, at all costs. We’ve been lied to, manipulated, financially drained, introduced to the police in rather unsavory fashion and forced to explain to our children that daddy’s not really a bad guy, he’s just sick. I’d say we’re superstars at enduring hardship, usually to a fault. In my case as a badge of honor that gave me value in the world. Some badge.
“Tolerance - Ability to withstand extremes.” When living with alcoholics, this is part of the package. How many of us have tolerated our alcoholics raining aggressive verbal attacks on us one day, defending their right to live as they choose, only to find them weeping on the bathroom floor the next day, pitiful and broken. We experience the hope of recovery, and the devastating letdown of relapse. Living with alcoholism is like living on a roller coaster with a compromised structure, and no one on the kill switch. We understand extremes. Unfortunately, sometimes I also thrive on them, because I think I look good in a red cape and Wonder Woman boots.
The tricky part seems to be where to draw the line between healthy and unhealthy tolerance. I’ve got no interest in becoming a teetotaler, but I’m also not jumping out of my chair to run off and live with the circus. The more I thought about it though, I realized that I do have a handy benchmark to help me place that tricky line. When I’m confused about where to draw the boundary, I can ask myself a simple question, “If I allow this, will I owe amends to anyone, including myself?” (and yes, including myself here is really important)
For example, if I decide to tolerate my alcoholic’s bad moods while they work to get sober, as long as I don’t take them in personally and no one else is hurt, that is an acceptable level of tolerance for a while. But if I allow those same moods to be forced on children who cannot understand or defend themselves, then it becomes a whole different story. Or if that moodiness causes me to isolate from my family and friends to avoid embarrassment, then I am hurting myself.
It’s really a simple litmus test. Easily applied. Am I or someone else being hurt by my tolerance? If not, I’m on the right side of the line. But if I’m adding to my amends list, then I’ve pushed that line into the danger zone and I need to take a look at what I’m getting out of it.
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