Healthy Habit #12 – A month of finding joy

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My last Healthy Habit of the year is finding joy.  I’ve become relatively good at finding and expressing gratitude, but joy is a whole other story.  It isn’t to say that I don’t experience joy often, I do, but I also feel like recognizing joy in the ordinary, or even in the not-so-great times, is something that I completely overlook.  So this month, a month that is filled with to-do lists, shopping, holiday parties, and loads of stress, I am going to focus on finding joy.  Actually, I already have been, since this post is coming 9 days into the month.  Ugh, see?  I’m already exhibiting the stress and busyness!  ‘Tis the season!

The holidays are portrayed as times filled with family, friends, and joy all around.  The truth, though, is that for a lot of us (in and out of recovery), it’s a time filled with anxiety and worry.  For some, spending time with family is challenging.  For those like me, it’s not spending time with family that’s hard, and sad, and depressing.  For those of us that are in recovery, the holiday parties and get-togethers may be uncomfortable because the alcohol is flowing this time of year, but the thought of skipping these soirees leaves us feeling isolated and lonely and boring.  For some of us there may be bad memories of holidays past, or happy memories that we know will never be duplicated.  We may be missing or grieving someone, or celebrating our first holiday without a loved one.  All of these situations are hard, but they don’t have to be absent of joy.

This month I am making a commitment to finding little pieces of joy in the ordinary and difficult times.  Whether it’s taking the time to enjoy a sunrise (I’m a morning person), or reading something that makes me smile instead of making me learn, or listening – really listening – to the sound of my stepson’s laughter.  There is something joyous to be found in each day, we just may need to look a little harder.

JChoose Joy

 

 

 

 

 

 

What I’ve learned after 2 years sober

2 Years

 

Wow!  There’s been a lot going on this month.  The first week, my husband spent four days in the hospital with a respiratory infection (he’s doing great now, fully recovered).  The next week we had a meeting at my stepson’s school with his mom and grandparents that has since really opened the lines of communication between us in a wonderful way.  The third week brought with it some awesome news – my husband was offered a full-time teaching position; a promotion from his current adjunct duties.  Then last week was Thanksgiving, which we spent with one of my closest friends and her son.  It was a nice, relaxing day…and only doing half of the cooking made it very easy.

Oh yeah, and something else happened.  Last Wednesday I celebrated two years sober!  It’s fantastic, crazy, awesome, miraculous, and exciting that I have not had a drink for over 731 days!Screenshot_2014-11-26-19-23-47 (1)

As I reflect on the last two years, I’ve been thinking about how much different my second year of sobriety was from my first.  When I look back at old journals, blog posts, and even old Facebook posts, I can see the progress that I have made, and how I’ve grown in recovery.

For me, the first year of recovery was all about figuring out how to live life on life’s terms.  It was learning how to find coping skills that didn’t include drinking, lying, or just checking out.  Without booze, I had to learn how to sit with emotions instead of drowning them out.  I had to learn to face consequences of my past actions without trying to lie my way out of them.  I had to learn to share the things I was feeling and not stuff them.  I had to learn how to forgive even when I hadn’t received an apology.  I had to learn to allow myself to grieve with patience and self-care.  I had to learn to be mindful and grateful and to have faith.  I was very much like a toddler, learning how to maneuver in a world that still felt big and unfamiliar.

The second year was different for me.  It was less learning how to live, and more learning to be myself.  I think that if I had to pick a theme for my year-two, it would have to be self-awareness.  It feels like I’ve finally gotten to know myself, the real me.  It’s been an incredible experience.

Here are some of the things I’ve learned:

  • Recovery is different from sobriety.  I think, no…I know, that in the beginning I thought that the answer to all of my problems was to stop drinking.  Looking back, it seems pretty foolish, like I expected some magical, you’ve-quit-drinking fairy to appear and Poof!, my life would be perfect.  What I’ve learned is that just being sober doesn’t really change much.  Well, except that I don’t get arrested, do bad things, or have huge periods of time erased from my memory.  Seriously though, all of the reasons, feelings, situations that I drank over didn’t go away when I stopped.  They were still there, bright and shiny, waiting to see what I was going to do.  Staying sober in the first year was about learning to deal with those things.  I learned that it takes recovery, not sobriety, to live a life that is happy, joyous, and free.  It takes continually working the steps, being grateful, being honest and forgiving, and mindful.
  • Recovery is like a roller-coaster.  I learned that recovery, like everything else, has ups and downs.  There are days that I feel very grounded in my recovery, I know what I need to do and I do it, and then there are days that I feel like I don’t know what the hell I’m doing.  And you know what?  That’s ok.  I don’t get down on myself when I feel like I don’t know what I’m doing.  I talk about it, ask for help if I need it, and wait for the roller-coaster car to head back up.
  • Staying active in recovery lessens my fears.  When I was drinking and first sober, I lived in a lot of fear.  I was afraid of being sober, and I was afraid of continuing to drink.  I was afraid of letting people see the real me, because then they would reject me. I was afraid of people finding out that I was an alcoholic, and I was afraid that people would think that I was crazy.  I was afraid that people would find out all of the horrible things that I had done.  I could go on.  Ugh.  It was truly a life lived in fear.  Being active in my recovery has alleviated many of those fears.  All of the fears that I mentioned, plus many more, have actually come to pass, but not in the way that I thought.  It turns out that by writing this blog, sharing my story with other alcoholics, and by being open and honest, I, myself, have outed all of the things that I thought I had to hide.  And while there have been a few times that I have paused before clicking on ‘Publish’, I am no longer afraid to be me when others can see me. The amazing thing to recognize is the results of doing that.  I realized that those I lost were never really there for me to begin with, and that many, many people in my life love and support me.  Who would’ve thought?
  • I’m never going to get recovery 100% right.  When I first came into the program, I thought that nearly everyone in the rooms had it all together.  And I thought that in order for me to be “well,”  I had to have it all together too. It turns out that I was wrong on both counts.  After getting to know a lot of other recovering alcoholics, I can tell you, they don’t have it all together.  They are not cured.  No matter how long a person is sober, there are still things that they have to work on. There isn’t a magic switch that flips when you’ve been sober for X number of years.  It’s on ongoing process.  It’s a daily reprieve that we all get when we choose to stay sober another day. When it comes to me, the biggest thing that I have learned about getting the most out of recovery is that I must have constant reminders.  I need to be reminded by the old-timers that consistent, quality sobriety and recovery can be achieved.  I need to be reminded by the newcomers where I came from.  I need to be reminded that my recovery is not to be taken for granted, and that I have to thank God for every sober day.  I have to be reminded that I am not alone, that there are so many others that have felt what I feel, done what I do, said what I say.  I need these constant reminders, and the best way I’ve learned to get them is by going to meetings.
  • My recovery lets me help others.  I work at a job that I like enough, with people who I love, but that’s not what feeds my soul.  The most meaningful things to me are the times that I am able to share the message with someone who wants to hear it.  The other night I got a call from an acquaintance who confessed that she is drinking alcoholically.  She said she didn’t know what to do, but then she thought about me.  She called and asked about AA and about getting sober.  I was able to share my experience, strength, and hope with her, and offered to take her to a meeting.  I don’t know what she has decided to do yet, but I do know that if she hadn’t heard me talk about being sober and happy in recovery, she would’ve had no one to call that night.  That’s what feeds my soul.  I love that.

So this, my second year of sobriety, has been awesome, and wonderful, and easy.  And it’s also been sad, and trying, and really fucking hard.  I’ve become pretty good at accepting all of those things, and anything else that is thrown my way.  Thankfully, I no longer feel the desire to drink, that went away a long time ago.  I have, however, picked up the desire to live peacefully, gratefully, and joyfully.  I can’t wait to see what year three brings.

 

 

 

To medicate, or not to medicate…my thoughts on drugs

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Earlier this month I was asked to contribute to the “Talk About Your Medicines” awareness campaign established by the American Recall Center.  The ARC Center provides drug and medical device recall information alongside practical healthcare information and support.  Their aim is to make information about medications and medical devices easily accessible to the consumer, mine is to share my own experiences and opinions about taking medications.  My point of view is one of a dual-diagnosis alcoholic in recovery who takes psych drugs to treat Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and chronic depression.

I know that this can be a controversial subject, I’ve been to AA meetings where discussions about this have gotten pretty heated.  So, I want to stress that I am not a doctor or therapist, and I am not being compensated for this post.  I don’t claim to know or have insight into what will work for others regarding medications.  I only know what has and hasn’t worked for me.  That is my disclaimer.  I hope that no matter which side of the fence you are on about taking medications, you will continue reading and let me know what you think.

I grew up in a household that used over the counter medications for things like headaches and allergies, and prescription medicine when antibiotics were recommended by the doctor.  Aside from that, I never really took anything.  It was during the 70’s and 80’s, before everyone was on an anti-depressant and anti-anxiety drugs were handed out like candy.  While I was a kid, I never knew anyone on psych meds except my Aunt who my mom thought was crazy because, as my mom said, “she was strung out on Valium.”  Looking back, my Aunt probably took her Valium as prescribed for anxiety, but it was unusual to know someone who did that, so it had to be crazy.

I never thought that I would grow up and have to be on medication for psychiatric conditions myself.  Nor did  I think that I would become an alcoholic.  Little did I know, those two things often go hand in hand.  I believe that I have suffered from PTSD since I was raped as a teenager.  My condition was exacerbated when I suffered physical abuse from my ex-husband.  Although I went through a few bouts of adolescent depression, I think my real, chronic depression started when I got close to thirty years old.  My conditions remained undiagnosed though, until after I went to treatment for alcoholism the first time.  That’s where the ‘hand in hand’ thing came into play.  I never considered the fact that I might need some psychiatric help, I just self-medicated with alcohol.  Again and again.  And it worked at first.  And then it didn’t.

When I got to treatment and had to go see a psychiatrist while I was there, I wasn’t quite sure why.  I knew that I had some issues – I was in rehab, for Pete’s sake – but I didn’t think they were psychiatric.  I thought that all of my issues were caused by my alcoholism, not the other way around.  So when the psychiatrist said that I needed Zoloft and Abilify for depression, I balked.  My primary care physician had prescribed Lexapro for me a couple of years prior when I was going through a divorce, and that had made me feel crazier, almost suicidal, and I didn’t want to go through that again.  I didn’t know at the time that suicidal thoughts and ideations can be a side effect of anti-depressants, so I just thought they didn’t work for me.  Still, while I was in treatment I agreed to try the Zoloft, but adding the Abilify was just too much for me to accept, so I refused it.  I left treatment with a bunch of new tools for dealing with sobriety, but not properly treated for my psych condition.  I didn’t want to be on medication, to be ‘strung-out’, or to be reliant on something (drugs) for my mental health.

Guess what happened?

Yep. You’ve got it…I drank again.

When my psych conditions showed up again, I went back to the thing that worked before – booze.  But it really no longer worked, it made things much, much worse – but that’s a post for another day.  I found myself trying to self-medicate with no success, so I made a second trip to treatment.  This time I was, as they say in AA, ready to go to any lengths for my sobriety.  And that included being honest with, and listening to, the suggestions from the psychiatrist.   This time I went in with an open mind when it came to medication (and other treatments, including intensive childhood work in therapy), and I decided that I would try what was recommended and see what happened.  This time, as the Zoloft didn’t seem to be working and Lexapro had made me feel suicidal, Effexor was prescribed.  That’s when I learned that for some forms of depression and PTSD,  SNRI’s (which Effexor is) work more effectively than SSRI’s do (which Zoloft and Lexapro are).  SNRI’s, or selective serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors, work with serotonin and norepinephrine, while SSRI’s only affect serotonin levels.  This small difference made all the difference for me.  Within a short amount of time, I could tell that I was feeling better.

I was also prescribed Seroquel to take at night to help stabilize my mood.  Seroquel is an antipsychotic medicine, it works by changing the actions of chemicals in the brain.  It is often used to treat schizophrenia and bipolar disorder,  which scared me a little, because I don’t have either of those.  But it is also used together with antidepressant medications to treat major depressive disorders.  The Effexor/Seroquel combination has been, and still is, working for me for the last two years.  I haven’t had the desire or the urge to drink to self-medicate.  I know that it is not the work of the medication alone that has kept me sober, it has taken a lot of self-awareness and step-work and therapy also, but once the medication helped balance my brain chemically, the other things became more and more effective and long-lasting.

So, my thoughts on taking psychiatric medications:

Do I think that medication, as a rule, is over-prescribed in the United States?  Yes.

Do I think that there is a stigma attached to taking psych meds?  Yes.

Do I think that taking medication is, or can be, a substitution for a healthy lifestyle?  No.

Do I think that taking medications, as prescribed, in addition to doing other healthy things (therapy, eating healthy, exercise, etc.), can greatly improve quality of life?  Yes.

Am I very careful that I don’t take medications that are not recommended for people in recovery (opiates, benzos, etc)?  YES!!!  Every doctor that I go to is aware that I am in recovery.  I will not take medication that jeopardizes my sobriety.

Do I want to continue to take medication for the rest of my life?  Not really, but I will if I need to.

I guess what it boils down to for me is this:  If I was diabetic, I would take insulin.  If I had cancer, I would do chemotherapy.  If I had epilepsy, I would take anti-seizure medication.  I do have PTSD and depression, why shouldn’t I take medication to help those illnesses?  I know that taking medication isn’t for everyone, nor should it be, but for me, at this point, it’s working, and I want it to keep working.  It is no longer something over which I feel ashamed or embarrassed.  It’s just a part of my physical make-up; something I do to take care of myself.  It took a little while to find what worked best for me, but it’s been so worth it!  No more self-medicating, and such a happier life.

I’m interested to know what you all think about this.  I would love to hear your comments.

 

 

 

 

 

The Secret Keepers

jamilynaz:

I am happy to reblog this for my friend Karen at Mended Musings. As a survivor of rape as a child myself, this definitely hits home for me. Please read and share.

Originally posted on Mended Musings:

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I’m going to do something I’ve never done before. I’m going to ask you to share this post. Reblog it, share it on Facebook, tweet it. Someone out there needs to hear this message today. Even if you think you don’t know anyone who has been abused. Even if you don’t read the entire post.

About a month ago I was asked by Dawn at WTF words, thoughts, feelings to contribute an essay for an anthology that she and Joyelle are creating for parents who are survivors of childhood sexual and physical abuse (learn more at https://www.facebook.com/TriggerPointsAnthology).

I submitted my essay but I also want to shine a bigger spotlight on this project because I fear that they may not get many submissions. Not because it’s not a worthy cause or because there aren’t enough people out there to contribute but because survivors of abuse are secret…

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Healthy Habit #11 – A month of do-overs

Try aagain

 

I tried.  I really did.  But October was a horrible, awful, emotional, depressing month.  I wrote about it here, if you would like to see why.  I didn’t even make it a week with my Healthy Habit #10.  I think I worked on physical activity for about 3 days, and then it went kaput, and I was back to laying on the couch, or, on particularly bad days, in bed, watching countless hours of mediocre TV shows to distract myself from the blues I was feeling.  The only silver-lining in the whole ordeal was that this time, as opposed to times in the past, I knew that the depression would pass.  I knew that I just had to be patient, to talk about the things that were bothering me, and to take comfort in knowing that I wouldn’t always feel sad and down.  I took it easy on myself, did the things that I had to (like earn a paycheck, and shower daily…or almost daily), and waited.  And finally, this last week, I started to feel better.  I noticed that I didn’t feel as sad, and that my smiling and laughing was, once again, genuine.  Last Monday was the first day that I felt I was able to stay mindful, the first day that I felt like myself again.  The remainder of the week has gotten better and better.

So, all of that being said, I have decided that November will be a month of do-overs.  I want to redo HH #10, and try to get my sedentary self moving.  That is first and foremost.  I know that I will feel better physically and emotionally if I do it.

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I also want to revisit some other Healthy Habits that I enjoyed, but didn’t quite stick to.  Meditation is one of them.  I have been using meditation on and off since I first tried it, but it hasn’t been a regular practice as of late.  So I will again make time for it, and see how it goes.  I would  also like to add consistency back to writing gratitude lists.  My mind has been pretty well-trained to look for the good in every situation these days, even when it’s hard, or when all I can find is the tiniest of slivers of gratitude, I know that I can find something for which to be grateful.  Unfortunately, if I don’t take the time to really think about it, or write it down, then the gratitude stays in my head, and never really reaches my heart.  In other words, I know what I have to be thankful for, I just don’t know how to feel gratitude for it.   Writing it down helped me before, so I am going to do what I know works.  I am going to add listing the things that I am grateful for to my journal writing that I do every morning.

I feel positive and hopeful.  I was going to add “about….”  to that sentence, but as I typed it, I realized that it said enough.  I feel positive and hopeful.  And that’s good.  :)

 

Healthy Habit #10 – A Month of Getting Moving

Get Moving

Here we are in October, so it’s time for a new Healthy Habit.  I have put this one off as long as I could, being the sedentary person that I am.  It’s time though.

I can’t wait any longer.

I’ve got to get moving!

Since I did a month of yoga back in March, I haven’t done any real exercise. I’ve done a yoga class here and there, and I’ve done yoga at home from time to time, but that’s it.  So this month is going to be the month of getting moving.  In my last post, I talked about how difficult the coming months are for me.  I’ve been down and sluggish and not at all active.  My inclination is to go to work and then come home and lay around…doing nothing.   I am hopeful that adding a little bit of activity will not only improve my physical health, but also my mental health.

Here’s my plan: there is no real plan.  I don’t do so well with plans that are set in stone…I get bored and then I quit.  What I am going to work toward is doing something physical every day.  I have a little fitness center just across the parking lot from my apartment, I can go use the treadmill or the elliptical.  I have yoga DVDs that I can do at home.  I can walk around the lake at the park that is less than half a mile away.  I can use the weights that have been collecting dust beside my sofa.  The weather has cooled off here in the desert, so hiking on the weekends is an option.  Whatever it is that I do each day, I know that something is better than nothing.  :)

I’ll see how it goes, and hopefully I’ll be healthier and happier.

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Update on brown bagging it:  Taking my lunch to work every day, along with making sure that I take a real lunch break away from my desk (Healthy Habit #8), have definitely become a habit.  I haven’t eaten at my desk more than a couple of times in the last two months, and I haven’t ordered out or gotten Subway or pizza for over a month.  I find that I look forward to my lunches, and that I feel refreshed and more motivated in the afternoon.  Success!!

October

It’s been a while since I’ve written a post.  I’m not completely sure why, I just haven’t felt much like writing, or doing anything else for that matter.  I am sober and everything is alright.  But everything is also not alright.  I am a depressive, recovering alcoholic and I’ve just been feeling down. Nothing bad has happened, nothing of real consequence anyway.  I just feel down and unmotivated for no real particular reason.

Except that it’s October.  The beginning of fall and winter is right around the corner.

This is not my favorite time of year.  At all.  I’ve known that for the last few years, but I’ve blamed it my birthday and the anniversary of ending a pregnancy seven years ago.

But now, I think, there may be other reasons…

Have you ever heard a song, or smelled a scent, or felt something that triggered a specific memory?  Like whenever I hear Billy Idol sing Mony, Mony, I am transported back to my very first concert when I was fourteen.  Or  when I smell cinnamon rolls, memories of my first real job at a bakery come flooding back.

It was like that the other morning.  I got up early, about 4:30, as I usually do.  I went to sit outside on the patio and have some coffee in my usual morning attire – a pair of Austin’s boxers and a t-shirt, and I realized that I was cold.  I later heard on the news that it was our coolest night since last Spring.  Anyway, I had to go inside and put on a robe to be comfortable outside.  As I sat there, in the cool morning air, memories started filling my head.  These weren’t great memories like concerts and cinnamon rolls, these were memories of bad things.  Bad things that have happened to me, and bad things that I have caused.  Something about the weather triggered an onslaught of scenarios of the past, and filled my heart with feelings of regret and sadness.  At first I didn’t understand it.  But as I wrote in my journal about these things, it became clear to me.  Many, many of the negative things I’ve been through have happened in the fall and winter.  Actually, as I’ve really thought about it, almost everything that I would consider “bad” has happened between October and February.  It’s when I did much of my active drinking and when most of my bad behavior happened.  It’s when I suffered rape as a teenager, it’s when I went off the rails and ended up in the looney-bin, it’s when I’ve been sick enough to go to rehab….twice.

So, is it really the time of year that is to blame for my depression?  I don’t know for sure, but it makes sense to me.  If a song can trigger a feeling, then why not the weather?

Austin and I talked a lot about it, and after he thought about it, he agreed that this may be the reason.  He talked about his feelings of fall and winter which are quite the opposite of mine.  He has many, happy memories that are triggered by the beginning of fall, it’s when he feels the most hopeful and happy.  So if it affects him in a positive way, then I guess it stands to reason that it can affect me in a negative way.

But now, what to do with this new-found realization that I’ve had about my third-quarter depression?  I’m still working on that.  I know that lying around watching every old episode of Monarch of the Glen hasn’t really helped much.  What is working (a little) is telling myself the truth: the past is over, I can’t change it, and I am a different, healthier person today.  I tell myself that my expectations that this time of year is going to be sad and hopeless, are really unfounded.  The time of year may bring up old stuff, but my attitude and how I deal with it is really the key to me backing away from the ledge of despair.  I don’t have to succumb to my emotions…I can put one foot in front of the other and keep doing the things that I need to.  And I can do so happily.  Knowing this now, I can, and do, find joy in each day no matter what the weatherman forecasts.

It’s still early in the season, we will have to see how things eventuate for me, but knowing now why it is that I get sad at this time of year will help me to combat the blues.  There is power in knowing.

October