Mostly whiny, moderately bossy

little-miss-bossy

 

Before my husband and I got married, I described myself to him as “mostly whiny, moderately bossy”.   I was trying something new, putting it all out there from the beginning, giving him every chance to get away while he still could.  Thank God he doesn’t scare easily!  Growing up, those words, whiny and bossy, are the words that I remember hearing most about myself when being described by my family.  It’s no wonder they stuck, and admittedly, sometimes they’re accurate.  Just ask my husband!

control-freakAs I have become more honest about my feelings, and more self-aware, I’ve realized that in those moments when I fall into whining or being bossy, what I’m really trying to do is control the situation, to make things go my way.   I am very aware that I am not unique when it comes to alcoholics…we want things our way and we want it now, and quite honestly, sometimes whining works.  More often though, it doesn’t, and that’s when things get rough.  Trying to control things that I have no control over never works!  Never!  I know this from past experience, yet I still fall into the whole “self-will run riot” that the Big Book of AA talks about.

The past couple of weeks have been difficult because I have been trying to run things that weren’t mine to run.  None of the things were really anything serious, no one’s life was hanging in the balance, and there wasn’t any danger of me wanting to pick up a bottle, but when I get started with the whole control thing, there is often a snowball effect; small things get big, and big things get ginormous.  We had problems with the office of our apartment complex regarding some maintenance that needed to be done that caused our place to have to be turned upside-down.  Then we had a rough weekend with my stepson who was having a rough time himself.  Then one of my best friends went to the hospital with a mystery illness that caused her to forget everyone and everything around her (she’s fine now, thank God).  Then my husband and I were on puppy duty, waiting for our dog to give birth.  Then coworkers kept getting fired – four in less than a month!  How’s that for workplace morale?  I could go on, but you get the point.  It’s been an eventful, and somewhat disturbing, couple of weeks.  And it took until today for me to remember what the real problem is:  ME.  And my desire to control things that I can’t.

I have often wondered why teachers and preachers repeat themselves so often when addressing their audiences.  Or why it is that I am drawn to AA meetings where you hear some of the same things over and over.  Here’s why:  We need reminding!  I need to hear the serenity prayer again and again, and I need to be reminded that my will mostly gets me nowhere, and I need to hear other perspectives that might improve mine, and I have to be reminded that having expectations lead to resentments.  Sometimes it’s hard for me to see the truth about things; that eventually my apartment will be fixed, that my friend will be okay, that my dog cannot house puppies in her belly forever, that there is workplace turnover everywhere, and that me whining or bossing others around isn’t going to fix anything.

So after being whiny and bossy today for the last couple of weeks, that’s what I am trying to do with this post, I’m telling myself the truth, and I’m relinquishing control to the One who actually has it.  I know that’s what works, I just have to remember it.

3rd_step_prayer

 

If you need me, I’ll be hiding in my bathroom

This photo is a reenactment of an actual event.

This photo is a reenactment of an actual event.

It’s the middle of the day on a weekday, I don’t remember why it was that I wasn’t at work and my husband was, but for some reason I was home alone.  Well, I was alone except for my dogs.  I was doing normal things that I would do on a day off, laundry and cleaning and such.  As I remember, I was in a good mood, nothing weighing on me or worrying me; nothing bad or upsetting had happened recently to put me on edge.  We have a small patio outside our front door with a tall wood fence going around it and a gate that I always lock from the inside when I’m home.  The slats of the fence are too close together to see through, either in or out.  I was inside doing my thing and I heard a knocking on the gate.  Or rather, a normal person would have heard a knocking on the gate, what I heard was someone trying to break down the gate to come in and do God-knows-what to me.  So I did what seemed logical to me in the situation.  I quickly collected my dogs, ran into the bathroom, and hid in the bathtub until I was sure whoever it was had given up and gone away.  After the fact, that doesn’t seem quite so logical.  Why didn’t I look outside to see who it was?  It could have been a neighbor or a delivery man.  It could have been someone trying to sell me something or even the mailman.  Who knows?  I sure don’t because I was hiding in the freaking bathtub!

That little chain of events happened a couple of years ago.  And guess what?  I wasn’t drunk when it happened.  I was somehow triggered into fight or flight (fleeing to the bathtub counts!), because I suffer from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, and sometimes my reactions to things aren’t always as rational as I would like them to be.  I don’t know what it was about that day that set me off, it hadn’t happened before and it hasn’t happened since.  My husband I joke about it these days, because, well, what else are you gonna do?

When I was diagnosed with PTSD while between my two stints in rehab for alcoholism, I was kind of surprised.  I suffered a rape when I was a teenager, and pretty severe physical, verbal and sexual abuse from my ex-husband, but at that time, I thought, like a lot of people, that PTSD was mainly a diagnosis bestowed upon veterans of wars, not us civilians.  It turns out that it’s not only combat veterans who suffer from PTSD.  According to statistics from the National Center for PTSD, a department of the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, about 7 or 8% of the non-military population will have PTSD at some point in their lives, and women are more than twice as likely to develop it than men. Who knew?  I sure didn’t.

PTSD2
There are lots of ways that PTSD makes itself known, flashbacks, nightmares, negative thoughts, hyper-vigilance, hyper-arousal.  I had all of those things to a degree, but for me, the worst of my symptoms were the flashbacks.  I could be busy doing something, even working, and BAM they would just hit me out of nowhere.  For those of you not familiar with PTSD or flashbacks, it’s not just like a passing thought about something that happened.  It’s like your reality has gone back in time and you are living through the trauma again.  It’s real.  It’s scary.  It’s unpredictable.  And it’s really hard to turn off.  It’s no wonder that many who suffer with PTSD turn to alcohol to try to drown out flashbacks and negative memories.  I tried that route, and it worked, until it didn’t.  At first it was an easy way to get those thoughts and scenarios out of my mind.  I would gladly suffer through a hangover if I could stop the thoughts for a while.  That, of course, led to my really extreme alcoholic drinking.  That’s when my anger came out.  Sufferers of PTSD tend to have anger issues due to suppressing their feelings for so long.  I always kept my anger in check unless I was drinking, and then the gloves were off!  My little, petite self became a brawler at the drop of a hat.  There were times that I fought whomever I was with in complete blackouts.  I didn’t even know what happened until I sobered up and was told the next day.  It is difficult for me to look back at that.  I have accepted that it is part of my past, and I have made amends to those who I can, but it’s still difficult.

The good news about this PTSD thing, is that there are some great treatments for it.  I have written about the fact that I take medication to treat my depression and PTSD, and that has made a huge difference in my life.  Being properly treated has saved me and I believe it was a huge help in removing my compulsion to drink.  I have done, and continue to do, a lot of therapy and step-work about my traumas and while emotional and exhausting, I’ve benefited greatly from it.  I also participated in Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing therapy (EMDR).  I won’t even try to described what or how it works, but it does!!  Here’s how the EMDR Institute Inc. describes it:

EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing) is a psychotherapy that enables people to heal from the symptoms and emotional distress that are the result of disturbing life experiences.  Repeated studies show that by using EMDR people can experience the benefits of psychotherapy that once took years to make a difference. It is widely assumed that severe emotional pain requires a long time to heal.  EMDR therapy shows that the mind can in fact heal from psychological trauma much as the body recovers from physical trauma.  When you cut your hand, your body works to close the wound.  If a foreign object or repeated injury irritates the wound, it festers and causes pain.  Once the block is removed, healing resumes.  EMDR therapy demonstrates that a similar sequence of events occurs with mental processes.  The brain’s information processing system naturally moves toward mental health.  If the system is blocked or imbalanced by the impact of a disturbing event, the emotional wound festers and can cause intense suffering.  Once the block is removed, healing resumes.  Using the detailed protocols and procedures learned in EMDR training sessions, clinicians help clients activate their natural healing processes.

You can read more about the specific procedures and what the therapy sessions look like here, if you would like.

What EMDR did for me was take me out of the flashbacks.  When I think about the events that triggered my disorder, I no longer feel like it is happening all over again.  I recall everything that happened, but I don’t “feel”  it.  It has turned those memories into just that, memories.  I don’t have to live through the physical pain anymore.  That’s a miracle.

All of that said, I am clearly not cured!  I don’t think that all of my PTSD symptoms will ever be completely gone.  I still startle easily, am almost always super-aware of what’s going on around me and I am sometimes quick to become over-stimulated.  In restaurants I like to sit with my back against the wall so there aren’t people behind me, and I get nervous when there is someone walking behind me.  However, I have learned how to tell when my feelings are rational and when they are irrational, and I try to act accordingly.  And, believe it or not, I haven’t felt the need to hide in my bathtub for a long time!

If you, or someone you know is suffering from PTSD, please know that there is help out there, and that the odds are there is treatment that will really improve your quality of life.

PTSD

 

A long period of reconstruction

step 8

Step 8 of the twelve steps of Alcoholics Anonymous says:

“Made a list of all persons we had harmed and became willing to make amends to them all.”

As I have completed steps six and seven, the time has come for me to begin work on step eight.  After working on step seven for the last little while, praying daily for God to remove my defects of character, one of which is procrastination, I don’t feel like I can put off step eight (maybe my prayers are working!).   I’ve done my reading about step eight in the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous and in the Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions.  I also read from a couple of other books about the 12 steps and I talked to my sponsor about what it means to be willing.  So it’s time to put pen to paper and make my list.

I have several (probably more) people who I feel I need to make amends to for my past behavior.  The list is safely tucked away in my mind where no one can see it, but I think about it everyday.  I’ve talked about a few of the people on my list with my sponsor, and most she agrees with, but she’s iffy about a couple of them.  You see, I think there are two different types of  attitudes that we alcoholics have when it comes to the amends steps.  It seems to me, from what I have seen in the rooms, there is one group of alcoholics who tend to blame everyone else for their problems and has a difficult time coming up with a list of people for their amends.  Another group of people blames themselves for everything and puts everyone and their brother on their list of amends.  Neither is better or worse than the other, both have issues that need addressing and both have the opportunity to make things better for themselves by working steps eight and nine.  For for whatever reason, I fall into the latter category and could easily make a list of a hundred people who I think I have hurt.  The truth though, according to my sponsor, is that I tend to over-accept accountability, even for things that are not my fault.  So my assignment is to work on my list, with explanations, and show it to her before I move on to actually making amends to anyone.  Thank God for sponsors!  They can often see our truths when we can’t.

Step eight is about willingness, and I have to admit there are some amends that I am much more willing to make than others.  This time around, I have some people on my list that have been there from day one but that I just haven’t had the willingness or strength to make amends too.  I also have some financial amends that have been there, but I haven’t had the resources to tackle yet.  Some of them are easier and I am willing and ready to reach out because I suspect the results will be positive, or at least nuetral.  There are some though who I know will not be accepting, or even nice, about my attempt to right things.  When it comes to those, my willingness, while still pretty solid, is accompanied by some fear.  I have to remember that in the Big Book it says (I’m paraphrasing) that we have to clean up our side of the street, that the outcome of doing so may or may not be positive, and that the outcome is out of our control.  It also says that, “Yes, there is a long period of reconstruction ahead.”  By becoming willing to make amends, I am moving toward that reconstruction.

No matter how willing I am to make my list, going through the past in my mind, looking at how my past behavior has affected others, it’s easy to slip into old ways of thinking.  Guilt, shame and self-loathing are hanging out right around the corner, just waiting for a moment of weakness when they can sneak back in and take away my peace and serenity.  To combat this, one of my “assignments” from my sponsor is to make a different list each evening – a list of all of the things I did well that day.  I’ve done it a few times, and it helps.  I recommend it to anyone who is working steps eight and nine, or even those who are just feeling low.  Tonight, when I make my list, I can include writing this post.  :)

 

Willingness

Learning to walk….the talk

Walk the talk

One of the gifts of the program of Alcoholics Anonymous is that I get the opportunity to sponsor other women who are walking the same path that I am.  It’s truly what they say, one alcoholic helping another.  I knew from the beginning, way before I thought I was ready to be a sponsor, that sponsorship is one of the things that keeps us sober.  My own sponsor has told me many times that being my sponsor, working the steps with me, and seeing me grow, is a big part of her recovery.  Yesterday, I got to learn that lesson first hand.

I had a rotten day yesterday.  I was grumpy and tired and frustrated over  inconsequential things, and everyone around me knew it!  The stress that comes with new classes starting at the school where I am the registrar was getting to me, I drank way too much caffeine and that amped me up, and I was restless, irritable, and discontent.  I whined my way through the day to my closest friend at work feeling sorry for myself and dwelling on every single negative thing, both real and imagined.  I got home from work, my stepson told me some upsetting news, and I was done for the night.  That was the last straw for my crappy day.  I laid on the couch doing nothing but playing Words with Friends and Candy Crush, and did absolutely nothing productive.

Then my sponsee called, as she does every evening.  Her day was a lot like mine, full of irritability and grumpiness.  As we talked and she told me about her day, I put my sponsor hat on and gave her feedback on what I was hearing and reminded her that a bad day doesn’t make a bad life, and that when we have days like this we need to practice patience with ourselves and have gratitude for all of the things that we are doing right.  We talked about staying mindful and remembering that right now, in this moment, we are ok.  And we talked about the fact that any day that we stay sober is a good day when we look back at where we came from.  Sounds pretty good, right?  Kind of sponsor-ish.  It’s the stuff that I learned from my own sponsor and I know that it works because I’ve tried it.  The funny thing is, it took me until about halfway through the phone call to realize that these were all things that I needed to hear myself!  I even said the words, “I’m saying this to myself as much as I’m saying it to you” a couple of times.  And guess what?  After we hung up, I felt better.  I was thankful that what she needed to hear from me was exactly what I needed to hear from me.

Today I’ve been thinking a lot about that conversation and how I felt after.  I’ve been wondering why it is that taking my own advice, or even knowing where to begin when it comes to myself, is so much more difficult than offering advice and help to others.  In recovery I think we learn a lot about self-awareness.  We work on our defects of character, share our feelings, and really learn who we are – many of us for the first time ever.  And yet, yesterday, in the thick of things, I didn’t remember what to say to myself.  I realized that what I needed to do was practice what I preach, or in AA lingo, I needed to walk the talk.  So today when I journaled, I wrote a gratitude list.  Tonight I made a list of the things that I did well today, I talked with my own sponsor, and voila! my mood has improved.

I guess the moral of this little story is that many times we know what we need to hear, and what we need to do to make things better, but sometimes we need someone else to help us recognize those things.  I am so grateful that recovery has given me the gift having those “someones” in my life.  Whether it’s my husband, best friend, sponsor, sponsee, other bloggers, or other close friends, I know that I can count on them to show me how to walk the talk.

practice what you preach

My Word of the Year

I have decided to jump on the Word of the Year bandwagon!  Some of my favorite bloggers have chosen their words for 2015 and I am feeling inspired.  Paul over at Message in a Bottle chose Perseverance, Michele at Mished-Up chose Curious, and Josie at  The Miracle Is Around The Corner chose Energy.   I love the idea of choosing a word and giving myself something to search and strive for throughout the year…something that will help me to stay positive, mindful, and joyful in recovery (no, none of those are my WOTY) :)

Over the past few days, I have had a list of words running through my mind that could potentially be my WOTY.  The short list included: peace, balance, gratitude, and grace.  The word that I chose though, was actually my very first thought when I decided to do this.  After careful consideration, my 2015 Word of the Year is:

Connect

Connect

I like connect because it can cover many different areas in my life that I would like to work on this year.  I suspect you’ll see some posts from me about some of the following:

  • Connecting with others.  In my New Year’s post, I wrote about wanting to work on connecting with others more.  I want to be better at reaching out and growing the friendships that I have.
  • Connecting with God.  Another of my goals for 2015 is to pray more.  My connection with God is strong, but I know how important it is to my recovery to maintain my conscious contact with Him.
  • Connecting with the program of AA.  It is so important for me to feel connected to my 12 step program.  It gives me hope, and strength and the opportunity to help others.
  • Connecting with nature.  I am really hoping that we squeeze in a few camping trips this year, but even if we can’t, I would like to take advantage of the beautiful weather here in the southwest and get outside more. Except, of course, from June until September…I’ll be sitting inside under the air conditioner for those months!
  • Connecting with myself.  I think that the first year or two of sobriety is a time of great self-awareness.  I want to continue to learn about myself and stay self-aware, because I know that will help keep me from becoming complacent, and that will help keep me sober.

I know that there are other areas where I can look to “connect” and I trust that they will come to me as the year goes on.  But right now it’s getting late, and I must go connect with my pillow. ;)

Cracks in my foundation

Step 6

 

Steps 6 and 7 of the twelve steps of Alcoholics Anonymous say:

“Were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character.”

“Humbly asked Him to remove our shortcomings.”

Yesterday I met with my sponsor to go over my 6th and 7th step.  This isn’t my first go around with the steps, or even my second.  I believe that true recovery and spiritual fitness only comes when we continually work on ourselves, so I will keep working the steps for as long as I’m around.  I know that doing step work is one of the things that helps keep me from picking up a drink and from becoming the out of control, self-loathing lunatic that I once was.

Step six is all about identifying our character defects and becoming willing to let them go.  When I first got into Alcoholics Anonymous and learned about the steps, I thought that this step was a no-brainer.  I wasn’t even sure why this thought warranted its own step.  Of course I wanted to get rid of my shortcomings!  Why wouldn’t I?  It was like step three in which we decide to turn our will over to God – I wanted that too!  My will had gotten me no where, and fast.  I knew that it was time to let someone else run the show.  Sometime later though, just like with step 3, I realized that letting go wasn’t as easy as I thought it was.  No matter how negative and detrimental some of my defects are, there’s a reason that I hold on to them.  They are serving some purpose for me, even if it’s hard to tell what that is.  Take for example, avoidance, which I think is one of my biggest defects.  I am a champion avoider!  I do not like unpleasant things (I know, who does?) and I will stick my head in the sand and hide for as long as I can to avoid dealing with difficult situations.  So what’s the payoff?  I can list the problems that avoiding situations has caused, but understanding what I am getting out of holding onto the behavior is harder.  In this case, I think that the payoff for my avoidance is not having to face my fears.  If I don’t talk to someone who might say something negative, I avoid the fear of hearing what they might say.  If I don’t get the mail, I avoid seeing the bills I’m afraid I can’t pay.  If I don’t make a dentist appointment, I avoid my fear of the drill. The list could go on, but it all comes down to fear.

I won’t bore you with a list of my other defects (oh my, that would be a LONG post), but suffice it to say, they nearly all lead back to fear of some sort.  I think that the realization that the root of my defects is fear and that I am really doing myself a disservice by holding onto them, is what the sixth step is about.  Knowing those two things is what has helped me to be ready to let my defects go.

Step seven is about letting them go, and doing so humbly.  It is an action step, it requires prayer:

Seventh Step Prayer

My Creator,
I am now willing that you should have all of me, good & bad.
I pray that you now remove from me every single defect of character
Which stands in the way of my usefulness to you & my fellows.
Grant me strength, as I go out from here to do your bidding
.

 My problem with step seven is, again, like my problem with step three.  I ask for God’s help, I turn things over to Him, and then at some point, I pick those things right back up again!  I know that I am not alone in doing this, I hear people talk about it in the rooms all the time.  We are creatures of habit, and to some extent, regression.  Many times, I feel like I take three steps forward and two steps back.  It’s usually just as I think that I have finally let go of something for good, that I realize I am reaching back out for it.  I do this dance all the time and I need constant reminders that I don’t have to pick that stuff back up.  Saying the 3rd step prayer (God, I offer myself to Thee. To build with me and to do with me as Thou wilt. Relieve me of the bondage of self, that I may better do Thy will.  Take away my difficulties, that victory over them may bear witness to those I would help of Thy Power, Thy love & Thy way of life.  May I do Thy will always.) has long since been one of the prayers I say daily.  I’ve realized that it will help me to start praying the 7th step prayer as well.

Working the steps is like owning a home, isn’t it?  The upgrading and repairing and maintenance never stop.  There is a need to continually work on the home, or it will fall apart.  But if we regularly repair what’s broken and maintain what’s working, we can prevent bigger, more costly problems.  That’s why I keep working the steps and going to meetings; that’s my maintenance plan, what keeps me from falling apart.  Before I started working the steps, I had cracks in my foundation, a homeowners worst nightmare.  I had to tear everything down and start over.  These days I mostly just need a little upkeep.  A fresh coat of paint, clean gutters, and a new roof every now and again.

Out with the old, in with the new

happy-new-year-banner-graphic

I love the feeling that comes along with the new year.  It’s a feeling of being given a clean slate, an empty canvas, a fresh start.  I don’t know why on January 1st it seems easier to let go of the past than any other month of the year, but it does.  For me, the past few days have been filled with looking back at 2014, remember all of the happy, joyful times with a smile, and letting go of the negative stuff that crept in from time to time.  It’s also been about looking forward to the new year with hope and optimism, more than I have had in a very long time. :)

This new year started differently than any of my previous 43…with snow!  In Tucson!  I rarely stay awake until midnight to welcome in the new year.  This year started out to be no exception, I was asleep before ten o’clock.  Then, a little while before midnight, Austin woke me up to tell me to look outside.  It was snowing!  We went out onto our little patio and watched the big flakes float down.  It was so beautiful and peaceful, it even sounded calm outside…I don’t know how to describe it, but the acoustics were different, more serene than usual.  I’ve always lived in the desert so this was a special treat ushering in the new year.  Maybe it’s a sign that the 2015 will be filled with peace and serenity.  That’s what I am choosing to believe.

snow2015

 

This year I am not making any resolutions.  I didn’t last year either, instead I tried adding Healthy Habits (you can read about them in earlier posts) into my life by trying something new each month with the hope that the habit would stick, and I would end up healthier at the end of the year.  Overall, I think that approaching something healthy, new, and different each month was a success.  I learned that I like yoga and meditation, and that when I focus on prayer and gratitude, I feel better spiritually and emotionally.  I learned that it’s not as hard as I thought to pack my lunch for work every day, and to get away from my desk to eat it, taking a real lunch break.  I learned how to find joy in the ordinary, and even in the adverse.  I learned that I am still lazy when it comes to exercise and that I am going to have to continue to struggle to get over that hurdle.  But I’ll keep trying.

So, what are my plans for 2015?  Well, I met with my sponsor today and we talked about it.  Our conversation wound its way around to the difference between completing tasks and working toward goals.  I realized that I am not keen to make 2015 about checking things off of my to-do list.  For me, it has to be more about working toward goals…some being measurable, but most being things that can’t be quantified.  They are things that I already do, that I already know bring me joy and feed my soul.  They are things that 2014 showed me I love, but that I feel I need more of in my life.

These are a few of the things that I am thinking about:

  • Read more.  I often let silly time-wasters get in the way of my love of reading.  Toward the end of the year, I got way behind on my blog reading and I am still working finishing the same book that I started in October.  That’s just sad.  I love reading, it brings me joy.
  • Write more.  A while back, I decided to write a memoir…so far I’ve only written an introduction and half of Chapter 1.  I have pages of recovery-related topics that I would like to blog about.  I’ve also been asked by a few different bloggers and recovery websites to write something to contribute to their sites.  I’ve yet to work on any of those, even though I know that writing is something I’ve come to treasure and that is good for me.
  • Connect with others more.  The connections that I have with my friends is absolutely what feeds my soul.  I feel like I have the most wonderful friends, and that my relationships are more meaningful than those I have had in the past.  The lack that I am feeling about my relationships is completely on me.  I am not good at keeping in touch.  There! I’ve said it!  I always have the best intentions, but I’ll talk to a friend about meeting up for coffee…and then six months go by.  Or someone will call me and leave a voicemail, and it takes me a week to call them back.  I don’t know what it is other than life getting in the way, but I want to get better about growing the relationships that I have.  I am blessed with great friends that never make me feel less-than for taking so long to make it to coffee, or for waiting for their second call to actually talk.  They deserve better.  So I am going to work on that.
  • Pray more.  Prayer works.  It’s a fact.  And yet I still don’t think about doing it as much as I should.  I would really like for it to be my go-to response to all things, good and bad, for supplication and for thanksgiving.   When my conscious contact with God is increased, my acceptance, serenity and joy are increased.  I learned that last year, and I’m putting it into action this year.

I’ll probably write more about each of those things in the months to come.  They’re simple goals, really, but they seem so much better than items on a to-do list.  They aren’t things that I can complete…they are the things that will complete me.

I’m looking forward to a peaceful, happy year, and I hope you have one too!

 

 

 

Christmas Eve, interrupted…but only briefly

Today I’m feeling sad.  ‘Tis the season, I guess.  I had one of those ugly, tears-and-snot filled meltdowns this morning.  I’m happy that I made it all the way until Christmas Eve to do it this year, but I was really hoping to avoid it completely.  I miss my daughter terribly, and, actually, I even miss the rest of my family.  Except for the last couple of Christmases before I got into recovery, I have wonderful memories of the holidays with them.  It seems that, unlike other dysfunctional families, mine was always on its best behavior on holidays and birthdays.  It was when we let go of disagreements and grudges, and we all came together to have fun and love each other.  There was laughter, good food, and happy times.  And even though, on most days, I know that I am healthier now, emotionally and spiritually, than when they were in my life, I am having trouble believing that today.

My daughter is 17, attending the University of Arizona, and that’s about all I know.  It’s been nearly four years since I have seen her, and even longer since she wanted to talk to me (for the history of our relationship, click here).  This morning, as I held in my hands the ornaments that she and I made together when she was younger, I felt all the memories of holidays past flooding my thoughts.  There just aren’t enough words to express my longing for her sufficiently.  I don’t even begin to know how to describe it, except that it is both emotionally and physically painful.  Today is one of those days that it is really fucking close to unbearable.  My heart hurts, my eyes spill over, completely out of my control, and I can’t shut it off.  I don’t really want to though.  The thought that I will stop hurting over it someday scares me more than the thought of our separation going on forever.  So I sit with the sadness, knowing that until there is reconciliation, it’s better than the alternative.

All of that said though, this holiday season is the best one that I have had in a long time.  I am trying to do what all good recovering alcoholics do when difficult moments come up, I’m remembering all of the things I have to be grateful for, and accepting all of the rest that life has dealt me without trying to change it.  Those two things have made all the difference.  They have allowed me to spend joyful, quality time with friends.  We’ve shared stories, baked for each other, and had lots of laughs.  I am so grateful for that.  I honestly don’t know what I would do without my crazy, supportive, loving friends.  I would truly be lost.

Another thing that has helped so much this year is making new traditions.  Austin and I have done things differently to celebrate this year.  First of all, we shared Thanksgiving with a close friend of ours, at her house.  That was so great!  Thanksgiving (and other holidays) were often celebrated in my home because I did almost all of the cooking.  This year, I only did half of the cooking, and I didn’t have to stress about my house being clean, or about the day feeling off because I was in the same place, but without my family.  That sounds kind of silly, doesn’t it?  When I read it back to myself, I think so.  I’ve lived in the same place for seven years, so my home has been filled with my family many times…this is the same place my daughter lived with me.  But even in the three plus years that they haven’t been here, it still feels weird to not have them around on holidays.   So getting out of the house for Thanksgiving was a big deal.

Austin and I have also been celebrating the month leading up to Christmas differently.  We have been actively honoring Advent, complete with daily devotional readings and our own little Jesse Tree, for which we made all of the ornaments.  We opted to wait until today, Christmas Eve, like they used to long ago, to put up our Christmas tree.  We will celebrate the 12 days of Christmas that lead to Epiphany and not let tomorrow be the climax of the season.  I’ve really enjoyed doing it this way.  It has given new, more fulfilling meaning to this time of year, and it has started completely new traditions for us.  My family would never appreciate Advent, nor would they read the bible together.  While we were growing up, our tree went up the weekend after Thanksgiving and came down on December 26th.  Making these small, but emotionally substantial changes, has been so healing for me.  There has been a shift in my thinking about the meaning of Christmas, and I can now focus on the reason for the holiday without attaching all of my family’s old traditions to it.  That feels good.

Even though I had a meltdown this morning, and I still have the red nose and headache to prove it, I feel grateful today.  We are having a friend over for dinner, and then going to church.  Tomorrow we will go to a morning service at another church, and then head over to the annual Christmas Alcathon to hang with our fellow 12-steppers.  It will be a good day, just like it should be.

I am wishing you and yours a very happy holiday, full of whatever traditions fill your heart with joy!

Healthy Habit #12 – A month of finding joy

joy2

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.