I Should Stop Shoulding Myself

I’ve been reading a book about self-compassion. It talks about the fact that most of us don’t extend the same amount of compassion and kindness to ourselves that we do to others. The reasons for this are many – the way we were spoken to when we were growing up, life experiences that caused us to feel shame, feelings of inadequacy or unworthiness…the list goes on. Whatever the reason we are hard on ourselves, it’s something that breaks us down and deprives us of joy. I know this to be true for me.

The good news is, this brokenness that we inflict upon ourselves can be mended, and learning to have self-compassion can help.

I’m only half-way through the book, but one thing that has already had a profound effect on me is the idea that part of being compassionate toward myself means I have to change the way I talk to myself. Not the silly way I talk to myself out loud when no one is around (that is endlessly entertaining!), but the way that my internal self-talk admonishes and berates me when I don’t live up to the standards I set for myself. If you struggle with being kind to yourself, you know what I mean. Maybe your inner voice calls you names, or insults you. Maybe it belittles or makes fun of you. My inner voice doesn’t call me names or make fun of me; it shoulds me. A lot. And what it says always has an unspoken implication.

“You should have written that post three days ago.” (This tells me I’m unproductive)

“You shouldn’t eat so much.” (This tells me I’m fat)

“You should get off of your butt and do something!” (This tells me I’m lazy)

My inner voice is constantly aware of my faults and failures, and it lets me know by telling me what I should do, or what I should’ve done. It seems that my inner voice is far wiser than I am.

What I have to remember is that my inner voice isn’t an entity of its own. It’s me. It’s me being more critical and disapproving with myself than I ever would be with someone else. Ugh. Why do I do that? I shouldn’t do….

OOPS! See how easy it is for me to should myself?!

I’m working on it though. I am trying to be mindful when I start shoulding myself. I’ve been amazed at just how often that word runs through my mind! When it does, I stop what I’m doing, make note of what I’m down Honey
on myself about, and I think of a more positive way to deal with it. And you know what? It’s starting to work. When I bully myself about something with shoulds and shouldn’ts, it rarely causes me to change my behavior to what it should be. However, when I meet my shortcomings with self-compassion, I’ve found that I am more likely to feel motivated to change it, or fix it, or get it done.

Amazing how that works, isn’t it?!

I knew that to be true when dealing with others. You know, it’s the whole catching flies with honey thing. But it turns out that it works when dealing with myself too! When I treat myself with compassion, I feel better, I get more done, I have more joy, I am happier.

I should’ve known that, shouldn’t I?

Ugh.

Still working on it…

 

Don’t Stuff the Birthday Blues

Yesterday my husband and I had a discussion about stuffing emotions, and whether or not there is a difference between stuffing and just telling ourselves that those thoughts and feelings may be real, but it isn’t doing any good to wallow in them. It’s a fine line, I think, and when I am struggling with an uncomfortable emotion, I’m often not sure which one I’m doing. My husband’s thought about it that is that it depends on what your self-talk is saying about it. Are you telling yourself to suck it up, that you can’t think about that? Or are you telling yourself that these feelings are there, but there isn’t anything you can change about it?

The conversation that started this was about the fact that it’s my daughter’s birthday today and I’m sad. If you’re a reader of my blog, you may remember that my daughter and I are estranged; we have been for nearly five years. Holidays and her birthday are hard (I suspect they always will be) because I always wish that we were together. It’s not that I don’t miss her everyday, I do, but special days amplify my longing.

So, yesterday I wasn’t sure if I was stuffing my emotions or not. I told my husband I was feeling sad, but when he pressed for more, I didn’t have anything else to add. It was the same as always — little snippets of happy times that I had with my daughter flashing through my mind, willy nilly. That’s all. And that’s what it always is, so why talk about it? I think there’s a saying about a dead horse that applies here. At least that’s how I usually feel about the situation. Is that stuffing?

Actually, thinking about it today, I think it was. The reason I say that is because later in the evening last night, I gave in to the emotion. I let myself cry, and I said out loud, “I miss her so much.” My husband hugged me and held me for a while. I didn’t have to say anything else, I didn’t have to discuss every memory that was in my head, I just had to actually feel the feeling…let it take hold for a minute. I didn’t have to wallow, but I did have to acknowledge what I was feeling, whether I liked it or not. But then, after I took some ibuprofen and a hot bath, I felt some relief.

Some.

I woke up this morning and the sadness was still there. I haven’t cried today, but I’m not stuffing it…I’m writing this post.

Happy Birthday, Kari. I love you.

19th birthday

Winning the Shame Game

I write another blog on the HealthyPlace.com website called Trauma! A PTSD Blog about my experiences with posttraumatic stress disorder (please check it out). My latest post there is about dealing with the shame that comes from being a victim of trauma. That got me to thinking about the shame that accompanies alcoholism, and I thought that it was worth writing about.

I have lived most of my 44 years with a deep sense of shame. Part of it came from the household that I was raised in, I’m sure. Another part of it came from abuse that I suffered later. And still more came from my active drinking days. Now I know that the shame I felt because of things that happened to me was unwarranted – I didn’t ask for any of that. I’ve worked through a lot of that in therapy and with my sponsor. But the alcoholic junk? That’s harder to let go. I caused all of that myself, so shouldn’t I be ashamed?

The answer to that is no. Should I have felt guilt over those things? Yes, definitely. Guilt and shame usually go hand-in-hand, but they are two shame2very different emotions. When I feel guilty about something it’s because I have done something wrong, or even bad. When I feel shame about something it’s because I am getting stuck in the belief that I am wrong or bad – inherently. It’s a feeling of being defective and worthless. While feeling guilty can be useful (unless we stay there too long), causing us to make amends and right wrongs, shame really serves no useful purpose. All it does is break us down and make us feel helpless.

It’s easy to see why shame and alcoholism go together. They feed off of one another and create a vicious cycle of self-destruction. When I was drinking, part of the reason was to shut down the feelings of shame that I had, to escape them. And it worked…briefly. What happened though, was that my alcoholism caused me to create huge amount of wreckage in my life, which gave me more to feel shame over. So then I had to drink more, and then I had more to feel ashamed about, so then I had to drink more…and so it went for a long time.

I know now, intellectually at least, that even with all of the bad choices I made, and the bad behavior I displayed, I am not inherently bad. I am a person who has struggled with many things, has had many regrets, and has had plenty of reasons to feel guilt, but I am not worthless or irredeemable or broken beyond repair. The thing about shame though, is that it still sneaks up on me. The other day I was going over some step work with my sponsor, reading my responses to some questions, and she stopped me. She looked at me and said, “But Jami, you are enough, you know that, right?” I didn’t even realize that the answer I had read was full of shame, until it was pointed out to me.

That’s what I’m talking about when I say that shame is sneaky. I have to be mindful of what I am telling myself about me, and when I slip into that shameful thinking, I have to remember that I am enough…just as I am, right now…and no matter what you have gone through, or are currently going through, you are enough too. Don’t let shame tell you otherwise.:)

 

 

 

Surrender to Win

There is a paradox in Alcoholics Anonymous that tells us that we must “surrender to win.” When I first entered AA, I thought that it seemed kind of crazy that I would have to surrender, or give up, in order to get better. Wasn’t that was I was already doingSurrender? I sure felt like I had given up. Everything. That was where drinking had gotten me to. Like lots of things in AA though, surrendering to win started to make sense once I started to practice it.

It was when I was working my first step, looking back on all of the things that I had said and done while drinking, the things that showed (rather obviously) that I was powerless over alcohol and that my life had become unmanageable, that I caught my first glimpses of what surrender might look like for me. I finally was able to see that what I was doing wasn’t working and that I had to find another way to do things, or I was likely going to die. I had to throw in the towel, or it was going to be thrown in for me. I had to surrender. I had to stop fighting, hiding, and resisting because I knew that I could not win or succeed doing it my way.

I had to surrender to the fact that I was an alcoholic. I could no longer hang onto the idea that maybe there was something I could do to manage my drinking, or that maybe, if I just quit for a while, that I could go back to being a normal drinker one day. I had to surrender to the fact that I was different from normies, and that I would never be able to be one.

I had to surrender to the fact that I couldn’t stay sober alone. I had tried so many times, yet I always failed. Sure, I could make it a day or two without drinking…maybe even three. But anything could and did send me right back to the bottle and I picked up right where I left off. Even when I didn’t want to! That’s the craziness of alcoholism, I didn’t want to drink anymore, but I couldn’t stop. I had to surrender to the idea that I needed help to get sober, and that I would find that help in God and in other alcoholics.

I had to surrender to the program. I know that there are people who get sober without a 12 step program, but AA is what saved my life. So I had to stop resisting working the steps, and stop resisting taking suggestions, and stop resisting living the principles of AA to change my life. This was big for me because I wanted to think that I was different from others in the program – clearly, none of those people had the problems and traumas that I had. Ha! It’s actually funny to think about now…because every alcoholic that I meet thought that way at one time.

I had to surrender to the idea that there was hope for me. Before I got into the rooms, I had thoughts that the way my life was (a great big effing mess), was just the way it was going to be until I died. I was stuck. My life was hopeless and I was irredeemable. In order for me to surrender to all of those other things, I had to believe that there was hope. For me. For my future. Thank God I saw hope in the faces of my fellow alcoholics at every meeting I went to. That hope is what encouraged me to grasp hold of my recovery and hang on.

So, “surrender to win?” Yeah, I get it now. And I am thankful for it every day.

 

 

 

 

Alcohol Awareness Month

It’s April and that means it’s Alcohol Awareness Month. Every year the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence sponsors this month to increase public awareness, NCADD_Alcohol_Awareness_Month_Logoreduce stigma, and encourage people to focus on alcoholism and alcohol-related issues. And each year for the last three, I have spoken about alcoholism awareness at the college where I worked. Since I no longer work there, I thought I would blog about it instead.

This year’s theme is “Talk Early, Talk Often: Parents Can Make a Difference in Teen Alcohol Use.” The goal is to get parents talking to their kids about alcohol use and open the lines of communication about alcoholism and its consequences. The bigger picture is aimed at everyone – those of us who are alcoholics, anyone who has been affected by alcoholism, and even those who have not and who know nothing about it – so that we can reduce the stigma attached to alcoholism.

The only way to reduce stigma is to get the information out there, and for those of us who have one, to tell our story. It isn’t always easy, there are still those people out there who think that all alcoholics are deadbeats and losers who drink cheap liquor from a bottle in a brown paper sack. I wrote once about a time that one of my supervisors cautioned me to stay quiet about my addiction. I didn’t. I told my story and I had a wonderful, positive response. But, I can’t help but think that if I had let my boss have her way, that wouldn’t have happened, and I would’ve felt ashamed and less-than for being an alcoholic. It is through the telling of our stories that we are able to help others. The stories that I  hear from other alcoholics is what helps me, and I hope that I help others by sharing mine.

If you want more information about Alcohol Awareness Month you can get it here.

If you or a loved one suffers from alcoholism and you are looking for treatment facilities you can look at ConsumerAffairs’ Drug and Alcohol Rehab Guide.

If you would like to find a meeting of Alcoholics Anonymous in your area you can find one here.

 

 

 

 

Promises, Promises

The 9th Step Promises of the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous say:

If we are painstaking about this phase of our development, we will be amazed before we are half way through. We are going to know a new freedom and a new happiness. We will not regret the past nor wish to shut the door on it. We will comprehend the word serenity and we will know peace. No matter how far down the scale we have gone, we will see how our experience can benefit others. That feeling of uselessness and self-pity will disappear. We will lose interest in selfish things and gain interest in our fellows. Self-seeking will slip away. Our whole attitude and outlook upon life will change. Fear of people and of economic insecurity will leave us. We will intuitively know how to handle situations which used to baffle us. We will suddenly realize God is doing for us what we could not do for ourselves.

Are these extravagant promises? We think not. They are being fulfilled among us – sometimes quickly, sometimes slowly. They will always materialize if we work for them.

(The Big Book, pp. 83-84).

We read these promises at the end of every meeting of my home group, and I have always loved it when the chairperson asks me to be the one who reads them. Even in my earliest days of sobriety, it was the Promises that gave me hope. You see, I wanted those promises for me and my life, although much of the time I never thought I could be so fortunate. I could see the evidence of the Promises in other alcoholics’ lives, they were happy, emotionally and spiritually fit, they could pay their bills on time, and they had healthy relationships. It didn’t bother them to talk about their pasts, and they weren’t wallowing in them either. They spoke about their drinking days in the context of, “you have to feel the bad times, to appreciate the good ones.” That was new to me, and in those first couple of years of sobriety, I didn’t think that I would ever be able to feel that way about my past.

Guess what happened though? Somewhere along the way, as I worked the steps – struggling through the hard days, and grateful for the good ones – the Promises started coming true for me. I have found a new freedom and a new happiness. Neither of those things came easily though. Freedom from drinking as a way to cope is never easy for an alcoholic. In fact, I think it’s a miracle when any alcoholic can go any length of time without a drink. I really do. But I also think that every minute, hour, day, and year that I stay sober I am free of my old way of coping, and that freedom feels good. What I have learned about happiness is that you can have it if you choose to. I have been through some pretty rough times in sobriety, some times that were even worse than the hell I went through when I was actively drinking, but I notice now that often I am able to choose happiness even then, even in those moments that used to baffle me.

There are still things about my past that I regret. What I find though is that I no longer wish to shut the door on it. I am able to talk and think about my past without guilt and shame (at least on most days), and sharing my past might help someone else. That’s what it has become for me – a way to help others in the same way that I have been helped. How can I be ashamed of that?

Self-pity used to be where I hung out most of the time. The Promises say that it will disappear, and I will say that I can see now that it is true. I’m not saying that I never fall back into that way of thinking, I do. However, I spend a whole lot less time there, and I bounce back faster when I do start to feel it. That too, is a miracle.

“Fear of people and of economic insecurity will leave us.” Wow, I never thought that I would experience that, but I have. I’m not saying that I don’t worry anymore about what people are going to think, or that I am suddenly financially secure. What I am saying is that I have learned that I don’t have to be afraid of either of those things. What other people think is none of my business, and I no longer feel the need to try to live up to whatever it is I think they want from me. And even though I haven’t won the lottery, and I’m not independently wealthy, when financial challenges come up, I don’t stress as much. I know that things will be okayAll things are possible. I just know.

Knowing that things will be okay comes from the realization that “God is doing for us what we could not do for ourselves.” That’s it, plain and simple. God is at work, and I am not trying to run His show. Admittedly, there are times that I still try to take over…ok, there are still a lot of times that I try to take over, but when I am able to let go and hand it over to God, amazing things happen.

To the newcomer I say, be patient with your recovery. Believe that the Promises do come true. To the old-timers I say, thank you for helping me to believe.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sober, Not Perfect

ugh2

Have you ever done something that you knew would have negative consequences and then instantly regretted it? Recently, I did that. I used to do that a lot – when I was drinking. Admittedly, the regret usually came later then, not right away. This time though, I wasn’t drinking, I had my wits about me, and I still did it. What’s worse is, I did it out of anger.

Ugh.

We’re not supposed to behave that way once we get sober, right? I mean, I’ve been sober for over three years, I’ve worked the steps many times over, I have a sponsor who I talk to all the time, I do the maintenance steps (10-12) every day…I have really changed the way I live. And yet, I really screwed up and impacted other people’s lives, and I may have lost one of the closest friendships I have.

I’ve been doing a bit of wallowing about this whole thing for the last few days, self-loathing and self-pity joining me in the mire. It hasn’t really been a very good time, and I’ve been wondering what I should do. The thing is, I know what to do. It’s just hard doing it. I have to make amends, sooner rather than later. I will. It may not save the friendship that I cherish so much, but I have to clean up my side of the street.

This whole situation has taught me a few things – or maybe it’s just reminded me of a few things. One, reacting out of anger is not the way to go. Often times, my first inclination is to lash out when I’m hurt or scared. Over the years though, and through working the program, I’ve learned that I shouldn’t act on my first inclination. It’s that “first thought wrong,” thing that I’ve learned in AA. The second thing is that even though I am sober, with a good program and lots of support and wisdom from those around me, I am still going to screw up sometimes. I’m human, and that’s what humans do. Which brings me to the third thing: what I do now is what matters. Taking responsibility and trying to repair what I’ve broken is what I have to do. I could leave this whole thing alone, wait for it to fade away into the past, but the guilt I have over it wouldn’t go away, and a place of guilt is a dangerous place for me to hang out in.

So this weekend, I will put on my big girl panties and try to make things right. We’ll see what happens.

Expect Less, Accept More

The last week and a half has gone nothing like I had planned. I had meetings scheduled, some training for a group that I am a part of, and a new art class that I am attending. I had plans to be busy, but busy with the things I love to do…the things that feed my soul. My calendar app on my phone was looking pretty full, and I liked it.

Enter the flu (or something very much like it).

My house quickly became an infirmary. My stepson got very sick and missed a whole week of school, somewhere along day 4 or 5 of his coughing, hacking, feverish yuckiness, I got it. So for at least a week and a half, all the plans I had (read: all the expectations I had) were kaput.Expectations

It’s when I start having expectations that I get into trouble. There’s a saying in AA: “an expectation is a premeditated resentment.” It’s so true! When all of my plans had to be changed because we were sick and contagious, I started to get resentful. I knew that it wasn’t anyone’s fault that we were sick and plans had to be changed, but I was irritated, nonetheless. I had plans, dammit! And now things were not turning out like I had expected.

I stayed grumpy and irritated for a couple of days, and then I realized what was happening – sometimes I’m a little bit slow to come around. It wasn’t only the flu that was making me grouchy, it was that things hadn’t gone the way I wanted them to. My expectations were challenged and I didn’t like it.

The only way that I have found to combat having expectations is to do my best to live in acceptance. When things don’t go my way, the faster I accept that they are what they are, the quicker I can let go of my expectations and have some peace. Of course, I know that the real answer is to be mindful and not have expectations in the first place, but alas, I am a work in progress.

So, everyone is well now, and things are back to normal. Meetings were rescheduled, and cancelled plans are set to be made up. In the grand scheme of things, this was just a little bump in the road. The thing to remember is that it is always up to me whether or not I let the little bumps derail me, or just slow me down a little.

 

 

 

Finding My Serenity

I just saw that it has been four months since I have posted here! I can’t believe it. I don’t have any excuses, nor have I decided to stop blogging. I guess life just gets in the way sometimes. It was a busy, but good, holiday season — one of the best that I have had in a long time. It wasn’t until a few weeks after Christmas that I suffered a setback. I had a miscarriage. It was sad and awful and I wouldn’t wish it on anyone.

The good news is that I learned a lot from it, and throughout the whole ordeal (and it was an ordeal) I didn’t want to pick up a drink at all. Not once. What a blessing. When I think back to four years ago, I know that the situation would’ve sent me right back to the bottle, and quickly. I would have maSerenityde an emotionally messy time even messier, and who know where I would’ve ended up. Not this time though. I had lots of support from family and friends, and I am thankful for that. But I think that what helped me most were some of the things I have learned in the program of Alcoholics Anonymous.

Here are some of the things that helped me get through a tough time:

  • Step 2 – Came to believe that a power greater than myself could restore me to sanity. Believing that God (my Higher Power) could restore me to sanity during and after my miscarriage was comforting to me. It meant that I didn’t have to try to do it all by myself. The beauty of Step 2 is that we have someone — someone with far more power than we have — in our corner, to support us, and to take care of things that we can’t.
  • Step 3 – Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God, as we understood him. This step is a go-to step for me every single day. It is not always easy to turn my will over to God, I am prone to take it back…repeatedly. When I do actually turn something over to God though, and I let go of it for good, it is like a weight being lifted off of my shoulders. I had to practice this with my miscarriage. I knew that God’s will isn’t always going to match mine, and that the sooner I let go of the pain, handing it over to God, I would have some peace about the situation.
  • Acceptance – “And acceptance is the answer to all my problems today. When I am disturbed, it is because I find some person, place, thing or situation — some fact of my life — unacceptable to me, and I can find no serenity until I accept that person, place, thing or situation as being exactly the way it is supposed to be at this moment.”  This quote from Dr. Paul’s story, Acceptance is the Answer, in the Big Book of AA, is a lifesaver for me. What it says to me is that when I’m upset about something that I cannot change, I have to change my perspective about that thing. When my perspective changes, I am able to move into acceptance…and that brings serenity. I had to accept that my expectation of having a healthy pregnancy that resulted in a healthy baby wasn’t going to happen. Changing my perspective from, “Why is this happening to me?” to “I guess this pregnancy wasn’t meant to happen right now” helped me to deal with the sadness and disappointment.
  • The Serenity Prayer – God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; courage to change the things I can; and the wisdom to know the difference. These three lines that we recite during every AA meeting really kind of say it all. We need to change what we can, accept what we can’t and be able to recognize the difference. If we do that, there is no situation that we can’t make it through — including losing a baby.
  • Step 11 – Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God, as we understood Him. I love this step because it is always my goal to strengthen my relationship with God. I pray often, whether things are going well or I am circling the drain, and when I do, I immediately feel closer to God, no matter what outcomes come to pass. When something difficult arises, like my miscarriage, prayer and conscious contact with God comforting to me.

The AA program is so much more than just a way to quit drinking. I have been sober for over 3 years now, and the meaning and the application of the steps and suggestions of AA continue to evolve as I do. It’s a program that not only saved my life, but taught me how to live it — and how to find my serenity.

 

 

 

 

Sometimes You Need a Full Stop

unplug

This time of year always seems to get me down. And 2015 isn’t proving to be any different. This time it started a little bit early, September instead of October, and it has lasted longer. Despite all of the good things that are happening in my life, I have been depressed and anxious, with some PTSD junk thrown in – just for some added fun. The funny thing is, intellectually, I am grateful and I realize that I really have nothing to be sad or down about. But it’s autumn, and my emotions seem to be winning the battle against my intellect.

In the past, when I have felt like this, I have done one of two things:  I either trudged on, suffering silently, with a smile on my face, until I had some sort of meltdown, or I got drunk. This time, in the interest of avoiding self-destruction, I decided to do things differently. I am choosing honesty, sobriety, and self-care. Imagine that! It sounds so healthy!

It’s really easy for me to say I’m fine, or I’m just peachy, when someone asks me how I am. So easy. Now though, when someone who I know cares about me (not the grocery store clerk or mere acquaintances) asks how I’m doing, I’m being honest. If my anxiety is up, I tell them. If I’m feeling depressed, I say it. And it works! Just getting the truth out of my head and acknowledged by someone else, takes some of the power away from what I’m feeling. I was also honest when I went to see my doctor a couple of weeks ago, which resulted in an adjustment to my medicine. In the past, I don’t think I would’ve done that. I think I would’ve opted to believe that the problem was with me, and that I had to figure out how to navigate it without any help.

Surprisingly, and oh so thankfully, my sobriety hasn’t been challenged at all this time. I am coming up on three years sober, and I am so grateful that I haven’t felt like drinking would make things better. It’s a miracle if you ask me! Knowing that I can make it through tough times without drinking is truly a blessing that comes from God. It’s grace, pure and simple.

The biggest part of me getting through this period of depression and anxiety is self-care.  This is something that I am still learning to do in recovery, but I recognized this time that it is essential. There are times that I need a full stop from outside stressors, and this is one of them. The difference is that in the past, I would never have admitted stop-sign-2that I needed it. I would’ve carried on, hoping the negative feelings would pass. What I did this time is take a month off of my job to work on myself. A leave of absence to take care of my mental health! I’m over a week in, and I still can’t believe that I put my well-being ahead of my job. This is huge!  My husband, my sponsor, and several friends have commented on how big of a change this is for me, and how great it is that I am doing this for myself. I was undecided about it for the first few days, but I realize now that they’re right. It’s what I need right now, and it is already helping me.

So, I am spending my time doing the things that feed my soul, and take care of my mind. I’m reading, writing, taking walks, talking to friends, baking, crafting, and napping. I’m listening to my body and my brain, and doing what I need to keep them healthy and sane. And you know what? It feels good!

I know that this cycle of depression will pass, it always has in the past. The difference this time is I’m doing what I can to help it go away. Honesty, sobriety, and self-care…and, just for now, a full stop.