Every Moment of a Fall – A Review

I love reading memoirs. I would say that they make up about 90% of the books I read. I think I love them so much because, since being in recovery, I’ve learned the importance of sharing stories. Hearing the stories that others have to tell helps me heal, and I hope that others hearing mine helps them in the same way.

I recently read Carol E. Miller’s Every Moment of a Fall, A Memoir of Recovery Through EMDR Therapy, about her PTSD recovery, and I am again amazed at the relief and healing that EMDR offers. It immediately took me back to several years ago when I was going through my own round of EMDR therapy to help with my recovery.

Although Carol’s story of trauma and mine are completely different, there is still a lot that I can relate to as she goes through the process of recovery. Her trauma was caused when the airplane being piloted by her father, and carrying her family, crashed. Carol was the only one to go unscathed physically; her mother and father were badly injured, and her sister was killed. She suffered a lot of guilt and shame being the only one uninjured, and even blamed herself for the crash for a long time.

The trauma that caused my PTSD was rape and physical abuse, so like I said–completely different from Carol’s. The feelings that we both had after are surprisingly similar though. We both suffered with our feelings of inadequacy and self-loathing. We both tried to self-medicate to control the symptoms of PTSD that we were experiencing without knowing or understanding what was causing them. And out of sheer desperation, we both turned to EMDR skeptically because we didn’t know what else to do.

Every Moment of a Fall takes you through Carol’s experience with PTSD and EMDR therapy. She briefly talks about the mechanics of how EMDR works and what happens in the brain, but through her narration, you are able to see and feel what it is really like to go through the process. Little by little, as Carol works on healing, you can see the positive changes that are taking place in her–self-awareness, self-compassion, and self-worth. Her accounting of her EMDR work is honest and real, and she demonstrates that while it is possible, recovery isn’t something that happens overnight, that it takes time, patience, and perseverance.

This isn’t just a book for people with PTSD (although it will undoubtedly help them), or people considering EMDR. It’s a book for anyone who wants to find comfort and hope in the stories of others. I highly recommend it.

You can buy Carol’s book here.

Know Thyself – But Is It Enough?

The other day, my husband, stepson and I were in the car, coming home from shopping, and we were having a discussion about why we each behave the way we do. I’m not sure how exactly we got on this subject, but that often seems to be the way that important conversations start. My stepson, whose intellect is far beyond his eleven years (even though his behavior and emotional age are happily in line with his chronological age), spoke of a situation in which he acted in a less than favorable way. He said, “I know myself, I knew what was going to happen.” He went on to say that knowing what’s going to happen doesn’t always stop his bad behavior.

Isn’t that the truth? An eleven year old just summed up my whole drinking career in one sentence! Knowing what was going to happen when I drank, no matter bad, didn’t stop me from doing it. I would like to say that when I drank I was in denial about the negative consequences, that I really thought that each time I took that first sip of booze that, “this time will be different.” But I wasn’t in denial, I was in my right mind enough to know exactly what would happen – I would drink, I would do and say bad things, I might punch someone, wreck a car, or get arrested. And yet, I drank.

The Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous says,

“The actual or potential alcoholic, with hardly an exception, will be absolutely unable to stop drinking on the basis of self-knowledge. This is a point we wish to emphasize and re-emphasize, to smash home upon our alcoholic readers as it has been revealed to us out of bitter experience.”

Big Book, Fourth Edition; Alcoholics Anonymous, pg. 39

So, clearly Bill and Bob knew that self-knowledge wasn’t enough to help the alcoholic get and stay sober, and I agree. It wasn’t for me. For me it took treatment (twice!), completely removing myself from my regular life, removing triggers and access to booze, to get sober. And then it took a lot of work – the steps with a sponsor, learning honesty, acceptance, and forgiveness – to stay sober. You know what else it took? Yep, you guessed it. Self-knowledge.

Isn’t it funny how that works? The very thing that wasn’t ever going to get me sober is the very thing that I need to stay sober. I had to delve into those parts of me that I didn’t want to know and get acquainted. I had to look closely and carefully at my motivations for just about everything. I had to learn what made me tick. At times, it felt like I was meeting someone new, a stranger who I needed to get to know. Sometimes it was scary and sometimes it was comforting, but getting to know myself was the key to being able to change those parts of me that needed changing to be able tIs self knowledge enough to get and stay sober? o live a life that is happy, joyous, and free.

These days, I feel like I know myself pretty well. The things that I say and do and feel no longer surprise me. That isn’t to say that I don’t screw things up from time to time, I do. The difference now is that I am usually able to understand why I screwed up, and I am quick to try to fix it, and learn from it, so that when a similar situation comes up again – and it will – that I have enough awareness to react differently.

So no, self-knowledge may not be enough to get an alcoholic sober, but it is just what I need to stay sober and be happy.

I’m not sure that my stepson realized how insightful he was about knowing himself, but not really knowing what to do with the knowledge. What I do know, is that I will be there to help him figure it out along the way. And I can do that because I know me.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A New Freedom

Happy 4th of July! It’s a day that we celebrate freedom, and for me that means reflecting on the things that used to enslave me, from which I’m now free. The biggest of which is active alcoholism. Issue-17-Final-Cover-244x300

I wrote an article for Step 12 Magazine, which they were kind enough to make their cover story for the July/August edition. You can download the issue for free and read my article “A New Freedom”(pg. 6) here. Step 12 Magazine is a publication for people in recovery, and it’s been helpful to me–it might be for you too.

Today, as you spend time with family and friends, and tonight as you watch fireworks exploding into beautiful bright shooting stars, take some time to remember what freedom means to you.

The Painting and the Piano – A Must Read

The Painting and the Piano, by John Lipscomb and Adrianne Lugo hit very close to home for me. In this book, the authors each tell their own stories of abusive mothers, addiction, recovery, and finally love, in alternating chapters that captured my attention and held it until the end. I think that every addict and alcoholic, recovering or not, will find John and Adrianne’s stories relatable and full of hope. I know that I did.

I love a good memoir — and if it’s about recovery, it’s even better. So I was excited when I was asked if I would read The Painting and the Piano and write about my thoughts about it. The Painting and the PianoIt’s like reading two memoirs that seamlessly come together at the end. Technically, it’s well written and engaging. But enough of that, I read books for the way they make me feel, not the technical junk. And this book made me feel…well, a lot of things.

At times, the stories were disturbing. Adrianne’s detailed the abuse she suffered from her biological, addict mother after being torn from her foster parents, who had raised her. Every strike that she wrote about made me flinch. John’s feelings regarding his alcoholic mother were heartbreaking and sad. While my own mother was neither physically abusive or an alcoholic, our relationship was always contentious and emotionally abusive, so I definitely feel for what they went through. It also caused me to think about what it must’ve been like for my husband, who grew up with an alcoholic mother and a father who covered for her, similar to John’s parents. John’s feeling of helplessness when he says, “I have no control over the adults in my life — especially Mom — or my fate,” really says it all, doesn’t it? Both John and Adrianne grew up feeling like they couldn’t control anything. I get that, for sure.

“My loudest wails and greatest despair is for the young son and daughter who’ve escaped me for all the same reasons I wanted to escape mother.”   ~John

“I can’t believe I’ve become the woman I’ve spent my life hating.”  ~Adrianne

 

Both John and Adrianne became addicts despite the fact that neither of them wanted to be anything like their mothers. The difference between them and their mothers though, is that they sought help. They wanted to live differently than they were, and they did something about it. Sadly, neither of their mothers were able to do the same.

The descriptions of addiction that John and Adrianne share are so true to me. When Adrianne opts to make a trip home to get her pills, while her daughter writhes in pain, instead of going straight to the hospital, I understand what that felt like. Addiction is priority, even over those we love. Adrianne’s guilt and shame triggered memories in me so much that I had to stop and say a prayer of thanksgiving that I no longer have to live that way. John describes alcoholism like this:

“It was slow at first, barely noticeable, but alcoholism is a progressive disease. It’s like a storm gaining strength, spinning faster and faster, its center tightening and accelerating, pulling me deeper into it, away from my life.” 

That’s just how it is! I couldn’t have said it better.

The two separate stories become one when John and Adrianne meet and embark on a friendship that slowly evolves into more. It’s a beautiful story that reminds me of my husband and me. We met in recovery and have built a life together that we never thought we would have.

I won’t give anymore away about The Painting and the Piano, but I will say this: whether you are in recovery or not, you should read this book. It’s heartbreaking but inspiring, and it allows its readers to witness the miracle that recovery from addiction is.

Buy the book here. I really hope you do.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.