On quitting quitting…

finish

I am a really good starter of things.  I start diets.  I start projects.  I start exercising.  I start friendships.  I start eating healthy.  I start laundry.  I have good intentions.  Really, I do.  But there a lot of things that I just don’t finish.  I have been this way for as long as I can remember, even when I was little.  When I was in grade school I started gymnastics, piano lessons, Girl Scouts.  And I didn’t stick with any of them.  As I got older I joined clubs in high school, I started college, I forged new friendships, I started therapy.  And I didn’t stick with any of them.

One of my biggest regrets is not finishing college.  I was a good student all the way through high school, and I was awarded a full academic scholarship to the local university.  I went one semester.  ONE.  Then I quit and went to work.  During the next several years I went back to school from time to time, but I never did finish.  As the semester would end, or as I would finish a class, I would just kind of give up.  Nothing horrible happened, I still had good grades, I just didn’t want to go anymore.  So I didn’t.

I’m not exactly sure why I am not a good finisher of things.  Is it because my parents never made me finish anything that I didn’t like?  Is it because when the novelty of something wears off, I’m just no longer interested?  I think that both of those things play a part.  But as I think about it, it may have more to do with how I feel about myself than how I feel about whatever it is I’m trying to finish.

For as long as I can remember I have struggled with self-acceptance and self-worth.  I am only now learning, at almost 42 years old, that I do have some good qualities.  I am better able to speak the truth to myself about me, rather than feeding the narrative that I heard (or maybe even created) growing up.  I know that I am smart, not just lucky, as I was told by my mother as a child.  I know that I am not horribly ugly like I thought for most of my youth because everyone oohed and aahed over my sister’s beauty, but not mine.  I know that I have a truly good heart, despite the fact that my family doesn’t find me loveable.  I guess what I am getting at, is that, by telling myself the truth, I have begun to like who I am.  Love may be on it’s way, but it’s not here quite yet.

So what does all of that have to do with me being a quitter?  Well, I think that I haven’t ever really felt that I was worthy of accomplishment.  I didn’t deserve to be a college graduate, I didn’t deserve to have friends that love me for me, I didn’t deserve to look fit and be healthy physically.  I wasn’t worth it.  At least, I didn’t think I was worth it.

Now that I have been in recovery for over two years, and I have really examined the parts of my life that I tried to avoid for so long, I have had to take a long, hard look at myself.  What I have found is that I am worthy of those things.  I am worthy of being happy and healthy, I am worthy of being accomplished.  And I’m capable.  I can do it.  Without quitting.  All the way to the finish.

I can do it

PS-I have started a class, Contemporary Literature, and I will finish it.  I have started C25K, and I will be able to run a 5K.  More details to come….

The difference that made all the difference

get_it_together

“Get it together, DeLoe!”

That’s what I used to tell myself.  A lot.  I’ve thought it in my head, whispered it quietly, yelled it out in anger, mumbled it through tears, cried it out in frustration.  Whenever I had an overwhelming emotion, that was my mantra.  Fear, anger, anxiety, sadness, grief.  They all got the same response.  Just get it together, DeLoe.  You see, I thought that the best thing to do with those types of feelings was to stuff them down so far that I could appear to have it together.  If I could get it together on the outside, then no one would have to know how messed up I was on the inside.  If I could just “act right,” like my mother used to say, then everything would be alright.  Feeling those negative emotions would serve no purpose.  It does no good to cry over something, it’s not going to change the outcome.  There’s no use being mad, you’re going to get over it anyway.  If you’re frustrated with something, just quit trying.  I heard those types of things all the time growing up.  I was always ‘getting it together.’  What I realize now, that I didn’t know then, is that I was being taught that I had to keep it together on the outside – act right – to get the love and happiness I so desperately wanted.  Whatever was happening on the inside didn’t matter.  I could get what I wanted if my actions were acceptable.

Over time, I became pretty adept at stuffing my emotions.  If it was something that was unbearable, unpleasant, or even just a little bit uncomfortable, it got stuffed away.  Nope, not gonna feel that right now.  I would put on my game face, and suck it up.  I used to think that meant I was just going with the flow; that I was handling things and moving forward.  What I learned is that when you stuff, avoid, or shrug off your true feelings, they have a way of rearing up again later.  There comes a point at which there is no more room for stuffing.  The maximum capacity has been reached.  For me, that happened when I was in my mid thirties.  I found that I could no longer get it together, no matter how hard I tried.  Old feelings, for things that had happened long ago, started to bubble up.  And this time, I couldn’t just swallow them back down.  They were back, and they meant business.  Stuffing and ignoring them was, clearly, no longer an option.  I had physical reactions to the feelings – anxiety, panic, crying jags.  My old way of coping was failing.  Enter booze.  I might not be able to stuff emotions away anymore, but I sure could I drink them away!  And drink them away I did.  For years.  Alcohol was my solution for a long time.  It kept those bad feelings trapped in a place where I didn’t have to deal with them.  If they started to surface, I would have a drink, or two, or ten.  And then, at least for a while, I could be free of the emotional pain.  But then that stopped working too.

What resulted was no longer just the bubbling up of emotions, it was a full-on volcano eruption of my unfelt, unprocessed feelings.  I was angry, sad, depressed, needy, and crazy, sometimes all at the same time.  I was losing control, and I didn’t know what to do.  I had always been able to keep it together, no matter how hard it was.  But I just couldn’t do it.  I was sinking and I knew it.  I drank more and more.  When I had moments of actual clarity, or some form thereof, I would wonder to myself how I would ever have any happiness, serenity, or peace, if I couldn’t get it together.  I mean, how could I have any of those things when I was such a huge mess?!?  Looking back, I can see that at the time, I thought that good things (like happiness, serenity and peace) were only for “good” people, and I most definitely was not “good.”

From there, my life spiraled downward.  My alcoholism became full-blown, I was either drunk or hungover most of the time.  I was depressed and cried all the time.  I had nothing to contribute to relationships with family and friends.  I still had a job, but I was regularly screwing up.  I was just struggling to make it through each day alive.  Though there were many days that I hoped the opposite would happen.  I honestly thought that I was destined, or doomed, to live the rest of my life in that condition.  I didn’t see how things could ever get better, because I couldn’t get it together.  I didn’t deserve for things to get better, I was so broken, I wasn’t worth it.

And then, after thirty plus years of getting it together, trying to do good to get good, wearing a game face and sucking it up even when it felt impossible, something miraculous and life changing happened.  I gave up.  I gave up trying to control every emotion, every situation, every person I met.  I knew that I couldn’t do it anymore.  I was finally waving the white flag.

I found myself in treatment for my drinking.  I was terrified and hopeful, worried and relieved.  My emotions were all over the place and I felt like a bigger mess than ever.

And that’s when I first heard about grace.

I went to a Christian treatment facility and after the first week I attended a bible study each evening.   I had only been to church on a few rare occasions in the past.  I didn’t know what to expect, or how I would respond to what was talked about, but I knew that I couldn’t continue living the way I had been.  I knew that I was missing something in my life that I had tried to find from other things – attention, men, booze, etc.  I was looking for something that would make me feel worthy of love, happiness and peace; something that I didn’t have to ‘get it together’ to enjoy.  It was there, in treatment, that I was first exposed to this message of grace.  I didn’t quite know what to make of it, but I knew it sounded good.

Grace, I learned, is the love and mercy than God bestows on us just because He wants to, not because we have earned it.  It is a free gift given without expectation of good works.  Wow.  I don’t know about you, but I never had that before, from anyone.  And here I was learning that not only did I get to partake in God’s grace, but I didn’t have to do anything to get it!  I didn’t have to ‘get it together’ or ‘act right’ for God to love and accept me.  He loved me where I was, as I was.

It is by God’s grace that I have had so many wonderful things happen in the last two years.  I fell in love with the perfect man for me, and he loves me back.  I have been able to stay sober for coming up on nine months.  I have stronger, more meaningful relationships with friends than I ever had before.  I am able to feel happiness and peace, even when life is challenging.  Those are not things that I could’ve done by myself.  They are not things that I could have ever earned by doing what I used to – getting it together.  They are all things that have been given to me freely by God.  No strings attached.  How awesome is that?  I’m still broken, still a mess at times, and not someone who has it all together (even on a good day!), but despite that, I am loved and accepted, and I feel peace and joy.  I have Someone in my corner who loves me unconditionally, even with all of my jagged edges.

Are there still times that I slip into the ‘get it together’ mentality?  Or times when I try to stuff an emotion that I don’t want to feel?  Of course.  But the truth is, it is far less often than I used to, and it is no longer my answer to every situation.   My husband is always quick to catch me when I’m trying to put on my game face, and he reminds me that I’m a real girl, with real feelings.  That helps me so much to know that it’s okay to feel angry, sad, or depressed.  And we have a new saying in our house.  It’s no longer “Get it together, DeLoe,” (that’s my maiden name, by the way).  We now use my married name:

“Live in grace, Olive!” 

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Chronomania

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I hate to be late.  For anything.  As a matter of fact, I like to be early.  For everything.  I also hate it when other people are late.  I was in management for over 15 years, and the very first thing I told my new employees was, “Tardiness is my pet peeve, please be on time.”   I’m not sure where my craziness about being on time comes from, but the story that I tell myself is:  people who are late are arrogant…they think that whatever it is they are doing is more important than what they are supposed to be doing.  And I don’t want to be arrogant.

I call my feelings about being late ‘craziness’ because there are times that I am completely irrational about watching the clock.  I am sometimes obsessive and anxiety-ridden until I arrive wherever I am supposed to be, early.  And the truth is, I am rarely ever actually late for anything.  Of course, the ‘craziness’ says that the only reason for that is because I am so diligent in my clock-watching.  If I let my guard down, who knows what will happen!?!  Clearly I would miss all of my appointments, I would get fired from my job, friends would be stranded, cursing me for making them wait.  Disaster would prevail.

Now you see why I call it craziness.

Mornings are the worst, because I am married to a very laid back, I’ll-get-to-it-when-I-get-to-it kind of guy.  Not that he’s late for things (he’s been trained after all), he just doesn’t get amped up about time like I do.  We go to a 6:45 a.m. meeting most mornings, and the 15 minutes before I want to leave are pretty much always the same.  Keep in mind that the time I want to leave gets us to the meeting a good 20-25 minutes before it starts.  Anyway, it goes like this:  I’m almost ready to go, maybe just have my hair to dry, and I stick my head out the front door where my honey sits reading the news on his laptop while having his coffee.  “Ok Handsome, it’s time for you to come in and get ready.”  He always responds, “I’ll be right in.”  And then the clock starts ticking louder and louder.  As I blow-dry my hair, I strain to hear if the front door is opening.  Sometimes he does come right in, and life is good.  But other times, he finishes whatever article he’s reading (the nerve!) and I start to panic.  Sometimes there is a second trip to the front door…sometimes a third.  I don’t know why I do this, it takes him about 4 minutes to get ready, and we nearly always leave at the time I have designated.  I have tried not making that trip to the front door, and you know what?  My husband still comes in, gets ready, and we leave on time.

So why can’t I leave it alone?  I think it’s because of that one time out of a hundred, when I am actually late for something, the fear of being perceived as arrogant (I mean that’s what I, myself, think, others must feel the same, right?), is too difficult for me to deal with.  I know, I know, I shouldn’t be worried about what others think.  And in most cases, I’m not.  I guess this is just another character defect that needs some attention. 🙂

I just read this post to my husband.  He laughed and said, “it sounds kinda silly when you write it down, doesn’t it?”  And he’s right.  It does.  So tomorrow, I am not going to be the Clock Nazi.  I will remain calm.  Oh wait.  I have to be to work early tomorrow….I’ll start Tuesday.

“Expectations are the root of all heartache” ~William Shakespeare

Expectation

That’s how it works, isn’t it?  Whenever I have an expectation, and it doesn’t turn out like I want it to or like I think it should, I get angry. Instant resentment. And you know what? I know better. I have been in recovery long enough to know the sayings about expectations (like the one above), and my favorite story in the Big Book is Acceptance is the Answer, which talks about accepting things as they are, and not having expectations.  Yet I still find that I often have unrealistic expectations of others and of myself.   And usually when that happens, the outcome isn’t so great.

When it comes to others, I have to be really careful about what my motivation is for doing something.  I have to ask myself why I’m doing it and what I am expecting in return.  Is it recognition that I’m looking for, a pat on the back?  Or is it sympathy?  Validation?  Agreement?  Am I doing it because of self-righteousness?  Believe me, I ask myself a lot of questions, but the questions about my reason for doing something often prove to be the hardest ones to answer.  I like to think that I’m a caring, compassionate person, and that I do things out of the goodness of my heart.  Sometimes that really is the reason, I do nice things just because I’m nice.  But, if I’m honest, that is not always the case.  So if I am doing nice things for someone because I am looking forward to the “thanks, you’re so great,” am I doing it for the right reason?  I don’t think so.  There have been many times that I have done favors for someone and not been thanked.  And I become resentful.  I have to remind myself that if I am doing something nice, it needs to be for the sake of doing something nice, not because I expect kudos for it.

That is especially hard for me when it comes to my job.  I know that, at times, I express that I am overwhelmed with work because the typical response is, “I know Jami, you work so hard, we couldn’t do it without you.”  That atta-girl bolsters my ego and helps me to work harder, to press on.  Or so it seems to me.  The truth is, I would probably get more work done if I quit complaining, and then I wouldn’t be so overwhelmed.  Ugh.  You see, I know what the right thing to do is, it’s just doing it that’s hard.  And what happens when I don’t get the response I expect?  I get upset.  I feel resentful, under appreciated, ready to throw in the towel.

When I got out of rehab the first time, I expected everyone in my family to meet me with open arms and to tell me how proud they were that I had gotten help.  That didn’t happen.  They had already written me off.   Having had that expectation, and being disappointed by their reactions, I went spiraling downward.  I got angry.  Shocker.  And ultimately, I drank again.  Another shocker.  It was only when I was able to accept that their reaction to me was completely out of my control, and that I couldn’t have expectations about their behavior, that I was able to find any peace about it.

My expectations don’t just stop with other people though.  I get equally frustrated with myself, because I don’t live up to all of the expectations I set for myself.  I think that I should be able to do more, sleep less, be a better wife, be a better friend, have a cleaner house, fold the last dryer-full of laundry instead of leaving it to wrinkle, write perfect blog posts, return all of my emails, always be on time…the list goes on.  And when I’m not able to do all of those things, I’m disappointed and resentful toward myself.

So, what’s a girl to do about all of this?

I find that checking my motivation works.  When I do things for the right reasons, without a specific expectation, it’s so much easier to accept whatever the outcome is.  And acceptance is the answer, after all.  I also find that doing a 4th step inventory of my resentments, and talking it over with my sponsor helps me to see what my part is.  Often my part is simply having unrealistic expectations, and changing my perspective is the solution.  Ultimately, when I remember that the thing that can screw me up the fastest is having an idea of the way things should be, and instead I choose to practice acceptance, patience, and honesty, I have more serenity, more hope, and much more joy.

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Keeping the Faith

Faith

Today’s AA meeting was much better than the one last week.  I wrote about the drama last week when an old-timer told a newcomer to shut the fuck up during his emotional share.  (Update:  I haven’t seen that newcomer all week.  I hope that only means that he has chosen to go to different meetings after what happened, and not the alternative.)   Thank God there was no drama today.  It was an enlightening meeting with a lot of insightful shares and it was filled with hope.  The topic was faith.  The person that brought up the topic (the same old-timer that was so rude last week!) expressed that, as the Bible says in Matthew 13:31, all we need to change for the better, to live a life filled with joy, to stay sober, to have a relationship with God, is faith as small as a mustard seed.  That resonated with me because when it came to both my faith in God and the gospel, and my faith in AA, that’s all I had.

My faith in God came first.  I grew up in a family that didn’t go to church, didn’t talk about God or the Bible, and didn’t behave in a Christian way.  Yet, if you had asked any of them if they were Christians, they would have enthusiastically said yes.  But, whenever I questioned them about faith in God, no one could explain it to me in a way that I understood or believed.  A typical response was “it’s just something you have.”  I didn’t get it, so at an early age, I declared myself agnostic.  I couldn’t see God, couldn’t touch God, couldn’t feel His presence, so how could I have faith in Him?  I didn’t even know if He was real.  I saw though, in people outside of my family, that the ones that had faith had something I wanted.  They had a serenity and peace about them.  They were able to face things that seemed impossible to me, and make it to the other side of trials and tribulations.  I always knew that I was missing out on something big, I just couldn’t figure out how to get it.

I think that is one of the reasons that I became an alcoholic (of course that is a long list!).  I was missing something that the human soul needs.  And I drank to try to fill it up.  When I finally made it to rehab, I ended up at a Christian treatment center in Phoenix because they accepted my insurance.  That was really my only reason for choosing that facility, other than the fact that they returned my desperate call first.  When I got there, I chose the traditional track (Big Book studies, meditation and lots of lectures and 12-step meetings), as opposed to the Christian track (devotionals, Bible studies, the same lectures and 12-step meetings).   That only lasted about a week, because I started to pay attention to the staff working with all of us addicts:  the therapists, the behavioral health techs, the nurses, even the doctors.  I learned that all but one of them were in recovery themselves.  I struck up conversations with them and I learned that spirituality and faith in a Higher Power were helping them stay sober.  Amazing.  I went to Bible study and morning devotional the second week.  When I listened to the believers share, what I heard was what I had been missing.  They spoke of their horrible experiences and of how God brought them through them.  They spoke of knowing that they were powerless and that they had to rely on God to save them.  They threw up their hands and turned their will over to God.  They relinquished control.  And, here’s the kicker, they believed without proof that God would take care of them.  That was faith!  That was what I had been looking for my whole life!  The people at rehab, a bunch of addicts and alcoholics, finally showed me what faith was.  I was overjoyed.

Having faith in the program of Alcoholics Anonymous took a while longer.  I loved AA almost from the beginning, and again, I found people who had what I wanted – sobriety.  I wanted to be able to live without getting loaded, and these people were doing it.  But, when it came to really believing that the program could work for me, I wavered.  It all sounds good on paper, but how could one alcoholic helping another really work?  How could these AA members that had lost their families, their homes, their freedom, their jobs, really be happy, joyous, and free?  I was probably a year into the program before I really started to have faith that it works.  I started to see that the promises that the old timers talked about and that we read at the end of every meeting, really could (and would) come true.  I saw it in their lives and it gave me hope – and faith – that it would happen in mine.  And you know what?  It is happening in mine.  I have made it nearly nine months free from alcohol, I have not had an inclination to drink, and I have had many times when I have been happy, joyous and free.  These things don’t happen all the time, but they happen often enough for me and for others that I see in the program, that I am able to have faith that it works.  And I’m gonna keep the faith!