Have I lost my compassion?

This past week was a rough one.  It was the week before classes start at the school where I work, which is always a crazy busy week for me.  And it was a busy week in my personal life as well, as we had friends over for dinner on Tuesday and I also had to deal with the last bit of the wreckage of my past drinking life.  There was a fair amount of anxiety – how am I going to get the house clean before my friends come for dinner?  How is my court date going to turn out?  How am I going to finish all of the class schedules for the new starts?  It seemed like there was a lot on my plate, but even though I was a little bit anxious, I knew that those things would be alright.  And they were.  The house was clean before dinner on Tuesday and we had a great evening, filled with laughter and friendship. My court date went as expected and I am now finished with worrying about the unknown.  And every student that starts class tomorrow has a schedule.

So why then, was it a rough week?  I found out last Sunday that one of my coworkers had died.  He suffered a brief, but fatal illness that took his life so quickly that many people at work were dumbfounded.  You see, he traveled a lot for work, visiting other campuses and working with agencies all over the southwestern states, so his absence wasn’t felt as much as if he had worked full-time in Tucson like the rest of us.  He was last at our campus in early January, but it took until mid-February for most of us to ask, “where’s Walt?”  I guess we all figured that something was going on, but we didn’t really know.  I found out a couple of weeks ago, that his illness was really serious and that his doctor had said that he only had a matter of weeks.

Then on Monday, I found out that another one of my coworkers who had retired a number of months ago, had also passed away.  She was someone who I had worked more closely with when she was there.  She came back to visit with us a few times since her retirement, and was so happy and loving her time away from working.  She had even started seeing a gentleman recently and was traveling and having fun.  Her death came as a shock.  I guess she didn’t want anyone to know that she was sick, so I didn’t find out that she had been moved to a nursing home and was unconscious until just days before she died.

With news like that, I guess you would expect a rough week.  Things seemed off at work, many people who knew Walt and Jessie were not acting like their usual selves;  work was quieter and people seemed introspective. There was sort of pall over the administration.  It just hung in the air, no one really acknowledging it too much.

Here’s the thing though:  I went on, business as usual.  When I was told about Walt and Jessie, I knew that I was supposed to feel sad at the losses, but I just didn’t.  I felt bad for their families and for the person telling me, because she is one of my closest friends and she was very close to both of them. It was a very hard time for her, and I wished that there was something that I could say to make it better for her.  That said though, I didn’t feel the losses myself.  I knew that I should, they were both my friends, but the sadness and grief just wasn’t there.

I was really perplexed for a few days, wondering what was wrong with me.  I have always been a person that was ruled, almost completely, by my emotions. That’s why I drank – to shut them off.  Where were my emotions now?  I have practiced so hard at acceptance during my recovery, and I have felt good about the progress I’ve made, but had I gone too far?  Was I so deep into acceptance, that I was easily accepting things that clearly should’ve been upsetting?  I didn’t know, but if that was the case, I didn’t like it.  I also thought about the growth of my faith.  It used to be that I thought that once someone died, that was it.  I didn’t believe that there was anything else for them in this world.  But my thoughts about that have changed.  I have faith now, I believe that there is something more, and I believe that both Walt and Jessie are getting to experience that now.  But shouldn’t I still be sad at their absence?  Where were my emotions, my compassion?  Had I lost them?

By the end of the week, I was asking myself those questions.  I didn’t voice them to anyone, instead I kept them to myself.  I was worried about it, but I didn’t want to admit to anyone that I just wasn’t feeling it.

Yesterday though, it hit me.  I went to Walt’s funeral and as I sat there, looking at the photos on the screen that told the story of his life, I was sad.  I did feel a loss.  I thought about the good talks that I had with Walt and the jokes and stories that he always told.  I smiled to myself, and I cried, I felt angry that I wouldn’t get to have those times anymore.  Ah, there were my emotions.  They came on, slowly at first, but then they were awash over me.  After the funeral, I came home and slept.  And slept. And slept.  I was in bed from noon yesterday until 3:00 am this morning.  I woke a few times and ate some oatmeal last night, but for the most part I slept.

When I woke this morning, I realized that my emotions aren’t gone.  I also realized that I am probably dipping my toes into the pool of old behavior.  Before I started drinking alcoholically to quell my exploding emotions, I was very adept at shutting them down.  I could, and did, just turn them off when they got to be too much.  I think that I was doing that again this past week.  I think that’s why I slept so much yesterday; it takes a lot of energy to stuff my emotions and I was exhausted.  Thank God that this week didn’t lead me where it used to – to wanting to drink.  This is the stuff I used to drink over.  It’s amazing how quickly my alcoholic thinking and behavior can return.  I guess that’s why they call it cunning, baffling, and powerful.

It’s so easy to get caught up in the daily grind, and to miss things like this.  That’s why it’s so important that I keep my recovery fresh, that I remember what it used to be like, and that I have gratitude that it’s different now.  Self-awareness alone isn’t enough to keep me sober, but holy cow, it sure does help.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Visiting a Labyrinth

This is the labyrinth we walked through.  It is done in the same style as the Chartres Cathedral labyrinth.

This is the labyrinth we walked through. It is done in the same style as the Chartres Cathedral labyrinth.

Yesterday I visited a labyrinth with a friend of mine from work.  She teaches at the school I where I work and she is a fan of meditation.  When I told her that meditation was my Healthy Habit #2 for 2014, she offered to take me to the labyrinth at a local church and to show me how she does movement meditation as she follows the circular path.  Yesterday, we finally made the trip over there on our lunch hour and she introduced me to walking a labyrinth.  I loved it!!

For those of you that aren’t familiar with what a labyrinth is (I sure wasn’t…I thought it was just an 80’s movie with David Bowie!), labyrinths were a feature of many medieval cathedrals.  One of the best remaining examples is found in Chartres Cathedral in northern France. The one that we visited today was a replica of that one.  Unlike a maze they have only one path – there are no dead ends. You exit at the same spot where you entered, after winding your way along the path to the center, and then making your way back out the way you came.  People walk the labyrinth slowly, as an aid to contemplative prayer and meditation, as a spiritual exercise, or as a form of pilgrimage.

When we got there, we sat and my friend briefly told me about how she meditates as she walks the labyrinth.  Often she uses little cards that have one word written on them – words like inspiration, light, peace, hope, etc.  She chooses a card at random and uses that as her focus for meditation as she walks.  So I chose a card; mine was “inspiration.”  That seemed perfect, as I was feeling inspired already just being there.

The church where we were was one that I had been to before, for an AA meeting.  When I was there, I had probably walked right across the labyrinth and not even noticed it.  If I had, I wouldn’t have known what it was anyway.  There were quite a few people around, maybe some 12 step meeting had just gotten over, or some other sort of gathering.  There were people milling about, talking to one another, there was a guy riding around the church campus on a bike, and someone across the street at a house talking to the mail man.  It wasn’t quiet.  It was warm outside, the sun was at the top of the sky and while there were some really nice, big trees around, the labyrinth was getting full sun.

We made our way to the entrance, my friend going in first and me giving her several feet before I started.  I carried my little “inspiration” card in one hand and my prayer beads in the other.  I was surprised as how quickly I was able to shut out all of the audio debris around me.  I was soon able to concentrate on what I was thinking and praying.  I was able to hear the gentle breeze as it whispered through the trees and I was able to hear birds singing that I hadn’t noticed before.  As I progressed inward to the center of the labyrinth, I prayed for inspiration.  Inspiration for me in my writing and I prayed for the ability to inspire others.  I prayed for inspiration for my husband and our friend as they talk about starting a new church plant.  On my way back out, I prayed prayers of thanksgiving for all that God has inspired me to do and to be.  I thanked Him as I always do for the life He has given me.

When we finished the labyrinth we sat down again to talk about it.  It had become quiet, I felt very peaceful and relaxed.  My friend said that was almost always her experience; that at first there is noise and distractions, but by the time she finishes, there is a quieting of those distractions and noise.  There is peace.  I wonder if it’s really quieter, or if we are just choosing to hear things differently, as we’re in a different state of mind?

Overall, my labyrinth experience was a wonderful one.  I will absolutely do it again.  I love that I am finding new ways to find serenity and express my gratitude, and growing my friendships with others as I do it. 🙂

I am powerless…still

Step One of the 12 steps of Alcoholics Anonymous says:

“We admitted we were powerless over alcohol – that our lives had become unmanageable” 

This week I have been working on the first step as I am going back through the 12 steps with my sponsor.  We decided that, at almost 16 months sober, it was a good time for me to rework the steps.  I made my way through all of the steps early last year, after getting out of treatment in December 2012, but a lot has changed since then; not so much with my exterior life, but internally, for sure.  Those changes, my growth in recovery, and yes, some old issues that are still hanging on, are the reasons that we  decided to work through the steps again.  I have heard that some sponsors have their sponsees go through the steps every year.  I like that idea.  It keeps everything fresh and doesn’t allow for complacency and back-sliding.  But I also know plenty of people in recovery that went through the steps one time, and after that continued to practice the maintenance steps (10, 11, and 12) throughout their recovery, and they have had healthy, sustained sobriety for years.  I guess different things work for different people, and each person should do what works for them.  I think that I need the reminders though.  I don’t ever want to get to the point where I think, “I’ve got this.”  That gets me into trouble.

I did my reading on the first step in the big book and in the 12 and 12 before I started my writing.  I can remember doing the same reading before I did my first ever first step.  At the time, admitting powerlessness and unmanageability really bothered me.  It all seemed a little bit drastic.  I knew that I had a drinking problem, and that I always drank more than I intended, but my life hadn’t yet become unmanageable – or at least, I didn’t think it had.  Just because I was sitting in rehab, it didn’t mean life was unmanageable…the DUI I had gotten three years before, a DV assault charge a few months earlier, a very short stay in a psychiatric hospital, and my wrecked car sitting at home also didn’t seem to mean that life had become unmanangeable.  I’m not sure if anything short of me living in a wash with no shoes and a bottle of Mad Dog in a brown paper bag, could’ve convinced me that my life was unmanageable.  Clearly, as I approached the steps the first time, I wasn’t ready to admit those things.  I wanted help, but I wasn’t ready to completely surrender to the first step.

I’ve heard it said in meetings, that the only step you have to get 100% right is the first step.  I have to agree with that.  The others you can continue to go back to and work as issues come up.  And you can stay sober doing that.  But I honestly believe that if you don’t get the first step, I mean really get it, you can’t stay sober.  I say that with the voice of experience.  I tried to get sober time and time again, but it didn’t ever work until I really understood that where I was was my rock bottom.  I had to surrender to the fact that I was absolutely, undeniably, 100% powerless over alcohol.  I couldn’t safely drink alcohol again, ever.  If I took the first drink of alcohol, then the alcohol would take me.  It would take me to places that I never would go sober, it would take me to jail or to psych wards, it would take me away from everything I loved, and ultimately, it would take me away from my life.

As I did my first step this time, answering all of the questions my sponsor asked me to, and remembering all of the times that I was completely out of control when I was drinking, I was at peace knowing that I have surrendered to the fact that I am, without a doubt, an alcoholic.  I do not have the ability to drink like a normal person, and I never will.  When I take the first drink, I am powerless over what happens next and my life, almost immediately, becomes unmanageable.  That unmanageable place is a truly horrible, soul-sucking reality to live in.  I am so grateful and so blessed that I don’t have to live there anymore.  And it’s thanks to being able to accept and surrender to the first step that I don’t have to go back there.

Close your eyes at your own risk

It looks like my last post didn’t show up on the Reader…?? So here it is.

Sober Grace

Dreams2

I rarely have nightmares, but I have had anxiety dreams for as long as I can remember.  When I was younger, I would often dream about going somewhere, usually school, and realizing that I had no clothes on.  There is nothing more terrifying to a kid.  I would wake up in a panic and it would take a while to calm down and go back to sleep.  As I got older, the themes of my anxiety dreams changed to one of two things, either some version of my teeth falling out, or some version of being unprepared for school.  I never had the same dream twice, but the themes were the same.  In the teeth dreams, sometimes I would be eating something and it would loosen some of my teeth and they would just fall out into my hands, or I would have brand new braces (I never had braces…

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Close your eyes at your own risk

Dreams2

I rarely have nightmares, but I have had anxiety dreams for as long as I can remember.  When I was younger, I would often dream about going somewhere, usually school, and realizing that I had no clothes on.  There is nothing more terrifying to a kid.  I would wake up in a panic and it would take a while to calm down and go back to sleep.  As I got older, the themes of my anxiety dreams changed to one of two things, either some version of my teeth falling out, or some version of being unprepared for school.  I never had the same dream twice, but the themes were the same.  In the teeth dreams, sometimes I would be eating something and it would loosen some of my teeth and they would just fall out into my hands, or I would have brand new braces (I never had braces in real life), and my teeth would fall out from underneath them.  Those dreams were horrifying.  I don’t know if it’s my vanity or just the shock of being toothless that was so upsetting, but they were pretty awful.

dream

In the dreams where I was unprepared for school, I would sometimes be wandering around, usually high school but sometimes college, and I couldn’t remember where any of my classes were or who my teachers were.  My mind would be racing as I wandered around trying to find something that was familiar…anything that was familiar.  I knew I had to get to class, I didn’t want to fail, but I just couldn’t remember where to go.  In other school dreams, I would be at school, but for some reason I had missed a lot of class and I didn’t think I could catch up enough to pass.  I was afraid to even go because I was going to get in trouble for missing too much.  I didn’t want the teacher to reprimand me in front of the other students and I was scared of failing and not graduating.

angry teacher

My anxiety has begun to show itself differently again.  For the last year or so, the anxiety dreams that I have focus on me preparing a meal for my family of origin.  Those of you that regularly read my blog know that I am estranged from my family, and have been since I started my recovery from drinking.  But in the dreams, they are all there.  The dinner that I’m making isn’t a specific holiday meal, but it’s of that magnitude.  I am the only one that is working on preparing, everything from cooking the food to setting the table and cleaning the house.  Again, the dreams aren’t exactly the same, but they are always similar.  Last night I had one of these dreams and in it I was in the kitchen of the house that I grew up in, but I was my present age.  I was freaking out because I was trying to make some kind of gravy that was really lumpy and over-salted and in between trying to whisk the lumps out, I was searching for some kind of gravy boat or some bowl to put the gravy in.  In other meal-related anxiety dreams, I can’t find the dishes to set the table, or I drop the main dish on the floor, or I burn food.  There is never any interaction between me and my family, I just see them milling about but no one offers to help me.  I want everything to be perfect, and it’s all falling apart.  I wake up from these dreams anxious and sweating and often close to tears.  Luckily, I am a champion sleeper and I am always able to go right back to sleep once I calm down and realize that it was just a dream.

I wonder if these dreams mean anything beyond the obvious.  I know that I miss my family and that I feel like they turned their back on me when I needed help.  But is there something more to it?  I don’t know.  Are the “dream dictionaries” online really accurate, or are they just silly speculation?  Somehow, I think that they aren’t really believable.  And why is it that I seem to always remember the details of the anxiety-ridden dreams, but the good dreams that I’m disappointed to wake up from, slip away from my memory as soon as I open my eyes?  Fortunately, I don’t have these kinds of dreams very often, but when I do, they stay with me all day.  I remember the feelings of fear and panic as if it were still happening.  It really kind of sucks.

Does anyone else out there have these kind of dreams?  I would love to know what you think about them.

One step at a time…again.

Steps

I talked to my sponsor this weekend and we agreed that now seems like a good time for me to go back through the 12 steps of AA.  The decision is not based on anything bad happening or any negative thoughts (at least no more than usual) on my part.  It’s just because a lot has changed since I went through the steps last year, and while I continue to do the maintenance steps (10, 11, and 12) each day, I don’t ever want to take it for granted that “I’ve done” the steps of the program.  In my experience, it’s when I think that I have something figured out and that I no longer need to work on it, that trouble appears.  And these days, I really try not to invite disaster into my life.

The first time that I began the steps of AA, I was terrified.  I was in treatment and I was told that we had to complete steps one, two, and three before we left.  That seemed very daunting when I read the steps, and that was only the first three!  I wasn’t even close to ready to entertain four through twelve.

The first step talks about admitting powerlessness and unmanageability.  I knew that things in my life had become unmanageable, but was I really powerless?  I was weak, for sure, but wasn’t I just lacking self-control and willpower?  And couldn’t they just teach me those things?  The step seemed almost contradictory to what I thought it should be.  Shouldn’t the first step build us up?  Teach us to be strong?  It seemed like strength is what we needed.  But no, instead the first step forced us to look at just how weak we really were.

Then there’s step two, “Came to believe that a power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.”  So that meant that I was currently insane and that I had to trust someone else to fix me.  Obviously, I knew that I had issues, I was in rehab after all.  But isn’t the word “insanity” a little bit strong?  Also, at the time, I didn’t think that there was anyone that I could trust.  There wasn’t really anyone in my life who hadn’t hurt me or let me down.  So, I didn’t know how in the world I was going to get past this step.

Step three was the killer though:  Made a decision to turn our lives and our will over to the care of God as we understood Him. Ugh.  I didn’t even know where to begin with this one.  Again, I was not even sure what I believed, and I sure didn’t want to turn my will over, to anyone.  It felt, at the time, like that was what I had been doing for the previous 39 years of my life, turning my will over to someone else.  I wanted to be in control of my own will, the maker of my own destiny.  That sounds a little (a lot) cliché and silly, but that’s really what I wanted.  I still thought that I could handle things on my own, if only someone would teach me not to drink so much.

It’s so crazy to remember how I felt back then.  I thought that I was willing because I knew I needed some help, but really I fought every step of the way.  I realize now that my therapist was an angel with an extraordinary amount of patience.  Thank God she was a recovering alcoholic too, and she knew what to expect from drunks like me!

This time, I am looking forward to going through the steps.  What a difference a couple of years makes!  I understand the program more now and I am much more honest and open with my feelings.  I also have a little bit of sobriety under my belt and am thinking clearly.  I thought that as I go through the steps this time, I would blog about it.  I won’t bore everyone with all of the gory details of each step, but I think it will be good for me to write about how I feel, and how things are different this time, as I go through them.

I will meet with my sponsor this week, so Step One starts soon…

Hope, where did you come from?

Hope

This past weekend, I went to a meeting where the topic was hope.  There were a lot of thoughtful shares (directed, I suspect, toward the newcomers) that caused me to think about my life before and in early sobriety as it compares to my life now.  The differences are many.  In sobriety I am honest, I am forgiving, I am mindful.  I have real, genuine friendships that are reciprocal; I have support; I have real, unconditional love.  When I was drinking, I had none of those things.  I lived, if you can even call it living, a life of survival.  I was just barely hanging on, by my fingertips, waiting for the inevitable.  I don’t think I knew what ‘the inevitable’ was at the time, but I realize now that I was waiting for one of two things – either something catastrophic (like a jail sentence or commitment to the looney bin – something that would force me to stop drinking), or death.  I didn’t know or care which it was.  I was completely without hope in my life.

The time that I spent drinking was a horrible, depressing time.  I was dealing with undiagnosed PTSD from abuse I suffered over the years, I was recently divorced and lonely.  I struggled financially and felt like a failure.  I tried over and over again to drink my sadness away…to escape those feelings that were uncomfortable to feel.  Living life was painful.  Too painful.  I thought that maybe I was just destined to feel that way forever, that things would never change; that I would always be miserable and hopeless.

The series of events that finally got me to treatment didn’t raise my level of hope.  I knew that treatment was my only option, but I didn’t really have hope that it would make things that much better.  I thought that maybe, just maybe, I might be able to keep from drinking, but that alone didn’t give me hope that I would I would ever have a happy and fulfilled life.

So as I sat there at the meeting, listening to my fellow alcoholics share about the hope that they have found in sobriety, it struck me that now, I too, have hope.  Somewhere along the way, these past few years, I started to believe that things could and would get better.  I don’t really know when it happened, it was such a gradual thing.  Perhaps it was when I chose to really work the steps of the program with a sponsor, or when I learned the importance of forgiveness and acceptance, maybe it was when I found Jesus and learned that I didn’t ever have to be alone again.  It may have been when I met my husband and learned what unconditional love was, or when I figured out that me being honest wasn’t something that was going to drive my friends away.  Most likely, it happened because of all of those things.

The fact is, though, that I never could’ve done any of those things if I hadn’t been sober first.  I have heard so many people new in sobriety say that they thought that all they had to do was quit drinking and that everything would be ok.  That just isn’t the case.  It takes time and work and soul-searching.  It takes a heart change.  And it takes hope.

So to the newcomers I say – don’t drink even when you feel hopeless.  Keep doing the next right thing, find a support system and use it, forgive yourself and others, accept what you can’t change.  I promise you those things lead to hope:  the feeling that what is wanted can be had.

Healthy Habit #3 – Yoga

yoga

March is here and that means it’s time for a new Healthy Habit.  This month I have decided that I am going to give yoga a try.  I have heard so many good things about it, but have never done it myself.  You’ve probably heard the same list of healthy benefits of yoga that I have:  increased flexibility, stronger muscles, less achy joints, stress relief, and more restful sleeping.  But I also read that yoga has some other benefits that I didn’t know about.  Practicing yoga can strengthen bones and prevent osteoporosis.  It can also get your blood flowing and improve circulation, which, in turn, leads to a healthier heart and a decreased risk of heart attack.  Yoga can also aid in weight loss (woo hoo!!), and boost your immune system.

So yesterday, I went to Target and bought myself a DVD for yoga beginners.  Before I try any classes around other people (I’m 42, a little overweight, and terribly uncoordinated), and embarrass myself, I thought I better give it a try in my living room.  I’m going to give the DVD a test run as soon as I finish this post.  I’ll let you know how it goes.

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Meditation Update

For the month of February, I started meditation as my healthy habit.  I have still been meditating in the morning.  I have missed a few days throughout the month, but have been pretty successful in staying consistent.  I started with guided mindful meditation and I find that I really like it first thing in the morning.  I have tried to keep my morning a routine and that seems to work best for me.  When I first get up, I make coffee and sit and journal as I have my first cup.  When I finish writing, I go sit in my comfy green chair and meditate using the app I downloaded to my phone.  I started at 5 minutes and have moved up to 15, but on rushed mornings I go back to 5.  What I have noticed is that when I meditate, I feel calm and mindful.  I am able to be in the present without anxiety and fear.  I am more aware of my breathing and what my body is feeling. It’s an absolutely wonderful feeling, and I only wish that it would last all day.  As I continue to mediate, I don’t think that I need to add more time to my morning sessions, instead I think that meditating more times throughout the day will be even more beneficial.

I was concerned in the beginning about being able to turn my thoughts off, but I quickly learned that clearing one’s mind isn’t the point.  The point is to learn how to redirect unfavorable thoughts as they come up.  While the calm, mindful feeling doesn’t always last as long as I want it to, the redirecting my thoughts and concentrating on my breathing has stuck.  I have found myself on a number of days in stressful situations at work.  I have consciously redirected my thoughts about the situations by closing my eyes, breathing deeply and reminding myself that, in that moment, I am alright.  It works!

I have also been trying to incorporate metta meditation into my day.  One of my fellow bloggers over at Mished-Up, commented that she enjoys metta mediation, so I did some reading up on it and have been practicing it along with the guided meditation.  Metta meditation, or lovingkindness (isn’t that an awesome name for it?), is a type of mantra mediation where you repeat phrases of loving kindness out loud or to yourself, beginning with yourself and working outward to your family, friends, coworkers, acquaintances, strangers…as far as you would like.   As I inhale, I use statements like:  May I be strong, May I be mindful, May I be well, May I be joyful.  And I as I exhale I focus on breathing out the opposite:  Gone is weakness, Gone is worry, Gone is illness, Gone is sadness.  And I continue outward with the other people in my life, wishing them the same things I wish for myself.  I really love this meditation.  It’s repetitive but I like that…so far the phrases have not become rote, and I truly feel each one as I say it.

So after a month of meditation, would I say that it’s a keeper?  I think it’s definitely something I want to explore more.  I see the benefits and I feel better when I do it.  I think that’s reason enough to do some more practicing, don’t you?