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

This photo is a reenactment of an actual event.

This photo is a reenactment of an actual event.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

PTSD

 

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A long period of reconstruction

step 8

Step 8 of the twelve steps of Alcoholics Anonymous says:

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

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

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

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

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

 

Willingness

Learning to walk….the talk

Walk the talk

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

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

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

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

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

practice what you preach

My Word of the Year

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

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

Connect

Connect

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

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

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

Cracks in my foundation

Step 6

 

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

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

“Humbly asked Him to remove our shortcomings.”

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

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

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

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

Seventh Step Prayer

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

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

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

Out with the old, in with the new

happy-new-year-banner-graphic

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

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

snow2015

 

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

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

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

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

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

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