Getting Through Brief Dips

A couple of weeks ago I had a week that really sucked. Ok, not the whole week, but at least a few days. I was grumpy with PMS, I screwed up some writing I did, my house was a mess, and I was having a lot of anxiety. I was exhausted and overwhelmed and my inclination was to close the blinds, shut down, and hide. That’s not what I did, but it’s what I wanted to do.

I was in a “brief dip,” and I was uncomfortable.

My stepson’s counselor introduced me to the term “brief dip” a while back. It refers to when you’re facing some sort of challenge to the status quo and you have to deal with the discomfort of negative emotions. It’s learning to sit with those feelings, and feel them, without trying to stuff or ignore them. The counselor was talking about them in reference to my stepson, telling us how important it is to allow him to go through these brief dips without us intervening to fix things or telling him to get over it.

The concept of sitting with negative feelings and dealing with them rather thanDip sign stuffing, isn’t new to me. I learned a lot about it in treatment, and I have gotten better about putting it into practice. But, as I sat and listened to the counselor talk about it, I realized that the reason I had so much trouble with it (enough that it contributed to my active alcoholism) was that it was something I never learned when I was my stepson’s age.

When I was a kid, brief dips weren’t really allowed in my house. Either my parents fixed things for us kids, distracted us so we were able to ignore negative feelings, or told us to get over it. Any of you who read my blog regularly know that I don’t have a relationship with my family at all now, and that my relationship with my mom growing up was always contentious. However, I think that she did the best she could with the knowledge she had at the time; she just didn’t want any of us kids to be uncomfortable–ever. I get that now. That doesn’t mean that I don’t wish I had been taught to deal with my negative feelings earlier, but I don’t blame my mom for wanting her kids to feel happy all the time, I think that probably all parents want that.

That fact is though, that we can’t be happy all  the time, and I certainly wasn’t a couple of weeks ago. It was a crappy week, and I wanted to check out. The only upside was that now I have a name for times like that–brief dips. I like that because it reminds me that it isn’t permanent, or even long-lasting. It’s brief. And it’s just a dip, it’s not bottomless. I just had to deal with the feelings, continue to put one foot in front of the other, and keep going, and I would emerge on the other side. And that’s exactly what happened. Did I suffer a little while I was down? Yes (and I’m sure my husband and stepson did too). Do I wish that it hadn’t happened at all? Yes. But I’ve noticed that my brief dips are not as bad as they used to be, and I never stay down and depressed like I used to. That tells me that I am making progress, and that’s what counts.

 

 

October

It’s been a while since I’ve written a post.  I’m not completely sure why, I just haven’t felt much like writing, or doing anything else for that matter.  I am sober and everything is alright.  But everything is also not alright.  I am a depressive, recovering alcoholic and I’ve just been feeling down. Nothing bad has happened, nothing of real consequence anyway.  I just feel down and unmotivated for no real particular reason.

Except that it’s October.  The beginning of fall and winter is right around the corner.

This is not my favorite time of year.  At all.  I’ve known that for the last few years, but I’ve blamed it my birthday and the anniversary of ending a pregnancy seven years ago.

But now, I think, there may be other reasons…

Have you ever heard a song, or smelled a scent, or felt something that triggered a specific memory?  Like whenever I hear Billy Idol sing Mony, Mony, I am transported back to my very first concert when I was fourteen.  Or  when I smell cinnamon rolls, memories of my first real job at a bakery come flooding back.

It was like that the other morning.  I got up early, about 4:30, as I usually do.  I went to sit outside on the patio and have some coffee in my usual morning attire – a pair of Austin’s boxers and a t-shirt, and I realized that I was cold.  I later heard on the news that it was our coolest night since last Spring.  Anyway, I had to go inside and put on a robe to be comfortable outside.  As I sat there, in the cool morning air, memories started filling my head.  These weren’t great memories like concerts and cinnamon rolls, these were memories of bad things.  Bad things that have happened to me, and bad things that I have caused.  Something about the weather triggered an onslaught of scenarios of the past, and filled my heart with feelings of regret and sadness.  At first I didn’t understand it.  But as I wrote in my journal about these things, it became clear to me.  Many, many of the negative things I’ve been through have happened in the fall and winter.  Actually, as I’ve really thought about it, almost everything that I would consider “bad” has happened between October and February.  It’s when I did much of my active drinking and when most of my bad behavior happened.  It’s when I suffered rape as a teenager, it’s when I went off the rails and ended up in the looney-bin, it’s when I’ve been sick enough to go to rehab….twice.

So, is it really the time of year that is to blame for my depression?  I don’t know for sure, but it makes sense to me.  If a song can trigger a feeling, then why not the weather?

Austin and I talked a lot about it, and after he thought about it, he agreed that this may be the reason.  He talked about his feelings of fall and winter which are quite the opposite of mine.  He has many, happy memories that are triggered by the beginning of fall, it’s when he feels the most hopeful and happy.  So if it affects him in a positive way, then I guess it stands to reason that it can affect me in a negative way.

But now, what to do with this new-found realization that I’ve had about my third-quarter depression?  I’m still working on that.  I know that lying around watching every old episode of Monarch of the Glen hasn’t really helped much.  What is working (a little) is telling myself the truth: the past is over, I can’t change it, and I am a different, healthier person today.  I tell myself that my expectations that this time of year is going to be sad and hopeless, are really unfounded.  The time of year may bring up old stuff, but my attitude and how I deal with it is really the key to me backing away from the ledge of despair.  I don’t have to succumb to my emotions…I can put one foot in front of the other and keep doing the things that I need to.  And I can do so happily.  Knowing this now, I can, and do, find joy in each day no matter what the weatherman forecasts.

It’s still early in the season, we will have to see how things eventuate for me, but knowing now why it is that I get sad at this time of year will help me to combat the blues.  There is power in knowing.

October

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.