Christmas Eve, interrupted…but only briefly

Today I’m feeling sad.  ‘Tis the season, I guess.  I had one of those ugly, tears-and-snot filled meltdowns this morning.  I’m happy that I made it all the way until Christmas Eve to do it this year, but I was really hoping to avoid it completely.  I miss my daughter terribly, and, actually, I even miss the rest of my family.  Except for the last couple of Christmases before I got into recovery, I have wonderful memories of the holidays with them.  It seems that, unlike other dysfunctional families, mine was always on its best behavior on holidays and birthdays.  It was when we let go of disagreements and grudges, and we all came together to have fun and love each other.  There was laughter, good food, and happy times.  And even though, on most days, I know that I am healthier now, emotionally and spiritually, than when they were in my life, I am having trouble believing that today.

My daughter is 17, attending the University of Arizona, and that’s about all I know.  It’s been nearly four years since I have seen her, and even longer since she wanted to talk to me (for the history of our relationship, click here).  This morning, as I held in my hands the ornaments that she and I made together when she was younger, I felt all the memories of holidays past flooding my thoughts.  There just aren’t enough words to express my longing for her sufficiently.  I don’t even begin to know how to describe it, except that it is both emotionally and physically painful.  Today is one of those days that it is really fucking close to unbearable.  My heart hurts, my eyes spill over, completely out of my control, and I can’t shut it off.  I don’t really want to though.  The thought that I will stop hurting over it someday scares me more than the thought of our separation going on forever.  So I sit with the sadness, knowing that until there is reconciliation, it’s better than the alternative.

All of that said though, this holiday season is the best one that I have had in a long time.  I am trying to do what all good recovering alcoholics do when difficult moments come up, I’m remembering all of the things I have to be grateful for, and accepting all of the rest that life has dealt me without trying to change it.  Those two things have made all the difference.  They have allowed me to spend joyful, quality time with friends.  We’ve shared stories, baked for each other, and had lots of laughs.  I am so grateful for that.  I honestly don’t know what I would do without my crazy, supportive, loving friends.  I would truly be lost.

Another thing that has helped so much this year is making new traditions.  Austin and I have done things differently to celebrate this year.  First of all, we shared Thanksgiving with a close friend of ours, at her house.  That was so great!  Thanksgiving (and other holidays) were often celebrated in my home because I did almost all of the cooking.  This year, I only did half of the cooking, and I didn’t have to stress about my house being clean, or about the day feeling off because I was in the same place, but without my family.  That sounds kind of silly, doesn’t it?  When I read it back to myself, I think so.  I’ve lived in the same place for seven years, so my home has been filled with my family many times…this is the same place my daughter lived with me.  But even in the three plus years that they haven’t been here, it still feels weird to not have them around on holidays.   So getting out of the house for Thanksgiving was a big deal.

Austin and I have also been celebrating the month leading up to Christmas differently.  We have been actively honoring Advent, complete with daily devotional readings and our own little Jesse Tree, for which we made all of the ornaments.  We opted to wait until today, Christmas Eve, like they used to long ago, to put up our Christmas tree.  We will celebrate the 12 days of Christmas that lead to Epiphany and not let tomorrow be the climax of the season.  I’ve really enjoyed doing it this way.  It has given new, more fulfilling meaning to this time of year, and it has started completely new traditions for us.  My family would never appreciate Advent, nor would they read the bible together.  While we were growing up, our tree went up the weekend after Thanksgiving and came down on December 26th.  Making these small, but emotionally substantial changes, has been so healing for me.  There has been a shift in my thinking about the meaning of Christmas, and I can now focus on the reason for the holiday without attaching all of my family’s old traditions to it.  That feels good.

Even though I had a meltdown this morning, and I still have the red nose and headache to prove it, I feel grateful today.  We are having a friend over for dinner, and then going to church.  Tomorrow we will go to a morning service at another church, and then head over to the annual Christmas Alcathon to hang with our fellow 12-steppers.  It will be a good day, just like it should be.

I am wishing you and yours a very happy holiday, full of whatever traditions fill your heart with joy!

Healthy Habit #8 – A Month of Breaks (and an update on gratitude)

At the beginning of the year, I decided to try to add healthy habits instead of making resolutions, hoping that at least a few of them will stick and I will end the year healthier than I was at the beginning.  So far, there have been a few that have stuck, and those have made my life healthier and happier.

One day a couple of weeks ago, I was sitting at my desk at work, scarfing down a piece of pizza, trying not to get grease all over a report I was working on, and it hit me –  working through lunches, eating at my desk and not really paying attention to what I was chewing, cannot be healthy.  I had already decided what my healthy habit for August was going to be, but in that moment, I decided to put that one off and remedy my unhealthy lunchtime routine this month instead.  So for this month, the new habit I am going to try out is taking a break.  I am going to actually leave my office and eat my lunch without trying to multi-task my way through it.

This is what I look like at lunch time.

This is what I look like at lunch time.

It turns out that there is a lot of information out there about the benefits of actually stepping away from the office for lunch, and an equal amount of studies and statistics that show just how many employees are not reaping those benefits.  Here is some of what I’ve learned:

  • the typical American lunch break is less than 30 minutes
  • up to two-thirds of workers skip lunch or eat at their desks
  • depending on which study you look at, 18-34 percent of workers always eat at their desks and 16-31 percent reported that they almost always skip lunch in favor of continuing to work
  • the reason that most people cite for not taking time out for lunch is that the demands of work are increasingly high and workplaces are increasingly understaffed

I fall into the eating-at-my-desk category.  Sometimes I pack a lunch, sometimes a coworker runs out and gets us lunch, and sometimes I run next door to Subway, grab a sandwich and settle back in at my desk to eat while I continue to work.  Not stepping away for my break and taking a break from my computer screen makes the day long, and I often feel tired and grumpy in the afternoon.  I may get a couple of extra things done, but am I really more productive than if I took some time out to recharge?  Studies say no. Here are some of the benefits to taking a lunch break:

  • Taking a break restores your psychological resources.  It is a proven way to increase productivity and decision-making and actually improve your mood in the afternoon.
  • It improves your physical health.  There is a lot of medical mumbo-jumbo to support this finding, but what it boils down to is this:  taking a break lowers the release of the stress hormone cortisol, which in turn, lowers your risk of high blood pressure, insomnia, and other related illnesses.
  • Taking a lunch break away from your work surroundings decreases fatigue.  Getting up and walking away for a bit, eating something healthy, and taking some you-time is like pushing a natural reset button.  It revives you for the afternoon, giving you more energy to tackle work issues.

For the past week, I have taken a lunch break each day, and gotten away from my office to do it.  I have noticed that I have more motivation and energy after doing so.  So far, it seems like my productivity has remained the same, but my mood in the afternoon is improved and I don’t feel as worn out by the end of the day.

So for the rest of the month, I am going to make sure that I take a break for lunch each work day, and I will let you know how it goes.

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Update on a month of gratitude:  By far, July’s healthy habit of gratitude is the one that has made the biggest difference for me.  I am continuing to write down the things for which I’m grateful every day in my journal, and doing so has added loads of peace and joy to my life.  Anytime I need a quick change of perspective about a situation, my mind now automatically goes to seeking out the things that make me thankful.  It’s a practice that is definitely becoming a habit.  I call that a win!

A Month of Gratitude – Update

Epicurus

For the month of July my Healthy Habit was gratitude.  Each day I focused on the things in my life for which I am grateful, and I did my best to post about it everyday, but I missed a few here and there.  This habit has been, by far, my favorite and my most successful.  After just a few days in, I found that my thinking had changed, and that I was much more optimistic.  When things were good, I took the time to recognize that I was fortunate that they were.  And when situations were bad, I found that looking for something, anything, to be grateful for in the situation, made the bad not so horrible as I thought at first glance.

I read a lot about gratitude, and there seemed to be a lot of blog posts out there that talked about it during the month.  It was inspirational to read what others think about gratitude and what it means to them.  What gratitude means to me is thankfulness, being able to count my blessings and notice the small things that I often overlook, or take for granted.  It means shifting focus from what I am lacking to what I already have, which really is an abundance.  It means learning to be thankful for all the things that I am given, and giving up the sense of entitlement that I have often felt.  Gratitude means changing my perspective, finding the good in every situation.

Research has shown that the practice of gratitude improves the quality of life.  It makes people happier, reduces stress and encourages simplicity.  I found all of those things true as I took time to acknowledge the things for which I am thankful.

If I were to teach someone how to live in gratitude, these are the things that I would emphasize:

  • Be intentional.  Look for things to be grateful for.  Depending on the day and the situation, this can be easy or difficult.  When things are going well, and life is good, it is obviously easier to see things in a positive way.  Finding gratitude in difficult situations is harder, but there is always something there to be thankful for.  My AA sponsor has had me practice this for as long as I can remember – whenever I am down, angry, upset, or depressed, she has me come up with at least a few things that I have to be grateful for.  Doing so has never made my situations worse, they have always gotten better when I take time to be grateful.
  • Don’t focus on what you don’t have.  We live in a society that values ‘more’ and ‘better’.  More money, more friends, better homes, better cars, more things.  Focusing on those things keeps us from being thankful for what we have.  For the past month, I have paid attention to the fact that while I don’t have a long list of friends, or a huge bank account, I do have quality, intimate relationships that I wouldn’t give up for anything, and I have enough money for the things I really need.  Keeping those things in mind keeps me from suffering from unnecessary worry about what I don’t have.
  • Be humble.  Humility and gratitude go hand in hand.  A humble heart finds thankfulness and satisfaction in the gifts that it already has.  It demands less from others and from life itself.
  • Write it down.  When I write my gratitude list (which I will continue to do in my journal, now that July is over), and I can go back and look at what I was grateful for yesterday, last week, last month, it reminds me of what I have to be grateful for today.  There is also something about writing it down, or typing it, that gives it more meaning…it substantiates the feeling.  Give it a try, I promise this is true.

I have been amazed at the difference that the simple act of being grateful can make.  Overall, when I practice gratitude, I am happier and I worry less, I realize that I have everything I need, and I am able to give more of myself to others.  All it takes is finding a little bit of thanks in every situation.

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Gratitude – July 29

12 Steps

I tried to post this earlier…really, I did.  No internet connection at home.  Ugh.  What did people do before wi-fi?

Anyway, today I want to express my gratitude for my sobriety and everything that helps me stay sober.  I believe, with all of my heart, that if I hadn’t gotten sober, I would’ve died, either at my own hand, or through crazy, risky behavior like driving in a black out.  I also believe that if I ever pick up again, I will be right back where I was before I stopped some 20 months ago – on the suicide-by-installment plan.   Instead, today, I am able to live my life alcohol-free, mostly drama-free, and with a lot of joy and serenity.

I am grateful for my life of recovery every day, but what brought this to mind specifically was a conversation I had with a friend that I think is on the slippery slope of untreated alcoholism.  I see in her the mood swings that I used to feel myself.  I see the depression that is sometimes obvious, but sometimes just visible under the surface, even though she puts on the facade that everything is okay.  I see and hear the hurt that she feels when she tries to make jokes about her behavior when she’s drinking.  And I see her discomfort when she is seriously hung over, but has to keep going.  So far, she hasn’t suffered any major negative consequences due to her drinking, but as we in recovery know, that just hasn’t happened “yet.”

My friend knows my story, knew me when I relapsed, and saw what I went through on the path to recovery.  I know that sharing my experience, strength, and hope, listening when she needs it, and helping her (if she ever wants help getting sober) is all that I can offer her.  I do hope, though, that she can see that there is a really great, gratitude-filled life on the other side of a life filled with booze.  And I hope she sees it sooner rather than later.

 

So, today I am grateful for….

…sobriety

…Alcoholics Anonymous

…my husband and my sponsor

…good friends who support my recovery

…my fellow bloggers, their blogs, and their comments

…my sponsee, who keeps it fresh for me

…the peace that comes with recovery

…my faith

…the gift of desperation

…my life.

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Please share your gratitude today.

Please share your gratitude today.

Gratitude – July 26

gratitudequotes7

Today I am conscious of my treasures, I have had a truly lovely day full of them.

Here is my gratitude list for today:

  • This morning a good friend of mine had an art show to sell some of her work.  She’s a very talented abstract painter and I have coveted her beautiful work for a long time.  Today, I was able to buy two of her prints (she was selling her work for ‘love contributions’, so buyers paid what they were able to) that I plan to hang in my office at work.  I can’t wait until Monday to see them on my walls.
  • Another good friend of mine went with me to the art show, and she brought her two lovely teenage daughters with us.  I had so much fun with them!!  My friend is one of my closest confidants, and I always feel comfortable talking to her about everything.  I am grateful for the connection that we share.  I thought that perhaps it might be a little bit difficult for me being around teenage girls when I miss my own daughter so much.  But it didn’t turn out that way at all.  I enjoyed being around girls that age again.  They laughed and talked and sang along to the songs on their iPhones that I had never heard.  It was a happy, lively energy that I have really missed.  I’m so thankful that I stayed in the moment and appreciated it for what is was rather than dwell on my past hurts.
  • After that I went with another of my friends to Michael’s to buy frames for my new prints.  It was my lucky day there!  All of the frames were half-off and I found two that were perfect.  My friend and I had a fun time chatting and hunting for stuff for new craft projects.  Again, I was grateful that I was able to enjoy the time with my friend and stay mindful of the good time I was having.

Bernadette's prints

  • I came home to a nice dinner that Austin made, and spent some time with my stepson before he had to leave to go back to his mom’s.  I love the dinners that the three of have together.  It’s really the only time that we use our dining room table (Austin and I usually eat in the living room while we watch shows) and the conversations, while eventually always turning to something gross – I guess that’s what happens when there are two boys at the table – are more focused and meaningful than the typical ones throughout the weekend.  I really like that, and I am grateful for it.

So, my Saturday was filled with friends, fun, family and beautiful things.  How was yours?

Gratitude – July 23

Strawberry Shortcake

Happy Wednesday!  It was a good day today, with much to be grateful for.  It was much like yesterday, and the day before, uneventful, no drama and, really kind of predictable.  I really appreciate looking for, and finding, things to be grateful for on uneventful days.  It takes more careful observation throughout the day and reflection in the evening.  I like that.  It’s like replaying my day, focusing on all of the great things that happened.  That’s a nice thing to do before bedtime. 🙂

So, here’s my list for today:

  • I am grateful I have so many wonderful friends at work; they brighten my day.  I love the breaks that we take to chat and catch up throughout the work day.  There is always laughter and smiles in my office.
  • I am grateful that this week has been a reprieve from the workload of the previous two weeks.  I have even had enough time to really clean and declutter my office, and now it looks fantastic!  I only wish that I had taken before and after pictures.
  • I am thankful that I haven’t been as tired the last couple of days even though my allergies and sinuses have been bothering me every morning.
  • I am thankful for the month old puppies that are crawling around my living room.  I can just sit and watch them play for hours…they are getting bigger and braver every day.
  • I am grateful for the strawberry shortcake that I made tonight (and had for dinner!).  Tomorrow it’s all salad, all day.
  • I am thankful that by doing my gratitude lists every day (well, almost every day), my mood, perspective, and level of happiness has improved so much.  When I remember how much I have to be thankful for, it always brings me joy.
Austin and puppies

I couldn’t resist posting this picture…see how much I have to be grateful for? 🙂

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what are you grateful for today

Gratitude – July 21

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My Monday was a completely unremarkable day.  I went to work and it was a normal day; there were no deadlines, no disasters, no fires to put out.  After work at home, there was no drama, no tasks that needed immediate attention, no errands to run, no phone calls to return.  It was an uneventful day, and for that I am grateful.

When I look back at my active drinking days, I see hungover days filled with angst and regret, nights filled with drunkenness and all of the drama that went with it.  There was wreckage that was out of control, relationships that were trashed by words that couldn’t be taken back.  There was the constant anxiety that came along with keeping all of my lies straight and my bottles hidden.  There was the exhaustion that came from working hard to keep up the charade that I was okay, life was okay, everything was okay, when, in reality, I was dying on the inside.  It was a horrible, dark and ugly time, but it was never uneventful.

Now, as I live life in recovery, I embrace the drama-free days.  Of course, sobriety isn’t without its share of challenges and trials, but it isn’t so consistently one disaster after another.  And there are a whole lot fewer self-inflicted problems created.  I am able to see the beauty in the mundane, and the joy in the normal.  I don’t have to struggle through all of the chaos to keep living…I just do it, easily most of the time, without having to think about it too much.  That is truly a gift for which I am thankful.

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Please share your gratitude today.

Please share your gratitude today.

 

Gratitude – July 20

 

help each other

Last night our friends who recently relapsed came over for dinner.  They have a few days of new sobriety under their belts and we thought that it might be nice for them to get out of the house and away from the guilt and shame they were feeling.  We spent several hours talking about alcoholism, recovery, our personal stories, relapse, AA…the list goes on.  It was a wonderful evening, I am so glad that they accepted our offer to come visit with us.  They shared with us what feelings and events lead them back to drinking, and the consequences that resulted.  We shared with them our own tales of relapse and of cleaning up the wreckage.  We talked and laughed, as only we alcoholics do, about things that I know would completely horrify the ‘normies’ out there.  Even after being in recovery for a few years, it still blows me away how quickly people trying to accomplish the same thing – sobriety – can become completely comfortable talking about very intimate things.  We alcoholics bond quickly, I think, because we all share the experience of having lived in the hell that is active alcoholism.  It is not a nice place, even just to visit, and I think that talking about it with others like ourselves helps keep us from going back there.

After our friends left last night, I was thinking a lot about how lucky I was to have spent the evening with them.  I am filled with gratitude that they both opened up to us, shared their feelings and their fears.  I am thankful that I was able to offer my own stories and that helped  put them at ease.  I am also grateful that all of us were able to be completely comfortable being vulnerable with one another.  These days I think that is a beautiful, but rare, thing.

I got a voicemail today from the wife thanking us and saying that it really helped them.  That’s so awesome.  What I don’t know is if they left here knowing how much they helped us.  I’ve written before about keeping it green and remembering my last drunk, but I don’t think that anything helps more than talking to other alcoholics.  That’s why I blog, that’s why I go to meetings, that’s why I have a sponsor and that’s why I sponsor others.  Together with other alcoholics, we can accomplish the very thing that we could never do alone.  For that, I am grateful.

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Gratitude – July 18

Better Days

This was an extremely busy week for me.  When I wasn’t working I was either sleeping, or wishing I was sleeping.  But now, the weekend is here, and for that, I am very grateful!!  I am looking forward to catching up on my blog reading, doing some writing, and otherwise taking it easy (well except for the 10 loads of laundry that are waiting for me).

The week, though busy, was a good one for me and I have many things for which to be grateful.  Here is my gratitude list for the last two days, since I didn’t make time to post yesterday:

  • I am always busy at work, but this week and the last have been exceptionally crazy because we started a new block of classes.  People are always coming into my office – coworkers, faculty, and students.  Sometimes they need help that is work-related, but what I really love is when they just come in to talk, share something with me, ask for advice, or offer me advice.  Yesterday and today I was especially grateful for the conversations that I had in between all of the work that I had to do.  It is such a blessing to me anytime someone comes in, closes the door and says, “do you have a minute to talk?”  Those are truly the highlights of my day.
  • I am grateful that Austin is teaching in the morning for the next five weeks.  Not only does that mean that we get to have all of our evenings together, but we get to see each other at work too.  It works out pretty good, being as he’s my favorite person in the world.
  • I’m so thankful that my stepson is here for the weekend.  I got used to having him here all the time while he spent two weeks with us, and I missed him this week.  It’s so fun to listen to him and Austin talking about Star Wars games, although sometimes it’s like they’re speaking a different language.  I’ve seen all the movies myself, but I have never heard of some of the people and places they talk about.  Who has heard of Utapau, or Darth Sion, for Pete’s sake?
  • Tonight, I am grateful for being able to do nothing.  When I got home from work, I gave myself permission to forget about my list of to-do’s and to just relax.  And that’s what I have been doing…just putzing around doing nothing…and it feels great.  It’s very easy for me to get mired down and feel overwhelmed with all of the things that need to get done (like the 10 loads of laundry I mentioned).  I do sometimes get lazy and put things off, put my internal dialogue when I do that sounds a lot like a mother yelling at her teenager to clean their room.  So I am grateful that today I have been able to do nothing and not feel bad about it.
  • I am thankful that it’s Friday, and that the weekend is here; that I get to spend time with my boys and that I don’t have to set my alarm for tomorrow morning.

I hope that all of you have a wonderful weekend, full of things that bring you gratitude.

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what are you grateful for today

Gratitude – July 16

gratitude2

I am grateful to be sober every day, but the last couple of days has me thinking about it a lot more than I usually do.  Austin and I have some friends, a married couple, that we know through the program.  They are both early in sobriety, and trying to start a new life of recovery as a couple.  Last week they relapsed…together.  I guess that is the risk you take when both halves of a relationship are alcoholics.  When one goes down, there is always the potential for the other to follow.  That’s a pretty scary scenario.  It breaks my heart that our friends are going through all of this.  They both want to be sober, and they are committed to getting back on the wagon, but it seems like the road ahead of them is awfully bumpy.  I really feel for them, I hate to see them in pain.  But seeing what they are going through also makes me recognize just how lucky I am to be where I am right now.

Twenty months ago, I was right where our friends are, married to another alcoholic, relapsing and feeling hopeless, not wanting to drink, but not able to cope sober.  I was fortunate though, that Austin didn’t join me in my relapse.  Seeing our friends makes me realize that could’ve easily happened.  Thank God Austin didn’t pick up too.  What would’ve happened then?  I shudder to think.  What would’ve happened if it had been the other way around?  If Austin had relapsed, what would I have done?  Would I have sent him to rehab, like he did for me?  Or joined him in drinking?  I don’t know.  I hope I never have to know the answer to that question.

As I think about all of this, and it has really been on my mind a lot, I am so grateful to be sober.  Sometimes I need to be reminded of how it feels to be in active alcoholism, I need to keep that feeling fresh, so that I never have to go back there.  I have to remember how fortunate I am that Austin and I work our programs both together and individually, that we don’t rely only on each other to maintain our sobriety.  I think that’s the most important thing couples in recovery can do; be supportive, give each other a lot of grace, and allow each other to work their own program.

Today, and every day, I am happy to be in recovery.  I am grateful that I no longer have the desire to drink to cope with life, and I pray that it stays that way forever.

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Please share your gratitude today.

Please share your gratitude today.