Expect Less, Accept More

The last week and a half has gone nothing like I had planned. I had meetings scheduled, some training for a group that I am a part of, and a new art class that I am attending. I had plans to be busy, but busy with the things I love to do…the things that feed my soul. My calendar app on my phone was looking pretty full, and I liked it.

Enter the flu (or something very much like it).

My house quickly became an infirmary. My stepson got very sick and missed a whole week of school, somewhere along day 4 or 5 of his coughing, hacking, feverish yuckiness, I got it. So for at least a week and a half, all the plans I had (read: all the expectations I had) were kaput.Expectations

It’s when I start having expectations that I get into trouble. There’s a saying in AA: “an expectation is a premeditated resentment.” It’s so true! When all of my plans had to be changed because we were sick and contagious, I started to get resentful. I knew that it wasn’t anyone’s fault that we were sick and plans had to be changed, but I was irritated, nonetheless. I had plans, dammit! And now things were not turning out like I had expected.

I stayed grumpy and irritated for a couple of days, and then I realized what was happening – sometimes I’m a little bit slow to come around. It wasn’t only the flu that was making me grouchy, it was that things hadn’t gone the way I wanted them to. My expectations were challenged and I didn’t like it.

The only way that I have found to combat having expectations is to do my best to live in acceptance. When things don’t go my way, the faster I accept that they are what they are, the quicker I can let go of my expectations and have some peace. Of course, I know that the real answer is to be mindful and not have expectations in the first place, but alas, I am a work in progress.

So, everyone is well now, and things are back to normal. Meetings were rescheduled, and cancelled plans are set to be made up. In the grand scheme of things, this was just a little bump in the road. The thing to remember is that it is always up to me whether or not I let the little bumps derail me, or just slow me down a little.

 

 

 

Advertisements

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!

Living in a ghost town (Part 3)

ghost town

Wow.  I can’t believe how long I have waited to write this post!  It’s been over 3 weeks since I wrote Part 2, which was about my daughter.  Writing that post brought up a lot of sadness and grief.  That, coupled with long hours at work for the past few weeks, forced me to take a little break from my blog and practice some self-care.  But I’m back and ready to write.

In Part 1, I talked about what it’s like to live in the same place where I am constantly reminded of my past, my bad choices and other negative memories.  In Part 2 I talked about living in the same place as my daughter, with whom I have no relationship right now.  In this post, I want to talk about how I deal with all of that and how I no longer let the ghosts lead me to where I was before I got sober: back to depression, self-loathing, and anger – back to drinking.

I’ve been in recovery now for a little over two and a half years.  However, I have only ten and a half months of continuous sobriety.  So you can see, it took me a while to finally get to a place in my recovery where I don’t feel the need to drink.  A lot of what I have learned has to do with dealing with my past.  Not just realizing all of the things I’ve done wrong, but actually dealing with it in a healthy way.  I don’t know what works for others, but these are the things that have worked for me.  These are the things that have made my last ten months different.

The first thing that I have done differently is allow myself to feel my feelings.  As an alcoholic, I was a world-class emotion stuffer.  I could, for a long time, just turn off negative feelings and pretend that they didn’t even exist.  I could hide them so far away, that I really think I actually believed they were gone.  Water under the bridge, just move on.  The problem with that is that no matter how far down I pushed them, they were eventually going to resurface – with a month’s, year’s or decade’s worth of vengeance.  And they did.  And I tried to drink them away.  Now when those feelings come up, and they do, I don’t try to ignore or avoid them.  I feel them.  Really feel them.  And you know what?  No matter how bad they are, they don’t kill me.  It took me a long time to learn that, and to be okay with it.

Another thing that is different is that I talk to people about what I’m feeling.  I have stopped putting on my game face, and started letting people in – my husband, my sponsor, my friends.  Last night, my husband and I were at Target.  For some reason, thoughts and feelings about my daughter came up and I started to get emotional.  I could feel my throat tighten and my eyes getting watery.  I was overcome with missing and wanting her.  My husband was in another part of the store and I could have easily “gotten it together” and composed myself before I went to find him (he was looking at Star Wars Legos, by the way).  But instead, I went to find him even though I was all weepy.  I told him that I was really missing my daughter and that something had triggered my emotions.  He hugged me, told me that he was sorry, and held my hand.  Nothing was solved, there was really no action taken other than me opening my mouth and saying how I felt, but I felt relief.  Had I kept walking around the store until my red nose and wet eyes went away and not said anything, I would’ve wallowed in my sadness.  Alone.  Just speaking the feeling was enough to get me through the moment.

I have written before about the role that acceptance has played in my recovery.  I have found that when it comes to living in a ghost town, acceptance is definitely the answer to my problems.  As I drive around town and places or things remind me of my alcoholic behavior and the trouble it got me into, it’s easy for me to slip into my old ways of thinking:  either minimizing or maximizing the impact of my actions.  The colossal mistakes weren’t really that bad, were they?  Or, the small transgressions…what kind of a nutcase would do something like that?!?  I operated at one extreme or the other, I wasn’t able to see the situation for what it really was, an alcoholic acting like an alcoholic.  When I am able to remember a situation or choice that I made and say to myself, “yes, I did that.  It was a really awful thing to do and I’m sorry for having done it, and I don’t intend to do it again” I’m able to accept things they way they really are, or were, be okay with it, and move on.

A huge part of dealing with my past is telling myself the truth.  When I get down on myself for it, and I still do sometimes, I have to remind myself that the person I was three years ago is not who I am today.  That is the truth.  I have changed, grown, become self-aware, and I am better for it.  I am no longer in active addiction, I am repairing the wreckage of my past, I am facing things that I never thought I could face, and I am living honestly.  Remembering those things helps me when I am faced with the ghosts around me.  The truth is those ghosts have nothing on me anymore…I’m not even the same girl that they haunted for so long.

Finally, the last, and most important piece to living with the ghosts of my past, is my faith.  Knowing that I have God in my corner, unconditionally, saves me every day.  When I am able to turn my will and my life over to His care, and know that things will happen in His time, His way, I can relax.  The things I have done and gone through were for a reason.  His reasons, not mine.  When I choose to have an open heart and I allow God in, I can have peace.  And I do.

Living in a ghost town isn’t easy, sometimes it’s downright hard.  But I am learning to do it.  And if I remember all of the things I have written about, I can do it with grace.

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

Expectation

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

expectations11

240 Days

Today I made 8 months sober. I posted this morning on my Facebook page that these past 8 months have been the best I’ve had in a long, long time, and that they have, by far, been my best months of sobriety. This isn’t the first time that I have had this many days, but it’s the first time it’s felt like real physical, emotional, and spiritual sobriety. The longest stretch of sobriety that I had since I started trying was was nine months, I drank on the day after getting my 9 month chip.  So I have been asking myself why this time feels so different.

The difference certainly isn’t because these last eight months have been uneventful.  I have gone through more stress, anxiety, grief, and the like, since last November than I went through in the year prior.  I have had to deal with some really difficult feelings and situations.   Things that, not too long ago, would’ve sent me right back out boozing.  But I haven’t had a drink.  In fact, there was only one exceedingly crappy day in the whole eight months that I even wanted to.  I wrote about that day in an earlier post.  But even on that horrible day, I didn’t pick up.  Why is that?

As I’ve thought about it, there seem to be three major changes I have made that are helping me stay sober.  Number one, I finally got honest.  I practiced varying degrees of selective honesty for 40 of my 41 years.  When I was drinking I lied to everyone about everything, it didn’t matter who it was.   As I got into recovery, I think I really tried to be more honest, but I omitted a great many things.  If it was something that was going to cause me feelings of guilt or shame, or if it was uncomfortable or unpleasant in any way, I would almost always leave it out.  It wasn’t until my second trip to treatment that I was able to be honest about the ugly stuff, all of the ugly stuff.  It was the first time that I told the whole truth to a therapist, to my fellow addicts, to myself.  I had the gift of desperation, and I was finally willing to go to any lengths to get sober, and to not die.  For me that meant being honest.

Number two, I learned to forgive.  I struggled with resentments for so long.  I’ve realized that while I could (and did) act like I forgave people that I thought had wronged me in some way, deep down I held on to those resentments like a security blanket.  I wrapped myself up in them and they actually gave me comfort.  They gave me a reason for my drinking, I had someone other than myself to blame for it.  If I hadn’t been so heinously wronged by others, I wouldn’t have to self-medicate all the time.  Once I came to the realization that not only was I holding these grudges, but I was reveling in them, I knew that something had to be done.  I talked a lot about how to forgive with my husband (he’s a pastor after all), and I talked about it with a therapist, with my sponsor and with other alcoholics.  I read books about forgiveness, I read the Bible, I prayed, I journaled about it.  I can’t tell you when the switch was flipped, it was a gradual thing.  I started off by praying just for the willingness to forgive, the actual forgiving seemed a long way off.  Somewhere along the line, I started to let go of my security blanket, and I thought that maybe, just maybe, I did have the capacity to forgive.  I kept praying, and writing, and talking, and something happened.  My anger lessened.  I learned that to forgive doesn’t mean to forget, and it doesn’t require reconciliation. I started to let go, to truly forgive.  Some transgressions were easier to let go of than others, and some I am still working on, but I have much more peace now.

The last biggie was acceptance.  Oh, have I fought with acceptance.  I have always loved the story in the Big Book called Acceptance is the Answer.  And I knew that accepting that things were what they were, would make life easier.  I just didn’t know how to do it.  So I got the words ‘It is what it is” tattooed on my wrist as a reminder.  I tried to just intellectually accept things, just tell myself that I had no choice but to accept it, and that would work for a while, but it never lasted.  I said the Serenity Prayer over and over.  But true acceptance only came to me when I was able to turn over whatever seemed unacceptable to me, to God.  I have written about laying down my rock, surrendering my problems to God, and how, for me, it often involved the literal laying down of a stone.  I don’t usually carry rocks in my pockets these days, but when something that I can’t change is bothering me, I write it down on a piece of paper, and I put it in my God box.  I give it up, and become willing to accept it as it is.

There are a number of other things that I do differently to stay sober now.  I journal like crazy, I chair meetings, I reach out to others in and out of the program when I need help, I take care of myself whether it means a nap or a good cry or a hot bath, I know my strengths and I know my liabilities and I plan accordingly, I call my sponsor almost every day.  My recipe for sobriety has changed, there are a lot more ingredients.  But the main ones are honesty, forgiveness, and acceptance.  And they make life pretty delicious.

It is what it is

It is what it isUgh.  Today sucked.  A lot.  As I said in an earlier post, I have been feeling overwhelmed at work.  Today that overwhelming feeling got multiplied by a thousand, and a good amount of frustration was added in.  The story is a pretty boring one, typical behavior of any large company.  The corporate office made a decision to change some things around to make things better in the long run.  Sounds good, right?  But in the short run, it will be a HUGE amount of extra work, we’re talking lots of overtime, and very tedious, and most of the work will fall on my shoulders.  While the idea of all of the extra work causes me a fair bit of anxiety, that wasn’t what was so frustrating.  The thing that really got me was how the decision was communicated to the staff.  First of all, rumors about it started flying last week.  Then, yesterday there were conflicting stories of what was going to happen, depending on which manager you spoke to.  This morning, there was confirmation that the changes were not going to happen, it was business as usual.  So I spent my day accordingly – working to prepare things as I normally would.  At about 3:00 this afternoon, there was an announcement that the changes were going to take place after all!  So I wasted the whole day working on something that was ultimately going in the crapper.  I’m sorry, I know I’m rambling, but can you sense my frustration???

Needless to say, I was pretty grumpy.  And that got me to thinking.  What is it that I am so grumpy about?  Is it the changes that are coming?  Is it the extra work?  Am I trying to control something that I have no control over?  Why am I frustrated, and what am I going to do about it?  I never shy away from extra work, I’m a hard worker and deadlines don’t usually bother me, I always get the work done.  Now, I don’t love change, but I have gotten better about rolling with the punches.  It occured to me that I often react to these kinds of situations the same way.  I get worked up and anxious thinking about how awful things are going to be.  I freak out on the inside, while I act like everything is alright on the outside.  I worry, worry, worry in anticipation of whatever the crisis is.  Here’s the funny thing…when the real thing comes to pass, it is never as bad as I thought it was going to be.  Everything usually works out fine.  Hmm.  I know this.  I even have a tattoo that says “It is what it is” to remind me that there are  things that I can’t control, and that I have to accept them.  You would think that knowing all of that would keep me from becoming such a nutjob when things happen.

So what am I going to do about it?  I’m going to get up tomorrow, go to work, and do my job.  And I will do it again and again, and in a few weeks, the worst of it will be behind me and things will go back to normal.  I’m going to remind myself that this is not a major crisis, I’ve had those, I should know the difference!  The most important thing to remember is that it is what it is.  It will work out just the way that it’s supposed to.  And it’s a whole lot easier to face it with a smile and a good attitude than the alternative.