Sometimes You Need a Full Stop

unplug

This time of year always seems to get me down. And 2015 isn’t proving to be any different. This time it started a little bit early, September instead of October, and it has lasted longer. Despite all of the good things that are happening in my life, I have been depressed and anxious, with some PTSD junk thrown in – just for some added fun. The funny thing is, intellectually, I am grateful and I realize that I really have nothing to be sad or down about. But it’s autumn, and my emotions seem to be winning the battle against my intellect.

In the past, when I have felt like this, I have done one of two things:  I either trudged on, suffering silently, with a smile on my face, until I had some sort of meltdown, or I got drunk. This time, in the interest of avoiding self-destruction, I decided to do things differently. I am choosing honesty, sobriety, and self-care. Imagine that! It sounds so healthy!

It’s really easy for me to say I’m fine, or I’m just peachy, when someone asks me how I am. So easy. Now though, when someone who I know cares about me (not the grocery store clerk or mere acquaintances) asks how I’m doing, I’m being honest. If my anxiety is up, I tell them. If I’m feeling depressed, I say it. And it works! Just getting the truth out of my head and acknowledged by someone else, takes some of the power away from what I’m feeling. I was also honest when I went to see my doctor a couple of weeks ago, which resulted in an adjustment to my medicine. In the past, I don’t think I would’ve done that. I think I would’ve opted to believe that the problem was with me, and that I had to figure out how to navigate it without any help.

Surprisingly, and oh so thankfully, my sobriety hasn’t been challenged at all this time. I am coming up on three years sober, and I am so grateful that I haven’t felt like drinking would make things better. It’s a miracle if you ask me! Knowing that I can make it through tough times without drinking is truly a blessing that comes from God. It’s grace, pure and simple.

The biggest part of me getting through this period of depression and anxiety is self-care.  This is something that I am still learning to do in recovery, but I recognized this time that it is essential. There are times that I need a full stop from outside stressors, and this is one of them. The difference is that in the past, I would never have admitted stop-sign-2that I needed it. I would’ve carried on, hoping the negative feelings would pass. What I did this time is take a month off of my job to work on myself. A leave of absence to take care of my mental health! I’m over a week in, and I still can’t believe that I put my well-being ahead of my job. This is huge!  My husband, my sponsor, and several friends have commented on how big of a change this is for me, and how great it is that I am doing this for myself. I was undecided about it for the first few days, but I realize now that they’re right. It’s what I need right now, and it is already helping me.

So, I am spending my time doing the things that feed my soul, and take care of my mind. I’m reading, writing, taking walks, talking to friends, baking, crafting, and napping. I’m listening to my body and my brain, and doing what I need to keep them healthy and sane. And you know what? It feels good!

I know that this cycle of depression will pass, it always has in the past. The difference this time is I’m doing what I can to help it go away. Honesty, sobriety, and self-care…and, just for now, a full stop.

 

 

Happiness, good things, and…anxiety?

just be happy

Holy Cow!  It’s been almost two months since I’ve posted!  I honestly had no idea it had been that long.  Don’t worry, everything is ok, I’m still sober, still working the steps, and doing my best to practice the principles of AA in all of my affairs.  I have been working on my word-of-the-year, Connect, and spending more time with friends and family.  It’s just been a busy time and I haven’t felt the urge to write for a while.  Something has come up though, that I feel like I need to post about.

Since the beginning of the year, with very few, minor exceptions, things have been going really well.  In January, my husband started teaching full-time and our income increased by quite a bit.  That alleviated so many worries and problems.  There is something to be said for not having to worry about one paycheck running out before the next one comes.  About a month ago I was able to attend a women’s retreat for forgiveness and healing.  It was a wonderful, life-changing experience, and the best part was that two of my closest friends went too.  I feel so fortunate to have gone.  Then, after months of wanting to move to a bigger, nicer place, the perfect house more or less fell right into our laps!  We’re moving in two weeks and we couldn’t be happier.  My husband celebrated 5 years of sobriety a few weeks ago, and my sponsee just made one year sober.  Life has been so great to me lately!  The icing on the cake came unexpectedly earlier this week when a number of my coworkers and I received an email from the powers-that-be saying we were all getting raises, and they were retroactive to January 1st.  The only thing that could make things better is if I were to wake up tomorrow morning weighing 25 pounds less!

Shoe dropNow I’m not telling you all of this to brag about my good fortune.  There is a real problem with all of this.  It scares me.  I’m nervous and anxious and I don’t know how to handle things when they are going so well.  Crazy, right?  At least it makes me feel crazy.  I have so many things to be happy about, and here I am waiting for the other shoe to drop!  I know how to live when I have to struggle and deal with uncomfortable feelings and difficult situations, sobriety has taught me that.  I know how to be mindful and grateful when times are tough.  This is the first stretch of time though, when I haven’t had huge (at least in my mind) things to worry about, and it’s hard to accept.

I really thought that I had learned acceptance….boy, did I think that I had learned.  When bad things happen, or I have to deal with difficult situations, the first thing I do is remember the Serenity Prayer and move into acceptance about the situation as quickly as I can.  I know, from experience, that wallowing in self-pity and worrying about things that I have no control over never improves situations that are out of my hands.  But now, when I’m finally experiencing what the 9th step promises talk about, I am having a hard time accepting that it’s for real, and I’m filled with anxiety that something bad is looming right around the corner.

My sponsor suggested that I approach this period of time in the same way that I approach all of the other times, with gratitude and acceptance and with the knowledge that God is working in my life, and that all I have to do is continue to do the next right thing, and then next right thing, and that doing so is living a life of sobriety and recovery.  So that’s what I am trying to do.  I don’t want to ruin the happiness and joy that I am feeling (yes, I am happy and joyous…just anxious too), by worrying about things that haven’t yet transpired, and that, in reality, probably never will.

Ugh.  I guess I am still a work in progress.

Has anyone out there felt like this?  I would love to hear what you think about it, and how you have dealt with it.  🙂

9th step promises

Gratitude – July 9

Sleep

I have so many friends and acquaintances that tell me how hard it is for them to get to sleep, or stay asleep, or both.  Even my husband suffers from insomnia.  When I hear the stories about laying in bed, staring at the ceiling, with anxious thoughts swirling around in someone’s head, I cannot relate at all.  I can’t relate because, while I may not be good at many things, I am a champion sleeper.  I can sleep anywhere, on any type of mattress, on couches, in cars, on the floor, with a pillow or without.  I can sleep if I have eaten spicy food, or if I have just had a pot of coffee or an energy drink.  I can sleep if I am happy, sad, anxious, depressed, overwhelmed, angry, excited…there isn’t any emotion that can keep me from blessed slumber.  And I sleep soundly.  Very soundly.  Like the dead, in fact.  I almost never wake up in the middle of the night, I don’t hear anything, I don’t feel my husband get into bed with me if he stays up later than I do.  I just don’t lose sleep over anything.

In the past I have wondered if maybe there might be something wrong with me.  Is it normal that a person can (and does) fall asleep so quickly and so soundly?  When I am upset about something, shouldn’t I have trouble sleeping?  Does the fact that I don’t, mean that I am abnormal?  I know, from talking to others, there aren’t very many people who are like me.  When I am tired, it’s because I didn’t get my preferred eight or nine hours of uninterruptible sleep, not because, like them, I tossed and turned all night fighting to go to sleep.  Not being able to sleep just isn’t something that makes sense to me.  On the rare occasions when I have thought I was having trouble, it was because I hadn’t fallen asleep 45 seconds after I closed my eyes (it might have taken a minute and a half instead).

I realize, now, how fortunate I am to be able to sleep, and that I should stop worrying about it.  Sleep was my goto in early sobriety when I didn’t know what to do with myself.  For me, it is an excellent cure for situational anxiety; I always wake up being able to think more clearly, the physical symptoms of anxiety are gone and I am ready to deal with whatever is upsetting me.   It’s like my emotional clock, which was wound tightly before a nap or a night’s sleep, is reset.

So today, even though sometimes I wish I could get by on less sleep, and that I could stay awake until the end of TV shows,  I am grateful that I sleep well and that I sleep soundly.  I am grateful for my peaceful snoozing. 🙂

 

*******************************************************************

thankful-what

 

PS-this post is late because I fell asleep before I could get to it last night. 😉

Close your eyes at your own risk

Dreams2

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

dream

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

angry teacher

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

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

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

Please let me off this ride

Spinning-Tree-Dizzy-e1382983438949

Last Thursday I was sitting and having lunch in the breakroom at work.  I was talking to a friend, when I started to feel funny.  I was just finishing a piece of pizza when I began to think that I might faint.  I have fainted before, every time I have to give blood, so I know what that feels like.  But, unlike the times when I have fainted, the darkness around the edges of my vision never came.  The dizziness and unease just stayed.  I felt like a car that was out of alignment, pulling hard to one side.  I didn’t say anything until we got up to head back to work, then I told my friend that I was feeling weird and that if I passed out to please try to keep my head from hitting the ground.  She wasn’t really comfortable with that, so we stopped in a classroom for me to sit on the way.  Luckily, I work at a school that teaches various medical programs.  So one of the instructors came to check my blood pressure (it was fine) and give me the once over.  I could see the concern in her eyes, but after a few minutes I felt better and I went back to work.

As I sat at my desk, I was afraid that there was something really wrong with me, like I was having a stroke or that I had a brain tumor that had been quietly growing and  was just now starting to cause problems.  I can always count on my alcoholic thinking to come up with the worst scenarios!  My coworkers kept a close eye on me throughout the afternoon, and I tried my best to put on a brave face, and to act like everything was ok, that whatever had come over me was some sort of fluke and that it wouldn’t happen again.  I even made jokes about it, trying to minimize the catastrophizing that was going on in my mind.  I was really worried though.

I made it through the afternoon, only having a couple of minor “episodes” of the dizziness.  Each time, I would feel a pulling to my right side and I would feel like I couldn’t sit or stand up straight.  It felt like the room was moving and that I wasn’t ale to keep up with it.  Fortunately, I was sitting down when it happened.  I thought that I would make it through the rest of my work day, it was almost 5:00, when the mother of all dizzy spells hit me.  I panicked.  I didn’t want to yell across the administration area for someone to come help me, so I started trying to dial the extensions of various coworkers, all while I felt like I was going to fall out of my chair.  I couldn’t concentrate on the buttons on the phone with my vision, because I was seeing double, I had to go by feel.  Finally, after several attempts, I got someone and she came running.  It wasn’t long until I had just about every medical program director surrounding me in my office.  I was too dizzy and disoriented to be embarrassed over all of the attention (that would come later, as I was pushed out of the school in a wheelchair), I was absolutely terrified.  They took me into one of the labs that students use to practice their patient technician skills and gathered around me.  Now I really saw looks of concern.  Again, my blood pressure was fine.  They checked my blood sugar, it was fine too.  I was near tears, wondering what the hell was wrong with me when my husband got there.  It was decided that I better go to the emergency room.

My friend that I had been having lunch with earlier and my husband went with me to the hospital.  After waiting for about 3 hours, I was finally taken for a blood test and put in a room, where they started me on an IV.  They did an EKG, and it was fine.  And then they took me for a CT scan, and it was fine.  I was starting to feel a little better, it looked like I hadn’t had a stroke and that there wasn’t a brain tumor.  The doctor came to see me and did some examining, testing my motor skills and such, asking me to stand, balance on one foot, etc. with my eyes closed.  After a bit, he determined that I was experiencing vertigo.

VERTIGO!!!  Wtf?  I thought vertigo was something that little old ladies had from time to time.  Something that made them a little off balance, but that wasn’t really that bad.  I remember my grandmother saying that she needed to take her “dizzy pills” sometimes when I was a kid, but I never remember her being crazy dizzy like I had just been.  I guess I should be thankful that her dizzy pills worked, because the doctor prescribed the same medication for me.

This week I have to go to a balance clinic, so that they can try to determine the cause of my vertigo, and come up with a plan to treat it.  I am not looking forward to it as I understand that in order to determine the cause, they have to induce the vertigo, and I really don’t want that. But I will put on my big girl panties and go.  I just hope that they can fix it.

The good news in all of this is that I really felt how much everyone at work cares for me.  I was terrified and panicky and worried, and in seconds, I was surrounded by concerned friends.  They took care of me and reassured me that everything was going to be alright, held my hands, tried to get me to laugh, and generally helped me through the chaos of the moment.  I am so blessed to have great friends and for that I am very, very grateful.

I would really appreciate hearing other’s experiences with vertigo.  I am concerned that I will have more episodes, and I am really scared.  I have never felt so out of control of my body (and I’m a drunk, for crying out loud!), and I’m filled with anxiety that I will have to feel that again.  Hearing your experience, strength, and hope about this would be really helpful to me.

Happiness is…..what?

It’s been a great day so far.  We went to our home group meeting this morning, came home and did our chores, and then took a nice long nap.  And now, mid-afternoon, we are enjoying a nice monsoon thunderstorm.  I love being able to open all the blinds and watch the rain pour down.  Not to mention it really cools things off.  It feels like the temperature dropped about 20-25 degrees outside, which is great because the heat is pretty oppressive in Tucson in July.  I’m sitting here typing away while my step-son is building something with K’nex (like a cross between legos and tinker toys) on the floor, and Austin is getting something yummy started for dinner.  Anyway, I am feeling pretty happy today.

Recently I read an interesting article about happiness.  It talks about what things happy people do differently than others.   It was interesting to me because the things that it said about the characteristics of happy people weren’t what I thought they would be.  I was expecting things like having an optimistic view of things, having some sort of spirituality, being non-judgmental, having meaningful connections with other people, being self-accepting.  Those types of things.  It turns out I was wrong.  According to the studies talked about in the article, happy people have a few seemingly paradoxical things in common.

comfort zone

The first thing that the article talked about was that happy people embrace their anxiety.  What??  It says that they often do anxiety-provoking things that are outside of their comfort zone.  They seem to know that just doing the things that they know and are comfortable with won’t provide sustained happiness.  This seems a little bit crazy to me, but I do buy it.  When I have been able to step outside of my comfort zone and do things that I normally wouldn’t because of fear and anxiety, I have felt pretty darn happy.  For example, a few months ago I was asked to give a presentation at work about alcoholism and addiction.  I work at a local vocational college, and my audience was the entire student body.  Now, I am not a public speaker.  At the time I hadn’t done anything more than run a staff meeting, or share at an AA meeting (which I don’t even do that often).  But, I accepted without thinking because I am passionate about spreading the message.  When the day of the presentation came, I was filled with anxiety.  I was going to talk about myself and alcoholism in front of 400 people!  What the hell had I been thinking when I said yes?  But I did it, it went well, and I felt happy.  I wasn’t happy just because I didn’t embarrass myself, I was happy because I did something that I was afraid to do.  It felt good.

black-and-white-forest

The next commonality of happy people is that they don’t get caught up in details.  They see the forest, but not the trees.  The article states, “the happiest people have a natural emotional protection against getting sucked in by the intense gravitational pull of little details.”  I agree that paying too much attention to small inconsequential things does seem fairly joy-sucking.  I often catch myself studying friends’ and coworkers’ facial expressions when we’re interacting, searching for acceptance and approval.  If I see some little glimpse of something (it could just be a muscle twitch for all I know!) that I think might be negative, I quietly obsess about it, and what I did or said that was wrong.  I think what the article is saying is that happy people don’t do that.  They don’t notice those minute things that really have no meaning.

jealousy

Happy people find joy in others’ good fortunes.  That one is sometimes difficult for me.  Not because I begrudge others’ happiness, but because often times, I wish I had what they have.  It’s pretty easy for me to sympathize and empathize when friends are feeling down, or having some sort of crisis.  I’ve been told that I am a compassionate, loving, understanding person.  And I think that’s true for the most part.  But when things are going great for someone else, there are times when jealousy rears its ugly head.  While I may not act like it outwardly, when someone has something that I wish I did, internally I am covetous.  Especially when it comes to mothers relationships with their daughters.  That one really tears me up because I don’t have one, good or bad, with mine.  I guess this aspect is something that I need to work on.

Sadness

The next characteristic is that happy people don’t hide from negative emotions.  Wait a minute, happy people feel bad sometimes?  Of course they do.  They just handle it differently than others.  They are able to feel those yucky feelings and face them head on.  I’ve talked about how I deal with negative emotions, or try not to deal with them, as the case may be, in this post.  I’m not always exactly healthy, but I’m getting better at it.  Happy people are able to constructively use their anger or guilt to modify their behavior, which in turn improves the situation, and they can return their former happy selves.  It seems so easy, doesn’t it?

rocks-balancing

The last bit of the article says that happy people are able to balance pleasure with purpose.  They are able to look beyond instant gratification to the bigger picture, and sacrifice short-term pleasures in order to make progress toward long-term aspirations.  Wow.  I think that for most alcoholics this presents some challenges.  I mean we drank for instant gratification, even when the consequence was screwing up whatever our long-term aspirations were.  I know that for me, my drinking (brief, fleeting pleasure), actually completely annihilated any long-term goals I had.  My old aspirations, and some new ones, are coming back to me, but it’s taken a long time.  And, truthfully, there are many moments when I still want relief from anxiety, stress, and shame instantly.  I don’t want to drink, but I want something that will make things better.  Nowadays I use prayer and napping for that!

I guess I’ve rambled on long enough, but this article really struck something in me.  I’m not sure that I know how to change the things that need changing in me, so that I can experience more happiness, but this gives me some ideas.

If you want to read the whole article you can find it here.

Choices

good-choice-bad-choice-sign

Yesterday was quite a day.  The early morning went well, it seemed like a good start.  Then, on the way to work, everything hit the fan.  The details aren’t really relevant, so I won’t write about them.  Suffice it to say, there were a couple of hours that were pure chaos, drama, flashbacks to the past.  I was so quickly sucked into my old, alcoholic way of thinking and feeling, that I’m surprised my head didn’t spin.  I was in sheer panic, heart racing, cold sweats, shallow breathing.  I was sure that the end of the world, at least my world, was eminent.  It had been a while since I felt so much anxiety so fast, and then I heard it.  It was that little voice that I hadn’t heard from for over seven months.

You know how to make these feelings stop….

And just like that, I wanted to drink.  I didn’t romanticize or justify it the way I used to.  It wasn’t that I suddenly thought that I would be able to control it like a normal person this time, or that I was just going through so much stress that I would just have one drink to “take the edge off.”  No, I knew exactly what my wanting to drink was – I wanted to shut off every thought that was going through my mind.  I felt a deep need to change every feeling I was having at that moment.  There was nothing that could be misconstrued in what I was thinking.  Did I think that drinking would improve the situation?  No.  Did I think that I would create more wreckage by drinking?  Yes.  Did I realize what giving up my sobriety would mean?  Yes.  Did I still want to drink?  Yes, so very much.

That solution to my problems hung out in my head for a while.  I was aching for the relief of that first drink.  Then something crazy happened.  Those thoughts quieted down and were replaced by new ones.  What I heard was:  You don’t have to drink.  You can make it through this, and anything else that happens.  You are under God’s care, and He doesn’t screw up.  You are not alone. 

Now I am not going to lie, those two contradictory reactions fought back and forth for a while.  I was really waffling on which one to believe.  I knew which was the right way to go, but I also knew which would give me relief faster.  In the past, I wouldn’t have even entertained anything besides the drink.  I would’ve been hammered before those other thoughts even had a chance to make themselves known.  But yesterday, fortunately, I was able to make the right choice.  I didn’t drink.

I am certainly not going for sainthood here, had there been a bottle of vodka right in front of me this whole thing could’ve turned out a lot differently.  But with yesterday’s realization that even if I have the craving, I don’t have to give in, I feel like I reached a milestone.  I had been pretty damn lucky that for the past seven months I hadn’t had one inclination to drink.  But I honestly didn’t know what would happen when that luck ran out.  Now I know.  I can choose.