Don’t Stuff the Birthday Blues

Yesterday my husband and I had a discussion about stuffing emotions, and whether or not there is a difference between stuffing and just telling ourselves that those thoughts and feelings may be real, but it isn’t doing any good to wallow in them. It’s a fine line, I think, and when I am struggling with an uncomfortable emotion, I’m often not sure which one I’m doing. My husband’s thought about it that is that it depends on what your self-talk is saying about it. Are you telling yourself to suck it up, that you can’t think about that? Or are you telling yourself that these feelings are there, but there isn’t anything you can change about it?

The conversation that started this was about the fact that it’s my daughter’s birthday today and I’m sad. If you’re a reader of my blog, you may remember that my daughter and I are estranged; we have been for nearly five years. Holidays and her birthday are hard (I suspect they always will be) because I always wish that we were together. It’s not that I don’t miss her everyday, I do, but special days amplify my longing.

So, yesterday I wasn’t sure if I was stuffing my emotions or not. I told my husband I was feeling sad, but when he pressed for more, I didn’t have anything else to add. It was the same as always — little snippets of happy times that I had with my daughter flashing through my mind, willy nilly. That’s all. And that’s what it always is, so why talk about it? I think there’s a saying about a dead horse that applies here. At least that’s how I usually feel about the situation. Is that stuffing?

Actually, thinking about it today, I think it was. The reason I say that is because later in the evening last night, I gave in to the emotion. I let myself cry, and I said out loud, “I miss her so much.” My husband hugged me and held me for a while. I didn’t have to say anything else, I didn’t have to discuss every memory that was in my head, I just had to actually feel the feeling…let it take hold for a minute. I didn’t have to wallow, but I did have to acknowledge what I was feeling, whether I liked it or not. But then, after I took some ibuprofen and a hot bath, I felt some relief.

Some.

I woke up this morning and the sadness was still there. I haven’t cried today, but I’m not stuffing it…I’m writing this post.

Happy Birthday, Kari. I love you.

19th birthday

Words To Live By

 

I recently read an article from Psychology Today that talks about why we should all have a personal motto; something we say to ourselves that brings us comfort when things aren’t going well, or motivates us to reach a goal, or helps us establish a new habit. The article focuses on using a motto to change behaviors, but it got me to thinking about the importance of how we talk to ourselves. Before I got sober and learned a new way to live, the way I spoke to myself was a lot different from the way I do now.

In the past, my personal mottoes were all about hiding emotions, keeping up appearances, and not letting anyone see the real me. I can’t tell you the number of times I said to myself, “Get it together, DeLoe,” or, “Suck it up,” when my real emotions started to bubble up. It was all about pushing things back down and not feeling the negative emotions. Another personal motto of mine growing up came straight from my mom, “Act right.” This wasn’t meant in the same sense that the AA saying, “Do the next right thing,” is. It wasn’t about taking the next right step, or acting your way to a heart change. Its underlying meaning was whatever you do, however you feel, if it’s negative, don’t show it; just act right, and no one will know. Ugh. It’s no wonder I drank.

Now, I talk to myself differently. I allow myself to feel my emotions, and I express them. Sometimes it isn’t easy though, and old habits and methods of dealing with things pop up. When I start to hear the old sayings in my head, I combat them with new, true sayings. Here are a few that work for me:

This Too Shall Pass.  I remember the first time I heard this was in 7th grade English
class. I don’t remember the context in which my teacher said it, but I remember
thinking that those four short words provided such comfort. At the time, I was filled with that middle-school angst, worrying about things that I had no control over (yes, I did that even then), and wondering if I would always feel so messed up. The truth is, I did feel messed up for a long time, but I tried to remember that “this too shall pass,” and it did help. These days, whenever I face something that is hard to deal with, I say those same words to myself, only now, with three more decades of life experience, I know that they are true.

 
I’m a Real Girl, With Real Feelings. I have to credit my husband for this saying. When we were first dating, I would apologize whenever some uncomfortable feeling came up that I thought I had to hide or stuff back down so that he wouldn’t see it. Austin would tell me that I needn’t apologize, that I was a real girl, with real feelings. Wow. This was a revelation for me, because I had lived my life trying to keep any uncomfortable, or negative, emotion from showing outwardly. I thought that in order to be accepted, I had to appear to have it all together. I was wrong. Now I know that true acceptance only comes when I allow others to see the real me, feelings and all. From time to time, I still have to remind myself, or Austin does it for me, that I am a real girl, with real feelings.

I’ve made it through worse. Sometimes, when situations seem desperate, and I am feeling like I can’t take one more thing happening, I have to remind myself that I have made it through far worse. I have been raped, beaten, arrested, fired, divorced, and estranged from family. I have blacked out drinking and fought, wrecked cars, passed out in the dirt behind a dumpster, and been to rehab twice. I have suffered through PTSD related flashbacks, nightmares, and fear. I have been to the psych ward and to jail and thought my life was over. But you know what? Every single time, by the grace of God, I have survived. So today, when some obstacle or challenge comes up, if I remind myself that I have made it through worse, I am comforted, and I can persevere.

Everything is okay, right now. Staying present, not dwelling in the past or worrying about what is to come is huge for me. I slip into guilt and fear at the drop of a hat, so being mindful isn’t something that comes easy. When I remind myself that I am alright, in this present moment, whatever it is, I can carry on. This is especially important when I am feeling overwhelmed – either with emotion or with daily life. Believing that I am “okay, right now,” allows me to make it through the moment, and move on to the next.

All things work together for good. St. Paul’s comment in Romans 8:28 is something that I often say to myself. When something is going on that I can’t understand at the time, and I am asking myself, “Why me, God?”, I remind  myself of this verse. So many bad things happen in life, and we often can’t comprehend why until much later, when the real reason becomes clear. So, in the moment, I try to remember that there is a reason, God’s reason, and it’s okay if I don’t know what it is right now; something good will come of it, and I’ll understand later.

It is what it is. This saying is, by far, my favorite. As a matter of fact, I even have it tattooed on my wrist. I know that it’s overused and it sounds kind of flippant, but it holds special meaning for me, and I love it. One of the hardest things for me when I got sober was acceptance. I didn’t want to accept my past, I wanted it to be different. I didn’t want to accept that I was an alcoholic, or that I couldn’t stop drinking on my own. I didn’t want to accept that I couldn’t control others, or at least sway them to my way of thinking. I didn’t want to accept that the mess I found myself in was caused by me. So when I say “It is what it is,” it’s all about acceptance. In recovery I had to learn that I have to accept the things I cannot change, and it hasn’t been easy. Having the reminder (right on my wrist!) helps me deal with situations that I have no control over. Some things just are what they are, and they’re not going to change no matter how much I wish they would. It is at those times that I say to myself, “It is what it is.”

Those are a few of my personal mottoes and how they help me. What are some of yours?

 

Down, but not out.

Over the last week, I have started this post several times, only to end up deleting it.  Some of the drafts just sounded too depressing because I’ve had a rough month.  Some I thought seemed flat, like I just didn’t have anything good to say.  And one draft just sounded angry, and that’s not how I wanted it to come across.  Today, I realized that the whole point of my blog is to express my feelings – whatever they are.  So, I’m not going to delete this one, I’m going to put my feelings down and get them out of my head.

May has not been a great month.  At the beginning of the month, my estranged daughter celebrated her 17th birthday.  Not being able to be with her was heartbreakingly painful.  I wrote an open letter to her, and while I had no expectations of a response (I don’t even know for certain that she reads my blog, but I know that other family members do), I think I was holding onto a little bit of hope. But I heard nothing, good or bad.  Then, just a week later I had Mother’s Day to deal with.  I was sad to not be spending it with my daughter and with my own mother.  No matter what my relationships with them are like now, I still miss them.  In recovery, I have gotten better about accepting the past for what it is, but on days like Mother’s Day, there is still a part of me that longs for a different past.  I know it’s an impossibility, but I still wish for it, especially on days that I am already in the dumps.

As if that wasn’t enough to deal with, last week we lost a member of our home group to his addiction.  He was a handsome young man who had been in and out of the rooms for a couple of years. He was intelligent and friendly and had a smile and a voice that lit up the room. My husband took an instant liking to him and talked with him at length on several occasions. The last time I spoke to him, he was headed back to treatment and he sounded hopeful. He did not die sober. It was a drug overdose that took his life. He was only 18 years old.  That’s where my now deleted angry post comes in.  When our friend’s death was announced at our morning meeting, some of the comments from old-timers majorly pissed me off.  Before I knew it, I had written a long rant about how some old-timers forget what early sobriety is like, and that their self-righteousness will, more than likely, send newcomers back out the doors that they only just worked up the courage to walk through.  The comments that were made were enough to offend me, even if I hadn’t known the young man who died.  When you add the shock and grief of losing someone who you care about, it makes it all the harder.

The first three weeks of May have mostly sucked, and I’ve been feeling depressed and sad and discouraged.  What have I been doing with all of these negative feelings?  Nothing.  I’ve let them be.  Now, if I were to play Monday-morning quarterback I could list the things I should’ve done that I didn’t:  I should’ve talked to my sponsor more, I should’ve finished working on my 4th step (I’m in the process of re-working my steps), I should’ve practiced more of my Healthy Habits, I should’ve journaled more and written more posts.  But, until today, I just haven’t felt like doing many of those things.  So instead I’ve been binge-watching Nurse Jackie, crushing candy like a crazy woman, and taking 4 hour naps on my days off.

So, where exactly is the silver lining in all of this, you may ask?  Here it is:  even through my blues and self-pity, I was able to remember that “this too, shall pass.”  I was down, but I didn’t despair.   I didn’t isolate (much), I went to meetings, I talked about my feelings when I needed to, I honored my commitments even though I didn’t feel like it, and I took care of myself.  And the icing on the cake was that I didn’t drink.  I didn’t even want to.  That’s huge.  It’s a fucking miracle.

I’m happy to say that I think I am coming out of my funk, and while I didn’t do everything right while I was down, I did what I needed to and I remembered that feeling bad wouldn’t last forever and I made it through.  I learned that my emotions won’t kill me and that I don’t have to try to avoid or numb them.  I also learned that I am stronger and healthier than I thought before this period of melancholy.  That’s some pretty shiny silver lining, if you ask me.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to go finish my 4th step, do some yoga, and de-clutter something.  🙂

 

 

 

 

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The difference that made all the difference

get_it_together

“Get it together, DeLoe!”

That’s what I used to tell myself.  A lot.  I’ve thought it in my head, whispered it quietly, yelled it out in anger, mumbled it through tears, cried it out in frustration.  Whenever I had an overwhelming emotion, that was my mantra.  Fear, anger, anxiety, sadness, grief.  They all got the same response.  Just get it together, DeLoe.  You see, I thought that the best thing to do with those types of feelings was to stuff them down so far that I could appear to have it together.  If I could get it together on the outside, then no one would have to know how messed up I was on the inside.  If I could just “act right,” like my mother used to say, then everything would be alright.  Feeling those negative emotions would serve no purpose.  It does no good to cry over something, it’s not going to change the outcome.  There’s no use being mad, you’re going to get over it anyway.  If you’re frustrated with something, just quit trying.  I heard those types of things all the time growing up.  I was always ‘getting it together.’  What I realize now, that I didn’t know then, is that I was being taught that I had to keep it together on the outside – act right – to get the love and happiness I so desperately wanted.  Whatever was happening on the inside didn’t matter.  I could get what I wanted if my actions were acceptable.

Over time, I became pretty adept at stuffing my emotions.  If it was something that was unbearable, unpleasant, or even just a little bit uncomfortable, it got stuffed away.  Nope, not gonna feel that right now.  I would put on my game face, and suck it up.  I used to think that meant I was just going with the flow; that I was handling things and moving forward.  What I learned is that when you stuff, avoid, or shrug off your true feelings, they have a way of rearing up again later.  There comes a point at which there is no more room for stuffing.  The maximum capacity has been reached.  For me, that happened when I was in my mid thirties.  I found that I could no longer get it together, no matter how hard I tried.  Old feelings, for things that had happened long ago, started to bubble up.  And this time, I couldn’t just swallow them back down.  They were back, and they meant business.  Stuffing and ignoring them was, clearly, no longer an option.  I had physical reactions to the feelings – anxiety, panic, crying jags.  My old way of coping was failing.  Enter booze.  I might not be able to stuff emotions away anymore, but I sure could I drink them away!  And drink them away I did.  For years.  Alcohol was my solution for a long time.  It kept those bad feelings trapped in a place where I didn’t have to deal with them.  If they started to surface, I would have a drink, or two, or ten.  And then, at least for a while, I could be free of the emotional pain.  But then that stopped working too.

What resulted was no longer just the bubbling up of emotions, it was a full-on volcano eruption of my unfelt, unprocessed feelings.  I was angry, sad, depressed, needy, and crazy, sometimes all at the same time.  I was losing control, and I didn’t know what to do.  I had always been able to keep it together, no matter how hard it was.  But I just couldn’t do it.  I was sinking and I knew it.  I drank more and more.  When I had moments of actual clarity, or some form thereof, I would wonder to myself how I would ever have any happiness, serenity, or peace, if I couldn’t get it together.  I mean, how could I have any of those things when I was such a huge mess?!?  Looking back, I can see that at the time, I thought that good things (like happiness, serenity and peace) were only for “good” people, and I most definitely was not “good.”

From there, my life spiraled downward.  My alcoholism became full-blown, I was either drunk or hungover most of the time.  I was depressed and cried all the time.  I had nothing to contribute to relationships with family and friends.  I still had a job, but I was regularly screwing up.  I was just struggling to make it through each day alive.  Though there were many days that I hoped the opposite would happen.  I honestly thought that I was destined, or doomed, to live the rest of my life in that condition.  I didn’t see how things could ever get better, because I couldn’t get it together.  I didn’t deserve for things to get better, I was so broken, I wasn’t worth it.

And then, after thirty plus years of getting it together, trying to do good to get good, wearing a game face and sucking it up even when it felt impossible, something miraculous and life changing happened.  I gave up.  I gave up trying to control every emotion, every situation, every person I met.  I knew that I couldn’t do it anymore.  I was finally waving the white flag.

I found myself in treatment for my drinking.  I was terrified and hopeful, worried and relieved.  My emotions were all over the place and I felt like a bigger mess than ever.

And that’s when I first heard about grace.

I went to a Christian treatment facility and after the first week I attended a bible study each evening.   I had only been to church on a few rare occasions in the past.  I didn’t know what to expect, or how I would respond to what was talked about, but I knew that I couldn’t continue living the way I had been.  I knew that I was missing something in my life that I had tried to find from other things – attention, men, booze, etc.  I was looking for something that would make me feel worthy of love, happiness and peace; something that I didn’t have to ‘get it together’ to enjoy.  It was there, in treatment, that I was first exposed to this message of grace.  I didn’t quite know what to make of it, but I knew it sounded good.

Grace, I learned, is the love and mercy than God bestows on us just because He wants to, not because we have earned it.  It is a free gift given without expectation of good works.  Wow.  I don’t know about you, but I never had that before, from anyone.  And here I was learning that not only did I get to partake in God’s grace, but I didn’t have to do anything to get it!  I didn’t have to ‘get it together’ or ‘act right’ for God to love and accept me.  He loved me where I was, as I was.

It is by God’s grace that I have had so many wonderful things happen in the last two years.  I fell in love with the perfect man for me, and he loves me back.  I have been able to stay sober for coming up on nine months.  I have stronger, more meaningful relationships with friends than I ever had before.  I am able to feel happiness and peace, even when life is challenging.  Those are not things that I could’ve done by myself.  They are not things that I could have ever earned by doing what I used to – getting it together.  They are all things that have been given to me freely by God.  No strings attached.  How awesome is that?  I’m still broken, still a mess at times, and not someone who has it all together (even on a good day!), but despite that, I am loved and accepted, and I feel peace and joy.  I have Someone in my corner who loves me unconditionally, even with all of my jagged edges.

Are there still times that I slip into the ‘get it together’ mentality?  Or times when I try to stuff an emotion that I don’t want to feel?  Of course.  But the truth is, it is far less often than I used to, and it is no longer my answer to every situation.   My husband is always quick to catch me when I’m trying to put on my game face, and he reminds me that I’m a real girl, with real feelings.  That helps me so much to know that it’s okay to feel angry, sad, or depressed.  And we have a new saying in our house.  It’s no longer “Get it together, DeLoe,” (that’s my maiden name, by the way).  We now use my married name:

“Live in grace, Olive!” 

live-in-grace