Blessing or Curse? I Get to Decide

Today is my birthday, and birthdays always seem to invite a certain amount of looking back, reminiscing about the past, wondering how I got to where I am…if I’m even where I should be. I have been doing my fair share of thinking this week, leading up to today, about the things that have shaped me into who I am now at 44 years old.

On paper, my life may not look so great. I’m an alcoholic with PTSD, estranged from my family. I’ve been raped, beaten, arrested, to the psych ward and to rehab. I’m sometimes depressed and anxious, and I struggle with self-esteem and self-worth. That doesn’t sound so good, right? It would be easy for me to wallow about all of those things, to think of them as some cosmic curse that I am just destined to endure. But the more I look back, look at now, and look forward, the more I am able to see them as they really are — blessings.

It might be difficult to believe that any of the things I listed above are blessings, but In-Every-Trail-There-is-a-Blessingthey truly are. The traumas that I suffered, the ones that caused my PTSD, have made me strong. Surviving the big things, has made it easier to make it through the small things. I don’t worry nearly as much as I used to. I have a good track record of making it trough difficult times…why should I question whether I will make it through any of life’s struggles. Don’t get me wrong, I still worry, but when I remind myself that I have been through much worse, and made it to the other side, it gives me comfort.

Becoming an alcoholic was awful. It was a horrible time in my life, and I had many, many dark days. It’s also one of the best things that ever happened to me. I say that because hitting bottom in my alcoholism gave me the opportunity to learn to live life differently. Had I not become an active alcoholic, I would never have taken the time or made the effort to get to know myself. I would never have been as self-aware as I am now. I think I would’ve just muddled through life, never seeing things as they really are, never seeing myself as I really am. My recovery has given me so much. I have learned what unconditional love and true compassion are, and how to give and receive both. I have learned to not judge anyone, that everyone is a work in progress, and that I don’t always know what they are going through. I’ve learned that honesty, forgiveness and acceptance are my friends, not something to hide from as I used to. I’ve learned that I’m not a bad person because of the things that I have done, and that every step forward is proof of that. With all of that, how could I possibly believe that becoming a drunk was a curse and not a blessing?

The biggest blessing that has come out of my life’s challenges is that I have been able to help others. I have been able to tell my story, here on this blog, at 12 step meetings, and in my daily life, and others have heard it, identified, and felt comfort. I love that. It makes all the bad times worth it, and it makes the good times even better.

So today, as I celebrate another year of life, sobriety, and recovery, I am grateful for the life I have had, and I feel blessed.

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Good Things Come to Those in Recovery

good-thingsI’ve been neglecting this blog lately. I haven’t written very many posts in the last few months, and I don’t have any legitimate excuses as to why, except that life happens. I’ve been really busy with some new things that have come along, Good things. Really good things that I have been spending quite a bit of time on. The past few months, for whatever reason, have been very good to me. A couple of years ago I wrote a post about wanting to do more of the things that feed my soul. It seems that there has been some sort of shift, and I am now getting to do those things.

There are a list of things that I consider nourishing for my soul: connecting with others, writing, recovery (from alcoholism and mental health issues), sharing my story and hearing other people’s stories, and deepening my relationship with God. There are more, of course, but these are the biggies, and in the last several months, I’ve been fortunate enough to get to spend a lot of time doing them.

I’ll share some details:

  • My husband and I moved to a much bigger, nicer house at the end of last April. One of the things that has allowed us to do is entertain more. I’ve been able to connect with others so much more! In June we started what we call “First Sunday Dinner.” On the first Sunday of each month, we invite all of our friends over for a big potluck dinner. We set up extra tables in the living room and our friends come and go and it’s awesome! Sometimes we have more than 25 people, and sometimes we have a smaller group.  Either way, though, it’s fun to visit and laugh and eat, and most importantly, to connect.
  • I’ve been doing more writing (just not here) lately.  I’m doing some freelance copywriting, and earning some extra money. I’ve also been selected to be a blogger on the mental health website, HealthyPlace.com.  I’ll be writing for Trauma! A PTSD Blog on their site. It’s a great resource for anyone suffering from any kind of mental illness, or anyone who has a loved one who suffers from one.  Check it out if you have a chance, my posts will start next week.
  • One thing that I haven’t really blogged about, although if you listened to my story from a post last year I talked a little bit about it, is that I am post-abortive. Up until now, it hasn’t been something that I have been as open about as I am with my alcoholism. There is a lot that happens to a woman when she has an abortion, and the emotional and psychological impact isn’t talked about much. I have been fortunate enough to attend a Rachel’s Vineyard retreat twice in the last few years. It’s a Christian retreat that provides healing and forgiveness for post-abortive women (and men who have had children aborted too). Now, I’ve joined the Rachel’s Vineyard team here in Tucson and I get to help other women whose shoes I have definitely been in. It’s such a blessing!
  • After a long search for a church where my husband and I feel accepted, with good preaching, liturgy we love, and a loving congregation, we found one! We’ve only been going for a short time, but I think this one is the right one for both of us. Thank you, God.
  • I’ve had some success with selling the prayer beads that my husband designed and I make.prayer beads green We started this as a way for people to learn to pray.  Austin chose the scripture that goes with each bead as you work your way around the loop. Making them is something that I love to do, as I feel like I am helping bring people closer to God, and I like being crafty!

It’s been an eventful few months, but I am so happy!  Life is good.  I am going to work on getting back to being more active here on Sober Grace, because my sobriety and recovery still have to come first, before all other things.  I cannot be complacent because it is only by staying sober that I can continue to do all of the wonderful things that feed my soul.

Good for the soul

Healthy Habit #11 – A month of do-overs

Try aagain

 

I tried.  I really did.  But October was a horrible, awful, emotional, depressing month.  I wrote about it here, if you would like to see why.  I didn’t even make it a week with my Healthy Habit #10.  I think I worked on physical activity for about 3 days, and then it went kaput, and I was back to laying on the couch, or, on particularly bad days, in bed, watching countless hours of mediocre TV shows to distract myself from the blues I was feeling.  The only silver-lining in the whole ordeal was that this time, as opposed to times in the past, I knew that the depression would pass.  I knew that I just had to be patient, to talk about the things that were bothering me, and to take comfort in knowing that I wouldn’t always feel sad and down.  I took it easy on myself, did the things that I had to (like earn a paycheck, and shower daily…or almost daily), and waited.  And finally, this last week, I started to feel better.  I noticed that I didn’t feel as sad, and that my smiling and laughing was, once again, genuine.  Last Monday was the first day that I felt I was able to stay mindful, the first day that I felt like myself again.  The remainder of the week has gotten better and better.

So, all of that being said, I have decided that November will be a month of do-overs.  I want to redo HH #10, and try to get my sedentary self moving.  That is first and foremost.  I know that I will feel better physically and emotionally if I do it.

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I also want to revisit some other Healthy Habits that I enjoyed, but didn’t quite stick to.  Meditation is one of them.  I have been using meditation on and off since I first tried it, but it hasn’t been a regular practice as of late.  So I will again make time for it, and see how it goes.  I would  also like to add consistency back to writing gratitude lists.  My mind has been pretty well-trained to look for the good in every situation these days, even when it’s hard, or when all I can find is the tiniest of slivers of gratitude, I know that I can find something for which to be grateful.  Unfortunately, if I don’t take the time to really think about it, or write it down, then the gratitude stays in my head, and never really reaches my heart.  In other words, I know what I have to be thankful for, I just don’t know how to feel gratitude for it.   Writing it down helped me before, so I am going to do what I know works.  I am going to add listing the things that I am grateful for to my journal writing that I do every morning.

I feel positive and hopeful.  I was going to add “about….”  to that sentence, but as I typed it, I realized that it said enough.  I feel positive and hopeful.  And that’s good.  🙂

 

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!

Gratitude – July 6

Back-to-reality

My vacation from work is over, I head back to reality tomorrow.  I am anticipating a crazy, busy day.  I will probably have at least 50 voicemails and probably triple or quadruple that in emails.  I will most likely have students, staff, and faculty in my office all day long.  I have a feeling that tomorrow will be one of those days that I get tired of hearing my own name.  “Jami, can you…?” “Jami, did you…?”  “Jami, let me give you an update on…”  “Jami, can I have a few minutes when you’re not busy?”  “Jami, Jami, Jami…”

You know what,  though?  I’m okay with that.  I have had a wonderful 9 days to relax and do the things that feed my soul.  I’ve written, read, talked with friends, and spent time with my husband and stepson.  I was mindful and present and I enjoyed every moment of my time off.  I can’t remember the last time that I felt that way about a vacation.  I actually feel recharged and motivated to go to work tomorrow.  (I know that is subject to change around 7:00 a.m. tomorrow morning, but hopefully it won’t.)

Today I am grateful…

…that I have had the last week to rest and refuel

…that I haven’t been stressed or had any anxiety for 9 days in a row

…that tomorrow I will get to see my friends at work and catch up

…that I have a job that I like most of the time and love some of the time

…that several coworkers kept up on some of my daily work while I was gone, so tomorrow won’t be as hectic as it would be otherwise

I’m off to bed early, so I’m ready for tomorrow.  Tonight, as I go to sleep, I will do so with serenity and a grateful heart.  I hope you will too.

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thankful-what

 

 

 

Healthy Habit #7 – A Month of Gratitude

gratitude

It’s July 2nd, so it’s time for a new Healthy Habit.   At the beginning of the year, I decided that rather than making resolutions I knew I wouldn’t keep, I would try to develop some new healthy habits that would, hopefully, replace the not-so-healthy ones that I have.  For this month, I had one all picked out, I was even going to write a post about it yesterday.  For some reason, though, I procrastinated and didn’t get to it yesterday.  Ok, honesty here, I was watching the last season of Dexter yesterday and couldn’t be bothered with writing.  What a disappointing series finale, by the way.  But I digress…

I’m actually glad for the procrastination because I’ve changed my mind about July.  After reading several blog posts about choosing to be positive and grateful, I’ve decided that Healthy Habit #7 will be gratitude.  I wrote about gratitude a year ago, and it has yet to become a habit, a go-to way of thinking for me, so I think it’s a good time to revisit it.

I try my hardest to recognize all of the things I have to be thankful for, and when things are going well, I’m pretty successful at seeing them and expressing my gratitude.  But when things get tough, like they did last week, I often have a difficult time remembering that there is always something to be thankful for.  Hindsight being 20/20, I can find things to be appreciative of after the fact, but in the moment that is usually the furthest thing from my mind.

When I choose a healthy habit, I do a lot of reading.  I always have an idea about the benefits of whatever it is, but seeing it in writing makes it more real for me.  I found an article in Psychology Today that talks about the positive results that can occur from living a life a gratitude.   Here are some of their findings:

• Gratitude reminds you of what truly matters in life. It is all too easy to get caught up in day-to-day stresses and take for granted the things that are important to us. If you remind yourself each day of the things you are thankful for, you begin to focus more on the important and less on the superficial.

• Gratitude makes your problems seem less daunting and more manageable. We all have issues from time to time with work, family and friends. However, these issues often get blown out of proportion, causing stress and misery. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, up to 90 percent of all illness and disease may be stress-related. Try to be thankful for the challenges in your life, and the problems won’t seem so bad. For example, the next time you have a problem at work, you may want to remind yourself of how thankful you are to have a job in the first place. Say thank you and be well.

• Gratitude always comes back to you. When you begin to be thankful for what you have, you also begin to be more thankful toward other people. This cultivates positive feelings, and as the saying goes, “what goes around comes around.” In addition, the more you focus on the best in life, the more you will attract the best in life.

In recovery circles, there is a lot of emphasis put on gratitude.  It’s the topic of many meetings, and I will admit that when I am not feeling like my most optimistic self, I have groaned and rolled my eyes when someone suggests that the discussion be about gratitude.  But, continuing to be honest here, I always feel happier and more positive at the end of the meeting than I did at the beginning.  I have found personally, that when I stop and think of just two or three things that I have to be thankful for, I can improve my attitude by leaps and bounds, even in the worst of situations.  My sponsor has had me do that several times, and it works!

All of that said, walking down the path to grateful-land isn’t typically my first response to adversity, so I am hoping that by making it a regular practice, the next time something negative happens, I’m ready for it with a different perspective…one of thanks.

So, here’s my plan for July.  I am going to take time each day to post about things I am grateful for (I hope you all don’t get sick of me).  It will be a sort of public gratitude journal.  I am going to focus on finding the good in every situation, not just the ones that go my way.  I encourage everyone reading this to add the things that you are grateful for each day too.  Let’s see what happens when August rolls around, maybe we’ll all be better at being thankful for what we have. 🙂

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 Note:  If you would like to read the whole article about gratitude in Psychology Today, you can find it here:        http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/the-heart/201305/gratitude-soul-food

Finding the silver lining

blessed

Today I am filled with gratitude.  In fact, it’s my theme for today.  In the rooms it’s said that you cannot be in fear and gratitude at the same time, so today I choose gratitude.  I really have to be mindful though, because there is a lot going on in my life right now that scares me.  Staying in gratitude isn’t something that comes easily to me, I’m naturally a worrier.  But I have found that if I focus on the good things in my life, then my fears subside somewhat, and having them lurking around the corner is better than having them stare me in the face.

One of the first times that I used gratitude to combat fear was at the suggestion of my sponsor.  I was dealing  with some of the wreckage of my past, in a situation that I found scary because I didn’t know what was going to happen.  As I sat in a waiting room, I was filled with anxiety and worry and remorse.  In the middle of the shit storm of panic and fear, I called my sponsor.  As I poured out all of my worries and woes, I expected a little bit of sympathy and reassurance.  Instead, she told me to stop what I was doing and write down three things about the situation that I was grateful for.  What!?!  I wasn’t grateful for any of it!  It was a crappy situation, caused by a crappy alcoholic (me), and I couldn’t see anything good in it. But being the direction-following sponsee that I am, I said okay.  I sat there, while waiting to meet my fate, and thought about what I could possibly be thankful for.  It took a while but then it hit me –  things could’ve been a whole lot worse.  That’s something to be grateful for, right?  More thinking.  I was facing something that, in my drinking past, I would’ve avoided and hid from for as long as I could.  Two!!  The last thing on my gratitude list was easy:  I was grateful that I was sober that day.  As I sat there thinking about those three simple things, I felt better.  And the meeting that I was so dreading turned out alright.  Imagine that.

Today, when I make a gratitude list, the things I’m thankful for are much more evident to me.  I try to find something good even in the worst moments.  I’m not always successful at the time that I want to be, like last Friday, but in the end I’m sure to find something worth thanking God for.  Right now, amidst all of the upheaval I’m dealing with I am so very grateful for my friends.  I don’t have a lot of them, but the ones I have are exceptional.  I’m grateful that I have a job, even if I’m super stressed out with work.  I’m grateful that the days in which I experience joy outnumber the ones that I don’t.  And I’m grateful that on the bad days, I’m able to muddle through…sober.