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

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A Month of Gratitude – Update

Epicurus

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

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

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

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

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

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

gratitude2

Gratitude – July 23

Strawberry Shortcake

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

So, here’s my list for today:

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

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

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what are you grateful for today

Gratitude – July 13

gratitude.happiness

I am finding that to be more and more true.  When I think about all of the things that I have to be grateful for, I am much happier.  Today, like all the days before it, was full of gratitude worthy moments for me.

  • Austin and I went grocery shopping.  It seems like it’s been a long time since we did this chore together, it’s been one of us rushing to the store to just get a few things.  Today we shopped together, taking our time, talking about what we would have for meals this week, laughing and being silly the whole time.  I am so fortunate that Austin and I always have so much fun together, even doing the mundane daily things that we all have to do.
  • I napped, even though I thought I didn’t want to.  I often fall into the Sunday trap of not wanting to nap because I don’t want to sleep away the last day of the weekend.  The truth is, I know that it’s important to rest (and what better day than Sunday) especially when I know I have a busy day coming.  Tomorrow will be at least a 12 hour work day because it’s the start of classes, so I know that I need to be rested and ready to go.  Anyway, my ever-persuasive husband talked me into laying down and I went right to sleep.  I woke up a little grumpy because I didn’t want to get up, but after a bit I felt great and happy and I was glad that I had slept.
  • We had Bible study this evening and I really enjoyed it.  There was a lot of discussion and thought sharing.  I am moved by the honesty that our little group shares.  For me, our study on Sunday evenings is a lot like an AA meeting; I always feel better after it than I did before.  Even when, like today, I am happy going in, my mood and perspective is improved after spending a couple of hours with friends who I love, having dinner and talking about God.  It really is a beautiful thing.
  • We had an awesome monsoon thunderstorm tonight.  There was lots of thunder and lightning and a down-pouring of rain.  It smells wonderful and it lowered the heat.  I know that it will be muggy and humid tomorrow, but standing outside (under the eaves so we stayed dry) listening and watching and feeling the storm makes it worth it.
  • I am typing this as I’m lying in bed next to Austin, who is reading.  Just before we came to bed, we spent some time with the puppies.  They are 17 days old today and they all have their eyes and ears open now.  They are standing up, on shaky legs, and are starting to try to play with each other.  It’s so cute to see.  They nip at each other with their little toothless mouths and crawl all over each other.  Until one is overcome by sleepiness and then it’s game over.  There is something so soothing and calming about watching and holding these little creatures.  I think it was Charles Schultz who said, “Happiness is a warm puppy.”  He couldn’t have been more right.

I hope that you all have had a wonderful weekend full of gratitude worthy moments.  They’re there, sometimes you have to look harder to find them than others, but there is always something to be thankful for.

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

Bring it on, 2014!

Happy New Year

I wasn’t going to write another post this week, but it seems that 2013 warrants some reflection.  It’s been quite a year, and even though I’m not sad to tell it goodbye, I feel like I have had some victories that are worth celebrating.  I may not have felt victorious then, but hindsight sometimes reveals the silver lining that I couldn’t (or wouldn’t) see at the time.

The beginning of 2013 was a flurry of emotion.  I looked at my journal from the time to remind myself what I was feeling then.  There was a lot of grief and fear, but what stood out the most in my early 2013 writing was hope.  I was freshly out of rehab, my second trip in as many years, and I was working hard to do things differently so there wouldn’t be a third trip.  My focus was on forgiveness, acceptance and honesty.  I knew that if I had those three things, I might just make it.  So I really worked on them: doing a lot of step work with my sponsor, going to meetings every day, praying, and telling the truth to myself and others.  I had to do those things while I was cleaning up the wreckage that I had caused when I was drinking (legal, financial) and while returning to work after taking a 6-week leave of absence (I was overwhelmed).  But somehow through all of that, I still had a lot of hope.  I was able to see that if I kept doing the next right thing, no matter how difficult, and as long as I stayed sober, no matter what, things were going to get better.  I was going to get better.  I don’t think that I had ever really felt that kind of hope before.  It was new, and it kept me moving in the right direction.  It still does.

This past year I also had to deal with the horrible grief that comes from being separated from one’s child.  The feelings of loss and wanting greeted me every single day, and I don’t see that going away…ever.  What I learned though, is that those feelings can, and now do, peacefully coexist with happiness and joy.  That was a gradual realization for me.  At the beginning of the year I thought that any happiness I felt was in vain.  How could that happiness be real?  How could any feeling other than grief be real?  Surely a daughter-less mother couldn’t have any real joy at the same time her heart is aching and broken.  But somewhere along the way, I came to realize that the happiness and joy I was feeling was real.  And that it didn’t mean that I was missing my daughter any less, or that my heart was less broken.  But rather, it meant that even in its brokenness my heart could be joyous.   I had completely underestimated my capacity to feel more than one emotion at a time.

As the holidays loomed toward the end of the year, I knew that my new realization would be challenged.  And it was.  I’ve written many times about how hard October through December are for me, and 2013 was no exception.  There were down days and tears, days when all I wanted to do was hide from everyone and everything.  But amazingly, as each holiday, birthday, or anniversary showed up, I was able to face the day and make it through.  Not only that, but in most cases, I was able to have really good days, even when bad memories or regret were present.  I also noticed that when I dissolved into self-pity and depression, I bounced back much quicker than I used to, and I was able to remember that the feelings, however real and however strong, would pass.  That is a win in my opinion, no two ways about it!

All of those things make me feel triumphant, but my biggest victory of 2013, by far, was maintaining my sobriety.  It is the first whole calendar year that I haven’t had a drink in a long, long time – maybe even since I took my first drink at 14.  I celebrated a year sober on November 26, and I couldn’t be more proud.  I was successful at making my recovery a priority, and I thank God for giving me that blessing.  Out of the whole year, there was only one day that I really wanted to drink, and I knew that even though I wanted to I wouldn’t.  If that isn’t a hope fulfilled and a prayer answered, I don’t know what is.

I don’t know what 2014 will bring.  Just like any other year though, I am sure there will be challenges, sorrow, and fear.  However, I like to think that there will also be an abundance of peace, joy, and security.  I’m not going to make resolutions, because I never keep them, but I am going to go out on a limb and say that I’m going to make 2014 a year of growing, a year of nurturing better habits and another year of hope.

Happy New Year!

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.