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.

 

 

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On being sick…

I don’t think I have ever posted twice in one day, but today I am going to.  There has been something on my mind these last few days besides prayer and meditation.  You see, I’ve been sick.  Not seriously sick, just what seems to be a head cold or sinus infection.  The creeping crud has not yet made its way to my lungs, and I really hope that it doesn’t.  I haven’t been sick enough to stay home from work, although I would’ve liked to.  I have had to cancel some plans with friends and let some of my chores at home go so that I could get some rest.  And I’ve been sleeping a lot.

So, what has been on my mind?  Well, since I began to feel under the weather, I have had this under-the-surface feeling of guilt and shame and failure.  I felt it toward the end of last week when I had to cancel plans with a friend from work because I was feeling crappy.  I felt it on Friday when I was at work, because even though I was getting my work done, I could feel myself moving slower than normal and not working as efficiently as I usually do.  I felt it when I got home from work and asked Austin if we could order in pizza because I was too tired and grumpy to make dinner.

Why was I feeling that way?  I certainly can’t help it if I get sick, so why am I feeling bad about it?

The answer hit me yesterday.  It’s because when I was drinking, I used to feel sick all the time.  I would stay in bed as much as I could to nurse my self-inflicted illnesses until I was better enough to go self-medicate again.  I was not a maintenance drinker, so there were plenty of times that my hangovers would do me in for days.  I would lay in bed feeling like I was going to die, wishing that I would, all the while telling those around me that I was sick.  And then, as I did my best to sleep the day away, the guilt and shame would set in.  I didn’t have to only lay there in my physical pain, but the emotional pain too.  I can remember thinking to myself, “You did it again, and you deserve to feel like crap.  What a miserable failure you are.”

So really, is it any wonder that now, when I am legitimately sick, my emotions go right back to that old familiar place?  Probably not.  It’s like muscle memory, or something.  My body does X, so my mind does Y.  I figured out yesterday that I have to remember to tell myself the truth when little things like this come up.  I am not doing the same old destructive things that I did when I was drinking.  Me having a cold does not make me a loser; spending extra time resting and sleeping when I’m sick doesn’t mean I’m a failure; I don’t have to feel guilty about being sick.  Geez, normal people get sick too!  (Not that I’m normal now, by any stretch of the imagination!)

Anyway, I’m off for a nap….and I’m not going to feel bad about it!

Connections

Boy, these past few weeks have really kicked my butt.  I have been working a lot of hours (thank God I’m an hourly employee and the paychecks almost make it worth it), and have been feeling a lot of stress at my job.  I haven’t had the motivation to do anything but eat and sleep when I get home.   I actually started this post several days ago, but I’m just now getting around to finishing it.

Connections

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about my relationships.  Not the horrible ones from the past, but the ones that I choose to have now.  I’m talking about my friends.  Being in recovery, it’s important that I always remember the things about which I’m grateful.  You’ll find my friends near the top of every one of my gratitude lists.  But it hasn’t always been that way.

When I was drinking I didn’t have real friends.  I had acquaintances, drinking buddies, people I hung out with.  Often, I tried to surround myself with people who drank more than I did, so that I didn’t have to accept that I was an alcoholic myself.  It allowed me to say to myself, “they drink much more than me, so I can’t be that bad.”  Right.  Then there were my non-drinking buddies.  They didn’t see the drunken mess that I was.  I hid it from them as much as I could, and when I couldn’t anymore, I cut them out of my life.  In both cases, there was no respect, no intimacy, no connection.  I had take-it-or-leave-it friendships.  If someone wanted to hang around, that was ok.  If they didn’t, that was ok too.  I never let anyone see the real me, whether they were drunks or not.  If I showed them the real me, then they had the chance to reject me.  And I had had my fill of rejection.

Thinking that if people knew the real me (the one that has screwed everything up), they would run for the hills, kept me from being open and honest for a long time.  Even after I was sober.  Sobriety gave me the clarity to see that there were friends I cared for, and who cared for me.  But I still held back the things that I thought might drive them away.  I didn’t let them see me when I was sad or depressed, I didn’t ask for help or accept it when it was offered, I didn’t discuss problems that I was having.  How could I?  If they knew all of those things, they would stop caring about me.  So, I would put a smile on my face and tell everyone I was fine, and hold on to my secrets like a security blanket.

As I started to work through the steps, I realized that there is a reason that the Big Book says that those who recover are the ones that are able to be “rigorously honest” with themselves and others.  I knew what I had to do, but I was afraid of the outcome.  Would I suffer more rejection?  Humiliation?  Would the people who I thought were my friends laugh at me?  Or worse, be horrified?  I didn’t know, and not knowing was scary.  But I started to open up anyway.  I shared things with friends that I never thought I would tell anyone (except my husband and my sponsor).  And you know what?  It didn’t cause them to run for the hills.  There were some looks of shock and concern, but they didn’t bolt.  You see, they were able to look past my ugly alcoholic behavior and see the real me.  They were able to love me despite the negative things, because I let them in.  And you know what else?  As a result of my sharing, many of my friends have felt comfortable sharing their ‘stuff’ with me!  I don’t know about you, but I think that is pretty awesome.

It’s a real gift of sobriety to be able to experience these connections with people.  Nothing ever came close to the feeling of connecting when I was drinking and trying to hide everything from everyone.  It’s something that I think I always wanted, but didn’t know it was even something that actually existed.  I know now that it does.  It’s those moments when a friend says they have something exciting to tell me, or they come into my office at work and quietly close the door behind them to talk about something.  It’s when someone asks me for advice (imagine that!!), or gives me advice when I need it.  It’s when they ask me how I’m doing and follow it up with, “really, how are you?”  It’s when a friend shares something with me that they haven’t shared with anyone before, and I can give them the same acceptance and love that they have given me.  It’s in the hugs that are given for no particular reason, the laughter shared over inside jokes, the encouragement given to press on even on the worst of days.  I love those moments.  I look for those moments. I am grateful that I get to feel those moments.

I am so thankful for the people in my life.  I am blessed.

PS-I just read this to my husband and he said the before I didn’t let the people get to know the real me and so I had shallow, acquaintance friendships.  Now people know the real Jami and they don’t just put up with me or say “she’s ok”, they like me.  But more than that when people get to know the real me, they love me. 🙂

Living in a ghost town (Part 3)

ghost town

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

On quitting quitting…

finish

I am a really good starter of things.  I start diets.  I start projects.  I start exercising.  I start friendships.  I start eating healthy.  I start laundry.  I have good intentions.  Really, I do.  But there a lot of things that I just don’t finish.  I have been this way for as long as I can remember, even when I was little.  When I was in grade school I started gymnastics, piano lessons, Girl Scouts.  And I didn’t stick with any of them.  As I got older I joined clubs in high school, I started college, I forged new friendships, I started therapy.  And I didn’t stick with any of them.

One of my biggest regrets is not finishing college.  I was a good student all the way through high school, and I was awarded a full academic scholarship to the local university.  I went one semester.  ONE.  Then I quit and went to work.  During the next several years I went back to school from time to time, but I never did finish.  As the semester would end, or as I would finish a class, I would just kind of give up.  Nothing horrible happened, I still had good grades, I just didn’t want to go anymore.  So I didn’t.

I’m not exactly sure why I am not a good finisher of things.  Is it because my parents never made me finish anything that I didn’t like?  Is it because when the novelty of something wears off, I’m just no longer interested?  I think that both of those things play a part.  But as I think about it, it may have more to do with how I feel about myself than how I feel about whatever it is I’m trying to finish.

For as long as I can remember I have struggled with self-acceptance and self-worth.  I am only now learning, at almost 42 years old, that I do have some good qualities.  I am better able to speak the truth to myself about me, rather than feeding the narrative that I heard (or maybe even created) growing up.  I know that I am smart, not just lucky, as I was told by my mother as a child.  I know that I am not horribly ugly like I thought for most of my youth because everyone oohed and aahed over my sister’s beauty, but not mine.  I know that I have a truly good heart, despite the fact that my family doesn’t find me loveable.  I guess what I am getting at, is that, by telling myself the truth, I have begun to like who I am.  Love may be on it’s way, but it’s not here quite yet.

So what does all of that have to do with me being a quitter?  Well, I think that I haven’t ever really felt that I was worthy of accomplishment.  I didn’t deserve to be a college graduate, I didn’t deserve to have friends that love me for me, I didn’t deserve to look fit and be healthy physically.  I wasn’t worth it.  At least, I didn’t think I was worth it.

Now that I have been in recovery for over two years, and I have really examined the parts of my life that I tried to avoid for so long, I have had to take a long, hard look at myself.  What I have found is that I am worthy of those things.  I am worthy of being happy and healthy, I am worthy of being accomplished.  And I’m capable.  I can do it.  Without quitting.  All the way to the finish.

I can do it

PS-I have started a class, Contemporary Literature, and I will finish it.  I have started C25K, and I will be able to run a 5K.  More details to come….

240 Days

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

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

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

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

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

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

Honesty, finally.

So here I am with my very first blog post. I have to say that I have had a certain amount of anxiety about writing from my heart and then sending it out into the vast abyss of the internet. But then I reminded myself that there will most likely only be a handful of close friends that read it. At least in the beginning.

Today the thing that has been on my mind is honesty. My thoughts about it started this morning and I have been sort of ruminating on them all day. Nearly every morning, my husband and I get up before dawn so that we can start our day off with a 12-step meeting before we go to work. Friday morning is a ticket meeting. Someone from the group hands out tickets to everybody and if, during the meeting, your number gets called, you share. I have a love-hate relationship with this particular meeting. Every time I feel like I have something to share (which isn’t all that often), my number isn’t called. Yet, when my mind is blank and I have nothing to add, my number comes up every time. This morning was no exception. I was feeling mostly content, with nothing really weighing heavy on my heart, when my number was called. First. It was the very first number called. Ugh. Before I could discreetly cover up my ticket so no one near me would know, I had opened my mouth and started speaking.

What I spoke about was honesty. When I was drinking I lied about everything, big and small. I lied to friends, family, employers, therapists, the random person on the street. Everyone. It seems to be what we alcoholics do. We do it to save face, to avoid consequences, to minimize our addiction. I did it so that everyone would think that I had it all together. I’m fine, thank you very much. No problem here. Yes, I did blackout last night. No, I have no idea what I said or did, or even how I got home…but no, no problem at all. The lies were endless.

When I decided to try to get sober, the lies didn’t stop. They did change. I no longer lied outright, instead I lied by omission. Looking back, I think I did it for all the same reasons. I wanted everyone in the recovery community to think that I was getting well, that I “got it.” There’s a saying that goes around the rooms that says we’re as sick as our secrets. And boy, was I sick. I held onto those secrets as tightly as I could. I shared what I thought was acceptable while wallowing, alone, in my horrible secrets. And you know what happened? I drank again.

This time around, I am doing things differently. I’m doing my best to be honest with those close to me. I have shared all of those demoralizing, ugly truths about myself. I have surrendered to honesty. Here’s the kicker – it wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be. I am surprised by the amount of grace that has been showered on me by those I have shared with. All of those things that I thought would drive people away have ended up bringing them closer. It’s so liberating to not have to lie anymore. The simple act of being honest has changed my life for the better.

So what that it took me 40 years to figure that out…I’m a work in progress.