Monthly Archives: October 2013
Finding My Voice
It has been pointed out that I have not been myself lately.
Side note: this is never a compliment; no one ever says “You’re not yourself,” and means it in a good way. Which, now that I think about it, is probably a good thing.
So I’ve spent some time reflecting on what could possibly be wrong. There is nothing that stands out for me, a few smaller items, but what human being doesn’t have a few anxiety-producing, frustrating or negative-in-some-other-way issues in their lives?
So I look back to the past few days and examine my behavior, and the corresponding thoughts rolling around my head.
And here’s what I’ve come up with: I am finding it more difficult than usual to express my opinions and my feelings.
“More difficult than usual” is a key phrase, as I have always found it difficult to express opinions that are important to me personally, or that I fear will be controversial. I. Am. Non-confrontational. This cannot be overstated, when it comes to me. So if I mentally project that what I am going to say may upset you, or rile you up, or you simply won’t agree with it, then, more likely than not, I’m not going to say it.
Certainly not the healthiest mindset, a fact of which I am growing more and more painfully aware.
So, back to the past several days… I have had a few incidents, minor in nature, but incidents nonetheless where I had an opinion, but felt unable to express that opinion. The variety of reasons that I felt unable to express myself would take entirely too wrong to explain, but the bottom line is: I feel frustrated that my opinion is not being heard.
And it’s my 12-step program that’s tripping me up!
Two different well-known phrases have been line-dancing through my head of late, and I finally realize that I am having an issue with them:
1. Restraint of pen and tongue
2. Clean up your side of the street
In case they are not self-explanatory, the first talks about the idea of prudence in communication, rather than giving into impulse, flying off the handle, and saying things that I will later regret. The second is the idea that the only actions that I can control are my own, and it is not my place to judge the actions of someone else.
Both very sensible ideas with which I find no fault. On the other hand…
As someone who organically over thinks before I speak, the restraint of pen and tongue may very well be doing me a disservice. One incident in particular stands out, where I, at long last, voiced an opinion, and that opinion got shot down quickly and strongly. Oh no, confrontation! The problem (as I saw it) was that the person in question misunderstood my position. But all I’m thinking is, “this is what you get for speaking up,” and I basically let it go.
This has happened more than once this week, and I realize that I am the common denominator, so I need to figure this out.
Finding the balance between expressing yourself in a healthy way, setting boundaries with the people expressing their opinions to you, and not going off-the-rails crazy, is a challenge… and that is an understatement.
But, what the hell, if I could stay sober for 643 days, then surely I can figure out the solution to this problem!
Halloween, adorable kids in costumes, and loads of candy… need I say more?
Those Full-Circle Moments
Today marked the one-year anniversary of the 12-step meeting I started. Really hard to believe it’s been a whole year! Last October, I had 3 attendees, today I had 12, so there’s been some growth for sure. At the heart of it, though, the meeting feels the same to me each week as it did the first… I feel humbled and grateful that I am able to give back in this way.
For the anniversary celebration, I decided to change the format. Instead of a reading from one of the pieces of literature we typically use, I invited a speaker to share his experience, strength and hope with us. The decision as to which speaker to ask was a simple one. While I have heard many inspiring messages in my 21 months of sobriety, there is one gentleman who has the perfect combination of inspiration, wisdom and humor. His name is Ed, I met him when I was six days sober, and have hung on his every word ever since.
Ed’s message is a simple one: as alcoholics and addicts we suffer from a progressive, fatal disease, and we get a daily reprieve from that disease in only one way: turning our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understand Him. He believes strongly that a 12-step program is not about going to meetings, it is about making the 12 steps a part of our daily lives, and he does much to spread this message to the still sick and suffering alcoholics that he encounters. He is as strong an example of giving back what has been freely given to him as I have witnessed, and I am inspired by him each time we meet.
What was extra special about having Ed speak at my meeting was that it was a collision of worlds, in a manner of speaking. As I said, I met Ed with only 6 days sober. At the time I was living with my Mom and attending meetings in an area that is a bit of a hike from my current residence. Once I was back at home and life was improving for me, I began attending meetings that were geographically more convenient. As such, I lost regular contact with a great number of people that I grew close with in early sobriety. There is one meeting I kept constant, and that is why I still get to see Ed on a regular basis, but all the other meetings I used to attend have fallen to the wayside to make room for the new group of people I have come to know. So the regular attendees of my Monday meeting have never met the circle of people I met when I first got sober.
So today I was able to introduce my early sobriety inspiration to the people who follow my lead now, and it was such a heart-warming experience, like a circle completing itself. I watched the faces as Ed spoke, and I could see the impact he was having. And, as always, the discussion that followed was chock full of learning lessons.
Really, today’s meeting was the embodiment of any 12-step fellowship: we learn how to recover from those who have recovered before us, and we repay that kindness by helping others to recover. And in helping others, we live to get another sober day. It is the gift that keeps on giving!
Although I have heard Ed’s story a half-dozen times, I still found something new to which I could relate, and that could help me improve my recovery today, and THAT is the miracle of recovery!
All Tapped Out
With a heavy heart, I am following up on a post I wrote 30 days ago, Tap Your Way Into Right Thinking. In this post I challenged myself to a 30-day experiment: I would use the Emotional Freedom Technique of Tapping for 30 days to see if I could change my negative thought patterns concerning my relationship with food. Sadly, I failed this experiment, and I need to ‘fess up!
First, a little more background into the process called Tapping. Tapping, as best I understand it, is a therapy process that works by focusing on a painful thought, memory or belief while tapping with your fingertips on various specific energy points located throughout the body. There are 14 different energy points, called meridians, that are believed to compose an energy system within your body. Any negative emotion, such as envy, shame, anxiety, or the like, is due to a disturbance in this energy system.
So I figured I could use my negative belief that I cannot change my unhealthy relationship with food, apply the principles of Tapping, and see where I got at the end of 30 days. Here is what happened:
I practiced the steps outlined in the book faithfully for more than half the time, 16 days. I attempted to follow the directions to the letter for each of those sessions. Initially, the biggest stumbling block to this exercise was my complete skepticism of it. I was self-conscious, even if I was by myself. And when my kids walked in and asked what the heck I was doing, that was even worse. So while I attempted to be open-minded about the exercise, I definitely had a ways to go.
The second mistake I made, and I only realized this after the fact, was that I failed to stay completely focused on the negative belief throughout the exercise. Much like meditation, it was extremely difficult for me to stay in the moment. Thoughts of what I was going to do next, or who might walk into the room, or, even worse, the thought that this is a complete waste of time kept crowding into my head as I tried to focus and tap. As I researched a little further into this practice, I now realize that it is essential to focus solely on the negative belief you are looking to change.
If I were to hypothesize, the biggest barrier to this being an effective technique for me personally is my, I guess I can use the word ambivalence, to the philosophy behind it. I am sure that this technique could work for many people, I am just not sure I am one of them, and this thought, above all else, was probably blocking my ability to be effective.
So that I am not a complete Negative Nellie with this post, I will end with a positive experience I gained from this experiment. At some point during each of those tapping sessions, I felt a small but definite feeling of lightness, almost like a feeling of hopefulness. Sometimes, I would even get a thought such as, “Yes, I can develop a healthy relationship with food!” and it would feel almost exciting, like it was a breakthrough. The feeling was fleeting, but it was interesting, and it did recur.
So, tapping was not a complete waste of time, but, for me, the benefits were not strong enough or permanent enough to reinforce the routine. The minute my schedule got hectic, I forgot about it completely, and, by the time I remembered I was supposed to be doing it daily, a whole week had passed. I will chalk this one up to: nothing ventured, nothing gained!
When I finish this post, I will be preparing for the one-year anniversary of the meeting I started… more to follow on this subject tomorrow!
Absence Makes the Heart Grow Fonder
I have been offline for a week now, and I can’t tell you how much I’ve missed this community! I have only just begun catching up, I feel like I’ve missed a gazillion great posts!
I am making this statement not just to say “hey!” to all the posts I’m late in reading, but also to bring up the point of today’s post. The reason I was absent last week was because I was preparing for my son’s 11th birthday. We were hosting a sit-down dinner for 15, followed by an ice cream party/sleep-over, followed by a trip to a trampoline place, followed by a lunch, I could go on for a while longer, but, suffice it to say: a busy weekend that required a lot of prep work. As a result, I was consumed with the details that involve making a weekend such as this one a success, and therefore let my usual sobriety-focused routines fall to the wayside. Nothing overly dramatic, as I’m only talking a week, but enough small “concessions” that by Sunday I was feeling the effects of a full-on emotional hangover: I was exhausted, cranky as all get-out, and reverting to behaviors in which I have not indulged in a really, really long time.
I woke up Monday, very excited to get back to a regular routine and lead my Monday meeting. And at that meeting the topic (pre-arranged) was Step 10: continued to take personal inventory, and when we were wrong promptly admitted it. If I were to attempt to highlight the portions of the chapter that directly applied to my life, I would, in fact, be re-typing the chapter. The focus of step 10 is to self-evaluate, at the very least daily, but, more specifically, when in any kind of turmoil. Because if I am feeling turmoil, I am the root cause, and the only way to resolve it is to look at my thoughts, feelings and behaviors. Guess what I failed to do the entire weekend?
The second part of step 10: and when we were wrong, promptly admitted it. Quick side note: as I was typing that last sentence, my husband called to say hi. So I can now say that I have put into action the second part of step 10 as it relates to this past weekend. Again, there is nothing melodramatic that happened, I believe all who attended the dinner party had a great time, they ate well, and my son had a fantastic celebration. But only I am in my head, and I haven’t felt this out of sorts in a long, long time, and I don’t enjoy the feeling at all. When I think that this is how I used to live life daily, I shudder… how in the hell did I live like this? And I know, if I am feeling this bad, then there is no doubt that I am acting out of sorts as well, and so my husband, as usual, becomes my default punching bag. I already feel better for having promptly admitted my mistakes.
So the moral of today’s story: sharing your turbulent thoughts really does calm the mind, and try to keep constant the routines that keep you serene, even when you are stressed. Because avoiding routine during stressful times is like throwing gasoline on a fire, and there is that much more to douse at the end!
Since I posted a picture of last year’s birthday cake, I figured I could do it again… it was a work of art!
The Topic is Resentment, and Boy Does That Tick Me Off
I don’t think I’ve done a Monday meeting wrap-up in a while. We have been holding steady… today we had 9 attendees, and several are newer “regulars.” One gentleman had been with us a while back, and is now resuming his attendance. People who come back to meetings after having been absent always provide excellent insight, at least to my way of thinking, so I got a lot out of today’s experience.
Today I selected a reading called “Watching Out for Anger and Resentments,” from the book Living Sober. I had a specific reason for picking this chapter. Over the past week, I have had 5 very different, very disturbing dreams that, one way or another, referenced my time in active addiction. What’s most troubling to me about these dreams, other than that they are recurring, is that I have no conscious disturbance in my life. Each morning that I woke up from one I spent time reflecting on what can be causing the subconscious turmoil, and I have yet to pinpoint a reason. Life is still really, miraculously good… so what is the problem?
In AA, we are taught that resentments are “the number one offender,” so I picked that chapter from the book, and we had a meaningful discussion after the reading. Here is what I uncovered for myself at the conclusion of the meeting:
- As always, I have more resentments than I realize. After reading all the different ways resentment can manifest itself (hostility, contempt, rigidity, cynicism, to name but a few), I have more going on than I realize. What’s been missing from my personal equation is taking the time to figure out all that is going on in my head, talking about it, praying on it, and listening for His answer.
- Bringing a resentment to a final conclusion. It is not enough to just figure out, “oh yeah, I have a resentment about that.” I have been doing that with certain things in my life for months on end now. Once I figured out that I have a resentment, I need to Let. It. Go! And that is the one I thing I have refused to do on a number of issues. I guess there is some progress in acknowledging the resentment, for most of my adult life I did not have the skill set to do even that. But now I need to take the next logical step, and remove the resentment from my life.
- A woman in my meeting was telling me how much her marriage has improved. She said to her husband, “What made you change?” He replied, “I didn’t change, you did.” So we talked about how his behavior had really stayed constant, but her acceptance had increased, and thus the entire relationship improved. Kudos for her! Unfortunately, the same thing can happen in reverse, and I’m afraid I am guilty of it. One small example: my son has been severely testing my patience for close to two weeks now. It seems as if there is an argument of some kind at least once a day. In reading the chapter today, and digesting the sharing afterwards, I realized that his behavior has been consistent, it is my attitude that has changed. So until I can get my head on straight, he is going to drive me crazy.
- Finally, and this is an off-shoot of point #2, I need to take the time to figure out how to resolve the resentments in my life. There were several alternatives discussed in today’s reading, but the one that resonated most with me was: ask yourself how a reasonable, well-balanced person would solve this problem, then act as if you are that reasonable, well-balanced person. This made me laugh out loud, because I can’t tell you how many times I have said exactly that to myself… “how would a normal person handle this?” Where I fall short is the acting as if part, and I realize, yet again, it is not enough to think my way into right acting, I need to act my way into right thinking!
It is a picture-perfect fall day here on the East Coast, and I am grateful for the beautiful season we are having!
When to Hang on and When to Let Go
I’ve been dealing with two different issues that have remained unresolved for long enough that I thought I needed to make a decision: either keep trying different strategies in the hope of enacting change, or let go of the situation entirely and decide that since it is out of my control, then I should remove it from my life. Neither of these options was sitting well with me, so I figured I would sit down and write about it. In looking for an image to correspond to this writing, I came across the one shown above. And I am so glad I did, because it really gave me some clarity for both of the issues with which I’ve been grappling.
The two situations are entirely different, involving people from different parts of my life, but in the end the struggle I’ve been having involves the same thing: I am putting myself, and my thoughts of what is right and wrong, front and center, when in fact I am almost completely immaterial. In other words: there is a God, and I’m not Him. In both cases my motives are pure enough, I want what’s best for people who are struggling. The problem, of course, is the idea that I know what’s best, and that I think I hold the answers to solve anyone’s problems. Pure, unadulterated ego at work.
I have known for some time that my all-or-nothing thinking rarely gets me anywhere productive. The notion, “well, I tried, you’re not listening, so I’m done” is an attitude that I have used, unsuccessfully, in the past, and I’m not sure why I hang onto it. After all, what if anyone in my life had acted on that thought with me when I was in active addiction, where would I be now? I shudder to think of what my life would be like today if that were true.
So the key for me (as it usually is) is finding the balance. Balance between being helpful and supportive, but not being overwhelmed or consumed by the problems of others. Balance between being there for people, but creating healthy boundaries for myself. As with all matters, I am a work in progress, but the self-awareness and consideration before action are definitely areas of improvement for me!
A little more than two years ago, my husband had to cancel a business trip because of my active addiction. Today, I am more than halfway through a week with him away on business, and all is well. I am so grateful that my sobriety has brought back the trust in our family!
One Man’s Trash…
Everybody’s got one. A project, a task, a chore, something that you’ve been meaning to get done, and that dogs you subconsciously. “Man, I really need to get around to…” Fill in the blank.
For me, that project is the basement. I have actually written about this once or twice on this blog. My basement had become a house-sized junk drawer. If something did not have a home, it was placed in the basement. If a quick clean-up had to be done because company was coming, all debris got thrown into the basement. When kids came over and weather was poor, kids played, amongst the clutter, in the basement, and they NEVER cleaned up. Add all that to the normal basement-y stuff (baby clothes, tools, decorations, etc.) and I’ve got myself quite a project.
And, like most projects I don’t want to do, I procrastinated, big-time. I kept trying to think my way into right acting, but visualizing the end result, making mental to-do lists, even wandering around the mess, but, shockingly, this effort produced no results. Go figure.
So with the confidence that only sobriety has brought me, I finally hatched a plan this past summer. I took the kids down to the basement, with a pen and paper, explained the mechanics of a brainstorming session, and asked them what their vision of our basement could be. The results of that brainstorming session could be the fodder for another post (my kids have very active imaginations), but by the end of that session we had a rough plan in place: let’s work on clearing out, and then we’ll move onto phase two, beautifying the basement. The culmination of Phase I was a yard sale, to be held at the end of the summer.
Well, things have ebbed and flowed since the brainstorming session, unexpected setbacks, as well as a windfall in the form of a neighborhood yard sale, and, as a result, we have reached the conclusion of Phase I this past Saturday. Here is some pictorial evidence:
I smile just looking at these pictures, and I have been down to the basement quite a few times in the last 48 hours just to wander around and admire.
Here is why I am writing about this experience, it is not just to brag about my empty basement! First, I would have never, ever achieved this goal without the tools I learned in sobriety. My entire life, pre-recovery, had been to procrastinate until forced into action, and then it was to take the most expedient, least labor-intensive course of action to get past whatever crisis into which I had landed. Just look at the before pix… this was not a mess that had been accumulated in a couple of months, it was something that I brought with me from my last home, and did nothing more than add to for the past 7 years. So I am practicing these principles in all my affairs… I made a mess, and I have cleaned it up!
I am also writing to talk about the unexpected bonuses that came along with the clean-up. First, amazing though it may be, I was the only person who really cared about the disaster area I called a basement. Kids are kids, they don’t think much about it, and my husband’s modus operandi was “out of sight, out of mind.” However, I was able to rally the family into a real team effort, and everyone responded accordingly. Over the course of the summer, I worked with the kids, the kids worked with each other, my husband and I worked together, and my husband worked with the kids, culminating into a total united front in the form of a very well-attended yard sale this past weekend. We have never worked on a project of this magnitude before as a family, and I believe we all gained a lot from our combined effort.
For myself, the project took me out of my comfort zone a lot… keeping up with the ongoing work, motivating a group of people that did not have the same level of commitment as me, asking for help, researching how the heck to even have a yard sale! And the biggest piece of the puzzle: dealing with the overzealous crowds! As someone who has never held a real yard sale, and someone who does not attend yard sales, I was very, very unprepared for the general craziness that went into that day. Negotiating, answering questions, feeling like I needed to be 10 different places at once… all a very new and very uncomfortable experience. I would like to think I learned a lot, but I’m not rushing out to have another yard sale to test this theory out!
Finally, and the most surprising lesson I gained, was learning to let go. I really had no idea what a candidate for Hoarders I really was… I had 22 Rubbermaid containers of baby clothes, from newborn to 5T (keep in mind I have only 2 children, and they are at least 6 years removed from these sizes). I should have been ecstatic to see these clothes go, but I had a pang every time someone came up to me with money for them, and I found myself telling the story of when my children wore those clothes last (and yes, I’m sure they all thought I was certifiable). At the end of the sale, my rule was: nothing goes back in, so we packed up and took the remaining things to the Salvation Army. Now the rubber really hits the road: I had to put my hands on these clothes, and put them in a bag to leave. That process took almost as long as the yard sale itself. The main thing that got me through was the invaluable wisdom of Time With Thea, who has been giving me amazing advice throughout this project. She told me that rather than feeling like I am giving something up (memories, my kids’ childhood), I should instead focus on what I am giving to somebody else (clothes for people who need them, creating new memories for new families). I’m telling you, I was actually saying those words out loud as I bagged up the remaining clothes!
Sorry for the wordy post, but this project has been in the works for months, and I am just so excited to report the exciting results!
I believe, once I hit publish, that this is my 300th post, and I am so grateful to have all of you with whom to share my life!
5, 113 Days
Fifteen years ago today, I was a young woman right in the middle of a long engagement to be married. We had an almost two-year engagement in order to save money for the wedding and for our first home. So on October 2, 1998, I was still 12 months away from my special day, but I received a surprise gift… a dozen red roses. My fiance gave them to me to celebrate that it was 12 months until our big day. On the second of every month after that, I received another dozen roses, but the number of red went down by one, and a white rose took its place. So on November 2, 1998, 11 red, 1 white, on December 2nd, 10 red, 2 white, and so on.
October 2, 1999 was the day all the hard work, planning, scrimping and saving paid off… our wedding day. It was as beautiful weather-wise as I’d hoped it would be. I woke up in my childhood room, surrounded by the sisters who once shared that room with me, and the whole morning was spent with my family and seven (yikes!) bridesmaids, all primping and preening and running around like crazy women. In the midst of all the chaos, a messenger arrived at the door, and a package was delivered… a dozen white roses, with this accompanying poem:
Whenever you reach a destination
You tend to ponder its realization
Not because you don’t believe
Rather you appreciate what you’ve achieved
You and I have gotten here
Through smiles and laughs and the occasional tear
After today we will be husband and wife
Our relationship will take on a whole new life
I can only imagine what’s in store
Because knowing you, it’ll taste like more
These past 1,345 days have been the best
With each day more enjoyable than the rest
My heart beats faster when I think of you
Especially when I think about saying “I do”
So as I told you 12 months ago
This is how the roses would go
When you saw no more red
It would be the day we wed
Can you imagine all the hearts fluttering in that house?
That is the kind of man I married 14 years ago today. The rest of the wedding was as magical at the moment I received those flowers and that poem. There was not a single hitch it that day. Alright, maybe one tiny one, where I had forgotten to tell the man I was marrying that he was supposed to memorize our vows, so we did have to speak on the phone for a bit that morning to make sure we knew what the heck we were saying, but even that went off perfectly. The reception was, hands down, the most fun reception I have ever attended. Not one person sat down the whole night, because we were all too busy dancing. The church, the food, the music, all as perfect as a bride could imagine.
When I think back to that young woman, and what she was looking for in life, all her dreams came true in that one day. At that point in life, all I wanted was to start a family of my own, and my family started that day.
So what about the woman of today? Like any married couple, we have been through many highs and lows in these past 14 years, many of which I write about in this blog. Do I still think all my dreams came true? And with that question, my mind asks the inevitable follow-up: are we happily married? How does one define a successful marriage?
I can’t speak for anyone else, but for me, the defining characteristic of a successful marriage is that you are each other’s “go-to.” When things are going great, who is the first person you want to tell? When you have a problem, who is the first person from whom you seek advice? When you have down time, who is your first choice to spend it with?
Almost 18 years ago, when we first started dating, my answer was Dan. Almost 16 years ago, when he asked me to marry him, my answer was Dan. And, through everything we’ve experienced in the past fourteen years of marriage, my answer is the same: my husband is my go-to person, and my dreams continued to be realized with each passing year.
14 years of marriage… enough said!