Category Archives: Self-Care
Off by a day or two, but still, three posts in a week… a-MAH-zing!
I wanted to get back to my choice for WOTY (Word of the Year). I’ve been participating in this challenge for a few years now, with mixed results. Two years ago I picked the word energy, and felt… well, energized by it! Last year, I selected the word calm as my word for the year, and I would call that one a giant bust. 2016 was just about anything but calm!
This year I want to go in a different direction, and select an action word rather than a feeling. I selected the word service:
the action of helping or doing work for someone.“millions are involved in voluntary service”
synonyms: favor, kindness, good turn, helping hand; More
Why do I want to go with such a lofty word? Because to me, service sounds somewhat sanctimonious. But I don’t mean it that way at all.
One of the greatest lessons I learned through my participation in a 12-step program is the value of getting out of my own head. In fact, the final step in the 12-step process is just that… to pass along what you’ve learned to another person in need of recovery.
And of course that specific type of service is a wonderful thing, but my word choice is a whole lot broader than that. Here’s what I mean by service…
Josie’s Definition of Service:
Considering the perspective of another before my own. Understanding rather than being understood. Leaving people better than I found them.
It’s really that simple, although as I consider the past few months, that would be quite a shift. In sitting around and moping about my foot and unfulfilled career aspirations, I wasn’t sparing a whole lot of energy for the wants and needs of others.
And either path, self-centeredness or service, is the kind which builds upon itself. When I’m wallowing in self-pity, I can sink deeper and deeper. Likewise, when I have the mindset of consideration and thoughtfulness, that tends to be contagious as well. The question is: which mindset provides the most benefit?
Because that’s the truly amazing thing about service… that while the intention is to help another, you wind up helping yourself in the process. So even if I sound all saintly by choosing the word service, really I’m just cultivating positive self-growth!
So there you have it… let’s try to make 2017 the year to give back. Hopefully I’ll be better about checking in on the progress throughout the year!
The positive boost that comes from embarking on a new goal!
I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: writing is a muscle, and when you don’t exercise the muscle, you lose it, rapidly! It’s easier to stay in the rhythm of writing than in trying to resurrect it.
But try I must, since my life is vastly improved when I use this outlet. There’s been a lot going on, and so the unmotivated side of myself seizes upon these life issues and uses them as a handy excuse, a get out of jail free card, if you will.
And now, lo and behold, it is January 1st. The last day of the holiday season (for the most part), and a time to look ahead and focus on self-improvement. For the past few years I have participated in the WOTY theme (Word of The Year, an anchor to remind yourself of the priorities you’ve set for yourself in January); this year, given my pulling away from the blogging world, I was sure I would not participate again. In fact, I wasn’t 100% sure I remembered 2016’s word of the year.
Then I woke up this morning, and a word popped into my head, and I can’t seem to let go of it. And I haven’t found a whole lot of those lightbulb-y, aha! experiences of late, so I need to grab hold of them while I do.
So methinks I will be participating in the fun again this year. But first, because I hate to do things out of order, I want to write a bit on where I’ve been and what’s been keeping me from the blog.
I’ve referenced the most obvious of problems a few times in the past 2 months, and that is an ongoing podiatric issue. I elected to have a minor corrective surgical procedure in early November, and somehow I wound up with a fractured heel. That sums up in one sentence something that, had I kept my writing muscles in shape, a subject matter that could have entertained you for hours. Sadly, I did not, and I believe I am at last at a stage of acceptance about the whole issue. My heel is fractured, it is a long and slow recovery (made longer and slower by my non-compliance, but give me a break, it was the holiday season), and there are worse things in life. End of story. Simple to say and write out now, but the mental process took some time.
A second issue took place since I’ve last written, and if I do what I should be doing, I will sit down in the near future and make a full and proper post about the experience. I had another job opportunity come and go in the past few weeks. This is not the first opportunity (or the second for that matter), but it was by far the most painful loss I’ve experienced in a long time. I believed in my heart and soul that this job was meant for me. Simply put, I was wrong. Or at the very least someone of importance disagreed with me, because they chose someone else.
I know many will be reading this and thinking “Oh boo hoo, you didn’t get a job? Sing it to the choir, sister!” Or maybe your thoughts have trendier expressions than mine, who’s to say? But what I’ve learned about myself through this process is how far I go to protect myself from disappointments such as these. I assume failure before every new experience, so that if it happens I am not too shocked or upset. I let my guard down this time, and ooh baby did it hurt. And the timing of it was either awful or perfect… I had house guests arrive one hour after I received the news. Not sure if this was a good distraction, or it prolonged the healing process, but as they say, it is what it is. I believe there is more processing to come.
Finally, and possibly most irritating, was an incident that occurred a few weeks back directly after the weekly meeting I run. A bit of backdrop: I started the meeting 4 1/2 years ago, at the request of people who were starting a brand new clubhouse. The goal of the clubhouse was to be a safe space for 12-step program members of all kinds to recover and support one another in recovery. At the time I was horrified… I had only 6 months or so sober myself, who am I to start a meeting? But I was convinced, and the rest is history. The meeting is going strong, and in fact is one of the more well-attended ones in the club house.
Since that time I’ve backed out of most involvement in the clubhouse; once upon a time I attended their business meetings and social events, now I am almost exclusively using the space to run the Monday meeting. I imagine it’s an evolution, and there are ebbs and flows, and I don’t spend a whole lot of time thinking about.
But in the meantime all sorts of political changes have taken place, throughout all of which I’ve minded my own business. I recently heard they elected a new president, and thought nothing of it until he introduced himself to me. And something in my gut told me, at that very moment, that something was going to happen. And I can tell you I don’t often get gut feelings.
And please do not get me wrong, the new president is a wonderful gentleman. He introduced himself as though he did not recognize me, but I certainly know him, and respect his sobriety greatly. And I stand in awe of his service… it is a huge undertaking to lead a clubhouse, and I respect his decision to do so.
A few weeks later he arrived oddly late to my meeting… there was at most 10 minutes left to go. I did not think a thing of it, until he hung around waiting to speak with me. My radar picked up the signal of distress, and I waited patiently through the “how’s your foot?” questions to see what was up.
And my radar was correct, he was coming to me with a problem that was brought to him. He understands I write a blog. He has not read it himself, but somebody in our local community has, and they are concerned that I am breaking the anonymity of a specific person, and that if this person were to find out, he/she would be devastated and leave my meeting.
So let’s back up here: the person coming to me with the problem has yet to read the blog himself, and the person coming to him isn’t concerned with his or her anonymity, but someone else’s. And they’re not speaking on behalf of that person, they’re just projecting a potential problem.
My defenses register all of this immediately. But first, this is on the heels of a recovery meeting, second, the newly elected president is saying all of this in the gentlest of ways, so it’s not liking he’s “coming at me,” per se, and third, I detest all forms of confrontation and thus will always want to consider all options before I respond. One last factor that I’m ashamed to include but will for the sake of honesty: at the time of this discussion/suggestion, I truly believed I would be employed on a full-time basis in a matter of weeks. If I’m working full-time I am no longer chairing this meeting, and this becomes a non-issue.
In the moment, I politely thanked him for the feedback. He had expressed which individual was the concern, and I assured him that I do not think such an issue exists, but I will make sure to find out, as the individual and I are very close. I then wished him a good day, and I actually have not seen him since.
Then the stupid job fell through, and I realized that I never actually dealt with the issue. And I have been mentally blocked ever since.
To be fair, it was a busy holiday season, and all of the things I wrote about above were happening, and I’ve already declared how easy it is to make excuses.
So here is my vow: I will get to the bottom of this issue, because I do completely respect the person in question. As it happens circumstances prevent me from doing this for a few weeks, but I will get to the bottom of it.
In my heart I do not believe I have broken anyone’s anonymity. The vast majority of the readership live nowhere near me. If there is the smallest handful of local people reading this blog, and they put two and two together, it is because they attend the same meetings I do, and hear the same things I do. I don’t use names, and only occasionally use gender. I don’t talk give physical descriptions, or anything else that might directly point the finger to a specific individual.
But if the
busybody source is correct, I will take immediate steps to back it down even further.
And now I have written a novel, and never even gotten to my Word of The Year. I will leave you with the word, but will save the rationale for another post, since nobody has time to read any more out of my brain. My Word of the Year is:
And I have much to say about it, what that word means to me, and how I came to determine that I need this in the forefront. I will also look back and see how 2016’s word impacted my year as well. Until then…
Writing. On a Sunday. Out of schedule. With a house full of people. Enough said!
Without any further ado, my word of 2015 was:
And I wrote a lengthy post as to its possible manifestations about a year or so ago.
I just re-read the post, which was full of all sorts of good intentions, and considered if I got the job done. Did I successfully commit 2015 as the year of energy?
It’s a tough question to answer. On the one hand, the Inner Critic wants to yell no, and for one very good reason. The bottom line for me was, at the time, I wanted energy to mean, first and foremost, some pretty specific things:
- lose weight
- increase fitness
- bonus if the entire basement was purged and organized
So if you take that fairly specific list, then no, energy was not very well spent… I did not lose weight, my fitness level has had starts and stops, just as it’s had in the past 3 or so years, and considering the basement as it is right now, after Christmas decorations have been more or less thrown down there, would drain the energy right out of my body.
So I’m not going to consider that.
Here’s the thing, though. My journey to achieve some of the things on the list above has taken me in directions heretofore unchartered: real, honest therapy, meditation classes and practice, a variety of fitness routines, books read, podcasts heard, and thousands of words journaled on mind-expanding subjects.
And through it all I’ve learned a heck of a lot about myself.
The best part of all: I have not given up. Another first in the life of this 46 year old. My modus operandi has always been if I can’t do it perfectly in an extremely short period of time, then I’m not doing it at all. This includes the horrific game Words With Friends, but excludes Candy Crush… I’m still plugging away at that one, and I’m the only one I know who’s sticking with it!
So I’m going to continue on self-development this year and see where it takes me. So far it has taken me to some interesting places, given me a life-changing new friendship, and the possibility of substantial change in the coming year.
So, considering all of that, I’m giving energy a thumbs up, even if my basement’s still a wreck. There’s always 2016 for that one. Plus, I’m currently reading Marie Kondo, so I expect to find the inspiration very soon.
Moving on to this year, my word for the year came a day or two before the year began. As many of the blogging friends have shared, this word chose me rather than me choosing it. And this word has challenge etched into every letter. My word for 2016 is:
The idea came to me while watching the movie The Intern with Robert DeNiro. The movie itself was so/so, but I adored everything about the character he played in that movie. I even said to my husband at the end, “That character is everything I want to be when I grow up.” No matter what life threw his way, no matter how anyone treated him, he responded evenly, thoughtfully, politely.
The story line, in case you have not seen the movie, is the character deciding after a few years of retirement and living the life of a widower, that he had more to offer this world, so he applied for a senior intern position at a start-up internet company. He was overlooked, condescended to, and largely misunderstood, and yet remained unflappable. In the end, of course, everyone adored him.
Which is not the part I’m looking to emulate.
I don’t think.
Seriously, I just love the idea of remaining calm in the face of anything.
This, it should go without saying, is an uphill battle. I have friends that try to provoke me because they so thoroughly enjoy my somewhat excitable reactive nature. Those friends are going to be disappointed this year.
Now, I will say, I picked this right away, it is currently January 8, and I have done very little in terms of making headway with this goal. In fact, it almost seems like I’m moving in the opposite direction so far: big yelling matches with a family member, ongoing frustrations with a moody teenage daughter, impatience with customer service representatives.
All I can say is: Rome wasn’t built in a day. And the fact that I’m noticing is progress. Maybe.
So there you have it. Calm for 2016. Bring it on!
How about this… TGIF, the miracle of the weekend and sleeping in!
I hope this writing finds you off to a wonderful start in 2016.
The start of 2016 has me stymied with respect to the direction of this blog. I am ready for a change, but am really struggling with the nuts and bolts of said change.
I started writing this blog almost 4 years ago to document my journey of recovery from addiction. Part diary, part accountability tool, part self-guided therapy, I wrote a lot that first year, and in that writing learned a great deal about myself.
Somewhere in the course of that first year the blog morphed into an unexpected treasure trove of fellowship and camaraderie. Now not only was I getting things out of my head, but I was getting invaluable feedback from like-minded bloggers. What a gift!
In the next two years, life evened out, recovery stabilized, life drama declined… well, dramatically. The things on which I needed to vent often had very little to do with the main purpose of this blog: sobriety.
In 2015 I committed to bringing it back to its focus, which had me more or less exclusively writing about the lessons I gleaned from the 12-step meeting I chair each week.
A great concept, and I’m proud of those blog posts, and the message they impart to readers (at least the message I hope they impart).
But as I reflect on the trajectory of the blog, I’m not enjoying how far from the original purpose I’ve wandered. I started this blog to journal about my recovery, and for the past year most of what I’ve done is report the wisdom of others.
I have a few thoughts rolling around my head as I consider the possibilities. The first is to get a bit more real about life in 12-step recovery after a few years. As anyone who has read my blog knows, I am committed to the principles within the 12 steps of recovery; further, I believe those same 12 steps can help everyone, not just those of us who have chosen sobriety.
That said, there are struggles to be found in staying committed as the years go by. Up to this point, I abstained from writing of these struggles, lest I discourage even one person from considering 12-step recovery. But if I am to write as authentically as I did that first year, then those struggles would be exactly what I would write about, in terms of recovery.
So that’s one possibility. Another is to write about the things that take a more front-burner spot in my life these days: kids, marriage, diet, fitness, career changes, clutter management, which series I should select next to binge watch. Certainly not on point in terms of the main focus, but at least it would be more personal than a weekly meeting recap.
Finally, I could decide to keep things as is. If even one person decides to try a meeting in their area as a result of reading the magic that happens in mine, then I’ve done a great service. And since I know that has happened, why mess with a good thing?
Or I could do some combination of the above. Or I could start taking pictures of my dog and posting them. She is really cute, so that may be as valid an idea as any.
As always, I value your thoughts more than I could possibly say. If you have any opinion or preference in terms of future posts, I would love to hear it.
In the meantime, since I haven’t decided, here’s a quick and dirty synopsis of today’s meeting: 19 attendees, we read the introduction to the book Alcoholics Anonymous (colloquially referred to as “The Big Book”), and the general theme of the shares was “cunning, baffling, and powerful, is the disease of alcoholism.”
What struck me the most this morning was the person who shared he had all the desire in the world to stop drinking, but it wasn’t until he fully accepted that he had the disease of alcoholism that he was able to actually stop drinking. As someone who struggled for a long time with this very issue, I related entirely to this share.
Now, the knowledge that I have chosen sobriety as a way of life is a gift rather than a life sentence.
Writing this post. It’s been so long since I’ve opened up on this blog, I hesitated more than I would have ever thought possible!
“You’re being too hard on yourself.”
There was a time, really not that long ago, when the statement above would have been met with resistance on my part. My instinctive response: scoff and declare I was not hard enough on myself.
I know this because it is still the instinctive thought.
Had I taken the time to self-examine, the statement would have seemed complimentary in nature. There is value in being hard on yourself. It motivates you to achieve more, it alerts you when you are wading into morally ambiguous territory, and it prevents you from adopting that godawful victim mentality.
Possibly deeper still: if you are hard enough on yourself, then anyone external being hard on you is likely not to hurt as badly.
All of this is conjecture, of course; introspection was not an activity I placed high on my list until the years following active addiction. Now it seems I am questioning every thought and feeling I have.
And yes, some days the jury is out as to whether or not this is a good thing.
One rather startling revelation has come up in the past few weeks, so revolutionary that I feel compelled to write it out. Through the endless self-examination and awareness of internal dialog, I have reluctantly concluded that perhaps I am more critical of myself than is necessary, certainly more than is effective. This is not necessarily news. What is the newsflash: the Inner Critic manifests itself in a variety of ways, ways I would have previously defended to the death as virtuous.
It has been recently pointed out to me that in describing an event about which I’m feeling badly, I spend an inordinate amount of time talking about the other side of things. It could be an argument with my husband, disappointment with my kids, hurt feelings with a family member. No matter what the situation, I am compelled to state their case, project their feelings, or rationalize why I may be overdramatizing the situation.
When this pattern was first pointed out to me, I dismissed it as a non-pattern. When the pattern became too obvious to dismiss, I was defensive, indignant even. This shows my extreme sense of justice, I proclaimed self-righteously. I am a better person for considering all sides, aren’t I?
And then, the question I can’t un-hear: but if you’re spending all your time understanding and appreciating the perspective and feelings of everyone else, then when are you understanding and appreciating your own?
Every once in a while I am asked a question that makes my brain fall silent. Even now, and this is a few weeks later, I think of that question and I mentally blank. Which always, without fail, means I’ve got shift in perspective coming.
So if considering all sides of the problem, all the possible scenarios, all the feelings and thoughts of everyone involved is not the way to go, then what the heck is? Apparently, the answer is to relate the story, and end with how I feel. Period. No explanations, no rationalizations, no justifications.
Even, especially, if I am relating the story to myself:
I feel (fill in the blank), and then refrain from rationalizing the feeling away.
And then, apparently, I am to feel the feelings. Oh, how hard it is to keep the eyes from rolling.
Feel the feelings. Does that sound as inane to the rest of the world as it does to me? Except, ever since discovering this pattern, I have attempted to take the advice. And found it almost a physical impossibility. I will clamp my mouth shut, then open it to say, “But I realize that…” The closest I have come is to say, “I want to say…, but I’m supposed to just say how I’m feeling, so I feel…”
So now I’m in the really annoying stage of criticizing myself for criticizing myself. Exhausting to read? Imagine living it!
At this point someone might be thinking, “How does someone get a few years into sobriety and not learn how to feel her feelings?
I suppose comparing post-recovery life to pre-recovery life, I have made progress with understanding, acknowledging, and even communicating feelings. For example, in the earliest days of sobriety, I needed one of those smiley face charts to even figure out what I was feeling. So there’s been progress in the years since.
What is the endpoint, I demand? Let’s say I figure all this out, and feel my feelings, what then? Do I live happily ever after?
No such luck. What is supposed to happen is a greater sense of peace, of calm, of self-worth. Learning to identify, process, and resolve internal “situations” will create room for positive things like happiness, gratitude, and joy.
Or so I’m told. To say that I am in the experimental phase of this (the world “bullshit” has rolled around through my head several times while writing this post) would be an understatement.
And how does one get started on this magical process? The first step, one in which I am deeply entrenched at the moment, is developing awareness. Every time the negative inner voice speaks up, I take note of what is being said and how it makes me feel. In case you’re interested, my heart picks up a few beats, and there is a small clenching in my stomach.
Now, here is a critical part: don’t get impatient. Don’t criticize the critic! Just take note, become curious, detach as much as possible:
“How interesting is it that you feel anxious about something, but you’re trying to convince yourself why you are wrong for feeling this way?”
“Fascinating… you are angry about a situation, but at the same time worried that you will upset someone with your anger?”
“Isn’t that curious that you just walked by the mirror and told yourself how fat you are?”
It sounds preposterous, I know. But I will say the few times I’ve successfully done this, I usually laugh, and it does seem to break some pattern. I suppose time and practice will tell if there are long-term benefits.
From there… to tell you the truth, I’m not sure. Since I’ve really only gotten as far as awareness, I can’t say for sure what’s next. I find myself pointing out when I’m doing the things I shouldn’t be doing, like making excuses for my feelings. Perhaps that’s another step on the ladder.
In terms of a step-by-step guide to feeling the feelings… well, I’m working on it. So far I’ve learned a few on the “What Not to Do” list:
- Open a bag of chips
- Binge watch a Netflix series
- Name your feelings, then talk yourself out of them
I’ve gotten back into the practice of meditating again. This was no one’s suggestion but my own, because I find that even a small daily practice of sitting still and being mindful tends to increase my ability to detach from my thoughts.
Like most things, it is a work in progress. I am a work in progress. We’ll see if all this awareness results in a peaceful, yogi-like existence, or I wind up talking to the walls…
This post has been rolling around in my head for weeks; the miracle will be, if you are reading, then I have actually published it!
You know how a friend will tell you she just ate something that you’ve never heard of before, then the next day you will see an ad for that same product, then the next day that product will jump off the shelf at you in the grocery store? Then you figure with that many signs, surely you were meant to try it?
Well, that’s what’s been happening with me lately regarding the ways in which negative self-talk, a lack of self-worth, and harsh self-judgment can be damaging. I won’t bore you with the details, except to say: something in the Universe wants me to look at this issue.
And I’m fighting it. A lot. And it is so reminiscent of early recovery that I figured I’d write about it here.
So here’s just one example, I could give you a dozen, just from the last week alone. I am talking to my therapist about some self-directed frustration I am experiencing, and as an exercise she forces me to look at the opposite side of the coin, and list out the things I am doing well. I resist this exercise with an energy I am not used to feeling, but my people-pleasing ways win out over my stubborn ways, and I do as she asks. But I do it while rolling my eyes, and ready and waiting to argue my counter points, confident that I will win her over to my side.
And my side is to criticize me.
Silly, illogical thinking, but as much as I cringe at that last paragraph, I can’t take it back, because it’s the truth.
The session goes on from there, and I am forced to admit that perhaps I am a bit hard on myself, but I want to tie this back into recovery. Believe it or not it does intersect.
I remember, very clearly, my mindset those first few 12-step meetings. Yes, I knew logically that I had an issue with which I had to deal. Yes, some of what I was hearing in those meetings made some sense. Craziest still, yes, these people seem to be very comfortable in these meetings, they seemed very happy (almost suspiciously so, my critical mind judged) and, if they are to be believed, voluntarily come back to this forum years after the problem has been solved.
I sat in that position, showing up, listening, speaking when forced, for a long time. At no point did I let go of my cynicism, and at no point did my critical mind stop judging.
And at no point during that time period did I stop relapsing.
So last week, when my therapist said to me, “At some point, Josie, you need to trust the process, because really this entire thing is a leap of faith,” I was immediately transported to that moment in time. I was on my knees, in the dark, praying as I had never prayed before. And when the critical voice showed up to say, “Puh-lease! You’ve tried this a hundred and one times, why would this be any different?” I didn’t agree or disagree, I kept on praying.
And when somebody suggested going to a meeting every day, and the critic showed up to say, “Do you know how many meetings you sat in and then went out and relapsed?” I didn’t agree or disagree, I just kept on showing up.
And when I was told to chair my first meeting, share my personal story, sit down one-on-one with another woman to go through the steps, I did it. I had no idea if the process would be effective long-term or not, I had no basis of comparison really, so I need to take the leap of faith, and I needed to trust the process.
And boy, oh boy, 3 years later, I am so grateful I did.
So I guess it’s time to trust the process again, and start talking back to the critical voice. Here’s hoping the results are as miraculous as the last time.
The miracle of the normal school day schedule. This will be going away very soon, and so I must, with mindfulness, feel the pleasure of routine while it exists!
I’m listening to a podcast series on a topic entirely unrelated to the general subject matter of this blog. Or at least, it should be unrelated. But like so many lessons I’ve learned in life, the application has a wide net:
In order to bring your dreams to fruition, you must first clean the slate
Anyone who has ever had a bit of sober time before relapsing can appreciate the real estate that regret takes up in the brain. I remember once having garnered a small amount of sober time, then relapsing on and off for a few months. During my sober time, I became friendly with another member of my 12-step program, but since relapsing had lost track of her. I was running errands one day when I saw her across the parking lot. I virtually dove behind a car to avoid her and having to either lie or admit the awful truth. While I managed to dodge the person and the inevitable dilemma, I did not dodge the mental torment:
“If you had done what you were supposed to do, you would have 6 months of sobriety”
“Look how happy she looks, you could look and feel like that if you would just do what you’re supposed to do”
“You’re worthless and you’ll never get your act together”
I can look back on that incident and clearly see how those thoughts were nothing but damaging. They did not motivate me to get sober, I remained in active addiction for another 3 months! All those thoughts did was keep me in a shame spiral that led to more depression, which led to more hopelessness, which led to more relapses.
That negative spiral relates to more than sobriety. Without going into repetitive details, because I have used up my time on this blog talking about diet and exercise, I can easily see the regret over attempts and failures to lose weight morph into feelings of frustration, which morphs into feelings of hopelessness, and the end result is simply a relapse of a different sort.
Interpersonal situations follow this cycle all the time. I am frustrated with the behavior of another, I know the answer is to constructively communicate the frustration, but I project the answers I will receive, which leads to further frustration, which leads to hopeless and the decision not to communicate because, “why bother?” The issue never gets addressed, and thus will recur time and again.
So if living in regret is not the answer, then how exactly does one “clean the slate?” Even though I know that it does no good to wallow in the mistakes of the past, why do I continue to do so and how do I make it stop?
I think the answer here is two-fold. The first is to become aware of the thoughts in the first place. This is an area where I’m just beginning to make some progress. Often I will be deep into self-recrimination before I even realize what I’m doing. So developing an awareness of the thoughts that I’m having, how often I’m having them, is a crucial first step.
Next I have been told by multiple very wise people: Shut It Down. As soon as I know what I’m doing, stop allowing myself to indulge in these negative thoughts. Talk back, yell back, get up and move around, go help somebody else, but cut the thought process off immediately. Though I have no proof, I am told by repeating this two-step process I will decrease both the frequency and the intensity of the negative thoughts.
Here’s where this whole lesson comes full-circle. Regular readers might remember from my last post a woman worried that she needs her painful memories in order not to relapse. If she forgives herself for the pain she caused others, might she then forget how devastating picking up a drink would be?
The title of this post represents a saying that’s been used by the women in my extended family for years. My basic understanding, because of the context in which it’s been said to me, is to stop holding on to anger and resentments. Like a lot of family traditions, I never thought too deeply about the saying itself. Possibly because when it’s being said to me I am full of anger and resentment, and thus don’t give a crap about its origins.
But as I was typing this post, it popped into my head. Curious, I googled the expression, and up popped a whole bunch of links that had to do with catching spider monkeys. Since I always assumed this whole expression had to do with squirrels, I was already delighted.
As the story goes (and believe me, it is only a story, I did not come across any actual proof of its validity), a very simple device is used to catch spider monkeys. Place a nut that spider monkeys like to eat in a heavy, narrow-necked bottle and leave it nearby. The spider monkey will smell the nut, and reach in to grab it. Because the neck of the bottle is narrow, he will not be able to remove the nut because his clenched fist will not fit. Because the bottle is heavy, he will not be able to take it with him. As the story goes, it is then a simple matter of walking up to the monkey and grabbing him, because his desire to have that nut will override his desire for freedom.
So if I know that self-negativity is damaging to the psyche and inconsistent with a peaceful sober existence, but I continue to hold on to the regrets, and the shame, then I am a spider monkey just waiting to be captured. Which just made me laugh out loud, so if nothing else, I’ve amused myself with this analogy!
I guess it’s time to let go of some nuts.
Waking up after a night where everyone in the house slept all the way through, the gift that will keep on giving all day long!
Like I’ve said so many times before, sometimes I write just to sort things out in my own head, and hopefully in that sorting I will feel better and also possibly help someone else. This is one of those times.
In the broadest of explanations, I am out of sorts, and it’s a state from which I can’t seem to extricate myself. As I pause to reflect upon the why’s and how’s of this out-of-sortness, a few of the usual suspects rear their ugly heads (kid aggravations being one such example), but when I really burrow deep, I think the root of this issue lies in the conflict between standing my ground and my people-pleasing tendencies.
For a really, really long time, maybe even for as long as I can remember, there would be no conflict… I would inevitably revert to people-pleasing. I may bitch and moan about it, I may seek passive aggressive means of standing my ground in future situations as a form of revenge, but ultimately, in the moment of conflict, I deferred in favor of making the other person happy.
As I work on becoming a more honest and authentic version of myself, I have become aware of the conflict, and wonder whether the path of least resistance is doing anyone any good. At the bare minimum it makes me feel not quite honest, and not quite authentic! This certainly does not mean that I choose the right action every time, but I am getting better and better and saying what I mean, and meaning what I say. If I don’t actually assert myself or voice my own feelings, at the very least I can choose to do or say nothing, so at least I’m not practicing dishonesty.
Old Me: “Of COURSE it’s not a problem! No worries! That will be fine/I am fine/You are fine!”
Current Me: (silence)
Hopefully Future Me: “The truth is that I’m feeling…”
Sometimes though, when you are seeking honesty, there is simply no way around a conflict between two people. As humans we each have our unique thought processes, opinions, and strategies for handling life, and my way of doing things does not always mesh with the way others do things.
And then there’s the moment of truth: stand my ground, or defer in order to smooth out the rough edges of the situation.
Of course, anyone reading knows the obvious answer is if you believe in yourself, your stance, you stand your ground. I knew that even when I wasn’t doing it.
The trick isn’t even in the standing of ground (although that’s certainly not fun). The real trick is living inside of my own head in the days that follow.
I am in perpetual awe of people who can take a stand, face their adversaries gracefully, and then let the situation go. I simply do not know how to do that. Even when I believe in myself, even when I have no regrets in any decision I have made, my people pleasing tendencies make me twitchy in wanting to correct, to soothe, to make everyone in the world happy again.
So what to do in this situation? Well, historically the simple investigation and acknowledgement of such feelings goes a long way, as does writing about it and seeking empathy. It’s always a great thing to know I’m not alone.
But the further work for me is in the practice of letting go… letting go of my expectations of how things should have been, or how things should be currently. Letting go of the worry of the future. Letting go of my projections as to how the rest of the world is thinking and feeling. Full disclosure: that last one’s the toughest!
I just exhaled deeply in re-reading that last bit. Yep, the cathartic writing exercise works again! Now, the next post will be when and how I figure out the “letting go” part! Advice, as always, is welcome!
Not including an image from the movie Frozen, since I’m sure you’re all humming that song right about now!