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M(3), 6/6/16: Back to Business!

feelings-e1419050371417

Many apologies for the unplanned two-week hiatus.  Week one saw me with a dental crisis; the worst is over, but follow-up visits abound (cue the sad music).  Week two saw me preparing for my first job interview in 17 years (cue the horror music).  Both of these situations deserve completely separate blog posts, which I will hopefully get to sometime this decade, but in the meantime, let’s return to our regularly scheduled program.

This week’s reading came from Alcoholics Anonymous, colloquially referred to as “The Big Book.”  We read one of the quintessential chapters, entitled, “How It Works.”  This is the first in a three-chapter overview of the 12 steps; specifically, steps one through four.

A newcomer reading this chapter is likely to be overwhelmed, as there is a lot going on in these four steps!  We had two women in the meeting today that, by my definition, would count as newcomers:  one having recently completed rehab, and one that indicated she was a newcomer, but did not elaborate just how new she is.

First-time readers of this chapter might be alarmed at how often the words “self-centered,” “egotistical,” “resentful,” “self-pitying” and “fearful” are peppered throughout.  Indeed, the entire premise of the twelve steps (at least in this writer’s humble opinion) is based upon the notion that the alcoholic life is run on self-will and self-seeking.

And so the answer to the alcoholic dilemma is a paradigm shift:  instead of thinking the world is out to get us, we choose instead to look at our part in any situation.  Instead of considering what the world owes us, we look to see what we can contribute.  Instead of dishonesty and deception, we opt for transparency.

Instead of thinking we are running the show, we now seek a Power greater than ourselves, and we turn our will over to the care of that Power.

As always, when newcomers attend the meeting, I read and consider how I felt as a newcomer.  I know when I first started paying attention to this reading, I considered myself an exception to most of the generalizations:  I did not feel particularly angry or resentful, I didn’t consider myself to be (overly) selfish, and I believed I put the needs of a great many others before my own needs.

I remember thinking, “Wow my inventory is going to be so small, since I have no resentments whatsoever!”  I can’t remember exactly, but I believe my inventory ran upwards of 6 handwritten pages.

Now I read the chapter and consider how my life has changed since first starting the road to recovery.  The most fundamental change would be awareness, and the ability to feel my feelings.  Sounds ridiculous, but it is a change that words cannot sufficiently capture.  In addiction, I self-medicated so as not to feel anything.

So now I feel, and I’m aware that I feel.  I can define the emotion, and the corresponding physical sensations.

“Why is this a big deal?” someone may wonder.  Awareness allows for the processing of emotions, particularly negative ones.  If I’m stuffing down feelings, I’m not processing or releasing them.  So there they sit, swirling around and ready to wreak emotional havoc at any point in time.

Awareness is just one part of the puzzle.  That same awareness had me realize that all my resentment-free days were just a facade designed to keep me from feeling.  I had a lot more resentments than I ever realized I had, and a lot more fears as well.

In fact, I believe I am a work in process in the arena, and likely will be for some time.

In getting more self-aware and more honest about my part in every resentment-filled situation, I am better able to handle new challenges.  Now when a resentment pops up, I am able to:

  1. recognize it
  2. define it
  3. look at my part in it

All of which allows me to

4.  handle it

Above all, the peace that comes from a reliance on a Higher Power is the gift that keeps on giving.

Having this before-and-after experience upon which to draw was especially helpful this morning when one of the newcomers expressed confusion… she does not think she has any anger, or even much fear, so she’s not sure where she would even start with such a process.

Today’s Miracle:

The ability to pay it forward!

 

Lather, Rinse, Repeat: The Shame Cycle

M, D3, R

I have been told my daughter is a mini-me… what do you think?

It was a low-key recent Saturday morning, and my husband called me over to the computer to watch a video with Dr. Brene Brown talking about shame.  At one point Dr. Brown remarked that specific memories can bring up shame for us, and, as I listened, a personal childhood memory popped into my head.

I couldn’t tell you my exact age, but I was old enough to make my own toast for breakfast, which I had done the Saturday morning this event took place.  My childhood home had myself, my three siblings, two parents, a grandparent and a dog all living under one roof, and consequently there were always multiple things going on at any given time.  So I happily buttered my toast, then sat down to eat it and watch Saturday morning cartoons (this was during the era when you could only watch cartoons on Saturday morning, kids these days don’t understand how good they have it!).  Unbeknownst to me, my mother had taken note of how many pieces of toast I had made for myself, which was apparently too many, because suddenly I was the focus of her attention; an unusual occurrence, given the number of people in one household.  In this particular case, being the center of attention was not a good thing.  “Do you have any idea how bad that is for you?!?” she exclaimed.  “How could you possibly even think to eat all of that?”

As I re-read the nuts and bolts of that story, it doesn’t look at all horrifying; in fact, it is probably a commonplace occurrence in the average American household.  But I can tell you, it is at least 30 years later, and I can still feel the shame in the pit of my stomach when I recall that incident.  I can place myself in the room in which it took place, 70’s decor and all.  That feeling is one that would repeat itself, time and again, through the next 3 decades of my life.

So I recall the incident, I finish watching the video, and I walk into the kitchen to thank my husband for showing me the video.  Instead of my husband, I find my 13-year old daughter pouring herself some cereal out of a Tupperware container, which is now almost empty.  The problem is that I had only filled the container two days before.  The container easily holds 12 servings of cereal, possibly more, so in doing this math, I am quite alarmed, and I start my interrogation:  who has been eating this cereal?  The discovery portion of this investigation yields that my daughter has eaten the lion’s share of this cereal in the past two days.  I point to the Tupperware container in astonishment, and I exclaim, “Do you realize that this container holds 12 servings of cereal, and it now almost empty?”  She just looks at me with an expression that in all likelihood mirrored the expression I had when my mother admonished me for the toast.

Sometimes when I say there are no coincidences, I say it with some sadness.  I have shame as I am typing the story of how I handled The Cereal Incident.

I am no expert on shame and parenting, but I believe that if I were to read up on the subject, I would find that it is not a good thing to use shame as a parenting tool.  Since my daughter has entered adolescence, I have been vigilant in how people speak to her about eating, because I know from personal experience the outcome of using shame to change a child’s eating decisions.  Not too long after my issue with the toast is when I decided that food was best enjoyed in solitude, I began to eat in private, and the results of that decision have ultimately led me into recovery from substances other than food.  So I have said to my husband, when he feels frustrated by my hampering of his conversations with our daughter, “Look, I don’t claim to have all the answers.  I only know what not to do, because of what has happened to me.”

And yet, here I am, fresh off of listening to Dr. Brene Brown, and doing the exact opposite of what I have been preaching for years.

So how to handle the situation where your child is making decisions that are the opposite of what you have taught them?  I have been very, very open about my struggles with weight.  I truly believe in open communication with children when they are old enough to hear it, and, at 13, my daughter needs to hear about the consequences of overeating.  And who better to tell her than someone who has lived through it?  So we have had multiple conversations.  I am honest with her about my bad decisions (regarding weight, we are not quite up to mind-altering substances yet, but that conversation is coming soon), and the way the consequences affected my entire life.

At the same time, who better than me to have empathy for poor eating decisions?  Because I still make bad choices, all the time!  So why would I react with frustration to a child who is doing as I have done (and, let’s face it, am doing)?  There are no easy answers here, at least none of which I am aware.  For now, I keep the lines of communication open, I make amends when I make mistakes like the one I just described, and I attempt to be observant for patterns of behavior.  And the end result?  I guess time will tell…

Today’s Miracle:

Disappointment

I had a mini-vacation planned with my children that was cancelled due to illness, and I felt disappointment like I don’t remember feeling in a long time.  What made the disappointment worse, however, was the self-judgment, because I felt disgusted with myself that I was feeling disappointed in the first place.

I’m not sure if I’m explaining these emotions properly, but, for me, it was like a one-two punch, and it was really hard to get back in my normal, generally happy frame of mind.  And the more someone would tell me something logical, like, “this is life,” or, “things happen for a reason,” or, with some brutal honesty, “you’re acting worse than your kids” (thanks Mom!), the more agitated I became.

Two things happened, in conjunction, that helped get me out of this frame of mind.  The first, and most important, was that I admitted these feelings out loud.  Now, I don’t know how many times I have to re-learn this lesson before it gets stuck in my brain, but I can’t overstate its importance:  confession is good for the soul.  This expression exists for a reason.  Telling your feelings out loud truly takes away their power.  Probably as important as confession is choosing the right person in whom to confide.  Confiding in someone who is just going to pooh-pooh your feelings will make matters worse, but confiding in such a way that the person understands this is an important issue makes all the difference.

The second thing that happened for me is the advice I received when I admitted my feelings of disappointment and shame at feeling disappointed.  The person shared that when she has negative feelings that make her uncomfortable, she will consciously attempt to let them happen without judgment.  For some reason, when she said that, it was a light bulb moment for me, and I realized that if I just accepted my feelings as they come, they will pass a lot faster.  And believe me, that is a tremendous lesson, because I judge myself A LOT!

By the end of that day, I was feeling completely myself again, and marvelling that I ever felt bad at all.  Which is the final lesson I learned (for the umpteenth time)… This too shall pass!

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