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M(3), 1/5/15: Silence is Golden

 

Holy moly, that was the first time I typed out  a date with the new year!  I hope 2014 closed peacefully, and 2015 is off to a marvelous start for all of you!

Sad news from my part of the world:  I have an extremely annoying ailment that has me sounding like a seal when I talk too much.  The upside, for me, is that I got to take a seat in the attendee chair at my Monday meeting this morning, and I was able to simply soak in the collective wisdom of the group.

This week’s literature selection comes from the book Alcoholics Anonymous, colloquially referred to as “The Big Book.”  My friend who pinch hit for me this morning selected the chapter at the start of the book, entitled “The Doctor’s Opinion.”  This chapter is the equivalent to medical seal of approval for the fledgling 12-step program, and it was a risky business, professionally speaking, for the author of the chapter (Dr. William D. Silkworth) to give his endorsement to such a revolutionary solution for the disease of alcoholism.

Had I been able to share with the group without embarrassing myself with my hacking cough, I would have talked about the importance of his term “phenomenon of craving.”  Here is what Dr. Silkworth writes:

We believe, and so suggested a few years ago, that the action
of alcohol on these chronic alcoholics is a manifestation of an
allergy; that the phenomenon of craving is limited to this class and
never occurs in the average temperate drinker. These allergic types
can never safely use alcohol in any form at all; and once having
formed the habit and found they cannot break it, once having lost
their self-confidence, their reliance upon things human, their
problems pile up on them and become astonishingly difficult to
solve. Frothy emotional appeal seldom suffices. The message which
can interest and hold these alcoholic people must have depth and
weight. 
-pg. xxviii, Alcoholics Anonymous

Men and women drink essentially because they like the effect
produced by alcohol. The sensation is so elusive that, while they
admit it is injurious, they cannot after a time differentiate the true
from the false. To them, their alcoholic life seems the only normal
one. They are restless, irritable and discontented, unless they can
again experience the sense of ease and comfort which comes at
once by taking a few drinks—drinks which they see others taking
with impunity. After they have succumbed to the desire again, as
so many do, and the phenomenon of craving develops, they pass
through the well-known stages of a spree, emerging remorseful,
with a firm resolution not to drink again. This is repeated over and
over, and unless this person can experience an entire psychic change
there is very little hope of his recovery.
-pg. xxviii-xxvix, Alcoholics Anonymous

I am sure I have said this before, and I am equally sure that I will say it again:  the concept of the phenomenon of craving is a major motivator in keeping me sober.  Anytime I have even the most fleeting of thoughts that I could have “just one, what would be the big deal,”  I immediately consider the idea that I could be opening a Pandora’s box that is the phenomenon of craving, and I consider what my life in active addiction was like, and the mere possibility of that allows me to easily shut down the desire for “just one.”

Most of the rest of the group focused on Dr. Silkworth’s description of alcoholism as a “manifestation of an allergy.”  Apparently there has been some debate on whether alcoholism is a disease or an allergy, and people can become quite passionate about defending their particular conviction.  Most of the group this morning liked the description of alcoholism as an allergy.  After all, the definition of the word allergy is an abnormal reaction of the body to a substance, and most of us who identify as alcoholics can certainly attest that our reaction to drinking, even if it was simply our preoccupation, was abnormal.

One attendee shared that she truly thought she was insane while in active addiction.  She observed that, while hungry, she would eat until satiated, and then her eating would slow down.  With drinking, however, the complete opposite occurred; the more she drank, the more she wanted.  And it seemed like she was the only one in the world who drank like this.  An isolating, anxiety-ridden way to live, until she found this 12-step program and learned that she was not crazy, nor was she alone.  Now, almost 30 years later, she believes that even if someone offered her a way to “drink like a lady,” she would decline, because then she would have to forfeit all the amazing benefits she realizes from her participation in our program of recovery.

A few members talked about dealing with drinkers during the holiday season.  The general take-away from these experiences:  create the boundaries you need to protect your sobriety.   People generally speaking are not considering what you need while they are drinking, so you need to do this for yourself.

As always, there is so much more to share, but it’s time to prepare some hot tea and honey!  Hopefully next week I will be back to normal…

Today’s Miracle:

After a 12-day holiday “staycation,” husband and kids are back to school and work.  The complete silence of the house is today’s miracle!

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Vicarious Disappointment

 

So you decide to have a kid or two, and you have a kid or two, and you raise a kid or two.

And along the way, the normal things happen:  developmental milestones, bumps and bruises, temper tantrums, good grades, friendships found, friendships lost, surprising sneaky behavior, surprising wonderful behavior.  And you realize, over and over, that you are merely along for the ride of parenthood, rather than the operator of the vehicle.

With each new phase, you experience challenges new to you, but tales as old as time for those who went so boldly before you.  You say, “I’m nothing more than a limo driver,” thinking you are the originator of this thought, and you receive instant nodding, knowing looks from your predecessors.  And you are humbled, once again.

But still, when your child experiences disappointment, it is a most unusual feeling, almost an out-of-body experience.  And it appears as though the residual feelings last longer with the parent than with the child.

First,  physical sensations:  prickly tears, churning stomach, jangled nerves, all of which must be controlled so that you can comfort the one who is actually experiencing the disappointment, your child.  Not you, your child.  Buck up, ninny, and do your job.

Then, the mental obsession:  How dare this disappointing thing happen to my child.  Doesn’t everyone know how special my child is/how hard my child tries/how much better my child would be if this disappointment hadn’t happened?  Why doesn’t anyone (everyone) care?

Quickly enough, the pointing finger does a u-turn:  Surely there are things you could have done, should have done, to prevent this disappointment in the first place?  Surely you could have instructed your child better, played a better social game with the people in your child’s world, insisted that your child prepare herself better to prevent the disappointment?

Next, residual issues:  the physical and mental affect you enough to deal inappropriately with the people around you.  You pick fights with your husband, you snap at the other child, you are disappointed with the behavior of your dog.

Still, you reason, disappointment happens, and therefore your next most important task in life is to do and say the next right thing with respect to your disappointed child.  You carefully consider your conversational options, you write uplifting texts for her to read, and you anxiously await the next time you see her to gauge her feelings and give the most correct, most sage, most transformative speech that will be the turning point in your child’s despair.

And she comes home, and she is fine.  In fact, did something disappointing even happen?  No, she has no updates or news, she hadn’t thought much about it, to tell the truth.  And she grabs a snack and breezes up to her room, to find the next drama upon which to focus.

This should be a happy ending, right?  Then why doesn’t it feel like a happy ending?  And how in the hell did this suddenly become about me?

Is there an appropriate filing cabinet for feelings of vicarious disappointment?  Is there a manual written on how to recover from the disappointment you didn’t actually experience?

Today’s Miracle:

After an overdue heart-to-heart discussion with a long-term friend, I am sharing my blog with her for the first time today.

 

M(3), 10/27: The Medical Profession and AA

 

In the literature rotation of my meeting, the fourth Monday is labelled “chairperson’s choice.”  This week, I chose a selection from a book not used very frequently these days, entitled Alcoholic Anonymous Comes of Age:  A Brief History of A.A.  The book gives an account of the historic 1955 St. Louis convention, at which the fellowship of Alcoholics Anonymous assumed full responsibility for all its affairs.  It contains the lectures of many of the notable speakers throughout the convention, as well as discusses the three principles of the fellowship:  recovery, unity and service.

This morning we read the chapter entitled, “Medicine Looks at Alcoholics Anonymous.”  In this chapter we read the speech from a distinguished member of the American Medical Association, Dr. W. W. Bauer.  Dr. Bauer, in his address to the assembly, compares the societal view towards alcoholism to that of tuberculosis:  both are diseases that afflict people through no fault of their own, and yet at one time those afflicted with either illness were regarded shamefully.  He notes that same stigma was once attached to those afflicted with cancer.  Happily, though, both the medical establishment, as well as society itself, is slowly coming around to regarding these diseases objectively, without assigning disgrace to those who carry them.

He praises AA for its use of “group therapy,” as he calls it:  gathering support, sympathy and guidance from one another as each attempts to dispel the obsession to drink alcohol.  Many of the treatment options the medical profession offers the sick and suffering alcoholic was learned from cooperating with the fellowship of Alcoholics Anonymous.  The partnership of the two – medicine and AA – is a mutually beneficial one.

By and large the group enjoyed the reading, although the glad handing that went on as one speaker introduced the next proved to be a time waster.  The standout of Dr. Bauer’s lecture, for me, occurred when he touched upon the importance of our attitude:

“Illness of the emotions is no more something to be ashamed of than is illness of the body.  We should no more hesitate to consult a psychiatrist than we should hesitate to consult an orthopedist for a sore foot.”

-pg. 240, Alcoholics Anonymous Comes of Age

It took time for me to stop feeling ashamed of having the disease of alcoholism; for a long time I could not let go of the idea that I should just be able to control myself.  Letting go of the shame felt as though a load was lifted off my back.  To borrow an idea from another 12-step fellowship:  I didn’t cause my alcoholism, I can’t control whether or not I am afflicted with it, and I cannot cure it.  One day at a time, however, I can do a few simple things that will remove the obsession to drink right out of me!

Other talking points, as shared by the various attendees of this morning’s meeting, included:

  • Our program of recovery has three legs upon which it stands firmly:  physical, spiritual emotional.  Today’s reading touched upon the physical leg, and it is so important, especially in the earliest days of sobriety.  Learning proper nutrition, what vitamins and minerals support healthy recovery, and touching base with a medical professional for any prescriptive needs all provide a sound foundation upon which we build our sober future.
  • In the last paragraph of his lecture, Dr. Bauer says:

“I am no psychiatrist, but I have confidence in saying this to you as I have said to thousands of patients, that the thing we need most of all in this world today is tranquility of mind.  Various names have been given to it.  Some books about it have been very popular.  Some call it the power of positive thinking, some call it peace of mind, some call it peace of souls, but I’m inclined to along with Billy Graham and call it peace with God.  Those are the things that we need.  And an organization like yours, in a world that seems to have gone materialistically mad, gives us courage to believe that there is still hope, that there is still idealism, and that we are going to win out over many, many of our problems, one of the most serious of which is alcoholism.”

-pg. 244, Alcoholics Anonymous Comes of Age

This paragraph stood out to a number of us today, in that we are so grateful to be part of a fellowship whose very goal is to achieve this peace for ourselves, and to have the honor of helping others do the same.

  • Finally, and this was echoed by almost every attendee who shared, was the appreciation of the “group therapy” component of our fellowship.  As one member put it this morning, “Putting a dollar in a basket to sit here and share my troubles, and have all of you help me, is a real bargain compared to the thousands I have spent in therapy!”  Another put it this way, “No matter how I feel, good or bad, I have never left a meeting disappointed… I am always in a better mental place leaving the meeting than when I went in.”  A friend who we have not seen a few weeks berated herself on her absence:  “I feel the difference when I stop going to meetings, just coming here and seeing all of your friendly, supportive faces brightens my day, and when I don’t go I feel like I’m missing something in my life!”

Today’s Miracle:

Sometimes it takes the miracles of others to become conscious of your own.  Hearing how much everyone gets out of meetings helped deepen my own appreciation!

A Confession of Infidelity

 

I have been hanging on to this blog by my fingernails of late.

It started out as a rationale:  I re-started a new fitness/weight loss/get healthy challenge a few weeks back, and I swore I would not bother the blogosphere with this nonsense again.  I barely want to hear it myself, how could anyone else?

On the other hand, I have come to a point in my blogging where I write twice a week:  one that wraps up the wisdom I glean from the weekly meeting I run, and the other where I release whatever is running around inside of my brain.  If I am involved in a diet and exercise challenge, then guess what is the only thing running around my brain?

And then another thought occurred to me:  many of the recovery bloggers I read credit their sobriety to immersing themselves in the recovery blogging world.  It was not my path, but it has always intrigued me.  Perhaps I can employ that same mindset and immerse myself in the diet and fitness blogs of the world.

So that’s where I’ve been.  Instead staying on top of my WordPress reader, I have been branching out to MyFitnessPal forums, and the top rated diet and fitness blogs of recent years.  It has been an interesting experience, but I’ve got to say it:  not the same, not the same at all.  There is something very unique, and very special, about our community.  I certainly did not find it in the diet and fitness world, that’s for sure!

So that’s where I’ve been.  And here’s why I’m back, and it has to do with a valuable lesson I learned from all the mini-challenges I did this year:  consistency.

I have been working on improving my fitness for about 14 months, working on losing weight for about 7 months, and working on my overall health for 6 months.  For a large majority of that time, I was looking at the glass half empty.  No matter what I did, my focus was one what I hadn’t done, or what I still needed to do, or how much better I could have done it.  It all came to a head for me a few weeks ago.  I had started this challenge on September 12 (2 months before my birthday), and I had just had my first very successful weigh-in.  My husband was congratulating me, and I could not see it.  You see, that weight I lost that week I have been losing and gaining all year, give or take a few pounds.  So while the number sounded good (I honestly can’t remember what it was, something close to 10 pounds I think), all I could see was the number I should be at, since I had already lost those 10 pounds 2 or 3 other times this year.  And the more I tried to explain my thought process to my husband, the more he looked at me like I was speaking another language.  I wound up in hysterical tears by the end of it; not because he wasn’t understanding my point, but that I was not understanding his.

This is a nod to my recovery tools:  I can see now when I’m thinking like “Old School Josie” by watching the reactions of others.  I may not be able to stop Old School Josie Thinking entirely, but I can at least recognize it and correct it.

So my mini-meltdown was the start of a slow new understanding:  this is a process, not an event with a start and end point.  Sounds obvious, doesn’t it?  But when you’re in the thick of it, it’s anything but.

Next lightning bolt:  each failed attempt, and that is probably not even an apt description, but let’s roll with it…  each failed attempt was some kind of lesson learned that helped me the next go-around.  Every subsequent challenge I have undertaken (I would say there have been four in all) has shown me greater and greater results.  The most concrete example I can give:  this most recent one had me going strong for three weeks, and I got to the lowest number on the scale that I have seen in my adult life, when I hit the all too familiar roadblock:  a celebration of some sort.  This time, it was my wedding anniversary, which turned into a 4 day free-for-all in terms of eating.  It has been slow going this week, but I am slowly getting myself back on track.  So here’s the progress:

1.  I am back on track, normally a celebration derails me for weeks

2.  My high number on the scale since resuming is the previous challenge’s low number

Even Old School Josie Thinking can’t argue that this is progress!

Last valuable lesson learned, and now I will finally tie this all back to blogging:  Consistency is key.  It is true in my sobriety, it is true for my diet and fitness, and it is true for blogging.  If I don’t keep myself to a schedule, then I will fade away into the blogging sunset.  I know it.  Just in the few weeks I took off, the monkey mind was getting louder and louder:  enough is enough, you are getting too repetitive, who gives a crap about what’s going on in your life?  On and on.

Here’s my response back:  nothing but great things have happened with respect to the blog.  So I guess I’ll keep writing!

 

Today’s Miracle:

Through the orthodontic process, we discovered an abnormality in my son’s mouth, and we have been anxiously awaiting results of the oral surgery he had as a result of that discovery.  Results are in, and it was the best possible news.  So the miracle is:  the good health of my children is now something for which I am consciously grateful each and every day!

Second miracle:  surgeons who take their job seriously, and go the extra mile to ensure the best possible results.  I’m telling you, there’s no feeling like knowing you can trust your child’s medical professional!

The Gift of Health, Part II

 

 

 

To continue on with yesterday’s story, in which I was regaling you with tales of my absence from writing, I had decided to do things, rather than buy things, for my husband for his birthday this year.  Yesterday I talked about getting up-to-date on my medical nonsense, but I also wanted to do something else in time for his birthday.  It was this gift, more than all the doctor’s appointments, that kept me away from the computer, and the blog, for the past few weeks.  Call it ego, call it pride, call it shame, this part is hard to admit, but I believe putting it out there will keep me committed:  I wanted to officially call myself a non-smoker.

I can hear the gasps, especially the people who know me and wouldn’t know about this part of my life.  You see, I smoked like the alcoholic/addict that I am:  secretly.  Which is pretty difficult to do, given the olfactory consequences of the action of smoking!  But I am clever, and I was also determined not to walk around smelling like an ashtray, so the fact that I smoked was known only to a very select few people.

Quick history with my smoking:  started in graduate school, gave it up when I started dating the man who would become my husband, did not even think about it again for about a decade.  A family member’s personal crisis had us bonding together over cigarettes about 8 years ago, and since that time I have been hit or miss.  Then, when I hit my personal bottom, and was separated from my husband and family, oh boy did the smoking take front and center stage.  Talk about replacing one bad habit with another!  That period went on for about 6 months.  The more confident I became in my recovery, the less I relied upon smoking, until I got to about where I leveled out:  less than 5 a day, about 4-5 days a week.

In other words, this habit was entirely mental, as I could go for days at a time without wanting or needing one.  Which goes to prove mental habits are just as hard to break as physical ones, at least in my case this is true.  I have been planning to quit at every recovery milestone, but couldn’t seem to make myself do it.

I just recently heard someone in a meeting talking about his experience in AA.  He never had any doubt that AA works, as he spent a long time coming to meetings, but continuing to drink, and he saw for himself the people who stayed sober.  He wanted sobriety, he explained, he just didn’t want to give up drinking in order to get it.

To those who have never struggled with addiction of any kind, this logic probably sounds absurd; he said it, and I got it immediately, as it summed up perfectly how I felt about smoking:  I wanted to identify myself as a non-smoker, I wanted all the benefits that come with being a non-smoker (not having to worry about smelling, clear lungs, better health, the list goes on and on), I just didn’t want to stop smoking in order to have those things.

I’m not sure what it was about my husband’s looming birthday that was motivating me, but I finally got serious about ridding myself of this albatross once and for all.  My husband, to my knowledge, has never smoked a cigarette.  I mentioned I gave it up when we were dating, largely at his request.  We have had many, let’s call them spirited discussions, about my smoking, and he is one of the key reasons I am as fastidious as I am about not smelling “like a smoker.”  I know that he has deep fears about my health, and that I have not taken those fears very seriously, and that is why I thought this would be the most meaningful gift I could give him.

I have stopped and started too many times to count, but in recent years I had never gotten further than about 6 days without giving up.  I also know that the greater the time removed from smoking, the less likely I will be to pick up a cigarette, because I will come to cherish my “smoke-free” days as I do my sober ones.  The trick is stringing enough of them together for them to matter to me.

So I picked date, I enlisted the help of my Mom, and I employed the next tool I learned in recovery:  I figured out where and when I was most tempted to smoke, and I changed everything I could about my days to increase my chance for smoke-free success.  As I mentioned, I was an isolated smoker; I was very uncomfortable smoking in any public place.  So for about two weeks straight, I kept myself out and about as much as I could, and changed up my schedule as much as I could, to limit my opportunities to smoke.

I also gave myself incentives along the way, things that motivated me to continue on the journey.  Giving these rewards served two purposes:  the obvious, a reward for a job done well (not smoking), but also a  motivation to continue on the journey (if you pick up a cigarette now, you just ruined the reward you gave yourself yesterday).  Silly stuff that would not matter to anyone but myself, but I’ll tell you, this strategy really kept me going.

Finally, accountability:  I started with just my Mom, because I was so scared I would mess up.  But then, slowly, I let people in on what I was doing, and each person I told strengthened my resolve all the more.  I feel like I really turned a corner when I announced it at my Monday meeting, and asked them to ask me about it the following week.  I knew if I got that bold, then I was probably not turning back.

And I didn’t.  I was able to share this news with my husband, who was, again, very relieved to hear that I had given up this health endangering act.  For myself, the process certainly had “notes” of recovery… a time of day when I would normally have a cigarette, and then I would remember, “oh yeah, I don’t do that anymore,” and I would feel that sort of empty sadness that comes post-addiction, but overall the process was not nearly as gut-wrenching as recovery from other mind-altering substances.  I have had numerous people remark that giving up smoking was far worse than giving up drinking; for me that simply was not the case.  I had about a week’s worth of feeling irritable for no particular reason, but it faded pretty quickly.  Now, when I get that feeling of “wouldn’t it be nice to have a cigarette,” I have a bunch of concrete reasons to say no:  I’ve come this far, I have people to answer to, I would have to go back to all that “cigarette subterfuge” that I hated so much, and, now, I would have to report back to all you!

Today’s Miracle:

My name is Josie, and I am a former smoker!

M(3), 5/5: Getting Back on The Writing Wagon…

…because I have fallen off!

 

But now I’m jumping back on!  If I don’t, I’m worried that I will taper off to nothing, and that would be, as the kids say, totes cray-cray!

So, I will play catch up, and I will try to write a little bit each day, hopefully by the end of this week I will be back on track.  So starting with today and moving backwards:  the meeting today was a decently attended Big Book meeting.  We read one of the personal stories, entitled “Student of Life,” which is a favorite of mine because the author is from the Philadelphia area, and it is from more recent times (she wrote her story in 1998, and to my knowledge she is still alive and well, and active in our Fellowship).  A common thread in our sharing today was the pervasiveness of denial in the disease of addiction… the lengths we would go to in order to convince ourselves we did not have a problem with alcohol.

The most common tool of denial?  The old stand-by:  I’m not an alcoholic because I haven’t lost my family/gotten fired/crashed a car/been arrested.  Yep, every one of us has said that line to ourselves at least once in active addiction, but we all agreed on two points.  First, the longer you hold off with those justifications, the more likely they are to materialize; and two, we were always worse off than we told ourselves we were.  One friend of mine told the story of how she viewed herself as a drinker.  Years later, she was with her sister and another woman was quite obviously drunk, and acting foolish.  My friend had been sober for a few years, and so asked her sister, “Jeez, did I look that ridiculous when I was drunk?”  Her sister’s reply?  “ARE YOU KIDDING?  YOU WERE WAY WORSE THAN THAT!”  My friend was flabbergasted!

Quick update:  the woman I wrote about last week (read M(3):  Kickin’ Recovery Old School for more details) did not show up today, but I did have two other attendees comment on her disruption, and thank me for putting the brakes on it, so I feel as I did the right thing last week.

Alright, now on to some of my adventures while I have been in absentia from the blogging world.  As I’ve mentioned, my husband celebrated a milestone birthday this year; in fact, it was one of the reasons we enjoyed a fabulous Caribbean vacation a few weeks ago.  His birthday was last Thursday, and so part of the reason for my absence was increased activity in terms of planning surprises for his big day.  I will talk more about the celebration of his birthday in a later post.

I had been contemplating what to do in terms of a gift for him for weeks now.  On the one hand, milestone birthday deserves milestone gift.  On the other, shouldn’t the trip count as the gift?  My solution:  do something, rather than buy something, and do it, milestone-style.  I came up with two actions, they may sound absolutely insane to the outside world, but you have to take my word for it, these are things he has wanted for a very long time.

Gift One:  The Gift of Spousal Health

… well, Health Check, anyway.  Here is my life history with the medical world (with a notable exception of my time in active addiction):  go to the doctor or dentist when an arm is falling off; otherwise, don’t go.  If you do have to go and are prescribed something, take it only until the worst symptoms subside, then completely forget about it.  I have many, many humorous tales of doctor admonishing me;  one, my ob/gyn actually shouted, “You are NOT going home, you are checking into this hospital, and you are having this baby TONIGHT.”

And so it should come as no surprise that I have been, well, let’s say a bit lax in the annual physical department, and it bothers my husband to no end (who also does not go to doctor’s, but I’m assuming this is a “do as I say, not as I do situation).  Anyway, I figured I could take a couple of weeks and get up to speed on all those things normal people do every year of their lives:  blood work, mammogram (I am 44, have not had the pleasure before now), vision check, gynecological stuff, and, while I’m at it, I’ll get that knee that’s been bothering me checked out.

Side story that brings the point of my medical carelessness home:  I called my Ob/Gyn to schedule the appointment, and explain to the receptionist that I want to make a routine appointment, but that it’s been a while.  She asks my name, attempts to look me up in the computer, I am not there.  So she say she has to back to the records room, and asks me the name of my doctor in the practice.  I name him, and she informs that he has been retired for several years now.

I guess it’s time to schedule the exam then!

Here’s the absolute miracle of the whole thing:  all is well, medically speaking.  Blood pressure an amazing 118/80; cholesterol an unbelievable 145, vision did get worse, and of course I’m looking towards a future of bifocals, but that comes with the middle-aged territory.   Mammogram, pap smear, knee x-ray, all completely normal.  One little glitch is that my hemoglobin is low, but I’m pretty sure an iron supplement’s going to work that out, and, the most important part of that story:  I scheduled, and plan to keep, the follow-up appointment.

Who says you can’t teach an old dog new tricks?

So a lot of running around, a lot, lot, lot of discomfort, for doctor’s offices bring back some painful memories of active addiction, but I set a goal of getting my medical stuff in order, and I did it.  My husband, was, as I suspected he would be, very touched by the gesture, pleased that I am up to date, and relieved that everything is a-ok.

I will write about part two of the Gift of Health tomorrow…

Today’s Miracle:

I would say, given the negligent way I have treated this temple I call a body, that my Honor Roll health report constitutes a miracle!

 

The Numbers Game

This is the next progress report in my 6-Weeks-Until-I-Am-On-A-Tropical-Vacation-So-Let’s-See-What-Physical-Improvements-I-Can-Make Challenge (should I trademark that winning title?).  For a recap, read Honesty, Hypocrisy & Me and Progress Report.

So the progress is pretty much 110% good.  When I started, I made a commitment, both to myself and to the blogosphere, to complete some simple, daily activities, all designed to eradicate the four worst food items in my life.  To date, those foods have been banished, but, like so many recovery-like activities, my progress has far surpassed the initial goals.  Over the course of the past 5 weeks, I have not only abstained from those foods which I compulsively eat, but I have also managed to acquire a daily eating routine that is about a million times healthier than my diet 7 weeks ago.  So by any standard I have far exceeded my goal, in terms of eating.

One of the simple daily tasks has been to re-incorporate a small amount of physical activity, which again has been a great success, and again has far exceeded my initial expectations.  I have been able to increase, either by time or intensity, each week since I began.

Mentally it has been a bit of a roller coaster.  Weeks one and two were a breeze, and I was given an almost daily reassurance from my scale… getting on the scale was in fact fun!  Of course, every party has its end, and week three was a complete meltdown.  I had eaten better and exercised harder than the first two weeks, yet still managed to gain a pound.  Despite all logic and common sense, which would tell a sane person, “then just stop getting on the scale,” I actually upped my visits to my bathroom, sometimes weighing myself as much as 3 times in a day.  You would think I’ve never been on a diet before!  The absolute miracle of it all is that I persevered… in my entire life, I have never had that kind of negative feedback and continued on a diet.  It worked itself out by the end of week four, but I’m still trying to understand and correct my mental process on the scale obsession.  I have managed to eliminate the behavior of actually stepping on the scale, but the idea of what the numbers may be is never very far from my thoughts, and I am trying to figure that one out.

And then there’s other numbers… I find myself mentally calculating and re-calculating my daily caloric intake, and comparing it to the day before.  The idea is almost laughable… I am the least qualified to judge some of the things I am assigning numbers to, and yet I can’t seem to stop myself.

And then, the biggest numbers game of all… the treadmill.  I am obsessively checking the miles I am completing, mentally calculating how much it will be at the end, comparing it to the times in the past, and striving to beat each time.  Now, for sure, some of this is to the good:  I am getting faster almost every time I am on the treadmill.  But I know, I know, that this kind of obsessing is fundamentally wrong, but I can’t seem to overcome it.  Sure, I could cover up the panel, but I’m pretty sure I would have to spray paint it black or figure out a way to run backwards for me to avoid peeking.

So, the good news:  I am down 15 pounds, have lost 4 inches from my waist (the only part I measured, I am an apple shape and my mid-section is the area I most desire to decrease), and my treadmill workout is back to when I was at my peak last summer.  My diet is the healthiest, by a significant amount, in a solid 5 years, maybe even longer.  Water consumption up, Diet Pepsi consumption down.  My clothes feel looser, and I feel a great sense of accomplishment.  All super exciting stuff.

The not-so-good news:  I am a work-in-progress in the mental game of dieting.  The idea of moderation and balance, in terms of time spent thinking about diet and exercise, is completely foreign.  I need a better perspective in how I am spending my mental energy as it relates to this issue.  And, truthfully, I’m not really sure how to achieve this particular goal.  As, shockingly enough, moderation in anything has not been my strong suit.

Is this problem sounding familiar to anyone?  Am I alone in the numbers obsession?  Any words of advice on how to get a grip?

Today’s Miracle:

Perseverance in this challenge is a miracle.  Seriously, a miracle.

Honesty, Hypocrisy & Me

I am a hypocrite.

Countless times, I have had the conversation with my children, the conversation that follows a mistake made by them, a bad decision, a poor judgment.  The main point of the conversation is simple:  a mistake has been made, crying and bemoaning the mistake only makes a bad situation worse.  You can’t un-ring the bell.  What you can do is learn from it, and do your best not to repeat it.

Countless times, I engaged in the behaviors associated with active addiction.  At a certain point in time, I became consciously aware that my behavior was wrong on every level, but I repeated the mistake, time and again.  I tried to correct the mistake, and fell down more times than I can count.  In my heart of hearts, though, I had an unshakeable belief that there was a solution.  For a long time, I was unclear on what that solution was, but deep in my heart I knew it was there.  And, by the grace of God, it became clear to me just two short years ago, and I have thanked Him for it every day since that time.

Here is where the admission of hypocrisy begins.  For the past two days, I have been soul-searching in a way I haven’t soul searched in a long time.  It started innocently enough:  my husband and I have planned a trip to celebrate a milestone birthday for him, and a milestone anniversary for us, both taking place this year.  The trip is set for six weeks from now, and will take place on an island, something to anticipate, given the miles of snow I see outside my window currently.  But of course this leads me to the conclusion that I need to get myself in gear, both in terms of diet and exercise, both disciplines that have been abandoned for quite some time now.

The simple “what can I do to improve myself in 6 weeks” has morphed into such an abyss of despair and hand-wringing anxiety, I knew I needed to write about it.  For the first 24 hours, I was sure I would NOT write about it:  nobody wants to hear me blather on yet again about jumping back into the healthy lifestyle ring, it is not original, or interesting, or relevant.

And yet…

The feelings that rose within me as I attempted to complete the task with which I challenged myself, simply come up with a plan to improve my lifestyle in 6 weeks, the feelings were so similar to those I experienced in early recovery, that I figured I must flesh them out with my blogging friends.

At the heart of all those feeling, the single, most gut-wrenching emotion I experienced, was one of despair, and the voice of despair was so clear it was as if a person was standing alongside of me saying the words out loud,

“There is no way you will ever make this work.  You have tried and failed at this endeavor your whole life; there is no hope to turn it around.”

I am sure many of you reading this will relate to those words, anyone familiar with addiction has felt the despair that comes with repeatedly trying and failing.

And it is in admitting this despair that I am also confessing my hypocrisy.  I can (and have) preached to all those around me, that tomorrow is a new day, that it is not about how many times you fall that counts, but how many times you get back up, but in my heart I make an exception, and the exception is me, and healthy eating.  I’ve done lots of great things in my life, have many accomplishments of which I am proud, and believe myself capable of almost anything I set my mind to… except this.

So I’m a hypocrite, because I simply don’t practice what I preach.  I am a terminally unique individual when it comes to eating.

And I guess this is why I needed to write about it, because I am rolling my eyes even as I type those last lines.

This is why blogging about the garbage rolling around in the brain helps so much.  Because, as God as my witness, I was crying earlier this very day, as I realized this is how I have been thinking.

So now that I’ve gotten the self-pity out of my system, and I have exposed my deepest fears to the light of day, I guess it’s time to take some action.

A wise person suggested to me that I treat this problem in a similar way that I did my recovery.  In recovery, I made sure I did 4 things every day to count that day as a success.  Four was an easy to do list, easy to remember, and easy with which to commit.

So for now, I am working on my daily 4 list as it relates to this form of recovery.  I have identified the 4 food items that pose the greatest danger to me, and it is my goal to eliminate them.  To do that, I am committing to simple daily actions, all designed to eliminate the addictive food items.  There is still much work to be done, in terms of coming up with an eating routine that is healthy and sustainable, but for now I will consider this a great start, certainly leaps and bounds beyond anything I have done in recent memory.

The list is somewhat generic, and I have no doubt will need to be tweaked in the days that follow, but in writing about it, I am giving myself some accountability.  I will work on it, daily, make the necessary adjustments, but I am clear on my one, ultimate goal:  to reset my relationship with myself, to work towards creating a healthy mindset when it comes to treating my body.  I’ve gotten the mind-altering substances out of my system, now it’s time to start putting something healthy and life-affirming back into it.  It feels as daunting a task as making sobriety a reality, but at least I have some tools to help me:

  • One Day at a Time
  • Sharing the burden of my negative feelings
  • Allowing others to help me
  • And, most important,turning it over to a power greater than myself

Because, if He can get me sober, He can do anything!

I will let you know how it goes…

Today’s Miracle:

Having the courage to hit “publish” on this post

Staying Motivated: 5 Tips to Keep On Keepin’ On!

In Monday’s post I wrote about an injury I sustained this past weekend.  Today is day 6 in dealing with a bum knee.  Here is a thumbnail sketch of the past 6 days:

  • Days 1 and 2:  debilitating pain keeps me a model patient:  I adhere to every directive designed to expedite healing
  • Day 3:  Despite every natural inclination, I make and keep Doctor’s appointment, at which I find that I am doing all that is necessary, but that I need to keep doing it
  • Day 4:  Feels quite a bit better than the first 3 days, which I take as a positive sign, begin to function more normally
  • Day 5:  Feeling same as yesterday, so increase my activity, which I then proceed to overdo.  Now the pain level is back to day 3, and I am dejected.  I try to recover in the evening
  • Day 6:  Wake up feeling as bad as yesterday, and now, besides being in pain, I am also outraged… how can this be happening?

Now, you might read this breakdown and scratch your head in bewilderment… is there something wrong with this woman?  Of course the pain has returned, she did not give it enough time!

But really, this is just an example of so many things in life:  we have a goal, we start out with gusto, and then, either fizzle out due to fading motivation, or to some wrench in the plans of life.  And what a perfect time of year to discuss this topic.  It is January 9th.  Had I not injured my knee, I would have been embarking on resuming my running regimen.  And I guarantee you I would have been facing feelings similar to the ones I am facing with this knee injury… either impatience that I am not progressing fast enough, disgust that I am not seeing any results, or simple boredom with the new routine.  Same with sobriety, the first several weeks of my recovery I remained sober, but life continued to plummet downward.  It’s hard enough making the decision to give up drinking/drugs, but to do so in the face of chaos, even more challenging.

Now, with this injury, I can cry and gnash my teeth all I want, but it’s not going to change anything.  But with other goals… new eating plans, staying sober, physical fitness… the mental engagement is critical to success.  So how to maintain the passion that drives someone to embark on a lifestyle change?

There are probably a million and one great articles out there on staying motivated, but here are the top 5 tips I have come across, have used myself, or will attempt to use in the upcoming weeks:

1.  Have a specific goal:  In terms of my injury, I want to completely recover from my injury so that I may resume my fitness routine.  This goal is specific, it is measurable (return to zero pain), it is attainable (doctor’s opinion), and it is time-bound (doctor-given guidelines).  For many reading this post, the goal could be sobriety:  I want to live my life chemically unaltered.  The simpler and more specific the goal, the better.

2.  Know why you wish to achieve this goal:  I want to recover from my injury so that I may have the full use of my leg… so that I may walk, run, climb stairs as any healthy person can.  The why behind this goal are more obvious that some other goals.  In terms of sobriety, it is important to know clearly why you want to be drug and alcohol free.  The reasons can be to attain benefits, such as “increased health,” or it can be to avoid negative consequences, such as “so that I don’t lose my self-respect, or the respect of others.”

3.  Visualize the end result:  For me, I really want to get back to my goal of running, so I picture myself as I was last summer and fall, when I was at my peak.  I can also visualize what it would be like to do even better than my best, as in run (not walk) in a 5K.  For sobriety, there are so many ways to visualize the end result:  how you will look and feel knowing that you have overcome an unhealthy relationship with drugs/alcohol, the joy of attending functions and not behaving irrationally, the peace that would come from living life with a clear mind, and without the worry of what you may have said or done under the influence.

4.  Learn from failures:  So I overdid things this week, and I recognize that only sets me back further from my goal.  I can bemoan this fact, or I can chalk it up as a learning experience… now I know what I can do, and what I cannot.  This is a critical piece for people in early sobriety.  Many times someone will accrue a number of sober days or weeks, and then slip.  Okay, it happened, so now there is the choice:  decide that all the progress was for nought, or figure out what led to the relapse so that you do not repeat the mistake.  As Buddha says, “There are only two mistakes along the road to truth; not going all the way, and not starting.”

5.  Reward yourself:  The more long-range the goal, the more mini-rewards should be given.  Celebrate every milestone along the way.  The more positive reinforcement you give yourself, the more likely you are to keep going!

I would love to hear from my friends in recovery:  what methods have you used to keep motivated in staying sober?

Today’s Miracle:

Giving advice on motivation is a reciprocal gift… I feel better as I type!

M(3), 1/6: Phenomenon of Craving

But what if I’m craving it all!?!

First meeting of the new year!

Because it is the first Monday of the month, we read from the book Alcoholics Anonymous, and in the immortal words of Maria Von Trapp, “let’s start at the very beginning, a very good place to start!”  And so we read “The Doctor’s Opinion,” in which Dr. Silkworth gives his seal of approval to the fledgling organization called AA.  A tremendous risk for a medical doctor to do in the 1930’s; the fellowship owes a debt of gratitude to him.

The part of the reading that stood out to me this morning is as follows:

Men and women drink essentially because they like the effect produced by alcohol.  The sensation is so elusive that, while they admit it is injurious, they cannot after a time differentiate the true from the false.  To them, their alcoholic life seems the only normal one.  They are restless, irritable and discontented, unless they can again experience the sense of ease and comfort which comes at once by taking a few drinks – drinks they see others taking with impunity.  After they have succumbed to the desire again, as so many do, and the phenomenon of craving develops, they pass through the well-known stages of a spree, emerging remorseful, with a firm resolution not to drink again.  This is repeated over and over, and unless this person can experience an entire psychic change there is very little hope of his recovery.

pp xxviii-xxix, Alcoholics Anonymous

There are many reasons why I, as a woman in recovery from addiction, choose to remain sober, and on any given day the priority of those reasons may change.  On this particular day, the number one reason I choose to remain sober is my fear of the “phenomenon of craving.”  What would happen if I were to have one glass of wine, take one pill?  Would I go immediately back down the rabbit hole of active addiction?  Would I have a moderate experience that would spiral me downwards slowly but surely?  Would it be a non-event and I find that I don’t want to continue?  I don’t know what would happen, and more importantly, I have a healthy fear of the potential outcome, so I choose not to test those waters.

Two days ago I was heading downstairs for my first cup of coffee.  As I descended the stairs, I admired the handiwork of recent vacuuming.  I was so enchanted by their pristine condition that I lost my footing and fell down about 6 of them, winding up with my left leg up at the top, and the rest of me down at the bottom.  Ouch (and, needless to say, Kristen and Christy, I will be putting my “back to fitness” plans on a temporary hold!).  So the rest of the weekend was spent elevating, icing, and scheduling my Advil doses.  By this morning, I realized I would need to have this knee checked out.  So down to the doctor’s I will go.

There was a time in the not-too-distant past where this kind of calamity would have meant, in my addicted mind, a get out of jail free card.  I would have found ways to milk this injury to its greatest mind-altering extent, and would have felt completely justified in doing so.  Thanks to the clarity of sobriety and a new skill set developed through a program of recovery, I now know that there is no such thing as a get out of jail free card, and I am not willing to gamble with the phenomenon of craving.  So instead, I elevate and ice my knee, even when I am sick of doing so, and I remain grateful that I am able to overcome this obstacle and maintain my sobriety.

Today’s Miracle:

That I did not have to go to multiple Doctor’s offices, and no x-rays are necessary, is a miracle.  No tears, nothing broken, just time and patience are needed… God bless my husband and children!

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