Don’t you love when an issue plays out in your life like a story arc on television? A problem is presented, you puzzle over it, and, after a hopefully brief time, the issue resolves itself? A situation like that just happened with me.
Saturday night, I’m at Mass, and during the homily the priest says, “There are two different questions you need to answer. First, do you want to be a disciple of Christ? The second, completely separate question: are you willing to do what it takes to be a follower?” He proceeds with the homily, but I instantly relate these questions to my experience with recovery from addiction. In active addiction, I dreamed of recovery too many times to count. I could easily imagine a fantasy life where I was free of the obsession to drink or use drugs. I could see that end point as clearly as I could see whatever happened to be in front of me at the moment.
The trouble was, I had a problem with the second piece of that puzzle… I was not willing to do what it took to get to that finish line. I wanted the prize, but I was not willing to put in the work… back then. Now, of course, there is a happy ending. Nineteen months sober, actively involved in a 12-step program, life is good.
So why was Saturday night’s homily still on my mind? I could not figure it out. When I think about my life from a recovery stand point, I feel very centered, balanced, right on point, which is a miracle in and of itself. Nothing crazy is happening in my life, family and friends are well. So what part of those questions is still niggling?
This morning I held my Monday morning meeting. The literature we read from is a book called Living Sober. It is an easy-to-read book that gives practical advice for the newly sober. I absolutely loved this book when I just started out, and I thought I had read every chapter. So I asked one of my regular attendees to pick a selection that he thought spoke to him this morning. He selected a chapter titled “Be Good To Yourself.” It talks about the importance of giving yourself credit for the good you are doing. Alcoholics tend to want to rush everything… once you figure out that you are alcoholic, you tend to think, “Okay! Problem solved, let’s move on!” But addiction does not work like that; it a problem that took time to develop, and it takes time to recover, and so patience and self-love are critical components when you are newly sober.
And, just like that, a light bulb went off in my head, what had been bothering me since Saturday night.
As I have written about quite a few times, I have been working on a fitness program for myself. Of late, the program has been building to participating in a Recovery 5K, which is quickly approaching. When I first mentioned this 5K, about 5 weeks ago, my plan was to build up to doing some sort of running/walking combination. Through the course of my training, however, I injured my leg, and, try as I might, the only way that I can participate is to walk the whole race. Not at all problematic, as this particular 5K offers both options, so all I had to do was register as a walker.
The problem, however, is (as usual) all in my head. And what was niggling for me, since Saturday night, is that I keep playing back that second question (are you willing to do what it takes?), and I keep thinking that I’m not. All I have been focusing on these past few weeks is what I am not doing… running. All my head keeps saying to me is: you’re not trying hard enough. You are not pushing through the pain. You could do this, but you’re choosing not to. That insidious, persistent monkey mind has been at work, full-time, and I have been doing nothing to shut it up.
I haven’t wanted to even talk about it, because (and I’m sure this is the monkey mind at work) I feel like admitting what I am thinking is akin to fishing for compliments… please tell me how good I’ve been doing! Point out all the positive changes!
And I’m really not, because all the external praise in the world is but a soft whisper to the roar of the monkey mind. The monkey mind is a complete know-it-all, and there is only one person that can shut that monkey up, and that person is me.
So, for the rest of this week, I am going to continue training for my walking 5K, and I am going to celebrate that I am:
- sticking to a commitment
- doing regular, consistent exercise
- enjoying some really fabulous fall weather, and, most important,
- participating in something I would have never dreamed possible for myself, an athletic event! Talk about the idea that anything is possible!
Admitting these thoughts at all is a miracle, I am embarrassed just reading back through them, but the truth shall hopefully set me free!
Here are two facts about me:
1. I am extremely prone to motion sickness. One of my earliest memories is not being able to stomach a trip to the local mall. Side note: we had a behemoth 1975-ish Chevy Impala, I threw up, and my two older sisters turned into contortionists… to this day I don’t know how they got so far into the opposite corner of the back seat.
2. I can be an extremely excitable person, particularly when I believe I am being delivered an injustice of any kind. Smart-alecky friends have been known to take advantage of this fact, and start rumors such as “Josie is the president of the Robin Williams fan club,” just to see me all fired up.
Now, knowing these two facts, imagine how I reacted when my cousin told me I should just go on an amusement park ride, because, “motion sickness is all in your head, and you can talk yourself out of it.”
Perhaps I should take him up on his offer, and allow him to sit beside me as we ride, I’m pretty sure that would teach him!
This glimpse into some banal facts about me is really just a backdrop into the real topic: how much of what we deal with is “all in our heads?” Despite my outrage over my cousin’s commentary, I have come to realize that I believe this statement more than I realize. Except, of course, when it comes to motion sickness.
One example, and I know I am going to raise a few eyebrows with this one, but I personally have a hard time with the disease concept of alcoholism. I am allowed to say that, since I am an alcoholic, along the same lines as: I can criticize my family, but you better not try. I certainly believe that I had an obsession, that, try as I did, I could not expel. I believe that if I choose to alter my mind again with a substance, that obsession will return, but disease? That is one that confounds this alcoholic. I don’t waste a lot of time on it, just like I don’t waste a lot of time wondering when I crossed the line from enjoying a drink to craving one… I just did, that is my reality, and I will, for today, deal with my reality.
But I find the “all in your mind” mentality pervades other areas of my life, and I’m wondering if it’s something I need to explore. Most recent example, and I have been giving periodic updates, but I have embarked on a fitness program. Long story short, I have gone from zero exercise to considering participating in a 5k. August was to be dedicated to training for this event, to see how much of a 5k I could run (versus walking), and how low I could get my time down. In my mind, if I could run at least half, and get my time under 45 minutes, I was set to do it.
And then, out of nowhere, I sustained an injury. I really mean out of nowhere, because I still don’t know what the hell happened. One minute, I’m jogging, the next minute, I almost fell over, because my leg couldn’t support me.
I could go into boring detail, but who really cares? I am not a physical therapist, and I have never, and I mean never, been an athletic person, so I have never dealt with a sports injury of any kind. So I look to my fellow supporters who have dealt with this, and I take every suggesting they give me (except go to the doctor, that is a last resort, and a topic for another post).
After an entire week of resting it, stretching it, icing it, I attempt to resume my training (treadmill this time). Within 3 minutes, the pain is back, and I am limping again.
Again, long story short, I try everything I can think of, but the minute my legs go into running mode, this pain comes back. So my husband, quite logically, says, “Well then just walk.” Sensible, right?
But, and here is the real point: I can’t wrap my mind around it. Seriously. I know it’s ridiculous, but I can’t make myself grasp the concept that I am restricted from the activity of running. I just keep thinking that I can figure out a way past this injury.
It’s this kind of thinking that reminds me that I’m an alcoholic, and that I will never be “cured” (of the disease that I still question in theory!). The normal person would just see that running is not working, and switch to another form of exercise. My thinking? I can beat this leg injury, dammit! Nothing so stupid is going to keep me from this goal!
I am off to meet a friend (from AA) for a walk in the same park I sustained my injury. I am going to explain this thought process to her, and she is (hopefully) going to help me see the error in my thinking.
The progress: that I know that there is an error in my thinking.
That I am choosing exercise over sitting around, that I am meeting a friend from AA with whom to exercise, and that I will choose walking over re-injuring myself until I can figure this whole thing out!
I have to say, writing is like exercise: the more you stay away from it, the harder it is to pick it up again! And while I’m on the subject of exercise:
I have been plugging along in the fitness department. I mentioned in a post (The Dreaded Topic) I wrote about 2 months ago that I embarked on a fitness regime (alright, this is weird, I just went back to that post… June 5, it is now August 5th!). So how have the last 2 months been? Let me refresh your memory of my baseline: walking upstairs to my bedroom was probably the most I exerted myself prior to taking on this challenge. I wish I could say I am exaggerating for effect. So my plan going in, for those that did not read: do something physical every day. I picked 20 minutes as my start time. I guest posted early on over at Running On Sober, so I don’t remember the specifics, but for the first probably 5 or 6 weeks I did exactly that… every single day. I started on the machine with which I was most comfortable (elliptical machine), but then I decided that going with comfort when it comes to exercise has never served me well, so I started mixing it up. Here are some examples of the progress made within 2 months:
Elliptical Start time/mileage: 20 minutes, 1.25 miles, about 100 calories, Current: 45 minutes, 4 miles, 450 calories burned
Swimming Start: 6 laps, Current: 25 laps
Stationary Bike: no stats to report, it hurt my knee, but the fact that I did it at all is something
Local Walking Start: barely a mile, small loop within my development; Current: I have built up to a 3.1 mile loop that starts in my development but extends beyond it
And, last but not least, the treadmill (or Dreadmill, as I thought of it)…
Start: probably struggled to walk a mile around 20 minutes (I did not keep track of those early stats), Currently (as of yesterday): 46 minutes, 3.1 miles, interval walking/running
Now, none of these number are going to be making headlines over at ESPN, but the point is the progress in an incredibly short period of time. There aren’t any major physical changes, but the mental ones are astounding. Here’s the biggest example: about 5 weeks into this commitment, I got an email from my unbelievably fitness-minded sister-in-law. She knows of my new commitment, and has been encouraging me all she can. She is the type to run in triathlons, half-marathons, mud runs, and other insane things, so she gets emails about local events regularly. She forwarded one onto me: a sober 5k walk/run sponsored by the Caron Foundation, and offered to walk it with me if I was interested.
Now, let’s pause and consider the information I gave you earlier: 2 months ago, ZERO exercise daily, never in my life have I been a sports-oriented person, never competed in anything physical… and now I am actually CONSIDERING this?!?!
Yes, I am. I wanted to reply no, hit the delete button, and never think about it again, but I couldn’t do it. So, first, I told my husband, who was encouraging and supportive, as always. Next, I let my recovery-and-fitness-minded blogging friends know of this recent development, and, predictably, all are strongly encouraging me to do it (Bye Bye Beer has graciously offered to walk it with me, bless her soul!). Finally, I started seeing if I could physically even do it, and to that end found local 3.1 miles loops, did treadmill workouts, in an attempt to get my time down. My commitment to myself is this (and yes, I know I will be getting yelled at by my “exercise sponsor,” as I like to think of Christy, for not just signing up): take the month of August and see what progress I can make in increasing running/decreasing walking for the 3.1 mile sessions. Since it is only August 5, I’ve got some time, I will check back in on this subject in a few weeks!
Final mental breakthrough, and then I’ll stop rambling. As it turns out, there was a promenade near the house that I stayed in last week that was flat, paved, and exactly 1.5 miles long (another sign, in my opinion!), so I did that a few times last week. Still being new to this whole outdoor running/walking gig, while at the same time being technologically handicapped when it comes to ipods, my playlists are disorganized and often interrupted with tween music. So as I’m doing the “ralk,” as I call it, on the promenade, a song keeps coming up that was popular a year or two ago with the Disney crowd, It’s called “Who Says” by Selena Gomez. I remember when my daughter listened to it a lot, and I remember thinking it a cute song, but that’s about it. Now, as I’m regularly exercising, the music is an integral part in the process, and I am listening intently to the songs. And this one is haunting me, although I don’t know why. So I’m actually running as I think to myself, “pay closer attention and figure out why this song is bothering you.” And the chorus comes on:
Who says, who says you’re not perfect?
Who says you’re not worth it?
Who says you’re the only one who’s hurting?
Trust me, that’s the price of beauty!
Who says you’re not pretty?
Who says you’re not beautiful
And, just like that, my mind talked back to the questions, and said, “You say it, and you’re the only one who says it.” And I thought of all the people in my life, and the voice is right… I am the only one saying negative things about me. Well, immediately I started to cry, and now I am running down an extremely crowded promenade with tears streaming down my face. I refused to make eye contact, but I can only imagine what the hell those people were thinking!
Even though it is the sappiest song ever, it is staying on my playlist, as a reminder that I only have one critic, and she has a proven spotty track record when it comes to making these judgments!
12 people at my meeting today, not a record, but a great number!
Maybe not quite this old…
If ever an admission of truth could lose readership, it will be this one. I have been back and forth about whether or not to tell this story, but the comical aspect of it, combined with my pride in a dubious accomplishment, makes the telling of it irresistible.
For years I have had a subscription to People magazine. This has been the source of endless ribbing by some of my “highbrow” friends (quotes are absolutely intentional, thank you very much), because I don’t follow the news very religiously (in fact, under antonym for “news junkie” you would find my picture) so the thinking is that the source of all my current events knowledge stems from this periodical. If I make the mistake of mentioning something in headline news, the comments are predictable, and endless.
Now can you see why I keep these friends around for decades?
Back to me. I developed a rule for this magazine: I will only allow myself to read it at the gym. The reason: It covers up the control panel, and there are pictures to distract my mind while I toil away. I came to think of reading the magazine as a reward, and if I was caught up on the issues, I felt good, because it meant I was exercising regularly, if there was a backlog, it motivated me to get my ass to the gym.
Enter the downward spiral of active addiction. Because I am a stubborn son of a gun, I would not allow myself to look at them unless at the gym. Unfortunately, since other obsessions occupied my time, the pile of People magazines grew as mountainous as my pile of regret and shame.
But throwing them out felt like I was giving up. Oddly, holding on to almost a year’s worth of People magazines was actually a sign of hope, and faith that I could conquer this disease, and get back to normal life (if you consider normal reading about celebs while working out).
So, as most of you know, I bottomed out, and started the process of recovery, and still the pile of People magazines grew. Throughout the year 2012, I worked my ass of in terms of recovery, but not in terms of anything physical. I took the slogan “First things first” and ran with it… straight to the La-Z-Boy. Occasionally I would take the pile, sort through it, and throw out the issues that seemed the least interesting, but still I hung on to the majority of them.
The subscription ended December 2012, and for obvious reasons I could not justify renewing it. So for the next 5 1/2 months while the pile did not grow, it certainly did not diminish in size. I moved them out of sight, but still could not bear to part with them. At one point my husband was in the drawer that housed them and said, “What the hell are you planning to do with all those back issues of People?” Of course, he was unaware of this particular insanity, so I mumbled something and the subject was dropped.
Finally, the time had come, and I signed up to kick-start my fitness over at Running On Sober. Finally, the People magazines will be put to good use!
So I picked one out of the pile, and out the door I went. As I started reading about Tom Cruise‘s idea of the perfect day being spending it with Katie Holmes, I realized a slight problem in my logic: this was old news, really, really old news.
Did I mention that I am stubborn? If I held on to these magazines for this long, by God, I am going to read them.
I watched the pile dwindle, and damned if I didn’t feel just a notch of pride each time I threw out a magazine.
Meanwhile, I got to find out the following hot-off-the-press information:
- Richard Dawson, Phyllis Diller and the guy from Beastie Boys are all dead
- Jessica Simpson had her first baby (apparently already pregnant with number 2?)
- The sit com Go On with Matthew Perry is picked to be a winner (now cancelled); the sit com The Neighbors is picked to be a loser (surprise hit)
Here’s the end of this ridiculous story, and I promise this happened exactly as I am telling it. I got down to the final old issue of People, and I put off reading it for a few days, because it felt like the end of an era. So I swam or took neighborhood walks. Finally, I went to the gym, read my last back issue, and threw it in the trashcan with a smile. I drove home, went to the mailbox, and I swear to you, this was what I found, that day:
Could I even make this stuff up?
Surviving a trip to the mall with 5 kids ranging in age from 13 (with an attitude) to 2 (also with an attitude). If mall employees were also recording miracles, it would be that we left with the building still standing!