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Intermediate Recovery: Guilt

It’s been awhile since I’ve written in this category, I’m not sure why that is.  But since I’ve missed another Monday post, now’s as good a time as any to write one.

I missed this past Monday because I didn’t attend the meeting; I asked a regular attendee to cover for me.  I didn’t attend the meeting because I have been feeling under the weather for past 10 or so days, whatever’s got me has really grabbed hold!  I have been through all the regular permutations of an infection… sore throat, cough, aches, chills, and I’d say for the most part they’ve come and gone.  What’s lingering now, and has been for at least 5 days, is this unrelenting lethargy… it feels like I’m moving through water, and I could sleep at any moment.

It’s bad enough that I actually went to the doctor, which may not mean a lot if you don’t know me, but says something significant if you do.  I intensely dislike going to the doctor’s.  He gave me an antibiotic, and paperwork to get my blood tested, and told me the exhaustion is normal; since my body is fighting an infection, it is working overtime, so it’s tired!

Problem solved, case closed.  For what possible reason would I be writing about such an inane subject?

Answer:  I have uncovered an interesting mental side effect of this physical illness, and that is guilt.  I feel guilty for feeling sick.

Illogical, irrational, and most likely makes me sound unbalanced, but it’s the truth.  I have no energy, and I berate myself for getting nothing done.  The monkey mind creates a laundry list of things I should be doing to get well:  exercise more, fight through the exhaustion!  Drink more water, eat healthier, meditate harder, snap out of it.

“You’re not that sick,” says the monkey mind.

I do try to talk back to criticism, but suffice it to say the circular argument is exhausting to think about, let alone write it out, let alone have it in the first place.

And even when I’ve completed the laundry list, there is always, always another item added for which to feel guilty because it has gone uncompleted.

Three days ago, I awoke from a disturbing dream.  All I can remember from it is that I was diagnosed with cancer.  The disturbing part was the emotion I experienced, which was guilt, because I was convinced that the cancer was my fault for something I had done, or something I had failed to do.

When I realized that was my take-away from the dream, I knew I was troubled.  And I examined where guilt was infecting my life, and was startled to discover how pervasive it was.  Truly, it is egotistical how much responsibility I give myself.

So my inflated ego… something else about which to feel guilty.

While the illness is the catalyst for this self-examination, I believe I will find that, even as I heal, even as I become more active, take on more responsibility, and so on, guilt will still be playing a role.  My best guess is that it’s always been there, I’m just painfully aware of it now that I’m sober.  I’m still not sure what that is, if it is:

A.  connected with addiction

B.  residue from being raised in an Irish Catholic household

Or maybe it’s

C.  all of the above

And more important, here’s the essay question that needs to be answered:

How the heck do you overcome an addiction to feeling guilty?

Feel free to respond, especially if you’re in recovery… from guilt!

Today’s Miracle:

Taking the time to write this post, because I know I am going to get great responses to help me tackle this issue!

My Friend Karen

  vs. 

Karen and I have an ongoing debate on which of these chips taste better, in the end we have agreed to disagree!

To inspire myself as I begin writing this post, I poured a large glass of cold water… one of many life lessons my friend Karen has taught me:  water is a beverage I can enjoy with as much abandon as I desire.  Had I learned this lesson from her in a more timely fashion, this blog would never have come to be!

I have known my friend Karen since my college days, but we did not become close friends until years after graduation.  Karen started at the same college as I, but she finished at a different university, and so some years passed before our paths re-intersected, and I have been blessed by this reunion.

Karen is the type of friend that everyone needs:  thoughtful, fiercely loyal, and endlessly supportive.  You tell Karen something once, and she will file it away, and remember it at just the right moment.  For my fifth wedding anniversary, my husband and I took a trip to Disney World to celebrate.  We came back to our hotel room one night to find a special care package delivered to our room:  peanut butter M &M’s (a favorite candy of both my husband and me).  That is one of many examples I could give to illustrate how Karen thinks about the people she loves.

Karen displays this kind of loyalty not just to her friends, but to her family as well.  I have never met a more devoted wife, mother, daughter and sister.  Karen’s love of family, and her dedication to every member of her large (and rambunctious) family is a quality to which I aspire to emulate.  She is there for the people she loves in a way that we all should be.

Like all friendships that span decades, Karen and I have seen each other through major life events, through minor life events, holidays, vacations, moves, career transitions, family transitions, the list could go on and on.  Some years have gone by and I find that we’ve barely connected.  Other years, we are thick as thieves.  But the real test of friendship, for me, is the ability to pick up after an absence as if no time has passed, and Karen and I have passed this test with flying colors, time and again.  And never has that been tested more than with my descent into addiction, and my journey to recovery.

Like all of my close friendships, I let Karen slip away as I spiraled downward into the disease of addiction.  As I have written before, the more dishonest I was in daily life, the easier it was to keep close friends away, for it would be one less person with whom I would have to lie and say that life was grand.  So months and months had gone by since I last communicated with Karen, and during that time I suffered through all of my various addiction “bottoms,” all the while Karen knew nothing.

I was probably sober about 2 months, I don’t even think I was back at home with my husband and children yet, when I discovered that my husband had disclosed all of my shameful secrets to Karen.  I was dismayed, to say the least, for a few reasons:  I was still at a point in my recovery when I felt the less people knew about my addiction, the better off everyone was (read:  the better off my ego would be).  At that point in my life I still felt like I was chasing the story of my addiction, and this was one more mess I needed to clean up.  Finally, and most importantly, I had an additional level of shame in admitting my addiction to Karen, because she had a close family member suffering from the disease of active addiction, and he was wreaking havoc in their tight-knit family unit.  To admit to Karen that I was doing the same to my family was painful in a way with which I had not previously encountered, and I would have much rather put that off indefinitely (read:  never).

So, for the next several months, I procrastinated in dealing with the Karen issue.  She knew, I knew she knew, but my motto was out of sight, out of mind, and Karen was, respectfully, giving me space to heal.  To be fair, I was in the process of un-burning any number of bridges throughout this time period, but still, I let it go on much longer that I should have.  Finally, about 5 months sober, I decided to stop with the procrastination, and mend the fence of our broken friendship once and for all.  So I set up a time to meet for lunch, and we re-connected.

I still chuckle at the look of astonishment on Karen’s face when I admitted how difficult it was for me to connect with her.  Like most problems in my world, I make them much bigger in my head than they really are, and she was mystified that I was so nervous to speak with her about my addiction.  As uncomfortable as it was, I confessed my darkest thoughts:  that I am ashamed to bring to her the pain that she experiences with her addicted family member.  She hastened to assure me that she does not equate the two stories, and that, because of her experience with addiction, she is even more in awe of my strength and courage to recover.  Once past that hurdle, we then were able to have an open and honest communication about her family member, a conversation that we had never had before this time.  I left that lunch with my heart full of love, because our friendship had deepened in a way I had not believed possible.

And then, the fateful conversation the next morning:  at the very time Karen and I were opening up to each other, Karen’s family member lost his battle with addiction.  My body shakes even as I write this, all of these months later, and my mind still has difficulty processing the timing.  As I look back, the next few days are a blur, but I remember praying a lot:  surely this means something, but what?  Why would God have me reach out to Karen on that very day?  The most I have come up with, even after all this time, is two things:  first, He wanted me to be there for Karen.  I’m not sure what help I was, but at least I was there.

The second profound lesson that experience taught me, and I have been able to use the lesson in the months since:  it is important to share my experience, strength and hope with others.  Even if it seems irrelevant at the time, you never know what is going to happen to the people with whom you share, and what information I give that could ultimately help another.  Karen knows she has a friend with experience in recovery, she now has me as a resource whenever she wants it, and the “paying it forward” mentality can reap untold benefits.  It may be uncomfortable in the short-term, but the long-term potential gain far outweighs the short-term discomfort.

Since that time, my friendship with Karen continues to deepen.  I have a connection with her that will last a lifetime, and my recovery milestones will always include her… what a miracle that is!

Today’s Miracle:

Today I am grateful for the one day reprieve I am getting:  kids are back at school for the first time in almost 2 weeks, and we have enormous snow storm predicted for tonight!

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:

Embarrassment Versus Shame

Truth is not determined by the number of people who believe it.  Truth just is. -Lisa Neumann, Sober Identity

I had an interesting experience this morning.  I was sharing some less savory details of my legal consequences with a friend in a meeting, and I began my story with “I am embarrassed to say…”  He responded by asking me if it was embarrassment or shame.  The question stopped me, because I had not really differentiated between the two words.

So further research revealed that embarrassment is more external, while shame is internal.  At the time, my response to my friend was that I was experiencing both embarrassment and shame.  His quick response was “Really?  At a 12-step meeting you are embarrassed by your circumstances?  Think about your audience!”  Immediately I felt better, but I continued to think about the distinction, and to try think both feelings entirely through.

And, like fear, anger, many other strong emotions, embarrassment and shame can be removed when fully examined.  I was feeling both ashamed and embarrassed by the external factors of my legal consequences from my addictions.  Things that, at first blush, feel like they rob me of my dignity.  But as I really think through what I am doing, the truth is this:  I have an addiction, I have made mistakes in the past, and now I am doing all the right things that are keeping me sober one day at a time.  The truth is that I am proud of the actions I am taking daily, and the icing on the cake is that these particular circumstances, which have a pretty short time frame, will ultimately give me complete legal freedom, on top of the freedom I am experiencing as a sober woman.

There is nothing in my current life about which I should be ashamed, or embarrassed.  That is the truth.

Vulnerability

The inspiration for today’s post came from a video I watched, and I recommend it highly.  Here is the link if you are interested:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iCvmsMzlF7o

If you are not interested, the gist of the message is this:  in order to have true connection to others, you must first feel worthy of connection, and you must also accept vulnerability in your life.  You don’t have to look forward to it, but you need not dread it, either, you simply must accept is as a fact of your life.  Which, let’s face it, vulnerability is a fact of life, so it would probably be a lot simpler to accept it than to fight it every step of the way.

The speaker in the video does a much better job explaining these concepts, so I urge you to view the video.  I watched it, and tried to figure out what it means to me.  In terms of believing myself worthy, I am a work in progress.  The unwavering support of family and friends in my darkest hour is something concrete I can point to and draw the conclusion that I must be worthy, because otherwise I would be very much alone right now.  That feeling is carrying me through the early days of recovery, but I know that is only one very small step, because feeling truly worthy must come from within, and it must be independent of anyone else’s opinion.   As I said, I am a work in progress.

In terms of vulnerability, well, I am not sure how much I consciously thought about it before watching the video, but I would say I am making some serious strides in that department.  At this stage of the game, vulnerability to me means letting people know I am an addict, and continuing to have a relationship with them.  It means honestly answering the question “how are you?” and believing that they want to hear my answer.  It means being uncertain about the state of my marriage, but attempting to regain that trust and love.  It means leaving a family party to go to a 12-step meeting, and then returning to the party with my head held high.  It means losing a close relationship with a family member, but then be willing to spend time with them and be able to look them in the eye.  It means opening up and sharing personal details of my life with a group of strangers at a meeting, and believing that they want to help me.

There is probably a lot more I can do to be vulnerable, and, now knowing how important it is in my life, I will actively seek ways to do so.  A good friend told me early on in this journey that it is essential to put myself out naked for the world to see, and, at the time, I thought it was melodramatic and over the top, but he obviously knows what he’s talking about.  So don’t be too surprised to see me on the street corner wearing a sandwich board telling the world that I am 75 days clean and sober…

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