Two weeks ago I wrote a rather despondent post bemoaning my relationship with food. As always, shining the light on my fears and troubles diminishes them. The comments I received turned my negativity around almost instantaneously, and the support from my “in person” friends was the icing on the cake (the cake, of course, being gluten-free, sugar-free, and calorie-free). I came to find out, once again, that I am indeed not alone in my troubling thoughts, and that, sharing the load truly lessens the burden.
One friend and I, who both have a trip booked for roughly the same time frame, have concocted a plan: let’s grab some of the most effective tools from the recovery toolbox with which I have been blessed, and put them to work in constructing a healthier lifestyle. Here’s what we’ve come up with so far:
Goal: Take the next six weeks, and make small, incremental changes to our current diet and fitness lifestyle, and see if we can’t feel and look better in time for our trips.
Okay, so there’s the big picture goal, how will the next 6 weeks play out? One of the biggest “tricks” to my success in recovery, especially in the early days, was that I had a to-do list of four things, and only four things, that I needed to accomplish in any given day, and if I went to bed having accomplished them, the day was a success. I’ve written about this ad nauseam, no need to revisit the specifics. So what I hope to do is use the same blueprint for improving my health. I took a long, hard look (cringing A LOT) at all my bad habits, and I concluded that, to start, I could commit to 4 things each and every day, and I was (am) hopeful that in time, I can add/modify/eliminate as needed to continue on a positive path. But for now, forget everything else, and commit to the following:
1. Eliminate the 4 worst foods in my current diet that lead to binge eating (again using the number because it worked so effectively in the past for me)
2. Commit to replacement foods that are healthier than existing foods
3. 20 minutes of dedicated physical activity
4. Communication/progress reports each evening (She has her own four, and reciprocates with her own progress reports)
That is it. Here’s what I am NOT going to do: beat myself up over anything else that I do or don’t do during a given day… if I go to bed having accomplished those four things, that day is a success.
Saturday, February 22nd was our start date; today is March 6, roughly 2 weeks in. How is it going?
Week one had its emotional ups and downs, but I successfully completed the week as laid out above. Each day I would wake up, absolutely convinced that I would not, could not, make it through the day without giving in to one temptation or another (sound familiar, friends in recovery?). Each night that I made it through, the exhilaration was palpable.
A surprising tool from recovery came in very handy during the first week. Each time I refrained from eating something, or chose something healthy, a pessimistic voice in my head would taunt me, “Big deal… you made it through this one, tiny hurdle? Do you REALLY think you are going to spend THE REST OF YOUR LIFE doing this?”
Here’s the surprise answer I had at the ready, and it comes directly from all the lessons learned through recovery: “Who cares about the rest of your life? Can you make it through the rest of this day?”
And would you believe that response was as calming, as soothing, and as positive, as when I used it in the early days of sobriety? So that was a really fun bonus. And the voice has since quieted down, it’s almost inaudible!
Other positives: the exercise thing, having committed to it effectively about 6 months ago but have since lapsed, was like riding a bike, in that making it a part of my daily life became routine fairly quickly. Without getting too far ahead of myself, I do find myself pushing myself a bit further, here and there, and I suspect that as time goes on I will continue to do so.
The regular “checking in” process has loads of benefits, the main one being accountability. There were several days that I turned away from one bad choice or another for the simple reason that I did not want to report I ate it.
Another huge milestone for me: sharing about the foods that tempt me. In the past, I would have been as secretive about this information as I was with every part of my active addiction. I attach shame to eating certain foods, and thus do it privately, and fail to disclose it to anyone. In order to have this communication with my friend be meaningful, I had to get real about the temptations in my life. Unsurprisingly, my revelations did not raise an eyebrow, and since that time I’ve opened up with more people about it, getting similar results.
I did not recognize this shift until a few days ago. I am a Catholic, and Lent is currently underway. In preparation for this religious event, I was contemplating what I would sacrifice, and decided that it would be one of the foods on my list above… Lent would simply give me a few added weeks of abstinence. However, tradition would have it that on “Fat Tuesday,” you celebrate with one last hoorah, and so I made the decision that I would break one of my four commitments. I communicated this to my friend, in advance, explaining what I was going to do, and how I intend to not let it derail me permanently (as has so often happened in the past). I finished explaining it in email, and when I sat back to review, I realized what an amazing accomplishment that was for me… that kind of unreserved honesty, as far as eating habits are concerned, is a first for me, and it felt really good to see the progress as it’s happening.
Last but not least, I am experiencing tangible results: my clothes feel a tad looser, the numbers on the scale are down, 10 pounds the first week! I am actually going to talk a little more about that, but it will have to wait for another post, since this one is running too long as it is! Finally, my mood overall is more positive and optimistic.
All great stuff, and I will post again in two weeks on this subject and let you know where I’m at!
Having good news of any kind to report is a miracle!
No matter which way you choose to recover, whether by 12-step fellowship, rehab, or a “DIY” program, it is a universal truth that, early on, it is best to stay away from the people, places and things that the newly sober associates with their addiction. So, for example, it is prudent for an alcoholic to steer clear of the local watering hole at which he used to have a regular bar stool. Or for a drug addict to steer clear of dicey urban areas where she previously drove to “score.”
But what about the rest of us whose only “people, places and things” are areas that cannot be extricated from our lives? Well, to a certain extent you can, at the very least, alter the landscape. For example, if you were a home drinker, you can remove all alcohol in the house. Or if you were a rabble-rouser at house parties, you can choose to avoid them in the short-term. Both of the following examples apply to me personally, and, for various reasons, both are the solutions I used to solve the “people, places and things” dilemma for me in early sobriety.
Sooner or later, though, you have to face the music, and that opportunity came for me this holiday season. I was faced with a number of events in which I chose to participate for the first time in recovery, and I wanted to write about that experience, because I would imagine I am not alone in dealing with this issue.
At the outset, the choice to join in the fun an festivities of the holiday season was a well-thought out one. I have discussed the idea with my fellows in recovery, prayed about it, and was completely comfortable with the decision to participate. So there was planning there. I also had my toolkit at the ready, and my checklist of things to keep me safe and sober while in the moment (I wrote about this checklist here). In fact, there was one party where I said six simple words to my husband: “the party is starting to turn,” and we were out the door within 10 minutes. So adequate preparation in that department.
If there was one element for which I had not prepared, it was the emotional angst associated with event. Whether it was the location of the party, places where I have engaged in behavior that still shames me, whether it was the people themselves, and the reminder they bring of my past life, or the holiday itself, and the association with all the past misbehavior, I was uncomfortable in a way that surprised me. The memories of the past came back so quickly, and with such strength, at times it was an actual effort to turn and move in a different direction.
These feelings of discomfort took me by surprise because all of the things I did worry about were for naught. For example, I was concerned about awkwardness around family members who are seeing me in a social situation for the first time in recovery. Not only did that awkwardness fail to materialize; family and friends were supportive in ways I could never have imagined.
So why did these memories come back to haunt me? I’m not sure I will ever have a definitive answer to this question, and I have learned enough in my recovery not to over think it. I did what I was taught to do: move a muscle, change a thought. Even though it took extra effort, I turned and walked in an opposite direction, and found someone “safe” to engage in conversation. I participated in cooking and cleaning, which is helpful and distracting at the same time. Most important, I considered the real reason I was present at the holiday, to gather with family and/or friends, and to re-connect with them, and I took advantage of that opportunity in a way I never would have if I was chemically altered.
So when I said my prayer the morning after each holiday function, I was able to say with extra sincerity: “Thank you, God, for all my days of sobriety.”
I am so grateful to have 23 months and 1 day of sobriety!
It is during our darkest moments that we must focus to see the light. –Aristotle Onassis
I have been back and forth about the following series of posts I am about to write (so obviously you know which way I decided). On the one hand, I believe describing the events that led me into recovery is helpful for me personally, so I will always remember from whence I came. Plus, as any recovery program will attest, sharing my experience, strength and hope will benefit the people around me as well (at least I hope it will).
On the other hand, and I cannot stress this part strongly enough, I have two different kinds of readers of this blog: the community I have come to know and love, and the readers who have known and have loved me my whole life. It is to this second group I am making the following statement: the next several posts will be rough reading for you. I am going to write candidly here about what is was like before I came into recovery. If you want to read on, please do so at your own risk.
I am going to start my series of bottoms when I first attempted recovery. By the end of this week, if you have read all of my posts, it will be as if you have come to an AA meeting where I was the guest speaker. I took the first step of my journey to recovery in the winter of 2011. I believe it was sometime in February when my husband sat me down and said he knew there was something wrong with me, but he couldn’t quite figure out what it was. I believe at the time I blamed it on winter blues, mixed in with some sadness because it was around the anniversary of my Father’s death (of course, he had been dead for 19 years, but hey, I can still be sad, right?). The reality was that I was abusing prescription pills, basically, anything I could get my hands on. It had started with back problems, and a referral to a pain management specialist a few years before, but by this point had escalated… basically, if you told me it was addictive, I wanted to take it. At this point I had a vague sense that what I was doing was none too smart, but my rationalization was if it was legitimately prescribed for me, then how bad could it really be?
This particular bottom (and there will be more) culminated in April of 2011, when my husband got a more definitive grasp (though still not complete) of the nature of my problem; namely, prescription drugs. He insisted I get help, and so I sought out treatment in an outpatient rehab near my house. I actually completed that treatment, at least according to their paperwork, although I’m not sure how they could have, in good faith, let me “graduate.” Because I was nowhere near accepting my disease in any way, shape or form.
Here’s what I was able to accomplish during that 6-week period. Going into that treatment program, I was regularly abusing 3 different types of prescription drugs, in addition to drinking on a regular basis. So my thought process at that point was: okay, there is clearly a problem, and the problem is doing way too many different things. Why not control it by eliminating what is not necessary or fun? Alcohol, oddly enough, was the first to go, particularly because it caused me the most problems (if I had one glass of wine, the entire world knew it). Next in line were what I would consider “extraneous” prescription drugs… the drugs I took because I was told they were “relaxing,” when in fact they did absolutely nothing for me. That left what I have come to realize was my drug of choice, prescription pain pills. At this time I had a regular, legitimate prescription waiting for me each and every month, and the idea of giving that up was as foreign to me as the idea of giving up water… simply not an option. So I gave up everything else, but the one drug, and thought, alright, then, I am cured. I will just narrow it down to one vice, how bad could it get?
We can all see where this is going, too bad I didn’t… Stay tuned for the next bottom…
There are two: having the courage to write this down, and that someone has read far enough to get to this section!
How do I feel? I still feel pretty much like myself, although I feel more confident in my ability to handle my feelings, and, consequently, the people in my life. How has life changed in the past 6 months? I guess it depends on what I compare it to. If I compare it to my life as it was exactly 6 months ago, my life has changed dramatically. Six months ago I was separated from my husband and children, living back in my childhood home, a source of pain for all of my family and friends. I was facing seemingly insurmountable problems in absolutely every area of my life. To say my life is different from 6 months ago would be an understatement.
What I’ve been trying to figure out is this… with the exception of that time of separation from my family earlier this year, my life today, in terms of routine and structure, is not significantly different from any other time in my recent life. There are two notable exceptions: I attend 12-step meetings every day now, and I refrain from using any mind-altering substances. But the daily activities are remarkably similar… I still grocery shop, clean (somewhat), cook (somewhat), attend to family obligations, raise my children, interact with my husband, watch TV, play Webkinz (yes, that is actually a daily activity for me).
So what makes today different from July 27th of last year? Or January 27th of this year? Here is the critical difference, the inner change that makes every single daily activity different from any I performed at any other point in my life… I am proud of myself. I have done something, despite all odds, that I truly believed I could never do… I have remained sober for 180 consecutive days. While it certainly did not start out as my own idea… there were many external forces at play 6 months ago that propelled me into sobriety… at some point during the past 6 months the decision to stay clean and sober was one I was making primarily for myself.
Today, no one is watching over me, insisting I make a meeting every day, I do it because I choose to, because it has become a point of pride for me. If something unusual happens in the morning and I am unable to start my day on my knees in prayer (and that has only happened 2 or 3 times in the past 6 months), I will create a time later in the day to make up for it. I have created my own goals of writing in this blog, and I have stuck to them, every week.
Feeling pride in myself as a person leads to all sorts of other good things… appreciation and gratitude for all the blessings in my life, confidence that if I can achieve this goal, then really the possibilities are endless, and, most importantly, fortitude to continue on this path, one day at a time, for the rest of my life. Because now I know what all the people in the rooms have been saying since day one… it is much easier to stay sober than it is to get sober.
I had the opportunity to show my 6 month coin to my uncle today. He asked me, “how do you feel?” I answered, “I feel proud of myself.” I honestly believe that is the first time in my entire life that I have said those words and truly meant them.
And I maintain, as I have many times in the past… all of this, and the best is yet to come!
Very often you will hear recovering alcoholics say that a big part of their program involves saying yes whenever they are asked to be in service, whether they want to or not. I had that experience today, and it led to another personal milestone.
I walked into my regular daily meeting with about two minutes to spare, because I had finally hauled my lazy a$$ to the gym. It is important to note that I was at the gym, because that means I walked into the meeting looking quite a bit more “casual” (a kind understatement) than I would normally prefer to look, but I was so pleased with myself for exercising, I figured it would be worth it. I was happy as a clam, and my normal gang was already seated. I was just getting ready to have a quick conversation with the group, when the chair called me to the front of the room. As I walked up, I realized it was Monday, which means the format of the meeting is a speaker meeting, and the speaker seat was empty. It was all I could do not to go running right out the door, but, remembering all I have learned, I took a deep breath, and approached the chair of the meeting.
And I, with exactly zero time to prepare, became the speaker at this morning’s meeting. While I do not have a terrible hardship with public speaking, I do have a problem with being unprepared for public speaking. Again, I called to mind what I have been taught, which is that there is no need to prepare, simply ask God to put the right words in your mouth, so I shot up a quick prayer (and I mean quick, there was NO TIME!), and off I went.
Here is what I learned: sometimes taking a deep breath and saying a prayer is all the preparation you need. Fortunately, I had told my story once before, when I did have time to prepare, at a different meeting, so I could draw upon that experience to help me lay out my personal timeline as it related to addiction. Another big benefit to this blessing in disguise… I felt like I had really gotten to know many of the “regulars” at this meeting, but, now that I have shared my story with the group, I feel like they really know me. One person raised their hand and said they appreciated my “brutal honesty,” which was a great compliment, because, as I have mentioned in earlier posts, I truly struggled with honesty for a long time, and so being told that felt like true progress. I also worry that my story is unusual compared to what I often hear in the rooms, and yet I had 2 different women and 1 man walk up to me afterwards and tell me that I told their exact story. Knowing that my speaking touches another… it is hard to put into words how rewarding it feels.
Even though I wanted to kill him at the time, I will remember the chairperson of this meeting for a long time, because he gave me a great gift!
“We all make mistakes, have struggles, and even regret things in our past. But you are not your mistakes, you are not your struggles, and you are here NOW with the power to shape your day and your future.”
― Steve Maraboli, Life, the Truth, and Being Free
We have all heard this line before… we are not our mistakes… but when you are new in recovery and struggling to reclaim your life before addiction, mistakes, if dwelled upon, can overshadow all of the advances that have been made. So, it is as important to learn how to effectively deal with the mistakes from the past as it is to learn to abstain from using any mind-altering substances. Because, if I continue to brood over all of my past failures, then I am on my way to relapse.
When I think about my personal past errors, I categorize them: there are mistakes that have consequences outside of the realm of family and friends, and these mistakes must be dealt with first. They are often the most frightening of the consequences, but usually the good news about these mistakes is that you have little choice but to deal with them. So, these are the easiest to square your shoulders, and prepare to simply get through them. The upside is that once you correct this category, it is done, and you can feel a great sense of accomplishment in having dealt with it.
The second, and in my opinion, more difficult category under “wreckage of the past” is the mistakes made with regard to family and friends. There are usually many examples of this kind of mistake, and range in severity from the damage done to your spouse and children, to the petty behavior displayed to more casual acquaintances. There are too many varieties to count in this category, and the length of time it can take to clear up these mistakes is indefinite.
The most important thing to remember, in the early stages of becoming sober, is that clearing up mistakes from the past takes time. It took time to make the mistakes, so it is only logical that it will take time to correct them. It is my experience that people are generally more tolerant, and have more patience for me than I have for myself, and their main objective is for me to be well, so they are more than happy to give me the time I need. And for the people who aren’t so patient and understanding… well, I will probably need a separate post to delve into that set of problems. In the meantime, dealing with mistakes requires the same mentality as dealing with recovery… one day at a time!