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Hypochondria as it Relates to Recovery

Everyone knows the type:  the person who reads about an illness, then suddenly develops the symptoms of said illness.  I can tell you that throughout my pregnancies there was not one symptom I experienced that my husband didn’t also share, and sometimes try to top!

I can’t honestly say I have ever had that particular mind disorder; that is, until now.  I am currently sober 22 months and change, and as such am approaching another big milestone.  Add to that another juncture, if you will, on my journey to recovery:  the legal consequences that I have referenced from time to time on this blog are just about wrapped up.  The heavy lifting is officially done, all that’s left now is the loose-end tie-up (which, of course, could be endless, I am never one to say it’s over until is really, really over).  The closing of this chapter in my life book, and there is no way to overstate this, is huge.

But it’s like running the 5K, or reaching a goal weight, or achieving whatever accomplishment for which I have been striving… now what?

This is where the hypochondria has, on a low-level, set in.  I find myself looking around for the people who started on the recovery road with me, and I don’t see them.  I hear stories in 12-step meetings about how they have reached a goal, got the feeling of “I’ve got this,” and eventually forgot from whence they came.  And that feeling only leads back to one place… the bottle.

So for the first time in my life, I am sympathizing with the hypochondriacs of this world.  Because I think, “if it can happen to them, then it can happen to me.”  And then I think, “maybe I am on my way back, and I don’t even realize it.”

So how do you talk back to this voice?  I don’t want to disregard the concern, yet wallowing in worry and anxiety doesn’t seem sensible either.

The only way I can figure makes sense is to have a plan of attack, a checklist, and pray that I am still heading in the right direction.  So, first things first, if I have a concern, get it out of my head.  Which, clearly, I am doing, and have also done in my 12-step meetings.  Next, remember what has worked for the past 22 months, and ensure that I am still practicing these principles in all my affairs.  When I started, I had a to-do list of 4 things every day:

1.  Pray

2.  Go to a meeting

3.  Talk to another alcoholic

4.  Not pick up a drink or drug

Now, I look at that list and my mind panics… I only do 2 of those 4 things on a daily basis!  So I go back to square one and figure out what has changed, and if the changes are working.  As it turns out, they are.  I went to daily meetings for the first year; the past 10 months, I have scaled back to those meetings from which I glean the most, and that change has been effective for me.  Okay, problem solved.

I could also add something to the list that I hadn’t even considered on day one of sobriety:  give back that which has been freely given, which is something I do on a regular basis.  So although I have taken off the list, I have also added to it, so net/net it works out.

Next on the list:  gut check:  can I stay sober today?  Because remember, today is all we’ve got.  I have never asked myself that question in sobriety where the answer hasn’t been a resounding YES, so again, there is great comfort in realizing that the obsession is still lifted.   Of course, if another answer were to come, back to square one:  Speak.  Up!  Tell someone what is going on.

Finally, do a mental check-in on associations within my sober support network.  For me, am I still blogging (I guess that answer is self-evident)?  Am I checking in with my fellow bloggers?  Am I still connected to people in my fellowship?  Am I shying away from commitments, or am I embracing the opportunities?  The answer to this is a mixed bag for me currently.  Some I am doing well (you will read more about this one in Today‘s Miracle); some I need to re-visit.  Of course, the next obvious step here:  go out and do what you’ve been slacking on.

I guess time will tell is this plan of action is one that works.  I have had sober time before, probably about as much as I have currently.  The difference between then and now is the ongoing practice of the 12 steps of recovery. I am hopeful that, one day at time, I will “trudge the road of happy destiny!”

Today’s Miracle:

I’m putting this in as a reminder to myself that it is, indeed a miracle (rather than the stomach-twisting event that it currently feels like):  I have been asked to speak at an anniversary celebration for an Al-Anon meeting this evening.  The regular attendees of this meeting are, I assume, quite familiar with my story, although they have not met me personally.  This will change, and they will hear my story from me, tonight.  Right now all I’m thinking is, “Yikes!  I’m venturing into the enemy camp!”  But, deep down, I know this will be a monumental event, and I am, despite my nerves, grateful for this opportunity.  I’m sure I will be writing about the experience!

All Tapped Out

With a heavy heart, I am following up on a post I wrote 30 days ago, Tap Your Way Into Right Thinking.  In this post I challenged myself to a 30-day experiment:  I would use the Emotional Freedom Technique of Tapping for 30 days to see if I could change my negative thought patterns concerning my relationship with food.  Sadly, I failed this experiment, and I need to ‘fess up!

First, a little more background into the process called Tapping.  Tapping, as best I understand it, is a therapy process that works by focusing on a painful thought, memory or belief while tapping with your fingertips on various specific energy points located throughout the body.  There are 14 different energy points, called meridians, that are believed to compose an energy system within your body.  Any negative emotion, such as envy, shame, anxiety, or the like, is due to a disturbance in this energy system.

So I figured I could use my negative belief that I cannot change my unhealthy relationship with food, apply the principles of Tapping, and see where I got at the end of 30 days.  Here is what happened:

I practiced the steps outlined in the book faithfully for more than half the time, 16 days.  I attempted to follow the directions to the letter for each of those sessions.  Initially, the biggest stumbling block to this exercise was my complete skepticism of it.  I was self-conscious, even if I was by myself.  And when my kids walked in and asked what the heck I was doing, that was even worse.  So while I attempted to be open-minded about the exercise, I definitely had a ways to go.

The second mistake I made, and I only realized this after the fact, was that I failed to stay completely focused on the negative belief throughout the exercise.  Much like meditation, it was extremely difficult for me to stay in the moment.  Thoughts of what I was going to do next, or who might walk into the room, or, even worse, the thought that this is a complete waste of time kept crowding into my head as I tried to focus and tap.  As I researched a little further into this practice, I now realize that it is essential to focus solely on the negative belief you are looking to change.

If I were to hypothesize, the biggest barrier to this being an effective technique for me personally is my, I guess I can use the word ambivalence, to the philosophy behind it.  I am sure that this technique could work for many people, I am just not sure I am one of them, and this thought, above all else, was probably blocking my ability to be effective.

So that I am not a complete Negative Nellie with this post, I will end with a positive experience I gained from this experiment.  At some point during each of those tapping sessions, I felt a small but definite feeling of lightness, almost like a feeling of hopefulness.  Sometimes, I would even get a thought such as, “Yes, I can develop a healthy relationship with food!” and it would feel almost exciting, like it was a breakthrough.  The feeling was fleeting, but it was interesting, and it did recur.

So, tapping was not a complete waste of time, but, for me, the benefits were not strong enough or permanent enough to reinforce the routine.  The minute my schedule got hectic, I forgot about it completely, and, by the time I remembered I was supposed to be doing it daily, a whole week had passed.  I will chalk this one up to:  nothing ventured, nothing gained!

Today’s Miracle:

When I finish this post, I will be preparing for the one-year anniversary of the meeting I started… more to follow on this subject tomorrow!

Worlds Are Colliding!

I had an interesting experience last night that I thought I’d share about today.  I was asked to speak at a lecture series run by an organization called PRO-ACT (Pennsylvania Recovery Organization-Achieving Community Together), which is an advocacy and recovery support initiative.  My lecture was a compilation of the series I wrote on this blog, found in the category labelled Twelve Steps in Everyday Living, in case you are interested.

Here are the reasons why last night was unique.  First, I have never done anything quite like it before.  In AA, I have been asked to share my story multiple times, and of course that has certain anxieties associated with it, but this felt a lot different.  I guess when I am telling someone my life story, there is no room for opinion or rebuttal.  It’s not like someone is going to stand up and say, “No, I don’t agree that you lived like that!”  Whereas in presenting my writing, there is room for criticism, or dissenting opinion, or complete disinterest (I guess, now that I think about it, there could be complete disinterest in my life story, but so far I have not encountered it!).

Another difference is the audience.  In AA, I feel at home, and I believe that at the heart of it we are all the same.  In this room of about 50, I have no idea who is really present, because it is open to the public.  For all I know TMZ was there recording me so they could make fun of me on that night’s broadcast (I sincerely hope everyone knows me well enough to know that I am joking!).  Yes, I do put my writing and opinion out there for the blogging world to see, but there is certainly more anonymity in sitting at my home computer than there is standing at a podium in front of live human beings.

So, I definitely had serious butterflies going into the evening.  I arrived, and found I would be the second of the two scheduled speakers… whew!  I have some time to relax.  I sat through the first speaker, ironically enough the subject was mindfulness, that poor woman certainly had at least one audience member completely unable to stay in the present!  There was a break, and the hosts were setting up my power point presentation, and…

In walked my husband, who rushed as quickly as he could from our daughter’s basketball game to come and support me.  Such a beautiful moment, and I thanked him immediately, but also said I would be able to give more genuine gratitude once my lecture was finished.  We’re chit-chatting, in an attempt to calm my frayed nerves, and the thought occurred to me…

I am going to share my story in front of my husband!

Now, true enough, the majority of this lecture is material he has already read, but the first 5-10 minutes of it was my qualification, why I have the right to be standing in front of these people and discussing the 12 steps of recovery.  To qualify myself, I need to give the highlights, or, rather, lowlights, of my active addiction, and the consequences of it.  Ye Gads, I thought I was nervous before this thought, that was nothing compared to what I was feeling now!

And then I mentally reviewed all that I was going to cover.  Am I revealing any new truths?  Nope.  Covering ground that hadn’t yet been covered by us as a couple?  Again, no.  Am I, at the heart of it all, speaking my own personal truth, and am I willing to stand by what I am saying?  That’s a big Hell Yeah!

So I took a deep breath, and, as those marketing geniuses at Nike would say… I just did it.  And I got through it, without embarrassing myself in any way (that I am aware of).  And no one ran out of the room screaming, no one fell asleep in their chairs (that I am aware of), so I guess I will call it a success.  But for me, the biggest takeaway, I will list below…

Today’s Miracle:

That I can tell my story, I can share my real self, and my husband tells me that he has never been prouder of me… that is a real miracle.

The Twelve Steps in Everyday Living: Part Two

Step Two:  Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.

There is a great deal of variety in how people in recovery come to take this step, because there is a great variety of belief (or lack thereof) in a Higher Power.

I consider myself fortunate to have had a lifelong belief in God.  Prior to recovery, my mindset on God was simple.  God helps those who help themselves… and since I, in active addiction, was doing very little to help myself, how could I possibly expect Him to help me?  I certainly prayed in active addiction.  Unfortunately, they were what we in AA call “foxhole prayers.”  God, please just get me out of this mess, and I’ll never (fill in the blank) again!  Of course, once the urgency disappeared, so did my end of whatever bargain I had made.

When I finally hit bottom, I got down on my knees, and my prayer took a slightly different format.  I asked God to show me what I was doing wrong.  As I asked this, I had reviewed what had worked for me, what did not, and what seemed to be working for others that I had not yet tried.  Before I rose from the kneeling position, I had a plan in place:  I would do 4 things every day:  I start each day on my knees and pray, I would go to a meeting, I would talk to another alcoholic, and I would not pick up a drink or drug.

And day by day, that is just what I did, and some days, in the beginning, that is all I did, and little by little, life got better.  That is how I came to believe that God could restore me to sanity, because I believe God gave me the blue print to start my life over.

What happens in Step 2, at least what happened for me, is that you start to think, if it can work with addiction, can it work with the rest of life?  And the answer, of course, is a resounding YES.

Maybe the most recent example I can give from my own life is dealing with my daughter.  She is almost 13, and, I don’t want to sound like a cliché here, but she is turning into a completely different person before my eyes.  The physical I expected.  The personality changes… I have been blown away by how quick and how complete the change has been.  It’s to the point that when I see glimpses of the pre-hormonal child, it is then that I am surprised.

Now of course I know, and any Mother of a teenage daughter is nodding sagely as she reads this, hormonal personality changes are a part of life.  But, for real, my daughter was the most angelic person I have ever known, and it is just heart-breaking to see that go away.  Basically, dealing with the suddenness of these changes, and wanting desperately to stop them, could drive a person insane.

So in the same way that I described in Step One, when events happen, and my life feels unmanageable, I now know what I have to do, which is believe that God will help me find peace.  I just have to let Him, which brings me to…

 

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