Saturday, November 27, 2010

Childhood Memories

When I was twenty I was incredibly angry with both of my parents. I had just begun to find my voice and spewed anger about my childhood. In many ways, I think it was just the extremes of position one takes as part of determining what adulthood looks like. There is great satisfaction on the extremes. However, people were often shocked at the full extent of my hatred. By twenty-five I'd put the demons to rest and had come to a more balanced view of my parents. Or so I thought at the time. Now I'm not so sure. I think what I did was give full expression to the confusion, loss, uncertainty, and frustration of growing up with an alcoholic father and an overwhelmed mother. When I saw the reactions of those around me, I decided to stop speaking about it. I put it away in a box on a high shelf and never again investigated it. I called this growing up.

In large part, I wanted sympathy for the stresses and strains I faced as the oldest child. These memories simply did not match up with the parents I have as an adult. My dad stopped drinking (outside of occasional slips at my house) and my mom found strength. So when my confidants met my parents, they simply couldn't see evidence of the people I had spoken about. I seemed petty and vindictive in my descriptions of my childhood.

Now I feel like I'm re-living it, but from multiple different perspectives. Emotionally, I'm sometimes still that child, waiting for the other shoe to drop, trying to fix everything and prevent anything from going wrong. I'm my mother, short-tempered and worried about everything. I'm that alcoholic, selfish and prone to grandiosity and self-pity. And unlike anyone in my past or present, I'm in recovery. Trying to work through all of this without falling into the old habits and coping mechanisms.

I find myself back where I was at twenty, without the virtiol. In some ways it's like I've been going in circles all these years.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Book Review Fridays: How to Stop Screwing Up

Today I am really struggling with words; putting thoughts into a coherent order seems beyond me. A few months ago I read this book: How to Stop Screwing Up: 12 Steps to Real Life and a Pretty Good Time, by Martha Woodroof. It was my first real indication that the issues we deal with when we move through the 12 steps are about so much more than drinking. Although she is a recovering alcoholic/addict, she doesn't write very much about drinking or drugs, rather she speaks about all of the various ways in which the 12 steps have helped her change her perspective and her life. In each chapter, she focuses on one of the 12 steps and weaves her experience into the intent of the step. At the end of each chapter she provides excercises to work on. The best part about the book is that Woodroof is hilarious, while at the same time, really imparts wisdom.

The primary focus of her book is spirituality. She names the God of her understanding Alice and shares her experience with the way that relationship has intensified over time. I could relate to so many of the emotions she shares in the book - here are a few highlights:

Step 1
I was horrified when I first realized what Step One meant. Was it seriously suggesting that I was supposed to look at my life as it really was? Good grief! Where was the fun in that? What was wrong with a little honest pretending if it got me through the day with my head held high? It took me a long time to realize that what I'd made up and called my life wasn't really much fun.
For me, the admission of powerlessness over alcohol was simple. It's not something I've re-thought, challenged, or explored since the first admission. However, I still stuggle with the notion that honest awareness of my powerlessness over everything else is necessary for step 1. I intellectually agree with this, but spiritually and emotionally, I go back and forth.

Step 2
Like me, Woodroof was raised in religious surroundings and struggled to find faith as part of her work on the 12 steps:

I solved my personal discomfort with religious language by thinking of the great I Am as Alice. It's perfectly okay to talk naturally to anyone named Alice. An Alice isn't preoccupied with worship and loyalty oaths. She's pleased by loyal companionship and real effort. And an Alice is not fooled by show. Instead, she simply expects me to behave myself.
I'm still working on the spiritual connection piece, but I've definitely experienced comfort and change in my thinking and in my life as a result of simply praying for guidance and working to rely on god.

Step 4
I remember feeling tremendous pressure to present myself to the world with this bright, I'm-okay-you're-okay attitude - which is fine if you're really okay. But what if you're not? I don't know how you feel right now, but in my pre-Step days it took a lot of energy to talk myself into believing I was even close to okay. And even when I felt okay, even when I was able to strut with the best of them, I never felt peaceful and whole. My self-esteem might have been pumped, but it was on ego-steroids.
For me, realizing that both the "good" emotions, and the "bad" emotions were built upon false and shifting ground was incredibly powerful. By tying my sense of self-worth to all of the external events and people in my life, I was never able to find peace. Sure, emotions are temporary, regardless of how grounded you are in your spiritual life, but without a spiritual focus, peace is ellusive and out of reach.

Step 12
Over the years, I've boiled Step Twelve down to simply trying to do the next, right thing. However, my days frequently seem as confusing and complicated as an NFL defensive scheme, and there is an alarming number of times during any given twenty-four-hour period when it's not clear to me what the next right thing to do is.
So, I'm nowhere near step 12, but I do find comfort in knowing that we are all focused on progress and will not be perfect. In the rooms I see old-timers relate to people new to sobriety. I hear stories that tell me we're all pretty much in the same boat, regardless how many days, months, or years of sobriety we have under our belts. At times this fills me with sadness....because it means I'll never be done. But for the most part, it gives me hope that at the very least we aren't alone. And at best, our lives are ever so much better without the hangovers, false confidence, depths of dispair, and self-absorption our drinking days delivered.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Pendulums and Five Pounds of Candy

As you know from reading my blog, I've really been struggling with feelings of inadequacy, guilt and procrastination. I've started using a "you are good enough as is, right now" mantra to try to put cracks into the veneer of perfectionism I've been locked into for the past twenty (or so) years. It's working to some degree, and of course it's early days.

I realized a few months ago that I drank both to enhance the positive and to block out the negative (thanks to Ellie's blog), but it is only recently that I realized that I go from feeling that I'm not capable of executing even simple things to the grandiose belief that I'm so amazing I'll be promoted in five seconds. Striving to feel confident and calm is not something I've practised. Good enough, rather than amazing or crappy, just isn't in my vocabulary.

As a result, I've been eating massive quantities of leftover Halloween candy, feeling sick, but also trying to tune out. I'm not much of an emotional eater, but lately have found myself trying to tune out with sugary snacks. It's been so intense that at one point I was debating about what I wanted more: another bag of candy or a cigarette. Even though I already felt sick. Even though I already realized there weren't enough cigarettes in the world to ease my feelings.

Today is a new day. I'm going to keep striving for normal. Even average. And I'm going to work on accepting that things are exactly as they are supposed to be right now.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Book Review Fridays - The Gifts of Imperfection (Part 1)

Rather than spend every post immersed in my own thought processes, I thought it would be good to create some structure to my format. I attribute much of my success in sobriety (ie. not picking up the next drink) with the many wonderful books I've read. I have a bibliography on this site, but I thought it might be helpful to discuss some of them each week.

Strangely, I haven't finished reading the first book I want to talk about. The Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You Think You're Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are, by  Brene Brown, is not specifically a recovery or 12-step oriented book, but does speak in detail about the way that shame and fear shape us and stresses the importance of courage, compassion, and connection. What struck me most about this book is that she is talking about how I can get out of some of the thinking traps I've been engaged in over the past several weeks. I don't know if I can describe it, but reading it has already helped me gain some perspective.

She writes:

           Knowledge is important, but only if we're being kind and gentle with ourselves as we work to discover who we are...the journey is equal parts heart work and head work.

In the midst of my investigation into self-knowledge, I completely forgot that in order to truly understand who I am, I also need to accept that the least, a little self-love and forgiveness would also be nice, even helpful to the overall process of recovery. Certainly, the recovery books I've read talk about this - about how the fourth step is not a stick we use to beat ourselves up. But something in my makeup (and maybe yours too...) tempts me to berate myself rather than understand.

In case you fear the book is too airy-fairy or self-helpish (this was my fear, because sometimes I'm a complete snob), she writes:

We can talk about courage and love and compassion until we sound like a greeting card store, but unless we're willing to have an honest conversation about what gets in the way of putting these into practice in our daily lives, we will never change.

And so far (I'm on page 24 or something) it's amazing. Her insights are practical and grounded in reality. I have to resist the temptation to underline every other sentence.

I'll write a real review after I've finished the book, but definitely suggest you read it if you're struggling like i am.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

One Foot in Front of the Other

I'm learning that there is a huge benefit to simply putting your feelings out there. Nothing in the externals of the situation change as a result. The house is still messy, the kids are still grumpy, I'm still procrastinating...etcetera. However, there is a small and subtle change - the weight of the emotion is absent, and out of the way.

I realize I have to keep moving forward, regardless of my perceptions about where I should be now. Those perceptions are toxic to my recovery. For that, I need to keep expressing myself with honesty (in a journal, here, or "on the live show") and keep letting go of the desire to control the outcomes. I will feel better in time if I keep trudging forward (thanks Melissa!).

We're buried in snow at the moment, so the notion of "trudging" has great appeal as a descriptive term for the way I tend to feel about being honest about my feelings. Now, as I contemplate taking the dog for her morning walk, I feel that precise desire to avoid, delay, or cocoon myself protectively. So we'll see what happens... I will keep trying though, because what I did before certainly didn't get me any closer to peace... and yes, I will take the dog for a walk.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Good Enough

As a teenager I can remember mostly feeling like I wasn't good enough (like everyone...d'uh, but this has a point). I felt stupid, fat, clumsy, unattractive, lazy, and lonely. I think this started when I was ten, when I was dumped by a friend for the first time. It's funny, because while I can't remember either of the girls' names, I do remember that instead of spending time with her one weekend, I went to see Ghostbusters at the theatre with my dad and my brothers. Everytime the movie is on television, I remember the shocked and confused feelings I had on the Monday morning when she decided I was no longer allowed in the group, because she'd found someone new and more fascinating.

That feeling of loneliness permeated my experience through junior high and high school. For the most part, I stuck to my own company. I changed schools twice in an attempt to escape the perception that no one liked me. (Just like an alcoholic geographical move!) It worked for a while each time, because being new holds its own mystique. It was a mystique that was familiar, because we moved so often when I was growing up. My brief experiences of popularity were always tied to a move - it meant escape from my problems and an opportunity to reinvent myself. It meant I never really had to work through anything, so whenever problems did emerge, I just waited until the inevitable move to start again. This time it would be different.

One would think that all of this transition would have taught me that the problem of reinvention was complicated by the fact that I was always bringing myself on these moves. But somehow it didn't. I just never made the connection.

I entered adulthood with multiple coping strategies - when things got difficult I moved to a new city (always justified by a job) or changed jobs to avoid dealing with the feeling that I was a fraud and couldn't do anything well. Eventually, I found alcohol. Which was even better, because it was easier. Always in reach. A move in a bottle that transported me out of myself and my problems for a few hours. And with a husband and family, it was far less disruptive than a move, and far simpler than finding a new job. Until it wasn't.

What I find now is that it's tempting to view my dissatisfaction and feelings of hopelessness, that you aren't good enough, as a reason to try to change the externals. I'm really struggling at the moment, because I feel like I'm such a failure. That I can't do anything right. My nightmare is a series of lists, filled with tasks I don't think I can ever complete. I want to hide under the covers for days at a time with only fiction and chocolate. I want to escape. And there is no escape. I know that now. And it makes me so angry and frustrated. It's like there are competing voices in my head, one anxiously seeking to escape, and the other screaming grow up already Tara!

Knowing that the only way out is through is a good thing. Knowing that an external change won't fix anything is also very good. And I don't want to drink again. One of my biggest fears is getting to a point where that sounds like a good idea.

But I guess I'm still a bit stuck - because though I try to figure out the way through.... I'm coming up with a blank today. My mind is still spinning with possible ways to get out of these feelings, rather than sit with them. However, sharing them does definitely help.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Five Months

So it's almost been five months since I hit bottom and cut myself. Even though I have only two months of continual sobriety, last night I was thinking about the radical changes that have happened within since that night. It's difficult to explain, but I've gone from a depressed, resentful, angry, fearful, hopeless person to a strong(ish), happy person who is dealing with a much smaller bucket of resentment, anger and fear. Doesn't sound like much, but believe me, the difference is astonishing. I really just can't believe the changes in myself. That poor woman almost seems like someone else now.

A few days ago, someone mentioned that even if there was a pill he could take to remove his alcoholism, he wouldn't take it. He felt gratitude for what had happened as a result. It's a controversial issue, because the pill would conceivably solve the drinking problem. But in order to work, the underlying premise must be that all of our problems are caused by the effects of alcohol on our bodies and minds.

In digging through my past I realize that I was "broken" a long time before I picked up my first drink. As a child in an alcoholic family, I didn't have many healthy coping mechanisms...I spent my teens consumed by exercise and bulimia (I can remember wishing I could be anorexic, because bulimia felt so pathetic). In every case, I was able to pretend that control, will power, and evasion had solved the underlying problems, once the self-destructive behavior was stopped. I was able to convince everyone in my life, including my doctors, that I could stop on my own. And, in the end, I did. But I was never in recovery.

It took this disease to bring me to my knees and admit I needed help. It took AA and the wisdom of all of you recovering alcoholics to show me how to address the core issues. This is a life problem, not a drinking problem. The physical effects of alcohol compound the issue, but aren't at it's core.

So, the ability to take a pill so that I could have a few beers without going crazy, doesn't make much sense to me. On this side of the fence, it feels like I've given up one small thing, in exchange for the world.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Absence Makes the Heart...

I was going to write "break" in the title, but realize that's not quite what I mean. I may mean "scab over" or "scar" or something similar.

As with anyone, I have a long list of regrets. One of the biggest concerns I have been wrestling with is the impact that my drinking had, or may have had, on my daughters. They are six and eight. At meetings people often remark that I'm lucky to be dealing with my alcoholism now, rather than later, because I'll have done less damage. While this is certainly true, I'm still heartbroken that I waited so long to be here for them.

The interesting thing about children is that they typically accept whatever family they have as representative of what family's are like (until they realize they aren't....). They unconsciously modify themselves to fit into the structure they find as a means of survival. Put a child in a family where mom or dad is always "tired", depressed, and/or "weird" and I think children tend to shut down. In my case, instead of talking with mom about what's bothering them, they try to find other strategies. Instead of being engaged or affectionate, they hide away in their rooms.

While I thought I managed to sheild my kids from the effects of my drinking, several factors suggest I didn't do such a hot job. Sure, they never asked me why "I drank so much" or saw me stumble around (or did they?). Watching my husband drink even a little suggests to me that they were deeply confused about us and the effects the drink had, whether joyful exhuberance or melancholy were the result. They definitely heard the loud blackout-induced fights and were frightened.

The other factors that suggest the familial impact of my drinking are only evident now that I've stopped drinking. At first, it was an internal shift. I saw myself finally "seeing" my children as children. I loved them more, simply because my absorption in my own pain was lessened. The second thing I noticed is that they seemed to want to spend more time with me. Third,  I started to notice them really pushing back against the boundaries I set - whether because I finally had the strength for rules, or because they are starting to trust the new more balanced person they see before them, I don't know. But the last, most heartbreaking change has been that they are finally expressing their sadness and fear.

They've done this before...when things at school were at a breaking point. When they could no longer hold it inside. But now, they're really starting to talk about their worries, sadness, and concern. Now that I'm not so inaccessible, I feel they're starting to rely on me to be there for them. I feel such deep gratitude to be given this chance to support them and provide them with some building blocks. But I also feel such sadness and regret that they had to wait so long for a mom.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

The Perfect Storm...for Getting Wasted

Yesterday I had one of those days. Everything at work was spinning at mach speed and threatening to spiral out of control. Not only that, but everyone seemed so grouchy and unappreciative of all of the effort I was putting in. Perfect conditions for a pity party...the storm that always led me to drink.

To be honest, I didn't "want" a drink yesterday. But, did feel a deep nostalgia for the feelings a good shot of vodka brought me. When I was drinking, anytime I felt out of control and ready to just give up on everything, a drink killed those feelings and replaced them with the feeling that I could handle anything that came my way. The flush gave me a sense of accomplishment, fearlessness and a super-human ability to get things done.

Difficult to explain. But, I'm sure you know exactly what I'm talking about.

I got through the day, one thing at a time. I tried to accept the feelings as they were. And I went to a meeting.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Bottoms Up

I've spoken about the lows that led me to stop drinking, but there is another key element in what it takes to "hit bottom" - how happy you think you should be. This is dependent on all of the excuses that kept me drinking. My big ones were: a very stressful job, a big move, and a too-small house. (The last one was definitely grasping at straws.) Over the last year that I was drinking I looked everywhere but inside to justify my drinking and can say that I honestly believed that if the externals changed my drinking would naturally follow suit. Here's a shortlist of all of the externals I tried to change:
  1. Moved to Canada!
  2. I found a much less stressful job (at the time it was anyway).
  3. We moved into a lovely large house with a fantastic yard.
  4. I started doing yoga and jogging - was only occasionally able to actually execute.
  5. I worked from home.
  6. I seriously considered a "miracle" diet - and yes, I was briefly fooled by the Acai Berry pills.
  7. I signed up for Karate.
  8. I bought make-up and had my hair styled.
  9. I read marriage improvement books.
  10. I read sarcastic "mommy-track" blogs in an attempt to justify my cynicism.
Most of these were failures, because I just didn't have the energy to consistently do any of them. I was able to read endless blogs because it fit in with my natural urge to procrastinate. Ultimately, it came down to the house/job combination. I had so totally convinced myself that if I worked in a less crazed environment and had a house I liked away from that crazy Silicon Valley pursuit of technical nirvana, I would simply drink less. Like a normal person.

Instead, I continually bashed my head against the wall, because nothing I did made any difference to the amount I drank. In the final months, I would find myself wandering around the house in the middle of the night with a drink in hand, wondering why in the hell I wasn't happy. I knew I should be happy. It was clear that anyone else in my shoes would be happy, or at least content. Yet, night after night, I found myself up late at night confused by how I'd arrived at this state. Despite attempts to point to externals, I just couldn't continue making shit up in a way that was believable to me.

Anyway, whether or not anyone thinks I have a high bottom or not, I do think that individual sense of reaching bottom is inextricably linked with those expectations we have for ourselves. I think it's unique for each person and not necessarily dependent on the specifics of what we've lost to drinking. It's at that point where our denial and lies can no longer be scotch-taped together into a semblance of believability that we hit bottom.

EDITED TO ADD: I don't mean that I have high standards...only that I think I would have continued drinking for much longer if I hadn't made the changes I did. I don't know if that makes any sense. I guess what I meant is I got caught in a net of my own lies and promises.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Resentment is a Nasty Bitch

For the past few days I've been stuck in "poor me" anger. I've had the sense that it's just not fair. My life would be fantastic, if only X happened, or didn't happen. I've been grouchy and bitchy as a result.

Thanks to everything I've read, I know that resentment is anger lived over, and it was the essential thing that kept me drinking all those years. It is the one thing that could lead me back to that life.

I am a very lucky person. I have a job, a family who loves me, and am healthy. So I know there's no reason or excuse for a pity party. And yet, the concept that "everything is as it should be now" has baffled me. I've spent the last fifteen years of my life grasping and struggling for the next thing. Things are good? Let's figure out how to get them to great. Things suck? Let's figure out how to dig myself out of the hole. I can honestly say there hasn't been a time in my life, even when I was practicing yoga and meditation, where I even tried to accept the present as is. I always had a list. I always knew at any moment what needed to change.

Some of the changes were external things I had no control over, and some were instruments of self-torture, designed to ensure I never felt good enough. But I never took time to attempt acceptance and gratitude or serenity "in the now". Even when I thought that was what I was doing.

This has changed over the past few months. Daily, I take time to be thankful. But I now know that underneath the resentment still rages. This is a block to both long term sobriety and peace. It's not about changing other people or circumstances, but about changing me. It's something I really need to work on.

Friday, November 5, 2010

The Nature of Time

I've noticed something over the past few weeks - one's sense of time is truly malleable when it comes to the power exerted by alcohol . In the first days of sobriety I constantly kept track of minutes, hours and days. At any given moment I knew the complete breakdown of my sobriety. I wondered how I would ever get to a big enough number. Thoughts and memories of drinking were always present and I clung to those hours and minutes in an attempt to keep going.

Now it's become so habitual to not drink, that I actually just went through the calendar to manually count the days so I could see when I was supposed to hit day 60. In my last post, I said Wednesday. But it was actually Thursday. I find myself losing track of the time.

I think the one thing I really want to say in all of this is that it does get easier. I can't tell you how impossible even one day felt at the beginning. Or a week. Truly insurmountable goals. If you're trying to quit drinking, or have already quit, then you know exactly what I mean. For months on end these "tiny" milestones truly were insurmountable. The impossibility was confirmed each time I broke my promises to myself.

When I finally admitted I was an alcoholic, I believed everyone who said it would get easier. I believed there was a way out of the hellish existence I was living. But at the same time, I really didn't know what that meant. Would it be easier, the way that a diet got easier? Still feeling the pull of the chocolate cake every time, but easier to resist? Still consumed by thoughts of drinking, of escape, but more practised in the art of saying no?

For me, easier hasn't meant any of those things. The daily admission of powerlessness has removed the pull. The road ahead may be hard - based on the stories I hear in the rooms, we are never out of the woods. There will be days where it feels like that impossible diet; the disease is always with us. But most days, the pull just isn't with me. It was possible to escape the daily and hourly pull to obliterate.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Where Does the Time Go???

I can't believe it's been almost a week since my last post. Between work and Halloween, I've been slammed.

I was talking to someone about going into treatment versus quitting on your own. She thought it was amazing that I'd been able to quit "on my own." Looking back, I honestly have no idea how it was possible to do so. There were a few reasons I didn't pursue treatment (Warning: none of them are particularly good) . First, I really don't think I valued myself enough to take that time - time that would have put my needs at the front of the line. I've always been someone who is quiet, or um, silent, about my pain and I have difficulty with the openness and vulnerability. It would have taken alot of communication to make treatment a viable option. Because my problem was a "secret," no one suggested it was necessary for me to quit drinking at all, never mind a treatment program. Second, I lined up my excuses: work, children, family responsibilities, money. That said, I hope (against hope) that I would have gone for treatment if I'd failed even one more time.

That said, I do think it was difficult. (I mean, it's always hellishly difficult, but bear with me.) I admitted my problem with alcohol on June 25th, but it took over two months to really believe that I could never drink again. In July, I had a month-long relapse that pulled me back in deeply. Only the scars on my wrist kept the cracks in the denial from sealing. Quitting again in late July, I still had two lost weekends. I started over four or five times to get here today. Sometimes I think it would have been easier for me to stay quit if I'd gone into treatment. As it is, I'm so thankful that as risky as quitting "on my own" now seems, I've been able to get some sobriety under my belt. That is grace. The air quotes are an indicator that I didn't quit on my own...without my higher power, I'd still be sitting here clutching my desk.

On the other hand, I do wonder if those slips have helped to concretize my sobriety. I don't question it. So far, I don't regret it, or miss the old life, or second guess my dependence (though, of course this could happen later.) I think we all have done "horrible things" when we were drinking and were somehow able to excuse, forget, and deny so that we could keep drinking. During my relapse, I went one week as a "moderate" drinker, before I was back into the usual: drinking during the day, sneaking extra wine, drinking before and after dinner, and thinking about my next drink constantly. Waking up in panic, with deep self-loathing. With each slip that came later, I learned how fucking tired I'd always been. That bone-weary, body-aching existence I'd forgotten, yet somehow managed to live with for five years. How I managed to stay "high-functioning" I'll never know. I think even if I stayed up all night now, I wouldn't be half as tired as I always was when I was drinking.

As 60 days approaches (Wednesday!) I feel deep gratitude for the pink scars on my wrist, because they continue to remind me how close to the edge I was living. Not to be too melodramatic (I hope!) but it's like the part of my soul not consumed by the disease used the only means available at the time to send me a message. I never again want to be in a position where such last ditch efforts are required. And I'm thankful for the sheer difference even (almost) two months of sobriety has made, because even though on the surface, I'm still pretty much the same person, beneath the surface there has been a radical change. I feel a deep sadness for that woman who believed there was no way to escape, and deep gratitude for the woman beginning to emerge.

...too sappy?...likely...but I'm leaving it as it is anyway :)
Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...