Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Facing the Fear

Fear is insidious. For me at least, it seems that each time a fear is slayed another one rises to the surface. One of my biggest fears hits the core of "being good enough." This permeats both work, relationships, and family. I am working on it - by naming it, by affirming my gifts, and by attempting to leap with faith.

I have to believe I'm getting better. That said, much of the work that has gone on is still far below the surface. It will take time before these changes are reliably visible. I am enforcing patience on this. At least for myself. At the end of the day, how others feel about my progress is out of my control. I have to let that go, and maintain faith that self-acceptance and loving-kindness is possible.

All this to say - I will be back to my daily writing beginning tomorrow. I miss you all and thank you for reading.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Under a Mountain

Work has been insanely busy this week so I haven't had time to do any writing. I've missed it. Life is unfolding in ways that I never imagined. I never imagined I would have conversations with my husband about sobriety, for example. I never expected I would be able to handle politically awkward conversations with honesty and integrity. I also never thought that life could be this peaceful.

Yesterday was my one-year anniversary on the blog. I never thought I'd still be writing, nor that I'd still have so much to say. I feel truly blessed by this community and all of the gifts I've received because of it.Thank you all for your comments and emails - they've really kept me going during difficult times. They add to my happiness when times are good. I love having this space to write about my thoughts and feelings - it's very therapeutic.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

The Good News Shortlist

In puzzling about for today's post, I thought I would take a moment and share a list of things I'm grateful for:
  1. BlogHer is featuring one of my posts, "What!?! No Ticker Tape Parade?" on August 28th! On both the home and Health sections. I'm astonished, really, and also excited.
  2. I am getting my tattoo tomorrow. (I know you're thinking, "what tattoo?")
  3. I am taking better care of myself these days, doing yoga, taking vitamins, and preparing to quit smoking.
  4. The kids go back to school next week and I'm looking forward to the return of routine.
  5. On Thursday it's my Blog Anniversary!
It's a shortlist. There are many other things I'm grateful for, but for the moment I'm stuggling with my anonymous status. I need to make some choices about that status so that I can feel freer to share identifiable details about myself. I plan to seriously think on it.

I hope you're having a good day today. And if not, I hope you're taking care of yourself.

Monday, August 22, 2011

The Power of Shame

On Friday I was an asshole. No, really, this is not about me being too hard on myself. I said rude and obnoxious things about someone I really do not like. To add to the horror, I was overheard. I realized at some point that I would likely not have even felt bad about saying the rude things if I hadn't been caught. This further led to the realization that I'm more troubled at the idea of being perceived as an asshole, than of being an asshole.

Enough said. On the positive side of things, I'm willing to take responsibility for the things I said and will apologize for the childishness of it all. I will be more open about my feelings so they do not become bottled up and ready to spill over. I will own my grumpier, uglier side (and will even try to love it, rather than hate it) and realize that everyone has days like that where they are shocked and horrified by their behavior. I will accept that I am like everyone else in this respect.

And the next time I feel like spouting off, I'll remember the red-hot-faced feeling of shame, and pause for a moment to consider my actions.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Bottom Lines and the Unexpected

When I write my posts, I often feel I've exposed myself - sometimes I fear over-exposure. Then, when I go back and re-read them, I realize I'm sharing what's in my head and heart with the expectation that you have access to all of the background information. Without all of the background information, what feels like over-exposure to me, really isn't telling you very much about the raw details. Or maybe I did already share the raw details and just don't remember? That's always a possibility with stream of consciousness writing. Or maybe it's simply age. 

Anyway. As you probably already know I've been working on loving detachment (sometimes only succeeding with hating detachment) for the past year so that I could accept my husband's drinking, while at the same time working my own program of sobriety. Over time his drinking patterns changed from horrific to sometimes excessive. We have had three or four serious conversations about it, but for the most part I accepted the words of other alcoholics that "nothing anyone says will change someone else's drinking." Even when we did discuss it, I tried to make the conversation about my feelings, rather than his behavior. I always thought that he'd change eventually and assumed I would just need to wait it out.

I never really considered what I would do if he didn't. The idea of leaving the marriage was incomprehensible to me. The more I worked my own program, the more I was able to see that this incomprehensibility was a symptom of my own codependency and denial. I began to imagine what life might be like if we separated. After trying and trying to find peace within the relationship, I began to see that my choice looked like this: 

a) stay married, with everything "as is"
b) separate and take a break from the ups and downs of living with someone who drinks

I admitted that I could not accept everything as it was, nor had I been able to find peace. I admitted that damage was being done to my children, partly because of my stress, and that separation offered the only opportunity I could see for a peaceful life. I received excellent counsel. I pushed my own limits with respect to letting go of outcomes. I told my husband that I could no longer live with his drinking and that I wanted to separate.

For a few days, he held firm. So did I. Then, on the third day, he said he would quit. I was flabbergasted, frustrated, and annoyed. This was not an outcome I had prepared myself for. I agreed to wait and see, but wasn't sure where we would go - that I might still want to separate. 

So far, so good. I see a lot of positive changes. I am working to keep my own side of the street clean, focusing on my sobriety, and letting things unfold. In the beginning, I didn't expect it to last; I am letting go of that fear too. I still don't know how this will turn out and am working to accept that regardless whether I stay or go, I still won't know how everything will turn out. For now, I'm feeling peace and leaving the worry to the universe.

I really appreciate all of the comments you've left over the past several months. You all kept me keeping on.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

What?!? No Ticker Tape Parade?

When I first quit drinking and told people about it, I had three typical responses:
  1. Apathy: many people really didn't care either way. Either they weren't close enough to me to realize I had a problem, or were unaffected by it. For the most part, their own relationships to alcohol were such that they didn't really think very much about addiction.
  2. Disdain/Fear: Some people insisted that I didn't have a problem at all and was being somewhat reactionary. As a result, I think they were suddenly concerned about how I would view their drinking habits. (aka - if I didn't have a problem and thought I did, would I look at them and decide they did as well?) There are the same people who suddenly don't know how to invite me out with them, because they suddenly realized how many activities revolve around drinking.
  3. Distrust: Because I'd promised and promised already, some people who were close to me just didn't trust me to follow through on this new promise.
I had initially expected...applause? Yes. Dammit. I did. I expected people to be so thrilled that I was taking this step, in part because it is the most difficult thing I've ever attempted. Also, because I spent most of my childhood wishing for that one miraculous event with my dad. I put long hours into daydreaming about how perfect my life would be without alcohol.

Still. I was fairly surprised at the responses I received. As a result I had to learn how to be sober for me, rather than looking outward for approval and support. By owning my sobriety I have the freedom to define my own needs and wants and don't put it at risk because I feel I'm not supported. I learned that actions really do speak louder than words and that I can rebuild trust if I'm patient.

I've been thinking about this quite alot in the context of my marriage. It is very tempting to believe that my actions will prevent, or lead to, my husband's drinking. It is tempting to feel responsible for his sobriety and to feel guilty for not being "a wife" right now. At the same time, I realize that he must face this on his own and find his own solution to life's problems. He must own his own sobriety. The only way for him to do this is if I stay out of the way. So far, I see fairly positive changes. I am hopeful that he hangs on and continues, but right now, that is as far as I can take things. I am very fearful that he'll start drinking again and it will take time for trust to regenerate in our relationship. I'm also aware that it may never happen. Right now, I'm trying to take things one day at a time and let go of the outcomes.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Take a Few Days Off...

...and forget how to write. My typical practice for writing is to let an idea surface to mind while I walk my dog. It's great. This morning it didn't work out. My brain feels incredibly mushy. It's Monday and I hate my job. Really, really, HATE it. I realized over the weekend that I've done everything I can think of to be more productive, to change the way I feel about it, and to try to make it work. While I have short-term gains, the most consistent feeling I have is that I don't want to be here.

It's challenging, in part because I do put too much pressure on myself to perform well, but also because I'm simply not accustomed to battling laziness. In this case, it takes all of my energy to stay on task.

I'm not sure what I'll do next, but for the moment I am working on accepting the way things are now.

Fingers are crossed that tomorrow's topic-surfacing works out.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Spiritual Bypass

As I was procrastinating yesterday, I came across a blog post in Psychology Today about emotional sobriety. In it the author, Ingrid Mathieu, notes the conundrum we're often faced with in recovery: we're promised that if we work our programs we'll be "happy, joyous, and free," and yet continue to experience feelings of loss, sadness, depression, anger, and resentment. She argues that the key to "emotional sobriety" is developing the ability to feel your emotions - all of them - the good, the bad, the ugly, and even the ones that feel selfish and unfair. She writes:

Sometimes emotional sobriety is about tolerating what you are feeling. It is about staying sober no matter what you are feeling. It means that you don't have to blame yourself or your program because life can be challenging. It means that you don't necessarily need to do something to make the feeling go away. Many people will take their bad feeling and try to pray it, meditate it, service it, spiritually distract themselves from it, thinking that this means they are working a good program. This experience is actually called spiritual bypass.
What struck me most about this post is that although I do know that it's natural to try to evade painful emotions, I have struggled with the idea of whether I'm doing a "good" program. When I'm angry or unhappy, I become defensive about how much work I'm doing, rather than sit with the feeling. When I feel good, I want that feeling to go on and on, but when I'm feeling bad, I push against it, straining to find that good feeling again. I realize that many view this habit as a carry-over from addiction, when we're all medicating ourselves with precision so that we don't feel the bad feelings, I honestly think it is a basic human tendency.

The other element of the piece that really slammed into me was the concept of a "spiritual bypass." That by shoving our authentic feelings under the carpet of prayer or meditation, we look serene from the outside. No one challenges the strength of our sobriety, not even us. By using "spirituality" as a method for stuffing our feelings, we never resolve them.

This led me to think about the way I evaluate my own program. I tend to think I'm "strong" in my sobriety when I don't have a craving for a drink, when I feel happy and filled with purpose. If I struggle or stumble, I become frightened that I'll drink, and my program feels weak and hopeless. Perhaps if I viewed my sobriety as a thing that just is, neither good or bad, strong or weak, I would feel less pressure to dispel the "bad" feelings. Moreover, perhaps if I could stop creating a dichotomy around my experiences, I might feel even better about my life in general.

Ingrid Mathieu has just published a book on the topic of spirituality and addiction called
Recovering Spirituality, to be released on September 1, 2011. Based on her post, I think it will be a must-read for me. 

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

New Here?

Last night I met someone in crisis. Her world is disintigrating as a result of her drinking. I won't share the details of her story, but I will tell you that it really took me back to the way I was feeling last year. In writing, it is always recommended that you "show," rather than "tell," but in so many ways my memories of the last months of my drinking don't lend themselves to any single, specific event that quintessentially showed me I was an alcoholic. (Outside of the cutting, of course) Rather, it was a cumulation of small events that led me to the certain knowledge that there was no solution to my drinking that would allow me to keep drinking.

What I remember was the never-ending, bone-chilling sense of shame, hopelessness, and fatigue. I was trying as hard as I could to hold my life together. I was constantly putting out fires, yet too tired to go on. Each day when I woke up my head was filled with an endless stream of curses both for what hadn't been done the day before and for what was sure to come next. My primary focal point was to find an escape from my throbbing head and shakey body. Even then, knowing that I had to stop drinking to feel better, I didn't know that my life was unmanageable because of the drinking. I simply knew that I could not go on as I was, but nor could I see any possible way of changing.

The last big idea I had to "quit drinking" was to start taking pills. The notion of actually facing my own life sober was not considered a possibility, so I thought if I could take codeine and muscle relaxers (available over the counter here) I might have a shot. I carried this plan around in my head for several days, considering the risks and benefits. In the end, the only thing that stopped me was the fear that I'd continue to drink and add a new addiction to the mix. I was afraid of dying by this point.

When we express a desire to quit drinking we are told to focus only on today. This is good advice. However, at the time I was drinking every single day, and near the end, drinking started at lunch. I knew that regardless how many times I'd promised myself that I wouldn't drink that day, I always did. The notion of even getting through one day without a drink seemed insurmountable. Impossible. The only thing that got me through the day was an hourly count, endless repetitions of the serenity prayer and the verbal admission that I could NOT control my drinking. When I got the urge to drink this is what I did:
  1. Say (out loud): My name is Tara and I am powerless to control my consumption of alcohol.
  2. Repeat serenity prayer.
  3. Remind myself that it has been x hours since my last drink and only y hours until I can count another 24 hours.
Although I thought the admission of powerlessness would make me feel bad and guilty and like a failure, the opposite actually occurred. I felt like I was walking on air, as though strength infused me. I felt joy. Perhaps it was because it was the first time I hadn't tried to bullshit myself, the first time I spoke my own truth.

If you're still drinking and want to stop, reach out. There are so many of us out here, ready and willing to help. You can do it.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Short Term Gain, Long Term Pain

It's always interesting to look back on life with new perspective. Several months ago I read a book called Why Does He Do That? Inside the Minds of Angry and Controlling Men. I buried the book in the deep recesses of my Kindle and read it surreptitiously (and yes, I did have to look the spelling up in the dictionary, thank you very much) whenever I got the chance. At the time I did not believe that I was in a verbally abusive relationship, rather I thought I was married to an angry drunk and was hoping for some strategies for dealing with the anger. About twenty pages into the book, my perspective shifted completely. Suddenly, I had language to pin to my experience. Honestly, prior to that moment, I couldn't see the blame-shifting, criticism, and retaliation as anything more than my own inability to properly communicate. I always thought that as a feminist, I was immune to a relationship that belittled me.

As they say, once you open your eyes to your situation, it becomes very difficult to close them. Prior to this awareness, I had a list of excuses a mile long to explain and justify my circumstances. While difficult to admit, I'd spent each day making choices that would make my husband's life easier, minimize his irritation, and increase the likelihood that we would be a happy family. This began in earnest when I was a stay at home mother with my first daughter. It was the first time in my life that I was financially dependent on another person. I shifted and merged and tried to make the experience everything I dreamed it should be. Instead of feeling safe and fulfilled, I felt bored and transient. Each time I made a decision based on how my husband would feel, rather than on how I would feel, I gave over more of my identity. In the short term, this worked out well - there were fewer arguments and life seemed easier. Over the longterm, it meant I was continually giving over pieces of myself. I stopped caring about what we did, what we ate for dinner, who we spent time with, because "it didn't matter." As mundane as that sounds, the end result was that I didn't care very much about my own opinion. Ultimately, over time the strategy also seemed to work less effectively.

There are a few other things I learned from that book. The first is that being drunk does not mean your are more likely to be verbally abusive. Bancroft makes it clear that in order for a drunk person to be verbally abusive, they have to believe, according to their moral code, that the behavior is okay. If he doesn't think it's okay, then he won't do it, regardless how much he's had to drink. From my own experience, I can say that things were definitely worse when he was drinking - but when I looked really closely at the behavior, I could see that it permeated our relationship all the time. The second thing I learned is that nothing really innoculates us from this type of relationship. It doesn't matter how many women's studies classes you take, how much feminist consciousness-raising you do, how many degrees you have, how "too smart" you are to be sucked in. (I know this is obvious...maybe...it wasn't to me) Giving over my identity little by little was not an active conscious choice. It was a slow burn. If I hadn't read that book, I'm not sure I would have noticed it for what it was.

The point of my post is this: I always thought that saying nasty things when you're drunk is normal (I know that I did it sometimes). I want to tell anyone who relates to this part of my story that it isn't normal. It's not okay. It doesn't even have to be extreme to count. In my case, it wasn't extreme and for the most part it was fairly infrequent. But the overall effect on my mood, confidence, and well-being, when I finally looked at it, was extreme. I was afraid to speak my mind, be open about my feelings, and make decisions based on what I wanted.

Over time, I can see improvement. The work I've done in Alanon - detachment, focus on myself, belief that I am valuable - has really helped. The other thing that resulted in a massive change was action. One night last winter, I called the police because the ranting didn't stop. You can too. There is help available and I hope you find the courage to find it. No one needs to live like that.

Monday, August 8, 2011

All Roads Point to Forgiveness

I've been struggling to determine next steps over the past few weeks and every sign seems to point towards the need to work on forgiveness. There was an article in a Yoga magazine I randomly flipped open, the three "self-help" books I'm reading, and it came up in a random conversation about something totally different. I spent part of the weekend doing Lovingkindess meditation. In the midst of the meditation I almost had a panic attack. Has anyone else experienced this (I'm looking at you Wolfie)? It was very strange, and I tried to sit with the emotion, but in the end, I jumped up and started vaccumming.

I'll have to continue to revisit. It really does seem like the next step is to work on forgiving my husband and myself for the past, regardless what happens next.

Friday, August 5, 2011

One Hundred Years Ago

There was one night of drinking in my twenties that really stands out for me. I was twenty-four, still in graduate school and living in Toronto. I'd built quite a bohemian lifestyle at that point, shaving off the uncool parts of myself to the point where I was nearly unrecognizable. I met a friend for "a drink" one night at a bar populated by young financial district guys. At this point, I drank martinis because they really were the cheapest way to get drunk. But they also seemed urban and exotic. For the most part I drank gin straight up, but sometimes found the chocolatinis or crantinis preferable, because their fun-loving appearance contributed to my status as a party girl. Looking back, I'm sure I was insufferable.

Anyway, there were a few stand-up comics at the bar performing that night. By this point in the evening, I'd had at least two, possibly three, four ounce martinis. I was drunk. I thought I was "cute-drunk," and was making fun of the business-suit-types in the bar. My friend left. I had planned to leave once I finished my drink, but one of the comics came over to talk to me. He bought me a drink I didn't need. Even in the farthest reaches of my mind, I was not attracted to this man. He was arrogant and jokingly belittled me. Back then I saw this as a sign of intelligence in potential suitors. (Because I was such a brilliant academic, only the smartest men would be able to see through that... ) I ribbed him back and soaked up the attention. The bar began to clear out.

I was ready to go and he said he would walk me home. Upon arrival at my apartment building I remembered I couldn't bring him upstairs because my roomate had a strict rule about not having overnight guests. I'd planned to go up alone and thought he would leave it at that. I gave him my number, desperately hoping he wouldn't call, because in my heart I already knew the evening had been a mistake. However, in my malleable, inebriated state, I found myself in a cab with him going to his place. I was slipping in and out of consciousness by this point (I have to wonder what he was thinking? Why seduce the severely drunk girl?), and was propelled forward by circumstances I was too out of it to control.

I can still remember the moment when I snapped out of it, realizing that I was about to have sex with a guy I didn't like and didn't know, and burst into tears. I was lucky that night, because the simple fact of my tears was enough of a turn off. I don't remember what we talked about in the dark, but I do remember lying there, waiting for first light so that I could get the hell out of the situation. I am grateful that he wasn't an asshole - I put myself in danger that night and the worst that happened was I felt like utter crap for days.

Although there were other times I did regrettable things while I was drinking, this one really got to me. I couldn't shake the sense that I'd done something so completely out of character, simply because I was drinking. I figured at this point that I should stop. I knew that my drinking was out of control. There were days I went in to teach where my hands were visibly shaking and it was all I could do to stay conscious. I was falling apart fast, and had I not left grad school, I'm sure someone would have noticed and intervened.

Of course we all know that I didn't stop. I kept a closer eye on my drinking and pretended to moderate, but at the end of the day, I kept going for twelve more years.

Today I have eleven months of continuous sobriety. I am so thankful that I no longer "find" myself in these situations, unable to act in my own best interests. I do not miss the hollow, aching, shell of a person I was last year, I do not miss even the "good" times drinking occasionally brought. I do not miss the hangovers - dry, acrid mouth, pounding head, shaking hands, queasy stomache, exhausted outlook - either. And while I do not know where I'll find myself a year from now, I am fully confident I will not be in bed with a stranger, wishing for someone to rescue me from myself.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

My Very First Ever Award

for blogging that is...

I was nominated by Dawn who blogs over at Recovering Dawn. I am often inspired by her wisdom and strength, finding courage to keep putting one foot in front of the other so that I can find the peace she has.

As part of this award I have the opportunity to pass it on, by highlighting my favorite ten blogs. This is not an easy task. I currently follow 42 blogs. Yikes. Good thing all of you don't write every single day or I would never get any work done. I am exceedingly grateful for each and every one of you who takes time to write about your recovery. I am often inspired, comforted, cheered up, and strengthened by reading your story.

That said, picking and choosing must simply be done:

Guinevere Gets Sober
I love the "current events" side to her posts. She keeps me in the loop and always reminds me that we can empower ourselves to change.

Jilli Java and the Garden of Eden
Kristin reminds me that there is simple humor and strength in living sober. Her posts always make me laugh or make me think.

Diary of an Alcoholic in Recovery
Helps me to remember what it was like to be newly sober - the good and the bad. I so appreciate her honesty and genuineness.

Writing My Way Sober
I'm always reminded of the importance of looking at my own shame when I read her courageous posts.

I'm going to save the other six for another day. I do thank each and everyone of you on my blogroll - you keep me inspired in both writing and in sobriety. And thank you Dawn for the nomination!

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

I Feel Bad About My Post

Not because what I wrote was untrue. When I look into my heart it is true. Where I tie myself in knots about it is because of the awareness of the choices I made at each juncture that resulted in the relationship I now have with my husband. Forgiveness and understanding are key to peace and I can forgive him for the actions that have hurt me. (I haven't yet...but I am working through it.) Where I get stumped is in the knowledge that I must also take responsibility for my own actions and forgive myself. It is true that I conceded miles to maintain the inches. I took the expedient action to keep the peace, without considering the longer range implications. I have tried to manage and control my family so that the immediate pain could be smoothed over.

We do not exist in a vaccuum. Our actions and reactions influence the actions and reactions of those around us. Theirs do too. Many of the feelings and responses I have are predicated on the coping skills I learned as a child growing up in an alcoholic home. I feel a visceral fear when I'm around people who are drunk, particularly men. When I drank too, I found courage and felt invincible. I was able to ignore and shape shift. I began to apply this "secret weapon" in other circumstances and I found it worked there too. I kept broadening its application until I was drinking to deal with every single thing that came up in my life. Feelings of self-loathing: drink, job insecurity: drink, sadness: drink, disappointment: drink, tiredness: drink. I'm sure you know what I mean. And suddenly I was consumed. This is my part. I am responsible for the effects of my own evasion.

This self-forgiveness thing is tricky. It is tempting to drown in guilt of regrettable decisions. I know this is not the true path to forgiveness. Acceptance is key. Feeling worthy seems significant as well. It's a difficult place to seek when you are used to beating yourself up all the time. Anyway, I do realize it's essential and am on the path - just still looking for markers.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Wishing For Courage

I've begun to describe this part of my marriage as the purgatory part. It's the time when I go back and forth between staying and leaving. My list largely comes down to the "fear" and the "should." When I think about all that is involved in decoupling a marriage of ten years, the fear of this change nearly overwhelms me. I feel paralysis. This leads me directly into the land of the shoulds: I should be able to make this work, I should think about the pain I'll cause the girls, I should be able to continue becoming the person I know I am despite the obstacles, I should be supportive of his sobriety.

When I step back the air is clear. I don't want this marriage. My husband has a script in our fights. It involves bringing up the last ten years of our relationship. I hate this trick. I find it obscures solutions and shifts blame. Nothing I say alters this script. Today I thought I'd use it for myself; so, for ten years I've done the following:
  1. For ten years I've put my career third. His was first, followed by taking on all of the familial responsibilities.
  2. For ten years I've been in a relationship with a partner who never hears what I say, minimizes my concerns, and fails to "get it."
  3. For ten years, I've watched him drink, regardless of how uncomfortable I've been.
  4. For ten years I've had shitty vacations puntuated by his temper tandrums.
  5. For ten years I've chosen him over my kids wherever there was a conflict.
  6. For ten years I drank so that I wouldn't notice all of the times I'd compromised myself.
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