Friday, September 30, 2011

Book Review Fridays: Recovering Spirituality

In Recovering Spirituality: Achieving Emotional Sobriety in Your Spiritual Practice, Ingrid Mathieu addresses heady topics of spirituality, AA, and the notion of spiritual bypass. Spiritual bypass is a process through which we use spiritual ideas and practices to justify our refusal to deal with emotional or psychological issues. She writes:
Spiritual bypass involves bolstering our defenses rather than our humility. Bypass involves grasping rather than gratitude, arriving rather than being, avoiding rather than accepting. It serves as a protection and as a roadblock momentarily, intermittently, or pervasively.
The primary consistent point throughout the book is that authenticity and honesty are key to longterm recovery. All too often, it is easy to equate "spiritual fitness" with the "happy, joyous an free" times in our lives. The danger inherent in this outlook is the assumption that during down times, we may assume we aren't spiritually fit, that we're down because we're doing something wrong. Mathieu points out that "a split has occurred between active addiction as tied to all things unpleasant and recovery being equated with all things grand." This outlook overlooks the simple fact that ups and downs are part of this life. Additionally, we all have positive and negative traits.

By tying spiritual fitness to a positive outlook, we miss out on essential components of ourselves and our experiences, limiting the extent of our recovery:
In the context of this book, integrating both the light and dark aspects of one's self is an essential component to experiencing a psychic change - psychological and spiritual recovery - in the program. Integrating the fullness of the human condition into one's spiritual practice is what leads to emotional sobriety.
Mature spirituality takes us beyond black and white thinking about our circumstances. By taking steps to honestly see and accept ourselves as we are, we are able to get beyond magical thinking. In her book, Mathieu uses case studies of individuals in AA to discuss specific elements of spritual bypass, noting both the positive and negative consequences bypass had for the individuals she interviewed. Additionally, she discusses Bill Wilson's struggle balance his own authenticity with the AA's organizational need for a spiritual leader.

At the onset of her research for the book, Mathieu thought that spiritual bypass was automatically a negative practice. The more she spoke with AAers and analysed their expereinces, the more she came to see that spiritual bypass can be a positive step - it can act as a period of repose that allows us to protect ourselves from painful realities until we're ready to address them head on. This was valuable to me, because it allowed me to see my own denial through a lense of acceptance rather than judgement.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

On Whining and Gratitude

I’m so tired. I don’t want to be here. I hate this job so much and wish for something different. I don’t want another job like this. I hate this industry and I hate pretending I give a shit about any of it. I want to write. I want to contribute. I would rather be teaching yoga, working with other alcoholics, writing books and articles.
I’m trying to keep the blog from becoming my online journal of woes and complaints. It’s difficult to stay positive when it feels like I’ve been wallowing in frustration at the way my life is going. Many things have changed since last year. I am now able to see inaction as action. I am now able to see that waiting to see what happens is an alternative to blindly forging ahead. This was not true six or eight months ago. I’m also able to see that when we sit idly by, watching our resentments pile up, action is required. I can choose to keep working through resentments I feel, but I can also take positive action to remove myself from relationships that no longer work for me. There is no failure in the honest admission that it just doesn’t work for me.
I’m often plagued by “shoulds” when I begin to consider my options. Knowing that thinking in terms of “should” is unhelpful, somehow does not result in stoppage.  As with many things, knowing the “right” thing to do does not always result in doing the right thing. Of course, this is human.
I’ve found it helpful to create a gratitude list when I’m in this sort of mood, so here goes:
1.       I’ve started a walk/run program and I’m grateful that running clears so much sludge from my brain.
2.       I’m sober. Sober is really really good.
3.       I am slowly making some great connections with other writers. Their encouragement is amazing and gives me incentive to keep taking baby steps in this writing thing.
4.       My closet is organized and the floors have been vacuumed.
5.       I’m going out for lunch today.
6.       My family is healthy and, for the most part, happy.
7.       My knitting is going well – I feel creatively inspired.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

No One Can Change Your Karma

“No one can change your Karma. Not even Buddha.”
From Right Here With You

When I read this line relief ran through me. In all of the stretching and striving and trying to figure out what I should do and what I could do, so that I would know what might happen, there comes an overwhelming sense of weary exhaustion. I try and I try until there is no energy left. I create new narratives about my circumstances out of habit, hoping with each new telling that the path will become clearer and I’ll know what to do. What should be done will present itself to me clearly like the rules in a board game. It’s funny that after all of these years on the planet I’m still looking for the rule book. While I know it doesn’t exist, I have a sneaking suspicion that some people do have one.
In all of this, I miss the point. The point is to be here now. Whether life in this moment is like a day at an amusement park or a walk through primordial ooze, the point is to be present for it. Presence is not required so that the future can be divined or avoided, but rather it is its own reward. While it makes sense to me that being there for desirable events would be rewarding, I continue to push back when it comes to the pain, or even boredom. Intellectually and experientially, I know that we learn from our painful experiences. I also know that discomfort pushes us towards change.
I understand the difference between free will and predestination, thanks to years in Church and several Religious Studies courses in University. But as I sit in the uncomfortable aftermath of getting what I wanted, I find some comfort in knowing that my Karma has already been decided. There are lessons I’ve come here to learn, and those will be taught. I may not learn anything, but the tiny, inconsequential decisions I hammer myself with do not matter when it comes to the larger, potentially life-changing lessons this life will bring.
I also find great comfort in knowing that I cannot change someone else’s Karma. It really takes the pressure off of the small and large decisions I make. It is tempting to try to bear the responsibility for the choices others make. Yes, my decisions and attitude affect them, but it’s nice to know that I won’t over-write their Karmic inheritance. As long as I’m as honest as possible and as present as possible, it’s enough.

Monday, September 26, 2011

So You Want to Quit...Maybe?

Lately, I've been blessed by meeting several different women who are concerned about their drinking. For some, it's because of a deep loss, or a potential loss, anyway. Husbands have established a "quit drinking or else" bottom line and the fear of losing a marriage or the kids prompts the desire. For others, it's a low-level ache, deep within. The sense that there just may be something wrong with their drinking. Perhaps they've tried to control it, without success. Perhaps there's a glimmer of a life they want, but can't quite reach. Perhaps it's just the fear of where drinking might take them if they don't stop now.

These conversations help me to stay sober, in part, because when I'm asked how I quit, I really don't know. In some ways it's something I can't imagine doing again. I don't pick up the drink, because I don't know if I have the personal strength to go through quitting another time.

Anyway, I thought I'd put together another list of suggestions just in case you want to quit, but don't know how. Take what you want and leave the rest. After all, if I can't quite remember how I managed to quit, I'm hardly the perfect scribe; if you've already quit, please add items in the comments!

  1. There is no good time to quit. There will always be an upcoming vacation, stressful time at work, hot day, cold day. There will always be a reason to drink. Today is as good as any other day you might choose.
  2. That said, be kind to yourself. If your mother-in-law is coming for a week-long visit starting tomorrow, you may want to wait until her visit is over. Just don't wait too long, or the day may never arrive.
  3. Take advantage of any "breaks" you can: if your work offers short-term medical/disability leave, investigate it. If insurance will cover treatment, find out what the terms are. Think about what you can do to make things a bit easier for the first few weeks. Ditch as many commitments as you can - it's only for a short while.
  4. Research meetings - although AA is the only option where I live, there are other groups: Women For Sobriety, 16-Step meetings, Rational Recovery, SMART recovery, etc. Look up meeting times, email group leaders, and make a plan to go. With most of these programs, you don't have to quit before you go.
  5. Before you quit, put together a rough plan of how you'll try to handle the cravings. Some examples include: eat candy, go for a run, have a bath, read trashy fiction, scream in your car (I've done this to great effect).
  6. Clear some space...if you usually drink while watching American Idol, or while making dinner, or before bed to get to sleep, change these patterns for a few days. This is highly related to item #5.
  7. Think of one person you can tell. This person should be someone you respect, who cares about you, and has been supportive of you in the past. This should NOT be someone likely to be judgemental or dismissive. In my case, it was a dear friend and my mother. In telling them, it will help you be accountable to you.
  8. Lastly, take it one day at a time MAX. Don't think about the wedding in two months, or how you'll get through tomorrow. Making the decision to quit drinking really changes everything - it will take time. Getting through the minutes and hours is more than enough - taking a longer view will make it nearly impossible to get through the moment.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Book Review Fridays: Spirit Junkie

I read Spirit Junkie: A Radical Road to Self-Love and Miracles within days of reading Trust Your Life. While both books target finding and listening to your inner voice, Spirit Junkie takes a slightly different approach. Gabrielle Bernstein's stated goal is to translate the teachings found in A Course in Miracles for Generation Y.

The foundation of A Course in Miracles is that the path of forgiveness will lead to "inner peace and [act] as a guide to happiness." In common with other Recovery literature, Bernstein insists that much of our pain results from fear as a primary driving force in our lives. She writes that
fear is simply an illusion based on past experiences that we project into the present and onto the future...The lessons of the Course allowed me to see how I replayed this fear from the past in all my relationships from high school onward...When the relationship was over I'd try to anesthetize my pain with food, work, and - worst of all - drugs. I'd do whatever it took to avoid feeling my fears from the past.
The notion that fear can drive our emotions and actions really resonates with me. When I first got sober, I was suddenly able to see how my life was driven by fear - that fear led to pain, self-hatred, and a sense of helpless futility. That fear led me to seek solace in the bottle day after ever-loving day. Denial allowed me to believe the drinking strategy was working, long after it had ceased to offer anything pleasant.

Bernstein's book is divided into three parts: an exporation of fear and its power over our lives, a guide to shifting towards love, and then tools to maintaining happiness. She shares her own experiences as part of each topic and suggests meditation exercises designed to help her readers explore this pain, let go, and access their own inner voice, ~ing, or spiritual guide. Although classified as Self-Help, she does insists that lasting happiness is only possible when we look inward. By looking outward, we become out of sync with our true natures. This isolation breeds more fear.

I took a quick look at Wikipedia to confirm that I am not part of the Generation Y demographic. That said, I read the book anyway. I figured that a decade in San Francisco would provide me with the street cred for understanding and navigating the potential morass of the new age lingo. Overall, there aren't too many "cute" turns of phrase, but there were times when the language seemed forced - a sort of hey, it's all cool dumbing down of the concepts. That said, I am thirty-seven, so it's quite possible that my age led to this perception. I would love to hear the perspective of any Gen-Yers who have read this - It's okay if I've become a fuddy-duddy.

However, this does not impact the over-all message of the book. Bernstein argues that our true nature is based in love, not fear. We each have our own internal guide - peace and serenity lie within us, not outside. It doesn't matter whether we have PhDs, great bodies, or extravagent lifestyles - without an emphasis on our internal lives, nothing else matters. We will continue to strive endlessly for peace, but we won't find it unless we deal with our egos, which live on fear. I'm not certain about the dichotomy between ego/spirit (seems like bad/good), however, as a short form for differentiating the way we've always thought (fear, anger, hate) and the way to re-frame our experience (love, faith, trust), I think the split simplifies the concepts she outlines so that it's easier to keep an eye on the goal.

The other element that I found troubling was the subtle notion that eternal peace and happiness will happen if we can do this right. It suggests that if we don't do it right, then we'll be unhappy. Now, I know that looking inward can improve even the worst circumstances. I've often thought back to the Tina Turner movie, how horrible her circumstances were, and remembered that she was able to use meditation and Buddhism to build strength and peace until she was able to change her external circumstances. I'm sure Bernstein doesn't intend to pass blame to vicitms. That said, all too often in this genre I think authors side-step truly difficult circumstances. Blame is only a breathe away for a reader who may already feel responsible for their victimization.

With that in mind, I can say that over the past year I've really begun to see how powerful a deep connection with my core has changed my life. By meditating and focusing on gratitude, by looking inward, by meditating, my outlook has changed. I see positives where before there were none. I was able to find a modicum of peace under circumstances that were awfully uncertain and stressful. Happily ever after? No. But I came much closer to serenity. Honesty and willingness to listen to my internal guide is the surest way to progress. Nothing else begins to address the internal pain that led me to drink.

If you have any interest in learning more about meditation, finding your inner voice, overcoming addiction or long-standing unhappiness, I highly recommend reading this book. In sharing her own experiences with raw honesty, Bernstein makes the content accessible and thought-provoking. By including guided meditations she takes the book to another level.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Secrets and Sickness

Yesterday after I hit "publish" something shifted. I started to feel better. Last night it occurred to me that one of the reasons I felt better was that I took some shame and poured it out here. I shared how I felt and by doing so, the power of my emotions was diminished. There is a saying in AA, "We are only as sick as our secrets." By keeping quiet about our shame, we grant it power. The deeper we try to bury it in the recesses of our minds, the more those feelings control us. The voices in my head have full range to say any mean thing that comes to mind. I am powerless to silence them. When I am open about my secrets, the negativity is removed. My mind quiets and I no longer feel as though I'm running from unidentified monsters in the dark. This honesty shines a light on what's really bothering me and allows me to go more deeply into the root causes of the surface tension.

Remembering this is difficult for me. Each time I do share, it is somewhat accidental. Each time I realize the benefit. However, in the midst of the turmoil, the solution seems impossible to find. I do what I've always done: I build armies of justification, I try to change the way I feel, I try to ignore the way I feel, I blame myself and invent failures to explain where I'm at. In effect, I do everything but that which I should be doing. I do everything, but accept where I'm at and find someone to talk to about it.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Not Good Enough

This morning Guinevere wrote a post that spoke right to my heart. She said that as children of alcoholics we have a voice in our heads that says: "You are not good enough. You aren't worth it." This voice has been active lately, swirling around in my head relentlessly. It makes me tired. On the weekend I discovered a journal written seven years ago, with only five entries over a five month period. It was set aside, my plans for writing side-tracked. In re-reading those entries, I was struck my how many similarities between the way I feel now and the way I felt then. Here are a few snippets:

On motherhood, with two small children:

I've been doing everything for them and with them without a break. Which is difficult and I don't think it makes me a bad mother or a bad person to feel those effects. Or to want a break from the constant interruptions. It doesn't mean I should go back to work, or that I hate being a mother or anything. It seems pretty normal to feel stress. Despite wanting her to go to daycare, I also find myself wishing we had more time together that was not always interrupted. It would be stupid to believe that it made me a bad parent. And yet he seems to make me feel like it does make me a bad parent. It shakes my confidence because it challenges my own emotions. I think that I'm doing great and making things work and that I don't complain too often or even ask for help, but he acts like I'm over-reacting and being selfish for suggesting I need a breather. As though if I were truly good at this I wouldn't need a break. That the laundry would always be done and the fridge stocked with whatever struck his fancy.

Reading those lines really broke my heart. She sounds so lonely and confused, trying to be everything to everybody, and yet still feeling like it's not enough. Not Good Enough, Tara. Not Good Enough for Anyone. Try harder. Do better. Stop needing anything or anyone. Stop considering yourself.

The one line that really jumped out at me was the idea that part of doing a good job meant I wasn't asking ofr help or talking about how I felt. I remember how isolated I felt and I tried to turn that into proof that I was okay.

I can see some progress since I wrote those words. I am now able to accept that trying to be perfect offers no protection to the soul. I am now able to accept that I have needs which are valid and should be noticed by those who are supposed to care about me. I am now better at asking for help. I am now better able to see that I'm worth it and deserve to be happy, except when I can't see it. I still get caught by that Voice in my head. It shifts me off balance and puts me out of breath and I feel worthless.

Monday, September 19, 2011

But I'm Not Supposed to be Grouchy!

I've been really super grouchy the past week or so. There is no real reason for it. By that, I mean that nothing has happened, no one has done something unacceptable, and there is no cause I can point to that would explain the itchy, irritable, frustrated, grouchy person I am right now. Without any sense of the cause of this situation, I feel hopeless about shifting it. I'm tired of feeling like this.

To make matters worse, I also wonder if I'm even allowed to feel this way. Am I a horrible person, unable to see the many gifts that have been bestowed upon me? Am I shallow and lazy and selfish? Or maybe it's the opposite, that I put others first so often that I'm left with residual resentment that I used to drink away? And why does everyone act like I'm a horrible monster, existing only to ruin their day, if there is even a slight edge to my voice?

To make matters worse, I don't even want to be grouchy. I just am right now. I'm trying to let go, feel the feelings, and see what happens. But I can't help but think it would be far easier to do so if I was at home on the couch under a duvet watching bad romantic comedies, instead of sitting in my office trying to find the energy to do some work.

It's funny, really, because I spent so much time thinking that I felt better when I drank. That the alcohol took away the edgy feelings. I only committed to quitting when it stopped working for me - when the weight of evidence suggested that drinking did me no favors. Once I quit, I became equally convinced that not drinking would be the ray of sunlight I sought - there wouldn't be any more bad days. I'm only now coming to the realization (and yes, this will make me seem childish and naive) that whether drinking or not, there will be good and bad days. The thing that remains true - bad days without drinking are ever so much better than good days of drinking. At very least, I now remember when I've been a horrible bitch.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Book Review Fridays: Trust Your Life

I've been really struggling with writing these days. I have a half finished novel and several short pieces awaiting serious editing. I've barely hung onto finding things to write about in the blog. Life seems to have gotten incredibly busy these days and there is so much to do. Since my husband stopped drinking, the urgency of "figuring things out" has gone away so I've coasted a bit. In July, I read a wonderful book about pursuing your dreams called Trust Your Life: Forgive Yourself and Go After Your Dreams, by Noelle Sterne.

Sterne began her career typing papers for graduate students, slowly branching out into coaching. For the past 28 years, she's helped people overcome their fears and has provided them with tools for success. Through her work, she's often found that what causes us to fail is internal, not external. It's the voices in our own heads that tell us it's too late, we're too old, it's too hard, we can't. This book is designed to take us through the many hurdles we erect for ourselves so that we can pursue the dream we've always had. I think the direction provided by the book applies equally to the big and small goals we have for ourselves - whether we want to quit drinking, start excercising, or change careers. She calls the book "a manual of practical spirituality", writing that her book

encourages you to forgive your self-judgments, overcome your guilt, step beyond self-imposed 'shoulds' and deep dissatisfactions, develop yourself more courageously, embrace your creative strength and power, and learn how to rely on your always-trustworthy, knowing and peace-producing Source.
The book is divided into three parts. The first provides exercises for uncovering the problems that interfere with attaining your dreams, the second provides methods for overcoming those problems, and the third discusses dream attainment.

One sentence that really resonated with me was this: "Often what keeps us stuck and continually doing penance is the very feeling that we must pay for our lack of action." Whew. Often as I was reading, simple things I had unconsciously believed were brought to light. There is a lot of wisdom in this book and I plan to re-read it with more focus on my writing in the hopes that I can begin to make better progress towards my goal:

Your Dreams don't go away. The just go underground and keep resurfacing until you're ready.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Everything is Fine

It's funny. I'm in therapy, but only see her every two weeks. Prior to my appointment this week I was thinking,  "I really don't think I need therapy...everything is fine." I went anyway (largely because it was too late to cancel the appointment) and found myself crying within the first 15 minutes. It never ceases to amaze me that it is so easy to convince myself that everything is fine. The thing I'm beginning to realize is that I'm often not lying to people when I tell them I'm fine; I'm actually supressing my emotions so thoroughly that I'm not even really aware of how I'm feeling.

For me, this is new information. I'm so happy I'm going to therapy - it's forcing me to address some longstanding hurts I have that are easier to ignore than to deal with. I'll keep you posted.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

I Just Don't Want to Feel That Way

My biggest obstacle in quitting smoking is the fear - the fear of going through withdrawal, of feeling uncomfortable in my own skin. I am afraid I cannot face the other feelings that will arise with that discomfort. I'm afraid I'll arch my back against them and fight against them, rather than accepting everything is temporary. As an addict I've spent much of my life trying to avoid bad feelings and as a child growing up in an alcoholic home, I felt like my feelings let me down every time and learned to shut them off.

On Sunday I went six hours without a cigarette. All of the withdrawal feelings came on, full force. I wanted to scream at every little obstacle, stomp my feet and have a tantrum. Nothing and no one was good enough. I was filled with discomfort. Rather than accept I was feeling that way, I set my sights on the next cigarette. Of course, when I finally had it, it tasted stale and gross. For the moment though, the thirst was quenched.

The thing is, I've quit before, and I can remember that after a day or two, withdrawal passes. After a week, there aren't really any symptoms left. I can remember feeling really free and I was finally able to breathe deeply without any impediments.

Two things are missing from my "quit" program. The first, and most important, is a willingness to feel bad. I need to accept that I will ache and crave and feel like crap for a few days. I need to accept that the only way to quit smoking is to go through that. There is no easy solution and no way around it. The thing is: it's temporary. I won't feel bad forever. Just a few days. The second thing that is missing is the belief that my life will be better once I quit. There is a residual feat that I can quit, but I will be signing up for a lame life. It will be boring without cigarettes. It sounds stupid as I write it, but if I'm honest, the fear is there.

All of this takes me back to the way I felt when I knew I had to quit drinking. It's really very similar.

Friday, September 9, 2011


Next week I'll get back into doing the book reviews on Friday. I have three or four books I want to talk about, but haven't made the time to put together a decent review of any of them. Time keeps getting away from me.

For the past three weeks I've been really trying to quit smoking. I had some initial success at cutting down, but lost momentum during a business trip. Since then, I keep promising I'd start quitting again tomorrow. There have been many tomorrows over the past two weeks. It is a painful reminder of all of the times I tried to quit drinking. Day after day after day of promising myself I wouldn't drink and failing by dinner time. Revising the promise so that I could still have a glass or two of wine, because I was afraid I'd never be able to give it up completely. Feeling like such a hopeless failure because I couldn't seem to get it together enough to do even that simple thing. The sense of pressure that would build within until the moment when I gave into the craving.

I was so afraid I'd never find the strength or courage to stop completely. I was lost and hopeless. I've been told that I have shown great strength because I've been able to stop drinking. It does not feel like strength to me. I look at my smoking and try to think back to how I did it with alcohol (looking for tips) and I can honestly say that I don't know. It now seems as though something magical happened. I wish I knew how to tap into it now.

The point of all of this is to say that if you're still drinking and want to quit, but are terrified that you can't, I really do understand. In some ways the evangelical language of getting saved makes sense to me, especially because I can't come up with the magic set of things I did to stop. I also understand the slips, false starts, and the integrity of the promises we make to ourselves. I understand the hopelessness and the despair. And when I meet new people in meetings who are barely hanging on to sobriety by a thread, I do not judge. Some days, I'm right there on the ledge with them. I don't know how to get through another day either.

Each day that I try and fail to quit smoking I'm reminded of how precious my sobriety actually is. So I am sorry if I've sounded judgmental and bitchy this week.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

The Difference Between Responsibility and Martyrdom

The biggest point I was trying to make with my last post is that when we're drinking we simply are not equipped to evaluate the damage we are doing. Between the physiological effects that drinking produces on our emotional and physical state and the mind games we play so that we can continue to drink, we aren't able to fairly evaluate.Once we stop drinking and the fog begins to lift, we can begin to see what's really going on around us. In my case, some of it was worse than I thought and some of it was not as bad as I feared. However, I simply could not have seen what was going on while I was still drinking.

At the end I was working so incredibly hard to hold everything together that I'd lost all perspective. The narratives I'd created about myself were shattering all around me and I simply could not pick up the pieces quickly enough to keep going on. After years of viewing my nightly wine as a stress reliever, I was having panic attacks. I felt responsible for all that had gone wrong. I oscillated between feeling like everything was my fault and feeling so out of control that I couldn't understand how anything really could be my fault.

I fear statements from people that imply a complete lack of power over their own lives and circumstances. It would seem that because we can't control everything, we are sometimes left believing we can't control anything. On the flip side, it's tempting to put on martyr's garments and beat ourselves up over every little thing. We don't have that much power. There is a middle ground I keep trying to find: one in which I'm responsible for my actions and feelings, but not for everyone else. It's a difficult place to stay in - so tempting to take the blame for every upset that happens in my family.

As an addendum to yesterday's post, I will share a story. My husband and I had a habit of sitting out on the deck and drinking while the kids were going to sleep. We would sit and talk and drink. My youngest daughter would sneak down the stairs every fifteen minutes or so with some flimsy excuse, until she finally fell asleep. When I was drinking I thought this was just a stage based on her age. That her anxiety about going to sleep would pass once she was older. When I stopped drinking, I stopped sitting out on the deck. She stopped coming out of her room at night when she was supposed to be sleeping. Last night, we went out on the deck after dinner for the first time in a long time. After about ten minutes I saw the shadowy outline of my daughter appear in the see if she had to worry about us. She was too young to understand alcoholism, but she was not too young to feel her safety had been threatened and to do what she could to feel safe.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Tough Love

Lately I've been thinking about the concept of tough love when it comes to the self-justification we all do as active alcoholics. I'm not sure what the best approach is when talking with someone who is in the process of losing their families due to their drinking. To date, I feel stymied. I try to be nice. I don't know if "nice" is helpful to anyone. It may just promote denial and rationalization. It's not fair, they say.

Here's what's in my head:

We all hurt those we love when we drink. It doesn't matter if we only had two that night, or if we went to bed early, or if we didn't start a fight. Our alcohol-induced presence/absence is detrimental to our kids, our marriages, our jobs, our friends, and everything else. We lie to ourselves about the damage we do. We lie to everyone we love about how much we drink and we ignore the pain and frustration they feel. We can pretend we "aren't that bad" because we don't drive drunk, we don't drink in front of our kids, we don't cheat on our partners, we don't go all Jerry Springer. We are well-put-together drunks. Classy. We hold down jobs, we exercise three times a week, we go to PTA meetings (ok, I only did the first one). We know we need to quit, but we aren't really that bad. Our kids are safe, right?

Here's the thing. I want to call bullshit on all of that. It is that bad.

Okay, I can't speak for you. It's not fair. But I can speak for me.

I was very careful about my drinking. Up until the last six months of my drinking I would have sworn up and down that my kids had no idea that I drank. I would have insisted I wasn't hurting them. I would have claimed that my marriage was fine. Looking back, I can now see how messed up everything was. I was lucky to avoid many consequences of my drinking, but if life were fair, I would have had my kids taken away from me. I am lucky nothing bad happened to them. I am lucky they seem to be recovering from the emotional turmoil that is ever-present in an alcoholic household. My "careful" was simply not enough.

They deserved better.

So when I meet someone who's lost their kids, or their husband, I think: "that could have been me," and my heart goes out to them. But in my head, I know that's not enough. We owe it to our kids to get sober. We owe it to ourselves.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

What I Learned in the Last Year

Yesterday marked one year of continuous sobriety for me. My ability to remember the "anniversary" was in direct contrast to the amount of awareness I had beginning of each passing hour in the begining. To be honest, I kept forgetting a date that had loomed so large in my consciousness for so long. When I first stopped drinking I was certain that if I could make it through the first year, all questions would be answered. As you likely know already, this is not the case. However, the truth is, many of the "promises" have come true for me - here's my overview:

We are going to know a new freedom and a new happiness.
Being able to get through the day without needing a drink is freedom for me. Even when I've faced difficulties over the past year, I never really believed a drink would ease them. As I got further from my last drink, I began to see happiness in simple things, rather than trapping myself in a never-ending cycle of unrealistic expectations and disappointment.

We will not regret the past nor wish to shut the door on it.
I do struggle with regrets about my past, but at the same time am beginning to understand that all that has happened so far has brought me to this place. I aam working on letting go of the "could-have-beens" so that I can enjoy "the now" more. On the plus side, I strive remember the past so that I don't repeat it. I'm a huge proponent of living amends, particularly with my family.

We will comprehend the word serenity and we will know peace.
Hell, yeah. In some ways, this is the first time in my life that I've ever really sought peace. When I was drinking, I was always looking for the next party, the excitement, the advancement, that "king of the world" feeling. Now, I crave the peace and quiet that comes from doing the right thing, from being kind and gentle with myself and others, and from (frankly) getting a good night's sleep.

No matter how far down the scale we have gone, we will see how our experience can benefit others.
I felt deep shame after I cut my wrists. I honestly never thought I'd be able to look myself (or anyone else)  in the eye again. Now, those scars (battle wounds, if you will) come in handy when I try to explain to someone new that I know how it is. Looking at me now, it's hard to imagine how desperately I needed to drink back then. The scars serve as a shorthand. They also prevent me from minimizing the costs of my own drinking and keep me honest about my need to stay sober.

That feeling of uselessness and self-pity will disappear.
I think that drinking prompts feelings of usefulessness and self-pity simply because (in addition to the physiological effects of alcohol on our minds and bodies) I never got anything done. I was always running from one emergency to another, never finishing anything. Now, although I can still be a huge flake, I'm able to prioritize better and do what I say I'm going to do. As a result, I really feel better. When I screw up, I'm better able to keep things in perspective.

We will lose interest in selfish things and gain interest in our fellows.
It's funny how much time you have when you aren't forever chasing your next drink. Over the past year I have started to actually listen to people. I respond to them, rather than react to them. I make commitments and then follow through on them.

Self-seeking will slip away.
When I stopped trying to control every outcome to suit my whims, I became much better at letting go generally. Because I'm not grasping madly at minutia, I'm able to meet my own needs. I'm more in balance and don't expect other people to magically fix my life. This means that selfishly trying to manipulate life to suit me, I enjoy the moments in my life.

Our whole attitude and outlook upon life will change.
This is so true. I think much of the attitude and outlook changes come simply from removing the alcohol. It's difficult to have a positive or realistic outlook from the vantage point of: drunk, hungover, drunk, hungover... After I got sober, I felt like my eyes were opened for the first time in a long time.

Fear of people and of economic insecurity will leave us.
Still working on this one. I'm not as afraid of people as I used to be - now I don't feel like I'm always behind the 8-ball because of the last stupid thing I did, or the last promise I broke. I'm more able to be honest with the people in my life and I'm re-building trust that was damaged by my drinking. I try to keep letting go of my economic insecurity, but I will need to keep working on it.

We will intuitively know how to handle situations which used to baffle us.
I've been faced with many decisions over the past year - I've struggled long and hard with each of them. In the beginning of my sobriety, every decision seemed monumental. Looking back, there are some I regret, but overall, I've gained clarity about what I want and need as a result of the journey through each of them. And there are many inconsequential things that used to seem so hard, that barely phase me now. Opening myself to faith and trusting my intuition has made it possible to know what I should be doing next.

We will suddenly realize that God is doing for us what we could not do for ourselves (spiritual awakening).
This one proved true when I made it more than 24 hours without a drink. The fact that I'm sitting here now, sober, for one year, is living proof that miracles happen. I feel so blessed.

If you're still drinking and hate it, quit now. Honestly, it's the best thing I've ever done for myself and has been the greatest gift I could have given to the people who love me. Help is available - whether you want to go to AA or not. Tell a friend, or someone close to you, call a help line, find other blogs, research your options. You can do it too.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Running Up Hill

In order to quit drinking I had to keep going even when it felt impossible. Those first days felt never-ending, filled with pain and dislocation. As the minutes ticked by I kept a running count of how many more minutes I had to get through before I could go to bed. It almost sounds like an exaggeration to say that now. But that was my experience; the only time I was able to get outside of the urgent need to drink was when I was asleep. In conjunction, I celebrated each time I could have had a drink, but didn't. These times were marked by the moments I usually would have had a drink - lunchtime, after work, before bed, during a difficult conversation, if I perceived someone else's angst or dissatisfaction, when I was home alone. I drank when I felt I wasn't good enough, when I felt I was letting someone down, when I felt like my current experience would never end. On the flip side, I drank to create a festive atomosphere - the "staycation" if you will.

In order to stop doing it, I had to keep putting one foot in front of the other even when I thought it was too hard. In some ways, I had to ignore my internal voice altogether because I'd trained myself to lie so thoroughly. As days turned into weeks, I began to forget my daily countdowns. After a few months, there were days when I forgot to think about drinking altogether. In many ways my experience has paralleled other experiences of loss - the death of my brother for example.

Now, I am much better equipped to deal with my emotions. I am far less likely to let them fester until there's a pressure cooker inside of me. I am able to trust my thoughts and feelings, now that there is a semblance of health there. However, it is still true that if I get too tired, feel overwhelmed, or hopeless about something that those old urges reassert themselves. I don't specifically crave a drink, but I do fervently wish for the ability to jump outside my skin for a few hours. I don't want to feel hopeless. I don't want to feel like no matter what I do, things won't turn out well. For the past few days I have felt this way.

I've refused to give into these feelings. I've pushed and pushed myself. The feelings have remained, unchanged. Only by realizing that these feelings were getting stronger, the more I pushed them away, was I able to see that I was setting myself up to fail. I was not pushing myself to do the right thing because it was good for me (like with the drinking), I was ignoring my own needs and thoughtlessly racing forward. To continue doing so would have put my sobriety at risk. So yesterday, I took some time for myself to regenerate.

And the world did not come crashing to a halt.

And even if it had - the fact is that if I'm not centered that world would have come crashing to a halt anyway. I don't need to be collateral damage any more. I don't want to have a reason to drink.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Bar Hopping and Promotions

Over the past several days I've spent an unusual amount of time in bars. I was pleasantly surprised to discover that it didn't bother me in the slightest. When I was still drinking I felt a hyper-awareness about alcohol, and would always note how often others went for a re-fill. I would track their levels of inebriation with precision and would encourage greater levels of consumption, doing everything I could to keep the party going. Often, I viewed these work celebrations as a special opportunity to make connections and network. By drinking, I would awaken my comedic self and take advantage of the opportunity to get to know my superiors better. I always thought this would improve my chances of advancement, because I correlated the easy humor senior executives always seem to have with each other with the roles they fulfilled in the company, rather than the effort they put in at work. I already worked hard, so assumed that the missing element was the familiarity. A work party appeared to be an excellent shortcut to fame and power.

For the most part I carefully tracked my own consumption, ever attempting to be no drunker than the person in charge. Looking back, I believe I was successful - I have no embarrassing work stories to tell you. On the other hand, I'll never know how my flirtatiousness played out when promotions were considered. I'll never know if some people tacitly avoided me at work functions, nor if I crossed subtle lines between what was considered professional and what was not. I do know that I never obtained the promotions I was hoping for.

Anyway, I was quite pleased to discover that I am perfectly capable of networking while drinking a diet coke. The thought of a drink never crossed my mind. More than that, my earlier agenda (become friends with executives) wasn't in action. I was agenda-less, in fact. I listened more than I talked, and made an effort to talk to everyone in attendance. As a result, I got to know a few people I wouldn't have even talked to in my drinking life, I discovered many other diet-coke drinkers, and wasn't left trying to evaluate the tone of every conversation that took place. In part this was because I wasn't drinking, but the larger, more important reason, is that I wasn't looking to control and manipulate outcomes.

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