Saturday, June 30, 2012

Thank You Mom and Dad

In what might be a strange fit of circular logic, I was feeling thankful about the way I grew up last week. For most of my childhood, I felt strangely out of place. I knew my family was not at all like those my friends had. From an early age, I knew I was on my own. I had to be certain I took care of my own needs, because as far as I could tell, I was the only one who was reliable enough to be there. Of course, it was not all bad. I do have memories of tender moments. At the same time, the more constant feeling associated with childhood memory is one of disappointment. That gut-wrenching feeling of need that is unmet. It created in me a deep-seated belief that my needs weren't very important, that people could not be trusted to meet them (unless it was convenient or very very insignificant). It makes it difficult for me to reach out for help. And it can make vulnerability seem like a massive gamble.

However, because I grew up that way and spent countless hours imagining what a family should be, I think I am a better parent now. It meant that I just had to call bullshit on myself when my drinking began to reproduce my family history. It means that I viscerally recoil from the idea that my kids might grow up the way I did, that they might feel that way. I don't think they do now. But if there's one thing I wish, it's that I didn't wallow in denial for so long.

And so I am thankful for my parents. I know they did the very best they could have done at the time. I know they loved us, even if their own problems took them away. I am thankful that I have more tools to work through my issues with trust and vulnerability and courage, because I'm so deeply aware of what the other side looks like. I'm thankful that I can give my daughters what I didn't have. It feels like a real opportunity for growth - an openness that, despite the risks, will generate more growth.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

The Inspiration of Sport

On many occasions I've gone into the benefits I've accrued through running. For me, running is so much more than ripped quads (I don't have these...although it would be nice). It's much needed time alone with my thoughts. It's finding goals and meeting them. It's seeing what I'm capable of doing when I put my mind to it. More than that, it's learning to keep my goals achievable and finding ways to gently encourage myself, rather than beat myself into submission.

A reader has shared another woman's story with me. Her transformation came in part through participation in Ironman competitions (still shocked and amazed that people can do this). She's entered a video in hopes of being selected to go to Kona. Heather is four years sober - check out her video and vote.

Bottoms Up

Yesterday was the last day of school for the year, which means it's been two years since I hit my bottom. It's funny because although cutting myself horrified my sensibilities, it was swimming around at the bottom of the elevator shaft that really scared me more. That I would continue to drink after that really proved to me that I would continue to drink no matter what happened. And so I finally got sober.

Talking to my daughters now reminds me how close I came to losing them then. At one point three years ago my husband and I were fighting nearly all the time. Our routine was set: drink, blackout, have a massive fight at midnight, pass out. I've mentioned before that I used to pray that we wouldn't fight. Early in the evening I would wrack my brains to see whether I held hidden resentment or irritation. I would try to stay mellow. Of course, it wasn't always me who started it. Anyway, this was a very new pattern to our relationship and I felt very confused about it. One day, my older daughter said she wanted to move into one of the basement rooms. She was tired of sharing with her sister. The room was quite small so her logic made sense.

We moved her things down and she seemed happier. I don't know whether I suspected then what I know now, but she did move down there to get away from our fighting. I asked her yesterday and she confirmed it. While I feel some shame that she was put in that position, what I feel most is pride. I am proud of her for taking care of herself, for not feeling obligated to stay there with her sister. For doing what she needed to feel safe. Did I write "small amount of shame"? That's probably not accurate. What I feel is deep regret that my drinking created that chaos for my kids. What I feel, deeply is that it can NEVER happen again. No matter what else goes on, it is my solemn promise that they will not grow up that way - having to make choices to protect themselves from their parents' self-destruction.

And things are good. So much has changed since the dark night in the kitchen.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

The Power of Communication

I really hadn't intended to take a hiatus from writing this week, but I've been sick. Sick enough to sleep all day, not just sick enough to watch TV all day. I kind of prefer the latter if I'm completely honest.

Anyway, I continue to struggle with stating my needs and concerns when I fear they aren't what the other person wants (or needs) to hear. I spent a few nights tossing and turning over a particular issue and came to the conclusion (finally!) that I just had to be honest or I would end up feeling resentful. I sucked up the courage, had the conversation, and you know what? It turned out to be exactly what was needed. My needs weren't seen as out of whack and my concerns were considered reasonable. I felt really fantastic at the end of it.

None of the things I have to do changed as a result of our talk, but my attitude has shifted dramatically. I went from feeling like there were too many things to do, to actively getting on top of things. Now I feel excited and happy about the challenge of getting everything done. Being heard really does matter.

Of course, the conversation might have gone horribly, or the person might have thought me selfish or childish. I still think I would have felt better because I was willing to honor my concerns and discuss them instead of shoving them under the carpet.

What I need to figure out is how to do this all the time...without needing to stay up half the night worrying about what might happen if I'm honest.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Guest Post: Kim's Story

When Kim reached out to me via email to share her story I was deeply affected and touched - it was a poignant reminder of the power our addictions exert over us and how we all must keep working on our sobriety whether or not our drinking has resulted in such painful consequences. Her story reminded me that her story is my story and that for all of us, the most we can say is "not yet" when it comes to the consequences of our drinking if we use. Thankfully, she was willing to share her story here. Thank you Kim! (PS. she says very complimentary things about me. Thank you for that as well, Kim)


I have been following Tara’s blog for months now.  A woman friend in recovery shared it with me and it has been a source of great support and validation in my recovery journey.  I read a post within the last month related to body image, and why we tear ourselves up and down on this issue. I connected viscerally with what Tara posted and felt compelled to write to her to tell her about how much the post impacted me and how connected I feel to her. I am a recovering woman, I am a runner…. It has taken me a long time to call myself a runner; actually I am a triathlete and that one is still hard to say out of my own mouth… I am 56 years old, and I came late to the world of fitness. What I do know is that fitness is integral to my recovery, and to my self-esteem.  These are closely related for me and for many recovering women. I told Tara a bit about me, and she asked me to post on her site. I was really flattered that she asked, and it has taken me almost a month the get my stuff together to actually write something. Fear and ego interfere with my response to life… still.

So my story begins with a bad bottom, on April 27, 2006, I drove drunk and killed a 50 year old married father and grandfather. He was on his motorcycle on the way home from work; a second shift machinist. A regular guy, married to his high school sweetheart.  I never saw him, and to this day, I do not know if I blacked out, fell asleep, or if the pain and trauma of that moment is too much for my brain and psyche to handle and is forever blocked.  In any case, I feel grateful that I do not recall the details; I am not sure I would be functioning at all in this world had I remembered every detail of the impact. It was my first (and my last) DUI. I did not make a habit of driving drunk; my habit was stopping at the liquor store on my way home from work to buy bottles of wine which I drank until I passed out in the recliner in our family room.  I drank alone, I was miserable, depressed lonely and lost. But on this night, my co-workers and I went out after work for cocktails to send off a woman on our team who was leaving the company to be a stay at home mom.  I needed no reason to drink, I just drank. I should have never driven home, but as we all know we lose our ability to have any decision making capabilities once we are intoxicated. I was in no shape to reason about my ability to drive home; I just did it.

It was a long 11 ½ months of a criminal DUI case, followed by a sentence of 42 months in the state penitentiary. I did get sober immediately following the DUI, and the women in AA became my lifeboat. Without them, I truly would have sunk to some unknown hell that I can only imagine now.  They continue to be a strength and source of great support and light in my life today. My attorney said he didn’t think I'd go to prison. I had no criminal record, I am a married mother of 2 adult children, gainfully employed, go to church, supportive family….blah blah blah.  No one is exempt. I went to prison for 3 years- I was 51 years old, I weighed 245 pounds, and I was miserable, scared to death and wanted to die. It was scary, lonely and liberating. I went to the drug program offered there and I learned about my disease—alcoholism. I prayed, meditated, worked out and began to transform my mind, body and spirit. I lost 90 pounds.  I tried to help other women and share my story.  I worked the steps, I wrote my sponsor, my AA women visited me, my husband and family visited me.  We got through it.  Prison enabled me to really look at myself and so I began to peel to onion, as we say.  I cried a lot in my onion peeling, and I still do. It’s ok. I am trying to become the strong, sober woman that my higher power intends me to be.  It is a daily challenge because my thinking wants to regress, it wants me to slip back into the familiar darkness and negative thinking that permeated my life before I got sober. But I like myself as a sober woman, and I want to keep growing, becoming, and being light to others.

I am trying to really like the idea of just being content… no big highs no big lows.  I am trying to like myself, for who I am, no matter what the scale says, no matter how fast I ran my last 10K or how much I feel enormous in my Lycra triathlon clothes at the swim start, standing next to all of the intense, tiny triathlete people. I like that I am finally in a job that I can sustain and that won’t suck the life out me, happy that I finally feel like I do not need to “tear it up” out there in terms of my career.  The high powered job that I had before I got sober contributed to the stress and depression I felt, which in turn fueled my drinking. I am making different choices now. Some are difficult, foreign.  The old me want to drive the bus…. I have to remember I am not in charge.

Today my greatest joy comes from being a sober wife, mother, sister, daughter, aunt, and friend.  Being REALLY present to those I love and who love me back. Today I thank God every day for each day I am sober, each hurdle crossed. I was released from parole last April. I have been granted a restricted drivers permit so soon I will drive on limited basis. I haven’t been behind the wheel of a car for 6 years.
Today I tell my story when I am asked, because my sponsor tells me to.  I speak every month at our county jail on a victim impact panel alongside of 2 women who have lost loved ones to drunk drivers. Today I look at my life as a gift. But I am a work in progress, and I know I need the fellowship; I need other women, women like Tara and others who are courageous enough to share this journey.

In prison I read a lot of books and found this saying in one that has always stayed with me:
“When the waves get really big, we must become better swimmers.”

Monday, June 18, 2012

Searching For the Magical Combination

Back when I was drinking, past the point of teetering into alcoholism, I used to push myself to do things that would make me feel better. Sometimes it was a short-lived commitment to do yoga. I would typically stick with this for a week or two before I started skipping sessions. The goal would slip away over the next few weeks and I would forget about it for a long time, almost as though it hadn't happened. Other times I would commit myself to writing in my journal, figuring that self-reflection might increase my internal peace. Same story. Often I would go on a diet in an attempt to feel better about myself. If I could lose a few pounds, I rationalized, I wouldn't be so depressed.

All of these activities were designed to create the perfect scenario for magically drinking less. I figured that I drank too much because I was unhappy with my life - if I could improve my circumstances, I would simply stop drinking so much. I think this magical thinking was the result of many low-key nights of casually thinking I wouldn't drink too much and then finding that I did anyway. It wasn't crushing to me yet, but somewhere in the back of my mind my drinking troubled me.

I had a powerful recollection of drinking last week when I came across a photo from a weekend vacation in Bodega Bay. We took the kids to one of the resorts there as a mini-break and ate dinner in the hotel. The food was wonderful - not typical hotel fare - and we drank. And drank. And drank. I can remember walking (staggering?) back to the room and tucking the kids into bed. It was the point in the night where even a heavy drinker would have turned on the TV and rested in bed. It wasn't that we specifically exceeded the indulgence expected from a foodie night out: cocktail before dinner, glass of champagne with the starter, bottle of wine with dinner, and cognac after (although now it makes me shudder). It was that after we tucked the kids into bed, we sat on the patio and drank the free wine left in the room. There may have been something else as well (really can't remember). I have no idea what time we finally stumbled into bed, but the next morning I can remember feeling absolutely ashamed of myself. I was mind-crushingly hungover and disappointed because the trip was ruined for me. Sure, we spent the day at the shore looking at star fish, but I really would have preferred to remain in bed with the shades drawn.

The picture in question was taken that day and it reminded me how responsible I was for the fact that I wasn't happy with my life. It reminded me how I devoted so much time trying to rearrange the edges instead of targeting the problem. It looks a great deal like rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic from my current vantage point. Ah well - it's good to be here, now.

Saturday, June 16, 2012


Today is my sixth day without sugar. It is surprising to me, but I had to approach it in much the same way I handled detoxing from alcohol. I counted the days and reminded myself of the commitment I'd made. I experienced headaches, tiredness, spaceyness, lightheadedness and irritability. I felt deprived at times, but managed to also feel proud of even the smallest accomplishments. I came to see how important it is to celebrate the small victories with any major change. It's tempting to feel like it's not a big deal, tempting to castigate myself for getting into this situation. It wasn't a helpful state of mind when I quit drinking and I'm thankful I found it much easier to be kind to myself this time around (I have, it seems, learned some things in the past two years).

Now I'm starting to feel some of the benefits of getting through: better sleep, no bloating, better digestion, and a more consistent mood and energy level. One thing I noticed was that I had to reduce my coffee intake - coffee stimulates blood sugar and drinking it made me crave chocolate. I also had to ditch my diet soda (hard) because, in the end, that stuff is poison as well. The one saving grace is that most experts agree that stevia is still okay as a sweetener (whew!).

Over the past few days, I've also come to realize that I've been eating too many simple carbohydrates, which have a very similar reaction on blood sugar levels. Eating bread or pasta actually stimulated my cravings for candy. As a result, I've introduced more vegetables and protein to replace the easy calories I was consuming before. As someone with wheat sensitivity, I thought my diet would already be low in those items, but over the past few years so many gluten-free substitutes have been introduced that on closer look, most of what I've been eating comes from processed simple starches.

Blah blah blah.

Over the past week I've been thinking a lot about the connection between alcoholism and high sugar diets - how many of us switch from drinking wine to drinking slurpees and frappuccinos to get through the worst of it. I know it really helped me in the beginning - alcohol and sugar have a similar effect on serotonin and dopamine receptors - but does it mean I've never really allowed my brain and body to truly normalize after the abuse? Or was I already a sugar addict even before I started drinking? I'm not sure, but there is a long trail of empty candy wrappers that suggests I've been using sugar as a pick-me-up for a long long time.

I am pretty sure that this is the right time to deal with the sugar thing. For me, any sooner and it might have threatened my sobriety, simply because my cravings this week really reminded me of the early days of not drinking. I didn't crave alcohol, as much as my exhaustion and inability to concentrate reminded me of how I used to drink to manage my moods. I even drank to improve my concentration at work, or to deal with stressful situations. My use of candy has followed the same pattern.

That said, I think we all find ways of coping with sobriety. It seems impossible to me that I could have quit smoking and eating candy and drinking and spending all at once. Perhaps given a fully supportive environment, or a six-month retreat. I don't think it's valuable to try to change everything about ourselves at once and that this process is very individual. Everyone has less than ideal habits and always will - we are human after all. I guess what I'm saying is that sobriety is the most important thing - don't drop sugar if it will threaten that. I have grown in immeasurable ways as a person, employee and mother because I got sober. It has taken all this time to get to where I am now. The fact that it took 200 grams of sweet snacks a day is fully okay with me.

I didn't expect this to be such a long post. I am coming up on the anniversary of the first time I admitted there was a SERIOUS problem with my drinking. The first time I was finally able to admit without doubt that if I continued to drink I would die. I feel such joy to be here. I feel overwhelmed with gratitude that I'm not the person I was, that I've been able to change and grow so much, that I don't need to drink anymore.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Cutting Out Sugar...Again

I first wrote about my issues with sugar way back in February of 2011. In that post I spoke about how my addictive behavior with alcohol were mirrored in my relationship with sugar. It scared me a bit and I cut it out of my diet. I must have lasted a few weeks but eventually went back to it. I've given up sugar off and on over the past year and a half, but have always gone back to it after a period of good eating.

Running actually made my candy-eating habit much worse. Because I was burning so  many calories, the most visual results of eating too much junk were easily hidden. I felt like there were no consequences to my behavior. It was a victimless crime. As long as I kept running, nothing awful would happen to me. Recently, I've started to gain weight and have struggled with tiredness and some amount of apathy. Once again, I had to look sugar in the face for what it is: empty calories with zero nutritional value. To strengthen my commitment (and hopefully this time to get it to stick more than a few weeks) I read Suicide By Sugar, by Nancy Appleton. Until I read this book, I had no idea that high levels of sugar leaches calcium and phosphorus from the bones, nor that it causes inflammation (tied to cancer and other disorders). I knew about insulin resistance and diabetes (but somehow figured it didn't apply to me, because I'm not overweight).

Problem solved - it's interesting how easy it is to dismiss all of the possible negative ramifications of my behavior. I did it for years with my drinking (never believing anything horrible would happen to me, despite knowing three of my uncles died from complications related to alcoholism).

Yesterday was tricky. I was tired, headachey, and spacey. I felt a bit too permeable, almost. But I know it will get better in a day or two (the benefit of having done this a time or two already) if I can hold firm and stick with it. Already, I'm beginning to feel better.

Sunday, June 10, 2012


This is the first time since I started running that I don't have a specific race goal. (Do I talk about running too much?) It's interesting to run for its own sake, rather than use an upcoming event to push myself further. It's kind of nice to be honest. It's also leading me to the awareness that I have a tendency to view every run as a "sort of" race. In looking to the future (how to get stronger and faster) I'm realizing that I need to be willing to slow down first. Life is like that too. Sometimes to reach our goals we need to be willing to slow down first. It may mean going back to school, or giving up a bad job, or putting all goals on hold while we put down the drink. It's only by committing to the long term goal fully that we have any hope of ever attaining it.

I'm not great at this. Although I've improved a lot over the past year, with respect to taking a close look at the long term and using that to determine my short term behavior, I still find it incredibly difficult. I take my eyes off the prize often, especially when the going gets tough. This relates as much to the relatively simple (I want to stop eating refined sugar....but can't get past the 2pm doldrums and eat it anyway) as well as the more complex (I want to solidify my writing, but avoid doing any of the baby steps that will get me there). Perhaps this is human nature, but I'm going to keep working on it.

Hmm... not so goal-less after all. I guess I should have named this post "raceless."

On a completely different note, I was speaking with a stranger in a waiting room. After a few minutes of conversation, she asked me what I did for a living. When I told her I was an office worker she said, "No way! You look so peaceful and healthy I figured you'd say you were a physiotherapist or a yoga instructor...something really healthy." Her comment made me feel fantastic - I'm finally healthy and happy enough that I seem calm and centered to strangers! I've come a long way from sneaking vodka at my desk and crawling out of bed with a hangover.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Back to Normal

It's interesting that despite the pain I felt during the marathon, recovery has come quickly. It really only took two or three days to feel better. The very fact that I completed it stands time now seems irrelevant. As a result it inspires me to continue to run and plan and work hard on my running. I think if I had become completely absorbed by the time goal, I would be reluctant to run now - it would go down as a failure and make it difficult for me to get to the next phase of my running.

This is significant for reasons far beyond running. It really applies to everything we try to accomplish in our lives - the way we view our performance, which defines how we speak to ourselves can make the difference between our future success or failure. When sobriety finally stuck for me, it was the third time in as many months that I'd tried to stay sober. My record at that point was about two weeks. I was even getting to the point where I began to think I could manage two weeks without very much trouble, but anything longer was beyond me. Each time I quit, I looked at what had led me to drink that time, and then tried to determine how I could fix it next time. Each time I quit, I started fresh. I did not berate myself (too much) about the prior failure. Instead, I looked at Day 1 as a new day. It gave me the space to be successful.

The other reason I was able to break through that two-week wall is that I stopped trying to do it alone. Someone yesterday told me "you're your own worst coach" after listening to me describe my monologue while running. He's right. Everyone has heard the term: "paralysis by analysis" and it definitely applies to my running in the same way it applied to my sobriety: too much analysis will slow you down, regardless what the goal is. And that's why AA was so valuable - it cut through a lot of the b.s. I used to tell myself. I'm going to try to find a running group so that I'm not so alone out there on the trail, but I'm also going to start telling myself to be quiet during my runs: it's not helpful to analyze my performance during my performance.

Monday, June 4, 2012

Book Review Fridays: A Life Without Limits

Chrissie Wellington's book, A Life Without Limits: A World Champion's Journey, is amazing. She not only tells the story of her incredible accomplishments at Ironman competitions, but of her life before becoming a professional athlete. The title of her book clearly articulates her approach to life - she shows an openness to go where opportunity takes her, despite the risks involved. She shows an inspiring determination to exceed her high expectations of herself, always going the extra mile. If anything, her primary struggle has been to keep in check the urge for perfection.
Pressure is a necessary evil if you want to achieve. It brings with it great stress, but you deal with it, and the redemption comes when you achieve things as a results. It can also be debilitating though, on a day-to-day level, especially if its benefits are illusory. The trick is to understand which pressures are necessary and which ones are dangerous decoys, the ones that suck the life out of you for no reward.
To illustrate this point, Wellington describes her battle with eating disorders in her teens and early twenties. I could relate to the temptation to turn the body into a war zone and to the illusory nature of goals and measurement. I could relate to the broken promises - the way that you are in control, until it begins to control you. I also struggle to meet my own expectations, no matter how unrealistic they might appear to anyone else.
I have never quite shaken off that tendency to be self-critical. Indeed, it is less that I need to tolerate my weaknesses, and more that I need to realize that what I'm berating myself for isn't actually a weakness at all. I have an illogical conception of what weakness is. If I lose a race, that is weakness; if I have a bad training session, that is weakness. For me, anything short of perfection is weakness.

Over the course of her career, Wellington's attitude shifts from always seeking perfection, to realizing that there is no such thing as a perfect race - even when a race feels perfect, it can be improved upon later. She also strives to shift her attitude towards learning to acknowledge and accept her own growth - that with improvement comes the realization that to be present now, to do your best, is enough. And of course, her body image begins to shift when she ceases to look upon it as a representation of an aesthetic and begins to look at what it is capable of doing. This is one of the truest benefits of sport, I think - it encourages us to shift from passive to active viewing, to seek strength.

Much of the book deals with the interplay between body and mind. She attributes athletic success to training the mind as well as the body. She discusses the interplay between body and brain and insists that one of the keys to success is in training the mind to accept that increased levels of pain and endurance are acceptable. Her chronicles of of her races were fascinating to me - they showed such drive and determination that I wanted to lace up my shoes and hit the road, even though I truly can't imagine a Triathalon.

In the end, the best part of the book is in her articulation of her approach to life.
No one should ever be afraid of failing; it's being afraid to give it your all in trying that I urge against. If there is one thing I have learned, particularly in my life as an athlete, it is that our limits may not be where we think they are. And, even when we think we've finally reached them, the next time we go there exploring we often find that they've moved again.
May we all take that approach to life, not only sport. By internalizing openness to our own potential, we have an incredible opportunity for growth. One of my favorite things about running (because I'm a complete literalist) is that I'm continually learning that what I think might be my limit is not really my limit. It may be my limit right now, but that doesn't define what I'm capable of doing a month from now, or six months from now. There really is near endless opportunity for improvement and learning. Each time I experience this in running, I'm reminded that it's also true in my relationships and at work.

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