Alison's Insights

Accepting Mid-Life Addiction Recovery One Slow Deep Breath At A Time

The Ring

A few months ago a staff member of the NEDA (National Eating Disorders Association) Community Outreach program contacted me to write an article for publication in their Parents Family Network magazine, Making Connections. The subject matter was intimacy and eating disorders.

Although I’m not one to share rather personal information, I accepted the offer believing some aspect of this topic would spring to mind. In a haze of contemplation I found myself mindlessly staring at my wedding rings when all of a sudden the winds of wisdom blew through me. Suddenly my fingers flew rapidly over the computer keyboard like a well-choreographed dance to create what was eventually titled, “The Ring”.

I thought I’d share the original piece here as I believe the message is worth repeating.

Intimacy is a connection; a sense of silent knowing of the thoughts and feelings of another which radiates from deep in the heart. 

This winter was a never-ending request for patience. Mother Nature’s relentless cast of wicked weather caused many in my neighborhood to stay indoors and fall prey to the drying effects of recycled heat.

Each night during our somewhat forced hibernation, I applied lotion to my moisture-deprived hands. One such evening my husband asked if I’d apply some of the healing salve to his hands to help relieve dry skin and some tension. I smiled in agreement as I carefully removed his wedding band from his finger to our nightstand, as lotion can play havoc on jewelry.

The next morning I noticed his ring was still there. In split second timing, I felt an immediate rush of emotion race through my heart. The pang I felt was not for the day I slid the gold band on his finger, but the day he slid the ring off.

I took a deep breath, sat down on the side of the bed, closed my eyes, and remembered the time I thought our marriage was doomed.

Before I found the courage to face the truth behind my eating disorder, my life was nothing more than a string of lies stretching from one person to the next, with me in the middle. I lied about my lies, praying to keep everything straight. What did I tell people I ate? How can I get out of the dinner party we’re supposed to attend? Can I delegate myself to run the mid-day business meeting while everyone else eats lunch? Is there a way to excuse myself from our aunt’s dinner table to find out what her scale tells me?

My need to control my body weight, shape, and size became far more important than how my actions could affect others. I didn’t know how to exist without being in charge of when a fork met my lips.

Aside from me, the person who suffered severe consequences of the eating disorder was my husband. After thousands of second chances and promises I’d eat better, in 2008 he told me very calmly yet clearly that I needed to leave our house and get help. Although I tried to peer through his emotionless eyes, I could not see the compassion I’d relied on for years. He had enough of my lies and, in my mind, me.

So at the age of 46 I entered a residential treatment facility hundreds of miles from home. One of the recommendations was to engage my husband in family therapy. Knowing he was not one to talk about his feelings as well as his less-than-enthusiastic thoughts about me, I suggested including him would be a rather bad idea. Thankfully my therapist had previously encountered situations like ours and asked if she might contact my husband to convince him otherwise.

After about an hour, which felt like a thousand, she reported that he was willing to help but was very clear about the boundaries he required. He wanted assurance she would manage expectations for my return home. Although the challenge to heal both myself and my marriage was daunting, I was determined to recover them equally.

Three months later I emerged a renewed woman, anxious to celebrate the new “me” with my husband. The merriment soon faded when I noticed his left hand was bare. Over the years the only time he would remove his ring was to play golf. The snow on the ground was a good indicator the band was not in his golf bag.

The explanation I received for the ring removal is one I hope never to hear repeated; what the ring represented to him wasn’t true anymore. The words pierced my heart like a hot knife through butter. I melted in shame, fear and disconnect.

I realized there was nothing I could do other than commit to my healthy recovery. Every day, I followed the suggestions of my nutritionist and therapist, while staying connected to like-minded people striving for a similar transformation.

In time, my consistently healthy actions spoke louder than any words I could have  strung together. The circle of trust our wedding rings represent re-emerged, leading to the replacement of the precious gold band on my husband’s finger.

Coming back to where I sat on the edge of my bed, a tear fell slowly down my cheek as my eyes opened. I grabbed the ring from the nightstand and walked to where my husband was reading the morning paper. When I gently slid the gold band back on his finger he turned to me and said, “I knew something was missing. I’m so glad it’s not you.”

I cherish the intimate connection we share, offering words spoken in silence through things like the touch of a hand or a circle of gold.

Connecting to Disconnecting and Reconnecting

I was recently honored with a request to create a post for The BE Program. This online educational self-help and professionally supported plan focuses on transforming your relationship with food and your body as an access to creating a truly extraordinary life.

Using the compassionate and dedicated leadership of The BE Team, Dr. Jennifer Nardozzi, Dr. Stephanie May and Sara Nowlin, hold the vision for The BE Program to create a world where women are powerful and peaceful in their bodies and their lives.

These women have individually and together profoundly touched my life. I deeply admire their collective wisdom and believe with all my heart they will impact lives of many women for years to come.

I’m grateful to connect with The BE Program community and privileged to share part of my recovery story.  The writing process allowed me time to reconsider the benefits received when I disconnected and then reconnected with myself inside and out.

From Disconnection to Reconnection

I’ve traced back decades to my childhood and have yet to identify a time I felt truly connected with food, my body, and the world around me.

Early memories of any connection with food were as a means of comfort. I deferred my focus to what was on my plate to avoid the day-to-day challenges of an emotionally sensitive little girl.

Even at such a young age, I had grown tired of trying to fit into what I thought others expected of me when I knew deep down I could not. My self-soothing solution was more food than was healthy for a me.

I also struggled with asthma. The racing and erratic efforts to inhale and exhale, coupled with a strong desire to eat in the same manner, kept me from taking those soul-deep breath connections to feel calm and connected with myself.

At the tail end of 7th grade I had enough of the teasing at school about my weight. My parents didn’t know what direction to take so we met with a nutritionist who established my first meal plan. Over the following summer months I refocused my eating habits and food choices so when I walked through the doors at the start of 8th grade, instead of teasing I heard praise.

Right then the light bulb went off.

I immediately connected acceptance and validation to a changed body weight, shape and size. What I didn’t realize was that same moment began my 30+ year disconnection from any healthy relationship with food, body image and the world around me.

During the next three decades I slowly spiraled down a path of twists and turns to assure my outer self met the criteria for praise while my inner self cried in shame. My recipe for self-soothing went beyond behaviors associated with an eating disorder. I also developed a pattern of daily drinking to aid in my need to escape all the negative silent chatter.

In time what had once been just a few drinks to “take the edge off” turned into fully engaged alcoholism. Thankfully a strong, supportive 12-Step recovery program helped me connect with sobriety yet without the additional crutch of alcohol I fell even deeper into my use of unhealthy eating disorder behaviors.

Then in 2008 at the age of 46, I entered an eating disorder residential treatment facility to combat what became a life-threatening situation.

The facility I chose was hundreds of miles from home. I needed to completely disconnect from everyday life so I could reconnect for a holistic, healthy return.

During my three-month stay, I was able to understand why reconnection with food is a process. At the beginning the mere thought I’d suddenly appreciate and enjoy a regular meal schedule seemed absurd. I had yet to understand how unrealistic the notion I’d somehow instantaneously change both body and mind after living for so long in such an unhealthy manner.

Once home, the real recovery work began. I surrounded myself with others who understood and supported the progress I’d made during treatment. This reconnection with friends I thought I’d long-lost helped to maintain accountability for early recovery day-to-day challenges and continue to support me all these years later.

The healing necessary for foundational, sustainable change isn’t just about disconnecting from unhealthy behaviors, but reconnecting with all aspects of life including my own.

 

Recovered versus In Recovery. What’s Your Answer?

I really enjoy chatting with those relatively new to the recovery scene. Their wonder, excitement, fear and skepticism is fascinating. I never tire of remembering what the world was like when seen through eyes that were once mine.

Recently one of these new friends asked me a question often heard, one that seems to spark a LOT of rather animated chatter among those in the rooms of recovery.

“Do you consider yourself recovered or in recovery?”

Now, there are those who firmly believe they have recovered and there are those standing firm they will always be in recovery, equating their quest for truth as a never-ending journey.

My answer is always the same.

“I have overcome the obsession to drink and control my body weight, shape or size. I remain in recovery to stay that way. This is what works for me yet I suggest you find what feels right for you.”

You see I don’t think this is about semantics. I suggest this is about what keeps people sober and free from a life of secrets and shame.

No matter how one identifies themselves in relation to their shift from the unhealthy behavior(s) they once faithfully served, who cares. No one is totally right and no one is totally wrong.

However when speaking with someone fresh from their last drink, drug, binge, bet, unprotected partner or exercise marathon, the idea of a recovery graduation isn’t one I chose to plant. I prefer to encourage the pathway toward a positive solution rather than a finite end result.

Some people have shared their thoughts about being “in recovery” somehow means they’re still struggling. I’ve no doubt that could be true if we’re only referring to what may have been a life-threatening behavior of choice, but isn’t life in general very often a struggle? At some point aren’t most people faced with unexpected situations which could lead them to feel vulnerable and emotionally weak?

In those immediate few seconds following one of life’s left hooks, I’m not so sure there’s 100% guarantee one will never, ever feel triggered to lean into what once proved soothing. That doesn’t necessarily mean returning to booze, drugs, food, sex or money but rather the thoughts and actions surrounding them.

Personally I’m not willing to take that chance.

Every day I hear stories about what happened when someone made a decision to stop doing whatever they did to get clean, sober and healthy in the first place. The outcome has yet proven beneficial. Maybe they didn’t re-engage with an addictive behavior but the account of how miserable their life became keeps me alert.

The important element is what I tell myself, what I believe, and what keeps me willing to move forward, learning more about what’s necessary to maintain the mostly peaceful life I now lead.

I don’t concern myself with what others think about how I identify my recovery status just as I have no business getting involved with how others perceive their transformation path.

Perhaps if we paid more attention to sharing what works rather than what we name our progression, we might better encourage others to seek what could work for them.

Today I hope my actions speak louder than any spoken answer.
A Moment to Breathe .

From Practice to Practical Experience to Progress

A few summers ago, a disk in my back herniated. The story of how this happened is far from interesting.

I was vacuuming.

There was no mistaking the “pop” I not only felt but heard when I tried to move an end-table with one hand while I pushed the vacuum with the other. When the crisp snap in the small of my back occurred that small voice inside suggested the incident wasn’t something to simply shake off.

Did I listen?  Of course not.

Most people would have shut off the Hoover and sought some sort of medical attention. Not me. I continued forth seeking the housecleaning I’d planned for the day. That plan shifted quickly with seriously painful consequences.

The next morning, in addition to shooting pain in my lower back, my leg was tingle-y numb. Almost on instinct learned at a very young age, I convinced myself the situation was probably nothing and I’d be fine. I was sure if I just kept moving the pain and numbness would pass. This was the same kind of irrational thought process I’d use to drown the small voice inside when I wanted that “one more” drink or didn’t want that much-needed meal.

After more than a few 24-hours of healthy recovery one would think I’d learn a thing or two about how willful I am, attempting to control things I have no business controlling. Unfortunately for whatever reason those repetitively spoken words of wisdom were not rising to the occasion in my head. Instead my solution was to get on the floor and stretch the area of my back that was causing me to feel such searing pain.

Bad idea.

I made an already awful situation far worse. Before I knew what happened, my husband was carefully guiding me to a seat in the waiting room of a back specialist.

After a few preliminary tests this very kind and patient doctor listened with intention to what happened and was gracious enough to keep her face stoic.

Upon finishing the tale of my pain and subsequent attempt to self-heal, she explained the tests confirmed a herniated disk and calmly identified for me the ramifications if I chose to continue irritating the area via the solution I’d previously tried.

When I asked her opinion on long-term healing she responded, “Well based on practical experience there is a plan of what has worked for others. However, every person’s body is different. How about we give what I’ve recommended a try. We’ll then schedule you for a follow-up in a few weeks. If you are still experiencing discomfort we’ll try something else.

I felt relieved by the doctor’s prescription to practice her suggestions and adjust as needed because the intention was parallel to my early days in addiction recovery.

When I first admitted the need for help to cease unhealthy behaviors, I tried desperately to find anyone who would provide a guarantee I’d never drink again or obsess endlessly about food and body issues. Each time I eased the question into conversation I heard the same thing.

“Alison, seek out those who have overcome what you struggle with. Ask what worked for them and their suggestions for next right recovery steps. Practice what they offer for your consideration every day. However be advised, just because something worked for them doesn’t guarantee the same will work for you. If you remain willing to try, eventually you’ll determine what works and hopefully one day you’ll share that as practical experience with someone else.”

The key word here is practice. First attempts don’t always work so we try again and again until something clicks. This is how we gain much-needed practical experience.

practice

Just as doctors are always learning, experimenting and challenging themselves with new patient experiences, so too are we who seek long-term, healthy recovery.  As a matter of fact, the word “practice” appears in the last step of the 12 listed for those seeking the same freedom from addiction I’ve achieved.

Maintaining the kind of life I’m deeply grateful to now live requires daily practice. When I began living without alcohol and with a renewed perspective of food and body image, I began to attain the kind of practical experience I now share with others who trace the same footsteps I did not mark but followed.

The equation is simple. Practice leads to practical experience and practical experience leads to progress, the very thing I strive for every day.

A Moment to Breathe…

Throughout the day think about practical steps you can take to progress toward your goals.  Are people available to you who might offer suggestions based on practical experience?   I welcome your feedback on this idea either by leaving a reply below or as a comment via your preferred social media network. 

 

Lessons Learned in the Curves

For a very long time only straight line solutions existed for me. When I’d worn out a pair of shoes I got new ones. When I the guy I was dating started showing signs he wasn’t good for me I’d break up with him while seeking another. When the car ran out of gas I’d stop to refuel.

In other words, acknowledge the problem, solve immediately, and move on.

Surely this same systematic route would be the way I’d overcome alcoholism and an eating disorder. My “problem-solution-move on” theory of navigating life would be the plan. However what I found was, yes I had a problem, yes there was (and still is) a solution and yes I would move on. The only difference was no one would guarantee me that path would be a straight line.

Thankfully I stepped forward on the trail anyway. Fast forward many 24 hours of one-day-at-a-time later and I’m here to report we learn our best lessons in the curves.

The road to Heart tree

I’ve experienced countless bends, some wider and rougher than others. Here are a few I moved through early on.

Curve #1: When I received my now cherished book of direction, I was also given a recommendation to read only the words written in black if I wanted answers to overcome my problem. Wonderful! I opened the book, went right to the table of contents, found a chapter titled “How It Works”, and flipped to that section. I assumed everything written before was just research-y stuff that wasn’t necessary for me to review. I figured wrong. Not only was I wildly confused by the language (explained in previous chapters), the solution the chapter title claimed to offer was not clearly defined.

Course Correction: As someone suggested, I talked with a woman who seemed to have a life that made sense without the use of unhealthy coping behaviors. Per her gentle yet firm direction I circled back and read that book from the very first page behind the cover. I’ve since read and reread the pages with intention, willingness and gratitude. I continue to find words that shift my perspective and overwhelm me with hope.

Curve #2: People told me if I followed the guidelines posted on the wall at support group meetings, I’d find the kind of freedom I sought. Great! I reviewed the directions listed, determined which were inapplicable and silently calculated when I’d be done with the whole thing. I’d soon learn time was (and still is) irrelevant and to date, few who have found themselves free from addiction consider themselves “done.”

Course correction: I shared my skip-to-the-finish-line plan with those whose recovery I still admire. Their reaction was quite clear. If my goal was to attain foundational change and sustainable growth I’d be best served to take my time and not skip anything. I’ve since learned the value of slowing down, easing back on the recovery throttle, and continuing my studies of the true intention behind the words on the wall.

Curve #3: I believed I could do this recovery thing all by myself. I had no fight left in me to defend why and how I’d messed up my life. I figured with a good read of the book I was given there would be no reason for me to share the truth about who I was, what I’d been doing with my life and why I felt so hopeless. Then one day all that changed when someone said, “Yeah, I thought I could do this thing on my own until I realized my best thinking got me here.

Course Correction:  After several attempts to say something during a support group meeting I suddenly heard my voice betraying a long-held confidence. In a split-second, shuttering moment I braced myself for the request I step out of the room because what I said was too horrific for anyone’s ears. Instead I looked around and saw nodded heads offering words like, “me too” and “you’re in the right place.” When tears started steaming down my cheek I heard what I hope to never forget, “Don’t worry Alison, we’re going to love you until you learn to love yourself.” That was a stand-still moment which is forever embedded in my heart. Those generous, supportive, compassionate words taught me recovery is not a self-help program.

Although the twists and turns have often felt dizzying, I wouldn’t change a thing.

I can’t wait to experience the next life bend because in every curve is a lesson I’ve yet to learn.

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A Moment to Breathe …

What has helped you to course correct a venture off your path?  What lessons have you learned along those curves?  Feel free to leave a message here or as a comment when sharing this post via your favorite social network.  

Learning Lessons I’d Eventually Need to Teach

Before I sought help to address how much I drank and how little I ate, I practiced self-pity on a daily basis. The moment my alarm went off in the morning I’d find reason to validate why the world was an unfair and unjust place to exist.

I’d quickly consider the next available innocent victim who could fuel my insatiable need to validate why people and situations were intentionally trying to ruin me. Back then if you gave me a minute of your time I’d take an hour. Endless dramatic tales tumbled from my mouth layered with rationale and reasoning why everything and everyone kept me from the kind of life I expected.

I remember how rejected I felt when suddenly my phone calls weren’t returned or a conversation awkwardly changed subject. I couldn’t understand and silently questioned what friends were for. Aren’t they supposed to always help me when my chips were down? How rude to think their lives are so much better than mine and couldn’t be bothered with my issues.

In those days if you acted that way toward me, I would return the favor times ten. If you turned your back on me, well then you’d forever see only my back. That’s just the way I rolled. Took me years to understand that cavalier attitude coupled with a belief I had control over those relationships was nothing more than an illusion. In truth I had no control. I simply couldn’t see how my nonstop whining and complaining drained people. For the kind souls who stuck around longer than most, my endless resistance to suggestions they offered eventually pushed them away too.

Thank God there was one person who still took my calls. What started off as yet another self-pitying sob-fest ended up being the call I’d long needed to make. I had no idea what asking for help meant or where that would lead me. I didn’t care. I just wanted out of the horrific situation I’d landed in. I had yet to accept a need for addiction recovery because that would mean never drinking again or controlling the number on a scale. However when I made that particular phone call I would have done or said just about anything to rise from the emotional, physical, mental and spiritual bottom I’d reached.

All I wanted was to forget what had happened and move on. I had no desire to recap my actions with a complete stranger and I most certainly was not going to talk about what I thought. Just point me in the direction to learn how to drink normally and eat without altering the clothes I liked wearing.

I wasn’t sent to that class. Instead I found myself directed to a place where people allowed me to vent but would not allow me to wallow in the problem. I thought I’d hear things like, “Oh honey, why of course you drank and didn’t eat. Under those circumstances, what other choice did you have?” Instead I heard, “Oh is that all? Yeah, I felt the same way and did the same things but they never helped.  Matter of fact, my best thinking got me here.”

time to learn

As much as I tried to find them, there were no innocent victims willing to validate why having a drink or controlling what number appeared on a scale could ease the pain I was feeling.

The days of dressing up for a pity party were lessening to the degree people continued to ask what benefit I got from hearing my wild narratives. In time I learned to stand on my own two feet rather than my tales of woe. I found great value from reconsidering situations from a perspective other than mine.

Fast forward many 24 hours without a drink or the need to control my body weight, shape and size. These days I try to live according to what I believe makes for a peaceful, caring and compassionate co-existence with other people. I do my best as a supportive wife, friend, sister, daughter and co-worker.

Yet life has an interesting way of bringing me back to the very place I once stood. Only now I often stand on the other side. Today I’m given opportunities to experience the person I was through the words and actions of someone else.

When those situations appear at my doorstep I’m not facing a resurgence of regret and shame for how selfishly I behaved. Instead I feel a deep desire to thank the people who walked away, changed the subject or stopped taking my calls.

For the most part I hang in there with people who continuously try to attain validation I won’t give. I believe I have a responsibility to keep my hand outstretched for those who may want to shift from an addiction-fueled existence to a life that makes sense. I simply can’t look the other way when someone is clearly in need of help. However sometimes the help they need may not include me.

There are times when I need clarity about the kind of support I’m offering. Am I helping or hindering? Am I enabling or encouraging? These are important questions to ask, perhaps the very same ones people who cut me off asked themselves long ago.

I now know I needed people to disengage with me. Had they not I would have continued my search for even the slightest degree of sympathy and validation for another drink or another step on the scale to confirm I remained in control.

A week ago I was unexpectedly reminded of my manipulative days. I found myself in a situation whereby I made an extremely difficult yet necessary decision to gently move away from someone who asked for help as continuously as she found reason to keep on doing what she’d been doing.

After receiving yet another of the hundreds of alcohol-induced phone calls from this woman, I heard a click of the phone confirming she’d hung up on me. In that moment of deafening silence I felt pushed one inch too far.

I felt a strong sting from her behavior perhaps to experience precisely how I had treated others so many years ago. I wondered if I now faced having to make the very same kind of decision they did, one which ultimately saved my life.

Unsure of what I could be my next right step, I chose to calmly separate myself from the situation and thoroughly consider my options.

As I often do in these moments of uncertainty, I called the one woman who knows me better than I know myself. After sharing a detailed review of what occurred she helped me realize the conversations with my friend were clearly not in anyone’s best interest. If she stood by her intention to make a change, something needed changing.

I circled back to my friend whose words were once my own. I clearly yet calmly stated she reconsider what has long been suggested and seek the help she professed to want.

I willingly let go so she might grab hold of the same freedom from addiction I’d experienced all those years ago.

Perhaps she’ll soon learn the very lessons I now have the privilege and honor to teach.

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A Moment to Breathe….

Are you helping or hindering someone’s recovery?  Are you finding yourself caught up in the need to fix, manage and control?  Are you willing to let someone go for them to get well?  Can you disengage with love to maintain your own sense of self?  Have you had to answer these often very difficult questions?  How did you navigate these rough-edged situations?  Please post your stories here or as a comment when sharing this blog on your favorite social media network.  

What’s Really Meant When Saying “Yes, but…”

I recently called a friend to talk with her about a choice I needed to make. I’ve learned through the program of recovery how valuable perspective beyond my own helps assure I’ll do the next right thing.

However there are times, like this one, when I already know what I want to do yet I go through the motions anyway.

Bad idea.

Sure enough things didn’t pan out the way I had wanted. When I ran into my friend, I had to fess up about the result. This is pretty much how that conversation went:

FRIEND:  So how did everything work out?

ME:  The outcome wasn’t so great. I went ahead with my original idea.

FRIEND:  I thought you agreed to go in the other direction.

ME:  Well yes, but…

What I said after the word but proved irrelevant because the quasi-rationale I offered served no other purpose than to weakly justify why I did what I did.

To note, this is not new behavior for me. Several years ago I treated myself to a recovery renewal weekend at the center where I sought treatment for alcoholism. The focus of the weekend was to look deeper into our own recovery process and uncover areas that needed improvement.

A man I highly respect for his acute insight and interesting perspective led one of the more powerful sessions. When I had an opportunity to share a bit about myself, this man I admired interrupted me mid-sentence and asked I stop talking, stand up and begin again.

As a slow-to-change perfectionist, I stood up, took a deep breath and launched back into my story. After uttering about four sentences, he stopped me again. This time he asked I take three physical steps backward.

Admittedly I began to wonder if this guy wasn’t actually nuts and not such a genius after all. However out of respect I did what he asked. I took three steps back and waited for my next instruction. When there was nothing but silence I turned to face the man I questioned and saw him smiling back at me. He took a deep breath and said, “Alison, many times in your story you reference saying “yes but” when others were trying to help you. What happened when you said those words was you moved away from what the universe was pulling you toward.

Yep, I was right.  This guy is a genius.

YES BUT with crossout

Thinking back when I was actively drinking, many people feared for my life as they watched my actions become dangerously unhealthy. Countless times they gently (or not so gently) suggested I consider sobriety. My response was often something like “Well maybe, but I’m under so much stress at work and a few drinks takes the edge off”, or “I guess, but at least I don’t drink as much as some other people.

Eventually I paid more attention to the words I needed to hear and got sober.

A few years later when the behaviors associated with an eating disorder escalated, those same people expressed concern. Once again I found myself in the throes of the “Yes, but…” verbal dance, clutching to the hope whatever I cobbled together in the latter part of that statement would somehow convince others I didn’t need help. I said things like, “I know I should take a break for lunch, but I’m swamped with work and don’t have time” or “I typically eat more for dinner, but I had a big lunch.

When I finally realized I could no longer convince anyone, including myself, why denying my body proper nutrition made sense, I sought the help I needed.

After a great deal of time reviewing my past I’ve come to understand anything I said after the word but kept me stuck in a complicated and dangerous web of deception, lies and isolation.

I’m not alone.

Very often people try desperately to make sense of what they’d rather resist. The “yes, but…” crossroad phrase is said to offset small changes needing to be made and sometimes when faced with critical, heartfelt decisions.

One such experience took place when by brother was kept alive by machines after he suffered a heart attack and subsequent brain injury. In a closed-door meeting, several highly acclaimed doctors suggested our family consider his quality of life if he remained in that state. Out of fear and clinging to any vestige of hope, most of the family responded, “I understand, but what if you tried something else?” Looking back there was a strong belief whatever followed but would be a viable reason to avoid the kind of decision no one wants to make.

Ultimately we each heard our own inner voice of reason, yielding to enough acceptance of the situation to simply say, “I understand.” No further words were necessary.

I suppose that’s the bottom line. When I find myself using the some variation of the phrase “Well yes, but”, I’m actually trying to justify why I don’t want to do, think, or say what’s rational, reasonable, and sound.

Perhaps you’ve experienced this very same thing or maybe you’re thinking, “She might be right, but…

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A Moment to Breathe…

Think about the last time you found yourself trying to justify questioned behavior. Did the “Yes, but …” statement find a way into your conversation? Can you now recognize the words said prior could have led to a better choice? Leave a comment below or when sharing this post on your favorite social network.    

 

Wonder Why Early Recovery is So Emotional? You’re Grieving.

Holding hands at the end of a recovery meeting is a symbolic reminder we are not alone. The circle we form means there’s no beginning and no end, no hierarchy and no judgment, we’re just everyday people doing our best to stay connected and hopeful. The other day I stood in one such circle uttering the last few words we often say. When I would have normally let go of the hands I held, the one in my left clung a bit longer. I turned to look into the tear-filled eyes of a woman about my age. She very softly said the words I always welcome, “Do you have a minute?

We found a quiet corner and a box of tissues. I patiently waited as she did her best to move past the tears in order to form a complete sentence. When she looked to me for reassurance, I suggested she try taking a few slow, deep breaths. I shared with her how my father would ask me to do the same thing when he found me in similar emotional moments. I’ve since learned if I can slow my erratic breathing down a bit I’m able to slow my racing thoughts and find my voice.

When she found hers, she talked in rapid fire about how she was new to all this and although she had some problems at home, at work and a few discrepancies with the legal system, she thoroughly believed her drinking and other unhealthy behaviors weren’t that bad.

In bits and pieces she recanted conversations with others over the last few days and while she thought they were out of their minds, she figured if she showed up at a meeting they’d get off her back. After doing some research about recovery she sat alone in her house feeling miserable about how her life was unfolding and how unfair she be asked to give up drinking forever.  Soon the tears fell again and in broken half sentences she told me of how much she feared what others would think of her and that she could never show her face in public again for the things she’d done. All she wanted to do was be alone and figure things out but couldn’t.  With nowhere else to go and no one she could turn to for validation she came to the meeting hoping she’d feel better but instead felt worse.

I took a deep breath and told her how much I admired her courage to walk through the door and sit through the entire meeting.  The choice she made to ask we sit and chat for a while was further proof of that courage.  I explained no one will ask her to do anything forever, only for today. I then told her a bit about what took place for me to find a meeting of recovery and although others shared similar stories during the last hour, from the look on her face I made an assumption much of what others said went unheard.

Yet I think what I told her next is something heard loud and clear.  I told her she was grieving. Most of us go through feelings and states of mind during the initial days in recovery that parallel well-known stages of grief.  People often only associate grief with the loss of a loved one yet isn’t our relationship with alcohol or food or drugs or gambling equally passionate?  Therefore I asked she reconsider what she’d just told me in relation to the stages of grieving. stages of grief The mention of problems at work, home and the legal system coupled with the belief her drinking and other unhealthy behaviors weren’t “that bad” was nothing less than denial.  I suggested she consider if she’s angry with others for expressing concern about the manner in which she was managing her life.  Certainly her choice to attend a meeting of recovery to somehow get them off her back was a form of bargaining.  Then the state of mind she fell into after searching for a meeting might be a form of depression and finally, hearing more similarities than differences during the meeting and sitting here with me might very well be a kind of acceptance that she does belong here. I reminded her acceptance doesn’t mean she agrees with everything she’s hearing but what’s necessary if she wants to move forward.

I went on to say addiction, like grieving, is really patient. When we find ourselves feeling vulnerable for one reason or another, any one of the feelings associated with grief can ease into our minds thereby convincing us a drink or some other form of self-soothing behavior will alleviate that uncomfortable feeling.  The vicious cycle is quite real and can show up no matter how many days of continuous sobriety one strings together. Yet if we build a strong support system with those who walk the same recovery path, we have options to fend off lapsing back into old ways of feeling better.

We sat together for quite a while talking about the program of recovery and what she might be willing to do in the next few days.  I told her just like when grieving the loss of a loved one, she try to go easy on expectations of herself and others and that if she was open to the idea, she find her way to another meeting within the next 24 hours.

As we walked to our cars I saw my new friend smile briefly reminding me how important giving back what was so freely given to me keeps me grounded and grateful.

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A Moment to Breathe… Are you in any relationships with people or situations you can’t walk away from yet know deep down you need to? Are you hanging on out of fear you can’t handle the emotional separation or are you willing to try? Sometimes if we associate what’s behind our need to hang on to what’s not good for us we’re better able to make sense of why we must let go. If we turn our backs to what we feel, we’ll stay stuck. What has been your experience with this process? Feel free to offer a reply here or as a comment when sharing on your favorite social network.  

Peeling Back the Layers

When I was young, I was fascinated by the Matryoshka dolls or the Russian nesting doll sets. I enjoyed discovering one the little wooden figure inside another. According to tradition the outer layer of the set is a woman and the smallest, innermost doll is the baby.

Matryoshka doll Image 1

Little did I know this would be my experience moving through the process of recovery; peeling back the layers of my adult self to reveal what has been fully, solidly true for me from the beginning.

When I said the words, “I need help” I was actually pulling apart the first doll, the outer “grown up” protective version of me who dared never let anyone know who I really was. The stubborn, stop-at-nothing-to-get-my-way, willful and power-hungry me would dodge emotional inquisition with an abrupt turn of the heel or twist of the shoulder assuring no one could get too close. If by chance someone did, I’d swiftly pull my protective shield tighter so my tears and pain of not being understood, accepted and valued wouldn’t be seen. The tighter the shield the louder the messages in my head.

Never let them see you break.

Head high.

Power on.

Have a drink to relax.

No one will notice.

Skip the meal.

Shrink from the truth.

Never let them pull you apart.

Oh how I resisted being pulled apart. I had no idea how much I needed to shed layers to open up and understand how and why the real me could emerge and be free.

In a very profound sense, I had to peel myself all the way back to the solid center where I might reconsider stories I told myself through the years about what a successful life would look like. The process was not easy, fast or in a straight line. The foundational changes I’ve been able to achieve were born from devoted attention to the next right step toward a life that makes sense.

Those who have bravely walked this recovery path before me advised eventually more would be revealed to me about me. I initially feared the idea because I simply could not imagine going any deeper than I already had.

Yet as time goes on I’m finding there is more, much more. There’s one particular story I’ve recently found myself having to reconsider.

This is the story I’d long told myself about money.

Yes, financial layers are tricky and often transparent. One yields security, one status. Another offers shelter and then another, identity. So what happens when these layers begin to shed?

I’ll tell you what can happen. Just like the realization I could change the story I told myself about needing alcohol on a daily basis or why I had to obsessively manipulate the size and shape of my body, I’m finding I can move beyond the story I’d told myself about money and what is real worth.

Do not misunderstand! I am not suggesting I enjoy the daily discussions in the kitchen about what we can do without. This is not the preferred breakfast table conversation but the necessary one. I don’t like this particular phase of the life I share with my husband but I know from experience what I don’t like might very well be just be what I need.

If the absolute miracle of overcoming an unhealthy need for alcohol and a body size and shape not intended for me was possible, I am more than willing to peel back another layer revealing the truth about what I actually need to feel financially sound.

Makes me wonder what’s inside the next little Matryoshka doll of my life. Armed with gratitude for what’s been revealed so far, I can’t wait to find out.

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A Moment to Breathe ….

What feels challenging for you today?  What layer are you resisting to pull back?  Are you afraid of what might be revealed or are you willing to take a look?  Are you actually protecting yourself or holding yourself back?  Please offer your thoughts here or via your favorite social network by clicking one of the links to share this blog.  

What Lingers In Long-Term Recovery? The Disease of Wanting “More”

The other night my husband and I went to see “The Wolf of Wall Street”, a movie portrayed in hedonistic detail about Jordan Belfort whose life was overtaken by greed and self-indulgence when nothing else mattered and rules were inconsequential. I found the movie fascinating as the underlying message hit a bit close to home.

Spellbound I watched Leonardo DiCaprio work his acting magic to transform into a human example of what can happen when the desire for more becomes intoxicating. This slow-to-take-shape, deliciously dangerous drug of choice twists even the most resistant to stop at nothing while fueling the need.

http://youtu.be/iszwuX1AK6A

As much as I wanted to distance myself from the kind of people illuminating from the big screen, I couldn’t deny the parallel perspective I had before recovery when just enough was never enough. Although I didn’t engage with some of the same behaviors or live a lifestyle even close to that of Jordan Belfort, I was equally addicted to the desire for more of what was not good for me.

There was never enough alcohol when “I’ll have just one more” never meant one. There were never enough ways to deny or manipulate my nutritional needs when I self-convincingly stated “I’m not hungry” or “I ate already” with the same emptiness in truth as in stomach. When “Oh hell, why not” led to “Oh hell, what did I just do“.

After the movie credits rolled, I walked from the theater door to our car shivering from a mixture of memories past and subzero temperatures. When I shut the car door and felt the first whispers of heat, I smiled in gratitude for my long-term recovery and the willingness to go to any lengths to stay that way. The mere thought of waking up and reaching for more alcohol with vague memory of the night before, or silently congratulating myself for a meal skipped made my blood run as cold as the temperature on the other side of the car door.

As I settled into bed that night sober and healthy, I realized I’m not completely free from this addiction for more.

Never far from pen and paper, I made a list of what I currently desire for more and if given the opportunity, pretty certain I’d go to any lengths to indulge. Here’s a little of my list.

- More days in the week

- More hours in the day

- More days of vacation when packing to go home

- More attention from those I’ve yet to know

- More attention from those I do

- More pages at the end of a really good book

- More “likes” on Facebook, followers on Twitter, and readers of this blog

- More reasons to say yes

- More ways to say no

- More sunny days after a beautiful sunset

- More money to ease financial worry

- More opportunity when I feel there’s none

- More tears when they really needed to fall

- More days with my Dad before he died

- More silence when I’m scared to speak

- More ways to make something work easier

- More words to say what I mean

- More presents under the Christmas tree for those I love

- More time with my friends

- More time to write without limitation

- More time to listen

- More ways to better understand a situation

- More light when I’m in a dark place

- More speed for my internet connection

- More battery life for my cellphone, iPad and laptop

- More awakenings about who I am

- More coffee

- More ways to show someone how much I care

As I breathe in all that I seek more of, I realize wanting “more” isn’t just about what’s unhealthy or dangerous.  What’s really at stake is what becomes obsessive in my head. Why is that?  What benefit would I attain if having more eventually led to getting less? If I had more days in the week or hours in that day, wouldn’t I eventually want more of that?  The cycle is endless and the need is never fully fueled.

So, here’s my next right step. I am going to focus on the notion what I want is often not at all what I need, and why accepting what I’m presented each day is the key to peaceful contentment. I may not particularly like defined time-frames, limited resources and waiting for things to happen, but in retrospect perhaps my life is infinitely better because of them.

Maybe I need to write more about that.

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A Moment to Breathe…

What do you desperately desire more of? Will having more of whatever hits your list ultimately allow you to live a peacefully balanced life? Will the consequences of having more outweigh the short-term satisfaction? After asking yourself these questions I’d love your input on this topic.  Leave a reply here or comment when sharing via social media. 

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