Alison's Insights

Making Sense of Addiction Recovery in Midlife One Slow Deep Breath at a Time

“Well yeah, but …”

If you were to have told me 20 years ago I’d one day be encouraging others to reconsider kept secrets about drinking and unhealthy eating habits, I would have dismissed you entirely. Back in those days I could hardly keep my own secrets and lies straight.

Yet time marched on and here I am doing exactly what I could not have imagined; offering insight based on the practical experience of getting from there to here.

During these times of intimate conversation most people I encounter believe at the very least they’re willing to make some changes in the way they’ve been managing their day-to-day life. On the other hand, there are those who believe they have not hit bottom. These are the folks who can’t seem to understand why their lives are unraveling right before their eyes while their hand can’t let go of a drink or their lips can’t open to a fork.

As I sit in my favorite rocking chair, the one my Mom used to rock me in during childhood asthma attacks, I’m thinking about this idea of hitting bottom.

I love knowing lessons are usually learned first as a whisper and will continue to grow in intensity until the lesson is finally learned. There were whispers all around me for years before I addressed my alcoholism and an eating disorder. So many times I’d hear a little voice inside saying things like, “You really shouldn’t be drinking this much”, “No one drinks at this time of day”, “You need to eat more than just that little bit” or “Don’t worry, you won’t get fat if you eat that.”

Each time I’d hear those messages of seemingly right thinking, almost immediately a silent argument would begin with the words, “Well yeah, but…”

When the whispers about my drinking would creep in I’d find myself saying, “Well yeah but at least I’m not homeless, drinking out of bottle nestled in a brown paper bag and seeking shelter in the vestibule of a building.” Never once did I realize I was already living in isolation, secretly (or not so secretly) drinking and hiding out in my own home.

When the whispers about my interaction with food would drift through my mind, the rationale would be, “Well yeah but at least I’m eating something unlike so many other women I see in the news who flat-out refuse to eat anything, looking so sick, tired and frail.” Not once did I realize what I was eating was nowhere near nutritious, I got winded climbing stairs, I felt light-headed almost daily, I was forgetting important business-related issues, I was distancing myself from my husband because I hated my body, and in general I looked pale, aged and sad.

My bottom was when I realized all my “yeah buts” weren’t convincing me anymore. I realized I had dismissed my own conscience for so long I couldn’t live with the woman I saw in the mirror. I lost sight of being true to myself, being true to that little voice inside.

Years ago I had the privilege of attending a renewal weekend at Hazelden. Walking through those doors as a sober woman versus when I entered them drunk, scared and lost was an experience I will cherish forever.

During this renewal weekend I engaged in a conversation with one of the group leaders about moving forward in recovery. As I was telling him a bit about myself I used the word, “but” while in the middle of a story. He stopped me mid-sentence and asked me to stand up and retell that same story. The minute I used the word, “but” he again stopped me and told me to take three steps backwards.

He explained every time we use the word, “but” we’re actually going backward, moving ourselves further away from what we are trying to accomplish, attain or change. I’ll never forget that tactical experience and ever since then have been unable to say that word without questioning what I’m moving away from.

I believe people hit their bottom when saying the word “but” doesn’t work anymore. You can’t move backward when you’re up against a wall.

The next time you say the word “but” in the middle of a sentence, take notice. What are you trying to distance yourself from?

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2 thoughts on ““Well yeah, but …”

  1. Laura on said:

    I am pondering how financially wealthy I would be, if I had a dollar for every time I said, “Well yeah, but….” in my lifetime. Pretty certain Oprah wouldn’t have much on me.

    As I read your words, as has happened so many times before, I was shaking my head in disbelief of how I resonated with you. I wish I could have seen in my years before being in recovery what I see now. See how broken I was, how my life was such a lie, and how terrible I treated some of the best people that were there to help me, if I had only had the courage to ask. But…..I always had a reason not to see, or a reason not to change.

    I recall one of the most harsh messages that came from my best friend, she said…”my eyes show me you are still underweight and frail looking and your false management over the years of nutrition, Jim and some of your friends is going to collide into a disaster for you. My ears also hear you are not eating and I fear those calories are being allotted to alcohol”. Talk about painful, yet I tried to defend myself by saying ..”yeah, but that’s not all true and I’m trying”. Although I did think I was better, I was also very in denial.

    I know I still use those words. Not as often, but I like the fact that when I use them now, I have something to look for in myself. Why did I say that? Thank you for sharing another lesson to assist us all with learning how to grow and be better.

  2. Laura, your honesty never ceases to amaze me. I honor your ability to dig deep, seek your truth and share so willingly. Thank you for allowing me the opportunity to yet again witness the miraculous power of recovery! XO

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