Alison's Insights

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

Solving Problems Inside a Hamster Wheel

As I’ve heard on more than one occasion, you don’t know what you don’t know.  For most this means practical experience attained at an early age or yesterday is believed to be true until learned otherwise.

Growing up, my family ate dinner together every night.  During the week we gathered in the kitchen and on Sunday, in the dining room.  The only exception was when a special occasion like someone’s birthday landed on a weekday, we’d celebrate by eating in the dining room.  This was how I thought every family enjoyed their evening meal.  Imagine my shock when invited to a friend’s house on a Sunday we ate in the kitchen.  I dared not mention this to anyone because I was also taught never to disagree, talk back, or be disrespectful to others in any way.

While where to eat dinner is simply an example, the idea of never questioning what I experienced and knew to be true was deeply embedded and set the course for how I would interact with others for years to come.

I learned to master the ability of never revealing what I knew to be true. I’d just say what I thought others wanted me to say, react the way I believed others wanted me to react and handle situations in such a way I’d please everyone else while never truly committing in spirit. Often I believed I had a much better idea of how things were to be done but feared I’d be made fun of.  I was left to let the choice of others pave the way.  For years I weathered in silence what I felt were life’s storms, seeking refuge in isolation with bottles of wine and empty plates.

For years I kept to myself what troubled me, hurt me emotionally, or worried me.  If I found the need to spout off, the occasion was typically in defense of myself when words expressed more fear than fact.  I thought I had to preserve an image, never to be thought of as needing someone to help me because I never thought anyone actually cared. If asked, I would always say I was fine even when I desperately was not.

Whenever I felt completely confused or scared, I’d step into my mental hamster wheel, ready to go round and round in search of solutions from the Rolodex of answers I wrote myself.

I had no experience talking truthfully with another person about what was bothering me.  I didn’t understand my all-over-the-board mind wasn’t the best resource for figuring out what didn’t make sense. Bottom line, I had no idea my long-held belief I’d be a burden if I opened up was actually keeping me locked up.

This all changed when a woman who no longer stood in the same shoes of isolation I did looked right through me and said, “Tell me right now what you are most scared to say.  Don’t think, just talk.” In that split second I searched her face for any indication of what I thought she wanted to hear.  I found none.  I had no choice but to open my mouth and when I did, the truth fell out.

Right there, in that moment, I started to unlearn what was taught at a very young age.  Inch by inch I poured out everything I had kept so guarded.  Often shaking with fear and only a whisper of hope, I kept going, praying this woman I admired wouldn’t be given any reason to walk away in disgust.

And then she said the words that shifted my life.  She said, “Honey, everyone has something they’re afraid to say, something they hope never to have revealed about themselves, or something they agonized over far longer than necessary.  You’re just like everyone else, doing the best you can.  The difference is, you’ve been trying to do this thing called life alone. From now on you will never be alone unless you want to be.”

I looked in her eyes and felt relief.  For the first time I not only told the truth about my thoughts, feelings and dreams, I exhaled them.

From that day forward I haven’t found a good enough reason to step back into my mental hamster wheel.  I’ve had the privilege of gaining the practical experience necessary to trust and value input from others, becoming better able to make thorough, well-informed, unemotional decisions.

Today I do my very best to live one day at a time; often with only a shred of evidence the concerns of the day are temporary. Life is ruthless.  Many days I feel unsteady and uncertain yet because I was given that gift of practical experience, I’m confident no matter what I’m feeling, thinking or struggling to make sense of, as long as I tell someone what’s going on, I’ll be just fine.

If I could spend 5 minutes with the little girl I once was, I’d hold her in my arms and say, “Honey, no thought is too crazy, no feeling is invalid and no dream is too big.  Take a deep breath, don’t think just start talking. You have no idea how many people will want and need to hear what you have to say.”


A Moment to Breathe …

Most people have stuff going on in their lives they’re hesitant to talk honestly about.  Often the fear of being seen as unable to manage problems keeps the solution options at bay.  Just for today, try not to make sense of things in silence.  Why not reach out to a trusted friend and allow them in.  I’ll bet you’ll be glad you did.  If you feel compelled to do so, please come back and share what that experience was like. 

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