Alison's Insights

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

Archive for the category “12 Step Recovery”

Seeing Something Old with New Eyes

When was the last time you’ve rearranged a closet, the living room furniture, or the selves of your mind? Seems when I allow myself the time for those things I become grateful to see them differently or reconsider what I’d long forgotten.

This shuffling of perspective also happens when I’m recaptured by books read years ago or even pages reviewed last week.

For example, I recently came across an image of a beloved childhood story about a toy rabbit’s quest to become real.

Velveteen Rabbit original cover

The need to find a copy of this book was immediate. When I turned the first page to immerse myself with the story my heart skipped a beat. The left to right movement of my eyes slowed a bit as I tried to see past the collection of tears formed. The messages of right living seemed to leap around and off the page like the rabbit at the center of the story.

Has this little book always contained such beautiful descriptions of how life works, what becoming REAL means, and why being different isn’t so different after all?

The answer is yes but the reality is the story hasn’t changed I have.

The intention of the narrative, the stuffed rabbit’s journey from what he thought he was to what he becomes, mirrors what I’ve gone through over these past many years. We both turned ourselves inside out revealing truths about who we are and how we are best suited to interact with the world around us.

Examples of this are:

– Don’t be convinced no one is like you because you assume they haven’t struggled as you did.

– Pay attention to those who have the kind of wisdom and practical experience you would like to one day have.

– Watch what happens to people who are reluctant to smooth their rough edges formed by unhealthy coping skills and behaviors. Keep an even closer focus on those who resist what persists.

– Change is wildly uncomfortable. We squirm, question, fantasize, or even rationalize how great things were before. Yet if we keep doing the next right thing in healthier surroundings we come to find enjoyment in our new lifestyle and manner of living.

– Comparing yourself to others won’t help make sense of things. Nothing will come from the assumption that you’ll feel better on the inside if you fix, manage and control your outside to mirror theirs.

– Allow the love of others to settle comfortably within. Soon you’ll come to love yourself and the need to “look” a certain way will eventually fade away.

– When you love someone you become willing to take whatever action steps necessary to help them. This only works if what you offer is in the best interest of that person and not yourself.

– Accept when the time comes to move on.

– Humility is the cornerstone of right living as the very wise Skinned Horse character describes in the story.

skinned horse image 2

You become. It takes a long time. That’s why it doesn’t happen often to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept. Generally by the time you are REAL, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don’t matter at all because once you are REAL you can’t be ugly, except to people who don’t understand.”

I used to consider a good day as one when addiction had my full and undivided attention. Back then rationale for unhealthy actions never wavered. I wouldn’t allow myself even an inch of wiggle room for reconsideration or change in perspective. Once I’d read, seen, or heard something I was done. Case closed.

That is not my life today. After much emotionally challenging self-investigation and a detailed, brutally honest review of past experiences, I came to believe open-mindedness might be of benefit to me.

The next time I’m asked what helped most to overcome addiction, I’m going to think of my little rabbit friend from that cherished book and reply, “When I finally became willing to see something old with new eyes.”

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A Moment to Breathe…

Take some time to think about what you might see new again. Consider your relationships or that project you just can’t seem to finish. Do you need someone’s help or a different perspective to better understand the situation? The benefits you receive may far exceed your resistance to ask. I’m interested in your feedback. Feel free to leave a comment below or share your thoughts with this post on your favorite social media forum.

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.    

 

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