Alison's Insights

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

Archive for the category “Addiction”

My Age? Well, that Depends. How Am I Reacting?

Have you ever shown up to a family function only to leave as a much younger version of yourself?  I sure have.

When out-of-town family members come for a visit there’s always a get-together. Maybe two. I arrive feeling connected and collected but then something happens and suddenly I’m a wobbly teenager lacking the sense of self-confidence I carried through the front door.

This type of mystical age transformation is not new and something I’ve tried to better understand about myself over the past several years.

In the early stages of recovery many suggested I take a good look at who I am from the inside out. Soon what once made sense didn’t and what didn’t make sense started to. One of the more challenging concepts to accept was that most who battle addiction stop growing emotionally when they first feel a positive jolt from using the drug or behavior of choice.

I felt insulted by even the suggestion this could apply to me. I was a grown woman, successful in the eyes of many in my profession. I’d managed multi-million dollar pieces of business, got married, bought a house, invested in the stock market, and traveled the world. Now I’m to believe that because I started drinking and investigating ways to attain a body not meant for me at 13 I’m emotionally stuck at that age? I don’t think so.

But then I remembered my commitment to those guiding me. Based on their suggestion I dug a bit deeper. How had I reacted to tough situations? Was I more tantrum-like than calm? When in a tough relationship conversation, did I push for the last word or raise my voice to take control? How often did I give a laser-burning stare then turn my head with angry snap and storm out hoping the dramatic exit would dominate? Did I deflect, deny or defend my behavior rather than calmly interact with a problematic issue?

The answers to these questions were certainly eye-opening.

There was no denying the truth. I had managed most of my adult life as an emotional teenager.

younger and older self

Clearly there were changes to make, parts to nurture, and memories to reconsider. What I learned from that investigation helps me to respond better and assure my words, actions, and reactions match my age.

However every so often I find myself in an emotionally triggering moment when a look on someone’s face, or the loud sigh from another, can launch me back to an early version of myself with a drink in one hand and a fork at a far distance from the other.

This is the moment for a slow, deep breath. The simple but important pause allows my younger self to step away from reacting so my more mature self can step in and respond to assure I’m taking the next right one.

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A Moment to Breathe…

Do you relate to any of the questions I posed when facing troubling situations?  Is there any possibility for disparity between your birth certificate age and your emotional age?  To consider this idea, find some quiet space and jot down whatever comes to mind. I’ve found keeping these thoughts in my head causes them to endlessly cycle, get more intrusive and eventually seem too big to handle. Another helpful option is to talk these things out with others who may feel the same way. Feel free to use the space below or include your thoughts when sharing this post via your favorite social media site.  

 

Befriending Fear-Based Gratitude

Last week my brain experienced a head-on crash.

From one direction came grief on the date of my older brother’s birth. He died way too young and far too soon. From the other direction came the heart-breaking news a dear friend with long-term sobriety had relapsed.

Like an EMT first on the scene, I assessed the situation of mental mayhem and thought-strewn debris. Initial instinct was I focus my attention out instead of in.

After a deep breath and bit of prayer, I sought guidance from a woman whose recovery I admire. She suggested I launch into the initial protocol for someone in relapse. I took those actions only to receive no response.

The implied denial and resistance evoked all kinds of emotion within me. I know there are absolutely no guarantees for this kind of thing. The monster of addiction lurks around every corner just waiting to grab hold in moments of vulnerability. This means no matter what weapon I yield the demons surrounding someone else are not mine to overcome.

I’ve known this truth for years yet I simply cannot deny the human element. I do care and I am sad and yes, really scared. Even though I believe we have a Higher Power watching over us I’m just as fallible as the next person. The God I pray to will allow me room for question and doubt, welcoming me to experience feelings of heartbreak as I bear witness to another loved one falling prey to the monster I abhor.

What amazes me most is when the dust settles I feel grateful for this experience. Is that selfish? Is this perceived benefit stemming from someone else’s pain and shame and guilt and remorse somehow wrong? I don’t think so.

Just like my brother’s death, my friend’s relapse is a not-so-gentle reminder of what can happen if I start to think the very basics of what has kept me in a healthy place don’t make sense anymore.

These instances of fear-laced gratitude catapult me back to core principles such as honesty, faith, integrity, acceptance, humility, and service. I consider how, when stemmed from desperation, I finally became willing to take suggestions and subsequent action. I thank God I surrounded myself with people who offered me direction and guidance when I had none at all.

when its too much

No one has the answer for someone in addiction hell. All anyone offer is an answer or what worked for them and now provides practical experience for others.

I hope my friend in struggle gives me an opportunity to share what helps me when I feel off-balance and why I push myself to remember sacrifices made when I chose alcohol and the scale over vacations and celebrations. I’d remind us both of the sorrow and pain I could not share with friends and family because I feared their judgment more than I feared the long-term consequences of my health.

I’d verbally recall what I missed when physically present but mentally lost. Countless moments my mind would drift from what was right in front of me to panic and fear-based anxiety. I’d shut down to avoid what I thought required of me. Those silent sometimes paralyzing feelings took precedence over people, places, and once-in-a-lifetime experiences.

If those recollections don’t ignite a perspective shift, I’d divulge the truth of how I didn’t fail others nearly as much as I failed myself. Even today as I promote the ideas to focus forward, pay forward, and move forward, I am equally prone to question my choices and consider when I’ve failed myself.

I’d finish by reminding my friend the very same thing I tell myself every day. The only thing I’m assured of is what’s right in front of me. The decisions I make in the moment have tremendous impact on how I’ll feel hours from now. Choices and the consequences are mine, good or bad.

Maybe one day I’ll have the chance to say some of this. Until then I’ll let the dust of destruction and chaos settle to allow me grace and befriend my fear-laced gratitude.

A Moment to Breathe..

Have you had the bone-chilling experience to witness people’s negative consequences only to realize you were somehow spared from the very same? Is there a lesson to learn in that universe-provided mirror? After a deep breath and strong exhale, jot down what comes to mind. As your gratitude emerges please consider leaving a comment below or share this post and your experience via your favorite social media site. 

Reflections of Change from Tattered Pages of Well-Read Books

Don’t you love inspirational books that seem pointedly written just for you? There’s something oddly magical and not at all creepy when reading words you felt sure the author wrote after spying on you in your darkest hour.

I love those kinds of books as I never tire of their uplifting, reassuring, and thought course-correcting messages.  Better still is the opportunity to share them with those I believe might feel the same.

Most of my days include time spent with those who battled or are still fighting the insidious disease of alcoholism and the endless mental trap of an eating disorder. Often I find myself talking about how these personally touching and hope-filled books awaken my spirit and provide me courage to believe I’m not alone in my thoughts and actions.

One such day I received a comment I found rather interesting. In so many words my friend said, “I used that same book during my early recovery and found it very helpful back then.” While I understood the intention of the comment, I shudder to think I’d come to the point in my life where I’d find no need for inspiration just because I’ve overcome that which held me hostage in mind, body, and spirit.

Some messages simply never grow old.

What I read years ago were the words to help me understand what I believed were my problems, an eating disorder to control my life and the need for alcohol to numb me from life. I had yet to realize these two means of escaping from reality were not my problems, they were my solutions. I used those behaviors to fend off situations I didn’t want to deal with and the emotions tied to them.

The solutions I seek today are certainly different yet I refer to the same inspirational messages I read years ago to help me find what I search for.  I don’t believe I’ll ever be done reconsidering ways I’m navigating life or harbor any thought that what I absorbed through the written word back then wouldn’t still be relative for me now.

Certainly as I’ve change so has my perspective on timeless messages of inspiration. Everyday left-hooks push me to reawaken what I thought I knew.

My well-stocked bookshelves hold works of authors who became trusted friends when I was in early recovery. In silence they confirmed someone understood and supported me when I doubted my every thought.

This is precisely why when those less-than-confident days show up I call upon those cherished friends by cracking their well-worn binders and unfolding dog-eared pages to feel their embrace through a combination of consonants and vowels that still ignite hope as they once did.

Well Worn Books Option 2

I find this re-reading process powerful because even though my intention for seeking inspiration today isn’t the same as before, the words still provide similar encouragement. How amazing to realize that while what appears on those printed pages hasn’t changed, I have because of them.

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A Moment to Breathe …

Are the books sitting on your shelf holding words that might still move you? Perhaps you’ll find what appears on those pages will offer inspiration you didn’t know you needed! Maybe you’ve already had this experience and are reading this with a renewed sense of how valuable dog-eared pages and books with rubber bands around them truly are. If so, I’m curious to know what you found new when reading through your wisdom-filled eyes.

Unexpected Reminders Keep Me Grounded and Grateful

Have you ever experienced a time when seemingly out of nowhere a conversation shifts sharply from one subject to a shared experience you were emotionally unprepared to address?  Wow is that interestingly awkward.

My sense is this kind of communication topic-hopping shock stems from either distance between past situations and present day, or because I’ve taught people I’m unaffected by the truth of my past. Regardless, I admit there are some moments of my not-so-charming past that remain fresh in my mind.

I know time does heal most wounds. I’ve tended to many of mine leaving no scar for an observer’s eye to meet. Yet when even a microscopic emotional connection to what happened floats into present day, I’m immediately taken back to the scenes I wish to but can’t forget.

silhouette-of-woman_thumb11

During the past week, two people I love dearly spoke with me about their experience when I had one of my alcohol withdrawal seizures. As they talked I did what I could to assure my outward expression was open and willing to listen. Yet on the inside my blood ran cold as I took in each word.

In equal measure they told me the sound of my husband’s fearful screams on that frightful day are still quite clear when collectively the thought was they were watching me die.

Even though I lived though millions of moments since then, all I need is this kind of reminder and I’m instantly thrown back to when my physical self begged for the kind of help my emotional self could not verbally express.

The intention of what my loved ones said this week were not to hurt me or berate me for my past however their words broke my heart into a thousand pieces for the woman I was and those who experienced her.

No matter how hard I try I cannot wish for the facts of my past to show up differently today. In addition, I have no control over how others recall the days when I was slowly killing myself in the silence of too much alcohol and not enough food.

For a very long time I did all I could to keep from being reminded of what my life was like then. I would have rather spent countless hours in an attempt to empty a swimming pool with a teaspoon than to sit through 5 minutes of truth about my life with untreated alcoholism and an eating disorder.

I don’t feel the same today.

I’ve learned through the practical experience of others and my own that the only way to fully heal wounds of my past is to face the truth with an open heart and mind. I need to dig deep and get brutally honest about what happened so I can attain the kind of clarity necessary for me to authentically express myself.  The next step is to find someone with similar experience and talk through what may still confuse me. This vital conversation allows for accountability and the chance to better equip me when I address my past with those who hold their own pain and confusion about that time in my life.

Undoubtedly my desire to erase horrible moments I caused loved ones is profound. However I also know life experiences are purposeful. Those who thought they were witness to my last breath have since watched me take many more. In time they have found use for that practical experience when given an opportunity to support others with similar struggles.

Although these recent conversations threw me off a bit, they prove remarkably motivating.

Just prior to the walk down memory lane I was drowning in doubt and fear of failure about moving forward with one of the toughest expressions of my recovery.  Then, seemingly out of nowhere, I’m reminded I’m far from failure because I didn’t die. I survived.

The interactions with loved ones did more for me than I could have done for myself. I’m back to the work I feel passionate about and deep down know I’m meant to share.

Now I’m no longer fearful of unexpected reminders because they keep me grounded and grateful.

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A Moment to Breathe … 

What’s holding you back? What stories are you telling yourself that may keep you from what you are passionate about? Pay attention. There are nudges and reminders around every corner. I’d love for you to share your experience and insight with this topic by leaving a comment here or via one of social media links below. 

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.

If I Only Knew Then What Would Happen When

If you’re anything like me, at one point or another you believed your life would change for the better if something or someone changed first.

Somewhere along the way I taught myself there was a catch to attain what seemed desirable. I’d have to sacrifice something I had or rethink something I believed right.

If I did what as directed at home, school, or work and conducted myself in the same manner as others then surely I’d receive equal praise or reward.

If I liked what they liked, wore what they wore, disliked what they disliked, I then I’d achieve their acceptance.

If I whittled my body down to model-like shape or had one more drink to maintain the buzz, then surely I’d appear more attractive to that guy, get that job and have that fun.

If I did more, gave more, sacrificed more of my time, money or moral standards then surely I’d attain the kind of love, acceptance and happiness everyone else appeared to enjoy.

If I played the part, then I’d get the role. Open the playbill and see my name listed as the sought after girlfriend, beloved daughter, cherished sister, respected boss, irreplaceable employee, and best friend.

If I played the part then surely I’d receive the engagement ring, the promotion, or key to the cool group club in school, at work, or during social situations.

All those self-directed performances brought me to a final bow long after the applause stopped. Little did I know how near-death I’d come from endless attempts to reap rewards beyond my reach.

When I realized the curtain had finally closed I found courage to find a road toward recovery. As I followed pebbles dropped by those who walked before me, I searched for road signs to confirm how much farther until I’d reach my destination. I tapped shoulders along the way and asked for assurances or how to meet my expectations. Most smiled, shrugged those shoulders and explained no one could offer me any of the information I longed for. All they suggested was I stay on the path and remain focused only on the next step not where I wanted those steps to lead.”

I had no idea what that meant.

Throughout most of my life I planned, controlled and manipulated my way based on presumed guarantees.

The endless cycle of messages in my head convinced me if the “then” part didn’t work out the “if” part was to blame. What would happen if I did as they suggested and their recovery plan didn’t work? What would happen then?

if then cartoon image

I simply could not understand why I needed to eliminate self-imposed ultimatums. Those people who appeared to have their lives well figured out seemed pretty confident the plan they described would help me. Yet when pressed for any kind of guarantee, they were unwilling or unable to provide me the precise detail of how and when I’d achieve what they had.

My life’s landscape had twisted and turned into such personal disaster I came to believe I had nothing left to lose so I gave their blind faith thing a shot.

In time and with a consistent daily effort to stay on the path as suggested, the life I thought I needed turned into the life I always wanted. All those years spent engaged with insidious games of “if/then” or “if/when” left me lonely and confused about how life worked.

Today I’m confident every experience I’ve gone through was necessary to understand where I am today. Yet sometimes in quiet moments I can’t help but consider where my life’s path might have led if I only knew then what would happen when I took my first step toward the unknown.

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A Moment to Breathe …

Think about what “if/then” or “if/when” statements you silently believe. Are you setting yourself up for disappointment or failure? Are you searching for validation that what you truly want out of life is unattainable? What might happen if you dropped the ultimatums and just gave whatever you desire a try?  I’d love for you to share your thoughts here by leaving a comment or via your favorite social media platform. 

Until then, take a moment to breathe.

Recovery Isn’t A Self-Help Program

Imagine if you could wake up one day with answers to all your problems. In theory that would be ideal. In reality that will never happen.

Yet for some reason I tried very hard for a very long time to do just that. Each plate of food pushed away certified I was in control of things. Each glass of wine put to my lips fortified the belief I could not only solve my issues but yours too. I’d find the answers. I’d orchestrate the solution. I’d be my own “go to” person.

Yet inevitably the day came when there were no more answers, solutions, or overall direction. I had no idea where to turn because I’d shut out everyone who tried to offer input.

For reasons I may never know, I did listen to one person. She pointed me toward the door that led me to my recovery.

Yet old habits don’t die easily. Always a rather strong-willed woman, those early days in recovery were rough. I wasn’t all that thrilled with the idea I’d no longer be in charge or able to forge my way to overcome addiction. All my defiance led me to a solid understanding of a very simple fact.

Recovery is not a self-help program.

Period. Full stop.

I need the insight and practical experience wisdom of people who walked the same path so I can better understand myself and the world around me.

This is why I really enjoy spending time in conversation with women whose recovery I deeply admire. There’s a rhythm to the words we share, bending and weaving though things like, what’s new to what’s causing emotional disconnect to what’s really going on. Collective solutions offered in teamwork fashion are often quite calming even if the subject matter does not pertain to me specifically.

I’ve learned recovery isn’t just about giving up an unhealthy behavior or two. The process of recovery includes accepting the idea other people not only want but actually can guide me through this thing called life.

Recovery is not a self help program

I need help to unwind the truth from what I’ve long tried to defend, deny or deflect. The wise friends who create my ever-growing circle of support wrap me in a warm blanket of wisdom, woven together using individual pieces of practical experience.

When in the middle of uncertainty, fear, or unsettling feelings I tend to shut down and hide in my head. Unless I open my heart to the people who have proven their trust these vulnerable times can feel never-ending.

Here are few examples when I’ve felt this way.

  • The first days, weeks, months without alcohol and with proper nourishment
  • Sitting in a funeral home trying to make sense a loved one’s untimely passing
  • Emotionally difficult discussions with a loved one
  • Hearing a doctor deliver difficult words
  • Waiting for a response to confirm or deny if what I’ve written is worthwhile

When I’m in the throes of emotional confusion, my impulse reaction is to escape the uncomfortable, sweaty palm, hand-wringing state. Many moons ago my solution was several glasses of wine without much food. The mental numbing I’d experience gave me the illusion of short-term relief yet there was always, and I mean always, even more layers of disconnect and insecurity.

Today I have other far healthier options to support me if I find myself setting unattainable expectations, over-thinking the smallest of details, or projecting what may never be. One such option is the choice to turn to those who once stood where I stand. The suggestions they offer allow me to widen my perspective and I receive their input with gratitude rather than resentment.

While recovery is not a self-help program, the program certainly does helps the self.

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A Moment to Breathe …

Are you still struggling to maintain control of your recovery or move forward via an unguided path? Are you desperately hoping a plan of self-regulation will help to avoid the perceived rough-edged requirements others have suggested? If so, you might want to try talking with those who have the kind of recovery you long for. While no one has the ability to “fix” you, there are so many reasons to believe they just might help you.

 

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.

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.  

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