Alison's Insights

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

Archive for the category “Difficult Choices”

Feeling Broken? Find the Glue of Me Too

While driving alone, do you find yourself mindlessly scanning radio stations hoping to find something, anything that grabs your attention?

I sure do.

I’ll tap that seek button until a few notes of a song or words of a news story grab enough of my attention to satisfy that sound void in my car.

A few days ago I followed that routine on my way home from a support group meeting. My final radio stop was NPR perhaps because the lead-in for the next story warned of graphic content. When I hear a teaser like that, my curiosity kicks in.

Little did I know that what I was about to listen to would pull me from my usual post-meeting thoughts straight into the life of a woman who shared what she described was her turning point story.

As filmmaker and visual storyteller, Barbara Weiner, unfolded details of what happened to her thirty-one years ago, I didn’t feel connected because of them, I felt connected because what she went through to accept them.

The cadence of her voice was startling familiar. She spoke of perfectionism, the fear of exposing parts of her truth that would shine a light where she felt bruised and ashamed. She spoke of a desperate desire to appear put-together so others would see her life in order when inside she felt scattered, disordered, and alone.

As her story reached the point where a turnaround was looming, she spoke of how she found someone who, after hours of conversation, made a promise that she would not be abandoned no matter what was in that emotional box she neatly packed away to avoid falling apart.

That confirmation safety-net allowed her to step out from behind the curtain of shame she believed protected her from feeling what she was terrified to acknowledge. As those words tumbled from her mouth faster than she’s imagined they could, she felt relief from the release.

And that was how she began to heal.

In time she took her whole, unedited, for-mature-audiences-only story to others who needed to share their own. She paid attention with intention to what they said regardless of circumstances because that wasn’t the point. What mattered was the freedom shared once the truth was told.

Eventually she found her broken pieces held in place by those connecting stories and now, when she stands back from her own, she sees the beautiful mosaic of her beautiful life.

Broken pieces #1

I’m grateful I get that. I’m grateful I get her. I’m grateful I get the process.

On a daily basis I have the privilege to listen as others empty pockets where they’ve kept their secrets and broken pieces. Through that interaction, I give them, and myself, permission to heal.

Their stories, pasted with mine, lock together what felt broken. We’re bonded by the strong and powerful glue of “me too.”

A Moment to Breathe

Are pieces of you that feel broken? Are you wondering like Humpty Dumpty once did, that if long-held protective parts of you were to fall, could even the greatest of friends and family put you together again? Take a slow deep breath and consider if maybe they aren’t meant to. Maybe the ones who are meant to help are those who will you in the eye to confirm they’ve stood where you stand. Find them. They are out there. All that’s required is to start talking. Those who have what you need will listen, nod, and offer you two words that is the glue to fix your broken pieces. They’ll simply say, “me too.”  

Are You An Emotional Fearcaster?

When something is about to happen that you’ve never experienced before, are you instinctively stress-free and calm?

If so I salute you because in most cases, I’m not.

What’s interesting is that I don’t fear the situation, I fear the assumed associated emotions. I lament about my ability to handle possible feelings of failure, rejection, inadequacy, confusion, remorse, or that I’ll somehow feel flawed, helpless, inferior, lonely, or flustered. Sometimes the list can seem endless. This is what I refer to as emotional fearcasting.

Just like the weather forecast is a prediction based on current conditions and not a guarantee of what will occur, I consider emotional fearcasting in the same manner. I forecast my future emotional state based on my current emotional condition and if what’s next feels uncertain, I’m mostly likely in some state of fear.

fearcasting image 1

Instead of trusting a proven past of getting through tough times, I make sweeping assumptions and react rather than respond. I start to panic based on what I imagine rather than breathing in what I know.

Years ago my sought-after solution to calm my fear was a glass of wine combined with numeric verification from piece of metal that I was in control. That is not my solution today. Now I create a plan of action for myself not a plan of attack against myself.

Over time I’ve learned each day offers me an opportunity to learn new things about the world, life, and even myself. If I’m capable of that, then there’s every reason to believe how I feel today could change by tomorrow.

This is why I cannot possibly have a lock on how I’ll feel emotionally down the road. My perspective will have shifted even if only in a very slight way.

For example, when I started this blog. I feared no one would read one word I wrote. I was certain the comments offered would shame me for my lack of literary perfection, word choice, or grammatical expertise. I thought my experience with recovery wasn’t relevant for more than a handful of people. I anticipated failure rather than acceptance and held myself hostage in self-doubt.

None of that came true.

Then I think about the fearcasting I did before college, my first corporate job, marriage, and recovery. I pre-felt all kinds of emotion and feared my inability to manage them once they showed up. However when I finally met with each experience, what I felt was nowhere near the anticipated drama.

I’m most kind to myself when I stay open to the flow of things rather than resist them. If I trust my proven past to help predict my emotional future, fearcasting isn’t for me.

I hope to remain open by taking deep breaths while depending on a forecast for weather not fear-based emotions.

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A Moment to Breathe …

Are you experiencing an emotional fearcaster? What story are you telling yourself about what’s around the corner, down the road, or sometime next year? Are you relying on past emotional experiences to mentally describe how your future ones will turn out? Take a moment to breathe and contribute your thoughts with a comment below or when sharing this post via your favorite social media site. 

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. 

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.

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