Alison's Insights

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

Archive for the category “Inner Voice”

I Don’t Have Time

Why, during the last few weeks of every year, do I feel as though I can’t catch up with myself? I rush from place to place and project to project hoping to cross one more item off the holiday to-do list. I forget more than remember and I talk more than listen.

I convince myself I don’t have time for a spontaneous cup of coffee with a friend, an extra few minutes of (much-needed) sleep, or another chapter of that spellbinding book.

The reality is, I don’t have time because time has me.

Without intentionally doing so, I give the tick-tock of time that kind of power over me. Why do I let this happen? When did this start? Do other people struggle to satisfy time expectations like I do?

I shudder to think how familiar these questions are. I asked them years ago because I thought I had a drinking problem and issues with food and body image when, in fact, alcohol, scales, and mirrors had me. I manipulated and rationalized everything to avoid treatment or well-considered amends or self-care. I thought I didn’t have time for such things until my time almost ran out.

time-post-opt-1

With barely a moment to spare, I found the kind of help I desperately needed. During those early days, I begged for time to create the kind of life I have today.

In that process I found out why time is a precious commodity and must be respected as such.

The idea that I don’t have time is as dangerous for me as a drink of alcohol or fork unfilled. I cannot allow myself to believe that time is an enemy with power to determine what I’m capable of or what my priorities are.

If that’s where I am today, something needs to change and that something is my perspective.

Thank goodness I have a proven, practical experience solution for what keeps me from a healthy life. I must become willing to let go of the must-do’s and should’s and expectations so I can be present for people, situations, and things that truly matter.

If I slow down, step back, and breathe deep, I’ll find plenty of time to:

  • Listen
  • Offer a hug
  • Hold a door
  • Reach for the hand needing reassurance
  • Make that phone call, write that letter, or knock on that door
  • Spend a few extra minutes with a newcomer to recovery
  • Tell people who matter that they do
  • Walk slower
  • Ask for help
  • Breathe deeper
  • Get quiet
  • Look up

Perhaps the problem isn’t that I don’t have time, but that I forget how much time means to me.

A Moment to Breathe

How often do you hear yourself say that you don’t have time? Whether said out loud or in the silence of your mind, the story you tell yourself about how much time you have often proves harrowing. Take a deep breath and consider how you navigate your time. Do you feel spontaneously free to accept an unexpected opportunity, or over-scheduled and exhausted? If the latter seems more realistic for you, perhaps a shift in perspective is necessary. Remember, your time is yours and thus, only you will ever have the power to choose how that time is allocated. Now, take another slow deep breath and rewrite today’s plan that will suit you and your peace of mind.

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.”  

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.

Mind the Gap

You know how some random song stays with you long after hearing the first note? What about the phone number from that TV commercial you’ve seen once too often?

What’s so interesting about these mind invasions is how quickly I’m reminded of a time or place when I first heard the song or jingle. I think about the people who were around me and what I was doing. Sometimes I welcome those memories and sometimes do not.

I wonder if these methodical melodies embed themselves for a reason. My sense is they do.

When I was in London one phrase was heard almost daily. The words have not left me and hopefully never will.

Like most metropolitan locations, the exact square-mile city offers various forms of transportation. Of particular preference for me was the underground train system. My cherished prepaid pass allowed quick access to zip from one end of England’s capital to the other. Rarely did I wait long for next train to whisk me toward another exciting (albeit touristy) destination.

the tube

Once inside I dodged fellow travelers prepared to exit at the next stop. Perhaps some people get easily frustrated by this kind of jockey-for-position dance but when I heard “Excuse me M’lady” the British accent warmed me like a welcome blanket on a cold day.

When the train would slow in advance of the next station an enchanting, non-intrusive message filled the air to caution exiting passengers they “mind the gap” between the train and the platform.

As the value of my prepaid rail card lessened my confidence for exit-safe foot placement increased. However I became quite fond of the recorded gentle reminder because as the words settled in they began to mean something far more.

How many times have I stood oblivious to what was lurking in the small space between where I am in life and where my next right step will lead? I spend countless hours in contemplation of pros and cons whether to stay put or move forward. Yet I wonder why I put far less effort into consideration of emotions hidden in the small crevice between here and there.

Before I transitioned away from a life of too much booze and not enough food, I launched myself from one situation into another without any concentrated thought of emotional ramifications. I moved in reaction to them not in response of them.

The repeated message in London’s underground warns of possible danger if caught in a manufactured platform gap. The fissure I need to watch out for is the one between what’s comfortably safe and what’s safely uncomfortable.

How interesting. Both require I pause and be mindful of potential consequences while at the same time act as a shield to protect me from possible emotions I’m not prepared for.

Just as no one wants to get caught off guard with their foot stuck between a soon-to-be-moving train and the platform, I don’t want to get caught off guard by unwelcome emotions when I exit a place considered safe.

This is why I cherish the embedded message from London. The words remind me to not only watch my step but to watch my emotions if I don’t mind the gap.

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A Moment to Breathe…

Are you thinking about what next right step might be for you? Are you contemplating a change but resisting the forward motion? Look down. What’s in that gap right in front of you? Does an emotion need your attention before taking action? I’d love for you to offer your thoughts here by leaving a reply or share this post via your favorite social media platform.

Until then, take a moment to breathe.

 

 

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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