Alison's Insights

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

Archive for the category “Relationships”

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.  

 

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.

Connecting to Disconnecting and Reconnecting

I was recently honored with a request to create a post for The BE Program. This online educational self-help and professionally supported plan focuses on transforming your relationship with food and your body as an access to creating a truly extraordinary life.

Using the compassionate and dedicated leadership of The BE Team, Dr. Jennifer Nardozzi, Dr. Stephanie May and Sara Nowlin, hold the vision for The BE Program to create a world where women are powerful and peaceful in their bodies and their lives.

These women have individually and together profoundly touched my life. I deeply admire their collective wisdom and believe with all my heart they will impact lives of many women for years to come.

I’m grateful to connect with The BE Program community and privileged to share part of my recovery story.  The writing process allowed me time to reconsider the benefits received when I disconnected and then reconnected with myself inside and out.

From Disconnection to Reconnection

I’ve traced back decades to my childhood and have yet to identify a time I felt truly connected with food, my body, and the world around me.

Early memories of any connection with food were as a means of comfort. I deferred my focus to what was on my plate to avoid the day-to-day challenges of an emotionally sensitive little girl.

Even at such a young age, I had grown tired of trying to fit into what I thought others expected of me when I knew deep down I could not. My self-soothing solution was more food than was healthy for a me.

I also struggled with asthma. The racing and erratic efforts to inhale and exhale, coupled with a strong desire to eat in the same manner, kept me from taking those soul-deep breath connections to feel calm and connected with myself.

At the tail end of 7th grade I had enough of the teasing at school about my weight. My parents didn’t know what direction to take so we met with a nutritionist who established my first meal plan. Over the following summer months I refocused my eating habits and food choices so when I walked through the doors at the start of 8th grade, instead of teasing I heard praise.

Right then the light bulb went off.

I immediately connected acceptance and validation to a changed body weight, shape and size. What I didn’t realize was that same moment began my 30+ year disconnection from any healthy relationship with food, body image and the world around me.

During the next three decades I slowly spiraled down a path of twists and turns to assure my outer self met the criteria for praise while my inner self cried in shame. My recipe for self-soothing went beyond behaviors associated with an eating disorder. I also developed a pattern of daily drinking to aid in my need to escape all the negative silent chatter.

In time what had once been just a few drinks to “take the edge off” turned into fully engaged alcoholism. Thankfully a strong, supportive 12-Step recovery program helped me connect with sobriety yet without the additional crutch of alcohol I fell even deeper into my use of unhealthy eating disorder behaviors.

Then in 2008 at the age of 46, I entered an eating disorder residential treatment facility to combat what became a life-threatening situation.

The facility I chose was hundreds of miles from home. I needed to completely disconnect from everyday life so I could reconnect for a holistic, healthy return.

During my three-month stay, I was able to understand why reconnection with food is a process. At the beginning the mere thought I’d suddenly appreciate and enjoy a regular meal schedule seemed absurd. I had yet to understand how unrealistic the notion I’d somehow instantaneously change both body and mind after living for so long in such an unhealthy manner.

Once home, the real recovery work began. I surrounded myself with others who understood and supported the progress I’d made during treatment. This reconnection with friends I thought I’d long-lost helped to maintain accountability for early recovery day-to-day challenges and continue to support me all these years later.

The healing necessary for foundational, sustainable change isn’t just about disconnecting from unhealthy behaviors, but reconnecting with all aspects of life including my own.

 

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