Alison's Insights

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

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Peeling Back the Layers

When I was young, I was fascinated by the Matryoshka dolls or the Russian nesting doll sets. I enjoyed discovering one the little wooden figure inside another. According to tradition the outer layer of the set is a woman and the smallest, innermost doll is the baby.

Matryoshka doll Image 1

Little did I know this would be my experience moving through the process of recovery; peeling back the layers of my adult self to reveal what has been fully, solidly true for me from the beginning.

When I said the words, “I need help” I was actually pulling apart the first doll, the outer “grown up” protective version of me who dared never let anyone know who I really was. The stubborn, stop-at-nothing-to-get-my-way, willful and power-hungry me would dodge emotional inquisition with an abrupt turn of the heel or twist of the shoulder assuring no one could get too close. If by chance someone did, I’d swiftly pull my protective shield tighter so my tears and pain of not being understood, accepted and valued wouldn’t be seen. The tighter the shield the louder the messages in my head.

Never let them see you break.

Head high.

Power on.

Have a drink to relax.

No one will notice.

Skip the meal.

Shrink from the truth.

Never let them pull you apart.

Oh how I resisted being pulled apart. I had no idea how much I needed to shed layers to open up and understand how and why the real me could emerge and be free.

In a very profound sense, I had to peel myself all the way back to the solid center where I might reconsider stories I told myself through the years about what a successful life would look like. The process was not easy, fast or in a straight line. The foundational changes I’ve been able to achieve were born from devoted attention to the next right step toward a life that makes sense.

Those who have bravely walked this recovery path before me advised eventually more would be revealed to me about me. I initially feared the idea because I simply could not imagine going any deeper than I already had.

Yet as time goes on I’m finding there is more, much more. There’s one particular story I’ve recently found myself having to reconsider.

This is the story I’d long told myself about money.

Yes, financial layers are tricky and often transparent. One yields security, one status. Another offers shelter and then another, identity. So what happens when these layers begin to shed?

I’ll tell you what can happen. Just like the realization I could change the story I told myself about needing alcohol on a daily basis or why I had to obsessively manipulate the size and shape of my body, I’m finding I can move beyond the story I’d told myself about money and what is real worth.

Do not misunderstand! I am not suggesting I enjoy the daily discussions in the kitchen about what we can do without. This is not the preferred breakfast table conversation but the necessary one. I don’t like this particular phase of the life I share with my husband but I know from experience what I don’t like might very well be just be what I need.

If the absolute miracle of overcoming an unhealthy need for alcohol and a body size and shape not intended for me was possible, I am more than willing to peel back another layer revealing the truth about what I actually need to feel financially sound.

Makes me wonder what’s inside the next little Matryoshka doll of my life. Armed with gratitude for what’s been revealed so far, I can’t wait to find out.


A Moment to Breathe ….

What feels challenging for you today?  What layer are you resisting to pull back?  Are you afraid of what might be revealed or are you willing to take a look?  Are you actually protecting yourself or holding yourself back?  Please offer your thoughts here or via your favorite social network by clicking one of the links to share this blog.  

What Lingers In Long-Term Recovery? The Disease of Wanting “More”

The other night my husband and I went to see “The Wolf of Wall Street”, a movie portrayed in hedonistic detail about Jordan Belfort whose life was overtaken by greed and self-indulgence when nothing else mattered and rules were inconsequential. I found the movie fascinating as the underlying message hit a bit close to home.

Spellbound I watched Leonardo DiCaprio work his acting magic to transform into a human example of what can happen when the desire for more becomes intoxicating. This slow-to-take-shape, deliciously dangerous drug of choice twists even the most resistant to stop at nothing while fueling the need.

As much as I wanted to distance myself from the kind of people illuminating from the big screen, I couldn’t deny the parallel perspective I had before recovery when just enough was never enough. Although I didn’t engage with some of the same behaviors or live a lifestyle even close to that of Jordan Belfort, I was equally addicted to the desire for more of what was not good for me.

There was never enough alcohol when “I’ll have just one more” never meant one. There were never enough ways to deny or manipulate my nutritional needs when I self-convincingly stated “I’m not hungry” or “I ate already” with the same emptiness in truth as in stomach. When “Oh hell, why not” led to “Oh hell, what did I just do“.

After the movie credits rolled, I walked from the theater door to our car shivering from a mixture of memories past and subzero temperatures. When I shut the car door and felt the first whispers of heat, I smiled in gratitude for my long-term recovery and the willingness to go to any lengths to stay that way. The mere thought of waking up and reaching for more alcohol with vague memory of the night before, or silently congratulating myself for a meal skipped made my blood run as cold as the temperature on the other side of the car door.

As I settled into bed that night sober and healthy, I realized I’m not completely free from this addiction for more.

Never far from pen and paper, I made a list of what I currently desire for more and if given the opportunity, pretty certain I’d go to any lengths to indulge. Here’s a little of my list.

– More days in the week

– More hours in the day

– More days of vacation when packing to go home

– More attention from those I’ve yet to know

– More attention from those I do

– More pages at the end of a really good book

– More “likes” on Facebook, followers on Twitter, and readers of this blog

– More reasons to say yes

– More ways to say no

– More sunny days after a beautiful sunset

– More money to ease financial worry

– More opportunity when I feel there’s none

– More tears when they really needed to fall

– More days with my Dad before he died

– More silence when I’m scared to speak

– More ways to make something work easier

– More words to say what I mean

– More presents under the Christmas tree for those I love

– More time with my friends

– More time to write without limitation

– More time to listen

– More ways to better understand a situation

– More light when I’m in a dark place

– More speed for my internet connection

– More battery life for my cellphone, iPad and laptop

– More awakenings about who I am

– More coffee

– More ways to show someone how much I care

As I breathe in all that I seek more of, I realize wanting “more” isn’t just about what’s unhealthy or dangerous.  What’s really at stake is what becomes obsessive in my head. Why is that?  What benefit would I attain if having more eventually led to getting less? If I had more days in the week or hours in that day, wouldn’t I eventually want more of that?  The cycle is endless and the need is never fully fueled.

So, here’s my next right step. I am going to focus on the notion what I want is often not at all what I need, and why accepting what I’m presented each day is the key to peaceful contentment. I may not particularly like defined time-frames, limited resources and waiting for things to happen, but in retrospect perhaps my life is infinitely better because of them.

Maybe I need to write more about that.


A Moment to Breathe…

What do you desperately desire more of? Will having more of whatever hits your list ultimately allow you to live a peacefully balanced life? Will the consequences of having more outweigh the short-term satisfaction? After asking yourself these questions I’d love your input on this topic.  Leave a reply here or comment when sharing via social media. 

Want Sustainable Change? Stop Resolving and Start Intending.

Since the calendar flipped to 2014, we’ve gone from proclaiming grand resolutions for personal change to licking wounds of defeat for failing to meet them.

For a very long time I was one of those people. In what would seem like an instant I’d go from creating expectations starting with I have to, I will or I must to reluctantly recanting those plans. Slowly but surely I’d use convincing words to anyone within earshot about how such extremes were unnecessary or why the time wasn’t right to do them. Like most people, I thought only in very black and white terms when I sought change. If I couldn’t achieve the level of transformation initially desired, I’d lessen the goal or walk away completely.

A really interesting aspect of this annual resolution-making dance for most people is, within the same breath of firm commitment would be a silent strategy for letdown. I remember feeling comforted knowing others shared the predicted inability to remain accountable for behavior modification. However there was one very big difference between me and most other people.  Back then I was completely ill-equipped for the emotional reactions associated with real or perceived failure.

Why did I allow this to happen year after year? Why was I wildly unaware of the definition of insanity as I most certainly ended up doing the same things year over year expecting different results. While I’m not in any position to claim I’m completely sane today, I have found a way to end this every-twelve-month game of tease.

I stopped making resolutions with expectations to change and started setting intentions to work my way toward change.

I resolve to with eraser

When I became willing to claim my seat in the rooms of recovery I started to learn how dangerously delicious expectations are for someone like me. I’d always set the bar unreasonably high because I wanted to exceed probability and prove to others I would go above and beyond to accomplish what I committed to do.

I never knew how deeply rooted my need to seem perfect in the eyes of others had been. I got so wrapped up in high praise for undertaking grand plans for change I’d completely disregarded the actual, tactical steps needed to accomplish such profound feats.

The more I listened to people who had the kind of recovery I hoped to one day have, the more I realized there might be something to this idea of easing up on myself and the expectations looming around in my head. These time-generous people shared stories of how such confident beliefs ended up being equally disastrous seeds for resentment.  Eventually they found setting an intention to do the next right thing ultimately led them to attain a life that makes sense.

Bingo! I didn’t need to make sweeping changes based on what others would think of the statements made when turning the New Year corner. I wanted to have the kind of sustainable change to live a life that made sense. So I began taking the steps to get there and by doing so found what I’d always thought was my right resolution was in fact not right for me at all.

Thanks to a willingness to do things differently, I’ve been able to accomplish much-needed sustainable change.  How I’ve done this is simple.  I continue making realistic intentions to do the next right thing one day at a time, not once a year.


A Moment to Breathe…

Think about resolutions you’ve made for 2014.  Can you re-frame the words as an intention rather than a “must do”?  This simple shift may lead you on the pathway for the kind of sustainable change you seek.  Take a moment to contribute your experience here or by sharing on your favorite social media site.

Hey Ebenezer … I Needed the Message Too!

When asked about the point at which I knew I needed help for an overuse of alcohol and understated use of food, my answer has always been a blood chilling account of harsh reality.

The candid detail serves a purpose no matter who poses the question. For those who don’t have first-hand experience with addiction, there seems some voyeuristic satisfaction from the shock factor. For those who do struggle with an obsessive, compulsive way of life, there are two camps; those silently searching for any justification they’re “not that bad” and those who find comfort in knowing they aren’t alone.

Yet after recently hearing a rather simple explanation for what hitting a proverbial “bottom” means, I may rethink how I respond when I’m asked about mine.

What I heard was, reaching bottom is the moment when one becomes humble enough to seek change.

Just like that I heard the clicking sound of pieces connecting. Humility, getting honest, surrendering to the truth … yes, folks, that was the bottom I had to reach.

The account of my turning point has always been centered around how bad things were, not about the exhale, the acceptance and a need for something different. Even though I still very much wanted to have a drink every so often or maintain control over my body weight, shape and size, I never realized how desperately I desired change.

For years I masked, manipulated, and deceived myself and people around me to believe the life I’d crafted suited me just fine. I never considered the fact I didn’t look fine or behave fine or think fine or react fine. I had no conception of humility or what life might be like without a shield made of self-centeredness.

This new insight about hitting bottom was fresh in my mind as I watched of my beloved holiday movie; “A Christmas Carol” published this month by Charles Dickens 170 years ago.

Each December I’ve taken in countless versions of this classic story. I cherish the black and whites of 1935 with Seymour Hicks, 1938 with Reginald Owen and 1951 with Alastair Sim.

Seymour Hicks        reginald-owen      Alister Sim

I’ve enjoyed a few musical renditions and even my beloved story set in animation. Regardless of the stars or the background symphony of music, I never tire of the way I feel when Ebenezer experiences his remarkable awakening and how those who truly care about him respond at the end.

This year I found myself with pen in hand, reflecting with great intention to the words Charles Dickens felt compelled to share with his own. He and seemingly a great many others at the time, were aware of the dangers associated with misplaced ego and pride, the seven deadly sins, and the sharp-pointed, rough edges associated with isolation.

As Ebenezer’s friend and business partner found his way to bear witness to the catastrophic consequences of a life gone without internal inspection, I thought of how many have done the same for me.

Each time I hear someone share an experience with relapse, what happens when actions go unattended and right living becomes less important, I’m reminded of what I need to do today to assure I don’t find myself sharing a similar tale.

The ghosts of Christmas past, present and future who visited Ebenezer perhaps only existed in his mind. Those who have offered me similar insight arrived very much in human form.

I definitely could not have become humble enough to look at my life backwards with unedited eyes. I needed help from others to see more deeply into the hearts and minds of those I had hurt, avoided or dismissed. Although I didn’t want to acknowledge what I saw, I had no other choice than to accept how my actions and words pained many and how ultimately I paid the highest price; living in emotional isolation and unending fear.

Just like Ebenezer finally found his way with just a morsel of humility, I too was given the chance to course correct my ways and avoid what could have been my future.

When the final scene fades to black for old Mr. Scrooge, I’m left to believe he goes on to live a long prosperous life not of money but of good will.  On the other hand, I am only guaranteed today.

However if I continue to do what I hadn’t done before which is to remain humble in action and word, I may just get to experience tomorrow the same as I have today.


A Moment to Breathe …

Sit quietly and think about what you may have missed yesterday, last December or many years ago.  Are you able to see the past with unedited eyes? Take some time to share those memories with those who were there. Ask what they remember from that same experience.  Bet you’ll be surprised by the alternative perspectives.  If you feel compelled, I’d love to have you post about what that was like.  You can do so below or as a comment when sharing this blog on one of your favorite social media sites.

Live Today in Reality Not Projected Fantasy

Projection is the main strategy of business all over the world. The stock market shifts high and low based on financial expert projection. Professionally and personally we pile up dreams on what we project could happen if all things remain equal. We wait with grand anticipation for the investment to take hold, the business partner to say yes to a new idea or the person of our dreams accepting a first date offer.

Yet while we wait, expectations creep in. We begin mentally living in a future based on what we expect will happen. Sometimes we get so sure of a favorable outcome we make decisions we shouldn’t make or spend money we don’t have.

What happens when expectations for projected growth, financial or emotional security and personal development aren’t met?  Where do we go from there?

Most likely silent negative messages will creep in confirming we’ve failed ourselves or someone else and lead to mental isolation; a very dark, self-demeaning space. For many people the only consoling options are unhealthy ones, which for me meant too much wine and too little food.

This was the way I cycled through most of my life, making assumptions based on perception.  One of these assumptions was that the pathway to success was to project big and let nothing stand in the way. The “if/then” game was a favored way to fill time. After work I’d settle in on the fluffy white couch in my Southern California condo overlooking the ocean. As the waves crashed on the beach, I’d lift one glass of wine after another pretending I lived in my projected future.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t admit to the endless morning-after worry associated with those dreamy evenings. I’d envision what might happen to roadblock my projection pathway and in no time I felt sheer panic as my blood ran cold.

The more I projected, the more I expected, the more I expected, the more I’d worry, the more I’d worry, the more I’d self-soothe, the more self-soothe the more I’d self-destruct. I wanted to live my future life so badly I edged out the life I had.

I’ve come a long way from sitting on that couch in Southern California. Over these many years I deeply examined my patterns of behavior and why planning for the future is far better than trying to escape reality by living there.

make a plan

I make plans today based on what I know in the moment ever mindful to the propensity for change.  Flexibility is important because each day offers the opportunity for new ideas, different perspectives and teachable moments. Adjusting to the ever-changing circumstances of life helps limit expectation and keep me grounded in reality.

This is precisely why I plan and don’t project.  I’m not the same as I was yesterday and tomorrow I will be different from today.

So as we wind down the calendar, let’s plan for a wonderful new year not project as though we’re already there.


A Moment to Breathe …

The hope for a better tomorrow keeps us motivated. What do you envision for your future? Do you have plans in place or are you living as if already there? To thoughtfully attain the dreams you have, what action steps will get you there? Sometimes being accountable with others helps to inspire that first important shift forward. Leave me a message here or as a comment when sharing this post.   



When Perseverance Flew 150 miles to Knock at My Door

Mother Nature paid a mighty powerful visit about 10 days ago. For November in Chicago, the temperature was oddly warm and the skies were showing us colors that meant business. We knew from experience this was the time to check cell phone batteries and prepare to spend time in the basement, our most securely structured area of the house.

Yet before I get too far ahead with the story of what led to a wind-inspired gift, let me take you back a bit further.

Since elementary school, I’ve dreamed of writing a book. Two years ago I said “yes” to an author development program which helped me create a foundationally sound piece of work I’m highly proud of. This is the book I wished I had read while still tightly wrapped in the cocoon of addition, when nothing in my life made sense.

I’ve taken many steps recommended to reach my goal of publishing in the traditional sense rather than self-publish. I’ve learned, there’s nothing easy or fast about achieving this dream. There’s quite a distance between having an idea for a book and actually holding one. My experience with the process has been not only time-consuming and demanding of my writing skills, but a true test of stamina to stay motivated despite continual rejection. Thankfully many of the literary professionals who are guiding me have wisely let me move through the process without pointing out potential pitfalls.

No longer are the days of typing a manuscript, mailing the masterpiece to a publisher and receiving a check promising support and a hands-free experience in becoming a best-selling author. Unless you are very well-known, have experienced a remarkable feat or uncovered a ground-breaking new theory for life, today’s traditional book publishing industry asks authors to prove their worth prior to any expression of interest.

Faster than the speed of light I launched sharply on a vertical learning curve about social media. In record time I shifted into high gear becoming followed and friended, interviewed and quoted. I’ve spent countless hours seeking ways to share what I’ve learned about changing perspective and overcoming that which I never thought possible. The effort remains endless and the rewards are very few and far between. Relentlessly I’ve been told my efforts not enough and quite frankly might never meet what today’s publishing industry is expecting.

This constant reminder of not being enough is really tough for someone like me; someone who has spent a good amount of time trying to unwind that long-held belief. Although completely counterintuitive, I forge on despite being told I might not achieve this dream of mine. Each morning I sit in front of my laptop hoping to find the motivation to believe I can do this thing, that I will persevere and prove all naysayers wrong.

Typically I’m able to shake off self-doubt with a bit of prompting from friends and family but lately even that hasn’t helped. Seems I’ve been spending more time questioning my ability than I have taking action to reach my goal.

And then 10 days ago perseverance knocked at my front door.

The winds were quite fierce that afternoon. As what has become habit after years of fallen trees and other such damage, I’m vigilant about checking our front yard.

During one such investigative peek, I noticed a piece of paper lying still on our front walk which was interesting considering the high winds. After retrieving the assumed piece of trash my husband came inside to show me what he found was actually a laminated document containing three different newspaper obituaries about a man’s passing in 2003. Upon further study we noticed the byline indicated these were from the area hardest hit by a massive tornado only an hour or so earlier.

This area is 150 miles from our house, or almost three hours by car.

Paper Flying in Mid Air

We were breathless. The gale-force rush of air had lifted this item sky-high to land at our front door completely intact despite the 200 mph winds. In an instant we were on our laptops searching for clues about his family. We were on a mission to return this treasure to the rightful owner.

During the swift investigation I realized something truly profound. All my defiant resistance to social media education was now proving infinitely important.

In no time flat I posted an image of the laminated piece to Facebook. Sure enough a few hours later, I received a friend request from a woman who I’d come to find is a good friend of the widow.

After a few written messages to assure what I had matched what she was hoping to find, my husband and I called her via speakerphone. We held our breath as she shared the status of extraordinary devastation and emotional wreckage from a seemingly brief touchdown of a vicious tornado.

She explained the widow found her house leveled at a total loss. By God’s grace no one experienced injury but the home they’d once known was not nothing but shreds of lumber. Our blood ran cold when she told us the widow’s only hope was to one day find the laminated piece containing her husband’s obituaries, the very item resting in tact on our kitchen counter.

Through eyes blurred with the tears that would leave a warm trail down my cheek, I scribbled this woman’s address while promising the document would be immediately sent for receipt the following day.

As I sat down to pen a note to the wife of the man whose life story landed at my front door, I pondered what to say about having the privilege to return what was so dear to her. In that moment I realized I was the one in receipt of a gift.

The winds had blown to my front door a tactical example of perseverance, an illustration of surviving the odds while not breaking apart.

Just like how I pushed forward during those early days of recovery when trusting the process was my only hope to leave a life of chaos and find one of balance, I can and will keep pursuing my dream. I can and will withstand the elements so one day I’ll reach the intention of my book; to provide another person struggling with addiction some answers to the same questions I asked only in silence.


A Moment to Breathe …

No one is immune to challenges in life. We’re constantly asked to face situations and issues for which we believe seeking solutions for are far beyond our abilities. What are some ways you’ve been able to persevere through tough times?  How did something initially deemed impossible become possible?  Please share your thoughts here or as a comment by posting to a favorite social media outlet.

Yep, I’m Having A Bad Day.

Everyone has bad days and I’m no exception. Whether related to failed efforts adhering to what’s planned or trying to work through a situation, relationship, or emotional feeling I want to control or make better in an instant, today was one of “those” days.

Bad Day Image 1

Just because I’m in long-term recovery (which for me means I’ve not used alcohol for more than 11 years or unhealthy eating behaviors for more than 5) I’m still very prone to a bad, melting down, crying until I can’t see straight, kind of day. We all are. That doesn’t mean I’m unwilling to see gifts wrapped in whatever barbed wire I’m trapped in. I have practical experience proving barbed wire is definitely something I can snap through. Intellectually I understand that. However in this moment, tough day.

Yet here’s the good news! I know bad days don’t last forever. Feelings are not cemented, they are fluid which means they pass. Something will (not maybe, not possibly, but WILL) happen to assist in altering my perspective. I’ll read a line in a book, write about what’s going on (oh look, I’m writing!), or hear someone say something totally unrelated to what I ‘m lamenting about and then BOOM!  Maybe in an hour, maybe two, maybe not until tonight or even tomorrow but at some point I am sure to see things differently.

So here’s what I’ve already done to try to shift myself from saying “I. AM. HAVING. A. BAD. DAY.”

(1) I’ve been to a face-to-face meeting where I talked with friends about what’s on my mind.

(2) I called the woman who, for a very long time, has been my guide for right living.

(3) I just had a Kleenex-holding, tear-flowing, nose-running talk with my husband. (To note, at the onset I asked he just listen and refrain from trying to “fix” me, both of which he did with patience and grace).

(4) I’m here, writing this blog post.

And you know what? Although I don’t feel 100% better, I feel heard and connected with other people who struggle with this thing called life. I don’t feel the need to run from this day just because I’m having trouble making sense of things.

No one promised me sunshine, tulips, puppies and newborn baby smiles just because I found a way to overcome that which I deemed impossible. I’ll leave that to fictionalized books and made-for-TV movies. My real life, the one that looks messy and confusing and wildly scattered, isn’t the yellow-brick-road to everything’s perfect. All I’m assured is, if I remain willing to see things differently; to experience life with less black and white thinking rigidly laced with “should’s” and “must do’s”, I will move through my every day with hope.

I know I can do this. I know we can do this. The connection is, we need each other to do this at all.


A Moment to Breathe …

What do you do when all hell breaks loose in your mind?  I’d love to add a few suggestions to my list.  Why not share one or two here or as a comment to this post out there in social media land.  

What Does “IT” Mean?

When I finally admitted to the need for help and leave the cavernous existence of a wine and bathroom scale obsession, I wasn’t at all prepared for what lay ahead. I just wanted directions to course correct my life.

To confirm, I knew I needed help but still desperately wanted to keep drinking with little concern for nutrition. At the time, I would have handed you my wallet and the password for my credit card to have one more day quietly inside addiction isolation.

Yet when I opened my eyes to how easily I’d earned a seat in a meeting of recovery, I determined I’d be well served to sit down and listen.

After a few people spoke, my mind raced with questions I didn’t have enough nerve to ask out loud. Even though my head spun in query I didn’t dare turn my head to the person next to me and say, “So, how does this thing work? I just have to quit drinking and eat better, right?”

When I found the courage to speak with someone privately I asked, “How am I supposed to know if I’m making any advancement in recovery?” The response wasn’t an answer but more of a riddle, “You’ll know it when you get it. Just do what’s suggested to you. Don’t worry. Hang around here for a while and before long you’ll get it.

After thanking her for offering me time to chat, I turned and headed straight for the door. I didn’t want to let fly out of my mouth what screamed in my head. “What the hell are you talking about? Stop with these deeply intuitive portions of information! What is ‘it’? My life is literally hanging by a thread here. Why must you now torment me with these half-baked answers? Please, I beg of you, just tell me in very general terms, what must I do or ask to get through this godforsaken maze of information. I’m sorry but I don’t find what you’re telling me sufficient at all. And what’s with, ‘Do what’s suggested and you’ll get it’ game of mystery? Get what from whom? Is this really how this program works? Is this just an endless game of breaking the code?

When I was able to self-talk my way back to the willingness I’d promised myself I’d stick to, I took a much-needed deep breath, slowed down my racing thoughts and started to listen. I heard things like, “Bring the body and the mind will follow” and “Listen for the similarities not the differences.” Those suggestions seemed easy enough so I did. I carried on as though I knew what I was doing. After all, I had plenty of practice playing the game of pretend. I’d spent a good majority of my life trying to figure out how to blend in without ever asking how. I didn’t want to wear the badge of ignorance so I’d pretend to know what I very much did not.

What wasn’t so easy was figuring out to get “it” and be over the ever-present, piercing need to feel numbed out.  Yet I forged ahead if for no other reason than to prove to myself I’d found “it”.

In time I unwound the triple-knotted, wet shoestring tied around two simple letters making up the word “it”. What I revealed was the solution for achieving foundational, sustainable, long-term recovery is not a thing, but rather a shift in perspective. My heart, mind, and soul had opened to an understanding of how life, for me, made sense without the overuse of a substance or unhealthy behavior. No one could have told me what my “it” would come to mean, I had to create my description.

Fast forward 10 years.

I’d handed the piece of writing I’d worked on for a better part of six months to a friend who is well-respected in the literary field. After an impressive 20 years working with editors, publishing houses and skilled authors, I entrusted her with the dubious job of editing what I’d poured my every emotion into writing.

After a few days of nerve-racking fear she’d suggest I toss the whole thing and take up knitting, she handed my document back with these words, “There are a lot of people out there who will benefit from reading what you’ve written; perhaps even thank you for providing them the hope they too might course correct their life. In turn I thank you for allowing me the privilege of offering some suggestions to make your words shine. All this needed was a bit of polishing.” 

After a hug of gratitude and a promise to take her every recommended edit to heart, she turned to me and said, “One more thing. As you write, always ask yourself, what does “it” mean.

Upon noticing my look of immediate confusion she continued on by saying, “The reader deserves a more thorough understanding behind that two-letter word. There is always a better way to say what you mean. Don’t ever make the assumption your reader will just somehow know.” 

As soon as I waved goodbye, I dropped the edited document on my desk and got to work. I spent the next several days going piercingly through every line of the double-spaced, 12-point type, 90-page document transforming every single use of the word “it”.

Guess what? She was right. Each revised sentence exploded with more meaning. I felt an almost immediate connection with the reader, believing their eyes would trail my words and feel a friend by their side rather than some distant writer. I was providing them a far better opportunity to understand “it”.

Like my writing efforts, the only way I could have recovered from an obsessively hopeless state of mind, was by digging deep to find the right words and eliminate confusion. No one could do for me what I needed to work through for myself. Only I could awaken my understanding of what “it” means.

Get it?



A Moment to Breathe…

What are the “it’s” in your life?  Can you be your own editor and find a way to better express what “it” means? Or, if you’ve had an experience when rethinking your words helped to better connect with someone please share this with me!  Simply scroll down and leave me a message in the “Reply” section.

And as always, thank you for taking the time to breathe in this message from me.  

Whatever You Do, Don’t Get Creative!

A friend recently celebrated his first significant recovery milestone. While listening to his words of excitement, infused with a bit of disbelief he achieved such an accomplishment, I was instantly reminded of the day I shared similar news.

I don’t really remember what I specifically said, perhaps something about my gratitude for help I received from others who only asked I do the same for someone else one day, or for my appreciation of the overall program of recovery. I’m willing to believe I also referenced the importance of being patient because I needed (ahem, still need) a lot of that. I hope I acknowledged my sponsor, Lord knows she deserves every little peck of grace from God for the relentless phone calls and questions about how to put one foot in front of the other. I remember the applause following what I said, the smiles from around the room, and the slow, gentle tears that fell from my eyes as I tried to focus on the miracle of the moment. Yet perhaps the most significant memory from that day were words whispered during a congratulatory embrace from someone whose recovery I still deeply admire.

He said, “Congratulations. Now, don’t get creative.”

Not knowing what in the world he meant or how to gracefully disengage from our brief conversation, I thanked him for the good wishes and quickly moved through the door and out to my car fearing he’d ask my thoughts on his comment. Back then I was rather intimidated by anyone with long-term recovery because I had an invalidated belief they were silently testing my knowledge of the many phrases and underlying principles of a 12-Step program.

Even though I escaped without finding meaning behind what my friend said, I definitely wanted to crack the code before running into him again. Thankfully my sponsor had become a trusted resource when struggling with what I felt were dumb questions.

After reiterating the situation and my friend’s ensuing comment she smiled, took a deep breath and said, “Oh honey, that’s simple. He was suggesting you consider what you did to get from where you were to where you are now. Whatever those things are, obviously they’re working for you. If that’s your positive formula, don’t get creative and start thinking about how to do things differently. Keep doing what you’ve been doing and you’ll keep getting more grounded in your recovery.”

I’ve never let go of my friend’s congratulatory suggestion. I don’t want to find out what might happen if I stop doing the same recovery-focused action steps I took when I began this life-changing adventure.

As my mind circled back the joyous atmosphere surrounding my new friend’s recovery milestone, I pondered this idea of not getting creative in other areas of my life.

I’ve been married for a long time, almost 15 years. If you are unfamiliar with my full story, multiply what you know of the recovery process times two. Our marriage has been able to withstand my emergence for not one, but two life-threatening addictions. Yes, ebbs and flows certainly prevailed, and to a certain extent still do. However through a focused, steady approach to heal our addiction-blanketed relationship, we set a firm foundation from which everything else is now based. To date, we haven’t found sufficient reason to change even the smallest of things that has worked to bring about a smile when angry, a calm when in fear, and a sense of reassurance when feeling close to falling apart.

We dance in the kitchen for no reason at all and we’ll probably keep dancing to music heard only in our hearts until we breathe our last breath.

Over the years I’ve had a lot of practice trying out what works and what doesn’t in places like work, around the neighborhood, family gatherings and even sitting quietly with my own thoughts. I’ve uncovered what’s needed for me to feel at ease despite whatever chaos swirls around. Seems to me I’ve been given plenty of reason why I needn’t get creative and consider changing what’s proven to work.

I wouldn’t have imagined those few words offered in encouragement many years ago would leave such a profound mark. Initially meant to help me stay on track to maintain healthy recovery, the intention behind those words have proven invaluable when faced with the many uncertain turns my life has taken.



A Moment to Breathe

Take the time to consider examples of what’s working for you.  What are the things you have done to achieve that comfortable process.  Do you ever wonder if there might be a way to create a different path to reach the same point?  Well maybe there is one, but why spend time trying to fix what isn’t broken?  

Want to Silence Self-Defeating Thoughts? Ask my new friends Oprah and Brené!

Our next door neighbor brought over homemade pumpkin-bread yesterday afternoon. Her kind gesture was deeply appreciated because in addition to the beautifully wrapped (still warm) bread, she brought along her 2-year-old son.

We adore this child. He’s not only cute as a button, he has the kind of smile that’s infectious. I defy anyone to resist smiling back when a little one offers a wide grin revealing the few teeth that popped through their gums.

However, after years of babysitting and engaging with countless nieces, nephews and kids of friends, I’ve learned the hard way, behind the smile of a cherub lurks incessant “pay attention to me” behavior.

In the last 12 years or so, I’ve done a lot of self-discovery work. I’ve come to realize how very similar this toddler-like behavior is to the judgmental, negative “gremlin” thinking that sometimes cycle my mind.

These tricky little manipulative thought-monsters love to dance and sing about why I’m a failure, unworthy, or not smart enough, and that I should feel ashamed of myself for not being fully in control of my life. Worse yet, they seem to get louder when I’m about to achieve something I’m afraid I’ll fail at doing.

Years ago I’d welcome a glass of wine to take the edge off, then quickly pour another to assure I’d drown out the chatter. Or, to feel in control, I’d pull out all the stops to assure the scale reflected confirmation I was a success.

Those aren’t options for me anymore when I’m in the throes of self-criticism; when I’m both the attacker and the attacked. One minute I’m using criticism as a motivator and the next I’m falling victim to the idea of running in the other direction.

Lately I’ve been struggling to ignore silent messages relentlessly marking me incapable of doing the work surrounding the book I’m writing. I’ve tried talking with others moving through similar author-type issues and those who know me best. While I appreciate all the input and supportive words, I still feel less than brave.

So you can imagine my excitement when I read about the livestream taping of Oprah’s Life Class with Brené Brown, author of the #1 New York Times Bestseller Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent, and Lead.  I clicked the link and wouldn’t you know, they were talking about what to do when that “gremlin” thinking starts to creep in.

I could hardly contain myself as I feverishly took notes, drinking in everything they said. I listened intently as Brené Brown talked about combating mental self-defeating messages which seem to get louder the closer you get to what you’re after.

My ears really perked up when Oprah asked those in the social media audience to submit questions for live discussion. Although nervous, I pulled up Twitter, gave my best shot at crafting the 140-character question I craved to have answered, took a deep breath and hit the “Tweet” button.

When I clicked back to the livestream my heart just about stopped when I heard Ms. Winfrey herself say my name!

Offering a heartfelt, thorough response, Brené and Oprah helped me recognize there are ways to push against negative thinking and move closer to my authentic self. I will take their suggestions to inch ever closer to believing I’m far more capable of doing that which I fear I cannot. I will conduct a “reality check” about self-defeating thoughts and if I can’t invalidate them on my own, I’ll reach out to someone I trust and ask for space to talk through what brings me shame.

I hope the question I asked and the answer provided benefited others who took part in Oprah’s Life Class.  I appreciated being part of an empowering global conversation, reminding me once again I’m definitely not alone.


A Moment to Breathe …

What gremlin thoughts are lurking in your mind?  What evidence do you have to prove their validity?  If you need help to relinquish their paralyzing grip, pick up the phone and call a friend.  Ask for five minutes to talk about what brings you such self-doubt.  Remember, the best antidote for shame is empathy and that’s something we can never have enough of!    

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