Alison's Insights

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

Archive for the tag “addiction recovery”

Grateful for What I Wanted to Forget

You know those storage boxes neatly stacked in your closet, against the walls of your basement, or in your garage? If you’re anything like me, you usually pass them without notice. Even if they sometimes grab our attention and the idea of going through them seems wise, our minds search for something else, scratch that, anything else as a better option.

Yet the other day, for reasons I know now but didn’t then, I gave those boxes a second glance. Hours later I found myself surrounded by the contents of ones marked Treatment & Recovery, or painful reminders of the woman I once was. Page after page documented the truth that I didn’t have a firm grasp of how to navigate life. Back then I desperately wanted something different I just didn’t know how to find my way. I tried everything I could think of to change.

As I rummaged through preciously kept letters, medical reports, and personal notes that verify the reality of what was, I wondered why I held on to such things. Perhaps I packed them away to conceal my victim story. Maybe I kept them from eyesight to symbolically erase the need to acknowledge what I’d done to distance myself from those who love me.

However based on the need to tilt my head so tears that blurred my reading could fall, I hope subconsciously I thought one day these precious reminders would lead me to feel an amazing sense of gratitude. If that was the case, mission accomplished.

Of course some details clearly written in black are sharply remembered and some seem gently reassuring. Yet they all prove one thing, what I went through then was necessary to become what I need now.

My marriage, then dangling by a thread, is now strong and grounded in partnership.

My finances, then in disarray between what insurance didn’t cover and the work I didn’t have, are now comfortable and provide what I need.

My relationships with others, then distant or non-existent, are now strong and mutually beneficial.

As I sat atop a self-created paper carpet with tear-stained tissues clutched in my hand, I reflected on other marvelous things that resulted because I chose recovery instead of death even if still alive. From the first day I asked for help my progress back to health was slow and steady. Inch by inch, day by day, often breath by breath I progressed based on suggested steps that worked for others. The formation of these boxes served as indication of change from a life of chaos and shame to one that makes sense.

If the top-of-the-hour rhythmic bell from my old-fashioned clock hadn’t chimed, I’d still be there now. However time marches on and so do I.

I placed the top back on the last box and thought that while the mental trip through my past was not intentional, the diversion was purposeful. Those words, written when I had no idea what would happen next, now ignite my compassion for the woman who sits alone wondering how to shift away from the mess of her life.

Those papers mark my entry to transformation and now they serve as reference guides. When women quietly share the same things I once felt, I easily connect with their confusion, denial, fear, anger, sadness, shame, guilt, remorse, deflection, deflation and barely recognizable traces of hope.

I tell them why I clung to the last and worked on the rest.

I’ve learned that recovery is possible and quite probable for anyone willing to examine their past because doing so unveils lessons for their future.

If they do, maybe one day they’ll unpack boxes and feel grateful for what they now would rather forget.

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A Moment to Breathe…

What’s inside the boxes you walk past? Are you avoiding the contents because of what they contain?  Do you fear the memories will prove painful or more than you believe you can bear? Take a moment to breathe and reconsider if what’s inside might ignite encouragement for how far you’ve come, what you’ve accomplished, or what you’ve overcome. The possibility that hope resides in those boxes collecting dust seems thrilling. Who knows, maybe that’s just the hope you might share with someone today.    

11.24.15 Blog Option #1

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.  

 

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.

Turning Point: A Beginning or An End?

Have you stood at a turning point in life and wondered how you got there? At this stage haven’t we experienced enough of life to instinctively know which way is best? Why, after so many breathing hours, do we feel utterly paralyzed when in that spot of uncertain decision-making?

If you’re anything life me turning points are where I’m asked to ready myself for the end of one thing to begin something new.  Truth is, I’m not a big fan of ending what I thought was working for me nor do I welcome the start of something new because I don’t like uncertainty and change.

However when I stood at my most significant turning points I was acutely aware they showed up to save my life.

I had to end the way in which I was leading my everyday in order to assure there would be another one.

Let me explain.

Thirteen years ago just after the morning sun rose, I sat alone in my bedroom with a glass of wine in hand wondering if my husband’s request I be gone when he got home was for real. I stood up, walked to the bathroom, looked in the mirror and didn’t recognize what I saw in the glass.

I was at a powerful turning point.  I needed to either continue down the deceitful path as an active alcoholic and lose everything emotionally important to me, or turn the other way and get the help I couldn’t give myself.

I turned down the path of help and didn’t look back.  I chose to end what I feared I couldn’t do without to begin what I feared I could not do.

Six years later after decades of struggling with food and body image issues I walked past another piece of glass reflecting back a woman I couldn’t comprehend as me.  In that instant I woke up to how the nutritional choices I’d made (or lack thereof) year after year had taken a tremendous toll.

I was at another equally powerful turning point.  Either try to un-see what I saw or become willing to do the work I intuitively knew was necessary to get well.

My life today proves I chose wisely.

However life doesn’t stop placing me at turning points just because I made a few right turns!

Each day there’s opportunity for me to choose to condemn rather than praise, fester in resentment rather than accept situations for what they are, make assumptions rather than ask pertinent questions, or worse turn my head to what needs my attention.

I’ve learned the changes I need to live authentically won’t occur if I wobble with trepidation and fear down a new path.  I need to remain willing to keep going because if I do, change willingly comes toward me.

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A Moment to Breathe….

Are you standing at a turning point in your life?  Are you resisting a decision that scares you?  What’s holding you back?  Just for today maybe you cease analyzing, projecting and fearing what lies ahead long enough to realize why you’re standing at the turning point in the first place.  Is there something you need to learn where you stand?  Often by acknowledging what keeps us stuck is the very thing we need to get unstuck! Feel free to leave a comment here or share via your favorite social media network.

Recovery Isn’t A Self-Help Program

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

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

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

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

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

Recovery is not a self-help program.

Period. Full stop.

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

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

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

Recovery is not a self help program

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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A Moment to Breathe …

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

 

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.

 

From Practice to Practical Experience to Progress

A few summers ago, a disk in my back herniated. The story of how this happened is far from interesting.

I was vacuuming.

There was no mistaking the “pop” I not only felt but heard when I tried to move an end-table with one hand while I pushed the vacuum with the other. When the crisp snap in the small of my back occurred that small voice inside suggested the incident wasn’t something to simply shake off.

Did I listen?  Of course not.

Most people would have shut off the Hoover and sought some sort of medical attention. Not me. I continued forth seeking the housecleaning I’d planned for the day. That plan shifted quickly with seriously painful consequences.

The next morning, in addition to shooting pain in my lower back, my leg was tingle-y numb. Almost on instinct learned at a very young age, I convinced myself the situation was probably nothing and I’d be fine. I was sure if I just kept moving the pain and numbness would pass. This was the same kind of irrational thought process I’d use to drown the small voice inside when I wanted that “one more” drink or didn’t want that much-needed meal.

After more than a few 24-hours of healthy recovery one would think I’d learn a thing or two about how willful I am, attempting to control things I have no business controlling. Unfortunately for whatever reason those repetitively spoken words of wisdom were not rising to the occasion in my head. Instead my solution was to get on the floor and stretch the area of my back that was causing me to feel such searing pain.

Bad idea.

I made an already awful situation far worse. Before I knew what happened, my husband was carefully guiding me to a seat in the waiting room of a back specialist.

After a few preliminary tests this very kind and patient doctor listened with intention to what happened and was gracious enough to keep her face stoic.

Upon finishing the tale of my pain and subsequent attempt to self-heal, she explained the tests confirmed a herniated disk and calmly identified for me the ramifications if I chose to continue irritating the area via the solution I’d previously tried.

When I asked her opinion on long-term healing she responded, “Well based on practical experience there is a plan of what has worked for others. However, every person’s body is different. How about we give what I’ve recommended a try. We’ll then schedule you for a follow-up in a few weeks. If you are still experiencing discomfort we’ll try something else.

I felt relieved by the doctor’s prescription to practice her suggestions and adjust as needed because the intention was parallel to my early days in addiction recovery.

When I first admitted the need for help to cease unhealthy behaviors, I tried desperately to find anyone who would provide a guarantee I’d never drink again or obsess endlessly about food and body issues. Each time I eased the question into conversation I heard the same thing.

“Alison, seek out those who have overcome what you struggle with. Ask what worked for them and their suggestions for next right recovery steps. Practice what they offer for your consideration every day. However be advised, just because something worked for them doesn’t guarantee the same will work for you. If you remain willing to try, eventually you’ll determine what works and hopefully one day you’ll share that as practical experience with someone else.”

The key word here is practice. First attempts don’t always work so we try again and again until something clicks. This is how we gain much-needed practical experience.

practice

Just as doctors are always learning, experimenting and challenging themselves with new patient experiences, so too are we who seek long-term, healthy recovery.  As a matter of fact, the word “practice” appears in the last step of the 12 listed for those seeking the same freedom from addiction I’ve achieved.

Maintaining the kind of life I’m deeply grateful to now live requires daily practice. When I began living without alcohol and with a renewed perspective of food and body image, I began to attain the kind of practical experience I now share with others who trace the same footsteps I did not mark but followed.

The equation is simple. Practice leads to practical experience and practical experience leads to progress, the very thing I strive for every day.

A Moment to Breathe…

Throughout the day think about practical steps you can take to progress toward your goals.  Are people available to you who might offer suggestions based on practical experience?   I welcome your feedback on this idea either by leaving a reply below or as a comment via your preferred social media network. 

 

Learning Lessons I’d Eventually Need to Teach

Before I sought help to address how much I drank and how little I ate, I practiced self-pity on a daily basis. The moment my alarm went off in the morning I’d find reason to validate why the world was an unfair and unjust place to exist.

I’d quickly consider the next available innocent victim who could fuel my insatiable need to validate why people and situations were intentionally trying to ruin me. Back then if you gave me a minute of your time I’d take an hour. Endless dramatic tales tumbled from my mouth layered with rationale and reasoning why everything and everyone kept me from the kind of life I expected.

I remember how rejected I felt when suddenly my phone calls weren’t returned or a conversation awkwardly changed subject. I couldn’t understand and silently questioned what friends were for. Aren’t they supposed to always help me when my chips were down? How rude to think their lives are so much better than mine and couldn’t be bothered with my issues.

In those days if you acted that way toward me, I would return the favor times ten. If you turned your back on me, well then you’d forever see only my back. That’s just the way I rolled. Took me years to understand that cavalier attitude coupled with a belief I had control over those relationships was nothing more than an illusion. In truth I had no control. I simply couldn’t see how my nonstop whining and complaining drained people. For the kind souls who stuck around longer than most, my endless resistance to suggestions they offered eventually pushed them away too.

Thank God there was one person who still took my calls. What started off as yet another self-pitying sob-fest ended up being the call I’d long needed to make. I had no idea what asking for help meant or where that would lead me. I didn’t care. I just wanted out of the horrific situation I’d landed in. I had yet to accept a need for addiction recovery because that would mean never drinking again or controlling the number on a scale. However when I made that particular phone call I would have done or said just about anything to rise from the emotional, physical, mental and spiritual bottom I’d reached.

All I wanted was to forget what had happened and move on. I had no desire to recap my actions with a complete stranger and I most certainly was not going to talk about what I thought. Just point me in the direction to learn how to drink normally and eat without altering the clothes I liked wearing.

I wasn’t sent to that class. Instead I found myself directed to a place where people allowed me to vent but would not allow me to wallow in the problem. I thought I’d hear things like, “Oh honey, why of course you drank and didn’t eat. Under those circumstances, what other choice did you have?” Instead I heard, “Oh is that all? Yeah, I felt the same way and did the same things but they never helped.  Matter of fact, my best thinking got me here.”

time to learn

As much as I tried to find them, there were no innocent victims willing to validate why having a drink or controlling what number appeared on a scale could ease the pain I was feeling.

The days of dressing up for a pity party were lessening to the degree people continued to ask what benefit I got from hearing my wild narratives. In time I learned to stand on my own two feet rather than my tales of woe. I found great value from reconsidering situations from a perspective other than mine.

Fast forward many 24 hours without a drink or the need to control my body weight, shape and size. These days I try to live according to what I believe makes for a peaceful, caring and compassionate co-existence with other people. I do my best as a supportive wife, friend, sister, daughter and co-worker.

Yet life has an interesting way of bringing me back to the very place I once stood. Only now I often stand on the other side. Today I’m given opportunities to experience the person I was through the words and actions of someone else.

When those situations appear at my doorstep I’m not facing a resurgence of regret and shame for how selfishly I behaved. Instead I feel a deep desire to thank the people who walked away, changed the subject or stopped taking my calls.

For the most part I hang in there with people who continuously try to attain validation I won’t give. I believe I have a responsibility to keep my hand outstretched for those who may want to shift from an addiction-fueled existence to a life that makes sense. I simply can’t look the other way when someone is clearly in need of help. However sometimes the help they need may not include me.

There are times when I need clarity about the kind of support I’m offering. Am I helping or hindering? Am I enabling or encouraging? These are important questions to ask, perhaps the very same ones people who cut me off asked themselves long ago.

I now know I needed people to disengage with me. Had they not I would have continued my search for even the slightest degree of sympathy and validation for another drink or another step on the scale to confirm I remained in control.

A week ago I was unexpectedly reminded of my manipulative days. I found myself in a situation whereby I made an extremely difficult yet necessary decision to gently move away from someone who asked for help as continuously as she found reason to keep on doing what she’d been doing.

After receiving yet another of the hundreds of alcohol-induced phone calls from this woman, I heard a click of the phone confirming she’d hung up on me. In that moment of deafening silence I felt pushed one inch too far.

I felt a strong sting from her behavior perhaps to experience precisely how I had treated others so many years ago. I wondered if I now faced having to make the very same kind of decision they did, one which ultimately saved my life.

Unsure of what I could be my next right step, I chose to calmly separate myself from the situation and thoroughly consider my options.

As I often do in these moments of uncertainty, I called the one woman who knows me better than I know myself. After sharing a detailed review of what occurred she helped me realize the conversations with my friend were clearly not in anyone’s best interest. If she stood by her intention to make a change, something needed changing.

I circled back to my friend whose words were once my own. I clearly yet calmly stated she reconsider what has long been suggested and seek the help she professed to want.

I willingly let go so she might grab hold of the same freedom from addiction I’d experienced all those years ago.

Perhaps she’ll soon learn the very lessons I now have the privilege and honor to teach.

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A Moment to Breathe….

Are you helping or hindering someone’s recovery?  Are you finding yourself caught up in the need to fix, manage and control?  Are you willing to let someone go for them to get well?  Can you disengage with love to maintain your own sense of self?  Have you had to answer these often very difficult questions?  How did you navigate these rough-edged situations?  Please post your stories here or as a comment when sharing this blog on your favorite social media network.  

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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