Alison's Insights

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

Archive for the tag “choices”

Unexpected Reminders Keep Me Grounded and Grateful

Have you ever experienced a time when seemingly out of nowhere a conversation shifts sharply from one subject to a shared experience you were emotionally unprepared to address?  Wow is that interestingly awkward.

My sense is this kind of communication topic-hopping shock stems from either distance between past situations and present day, or because I’ve taught people I’m unaffected by the truth of my past. Regardless, I admit there are some moments of my not-so-charming past that remain fresh in my mind.

I know time does heal most wounds. I’ve tended to many of mine leaving no scar for an observer’s eye to meet. Yet when even a microscopic emotional connection to what happened floats into present day, I’m immediately taken back to the scenes I wish to but can’t forget.

silhouette-of-woman_thumb11

During the past week, two people I love dearly spoke with me about their experience when I had one of my alcohol withdrawal seizures. As they talked I did what I could to assure my outward expression was open and willing to listen. Yet on the inside my blood ran cold as I took in each word.

In equal measure they told me the sound of my husband’s fearful screams on that frightful day are still quite clear when collectively the thought was they were watching me die.

Even though I lived though millions of moments since then, all I need is this kind of reminder and I’m instantly thrown back to when my physical self begged for the kind of help my emotional self could not verbally express.

The intention of what my loved ones said this week were not to hurt me or berate me for my past however their words broke my heart into a thousand pieces for the woman I was and those who experienced her.

No matter how hard I try I cannot wish for the facts of my past to show up differently today. In addition, I have no control over how others recall the days when I was slowly killing myself in the silence of too much alcohol and not enough food.

For a very long time I did all I could to keep from being reminded of what my life was like then. I would have rather spent countless hours in an attempt to empty a swimming pool with a teaspoon than to sit through 5 minutes of truth about my life with untreated alcoholism and an eating disorder.

I don’t feel the same today.

I’ve learned through the practical experience of others and my own that the only way to fully heal wounds of my past is to face the truth with an open heart and mind. I need to dig deep and get brutally honest about what happened so I can attain the kind of clarity necessary for me to authentically express myself.  The next step is to find someone with similar experience and talk through what may still confuse me. This vital conversation allows for accountability and the chance to better equip me when I address my past with those who hold their own pain and confusion about that time in my life.

Undoubtedly my desire to erase horrible moments I caused loved ones is profound. However I also know life experiences are purposeful. Those who thought they were witness to my last breath have since watched me take many more. In time they have found use for that practical experience when given an opportunity to support others with similar struggles.

Although these recent conversations threw me off a bit, they prove remarkably motivating.

Just prior to the walk down memory lane I was drowning in doubt and fear of failure about moving forward with one of the toughest expressions of my recovery.  Then, seemingly out of nowhere, I’m reminded I’m far from failure because I didn’t die. I survived.

The interactions with loved ones did more for me than I could have done for myself. I’m back to the work I feel passionate about and deep down know I’m meant to share.

Now I’m no longer fearful of unexpected reminders because they keep me grounded and grateful.

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A Moment to Breathe … 

What’s holding you back? What stories are you telling yourself that may keep you from what you are passionate about? Pay attention. There are nudges and reminders around every corner. I’d love for you to share your experience and insight with this topic by leaving a comment here or via one of social media links below. 

Seeing Something Old with New Eyes

When was the last time you’ve rearranged a closet, the living room furniture, or the selves of your mind? Seems when I allow myself the time for those things I become grateful to see them differently or reconsider what I’d long forgotten.

This shuffling of perspective also happens when I’m recaptured by books read years ago or even pages reviewed last week.

For example, I recently came across an image of a beloved childhood story about a toy rabbit’s quest to become real.

Velveteen Rabbit original cover

The need to find a copy of this book was immediate. When I turned the first page to immerse myself with the story my heart skipped a beat. The left to right movement of my eyes slowed a bit as I tried to see past the collection of tears formed. The messages of right living seemed to leap around and off the page like the rabbit at the center of the story.

Has this little book always contained such beautiful descriptions of how life works, what becoming REAL means, and why being different isn’t so different after all?

The answer is yes but the reality is the story hasn’t changed I have.

The intention of the narrative, the stuffed rabbit’s journey from what he thought he was to what he becomes, mirrors what I’ve gone through over these past many years. We both turned ourselves inside out revealing truths about who we are and how we are best suited to interact with the world around us.

Examples of this are:

– Don’t be convinced no one is like you because you assume they haven’t struggled as you did.

– Pay attention to those who have the kind of wisdom and practical experience you would like to one day have.

– Watch what happens to people who are reluctant to smooth their rough edges formed by unhealthy coping skills and behaviors. Keep an even closer focus on those who resist what persists.

– Change is wildly uncomfortable. We squirm, question, fantasize, or even rationalize how great things were before. Yet if we keep doing the next right thing in healthier surroundings we come to find enjoyment in our new lifestyle and manner of living.

– Comparing yourself to others won’t help make sense of things. Nothing will come from the assumption that you’ll feel better on the inside if you fix, manage and control your outside to mirror theirs.

– Allow the love of others to settle comfortably within. Soon you’ll come to love yourself and the need to “look” a certain way will eventually fade away.

– When you love someone you become willing to take whatever action steps necessary to help them. This only works if what you offer is in the best interest of that person and not yourself.

– Accept when the time comes to move on.

– Humility is the cornerstone of right living as the very wise Skinned Horse character describes in the story.

skinned horse image 2

You become. It takes a long time. That’s why it doesn’t happen often to people who break easily, or have sharp edges, or who have to be carefully kept. Generally by the time you are REAL, most of your hair has been loved off, and your eyes drop out and you get loose in the joints and very shabby. But these things don’t matter at all because once you are REAL you can’t be ugly, except to people who don’t understand.”

I used to consider a good day as one when addiction had my full and undivided attention. Back then rationale for unhealthy actions never wavered. I wouldn’t allow myself even an inch of wiggle room for reconsideration or change in perspective. Once I’d read, seen, or heard something I was done. Case closed.

That is not my life today. After much emotionally challenging self-investigation and a detailed, brutally honest review of past experiences, I came to believe open-mindedness might be of benefit to me.

The next time I’m asked what helped most to overcome addiction, I’m going to think of my little rabbit friend from that cherished book and reply, “When I finally became willing to see something old with new eyes.”

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A Moment to Breathe…

Take some time to think about what you might see new again. Consider your relationships or that project you just can’t seem to finish. Do you need someone’s help or a different perspective to better understand the situation? The benefits you receive may far exceed your resistance to ask. I’m interested in your feedback. Feel free to leave a comment below or share your thoughts with this post on your favorite social media forum.

Mind the Gap

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

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

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

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

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

the tube

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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A Moment to Breathe…

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

Until then, take a moment to breathe.

 

 

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.

“God Save the Queen!” How London Saved Me Too.

Ever wonder why we get a better sense of ourselves just by stepping away from the daily grind? Sometimes the opportunity arises so we can wake up to what we’ve taken for granted, belittled, or mindlessly ignored.

For me breaking away has proven key to breaking through.

This was my experience when I sought treatment far from home for alcoholism and years later, a life-threatening eating disorder. In both instances I boarded an airplane to disengage from what I thought was justification for a bottomless wineglass and irregular meal pattern. I needed the distance from my ritualistic lifestyle to fully focus on what needed change and why.

Even after years of self-discovery and lifestyle course correction, I recently found myself in need of yet another change of geography to alter my perspective. This time the destination was one laced with excitement and wonder rather than deflation and shame.

A friend temporarily residing in London invited me for a visit. This being a city I’d long desired to explore, the idea of experiencing the sights, sounds and energy with someone I trust and admire seemed like a dream come true.

However after consideration of timing and finances and commitments spoken or assumed, I declined her generous offer. The silent jury in my mind provided verdict an overseas trip was out of the question.

Yet little did I know my rationale to stay balanced was way off-balance.

I had no idea how deceptive the words were in my deeply hypnotic, mentally written, self-published book, You Can Handle This All By Yourself.

Just like I didn’t become an alcoholic or caught in the throes of an eating disorder overnight, I didn’t succumb to the subtle effects of emotional imbalance like that either.

Years ago I struggled to recognize how desperately I needed to change. The unmanageable aspects of my life came into view when I finally put down the wineglass and picked up the fork. From those days forward I willingly and tirelessly gathered healthier options to navigate everyday situations. Yet this past year I ever-so-slowly inched my way back to believe I as “fine” while deep down I struggled with frustration and anger for what life threw my way.

Well sure enough, just as things fell into place at the right time with the right people to help me get sober and healthy, things fell into place to get me to London. Once there my amazing, caring and often “tough love” friend simply said, “OK, enough. When are you going to tell me what’s really going on. You are clearly not yourself.”

The tears flew as the words tumbled from of my mouth. She gently helped me unwind the knots of denied feelings to rewind what made sense.

Ultimately our conversation was as transforming and remarkable like all those years ago when I released the wineglass grip and number on a scale. Revealing truths I’d denied or sworn to secrecy is like a much-needed exhale after a long-held breath.

London is surely a place where God saves the Queen and this time, saved me too.

God Save the Queen Post

(At the entrance of Westminster Abbey)

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A Moment to Breathe…

Take a few minutes to check in with yourself. Listen to that quiet inner voice. What are you hearing? What are you feeling? What are you not saying? What story are you telling yourself to downplay what’s really going on? Consider leaving a few thoughts here or sharing this post via your favorite social media platform because sometimes something as simple as letting go of a thought or two is a great a way to release what’s keeping you stuck.

 

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.

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.

 

Lessons Learned in the Curves

For a very long time only straight line solutions existed for me. When I’d worn out a pair of shoes I got new ones. When I the guy I was dating started showing signs he wasn’t good for me I’d break up with him while seeking another. When the car ran out of gas I’d stop to refuel.

In other words, acknowledge the problem, solve immediately, and move on.

Surely this same systematic route would be the way I’d overcome alcoholism and an eating disorder. My “problem-solution-move on” theory of navigating life would be the plan. However what I found was, yes I had a problem, yes there was (and still is) a solution and yes I would move on. The only difference was no one would guarantee me that path would be a straight line.

Thankfully I stepped forward on the trail anyway. Fast forward many 24 hours of one-day-at-a-time later and I’m here to report we learn our best lessons in the curves.

The road to Heart tree

I’ve experienced countless bends, some wider and rougher than others. Here are a few I moved through early on.

Curve #1: When I received my now cherished book of direction, I was also given a recommendation to read only the words written in black if I wanted answers to overcome my problem. Wonderful! I opened the book, went right to the table of contents, found a chapter titled “How It Works”, and flipped to that section. I assumed everything written before was just research-y stuff that wasn’t necessary for me to review. I figured wrong. Not only was I wildly confused by the language (explained in previous chapters), the solution the chapter title claimed to offer was not clearly defined.

Course Correction: As someone suggested, I talked with a woman who seemed to have a life that made sense without the use of unhealthy coping behaviors. Per her gentle yet firm direction I circled back and read that book from the very first page behind the cover. I’ve since read and reread the pages with intention, willingness and gratitude. I continue to find words that shift my perspective and overwhelm me with hope.

Curve #2: People told me if I followed the guidelines posted on the wall at support group meetings, I’d find the kind of freedom I sought. Great! I reviewed the directions listed, determined which were inapplicable and silently calculated when I’d be done with the whole thing. I’d soon learn time was (and still is) irrelevant and to date, few who have found themselves free from addiction consider themselves “done.”

Course correction: I shared my skip-to-the-finish-line plan with those whose recovery I still admire. Their reaction was quite clear. If my goal was to attain foundational change and sustainable growth I’d be best served to take my time and not skip anything. I’ve since learned the value of slowing down, easing back on the recovery throttle, and continuing my studies of the true intention behind the words on the wall.

Curve #3: I believed I could do this recovery thing all by myself. I had no fight left in me to defend why and how I’d messed up my life. I figured with a good read of the book I was given there would be no reason for me to share the truth about who I was, what I’d been doing with my life and why I felt so hopeless. Then one day all that changed when someone said, “Yeah, I thought I could do this thing on my own until I realized my best thinking got me here.

Course Correction:  After several attempts to say something during a support group meeting I suddenly heard my voice betraying a long-held confidence. In a split-second, shuttering moment I braced myself for the request I step out of the room because what I said was too horrific for anyone’s ears. Instead I looked around and saw nodded heads offering words like, “me too” and “you’re in the right place.” When tears started steaming down my cheek I heard what I hope to never forget, “Don’t worry Alison, we’re going to love you until you learn to love yourself.” That was a stand-still moment which is forever embedded in my heart. Those generous, supportive, compassionate words taught me recovery is not a self-help program.

Although the twists and turns have often felt dizzying, I wouldn’t change a thing.

I can’t wait to experience the next life bend because in every curve is a lesson I’ve yet to learn.

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A Moment to Breathe …

What has helped you to course correct a venture off your path?  What lessons have you learned along those curves?  Feel free to leave a message here or as a comment when sharing this post via your favorite social 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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