Alison's Insights

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

Archive for the tag “faith”

I Don’t Have Time

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

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

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

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

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

time-post-opt-1

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Moment to Breathe

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

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

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.

 

When the Same Reminds Me I’m Not

We sat in the same darkened room. We looked through the same books with the same options. All they asked us for were words for slight revision.

The spelling of name is the same?”

“Yes except for the suffix. The previous ended with Jr. and this ends with the III.”

“Will you need the same number of Mass cards?”

“Yes”

“Please know we all feel the same, deep sadness that you’ve lost both of them in such a short period of time.”

“Thank you.”

The familiar light in my mind broke bright when I suddenly realized the same cold, solemn space where we numbly planned the second funeral of 2009.

Five years ago on this day, December 12, I witnessed the last breath my brother took. Seven months earlier, on April 19, I stood beside the bed when my father took his.

My men with the same name were gone in the same way, in the same year, when the same light their lives brought to this world slowly dimmed.

While this day is the same in so many ways, the date is a reminder for extra time in reflection of how I’m not the same because of their unending love for me and my recovery.

The Ring

A few months ago a staff member of the NEDA (National Eating Disorders Association) Community Outreach program contacted me to write an article for publication in their Parents Family Network magazine, Making Connections. The subject matter was intimacy and eating disorders.

Although I’m not one to share rather personal information, I accepted the offer believing some aspect of this topic would spring to mind. In a haze of contemplation I found myself mindlessly staring at my wedding rings when all of a sudden the winds of wisdom blew through me. Suddenly my fingers flew rapidly over the computer keyboard like a well-choreographed dance to create what was eventually titled, “The Ring”.

I thought I’d share the original piece here as I believe the message is worth repeating.

Intimacy is a connection; a sense of silent knowing of the thoughts and feelings of another which radiates from deep in the heart. 

This winter was a never-ending request for patience. Mother Nature’s relentless cast of wicked weather caused many in my neighborhood to stay indoors and fall prey to the drying effects of recycled heat.

Each night during our somewhat forced hibernation, I applied lotion to my moisture-deprived hands. One such evening my husband asked if I’d apply some of the healing salve to his hands to help relieve dry skin and some tension. I smiled in agreement as I carefully removed his wedding band from his finger to our nightstand, as lotion can play havoc on jewelry.

The next morning I noticed his ring was still there. In split second timing, I felt an immediate rush of emotion race through my heart. The pang I felt was not for the day I slid the gold band on his finger, but the day he slid the ring off.

I took a deep breath, sat down on the side of the bed, closed my eyes, and remembered the time I thought our marriage was doomed.

Before I found the courage to face the truth behind my eating disorder, my life was nothing more than a string of lies stretching from one person to the next, with me in the middle. I lied about my lies, praying to keep everything straight. What did I tell people I ate? How can I get out of the dinner party we’re supposed to attend? Can I delegate myself to run the mid-day business meeting while everyone else eats lunch? Is there a way to excuse myself from our aunt’s dinner table to find out what her scale tells me?

My need to control my body weight, shape, and size became far more important than how my actions could affect others. I didn’t know how to exist without being in charge of when a fork met my lips.

Aside from me, the person who suffered severe consequences of the eating disorder was my husband. After thousands of second chances and promises I’d eat better, in 2008 he told me very calmly yet clearly that I needed to leave our house and get help. Although I tried to peer through his emotionless eyes, I could not see the compassion I’d relied on for years. He had enough of my lies and, in my mind, me.

So at the age of 46 I entered a residential treatment facility hundreds of miles from home. One of the recommendations was to engage my husband in family therapy. Knowing he was not one to talk about his feelings as well as his less-than-enthusiastic thoughts about me, I suggested including him would be a rather bad idea. Thankfully my therapist had previously encountered situations like ours and asked if she might contact my husband to convince him otherwise.

After about an hour, which felt like a thousand, she reported that he was willing to help but was very clear about the boundaries he required. He wanted assurance she would manage expectations for my return home. Although the challenge to heal both myself and my marriage was daunting, I was determined to recover them equally.

Three months later I emerged a renewed woman, anxious to celebrate the new “me” with my husband. The merriment soon faded when I noticed his left hand was bare. Over the years the only time he would remove his ring was to play golf. The snow on the ground was a good indicator the band was not in his golf bag.

The explanation I received for the ring removal is one I hope never to hear repeated; what the ring represented to him wasn’t true anymore. The words pierced my heart like a hot knife through butter. I melted in shame, fear and disconnect.

I realized there was nothing I could do other than commit to my healthy recovery. Every day, I followed the suggestions of my nutritionist and therapist, while staying connected to like-minded people striving for a similar transformation.

In time, my consistently healthy actions spoke louder than any words I could have  strung together. The circle of trust our wedding rings represent re-emerged, leading to the replacement of the precious gold band on my husband’s finger.

Coming back to where I sat on the edge of my bed, a tear fell slowly down my cheek as my eyes opened. I grabbed the ring from the nightstand and walked to where my husband was reading the morning paper. When I gently slid the gold band back on his finger he turned to me and said, “I knew something was missing. I’m so glad it’s not you.”

I cherish the intimate connection we share, offering words spoken in silence through things like the touch of a hand or a circle of gold.

Connecting to Disconnecting and Reconnecting

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

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

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

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

From Disconnection to Reconnection

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

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

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

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

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

Right then the light bulb went off.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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.  

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.    

 

Wonder Why Early Recovery is So Emotional? You’re Grieving.

Holding hands at the end of a recovery meeting is a symbolic reminder we are not alone. The circle we form means there’s no beginning and no end, no hierarchy and no judgment, we’re just everyday people doing our best to stay connected and hopeful. The other day I stood in one such circle uttering the last few words we often say. When I would have normally let go of the hands I held, the one in my left clung a bit longer. I turned to look into the tear-filled eyes of a woman about my age. She very softly said the words I always welcome, “Do you have a minute?

We found a quiet corner and a box of tissues. I patiently waited as she did her best to move past the tears in order to form a complete sentence. When she looked to me for reassurance, I suggested she try taking a few slow, deep breaths. I shared with her how my father would ask me to do the same thing when he found me in similar emotional moments. I’ve since learned if I can slow my erratic breathing down a bit I’m able to slow my racing thoughts and find my voice.

When she found hers, she talked in rapid fire about how she was new to all this and although she had some problems at home, at work and a few discrepancies with the legal system, she thoroughly believed her drinking and other unhealthy behaviors weren’t that bad.

In bits and pieces she recanted conversations with others over the last few days and while she thought they were out of their minds, she figured if she showed up at a meeting they’d get off her back. After doing some research about recovery she sat alone in her house feeling miserable about how her life was unfolding and how unfair she be asked to give up drinking forever.  Soon the tears fell again and in broken half sentences she told me of how much she feared what others would think of her and that she could never show her face in public again for the things she’d done. All she wanted to do was be alone and figure things out but couldn’t.  With nowhere else to go and no one she could turn to for validation she came to the meeting hoping she’d feel better but instead felt worse.

I took a deep breath and told her how much I admired her courage to walk through the door and sit through the entire meeting.  The choice she made to ask we sit and chat for a while was further proof of that courage.  I explained no one will ask her to do anything forever, only for today. I then told her a bit about what took place for me to find a meeting of recovery and although others shared similar stories during the last hour, from the look on her face I made an assumption much of what others said went unheard.

Yet I think what I told her next is something heard loud and clear.  I told her she was grieving. Most of us go through feelings and states of mind during the initial days in recovery that parallel well-known stages of grief.  People often only associate grief with the loss of a loved one yet isn’t our relationship with alcohol or food or drugs or gambling equally passionate?  Therefore I asked she reconsider what she’d just told me in relation to the stages of grieving. stages of grief The mention of problems at work, home and the legal system coupled with the belief her drinking and other unhealthy behaviors weren’t “that bad” was nothing less than denial.  I suggested she consider if she’s angry with others for expressing concern about the manner in which she was managing her life.  Certainly her choice to attend a meeting of recovery to somehow get them off her back was a form of bargaining.  Then the state of mind she fell into after searching for a meeting might be a form of depression and finally, hearing more similarities than differences during the meeting and sitting here with me might very well be a kind of acceptance that she does belong here. I reminded her acceptance doesn’t mean she agrees with everything she’s hearing but what’s necessary if she wants to move forward.

I went on to say addiction, like grieving, is really patient. When we find ourselves feeling vulnerable for one reason or another, any one of the feelings associated with grief can ease into our minds thereby convincing us a drink or some other form of self-soothing behavior will alleviate that uncomfortable feeling.  The vicious cycle is quite real and can show up no matter how many days of continuous sobriety one strings together. Yet if we build a strong support system with those who walk the same recovery path, we have options to fend off lapsing back into old ways of feeling better.

We sat together for quite a while talking about the program of recovery and what she might be willing to do in the next few days.  I told her just like when grieving the loss of a loved one, she try to go easy on expectations of herself and others and that if she was open to the idea, she find her way to another meeting within the next 24 hours.

As we walked to our cars I saw my new friend smile briefly reminding me how important giving back what was so freely given to me keeps me grounded and grateful.

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A Moment to Breathe… Are you in any relationships with people or situations you can’t walk away from yet know deep down you need to? Are you hanging on out of fear you can’t handle the emotional separation or are you willing to try? Sometimes if we associate what’s behind our need to hang on to what’s not good for us we’re better able to make sense of why we must let go. If we turn our backs to what we feel, we’ll stay stuck. What has been your experience with this process? Feel free to offer a reply here or as a comment when sharing on your favorite social network.  

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