Alison's Insights

Making Sense of Midlife Addiction Recovery One Slow Deep Breath at a Time

Archive for the tag “gratitude”

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.

 

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.

 

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. 

 

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.  

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.  

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

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

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

http://youtu.be/iszwuX1AK6A

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

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

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

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

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

– More days in the week

– More hours in the day

– More days of vacation when packing to go home

– More attention from those I’ve yet to know

– More attention from those I do

– More pages at the end of a really good book

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

– More reasons to say yes

– More ways to say no

– More sunny days after a beautiful sunset

– More money to ease financial worry

– More opportunity when I feel there’s none

– More tears when they really needed to fall

– More days with my Dad before he died

– More silence when I’m scared to speak

– More ways to make something work easier

– More words to say what I mean

– More presents under the Christmas tree for those I love

– More time with my friends

– More time to write without limitation

– More time to listen

– More ways to better understand a situation

– More light when I’m in a dark place

– More speed for my internet connection

– More battery life for my cellphone, iPad and laptop

– More awakenings about who I am

– More coffee

– More ways to show someone how much I care

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

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

Maybe I need to write more about that.

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A Moment to Breathe…

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

Hey Ebenezer … I Needed the Message Too!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Seymour Hicks        reginald-owen      Alister Sim

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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A Moment to Breathe …

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

When Perseverance Flew 150 miles to Knock at My Door

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Paper Flying in Mid Air

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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A Moment to Breathe …

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

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