esperanza--the blog

Love is patient

Love recognizes no barriers. It jumps hurdles, leaps fences, penetrates walls to arrive at its destination full of hope.”

–Maya Angelou

My alcoholism led me to some dark places, the darkest and most hurtful being the loss of confidence and support of many dear loved ones.  Even after I had stopped drinking, the unanswered phone messages and texts and lack of inquiries of how I was doing all equated to what I felt was a shunning.

One person, in particular, completely took me off of her radar.  I had already made amends with this person, so I wanted the process of healing and reconnection to continue on as I thought it should:  within about six months’ time, we should be back where we were.

HA!  I felt like someone had removed a huge chunk of my heart; it literally ached when I thought of her.

I had a history of hurting others in not so obvious ways, then fixing the damage I had created, and restoring (in my mind, at least) the relationship back to normal.  So many times, alcohol was my scapegoat; it became too easy to blame my little mishaps or miscommunications on that last bottle of wine or the tequila shot I took (even when I knew that tequila turned me into a lunatic).

But I really, truly, didn’t mean to hurt you, I promise.  And you forgave me again and again.

My journey through recovery has been filled with so many opportunities for not only rediscovering myself, but also transforming who I really am at my core.  Throughout my alcohol abuse, I disrespected boundaries, I manipulated situations to my favor, I endured physical and emotional abuse from others because I felt that I deserved it, and I scared the shit out of some people.  I secretly hated myself for not achieving my dreams or, rather, the high expectations others had for me.  I had to somehow drown out the chatter in my head that said I was a failure.  My core looked like Swiss cheese.

So when I started to mend fences with those I had hurt deeply and superficially, I was also in the process of repairing my hard drive.  I listened and listened and listened some more to others who had experienced similar feelings and situations.  I mentally filed how they had managed to slowly build up their character assets.  I heard stories of reconnection and of shedding toxicity and establishing boundaries and working, working, working to slowly morph and strengthen the good parts of themselves so that they could just function in normal society.

I realized about 3 years into sobriety that my part in making amends to others was to put my money where my mouth was:  I had to try and live a better life, a life (for me, personally) which embodied not only the works of Christ, but of all the great thinkers and humanitarians, religious and secular.

For example, I have to practice patience:

  •  I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.  Ephesians 4:1-3
  • Patience is bitter, but its fruit is sweet.  Aristotle
  • Trying to understand is like straining through muddy water. Have the patience to wait! Be still and allow the mud to settle.  Lao Tzu

And my personal favorite:

  • How poor are they that have not patience! What wound did ever heal but by degrees?  William Shakespeare

Somehow, mysteriously and only by God’s perfect timing, my relationship with my beloved healed.  While at lunch the other day, she looked at me and I at her, and we both knew we were bonded again.  The scars are still there, no doubt, but we are somehow better from the time-out we had to take, and the personal journeys we each have had to embark upon. Nothing felt forced; my heart (and hers) were made whole again.

I absolutely could have never experienced that feeling of belonging and pure love if I were still abusing alcohol.

We both knew we didn’t get to this moment by chance; we both had to have the patience to let the other one heal and grow before reconnecting.

 

 

 

“It sounds so soothing…”

to mix a gin and sink into oblivion.”  It’s a phrase from one of my favorite songs from the band, Cold War Kids.  The lyrics tell the story of  an alcoholic man who is  recalling the damage caused by his alcoholism–how he has missed his children’s important events, how he has caused some kind of an accident, and how he’s let down his family.

Simultaneously, he rationalizes his behavior and notes that he still has a job, he donates to charities, and that attending “meetings” left him feeling alone.

I had this exact lyric jamming in my brain just the other day, like a broken record.  The details of how I had arrived at this desperate point are truly irrelevant.  Suffice it to say that I was feeling too much–anger, hostility, frustration, impatience, and guilt.  And maybe a few more for extra measure.

I imagined how all of my tension and emotion would be quieted and suppressed after taking that first gulp of a drink that had once provided me that lovely, reassuring feeling of “aaaahhhhh…”  How could I get it?  Where could I go to drink it?  Do we have any limes in the house?

I picked up my water bottle and chugged it, pretending it was my refreshing friends Bombay Sapphire, Canada Dry, and Just-a-Squeeze.  Next, I said out loud to my husband and kids, “I really want a drink.”

I didn’t want to say out loud what was spinning in my brain and teasing my taste buds, but I had to.

My husband’s response was something to the effect of, “No you don’t.  It’s going to be okay.”  I’m not exactly sure because, again, part of my brain was coaxing me back to the dark side, and the other part of my brain was fighting to regain control.  Freaking Star Wars going on in head.

I then started to recite the Serenity Prayer to myself over and over again:

God, grant me the serenity 

to accept the things I cannot change

Courage to change the things I can

and the Wisdom to know the difference.

For the first five prayers, I didn’t mean a word of what I was saying, but I knew that I had to counter the old thinking and temptation with something. (I used to do this exact action in my first few months of sobriety–praying and smoking one cigarette after another.)

Around the sixth time, my mind started to relax the teensiest bit.  I began to say each word with just a bit more thought and meaning.

Next, my brain shifted into “playing the tape forward” (what would happen if I did have just one drink?  Would that be enough?).  If you have kids, then you might have read or heard the book, If you Give a Mouse a Cookie.  Basically, for me, one drink sets off a chain of events that, unlike the sweet, innocent mouse book, inevitably leads to very, very bad things happening.  Like marathon drinking sessions, drunk driving, passing out in the backyard, and eventually eviscerating the lives of those I love dearly.

I played that tape all the way to the end.  Then I looked at the ending-scene and let my mind process the reality of the damage–how my choice had led me to that exact point.

I took five really deep breaths and kept my eyes closed for the remainder of the car ride.  I knew that in a few minutes I would be with another sober friend, and I could tell her what happened.  I knew she wouldn’t judge me, lecture me, or make me feel guilty.  When I finally saw her and spilled my guts, I got the “look.”  Not the “what the hell is wrong with you–can’t you control yourself–weak-minded idiot” look, but the “I know–it’s hard and it sucks sometimes–but I’m here, and you are okay” look.

Gratitude swelled in my heart.  If I hadn’t hit rock bottom as a result of my drinking, then I wouldn’t have had the joy and blessing of sharing my pain, struggle, and feeling of reassurance from my friend.

My brokenness caused cracks in my spirit that let some sunshine in.  And the light has transformed me and given me solutions rather than problems. I hold myself and only myself accountable for my choices.  Negative thoughts come and go, but I cannot let them hang around.  I acknowledge their presence, then let them fly away.

At the end of the Cold War Kids’ song, the narrator says, “this will all blow over in time.”  He means the mess he’s caused.

To me, it means that my feelings are not facts; I now have a few tools in my spiritual toolkit to get me through (not around or over, but through) my pain and discomfort.

 

P.S.  TYViolet 🙂

 

 

My 2 New Year’s Resolutions

#1:  Take one day at a time.  Don’t dwell on past hurts, decisions, actions, or mistakes. Don’t spend too much time obsessing about the future.  Tell the “what ifs” to shut up.  Take each day as it comes.

&

#2:  Try to do this every day:

st. francis prayer

Happy 2016!!  Peace, love, and serenity.

XO

L

Willingness: if nothing changes, then nothing changes

Deep thoughts.  Another way of describing this last leg of my three-legged stool is as follows:

If you do what you always did,

you’ll get what you always got.

When I hit my bottom, after my deep, dark, awful plunge into the oblivion and insanity of alcohol, I hurt.  My body was literally bruised and battered, what was left of my shredded pride kept trying to resurface in painful waves, and spiritually, my heart was broken–all connection to God seemed to slowly pour out of it.  As I sat on my grandmother’s front porch, smoking and thinking (and thinking and thinking), I sincerely wondered how I had ended up in this lonely place.

Later that day, I would have the first of many spiritual experiences while sober.

I realized that as wretched and wicked as I felt, God loved me.  In fact, he had never left me; he had been waiting for me to hurt so much that I had to humble myself and realize that my best thinking, scheming, and manipulating had placed me exactly where I needed to be.  In a matter of a few minutes, I became willing to attend a 12-step meeting.  In that 12-step meeting, I became willing to admit that I was, indeed, *GULP*, an alcoholic and that I needed help.

I became so willing to change, that I visited the same group the next day and the next.  I became willing to take the cotton out of my ears where it had remained plugged for too many years to count, and stuff it in my mouth, which had been running excuse after excuse as to why I needed to drink.  I became teachable.

I had hope and optimism for the future.  I saw light at the top of the Rabbit Hole I so loved to scurry in when I felt any emotion.

One of my favorite soul healers, Iyanla Vanzant, has said, “Your willingness to look at your darkness is what empowers you to change.”

Here’s a random fact about me:  if you ask any of my very closest friends, they will tell you that I hate to look at wounds.  I’m a mom of three, and there have been many times when my kids have fallen and hurt themselves.  I am notorious for asking others to check the cut and determine the damage because it pains me to see the severity of the wound.  I’m a chicken–I know!

For so many years, this fact applied to my own demons and shortcomings. Once I had been sober for a while, I slowly, carefully, cautiously began to pull the bandage off and take a look at the severity and depth of the ugly stuff.  My mentors informed me that if I wanted sobriety, not only would I have to take a look, but I’d also have to ADMIT to someone else what I found!!  I had become willing to stay sober no matter what, so I did as I was told.  Once I began the process, I gained a little bit of courage.  And my self-esteem and self-respect grew a teeny bit, as well.

Alcohol reacts like acid on my self-worth.  When I would try to quit drinking before I got sober, I could go several days without a drink.  My confidence would start to re-emerge.  I’d begin to feel like I could drink like a lady after all!  Then, somehow, I’d feel great enough to take a drink, and everything would fall to shit again.  Any little bit of self-esteem that I had managed to scrape together would disintegrate.

This insane cycle repeated over and over and over because I was unwilling to admit that I was powerless over alcohol.  I just couldn’t have one drink. I just couldn’t stay stopped.

The willingness to do whatever it takes to stay sober requires a leap of faith into the unknown.  In early sobriety (and presently) I have

  • gone to a 12-step meeting on a Friday night, week after week after week since Friday nights were triggers for me
  • prayed for the willingness to be willing
  • called someone when I felt unsure about my thoughts or actions
  • told my husband and kids that I couldn’t make dinner because I had to go to a meeting
  • admitted that my way wasn’t the best way
  • redefined my concept of God
  • made amends on the spot for my bad behavior
  • changed plans just to make a meeting
  • gotten on my knees before God when I felt hopeless
  • established and defined boundaries with others
  • not attended certain functions and events where alcohol was served
  • stayed away from people, places, and things that reminded me of drinking, even people I love dearly (the true ones will stick around, I promise)
  • attended therapy and actually worked on things
  • cried in front of strangers
  • told a trusted confidante my deepest and darkest secrets that I swore I’d take to the grave
  • forgiven others and myself
  • walked alone and uncertain on unfamiliar streets in Italy just to get to a 12-step meeting
  • stopped listening to music I used to love because it led me back into the Rabbit Hole

The list is infinite.  It was nonexistent before I got sober.

My Honesty, Openness, and Willingness are pillars of my inner strength and courage, but their very existence and strength requires action on my part. My faith in God and His will for me keep me seeking truth.

I used to think I had it all figured out.  Today, I am so grateful that I don’t know everything, and I’m willing to change.

 

 

Honesty, OPENNESS, and Willingness

open sign

“There is a principle which is a bar against all information, which is proof against all argument, and which cannot fail to keep a man in everlasting ignorance. This principle is, contempt prior to examination.”–Rev. William H. Poole

What does the concept of openness mean to me as a person in recovery?  I can boil it down to the following equations:

Openness=humility

Closed-mindedness=arrogance

I was an arrogant alcoholic who thought I had all of the answers.  But I didn’t start out that way.

The ability to engage in discourse was a skill that was highly valued in my family. My father, who built a career on critically studying the ails of public education and developing solutions,  was considered an intellectual among his peers. Highly intelligent, he sought to enlighten policy makers about the inequities plaguing those he considered the most vulnerable in society:  children from poor homes whose first language was something other than English.  He was a thinker, and he encouraged each of his five children to value critical thinking and analysis.

The result of my upbringing:  my opinions and beliefs were iron-clad.  I could filibuster and preach until you ran out of patience and interest, making sure to cover and back up each point as I destroyed your arguments one by one.  I believed that I knew better than you, you poor, ill-informed thing, and I made sure you understood just how smart I was and you were not.

How did this pernicious attitude contribute to my addiction?  It kept me in isolation from any attitude, belief, or philosophy that conflicted with my own.  It caused me to distrust others, to rely on my own knowledge and self for all answers, and to keep me apart from you.  Truth was black or white, your side/my side, rightness or wrongness,  Which side were you going to pick?  It had better be mine, or I had no use or tolerance for you.

Case in point:  I believed that alcoholics lived under bridges, racked up numerous DWIs, hung out in bars, drank during the day, or exclusively drank liquor (not wine).  I did not do any of those things, therefore I could not be an alcoholic.  See, black and white, this or that.  I wasn’t THAT.

Hitting my bottom and suffering painful humiliation caused me to consider first, then realize that a gray, nebulous area existed, and I lived right in the middle of it.  Kind of like an alcoholic purgatory:  I was neither completely lost (I was still alive) nor completely free from my addiction.  I had to consider the fact that I could not think myself out of the grips of alcohol; that my best thinking had put me in a place where my bridges burned and my lifelines hung by threads.

Intolerance and denial can be deadly for addicts.  I had to open myself to the possibility that maybe another person just might have some insight into my suffering that I had never before considered.  The people sitting in my first 12-Step meeting opened my eyes:

the sweet, grandmotherly woman who assured me I was at the right place

the ex-con who spoke of incarceration and a life lived on the fringes

the curious man wearing a captain’s hat who told me to come back tomorrow

the party girl holding a Louis Vuitton in her perfectly-manicured, shaky hands

the gentleman who had just been released from prison after serving a sentence for intoxication manslaughter

–their words penetrated my heart and helped me understand that I didn’t possess all of the answers, and I had so much to learn about a disease that had ravaged my mind, body, and spirit.  A new way of thinking would be essential to my sobriety.

In each story I heard and continue to hear, I listen for the similarities, not the differences.  What is it about your experience that I can relate to?

I began to practice open-mindedness.  These are some behaviors I work diligently at embracing:

  • I get out of the habit of mentally shutting people down when I sniff any opposition to my beliefs or opinions
  • I question said beliefs and opinions which I have might have formed without proper knowledge or consideration for others
  • I identify my own faulty thinking and begin to correct it
  • I seek first to understand, then to be understood
  • I take myself out of my comfort zone to consider opposing views
  • I evaluate what behaviors and choices in my life are working and which are not
  • I accept that I don’t possess all of the answers and there is so much I have yet to learn
  • I participate in active listening
  • I strive to find a connection with others
  • I ask for God’s will to be done, not mine

Underlying my efforts is one mantra I repeat numerous times a day:

Seek progress, not perfection.

My journey in sobriety is one of action.  It requires daily work from me and faith that God has a plan greater than I can ever imagine.  I keep an open mind and an open heart.

I think it’s working.

 

 

HOW’s it going?

If nothing changes, then nothing changes.

Simple, to the point, and so very true for me in my journey of recovery.

Until I got sober, and even a few years into my recovery, I couldn’t fully grasp the concept that many of the morals and values I thought I possessed needed some serious remodeling.  My version of reality and of life had become so skewed and warped by addiction, that I had lost any meaningful contact with God, and I was spiritually bankrupt.  I had to completely change some of my mindsets if I wanted to get healthier.

I tend to think visually, imagining abstract concepts as tangible, everyday items, so when I learned about some simple spiritual principles represented by the acronym HOW,  I immediately envisioned a three-legged stool:  one leg represents honesty, the second is openness, and the third leg is willingness.  My three-legged stool has provided me with the stability I so desperately need to maintain my spiritual fitness and my physical and emotional sobriety.

Honesty

While in the throes of my drinking days, if you had asked me if I thought I considered myself an honest person, I would have answered “absolutely” without hesitation.  I followed the Ten Commandments and was especially proud of the fact that I had never stolen anything (except when I was little and grabbed some gum at Winn’s that my mom made me put back).  This sort of honesty is often referred to as “cash register” honesty:  giving back extra change mistakenly given by the clerk at the cash register.  I had that.

What I didn’t have was an ability to be honest with myself or others.  Sometimes I’d overtly lie, especially to cover up my bad behavior:  “I only had two glasses of wine” (I’d really had two bottles), “I can drive” (nope, I’m seeing double), “I feel fine–I’m not hungover!” (as I’m about to vomit in the nearest bathroom).

Most of the time, my lies were directed inward: “I’m stopping tomorrow or at 10 p.m. or when this bottle is empty.”  “I don’t have a problem.  All moms my age drink to take the edge off.”  “If I’m drinking at home, then I’m not harming anyone.”

My very first step towards gut-level honesty was when I quit living in denial and accepted the fact that I had a problem.  I needed a cold, hard slap in the face to learn that lesson.  Remember Jiminy Cricket in Pinocchio:  “What’s a conscience? I’ll tell ya! A conscience is that still small voice that people won’t listen to.”  Just like PinocchioI had ignored my conscience for so long, that I found myself in deep trouble of my own making.  I had to admit to myself that my drinking was beyond my control, that the life I had created I couldn’t manage, and that my best scheming and manipulation had landed me at the bottom of a deep, dark hole.  The world and its circumstances didn’t make me drink or determine my bad fortune; rather, my bad choices and the addiction that followed knocked me on my ass, unable to get back up.

That baby step was the foot in the door I needed to begin my honesty renovation.  If I wanted to keep my sobriety, stay in contact with God, and learn acceptance, then I had to be willing to search for the truth–my truth.  What did I really believe, what prejudices were keeping me from discovering the lies I had told myself and others, and was I willing to be rigorously honest with myself?  How had I hurt myself and others and what could I do to make amends?  What exactly does my God expect from me, and how can I keep myself in the sunlight of the spirit?

My understanding of and destructive relationship with shame had to end if I was to maintain honesty.  Yes, I was guilty of certain bad behaviors and patterns of dishonesty, but did I need to constantly feel ashamed of myself?  What was that accomplishing, and was it appropriate for others to expect me to carry shame wherever I went?

All of these questions and so many more have become part of my life in sobriety.  My mentors and my work with the 12 Steps help me immensely with being honest, and I have friends that are willing to call me out on my bad behavior if I start wandering off my path.  I know who will tell me the truth and who will blow sunshine up my ass.  Sometimes I need the sunshine to pick me up and give me a confidence booster, but most days I have to do that for myself.

I live by the question, “How’s this (behavior, belief, routine, etc.) working for me?”  If I’m honest in answering this question, then at least I can begin to make necessary changes if need be, or I can keep doing what I’m doing.

My search for honesty in sobriety is never-ending, relentless, and essential to my three-legged stool.  I have to constantly remind myself that perfection is impossible, but forward progress is critical to my recovery.

In my next post, I’ll tackle how the concept of openness has radically changed my life.

Happy birthday to me

Five years ago, I put down the drink.  After years of alcohol abuse, I had had enough, hit rock-bottom, was sick and tired of being sick and tired.  Day after day, I chose sobriety, managed to stay away from alcohol, and began stringing together some days, weeks, then months.

My body was the first to recover:  no more bloated belly, excruciating headaches and nausea, intestinal distress, and general lethargy.  Slowly, my brain began to defrost:  memories (both good and bad) began to pop up.  I could use some logic to solve minor issues that once seemed impossible.

Emotions started to emerge and bubble over like a boiling pot of soup on the stove.  This aspect of early recovery was by far the messiest and most difficult to manage.  Tears seemed to flow at inappropriate times, I often walked around with a perpetual lump in my throat, and I vividly remember jumping in my car and “running away” when things got too overwhelming at home.  This phase lasted for quite a while–months and months of what seemed like never-ending PMS.

I often thought of how a gin-and-tonic would smooth out all of the rough edges and let me sink into oblivion.

But I didn’t drink.  Not even a sip.

And I learned to reach out to others who could relate to what I was feeling.  They didn’t judge me or tell me what to do; they offered me a warm hug, an acknowledgement and validation of my confused emotions, and reassured me that things would eventually get better as long as I didn’t drink. They opened their hearts to me and comforted me with their own stories of early sobriety and struggles to re-establish damaged relationships and tattered trust.

And they were right.  Slowly and often painstakingly, I started to feel better and began to identify my emotions as they popped up.  Negative feelings needed to be recognized, talked through with another person in long-term recovery, and then I had to move through them.  No marinating in misery, complaining constantly to others, or riding the high of anger and fury.  Those actions were luxuries afforded to others that didn’t have issues with addiction.  That behavior, I was told, would lead me straight back to using–maybe not immediately, but eventually.

I had faith that my Higher Power would lead me through the darkest parts of the forest, and that my friends in sobriety would carry me when I thought I couldn’t walk another inch.  He still leads me, and they still help me–in fact, we help each other.  Maybe that’s the best gift of my sobriety:  the feeling that I am not alone.

So thank you to my fellow journeymen and women, for showing up, sharing honestly, and doing this thing.  I have your back, and I know you have mine.

Some assistance, please!

help for addiction

ask and ye shall receive

“When you’re drowning, you don’t say ‘I would be incredibly pleased if someone would have the foresight to notice me drowning and come and help me’ — you just scream.” – John Lennon

I remember walking into the tiny, cramped room filled with a menagerie of people and thinking to myself, “Has it really come to this?  Am I this desperate?”  I had driven to the support group with a head and heart filled with fear and a complete lack of options.  My life had very certainly become unmanageable, but I couldn’t quite figure out when I had lost complete control.  My manipulative strategies and machinations had placed me at the very bottom of a deep, dark, lonely hole, and I’d finally decided that I could stop digging.

I’m sure the uncertainty and tiredness on my face was evident to the old-timers in the support group.  A kind woman asked if I was alright.  I replied, “I don’t know if I’m in the right place.”  She whispered, “Do you want to quit drinking?”  I slowly nodded my head, my eyes locked with hers.  “Yes,”  I whispered back.  “Then you are at the right place,” she assured me.

Immediately, I felt affirmed in my decision to seek help for a problem that had plagued me for too many years to count.  I felt welcomed and safe and humbled.  All because I had become desperate enough and willing to ask for help.

I don’t like to rock the boat.  I don’t want to bother you by letting you know that I don’t understand something, or that I lack the resources I need to address or fix a problem I am experiencing.  My pride and ego take over my mind, and I certainly don’t want to appear weak or that I don’t have all of the answers.  I find it extremely difficult to ask for help.

In my recovery journey, I have struggled greatly with admitting that my way isn’t working and that maybe, just maybe, I can possibly, perhaps listen to your input and feedback.  I usually find myself slamming against a brick wall, my emotions tangled in knots, and the pain in my heart so strong that I have no choice but to consider other options.  I take the feedback and suggestions of others in my recovery group and every single time I make a change, sometimes tiny, sometimes great, I begin to feel some amount of relief.

Had I not accepted the help that was offered in that room that day, almost five years ago, then I am one thousand percent sure that I would have died. The trajectory I was on would have killed me within months, if not weeks or days.  I see and speak with many others who, like myself, are hurtling through life with no control, no way to stop, no will to live, and no hope.  Some are addicts, some are depressed, some have isolated themselves so far away from loved ones that they feel abandoned and misunderstood.  Many wear their misery, exhaustion, and resignation on their faces and in their energy.  Some hide behind masks of cars, clothes, devices, immaculately furnished homes, and the general appearance of a “perfect life.”

I possessed all of those traits and more.  But it quit working for me, and I had to make a change.

On July 26, 2010, somewhere from deep within me, I was reminded that I was a child of God and that He loved me, even if I thought I wasn’t worthy of that love.  I knew He wanted better for me, even though, at the time, I really didn’t know what that would look like.  I made a small step, but one that has propelled me into a life of awareness, dignity, self-confidence, and purpose.  I never really had any of those things when I was withering on the vine, accepting the miserable existence that I alone had created.

The beauty of accepting help is that I get to offer it freely to the next person that is suffering.  That sustains my recovery, even when I find my own well drying up.  The act of helping others reignites the spark of hope within me; I am reminded of God’s purpose for my roller coaster life.

 

 

 

4 useful strategies for dealing with soul suckers

Get back!

Get back!

In my last post, I talked about ways that toxic people can suck your soul dry.  I’ll bet that you found at least one person in your life that seemed to fit those descriptors.  Hopefully, you aren’t the toxic one!  However, learning how to handle people who are taking too much from your bucket (nod to Missy) can help you retain some of your sanity (and integrity).

Be honest with yourself.  What are your intentions?  Sometimes we enjoy having a friend who always wants to confide in us.  We feel special, honored, or privileged to hear them spill their guts about how they are cheating on their spouse or boyfriend, or how they maxed out their MasterCard at Neiman Marcus again.  We get a dose of entertainment, and they get to dump their problems in our laps.  It seems amusing until it isn’t anymore. We get caught up in another person’s drama, and we bring it home with us:  our spouses, friends, and siblings have to hear us dump the issues that someone dumped on us.  It’s a dump fest!  Look within yourself to see why you feel the need to place yourself in the middle of someone’s three-ring circus.  Do you want them to take your advice so that you feel important or needed?  Are you bored in your own life, or do you have problems of your own that you don’t want to focus on, so focusing on another person’s problems provides a great distraction?  We tend to create side drama when we have other, more pressing issues that need to be addressed.  If we get some sick satisfaction from playing therapist or counselor, then we become just as toxic (like a case of the cooties).

cooties

Use the b-word:  boundaries.  Full-disclosure:  I have personally struggled with this particular issue my entire life.  In fact, boundary issues comprise the majority of my therapy sessions!  At various times, my boundaries with others tended to be extremely rigid, like a wall around a castle.  I let a few “lucky” people inside, but not very often, and definitely not after others had let me down or disappointed me.  Towards the end of my active drinking, I isolated myself both physically and emotionally from others.

Got boundaries?

Got boundaries?

Sadly, not even my own children could get through my wall.  I actually feared loving them too much.  My boundaries could also seem as soft as tissue paper, or nonexistent, which often made me the target of psychological manipulation, physical, and emotional abuse.  I had difficulty gauging those people who I needed close to me, and those that were toxic and definitely needed to stay out of my life.  I would often change my boundaries depending on the crowd I hung out with at the time.   When I finally got sober, I knew I had some hard work ahead of me.  I listened to others as they shared how they had begun to establish what did and did not work for them, and I gradually realized that I had permission to reconstruct the limits I placed on myself and other people in my life.  If you have difficulty drawing lines in the sand, seek help.  While many people learn to create their own healthy identities and limits through life experience, spiritual beliefs, cultural norms, and past experiences, others of us need help and guidance.  A word of caution:  once you realize you can create, change, and enforce boundaries, don’t expect every person in your life to jump on board with you. Certain co-dependent types will feel threatened and intimidated by change.  You no longer fit neatly into their plan of manipulation or toxic, dysfunctional behavior.

Embrace solution-oriented thinking.  Mark Twain once stated, “Few things are harder to put up with than the annoyance of a good example.” Nothing sends problem-oriented, drama-inducing, attention-seeking individuals running for the hills like a person who communicates little tolerance for pity parties and chooses to deal with their own problems in a logical, common-sense fashion.  When my life was in chaos, I intentionally steered clear of others who I knew would not put up with any of my bullshit.  And I really didn’t want to hear real solutions to my problems; I just liked to bitch about them to anyone who would tolerate me for the evening.  Try and stay in the solution, and learn from others who do it well.  The drama queens (and kings) will likely commiserate with other problem-dwellers.

solution

Stay away, but not all the way away!  Suppose you find yourself temporarily stuck with a toxic person, perhaps at work or in your family:  make sure you can physically place some distance between the two of you.  If you have just driven in from Wyoming to attend Thanksgiving dinner at your family’s house in Houston, then don’t plop yourself down next to your Aunt Edna who always complains about her hernia. Refrain from engaging in conversations with your cousin Randy who has exactly the opposite political view as you.  Keep it completely superficial if you have to, and try to slip away from any potentially sticky situations.  However, completely disengaging from life only hurts you.  Living life on life’s terms will always include interacting with people you might not choose as a life partner or tolerating behavior you find offensive. While cutting yourself off from others greatly reduces the risk that you will be hurt, it also guarantees zero happiness and sunshine.

By the way, if you find that “everyone” is crazy or that “nobody” gets you or understands you, then YOU MIGHT BE THE PROBLEM.

3 common tactics toxic people use to suck your soul dry

You're toxic, baby.

You’re toxic, baby.

A friend of mine recently announced on Facebook that she was changing some old habits, effective immediately.

“I’ve had to change some of my ways [i]n life…one of them is to persevere NO MATTER WHAT…and to remove the negative, toxic, judgmental people in my life that want to see me fail…and now surround myself with true, genuine, trustworthy, authentic friends who I support and support me back.”

My heart jumped for joy when I read Mary Beth’s post.  Anytime a person, especially a woman, finally frees herself from the clutches of toxicity, it’s cause for celebration.  Mary Beth, like me and many of the women I have worked with, has suffered heartbreak, loss, disillusionment, and shame directly related to addiction and relationships that have quit working.

Do you have negative people renting space in your head and stealing your sunshine?  Before you can eliminate them, you have to identify them.  Here are a few ways toxic people reveal their true, soul-sucking ways:

  1. They bring the drama–always, without fail.  Sometimes, they have legitimate issues like divorce, custody, or financial woes, but someone else always seems to cause their misfortune.  They usually play the role of victim, and they cannot ever accept that, perhaps, they might have contributed to their situation.  In the recovery community, addicts are highly encouraged to identify the part that they themselves have played in their own misfortunes.  It’s part of what keeps us humble and accountable for our actions towards others.
    Woe is me.

    Woe is me.

    I once had a friend who constantly walked around with a dark cloud above her head, and you could actually feel the negative energy she gave off whenever she was near.  “My father is in a nursing home, dying, alone, and we can’t afford to fly out and see him…My mom lives in New Mexico with her 24 rescue llamas so she can’t ever come visit us…Turns out I’ll have to have my jaw broken, reset, and wired shut since my TMJ is so bad…I broke my back a few years ago, so I’m constantly on painkillers and can’t drive…John quit his job right before he was diagnosed with epilepsy, so we have no disability benefits…”  You get the picture.  Always a major problem with absolutely no interest in changing behavior or working on a solution, and, somehow, you get chosen to hear the soap opera-level of drama.

  2. They never ask how you are doing and have little interest in the happenings of your life.  They’re too busy blabbing on and on about their own issues (see above).  They demand your attention, either cornering you, pulling you aside, or calling you to talk about their unfortunate circumstances.  They have a very sneaky way of drawing you into their drama so that if you do try to get away from them or distance yourself from them, you feel bad.In fact, if you happen to communicate that you can’t, say, meet them for coffee, because you have a doctor’s appointment to check on those anomalies that were found during your mammogram, they might respond in this fashion, “Huh?  Okay never mind, then. Whatever.” No “Oh my goodness!  Are you okay?  Do you need me to come with you?” Not even a “Well, we can always meet another day when you don’t have an appointment.” Nothing, nada, zilch.  They are unable to get beyond themselves and their own one-foot-by-one-foot patch of grass so that your needs are even considered.
  3. You feel drained after spending time with them.  Because they suck the positive energy right out of you.  I’ve actually witnessed my positivity drain away while the other person appeared to be getting refueled, just like a leech. The toxic person might drain you via talking about their problems for as long as you will let them, or by constantly asking you for advice about such things as the mascara you like to use or how they can improve their marriage.  It’s as if they enjoy filling themselves with your thoughts, feelings, and ideas so that they don’t have to do the work.  But they never, ever listen to your suggestions and you kind of get the feeling that they really thrive on the negativity and attention they receive.
    Fill 'er up!

    Fill ‘er up!

    They habitually exploit the kindness, brain power, time, and good vibes from others, and leave a trail of used corpses in their wake; yet, they seem to spread the remnants far enough away from one another so their true intentions aren’t easily discovered. Sometimes, you run into another of the leech’s victims, and the leech’s name happens to come up in conversation.  You and the other person get that same deer-in-the-headlights look and instantly realize that you’ve both been used before by this particular leech. Misery loves company, so you start to exchange stories about your entanglements with the leech.  You secretly feel happy that you weren’t the only one used and sucked dry. Which eventually makes you feel like crap.  Damn that leech!

What should you do if you realize that you, too, have some toxic friends, coworkers, or family members that constantly leave you feeling like a used up piece of chewing gum?  Should you drop them like hot potatoes, disown them, quit your job, or live underground?  If you start to employ your own sketchy methods of dealing with others, then you, too, will end up toxic (and two wrongs don’t ever make a right, right?).  In my next post, I’ll cover some useful strategies for keeping the toxicity to a minimum so that you don’t end up the bad guy, too.

 

 

 

Here comes the sun

Sun, sun, sun, here it comes.

Sun, sun, sun, here it comes.

“I stood in the sunlight at last.”–Bill W.

We all have our own dark closets.  Some of us, sensing that we have, if we are lucky, maybe twenty years left on earth, must bust out of the darkness, hurrying to cram in an entire lifetime of truth.  Others, perhaps liberated by the pathfinders, feel safe enough to open the closet door before it ever shuts completely.

I stayed in my personal closet for many years, sometimes peeking out and testing to see if it was safe to leave, but always running back in and quickly closing the door.  I kept many items hidden with me:  alcohol, addiction, shame, low self-esteem, guilt, countless resentments, and a seemingly endless supply of fear.  Fear served as the cement keeping the door shut for years at a time.

Darkness became my friend (cue the Simon and Garfunkel).  I couldn’t really see what I kept hoarded in the closet with me, so when I felt pain or discomfort, I only needed to shove the alcohol or the guilt a little further away from me.  But there we sat, stranded together, for years in the dark.

Some of the side effects from living in my closet were positive:  the door and walls repelled all of the judgments from others.  The worried looks, the whispering behind my back, the long, sorrowful sighs often directed my way all hit my closet door with a thud and slid down in a streaming mess like balls of mud thrown in a kids’ game of war.

I might have dodged many mud balls, but a life stuck in a dark closet, protected from the pain potentially inflicted by others, was incredibly isolating.  I felt so alone in the dark, suffering with all of the safety items I had hoarded; I clutched on to my alcohol like it was a hurt child and cared for resentments like they were wounded animals.  As I sit here, trying my best to describe the horrific combination of crippling loneliness, hopelessness, and helplessness I felt, I find myself in tears.

That overwhelming pain seeped through the cracks in my closet door until it couldn’t hold any longer.  In one sudden, destructive event, I was finally freed from my prison, my secrets exposed.  But I managed to critically injure so many people I loved and cared for in the process.  They fled.

I was left scanning the remnants of my hoarded things as they ran around wildly like newly freed caged animals.  The resentments tried to find cover, the alcohol spilled and soaked into the scorched ground, and the shame gently floated on the breeze before it landed on and completely covered my body.  I stood there exposed to the world and to my God.  In the days after the explosion, I thought a lot about Cain, and, like he, wanted to run away like a fugitive.

Miraculously, I instead felt the love of God surrounding me and I managed to say, out loud, “I am a child of God.  And He loves me.”  That same day I went to my very first recovery support meeting, and I am convinced that the men and women in that first group helped to pull me away from the edge of the cliff.

God’s grace allowed me to reach out for help, and I was saved.  For the first time in almost thirty years, I stood in the “sunlight of the Spirit.”  I allowed His grace to penetrate my heart and to keep me out of the darkness.

My self-esteem, self-worth, capacity for forgiveness, and gratitude all grow in the sunlight.  I finally feel worthy to receive its warmth, and I let it fill me up when I am running low, operating on sunshine fumes.  I have begun to realize how selfish I was for cutting myself off from not only the sun, but also from those that I love and care for so dearly.  They saw me suffering and slowly killing myself, and felt helpless themselves.

I often walk a delicate line between guilt and gratitude, wanting desperately to over-compensate for my sins and wash away the bad memories, but also thankful that I am still alive and finally able to be a mother, wife, daughter, sister, and friend.

I have learned that, when I feel lonely, worried, angry, and frustrated, I want to default to closet-living and start hoarding again.  For me, it offers the path of least resistance, the easier, softer way, if you will.  So I work actively every single day to keep myself out of the darkness and in the light.  I pray each morning and night, usually very brief prayers of gratitude and letting go of anxieties, and I continue to seek support for my addiction.

I am open and willing to form real relationships with others, and we work together to keep our relationships strong.  I don’t keep resentments as pets any longer.  I usually work through them by sharing with my therapist (who, by the way, ROCKS) or with a person that can be brutally honest with me.  It turns out that while I must try to stay in the sunshine, I don’t need it blown up my butt to make me feel better about my bad behavior.

If you live in a closet, no matter what it looks like or what’s inside, I urge you to step into the sunshine.  Kick down the door, dig a hole, or bust through the walls if you have to, but get out! Find some people like you and work together to stay healthy and balanced.

Soak it up.

It will heal your wounded soul if you let it.

 

 

 

 

 

10 Methods I Used to Control My Drinking

Who's really in control here?

Who’s really in control here?

For a large part of my life, I truly loved drinking.  More specifically, I really loved the way alcohol made me feel:  wiser, funnier, prettier, braver, and sexier than the real me.  Alcohol softened the sharp edges and enhanced the sensations of many of my experiences; the ocean was bluer in Mexico , I danced better at the concert in Austin, and you wanted to hear my personal thoughts on the Iraq War (because I was smarter than you).

Somewhere amid the sand, the music, and the politics, I started to get worried.  I was a teeny bit concerned that perhaps my drinking fell more on the abnormal end of the spectrum.  “Nothing too outrageous has happened,” I would tell myself, “but maybe I need to slow it down a bit.” (Ironically, I was suffering many negative consequences, but since I lived in such denial, I couldn’t acknowledge the wreckage I was creating.)

Under no circumstances was I prepared to give up my precious baby, alcohol (the thought honestly never entered my mind), so I decided that I’d work really hard to control my drinking. Read more ›

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Why Can’t I Quit Drinking?

Why couldn't I just quit drinking?

Why couldn’t I just quit drinking?

This vignette represents just one of the hundreds of days and nights I spent while abusing alcohol.  On some mornings the hangovers were worse, and I had to go to work. Sometimes the blackouts occurred sooner in the evening. This example follows a typical day for me during the last two years of my active drinking.  

6:00 a.m.–My alarm buzzes.  I hit snooze.

6:07 a.m.–I hit snooze again.

6:14-6:45 a.m.–I repeat the above cycle several times. Read more ›

Fiesta Fail

No más cerveza.

No más cerveza.

For my friends not from San Antonio: Fiesta is basically a ten-day-long party initially created to honor those brave souls that died at the Battles of the Alamo and San Jacinto.  The city celebrates with parades on the street and parades on the river, festivals, music, carnivals, and even sporting events. It’s colorful, loud, crazy, fun, crowded, nostalgic, and cerveza flows like the ‘mighty’ San Antonio River. Read more ›

If you give my brain a candle…

Meditation is a cornerstone in my recovery.

Meditation is a cornerstone in my recovery.

…then it will want to find a new recipe for salmon. Which is why I find it so difficult to meditate. Somewhere on the road to finding a quiet space for my head to rest, I got the idea that the first step to clearing the mind was to envision a flickering candle (I’m pretty sure I read it in a weird yoga book my mom kept next to the toilet in her bathroom). Read more ›

5 Things to Remember when Talking to your Kids about Alcohol

addiction

Do as I say, not as I do.

 

The National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence (NCADD) declared April “Alcohol Awareness Month” way back in 1987, and the 2015 theme is: For the Health of It: Early Education on Alcoholism and Addiction.  This year’s theme is near and dear to my heart since I have three children of my own that have been greatly affected by my own struggles with substance abuse.  They have also been affected by my willingness and openness to share with them how I work each day towards my recovery.  If you have kids, and there is a chance that they don’t live in a bubble, then I highly recommend you read my post and check out the NCADD’s website for more information. Read more ›

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My Lost Saints

In early recovery, I began my spiritual journey.

In early recovery, I began my spiritual journey.

I love thee with the passion put to use

In my old griefs, and with my childhood’s faith.

I love thee with a love I seemed to lose

With my lost saints.

                           -Elizabeth Barrett Browning, from Sonnet 43

 

Walking up the dusty path to Mission San Juan Capistrano on that scorching-hot July day, I had déjà vu.  How many (countless!) times had my mother dragged me to a church or chapel to pay homage to a saint, sometimes bringing flowers, most of the time dragging my sins.  Read more ›

Day Dragging

torture of a day

The knot would form early each morning, slightly squeezing my stomach, throat, and heart.  Before I’d even opened my eyes in the quiet darkness of my bedroom, I had the sensation that I might be drowning.

The first thought was always the same: that terrible night of my last drunk and the irreparable collateral damage I caused.  The second thought, equally as predictable, washed over me like a cleansing rain:  I’m alive, and I didn’t drink last night. Read more ›

10 Signs you Might have a Drinking Problem

After my post about binge drinking, several people privately reached out to me, wondering if, based on their drinking patterns, they would be considered full-blown alcoholics, problem drinkers, or heavy drinkers.  I certainly don’t claim to be a doctor or therapist, but I do know that there are several warning signs that you might have an issue.  Only you can decide what you are based on your drinking patterns; I, personally, choose to refrain from labeling anyone. Alcoholism is a progressive disease:  it gets worse, never better.  If you have exhibited 1 or more of these signs in the past 12 months, just be aware. Read more ›

Comma Chameleon

Punctuation mark  made from chocolate syrup, isolated on  whitechameleon

Waaaay back in 1984, this is the picture I imagined when I would listen to the Culture Club song, “Karma Chameleon.” Ahhh, 1984, the year which musically gifted us with such hits as, “When Doves Cry” (that video with Prince in the bathtub was stron-jay), “Jump” (what the heck kind of uppers was David Lee Roth taking), “Girls Just Want to Have Fun” (I, too, wanted to be like Cyndi Lauper and cavort with professional wrestlers), and, the classic “Sunglasses at Night” (who cares why Corey Hart further darkened his vision in the darkness–he was a hottie!). Read more ›

Binge Drinking for Beginners

binge drinker on the toiletThis is the Old Me at 3:00 a.m. after storing up all of my energy for the week and behaving like a good girl, then letting loose on a Friday night. Okay, maybe not exactly (I only smoked Lights), but it’s pretty damn close.  I felt entitled to one night out per week where I could just slip into that hazy cushion of I-don’t-give-a-shit.

Isn’t that the story we often tell ourselves:  that we deserve to let it all out, that we’ve been so good for the past couple of days, that it’s only on Friday and Saturday and sometimes Sunday nights? That there’s no way in hell that we have a problem with alcohol:  we aren’t drinking during the day or before 5:00 p.m..  No DUIs, no entanglements with the police, no wrecked marriage, no Child Protective Services visits.  We’ve got this.

I spent a great part of my late teens and early twenties engaging in binge drinking. But I didn’t know that’s what it was called.  To me it equaled F-U-N.  The hangovers hurt, but they didn’t cripple me. After an episode of partying, I’d lay off for the rest of the week.  No biggie.

But what exactly qualifies these bursts of boozing as true binges?  Over the years, I have engaged in food binges, scarfing down an entire package of Thin Mints or Oreos in one sitting.  Recently, binge-watching and its isolating, yet mesmerizing effects has become the norm for many Netflix subscribers.  Webster’s Dictionary defines a binge as “an unrestrained and often excessive indulgence.”  So pretty much any behavior, positive or negative, can be taken to extremes.

The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) states that a pattern of drinking that brings blood alcohol concentration (BAC) levels to 0.08 constitutes binge drinking. That’s usually around 4 or more drinks per 2 hours for women (for men, it’s 5 drinks).  The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) defines binge drinking as consuming 5 or more alcoholic drinks on the same occasion on at least 1 day in the past 30 days.  So, yep, according to both of these renowned organizations, my drinking in the 90s definitely qualified.

For me, I needed that balance between studying my ass off in college and partying hard at least once per week.  I earned my binges by staying up late cramming for tests and subsisting on coffee and cigarettes for days at a time.  And college students seem to engage in this behavior most often, or at least, it’s more acceptable and understandable for this segment of the population to party like it’s 1999.  An estimated 80% of college students drink alcohol.

Whether you view binge drinking as a phase, a rite of passage, a tailgating norm, or a well-deserved prize at the end of a long school week, the effects can be pretty severe.  I recall many a night where I fell (I once rolled down a hill), I puked my guts out, became overly-aggressive and wanted to start fights or arguments, and blacked out, unable to recall exactly what had happened the night before. But that was just par for the course.  All of the members of my posse had those things happen to them; we just took turns watching out for one another.

My intention in broaching this subject is not to judge.  Rather, I offer it up as a point to consider as many of us navigate through life, seeking emotional and mental releases to all of the struggles and celebrations we experience.  My story is not unique.  Many of my friends grew out of this behavior. Some of us did not.

What about you?  Did you have similar experiences?  Do you think you outgrew them?  Are you engaging in this behavior now, and if so, what are the benefits for you?  Are there any consequences?

 

 

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