Giving the Green Light to Yourself


Your own mind is a sacred enclosure into which nothing harmful can enter except by your permission. – Arnold Bennett

 

One of the gifts of being sober is having the ability to feel a variety of feelings- happiness, joy, peace, serenity, anger, confusion, envy, fear- just to name a few. The beauty is that whatever I am feeling, I can recall why I am feeling what I am without the drinking shame, fear and resentment attached.It’s a “bare bones” kind of effect. Well, initially. I am getting pretty good at identifying the main feeling; then, I peel back the proverbial onion and see the sprouts, the roots, the core of what is really bothering me.

When I was drinking, pretty much everything was everybody else’s fault. I was  a victim through and through; I was powerless in my life; everything was being done to me and there was nothing I could do about it. I was going to have to just accept the miserable life I was having: raising kids who didn’t appreciate me, teaching for pennies and feeling no gratification, being married to someone who just didn’t understand me and didn’t like deep, intellectual talks, being stuck going to a church I had to go due to the small town tradition. On and on. Over and over. It was truly madness. I had fallen so far into my addiction, I no longer believed a good, fruitful life was ever going to be mine. And even is it were possible or maybe within my reach, I sure as hell didn’t deserve anything good. One of my favorite lines was, “You just don’t understand.”

It’s hard to write those words because no matter how much work I do, how many recovery blogs I read, how many episodes of the Bubble Hour I listen to, (strongly recommend- particularly if you can’t make a meeting in person), how many times I reach out to my sponsor and sober community, I only need to scratch the surface and those feelings can come roaring back at full force. I need not dig deep to conjure up the feelings of disapproval and disgust. Despite how hard I have worked hard not to let my alcoholic mind take over, the creeping disdainful thoughts want to come in.

However, it’s so important that while I stay focused and accept myself where I am today, I do not amputate the old part of me.  I am learning to explore all of my feelings- even the uncomfortable ones.  And that is really the key: giving myself permission to feel my feelings. I’ve learned that giving myself the green light to sit with the thoughts for a bit, to breathe deeply, to center my mind, and then to be aware of what else my body is telling me to do all play a role in my recovery.

Another good part of remembering the past is to have a barometer of how far I have come. It’s hard to see how sick you are when you are sitting in the midst of it all. But to have the gift of time review is so helpful to me, especially on the days when I feel I have been stagnant. I can look at the old patterns of thought and see how I overdramatized situations, heightened the importance of my role, in order to justify how I was feeling.

Being vigilant of how I feel at any given moment is key to my sobriety. If I disengage myself from the “haters”, my mind is free to be filled with positive, happy energy. I am becoming aware of the energy I either have zapped out of me or flowing through me based upon the conversations I decide to engage in. For instance, if I know a particular coworker will be at the morning coffee klatch, I move on. I don’t have space in my mind to let her in with her trash. I can walk away today knowing that my mind is not a garbage can for others to dump into.

It’s liberating and it’s self care- two things before I began this journey (two years and four months ago today!) didn’t exist in my life.

 

 

“Sometimes you just need to reflect on what you know before you learn more.”


One of my students told me that today. She was telling me how much she appreciates the class periods when we just absorb the information, talk about it and apply it to real life. In my mind, it’s a ‘blow off” day; but in their 14 yo brains, it’s a chance to catch up on what they’ve been reading and to put it into practice. I was taken aback by her words.

What does it mean to reflect on what I know before I learn more? This is so “simplex”- simple yet complex at that same time. If I apply this philosophy to my life it looks something like this:

I know I am searching for a better, more improved, authentic, enhanced relationship with my Higher Power. Some people call this God, Yahweh, El Shaddai, Jehovah, The Light and others. Being raised in a strict Catholic home, my sense of spirituality and religion are really confused. I’ve taken the greater part of my sobriety wrestling with what I believe God/spirituality/religion mean to me. So, I’ll start with what do I know?

I know my HP is part of me sometimes. It is the force within me that pulls me to do right: help a friend, smile when I don’t want to, stick up for a coworker, hold the door for a stranger. It’s the calm flow of energy that I can feel gliding through my pulse; it’s the deep, cleansing breath that takes the negative gunk out of my mind and the toxic beliefs out of my inner self in order to make room for more tranquility, joy, and serenity. When I can feel my HP in me, I am moved to tears; it feels so good to be so calm, to KNOW that I really am in the care of something greater than I. It’s the peaceful wash of nothingness that bathes my body just before I nod off to sleep. Sometimes I am pulled to call someone, to make a turn in a store I wouldn’t normally take, to send an email or imessage to someone I haven’t spoken to in a while just out of the blue. I am learning to trust that as my HP; it’s the connection to myself and a different realm for the purpose of the greater good. When I write here, for instance, or in my journal, I let my fingers dance across the keyboard and keep breathing asking my HP to fill me. Some moments the tug is stronger than others.

However there is another part of me that believes my higher self is external. This happens when I see kindness in action: my boys playing well together and sharing a hearty laugh; my husband selflessly volunteering to help out another family member; my students thoughtfully processing something we’ve talked about and doing good for others. But I see my Higher Power in more than just other people: a glorious sunset, or a cleansing, torrential rain where the worms can find solace in a crack, or even in the open country sky where the stars glisten in the sky like a multitude of precious gems flickering in the sun’s glare.

Beyond nature though, I am learning my Higher Power sometimes just is. I don’t need another human, or animal or bit of nature to see Him. It’s this Almighty Presence that merely takes up space in order to comfort me but leaves me open and unsmothered in order to catch a breeze upon my cheek.

So this idea of absorbing what I know until I can learn more is really brilliant. I still have questions about who or what or how my power greater than myself can be or is or may evolve into. The beauty is I get to let it happen in its due time. I can enjoy, accept, and ponder all in the same moment. I don’t have to have any more questions; today, I get to just accept where I am and think about what I do know. There’s comfort in that and a lot less pressure.

Darn kids are so smart these days!

 

Finding Your Inner Identity


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The privilege of a lifetime is to become who you really are.” – Carl Jung

One of the most important parts of my recovery has been learning about myself. It seems kind of funny to me that at 46 years old, I am still having an identity crisis. Although, I think the term “crisis” is over used and a bit dramatic. Any crisis I had before was largely due in part to my brain being saturated with alcohol; the ole synapses just couldn’t fire properly.

I literally had to figure out who I was from the ground up. When I first got sober, I had no idea what I liked in terms of people, books, food, clothes, anything. My opinion was your opinion. I like whatever you liked. All I wanted was a person to like me so I could come along for the ride. Never mind that I wasn’t even sure if you knew my name.

I often hear people who come into the program who have literally lost everything: their home, spouse, children, license, car. Everything. I didn’t lose anything. Now hold up before you think I am bragging.

I didn’t lose anything because I didn’t have anything. How do you lose self respect and self esteem when you never had any to begin with? I couldn’t lose what wasn’t mine. So my bottom as we call it in AA was much different from other people’s in my mind. (Time has told me, however, that I am not that different at all…)

So in order for me to begin this quest, I had to slow down quite a bit. I had to stop and think about my answers before I would blurt them out. Where did I want to eat?  Hmm.That’s such a loaded question for  me because that would involve determining what food type I actually liked and was in the mood to eat, if I had washed my hair and it looked decent, if I had on nice clothes or lounge clothes. A simple question became a process- one that to most people comes rather naturally and quickly. I needed patience from those around me while I entered into the new realm of “Who am I?”.

Slowly and quite deliberately, the answers began to come. Learning to be mindful of what my body is telling me and not necessarily my outer mind became the experience. Giving myself permission to not know was so freeing to me. For the first time in my life, I didn’t have to have THE answer not did I have to apologize for not knowing it. Allowing myself time to discover was like having  a new lease on life. Today, i invite new questions because it enables me the opportunity to stop and think – something I never did before.

With anything, I don’t always do this perfectly. Sometimes I still jump at an answer or I look to people around me to try to read their faces and assimilate to their needs. The difference is today I catch myself much sooner doing so. That progress is what helps to propel me forward and to continue on this path of new me.

It’s exciting, really, because who I thought I was and what I thought I cared about have changed dramatically. Friends and places are different. Some are the same, but for the most part, my circle of trust has shifted. Because I am learning to trust the woman I am becoming on the inside, I am more apt to discover “unsafe” people and learn to quiet myself. (notice I didn’t say “Shut up.” That is how I talk to my new inner me.) Sometimes I hear “What is wrong” when I am quiet. I bring myself back to the conversation, smile, and say, “Just planning where I am going to find happiness today.” They can take that however they want to. It keeps me safe, focuses my mind into a healthy direction and alleviates the desire to join in and say things I will regret later. I spent enough time in my drinking days saying regretful, hurtful things and feeling ashamed later that I try to minimize those opportunities in my present life.

Reshaping and discovering my inner identity has opened new doors- doors I didn’t even know were available to me. But being mindful, slowing down and breathing through a situation has afforded me some pretty great opportunities. I hope trying this will do the same for you.

Leap of Faith


With yesterday being Leap Year, I was inspired to think of all things leaping. Images of frogs, nine ladies in Christmas garb, and Orphan Annie blurting out, “Leapin’ lizards!” passed in and out of my immediate thoughts.

Then, I became more mindful about what having an extra day used to mean and what it means to me now. Quite frankly, I do not recall any other Leap Years. I must have been either really soused or hung over, or completely irritable.Perhaps I was all of these. In my drinking days another day would mean another repeat of my miserable process of passing days which I used to refer to as living: I would wake late and irritable, begin the self loathing, try to recall the previous night’s events, texts, calls, behavior, followed by more shame and guilt. And this all in the first three minutes of my alarm.

The day would continue with me trying to remember what I had planned for the students, how quickly I could pour coffee into my veins, and scouring any memory of what the day in general had for me. Grabbing the kids, their book bags, and a hot cup of coffee, we’d dash off into another morning of mommy being irritable. Dropping them off in a mad dash at the sitter’s, I’d hop back in my car and choke down as many cigarettes as humanly possible in the remaining 30 minute commute.

The rest of my day- at least until noon or so, I would muddle through. Doing my best to look perfect, act perfect, and worse expect perfect from everyone around me, I would trudge through another day at the job. No joy. No laughter. No passion. Nope. Just the passing of the hours all heaped together into what I would mockingly refer to as, “Living the dream.”

Sound familiar?

Being sober today, I can reflect on this Leap Day and be totally grateful. I woke up sober, happy and pumped that I had another day to look forward to. I was excited about it being a Monday so that I had all fresh units to explore with the students. We are nearing the end of my sons’ basketball seasons so we have four final games this week and then they’re over! My older son turns 11 so I get to bake for his class and take him shopping for his gift. My eldest daughter is attending a job fair so she enlisted my help in proofing her resume. The younger daughter chatted with me about her online class/computer issues and basically let me know she’s struggling, but she has the incident under control. My husband is happy; the dogs are joyous and remembering how to stay inside of the invisible fence line. Life. Is. Good. Notice, I didn’t say, “Life is perfect.” It isn’t. nothing is. But what I CHOOSE to focus on is positive. Could I provide you a list of ick happening? Yep. I could, but I don’t want to. I had an extra day and I planned to spend it happy, joyous and free.

I spent the day mindful of complimenting others. I worked hard to stay in the present and not to get too far ahead into the week. I bit my tongue when others started the gossip train. I stayed off of Facebook because  I tend to compare my life to others’ lives and I just simply know better. I stayed off of the scale so as not to sabotage my leap day. I made a good, healthy, fresh, clean dinner for my family and they liked it. I knew when to say no and when to say, “I need a minute. Please wait.” Yesterday was such an amazing day because I was vigilant of the extra time. People close to me know I really love Tim McGraw’s song “Live Like You Were Dying.” My Leap Day felt like that- although I didn’t go skydiving, Rocky Mountain climbing or 2.7 seconds on a bull name Fumanchu. I did, however, love deeper and I certainly spoke sweeter. It’s astounding to me when I am mindful, what I can do.

The realization that the contrast between my two worlds has collided is nothing short of miraculous. I cannot believe I get to have the life I have today simply because I decided to let my HP drive and I hopped into the passenger seat.  I completely recognize and appreciate that I have put into action a great deal of work and I have prayed like mad. I’ve also had the support of a number of really important people in my life. But the real beauty is in the contrast and in the leap of faith I took November 7, 2013.

 

“In today’s rush, we all think too much-seek too much-want too much- and forget about the joys of just being.” -Echart Tolle


For many people, Sundays are a day of calm and serenity. It’s a day to hang out with the family, read a good book, take a bubble bath, attend worship. As a teacher, however, I dread Sundays. They are a reminder of what I “should” be doing: grading papers, uploading scores, writing lesson plans, editing student work, creating assignments, responding to parent/student emails, reading educational articles. The list goes on and on. For years, I have fallen into the “should” trap.

I am not sure how or when I got it into my head that I need to be working on Sundays. My work is never-ending- always something to fine-tune, a better plan, a more-recent article. I could literally drive myself crazy in trying to achieve perfection. For this alcoholic, I am setting myself up in a dangerous trap. In fact, we talk about how we need to work on progress not perfection. So while I say this in meetings, how I live is entirely different.

I am happy to report, though, that in recent weeks, I’ve decide to shed the “should” skin. Life is too short. Being sober has afforded me the ability to see where I can improve and in what areas of my life. Sadly for my employer, my job is at the bottom of the list.

Now before you go blowing the horn on “What about the children?”, never fear. This isn’t about them. This is about me learning how to become mindful, to live with some sort of balance, is set boundaries, to appreciate my new life on life’s terms. Those papers will still be there for me to grade on Monday. In fact, the better care of take of myself, the better mood I am in. The kids will reap that benefit.

Learning this isn’t easy. I have had to, many times, remind myself that I am worth the time off. I do not need the demons bouncing around in my head to tell me that I “should” be doing something MORE productive. How do we measure the level of productivity anyway? It’s generally by someone else’s standards which really don’t apply to me.

No, my Sunday “job” is to clear my mind, breathe deeply, smile, appreciate the wind on my face, play with my kids, talk with my husband. It’s to quit worrying about what society thinks I ought to be doing and to engage in what I’d like to be doing.  When I live in the “should” mode, I’m not really living. I am going through motions that someone else (although I can’t pinpoint who…) has determined for me. This is one of the rare times that as an alcoholic, I can take control and say no more.  Sometimes, Sundays are just days to hang out- to think about what I’d like to plant in my garden this spring. It’s to engage in mindless reading but sometimes some substantial reading- not in the field of education- but in the field of self care. It’s so important that I don’t get too caught up in external that I forget about the internal.

 

Today, my day consisted of some morning worship, a stroll around our property, a two on one basketball game with my sons, and some light reading. This is far more nourishing than plowing through 40 papers only to have students turn to the grade and ignore the feedback I provided. Like I said, the papers will be there tomorrow.

Each day of sobriety is new for me. Learning self care and how to shed the “shoulds” are unchartered waters, but they are vital to my sustenance. As long as I am doing the next right thing, I can still put my head down, breathe and thank my HP for one more day.

The Power of Positive Thinking


I recently celebrated two years of sobriety; it was 11 days ago to be exact. When I first gave up drinking, the thought that I would be too busy to blog about sobriety because I was having a blast living in the real world would have been too far out for me to believe.

But two years have passed and so have so many feelings between then and now. I think the most remarkable change I have had is the fact that I wake up happy Every. Single.Day. From a woman who would loathe going to sleep because I would have to wake up the next day, being in a position to say every day is a blessing to me hardly makes sense. But it’s true. I have cleaned out the closet of my past and it’s not too scary to move forward. I’ve been to countless meetings, have had hundreds of talks with my sponsor, and have had an infinite amount of conversations in my own head-healthy ones, I am happy to report.

The old me would roll out of bed reeking of last night’s alcohol. I was bitter because I had to go to work, I had to grade papers, I had to be a parent, I had to be responsible. In short, I had to live. I would greet every morning in much the same way: shamed because I didn’t know what I had said, done, texted, emailed the night before. A quick look through my phone would generally confirm my fears: I had done something  I regretted. Rather than own what I had done, I would throw myself into a pit of guilt and shame. Then, having worked myself into a tremendous frenzy of self-loathing and hate, I would lash out at whoever was closest to me. It was a terrible way to live and I didn’t even know there was a way out.

But there is a way out. I am proof. I am a miracle. I was so far down the ladder, the rungs had run out. By the grace of God, I am alive today. I wake up most mornings in a fit of happiness. My life is good. I go to work; I pay bills; I make mistakes; I forget to fill by gas tank; I grade lots and lots of papers; I deal with in-laws; I get sick; I get to deal with two little boys trying to become young men but like to fight just the same; and I deal with other family members’ addictions.

 

Through it all, I am happy. The power of positive thinking has evolved in me. I can take a bad situation and find the silver lining. I can keep my opinions to myself and not throw fuel on a fire. I can hold my spoon of gossip and refuse to stir the pot. Every time I refrain from an old behavior, I reinforce in my mind that I do have worth; I am valuable; and that this world is not better off without me. Most mornings, I wake up and think how lucky I am that I have another day to try out my new behaviors, especially when the day before didn’t go so well. I refuse to let crabby people rain on my day. I smile more and it feels good.

I was grocery shopping last night when I heard some singing. It was pretty good! Curious, I went around the corner and there was this girl twirling around singing. Her mom said, “I am sorry. It’s constant with her. She never stops.”

I smiled at her and told her I rather enjoyed it. “It could be worse,” I said. “She could be screaming and crying all the way through the store. Let’s be thankful she isn’t.”

She looked at me and said, “You’re right. I never thought of it like that.”

It is moments like that I feel so good inside; I am able to help other people see the good in this world. This may not seem like a big deal to some; but to this recovering alcoholic and a child of God, it means the world. My ability to think in a positive way has powerfully impacted my life.

I am a firm believer today that what you think about, you bring about. And since I spent enough time in my life thinking and behaving in a negative way, every second I have to be positive, I plan to be.

Depression: When nothing seems right, yet nothing is wrong


So I have been absent a bit from blogging. I like writing as it makes me clear my head, feel hopeful and somewhat cathartic. So I ask myself why I haven’t kept up with this?

Easy answer: I’m busy.

Truthful answer: I am not taking time out for me like I know I need to. The past three weeks in particular have been terribly tough- tough in the day-to-day stuff, though. Nothing traumatic. I find myself telling myself to be grateful, snap out of it, get over the funk. All things I know better than to do to myself (except the grateful part…that’s a staple).

My schedule has been crazy: back-to-school for three of my four kids- which meant supplies, clothes, calendar upheaval; back-to-school for myself which meant three preps (one totally new and unfamiliar), large class sizes due to budget constraints, an atmosphere of blah among my co-workers who bitch that “summer was toooooo short”, and a general feeling of discord. My second daughter comes home from her program in a week and I am anxious. Her program is her program, but I want success for her. I have to let go, but it’s hard. The volunteer DRE position at my church has been a disaster. I don’t get to control other people. places, and things so when the volunteers don’t turn in the required paperwork, I am short staffed. I have people asking me to edit their work (for free) and I don’t say no. No one seems to care. My head hurts. The train never seems to stop and I feel like I am running all day and getting nowhere. Quite literally, one step forward has indeed resulted in three steps back. I call this the boomerang effect in that when I cross something off of my to-do list, it comes rearing back at me- often with more force and attachments than how I initially set it off.
So, I’ve called my sponsor, gone to meetings, reached out, kept my therapy appointments, took baths, prayed, journaled, read good literature, surrounded myself with supportive people, played outside with my kids. You name it. All the advice and suggestions I give to other people, I tried.
But, I still ended up calling in sick to work yesterday and watched terribly sad movies on Netflicks for the greater part of eight hours. I wept uncontrollably and kept telling myself I needed to get it together. I haven’t been this sad since my drinking days. Then , it was generally attributed to the imbalance of blood sugar. Now, I am not so sure. Nothing seems right, yet nothing is wrong.
This is the face of depression. Yes, I take my medication religiously. No, I have not lost or gained any weight lately that would affect the dosage. Yes, I am getting almost 8 hours of sleep a night.
The urge to cry does not go away. So I pray. Often. I ask God to please take away the demons in my head that want me to fail. I ask Him to please help me find the good in others so I can find some good in myself.I ask Him to hold me, to guide me, to lift me up. Sometimes, though, I think I don’t hear Him anymore. The depression has its grip on me and I cannot seem to shake it.
The people I’ve spoken to have been rather dismissive, so I’ve been keeping to myself. Isolating. The game I play best. And it is a game, and I know better. I am on the proverbial slippery slope and it’s time to quit making excuses and sit my ass in as many meetings as I can. My husband will support me; I have to make the decision to ask for help.
So I plod on not knowing what tomorrow will bring- not really caring actually because I have to stay in today.
I have to take a big breath and get back into life with both feet instead of dangling my feet over the edge acting like I don’t know how to take care of myself because I do know how to, and I need to vacate the crazy place my mind wants to take me to.
Today, I will do the next right thing and I will not drink. I will be gentle on myself and I will commit to believing that this too shall pass.