The Joy of Being Sober


So I have been a high school English teacher for 24 years. I used to absolutely dread Parent/Teacher conferences. I would have major anxiety several days before as a diatribe would be running through my head: “What if someone is mad?”; ” What if I say the wrong thing?”;”What if their kid has said something that causes a conflict?”. This would go on and on and on until the day of conferences. By that point, I’d already had all of the conferences in my head and played them out. I would come at the invisible conversations from so many angles that I’d felt no possible conference would be a surprise.

 

Except I forgot that it takes two people to have a real conversation.

Generally speaking, none of the meetings ever went as poorly as I had imagined (feature that…an alcoholic making a situation out to be worse than it really is.) In fact, most of them were very positive. I say this not because I really even remember what was said, but I had this habit of hanging onto a harm I felt someone had caused me so I would have recalled the negative feelings.

I have close to four years of sobriety. In that time, I have done a tremendous amount of inside work. I’ve gone to 12 Step meetings, individual and group therapy, listened to practically every episode of The Bubble Hour, practiced prayer and meditation, and read lots of sober books. In other words, I have immersed myself in living sober.

But it isn’t until I have a day like today that I realize just how far I’ve come. In my drinking days, I dreaded those days. I would rush through the conferences, speaking from a place of fear and anxiety, looking at the clock and counting the minutes until I could get in my car, dash home, get in comfy clothes and drink. I would recap the worst conferences with my husband- always embellishing so he wouldn’t question why I needed and deserved to drink. No one EVER had as many terrible conferences as I had.

Fast forward to today. I barely remembered I had conferences until I had a line of eager parents hanging outside my room. Opening my door and seeing them made me feel happy. I have a bunch of students whose parents care enough about their progress to show up. They were present and they wanted to let me share with them their kids’ triumphs, struggles, and concerns. This is a gift. I am humbled that I get to have people in my life today who want what I have. The funny thing is, I’ve always had Parent/Teacher conferences, but today was different. I finally made the connection and believed how the parents, the kids and I really are a team. In short, my conferences were really productive.

I learned that I have a student whose dad is in jail for sexual assault. I have one who has refused to take his ADHD medication and has been flushing it instead. Another one believes I have a really strong personality and I intimidate her. Finally, I have a student who is enrolled in my class not because she tested in but because she really wants to learn about literature and writing.

I learned so much about so many kids today that I reflected on just how much I gained from the five minutes I spent with these happy, joyful, engaged parents. They felt open to give me suggestions- some of which I intend to use. They disclosed some pretty tough scenarios and looked for help; I was able to do that in a few cases. Most importantly, I realize now that I had no anxiety or fear going into the conferences. I was open-minded, calm, and ready to listen.

What a difference being sober makes. I am so, so grateful.

 

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Growth Mindset


As a teacher, I am afforded the luxury of being home in the summer. This means I can sleep more, read more, clean more, relax more, parent more.  For the most part, I have done all of these- except the sleep part. My body seems to think 5:00 a.m. is a great time to start the day so I roll with it.

Being sober for almost 3.5 years has given me a new life and many new facets to this life. I eat better, exercise more, take care of myself more, am a kinder, softer version of my former self. I am a more compassionate mom, loving wife, and open-minded sibling/daughter. My teaching has changed and I no longer care deeply about test scores, completion of all assignments or letter grades. Rather, I focus on the individuals I have in front of me and how to best meet their needs to help them grow.

This growth mindset is affecting me as well. The book Growth Mindset by Carol Dweck, M.D. is a fascinating read! I have identified many areas in my life where I have been prone to a fixed mindset: I am fearful of making a mistake therefore I don’t try. if I don’t try, I can’t fail. While there is truth to that statement, I also don’t grow. I am navigating a new life where failure is an option because, after all, if I try, I haven’t failed. I’ve opened new pathways for my brain to expand and to change. I find this pretty exciting.

In my drinking days, I would grumble and complain about my miserable life, job, marriage, home, car, family- you name it; everything that was negative in my life was because of someone else’s doing. It wasn’t until I got sober and really started to dig deep within the recesses of my mind did I recognize how wrong I was.

The first step (other than getting help and getting sober, of course) was to take a good look at what I could control and what I couldn’t and then determine if any action was needed. So I started with the easy parts: I couldn’t control other people in my life, but I could control how I responded to them. In some cases, no response was the only pertinent action. In other cases, it meant taking a step back, taking a big breath and trying to see the situation from their point of view. What was it my husband was trying to tell me? Regardless of his approach, (He is not physically or verbally abusive- those are different animals and I would NOT recommend this approach.) I needed to look to the issue. I had to put aside the bs, my emotions, my perspective and look for a new way. This often requires me to take time- once it took me two weeks! But when I approach our differences from a stable, sane point of view, I am better equipped to resolve the issue with him- not for me, not for him, but with him.

The next part was looking at my health. I knew I could change by eating better, drinking more water, working out and work towards smoking cessatation. So I took small steps. I drank water instead of Diet Coke; I got off the couch and started walking more; I looked up recipes and made some pretty darn good, healthy meals- something that benefits my whole family. The smoking has been a devil. I quit cold turkey for three months and made the error of thinking of could have one or two while on vacation. It was my coping vice while others were drinking. While I went back full force and then some, I did learn. It is a great reminder that if I take one drink, I will be back the same way if not worse than I had been before. So I set a new goal and plan to be smoke-free by summer’s end. These are all doable changes that I can control. I feel better; I look better and I behave better as a result. The self-confidence in my clothes doesn’t hurt either. 🙂

Taking care of the relationships in my life happened once I decided which ones I needed to keep and which ones I needed to let fall away. It is much like cleaning out a closet. The clothes that don’t fit, are dated, have tears or stains beyond repair- toss ’em. The people in my life who wouldn’t support my sobriety, didn’t care if they made comments like “Oh, he is SUCH a raging alcoholic; I can’t belive he just doesn’t have the will power to quit” or even said they like me better when I was drinking were all put into a bag of throwaways. I cannot afford to have people in my life that I think I am going to change. While I understand I cannot change anyone, my point is I cannot change the stigma of alcoholism overnight. The people who were a dire threat to my sobriety needed to go. The others were like the special occasion clothes: You wear them to a wedding or a funeral or a baby shower and then dry clean them and hang them up for another time. Some people in my path are like that. I run into them for certain special times; I am careful, I am kind, but I don’t go out of my way to reach out and communicate on a daily basis. Just like I am careful not to snag a special occasion sweater, I am careful not to offend, shame, or denegrate a special occasion friend. Some of my other clothes are the everyday ones: People I work with, people on my kids’ sports teams, people I see at meetings who are on the outskirts, friends of the family. I try not to take them for granted; I treat them with care; wash and dry and fold them neatly until the next time.  My husband, my kids, my siblings, and my sisters in sobriety are my favorite pair of jeans that look great, feel great, don’t stretch out. The ones I can pull of out the closet no matter what and I won’t be disappointed. They are the staple of my wardrobe and my look wouldn’t be complete with out them. I am sure to treat them with great care and respect and I always know where they are. Like my relationships, they evolve on certain levels, yet remain a constant in my life.

The other parts of my life with which I found misery: my home, my car, my yard – have all improved with time. I take much better care of my “things” so they are not in a state of disrepair. I have also found gratitude and I have seen firsthand how good I have it. It’s funny when I changed my world became brighter and my steps were lighter.

The part was my job. I love my job – most days, but I also know I am called to do more. I am in control of this. So using the growth mindset, I am setting out this summer to develop sobriety based curriculum geared towards high schoolers. My first goal is to present this to my admin and work on having it implemented in my school. Later, my plan is to work with neighboring districts and expand into their schools. I would also like to have parent networks so we can work as a community to flush out the drug and alohol problems in our schools. Eventually, I would like to go on a national level and make this an extension into the grade schools and high schools. Our youth deserve the best chances in life and it starts with education. I feel empowered and passionate about education and wish for all people to be able to live a clean, healthy sober lifestyle.

Having a growth mindset will allow this dream to become a reality. I believe combing my teaching experience, my masters in currculum development and my road to recovery have all been laid out for me on this path to keep moving forward.

If any of my readers have practice with this, I’d love to hear from you!

 

Growth in Many Forms


I have been monitoring a Wednesday night AA meeting for just shy of 3.5 years. Last night when I got there, one of the old timers asked if I had a minute to chat. So we ventured to the front room where we sat. He proceeded to tell me how he loved my meeting- it was one of his favorites- and that he appreciated my service. In the next breath he went on to saw that “they” like to give lots of people the opportunity to monitor and a guy with six months wanted to step in and monitor that particular meeting. I said okay and thank you and just like that it was over.

Now that I’ve had some time to process ( I have rarely been one to think on my feet and my past tells me that when I have, my mouth tends to get me in deeper than if I had remained silent), I’ve come to some conclusions.

In the past, if someone asked me to speak in private, my heart would race, I would feel defensive, and my mind would kick into overdrive searching for what I did that was wrong, offensive, inappropriate, etc.

But that didn’t happen. I was calm and open-minded.  I took what he had to say as this is a natural transformation in our group. I didn’t look at it as a “punishment” or an “I’m not worthy moment.” In fact, I felt a bit relieved because I have numerous commitments this summer that would require me to either make a choice between the meeting or say one of my son’s baseball games or find someone to fill in which stirs up the old tape of not fulfilling my obligation. This is huge for me in terms of personal growth.

I wasn’t angry nor did I feel short-changed. I didn’t question why I didn’t get to be a part of the discussion and why this was decided for me. I didn’t internalize feelings of lack either.

When some members approached me after the meeting and inquired why I was moving on, I explained the scenario.  The reactions were varied: mostly anger directed at the old-timer. “How dare he make this decision?” “Who does he think HE is?” “We don’t have a president here!”

In all honesty, the only two feelings I have are relief and fear. Relief for the reasons above. The fear is my own. Wednesdays have been MY anchor, my absolute, my no excuses get to the meeting people are counting on you. Without that sense of obligation, I worried about what I would do. Would I slip away from AA slowly but surely? Would I become bitter? Would I find myself going without a meeting for weeks on end? What did this mean for my sobriety?

What I have come to conclude is that all things happen for a reason. Giving up being a monitor isn’t going to make me relapse. Not having that duty won’t be the reason I slip away. Actually, I feel I have more freedom now because I used to fret before the meetings to pick a good reading, have enough coffee on, debate to nauseum who would do the opening readings.

I am free now to go and to sit and to relax and to grow. Growth comes in many ways and this is just one more of them. For that, I am grateful.  🙂

 

 

Dropping Illusions


It’s been a long time since I have blogged—over a year. I am happy to report in that time, I have stayed sober, continued with my meetings, stayed with my therapist and have joined a women’s addiction group that meets twice a month. It ahas been a long journey with lots of growth and discovery. Nothing major has changed- no divorce, no moves, no new jobs, no more children, and thankfully no deaths.

What this gift of sobriety has given me in this lull is the ability to take a look inward and to see what illusions I had that I’ve learned to abandon. One of the most significant ones is that for decades, I subscribed to a damning, malicious, All- Powerful God the Father.  I have struggled in my recovery to redefine who my HP is. But before I could redefine him, I had to figure out what I thought he was, break that down, determine what I wanted, breathe, and seek.

Digging deep, I learned from a young age, that God was looking down at me from the great beyond and was judging every step I took, every breath I took, every move I made, every smiled I faked (cue Police music here). I lived in fear that if I died, I would surely go to hell. I hadn’t done enough good in my time here on earth. I sought out my flaws and imperfections, I constantly compared myself to others- looks, clothes, money, job, house, car- and I always fell short. I just didn’t know how to live. I thought I did, but when I would get on a roll, self-sabotage would set in. I believed for some time, that good things only happened to good people, and since I perceived myself as bad, anything positive must have been a fluke- even God wasn’t perfect in that concept.

Breaking down that illusion has come at a price. I left the church I attended giving up my role as Cathechism Director. This was a risky move as I am in a small town and people (including family) talk. My kids still attend with my husband, and it was a fine line to walk as to why mom didn’t have to go and they did.  I knew they needed to have some faith base, and this was one I was going to have to turn over to my husband while I began my quest. I wandered into a few different, more progressive churches but I still didn’t find what I was searching for. So I turned inward.

I’ve had to flush out years of doctrine that simply wasn’t true: Despite what I was dictated, I can be a wife, a mom, a teacher, but I can also be intelligent, kind, steadfast in my beliefs, a leader, respected and most importantly, wrong without shameful feelings. I also had to recognize that I may never have a big bang moment where the bush is on fire and a loud booming voice directs my steps. That irritated me. I wanted to believe someone was going to rescue me and that if I just did the next right thing, this powerful moment would happen, the stars would align, life would fall into place and I could sing kumbaya.

But alas. No fire extinguisher was needed. I had to go on living and navigate my way through this spiritual tango. However, I am grateful it hasn’t been a quick, swift redefinition. I would have missed some details along the way. I needed to look at the whys of how I thought and to figure out where the Truth was and discard the rest. I had to give myself permission to think very differently from how I was raised and to leave the guilt on the shore.  I had to embrace my HP as something greater than myself but with good intentions for me. I now see my HP as a powerful surge of energy that helps to align and synchronize events for the best possible outcome. I can honestly say that jealousy which used to run my mind is a thing of the past. I really believe now that we all have gifts and talents. When someone wins an award, it isn’t because I am not good enough, but rather it’s because she is! That award isn’t in my plan and to yearn for that is, in short, wasted energy and a distraction for when my time will come. If I look to my universe as being molecules of energy bumping into each other and finding like-willed molecules to join, I will have achieved happiness- and to some degree a deeper joy. Most of all, I have peace. I have discovered I don’t need to have an answer RIGHT NOW! The answer will evolve and if I am good-intentioned, a positive result will ensue.

Today, dropping the illusions of what used to be has been freeing. I breathe deeper, I sleep better, my blood pressure is low, I can stop and feel my feelings, I step back now and look for deeper meanings rather than react. In other words, I leave the spoon on the rest and let the pot cook itself.

It feels good to blog again. I hope all is well in your universe. Feel free to drop a comment about your spiritual journey. I’d love to hear about it.

 

 

 

 

You Share Project


I was recently contacted by Ashlee, founder of the You Share Project. She asked if it would be okay to share one of my previous posts on her website. I agreed and today it went live. It’s weird to see my big ole mug out there, but there is something freeing about that as well. I am not ashamed of who I am nor of the woman I am becoming. This just makes it all a little more real.

Go check out the website:  www.youshareproject.com

It has some pretty amazing stories and you might find your self in one of them.

Have a happy and blessed Tuesday!

Why Facebook is ruining my mojo


This has been a rough week for me emotionally. Nothing in particular has happened with the exception that I’ve spent a little too much time on Facebook. That is my downfall. When I see what old friends are up to, what they’ve accomplished, the accolades they’ve earned, I feel small and insignificant. Comparing myself to others is so dangerous. I rarely feel better; I rarely  wish them well and feel genuinely proud of them. No, I tend to see how I don’t measure up, how I am not good enough, how everybody else has done so much more with their lives. Not me. I’ve remained stagnant. I am not who I was supposed to be. I missed opportunities; I drank away my chances and ambitions.

For someone with diagnosed and treated depression, I know better than to engage in this type of behavior. So what draws me to the negative? What makes me want to slink into nothingness and disregard the joy I know I have in my heart tucked away? Why do I continue to condemn myself for the path I have taken? I am not ninety years old. I have so many good years in front of me.

I believe it is the familiar that keeps me coming back to the mental beat downs. It’s what I’ve done and it’s what I’ve known for so long that it feels familiar. Notice, I didn’t say good, rewarding, fulfilling, or pleasant. Familiar.  What’s so funny about this word is that family is in this word. To me, my family is a source of comfort, love, understanding and absolute unconditional love. This applies to both my immediate and extended families.

But the familiar feelings that social media brings about do not have this comforting connotation. I can, however, make these two worlds collide. For as I have grown in my recovery, I have seen sides of my sisters and brothers that weren’t apparent to me previously. They shown me love and understanding and a support beyond my wildest dreams. If I could change my perception about my family of origin (who were messed up beyond belief as I was growing up), I can change my perception of what familiar means to me.

I have to work to figure out what that will mean to me. I am certain of what it is not: comparison, belittling, feeling less than. No, those are feelings that don’t bring out the peace I seek. For the most part, I’ve enjoyed how social media has been an outlet for me to see who is doing what. But, I did not moderate which is not unusual for me.The small part of me that wants to close my laptop, stare off in space, and think about the “could have’s” and “should have’s” is enough of an indicator that this too is an unhealthy part of my life. I know that people tend to put their best out there and don’t discuss the mishaps or feelings of depression so what I am seeing is not necessarily the whole picture. However, I take it to a new level when I insert myself there and belittle me.

My new familiar will not include daily scrolling on Facebook. It will include messages throughout the day that remind me that I am not too old, too inexperienced, or too late to redefine myself. In fact, I am doing so every day. Little by little. God has a plan for me and He is lining up what needs to fall into place so it is blessed and perfect for me. I need not look to other’s accomplishments and feel envy. That was their plan and not mine.

Spring is a great reminder that after death comes new life. And like the flowers buried deep beneath the surface of the soil just waiting to burst out into a new life, so too is my inner identity.

“Bitterness and resentment only hurt one person, and it’s not the person we’re resenting – it’s us.” Alana Stewart


Today, I am super tired. My son has growing pains (literally) and needed someone to rub his achy knees at two in the morning. That coupled with a late-night movie I HAD to see end- have left me feeling wiped out and drained. I’m pretty sure given the chance , a 20-minute power nap would quickly become a four hour luxury lie down. Needless to say, I am a bit edgy. But I am aware of those feelings and I know why I feel this way so I have a tendency to let things roll off of me because I understand the source.

This afternoon, our high school musical group performed a twenty minute preview of their upcoming show; we were allowed to bring our classes down during our extend time to watch the performance. It’s a privilege not a requirement for us to take them there; I know how talented our kids are, so it was perfect for me to give them some support.

Well, as soon as we sat down, I had a row of boys who talked, laughed, and carried on. I gave them the evil teacher eye look. No luck. I quietly shushed them. Nope. No response. I stated firmly, “Gentlemen. It’s proper theater etiquette to refrain from distracting the audience and perhaps the players.” This worked a bit; the curtain opened, and the preview began.

Those assholes laughed and talked throughout most of their performance. While I was still able to hear and to enjoy their show onstage, I was miffed. These are the same boys who demand respect because they play football. I don’t have anything against athletes; I was a three-sport athlete myself in high school. But I am against rude.

Afterwards, I spoke to them and gave them the yadda yadda yadda about being leaders and being respectful. Off they went- not caring a fiddle what I said.

Enter resentment and bitterness- my two friends I love to hate. They show up out of nowhere, eat all my food, trash my house, linger far too long, and I have to literally kick them out of my house before they will leave. I need to change the locks.

Feeling the way I did needed to be tracked back to why. First, I was in a position of authority, and they blew me off which is annoying. Next, I was correcting their behavior not for my benefit, but for them to be able to do the right thing and to be supportive of something other than themselves. Furthermore, the kids in the musical work tremendously hard for three solid months and a little recognition would be appreciated.

But for me to feel bitter? What was that all about? I guess it boils down to people in this world who expect, feel entitled and demand when it’s their turn but who in turn are oblivious to the needs of others. If that doesn’t define a late stage alcoholic, I don’t know what does. I do not like in others what took me 44 years to recognize I was doing. Something we are told in AA is “to keep our side of the street clean.” When I am feeling bitterness and resentment, I am not on my side of the street; I am down the street, a half block over running to the next neighborhood. How they behave is none of my business; how I behave is. How they treat others is not my problem; how I treat those same “others” is. I have to ask myself if I am coming from a place of love, then I do I really have bitterness in my heart? I do not; I can not.

In the long run, when I stew over something that has happened, chances are the other person

a. doesn’t care

b. has forgotten

c. has no idea what I am talking about

The damage is to me. To my core. To my inner identity. This is where deep breathing and long pauses have become my ally. I have to ask myself if harboring negative energy is worth it in the long run. I know it is not because if I do not release it right away, it will park itself right on my couch and hang out, creep into the back bedroom, and slowly make its way into my storage closet. Cleaning closets is never fun. No. It’s best for me not to open the door but to instead change the locks and the turn the music up.

Today, I am so grateful to be able to let go to the universe the things I cannot change and to know my limits and what my part is.