Posted in friendship, inner peace, Learning, Life, mindfulness, Musings, People, random, relationships

Happiness & Curiosity

curiosity

I’ve been in a bit of a rut, lately, and it’s been hard for me to want to write- not just here, but also on my novel, which is a total bummer. Mostly because I am part of an awesome critique group and I’m running out of chapters to submit thanks to this weird writers block…but anyway, I haven’t been feeling my level best, had some minor health issues that are slowly resolving, and the whole vibe has not been conducive to me writing, I guess. When you aren’t feeling well, it’s hard to think about anything else.

For the last few days, I’ve been feeling better though, and my thoughts have turned again, as they always do, to my happiness and what I might do to improve it. Some people say that happiness is not a destination you arrive at, it’s something that you choose to experience, and I agree with that to a certain extent. But I also know that when you live a hectic, modern life full of children and work and chores to be done…the first thing we throw out of the picture are the things that make us feel the best. Forget about long, lingering bubble baths and walks on the beach with the dog- sometimes I am lucky to take a three minute shower and can’t even manage a quick walk around the block with poor Lucy. The truth is, when it’s getting dark around the same time I clock out of work, I often allow myself to just move from my office chair to the couch and spend the rest of the night numbing out to Netflix.

There may be stretches of time when this is honestly the best I can do. Do I judge myself a little harshly when this is the case? You bet your ass I do. I go to bed, frustrated and disappointed with myself because I feel like I wasted these precious hours of my life, hours I can’t get back. I think a lot about stuff like that- probably a side effect of having lost so many loved ones over the past 15 months. Death has a way of making our own mortality very, very clear to us, doesn’t it?

The good news is that, without fail, my energy returns, and I can try again. Try to fill my hours up in a way that makes me feel better about my life, try to figure out how to experience more happiness. I always come up with the same things: Be outside more, move my body more, connect with my kids and friends more,write, meditate, pray, get the house in order, and go to meetings. Obviously, these are just the little, day-to-day things that work best for me, not the longer term, “big” goals. But doing just these little things make a huge difference in my life. My magic formula for deeper enjoyment of my every day life.

Most of those things are simple enough to slip back into, once I’m back in the right frame of mind. You know what I struggle with, though? The “connecting with people” piece. And I mean this is a struggle on every level- with my own children up to the stranger sitting beside me at a meeting. I know why. It has everything to do with me being judgmental, which is really just a symptom of my own insecurity and fear of being vulnerable, i.e., I don’t want to be judged, so I will judge you first. Well, with my kids, I mean, I’m just being a mom…and to be fair, some of the shit they say is just…lets just say it’s hard not to power roll my eyes, sometimes. But with other people, this can become really problematic. When you are super guarded, or you think you already know something about someone based on their body language, their appearance, or maybe their current shitty situation, you are doing both them and yourself a disservice. When I think back through my life, to all the people who graciously chose to get closer to me when I was just awful…I don’t know how I would’ve survived without that kindness. I don’t think I could have.

Luckily, I found an easy solution to this problem. Instead of being guarded and drawing away, I have been choosing to be open and curious. There is a physical sensation attached to both of these things- being guarded feels closed off, tight, impatient, and makes my eyes look anywhere but at the person. Being open and curious feels…well, open, obviously, and warmer, somehow, and helps me look at and hear someone so much better. When I am not quick to judge, I am much quicker to listen, and when I listen well, it is so much easier to connect. For me, connecting with someone, really hearing and understanding and empathizing with where and who they are, is the best high. When I listen with curiosity, when I am open, when I take five seconds to talk to someone after a meeting and let them know I heard them…maybe it doesn’t mean anything much to them, but that connection means a lot to me. When I have friends over here for a super casual dinner, when I spend thirty minutes walking outside with Cam, playing Pokemon Go- maybe it’s not big deal, but it feels like one to me. It feels like the key to everything, to be honest.

So, this week, and for the rest of this year, my goal is to continue to make time for the things that help me to experience happiness, and to be open and curious about people, rather than closed off and invulnerable. Not a lofty goal, but I don’t know…it feels important to me. I may be onto something.

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Posted in Addiction, alcoholism, anxiety, Goals, inner peace, Life, living, mindfulness, People, recovery, twelve step, women

Peace

peace

This morning, when I took my dog Lucy to the beach, I made a conscious decision to leave my phone in my pocket. I didn’t want to be taken out of the moment by my urge to take the perfect Instagram picture and then cross-post it to Facebook, and subsequently spend the rest of the day compulsively checking for likes. I grow tired of that cycle, but the truth is, it isn’t easy to stop. But I did it- left my phone in my pocket, resisted the urge. Picked up a shell or two, and enjoyed just throwing the ball for my dog. I also met a few fellow beach strollers- something much easier to do when you are looking up, being present.

After the walk, I dropped Lucy off and decided to hit a meeting. I’m embarrassed to admit that I hadn’t been to one in nearly a month! It was just what I needed today. I saw my sponsor, and a few core people that I really love and respect. What a message of hope you can find in those rooms sometimes…it really is amazing, when you think about it. Escaping from the life of depravity that is addiction is such a freaking miracle. If you know, you know. It’s incredible to me that I have somehow managed to stay clean, that I somehow have made a success of what was once a very sad, broken life. I’m very proud of this life I have given myself. I forget sometimes.

Here we are in November, and I am already thinking about the year coming next- what I want to work on, where I want to focus my energy. The theme going forward is going to be “Making Peace”, and by that, I mean with ME. As much work as I have done on myself, I still carry around a lot of guilt and shame, and so many upsetting memories from the past. I still have a lot of anxiety and worry around the future. The past is gone. The future isn’t here yet. I think I need to forgive myself and focus on today.

I was listening to a TED talk yesterday about how to be happy- I didn’t finish it, but something stuck with me: People are happier when they are focused on what they are doing. It’s when our minds wander that we begin to feel anxiety, dread, and unhappiness. This makes so much sense to me! Since then, I have noted when my mind was spinning off, and started focusing on where I was right in that moment, and I found almost instant relief. I think it’s going to take a lot of practice, but if I can master this one, I’ll be in business.

Anyway, I will not so much be seeking peace as I will be doing the things that I know bring peace to me, and doing less of the things that take peace away. I deserve to feel good about my life, to feel peaceful, content, happy. We all do. I encourage you to really think about the content of your life, what is working, what is not, and what you can do to bring your life closer in alignment to what you’d like it to be. This is not a dress rehearsal, and the clock is always ticking. I’m starting now. How about you?

Posted in inner peace, Life, Mental Health, mindfulness, Musings, People, random, Uncategorized, women

Openings

It seems to me that there are specific times in my life where I inexplicably begin to feel better. I might not even be fully aware that I wasn’t feeling so great to begin with, but maybe the weight of living felt a little bit…heavier, I guess. Little things are harder. Daily life is gotten through, but joy seems just beyond my reach. I am just muddling through as best I can.

And then there are these openings- times when I wake up, and my heart is lighter, my energy is bubbling up, and life seems full of possibility again. This past weekend has been one such time, and I’m hoping it continues. I have no idea what brings them about, these openings- maybe it’s just some fluctuation in my brain chemistry. Maybe that cracked wisdom tooth I had pulled on Friday was causing me a lot more trouble than I was ever aware of. Maybe the stars just aligned. I do not know, I just know that I am grateful.

I see these shifts in me for what they are- great opportunities to get the ball rolling in the right direction again. These are the times when, if I take advantage of them, I can reconnect with the part of me that I enjoy the most. The part who goes on 6 a.m. beach adventures with her children, the me who opens up the blinds to let the light stream in, who sings while she cooks dinner. This is also the part of me who unflinchingly sorts through piles of old mail and ruthlessly cleans out the fridge until there is nothing left but a bottle of ketchup and one egg.

I am grateful for these times, but I know they do not last forever. They are gifts, and I am happy to receive them. I know that life is always a series of ebbs and flows, and my job is to learn how to ride the waves, however they show up. If I handle the easy, happy, good times right, perhaps the difficult times will be just a little easier. Perhaps. And if not, I know that there will be better times opening up for me again, down the road.

Have a beautiful week.

Posted in Addiction, Dreams, inner peace, Life, mindfulness, Musings, People, random, recovery, Uncategorized

Bloom Where you’re Planted

bloom-where-you-are-planted

There’s this thing I love to do, where I window-shop for houses on Zillow, almost exclusively in places where I’ve never been. I have this obsession with the east coast, and the idea of seasons- autumn leaves in fall and snow on Christmas, the sweet relief of melting snow in spring and delicious summer nights spent with the windows open. And there is nothing wrong with that, I guess…except that I live here, on the west coast, and this is where my life is unfolding.

I notice that I do the Zillow browsing most when I am feeling the least thrilled with my life here. The cost of living in California is astronomical, and it would be really hard for me to buy a house here on my own, something that has become more and more important to me over the past couple of years.

But it’s more than that, I think. I have always been a daydreamer, but there is this other part to these daydreams- the idea that I could be happier if only I were somewhere else, doing something else. There’s nothing wrong with daydreaming, but it’s the idea that the grass is greener elsewhere that makes trouble. Rather than tending to this lawn right beneath my feet, I’m staring across the country, into the yard of someone who has made it look really pretty for the photos.

And then there is this other part- the part where, and I have learned this lesson already- I will still be me wherever I go. No matter where I am, all my troubles come with me. You cannot run away from your own restless nature. You cannot escape a longing for another place…no matter where you are, that longing will just change direction. When I ran away to Reno years ago, thinking that this peninsula where I sit now was the root of all my problems, I would stand in my bathroom late at night and pretend the cars rushing by on the busy road some miles away were the roaring of distant surf. I just wanted to go home.

I am such a strange human. I long for change and for routine at the same time. I want to travel and still, somehow, sleep in my own bed. I want to start over without losing anything in the process. I want to keep everything I have and have everything I want.

But most of all, I just want to be happy.

And happiness is not a place. Happiness is not waiting for me in an empty house in Maine. Happiness is right here, waiting for me to notice it. I found it yesterday in the most mundane things- a morning spent with my daughter, cleaning out the “linen” closet, which held everything except linen, and packing up seven bags of junk to go to Goodwill. It was in the satisfaction of accomplishing something with someones help, and just being together.

I found it working my 11th step with my sponsor yesterday, and really understanding what this journey of recovery has meant to me, has made of me, over this past few years. I am not at all who I was at the start, although the changes have been so gradual and subtle that it’s hard to notice as they happen. We had to take turns reading because we both kept getting so overwhelmed with gratitude and choked up.

I found happiness standing on the beach yesterday- a perfect late afternoon in early fall. The air was just right- not too cold, not too warm, and my daughter flew a kite with her dad as I tossed the ball for the dogs and just took it all in. I feel peaceful and…full, I guess, just thinking about it.

The grass is not greener somewhere else. Happiness is not a place. I am fine right where I am.

A long time ago, I had this sticker that I loved. It said “Bloom Where You’re Planted”, and I thought that was such a wonderful saying. It was easy for me, at 17, to be happy wherever I happened to be. I think it’s high time I get back to that.

Starting right here, right where I am.

Posted in Addiction, alcoholism, Depression, fitness, funny, inner peace, Life, Musings, People, random, Weight Loss

The tale of my accidental class at the gym

gym

My attitude about working out has morphed over the past few years. For a good long while, I was really consistent at the gym- I’d hired a personal trainer, I went to Body Pump classes (which I LOVED, and I highly recommend to anyone, really), and I even worked out at home when I couldn’t make it to the gym. I actually got really strong- surprisingly so! For a little while, anyway.

The thing is, I was mostly motivated by hatred of my poor body, and the few extra pounds I’d put on once I got clean. Anything motivated by hatred is probably not going to be a stunning success, if you ask me. For whatever reason, my stint at the gym fizzled out, and I pretty much stopped going. After a time of inactivity, I came to the realization that I felt better mentally when I was exercising, and so I went back, to a different gym, and started there- but I had a pretty weak little routine, and I certainly never pushed myself in any way.

Throughout all of this, my eating habits have fluctuated between strictly healthy- like, WAY too strict to be sustainable, and disappointment that it wasn’t working, followed by periods of “fuck-it-all-anyway” when I would just eat whatever, because what even was the point of all this torture?! Throughout all of this, my weight stayed roughly within the same ten pound range, never getting much lower, but never getting much higher, either. No matter what new program or routine I was following. I never stuck with anything long enough for it to work, I guess. I just thought it was funny that I never really gained much in my long off periods, either.

For the past several months, I’ve been on a kind of “this is just who I am, deal with it” kick. I’m tired of hating myself for being chubby. There are worse things. Plus, by moaning and groaning about my body, what am I teaching my young daughter? That my entire self worth is tied up in the circumference of my waist? No, thank you. Confidence in queen, is it not? And I have plenty of things to be proud of- lets talk about those things to this impressionable young lady. So, I have been more careful of the way I speak, and I am trying to model some good things, but…

I really needed to get back to the gym. I hadn’t been once this month, and seriously? I am battling this low-grade depression every single day, and it sucks. One of the things that really helps is exercise. I’ve come to a place where I understand that I am still within a “normal” weight range, and that my perception of myself isn’t necessarily the truth. I’ve gotten to a point where I just want to be healthy- mentally and physically- and the hardest part is just making myself do the work. So, yesterday, I decided that I would go back to the gym.

By the time I got off work, I really just wanted to lay down and take a nap. That’s how I feel every day when I get off work, to be honest. But, with all the upheaval in my home lately- my older daughter moving back, and all the new pets, and all the new chaos, I knew I had to take care of myself if I wanted to remain sane. So, despite my longing not to, I went to the gym. I got there, and started digging around in my purse for my phone. Guess what? No phone. I’d left my mother-loving phone at home. This has happened maybe twice in my entire life- that thing is like a part of my goddamned arm, for Pete’s sake! And how was I supposed to do ANYTHING without music to listen to?!

I sat there for a good long moment, in my car, staring vacantly at my daughter in the backseat, trying to figure out if it was just not meant to be, and if I should go home. BUT. There was a class starting in ten minutes that I had been thinking about taking for, I don’t know, like a year now? I mean…what’d I have to lose?

You know what I had to lose? Control of my legs, that’s what. I took the class. I made it through the whole stupid thing. Fifteen minutes in, there was a short break and I used it to run to the front counter to desperately purchase a bottle of water. I barely made it through the gym. My thighs were locking up and shaking so badly that I had to be very, very careful. But you know what? I went back! I went back, and I did the kettle-bell squats and the jumping jacks and the goddamned fifteen minute (maybe one minute) planks, and I finished that sucker. I did it. I got dizzy, nearly fainted, made terrible noises, almost barfed, poured sweat and did some of it with very little movement. But I finished it.

I cannot feel my legs today. I will have to trust fall onto the toilet for probably the rest of the week. It’s so bad that it doesn’t even hurt yet, it’s just…numb. But the truth is, it felt really good to push myself for once. I may have gotten in a little over my head yesterday, but I needed to do it, and I didn’t even know it. I’m still proud of myself this morning. I might feel differently tomorrow, but…I can’t wait to do it again!

Posted in family, friendship, inner peace, Life, Mental Health, Musings, People, relationships

Yesterday

connection

 

God, yesterday was gorgeous. Not just the weather- although that was gorgeous, too, but…it was the content of the day that left me, at the end of it, feeling loved and valuable and as if I truly have places and people to whom I belong, where I am wanted.

I didn’t know that I was feeling like that wasn’t true. I didn’t know what that emptiness was or why it was there until it started to fill up again, and then I got it. I’ve been lonely, and I didn’t even know that’s what it was. I thought loneliness felt a different way, I guess.

I know that I spend too much time alone. I thought that I preferred to be alone, and it’s true- I do value my down time. But, as with all things in my life, I tend to overdo anything that feels good…and too much of anything that feels good will eventually morph into something that doesn’t feel so good anymore. Balance- I have never been very talented at that. I could use a little bit more moderation in most things.

I attended a celebration of life for my friend Che who passed away a few months ago. He was only 46- just a few years older than me- and he had a heart attack while surfing. I was nervous, as I usually am before any type of gathering, but I pulled myself together and I got in the car and went. As I drove over the hill to Carmel, the sun was shining, and the world was so breathtaking, and the tears started coming…yesterday would have been Che’s 47th birthday. He was too young. What else is there to say? That is just too young.

I got to meet his mama, and give her a big hug. He was her only child, and I don’t know how…I don’t have any idea how one survives something like this. I didn’t know anyone there at first, but then a few old friends of mine showed up, and God, it was so good to see these people. One in particular that I hadn’t seen in…gosh, probably almost 20 years! We were over the moon to see each other after so much time. There was more laughter than tears, lots of love and warmth in that place. I’m so glad I went.

I had to leave a little early to head over to a baby shower- my daughter’s best friend since 5th grade is due in November, and I couldn’t miss out on celebrating with her. We had so much fun! I adore Kristina, although her mother and I despaired over our two wild girls many, many times throughout their teenage years. We laughed about how often we plotted to keep them apart, all of it always amounting to nothing. Kristina has been a steadfast and faithful friend to my daughter, and it’s so wonderful to get to watch her life progress. Oh my goodness, we laughed so much yesterday.

After that, I got a surprise phone call from a friend who NEVER calls me, and we talked for almost an hour. She is trying to cope with the terminal illness of another friend of ours who has very little time left…he has made her the medical decision maker, and she is doing the best she can. I offered to help any way that I could, and we talked…oh, she is one of the good ones, we get to talk about the deep stuff, and I love it so much.

Finally, just to cap off my day, I loaded up the car with Cam and Lucy the lab, and we headed to the beach. We made it just in time for a beautiful sunset, and I…what can I tell you? My heart was so full.

In one short day, I celebrated the too-short life of a friend I’ve known for over half of my life. I celebrated the coming birth of a brand new life. I reconnected with friends I haven’t seen in years, had some deep conversations, reminisced about a past that might not have been as awful as I’ve let myself believe. I witnessed the full spectrum of life, didn’t I? And at the end of it all was a stunning sunset with more people (and pets) that I love.

I dumped the sand out of my shoes last night, and fell into bed exhausted, but, for the first time in so long…I was content.

I want more days like that. Of course I do. Maybe without having to lose anyone else, though. That would be even better.

Posted in Addiction, alcoholism, anxiety, Depression, health, inner peace, Life, Mental Health, misinformation, People, recovery, twelve step

Fear, Shame, & the Stigma of Addiction

stigma

Something I am really riled up about right now is the stigma and shame around drug addiction. SO MANY people do not understand what it really is, what it is really like, and how it feels when you are in the grips of it. They get upset that it is classified as a disease, and they say that it is a choice…which…I mean, even drug addicts themselves feel guilt and shame around this. Trust me, I was one of them. For a long time, I thought it really was my fault, and I didn’t understand why I couldn’t just quit, why I insisted on making my life so much harder than it had to be.

Well, news flash! It might start off as a choice- a BAD choice, obviously- but lots and lots of young people experiment with drugs. I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that a really healthy chunk of the population has, at one time or another, tried drugs. Lets not forget that alcohol is prevalent almost everywhere, and it is one of the most highly addictive and destructive drugs that exist- why do you think AA started WAY back when? It wasn’t just a friendly, old-timey social club. Anyway, not everyone gets addicted. But for some of us, for whatever reason, our brains get a little hit of that euphoria, and from that moment on, we just want MORE. To our detriment. As our lives crumble, as our dreams wither up, as our families cry and beg for us to change. And we promise to try, we promise to pull it together, we want to get better, but…

It’s not a choice anymore. Something has us in a grip so massive that we can’t stop killing ourselves. So maybe it isn’t a disease the way that cancer is. I will give you that, if it hurts you to think of it that way. But what about OCD? Bipolar disorder, or other mental illnesses? Would you judge someone harshly for having something like that? Because to me, addiction is a mental illness (and usually not a stand-alone one, either) and it’s no more my fault than it would be if I had…say, an ulcer. Or maybe diabetes that I controlled with my diet and lifestyle. Other people might do the same things that I did, and be okay. But some people aren’t, because something inside of them is different.

Sure, now that I know better and I have it under control, I can manage it by avoiding the things that would make me sick again, and by taking my “medicine” (meetings, therapy, watching what I eat and how I behave and paying attention to my thoughts and feelings). Just the way someone with diabetes has to monitor their diet and their glucose and all of that. I know that if I don’t do those things, I am putting myself in danger of a relapse. I am now responsible for my continuing health. But I was not responsible for the way my particular body reacted to the substances I foolishly tried.

Here’s the thing, though: People get sick and they aren’t afraid to go to the doctor and ask for help. They are not judged by their doctor when they show up sick. They don’t generally fear repercussions from their employer if they are ill. But do you know how many people walk around every single day, desperate for help with their substance abuse problems, but terrified to reach out because of what might happen to their lives? Not all addicts are the people you see on the streets, acting crazy. It isn’t always that obvious. Many of us are high functioning professionals with a LOT to lose. And asking for help is terrifying.

I stayed sick for a really long time because I was afraid to tell the truth, afraid of what would happen to me, and to my family. I was lucky.  I got the help I needed and I got to keep my job, I got to tell the truth to my boss, and she was compassionate and concerned. That is not everyone’s story.

But I really think it should be. We don’t throw people away like garbage because they aren’t working correctly. You don’t KNOW…you don’t know what kind of beautiful human being is there, underneath that illness. The addicts I have known in my lifetime, and there have been LOTS of them, are not garbage. Not even when they were using. Even the worst people I have known had redeeming qualities, and intelligence, and loyalty, and very, very few of them did not dream of getting better. I can’t think of one person out of hundreds that didn’t want to lead a better life.

We should be able to ask for help when we need it. When someone asks for help, we should help them. When someone is sick, even if it makes us uncomfortable and afraid, we should help them find their way to help. Addiction is stealing the lives of our friends, our family members, and our children, many times over, every day. Addiction is destroying the lives of not only the addict, but the addicts parents, and the addicts children. It is a disease of loneliness and disconnection. It might help a lot to end the stigma and remove the shame. It’s a terrible life to be stuck in. When someone is reaching out, we have to reach out, too.

And that’s what I am thinking about this morning.

1-800-662-HELP is the number for SAMHSA, Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. Call someone if you need help, or even if you just want to know how to help someone you love.