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.

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Posted in Addiction, escape, Goals, inner peace, Life, Musings, People, recovery

Time for Change

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On Monday, I was feeling grouchy and restless, like a caged animal after sitting here working all day long- that’s one of the drawbacks of working at home; when I worked in the office, I couldn’t wait to go home at the end of the day. When you work at home, all you want to do is go somewhere else when you clock out…except, if you are me, you are probably still wearing sweaty-ass yoga pants, no make up, and hair that looks like you stuck your finger in a light socket. So, I either have to summon up the energy to make myself look slightly less homeless in order to leave my house (how funny) or, give in to the beckoning call of inertia and flop on the couch to watch TV which will ultimately do nothing but make me feel even worse.

On this particular day, though, Camryn suggested we go to the library. We had books that were a week past due, and I really did need a change of pace, so I agreed. Plus, bonus- you don’t have to look nice at all to go to the library! After settling part of my outrageous overdue book fees, Cam got herself a drawing book, and grudgingly trailed after me as I wandered up and down every single aisle in the downstairs section of the Monterey library. I didn’t know what I was looking for, but I hoped to find something inspiring and uplifting- something to shake me out of the funk I had been going in and out of for the past…I don’t know, 40 years or so.

I grabbed a stack of books, and we checked out and headed home after a quick stop at Trader Joe’s for some chocolate and blueberries, among other snacks. Soon as we got back to the house, I pulled out one of the books and started reading it. It was called “Martha’s Vineyard- Isle of Dreams”, and at first I wasn’t sure if I would be able to get through it- it’s written in handwriting-like script, and there are hundreds of quotes and watercolor pictures throughout the book, so at first it’s a little jarring, as it doesn’t read like the books I am used to- books that have very few, if any, quotes, and generally no pictures at all. But within a few pages, I had forgotten all about the strangeness of it and was totally sucked in to the story.

Oh, and it’s not a story-story, by the way. It’s a biography of sorts, the true tale of a woman named Susan Branch who “accidentally” moved to Martha’s Vineyard and bought a house in the woods, after fleeing California when her marriage ended. She was looking for a house to rent, short term, and wound up buying a little house after being there for three days or something like that. The whole story takes place in the 80’s, which doesn’t matter other than the fact that you probably can’t buy a house there super cheap anymore, and anyway…I just fell in love, you guys. The way that she describes the changing seasons, and the beautiful simplicity of her life- her garden, and her walks in the woods, the ocean, the seasons, the quiet. Just talking about it right now makes me want to cry. It stirs such a funny longing in me. And it really makes me think, very hard, again, about the way I am living my life.

I have only been clean for a little more than three years. Which means that I am just now, at 43, learning about what kind of person I am, and trying to figure out what sort of life the person I am truly wants to live. I sort of woke up right in the middle of a life that I had stumbled into, and it is a GOOD life. I have this career, and security, good health insurance, stability…all of these things that people want, right? So when I think to myself “this doesn’t feel like the right life for me”, it is scary and I feel guilty, as if wanting something different makes me ungrateful. I am not ungrateful. I’m just…wondering. Wondering if I could survive, or thrive, or be wildly, giddily, in love with a different kind of life. And I shouldn’t feel guilty for wanting to be happier.

I checked out the book on Monday evening. It is now Wednesday morning, and I have finished it. It was 368 pages, and I worked all day yesterday, so when I tell you that I did a lot of reading, you have to believe that I did. Because of this book, I made a batch of blueberry muffins with Camryn, from scratch, yesterday after work. Because of this book, after my meeting last night I went by myself to the beach, and sat on the rocky sand, as evening descended, and just soaked in the salty air, watched the choppy, steel-gray waves crash on the shore, and relished the cold. It really got me thinking.

I need to slow way down. Like, way, way down. Be outside more. Be quiet more. Be on Facebook WAY less. Read more books and watch less TV. Cook more often. Talk to actual people, rather than scroll past their faces online, clicking like instead of having conversations. I don’t have to- and I shouldn’t, I know this- uproot my life on a whim and move across the country to “find myself”. But I do need to examine these feelings, and see what I can do to honor myself, and my one precious life. I have faith that I will find the answers, that they are already there, just waiting for me to discover them. I have to stop losing sight of what really matters, and every time I check out- on the internet, or by binge watching twelve seasons of some stupid TV show- I am doing just that. Losing sight of what really matters. Checking out. No wonder I feel so restless…my spirit is trying to get my attention, and I have been ignoring that.

No more. It’s time to pay attention. Time to make some changes.

Posted in adventure, Goals, Learning, Life, living, Musings, People, random, recovery

Restless Feelings

It feels like I return, over and over again, to these restless feelings- like I carry them around with me always, only sometimes, I can hide them for a while by throwing myself into something new and interesting. Most recently, those things have been working on my novel and learning the tarot. Over the past several years, I have run from the restlessness by focusing on recovery, educating myself about nutrition and exercise, trying to quit smoking…repeatedly, and binge watching seven million shows on Netflix. Social media and outrage over politics have also been a band-aid I have used.

Some of these things have been more beneficial than others, obviously. But in the long run, none of them have been able to satisfy what is ultimately a much deeper issue- I am not living the life that my heart wants to live. I have this great career, but it is not the right career for me, and I KNOW this, but I am terrified of what comes after that knowing. I don’t want to sacrifice all of this comfort and security for some unknown thing…and that’s the even bigger problem. I know I’m not living the life I want to live, but I have no idea what it is that I DO want.

There are little flashes of insight, of course. Ultimately, I would love to just be able to write full time, but I don’t think that is the next step. If I am just going on what my intuition has to say, I can tell you that that might be down the road a ways, but it is not next. I feel pretty strongly that I am supposed to go back to school, and at the age of 43, this seems very daunting. I have a lot of friends around my age who are in school now, and the amount of stress they are constantly venting on Facebook is enough to give me serious pause- like, is that what I really want?

If it is what I want, I have the support of my boss and my employer to do so. They have already told me they are willing to accommodate my schedule (to a point) so that I could go back to school, without losing my benefits. The only problem with this is that I would still be working nearly full time, which means I would have to take less classes, meaning I would probably be in school for MUCH longer. And again, at my age, how long do I want to drag out the schooling thing? And how much time would that mean I would miss with my daughter?

There are so many questions, so many unknowns. Perhaps I am just trying to know too much all at once. I have always liked to know everything that was coming down the pike before I committed to something. I’m not sure I can do that in this situation. I think I might have to begin first, and learn as I go.

I don’t know. I don’t know nearly enough. And yet…I really feel strongly that I need to get started on whatever is next. I feel like it is time. I’ll let you know what I come up with, as soon as I come up with something.

Posted in Addiction, inner peace, Life, love, Mental Health, Musings, People, relationships

A long way to go

long-way-to-go

I have this friend that I met online several years ago on a quit smoking app that I no longer use- I have several friends from this app, actually, and it’s the only one I have ever developed outside friendships from…anyway, that doesn’t matter. What does matter is, this particular friend- an Irish dude, living in Canada (I mean, as far as I can tell, that’s who he really is- for all I know, he could be some weirdo from Indiana living in his moms basement. Hahaha!), we have the best talks. About real shit, sometimes, things that I really need to talk about. Things like the state of my heart, and the hard work of changing for the better. He understands the deep work I have been doing on myself these past few years, the labor that goes beyond 12 step groups and therapy. The time you spend on your own, examining the way the thoughts you allow in your head affect your life, and the wounds you discover that you didn’t even know you’ve been carrying around.

I told him about a realization that I had, just the other day, about how much I struggle with connecting to other people. I had mistakenly believed it was only a problem I had with men, but suddenly, I realized that it is across the board- with other women, with relatives- even with my children. I don’t know how to explain it clearly, but I can tell you that I hold everyone at arms length. That I might hug, confide, and love fiercely, but…there is a hard stop that happens, and it is causing me some pain now. That’s generally the only way I know about a problem- when it starts to hurt. I don’t really think this is a new thing, either. I suspect it’s been with me for a really long time, but I was able to escape the repercussions with sex, or behind my drug abuse. When you are living in survival mode, or in extreme dysfunction, you don’t have time to worry about things like interpersonal relationships, or connecting with others in a healthy and robust manner. 🙂

Anyway, my friend and I talked about this, and about the funny way things go when you are trying to heal yourself- the thing is, it really doesn’t end. You uncover a layer of bullshit, you sort it out, you find resolution, and you sit back for a minute- you get a short break, then- BAM! A whole new layer of bullshit surfaces, and you start dealing with that. There is no end. We are never perfect. Which is why, I guess, so many people just prefer not to get into it- not to gaze into the gaping maw of their brokenness and try to change. It’s just easier not to. Had I known what I was getting into when I started- had I even known that I was starting- I don’t know if I would have wanted this, either. The phrase “ignorance is bliss” could not be more true in this instance. Self awareness is a motherfucker. Some days I am so proud of how far I’ve come, and some days I can’t believe what an ungrateful, whining, entitled asshole I am. It’s quite a ride.

So, I told my friend about this terrible distance between myself and the rest of the world, including those I love the most, and he said “Now that you know about it, change it.”

Well, yes. But how? For a solid 24 hours I pretended that I couldn’t possibly know how to do that, because I didn’t like the answer, but of course I do know. The answer is to allow myself to be vulnerable. To stop being so sassy, to stop laughing everything off, to stop being too busy, too tired, too…whatever, and be real. Admit that I’m afraid of being hurt, of losing what I love, and therefore, afraid of loving altogether. Because that is the real truth- that I have learned, over the course of my 43 years on this planet, that love hurts. That no matter who I love, it always hurts. Within families, people are volatile and selfish and downright abusive, and it fucking hurts. Or they get old and sick, and they die, and that hurts, too. Your children become teenagers, and they hate your guts, and look down their noses at you, and that just sucks, AND it hurts. And men…oh, for God’s sake, no matter what I do, I pick the same one in a different package, again and again, and it hurts like hell. And it’s also embarrassing.

Somewhere along the way, I know that I picked up the fear, and hid it from myself, that this was somehow my fault. That there must be something fundamentally wrong with me if all of my relationships were so fraught with dysfunction and unhappiness. Even now, as I write this, I am considering that there may be some truth to that- that if I were just a better person, I would be more lovable. After all this work I have done, isn’t that the saddest thing ever? I have accomplished so much, I’ve had so much success in my life, despite the obstacles in my path. I have beautiful children, a flourishing career, a spiritual practice. Every day, I try to be more kind, more patient, more loving, and yet…here I sit. With this truth. That maybe I just don’t really know how to love, and maybe that means I am missing that part, and maybe that makes me unlovable.

Or maybe…maybe it just means that I didn’t have the best examples of what love is really supposed to look like. And maybe I took that with me into the world, and that is what I looked for, and found, over and over again. And maybe it finally got too painful, so I stopped trying, and that is when this wall went up, and it protected me for a while, but it also cut me off from the good stuff, too. Except now I don’t know how to get through it, over it, around it. But I think my job now is to try. To keep chipping away at it, feeling around for the edges, for a place where I can maybe slip through, even if it might hurt. There is still so much work to do. Such a long way to go. But in the end, I still believe it’s work worth doing.

Posted in Addiction, advice, alcoholism, Goals, inner peace, Life, mindfulness, Musings, recovery

Radical Change

change

I’ve been extra quiet, here lately. I have been working hard on my novel, and it’s nearing the end, which is incredibly exciting for me- I had planned to be done with it months ago, but that just wasn’t how it panned out. I find it a little harder to blog on days when I am also working on my book, and I have been working on my book every day, but also…I just haven’t had a lot to say. Everything comes and goes in cycles, and in this cycle, the blogging aspect has been less active. And I am not overly concerned about any of it.

I am not overly concerned about anything, to be honest with you, and that…that is not like me at all. But MAN, do I appreciate it. I am just sort of rolling with whatever, happy to float along. It’s funny, though- one of the sharpest tools in the box of every addict is control. It’s very important when you are in your addiction, to be able to control every conceivable aspect of your life so that you can manipulate the outcome in your favor. It’s a necessity, almost. Or at least, it feels that way. The idea of letting go of the end result is totally foreign, and completely unacceptable. I don’t know, maybe normal people experience this as well? I have never been one of those, so I don’t know.

What I do know is that lately, I have made a conscious decision to stop fighting everything all the time, to let things go the way they are going to go, and see what happens. More than just a conscious decision, because decisions are one thing, but action is where it’s at! I’ve made a conscious effort to redirect myself often so that I stay on that path. What I mean is, my habit is still to control things and so, when I feel myself getting bunched up and frustrated because things are not going the way I expected, I take a deep breath, and get back with the program. I let go. I step back. I redirect.

Here’s the thing- I didn’t get clean so that I could just get by. In my heart of hearts, I have always believed I could have this big, beautiful, amazing life. I won’t settle for a life of struggle and mediocre happiness. That’s not what I am after. And I didn’t get clean so that I could find a whole new set of reasons to be unhappy and dissatisfied with myself. I want to love myself and love my life, and love all the people in it properly. But in all those years that I was using, I created a carefully crafted persona- someone sarcastic, tough, invulnerable and sharp, and that is my default now. I am having to learn how to disassemble this person I spent years and years putting together. It won’t happen overnight, but I know that is not who I want to be.

So every morning, I make up my mind that there is a lot to be excited about today. I think about how grateful I am for the life I have, and I imagine myself just being happy. I imagine it so well that I start to feel excited and happy and as if it is going to be a really good day. This may sound incredibly dumb, but it works! And throughout the day, when I feel my attitude slipping, I try to pull it right back to where I want it to be. It doesn’t work 100% of the time, but it works a whole lot better than when I don’t try at all.

A long, long time ago, when I was still very messed up, I remember driving down a street in Fresno when the thought popped into my head “Attitude is everything”. I remember it because it was such a weird thing for me to be thinking at that particular time, as I was in quite a state. I don’t remember what the thought was even in response to, I think it literally just randomly appeared in my head. But I believe that to be true with all of my heart- Attitude really is everything. I happen to know two different people that have recently gone through the exact same loss of a limb. Their attitudes about that loss could not be more different. One of them is thriving and full of gratitude about being alive, and the other has basically given up. It’s the exact same thing, two different attitudes. Our perspective on our own lives has everything to do with how our lives function. Everything.

So today, I have a plan of action for my own attitude. Love my life. Love the people in my life. Be grateful for everything. Love myself, everything about me. Do not think ugly thoughts, do not say ugly things. Find the blessing in every situation. Take a nap or eat a snack if any of the above gets too hard. Take a deep breath. Start over. Hug someone. Smile at everyone. Pet my cat, hug my dog, do the dishes, take a walk…whatever I need to do to keep the good energy flowing, that is my goal. And beyond that, be okay with whatever else happens. If I can’t be okay with it, let that thing go. I think there is always a way to have peace in our lives, if we have peace in our hearts, right?

And THAT is my recipe for radical change…a whole bunch of little things that add up to me being exactly who I want to be. I’ll let you know how it goes.

Posted in Addiction, faith, inner peace, Life, Musings, People, random, recovery

Strength

strength

I have always thought of myself as someone who is strong- not physically strong, although I’m no slouch in that area, either (being a single mother for most of your life will help you develop muscles, trust me) but resilient, tough, capable, able to lift myself out of difficult times and situations.

Yeah, but… I’m just sitting here this morning thinking- if I created all of the difficult times and situations in my life, does that really count as being strong? I mean sure, I eventually got myself out of them, time after time after time, but…what does that say about my character, that I created so much drama and strife and upheaval? Don’t get me wrong, I’m proud of myself for never giving up, for always trying to fix whatever I had broken. And I realize that I had issues that had issues, that with all the shit I was hauling around inside of me, there was no way I could have been any other way than I was until I got help. Still…

I view strength very differently now. It is no longer necessary for me to aggressively assert my “strength” by acting out or being demanding or dominating the conversation (although I do still get carried away when I am talking sometimes). I have kids, so I still raise my voice a little more often than I would like, but I don’t feel the need to when I am speaking to another adult. As a matter of fact, when my temper gets away from me these days, I feel the opposite of strong- it makes me feel diminished and weak. Funny how we change over time, isn’t it?

You know what I see as my strengths now? My ability to keep showing up, even when I am so tired of it all that I want to throw the towel in. Strength is knowing that I am just having a moment, and it’s going to pass.  Strength is taking a deep breath or five before I speak, because I know I am too angry to be reasonable. My greatest strength lies in my consistency, and I am reaping the rewards every day because my life, finally, is not an uphill battle. The decisions I make now are generally made more with the future in mind, rather than for instant gratification. And because I have made a lot more good choices lately than poor ones, I have the added and unexpected bonus of being able to trust myself. I can’t think of anything more bad-ass than feeling confident in your own capabilities. It feels really, really good.

Two years and 341 days ago, I was a very different person. I knew I was a mess, but thankfully I didn’t know how much of a mess I was. It would have been overwhelming, and I don’t think I would have been willing to face all of it. But in a perfectly timed fashion, each new layer of bullshit was revealed to me just as I was ready to see it. I am not done yet, but I am much, much better off than where I started. The strength to stay in recovery, to keep going even when I really just wanted one fucking little…whatever was available to just make me RELAX already…that has to be the single most important show of strength that I have ever displayed. Without that, none of these other revelations would have even been possible. This entire journey has been fueled by my recovery, and that is the truth.

Three years. Not even three yet, almost three. In almost three years, my life has been completely changed for the better. Do you know how fast three years goes by when you are still getting loaded? In like five minutes, no kidding. So anyway, if you are new to all of this, and you aren’t seeing the results you want, I encourage you to hang on. To really devote yourself to the process of self discovery and healing, and just keep going. The day will come when you are so much more than you ever even dreamed you could be, and it will all have been worth it. Stick around for long enough to see your definition of what strength is be totally, irreversibly changed. It’s a pretty amazing thing.

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

Consider the Source

opinions

I’m sorry for flooding your feed with my posts this week- it has never, ever been my goal to write daily, but I guess I’ve just had a lot to say lately. Anyway, this will be another short one (I think).

Riding on the tails of my post yesterday, which you can view here , I have another little tidbit to share in that same area, sort of. Listen, people are going to have opinions about your life- be it the way you choose to live, the company you keep, the fact that you are vegan and it’s so hard to find a place to eat out with you…I mean, you name it, people have an opinion about it. (for the record, I am NOT vegan, I was just using that as a popular example that people have so. many. opinions. about.) They might even have an opinion about the things you write about on your blog, and your experiences, from your own life. Heck, it’s a possibility that they may take time out of their busy day to write a scathing and grammatically horrific response to your blog which, obviously, you know…that would be dumb. But it could happen.

Anyway, if that should ever happen to you- if you find yourself in any situation where someone is putting forth their very best effort to make you feel like shit about your honest feelings, your true observations, or just ANYTHING about you…I urge you to Consider The Source. This is something my mom and her best friend used to say to each other when I was young, and it stuck in my mind…who is the person saying what they are saying, and what is their motivation, and most importantly of all, do you give a single fuck what this person has to say?

If the person voicing their opinion is your best friend ever, and they are motivated by love that is coming out as anger, and you give several fucks about their opinion, then yes, by all means, come back to it when everyone has calmed down.

If the person is someone who is of little to no consequence in your life, has no motivation besides an excess of time or selfishness, and you give minus three fucks about what they think about you, then ding-ding-ding! Source identified! It’s someone who doesn’t matter.

I am not someone who has a lot of friction in my life with many people- most of the time, it’s the same few people, over and over: My ex, my daughter, my mom, occasionally. That’s about it. Lately, though, I’ve had some issues with a handful of people, and it isn’t pleasant. But you know what? I am okay. Most of the people in question are from a previous life, and I truly believe that when we hang onto things we need to let go of, the Universe will intervene on our behalf. I think this is just my destiny, urging me to move on and leave what is over behind me.

I am at peace with my decisions- I need only look around me to know that they are sound, that my life is working quite well. I am actually pretty grateful for the problems I have had with other people recently because it made me take stock of my life, and I have found it to be in better shape than I realized. So I’m just going to keep doing what I am doing.

In the meantime, remember: Consider the source, and, as my friend so succinctly reminded me last night- other people’s opinions of you are none of your business.

shhh