Monthly Archives: June 2013
Although my life has had its share of adventures, I have lived in the same community for most of my 46 years. It’s a mixed bag of blessings and burdens – sometimes a strange time warp descends over every moment. Here’s where I got my first kiss. That’s where I used to catch the school bus. Here’s the path I used to walk my kids to baseball practice in the park. My friend’s dad yelled at me here when I was 8, accusing me (wrongly) of bullying. I puked by that picnic shelter in junior high after drinking home-made chokecherry wine at a friend’s sleepover. There’s another friend’s house – we used to suntan on the roof of her garage (before we got boobs. After that her mom made us stay in the back yard). Oh and right here a handful of teal pompoms blew off my dad’s car while we were driving to the church for my wedding.
I took up running a few years ago. While exercise clears the mind, it requires effort to not be distracted by the memories all around and the emotions associated with them. It’s an effort to relax, so to speak.
Whether I am writing a song, thinking about a blog post, or sorting out a problem in my head my thought process works the same way. All of the ideas, images, feeling, insights, and such mix together; swirling around in my mind like a cross between a tornado and a cauldron of soup. It all has to mix together for a long time (as verified by the sometimes lengthy gaps between my blog posts). Running can speed up the process if I allow myself to focus on the simmering tornado pot. So can long a car ride (alone), kayaking, and sitting on a beach.
After an indeterminate amount of time, something miraculous happens. The centrifuge slows down and out of the bottom of this funneling mess emerges a crystal clear drop of truth.
And there it is – the answer, the understanding I’ve been working on and waiting for is suddenly there. Perfect and real. A thought fully formed that seems to appear out of nowhere but which in truth has been in production for quite some time.
What’s been bubbling in the “pot of recovery” lately is the realization that so much of what morphed into alcohol addiction in my adult years started in my childhood. When exactly did I start to think I needed to be perfect to be loveable? And when did I start hating being a kid and begin acting 28 instead of 12? My parents were loving and stable – did that make me feel safer to take risks? Thoughts like these all bubbling and swirling around as I continue down the path of recovery.
Yesterday, I was running through the park where I played as a kid, puked as a teenager, pushed a stroller as a young mom, and now where I work out my middle-aged ass on a regular basis. I was listening to Ellie, Lisa and Amanda chat on The Bubble Hour podcast in my earbuds when suddenly PLOP!
A drop of truth fell out of the sky and stopped me in my tracks. I was right under a grove of trees.
I pulled out my headphones and took a sharp breath.
These trees are the size of my recovery.
You see, I was there the day these trees were planted. I lived up the street and I remember the day this park opened to the public. I was nine and my friends and I were so excited to have a park with paths, trees, and even a lake with footbridges to explore.
These trees were nothing but little sticks back then.
What stopped me was this – I was still innocent when these trees were planted.
Later that summer, something happened that became one of the many seeds of my addiction: I was molested on several occasions by another kid. It wasn’t a violent experience or even particularly horrible, to be honest. But I catalogued it as something that made me bad, and now I can see how I started to change afterwards.
See these trees? They’ve been growing since that summer. They are the size of all I seek to overcome; they are the size of my recovery.
So there I was yesterday – sweating from my run, sobbing from this realization, and marveling at the physical presence of my addiction all cool and shady in the morning sun.
These trees are big. No wonder it takes so long to heal. No wonder it sometimes feels overwhelming.
Should I burn them down? Kick at them? Chop them down?
Do I climb up them or sit down under them?
I walk among them, passing through. They can’t move, but I can go wherever I choose.
On my way through the grove, I spot something else. A slender stalk emerging from a trunk – a new beginning.
Life goes on.
After more than two years of life without wine, my mind is less focused on constantly monitoring what’s in my glass and instead I notice how I react to various situations and why.
When things are ticking along and all is well, I am a happy girl. Give me a clean house, sunshine, a manageable schedule and a great pair of shoes, and I am my cheerful bubby self.
However it doesn’t take much to knock me off course. I am easily hurt or quickly rattled, and although I press on it isn’t easy.
“You kids pipe down,” my grandmother used to bark at my cousins and me. “My nerves are bad today.”
I never understood what the heck she was talking about – she was just sitting there crocheting, how stressed could she really be? But we all knew it meant stay out of her way or you’d end up getting scolded harshly for some minor offense.
Now, as I am getting upset because my day isn’t going as planned or because people are letting me down, I understand how she must have felt.
Anxiety is woven through so much of my being that I have mistaken it for a personality trait. It fuels my perfectionism (fear of criticism). It feeds my drive (fear of failure). Sadly, at times Anxiety parented my kids, ran my business, pushed me on stage, and even decorated my Christmas tree.
As time went on and I relied more and more on wine to slow me down, I hit some kind of equilibrium between the tension and release – but that was only temporary equilibrium. Soon it was wobbling and the thing that was supposed to ease my anxiety was adding to it.
Now, without my old buddy alcohol, I’ve simply had to learn better ways to deal with anxiety.
It starts with calling myself out. “I am feeling anxious right now because (insert minor crisis here).”
(Here are some of the most recent ones: dog barf on sofa; bangs that are wayyy too short; the guinea pigs my son brought home from college for the summer; same son announcing he is not going back to college in the fall.)
Truth be told, I am one wound up chick and I get shit done. Getting shit done is important, but so is not killing yourself with a wacked out sense of balance. Staying sober is about finding new ways of self-care, and taking off a little pressure so that the need for comfort is not a constant demand.
Recently I stumbled on a Psychology Today article that completely captured what happens in my head. “The Problem With Perfection” by Mel Schwartz explores the motivation behind perfectionism – namely, fear of criticism. This article NAILED me, once again blowing my theory that I am SOOOOO unique and special. Turns out, I am just a normal, predictable human who got herself into a normal, predictable pattern of addiction by living out the normal, predictable outcome of certain childhood experiences.
Here is the excellent article – go and have a read but please come back and share your thoughts on the subject: http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/shift-mind/201105/the-problem-perfection
And here are some of the things I do to shift gears when I feel my anxiety rising:
- Sudoku – the really hard ones that require serious concentration
- “3,2,1” – focus on 3 different sights; then listen and identify 2 sounds; and then feel 1 sensation (right now: 3 sights – the flowers outside the window, my dog’s cute little brown nose, the grain of the wood floor… 2 sounds – the hum of my laptop, the tv announcer being very excited….1 sensation – my own cold toes against my leg)
- Get outside and move – the sky is big and my problems are relatively small
- Fill an online shopping cart with ridiculous choices and then DO NOT BUY ANY OF IT!
- Brush my teeth. And floss.
- Grab my guitar and try to learn a new song
- Pull up a TED Talk and learn something new
Essentially, engage the body and/or brain in something that is either consuming or pleasantly distracting. Get out of the moment until the feeling subsides, and once the emotion passes take some time to assess things objectively. This is my strategy. What’s working for you?