I was running yesterday — yes, running, more on that in a moment — tossing around ideas for what to write. Where to start after the past few weeks? Life has served up extreme ends of the spectrum this year – so happy, so so very sad – it’s hard to talk about one without slighting the other. (For a recap of this year’s rollercoaster, listen to the intro on last week’s Bubble Hour. Then, of course, listen to the rest of the interview after because Meaghan’s story was captivating.)
We are spending the week at our family’s lake cottage on Lac La Biche, situated in the edge of Alberta’s Boreal Forest. Sometimes there are 18 or more of us here and it’s a blur of beach towels and corn cobs and trying to remember which phone charger or coffee cup is mine.
This week, however, there’s only three of us and the focus is on puttering – clearing, burning, building, cleaning – and relaxing in equal measure.
I take long walks every day, something I’ve done since first coming here in the 80s as a teen (gah!). On a recent walk, I reflected on how grateful I am to have healed so quickly and completely from my broken leg and got the idea to try running a few paces. I was dressed in jeans and flats, so I didn’t want to appear to actually be out for a run — not that there was a soul around to see me anyway. But oh my gosh!! I ran and it worked and it didn’t hurt so I just kept running. And the next day I dressed more appropriately and alternated between 100 steps running/walking. No pain! No swelling!
I was so excited that I didn’t turn around at the usual spot, I kept going until our little side road joined the highway and then without thinking I stepped onto the skinny shoulder of the busy logging/oil route. Every minute or two a rig would rumble past but I didn’t care. I felt reckless and free and powerful. I could run! (And then walk, and run, and walk, and RUN!).
When I got back to the cabin, I burst through the door with sweaty jubilation, eager to share my achievement with anyone who’d listen. When it came out that my route had taken me onto the highway, my family was understandably horrified.
“That is so dangerous – don’t do that again!”
So yesterday I set off for another run, mostly motivated by the fact that I’d forgotten to pack milk and had been substituting whipping cream in my coffee since arriving. The events of this year have contributed so a 15 lb weight gain as it is, and something should be done. Clearly that something does not involve black coffee, so running it is.
I found myself on the route towards the highway, debating whether to turn back at the stop sign or (secretly) run the forbidden loop. Sure, I had promised I wouldn’t, but there it was.
As the red sign got closer and closer, and my mind bounced from blogging ideas to sneaking onto the highway like a naughty child, I suddenly felt an accountability to YOU, dear reader, to “do the next right thing” – just as I’m always telling others to do, even though this time it had nothing to do with alcohol.
Or did it?
Who do I hurt when I indulge the part of me that says it’s okay to do something risky as long as I keep it quiet? Who do I slight when I think “no one knows”? Myself, that’s who. If I know, someone knows. Secret behaviours can be just as dangerous as running on the highway.
I decided to capture this moment of awareness to post here, to show you that you’re with me, to remind us all to just keep going and do the next right thing.
Tom Cochran was right: the secret IS to know when to stop – be it drinking or withholding truth or putting heavy cream in coffee or not writing.
Remember six months ago when I broke my leg skiing? Today I walked 25km – the most difficult portion of our week-long walking tour through England’s Cotswolds. Hills, muddy trails, fields of sheep, steps, I did it all. I’m so grateful to be healed and strong again.
Remember six years ago when I quit drinking and thought vacations would be a drag? We have been smiling and laughing this whole trip.
Remember six hours ago when my flat iron refuse to work on a converter? Welp, that’s not even bothering me. Look at this picture, wonky hair, no make up, sweaty and full of JOY!!
If you’re struggling today, keep going. Do the next right thing, and then the next, and then do it some more. Things will get better. I promise.
PS – We were overtaken by no less than 5 elderly couples today. I’m talking, WHOOSH! Brits are serious walkers, they don’t mess around. As I watched yet another pair of silver heads bob past us and into the distance, I remembered “COMPARISON IS THE THEIF OF JOY” and giggled.
Oh my goodness, July was a whirlwind of boxes, garbage bags, take out meals, and car rides!
We went to our niece’s wedding in Vegas, moved into a rental after selling our house with a lightening-quick possession, continued building our new home, and welcomed a new grandson into the world. On top of that, my parents just moved into assisted living so my sisters and I are tasked with helping to empty their old home of everything from sewing patterns to office files to endless doilies to memories.
I am not going to lie, there were many moments that I felt overwhelmed and weary. There were some quiet tears in my car and the bathroom stall at WalMart. Not sad tears, just exhausted ones. As if the thoughts I was too busy to think found a way out of my brain through my tear-ducts. I cried sorting the shoes and purses in my mom’s closet, oh dear Lord I am suddenly crying AGAIN NOW remembering it.
Sidebar: I have just had the realization that my mother’s closet holds such emotion for me because I used to hide there as a little girl and fantasize about the woman I might grow up to be as I touched each scarf, bead and fringe. I felt so close to the childhood version of myself this month as I returned to that place – a different closet with decades-different shoes but the same smell of roses and soap. We women define ourselves through our mothers, whether by contrast or copy. My tears that day were because I saw how I drove myself in so many ways to be the woman I wished my mother was – one that’s more assertive and domineering – and to be the mother I wish I’d had (more protective and informed). I became overwhelmingly aware that by forever trying to better her I have failed to fully appreciate her for who she is, and this will need to be a new focus of direction in the years ahead.
Emotions and self-reflection continue to be one of the harder parts of life after alcohol for me – no numbing or checking out. I didn’t exactly feel triggered, but I had that heightened awareness: “It would be nice to not feel this right now.” I did yoga, ate things I shouldn’t, cleaned things that didn’t need cleaning, and walked the dog. Best of all, I’d visit our kids and grandkids and just soak their sweet presence into my soul. (I have grandkids! Plural! What else could even matter in this world?)
The first time I heard the acronym ‘H.A.L.T.” I cringed – I hate to see complex things reduced to mere acronyms – but there is so much truth to the notion that Hungry, Angry, Lonely, and Tired are four of the biggest triggers. I have spent most of the past month perpetually feeling all four simultaneously. Ironically, when I feel uncomfortable I’d rather work harder than take the break that I actually need. My go-to numbing is frenzy. Whirling dervish. I feel safe when I’m in constant motion, no one can hit me with a dart of criticism – even now that I *know better* I still subconsciously hustle to avoid some imagined critic.
Here are the good things that happened this month:
1 – Recording Bubble Hour interviews has been a balm to my soul. An hour once a week to get lost in someone else’s story and connect and share.
2 – Visitors – This is crazy! One of the kind strangers who encouraged me via Twitter when I first got sober emailed (5 years later) to say his family would be vacationing in this area and that we should meet up. Oklahoma and Alberta are 1600 miles apart – I never imagined we would ever meet in person. I had the pleasure of thanking this kind man and meeting his family and sharing lunch and looking into the eyes of someone who literally cheered me through those first few scary days. What a gift.
3 – Enjoying new spaces. Here is my new (temporary) home office, where I am writing this right now:
4 – My new neighbourhood, where I walk my dog 3x a day:
Gratitude is getting me through and helping to turn a rough month into a good month, and keeping me on the sober path along the way.
Recovery looks like two friends having coffee in the sunshine.
Here I am with Anne (ainsobriety.wordpress.com) as we hung out on my front steps after recording an episode of The Bubble Hour for y’all to enjoy.
My work as a designer and home builder requires me to spend a great deal of time in my head, translating lines on a blue print into visions of colour and space. I am always working months into the future, which means I hover over the “date” section when filling any given form because I must pause to consider which month it is presently – I live that far into the future.
Designers don’t just walk into a shop and order tile, cabinets, finishes and fixtures on the basis of simply coordinating colours; we have project all the selections into a mental image that moves from room to room conceptualizing corners, ceilings, logistics, building code and finally, visual appeal.
My hyperactive imagination serves me well in my work; to me a floorplan is just as interesting as a novel. It is a thrilling experience to walk through a home we have built, seeing my thoughts come to life. I did that, I made that happen. I dreamed it and made it real.
Yet the same gifts that allow me to be creative have also caused me a lot of grief, since for much of my life I just observed my thoughts without applying any discipline to them. I was along for the ride to wherever my imagination took me, believing it was beyond my control. I so enjoyed the good things that my thoughts produced – music, stories, homes, crafts, thoughtfulness and insight – that I was willing to to tolerate the inherent negatives: dread, anxiety, fear, worry.
I can imagine criticism, shame, disaster, pain and harm with the same ease and clarity as a sunroom with shiplap walls and oversized lanterns. I believe that a big part of alcohol’s appeal to me was the quieting of my mind, the numbing of unwanted images and noise.
Once I stopped drinking, a new self-awareness began to emerge that invited me to take a more empowered approach with my thoughts. I could control them, pull apart the jumble to assess for validity or benefit. Imagination and anxiety both require a willingness to plunge into the unknown and look for shapes in the darkness. Recovery, for me, has largely involved identifying when I’m spinning out in anxious thoughts and experiencing emotions based on what *could* happen rather than what is *actually* happening.
Maybe for you the line that gives you trouble is something different. Maybe you struggle with the line between friendly vs flirtatious, or entertaining vs attention-seeking, or introverted vs isolated. The idea is to examine our tendencies and keep what serves us well, knowing that left unchecked our gifts can naturally slip into variations of harmful forms.
It’s easy to justify our character flaws when they masquerade as positive traits, and it takes courage to call ourselves on crossing the line. I used to think my thoughts weren’t hurting anyone, yet they have a funny way of creeping into tone and action, which over time becomes habit and character. If my thoughts made me anxious, and being anxious made me snappy, and being snappy made me defensive, and being defensive made me withdraw, well…I guess I was hurting those around me on a regular basis – so regular it maybe seemed normal. No wonder normal hurt.
I love that I am now free to challenge my own thinking in ways I never considered before. I love the simplicity of asking myself, “Is that true?” when a negative idea takes hold.
I’m so stressed out right now. (Is that true?)
These people are judging me. (Is that true?)
Everything needs to be perfect. (Is that true?)
I work harder than others. (Is that true?)
Hey! I have to work harder than others (not true), to make things perfect (not necessary), so that when others judge me (if they do, but they probably don’t) they won’t find things to criticize (not necessarily true), so I am stressed out (by choice).
I wouldn’t trade my creativity for the world, so I have to learn to manage the anxiety it can produce. This is recovery, folks. This is what’s it’s all about. These changes of thought are just as important to staying sober and not drinking.
What are your gifts and what are their flipsides? What has sobriety and recovery taught you about being present and aware? What answers do you find when you ask, “Is that true?”
I had lunch with 3 beautiful sober ladies yesterday, new friends whom I met through this blog and the “Booze Free Brigade”. What an incredible joy it is to connect with others who understand the journey. I never imagined I would laugh easily for hours with people I’d only just met, and I certainly never thought my recovery peers would be so very much like me.
I also never guessed that I would still be blogging after three years, still be working to change my life, or still be a work in progress. In all honesty, I thought I would be “done” quitting: recovered, emphasis on the “–ed”.
For the most part, I have nailed the “not drinking” part of this deal. My fridge has a selection of non-alcoholic choices I enjoy, and I breeze through most social situations. I order with confidence in restaurants, decline gracefully when offered booze, and generally speaking living alcohol-free is now second nature to me.
I think something clicked partway through the second year; likely the cumulative effect of repeated experiences. Trial and error of what to say, how to act, situations to either embrace and avoid have all added up to a high level of comfort with my new alcohol-free life.
Two of my new friends at lunch yesterday are in their first year of recovery, and to me they seem yonks ahead of where I was at that stage. Ah but we all know better than to compare out insides with someone else’s outsides, right?
The “insides” are the focus of my efforts now. Once we tame the behaviour of drinking we turn our attention to understanding the reasons it was ever necessary. It’s not that hard to see, not that difficult to understand, how things can go sideways. The tricky bit is learning new ways to act and react so that life doesn’t become so painful that we require constant numbing.
This is much more difficult that it might sound. I can intellectualize that I am overly critical on myself; I can understand the root causes of the criticism and identify the patterns of behaviours involved. The real challenge for me is to do things differently moving forward.
It’s not as if I can just say, “I am going to stop being so hard on myself” and BOOM, be gentle. It takes an effort towards awareness.
For instance, last week as I was cleaning my house I could feel my agitation and anxiety rising. The usually euphoric scrub of a toilet was done with resentment; my normally light step was hurried and panic-driven.
In the past, I would have allowed myself to feel righteous anger at everyone else for dirtying the house. This time, however, I was able to realize I was being motivated by a fear of criticism. I was preparing to host a gathering and one of the guests in particular worried me. I was anticipating her critical eye and imagining words she might say if she saw a dusty baseboard or spotted fixture. I was expecting cruelty, bracing for it, resenting it, and allowing myself to feel badly.
On the surface, I was being bitchy about cleaning the house and I was working myself up into a lather. As one of the women said at lunch yesterday, “I just thought that was normal, I thought how I acted was just me. Now I realize I can do something about all that.”
You see, if we just quit drinking and make no other changes, we are stuck with all those old ways of interpreting, internalizing and acting out. This is sometimes called being a “dry drunk”.
If we are going to go to all of the effort of getting and staying sober, we might as well muck through a bit more and change things so that we don’t just end up miserable from some other broken crutch (shopping, gambling, sex, food, and so on).
So while drinking is a long way in the rear-view mirror, I am working on all the other “stuff”, specifically:
I once would have DIED before admitting I suffered from the A-word. That was for weak people.
Oh that shaking? That’s just nerves. Sweating? I am excited. Chest pains? Yes, I have a really stressful life but look at me handling it! Look at me, look at me – look at all the amazing things I can do while I shake, sweat and ignore the pains in my chest!
Now I can call it what it is: AN-fricking-XI-E-TY and I am learning better ways to identify and handle it.
I have had (and hidden) a form of OCD called “dermatillomania” since my early adolescence. It is gross and embarrassing and apparently rather COMMON among those susceptible to addiction.
Please read more about it here: http://www.thefix.com/content/pick-me-baby-one-more-time .
I use behaviour modification and relaxation techniques to deal with it and have had great success.
Many readers may identify with this problem. If this describes you, please understand that the condition has a name, there is help available and, as always, you are not alone. Email me at email@example.com if you want to chat about it and are uncomfortable commenting publically.
At different times in my life I have fallen into disordered eating patterns – I think that is the right language these days. This partly stems from perfectionism or fear of criticism, and mostly from a desire to exercise control at times when life has felt unmanageable. I have cycled between binge/purge, starvation, and obsessive exercising – all behaviours I expect to leave in my past.
What is the difference between being a high-achiever and an over-achiever? In my experience, it is that an over-achiever is never satisfied because we are driven by shame and fear. I just never felt good enough and thought I needed to do more than everyone else to be worthy of the same level of acceptance.
Anxiety, OCD, disordered eating behaviours, and an insatiable need for success were just other presentations of the same old problems. I had accepted them as normal, as me. I never expected them to change because I never knew they were the outcomes of my own misguided efforts to comfort my old wounds.
So when I talk about recovery, I am talking about getting back to the root of our problems – drinking, yes, as well as other things you and I no longer have to accept as “just us”.
We can do better for ourselves, and just knowing that brings a world of relief.
This is where I am at after 3 years, 3 months, and 10 days of living alcohol-free.
Emphasis on the FREE!
If there is one question I am most asked about living alcohol-free, it is “How did you know it was time to quit drinking?”
Only occasionally is this question asked with dancing eyes that reveal a quest for titillation: I want to hear every detail of rock bottom. If I sense that is the motive, I generally let them down easy: I was the most boring alcoholic ever – I have no stories of catastrophe. I just knew I was losing control and needed to take charge.
More often it is asked with genuine interest, either because someone would like to know me better or is trying to understand addiction better for personal reasons. Sincere questions deserve honest answers.
I have been reading about the “transtheoretical model of behaviour change” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Transtheoretical_model) and I can easily see how it correlates to my journey. In short, it identifies various stages of decision-making and behaviour changes as such:
- Precontemplation (not ready) – in my case, using wine as a daily antidote for stress and anxiety; enjoying the relief it brought; feeling very comfortable with my routine and experiencing no negative thoughts or consequences.
- Contemplation (getting ready) – I began to feel an acknowledgement and growing discomfort with the reality of my habits. I started to pay attention to the red flags (see below). I began watching Celebrity Rehab with intense focus (while drinking).
- Preparation (ready) – I got up the courage to assess my drinking patterns online (I used http://rethinkingdrinking.niaaa.nih.gov) and received confirmation that I needed to make changes. I started trying to quit and failed each day. I took no steps to make myself accountable and did not reach out for help, but these initial unsuccessful efforts confirmed my worst fears. Not only could I not quit, but also not moderate or reduce. Throughout this stage, my intake instead steadily escalated and I began to realize where this was headed.
- Action (initiating change) – for me, this was speaking honestly to a friend, starting this blog, and reaching out to the online community for help and support. I threw myself into the task at hand and little by little made it through each difficult day.
- Maintenance (supporting the change) – I guess this is where I am at now – you could call this ongoing recovery. This is a great place to be and many recovery advocates say the goal should be to engage in this phase forever.
- Termination (completion of change) – remembering that the transtheoretical model of behaviour change is not about recovery specifically, there comes an end point where the change is complete and the new behaviours are effortless and normal. There are different schools of thought in the recovery community as to whether or not one can ever end the process. Some pathways teach that if you stop going to meetings and working their program you’ll either start drinking again or fall into the miserable life of a “dry drunk”. Some pathways encourage striving for a point of supported closure on the change – which does not mean it is possible to start drinking again normally but rather that you can go forward as a “non-drinker” and be done with it. I don’t take a position on this – at this point it doesn’t matter to me because I have a lot of work still to do and see myself in the maintenance phase for many years to come.
So what were those red flags for me? It wasn’t any one single “big” thing that led me to change; it was the accumulation of little things. Here are some I recall:
- Unable to stop drinking daily
- Unable to reduce or limit amount
- Drinking alone
- Shame about bottles in recycling bin
- Hiding extra alcohol in cupboard
- Continual concern about having enough alcohol on hand
- Obsessive awareness of alcohol at every event – planning when and how to get in the “right” amount to get through the evening while still managing to drive sober to and from events, and appear “normal” to the outside world
- Becoming very agitated when unplanned changes disrupted my pattern – specifically I recall a friend dropping by and my husband poured her a glass of wine. I began to panic knowing that it meant there would not be enough to get me through the evening. I secretly drank shots of scotch before bed to compensate. I felt guilty about resenting my friend for visiting unannounced.
- Spending the last hour of work each day deciding if I would stick to my plan of quitting drinking or stop at a liquor store on the way home, all the while knowing I would certainly pick up more wine.
- Rotating stores because I was embarrassed of buying wine every day, but never buying more too much at once because I was planning to quit “tomorrow”.
- Finding out that my drinking habits fell into the “high risk” and “heavy drinking” categories. I knew my drinking was only increasing, never declining, and I was running out of categories. Next stop: rock bottom. No thanks.
Now what about you, readers? Do you recognize yourself in the stages of behaviour changes? What were your red flags, and was it many little things or one big incident that initiated your decision to live alcohol-free?
The first time I sat down at my computer and searched for information about addiction and recovery, I felt like the only person in the world to ever ask “how do I quit drinking?” Now I am reminded regularly that many people around the world do exactly that every day.
WordPress kindly provides a stats page to show the number of visits a blogger’s page receives, as well as the countries that viewers originate from, and some of the search terms that lead visitors to the page.
Please don’t panic – I have no way to see who you are or where you are live or what other pages you’ve looked at. Your privacy is not comprised. It is simply a snapshot of traffic on my blog – how many clicks on each blog post, and so on. There are hundreds of visits every day from origins around the globe totaling more than 100,000 and growing rapidly. If my little squeak of a blog reaches that many people, imagine the millions of seekers across all the other recovery blogs and websites out there. Ordinary folks just like you and me.
The most common search terms leading to UnPickled include “quit drinking”, “sober blogs for women”, and “sobriety blogs”. Many search “unpickled” and I’m guessing those are repeat visitors or possibly canning enthusiasts. Some searches give me a lump in my throat, such as “please god help me quit drinking” and “quit drinking and be a better mom”.
Every now and then the list of searches includes “who is the author of unpickled” and I hold my breath. Is someone onto me? If so, I pray it’s a kindred spirit like my clever friend in Busted and not one of my husband’s old girlfriends or someone I’ve had to fire at work.
I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the pros and cons of stepping out from the shadows and taking ownership of my identity as UnPickled.
PRO: Help break down the stigma of addiction by showing that I am a real, every day person.
CON: Once it’s out there I can’t take it back and there could be backlash.
PRO: Allow myself to feel proud of my strength in recovery and tell Mr. Shame to take a flying leap.
CON: I am still embarrassed that I was ever addicted.
PRO: Encourage others to open up and get help.
CON: Risk gossip in my community.
Okay now wait a minute – encourage and help others vs. risk gossip? Is there any question that helping others outweighs mild scandal by a long shot?
You see, it’s not a worry if the readers of UnPickled discover my identity as the author. I would love to share more of who I am with you, because even though I own a business you’ve never heard of and live in a city you likely couldn’t find on a map , I know we have a lot in common, you and me. We’ve shared our most private stories, and by doing so realized that all of us struggle and triumph in similar ways.
The hard part is knowing that if I reveal myself, the people of my community will eventually catch wind of this blog and come seeking juicy bits of water cooler chat.
“And then what might happen?” asks the Dr. Drew of my imaginary therapy sessions.
Then they’d laugh about me.
“And then what…?” he presses on, kindly.
They’d know my private stories.
And think I am weak.
“Or possibly they’d see that you are stronger than they ever knew. And more honest.”
To the readers of this blog who came looking for fellowship on their journey to recovery:
You will now see my picture on the About UnPickled page. I am scared shitless, but I believe you will see yourself in me. I am just one of many faces of recovery, and if you ever recognize me in an airport or maybe even in my own hometown I hope you’ll say hello, tell me how we’re connected, and give me a hug. We’re in this together.
To the readers of this blog who are here for pure interest because they know who I am:
Please tread lightly through these woods. Please read the hundreds and hundreds of comments from people around the world and respect that my story is their story. Resist the urge to be entertained and instead let yourself be moved. Something beautiful has been happening here. Maybe it’s time you knew.
My name is Jean, and I am UnPickled.
Before I quit drinking, I worried what people would think if they knew how much wine I was *actually* sipping each night. You’d think that recovery would have brought instant relief from those concerns, but ironically I was just as embarrassed of not drinking at all.
Emphasis on the “was”.
Well into my second year of sobriety, I have begun to feel more open about this part of my identity. The words “No thanks, I don’t drink. I brought my own” just rolled off my tongue at a party one night.
Suddenly at restaurants I could look the server in eye and smile sweetly while saying, “I’ll have an O’Douls, please – the green label if you have it. And could you please bring me a nice big wine glass for that?”
What a huge relief it is to be able to just spit out the words now. I haven’t tattooed “Alcoholic in Recovery” on my forehead, but when asked why I’m not drinking I feel absolutely comfortable saying, “My nice nightly glass of wine quietly grew into an addiction and I had to quit altogether.”
Most people are fine with that and some will ask, “Does it bother you that we are drinking around you?” “Not at all,” I’ll say truthfully, “but what I do find is that I sometimes need to leave earlier that I used to so don’t be offended if I slip off, okay?”
What can be hard is that sometimes it’s the people closest to us that seem the most awkward. It can be really annoying when the people you most expected to count on ask you if you’re ever going to be able to drink again. You’ll notice I mention this particular line of questioning in a few different blog posts, so obviously it gets to me. I’ve thought about it a lot and here’s what I have come to understand:
It’s possible for people who love you to want you to start drinking again because they want you to be “fixed” and for your “problem to be over”. They have the misguided idea that you’ll be “cured” and return to your “normal” self, the old you they used to know.
It took me a long time to accept that I would never be able to drink again. For a long time I stayed open to the possibility that I might be able to return to moderate drinking. Some can, I get that. I’ve learned though, that it won’t be me. I confess that when my eyes fall upon a chilled bottle of white wine across a crowded room, for the briefest of moments it’s just the two of us and I want to grab it and run. I recently heard Anna David (afterpartychatter.com) say on the Dr. Drew podcast that the disease of addiction “does pushups” while you are in recovery and if you let it back in it will be even stronger that before.
This is not an easy idea to understand, and an even harder reality to accept for oneself. If it takes those of us in recovery forever to sink out teeth into these concepts, surely it will take our friends and family even longer. After all, they’re not living and breathing the changes of heart, body, and brain required in recovery. They’re not reading every bit of sobriety lit they can get their hands on, listening to The Bubble Hour constantly, or watching what every single person at a party pours in their glass like we are.
Sure, there will always be a-holes out there who make us feel like party poopers for staying true to our recovery. But some people, some, are just trying to catch up to us on this new path of ours and we need to be as patient with them as they are with us.
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?