Holidays · Mental Illness · Self-Care

My First Sober Vacation

beach

Guess who is going on her first sober vacation tomorrow? THIS GIRL!

Four other lovely ladies and myself will be heading to the beach a few hours away for a 3 day get away and I’m super excited. Let me be clear though – it wasn’t always this way.

When we first began to plan the trip a few months ago, I was very early into my recovery. The thought of going to the beach with some friends and NOT drinking gave me major anxiety. Apparently, the thought of going to the beach and my drinking gave some other people anxiety too.  Another friend decided not to join us thinking it would be a crazy, wild weekend courtesy of yours truly and she didn’t want any part of that because she had witnessed it enough times before to know that it was not fun. Truthfully, I don’t blame her. It’s embarrassing for me to know that my drinking is the reason she passed on a fun weekend away but I get it.  When I first learned of this (because she gave me a different excuse but then told others her real reason for staying back – me) I felt awful. I was humiliated and filled with shame, guilt and anxiety for around 2 weeks. I had to sit with that and own it. I’m not proud of who I was, but I know who I am now and I am incredibly proud of that woman.  Also, when we were planning this trip, not everyone knew that I had stopped drinking at that time and those who did didn’t think I was that serious about it. They were wrong.

As time has passed and I approach the 6 month sobriety mark, everyone who is attending the trip knows that I am sober and very serious about my recovery. Everyone is okay with that of course and frankly, I don’t think they really care as they all have their own problems and issues to worry about.  Funny how that works isn’t it?

Now I’ve gone from being anxious about not drinking to being anxious about being away from my kids for 3 and a half days because I’ve never been away from them for that long. And because I’m just an anxious person in general, so if I stop having anxiety about one thing, I just seem to find another to latch on to!

I know better than to get complacent though. That’s when, for me, I know a relapse could happen. I still remember how horrific it felt to wake up filled with shame and guilt and panic over not remembering what I said or did the night before.  The humiliation of having someone fill in the gaps for me, often angrily or disappointed. I remember how much I hated myself…how self-destructive I had become and how little I cared. I never, ever want to go back to that. So for today at least, I choose not to pick up a drink.

I also have been proactive in how I’m going to handle things on this vacation. I know the girls won’t pressure me to drink because they now understand how serious I am about my sobriety. I’ve already told them that if I feel anxious or don’t feel comfortable going somewhere with them, I’ll just stay back at the beach house.  I think it’s really important that I advocate for myself so I did. I’m bringing several books for the beach and for anytime I may stay at the house and need something to do. I plan on practicing yoga and meditating while away and I’ve made sure to pack my headphones so I can check in with my favorite sobriety podcast, Home. Of course I also know I can always check in here and read sobriety blogs or write if I need to. I also can check in with my wonderful sober friend who helps keep me in check at times if things get difficult.  I feel secure in utilizing these tools so that I never have to feel so hopeless again.

Just writing this out now, I feel an overwhelming sense of gratitude for this beautiful gift of sobriety. Even in the midst of a divorce and still figuring out who I am as a sober person and working through all of the issues that led me to my addiction, I get to wake up sober and I am in awe of how blessed that makes me because I know the dark side of alcohol abuse. The old me would be looking forward to beginning my drinking at 10 am on the beach during this vacation and continuing until I blacked out each night and made a fool of myself.  This new me, the authentic me, is excited to read on the beach, truly feel the sunshine and sand beneath my toes and sneak out to the beach in the early morning to meditate and practice yoga. I only appreciate these small pleasures now because I understand what a life filled with pain is like.

Life is so much sweeter, sober.

Mental Illness · Self-Care

I Sing Alone

canaries

Glennon Doyle Melton has this beautiful analogy comparing the mentally ill/addicts to canaries.  She explains it much more eloquently than I can, but the short version is as follows: Long ago, canaries were taken into mines because of their sensitivities to toxins in the air.  If they stopped singing, their carriers knew they needed to turn back because it would be dangerous to go on.  Addicts and those who live with mental illness are the canaries who are extremely sensitive, more so than others, to all of the world’s bullshit.

I feel very much like a canary today. My emotions are running high and I am picking up on all the other vibes from people around me. My morning started well but then I walked into a room that was clearly filled with tension and negativity.  Anxiety took over my body and mind almost immediately. I could not focus on anything except how awful I was feeling being in this environment. I wanted nothing more than to flee.

I looked around and I could see that most of the people in the room were oblivious to what was happening.  There were two however who were clearly the ones I was picking up the vibes from.  Scowls covered their faces, eyes were rolling and whispers about what a waste of time this was were rampant. My jaw clenched, my stomach did flips and I just felt so WRONG. I didn’t feel like the me I’ve started to get used to – calm, cautious, careful but doing my best to stay positive. I was being consumed by negativity.

I survived this experience but holy shit, was it ever hard. I left feeling angry and hurt that I’d let other people’s negative words and actions affect my attitude for the day. I was barely holding back from letting loose and giving the two people who were just downright RUDE a piece of my mind until finally I was able to leave.  I literally BOLTED out of the room and on to my next meeting.  Other people started texting me and asking where I was and I was in no position to be around others because I knew I would bring everyone else down. So I spent the afternoon working alone because I needed that time to refocus my energy and bring myself back to a place of positivity and peace.

The great news is – it worked. I just needed that time and space to refocus myself.  The strange news is – some people got worried because I “isolated” myself and asked to be alone for awhile. It’s so weird how the world works sometimes. I was just so proud of myself for recognizing how angry and terrible I was feeling and coping by walking away and taking some time to myself to calm down instead of wallowing in it and letting it grow into something bigger. I was proud that I even asked for what I needed and took care of myself.

This is the thing though – people who are not canaries do not understand. Besides the fact that my moods seem to be easily affected by other people’s moods, I feel things so, terribly deeply.  It’s literally indescribable.  This is the sensitivity of the canary.

Perhaps someone who is not a canary would not have been as affected as me by the few negative people in the room this morning, so they didn’t get it.  For me though, I stopped singing.  I was entering dangerous territory and it HURT. I wanted to run, escape, make it STOP because when I feel, I feel SO MUCH that sometimes it feels like I might break.

This is both a curse and a blessing as I’m sure many of those who read my blog will certainly understand.  The positive feelings are amplified just as much as the negative.  When I love, I love with every part of my being.  My joy and gratitude and contentment run just as deeply as my shame and guilt and anger.

I am a canary in this world and some days, like today, I sing alone.

sensitive

Mental Illness · Self-Care · Self-Talk

Talk it out

wellness2

Recently I was in a meeting for work and the topic of employee wellness came up.  We were asked to share the ways we partake in self-care. Everyone said similar things…run, take a bath, read…and then they came to me and I boldly announced that one of the ways I show self-care is by making time to attend therapy at least 1-2 times a month.

You could have heard a pin drop.

People quickly averted their eyes and it took an extra second before moving to the next person.  While I definitely believe there’s been an improvement in the acceptance of mental health issues over the past 20 years or so, we are nowhere near where we need to be.  There’s still a stigma attached and that makes me sad and angry.

Tonight I had therapy and it was a great session, which was very much needed. I didn’t make any huge realizations or figure out the meaning of life, but I word vomited all the things going on that have happened over the past week or so that have been making me crazy and upset and angry and have just completely thrown me off balance.

My therapist didn’t get to say much since I was speed talking my way through the session so I could mention everything but that’s okay. As I told her tonight, many times I just need her to listen because once I just say something, most of the time I feel at least a little bit better. So talked…and talked…and talked.  I told her about how last Thursday was just an overall shitty day but what made it worse was that I was blindsided at work and told I’ll be in a different position soon (one I wasn’t ready to move to yet). Then I had an argument with my estranged husband (I don’t even know if I am using estranged right and frankly I don’t care at the moment) Friday evening while decorating Easter eggs with our kids, then I said good-bye to my childhood home where my dad also passed away in on Saturday since it just sold and then a few days later there was more arguing with the husband-ish and financial woes and HOW THE FUCK AM I STILL SOBER?!?!

How am I still sober? One day at a time. 10 minutes at a time. By doing the next right thing. By breathing. By checking in with myself.

That is something new to me, this checking in with myself, and I find it very peculiar. I’m not really sure how it started but I just noticed that I’m doing it A LOT this tough week in particular. I am so grateful that my head is clear without alcohol so that I notice when my thoughts become unhealthy – negative and driven by anger or anxiety or shame – and I ask myself, “What are you feeling and why are you feeling this way?” I acknowledge whatever I’m feeling then figure out how to make it go away. Sometimes it’s simply taking a couple deep breaths. Sometimes it’s running through the tape of, “Here’s why that is completely irrational, now move on.” Sometimes it’s writing here. Sometimes it’s just praying to whatever God is above to please, please, please just help me hold on until this passes.

Whatever the cause, whatever the case, I’m doing it. Is this what they call managing your emotions in a healthy manner? Changing your thought patterns? I’m only being half-facetious because I really don’t know. The thing is, I think most people in recovery look to replace their unhealthy coping mechanisms with healthy ones but the truth is, I never learned healthy ones to begin with and that’s an entirely different blog post on its own. I’m learning them now.

So here I am. Sober. Breathing. Writing. Going to therapy. Reading books written by people in similar situations. Trying to navigate life in a new way, a way in which I’m in recovery not just from addiction but from everything that’s ever happened that has broken me.

alcohol · Mental Illness

What is normal?

normal

I just finished reading Drunk Mom by Jowita Bydlowska and the quote above is from her book.

Wow. I’ll just give you a minute to let that sink in.

I’m sure I’ll wake up tomorrow with another emotional hangover (like I did when I watched 13 Reasons Whyafter reading this book and this quote in particular. I’m still early in my recovery at just 121 days and when I read these things or hear stories that I connect with, my breath always catches. I’m not alone. These feelings aren’t unique to me. Then there’s relief because…well, I’m not alone.

My entire life I’ve felt abnormal…not right…like an outsider. I started putting on weight in third grade which never really stopped until I topped out at 285 pounds at 24 years old. Years of angry tears and cursing God and asking WHY CAN’T I JUST BE NORMAL?!

My senior year of high school (and let’s be honest, probably even earlier) was spent sliding down the slippery slope of depression. My first heartbreak in college and realizing I had to figure out my life, and fast, during 4 years of college sent me spinning. In and out of therapy, lots of prescriptions that I filled but never took because WHY CAN’T I JUST BE NORMAL?!?!

As I left college and continued to binge drink and began my career and continued trying to figure out who I was and why my destiny included me being morbidly obese, depression and anxiety kept creeping in. So I had gastric bypass and lost 135 pounds but it turns out, being thin doesn’t necessarily make you feel normal either.

I got married and bought a house with my husband and planned on starting a family.  Because this is what normal people do. And I wanted so badly to just be normal.

I had two babies and earned my master’s degree while tending to infants and toddlers and working full-time. The only thing that felt normal at this point was my anxiety. So I started taking the pills that they said would help me and finally, finally, finally after several different tries, found something that gave me some relief. But now…now I was one of those people who has to take a pill to feel normal. Whatever normal is.

I started drinking more as the kids got a bit older and totally bought into the mommy-drinking culture. I DESERVED those 3 glasses of wine. I’m a mom. I’m a normal mom.

My marriage, like many marriages, began to bend under the weight of time and children and a mortgage and jobs and bills and in-laws and life. It wasn’t fun anymore. It wasn’t romantic. It wasn’t normal in my mind.  And all I wanted was normal.

Then my dad died somewhat unexpectedly. I was 31. So I pretty much pretended it didn’t happen. Avoided grieving in a healthy way. Avoided dealing with what I witnessed and experienced in his final months. I drank. And drank and drank and drank. Then drank some more. Suddenly I felt normal.

I felt nothing. This must be normal, I thought. Then I gave up on my marriage. Normal, marriage is hard and marriage with kids is harder and so I’m legally married but I’d given up inside, that’s normal. No one’s actually happily married, I thought.

Then I got a DUI. Normal, almost everyone gets one at some point, right? Blacking out is totally normal too.  It’s not like I do it all the time. Ok, it’s not like I do it every day. Only on the weekends or special occasions like bridal showers and weddings and summer cook outs and holidays. Maybe once or twice during the week. I told myself this was all normal. I told myself I felt normal. Finally. I BELONGED. I was one of the normal ones.

Now and then this deviant thought would try to make it’s way into my brain. “You’re still not normal.  This is not normal.” So I would drink to quiet it. “You’re still sad.  You’re still lost. You’re still not normal and this is not normal drinking.” Drink more and more and more to make it stop. I didn’t want to own it.

I kept drinking and fucking up left and right but eventually I couldn’t lie to myself anymore, even if I could keep lying to my family and friends. (Not that they believed me, but they pretended at least.) I couldn’t deny that my drinking was anything but normal.  So I continued to embarrass myself, disgrace myself and destroy my relationships because it might not be normal but it sure as hell beat having to feel things and face the fact that I’m just not normal. Until it didn’t.

Then I stopped. And of course there’s so much more to it then simply, “I stopped,” but for now, just know, I stopped. I woke up and I heard again, “You’re not normal” and this time I had to choose to listen instead of try to silence the voice in my head with alcohol. And so I know now that I’m not normal.  I can’t say I’ve accepted it yet, but I know it.

I put weight back on after 10 years and two kids. I’m not 285 pounds but I’m not 175 either. I still take a pill daily to lighten the anxiety that courses through my veins and invades my thoughts. I can’t drink anymore. I’m anything but normal. Or am I?

drunkmom

Mental Illness

13 Reasons Why

brokenglass

Let me begin by acknowledging that I have no idea where this post is headed, but these ramblings come from the depths of my soul.

I just finished binge watching 13 Reasons Why on Netflix. My mind is racing and my emotions are overwhelming. That’s something maybe to know about me…when I feel, I feel with everything that I am. I’m an all or nothing kind of girl…hence my addiction to alcohol.

Back to the show…this show, this raw, real show based on a book, brought me to my knees. It addresses so many issues. Issues I’ve encountered or experienced myself. Two things in particular are really resonating with me right now, two things that are closely related in my mind.

The first is that we truly have have no idea what other people are dealing with. Fuck, even in our own home! We really have no idea how the things we say and do impact a person. One person may pay no mind or simply brush off a comment while another may find the same words to be heartbreaking and soul-crushing. My mind of course first jumps to my own experiences.  Just the other morning a friend noted that she’d heard that another mutual acquaintance avoids functions I attend because of my history with alcohol. (This friend even bringing this up is an entirely different blog post, I know.) On the morning this occurred, I happened to get into an argument with my ex….after I had already woken up feeling shame and guilt for choices I made while in active addiction which is something I’ve been silently struggling with recently.  Hearing this just hit extra hard on a day when I felt particularly weak to begin with.  I burst into tears. My friend was surprised to see such an emotional response from me as I tend to try to keep things bottled up inside (no surprise I’m an alcoholic, eh?).  I just couldn’t handle it that morning. The next few hours were brutal. I tried to work but I didn’t accomplish much because I put all my energy into not breaking down completely.  Not losing my shit in front of other people. Because everyone else has it all together, right?

Which leads me to the fact that my mind went right to my own experiences but what about everyone else? What about the things I’ve said, things I’ve done, that have hurt others? Because I’ve done that. Knowingly and unknowingly. I’ve done that. I’ve chipped away at people who probably don’t have much left to be chipped away. This is ironic to me because I “preach” a lot about the fact that everyone has a story and most of it we don’t know.  To be fair, when I keep that knowledge at the forefront of my mind (and I’m sober), I do try to re-frame what I’m thinking, saying, doing so as to not cause more damage. But I don’t always keep that at the forefront of my mind and I wasn’t always sober.

This. Breaks. Me.

This is my biggest current challenge and one that felt so raw as I watched 13 Reasons Why. How do I live with myself knowing what I’ve done? Said? Been?

How do I forgive myself? I don’t know. I don’t have the answer. I pray that someday I will.

This leads me to the second issue that resonated – mental illness and suicide. First, let me be very clear:  I am NOT suicidal.

Mental illness, though, I do know a thing or two about. Through the years I’ve been diagnosed with PMDD, depression, anxiety and most recently, PTSD. Watching the character from the show, Hannah, spiral into her depression and finally end her life shook me to my core.  I have been there. I have felt the nothingness, the brokenness, the loneliness, the hopelessness, the wanting it to just STOP.  I didn’t kill myself because of it like Hannah, but it is why I drank. I stopped caring. Nothing mattered. I remember thinking at times while I drank that maybe it wouldn’t be the worst thing if something happened to me.  So I was reckless and put myself in dangerous situations because I was so lost and empty. As it turns out, alcohol couldn’t fill me. In fact, I can see now how it made everything so much worse. Hind sight is 20/20.

I lost my religion awhile ago but I know that it is by the grace of God that I am still here, was able to get sober, and that I must still have work to do. I’m still lost, but at least in my sobriety I can see my map a little more clearly and I have hope I’ll be able to make the way back to myself. It hurts like hell sometimes to have to really FEEL everything.  To FEEL the shame, the guilt, the remorse…but I HAVE to. My recovery demands it. I have to go through it to get past it.  I’m grateful for stumbling upon 13 Reasons Why so that I could feel so much this weekend as uncomfortable as it may have been at times. I don’t think it was an accident or random that I happened to find it when I did and happened to have the time to binge watch it. The universe works in mysterious ways.