Year 1

How Did I Get This Far?

603590_10152840768355578_1031861738_n

Two days ago my sister sent me an early Happy One Year message to say congratulations. I’ve been silent on this blog for a couple of months because my mind and heart were filled with unanswerable questions every time I tried to write a new post. As my anniversary approached I really had no idea how I would feel on the day itself.

Would I feel a sense of accomplishment? Or would I feel strange and a bit directionless as I usually do after a very rewarding experience? A tiny part of me even speculated that I’d feel sorrow or a sense of loss as I would no longer be a ‘newbie’ with all the gentleness, kindness and kid-glove handling that usually comes with being at the beginning of any journey that is deemed difficult. And then of course, there was the part of me that was a little freaked out by the big “So What Now” question. I even felt a bit guilty because, while my first year has been an intense emotional journey, for me it has not been particularly challenging physically or mentally (aside from the over-thinking). I know of so many others who are really struggling and I wish I could help. I’m not certain of what is different about my journey so far that has allowed me to reach this milestone, but I can tell you what has helped me:

CRAWL AROUND IN YOUR WOUNDS, SO YOU CAN HOPE AGAIN

In the first few months learning to recognize and understand what my triggers were helped me a lot.  Learning to accept and gently face my own personal issues has become invaluable to my growth. It’s not easy and sometimes I want to damn it all to hell. Believe me, I miss the abandon that can come from giving in to the madness. Sometimes I miss not caring so much. But, the trade-off is worth so much more to me than giving in. I have embraced walking around in my wounds, hand in hand with my dark side, and facing the shadows together, and I have to say, some days I actually enjoy exploring this new territory because I know that I’m wiser, tougher, and more whole because of it.

“As frightening as it can be, that pain will make you stronger. If you allow yourself to feel it, embrace it, it will make you more powerful than you ever imagined. It’s the greatest gift we have, and it comes from the most human part of us: Hope.”  Professor X, X-men: Tales of Future Past

UNDERSTAND THAT YOU ARE NOT BROKEN

In the beginning I worried a lot about what people would say. I was ashamed and felt dirty, broken, unattractive. I thought that having a problem meant that I was a problem. Of course, I was wrong and even now, I still have to remind myself often. It’s takes a lot of work to change self-defeating habits into self-appreciating ones but it IS possible. You are not broken. You have nothing to be ashamed of. Making the decision to give up drinking is a big step in itself, one you should be proud of. Trying every day is also another.

“I stand firm in my belief that anyone who has repeatedly demonstrated that they do not posses an off switch would be far happier if they stopped trying to locate one. Stopping drinking for such people equates to the beginning of self-love, contentment and living a full life. Freeing the mind by calling it a day on the fight with alcohol is a true gift.” Soberistas

FIND A COMMUNITY

In the beginning I went to a few AA meetings because that was what was expected. I found a greater sense of community and healing here however, on the Sober Blogging Network. I could relate better to fellow writers and bloggers. No matter what “our drug of choice” is, or the level of our addiction, the struggles we face are the same. We all endeavour to value ourselves enough to take care of ourselves. We all face demons and dark sides of our past in the first few months of sobriety, and we all have to find the tools to deal with them and heal. We all have to come to an understanding about our triggers. We all want to feel better and be proud of our accomplishments. We all want compassion. We all want to be understood and to believe that we are not alone. Whether that sense of community comes from the Sober Blogging Network or from AA Meetings, it is invaluable to have. Find a community that feels comfortable for you and say Hi. You’ll find that there is always someone willing to smile back at you.

IT’S OKAY TO ASK FOR HELP

Trust me when I say that it is okay to ask for help. Whether you ask members of your AA group, the Sober Blogging Network, your friends, the higher power you believe in, or even me, you will find peace in asking. This is not a journey you have to undertake alone.

BE OF SERVICE

On the days when I feel at my lowest and the most disconnected from myself are the days when I feel purposeless. Those are the days when I stay under the blanket and binge watch TV series like Vikings or Games of Thrones, or Harry Potter movies, just to disappear into a another world. But, once I get tired of hiding, (and feeling sorry for myself), I get to work. I look for ways to be of service. Trust me, helping others, helps you in so many ways too. I have found so much of myself by being compassionate and caring when I can. The big and the little things do make a difference.

STRUCTURE

I figured out what worked for me and what brought me dangerously close to the edge. I changed my socializing habits and my diet. I made lists of what was important to me, pinned them to the fridge and stashed them in my wallet. I made a commitment to this blog. I focused on making the creative pursuits I enjoy a greater part of my life. I made a commitment to healing myself, physically, emotionally, mentally and spiritually. What worked, I kept. What didn’t, I tossed (without looking at myself as a failure). Different methods suit different people. Figure out what suits you and makes YOU happy.

“Part of recovery is structure: Recognizing what is working and sticking with it.” Sherlock, Elementary

NOW, TODAY IS THE DAY

I have officially been sober for 365 days. Yay me! I was pleasantly surprised by the warmth of emotion I felt when I received my sister’s message that day. For the rest of that day, I was one of those people you see walking around with little smiles tugging at the corners of their lips. I was happy with ME. I was proud of myself, finally. And I still am.

Love and light to you all,

Phoenix

Advertisements

Self-Destruction or Self-Preservation?

beauty-22

“You don’t have a drinking problem you know. You just have to stop letting the bad stuff get to you. It’s only when you drink that you bring up all that old stuff and then you end up drinking more and crying.”

Worst advice I’ve ever been given. But in his defense, the person who said that had been a drinking buddy for a long time. In his defense I was still determinedly running from my darkside, hand in hand with Johnnie, Jack, and Jager.

But in my buddy’s “advice” lay two main truths. I was letting the ‘bad stuff’ (old demons, any perceived slights, rejections and unfair treatment) get to me. When new bad stuff happened and I dealt with it by drinking, all I would talk about would be the old bad stuff. And then the inevitable alcohol soaked outpouring would drench my world and any ready ear, friend or stranger.

It is astonishing (and a bit disturbing), the number of people I told about the bad stuff: about the stuff that bothered me to my core.  Okay, yes, they still bother me but I am learning how to deal with them in a healthier way, with self preservation in mind instead of self destruction. Self destruction only ever told me that my fears of being unworthy, unlovable or undeserving were warranted. I thought myself ‘bad’ and treated myself as such.

Anyway, to get back on topic. Alcohol never made anything better. Sure, the first couple of drinks felt good because all the pleasure centers in my brain were tickled, tricking me into believing that this high meant I was happy. But the warning bells would already be going off by the end of glass two. I would choose to ignore them and the switch would be flipped.

Now that the alcohol induced fog has lifted and I’m allowing myself time to see, recognize and sit with the ‘bad stuff’, slowly but surely I am creating new ways of dealing with them. Bit by bit I am forming new habits. Instead of paying attention to the “I am feeling (insert difficult emotion here), so I want / need / deserve a drink” thoughts, I’m shifting my focus because I know drinking never really made anything better.

Yes, sometimes I don’t want to sit with my feelings or understand my triggers. Yes, sometimes I get tired of the over-thinking, and the mantras, and the pep talks to myself. But you know what? I’ll take being ‘frustrated with myself for brooding too much’ over ‘frustrated with myself for drinking’ any day. I know the brooding won’t last. I know that it’s all part of the process. I know it’s part of developing new habits, which instead of harming me, are actually helping me this time.

Love and light!

Phoenix

Photo Credit: Beyond The Mirror

The Darkness Behind Doors

image

I’ve been told to be wary of talking about my nightmares or curious dreams. But I’ve often found that they help me to better understand what is really going on with me. It’s 3:31am and I’ve just forced myself awake, shivering and sweating and afraid to look around in the darkness of my bedroom. Then I hear the sound of rain over the drone of the a/c.

I was in the second house of my childhood, the house I lived in from age two to fifteen. I was making my way upstairs with a broomstick in hand, and I was on a mission. I was also my current 40 year old self. My Dad was in the living room sitting on his recliner and I could hear Mom in the kitchen.

My steps were tentative and although they were cautious my grip on the handle of that stick was sure. I was staring up at the ceiling, at a square trap door which led to the attic space above.

As I turned the 90° corner halfway up the stairs and positioned myself beneath the door, I lifted the broomstick above my head with both arms. I started from one corner of the ceiling and swung the broom slowly from side to side, making my way across the width and length of that ceiling. It was smooth work, as the air moved easily.

Except for that area beneath that square trap door. I was determined to do it. I stayed beneath that door swinging the broomstick back and forth, side to side, with the air getting thicker and thicker. The resistance felt like I was moving through water, then mud. Whatever was behind that door did not want the air cleared, and it was growing in its resistance. I sensed it collecting itself as I continued to push, struggling but managing to move that stick. My arms and shoulders and neck ached but I was not going to be stopped.

There was an echo of a sound, a dark heavy recoiling. the door began to lift and I sensed the dark as much as I could see the dark space behind the door.

I began to call out to my Mom, saying Mummy Mummy over and over with my voice growing in volume as my panic grew in intensity. The doorway was gaping opening and noise and heaviness was descending toward me like a thick black fog. I was still swinging that stick and calling out when I woke up to the stillness and dark of my bedroom.

Then the rain started outside my window.

Growing Alongside Or Outside?

Friendships Aren't For Ever

I have a group of girlfriends I hang out with. While I have known each person for varying lengths of time, four since the early nineties, this will be our fifth Christmas together as a group. We are all in the same income bracket, share similar ideals, and we all work. Our group has a doctor, an environmentalist, a teacher, a film producer, a pilot, and me: a “diverse business manager” (according to my resume. I’m still figuring out my true purpose.) Most of us have significant others. I am closer to two than to all. While I am also pretty close to my sister and my cousins, this girls’ group has been my go-to-group of friends whenever I wanted to have a drink. They have been incredibly supportive during the last ten months and will probably continue to be. Hanging out with them has been easy but every now and then I find myself pulling away from the group. Things are changing again.

I’ve been thinking lately about all of the “growing” I’ve been doing. It can make for a lonely sort of life, waiting for things to change, get uncomfortable, then comfortable again and settle down. Deciding to explore self-awareness and making a conscious decision to try to understand what influences, motivates and distracts me, is a rather solitary trip. It is not a subject most people talk about and these days it’s foremost in my mind. Not many people are interested in this sort of journey. At least, not many people around me.

While I’m not going around blabbing to the world about all the theories and feelings I express here on this blog, I’ve found much of it is too “heavy” for cocktail hour conversation. This actually feels odd to me as I find psychology and philosophy fascinating and quite enjoyable.

Then again, there are some days I just miss my ‘old’ life. I don’t miss the alcohol at all, but I miss the camaraderie of drinking with girlfriends. It feels different now, even though my friends are wonderful about my choices. And sometimes it is a bit lonely because I opt out of hanging out. And then, to be honest, sometimes I just miss feeling more carefree. I would not change my sobriety for anything but every now and then I miss not thinking so much about being sober, and about improving, and about goals. I have been struggling with all of this for the last couple of months and last night I came across this quote:

“…be happy about your growth, in which of course you can’t take anyone with you, and be gentle with those who stay behind; be confident and calm in front of them and don’t torment them with your doubts and don’t frighten them with your faith or joy, which they wouldn’t be able to comprehend. Seek out some simple and true feeling of what you have in common with them, which doesn’t necessarily have to alter when you yourself change again and again;” ~ Rainer Maria Rilke

So I have decided that I am going to be patient through this change and more understanding of what my friends need too. What they want and need out of our girls’ group hasn’t changed. I’m the one whose needs have changed. I love them all dearly and if I want them to remain in my life I have to focus on what I appreciate about our friendships. I have also decided to make a greater effort to socialize in places where the central focus is not alcohol. I will keep you posted on my “new friendships quest”.

Phoenix

You Can’t Meet God With Sunglasses On

Matilde Berk

Bono once said “…it is impossible to meet God with sunglasses on. It is impossible to meet God without abandon, without exposing yourself, being raw.”

Surrendering to God (as we know him to be) is discussed often when we are talking about addiction, quitting and abstinence.  Surrendering to a higher or greater power is mentioned in seven of the twelve steps and is deemed essential to building a new life without alcohol.

How many of us actually allow ourselves to meet God? I’ve never really been one for organized religion. I mean my mom is a Muslim, my dad a Hindu. I attended a Catholic primary school, and a Presbyterian high school. I’ve been to Sunday school, Mac tab classes, Hindu prayers, and even a ‘small’ church where everyone clapped and hugged all the time. Twenty years ago, in university, there was a two week period when I researched all the faiths, especially the eastern religions, trying to see if any one connected with me in a particular way.

A few years ago I was liming at a bar talking to a girl I’d just met. It was a Saturday night and she was saying that she didn’t want to lime much longer as she had to go to church the next morning. We started talking about God and religion and I asked her about her faith and whether she believed in her religion. She said she never questioned it. She asked me what religion I belonged to. I answered her in pretty much the same way as I’ve stated above. She looked at me for a moment and then told me that I was lucky. She said that because I had the opportunity to see what fit me from all the religions, what I eventually believed in would be true to me and not to someone else’s doctrine. Until that day I’d never thought of my experiences that way. I stared at her and then smiled and told her thank you.

I can honestly say that I’ve felt God. Or at least, I’ve felt the presence of something greater than me, something timeless and perfect and comforting. I’ve felt that once. I was 19 or 20 at the time, still attending university. Late one night a group of us went to Maracas Beach. That is a beautiful beach to be on at any time of the day and at night I love it. I love any beach at night actually. I wandered away from the noise and playfulness of the group and sat down on a piece of driftwood just looking out at the water. I just sat there, feeling the cool sand under my feet and the salty wind against my face. I looked up at the millions of stars that are always easy to see at that beach. I looked for the unicorns in the waves as I always do. I listened to the music of the waves as they crashed and tumbled and raced up and down the beach. I sat there for half an hour. I felt happy. I felt at peace.

And then I just knew.

I knew with absolute certainty, that I was not alone.

I knew with absolute certainty, that I was a part of something greater than I could imagine. Something infinite.

As soon as that realization hit, the wave song was louder, the wind was stronger, the stars were brighter, and I was growing smaller and smaller. Less important I guess, or more correctly, less self-important. It was an amazing feeling. A fantastic feeling, unlike anything I ever felt before. I felt connected. I felt comforted. I felt eternal. I felt grateful.

I haven’t felt that way in a really long time. Sometimes, when I’m surrounded by nature, like at the beach or in Tucker Valley with bamboo all around, or in the garden where I used to do Tai Chi, I feel a tiny little bit of that connection. But it’s always fleeting. In yoga class, when we work on the heart chakra, the feeling lasts much longer but never really stays.

Today, I know why I haven’t been able to feel that way again. I haven’t let go the way I let go back then. I was 20 and angry as hell at the world and didn’t even know it. Full of self doubt and questions about life, purpose, love, parents, destiny, everything! I remember that night very well. I was fed up and tired and ‘soul weary’. I think I walked away from the group because I wanted to turn it all off: the noise, the questions, the ‘answers’, the bullshit, all of it. I just walked away, and stopped thinking about everyone and everything. The thing is, I did not make a conscious effort to stop. I just did. I just released everything. It was a beautiful moment that has forever been imprinted upon me.

The year which followed that night at the beach was a difficult one, in so many ways, and I am only now beginning to understand the reasons behind the choices I made in the two decades that followed. I know I want to feel what I felt on that beach. I know I want to let go and surrender to the divinity I feel in my heart and that I know is there. I want to trust that I will be ok. But some days are so hard and I feel alone and afraid and I worry that all that I have learned will be too much and too big. My heart beats fast and my tummy hurts just thinking about it.

Maybe I still have my sunglasses on.

Phoenix

Photo credit: Matilde Berk

Coming Up On One

image

I’ve been thinking about if it would mean something to me when February 3rd rolls around and marks my one year soberversary. I’ve written about my response to friends who advised me to be careful around my eight month mark because they knew people who had fallen off the wagon around this time. I said that it’s not about counting the days or months for me. It has about understanding the nature of my relationship with alcohol, recognizing my triggers, and learning how to truly care about myself.

But, lately I’ve been thinking that there is something important and beautiful about reaching that One Year milestone. My guy says that the first anniversary is significant from a cyclical perspective. On February 3rd, I would’ve gone through Carnival, Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, my birthday, loved ones’ birthdays, Christmas and New Year’s as a sober person. I would’ve celebrated and participated in yearly events differently than I had grown accustomed to. He has a point.

Then, as the Universe usually arranges, just as I was deep in thought about all of this one year anniversary stuff, I saw an episode of Elementary where Sherlock’s sponsor explained to him why he should care about his first soberversary:

Alfredo: Milestones like this one, they’re yours, but they’re not about you. They’re about all the people who haven’t got there yet.

Which of course I totally get. I have been so encouraged and energized by fellow bloggers who have made it past their first year:

Primrose just celebrated her first year, so did Vodka Goggles, and Sober Learning is days away from her anniversary.

Allie is at 9 months too like me.

Then there’s Cynthia Ann who talks about The Recovery Timeline on her blog Second Sobriety.

We are all so genuinely happy for one another when we succeed that the meaning of making these milestones, especially during our first year, has got to be greater than each of us.

Making The Switch

image

Recovery takes time and yes, I found out the hard way that I would have to finally deal with challenges I had faced in my past if I wanted to move forward and claim the life I know I deserve.

For most of my life I have been my own worst critic, judging and condemning myself in ways I would never do to a loved one. I was particularly harsh whenever I drank, which, after two decades, was sometimes at least a four-times-a-week routine.

Many times I wonder if the first step to recovery is actually deciding to love yourself rather than putting down that drink.

Learning to love and be gentle with ourselves is the hardest thing we will have to learn and that’s understandable actually. Because it means reversing years and years of habitually telling ourselves we’re not worth it.

It helped me to figure out the root cause of my feelings of unworthiness. They came from a long time ago and as the years went by I repeated those negative thoughts to myself whenever a situation occurred which stirred emotions similar to those I felt I during a difficult experience in the past.

Fortunately for me, (and I’m only scraping the surface of the coincidence), in 2011 I saw a psychotherapist for about 11 months. I opted to go to these sessions because I had allowed myself to become involved in a co-dependent and dysfunctional relationship. When I ended the relationship I was playing the blame and judgment game and had to know why I did not value myself enough to stay away from a man who was so wrong for me on so many levels.

I had to go to therapy to figure out how to deal with all the questions and to undo the damage that was done. It was one of the best decisions I ever made. Of course, the therapy sessions did not magically improve my life, but now, two years later as a person who is 9 months sober, the tools I learned in therapy are coming in quite handy.

The clarity brought on by sobriety feels unreal sometimes and often a bit overwhelming. I’ve always been an over-thinker and I have to say if it wasn’t for this blog I would be driving my friends crazy with all my philosophy and psychology talk. But the tools I learned in therapy have made quitting so worth it. I’m learning to see myself a different way. I am changing how I react to situations because I can recognize the triggers and understand the emotions they incite.

Those of you in my Sober Blogging Network I want you to know that it IS possible to change the way you see yourself. It is possible to understand your emotional triggers and to deal with the experiences that created them.

YOU are the most important person to you. YOU matter. and you deserve to be taken care of and loved. But it has to start with you. If you are struggling, reach out and don’t be too hard on yourself. You are making progress just by looking for guidance on our Network. Little by little you are healing. And most importantly, you are not alone.

Phoenix

Creating Cracks for the Bad Stuff to Seep In

1624a25b88cc825db4f642e6456b0562

“Sometimes I think when you get high, or when you drink – when you alter your consciousness – it weakens your psyche…it creates cracks and then bad stuff can seep into those cracks and maybe never go away.” *
I came across this quote on my computer a few nights ago. Apparently I’d saved it backed in 2009 having deemed it important. I have tons of such quotes and images related to drinking, habits, believing in yourself and getting over the past.
My sister once spoke to me about soul mates. She once read that when you accept a relationship with someone you know in your heart is not for you, you push your soul mate away, in fact you actually cause your soul mate pain.
I’m not sure I believe in the existence of one soul mate, (I think we have many), but I do understand what the author meant. When we accept for ourselves that which we know does not help us, we block the path to our true selves.
Maybe getting drunk is like that. We allow ourselves to do these things that we know deep down are not good for us. We accept behaviour that we know does not help us, thereby blocking the path to our true selves, which are inherently strong, powerful and can accomplish anything. If we allow it.
When we drink despite knowing that we shouldn’t, we weaken our psyche and then the bad (fear, judgement, self-deprecation) seeps in to let the beast out to run pell mell all over our lives.
I know I’ve been much stronger since I’ve stopped. This doesn’t mean that I don’t feel fear, or throw the hate / pity parties anymore. I just know that without the alcohol, I’m better equipped to deal with the bad and to have some perspective.
*Quote from the film, Sunshine Cleaning.

Loving That Girl

 Photo credit: Xila Phoenix Art

Photo credit: Xila Phoenix Art

I was talking with a friend who quit drinking a couple of years ago and she said “I don’t even know who ‘that girl’ is anymore and I never want to see her again.” She was talking about her dark side, her evil twin, the ‘her’ that drank.

My girl is The Rebel. And I love her. I didn’t always feel that way, in fact I hated her, was terrified of her and of course, was wildly jealous of her. I thought she embarrassed me with her bravado, fierce rebellion and gumption. I hated the way she provoked those around her and left me cowering in a corner while she did that and then left me to pick up the pieces and mend bridges.

There are so many sides to a person. We can not be defined as just one thing. For me, depending on the situation, different sides or versions of me come to the forefront to deal with reality as I am interpreting or experiencing it. If you can imagine a flock of birds flying in a V formation.

Sometimes, a different bird switches places with the lead bird. It’s like that. A different version of me will position itself as the leader depending on the experience I’m having. Sometimes I am a nurturer, a sage, a rescuer or a diplomat. Other times I am a victim, a saboteur, a judge, a manipulator or a rebel.

My Rebel is incredibly passionate, strong-willed, determined, brash, reckless and always gets me into a lot of trouble. In the months leading up to my decision to quit drinking I’d been sitting and talking with my Rebel. Ok sure, we were sitting and talking over glasses of red wine, but for the first time we were actually conversing.

Have you ever faced your rebel, or your dark side, and asked it what it wanted? Turns out all my Rebel ever endeavoured to do was defend me and demand to be heard in defence of me. She just didn’t go about it very well. Her behaviour was that of a toddler, declaring her place in this world with all a child’s demanding:

This is what I want! Listen to me! Look at me! Pay attention to me! Love me!

There is another reason why my Rebel behaves like a child: That’s how old I was when she was made. When she first showed up to defend me, to protect me, to declare loudly to the world that I mattered.

I love my Rebel now because I understand her. When I sense that the hairs on the back of her neck are beginning to stand up and she’s straightening her spine for battle, I pay attention. I try to identify what experience is bristling her and tempting her to the front of the line. Then, instead of being afraid and wary of her, and instead of trying to rein her in and control her, I open my heart and give her my love. You see,  she is important because she is also the side of me that demands more out of life. The one who stands up against wrong and fights against the norm. She is the side of me that helps set and enforce safe boundaries in my life. And I need her, now that I understand where she’s coming from. Now that we’ve met in the middle, as long as I continue to walk with her, we’ll get somewhere.

Dr. Maté Talks About Addiction

I came across this video on Films for Action and found it particularly helpful in understanding the root causes of addiction and how to deal with them. Dr. Maté is a renowned author known for his knowledge about attention deficit disorder, stress, addiction, chronic illness and parental relations.

Of course after this short video I had to view more. This second video is brilliant. It is a clip from Dr. Maté’s talks at TEDxRio. His theme was addiction: from drugs to power.

“From the lack of love to the desire to escape oneself, from susceptibility of the being to interior power — nothing escapes.”