The Judge

The Girl In The Mirror

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I love the madness that is the April A to Z Blogging Challenge. The creativity, the fast-paced induced adrenaline rush of posting every 24 hours, the community spirit, and at times, the frustrating but glorious intensity.

This year I chose to write poems inspired by movies about addiction and absolution. I write often about the importance of honouring our emotions, about allowing ourselves to sit with the darkness, kicking at it until it bleeds light, but every now and then I resist the complete vulnerability and surrender that any sort of healing needs. So as April approached I took stock of my progress so far: two years of sobriety; an understanding and acceptance of my triggers; the warmth and affection that had grown in key relationships with loved ones; and the knowledge of what I felt I still needed to work on.

It was my intention to reach deep down to the dark, murky, frightening depths with both hands and pull hard against what needed to be uprooted, clearing away the weeds and plastic debris that were stunting my growth. I hoped to reveal, better understand, and become more accepting and appreciative of the dark emotions I keep at bay. I was ready, or so I thought.

Don’t get me wrong, all in all, this year’s challenge exceeded all expectations. For one, I reached the depths I wanted to and spent more time there than I cared to in the end. Even though I’ve come away with several poems that are worth shaping and rewriting, my plan to use movies about addiction as triggers worked better that I’d anticipated.

The shift was gradual and I did not notice it at first. But by the time I’d reached the middle of the alphabet I was staying in bed longer on mornings, wide-eyed with the covers to my chin, unsure and a little afraid of what the day would bring. My meditative morning habit – a cup of ginger tea on my front porch with an inspiring book – had been replaced with reviewing the difficult poem I’d written the night before, and I was no longer jumping out of bed looking forward to my day. I had underestimated my vulnerabilities. The writing challenge theme I’d set for myself, together with two unexpected life events, affected me adversely. I won’t be doing something like this again. At least not without setting some boundaries and safe zones first.

There were breakthroughs as well, which I am grateful for, with poems like The Quiet, which makes me so uncomfortable to read even though I wrote it, and Thirteen, which I wrote when I came to an understanding about my relationship with my mother. I think if there is anything I am truly happy about is turning that corner with my Mom. It was my last important relationship to heal and I believe that now I can begin doing just that.

In the end, and today I am grateful for the opportunity to learn. I am not invincible. I cannot, ever, underestimate my triggers nor the importance of boundaries. I am grateful for loved ones (online and IRL) who supported me through this “mad experiment” and never judged me for it. It has helped me to be gentler with myself and keep my own Judge in check. I even have to send a nod to the Universe for crashing my laptop two weeks into the challenge. I chuckle to myself now when I think about it. Perhaps the Universe was sending me a message after all.

Love and light,

Phoenix

The Past Is Just A Story We Tell Ourselves

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Samantha: “Last week my feelings were hurt by something you said before: that I don’t know what it’s like to lose something. And I found myself…”
Theodore: “Oh, I’m sorry I said that.”
Samantha: “No, it’s okay. It’s okay. I just… I caught myself thinking about it over and over. And then I realized that I was simply remembering it as something that was wrong with me. That was the story I was telling myself – that I was somehow inferior. Isn’t that interesting? The past is just a story we tell ourselves.”

I read once that the stories we tell ourselves about our lives may be more important than the actual events of our lives, they can actually shape our happiness more than our lives themselves. For example, “if you still feel anguish from a particularly rough breakup, change the story you tell yourself about it. Rather than being the poor guy or girl who got cheated on and will never heal, make yourself the person who got out of a terrible situation before you married and made a big mistake. If you were a child of divorced parents and worry that you’re doomed to repeat the same pattern, turn yourself into the outlier of your family who will cultivate a lasting relationship.” ~ Alexis Meads

Seems simple enough. Of course, I know that the author did not mean burying feelings or ignoring realities or boundaries. He meant to change our perspective on the experience. Since I am changing the way I look at myself (victim or survivor; ashamed of or inspired by my past; afraid of failure or of regret), I am changing the way I tell my stories too. I won’t focus on painful and disappointing experiences. After all, it’s not what happened to me that hurt me but the way I viewed what happened. It’s the stories I tell myself: the interpretations and meanings I give to those experiences.

So I’ve made a decision: To choose a new story for my old stories. Instead of seeing them as examples of lack I choose to love that they will forever be a part of my life and accept that they are a part of me because they have made me who I am today.

“Oh darling, it’s okay that you faltered…that you engaged in a destructive behaviour that was not in keeping with your true values. You did it to dull the pain, diminish the anger. But you realised that it still lay there… pressed further down. Let it Come Up a thousand times, again & again. Let it Rise…and Drift Away.” ~ Patrice Charles

~*~

On February 6th 2014, four days after I stopped drinking alcohol, I started this blog. My two-year soberversary is fast approaching and my January posts, inspired by thought-provoking quotes by fictional philosophers, is a way of celebrating my journey. I hope, in turn, to inspire you on yours.

Walking the Path

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Why is it so very hard to do what we’re supposed to do, as in what’s best for us? Especially when we know what we have to do?? Why is that so tough? I mean, you would think it would be easy because its common sense, to walk a certain path which I know is the right path. So why is it so tempting to retrace our steps on an old path? Is it a fear of what the new path may hold, or the familiarity of the ‘old’ path? Most people make the mistake of thinking that they’re making the right choice by going back, simply because it’s so familiar that it feels comfortable and ‘right’, even though it usually isn’t. Comfort in familiarity and all that. But if I am aware of the fear, the comfort of familiarity and all the rest of it, already why do I do this?

Sometimes I feel like I sabotage myself over and over. It’s as though whenever I feel I’m on the verge of doing something great or being something great, (and I don’t mean ‘great’ like finding a cure for AIDS, or Cancer, solving the problem of Global Warming, or writing the novel of the century, I’m referring to something meaningful, purposeful, and fulfilling, that could make me, and others around me, happy), this is usually the point where I slowly but surely turn on my heel and step in the opposite direction. Sometimes I even run! It’s annoying, frustrating and depressing. I know I have issues with self-worth and believing that I deserve more, but shouldn’t loving myself and believing in myself grow with time and practice?

Master Planner or Procrastinator?

I have recognized that one of my problems is that I’m a ‘master planner’. Once I see that something needs ‘fixing’, I’ll get all excited about it and come up with a great plan! I think: “Yay, PROJECT!” Then once the plan is on paper, I feel happy that I have a plan and then immediately hit the brakes for a while because I’m no longer frustrated or unhappy. That’s my cycle. I’m really worried, because here I am planning again, making My New Life lists, and jotting down notes in my Happy Me journal, and bookmarking Work From Home websites, and then, stalling. I am this close to leaving my job, yet I have not sent out proposals to get my new career going, even though I have five potential clients lined up! I should be grateful and honour these opportunities by giving them my all. (Teeny tiny voice in my head: What if my all isn’t good enough?)

Sometimes I just think it comes down to habits to break. Maybe it’s as simple as that and maybe I just have to break the ‘bad’ thinking habits too. The thing is, unless I cultivate good habits to replace them, I’ll always have time for ‘bad’ habits. What puzzles me is despite the fact that I know what I have to do, and I know what will make my life better, I just don’t do it. I read something yesterday:

“Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our Light, not our darkness, that most frightens us.” (Marianne Williamson).

Which brings me back to what I was talking about, why am I so afraid to take that step? A line from a song I heard this morning goes: “That first step you take is the longest stride.” Maybe that’s true. I was talking to a good friend of mine about all of this and I told him that I don’t like the fact that I haven’t been able to get it together and annoyed that every time I feel like I’m progressing, I fall back. He asked me what I thought I wasn’t ‘getting together’. I had to think about it because I wanted to be honest with myself. What I’ve been running away from is the same three things for years: recognizing my purpose; loving myself; and allowing myself to be loved the way that I deserve to be loved.

Fear

I know I hold myself back, out of fear mostly. Fear of being out of my comfort zone, fear of the unknown, fear of failure, fear of opening myself up to love, fear of getting hurt. All of these fears fill my mind and stop me from moving forward, toward new adventures. They take up so much space in my mind and heart, leaving little room for appreciating what I do have and what I do know, and even less room for hope and promise.

Let Go?

A lot has been shifting and changing with me for the past couple of weeks and is a source of inner turmoil, but what if this is  an opportunity for release as well? I am trying so hard to steer the ship so to speak that what if there is incredible freedom when I let the rudder go? What if I surrender to what will be and not try to predict the weather and make adjustments to suit. What if I choose to focus on what makes me happy and fulfilled and give up on worrying about the dark sea beneath or about keeping my ship afloat. What if I allow myself to enjoy the anticipation of huge rolling wave and the excitement of the ride. What if I trust in all the work I’ve done over the last couple of years and have faith that a greater plan has been put in motion? What if I choose to follow my heart and allow the mystery of my journey and destination to unfold?

What if? Indeed. 🙂

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~*~

On February 6th 2014, four days after I stopped drinking alcohol, I started this blog. My two-year soberversary is fast approaching and my January posts, inspired by fictional philosophers who’ve inspired me with their bad-ass thoughts, is a way of celebrating my journey. I hope, in turn, to inspire you on yours.

 

The Ghost Of A Boy

The Book Thief Ghost of a Boy

“There once was a ghost of a boy who liked to live in the shadows, so he wouldn’t frighten people. His job was to wait for his sister, who was still alive. She wasn’t afraid of the dark, because she knew that’s where her brother was. At night, when darkness came to her room, she would tell her brother about the day. She would remind him how the sun felt on his skin, and what the air felt like to breathe, or how snow felt on his tongue. And that reminded her that she was still alive.” ~ The Book Thief

The world is breaking my spirit. The terrible stories I hear in the news every day are getting to me more and more. Stories of us, humans, hurting each other in horrifying and simple ways. We are not guiding our children. In the news recently four primary school boys gang raped a 12 year old girl. Primary schoolchildren! A man was arrested for molesting a 4 year old. I can’t imagine the irreparable damage done to these children. And this is just scratching the surface. Dozens of crimes go unreported. Our so called leaders are corrupt. Courtesy and considerstion don’t exist on our roads. People are filled with hate.

International news reads the same way. So many people live day to day and our cultures teach us to care only about ourselves not our neighbours. I can’t fathom the trauma faced by the girls kidnapped by boko harem. Most of them have had children who were starved alongside their teenaged mothers. I don’t get it. I don’t understand. Why are we so horrible to one another? Why do people decide to have children if they can’t make a commitment to raise them with kindness, consideration and love. Why have children if they can’t spend time with them, to teach them, to help them grow into adults who care?

What terrifies me more than anything is the growing awareness that these heinous acts have been prevalent in our societies throughout history, and we only now have ready-access knowledge of them through the internet and social media. Why do humans have such as much capacity for hate as we do for love? Why do some choose hate instead of love?

I am trying to find the light, to see the sunshine without feeling so desperate. To remind myself that there are things to be grateful for and joyful about. But more and more, I find that I am increasingly sensitive to how much we are hurting each other, our planet and ourselves. We have little regard for building sustainable futures or taking care of the Earth. We disrespect nature as much as we disrespect each other.

I want a way out, an escape, to block it all out all the negative. But if I do that, wouldn’t I just be doing what everyone else does? The fictional rape and burning of GoT’s Sansa and Shereen seems to have made more of an impact than the real life victims we hear about all over the world or even at home, in our own countries. I don’t understand. It’s all so heartbreaking.

In my own little way I try. I volunteer for food and clothing drives. I minimize waste and recycle as much as I can. I become involved in purposeful projects which encourage, support and celebrate young people. I know I have a lot to be thankful for, and I am. There is so much I love about life. But, for the last few weeks the ugliness in this world is made larger and more horrible against the fading backdrop of hope.

I disconnect a little more each day from social media’s reach. The news stories are all too much and I find myself drawn to certain places seeking solitude, peace and gratitude. I do find it, or rather, I used to find it, before. I would go for walks on the beach or in gardens to connect, to feel grounded amidst the chaos all around me. To feel the wind on my face, smell the salt in the sea air, and crunch grass beneath my bare feet. I would place my palms upon tree trunks. I would breathe deeply when I felt the real connection I sought and even sobbed at the fullness and the emptiness of the moment. I would return to “daily life” refreshed and revived.

But not anymore. I can’t find that peace and release. And I no longer know how to.

Judgment

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Writing or talking about judgment still bothers me. I feel my body reacting: mild tummy ache, tingles at the back of my neck, goose bumps, cold sweat, difficulty swallowing. I even have a name for that overly critical part of me: The Judge. A few years ago I saw a psychotherapist for about a year and she introduced me to The Empty Chair method in an attempt to help me figure out the source of my distorted self image and negative self worth. We had tried creative methods before (visualization and painting) but chose this particular method because of my reaction and resistance to connecting with that part of myself. From our visualization session before, I realized that although my anxiety about criticism and judgment was rooted in my early relationships with adults, over the years I developed a powerful and relentlessly judgmental side of myself. The Judge. She was the one who I now I had a problem with and wanted to reach. After all, “many things that seem threatening in the dark become welcoming when we shine light on them.”  The Empty Chair method, we hoped, would allow me to converse with that side of myself and work through the discomfort to accept and embrace her.

I sat on a chair facing an empty one. Switching back and forth between them I was going to take turns speaking for myself and for the Judge. We were going to have a conversation out loud. I imagined The Judge sitting across from me and was immediately uncomfortable. It was a bit embarrassing to see how my body responded to an imaginary version of me, pretty much the way I described above. It made me self-conscious and silly and I laughed but I knew I was going through with it. I was going to talk to The Judge and she was going to talk back to me.

Me: Um, well Hello. (I was actually sheepish and shy if you can believe it!)
The Judge: (In a tone of voice dripping with disdain!) Okay, hello. We’re here, now what? What do you want to say?
Me: Well, I’m not sure.
The Judge: As usual. You never know what you want. You’re always second guessing yourself.
Me: Ok fine! I want to know why you are so hard on me?
The Judge: You know why. (smugly)
(I have to say it was so weird being me and then being The Judge. My body language and tone of voice even changed from chair to chair!)
Me: No I don’t. (defensively). Well not really. Maybe. But even if I do, everyone makes mistakes.
The Judge: You are not everyone. You are supposed to be better than this.
Me: I can only be who I am.
The Judge: You should be more.
(I started to cold sweat and my breathing became shallow)
The Judge: You are supposed to be more. Not the mess that you are in now, sitting in this room talking to an empty chair. And crying about it! Smarter, wiser, more capable. No mistakes! You know better!
Me: At least I’m trying! Everyone makes mistakes. And I am not a mistake! (I was shouting back)
The Judge: Aren’t you?
Me: No! And I can be better. I am already better. And you have no right to talk to me this way!
The Judge: Why?
Me: (I was quiet) Because we are the same.
The Judge: Ah. (she smiled!) Why would you say that?
Me: Because I judged  you for judging me. I called you mean, cruel, out of place, stupid.
The Judge: Well I suppose I am all of those things. Sometimes. But I am more than that too.
Me: As am I.

Judgment is a funny thing. I’ve realized that in as much as it can feel intimidating and crushing, it can also help me to improve, if given and received with kindness. I am still working on forgiving myself and I try to understand my motivations (without criticism) and acknowledge my good intentions instead of berating myself for my past mistakes.

We can’t concern ourselves with what was. We must act on what is.” Gyatso 

Judging closes a door. The opposite of judging is compassion. When I am compassionate, I am open, connected, and more available to communicating respectfully with myself.

I saw this Dove ad the other day. It demonstrates really well how easy it is to judge ourselves unfairly and how harsh we really can be sometimes.

“We can’t hate ourselves into a version of ourselves we can love.” ~Lori Deschene

Take care and be gentle with yourself. Hugs, Phoenix

~*~

This is Post J, in the A to Z Blogging Challenge 2015. My 26 posts are inspired by the quotes from Avatar: The Last Airbender and The Legend of Korra, two Emmy award-winning animated television series created and produced by Michael Dante DiMartino and Bryan Konietzko. The setting for both series is in an Asian-influenced world of martial arts and elemental manipulation. The shows drew on elements from East Asian, South Asian, and Western culture, and (aside from the kick-ass story lines, beautifully developed characters and exceptional storyboards) are where I found a wealth of inspiration and perspective on my own life.

The rest of my A to Z 2015 posts can be found here.

Forgiveness & Acceptance

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Aang: It’s easy to do nothing, but it’s hard to forgive. Forgiveness is the first step you have to take to begin healing.

Forgiveness is a decision to let go of resentment and thoughts of revenge. The act that hurt you might always remain a part of your life, but forgiveness can lessen its grip on you and help you focus on other, more positive parts of your life, leading to feelings of understanding, empathy and compassion for yourself and/or the one who hurt you.

Forgiving Others

When we’re hurt by someone we love and trust, we become angry, sad or confused. If we dwell on hurtful events or situations, grudges filled with resentment, vengeance and hostility can take root. If we allow negative feelings to crowd out positive feelings, we find ourselves swallowed up by our own bitterness or sense of injustice.

It’s not fair but we are the sum of our positive and negative experiences. Sometimes aspects of ourselves that we are fiercely proud of grew in opposition to that which mistreated us. We should have been left to discover those parts of ourselves under kinder circumstances; no one deserves to have anything beaten into them ever. But sometimes that’s not how it happens. What do you do, then? Accept it as part of the tapestry of your life. Accept what you learned from it, without taking on the blame. ~ Beccatoria

Forgiving Yourself

In searching for a tag for this post, I just realized that I actually never wrote about Forgiveness on this blog. Yet it is a subject that is on my mind very often. Specifically in terms of forgiving myself.  It is hard and some things I can’t let go of. But, even if can’t quite offer myself forgiveness, I can offer acceptance. Not acceptance that what I did was justified or right or fair, but acceptance that it happened. It is unchangeable and it shaped me, and now I will move forward as a person. It is the best I can do for now.

9 Steps in Learning How to Forgive (from learningtoforgive.com):

  1. Know exactly how you feel about what happened and be able to articulate what about the situation is not okay. Then, tell one or two trusted loved ones about your experience. It is important that you acknowledge, without self-judgment, the feelings brought about by the experience. Talking to a loved one will help validate the experience. Being heard is important to the healing process.
  2. Make a commitment to yourself to do what you have to do to feel better. Forgiveness is for you and not for anyone else.
  3. Forgiveness does not necessarily mean reconciliation with the person that hurt you, or condoning their actions. What you are after is to find peace. Forgiveness can be defined as the “peace and understanding that come from blaming that which has hurt you less, taking the life experience less personally, and changing your grievance story.”
  4. Get the right perspective on what is happening. Recognize that your primary distress is coming from the hurt feelings, thoughts and physical upset you are suffering now, not what offended you or hurt you two minutes – or ten years – ago. Forgiveness helps to heal those hurt feelings.
  5. At the moment you feel upset practice a simple stress management technique to soothe your body’s flight or fight response.
  6. Give up expecting things from other people, or your life, that they do not choose to give you. Recognize the “unenforceable rules” you have for your health or how you or other people must behave. Remind yourself that you can hope for health, love, peace and prosperity and work hard to get them.
  7. Put your energy into looking for another way to get your positive goals met than through the experience that has hurt you. Instead of mentally replaying your hurt seek out new ways to get what you want.
  8. Remember that a life well lived is your best revenge. Instead of focusing on your wounded feelings, and thereby giving the person who caused you pain power over you, learn to look for the love, beauty and kindness around you. Forgiveness is about personal power.
  9. Amend your grievance story to remind you of the heroic choice to forgive.

With the exception of one or two of those, the same can be applied to forgiving ourselves.

Hugs and love,

Phoenix

~*~

This is Post F, in the A to Z Blogging Challenge 2015. My 26 posts are inspired by the quotes from Avatar: The Last Airbender and The Legend of Korra, two Emmy award-winning animated television series created and produced by Michael Dante DiMartino and Bryan Konietzko. The setting for both series is in an Asian-influenced world of martial arts and elemental manipulation. The shows drew on elements from East Asian, South Asian, and Western culture, and (aside from the kick-ass story lines, beautifully developed characters and exceptional storyboards) are where I found a wealth of inspiration and perspective on my own life.

The rest of my A to Z 2015 posts can be found here. 

Bad Habit Build-Up

ATLA Energy Flow

Guru Pathik: The water flows through this creek much like the energy flows through your body. If nothing else were around, this creek would flow pure and clear. However, life is messy, and things tend to fall in the creek, and then what happens?

Aang: The creek can’t flow?

Guru Pathik: Yes. But if we open the paths between the pools...[clears some moss clogging the water with his stick. The water pours quickly into the next pool, and soon all of them are running clean and clear.]

Aang: The energy flows!

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Life is like that isn’t it? When we allow bad habits to develop as means of dealing with difficult life experiences we create blocks to our emotional, mental, spiritual and physical development and well being. When I quit drinking I quickly found out that I had let alcohol become a habitual way to deal with so many emotions: anger, hurt, loneliness, frustration, fear. Of course, I wasn’t really dealing with any emotion. I was in the “efficient” habit of numbing what I felt. In actuality, the numbing and “escaping” only served to push the difficult emotions deep down into my psyche, where they prevented any real growth on my part.

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 is no more and I’m allowing myself time to see, recognize and sit with the difficult emotions, 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 shifted my focus because I know drinking never really made anything better.

For many of us, self-criticism and self-judgment are also habits we develop, which do us tremendous harm. 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. Even the way we have become accustomed to perceiving and talking about our past stories can change. I know I’ve accumulated many blocks over the years and I’m working on clearing away the moss and weeds and emotional buildup, so my true self can shine through.

Yes, sometimes I don’t want to sit with my feelings. 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.

~*~

This is Post B, in the A to Z Blogging Challenge 2015. My 26 posts are inspired by the quotes from Avatar: The Last Airbender and The Legend of Korra, two Emmy award-winning animated television series created and produced by Michael Dante DiMartino and Bryan Konietzko. The setting for both series is in an Asian-influenced world of martial arts and elemental manipulation. The shows drew on elements from East Asian, South Asian, and Western culture, and (aside from the beautifully developed characters and kick-ass story lines) are where I found a wealth of inspiration and perspective on my own life.

The rest of my A to Z 2015 posts can be found here. 

Accountability

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Uncle Iroh has just watched a group of boys accidentally kick a ball through a window.
Uncle Iroh: [to the boys] It is usually best to admit mistakes when they occur, and to seek to restore honour.
Angry Man: [coming to the window and shouting] When I’m through with you kids, the window won’t be the only thing broken!
Uncle Iroh: [to the boys] But not this time. Run!

Accountability seems to be the word of the day today. From production errors made by staff members at work, to discussions with my editor about anonymity for an upcoming article. Last year I wrote six articles under a pseudonym for an online magazine about early sobriety. The articles did very well in terms of number of hits and shares, and readers were interested and hopefully helped. Now I’ve written a new article about my first year of sobriety and the ways in which I got through it. The magazine will be publishing the new article soon and  I am considering using my real name as author this time – sort of finally owning my story and giving my journey the respect it deserves. But will I really be owning my story by simply giving it my name? And if I choose not to use my name, would this mean that I deem my story a shameful one which should be denied a name?

To tell you the truth I am wary of opening up myself for criticism I might not be all that ready to handle. I still consider myself new to this having only been sober for one year, and while I think I have a better handle on minimizing self-judgment, I am not sure I am ready to handle negative judgment from strangers who are not on a similar journey.

I know that accountability is important to me and I know I have nothing to be ashamed of. I have made mistakes and poor decisions while under the influence of alcohol, and sometimes I do still feel remorse and regret that certain things happened. But those mistakes don’t make me a mistake. I don’t feel ashamed of myself any more. I have accepted that those mistakes and poor decisions are a part of my past and I  endeavour daily to be a better person. And in fact, most days I am even proud of where I am now. But, in this case, I wonder what hiding behind a pseudonym would mean. In doing so am I saying that the person I am today is unwilling to be held accountable for mistakes I’ve made in the past? Or more simply, would staying anonymous mean that am I unwilling to be accountable to myself?

I have much to think about.

~*~

This is my first post, A, in the A to Z Blogging Challenge 2015. My 26 posts are inspired by the quotes from Avatar: The Last Airbender and The Legend of Korra, two Emmy award-winning animated television series created and produced by Michael Dante DiMartino and Bryan Konietzko. The setting for both series is in an Asian-influenced world of martial arts and elemental manipulation. The shows drew on elements from East Asian, South Asian, and Western culture, and (aside from the beautifully developed characters and kick-ass story lines) are where I found a wealth of inspiration and perspective on my own life.

The rest of my A to Z 2015 posts can be found here. 

Letter in Time

My three year old nephew wanted to see photos of his mummy as a little girl so, being the unofficial family historian, I went looking. I came across a letter I wrote in 1995 to my future self as part of a cousins project. I somehow managed to convince eight of us to write letters to our future selves that we promised to open a decade later. Hilarity ensued when we opened our time capsules as we had also saved photos of ourselves hoping to embarrass one another a decade later. A few of us, myself included, surrendered the same letters to the time capsule once more, to be opened in ten years.

It’s funny, even twenty years ago I was quite dramatic. Aside from the usual love-struck lines about “the love of my life” back then, there are sentences that make me pause now:

Excerpt: “Ten years from now I will be an archaeologist. I would’ve visited Egypt and stood at the foot of Ra. I have been climbed the Great Pyramids and the explored Grand Canyon. I have been to the Pyramid of the Moon and the Pyramid of the Sun.”

I didn’t go back to school to get that degree. So many things happened around that time: my parents’ terrible divorce and my subsequent emotional disconnect from them; my dad’s decision not to allow me to transfer to a university with the archaeology program because it was too far from home; my anger about that channeled into the pub on campus; the less than intelligent choices I made back then; the incident that summer in Florida.

I think I spent the greater part of two decades running from everything that happened back then. Of course, with alcohol being my running companion many more mistakes were made. I judged and damned myself for everything that happened and that guilt never really went away. I blamed myself for so much, and while it is important to own up to and acknowledge mistakes I’ve made, it has taken me a long time to accept that I also critically judged myself as broken, hopeless and unworthy because of those mistakes. I’m still working on reversing the self-inflicted damage.

Excerpt: “I have stopped trying to hide from myself. I have stopped being an ass to my mom and I make her smile instead of cry. I have forgiven myself and therefor my dad for destroying our relationship. I can hug my parents again. To my future self: I hope you still believe in unicorns and magic, and that faeries do exist as people who see light and goodness. There IS magic in this world. I hope you found your house by the sea and that all your dreams are coming true. I hope you have forgiven yourself for the mistakes in your past.”

Well, I have stopped being an ass to my mom, and Dad and I are in a much better place than before. I’m doing an okay job with forgiving myself for most of my crap. Would you believe me if I told you that I have accomplished most of this in the one year I’ve been sober? Amazing isn’t it? Needless to say I still look for the light and goodness in everyone I meet, and I still, and always will believe in magic.

Hugs, Phoenix

Elementary, my dear Watson.

One Way To Get Off “Part of recovery is about addressing painful things. If you ignore them, they become triggers.” ~ Joan Watson, Elementary (CBS TV Series)

I heard this last night while watching season one of Elementary again. I haven’t watched this season in a while so it’s interesting to me now from another angle: watching Sherlock Holmes handle sobriety. Joan Watson’s statement made me think, and take notes of course. When I think back on the times I really lost it and behaved badly while drinking there is an underlying common theme or emotional trigger.

There are topics that strike an emotional cord with me and more often than not, the nights when I ended up out of control were nights when those topics came up in conversation or were nagging thoughts at the back of my mind. Of course, there are several contributing factors to any volatile situation but I can see a common thread running through these incidents. I think I already knew this a year ago but while I was aware of how much of an effect these emotional triggers had on me, I ignored the self-destructive way I dealt with them.

Anyone who drinks the way alcoholics or abusers do has issues with self confidence, self care, and self respect and we tend to bury or deny painful or difficult memories. Instead we turn to alcohol for the rush, the adrenaline, or the numbness it offers. I understand how alcohol affects my body. I understand and accept that I will probably never drink again. But if I’m going to commit to this I have to come to terms with those painful and difficult memories that have become emotional triggers in my life. The memories which make me feel insecure, unloved, taken advantage of, unworthy, broken, hurt, ashamed, unseen, unheard and unsure are the ones I have to learn how to deal with.

In one of my yoga classes we examined the way our brains are wired to react to situations and experiences. When we are very young, infancy to age five, we observe, absorb and learn more than we will ever learn at any other point in our lives. We also learn how to react and respond to stimuli, including emotional situations. As we grow, most of the time, we react and respond to similar stimuli in the same way we did when we first encountered it.

Strong emotions like fear, sadness etc., beliefs and habits etc., create neural pathways in the brain (or wire the brain in a particular way) forming habits and fixed responses. From childhood the brain learns to connect certain responses to certain stimuli. This does not mean that your brain is hardwired and nothing can be done about it. You could learn to block these neural paths, obstruct the programmed behaviour and teach your brain to respond in ways that are different from its learned patterns of behaviour. ~ Sofs

So that’s my plan. I’m going back to the basics. I am going to come to terms with those difficult memories. I understand the chain reaction:

  • A current situation reminds me of a negative situation from my past.
  •  I have a strong emotional reaction to that memory which usually brings up feelings of unworthiness, unacknowledgment, alienation, fear.

After that two things happen next:

  • One: I stop taking care of myself and decide to have a couple of drinks. Years ago I realized I had a problem with alcohol but I did not care about myself enough to do something about it. Now it seems like common sense to me. Why I’ve taken so long to explore this is beyond my understanding, other than to suggest ‘everything happens in its own time’.
  • Two: This is where it gets scary. Some time after a few drinks, after the initial high has worn off, I realize that I’m not really feeling any better on an emotional level. So I drink more to get back to that first high. At this point I’m usually fighting a battle within myself to drink or not to drink. And the rebel in me always wins. She damns it all to hell. Good intentions and myself included.

Carl Jung says: “There is no coming to consciousness without pain. People will do anything, no matter how absurd, to avoid facing their own soul. One does not become enlightened by imagining figures of light, but by making the darkness conscious.”

Awareness gives me a choice in how I react to situations. When I am aware of how I feel or the feelings I am experiencing, rather than allowing them to overcome me, I can now choose the way I react to them. It is time for me to find a healthier way to deal with the painful or difficult memories. While I know that this will take  a lot of soul searching and will not happen overnight, I have acknowledged that the urge to drink is a reaction I have allowed to become a habit. When I see that reaction for what it truly is: Just a habit, (albeit a dangerous one), I can choose not to give in to that urge. It has NEVER served me in the past so why should it serve me in my future. I have to rewire my brain and form a new habit. I’ve been googling and visiting forums talking about this. There are some good tips here. While it’s not possible to block internal triggers, it is good to develop a range of strategies to handle the urge to drink. Here are some options:

  • Remind yourself of your reasons for making a change. Carry your top reasons on a wallet card or in an electronic message that you can access easily, such as a mobile phone notepad entry or a saved email.
  • Talk it through with someone you trust. Have a trusted friend on standby for a phone call, or bring one along to high-risk situations.
  • Distract yourself with a healthy, alternative activity. For different situations, come up with engaging short, mid-range, and longer options, like texting or calling someone, watching short online videos, lifting weights to music, showering, meditating, taking a walk or doing a hobby.
  • Challenge the thought that drives the urge. Stop it, analyze the error in it, and replace it. Example: “It couldn’t hurt to have one little drink. WAIT a minute—what am I thinking? One could hurt, as I’ve seen ‘just one’ lead to lots more. I am sticking with my choice not to drink.”
  • Ride it out without giving in. Instead of fighting an urge, accept it as normal and temporary. As you ride it out, keep in mind that it will soon crest like an ocean wave and pass.
  • Leave high-risk situations quickly and gracefully. It helps to plan your escape in advance.

I would add one more important note: Be gentle with yourself and leave the Judge behind. Those of us in recovery tend to be overly critical and judgmental of ourselves. We berate ourselves to a degree that is unheard of. This does not serve us in any way. It is OK to feel hurt, unsure, afraid, worried or stressed. It is OK to get that urge to drink. We are probably always going to feel that from time to time. How we handle the urge is what matters. We have to remind ourselves that we are stronger than we think and that we CAN do this. By the way, I know Doyle’s Sherlock never really said: “Elementary, dear Watson.” but it suited my post anyway. 🙂

Phoenix