Warning Signs

The Moderation Contemplation

mona-davis-winds-of-freedom

Winds of Freedom – Mona Davis

Are you trying to decide whether or not moderating your alcohol intake is the preferable option to giving it up entirely? Hugs and love to you. I know this is hard.

If I may, I’d like to ask you two questions:

1. Do you believe that being able to drink moderately makes you better or more whole as a person?
2. Do you know the reasons why you want the escape that drinking “promises”?

If you’re struggling to answer these two questions honestly, perhaps abstinence is the way to go. Of course the decision is yours but I’ll share my story:

I was a binge drinker which means that I could go days or weeks without drinking but when I did drink, anything could happen. Back then, if I was upset or angry the first couple of drinks felt good because all the pleasure centers in my brain were tickled, tricking me into believing that the 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. Deep down I knew I had a problem with limits and believing it was a question of willpower, I had tried quitting or at least moderating my drinking many times. Especially after particularly embarrassing episodes or near misses. I tried “not drinking during the week” or limiting my consumption, you know, with the “three drinks minimum”. I changed what I drank and who I hung out with. I “had it under control.”

But the truth was, I didn’t want to give it up, or to be more honest, I didn’t want to be the girl who had to give it up. So no amount of rules or agendas would’ve worked. Years later, when I finally got fed up enough with myself and all the blackouts, and with hurting people I loved, knew I had no choice. I knew that this time, I didn’t want to be the girl who couldn’t give it up. In my heart I believe that perspective made all the difference.

Early on in my sobriety I was afraid that I’d always feel broken, and inadequate, defective or abnormal because I couldn’t drink the way other people did. As time went on, I came to realize that choosing to figure out why I wanted to drink in the first place, and understanding that it was not about will power but instead about goodwill toward myself, made me proud not be a drinker. It became a source of strength and confidence.

Today, I know for a fact that alcohol never made anything better.  In terms of moderation, if you are already at the point where you are telling yourself that you should be moderating your alcohol intake, it usually means that alcohol simply isn’t for you. You are either safely unaffected by it or a stronger, better you without it.

The Girl In The Mirror

smokingmirrors

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

All Change Begins With A Plan

image

“All change begins with a plan, the success of which depends upon several things: depth of commitment, passion for one’s cause, willingness to embrace a new path, determination to overcome any obstacle, and in some cases, even making unnatural alliances.” ~ Klaus Mikaelson

On February 6th 2014, four days after I stopped drinking alcohol, I started this blog. My two-year soberversary is only a month away and the next month of 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.

All change begins with a plan

January is the month that many people make New Year resolutions to quit drinking, or at least, to not drink so much. When I made the decision to quit it was not the first time I’d said “That’s it! I’m NEVER drinking again. By that time in my life, I’d made that statement more times that I could remember, usually on the morning (or afternoon) after a night of heavy drinking. I’d be nursing the hangover from hell, trying with a very foggy brain to remember details of the night before, hoping and praying that I hadn’t said or done anything I’d really regret. Sounds familiar? So what made this declaration different than the ones before? For one thing, I’d just found out that I was in danger of losing the person I’d hurt this time. It was my sister and she had had enough. It was a wake-up call. I was full of remorse for what I’d done, disappointed in and more than angry and fed-up with myself. I was scared too. How many times was I going to do this to myself and to the people I care about? Why was it so hard to simply behave!? But you see, there wasn’t anything simple about my drinking at all. It was time to face facts: I had a problem, needed to get help and had to do whatever it took to deal.

Commitment, passion, openness, and determination

Deciding to give up drinking is an emotional, mental and physical struggle I remember very well. For years I suspected I had a problem and was terrified to admit it. I was afraid that it would mean that I was broken and a mess, which (in my way of thinking back then) would mean that I was unworthy and unlovable. I was afraid that I would have to give up my keys to The Little World of Block-It-All-Out and be left with no way to escape all those issues I was running from. I wasn’t ready to spend time with real me because I believed myself to be ugly and shameful.

I had tried quitting or at least curbing my drinking before. Especially after particularly embarrassing episodes or near misses. I tried “not drinking during the week” or limiting my consumption, you know, with the “three drinks minimum”. I changed what I drank and who I hung out with. I “had it under control.” But the truth was, I didn’t want to give it up, or to be more honest, I didn’t want to be the girl who had to give it up. So no amount of rules or agendas would’ve worked. When I finally got fed up enough with myself and knew I had no choice, I knew that this time, I was quitting for ME. In my heart I believe that this made all the difference in the world.

I made some phone calls and asked for advice on where to go. I went to a meeting and started this blog to hold myself accountable. I knew it was not going to be easy but I also knew that nothing was going to make me give up. 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. Once I figured that out the real work began.

Making unnatural alliances

I had to become a friend, to myself. Before you think I’m referring to the “I have to learn to love myself” philosophy that’s all the rage, let me stop you right there. I mean, I had to get to KNOW myself. I know I did not quit drinking for my sister but her actions that day forced me to look at the kind of person I was. Who I knew myself to be deep down inside was not the person on the outside. The Me on the outside was drowning in alcohol related side effects and becoming someone who had no understanding of herself and honestly did not like herself very much. I needed to understand myself, simple as that. I had to dig deep to find the source of my triggers and negative core beliefs, and rewire my thinking process with compassion and acceptance. It’s a work in progress but it is doable. I’m proof of that.

Quitting Drinking for 2016

If you’ve come across my blog because you’re wondering if you have a problem with alcohol maybe this can help clear it up:

I was a binge drinker. Which means that I didn’t drink every day, or got drunk every time I drank, but I had problems with limits. By the time I reached my low point I was drinking at least three times for the week and getting drunk about four times for the month. Once or twice a year I’d get drunk enough to have to rely on loved ones to drive me home. Oh and most importantly, I used alcohol as a means of escape instead of dealing with life. Long story short, all binge drinkers can and, if their habits are not checked, will become alcoholics at some point. What happens next, is up to you.

Love, light and courage,

Phoenix

 

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.

Giving Into It

Katara Care 2

Katara: I know sometimes it hurts more to hope and it hurts more to care. But you have to promise me you’ll never stop caring.

I can’t cry. Yes, it is surprising to me too. I talk so much about honouring your emotions and allowing them to spill out of you when they need to. Yet, I can honestly say, I can’t cry. Sure, I get worked up emotionally and I get choked up to the point of squeezing out a few tears. But I am so very in the habit of swallowing tears and taking those deep suck-up-the-whole-world-of-worry breaths that I just don’t cry.

I used to bawl. Under the influence, during pretty bad episodes. I’d bawl to the heavens and sob with anguish. But of course, I’d never get the release promised because I’d usually pass out drunk before such relief came. Then I’d wake up hollow and empty.

I’ve been reading up on the subject (because it worries me) and apparently this is a common problem with people who have addictive tendencies because it is used as a means of escape – of disconnecting. It’s root is the same: Fear. Disconnecting from our emotions manifests in specific ways: overeating, working excessively, drinking daily, engaging in compulsive sex, working long hours, and many other types of compulsive behavior. We push our feelings down through excessive behavior, to make sure we do not feel them at that moment. In my case, now that the alcohol is out of the picture for me, it seems like analysis (writing), and overeating may have taken its place.

What really struck a chord with me was reading this:

“People spend much time talking about how they feel.  They attend workshops, they visit therapists, and they tell others who did what to them and describe how they feel about it.  They talk and talk about their feelings but they don’t feel their feelings.  They intellectualize and analyze their feelings without feeling them. People are afraid to really feel their feelings, afraid of losing control, afraid of the pain involved in feeling their emotions, of feeling the sense of loss or failure or whatever the emotion brings with it.   People are afraid to cry.  So much of life is about what you feel rather than what you think. Don’t be afraid to feel your feelings.  Feeling them means owning them. Being strongly connected to your emotional life is essential to living a life with high energy and a sense of fulfillment and satisfaction.”

So… I want all of that. I want to be connected to my emotional side on an analytical level and on an expressive level. I want to feel my way through life. I don’t mind talking or writing my way through feelings, but I’d rather not talk or write to the point of numbing them. I miss the surrender.

Phoenix

~*~

This is Post G, 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.

Despair

Zuko Iroh Despair

Uncle Iroh: Zuko, You must never give into despair. Allow yourself to slip down that road and you surrender to your lowest instincts. In the darkest times, hope is something you give yourself. That is the meaning of inner strength.

Every now and then I come across something I’d written when I was good and proper under the influence. It was a habit I’d formed, scribbling on napkins in bars, texting lines of poetry to myself in the early morning hours, or typing away on a laptop with Tori Amos playing in the background:

“We deem ourselves masters of our own destinies yet forever doom ourselves being slaves to our own darkness.” ~ Phoenix

These days I shake my head and chuckle at the melodramatic lines I find hidden in books and treasure chests, and I wonder about the girl who cried her heart out while she wrote. Makes me sad to think that she felt at a loss to handle so much pain. There are also many lines with crushing self-criticism and I am so grateful that I don’t do that anymore. Don’t get me wrong, there are days when I am quite okay with hiding under my blanket and wallowing in my moodiness, but I understand that it is necessary to do so from time to time, and I don’t judge myself as weak or damaged, worthless or hopeless anymore. I don’t let the Negative Pity Party Committee in my head get away with their out of place comments for very long.

Still, there are feelings which creep in every now and then, at sunset, which I can’t quite explain. Feelings of dread, anxiety, confusion, and despair. They’re not overwhelming and crippling as before and usually very brief, so I don’t worry about them too much. But they’re a curiosity to me and I’m still working out the root cause. Does this happen to any of you?

Dad once asked if they’re residual feelings from childhood about not finishing homework on time, or knowing that the falling night meant that the next school day was much closer. He could be right. Maybe my grown up self feels unfulfilled at the end of the day and worried about not accomplishing enough. (Yes, the charming life of a control freak) Or, perhaps it has more to do with perspective. As the sun sets and the sky changes from blue to red signaling the end of another day, I think about my role in this vast Universe. Am I doing what I’m meant to be doing? Most of the time I don’t think I am. Life is calling out to me and I’m not listening. I still confine myself to the expectations and limitations placed upon me by others and by myself. That’s when the anxiety, fear, and dread set in. It’s almost like feeling my spirit die. Is that possible?

I know that despair is rooted in self-doubt and hopelessness. If anything this last year has taught me is that I am stronger than I gave myself credit for. I am more capable than I thought and I can tap into my vast reserves of optimism, hope and faith. So today, thankfully, feelings of despair don’t last very long. And I do love mornings. I have been slowly but surely turning the table on twilight. I look for the beauty in it: the colours of the sky, the stillness and silence which follows as birds roost, the changing scent of the air. Maybe if I focus on these gifts, I won’t think about the negative.

~*~

This is Post D, 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. 

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.”

The Beast

“The beast in me is caged by frail and fragile bars.” Johnny Cash

I gripped the steering wheel tightly as the tires screeched around the corner. My heart was racing and I giggled at the thrill.

“Do you fear death?” I asked my girl friend in the passenger seat. She was silent, her mouth set in a straight line. She’d seen me that way before. She knew talking to me would be useless.

When I think back to the times I fed that side of me and what I allowed myself to do I still shake my head in disbelief:

Yelling at my sister or my mom, scaring them and pushing them to the point of tears; Lashing out and saying terrible things to friends; Hurting and harming myself in more ways than one. I’d always end up crying uncontrollably at the end of the worst episodes. When I’d pushed people as far away as possible just to see who loved me enough to stay and hug me tight despite my claws and bared teeth. But who would (or could) stay when that beast was out? So inevitably I’d be in that place alone – scared and ultimately ashamed and full of remorse. That’s when the crying would come. Tears of frustration, anger, shame, fear, loneliness and guilt. If it was a really bad night I’d howl for all the ways that I’d hurt myself.

I used to ask myself over and over why I behaved so dreadfully. Why was I so awful? Where did that horrible side of me come from? I had my suspicions of course but did not know how to deal with that knowledge. It was easier to turn away, hell it was easier to pretend I did not know where that beast came from.

But I know now that she came from a place of fear. Any experience which triggered subconscious memories of times when I’d felt insecure, unloved, taken advantage of, unworthy, broken, hurt, ashamed, unseen, or unheard were enough to stimulate strong emotional reactions. Most of the time my rebellious nature and a sense of daring would take over, determined to let fun override any negativity. It worked most of the time. Every now and then it didn’t. My fear of facing those emotions brought out the beast in me.

I hated myself when I was like that. I was ashamed and I’d lash out at everyone else for not understanding. But how could they? They never knew. I’d never given anyone a chance to really understand. I’d built myself a little cage around me to keep others at a safe distance. To keep anyone from really connecting with me.

But that carefully constructed cage had frail and fragile bars. They were never really solid though, fashioned as they were out of the unexplained remains of a broken heart, so of course with the right (de)vices they were easy to break apart. Unfortunately, instead of letting others in, that broken cage  let the beast out. You see, I never really believed that I was worthy of love. I had trouble believing that love, kindness and understanding offered to me could be sustainable, so instead of gently accepting what was offered, I’d snarl and bite and demand proof that was offered was of substance.

I think differently now of course, at least I hope I do.

Phoenix

 

Once A Pickle, Always a Pickle

Pleasant-Pickle-Face

Written by: Lushwell

“Can I get you a drink?”

“No thanks, I don’t drink.”

“Really? Why? I mean, why don’t you drink?”

“Same reason I don’t smoke. I see little good coming from it.”

The issue of drinking or abstaining is hosted in OUR minds. We make it an issue. “I have to drink to fit in”. Bullsh_t. Most who have encountered one of our bizarre episodes will be delighted when the night is through and we haven’t made an ass of ourselves and the cops weren’t needed. This time.

Discretion in drinking, or discretion in abstaining? You will find several schools of thought on this board regarding the realistic ability to control drinking. I subscribe to the thought that once predicable control of alcohol / chemicals usage has been lost, it is gone for good. Responsible efforts then need to be focused on abstinence.

I recall an old saying that you can take a cucumber and make it into a pickle, but once it becomes a pickle, it will never be a cucumber again. That sums it up for me pretty well. I passed from being a cucumber into the land of pickles. There isn’t any magic chant or potion or meeting to attend that will make me a cucumber again. I will be a pickle from here on out. This fact was pretty evident to me, in spite of my denial and excuses and rationalization. I didn’t drink every day. I didn’t drink antifreeze. The cops didn’t need to be called every time I opened a beer. I learned that those things, while important, weren’t what determined that I had crossed over into pickle territory. That test was much simpler. Here is the test:

It isn’t about how much we drink

Or how often

Or where

Or with who

Or when.

Its about what happens when we do drink. The inability to predict what will happen, how we will act, what we will do, and when it will end.

If any of the above fits, you may be in pickle territory. Don’t worry, though. We can get you out of the pickle brine. There is a way out. You’ll still be a pickle though.

I’m not sure where discretion fits in here for you. You can always call ahead and warn the party hosts that someone else will have to be the reason for the next exciting episode of “Cops” to be filmed at their party, as you will not be performing. See how many tell you they are sorry to hear that.

Originally published by Lushwell

The Choice Is Yours

Top-5-reasons-to-choose-avast-Internet-Security

There comes a point where you realize that you can’t blame anyone but yourself for the way you feel about things that happen to you or for the place you’re at. You’re unhappy and frustrated in that crappy and unfulfilling job because you chose to stay. You think you don’t have career options because you chose to procrastinate on revamping your resume and sending it out. You’re left holding the short end of a broken relationship because you chose not to see the warning signs. You’re unhappy about your weight because you didn’t make that commitment to yourself to just start exercising, even at home, to one of those shows on FitTV. You’re unhappy with your health because you chose to skip the fruits and veggies you love. You’re disappointed and fed up with yourself because you were afraid to accept the fact that you have a problem with alcohol. So there it is: you only have yourself to blame.

But then you realize ‘blame’ is too harsh a word. Yes, you are responsible for the choices you make, but owning up to those choices and then choosing how you react to the emotions and feelings they bring is also up to you. You can choose to judge yourself harshly and walk about cursing the day, scaring the hell out of small children and motorists. You can choose to wallow in self pity and cry “It’s not fair!” into your pillow at night. You can choose to be a victim or a warrior and fight for the person you know you can be.

You can choose to understand that your feelings of dissatisfaction, frustration and disappointment are all indicators that you are not where you are meant to be. You can choose to man-up (or woman-up) and own and understand your feelings, not bury them or let them overwhelm you, but instead allow them to push you to make the necessary changes. You can choose to recognize that awareness is only half the battle, WILL is what will get you where you need to go. You can choose to accept responsibility for yourself and get help. You can choose to stay the course and not give in. You alone can motivate yourself to change your situation, whatever it may be. The choice is yours.

Phoenix