Brene’ Brown says in Daring Greatly, her latest book, that drug overdose has become the most common cause of death in this country. And, it’s not heroin, cocaine or other illegal drugs…the vast majority are from prescription drug overdoses. Sarah, a nurse friend of mine, told me a few weeks ago that, among white women in this country, the life expectancy has shortened 5 years because of prescription drug abuse. I am sickened by this. Beautiful women…women with children… women with daughters…women who could be contributing their beautiful emotions, knowledge, feminine spirits to the world are deadening themselves to our world….many to the point of the ultimate deadening ….. death.
I know about numbing. I’ve numbed myself out with alcohol to the point of becoming addicted. I’ve numbed myself out to my own emotions by distracting myself with another person’s problems. I’ve numbed myself out with sugar…chocolate…work…shopping….busyness ….all of it. None of it worked long-term. With every attempt, I’d wake up with the same crap to deal with, except usually more of it as it snowballed with the consequences of my inattention to my life. So, I’d have to slam back some espresso to wake my butt up to deal with the day which included more numbing, more pastries, more chocolate, more coffee, more spending beyond my means….more burying of my emotions to pretend that I had it all together and could tackle enormous loads of stress and pain. In a word, I didn’t want to feel my shame at not being perfect. I didn’t want to face the fact that I felt unlovable because I didn’t have it all together. And, I just knew everybody else did. All those other gals had kids, families, nice cars, nice homes, a rocking spiritual life. They made it look so easy. I was comparing my insides to somebody else’s outsides.
A friend of mine told me the other day – just before she fixed her third martini – “you don’t have to do “that” anymore. ” “That” is my recovery program. “That” is the single most important thing in my life that gives me the most joy. “That” is the way I connect with others in a real, authentic way. “That” is the only way I can live without numbing myself out. Brown interviews two groups of people – people who live wholeheartedly and people who don’t. She defines living wholeheartedly as living authentically. She says overwhelmingly that people who live wholeheartedly have very strong boundaries. I have often said that the single most powerful thing I learned from my recovery has been around setting boundaries. I can do all of the stuff in the world to calm my anxiety and eliminate my shame ….acupuncture ….counseling ….meetings ….step work …..massage …meditation …prayer ….etc., and the world will still push my buttons. It’s helpful to take care of myself and still try to do it all. But, the most valuable thing I can do is to say no. I can say no to people who raise my anxiety level. I can say no to overwork. I can say no to answering email at all times of the night. I can say no to numbing myself out. I can say no to peer pressure. If I give up “that”, I give up my sanity. It’s sort of like working to get more money. Yes, I can work another job and another to get enough money to pay my bills. Or….. I could eliminate some of my bills. Which is easier?
An old boss of mine who didn’t know I was in recovery, used to say that recovering people had the strongest boundaries. “When they say no, you can’t get past them,” he used to quip, “no matter how much you beg.” I can tell you why I’m that way. I don’t want to give up my precious serenity. I don’t want to work so hard at living. If I’m in relationship with a crazy person, I have to work really hard at staying sane and getting my needs met. I don’t have that much energy anymore. If I say no to the relationship at the first sign that my boundaries won’t be respected, and I’m not safe, then I avoid all of that. It’s the way I want to live. And, I’m not giving “that” up.
Not everybody has addictions that really mess up their lives. My food issues don’t cause me health issues because I do a lot of things to make up for them. But, it is a way of numbing myself out. It’s a way of changing my mood. How do I know when eating is a joyful thing and when it is numbing? Chocolate is a numbing tool for me. If I go out to dinner to celebrate and have a great chocolate dessert with a friend, lingering over its flavor and its taste as we connect as friends, that’s a healthy indulgence. If I run to CVS and buy a family-sized bag of Dove chocolates and sit on my sofa while I eat one after another, that’s numbing. And, yes……I’ve done that…more than I’d like to admit.
The gift of living emotionally sober or as Brown calls it, wholeheartedly, is that what I seek for comfort also heals me. I am wired for connection with other people. If I numb out, I isolate myself. I become less connected and more filled with shame. It becomes a vicious, isolating cycle. The beauty of 12 step programs is they teach you to reach out when you hurt instead of numbing out. I still hurt my first year…..horribly. But, when I did, I could go to one of many meetings anywhere in my area to connect. And, meetings are supportive. They are not hard to attend. You don’t even have to talk, and many times I didn’t. I just absorbed what I heard and felt the presence of a power greater than myself. The harder thing to do, but one of the most valuable was to pick up the phone and call another soul who struggles with numbing, too. I love that sponsors won’t call their sponsees. By nature of the relationship, the sponsee has to call the sponsor to ask for help. It taught me that picking up the phone provided relief. Relief didn’t come to me. I had to make an effort. When I numb out, the hangover is shame. When I connect with others, the hangover is love. I choose love, and I won’t ever give “that” up……no matter how promising the drug. An overdose of love will never kill me.