The Grief of Alcoholism

lonely

I read this article yesterday from the New Yorker. David Sedaris writes about his zany, funny mother who was overtaken by alcoholism in her later years. She was the organizing factor in their family. But as the children left, she became more organized around the clink of ice in a glass. I was struck by the deep grief that poured out of his story.

He keeps asking why none of them ever said anything or did anything about her alcoholism. The disease stole her life long before her early death stilled her heart. But they were paralyzed to help her. Of course, in reality, she has to want to help herself, but often people help themselves when their loved ones confront them about the pain their addiction causes for others. Sedaris spends hours watching the show “Intervention”. I imagine he has his letter to his mother written indelibly in his mind. Instead, she slipped slowly to the grave.

Alanon has a book about the grief caused by alcoholism. People often think the alcoholic is only hurting himself or herself, but the family is impacted dramatically. Even if the drinker is more of a functional alcoholic, the loss is immense. There is the loss of time where the addict is not himself because of drinking. There is the loss of relationship because you are never sure how much any conversation is impacted. Is this what they really mean? Will they even remember it? There is the loss of presence as the alcoholic gives more and more time to the bottle. The list of losses is endless, and its victims are far-reaching.

Sedaris is haunted by the inaction of everyone in his family to stop the slow, painful loss of his beautiful, lively mother. He describes his confusion as he hears the clinking ice in her glass behind her slurred words. He can’t bring himself to say anything but he is enamored with those families who made the effort to intervene. “At least they did something” echoes loudly.

Never Look Back

Screen Shot 2018-03-22 at 8.46.54 AM

“Never look back,” my Aunt Iris said to me as a 35-year-old recently divorced woman. Right before her 25th Wedding Anniversary party I found out she had been divorced three times. There was no one else in my family that had been divorced that I could talk to, so this was a blessed discovery. When I asked my mother why she struggled so with marriage, she said quite bluntly, “She just didn’t put up with bullshit.” And the fifth one was the charm. She would stay married to him until he died many years later.

Screen Shot 2018-03-22 at 8.46.31 AM

It is so hard not to look back. I fail miserably at keeping my head in the present marching boldly into the future. But I’ve learned that rehearsing finished conversations, trying to revive dead relationships and replaying past events doesn’t make life any better. When I find myself doing it, I try to turn it around by asking myself if I want to keep investing my time in a mistake, or if I’d prefer to invest in my future. The present is all I have, and the future is a result of this moment. The past has no return unless I’m using it as a “lessons learned” review.

Screen Shot 2018-03-22 at 8.46.09 AM

Whether it’s a man, a woman, a bad financial deal, a screwed-up workplace, an unfriendly community, bad habits that don’t serve you, people that don’t have your back or it’s just time to move on, take some advice from Jo Dee Messina and my Aunt Iris, never look back. 

Wrestling Anxiety… I Win

I jolted awake. I could hear Buster throwing up in the next room. “Dammit,” I said. Poor Buster. I got up and took care of him and cleaned up the mess.

I hopped back in bed only to realize that I was wracked with anxiety. “Dammit,” I said more loudly. First I was pissed at Buster for waking me up. A flash of fear told me that I would never go back to sleep. I already felt the drag of the long day ahead with little sleep. My body railed against it. My brain assaulted me with fears of growing old, of not being able to pay my bills and of my imminent death. Living alone, my animals will die a horrible death of starvation because there is no one here to feed them. (I read that story in the news yesterday. My anxiety has a new toy.)

I thought of one of my girlfriends who has been losing sleep lately. I promised her that I’d send her some links to a yoga nidra to help her get back to sleep. I forgot. Surely she thinks I’m a horrible person, and her life is going down the drain, too, because I forgot to send her the salve for her wound. Now I’ll be friendless, too. The familiar tense muscles and racing mind carried me away on a runaway raft of fear.

I finally grabbed a limb. “This is not real,” I told myself. “This is anxiety.” It is a physical problem which manifests a cascade of mental bullying. Nothing had changed since I went to bed. And everything will be fine when I wake up if I ever go back to sleep. “Jesus, help me,” I whispered. “I’m in anxiety.” I gave myself a long hug and a reassurance that I loved her and would take care of her. Anxiety said, “Dammit, I was having fun.”

Once I named it, I was able to let go of the torrent of thoughts. If I don’t stop interacting with them, sleep will elude me. I didn’t want to do it, but I launched my Calm app and did a 25 minute deep sleep relaxation meditation. I was so tense it took the full 25 minutes for my muscles to release. I realized I might not sleep but I could always rest, and that was okay, too.

This is my anxiety. I can go through the list of things I’ve eaten this week that probably set this off, but it doesn’t really matter how I got here. I have to dig myself out. I didn’t feel anxious when I got up, but I know I could stoke that ember pretty quick.  So today will be a no sugar, no coffee and no white flour day. There will be no news until later in the day, and I’m listening to sweet Enya. I will meditate frequently. Breakfast was a whole-grain breakfast porridge with plenty of relaxing healthy carbs. A glass of kefir and a bit of yogurt coated my gut with probiotics. It was probably diet that got me into this mess, and diet will bring me out.

93fca358-12f5-4961-9c9b-bf3c77400118-fbd405d2-cbdb-4f7c-b209-e2ed54d0b8ba-v1

Thank goodness it’s Friday, and I have a connected weekend ahead. There’s a chili cook-off in Saint Joe tonight, and it sounds fun. I think a night out on the town might do me good. Y’all have a good weekend. I hope to visit a new coffeehouse or two this weekend!

Resources:

Oh yeah, and if you struggle with anxiety, here are some things that work for me. You can also check out a lot of resources on this search. Share your favorites with me. Kick your anxiety out the door!

Vulnerability Unearths Strength

IMG_0593

With a birthday that’s so close behind New Year’s, it’s hard for me to find a reflection point. I’ve already made a list of what I want for this year. I’ve already reflected on the past year. So, I searched for ways to celebrate your birthday on the worldwide web. That’s where all the answers are, right?

My search came up with all of the typical reactions to getting older. I care less about what people think. I sever or speak up in relationships that aren’t helpful. I am less attached to consumerism and “rules”. All of this stuff is true, but I don’t really want to focus on that. I wanted something more positive to focus on. I came up with this blog:

Screen Shot 2018-01-15 at 8.55.46 AM

A friend of mine recently pronounced on an online dating site that she was grateful for her sobriety and wanted someone that would celebrate that. After all, sobriety is hard work and a sign that a person would go to any lengths to make sure they are the best person they can be. That’s a positive, right? Pretty immediately she freaked out that she put that up there and took it down. But in the few minutes it was up, a guy – interested because of that confidence in herself – contacted her, and they have started dating. She doesn’t even remember what it said because she took it down so fast.

Ironically, in our culture, recovery from addiction is a stigma. Most of us have very little control over the hand we are dealt in life. Genetics define who is susceptible to addiction, our skin color, our  mental health, and our looks. People are constantly judged by all of these – as if they had any control over any of it. Many other issues are a result of our upbringing, where we grew up and the life lessons that fell in our path. Our path is not in our control, but our reaction to it is. But we are often judged by the obstacles that were put in our way – addictions, mental illness, poverty, attachment disorders – and not the way we have overcome it.

61062-Sigmund-Freud-Quote-Out-of-your-vulnerabilities-will-come-your

I know this seems to have nothing to do with the gratitude blog that I read, but I am most grateful for my quality of being intolerant of emotional pain. Sure, it led me directly into numbing through early addiction, but it also led me out. When something is painful for me, I don’t tolerate it very long. And, luckily for me, I live in a world with plenty of resources.

Even in my twenties when I realized drinking was an issue for me, I picked up the phone and asked for help. This “shortcoming” of mine of being intolerable of emotional pain has helped me avoid lots of danger and to become a stronger person with resilience in the face of adversity. The simple act of asking for help has opened me up to communities of people who are strong and brave and vulnerable. I have no idea what my life would be like if I would have chosen numbness over connection with others, but I really don’t want to find out.

One of the best compliments I ever received was from a country friend of mine when I moved home. This big, tough redneck guy told me, “When the going gets tough, and everything goes to hell in a hand basket in this country, I want you on my team. You are a survivor.” I can’t be grateful for that capacity without being grateful for the hardships and tendencies that unearthed the need. As always in God’s world, it is vulnerability that ultimately strengthens us.

Sundays in Sawyer: Dancing With Darkness

IMG_4805

The house across the street when I left this morning.

It was dark when I left out this morning at 8 AM. Christmas lights sparkled red and green against the soft luminescent snow. The Winter Solstice is this week – Thursday to be exact. I love Solstice celebrations. When I think of the significance of lightness and darkness in our lives, it makes sense to me that the days with the most light and the days with the most darkness should be marked in some way. And what would Christmas lights be without the long interplay of darkness in December?

IMG_4572

I’ve always loved the dark. I love seeing the stars at night, and I love the long nights of winter. They are times of rest and reflection. I don’t sleep as well in the summer with the long days of sunshine. While I feel more energetic during the summer, I don’t think it is good for us to be revved up all the time. There is a reason for the season, and I believe the reason is rest and rejuvenation – of our bodies, our souls and our lives. Our ancestors felt these seasons were so important, they were the biggest celebrations of the year.

IMG_3203

Part of my plan for getting through the winter this year is to be open to doing something different. I signed up for an 8-class yoga pass at my old yoga studio where I completed my teacher training. And, I decided that I would start doing my Sunday blogging at Infusco Coffee in Sawyer since it is on the way to the Sunday yoga class.  When I visited their website last night, I read about their mission. This is much more than a coffee shop. They sell “relationship coffee.” It makes the coffee taste much better when there is such a good cause behind it. If that’s not a light in the darkness, I don’t know what is. So now my Sunday blog will be called Sundays in Sawyer…. until I do something different.

The mission and history of Infusco ….

A sign on their counter said their eggnog latte was divine, so I ordered one. Ashok was out in the car waiting like usual, and I thought to ask if they allowed dogs. They do! Ashok can now hang with me instead of waiting in the car. I set down her blanket, and we both enjoyed the Christmas tree and the quiet setting of this comfortable and welcoming coffeehouse.

The darkness of depression is still lingering with me this evening. But I got up and made myself a nice, healthy dinner. A task so simple feels overwhelming when I’m depressed. But, I have to say it made me feel a tad better to put some effort into taking care of me. I think I’ll turn off this computer now and go read for a bit. Surely I have something light and humorous on my Kindle to ignite a little lightness in my spirit. If not, I can always fall asleep and get some rest. Either way, tomorrow will be another day.

We got out for a hike today at Warren Dunes State Park. That helped my mood a bit, too….

 

The Power of Gentleness

205221-Be-Gentle-And-Kind-With-Yourself

I chose a meditation this morning from my 10% Happier app that promised to provide focus. Sharon Salzberg was the teacher, and she promised to help me focus on the space between the breaths. I noticed my breathing was labored. I struggled with pausing between breaths. As soon as the exhale ended I was gasping to inhale. My body was reacting as if I would die if I went a second without oxygen. I know from experience this is a symptom of my anxiety.

My anxiety’s creator is what I call my drill sergeant. He literally has a whip that he uses to keep me on the right track. “Do it right,” he screams and cracks the whip. “You can’t stop now,” he admonishes when I stop to rest. His goal is to keep me on track, to shame me into sticking to a standard is always be elusive. And when I’m meditating, he rails at me to “relax …. stop thinking … quiet your mind … breathe smoothly and easily …. you’ll never get this right”. What actually happens is I can’t do any of those things. I just get scared that I’ll never do it right, and I lunge at my breath to help me feel safe.

“Be gentle with yourself,” I tell my friends when they are lunging after their breath, their eyes wide with anxiety and fear over something that they can’t seem to accomplish or make right. I see their drill sergeant and can almost hear the crack of the whip as he admonishes them to meet an impossible goal. It’s not infrequent that people tell me that they can’t be gentle with themselves. If they are not harsh with themselves, they will fail.

When I recognized what was happening this morning, I stopped trying to follow her instructions, and I said, “I love you, Sharon”. I gave myself a big, imaginary, long hug. Immediately my body relaxed, and in a few minutes my breathing and my mind settled into an easy, relaxed cadence. I love the lessons of meditation and yoga. They are so subtle, and they only come when I pay attention to my internal drama. I think the drill sergeant is my internal voice, but he’s not. He’s an external structure built by a lifetime of experiences, demands and uninformed authority figures. He is not what is within me.

Yoga, meditation, therapy, 12-step recovery and other spiritual practices quiet the unhelpful voices that cause us to lunge after our breath or material goods or addictive substances of any kind. These safe practices – and if they are not safe, they are not healthy – provide a different structure that provides a soft spot to land and an absence of expectations. We all have enough goals and demands and expectations that drive us nearly to our death. The inner voice of the spirit is so gentle and sweet in comparison. It’s only when we meet it with gentleness that it becomes audible.

Ms. Salzberg echoed my experience this morning when she said that we can only improve and succeed if we lovingly support ourselves. Want to stick with a diet? Need to stop drinking? Is your life not working? Don’t listen to the drill sergeant. He’s what drove you to this place. Listen to your inner voice that tells you what you need and want and who genuinely adores you just the way you are. In my experience, it’s in the safety of sweet gentleness that my spirit ignites. The human spirit is infinitely more powerful than being driven from the outside…. and a lot more pleasurable, too.

Be gentle with yourself. See how powerful you really are.

 

Finding Laughter in the Darkness

Screen Shot 2017-11-09 at 7.01.07 AM

I was searching for new podcasts a couple of weeks ago. I wanted something that was not political, informative and thought-provoking. I listen to one called Women on the Road about women who live in campers and travel all the time. One of my favorites is How I Built This about entrepreneurs who made it really big. They have featured the builders of Eileen Fisher, Five Guys and Starbucks. I thought humor might be a good addition to my library, and I found one called The Hilarious World of Depression. Hmmmmm… really? Hilarious? Not my experience of depression, for sure.

I had some windshield time yesterday, so I plugged in and listened to a couple of episodes. So far, they are interviewing comedians who struggle with depression. They are somewhat funny, but the focus is their journey with depression. A friend of mine asked if that seemed odd that comedians would have depression, but, as a sufferer of depression, it makes perfect sense to me. Who can articulate the wildly insane world of mental illness better than someone who writes or performs? And since depression separates us from reality, we see all of its quirks and ironies.

Screen Shot 2017-11-09 at 7.05.49 AM

Depression is more of a numbness for me. Sometimes I feel sad, but mostly I just feel down and hopeless. I describe it as feeling like I’m in a box or as if I’m a small child hiding in a corner. There is a heaviness in my heart that I can only describe as weighted weariness. Moving around feels monumental. I watch the world disconnectedly as if reality is a movie where I didn’t get a part. The hardest part is feeling disconnected …. disconnected from my emotions, my relationships and from my hopes and dreams. The landscape is a movie screen. And it’s not even a really good movie. Is this all there is? 

Listening to these comedians talk about their darkest days and their journey with depression has been very comforting in an odd sort of way. People tell me that I often describe what they are going through in my blog, and it helps them to hear it described in prose. Sometimes – they say – it gives them words to describe their feelings. That’s exactly how I feel listening to this podcast. Even people who are famous and successful and wildly funny have periods where they sink into the dark hole of depression. Often, their inner world is at its darkest when they are at the peak of their success.

So, I just thought I’d pass this on. If you suffer from depression, it could be a warm blanket on a dark day. If you live with someone who suffers from depression, it will most certainly provide some insight on why they can’t “snap out of it” or use positive thinking to shift their mood. Most of all, I hope it will provide the perspective that depression doesn’t limit you unless you don’t get help. There is help available, and there is success and laughter and hope after – and even during – depression.

 

I’m Not Weird… Just Highly Sensitive

sensitive

I always knew I was sensitive. But I was surrounded by people who thought it was a fatal flaw. Toughen up…. don’t be so sensitive … you need to learn to cope with life … you are weak … insults around my sensitivity engulfed me. As I tried to process things like anger, sarcasm, violent movies and interpersonal drama, I struggled immensely.

I became depressed for the first time in my teens. All I wanted to do was hang out in my room, paint my nails and listen to my record player. Something was wrong with me, I told myself. How will I ever cope with my life? Why did God make me like this? Didn’t he know how hard this would be to live like this? I knew I couldn’t stop the “incoming” that was pushing my buttons everyday.

I eventually found alcohol and marijuana and started self-medicating. Of course that didn’t help either, but it helped me check out from the pressure of my overwhelming sensitivity to the world and its impact on my psyche. When I got sober in my mid-twenties, I found myself back in a world where I felt assaulted continuously. I really didn’t know how I would manage. It was just hard to be alive.

Screen Shot 2017-08-22 at 6.07.13 AM

I don’t remember when I found the book The Highly Sensitive PersonI’m pretty sure a therapist recommended it to me. I finally recognized myself, and there was nothing wrong with me. I was just sensitive to my environment. Anger overwhelmed me. My feelings drowned me. I needed lots of downtime to decompress from what others might describe as day-to-day drama. And the author offered tools for self-care and living a normal life.

I don’t know about other countries, but our culture doesn’t accept sensitive people as an asset. If we aren’t tough and in your face, we are considered weak. If I am empathetic to others, I’m a snowflake. I had a coworker tell me once that he couldn’t even have a conversation with me because I didn’t watch TV or violent movies. I feel out of step with society at times because of the way I have to “lock down” the intrusions upon my world. In order for me to show up at work in a demanding job, take care of the many tasks that single people have to handle and manage the many personal relationships that an extrovert craves, I have to be really clear about my needs. I don’t function well when I’m overwhelmed. And I know my limits.

I think I’m a good writer because I’m sensitive. I notice little things that others don’t see. I find the words that describe the smallest details that make life special. I’m a good teacher because I sense when others don’t understand. I’m a good strategist because I see connections everywhere. I anticipate problems at work way before anyone else can see them because I’m always asking questions and trying to understand the needs of others. My affinity for being immersed in my inner life makes me unique … not weird. 

If you think you might be a highly sensitive person, here are some resources for you. If you love someone who is a highly sensitive person, take a look at this material. Understand that there is nothing wrong with them, and they don’t have to “toughen up”. They just need to learn how to arrange their world so that they feel safe contributing. Our world needs more sensitive people. But we are often hiding under mushrooms. Make it safe for us to shine.

Resources for highly sensitive people can be found on this website. There’s even a quiz you can take. If you answer yes to 14 items on the quiz, you are highly sensitive. I had 23! And some areas have Meetup groups where you can meet others like you!

senschild

Anger vs. Rage

“Anger is a healthy emotion,” said one of my best Christian counselors. “When you notice you are feeling angry, take a minute and evaluate who or what is hurting you.”

“What?” I asked. “You mean you don’t just squash whoever is standing in front of you?” I laughed at the absurdity of being able to sort out anger rationally. 

She explained that anger protects us. It tells us when we are unsafe emotionally or physically. It is our responsibility to set a boundary, get ourselves out of the situation or relationship or act on our behalf in some way. We can’t make the other person change, but we can protect ourselves in many other ways. But until we understand what really hurts or scares us, we can’t react effectively. 

Rage is pent-up, unexpressed, ancient anger that has turned into a dangerous cauldron of putrid vomit. Whoever is in its way gets splattered in vitriol that has nothing to do with them. Rage kills everything inside the person who chokes it down. While anger can inform you of what needs to change, rage has nothing to do with the present moment.

Celebrating the Decade of Me

IMG_4091

Today is a celebration.

Today is the 10 year anniversary of me learning to say “when” in a committed, pronounced, impactful way. I won’t get into the details since the story doesn’t matter,  but suffice it to say that what I did ushered in the best decade of my life. In fact, I’d say it’s the only decade where I learned to be Sharon, to stand up for myself and to differentiate my wants and needs from other people’s demands. In some ways it feels like it was a selfish decade, but a part of me says that doesn’t matter anyway. Learning to say no is a selfish act but one that ushers in great freedom and creativity. The energy I spent trying to be what another wanted is now directed toward what I want. And it feels very, very good.

 

So, I looked up my Shiatsu massage therapist from 15 years ago and booked a delicious session. Annemarie is amazing. Shiatsu is a type of massage that uses acupressure (similar in nature to acupuncture but without needles). When I was here before and struggling with depression, one session with Annemarie would shift me out of depression immediately. Now that I’m not plagued with depression, the session offered a lovely big hug that that told me I was loved unconditionally and inspired me to continue on a path that is uniquely mine.

IMG_4089

She recommended a visit to the Valparaiso Farmer’s Market and then suggested I try a unique coffee shop called Dagger Mountain. The coffee roastery is located in an industrial park. Thank goodness for GPS or I would have never found it. The cute little cozy shop is entered by walking through the open garage door. Inside it is just like the best little coffee shops I’ve ever visited.

IMG_4095

They are serious about their coffee. The single origin black coffee is served black only to showcase the flavor but they do have some espresso options. I opted for the Miel coffee drink which is espresso, steamed milk, honey and cinnamon. It is absolutely divine. I have finally – after being here just short of a year – found my coffee home. It’s just too bad it’s an hour away. But I can drive.

I lived in this area from 2003 – 2006. In fact, I worked part-time at a little sandwich shop not a mile away from Dagger Mountain for awhile. This is where I attended Purdue and earned my Masters degree. It is also the place where I got sober again after relapsing. Not unexpectedly, drinking didn’t improve my second marriage, but getting sober improved me. It was here that I began my journey to regain my strength and resolve to do what I needed to do to improve my life. Returning here today was a good idea.

IMG_4100

So, I’m celebrating. It’s a full moon this weekend. I feel amazing after my Shiatsu massage. I’m going to clean my house literally and do some smudging to clear my house energetically. I think this is a great time for me to make a choice for me again. I have a new decade beginning, and I’m excited about what it might bring. I wasn’t so sure about the beginning of this last decade on July 8, 2007, but I can see that we don’t always see the gifts clearly except in hindsight.

Where will I be on July 8, 2024? I can’t wait to find out!