Wednesday, December 4, 2019

When the Going Gets Tough...

the tough get going! (attributed to Theodore Roosevelt)
One often wonders if all the coping mechanisms, recovery plans, crisis plans, and support people actually work when the shit hits the fan - well, they do. 
They don't work as seamlessly, quickly, and completely as alcohol and other drugs seemed to work in getting through (or blotting out) a crisis, but they do work. They make the pain, confusion, and fear bearable so I can move forward and through the crisis without causing harm to myself or others. I will survive, and I will thrive. 
Short post.

Sunday, December 1, 2019

What's Cooking Today?

My recovery is made up of many small actions and attitudes. It's not just about abstaining from drugs and alcohol, or taking my prescribed medication, though both of those are important. Abstaining from alcohol and taking my medication satisfies my doctor and my therapist, and, if I had one, my probation officer - but doing that and nothing else leaves me irritable, restless, and discontent. 

What brought this topic on is that I cooked a meal today. I cooked it the week before as well. It's a keto diet recipe, and I've been working on going full keto for the past couple of months. I keep relapsing back into carbs. But that's not the point. What is remarkable about cooking two meals in the past couple of weeks is that it's been about 10 years since I've done any real cooking. I've been a lazy eater, choosing to eat foods that don't take much prep. Or eating utensils.

So a couple of weeks ago when I cooked, and again today, I really enjoyed the cooking. And the eating. There is something quite creative about taking a bunch of ingredients, putting them together in a certain way, and cooking them that brings some satisfaction to me (I'm not really up to joy yet - satisfaction is about as good as it gets). And then there's the satisfaction of eating what I've cooked - nourishing my body, my mind, and even my soul by consummating a cooking experience.

I found tearing myself away from web sudoku in order to prepare my meal to be a little bit challenging. My girlfriend's presence helped me to unglue myself from from the computer and get into the kitchen and engage in a 'live' activity. I should've taken a video and posted it to YouTube! But it is true that of late it's been difficult for me to put down the passive activities like surfing the web and playing computer games, and get up and do something that engages body, mind, and soul.

I've been avoiding using the 'l' word, because I'm not lazy, and calling myself lazy is pejorative, unhelpful, and incorrect. The periods of engaging in no meaningful activity are symptoms of depression. For me it's mild. For others, it can be as severe as avoiding personal hygiene tasks, eating, or even getting out of bed. I've not come across a medicine that will make me get and stay motivated, so I must do those things that I really don't want to do - otherwise, it's likely that I will get to the point of not being able to get out of bed.

Many years ago, I listened to a person in long-term recovery from alcoholism describe recovery as a recipe - that it's like making a cake. There are necessary ingredients and important instructions to follow lest the cake turn out crappy. In other words, to avoid having a less-than-desirable recovery, I must include certain attitudes and actions in my recovery.

Some of the ingredients that for me make a nice, full, enjoyable recovery (life) include, but aren't limited to:

  • Abstaining from alcohol and other mood altering substances;
  • Taking my medication as prescribed and consulting my psychiatrist (and others) before making any changes;
  • Preparing and eating healthy, nutritious food that is satisfying and adds to my mental health and overall well-being;
  • Contact with others in recovery, or others who want recovery, both in support group meetings and outside of meetings;
  • Engaging in physical activity that I find challenging that strengthens my body and mind and makes me feel good (exercise). For me it is yoga, some weightlifting, and aerobic exercise like walking and bicycling. I don't run because the last time I did, the police caught me anyway;
  • Engaging in creative hobbies or even vocations that utilize my talents and skills - like cooking, writing, and music;
  • Nurturing my spiritual life through prayer, meditation, reading, counting my blessings, and helping others - and there are many ways to help others;
  • Exercising my brain through reading and learning - some subjects of my interest are the latest neuroscience developments in mental health as well as what works best for nourishing my body and my brain;
  • Having an job that engages as many of my skills and gifts as possible.
I think that's a good recipe for my recovery. It's good to make this list, because I see all of the healthy choices I have available to me, and I see some of the areas that could use a little more paying attention to. I still have the teenager's mind of, "There's nothin' to do," yet when I make this list I see I have a whole bunch to do.

Recovery is about alleviating the outer symptoms of my conditions, but it's also about developing and strengthening those characteristics within me that make this existence not only bearable, but enjoyable and fruitful.



Wednesday, November 27, 2019

No Whining! (Being Grateful)

I generally ride the bus to and from work. My schedule is such that I get off work at 10:00pm, and I have about 12 minutes to catch the last bus going my way. Up until last night, I've made the bus every day.

Last night at work I got a call at my workstation at 9:58pm. I saw that the call was going to be longer than just a couple of minutes, so I was hoping that I could still make the bus anyway. I patiently and kindly took the customer's order, and realized about halfway through that I wasn't going to be riding the bus home. When I was through with the call, I logged off, punched out, and said goodnight to my coworker.

It's a 3 mile walk home from work, and my first thought was, "Well, this sucks." It was chilly, windy and raining lightly - not my favorite weather. As I began my walk, I started looking for someone to blame. There weren't a lot of targets - I couldn't really be mad at the caller. I could have passed the call on to somebody else, but I didn't feel that was right, for either the customer or for any of my coworkers. I decided that walking home in the rain was my doing, because last year my driver's license was revoked because I earned a DUI and I sold my car. 

Fortunately, I avoided going into self-pity/I'm going to give up mode. I began to count my blessings in this scenario:

  • I had proper clothing for the weather - I was warm and cozy, despite the cold wind and rain.
  • It's not a hardship for me to walk 3 miles, so
  • I'm grateful for my legs.
  • I'm grateful for my heart.
  • I'm grateful for my lungs.
  • I'm grateful for my overall good health.
  • I'm grateful the wind is at my back (that was a nice bonus, as usually the wind would have been in my face, and last night it wasn't).
  • I'm grateful I live in an area where it's relatively safe for me to walk at night.
  • I had forgotten my earphones (that sucked, too), so I'm grateful I was able to direct my thinking into gratitude and do constructive thinking on the way home.
  • I'm grateful I was walking in the city rather than the country - I felt more secure.
And on it went. I made it home safely and in a good mood.

Gratitude doesn't prevent sucky situations, but what it did for me last night was allow me to go through the situation without going into blaming, self-recrimination, or worse, self-pity, which leads to depression and resentment. Gratitude allows me to see that I am richly blessed when I look at my situation from a different angle.

Moreover, a consistent practice of gratitude allows me to maintain a higher vibration throughout my days. I am better able to see the good around me and in me. 

What I focus on grows. When I focus on the negative, I have more negative on which to focus. I'm living in it. When I put gratitude lenses in my glasses, my blessings grow, and the negative diminishes.



Monday, November 25, 2019

Thriving Thru the Holidays

Holidays have almost always been challenging for me. The only times when they weren't were when I was in jail over the holidays, and I could ignore them. That's sad, I know, but it uncovers the mindset I have to overcome in order to not only survive the holidays, but to enjoy them.

So in order to both survive and thrive through the holidays, I need to consider a couple aspects - what do I need to do to protect my sobriety and my mental health, and then what I can do to add to the holidays - in other words, what can I give into the holidays to make them more enjoyable, as opposed to what can I get from the holidays.

In order to protect my sobriety and mental health (they go hand in hand) over the holidays, I can fully utilize all of the tools I have been given. In other words, I maximize my use of the tools I have, which are:

  • My support system - go to more recovery meetings than I usually go to, and talk to/be with the people in my support system. It's very important that as I do this, I recognize that others are often stressed out during this time of year, and in seeking support, I can also be of support. Again, it's about what I have to offer to others as much as, if not more, what I can get from others.
  • Giving myself permission - I can give myself permission to duck out of an event temporarily to call someone in my support system. I can give myself permission to leave an event early if I feel triggered. I can give myself permission to say 'no thank you' to an event if I don't feel in the right place to attend. I definitely give myself permission to abstain from all mood altering drugs.
  • Breathe - I think this is one of the most underrated forms of stress relief, but it can help me outlast a stressful situation. When I am feeling stressed, I can begin my breathing exercises. One of the best on-the-go breathing exercises is to fully breathe in to a count of 4, and exhale to a count of 8, and repeat as much as needed. This kind of breathing sends a signal to our vagus nerve and helps us relax and feel good. Concentrated breathing is also grounding, and helps me feel more whole in situations where I feel scattered.
  • Rest - I know to not over-tax myself during the holidays. Parties and gatherings are fun, but I still need my rest! I think this is especially true for those living with bipolar disorder, as the go-go-go of the season can sometimes trigger hypo-manic or even manic episodes. I must consider that I don't feel the right time to get some rest, so I must rest even if it feels like I don't need any.
  • Prayer, meditation, and alone time - these set my attitude, and I can increase the amount of time I engage in these. Prayer and meditation are therapeutic and set my attitude. Alone time - solitude, not isolation - allow me time to breathe and to relax. Alone time is mindful, so it can be taken in small chunks just about anywhere. For instance, when I go to the bathroom, I can either do my business and leave, or, I can take a breath (if it's safe) and revel internally that I have a few moments of peace. These little nuggets of alone time are incredibly refreshing.
  • Nutrition - it's important to me, and also very challenging, to avoid over-indulging in all the tasty things I can eat over the holidays. Often I use food for comfort, and I can stay mindful that my body probably has all that it needs in the moment, and I can probably abstain from that next tasty treat. Like alcohol and drugs, there is value here in learning to say 'no' without explanation.
Now, what can I add to the holidays? This is personal for each of us, depending upon who we'll spend time with and what our personal customs and traditions are. Adding to the holidays can seem a bit the opposite of protecting my mental health and sobriety, but it doesn't have to be. 

The first thing to understand is that it isn't all about me. Some of us who haven't emotionally matured too much past our teens still think Christmas is all about us. Well, it really isn't, and the reason is that having it be all about me sets me up for being disappointed. When I was growing up, we opened gifts on Christmas Eve. Christmas Day I always woke up hoping there would be more under the tree for me, and there never was. It wasn't that I didn't get enough for Christmas; it's just that I had a mindset that nothing was ever enough. So I can lower whatever expectations I have about the holidays - about what I'll receive, about who I'll see, about how others will behave, and set my sights on what I can add into any given situation. High expectations lead to disappointment, and that's the beginning of a slippery slope for me - it leads to self-pity, which leads to depression and/or resentment, which are poison to my recovery. So there's the paradox: in keeping my recovery (not me) and others first, I have an enjoyable time.

Second, and very much related to the above, is I don't need to foist my ideas about what the holidays should be like on anybody else. I can have my own customs and still go with the flow. For instance, I'm not religious, and I personally can do without religious celebrations; however, because my loved ones enjoy going to Christmas Mass, I'll be going with them. I have to ask myself, "Will it kill me to spend an hour in church?" And I always enjoy it. Last year I met the Pope, and if I can find the picture, I'll post it. 

Third, I need to constantly keep in mind that it's not about the presents, it's about my presence. I hate buying presents, because my belief right now is that I can never get something good enough. So, I need to turn my focus away from the presents and understand that my presence with my loved ones is more important. Really, it's very obvious that they love me for me, and not for what I can give materially.

Lastly, I need to work my program of recovery. If my program falls apart, I fall apart, and if that happens I can really detract from a happy celebration of the holidays rather than add to it. My number one goal is to be of service to those around me, and my program must be well in place for me to do that effectively. I must offer myself up for help. A good example is decorating the god@$#& beautiful Christmas trees (I've got more than one to help with). It's not my favorite thing, but that doesn't matter.

The holidays can be a challenging time for someone in recovery, but they don't have to drag me down or make me miserable. I start each day knowing that the most important thing I have to do today, no matter what else is going on, is to make myself as ready as I can to spend the day sober and mentally healthy. Others can scramble around thinking that the turkey is the most important today, or the tree is the most important today, but I know that today, like any other day, if I don't have my recovery, the tree and the turkey aren't going to make a difference.

My wish for you is to have a happy holiday season!



Friday, November 22, 2019

Only Six Months

I recently celebrated 6 months of sobriety. It's not a big deal, because I've had 6 months lots of times; but it is a big deal, because any day sober for this  alcoholic is a miracle. 
I dislike at recovery meetings when I hear "I've only got x days" because recovery is about so much more than the time without our chemicals. But here are some things i do have as a result of 6 months clean:
I've got 6 months without being hospitalized.
I've got 6 months without passing out in public and losing my winter jacket and telephone.
I've got 6 months without being kicked out of where I'm living.
I've got 6 months without police contact.
I've got 6 months without worrying about how I'm going to pay for the next bottle.
I've got 6 months where my loved ones don't worry about me as much.
There is much, much more I've realized from abstaining from alcohol and other drugs for 6 months, and there's even more I'm realizing from working a program of recovery.
So if you're 'new' to recovery and reading this, my request is remove the word only when describing your clean time and begin to recognize all you have as a result.
(Sent from my phone so please forgive the mistakes!)

Thursday, November 21, 2019

Freely Giving and Receiving in Recovery

I have mentioned it before, and I'll mention it again and again and again - addiction and depression are self-centered dis-eases. I become concerned mainly with how I am feeling and what I can do to make myself feel better. If I'm thinking of you, it's probably about what I think you can do to help me feel better.

Ceasing using alcohol or other drugs does not relieve me of my self-centeredness. Taking medication for my mental health condition will not relieve me of my selfishness. And the kicker is that if I do not get rid of my obsessive concern for self, I will not stay long in recovery. If I remain in a self-centered state for very long, no matter how well I'm doing otherwise, I will enter into a state of self-pity, and possibly resentment, and that's just one step away from physically relapsing (returning to use of alcohol or drugs).

So if I want to stay in recovery, I must become willing to learn what my obsession with self looks like (how it shows up) as well as learning what steps I can take to reduce this symptom of my dis-ease. The bad news and the good news is that I can't do this alone. I can't unwrap myself from myself all by myself.

So what's a person to do? I can start in a few ways: I can pray to my Higher Power that I be relieved of this fatal obsession with self; I can seek out others who are on the same path (recovery meetings and support groups); or I can do both. I can just about guarantee that if I pray and remain open to the answer, I'll be led to people who can help me in my endeavor.

Speaking of which, now might be a good time to bring up an interesting paradox: in doing this, my main focus is still on me; it just changes from 'how am I feeling' to 'what am I doing?' There is one codicil - I must give up my expectations. An expectation is, 'If I do a, then b will happen (to me or for me).' Expectations are ego-driven, self-serving, and ultimately bad for my serenity and mental health, because there is no way that my expectations are going to be met all the time. The problem is that if I have an expectation, and, by some miracle of the Universe it gets met by my actions, then I expect (another expectation!) that the next time it will happen again. Often it doesn't work that way, and my little me, my ego, tends to become disappointed and pouts, which leads to self-pity and probably resentment and most likely depression and there I am in the depths of my dis-ease. That really is the way it works.

What I'm talking about here is learning to freely give of myself. If you're a fan of the Bible, you'll know that Jesus suggests we 'freely give and freely receive'. What does that mean? It means I learn to give of myself without reservation, building my faith that I live in a giving and supportive Universe - that whatever I give freely and without expectation will return to me, probably in excess of what I gave. We live in an abundant, giving Universe, but the ego, which is built out of fear, does not believe that. My ego believes that I must take or I'm not going to get. I can get as sneaky and manipulative as I want about the way in which I take, but ultimately, the longer I live with this mindset, the poorer I'll be. 

Our human society teaches us just the opposite. Capitalism teaches us that we aren't enough and we can never have enough - that we must always strive for more, more, more, and it puts us in competition with others, meaning that in order for me to win, somebody must lose. This is in direct conflict with giving and receiving freely. This doesn't mean that I can't live in this society, it just means I need to stay awake to what I'm doing and to what or who is informing my choices.

So doing this, becoming a giver without expectations, is a challenge for any human being, and an even greater challenge for a person living with a substance use or mental health disorder.

Ok, let's get back to the mechanics of how this actually works. I mentioned earlier that I require the support and cooperation of others in this endeavor. Where do I find these others? Support and mutual aid groups. Groups of people who are also interested in recovery. The really cool thing is that when groups of like minded people get together, great things can happen. So I look for support, but here's the twist - before I go into a recovery meeting or a support group, I pray that I may be a blessing and be blessed. Why? My experience has been that if I go into a situation expecting to receive a certain thing or see a certain person, there's at least a 50/50 chance that I'll be disappointed. However, when I release that expectation and go into a situation seeing what I can give, I always receive something in return - some understanding, a new friendship, a nugget of wisdom, some peace of mind, etc. I've placed myself physically in a good place and mentally and spiritually in a place of reception. 

The question naturally arises, "But what do I have to give?" I've found, by practicing this mental mindset, that I have a lot more to give than I believe I do. There is always going to be someone who could use something I have to give.

I can take this attitude anywhere I go - work, social situations, in the supermarket! When I'm waiting in a long line with my basket full of goodies and I finally arrive at the checkout, I can give the underpaid and underappreciated cashier a smile, a kind word, or at least not give him/her a hard time because I'm impatient. 

I have intentionally not given very specific instructions on how to reach this giving mindset - you must do this, this, this, and that in order to achieve this - for two reasons: first, it sets up and expectation, which we know are good to avoid, and second, the way each person gives and receives looks different.

Living with this spiritual/mental mindset, which concentrates on the process rather than the results (leaving the results up to the Universe) relieves me of having to figure out ways to make myself feel better because living this way gives me peace and confidence, and strengthens my faith. The challenge for me is to do it every day. I've been told that it is possible to make this a habit that I don't even have to think about, but I haven't experienced that yet. Besides, I get a little boost when I consciously try to behave like I'm a child of God.



Monday, October 28, 2019

We Are Not Alone

No, sorry, this isn't a post about aliens. Or, maybe it is! Most of us who have lived experience with addiction and/or a mental health condition(s) have felt alien. It's quite common for the person going through suffering to say, either aloud or to themselves, "Nobody understands!" Fortunately, this isn't the whole truth; however, the feeling can be so strong, even in recovery, that it seems to be a part of the dis-ease process. 

I was at an alcoholism recovery meeting recently, and I began to experience this feeling. Part of the feeling comes from my tendency to look at the differences between me and others rather than the similarities. Part of it can come as a symptom of my dis-ease. And part of it can come from the fact that I have what is known as a dual diagnosis, or co-occurring, disorders. There are some in addiction recovery that have only to deal with the dis-ease of addiction. For most of those, the recovery program in a mutual aid support group works, if the person works it. For some who do have co-occurring disorders, an addiction recovery program works as well. Then for some others, me included, we seem to need more than just an addiction recovery program. It is not the fault of the recovery program; it is simply that people experiencing co-occurring conditions sometimes need more, such as therapy and possibly medication.

When I began to feel this way at the meeting - alienated, unique, alone, disconnected - I probably didn't do the best thing, which might have been to stick around afterwards and talk with someone; however, I didn't buy into the way I felt. I began to look for the similarities between me and the speakers; I began to come up with alternatives to my thinking; I began to see the ways in which I am unique, noting that most of them, if not all, are good. They're who I am. And, as I was leaving the meeting, alone, I noted to myself that it's ok for me to be alone from time to time, so long as I'm in a place where I can stand myself.

As I mentioned above, it's important for me to identify how my depression shows up. I've lived with it for so long that it's been a real challenge to differentiate between what is me and what is my dis-ease. I've felt alone and different-from most of my life, and most of my life I thought it was because I was defective and less than everyone else. Today I understand this feeling of being alone in the universe as a symptom of my dis-ease. When the symptom is part of me, like an arm or a leg is a part of me, it's very hard to do anything about it; however, when I view the symptom as a symptom, I am able to do something about it. As a symptom, I can talk about it with others; I can spend time with others, either in person, or on the phone, or even on social media, if I'm hooked up with the right groups (it's helpful to be with like-minded people, such as others in recovery from mental unwellness or addiction); I can pray; I can think about alternatives to my thinking. So there's a lot that I can do about this particular symptom - I don't have to stay in my aloneness for long. Another thing I can do is play with other people's pets (with their permission and because I don't have pets of my own) - pets, especially dogs, love being with me and don't judge me. The drawback is I can't take dogs to work with me or to recovery meetings.

Spiritually, we are never alone. Our Creator is omnipresent, which means that I am always connected to It, as It is connected to me. And the kicker is that if I am made from my Creator, and my Creator is in me and all of Creation, then I am connected to all of Creation, including you! So the feeling of being apart from or alone is really an illusion, or even a delusion. It's a lie. Sometimes in meditation I can feel this connection; sometimes in consciousness I recognize it. I'm working toward knowing my Connection more.

And speaking of connection, I read in one recovery resource that, as an alcoholic, one of my primary problems has been the failure to connect on a real level with another human being. Recent studies have also pointed to the idea that the opposite of addiction is connection - connection with our family and friends, connection with all of humankind. So working toward knowing this connection in my heart, and not just in my head, moves me toward recovery and healing. In recovery meetings we have the opportunity to work on this connection, and as the health of our relationships grow, our spiritual and mental health grows (probably our physical health, too). We weren't put here to live this life alone and on our own.

So I am grateful I'm on this path, even though sometimes it feels like too much to deal with. One footstep at a time I move deeper in recovery and closer to truly knowing my connection with everything.