Deja Vu/Vuja De

It was a year ago, around this time on the calendar when I finally admitted to myself and to my psychiatrist that everything was most definitely NOT fine and a change of venue was in order. My doctor, being the good doctor that he is, referred me for psych evaluation and an IOP (Intensive Outpatient Program) to deal with the immediate concerns and to eventually get my mood rightened and myself back to the land of brilliant Technicolor, instead of the shades of black in the world I was living in. Well, fast forward a little over a year and guess what? I’m back in the same place, with the same therapists and doctors, cafeteria style lunches and rooms with uncomfortable chairs, lots of Kleenex boxes and people with stories, like me and very much unlike me. My immediate thought upon having to tell my doctor YET AGAIN that I was losing my s**t was not one of “Atta Girl!” but more like, “Seriously? Didn’t we JUST do this?? WTF is wrong with you, loser??” because my first thoughts are always from a place of extreme judgment and an unrealistic goal of perfection, no matter the circumstance.

Now, I wouldn’t say that to my worst enemy anymore than I would say it to someone who was doing another round of chemo or radiation in an effort to destroy that which is trying to destroy them. Treatment is treatment; the disease may differ, the course of treatment may differ but the goal is the same, to provide relief of symptoms and improve the health of the individual, thus improving the quality of life. Mental health is really no different, although much less one size fits all. Mental illness and those who battle depression, mania and other disorders are as different and varied as any selection of human beings can be; one person’s burden is another’s blessing. There is no absolute 100% guaranteed course of treatment and whatever course is selected, the patient must be able and willing to follow subscribed course of treatment, which often if not always includes eliminating substance (pick a poison, alcohol included) abuse and implementing a medication program that includes a cocktail (pardon the pun) of anti-depressants, anti-psychotics, mood stabilizers and perhaps a little Antabuse thrown in for the hard core alcoholics. The patient must be willing to give up those self-medicating methods and switch to the psych meds, which usually come with a hefty side of side effects, weight gain being at the top of the list and covering all manner of ailments including, but not limited to: psychosis, permanent facial and/or body tics, blindness, headaches and possibly (of course) death by suicide, because some of these drugs have induced suicidal tendencies in certain groups, such as adolescents and the elderly. Go figure. Seems kind of counter-intuitive, but every rose has its thorn, as we learned from Guns ‘n Roses/Poison.

If you’re still reading and still awake, I commend you. 

Back to the present time – I am back in the land of black and bleh, trying to find my way to the light and a coherent, relatively calm mind so that I can make some decisions that will hopefully keep me from having to return again at this time next year. I have a great many decisions to make at some point in time and I want to choose wisely and make choices that are good for me and my health. It’s easy for me to say that (I’ve said it over and over again) but the execution is where I falter. I guess if I’m thinking about what I SHOULD do instead of what I NEED to do, that could lead me to an unwise choice.

For all of you who have sent happy thoughts, well wishes and in reached out to me in general, I want you to know I feel the love. Seriously. Those of you who are thinking about me but haven’t reached out, I assure you, I still feel the love. You are the difference between me giving up or carrying on; your belief in me is my sword of truth, fighting against the lies and untruths that hold my spirit hostage, trapped in a dark and dismal mind. Your love and support brings a light to the darkness, a trail of breadcrumbs for me to follow to come back to the land of the living and love. I have talked to many people who have no family, no friends and oftentimes it is because their mental illness/addiction issues have exhausted the supply of people willing to lend a hand or support that person. Some people have a limited time only offer of assistance and once that window is closed, there are no more. I understand the reasoning behind this; if you are trying to save a drowning person, but don’t know how to swim yourself, you will both most certainly drown. Dealing with mental illness is neither pretty, Facebook post-worthy or fun. It tests  your limits, your love and your own mental stability. It’s like a fire you can’t get too close to or you end up with some pretty serious burns. It’s a rollercoaster ride you don’t remember buying a ticket to ride, a storm that was born of sunny skies and fluffy clouds; sunny and bright one minute, dark and destructive the next. It can tear apart the closest family, take away your best friend and leave a wake of destruction miles wide and years long. Knowing this makes you and your continued support all the more precious and appreciated.

Shooting thoughts of love and gratitude to you. Wish we were there (Half Moon Bay)

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Anger Revisited

Holding on to anger is like grasping a hot coal with the intent of throwing it at someone else; you are the one who gets burned. 
Buddha 

I have shared with you before how I have issues with anger and how at different times in my life it has almost been my undoing. I had heard the quote above before (Kevin?) and it really spoke to me. I had been holding anger against so many people, situations and just in general. To me, there was no other emotion that made me feel so alive, humming with emotion and intensity. The only problem is that it was a very damaging state to maintain for long. Anger is like battery acid, eating away at anything it comes into contact with and it wasn’t long before it began to eat away at my self-esteem, my outlook on life and how I dealt with the world in general. I was like a walking furnace of anger, radiating negative energy all around me. People instinctively pulled away from me, as if knew that getting too close would be harmful to their well-being.

There is a seductive pull of anger, the absolute power of it; it made me feel as though I could fight the world and win. I could blaze a path through a crowd, scare the Hell out of any fool who had the bad luck to try to make me feel better. But, at some point, the anger turns inward and the acid eats away at me. I had managed to wound myself seriously, push away all those who care about me and put myself in a position of great unhappiness. This would be the time I would go out and drink until I blacked out, trying to numb myself from that unhappiness. The unhealthy behaviors would gladly jump to the forefront of my consciousness and before I knew it, things had gone from bad to worse.

It has taken me a great deal of time to fully understand where this anger came from, why I felt justified in blaming others for it and how to undo or heal from the anger I’ve inflicted upon myself. It’s very easy to blame others for my feelings and my failings and very difficult to turn that critical eye inward. Accepting responsibility for my choices, my thoughts and my actions is the only way that I believe I’ll ever find true happiness. Forgiving myself, loving myself and learning from those bad choices are the healing balm for the burns of anger. 

I recognize that a lifetime of behavior cannot be undone in one day and that I will more than likely spend the rest of my life adjusting my thoughts, pulling back the reins on my anger and finding ways to cope with the consequences of my actions that are not self-destructive or destructive to those around me. I believe that anger comes from a place of powerlessness, of feeling as though fighting back is the only option. I no longer believe that I am powerless; I know that I have no power over others’ actions, but I do have power over how I respond to them. Rather than judge them, I need to have compassion and understand that they are driven by things that I cannot see nor can I understand. But just like me, they are doing the best they can with what demons and limitations they carry with them. It’s hard work, though. The force of anger is always right on the surface, while forgiveness, compassion and understanding are further down and take effort to access. I cannot expect things to change if I continue to follow the old behaviors and thought processes. I am no longer the victim, the wounded child or the misunderstood manic-depressive. I am just me, a child of the Universe searching for my destiny and my own self-realization. The people that I meet along the way are on their own journey and when our paths cross, I believe we each give something to the other. My gift will no longer be red-hot, scalding, soul-killing anger. I have many gifts to offer that are healing, understanding and loving. I will do my best to holster the anger and reach deep to find the positive. 

One day at a time.

Moving and Doing and Being

Moving – Sorry I’ve been lacking in posting here, but I have been keeping busy packing, moving, unpacking and sorting, etc. for the last few days. I am officially done and couldn’t be happier to say that. My new place is much closer to work (reduced freeway time – yay!!) and closer to most of the family, which is always a huge plus. Speaking of family, I would not have been able to move, had it not been for my siblings. They were absolutely incredible, hauling and loading, never complaining and helping me yet again. I am so fortunate to have such fantastic and generous brothers and sister. I think that family is one of the reasons why I have been able to work through so much unpleasantness in my life. Family is the safety net that’s kept me from falling from great heights to my death; they have supported me when they didn’t agree with my choices, told me when I was being unloving towards myself and encouraged me always to speak up for myself, communicate what I am feeling and share my gifts, whatever they may be. I have never felt that I was unloved or alone, thanks to my family.

Doing – I am looking forward to celebrating one full year of alcohol-free living in November and am more excited about that than I am about my 45th birthday the following month (although I am pretty excited to hit 45, come to the end of the Mayan calendar and celebrate Christmas all in the same week) I feel much stronger in my recovery and am again so thankful for everyone that encouraged me to make the change in my life and find myself in the process.

Being – growing up in a large family sometimes feels like you are never an individual, only one face in a sea of many. I always wanted my own space, my own room and my own toys. What I failed to realize is that all those people around me would be my best friends, my therapists, my champions, idols and counselors in the decades to come. I can always have my own space when I need it, but as I grow older I have come to value the company of others that I truly love, admire and enjoy. None of us know how long we have to walk the Earth, but I do know that I will spend as much time as possible telling the people I love how much I love them and how grateful I am for the gift of their friendship. I am working on being in the present more, looking back less and not worrying about the future so much that I miss right now. I am working on balance in every aspect of my life and I believe that is a never-ending, constantly changing job.

There’s nothing quite like a fresh start to get me feeling confident, happy and open to change. I hope those of you who are able will come by and check out the new place, have a glass of juice, coffee or tea and make some new memories in my new home. In the meantime, keep on keeping on and thanks for stopping by.

257 Days and Counting

Yep. 257 days since I last drank. That’s less than a year but feels like more than a lifetime.

I remember the first time I had a drink; it was Mickey’s Big Mouth beer and I was about 13 years old. I liked the bottle more than I liked the taste, but I drank it nonetheless. I eventually graduated to California Coolers, then Bacardi 151. I immediately enjoyed the effect. The numbness, the fuzziness of the mind, the emptying of the worry bin inside my head. I drank only occasionally, but always with the same result, a welcome brain buzz and immediate mood shift. It wasn’t difficult for me to obtain back then, I could stand outside the local liquor store and at most, it would take me two attempts before I was successful.
It wasn’t until much later in life that I really needed to drink. When I was living in Mississippi, I would drink a bottle of White Zin every night for about two weeks. (I know – White Zin??) I used it for the same reason I always drank; to numb and to not feel. Eventually, I was able to adjust to life away from my hometown and family, but I still drank. Just not as much and not at home. I have wonderful memories of living there, but they all centered around being at a bar, going to a bar, buying alcohol, drinking alcohol, having drunken walks on the beach, drunken intense, soul-searching conversations that I could barely recall the next day. I didn’t see it at the time, but I was starting a pattern that would later come back to haunt me. Me + Drink = Good Times. I can’t recall the exact date, but somewhere during this part of my life, I got the idea that I wasn’t fun, smart, good-looking and/or interesting unless I had fueled up with some form of alcohol first.

Fast forward to 2011. I am now hitting happy hour in any day ending with “y”. I set a limit of how much I was going to drink, then would blow past that in the first hour. I’m coming home, but not remembering the drive there. I’m waking up in the morning and not remembering the entire evening. I knew on some level that I had a problem, so I tried to establish as many safety nets as I could. Drive home, then walk to a bar close by, so I could walk home and as a bonus, more alcohol consumption as a reward for my “responsible drinking”. Other useless rules included: No shots, all shots, 2 drink minimum, 1 hour maximum….the list went on and on, along with the drinking. The only thing that was constant was my drinking.

At last, I had an intervention of sorts; it was really just one very important person, telling me how much he was scared of losing me, scared I would kill myself or someone else. He was trying to say it in the nicest way possible, but I could hear the embarrassment and the underlying anger, laced with fear. My son. My grown son had to tell me, his mother, that I was out of control and heading straight for an epic fail. The nagging voice in my head that had been whispering the same message agreed wholeheartedly. I had other clues that my mental state was not improving and all this self-medicating was serving only to fuel my ever-increasing rage and rising manic state. So, I made a call to my psychiatrist and told her that I was finally ready to get serious about my ridding myself of my out-of-control addictions.

After 7 weeks of intensive outpatient treatment and countless AA meetings, I better understand why I drank so much, how it had a negative effect on my attempts to manage my mental illness. I was able look back at that time and shudder. I shudder to think that I drove, that I lost countless hours, days, nights and whole weekends just because I didn’t want to go through the temporary discomfort of facing my fears and doing the hard work to get right with myself. Life is truly what we make it and I am determined to make mine count. Live each and every day mindfully and honestly. I don’t want to be numb or try to avoid discomfort. Discomfort is what tells me that I need to make a change or I need to move on. It’s a necessary evil, for lack of a better term.

I’d like to say that the hard part is over, but I’m done lying to myself. I think the worst is over, but there will always be difficult times, with or without those crutches. I will trust in myself, know that I have more strength than I could ever imagine. If I feel weak, I know what to do to gather my strength. If I feel lost, I have friends and family to help me find my way. I have AA and all the wealth of experience and support that offers. Most of all, I have my self worth and a clarity of vision that help me to see what is good for me and what is not. I have the courage to speak up for myself and the strength of will to walk away from what is not good for me.

This year, I will celebrate one year of sobriety the month before my 45th birthday and I know it will be the best birthday I’ve ever had. I look forward to living life without the burdens of shame, fear and self-loathing. I raise my glass of Hansen’s Natural Soda and toast to living the good life.

Cheers!

Perception vs. Reality

I’ve long struggled with how I see the world (in any given state of mind) versus what everyone else is seeing. I have long tried to be a chameleon, anticipating what a person needs me to be, believes me to be and then I become that. I never really felt that I knew who I was or that I really WAS. I was in a constant state of change, never staying one way for too long. I was happy at breakfast, optimistic at lunch and then depressed and hopeless by dinner. All these shifts in mood came about from what others said or didn’t say to me through the course of the day. If I tried on a new outfit and my best friend loved it but the guy I had a huge crush on said I looked silly, I had my elation and my devastation in two single servings. If my friend was talkative, I was the perfect listener; if my date was shy, I would carefully steer the conversation to draw him out, gently asking questions about him, what he liked, who he was. If I was in a job with a very competitive, insecure co-worker, I would stay away from the limelight, defer any praise and lay low. If there was a bully picking on a smaller or weaker person, I was the whirling dervish of destruction (that’s where the anger would be put to good use) and the protector of the innocent and weak. So, you get the idea. It wasn’t until just recently that I had the simple, yet revolutionary thought that we each have our own realities. What? Are you serious?? But we all walk on the same spinning ball in space – how can we have our own realities??? It’s actually quite simple…what we (choose to) believe is our reality. The woman who is petite and looks fragile but believes she stands 6 feet tall and is as fierce as any Warrior cannot be intimidated and does not bow to anyone. Just as the person who is 6 feet tall and built like a Sherman tank sees himself as a gentle soul has the lightest touch, the biggest heart and a strong dislike for brute force. It’s not always the physical manifestations that give us strength or gentleness, it’s what we believe. That is our reality. I had lived for too long asking others for their approval, yet withholding it from myself; looking to others to love me and prove me worthy of love. Now I love myself, through good times and ball gowns to sad days and sweat pants, from victories to losses, forever and ever. Amen.

My reality is ever-changing, as my perception is ever-changing, too. I no longer believe that people or circumstances MAKE ME mad; I CHOOSE TO get mad, to respond with emotion, rather than thought tempered with a belief that there is a lesson somewhere in that ordeal, encounter or event. I am by no means a Vulcan or a robot, but I am trying to be the human being that I know I am capable of being. It’s going to be an interesting journey as I learn to feel what I feel without numbing or denying it, but not be consumed by it. By living honestly without being unnecessarily cruel and by helping my fellow man, without taking control or responsibility for their lives. Most of all, letting each person live in their reality without judging it or them.

My perception is that I am flawed, but the reality is that I am complete and perfectly me. And I love that.