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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Are We There Yet?

I’ve been thinking a lot lately (a dangerous past time, indeed) about stress; good stress, bad stress, stressed out, stressing severely, stress-free. I would love to say that I identify with the latter, but not so much as of present day. I’m working on it, as I think we all are.
When I was in recovery and learning all about cognitive distortions, mind/body connection and all of that, I began to understand just how much my thoughts drove my moods and my perception dictated my level of responsibility in my current mood. Once I started delving into that whole experience, I (temporarily) was becoming better at conscience thought and a level of mindfulness that was so much more than before. Long’ish story short’ish, the honeymoon has ended and I find myself feeling the stress, the hamster on a wheel, the rat rushing through the maze where is the damned cheese??! so I had to ask myself what in the Sam Hill was I doing? Clearly, something was not working and I needed to take a little look-see and fix it ASAP or things were going to be B-A-D, not good. I have too much to lose if I overload and fold like a house of cards. So, investigating I did go and I found that there were a few key practices that I had let lapse and a few others I hadn’t implemented yet (hello Exercise!) so I did what I always do when I get a plan together and I made a list. Pen to paper, old-school, face to the paper, laying your head on your desk like in 6th grade. Pouring from the heart, I don’t want this anymore, I want this. I want to stop doing this and start doing this. I am now this person, I am becoming this person. Real conscious thought, real soul searching, just like when I was first in recovery. Hungry for serenity, aching for a cleansing of the soul, a rebirth, a new beginning. Willing to do the hard work and never quit trying. That list is my contract and my road map to realizing my True Self. It’s not carved in stone, as the road may change. It’s my starting point but I’m taking all I’ve learned thus far and with the people the Good Lord has already blessed me with and those He will place in my path in the future, this journey is certain to be fantastic. I can just hear little 3-year old Michelle – are we there yet?!

This Someone

As I stand inside my mind

The colors of darkness I do find.

The blackness of extreme depression

Brought about by lack of possession

of clearer, lighter, brighter thoughts

of sunshine, beauty, things I have not.

To see the sun halfway in the sky

Think of it as rising to a greater high

See it not as setting, as to an end,

but rather a new day, ready to begin.

If the colors in this mind

Were lighter, sweeter, more sublime

I believe I would have achieved

the inner peace of which I’ve not yet received

Is there hope for this to be?

Can I ever truly love this person that is me?

Will I ever feel that happy glow from gorgeous dreams

Of touching clouds, embracing sunbeams?

Or will I always be so tightly wrapped

in heavy blankets of gloom; so completely trapped?

I do not wish to feel forever down

To hear only the drumbeats of lonesome sound

But change is pain and pain is growing

I cannot keep this all from showing

In weighing the fears of what is to be

Against the measure of this person that is me.

Can I rise above the fears that bind me

and let the truth at last find me?

The courage to do what must be done

is hidden deep within me,

this someone.

-October 1993, Gulfport, MS

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!

Victim vs. Victor

The more honest I am with myself, the more I realize that I’ve had a tendency to play the role of The Victim. It was always someone else’s fault that I was angry, someone else’s rejection that caused me to turn bitter, or cynical. I held other people responsible for my fate, my status in the world and in society, in general. It was God’s fault that my brain was all messed up, I was destined to be broken, forever. It was that sort of victimology (I doubt that’s a real word, but it’s certainly a real condition) that allowed me to spiral downward in addiction, depression, rage and apathy. I was on a one-way express ride to a very Bad Place; I was just a helpless victim carried along a raging river of helplessness and irresponsibility. I fell pretty hard, pretty fast into that Bad Place and through some miracle that I have yet to explain, I was able to ask for and receive help. I was able to put aside my childish tendency to blame everyone else and finally accepted that I was in this place because of all the choices that I had made. No one held a gun to my head and told me to drink myself into oblivion or to numb myself to the unpleasant feelings that are a part of life. Disappointment, hurt, rejection, depression and even a little bit of childhood terrors. These are the fires that forge our soul, strengthen our faith in ourselves and test the limits of our endurance. To avoid them is to avoid growing, conquering and discovering who we really are and who we wish to become. Once these feelings have been felt, the healing can begin and the progression to our True Self is possible.

So, I asked for help and my request was answered and then some. I met some incredible people who I would call my Life Teachers because they not only helped to educate me about addiction, alcoholism, and mental illness, they educated me about Life and myself. Taking responsibility for myself, my actions and turning that critical eye inward instead of trying to change the world to fit my expectations. One of my teachers gave me the most simple, yet effective tool for controlling my anger at the world and I’m going to share it with you now. Put your arms in front of you, fingertips touching (like you’re making a big circle in front of you) This is your Hula Hoop; everything that is within this Hula Hoop you have control over. Everything outside of this Hula Hoop is not your concern and you have no control over. So, whenever you find yourself getting angry, look to see where it falls in relation to your Hula Hoop. If it is outside, let it go. If it falls inside, decide what you need to do to make that change and then do it. 

I am now able to catch myself when I start thinking like a victim and I make a conscious decision to stop that thought  and take full responsibility for my actions and to avoid judging others for theirs. I am frequently looking at my Hula Hoop to remind me where my focus needs to be and where I shouldn’t be looking. 

I’m looking forward to meeting my True Self and celebrating the death of the Victim and the birth of the Victor. I hope you’ll travel with me on this journey.