Foolish Me

 

Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me. –Chinese proverb

 

This weekend I experienced a painful reminder as to why I chose to distance myself from a couple who I can call friends, in the broadest sense of the term. I’m sure that most of you have encountered couples like these two; they are married, have a kid and seem to be making a good go of it, until they’re not.

Regardless of a reason, they have regularly scheduled Matrimonial Death Matches (Rounds 1 through 1 Million and counting), they go all out; screaming, blaming, throwing stuff, hitting and in general, tearing each other apart. That in itself is bad enough, but then they go outside their relationship and drag other people in, make them a part of the swirling mass of dysfunction and inability to take ownership of their part of the catastrophic event that is their relationship. Take sides, bash the other person (when they are not around to hear it or have the opportunity to respond to such poisonous barbs) but just when you think they are going to do everyone a favor and divorce, SURPRISE! They are back together, ready to work it out or even better, last week’s fight is a distant memory and now if you are the friend who agreed with those poisonous barbs, the other half of this Marriage from Hell is now angry with you for “taking HIS/HER side” and begins assaulting you with guilt-inducing declarations such as “I thought you were my FRIEND!” and “I TRUSTED YOU!! I thought you UNDERSTOOD how horrible/abusive/mean he/she is to me” and so on. Well, the reason why I’m putting you through all of this (assuming you’re still reading) is because about 5 years ago, I was the stupid person who was trying to befriend both parties and when they say that no good deed goes unpunished, I think of those times. Thankfully, I lived to regret every minute I spent with them. Fate finally smiled on me when I moved out of that neighborhood and out of their lives. Or so I thought.

Until a couple of weeks ago when I received a message from Mr. X, telling me that he had missed me all these years and wanted to meet up with me. Against my better judgment, I did meet up with him, had dinner, caught up on current events and found out that he was going through a separation from the little missus of about two weeks, at the time. At any rate, we met, we talked, we ate, no biggie. Until yesterday, when I received a message from Mrs. X, basically telling me that she had FOUND OUT about us. Seriously? OK, Nancy Drew – do tell. What exactly did you find out, all by your little self? That your husband is unhappy with you? Check. That the two of you are insane, in the clinical sense? Check. That you both can’t keep your toxic waste in your own little corner of Hell on Earth? Check.  I listened to her for about 30 minutes, until I began to realize that she was basically seeking a free “counseling” session, where she tells me her side of the sordid tale and I’m supposed to bash him and tell her she’s an angel for putting up with him as long as she has….yeah, that’s going to happen right after I get married to Liam Neeson….so, basically NEVER. (NOTE TO LIAM: I would marry you in a heartbeat, so in case you are interested, ignore the part where I said NEVER, just so we are clear). I wished her the best of luck with everything, asked her to please tell her husband to forget I ever lived, forget my number, my e-mail address and for her to do the same and NEVER contact me again. I then said a silent prayer for their child and hung up.

BAM! All at once, I realized (again) how incredibly toxic that couple is for me. Not saying that they aren’t good people, or they’re not loving parents; I don’t know if they are good, bad or indifferent, I just know that when I get around them, things tend to go badly for me. Much like the rescuer that gets pulled underwater by the drowning swimmer, my desire to save them is not strong enough to keep both of us above water. I walk away from conversations with them feeling like I have been drained of energy and happiness and in their place darkness and despair have taken up residence. Back in the day, I would wash those feelings away with a bottle or two of wine, but that’s no longer an option. It’s not a good feeling, especially when trying to stay away from alcohol and dark places in the mind. I know better than to ignore that voice that tells me to stay away, don’t answer the phone, don’t reply to that e-mail, etc. I guess sometimes I just need these painful reminders to keep me on track, keep me focused on me and remind me why when it comes to friends, I will choose quality over quantity any day. Better to have one true friend than 100 energy vampires, masquerading as friends, feeding off your good energy, your happiness and the rewards of years of hard work.

Like the proverb says, Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me. You won’t get a third chance.

 

The Winds of Change

“The pessimist complains about the wind; the optimist expects it to change; the realist adjusts the sails”

William Arthur Ward

I came across this quote back in November and wanted to write a post around it but couldn’t figure out how to convey what it says to me, specifically. I’m going to try now, so bear with me.

I’ve long believed that I was powerless over circumstances, that I was like a leaf in a storm; at the mercy of the wind, with no say in where I would go. I went along with whatever the group mentality was, never questioning whether it was what I wanted to do, where I wanted to go or who I wanted to be with. By doing this, I set up myself up beautifully for great disappointment and the role of the ever-suffering victim. I gave away my choices, my voice, my power and then couldn’t figure out why I was always so unhappy; why I had no sense of self, no idea who I was. It has taken me many years and a great deal of wrong turns, heartbreaks and utter despair to realize that no one had made me a victim, except myself.

Now, that’s all fine and good, but what could I do with that great revelation? We’re talking a lifetime of identifying as a follower, how could I un-learn all those behaviors? How could I reclaim my voice, my power? I had no clue, but I did know that if I didn’t try, nothing would ever change, except to possibly worsen. There is another saying regarding a long journey and it beginning with a single step; that is exactly what I had to do. One step. One different thought. Turning left instead of right, speaking up instead of suffering silently, making one decision to change one thing. They all add up. Just as a bad habit is formed over time, the same is true of a healthy one. I had been living this way my entire life (40-something years) and I would have to have great patience and determination if I wanted to change.

Now, a little over a year free from alcohol and I have found my voice, I am slowing realizing the extent of how much power I gave away and am in the processing of getting it back and then some. I have a greater sense of self, of purpose and of value. Needless to say, every day isn’t like a scene from some ridiculously happy and upbeat musical, but it’s good. The challenges will always be there, although their form and delivery may differ, I will still have to find the strength to make good choices while allowing myself to be human. The words “failure” or “victim” can never be used again when I’m thinking about who I am, what I am. I am a fighter and I will fight the good fight until I can no more. I am looking forward to each next day, each new lesson learned and each victory celebrated. I will keep steadily on my course, my mind focused on my destination, eyes open for whatever beauty appears and gratitude in my heart for the people that have loved me through thick and thin. And if the seas get rough, I’ll adjust the sails.

Creativity, Mania and Meds

“Saying I don’t take my meds because they make me feel funny is like cannibals saying they don’t eat clowns because they taste funny” 
― Stanley Victor Paskavich

For the longest time, I fought against taking any kind of psych meds for a myriad of reasons; it would most certainly interfere with my alcohol and substance use, it could make me “normal” (God forbid!) and more importantly, I was deathly afraid that I would become someone else. As someone who could handle anything, it seemed as though it was somehow cheating to take them. Of course, drinking and self-medicating were perfectly acceptable and didn’t constitute a crutch at all, in my mind.

There is a great deal of fear around medications, especially psych meds for those who have the bipolar diagnosis. I can only speak for myself, but when I look back at all the wonderfully dark poetry I wrote while in the midst of a manic episode, I wonder if it was the mania or me that created them. I know now that my talents are not solely dependent upon my state of mind, but rather the end result is colored by my mental state. I don’t need to be hopelessly depressed to write about sadness or riding the tsunami of mania in order to write of bliss. I now know that my creativity exists within myself, my heart and soul. My moods may change, but the core of who I am remains. I will admit that a good manic episode, much like a good acid trip, may open doors within my mind to places that I would normally not be granted access to, but that does not diminish my potential for creativity. I am able to open doors to creativity through meditation, deep thought and following my intuition to wherever it leads me.

I love the quote above because it reminds me so much of myself in years past. I have argued with my psychiatrist for many years about getting clean and sober, taking my prescribed medication and finding sustainable sanity. It was as though I feared sanity more than I feared a lifetime of wild mood swings, severed friendships and day trips to insanity. I am thankful that I was able to finally face my fears and give myself the chance to live without extraordinary pain and suffering. Of course, this is not the end of my story, but rather the beginning. I hope that as I continue to write, I will be able to open those doors in my mind that will allow me to better understand my illness, my talents and my future as a creative woman who happens to have bipolar disorder.

I hope you will follow me on this journey.

Happy One Year Anniversary to Me

Today I celebrate my one year anniversary of freedom from drinking. When I started out on this journey, I had great expectations and a healthy dose of fear about giving up my dear friend, alcohol. We’d had a long relationship that started when I was 13 and it had been my constant companion throughout my life. I wasn’t sure that I could manage without it. From the days of standing outside the liquor store asking people (mostly men) to buy me Bacardi, to the homesick days in Mississippi, drinking White Zin (yeah, I know – yuk!) to the days of red wine and roses (without the roses) to the final days of Happy Hours ending in blackouts, not to mention the poor choices I made while intoxicated, I have come to the realization that alcohol is no friend of mine.

Since I have quit drinking, I’ve been able to reconnect with myself, feel my feelings and have regained a sense of power that I thought I didn’t have. I have faced events that would have sent me running to the nearest bottle before and I have lived through those events, shed the tears and moved on. I have regained my self-esteem, my confidence and my ability to truly be present. I would have to say this is the best gift that I’ve ever given myself and I know that there will be times when I romanticize those drinking days, but much like the boyfriend that wasn’t any good for me, I will have to strive to remember why we parted in the first place.

Today I celebrate my first year and I pray for the strength to have many more years to come. I have made a promise to myself that I will nurture and love my mind, body and soul; I cannot keep this promise if I am drinking. I have found a clarity that is better than any buzz I had gotten while drinking and have shed the guilt, the shame and the constant worry that came with drinking. I no longer have to wonder if I’ll make it home without getting pulled over; I no longer have to ask someone else what I did or said the night before. I don’t have to choose between buying a bottle of wine or buying groceries. It sounds pretty simple, but it all adds up. I am by no means stress free, but I have a found better ways to cope with my stress.

So, today I will be celebrate my one year with family and look forward to the next year. I have found a great strength and comfort in the Serenity Prayer and for those of you who aren’t familiar with it, I’ll leave you with the prayer in closing.

God, grant me serenity to accept the things I cannot change,

The courage to change the things I can

and the wisdom to know the difference.

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!