Saturday, May 11, 2019

The Vader Key

The Vader Key

“Of this be sure:  You do not find the happy life… You make it.”
Thomas S. Monson

I think one of the things that people worry about in early recovery is that they will never have fun again.  I know I did.  I was scared that I would not know how to have a good time without drinking, that I would never be happy.  I didn’t think it was possible because alcohol and the culture of it had seeped into my bones and I could no longer think beyond it.
We are surrounded by the message today that once you are an adult and Friday comes along, the weekend is all about drinking.  TGIF, you made it and its now “happy hour”.  There are pub crawls, there are races where you get a beer every mile, there are “paint and sip” art studios,  “twerk and wine” work-outs, “scent and sip” candle-making parties and “clues and booze” escape rooms.  Let’s not even get into the mommy wine culture that tells us we need alcohol to survive parenting and that once the kids are in bed at night we must reward ourselves because we “need a drink”.  Trust me, I bought into all of that and more at one point in my life.
What alcohol did for me was numb me from my own feelings.  It drove me further from myself and therefore further from those around me.  At some points along the way it was entertaining for sure and I could be the life of the party at times, but let me assure you, no one was laughing at the end of my drinking career; no one.
So you go from thinking that alcohol or drugs (or both) are that things that make life fun or make life bearable or make you happy, to removing them altogether.  There is a period of time there in the beginning when you are full of shame and remorse and you are just learning the ropes of life without the numbing and you are floundering and you realize you don’t really know anything.  You don’t know how to function without the substances, let alone how to have fun because you don’t really know who you are anymore.
I have a friend in recovery who opens his home to people in my home group all the time for get-togethers.  He has parties to watch the Superbowl, to watch movies during Oscar season, a big Christmas party and more.  You would never guess from the amount of people who come and the amount of laughter inside that there is no alcohol.  It just isn’t an issue.  In fact someone not in recovery came once and brought a bottle of wine as a hostess gift because she had no idea that not only were the host and his wife sober but that the majority of the people she had been hanging out with at other times were also sober.  It just had not come up.
I think over time, as I reconnected with myself, or more accurately connected with myself genuinely for the first time, I started to find joy in little things.  I found things funny and I began to carry myself in a way that showed I was happy.  I see that in other people in the rooms as well who have joyful recovery.  It’s as if the people who are most at ease with themselves exude this sort of simple peace.  It’s a quiet calm that radiates.
I don’t mean that I am happy-clappy all the time.  But small things make big differences and I cultivate those things.  I don’t have to have major life events or seismic shifts create happiness in me anymore.  It’s literally the little things.
Wren needed to get something from my house the other day when I wasn’t home and Frank took her over.  She got the spare key out from its hiding place and went to open my front door but promptly dropped the key down the side of my deck and despite her attempts to find it, it is lost down a crack beneath my house.  She was really upset about it and wanted to do the responsible thing and have a replacement key made.  She and I went together to do this and I decided to try one of those key kiosks you see at drugstores.
It was fascinating to watch.  You put the key you want copied in the machine and they make a 3D print of it and you can save the impression for future copies if you like.  Then when it was time to buy the copies once the key was made we were given options.  We could get a regular key or we could choose from a few designs.  Well, once of the designs was a black key that looks like Darth Vader.  Really a Darth Vader front door key for a dollar more.  Well, I mean, it was a no-brainer! 
I can’t even tell you how much joy I get from opening my front door every single time I come home!  I love my front door key…  The kids love their spare keys and the silly key chains I got for each of them.  It didn’t cost much and I smile every, single time I open my door.
I think we overcomplicate how to be happy.  I know I did.  We don’t have to have our lives perfectly fixed.  We don’t have to have everything in order.  We don’t have to have the perfect job.  We don’t have to have the perfect everything.  If we wait for everything to be perfect, thinking, “I’ll be happy when…” we’ll never be happy.  It’s the little things that make the difference in the end.  Little things like the Vader key.

Friday, April 26, 2019

The Genogram Project

The Genogram Project


“Love is the greatest gift that one generation can leave to another.”

Richard Garnett


I finished my spring semester last night.  This means that I am a little more than halfway through my grad school career at this point.  I now have a two week break before the summer semester starts along with my practicum.  Let the wild rumpus begin…

You would think that I would have come home and allowed myself to indulge in some pleasure reading and perhaps get up a little later in the morning this morning.  My body had other ideas because I woke up a few minutes before my alarm with this blog post itching to be put down on paper.

When I am finished with grad school I will graduate with 75 credits.  The program normally requires 60 but I am special and decided to pick up two concentrations and opted to spread my internship out across three semesters to make my life a little easier, thus the additional 15 credits. 

My concentrations are in co-occurring disorders and trauma.  Co-occurring disorders are mental health and substance use disorders that coexist in patients which is common and I started with that concentration when I entered grad school to get my masters in clinical and counseling psychology.  I quickly picked up a concentration in trauma also as the class I took in trauma reinforced what I saw weekly in my twelve-step meetings that many (but certainly not all) of the people I see in my meetings with substance use disorders also have a history with trauma. 

Gabor Maté is a renowned Canadian doctor who has worked for many years in the addiction field and holds a view (somewhat controversial) that addiction is a response to childhood suffering.  His views are embraced by some and spurned as narrow and simplistic by others but I feel that studying trauma can only bolster my skills before entering the field of psychology to help treat fellow addicts.

This semester I will admit I was not all that excited to take either of my classes.  I had Career Development and Couples and Family Therapy.  I prefer to work with people one-on-one and have no desire to counsel others on career choices.  As is usually the case, I got a lot more out of both classes than I expected.

In my Couples and Family Therapy class we had a genogram project we had to complete.  A genogram is basically a family tree but filled in with relational factors and is used in psychology to map out patterns.  It can be very revealing and highly effective when used properly.

We were tasked with graphing out our family trees from our grandparents down to ourselves and to our children if we had any and were to include siblings and cousins.  Once the people and dates of birth and any deaths were in place, we then layered in a color-coded set of “map” features to represent relational factors such as divorce, substance abuse, domestic violence etc…

I decided to concentrate on my mother’s side of the family and so filled in both sets of grandparents but only branched out the one side going down.  This project was labor-intensive.  Not so much in terms of gathering data, but in terms of bringing forth intergenerational pain.  We were only asked to share what we felt comfortable sharing. I am quite obviously an open book at this point and have felt the power of healing that shedding light on issues can provide, so I did not hold back.

When I presented this to the class and had my graph up on the screen from my PowerPoint, it was lit up like strings of multi-colored fairy lights.  There were some clear patterns, both shocking and sad.  Of course I already knew them, but knowing them and putting them down on paper and mapping them out and presenting them to others…  Two different things.

What I saw, were several generations of strong-willed women with large personalities who had emotional abuse spreading out from their names down to their children in ragged blue, squiggly lines.  Those children then had various emotional, domestic, mental or substance issues which spread out and down in other ragged and multi-colored squiggly lines.  It was heart-breaking but it also gave me renewed purpose.

After all, I too am a strong-willed woman with a large personality so I have to keep working on myself.  I don’t want any more squiggly lines coming from my name going out or down.  I don’t want any grandchildren I may be lucky enough to have standing in a classroom somewhere in fifty-odd years pointing to a genogram lit up like a Christmas tree. 

I want the buck to stop here as much as it can.  Dermot and Wren have already had to deal with enough and I hope to not be the cause of any more of their suffering.  I hope to be part of the solution.


Thursday, April 18, 2019

Pons Asinorum

Pons Asinorum

“a point at which many learners fail, especially a theory or formula that is difficult to grasp”
(Latin - taken from the fifth proposition of the first book of Euclid)

Sponsoring someone is an honor that sometimes feels like work and sometimes feels like a gift.  I did not even think about that when I came into the rooms. 
I came in a shaking and desperate mess wanting only one thing, someone to cure me from the ever-present need to drink.  I wanted a drink all the time.  I needed a drink.  My body screamed for it and my mind played the urge on an endless loop so it was all I saw in front of my eyes constantly.  The people in my home group took one look at me and smiled as though they could see the reel of neon “Wine and Spirit Shop” signs flashing before my eyes and hugged me.  They knew, because they had had the same sort of reels playing in their heads before.
They were kind.  They were calm.  They were happy.  They were annoying.  They also knew how to help and I could see that almost immediately and I knew I had to stick around so at least some of it would rub off on me. 
I began a journey through the steps that brought me to self-discovery.  I met myself for the first time which I have said before.  I also met God.  Or rather I allowed myself to see God around me for the first time.  I saw universal connectedness.  This does not mean that I let go science and logic and all things intellectual.  Rather, I saw how science and logic and all things intellectual fit together with things spiritual and mysterious and passionate and beautiful and I stopped railing against things I did not understand.  I began to accept things beyond myself and relaxed into “not knowing”.
There are many things I now accept I don’t know.  I can now live with that.  I don’t have all the answers and I don’t have to have them.  I also rely on prayer now and that was something I would have eschewed.
When I called my sponsor for 10th steps, which are when resentments crop up and you essentially have to work them out.  There are steps we are to take so these resentments do no build up and lead us back to destructive behaviors and relapse.  We are to ask God to remove the resentment or anger or whatever feelings we have cropping up.  We are to discuss the situation with someone right away, make amends if we are at fault and then turn our thoughts to someone we can help. 
For the longest time I would get angry and resentful about something and immediately call my sponsor and start to kvetch and the response I would get would be, “Did you ask God to remove it?”  Well, no, I had forgotten that part.  So I would be told to stop what I was doing, (usually driving) and pray and then call back to resume the 10th step.    For me there is nothing worse than being talked to like I am five, not that this was intentional on the part of my sponsor but I could not for the longest time remember this simplest instruction.  It took me nearly five years to get to a point that I will pray automatically when I get angry or resentful, then call.
I can also remember a time when I was still in the recovery house and Frank and I were going to weekly marriage counseling.  The sessions were extremely painful and I was FULL of resentment toward him.  I can remember calling my sponsor at the time and crying in anger down the phone and her response to me was to say, “Have you tried praying for him?”  I can remember holding the phone away from my ear like she had spoken to me in an ancient language.  I thought, “Really that’s all you’ve got for me?”  This was followed quickly by, “I’m not praying for him, he’s an asshole right now.”  BUT I did pray for him that night because I had reached that point of desperation, AND it did help.  I continued to pray for him over the course of weeks and months and it changed my perspective and the way I interacted with him.
So now here I am a little over five years later and I am in a position where other women look to me for help.  I get to be that annoyingly happy person they see when they come in the room looking for help.  I get to guide them through the steps as I was guided through and when they call and tell me what they are struggling with I listen.  I do ask questions and I do offer help.  I also always make that ridiculously simple suggestion that they try praying about it. 
This week, one of them sent me a text about a problem she was facing.  It was a logistical nightmare that would normally send her into a bit of a tailspin.  She sent me a long series of texts outlining what had happened and buried in the text were two lines, “I prayed.  And then I got to work.”  She solved her problem and was so proud of the outcome.  And I am proud of her too.
Just because something is simple does not make it easy.

Tuesday, March 5, 2019

I Am My Own Story

I Am My Own Story

“Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice.” 
-Steve jobs

A friend of mine from high school poses thought-provoking questions on Facebook from time-to-time.  A few of weeks ago he asked, “Perhaps my greatest lesson has been ___________.”  I saw the post and sat and stared at it for a while and thought there have been so many life lessons I have learned and a lot of them have not come so easily.  I kept coming back to one and decided to comment with this, “Don’t listen to other people’s narratives about you… you are your own story.”  Why did I pick that out of all that I could have chosen?
Last night at my twelve-step meeting, the speaker was talking about his experience with the fourth step – the moral inventory.  He talked about the resentments and fears he had listed in his inventory and he stressed that he had written down all of them “real or imagined”.
I think it underpins so much of what held me back for so long.  I chose to live in fear and self-pity for the majority of my life.  I listened to either what other people said about me or, more accurately and more often, what I perceived they said or thought about me.  I made up entire scenarios about what was going on in other people’s heads about me as soon as I walked into a room.  I decided that they did not like me and why.  I was sure they were judging me and I was sure I knew their thoughts and intentions.  I then turned these imagined scenarios into dialogues that ran on loops inside my head, repeating vile and negative untruths about myself.
When the occasional person came along and actually did judge me or make some off-color comment, I saw this as proof of what the whole world was saying or thinking.  I let all this rule me.  I took in these perceptions and what I thought I “should’ be according to others or according to societal norms and saw it as the rule of law.
I love the quote above from Steve jobs, I always have since the first time I read it.  I always silently amend it for myself though and add that I should not allow my inner voice to drown in the noise of my own negativity.  I have always been my own harshest critic and I get mired in a swamp of self-criticism which quickly weighs me down with self-pity and fear.  I become immobilized before I can even take action and then start to shrink in the face of the smallest obstacles or outside critiques.
I have learned over the years to quiet the inner negativity and bolster up my inner voice, the good one.  The inner voice that tells me I can and that I am allowed, that I even deserve.  The inner voice that says I can write a book for children or start a blog about recovery or change careers at mid-life or find sustained and joyous recovery.  The same voice that connected with a higher power and saw me as a beautiful soul for the first time in my forties and became someone my children and others can count on.
So yes, there are always going to be detractors in life.  Sometimes they will look like enemies and sometimes they will come in the form of family and friends who will say something that is just not supportive in the way you need at the moment.  The enemies are just enemies, broken people like the rest of us.  The family and friends may just not know how to help you at that moment.  The person you have to watch for the most is yourself.  If you tell yourself you can’t do something; you won’t.  If you tell yourself you can, most of the time you will.
I am my own story and my ending is not written.