Some Random thoughts on Sobriety and Life

I’ve been battling addiction with varying degrees of success for 11 years now.

But something’s different since my last relapse, which was pretty bad.    I’m actually happy more often than not.    I like being sober.   I’m singing random songs when I wait for the bus.    I think I am FINALLY experiencing the Pink Cloud, some people talk about in recovery, when everything feels new, exciting, and good, and they love sobriety.     I’ve become that woman, I used to hate in rehab, who is in a good mood, not having significant cravings, and isn’t overwhelmed with problems, although I still do have some major challenges ahead.    I don’t know how long this mood will last, but for now I’m enjoying it.

The other thing I’ve been thinking about yesterday and today is suicide and life.    Yesterday I volunteered at the Distress Centre, and had a good shift so left feeling pretty happy.    When I got to the subway station where I intended to catch the train North, I was told I couldn’t get on because someone had jumped in front of a train two stops north.     I caught a shuttle bus, and got home with minimal inconvenience, but it made me think.

In March 2013 I was hospitalized, in a psych hospital, for 4 weeks because I was suicidal and seriously thinking of jumping in front of a subway.    Fortunately I was honest with my psychiatrist and agreed to to into the hospital instead.

So I understand that jumper.   I understand how your mind can be in a place that’s so deep and so dark, that you don’t see any other option but to take your life.    And my mind occasionally still goes there.    If I’m ever diagnosed with a terminal illness I’ll ask for physician assisted suicide.    And my mind occasionally still goes, “Well if X happens, I’ll just kill myself.”   But I’m usually able to give myself a mental shake and go that’s not worth dying over.    And I’m not constantly dwelling in the darkness.

I know that drinking could take me back to a suicidal place very quickly, so staying sober is my first priority right now.     But I’m also afraid of another depressive episode, of which I have at least one a year, sending me back there.

It’s like when I look at my arm and see the old self-injury scars.    It’s hard for me to imagine now, that I was once in a place where self-injury was a daily occurrence and my preferred coping strategy – but it was.

And then it was drinking and I don’t want to go back their either so I need to be vigilant.

But at least for today, I want to live.

Elizabeth

 

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I’m back – still fighting

I can’t believe it was Feb. when I last posted.

I don’t know where my mind has been.

I’ve been struggling frankly – wanting to drink, suicidal ideation, thoughts of self harm which hasn’t been an issue in over 5 years.  But I guess I’m stubborn, because I just keep chugging on.

The job search has been depressing and largely an exercise in frustration.   I’m now applying to Tim Horton’s but I can’t even get an interview with them.    Did get an interview for one job, and came in second which isn’t much consolation.

But I recognize that I have a choice – I can give up or I can keep trying.    I’m going with the latter, as I’m not yet completely out of options.     And I refuse to let the universe win.

I’m profoundly grateful for the support I get from my friends, both IRL and on-line.    Without them, I would have given up ages ago.

I just need to rediscover my reason to live.

I’m going to try to get back to writing more frequently, and will return to the WFS series.

Elizabeth

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Returning to the Women for Sobriety Statements – Statement 8

Wow, I can’t believe how long it’s been since I last wrote on the statements.   Clearly the last portion of last year was not a good year for writing.

And so now I return to the statements with Statement 8:

The fundamental object of life is emotional and spiritual growth.                  Daily I put my life into a proper order, knowing which are the priorities.

This is one I struggled with and to an extent continue to struggle with.   Clearly part of the recovery from my addiction is the ongoing struggle to learn to deal with my emotions without numbing them with alcohol.   It’s hard.    I don’t like negative emotions, and some days I just desperately want a bottle of alcohol or handful of sedatives so that I don’t have to feel.

But I’ve learned to cope.   Journaling, talking with friends (really scary at first) and sometimes just staying with the feeling and letting myself cry, until it passes all work.   I’m beginning to trust that my emotions won’t kill me, even if it feels like it.

The spiritual part is more difficult.   I still have difficulty separating spirituality from religion and my childhood upbringing left me wanting nothing to do with organized religion.     I don’t believe in God.    If pressed, I’ll say I believe in physics and universal matter, the Hobson-Boggs particle as our nearest expression of it now.

The closest I can come to spirituality is mindfulness meditation.    I was introduced to it several years as a tool for preventing depression relapse.   It’s been something less than an underwhelming success in that regard, but it has proven a useful tool in regulating my emotions, particularly my anxiety, and in grounding me when I’m loosing touch with the moment.    Next week I start an 8 week mindfulness meditation & yoga program that I’m hoping will expand my practice.

I don’t have the space here to do a full explanation of mindfulness justice.   But there’s plenty of information on-line.    I’d recommend starting with John Kabat-Zin, or Rick Hanson.

I can’t claim that I put my day in proper order yet – I’m still too scattered and overwhelmed, so that’s a work in progress.

But at least it’s progress.

Elizabeth

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I’m back for the New Year

Happy New Year and I’m back.

In some ways I can’t believe it was August that I wrote anything here, and in others it’s not surprising.   The latter months of 2015 were not good.

I fell into a Major Depressive Episode that drugs didn’t touch, I relapsed a couple of times, I repeated rehab, I found out my meds that keep me sane are likely damaging my heart, and on an up note, found a job, only to have the offer rescinded a week later when funding for the position was pulled by head office.    Looking back on the last half of 2015 and it’s a fog – a blur, of treatment, sleep and mindlessly watching DVD’s.    Not the life I wanted, but I couldn’t pull myself out of it.

There were a couple of good things, I started working with a dietitian and have started losing weight – I’m almost at my first goal, which was to get under 200 lbs.   So far I’ve lost a total of 18 lbs, with only minor tweaks to my diet.

But happily 2016 has started out on a more positive note.   Something in my brain shifted and I came out of the depression, mostly.    I’m still struggling slightly with motivation, although I suspect that’s being out of practice as much as anything.    Some days I even feel happy.    My addictions Dr. has agreed to try me on an anti-craving med.    I’ve signed up for a year long, on-line course on mindfulness.   I’m applying to get into a healthcare covered, yoga and mindfulness program, and I’ve started walking every day.

I’ve checked with the Fraud Examiner’s board, and they’ve confirmed I have until the end of 2016 to finish my course and write my exams, which is better than I expected.    I’m feeling good about job hunting, and feel confident that I’ll find a job in 2016.     I’ve restarted volunteering at the Distress Centre (I had to take a leave of absence in Dec.) and I have a plan, for the unlikely event that I don’t find work.

So in short I’m back.   And, will hopefully begin writing about the WFS statements shortly.

Have a great 2016 everyone.

Elizabeth

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Women for Sobriety Statement 7

7) Love can change the course of my world.
Caring becomes all important.
At first I balked at this statement, not in least because I have an absolute phobia of romantic relationships, so I thought love AUGH – this is not going to be a statement that I can work with.
And then I thought about it for awhile and realized my definition of love was too narrow.    Now love is a word that gets thrown around pretty carelessly, as in I love chocolate, so I focused more on the second part of the statement “Caring”.   And I could relate to that.
I do love my harp teacher’s dogs, and I believe they return the affection, if body wiggles are any indication of anything, and I get great delight in making them happy.     I care deeply about some of my friends.    I care about nature.    I care about and appreciate the people who have helped me in the past several years.
And the best part about it, is that it is a self-reinforcing proposition.    The more I let my guard down and admit that I care and really feel it, the more I’m able to accept that people care about me, something I was afraid to feel for years.    But I look at the evidence – why would my harp teacher keep teaching me for free if she didn’t care about me.    Why would my friends be so willing to help me if they didn’t care about me.
I have friends on-line and IRL who I know care about me, and encourage me to keep going.
And for that I feel very fortunate.
Elizabeth
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Women for Sobriety Satement 6

6) Life can be ordinary or it can be great.
Greatness is mine by a conscious effort.
I love this statement.    It doesn’t mean to me, that things are always going to be awesome, but rather by attitude and embracing opportunities I can have a life that is beyond ordinary and is great instead.
It means taking risks.   It means embracing the present and living fully in it, enjoying every minute.   It means chasing your dreams, even if they seem impossible.
And life being great doesn’t mean you have to implement some earth shattering invention, write the next great symphony, or single handily stop climate change, although that would be supremely awesome.  No greatness can mean finding delight in little things – like playing with dogs and loving it 100%, sitting out on a patio with an iced coffee with a nice sunny breeze. writing a poem or drawing a painting.
It’s about what gives you joy.
I know for many people in the throes of addiction or mental illness joy can be a foreign concept, but it’s possible to work towards it.   Start out small with the things you like and build on them.   Shoot for good, and eventually you’ll be pursuing greatness.
Elizabeth
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WFS Statement 5

I am what I think.
I am a capable, competent, caring, compassionate woman.
 
 I really struggled with this statement initially, largely because I did not like what I thought about myself.
For a long time I defined myself by my career – I was a successful accountant.    Then I lost the job, and my world imploded.
Then came the negative period, when I was the “unemployed, alcoholic, psych patient” none of which fit in with the worldview I’d had of myself when I was growing up.   Obviously I had a lot of issues with self hatred going on in this period.
I slowly started to work my way out of this world view with a lot of therapy from wonderful therapists.   Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, and Compassion Focused Therapy helped a lot, as did writing periodic lists of things I liked about myself.   I remember the first time I was asked to write 10 things I liked about myself.   It was in my first rehab, and I managed 3 before running out of ideas.    A second attempt several years later when I was in the psych hospital, where I desperately scraped together 10, only by the inclusion of # 10 – that animals like me.
Then I did some more therapy and began to see myself in a more holistic way.   Yes, I’m an accountant, and an alcoholic, and a psych patient, but I’m also a musician, a knitter, a writer, a friend, a good listener, a volunteer etc.    None of them individually define me, but they make up the whole that is me.    And what connects them are my core characteristics – creativity, honesty, hard working, dedicated, a tad obsessive, mathematically inclined, and yes Capable, Competent, Caring, and Compassionate.
On the WFS site, you’ll often run across someone saying in shorthand, that’s very 4C, or you’re so 4C.    That’s what it refers to – capable, competent, caring, and compassionate, and each WFS meeting ends with the group reciting a statement that incorporates these four components.
I suspect my friends might have told me I had these characteristics long before I clued into them.   It took WFS, and a lot of writing, and a lot of CBT, for me to embrace this statement about myself.
I am what I think.   Only now I like it.
Elizabeth
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Women for Sobriey Statement 4

Problems bother me only to the degree I permit them to.

I now better understand my problems and do not permit problems to overwhelm me.

 

When I was drinking, and even occasionally in early sobriety, any problem was a BIG DEAL, and had the potential to totally derail me.   I was exhausted, overwhelmed and not coping well.

I wasn’t always like that.   In my 20’s I truly believed I could handle anything, and that attitude carried me to a successful career and multiple degrees and professional designations.

I lost that confidence as my drinking got worse and then as I continued to relapse, and overspend.   I often felt like I was powerless against the world.

But now I recognize I’m not powerless.   Sure I still have a ton of problems, mostly financial and relating to my job search, but they’re not overwhelming most days, because I recognize that I have a choice in how I respond to challenges.   I can come up with action plans, to do lists, and strategies that will help me move forward.   I can seek outside assistance when I need it.   I can choose how much I worry and obsess over a problem versus believing I can handle it, and figuring out what the next step is.

Sure sometimes I get overwhelmed, but it’s a lot less often, and I can usually pull myself out of it pretty quickly, as long as I don’t get sucked into old behaviour patterns.

I’ve made a choice, I’m not going to be ruled by my problems, I’m going to look for solutions that I can implement.

You too have that choice.

Elizabeth

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Women for Sobriety Satement 3

Happiness is a habit I will develop.

Happiness is created not waited for

I struggled with this statement for a long time.   Happiness seemed out of reach.   I remembered being happy as a kid and in my early 20’s before the drinking and depression set in.    But with those twin demons came overwhelming sadness.   I forgot about happy, and if someone had asked, “What makes you happy?” I would have answered nothing or I don’t know.

Someone on  a forum I belong to observed that in my writing it seemed that I was afraid of happiness, always waiting for the other shoe to drop, and for a time that was absolutely true.

But as I’ve got my addiction under control, and my mental health issues stabilized with meds, and back into my apartment, I’m beginning to feel safe enough to feel happy.

Mindfullness meditation and Compassion Focused Therapy have helped me a lot with this too, as both ask me to stay in the present and focus on the little things.

So I’m no longer looking for the Big Happy, or some life changing event, that will suddenly make me happy.   Instead I find my happiness in little pleasures:  listening to my favourite musicians, playing my harp, knitting, cuddling with my harp teachers dogs, sitting out on a patio in the sun drinking an iced coffee, just enjoying the moment.

So yes, I’m learning to be happy.   And I’m creating my own happiness.   And it seems to have an exponential effect.   The more things I do that make me happy, the more things I discover that make me happy and sometimes I even feel joy.    I frequently find myself, waiting at bus stops, singing quietly under my breath – happy songs that make me feel good.

So given the choice of making myself miserable, versus making myself happy, I’ll choose happy any day of the week.

I hope you will too.

Elizabeth

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Women for Sobriety statement 2

Negative thoughts destroy only myself.

My first conscious sober act must be to remove negativity from my life.

This is something I really struggled with for a long time.   At heart I lean towards pessimism, and I can usually give you the absolute worst case, for any scenario you consider.

But it turns out I’m not alone in having a negative bias.   I recently watched a youtube presentation by psychologist Dr. Rick Hanson.   In it he said that based on how we evolved we’re hard wired to focus on the negative, and quickly perceive threats.   He calls it “Having Velcro for negativity, and Teflon for positivity.”

But since beginning my recovery journey, I’ve done a lot of work in Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT), Compassion Focussed Therapy (CFT), and Mindfulness.

CBT taught me that my emotions and my thoughts are interlinked, and that by changing my thoughts I could change how I feel. It took a lot of thought records, and practice, by slowly it helped me shift some pretty fundamental core beliefs and let me go from believing that I am unlovable to believing that I am likeable.

Mindfulness taught me to pay attention to my thoughts neutrally without judging them.   This was an important first step, because you can’t apply CBT to a negative thought without being aware of what the thought is.   Mindfulness also taught me to stay in the present, rather than being sucked into looking at my horrible past, or feeling terrified about my future.   I won’t say I’m capable of doing this 100% of the time, but the more I practice it, the easier it becomes.

CFT has been an incredibly powerful therapy for me.   It’s main message is that wherever you ended up in life, “It’s not your fault” and that depending on what happened in our childhood and brains can become more hardwired to perceive threats, and that we need to work on learning healthy ways of self-soothing and calming the threat circuits in our brain.

In addition to addiction, I’ve also struggled with recurrent depression through most of my adult life.   I can generally count on at least one major depressive episode a year.   It’s taken a lot work, both in therapy, and in finding the right combination of meds, to get me to place where I can experience happiness, and even joy occasionally.

I’ll never be a Pollyanna, but at least my outlook on life is much more positive now.   And that feels good.

Elizabeth

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