Cravings & Mindfulness

I don’t know if anyone who isn’t an alcoholic or addict can fully understanding the insane, overwhelming power of craving for their drug of choice.    It’s not rational.

I’ve been struggling a lot in the past few days with really intense cravings to drink – well really to do anything to change my mood.    I can give you a million reasons why drinking is bad for me, why my life is better without it, but my body and primitive brain don’t listen to reason.    They are literally screaming out for alcohol.

I don’t want to romanticize the drink, but I can taste that first burn in your mouth that whiskey gives you, and then settles into a smooth warmth, I can feel the slight burn as it goes down my throat and then the warm glow I get after a few sips.

The problem is that I don’t stop there.   Because my cravings aren’t really about alcohol – alcohol is merely the most effective means to an end.    What I want is oblivion, total numbness, I want the blackness of passing out.    I’ve joked with my treatment team, that when I think of relapse, it’s not “just one drink”, it’s “just one bottle.”

And if I can’t have alcohol, I seek other means of escape – shopping, that’s a bad one for me, although I’m now so broke, it’s not an option.    And so I’m tempted to abuse my psych meds, and sometimes I admit that I do, just to get an escape.

So what am I running from?   My feelings.    My sense of grief over my Mother’s upcoming anniversary of her death, loneliness, feelings of failure at not having been able to work now for several years, fear of not finding another job, fears of winding up homeless and the 100’s of other worse case scenario, my mind can take me to if I let it.

And so I have to keep coming back to mindfulness, the present, and my breath.   Because if I’m focused on the here and now, that makes the cravings easier to deal with.

Elizabeth

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Feeling Sad – miss my Mom

I don’t write about my Mom a lot.  It’s too emotionally hard.   But lately I’ve been thinking about her and crying, a lot.     When I think about her I get a warm nice feeling, as I remember doing stuff with her when I was a little kid – especially our summers at the cottage together, and it’s nice.

When I miss her not so much.

The past few nights, I feel like I’ve been ripped in half with missing her, and I’m bawling my head off.   I may be 45 and functioning reasonably well as an adult, but in my head I”m a 13 year old, screaming “I miss my Mommy.”    Naturally when I cry, even though I’m screaming inside, I’m totally silent, because when I was 13, I couldn’t really cry – I had to function.    I think I may finally beginning to deal with the grief, I couldn’t handle as a kid.

The fall is a hard time for me emotionally – something I only connected to her death, in the past 10 years.

In late September she was told that the cancer was back and she refused further treatment.

In October she was basically home dying.    I remember sitting on her bed talking to her when she was too weak to get up, and playing the piano for her, when she was strong enough to lie on the couch.

She died in Nov.   I can never remember the exact date – I always have to look it up.    Sometimes dissociation is a wonderful thing.  Sometimes not so much.   All I knew, until I made the connection was that each November I got suicidal.    At least now I know the cause so it’s not quite as unmanageable.

So, now, since I’ve stopped drinking, I typically try to do something nice that reminds me of her, in a good way, on the anniversary of her death.    Since we cooked and baked a lot together, I’ll probably bake something.

And keep crying.

Elizabeth

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When saying No is the way to move forward.

Last weekend, I was supposed to start a 3 day intensive residential treatment program.    I decided at the last minute not to go.

There were several issues, but bottom line it came down to I was sick of treatment.    I’d been in an IOP program 5 half days a week since May 5, and ended it, the day before the residential program was due to start.

The night before I was set to leave, I started having massive panic attacks and my social phobia was flaring at the thought of being with 17 other women 24/7.   Attending would have also meant being away from my writing and my on-line support communities, which are incredibly important to me, since it was a strictly no internet facility.

So I called and cancelled.    And I felt a huge sense of relief.

I talked to all the treatment professionals at my rehab.    They were initially freaked out, but calmed down once I explained my reasoning to them.     I met with my psychologist and went over my plans for the week, and then my subsequent involvement in the rehab.    I needed a week off to simply regroup and do normal stuff, like knit, clean, shop and read.

I’ll still be heavily involved in my rehab, beginning next week, but on a much reduced schedule, one that will leave me more time, to work on my knitting, and playing my harp, and other things that I enjoy.

So yes there is a thing as too much treatment, and sometimes the best realization is that you can say no.

Elizabeth

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Reflections on my arm

I’m looking at the inner part of my forearm.   And I see faint white scars.

They are carved there, by blood and tears.   A testimony to the time when I only knew how to express emotional pain by cutting.

I look at them, and I am simultaneously back then and here.   I remember each crisis – each meltdown, each tear than accompanied the blade.   And I grieve.

But I am present.   I see my past.   And I have longings to revisit it.   To feel the instant relief that the blade brings.   But I am beyond that.   I have grown.   I have survived.   I have learned to live without seeing blood.

Occasionally like this last weekend, where I’ve had to make tough decisions, it’s harder and I feel the call to self-injure more strongly.   But I intentionally don’t keep razors at home.  So I’m left with a poor substitute of scissors or a line I dare not cross into knives.

Fear keeps me safe.   I will not cut, for I do not know where it would end. And that scares me.

Enough to keep me looking at my scars, and seeing them for what they are.  Bright white reminders of my pain.

Elizabeth

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Do I love myself?

Each week as part of my psychotherapy, I write about my feelings and reactions to one of Women for Sobriety’s 13 statements.    This week’s statement was #10 about giving and receiving love.

This is something I struggle with.

I know absolutely that my mother and grandmother loved me unconditionally, and in his own way so did my father.

But somewhere along the way, due to circumstance, I lost that feeling of being loved, and believed myself to be unlovable, a belief that was simply reinforced as my drinking got worse.

Somewhere along the way, that belief changed to I am likeable, due to overwhelming evidence from my friends and people in AA and Women For Sobriety.

But I still struggle with love.

I know when I love.   I love (platonic) some of my friends, and I love my harp teacher’s dogs, and I feel like I’m receiving love back from them.     But it’s hard for me to take in.

But mostly I still hold myself back from feeling and expressing love, because it makes me feel too vulnerable and afraid – I have to keep my wall at least partially up.

Even writing this post feels a bit scary, because it’s admitting that I don’t yet completely love myself.    And it makes me feel lonely that I have so few people who I truly love.

And I wonder if I’ll ever get over the emotional / physical hangups that sexual abuse as a child left me with, to a point at some time in the future where I’ll be able to entertain the idea of romantic love.   The thought alone feels really scary.

So for now, I’ll just have to stay with I’m likeable.

Elizabeth

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Self-Injury

“I feel that I am broken or damaged. That some part of me either never learned a particular skill set or was incapable of learning that skill set. I suspect it centers on my ability to deal with intense emotion. But I would say that is a vast oversimplification. Trust enters into it. Confidence plays a role. Self image. The fact that a large protion of Self-Iinjurers have been sexually abused, as I have, cannot be ignored.

I’ve been asked how often I think of Self-Injury (SI)? Everyday. I think of it everyday. Not that I have the urge to engage in SI. But SI is a boundary. A border into another country. Or perhaps another layer of life. One that most never visit. However, once you visit that place, you can never truly leave. You cannot uncross that boarder. Leave that layer of life behind. You may distance yourself from it. You may end the harmful practice. But you carry that piece of you, a passport stamp or an emotional scar, with you until the end of your days. Once you cross the boundary that is your own skin, there is no uncrossing it. Ever.”

Fragileboy, BUS (http://buslist.org/phpBB/viewtopic.php?f=1&t=193499)  Thurs. Mar. 27, 2014,   reprinted with permission.

I used to self-injure.   I started when I was 10 and continued until I was 16 when I stopped.   But I returned to self-injury in my early 30″s after some particularly difficult stuff came up in therapy.   It took me 10 years to stop.

I’ve now been free from self-injury for over 3 years, but it’s still with me.   I look at my arm and see the scars.   They’re faint, so no one else would notice them, unless they were looking very closely at my arm, but to me they’re a daily reminder of that dark, lost, and lonely place in my head.

I still get urges to self-injure almost daily.   And some days I really want to – I want the release that only a cut will bring.  But I also know that I don’t want to go there again.

Self-injury is something most people don’t understand, as it goes against just about every instinct for self preservation, but those of us who have done it, know it works, and that’s sad.

I wish I didn’t have knowledge of that world but the above quote is right.   Once you have self-injured, you can never totally leave it behind.

Elizabeth

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Letting go of the past.

I’m doing  a lot of writing, weekly, for my psychologist.   This week’s theme is letting go of the past, and not being defined by it.

For a long time, letting go of the past was really tough for me, because it kept me mired in this really dark place, where I thought the only solution was drinking.   And the more I drink the more isolated I became, and the more regrets I had, so I drank more to deal with the new shame, and enter vicious circle until I was just drinking because I was unable to physically stop, but I justified it by my past.

I forget what year it was, maybe around 2009, but I had a pretty by the book sponsor in AA, and she insisted I do a step 4 with her.   Now normally I’m not a huge fan of Step 4, but doing it with her was helpful.    I began to notice a lot of themes in my resentments / reasons for drinking – a lot of it was old stuff.   Not that the hurts weren’t real, just that they were old, and kind of repetitive, and I got to thinking -this is kind of boring, and not the me I want to be.

As I started going through my step 4 with her, she whipped out a pen and started writing “self-pity” on a lot of my stuff.   After a while, it got old.   But it made me realize that as some point, in my drinking, I’d slipped into the “poor me” victim role.   Yeah I had a lot of bad stuff happen to me when I was growing up, but it was history, and did I really want to stay there?  I didn’t like thinking about myself as a victim, because that’s not how I saw myself in my 20’s.

I still have a lot of regrets around my drinking: about not getting sober when I first realized I had a problem; about not staying sober after my first rehab; and about my frequent relapses.    But thanks to some awesome compassion focused therapy, I’m starting to accept that I did the best I could with what I knew and believed at the time.    I’m not a failure, I’m a survivor.   And it’s taken my life experiences, both good and bad to make me the person I am today.

I’ve had to do a lot of writing to understand and let go of the past, and most of the time now, I’m at peace with it.   Yeah, there’s stuff I wish I hadn’t done, but I don’t dwell on it.  That was then and this is now

I told my addictions Dr. yesterday that I was finally feeling just “normal” for the first time since about 2009.   It’s taken a lot for me to get to that statement.   Hospitalizations, periods of sobriety, relapses, lots of rehab and therapy, and meds changes that really messed with my brain, particularly since I wasn’t always the best with meds compliance.

But today I’m feeling stable, and like I’m having the normal range of emotions.   I’m sad Finn, my harp teacher’s dog died.   I’m happy I’m blogging for Hazelden, and that I have a book deal.   I’m happy that I’m going into my second year in my apartment and that my roommate and I are still getting along well.  I’m happy that I have good friends.   I feel like I’m planning at last, and not just reacting.   And it’s taken me a long time to get here.

So while I am the sum of my past, it really is a case of being greater than the sum of my experiences.   I’m actually looking forward to the future.   My life is a largely blank slate that I get to draw on in pretty colours.    It’s a long way from being all roses, but at least I’m not actively self-destructing anymore.

And that’s a good start.

Elizabeth

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Don’t want to go back there

Yesterday in group therapy, my addictions Dr. asked us all what had made us decide to give up whatever our drug of choice was, and get into recovery.

Talk about bad memories.   I said that the very first time I decided to get sober back in 2006, my life was spiraling out of control, and I knew that if I didn’t make a change I’d wind up dead.

She asked what out of control looked like for me.   It was this.

-being almost completely isolated, since I’d pushed away most of my friends.

-waking up at 3 am, needing a drink

-needing a drink first thing in the morning

-starting to affect my work

-starting to have really bad withdrawal symptoms at 4 pm every day

-desperately needing those first couple of drinks at 5 pm, so that my hands would stop shaking.

Looking back, I’m saddened by how sick I was, and how out of control I’d allowed my drinking to become without even realizing it.

Even though my life isn’t perfect now, and has a lot of stress in it, I can absolutely say 100% that my life is better now than it was back then.

And, one day at a time, I want to be sure I never go back there.

Elizabeth

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Blades and Booze

As I look back over my 30’s, I realized my life revolved around 2 things outside of work, self-injury and drinking.

I’d self-injured as a kid and teen, and then stopped, but restarted in my mid 30’s after some pretty triggering stuff came up in therapy.   It took me 10 years to stop.

My 30’s is also when my drinking really took off and became problematic.   I admitted it to myself in 2002 when I was 33, but it would take 4 more increasingly damaging years before I sought help.   I’m still very much struggling with recovery.

With the self-injury, I was able to externalize my pain, releasing pent up emotions that I didn’t have words to express, keeping suicidal thoughts at bay, by drawing on my arm in blood red tears.   Today I look at the scars and think how sad it was that at one point that was the only way I knew to handle emotions that threatened to overwhelm me.

Drinking was more about internalizing – numbing out, denying that the emotions existed, anything to not feel.   My first year sober I had 2 emotions: despair; and, rage.  And I flipped between the two at the snap of a finger.

Today I am sober and no longer self-injuring, although I get frequent urges to do both.   I hope with time that the urges will fade, but they may never.

So every day I make a choice, either to hurt myself, or to love myself as best I can and deal with my emotions.

Now thanks to CBT, DBT, mindfulness, and lots of excellent professional counseling, I am able to choose not to hurt myself.

I deserve better.   I don’t want any more scars.

Elizabeth

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Changing sidewalks.

Autobiography in Five Short Chapters

By Portia Nelson

I

I walk down the street.
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk
I fall in.
I am lost … I am helpless.
It isn’t my fault.
It takes me forever to find a way out.

II

I walk down the same street.
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
I pretend I don’t see it.
I fall in again.
I can’t believe I am in the same place
but, it isn’t my fault.
It still takes a long time to get out.

III

I walk down the same street.
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
I see it is there.
I still fall in … it’s a habit.
my eyes are open
I know where I am.
It is my fault.
I get out immediately.

IV

I walk down the same street.
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
I walk around it.

V

I walk down another street.

 

Copyright (c) 1993, by Portia Nelson from the book There’s A Hole in My Sidewalk.

My addictions Dr. read this in my rehab group yesterday.   It’s not the first time I’ve heard it.   But for some reason yesterday it really hit me.   I got a lump in my chest, got emotional, and started crying.   I cried for the rest of the group.

I think the reason it hit me, is that it’s taken me so many more times, than 5 to get to a different sidewalk – still not really sure I’m on a new one.

I drank my entire adult life, heavily.   I started writing that I had a problem in 2002, but I thought I could handle it on my own.   It was 2005 after a seizure that I made an attempt at getting help, and 2006 before my first serious attempt at sobriety.   That didn’t last.

After a spectacularly bad relapse right before Christmas 06, that landed me in the hospital, I began what I view as my real recovery attempt.   Since then I’ve been in rehab 7 times, and am preparing to go to my 8’th in Sept.   I stay sober for periods and then relapse badly because my desire to numb out from my emotions is stronger than my desire to stay sober.

I walk with my eyes wide open down the sidewalk and willingly jump in the hole.    My last jump almost killed me.    And that makes me sad.   That I felt so badly enough about my life that I almost killed myself to escape my feelings.

I’m a little over 3 months sober now, and almost every day is a struggle.   I want to drink or I want to cut.    I collapse into bed emotionally exhausted relieved that I’ve made it through another day without doing something self destructive.

Don’t get me wrong – I’ve got some amazing stuff going on in my life.   I’m talking with a publisher who wants me to write for him.   I’ve been asked to blog on a big US recovery site.   I have an amazing care team.   I have amazing friends.   There’s a lot I’m grateful for.

But it’s freaking hard.    I hate addiction.   I hate that I have it so badly.

Hopefully, some day I will walk down another street.

Elizabeth.

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