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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More than my labels

Back when I had a career, I totally defined myself by it.   I was an accountant and business manager, full stop.   Then I lost the job, and found myself somewhat rudderless as to who or what I was.

Then as part of my recovery from alcoholism, I got quite active in AA.  There, whenever speaking, it’s standard to introduce yourself by name, and the qualifier, “I’m an alcoholic” or some variation there of  and I got quite comfortable saying, “Hi, I’m Elizabeth, and I’m an alcoholic.”   But that never totally felt right.   It felt stigmatizing.  It made me feel that I was only my addiction.

Along the way I picked up quite a few psychiatric diagnostic labels, major depression – recurring, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, Substance Abuse Disorder – Dependence, Dissociative Disorder Not Otherwise Specified, Social Phobia… I could go on.    For a while I was quite wrapped up in my diagnoses reading about them, and learning all I could.

Then I got a bit involved in consumer / survivor organizations, and entered a whole mind field of self-definition – Mad person, consumer, survivor, client, patient (generally not favoured).  Personally I like patient.  I see a psychiatrist.  He’s an MD.  MD’s have patients, ergo I’m a patient.

The last seven years have been as much about redefining myself as they have been about my ongoing struggles to battle alcoholism, and mental health issues.

Today I embrace many more roles,   So today I can say, Hi my name is Elizabeth, and I’m:

  • A sister
  • A cousin
  • A friend
  • A harpist
  • A knitter
  • A writer
  • An accountant (can’t give that one up just yet)
  • A blogger
  • A psych patient
  • A volunteer
  • A recovering Alcoholic
  • A recovered self-injurer
  • A competent woman, who has much to give life (Thank you Women for Sobriety and the 13 statements.

But most importantly I am more than the sum of all my individual labels.

I am me.   And I’m starting to be ok with that.

Elizabeth

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Everyday mindfulness

Some time ago, I did a therapy program called Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy.  It basically blends CBT with mindfulness.   There’s really 2 types of mindfulness, formal meditation, and everyday mindful living. I try to practice both.  I do 45 min.  of guided mindfulness meditation at least 3 times a week and that helps manage my stress wonderfully.   But it’s the everyday mindfulness that really helps keep me engaged in the present, stops the chatter in my head and just basically makes me happy.

So what is it?   There’s lots of definitions out there bu most of them involve these elements: a conscious, non-judgmental awareness of the present moment.    It means not getting caught up in automatic thinking which can often be an unpleasant place because as I like to say, my brain is a bad neighbourhood.   Mindfulness gets me out of it.

I’ve written a bit before about everyday mindfulness, but I want to once again give a few examples of my favourite moments.

  • Sitting outside on a patio with a latte or an ice cream, enjoying the feel of the sun on my skin, feeling the breeze, smelling the summer air (ok so sometimes car exhaust isn’t the nicest) enjoying the taste of what I’m eating / drinking.
  • My ultimate happy moment is when I’m hugging and petting my harp teacher’s dogs, feeling their fur, and seeing their tail wags, and getting licks.  It’s 5 minutes of pure happiness.
  • Playing the harp is also a mindful activity for me, as I’m 100% focused on the notes and my hands and the rhythm, and trying to get the best sound.
  • Finally my most commonly used example of everyday mindfulness is knitting, and I do a lot of it, sitting around in hospitals waiting for appointments.    And I tend to knit complicated stuff so if’s not brainless quick knitting.   I have to concentrate on the pattern, the feel of yarn in my hands, the sound the knitting needles make, and seeing the colours in the yarn as I use a lot of variegated yarns.

In all of the above examples, I’m 100% focussed on the present.   I’m not feeling bad about the past, I’m not worrying about the future or money.   I’m engaging all my senses, and I generally feel happy.   And that’s worth a lot to me.

If you’re interested in learning more about mindfulness, check out Jon Kabat-Zin.   He’s got a newish book out, called “Mindfulness for Beginners” that’s excellent.

Elizabeth

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Thinking positively or at least not as negatively

I’m generally not a huge fan of positive thinking therapy, and I think the whole visualizing good things and they will come to you a la “The Secret” is a load of BS, but I am coming to appreciate the power of changing your thinking from negative to positive.

Over the last 7 years, I’ve done a lot of different therapy and two of my favourites are mindfulness and Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT).    Both have been proven to be helpful to me, in fighting my addictions and my depression.

I was doing some writing and reflecting today on Women For Sobriety’s Statement #2.  It is: Negative thoughts destroy only myself.   My first conscious sober act must be to remove negativity from my life.

I’ve struggled with this statement since I’ve been a major pessimist all my life.   If you want the worst case scenario, just ask me. Tell me 100 positive things about me, and give me one criticism and I’ll lock onto the criticism with a death grip.

Negative thoughts and emotions drove my drinking as I sought to escape from them by obliterating myself, and only made me feel worse in a never ending cycle of negativity.

Mindfulness has taught me to pay attention to my thoughts, and try to catch those negative automatic thoughts that plague me.   CBT has taught me to challenge them through thought records and other techniques.   My current therapist has me doing positive affirmations, something I had heretofore rejected.   And it’s all slowly working.

I’ve moved to the point where I actually believe I’m likeable from believing myself totally unlovable.   When I get the irrational fear that I’ll never work again – I’m able to counter it pretty quickly.

I’m working to fill my life with positive activities that I enjoy.

And it’s working.   I’m actually starting to feel happy on occasion and even experience joy once in a while.   Songs burst spontaneously into my head almost daily now.  Yeah, i still have bad days, and my default mood tends to sad more than to happy, but it’s improving.

What I need to work harder on is stopping the self criticism and being nice to myself.   I need to start treating myself, the way I treat my friends.

Today i made progress, i painted my nails a sparkly rose – they look quite nice, and it made me feel better.   It’s been some months since I painted my nails, and it’s a habit i want to get back into.

So as someone in my Double Recovery group says, “Swat those ANT’s (automatic negative thoughts) replace it with a PAT (positive automatic thought)”

Keep smiling.

Elizabeth

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I’ve realized it’s all about self-injury

I first self injured myself by burning at the age of 10.   I self injured on and off until a little over 3 years ago, when I finally stopped cutting.    And I honestly thought I was done with self injury.

I was wrong.

What I thought were purely addictions, are for me also a form of self injury.    When I drink, I drink to dangerous levels, where the risk of alcohol poisoning is real.    When I OD – it’s to both to numb out and make myself sick for a couple of days because physical pain is so much easier to deal with than emotional pain.

So while I currently have my addictions under control, I still desire the behaviours, and I’m left with the question of why do I want to hurt myself to the point of obliteration of self?

I don’t think I’m inherently a bad person, although I struggle to remember that I’m hurting but not broken, and that I don’t deserve to have to hurt myself.

I deserve to treat myself nicely and with kindness – not poison myself.

I’m changing my paradigm.    I used to say that I couldn’t drink because it was bad for me / messed up my life.   Now I’m trying to think that I deserve to not drink, because I deserve a chance at a better life.

Guess I’m still working on getting over self injury.

Elizabeth

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It’s all about instant gratification

For those of you familiar with addiction, what I’m writing probably won’t offer any great new insights, but it’s something I’ve been thinking about in the last couple of days after coming out of one of my more self destructive periods where some old behaviours came up.

For me, it’s all about the now, and instant gratification.

Feeling = bad=must change feeling  YESTERDAY.

Feeling = good = must do more NOW.

So how does this play out?   Well some of it’s obvious, feel bad, want to numb out = want to drink.

The wanting to feel good is a little more complex.

I recently made a very bad decision.   I decided to OD on my Seroquel.    Now don’t freak out.   I didn’t take anything close to a fatal dose, just more than my prescribed dose.   And I got a nice buzz, and then numb, and then sleepy.   Numb as you may know is one of my preferred states.    So I kept doing it.    So much so in fact that I went through a 2 month supply of pills in about 17 days.

And then comes the crash.   I’m out of pills, there’s no way the pharmacy will renew this early so I go into withdrawal and feel like hell.

Now some of you might be tempted to think this is dumb behaviour.   I think it’s dumb behaviour at times.   But what it really is, is addictive behaviour.   Given a choice, I’ll choose short term gain over long term pain, any time, and my brain seems to forget the long term pain.   Selective memory seems to be a high light of addiction.

I know what I’ve got to do.   I’ve got to learn to get away from the desire for instant gratification, and I’ve got to learn to stay with my feelings for longer than it takes to dial a bottle.    But knowing and doing are two different things.

Guess it’s time to brush of that DBT skills workbook, and start practicing.

Elizabeth

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