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.


Posted in General Recovery | Leave a comment

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.


Posted in General Recovery | Leave a comment

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.


Posted in General Recovery | Leave a comment

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.


Posted in Addictions | 1 Comment

I’m good. No realy i’m fine. No nothing’s wrong. Thanks for asking but i’m fine REALLY

I will admit that from the outside, my life might look less than ideal – ie, I’m only working contracts and I’m perpetually broke   But this is not the end of the world as we now it.

I have a contract job in my field.  I’m going back to school to finish my forensic accounting program.    I’ve paid my tuition;   I’ve moved out of St Clares into my own place that I’m sharing with another woman and it’s a lovely apartment.

So all in all things are going prety well in my life.

My frustration – friends who absolutely refuse to believe I’m ok.

Conversations typically go like this.

friend:  How are you?

Me: I’m great thanks.

frend:   No really, how are you.

Me:   I’m doing really well thank you

Friend – are You sure?

Me.   Yes at which point I have to list all the posives in my life.

It feels like I have to justify being ok.

I will admit that I’ve had a lot of low points in the last 6 years, that legitimately worried my friends.   But, aside from the occassional anxiety attack I’m out of the hole, and am doing okl

And if I wasn’t I’d tell you, since I believe in sharing the pain.

So the next time, I tell you I’m doing well, how about doing us both a favour and believing me?


Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments

When I Look at my Scars

This is something I originally wrote on BUS, but it got a good response there, so I thought I’d share it with a broader audience.

I was feeling kind of reflective today. I’m currently doing an intensive therapy program for women with histories of childhood abuse. All of us have either or both histories of self injury or substance abuse. I have both.

But I was thinking today as I looked at my arm. I started self injuring when I was 10. I last self injured approximately 3 years ago at the age of 41. That’s most of my life self injuring, although I did have long periods without SI in my teens and 20′s.

Generally speaking I didn’t scar much, because I was careful, applied prompt medical attention, and made liberal use of vitamin E oil after the fact. But the last time I si’d it scared. I don’t know why. Objectively the scars are pretty faint, white on very fair skin doesn’t stand out, but I know exactly where they are and I can see them.

And they make me sad.

They make me sad for the part of me that felt the only way to release emotional pain was by physically hurting myself, sad for the part of me that would rather deal with physical pain than emotional. But mostly I feel bad that I didn’t care enough about myself to stop hurting myself earlier.

I still get urges to SI – almost daily in fact. But I choose not to. Because I know I deserve love not pain. That it’s ok to cry and feel like I almost want to explode. That feelings will pass and aren’t permanent.

But mostly because I’m me, and I deserve better.


Posted in Looking Back, Mental Health | Leave a comment


I have a friend who is both alcoholic and mentally ill.   She’s been sober long term, but she’s far from stable mentally.   I don’t know why – but her Dr’s don’t seem to suggest the same type of therapy programs that I’ve benefited from to her, perhaps it’s because they think she’s too cognitively impaired from long term benzo use.   She is cognitively impaired – I’ve known her now for 7 years and her memory and ability to reason has steadily gone downhill.

She called me in a full blown meltdown crisis the other day.   Fortunately I’m trained to deal with crisis calls after my time on CAMH’s phone line, so I was able to listen and respond appropriately.

The thing that struck me, was her absolute refusal to entertain going to the hospital, because of what people would think.   I’m not sure how to respond to that, since I’ve been hospitalized for psych issues 3 times, and am considered seriously mentally ill by the gov’t.   Does that somehow make me less of a person?   I think not.

I tried to parrallel it with a broken leg – that if she had broken her leg, she wouldn’t hesitate to go to the hospital, it’s the same with your brain – if you’re imploding go to the hospital.

But it was a no win conversation.   I said if it got bad enough call 911, she said no way – people would see the ambulance and the police.   Me, I figure seeing an ambulance is better than being dead, which is why I would call 911 if I ever got seriously, couldn’t cope with it suicidal.

But I get it.  There is stigma.  I’ve been hospitalized a total of 3 times, for a total of 4 months.   I received 0 flowers. 0 cards, and 1 visitor in the entire time.    I suspect things would be different if I were hospitalized for cancer.     Instead I got earnest reassurances that nobody would know where I was.   That didn’t make me feel better.

If I ever get actively suicidal again, I will go back into the hospital.   And I will tell people where I’m going.   And I would love to get visitors but I know that’s not going to happen.

Stigma, it’s a bitch.


Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Moved – Some Random Thoughts

Our lease date got moved forward by 2 weeks, thanks to some confusion with the leasing company, so we moved into our new apartment on Nov. 16.   So we’ve been here a week.

The move has been tough.   Moving is always exhausting, but I’m finding unpacking particularly trying.   And despite having done a significant downsize last year when I put my stuff into storage, I still have say too much stuff, so I’m working on getting rid of more stuff.

I’m also kind of upset, my grandmother’s tea wagon was badly damaged in the move – handle broken and one leaf, badly scratched.   I’m going to be calling the moving company next week to complain and try and get them to cover the cost of repairing it.

Stuff has gone missing, which seems to be inevitable with any move.   On the scale of pain in the butt, but not tragic, my tool box has disappeared.   The biggest problem with this is it contained the screws for my bed, and dresser mirror, so now I have to try and find replacement screws of the right size.

More upsetting is the disappearance of a bunch of stuff from what was my master bedroom.    I seem to be missing a box, that contained stuff from my dresser and vanity, including my grandmother’s silver dresser set.    My best guess, is that somehow the box got mixed up with the boxes that I took to Goodwill.

I was in such a bad head space with depression, and so overwhelmed with the bankruptcy and having to move into St. Clare’s that my packing was somewhat haphazard, and so I would not be at all surprised if the above happened.    I’m putting it down as one of life’s lessons.

S0 far my roommate and I are getting along alright.   We’re both fairly direct communicators which helps, so we’ve each been raising issues as they come up and resolving them.

One thing that I find kind of amusing is that my roommates psychiatrist is really concerned about me, and my stability as a roommate.   She’s worried about my relapsing and how that would affect my roommate.   That is a legitimate concern.     I just think it’s kind of amusing that my Dr’s were cautioning me about her, and her Dr’s are cautioning her about me.     But so far so good.

Now off for more unpacking.


Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

New Apartment: Moving On & Taking Chances

I’ve been living in St. Clare’s for a little over a year and a half.   I hate it.   While I’m profoundly grateful that it was there when I needed subsidized supportive housing last spring, I’m ready to move on.

Another woman, from St. Clare’s and I decided to band together and take our chances with the private rental market.   We found a great 2 bedroom apartment that’s surrounded by parkland, and is a 7 min walk from a bus stop.     We’re both low income and have bad credit ratings so we knew getting a lease would be challenging.   Thankfully the leasing company decided to take a limited chance on us, and approved us, pending us coming up with a guarantor.   Fortunately a friend of mine, who has a good job in the public sector, agreed to act as guarantor for us.   Thank God for friends.

So pending approval of our guarantor, we have an apartment effective Dec. 1.

Which brings me to my point.  It’s really a lot easier when you don’t have to go it alone.

We’re both taking a bit of a leap of faith in this future roommate adventure – we both have mental illness, we’re both addicts.    There’s a very real danger of relapse by either of us, either of our addiction or of our illness.       This complicates roommate discussions.   We have the normal stuff to sort out, like who gets the bigger bedroom, cost sharing, and quiet times.   We also have the added bonus of discussions of what we’ll do if the other relapses, goes off their meds, does something spectacularly stupid and self destructive, winds up in hospital.    We’re swaping psychiatrist’s names and phone numbers.   But the point is we’re taking a chance on each other.   Alone the most either of us could afford was a room with a stranger or possibly a bachelor.  Together we’re getting a nice 2 bedroom.

And my long-time friends, who aren’t nuts (or at least don’t have a formal diagnosis) and have good jobs are helping out, with loans to top up first and last, acting as guarantor, and eventually helping with moving (I hope).   Without my friends I’d be screwed.

So I’m lucky.   I have friends.  I have a support network.   Too many people with mental illness live in isolation with few or no friends.   I talked to them weekly when I volunteered on the telephone support line.     They don’t have a safety net, beyond the minimal help gov’t provides.   And being on your own is a scary place.

I’m lucky my friends trust me to repay them, to not default on the rent, but I’ve earned that trust, built up over 20 odd years.     We’re not related, but we do have a sense that we’re in this world together.   I’ve helped them, they’re helping me.   I hope in a year or so to be back in a position where I can help.

So as of Dec. 1 it’s a new beginning.   Made possible by the small acts of dozens of people.

oh, and we’re getting cats.


Posted in General Recovery | Leave a comment

Hope – Both Scary and Freeing

I’ve been in some type of therapy for depression, anxiety, and post traumatic stress pretty much consistently since 1998, and on meds continuously since 1999.    All of my Dr’s have told me that I’ll need meds for the rest of my life.

I’ve been in treatment multiple times since 2006 for addiction recovery, and there were lots of times when I thought I wouldn’t make it.   I’ve now been sober 19 months.

All my Dr’s, except my psychologist, have told me to set the bar low.    Find the meds with the least side effects, don’t work, or don’t take on too stressful a job, accept that you’ll always be sick and we’ll work on managing the symptoms.   Not a whole lot of reason for optimism in those messages.

But now something major has changed.   I’ve regained hope.  That one simple yet all powerful word.    I now have hope that I can recover, that I will work again, and that maybe someday I can go off meds.

What’s changed?   I took part in a Wellness Recovery Action Plan (WRAP) group that stressed that recovery is possible, that it’s up to me to define recovery, and that it’s up to me to maintain recovery.   At first this concept was a little threatening.    Because it gave me hope.   And hope is scary.   Hope means taking risks.   Hope means not settling.   Hope means dreaming about a better future and taking steps to get it.      The other thing that’s changed is I’ve been doing intensive trauma therapy.   And it really is a life changer.   I now see myself not as someone who is sick, but someone who is a survivor of horrific events.   And that to means internally that I can move forward and get better.

I will go back to school in January.   I will be successful.   I will get back to work.   I now believe that, and most importantly my Dr.’s now mostly agree with me.

So if you’re in the pit of a deep depression remember that recovery is possible.

Remember there is hope.


Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment