Slumps

I think there’s this belief in recovery that we always have to be moving forward, propelled by a combination of serenity and energy and maybe some desperation too. When I don’t have all those elements in right measure, I feel off and not as happy with the routines that have worked for me in the past.

NERD ALERT: Every morning I get up really early (how early? fucking early) to write in my journal and then I feed the cat and go for a run or a walk and take in the wildlife and feel as close to how Snow White feels when birds alight on her arm as anyone could feel, I’m sure. I do all this because my family is still sleeping like normal people and because I’ve lost the ability to sleep in, probably because my brain knows this is the only time I get true peace and quiet. I’m an introvert in a family of extroverts.

The past couple mornings I got up as usual, but I just wasn’t feeling it in the same way as before. I wrote, but I’m pretty sure I repeated myself a lot and was too bored to look in past entries to confirm this. I ran, and it was exhausting and sweaty and therefore good, but I skipped through at least half the songs on my playlist because I am tired of them. In short, I am in a slump and I hate slumps because I never see them coming and I’m not sure how to get out.

I know slumps are normal. Being sober doesn’t preclude me from having them. It’s a little scary to have one in recovery because part of me wonders if this is how relapse begins. If I stop bettering myself in these small ways, will I worsen instead? If I don’t journal, will I bottle up my angst? If I lose interest in running, how will I be able to keep up my oreo habit?  I fear my natural inclination is to revert back to old, self-destructive ways, and I don’t want this to be true and I know I can fight it and I will fight it. Maybe a slump serves to remind me of all I have to lose.

It’s likely I need to try something new for growth. Yesterday I was feeling all anxious and got an emailed post on anxiety from The Act of Returning to Normal. She mentioned running to tire the mind and how that is different from meditation, which helps train our mind to think differently in the first place. I’ve been hearing people talk-up meditation since I got sober and still haven’t looked into it (do you take a class? do you need to sit indian-style? do they still call it indian-style?), but I needed to hear that yesterday.

I got another post in my inbox recently from My Life: Act 2 about how addiction works tirelessly to keep us from feeling the stress and anxiety we’ve already been feeling. Turns out we need to learn to feel our way through and not just around uncomfortable things. Who knew? Not me.

I’ve learned a few things from all of this:

1) I need to sign up for a meditation class once I find out if they have a meditation class.

2) I need to learn to sit with uncomfortable feelings and pain. I am starting to do this, but I need to do it more.

3) Email delivery of blog posts is right up there with viral videos of people falling off treadmills, and both are reasons why the internet is more good than bad.

I get so much out of blogs and blogging and other blog related words. I know we won’t all be doing this forever, but I feel all warm and fuzzy and it’s a good thing, though the fuzzy part doesn’t sound like it would be.

I’m feeling less slumpy than before.

Expectations

The key to happiness might be found where expectations meet reality, which works against me as much as it does for me. Take a recent visit to my grandmother, which I was not expecting to be painful but was. Or a visit the next day to my parents, which I was dreading for some vague reason that was unfounded because it went great.

Another thing I’d been putting off due to fear of the unknown was steps 4 and 5. Step 4 is painful because you list all your resentments and guilt, shame and remorse on paper that you’re supposed to keep for further work but is much smarter to shred afterwards if you ask me. It’s supposed to be a healing exercise, or at least the first part of it, which is then followed by a cathartic confession to a trusted soul and God and whoever else happens to be sitting within earshot at the Starbucks where I just did my fifth step. I came with a handwritten list of mostly self-inflicted pain and went over it with my sponsor, who did not give me a gold star but did tell me I completed step 5 in doing so. This was a surprise to me and akin to how I felt after passing the licensing exam I had dreaded for so long. That’s it? Huh. That wasn’t so bad.

But yesterday morning it kind of was bad because in doing step 4, I stirred up a lot of stuff I always think about but rarely feel. I could maybe live with terrible specimens if they were contained within thick glass cases, but please don’t ask me to take them out and hold them. Blechh.  Yesterday I suffered a terrible emotional hangover, though it was mostly gone by night. This morning I carried a knot in my stomach that reminded me of an actual hangover. I get this physical symptom now from stress that I never had (or maybe just never noticed) when I was drinking.

Fortunately there are things to feel better. This morning I went for a run in the cooler weather and lower humidity and that knot and tension went away. I ran as the sun rose and enjoyed a deep quiet and saw one fox and a lot of bunnies that noticed how slow I was moving and continued hopping at an unworried pace. Love, love, love my morning runs.

I have other, less healthy habits. I play a lot of games on my phone that involve matching three red diamonds in a row and other such exciting things. It drives my husband crazy, but I hope he knows it could be much worse. I beat myself up over it because I know it’s a form of escape, but not all escape is bad. A friend told me we do these mindless things when we’re stressed and it’s a good way to get out of our own heads for a little while. I agree, though also recognize I’m worrying all the time because I still think I have control over things that I don’t. I have to learn to let it go and not rely on running and matching up diamonds and other things that give me a false sense of control.

As always, it’s a process and I feel a little bit better each day, even the crappy ones.

Sweet Relief

I just passed the licensing exam I have been freaking out about for far too long. I was wanded and fingerprinted too, so I guess you could say I’ve had an exciting day.

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Now I can finally start achieving my goals. Guess I should get some?

Sailing

Saturday afternoon my girls went swimming in the creek by my parent’s house and forced the rope swing out of retirement.  No one got stung by a jellyfish, though my dad did scoop one up in a crab net, its oozy mass and tentacles spilling from every hole. All my worries about the weekend were extinguished in one perfect afternoon with the people who are forced to love us best, but you feel they might anyway.

And what I didn’t even write about, and what wound up being stressful, was a visit to my 85 year-old grandmother. My girls and I spent the first night of our trip at her house. I laid awake late into the night and thought about all the dust mites sifting through the shag carpet below the bed. I imagined them with sharp if microscopic teeth and tucked my feet and arms safely in the bed, which felt oddly cramped. I went to pull the sheets up around me and met resistance because something was pulling them away from the foot of the bed. It was my oldest daughter, who just as quickly left through the doorway like a ghostly apparition. She was sleepwalking. I do not like sleeping at my grandmother’s house.

I should feel grateful to even have a grandmother at my age. My brother and I are her only living heirs. Instead I spent most of the visit bracing for what she would say next. She brightly commented in broken english that I have a lot of gray hair and asked “You still trying to lose weight?” which translates to “You still need to lose weight.” She did tell me twice that I look taller, which I took as a compliment and which might explain why my feet hung off the bottom of the bed. Some of her directness is cultural. Some of it is a complete lack of tact. I am thin-skinned and she has no filter but is thin-skinned herself. I am not sure how to work around this problem. God grant me the serenity to accept my filterless grandmother and the courage to visit more often and hold my own tongue. Or, Serenity Now! which sometimes work faster.

Speaking of, this week I take a licensing exam for work and I am very nervous. If I don’t pass, it won’t be for lack of studying but rather lack of comprehension, which is far worse. I am trying to switch gears and take a more positive/hopeful approach because bracing myself for failure won’t help lessen the blow if I do fail. It will only make me more anxious until I take the exam.

I am grateful I am not drinking through this. My brain feels spongey in a way that maybe doesn’t absorb as quickly (desperately?) as before, but offers a better chance of retention. All of this stuff is hard though…these firsts in sobriety that I am still feeling more than a year later. I didn’t realize it at the time, but my first year of sobriety was just about getting through it. Now I have to figure out how to want to live through it sober, if that makes any sense. And I do want to live through it sober, very much so.

I took this picture on my brother-in-law’s boat yesterday and I really like how it turned out. So thanks, instagram. I always took crap pictures before you came along. What I like best about this picture is how it feels calm and choppy at the same time. I can relate.

Where I’m at

Maybe I don’t like the word journey because at some point in the late 90s, it got fused with incredible or amazing and was overused by everyone, but mostly reality tv show twenty-somethings trying to sound wise. Maybe journey makes me think of Steve Perry’s mullet, which makes me feel depressed because I remember when mullets were first born.

These days I can’t avoid the word journey because it is the word in recovery-speak and also because I am on a muther of a journey every day of my life and it mostly rocks like a mullet, which is to say pretty hard.

Before my husband and I moved in together, we long-distance dated for half a year and flew out to see each other a few times. My favorite visit was when I went out in fall and he surprised me with a baggie of psychedelic mushrooms*, which he ruined a perfectly good pizza with by sprinkling them on top. Psychedelic mushrooms taste like chewy sponges soaked in formaldehyde, which is probably what they are. We ate the terrible pizza and tripped for the next several hours and at one point I looked him in the eye and asked “where are you at, man?” and we still say that to each other because it entertains us, plus it’s a very good question.

I still haven’t learned to slow down and enjoy where I’m at, but I’m getting there. I still don’t like it when people say “it’s about the journey, not the destination” but now I can admit they’re on to something. Yesterday my husband was packing for a flight and said “I just want to get there…I hate the build up and anticipation.” He has to deal with airport security and a long flight, plus getting to the hotel and all that crap, so it makes sense in his case. But I live that way everyday.

In sobriety, it is getting easier to notice when I clench my jaw in anticipation of stress and remind myself that I should just focus on the moment, which is smaller and more beautiful than anything I could possibly imagine. It took me a long time to get here (close to a year?) and it’s a promising first step to becoming the laid back person I used to be and miss very much. I feel like I self-medicated stress with drinking and skipped the part about developing coping skills.

I don’t really know what coping skills are yet, but I like the sound of them. I suspect I’ve been developing peripheral ones in the way of exercising regularly and journaling some of my angst. I have become infinitely more patient with my children in the last six months, so something good is happening. There are other coping skills I still need to harvest, and right now I feel I am on the right path (ok, journey).

* Lest you think I’m recommending recreational use of psychedelics, which already taste like formaldehyde, I will also point out that I spent the last hour of that trip washing my face and hair in the shower after I made the mistake of looking in the bathroom mirror. Maybe it was just me, but I could never look myself in the eye when I tripped.

Home

Soon I’ll make the two-plus hour drive “home” to visit family while my husband flies across country for work. He’s flown to San Diego for Comicon all 17 years I’ve known him, yet I only joined him once. Too bad my memories of that trip are mostly gin-soaked afternoons at a generic hotel pool, evenings I don’t quite remember, followed by bloody marys at breakfast that were ordered in what I hoped was my casual voice but couldn’t possibly have been. Too bad I discovered red bull and vodkas that trip and why they’re called the blackout special. Too bad I discovered bad hangovers can induce mild agoraphobia and ruin a trip to one of the most beautiful spots in the country, probably the world. Too bad, so sad.

If my unease with the weekend ahead were only triggered by pickled regret, I could file it away for step 4 and move on. But I’m also kind of dreading going home, and this puzzles the hell out of me.

Many things get easier in sobriety. Driving, getting up in the morning, and doing the right thing all come to mind. Why does a visit with family feel so hard?

I realize how duh that last question sounds, but I should stress that my parents are not drinkers and have always been supportive of me. They’ve given me space and let me set the pace of how often I visit, which was roughly every other month until the last year or so. I’m not sure what changed in sobriety, but I realized the other day that I haven’t been down to visit with the kids since Christmas.  They’ve been up a couple times for a school play or birthday, and the visits have gone great, so nothing happened to make me feel this way.

My parents know I’m sober, though that’s all they know. I told my (step) mom shortly after I stopped drinking that I was going to recovery meetings. Her brother has been in the program for decades, and she seemed surprised but happy for me in her usual level-headed, non-intrusive way. I told my sister, who was also supportive but tight-lipped. My dad knows, though not because I told him. I come from a long line of  controlled people. My brother is the only one who wanted to talk sobriety with me, but more to tell me about this wonderful FDA-approved medication that cures alcoholism. Nevermind that he takes it with alcohol, which would be funny if it weren’t so sad. He suffers the same mysterious genetic curse that killed our grandfather and spared our mother to lie in wait. He is the connection that lets me say “see, I have this family disease” to anyone but my family.

Maybe the reason I’m sad about visiting my family is that I fear I’ve disappointed them. I always wanted to be perfect, and drunk mothers – even those in recovery – are far from perfect. Or maybe it’s that the honest, open approach I’m trying to take with my feelings doesn’t really fit with the way I’ve always dealt with my family. Feelings used to be thoughts that turned rotten and threatened to bloat and bubble to the surface. I feel a little out of practice and ill-suited to my old life. The good news is this visit isn’t about my old life or even me. My girls are crazy for their grandparents. The only thing I’m looking forward to in all of this is seeing that love, which is freer somehow between grandparents and grandkids.

Instead of ending on a sad note, I wanted to share that last night my husband told me this summer so far is the best he’s had in years. We’ve made it to the pool a lot as a family and oh what a difference a year and some potty training and swim lessons make in how much more we get to enjoy the pool as parents.  At home, we’ve made s’mores and caught lightning bugs and played ghost in the graveyard and done all the same stuff we did years before to lesser effect. What’s different now? Well, I’m on my second summer sober, but I wouldn’t expect my husband to feel it as much as I do. Still, it’s there and I can’t help but think of that part in the Big Book where the doctor relates sobriety to getting a new pair of glasses and seeing everything around him come into focus.  I’ll do well to keep this part in mind this weekend.

Acceptance is the answer to ALL of my problems today. When I am disturbed, it is because I find some person, place, thing or situation – some fact of my life-  unacceptable to me, and I can find no serenity until I accept that person, place, thing, or situation as being exactly the way it is supposed to be at this moment I need to concentrate not so much on what needs to be changed in the world as on what needs to be changed in me and in my attitudes.

Self-love and god I hate coming up with titles

Self-love sounds like something dirty or new agey. In college, my roommate befriended a 25-year old theatre major who had a YOU ARE SPECIAL sign taped to the inside of his car’s sun visor. We saw it one day when he drove us to the health food store for a terrible meal of split peas on brown rice. Self-love sounds like that.

But self-love isn’t something bad, and I’m starting to realize there’s something wrong with me for possibly not having enough. Lately I’ve heard too many people say “don’t be so hard on yourself” when I report something that just feels like fact. My husband has mentioned more than once “it must be really hard to be you” when I’m berating myself over gaining a pound or not running fast enough. That’s just what I say out loud…thankfully he doesn’t hear my internal dialogue.

Let me be clear that I rarely call myself an idiot and I don’t think I’m a failure. I don’t think I suffer from low self-esteem so much as a scathing case of realism. I know my flaws painfully well, but I also know what I’m good at. I’m wonderful at untangling earbuds, for instance. I have to be because I’m forever throwing them in the gym bag because I’m lazy. See? It’s like that. The good with the bad. It’s honest, I swear.

This type of self-honesty, though, might be self-defeating, and I’m starting to see that. Maybe I don’t hurt my own feelings when I’m being self-deprecating, but I am certainly concerned about what others think of me. Why is it okay for me to call myself lazy but the mere suggestion from someone I love would hurt something terrible? Is it possible I am deflecting, beating someone else to the punch just to avoid real work on my flaws?

I’ve always been good at forgiving myself, which is another reason I thought my self-esteem was healthy. But what about proactive forgiveness in the way of asking for help and not settling for something that isn’t good for me? Forgiving myself after the fact is less of an issue anyway because it’s much easier to make better decisions sober. I have more time and energy for self-improvement. Fortunately or unfortunately, I also notice every time I slip up.

All of this gets easier, I’m sure. If I look back on the last year, the changes in my life have been pretty incredible. I still slip up regularly and eat junk or waste my time or talk trash about others. I do not use this as an excuse to give up and continue backsliding. I do try harder to do the right thing the next time. (most of the time.) This is something I don’t recall doing before. It’s the subtle shift from negative, realistic thinking to positive, realistic thinking.

Sometimes when I think of all the changes that happened in the year since I stopped drinking, I am blown away. Grateful is such a small word, but the only one that comes to mind.

5K

Ran my first bonafide 5K today. I ran twice before, but more as moral support for my daughter. This time around, I was wracked with self-doubt and nerves. I had a finish time in my head, which was based on my average pace and last finish time from two years ago when I wasn’t a runner and only wanted to finish. Ignorance is bliss.

For the past few weeks, I’ve been working up to a 3.1 mile run, which is how long a 5K is.  I practiced around my neighborhood, which is full of hills, and once I even made it in 34 minutes and thought “I can do this“. This morning I woke up from a restful-ish night’s sleep and had peanut butter and sliced banana on whole wheat toast exactly 2 hours before the race. I left the house in plenty of time and couldn’t have felt any more prepared. I just hadn’t counted on the heat.

When I did all my practice runs, I ran before 7am or stuck to the gym treadmill because it’s hard enough to run in normal temperatures. This morning it was hot and humid just like it’s been for the better part of summer so far. And I kind of fell apart out there, if I’m being honest.  I was painfully aware of feeling out of breath and rubbery in the legs within the first mile. I thought my nervous energy would convert to determination, but instead I started to feel panicky in the heat. People were set up every half mile or so handing out cups of water, and at first I took advantage of each one. After about the third cup, the sloshing in my stomach told me I was probably doing more harm than good. At about mile two, I realized my body was overheating and there was very little I could do about it besides slow down  and walk.

I walked more than I’d ever planned. The funny thing is I still made my goal time of 36 minutes (okay 36:07). This tells me I was probably running too fast in the beginning – total amateur mistake – and also that I can walk pretty fast.

Once, when I was ten years old, I went horseback riding with my girl scout troop at a place that closed down within the year because the horses kept dying. Maybe it’s safer to say the mules kept dying, because the only time my stubborn horse hustled was at the very end when he saw the water trough ahead. This morning, the race banner floating overhead like a cool cloud from heaven was what finally got me into a fast trot. The end! Yay!

I wish I could say it felt good to finish, and it did eventually. But it never feels good when you’re pretty sure you’re going to drop dead. I headed straight for the water tent, mp3 player be damned. It was either douse myself or collapse and suffer pavement burns. Yeah, I exaggerate, but mostly I’m just a wimp.

I learned a couple of things today, the most important of which is hydrate before you run 3 miles on a hot day, you big dummy! Better yet, run in May! The other thing I learned that I will hopefully mull over for awhile is no matter how much I plan, it’s never going  to be like I expected, and that makes it even better. Surprises can be good and life is full of surprises. Life is good.

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