HI everyone. So, it’s been a little while since anything has been posted on our blog, and there’s a reason for that. Technically, there are a few reasons but really only one major reason, and since I have this here platform to use for just such a purpose, I thought I’d tell you alllll about it.
See, here’s the thing: I’m someone so easily overwhelmed that being overwhelmed overwhelms me, and then it’s almost always downhill from there. A lot of this has to do with a redundant perfectionism that – when mixed with a load of poor time-management skills, a nice dollop of intractable procrastination, and a wee touch of hiding out in a book or a movie (or online) – allows me to see a few molehills as Himalayas I’ll never be able to climb. Never, I tell you!
I learned these things about myself during my first year of sobriety, and I must say, I was shocked as all get-out to find out I was a perfectionist. I mean, what exactly did I have to show for this? It’s not like I’m one of those perfectionistic overachievers who does every ridiculous thing they can to show the world (or sometimes, just their parents) they’re worthy of honor and praise – hell, I made Bart Simpson look like a Harvard grad student compared to my tales of a fourth, fifth, sixth grade nothing. I never realized that doing nothing at all is a actual choice on one end of the “What the Hell Do I Do Now?” spectrum, but in fact, one of my family’s favorite mottos, oft repeated both to ourselves and one another, was: “If you can’t do it right the first time, then don’t do it all.”
Yeah, OK. Well, I can’t do all that much, anyway, so…I’ll take “Don’t Do It At All” for $1,000, Alex! Wait – make that a true Daily Double!
This sense of overwhelm figures pretty prominently for a lot of us in early recovery, as well. Once you sober/clean up, you’re suddenly aware of all the detritus left strewn about from your own personal train wreck, comprised of all the people places and things you left piled up, neglected, ignored, hidden from and/or otherwise generally bailed on over the years. That hamster wheel to nowhere alone can turn one back to the bottle or their drug of choice (or both) quicker than you can say “Lickety Split”, and I’ve seen more than a few of my brethren fall under the strain of an unrealistic desire to play catch-up.
I had such a moment at somewhere around 30 days in, and I was given one of the greatest gifts to my sobriety when in a phone meeting I described the terror of realizing there was so much I hadn’t done and so many years wasted that I simply didn’t know how I could carry on. The other meeting attendees listened to my litany of woe patiently until a dear named Marie piped up and said, “You know what? You don’t have to worry about anything or do anything else right now except staying sober.” The very idea of that was like being struck by lightening, and since this piece of information was coming from a long-time sobrietist (i.e. LifeRing parlance for one committed to their sobriety), I took it at face value, and was SO relieved. I took a deep breath and accepted that even though I was not going to build Rome in a day, everything was still really going to be A-OK.
And lo, it was! It wasn’t about what I couldn’t do (everything all at once) so much as making a choice about what I could do (some people call this living in the problem vs. living in the solution), and it’s one of the most freeing feelings in the world. You place things in priority levels and work from there. D’oh!
I’ve used that experience every time thereafter I got overwhelmed to help me through, and it’s still what works for me today. It was especially useful when I was working a full time job, caring for my sick Mom, and trying to maintain my then long-distance relationship all at the same time. And yet my tendency toward feeling overwhelmed hasn’t just gone away. Ohhhhh, no – that would be too easy, even for me.
So it was that in the last month or so I found myself presented with several different irons in the fire – things that would require a great deal of my undivided attention – and I knew I was going to have to prioritize based upon what I could live with.
1. DDNMW (Don’t Drink No Matter What) along with maintaining other serious health and well-being issues? Check.
2. Spend time doing good, fun activities with my hubby like taking wonderful meals, going to concerts, riding bikes, taking walks, learning to golf, and otherwise enjoying life together? Check, check.
3. Fall clean up of a badly neglected homestead? Triple check.
4. Decorating post Fall clean-up homestead for Halloween/Thanksgiving (I’m a holidays nut, you see)? Check to the 4th power!
5. Other slightly more miniscule day-to-day stuff I won’t bore you with but that’s time consuming nevertheless (but **sigh**, OK, some of which involved mooning over George Clooney’s endless Venetian nuptials)? Super industrial check!
6. Post on the the blog?
7. Finish the Books page?
8. Work on other LifeRing-related items?
9. Meditate, do yoga, and learn a lot of CBT?
10. And, oh yeah, lose 20 pounds?
As you can see, there were a few things important to me that I was not going to be able to give the time and attention I think they deserve. This blog is incredibly important to me for example, but so is my sanity, so some of the things normally toward the top of the list got bumped down in order to accommodate other things important to me, as well.
One can ask, did I simply have my priorities in order, or did the perfection monster get me again? Could be either, but most likely it’s a little of both – in which case, I still have work to do (I say after the 14th revision of the post).
Dear god, when will it ever end?!?!?!
Life continues on it’s way, and there’s never going to be enough time for it all. But as long as I do what I have to do to take care of myself, I will take care of everything else in good time.
How about you, Dear Reader? How has overwhelm affected you, and how have you learned to handle it?
Lifering’s e-mail groups are active, thriving communities of people who use them as strong sources of sobriety support, and many members often post remarkably written sources of inspiration, hope and encouragement that many other group members call “Keepers” – posts that they save for themselves so they can go back and look at them as often as they like.
We here at LifeRing like sharing these posts, with the authors’ permission, on our Blog so that everyone can enjoy them as much as our group members do.
This month’s post is contributed by long-time group member and wonderful writer Mary A.:
Most of the time, at seven-plus years sober, I find I’m very focused on the present and don’t dwell on what I sometimes call the “lost years”. But every now and again I do look back and refresh my perspective on the journey since then and how different my life is now, and on the changes in cognitive awareness that sharpened and brightened with continuous sobriety.
My drinking in my late 20s and 30s was very chaotic and extreme, frightening for me. It accompanied an unstructured post-grad student life and some turbulent relationships.
In my 40s, things changed and outwardly my life seemed more stable and productive because I no longer got drunk in public, was sharing a house with someone who didn’t drink, holding down demanding jobs. But what happened was that it all went ‘underground’ in some respects — I was drinking on my own every day even if there were no weekend binges and I was experiencing different and more ominous health issues, feelings of unwellness that never seemed to get better or go away, fears of vomiting in my sleep, anxiety about combining any kind of medication with the daily intake in case I had an accident etc. And I was always tired.
What I also noticed, and this was harder for me to detect, was that over the years I developed what I called cognitive distortions and my personality changed in small but not insignificant ways. I would have night panics and terrible times in the early mornings — feeling utterly disoriented and lost, filled with dread and horror even if I didn’t have a brutal hangover. I developed a fear of crossing bridges, was afraid of falling or jumping off tall buildings. I was afraid of people around me, not just that they would discover I was an alcoholic, but that they would disappoint me or dislike me.
I identified strongly with others who had substance abuse problems but avoided them because I didn’t want to be seen as being like that. I veered between thinking I was brilliant to be coping so well despite the drinking and times when I felt I was under-performing and failing because of the drinking. I couldn’t bear to think about the past and the waste of it and everything seemed to hinge on some golden future when I would be sober, successful and able to regain that lost self before it was too late. My sense of time was telescoped into what still might be possible and growing desperation it might never happen.
So while I recovered physically fairly quickly back in 2007 when I sobered up, those cognitive distortions and attitudes took time to fade away or change. I was so used to living with dread and suspicion and a great unrealistic fairytale of hopefulness that the whole world seemed to lighten up and also settle into a grittier but saner perspective when all that went away as I stayed sober over the years. A long emotional hangover, I suppose!
Per a reader’s request (OK, my husband’s), here are all 3 parts of “Bodies In Motion” together in one post for easy reading. Thanks again for reading!
I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the way life has its ups and downs and periods of animation and stagnation – you know, bodies in motion tending to stay in motion and bodies at rest tending to stay at rest and all that. It’s long been a fascination of mine the way things can stay the same for the longest time, and then bam! Something happens, and everything is changed forever, life being what happens while you’re busy making other plans and what have you.
The truth is, I’ve never been much of one for plans, because all of that business comes packaged with so many expectations, and I fear expectations. We have so little control over anything, except ourselves and the choices we make, and even then we’re on shaky ground. Why push it?
Then there’s the matter of how we plan to spend our lives – whether we choose to become bodies in motion or at rest, for example, and what either thing entails. Many of us stay in the same places doing the same exact same things because we like them. They make us happy. OK, well, if not…”happy” exactly, then they at the very least offer the seeming comforts of the known, and the mundane known is still better than some terrifying unknown…right?
We also stay in the same places doing the exact same things because we’re in a rut and don’t know what else to do, or because we know darn well what to do…but just don’t believe that we can actually do it. Then, of course, there’s the case of buying into the utterly delusional proposition that doing the same thing over and over again will produce a different result each time, despite all evidence to the contrary.
Conversely, there’s also often much confusion about whether our doing something different every once in a while either adds some welcome variety to our lives or essentially adds up to nothing, because that’s what making a decision to do something without doing anything to back it up amounts to.
And that’s what sobriety was to me for the longest time: This giant amorphous, intangible thing one half of me desperately wanted but had no idea – other than simply waiting for it to happen to me – how to go about getting , while the other half desperately needed me to keep drinking at all costs. I tried just about everything out there people who don’t go to rehab can try on their own. I tried moderation, which worked well until I got halfway through the first of the two beers I’d decided to allow myself at night and realized that would never do, but which I did succeed in attempting at least every other night of the week for about a half a decade.
I tried cutting down. When that didn’t work – and it never did – I tried to just stop worrying about it so much and have a little fun! After all, isn’t that the point of drinking? Then I’d spend every night crying in my beer (before I passed out, that is). In between these little exercises in futility, I read just about every recovery tome I could get my hands on, some of which I read over and over again (the extremely yellow highlighted passages throughout my dog-eared copy of “Drinking: A Love Story”, which turned out to be most of the book, have faded only slightly over time). Thanks to “6 Weeks to Sobriety”, I tried taking an elaborate and expensive array of vitamins and other supplements which, when ingested multiple times daily over a period of 6 weeks, would rid me of those pesky cravings for alcohol and put me squarely on the straight and narrow. And I’m sure it would have worked wonders if I hadn’t caved in somewhere around day 3…
I attended meetings of every recovery-related organization in my immediate area that I’d ever heard of – including AA (which, much to my dismay, didn’t work for me even though I really, thoroughly worked it) – and some that I hadn’t (at Rick Warren’s Saddleback Church-related recovery group, “Celebrate Recovery”, you spend the first half hour of every meeting watching a series of Christian rock videos where all the songs sound disturbingly the same as everyone takes turns to “Praise Jesus!”, then all participants break up into smaller groups led by recovering members. My group’s “leader”, a recovering meth addict, dominated conversation with ample description of her recovery through Christ and would then, when it was someone else’s turn to talk, lean over to the leader of the group next to ours to resume what sounded like a long, ongoing argument over important group-slash-church business. Suffice it to say, I never managed to make it back to that one, not even for Jesus).
I wrote to other organizations not in my immediate area and thus did not offer face-to-face meetings, such as “Women For Sobriety” and “S.O.S”, to inquire about the possibility of future meetings there and got about as far with that as those things tend to go (which is to say, not very).
Then, finally, a little over 6 ½ years ago I got a computer, started surfing the internet and, thanks to a delightful fellow who calls himself “Agent Orange” at a site entitled “The Orange Papers” (Fair Warning: There is some, um, AA-averse content scattered about here and there), I quickly found the home in LifeRing’s web forum and e-mails lists I’d been told I’d find in AA but never did. The people I met online started to become known quantities to me in the most surprising of ways: I could feel their personalities shine through the words they’d typed on the screen so that they became, via our shared connection, a community; I could see who had their shit together by the way they offered the benefit of their wisdom and experience without the sense of a judgement or an assumption that those of us still struggling were just dumb assholes who would never be able to figure it out without them; they respected that part of my recovery was learning how to say things out loud, and instead of telling me to shut my hole, they included me without hesitation, reservation or prerequisite in our conversations; the intensity of their honesty staggered me.
None of this kept me from being scared to death. I was – I’d experienced far too much failure not to be, and I had a lot to lose. But thanks to these most supportive, wonderful people, I managed to slowly but surely extract myself out of what had by then become the deepest, most monotonous rut of my life: Trying, on a daily basis, to find a way to both control and enjoy my drinking, and failing miserably. I’d ultimately, after years of conducting this experiment like some mad scientist in a Monty Python skit played on a continuous loop, come to the conclusion that those two things – control, and enjoyment – were simply incongruous for me, and more importantly, always would be, no matter what.
2 I’ve always been a slow learner – slow to pick things up, slow to put them where they belong. When I was a kid and convinced of my intrinsic worthlessness, I didn’t know that about myself – I thought that, unlike all the other kids I grew up around, for whom so many things seemed to come so easily, I was basically just not capable of very much. Ever stubborn, however, I beat my head up against the brick wall of my inadequacies in almost any way I could find for the longest time. This was never more true than in the area of sports, for which I lacked an abundance of natural gifts, and my inability to participate in them with even a hint of the brilliance displayed by all the other girls on my grade school T-ball, softball, and basketball teams was the bane of my existence. After a while, I learned to cut my losses not only with sports but with everything else worth doing, too, and quit early – and often.
Alcohol wasn’t like that for me. Drinking was something I was going to learn to do, dammit, even if it killed me. I decided this when I was 12 years old, drunk on a Saturday night and barfing my guts out on some cheap wine a few friends and I had lifted from a Safeway, but even back then, it simply seemed a matter of prudent dedication, and time. I thought, “Everyone drinks and they don’t barf their guts out, they have fun. How hard can it be?” Over and over and over again I pounded my head on that one, and ugh, it was a doozy.
Prior to getting sober, I’d tried to simply stop drinking, but the main reason why that never worked is nothing else had changed, and I didn’t do change. When I finally figured out I that getting sober was going to take at least as much effort, energy and devotion as drinking did, I poured myself into it with single-minded gusto. I discovered another part of me that I’d also failed to acknowledge as a kid: When I finally do get something, I get it as well as if not better than anybody.
You learn pretty quickly that a couple of things that worked well on Days 1, 2 and 3 will continue working just as well on Day 29: Don’t take the first drink. Take it one second, minute, hour and day at a time. The journey of a 1,000 miles begins with a single step, and you keep your focus on putting one foot in front of the other. Reach out and engage with your support group, listen to what the successful folks have to tell you about what worked for them instead of what the little monster in your brain is telling you, etc. etc. etc., so on and so forth. Lather, rinse, repeat.
This is the third and final installment in a 3-part series I began in June 2014.
Although some of my fellow sober travelers have opted to eschew the why of things, lest it drive them crazy, a great deal of it’s still of utmost importance to me. So…now seems as good a time as any to talk about why I got sober in the first place, and why I’ve stayed that way – i.e., the point of it all:
Those in traditional recovery often speak of something called a “Moment of Clarity”, where the truth suddenly bursts forth through the hazy web of bullshit and denial you normally operate under to inform you that you’re doing nothing more than killing yourself, and that if you keep at it, you’re going to get the job done. Mine was something akin to that, and it also bestowed upon me the certain knowledge that furthermore, my life was not meant to be spent and ended that way. Because…no one’s is.
Now, I know what you might be thinking. “Uuummm, duh!” But at the time it was a serious revelation to me, because it meant that my life had some real…purpose. That **holy shitballs!** I might actually not only be worth something, but put here for a reason.
Even if you believe that human life has no real intrinsic meaning per se, that just like every other living creature on the planet we’re here and then we’re not and that’s the long and short of it, don’t you think we still have some choices to make about who we are, who we want to be, and what we do about all that while we’re here? I do, and this new-fangled belief was the foundation of my success.
As you know, things were going great in my recovery and I was making enormous progress in my newfound endeavors. Then, as it’s wont to do, life got in the way and I got a little…side-tracked for a while. Well, more than a while, actually…more like a few years. And then, I got tired. So very, very tired.
So I took an extended break from work of almost any kind because I needed it, badly. I enjoyed R&R interspersed the exciting adventure of world travel for quite a while. I have my dear husband to thank for it, and highly recommend it!
But then something came creeping up on me, like Carl Sandberg’s fog, on little cat feet. Something in all the fate and folderol I’d forgotten about.
It started with that little nerve that jangles in your gut, telling you something’s amiss. As I’m too often willing to do, I didn’t pay it much mind. Not willing to go ignored, it grew into an internal nudging. Which in turn became a full-on psychic yanking. Which resulted in a Edvard Munchian scream: “WHAAAAAAT AAARE YOU DDDDDOOOOOOING, AND WHEEERRRE ARE YOU GOOOINNNG TO GOOOOOO!?!?!?!?!!!”
I had no answers to give, because I honestly didn’t know. And suddenly I felt directionless, purposeless, as though I was wandering out in the desert, bewildered and lost, all while asking myself repeatedly, “What in the name of all of that’s holy is this all about? And where, when you’ve got it made in 10 shades, is it coming from? I mean…whaddaya mean you don’t know?!”
The more I thought about it, and thought and thought and thought, and brooded and stewed and thought some more, the more I really didn’t know, and just when I was ready to throw in the towel, a few things occurred to me. A). I’m still very much a work in progress. 2). My work here is nowhere near done. And C). sitting around stewing and brooding and thinking about will get me absolutely nowhere.
So…where does all this leave me? I was never one of those kids who knew what they wanted to be when they grew up and I still don’t, but when I figure it out, I’ll let you know. For now, it’s good enough that I do know it goes far beyond a standard career or a deeply held “passion” for something. I think it has something to do with learning how to like myself – reeeeeeeeeaaaaallllly like myself – a little bit more. I think it has something to do with what I have to give.
See, it may seem as though one who sobers up and gets their proverbial shit together has it all figured out, but I’ma let you in on a little secret: Sobriety is only the beginning. The things that haunted you before and during your drinking career will haunt you long after you stop. Unless you decide to do something about it, unless you learn how to get out of your own way.
In my case, most of my ghosts built upon and centered around a single thought I had as a kid – “There’s something wrong with you,” – that I absolutely believed to the core of my being. The rest of my life, up to the point of my sobriety, was one long exercise in first gathering and then creating the evidence to support that theory.
It’s not going to be easy, undoing some 30+ years worth of all the stuff that kind of havoc will wreak on your brain, and let’s face it – I’m not going to be winning any awards for my emotional intelligence quotient anytime soon, either. It will be a long ongoing process, some of which I hope to share here, because I don’t think I’m the only one on the same road. I think we all are. Some of it I may never unload. But as difficult as the road may be, the title of a Maya Angelou work puts it just perfectly:
Wouldn’t take nothing for my journey now.
Thanks for reading.