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Archive for March, 2011

What is honesty?

the whole concept of being ‘honest’ seems so simple. And it is… as long as we know what living honestly is all about.

When I was first getting into recovery I was stunned when I realized the extent of my dishonesty. I couldn’t belive how dishonest I’d been. Not only to myself. Not only to my family. Not only to friends. Every facet of my being was based on lies and my life heavily revolved around the job of juggling the layers and layers of lies I had constructed and protecting the sanctity of the image I’d cultivated from those lies.

So my natural reaction (given my ‘extremophile’ nature) was to swing to the opposite end when I decided to “get honest.” Looking back my naivete was just oozing out of me as I let my “honesty” turn into a sort of pride over my bad-assness because I’d done x, y, and z. They call it junkie pride in the rooms of AA. And early recovery – whether your drug is alcohol, coke, or food – is saturated with it. But I never would have seen it back then; I thought I was just “being honest.” Telling you everything, down to the dirty details, meant that I was living honestly and admitting what drugs/food had reduced me to.

But the lurking ego that fueled my tirades was drunk of itself. And I didn’t get that honesty needs to be coupled with humility to truly be “honest.” I don’t have to aire my dirty laundry to be honest. All I have to do is own who I am, understand how my body responds to chemicals and ed behaviors, and drop all the lies.

When I don’t spend time juggling the lies it doesn’t mean that I new get to pick up the sordid details and juggle those for everyone to gawk at. I am who I am, my past has influenced who I am, but I am no better or worse than anyone else. I don’t deny what I’ve done and in the right moments divulge information that may help another, but I don’t push it on everyone I meet.

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I Am Responsible

I am not responsible for the first thought that pops into my head. I AM, however, responsible for the second.

The first time I heard this it was like a light went on. As a person with a proclivity to beat myself up this statement felt like the life preserver I’d so desperately needed. Like most people, I had judgmental, brash, and often absurd thoughts pop into my head in any given situation – I mean its a crazy place up in my head!

But being told that finally I didn’t have to beat myself up for those first thoughts was a weight off my back. It did, however, simultaneously place on me a responsibility to quell those thoughts with a follow-up thought. This responsibilitiy, it turns out, is weightier than it first appears.

As a person in recovery I must be on guard against my old ways of thinking which means that I can’t dwell on them anymore… when I was still active in my addictions this was much simpler. If I had a bad thought I could sit back and let the craziness bring about nother bad thought. And then another and another and another. But I can’t do that anymore. Damn.

Now I have to counteract those thoughts and that takes some due diligence. But, it is a small price to pay for living in a state of honestly, shame-free, and serenity. So, I’ll take it.

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It sounds simple enought, but I still forget it alot. I get so wrapped up in what is going on around me and what situations I find myself in. This, I believe is a remnant from old thinking patterns… I used to define myself by almost anything I could *except* who I really am.

Let’s see…

For a long time I meant drug user. I also meant punk rocker (I liked that persona best). I meant ‘bitch’ (I also prided myself on my big mouth). I meant pink hair. I meant high school drop out. I meant fuck-up… I also meant fat… then during my underweight years, I meant emaciated. I meant depression. I meant bulimic/anorexic/runner/diet pill addict. Once I hit college I was defined by my grades.

I had all of these things external to the essence of I that i was using to define myself. So, once I decided to let go fo those things I didn’t know what was left. Those first few months of recovery were very disconcerting. How did I know what I liked? What I didn’t like? How did I know what I was… or wasn’t? I took away so many of the external things that I’d used to fill the void where my sense of self should be that I was left with very litte.

But I did start to figure it out. Over time, and through trial and error, I started to figure things out. I noticed that I liked some foods better than others. I became more interested in certain topics than others. And things that I used to think I once wanted I often found out that the real I didn’t care much about them.

But I do not have a proclivity towards looking inwards for my “Self.” My tendency is to turn back towards the external things going on around me and define myself by them. And it is a near-daily battle for me to stay focused on my Truth. When I get wrapped up in those aspects of my life that are dissatisgying to me, then my “magic magnifying mind” (AA Big Book, unknown page) blows it totally out of proportion and suddenly I am the scum of the earth. Its the worst when I start to define myself by the (perceived) negative things I can’t control. For example, the second I assume the identity of “I am what I did in the past.” I am sure to start feeling like shit. I did some pretty horrible things. Both to myself and to other people, so if I believe that is who I am of course I will feel crappy.

So today I have to practice mindfulness about who I think I am. Today I ask myself, “Am I living as the Self I want to be? Or am I becoming my circumstances?”

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It was never hard for me to know that I had an eating disorder… multiple treatments, severe malnutrition, mounting credit card debt from shopping trips, etc. etc. etc.. It was pretty hard to deny that I had an eating disorder, even I couldn’t keep myself in denial about it.

But accepting my addiction to chemicals was different. As a teenager my drug use was at the forefront; everyone knew I used a lot of drugs. But when the eating disorder became more serious my drug use fell into the shadows. I effectively hid my addiction to drugs/alcohol behind the eating disorder whether that was because I wasn’t using/drinking (often because of calories, gasp!) at that current moment or because my physical deterioration was more commonly attributed to eating problems than drug problems (people usually suspect an eating disorder before cocaine addiction in a late teens/early twenties white middle class girl). So it was much easier for me to pretend that I didn’t have a drug problem. It went as far as convincing myself that the *only* reason I did drugs (specifically stimulants) was so that I wouldn’t eat. Yes, I had myself 100% convinced that the reason I snorted coke and stole ADHD meds from my dad and sister was so that I wouldn’t eat  (btw, my head didn’t even address the other chemicals or alcohol – apparently they were a non-issue).

Even after I admitted that I was an addict and had a couple years of sobriety under my belt I still had this nagging voice in the back of my head telling me that I was “overreacting” and that I only said I was an addict because I “wanted to fit in.” My addiction constantly threw in my face that I’d never gone to treatment, never got in trouble with the law, was never promiscuous or did anything sexual for drugs… basically, I wasn’t as “bad” as the other alcoholics and drug addicts and I was just pretending.

(Side note: the addiction did conveniently ignore the consequences I did have such as nearly not graduating from high school, being raped twice, falling through a window while drinking alone, losing all my friends and family, and the knowledge that – while using – I couldn’t think of anything else except about how to get more drugs or alcohol. But I digress…)

A few months ago I was re-doing step 1. I’ve been working on a step workbook with my sponsor and she’d instructed me to do the steps considering both my eating disorder and chemical dependency. Suddenly, it hit me like a ton of bricks. I was considering things I’d done in my addiction and I came up with an act that I had *never* told anyone (despite having done a 4th and 5th step previously). I was highly ashamed of it and had always pushed it to the background because I just thought it was one more nasty thing I did whilst in the midst of bulimia.

The exact event is unimportant (i.e. I’m still working through the shame of it and am not quite yet comfortable sharing in a public forum. Maybe someday), but what it did was give me undeniable proof that I didn’t “only” use drugs to fuel the eating disorder, but rather I took drugs because I had an issue with chemicals… I was an addict. The moment I had the thought it was like the final thread tying me to my addiction was finally cut. I called my sponsor in a state of euphoria because I new the next thing I had to do was tell someone.

She reacted with much less fanfare than I’d hoped, but was happy for me because she knew I’d struggled with that. She told me that as people in recovery it is important we have these irrefutable events that we can fall back on when we begin to doubt if we’re addicts. She told me the event that she falls back on and while it was different it had the same element of shame, secrecy, and depravity… it was an event that depicts a full manifestation of the addiction in all its glory.

Like I mentioned above, I’d had other consequences from my using drugs – a lot of them more severe than the event that finally convinced me, but that didn’t matter for me. Despite the existence of those events I was still able to have small twinges of doubt; thankfully these never led me to relapse but they could have. Finding this event did shine a light on what exactly I’d been reduced to doing in my addiction. The event is going to be very different for everyone, and some people will probably have mounting evidence (similar to me with my eating disorder) in which they don’t need to isolate one thing they did. BUT without a specific example to use as my reality check when I begin to doubt I fully believe the addiction will weasel its way back into my headand bring me that much closer to relapse.

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Just got back from a trip to California last night. My boyfriend and I spent a week with his aunt who lives in Santa Barbara. It was BEAUTIFUL – a definite improvement from the cold of Minnesota. I had a few moments of weakness out there, mostly with body image issues and less so with drinking, but I pulled through and it helped me realize something; now that I’m in recovery, despite those moments of insecurity – whether I’m wishing I was thinner or that I could have a cocktail with ‘normies’ – they don’t consume me anymore.

In other words, life isn’t happening to me anymore; I’m experiencing life. The best example of this is with my eating disorder, though we could do a similar example with my drinking. When I was stuck in the eating disorder life happened to me; I was always subject to the whims of the fates. I always felt like life was hellbent on giving me the short stick and there was nothing I could do about it except escape through the eating disorder. I’d numb myself  by starving, b/p-ing, over exercising so that I didn’t have to focus on the crappy things that were happening.

What I didn’t understand at the time, because my addictions kept me deluded, was that life has crappy things happen but I get to choose how I’m going to respond to them. I don’t have to let life happen to me, rather I can exist coincident with life and I’ll do much better. If, as they say in AA, I “live life on life’s terms” (Big Book of Alocholics Anonymous, pg 417) then I don’t have to escape it.

How does this relate to my experiences of insecurity in CA? Well, if I had taken this trip 5 years ago and been confronted with the vast numbers of rich skinny women in Santa Barbara I would have retreated into my head and probably refused to wear short sleeves, let alone a bathing suit. It would have been too much for me to bear the thought that I have a good 30 pounds on any of these women… life (the environment around me) would have been happening to me. But this time the knowledge that I weigh more than a lot of those women was only a mild irritant. It was definitely true that I wasn’t as skinny as most of them, but outside of feeling a bit insecure in my bathing suit I didn’t have to let life control my actions. I ALSO noticed that it wasn’t ALL of the women who weighed less than me (though the eating disorder didn’t want me to notice the ones who were my size or larger). Life didn’t happen to me this time, rather I existed within life and let life’s truths float around me while I did my best to live rightly anyway.

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For years I struggled with chronic self-loathing. The inner voice that
narrated my life in my head was constantly saying horrid things to me to
make sure I never thought to highly of myself. I don’t know where this
voice came from; it had been there for as long as I can remember.
Perhaps puberty and the awareness that others look at and judge me
brought it on. Perhaps the rampant perfectionism that I’ve had since I
was little spawned it. Who knows. Whatever it was, it was always there
and was always ready to say nasty things.

I’ve always been told how important “positive self talk” is in
recovery. Every treatment program I’ve been in, every therapist
psychiatrist and dietitian I’ve see says the same, but I never
realized its importance until I started trying to improve (rather than
destroy) my life. That insidious voice always sabotaged any successes I
had by telling me that it wasn’t good enough and made my mistakes
100-fold worse by showing me how, once again, I had let everyone down.
In recovery it has always been important for me to celebrate every
victory and to learn from every mistake, so that inner dialogue was
doing me absolutely no good. If I am by nature a disgraceful human being
and I can’t ever change that, then why should I even try?

So, timidly, I began to talk back to that voice. At first it still beat
me back down into submission, but I kept chipping away at it. Even when
I didn’t believe what I was saying, I still talked back to it… hell, I
continue to talk back to it even today when it gets loud. And do you
know what I’ve found? I found that the voice rarely made any sense…
the conclusions it draws based on whatever premises it finds are
completely and utterly off-base.  The invalid conclusions my inner voice
was reaching drove my reason/logic filed brain crazy (remember:
philosophy major here)! And what was worse was that for as long as I
could remember I was subscribing to the things this voice said without
question! Thus, to shut it up I had to start questioning it and
challenging what it was saying to me.

When we stifle that negative voice we find it easier to be gentle with
ourselves and to move forward. Self-loathing kept me in my addictions
because I didn’t want to face what a terrible person I was. So, as
long as the addictions kept me believing that I was the scum of the
earth then I couldn’t break free. But when we muffle that voice as
much as possible our addictions have much less power over us.

After a while I became much more adept at countering the negative inner
voice that kept me trapped. That isn’t to say that I was ever able to
slay the proverbial inner dragon, but I’ve brought it down to the size
of a small lizard. Today it doesn’t dictate how I feel about myself…
it tells me I’m fat and ugly; I remind it that I am normal-sized and
(at worst) average looking. It tells me I can’t do anything right; I
remind it that there are plenty of things I do right and that just
because I messed up this time doesn’t mean I won’t get it right when
I try again. When it reminds me of all the bad things I did during my
drug use and in the eating disorder, I forcefully tell it that I was
sick at the time and that I can’t change what I did in the past but I
can change how I will act in the future.

Initially there was a nearly around-the-clock debate going on in my
head as to how I should view myself. For almost every action that
negative voice had something to say and I had to talk back to it. Today
the debate has turned into a discussion and that negative voice loses
almost every time.

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The Fox and The Hound

“You can’t run with the foxes and hunt with the hounds”

Many Tuesday evenings I accompany some friends, my sister, and my parents to a trivia night at a local bowling alley/bar/resstaurant. Its nerdy, yes, and I rarely know a single answer to a question but it is fun. I get to spend time with my family and some good friends while I continue to re-build the relationships I nearly threw away while I was using. One night when we were there the above quote was the answer to one of the questions. I don’t remember the question, it was probably a fill-in-the-blank where you had to provide ‘foxes’ or ‘hounds’ to answer it but I digress…

The quip basically says you can’t do things half way… you can’t be hanging out with the foxes if you’re also planning to go hunting with the other hounds. You have to choose what “side” (for lack of a better word) with which you plan to align yourself. Eating disorders and addiction are the same thing… compromising with either of them doesn’t ever work. Just ask the wino who switches to beer or the bulimic who switches to restricting. We try to make all these compromises with our addictions because we know that it is only leading us towards death but we are scared to give it up completely. So we bargain with it… We say to our addiction: “I’ll still do ‘x’ for you but I don’t want to do ‘y’ anymore. If you let me stop doing ‘y’ then I can be happy and you can still hang around.”

There isn’t a way to get rid of the things you don’t so much like about the addiction and keep the parts you like or that make you feel safe. In my eating disorder I had the twisted conception that bingeing and purging was “bad” but restricting was “good.” However, I couldn’t stop bingeing and purging but continue to restrict my food…. duh, eventually my starving body won out and I found myself bingeing (which always led to purging). I also believed firmly that only drugs were my problem, but I couldn’t quit cocaine (one of my earlier drugs of choice that I wanted to quit so I didn’t lose my nose) but continue drinking… duh, I ended up drinking just the way I used to do lines of coke.

On another level I couldn’t quit using chemicals but still control my food and vice versa. I tried this for a LONG time. I quit using drugs/alcohol for nearly a year… but became very sick with the eating disorder and wound up back in the hospital (whoopsies). I also had a period where I was eating well but quickly found myself drinking all day every day (oops again).

Compromising didn’t solve anything and ultimately didn’t bring the happiness that I was looking for. Why? Because the drugs weren’t the problem; the eating wasn’t the problem… the addiction was the problem.

ANYTHING I do to an extreme in order to control/escape/numb etc. is part of my addiction. So, the choice is whether I want to run freely with life and recovery or if I want to hunt down death with the addiction.

I chose the freedom of recovery; this meant (and still means) that I have to take everything that comes with that.  On a basic level I had to accept that I was going to gain weight when I stopped trying to control my food intake; it was just a fact. I also had to accept that I was going to have to find an entirely new way of living without chemicals because cutting out chemicals meant cutting out friends, activities, and a persona I identified with. Even today, choosing freedom in recovery means I have to deal with my emotions instead of run away and I have to understand that 99.9% of life is out of my control so I may as well just sit back and relax.

Either choice comes with consequences; we all have to weigh whether the stink of the foxes outweighs the possibility of being bitten by the hounds. But for us addicts the choice is taken away from us if we refuse to make a choice in the first place. For me, I think I’m going to continue going to trivia on Tuesdays.

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