A Turd on the Buffet Table

There’s a television commercial running that shows people contemplating whether or not they should go to their high school reunion. If I had to guess from looking at the balding, slightly puffy actors, I would say they are about 20 years removed from their Alma maters. One woman is shown peering into her closet and scrunching up her nose at her wardrobe choices while another man slides his hair piece up and down.

It made me think of my Breakfast Club high school experience. I related so much to all of the Brat Pack movies. They had drugs, alcohol, sex, insecurity, popularity, neediness, confusion and want in slightly different proportions than I had. But nonetheless, there were clear parallels. If I had to pick a character to identify with, I’d like to say it was Demi Moore or Molly Ringwald in most of the movies. But in reality, I was more like Ally Sheedy – the dark, brooding girl who talked little and smoked much. I was the one who hid behind her hair and scared people just a little. I didn’t wear black. Instead I disappeared behind a collage of tie-dye, ripped jeans and wool Baja jackets – sometimes concealing an homage to Ziggy Stardust or Michael Jackson. Shhhh – I was all Grateful Dead on the outside.

But despite the visual differences between me and Ally Sheedy, there were several not-so-subtle similarities. I walked with my head down for the second half of my high school sentence. This was after I had finally clawed my way into the preppy crowd and then was matter of factly dismissed for becoming friends with an unpopular girl. Who, by the way, after having had indulged in my friendship for a summer, later became the center of the popular crowd. It was then that the carefree and quirky spirit of my childhood bunched up into a tangled web of insecurities and not good-enoughs. My hair was never big enough Ally Sheedyand my thighs never small enough. I was either too smart for the intellects or not quite flexible enough for the cheerleaders. I was a turd on the buffet table. Nobody wanted me.

There were other turds, although they were more like caviar or tartare. They were wholly unappealing on their own but when placed at the center of a rather vanilla menu, they stood out like tasty delicacies. These were the super smart ones – that wore horn-rimmed glasses decades after and before they were cool. These were the ones that brooded in a more stylish way – that attracted rather than repelled. These were the kids who appeared just as screwed up and lost as me – but were totally okay with it. They honestly didn’t care one way or another whether they were part of the in crowd. They were the secure, self-assured nuts that held the whole popular machine together.

When high school ended, we scattered like colored leaves, each in our own unique directions. Some of us went flying through the air across states and countries. Others drifted around for a while and finally landed securely on a soft bed of lush grass. And some of us just dropped, wet and soggy, sticking firmly to the dull ground below. But something happened to those soggy leaves, this soggy leaf, in the years after the commencement. My insecurities and not-good-enoughs grew with each passing year. Instead of emerging from my straight-jacket cocoon and discovering my butterfly beautiful self, I wriggled around like a bug trying to get out of a jar. I kept taking flight only to hit the ceiling and fall to the bottom more bruised each time. I would scurry from edge to edge and peer against the glass prison of my life and wonder how to get to the other side, to the world of living, breathing things that had what I wanted and were where I wanted to be.

I spent years with my bug face pressed up against the glass. I tried to change my outside, trading my Bajas and yarn bracelets for toned biceps and toe rings. I cut my hair – oh did I cut my hair, time and time again only to be disappointed that the girl underneath was still the same. I gathered other bugs and some ruffage to make the world inside the glass hell look like the vibrant world outside. It didn’t work. Instead it got very crowded and humid inside and things died and smelled. So I lost my mind in a haze of alcohol, depression and self-deprecation. I smoked, drank, and did anything I could to stay barely alive, not necessarily in that order. The sides of my glass got heavy with condensation and I couldn’t breathe. I tried valiantly a few more times to break through the tin lid, mustering up Sixteen Candlesall of my Ally Sheedy defiance and hoping to look like Molly Ringwald as I sailed through the top. The lid came off. But instead of Molly Ringwald, I looked like the drunk girl in Sixteen Candles.

From the outside, it would appear that I had accomplished everything I had ever wanted. I had the clothes, the figure, the home, the family, the cracked smile. But on the inside, I made no sense and my hair was stuck in the door. And I didn’t care anymore. I wonder how that girl in Sixteen Candles turned out by her 20th, 30th high school reunion. Did she care what others thought of her? Did she get drunker and turn into a complete disaster? Or did she turn out like me? Did she wear the mask and put on a good show for a few decades only to find herself drunk on the floor again?

That’s where I ended up. I found myself stuck in the door but this time with no laughing friends willing to help me get out. I had to grab the scissors myself and cut my hair free. I had to pull myself up to a crawling position and make my own way to the front door and break through the glass. I had to do the walk of shame into the rooms, slide into the chair in the back and reveal my Ally Sheedy-ness in all it’s glory. It took time to brush the hair from my face so that others could see I had a broken smile. It took work and effort for my tense knot of lack to unravel and become more slinky-like. It took years of drowning in myself to learn how to swim out of my head and into the light of my loving God and the arms of other misfits. It took decades out of the classroom to finally learn that I can live outside of the glass once I’m willing to set myself free from myself.

I don’t go to high school reunions anymore. I never found my place within that group of people 30 years ago and I doubt I would now. My mom and dad still go to their high school reunions, 50, 55, and 60 years later. They told me that as the years went by, the reunions got better and better. People dropped their pretentiousness, their expectations of themselves and others, their facades. They were more real, more human as time went by. Maybe it’s because they experienced more life with all its hurts, pain and disappointments. Maybe they stopped taking themselves so damned seriously. I know that I did.

I wonder how many of my classmates changed. I doubt too many were privileged enough to experience the metamorphosis I did. I bet many of them are still stuck in their flat, airless, self destructive glass prisons. I hear that I am one of the lucky few. I got to suffer, struggle and squirm so that I could emerge renewed. It took me all those years to grow from a turd into a smelly fish egg. And today, I wouldn’t trade my place on the buffet table for anything in this world.

 

 

 

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I told you so

I’ve heard time and time again that God turns our messes into messages. He never wastes a hurt. God doesn’t make mistakes. But when I was young, even younger, like last month, I couldn’t and still can’t always grasp that rationalization. It slips through my fingers like wet spaghetti. Yeah, right. There’s a purpose to wanting to drive my car off the bridge. Sure there’s a purpose to losing my mind, my job and my sense of security. Nope. I can’t see how those things could be used for any good, ever. But I’m also Adult tablenever looking too hard. It’s hard to see the possibility of goodness, purpose when your eyes are squeezed shut and your fist is pumping in anger at the sky.

Even shortly after a trauma, when I come out of a depression or actually find a strand of sanity in the madness; even then it’s hard to be anything but cynical about there being a purpose in that pain. But sometimes God lets me in on His reasoning. I get invited to the boardroom. I get to sit at the adult’s table. I don’t always get to give my input, but I get to listen and learn. I hear God explain why He did what He did. I’m introduced to faceless people that I might get the fortune of meeting; people that He decided could benefit from my misery. I’m always reminded that I’m not the boss. Being privy to this information helps me understand why He did what He did, but I still wish I had gotten a vote.

But without the pain, would I have benefited as much? Would I have earned my stripes? Rapid and intense growth is almost always painful. And I have emotional and physical stretchmarks to remind me of that.

My son went away to a boarding school that was just one salute shy of military school. He left when he was barely 12 and returned when he was 16. During that time he experienced significant emotional, mental and academic growth. He matured as young man, as a Christian and as a human being. And he ate well. He grew so much during those 4 years. And he has physical signs that are daily reminders to me of just how much he changed. He will carry those marks forever.

When I was pregnant I grew rapidly courtesy of growing a baby and Hershey’s. And I will always have stretchmarks to remind me of what I got after months of discomfort and hours of mind numbing pain. I got a boy. A brand spanking new, perfect, little bald baby boy. And I was transformed from being Jen to being mom. I kind of knew what I was in for when I saw the plus sign on the pee stick. But nothing could have prepared me for the profound changes I would experience during that growing season. And now, looking back, I realize I had to go through that to be able to share that experience with every other female who was going through her first pregnancy.

My other struggles haven’t always earned me such clear visual reminders. I wasn’t rewarded with glistening silver lines when my marriage fell apart. Instead, I was rewarded with my current husband, my soul mate. I wasn’t given a medal when I went into a semi-psychotic depression several years ago. But since then, I have been given the opportunity to share my experience with others who thought they were all alone. And the other day I got to share my severely distorted perception of life and myself with a young man who was having a crappy few years.

“You don’t understand!” he said, citing all the differences between me and him. I listened to his pain, his venomous tirade of everything that was wrong with his life and how things could never, ever possibly get better, ever. Then I paused, closed my eyes and got 17. When I opened my mouth I told him he was right; I didn’t understand what he was feeling. But I remember feeling pretty shitty at 17, too. I hugged the door frame as he sat stoically pissed off just three very heated feet away from me. And I shared the gory mess of my past.

I laid out the details of how I ran away to my best friend’s house when the air got too thick at home. I would sneak out my front bedroom window, onto the porch and would ride my bike to her house and we would get high as kites in the wet bushes at the edge of her driveway. I told him how when we were in our senior year, this only friend I had, my best friend in the entire world, decided to quit school and move across country to become a stunt woman. When she left me, my world fell apart and I crashed. I told him about the first psychiatrist my parents brought me to after I got suspended for paraphanalia in school. I told him how that jerk didn’t talk at all. Bad idea to send a severely depressed, isolating, withdrawn teenage girl to a psychiatrist who doesn’t speak.

After the 55 minutes of unbearable silence I went home and reevaluated things and promptly decided that they sucked. After swallowing the pills, the ambulance arrived to take me to the hospital. And I told this young man who sat staring at me with mouth open wide and eyes frozen how the nice tech in the ambulance happened to be a classmate. Talk about shame.

We were both silent for a moment. “But one thing I can’t identify with at all,” I said as I swallowed hard to prevent my mouth from spewing out more and ruining the moment. “Is telling my mom how I felt. I never did that. And that’s pretty cool that you do.”

I told him the three words he craves to hear but not from me and then closed the door. I walked to my office, sat down and breathed. Yep, it was in that very moment that I realized that it had happened again. God had used my mess, my seriously screwed up past as a message. I’m not sure if it was a message of hope. But I got through it. I was standing there, still alive, and relatively happy. So that was something.

I laid in bed and thanked Him for letting me have that moment with my boy and He whispered in my ear, “I told you so.” Yeah, yeah. Then I said the three words that I never get tired of hearing myself. “You were right.”

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Thanks for letting me share

How did you get here? I mean here, to my page, not here in life. Okay, well I guess I’d like to know that too. But also, how did you get to my blog? Was it through a search engine, a FB page, Twitter, the many subliminal messages I’ve planted all over the internet?

Why are you here? Don’t you have anything better to do? Cause c’mon. I know there are billions, well, maybe just millions of other blogs and pages on the internet. I’m not telling you to leave, nooooo. I’m really glad you’re here. Just wondering why.

What do you think? Not all the time. What do you think about the blog? Do you like it, hate it, love it? Does it help? Do you think it’s the best darned thing since Prozac? Do you text, tweet and message all your friends and tribe members to flock to it immediately? You can do that, you know. Anyhow, what do you think?

Finally, thanks for the info. None of it matters though. Because I don’t write this for you. I don’t do any of it for any of you. If it helps, I’m glad. If it gives you a chuckle, even better. But again, your opinion of me does not matter to me. In fact, it is absolutely none of my business. I learned that recently. The only thing that matters is that I do what God put me here to do as honestly and as authentically as I can without pissing too many people off.

Thanks for letting me share.

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LION or LAMB?

Lion or Lamb

We all come to recovery in our own unique ways. Some of us spend our last hours going out with a bang – using heavily and sucking up every last second of our drug of choice. And others of us look at our habit with tears in our eyes, exhaustion in our soul and utter defeat in our heart, ready to surrender.

How did you come into recovery?

LION – heavy in your addiction and resistant to change
LAMB – quietly surrendering and ready for help

Leave your answer in the comments!

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Sponsor’s Orders – Naps and Pedicures

NapsI was instructed by my sponsor to “take exquisite care” of myself because I was feeling rather crappy. I was whining, moaning and pretty much minimizing the incredibly frightening claws of depression that were pulling and tugging at my consciousness. If she could see the scratch marks, she didn’t let on.

“Yoga, eat well, pray, gratitude, nap…” were some of her instructions. Napping was not a problem. I’ve always been a napper. I can nap at the drop of a hat – as long as I can get horizontal. I have never been able to sleep upright, in a car or airplane. Nope. I need a flat surface, of any kind. Give me a bed, a floor, a desk, a long countertop and I’m good to go.

So, I checked the NAP box and looked at the rest of the list. YOGA – maybe. I could commit to stretching in bed while slowly waking up from a nap. That will have to do for now; check. EAT WELL – hmmm. I wondered if mint chocolate chip ice cream counted as eating well. I DID eat it after I ate cottage cheese and almonds. So I ate well – check. PRAY. Okay, I can do that. I pray every morning, at the beginning and end of each meeting and sometimes sporadically throughout the day when things aren’t going according to my plan.

But lately, as I dance with the devil of darkness and try to outsmart my depression, I have found it very difficult to pray for anything. So I came up with my own version of the serenity prayer. It goes like this:

Serenity Prayer

Sometimes I’ll even throw in an Amen for good measure. I say it robotically, with complete and utter lack of emotion or feeling of any kind. Why spice it up when I don’t have to? If God can’t figure out that I’m in a pretty crappy place by the words alone, then I’m screwed. So I throw the words together in a mish mash of eye rolling and guttural gagging, not really sure if I want to have any of those prayers come true.

I know I don’t really, truly want to accept my limitations. Who would? Would anyone want to be told that they cannot multi-task? That they can’t successfully complete all the projects in front of them? I don’t really want to tell my clients that I’m having a bad head day and can’t focus on anything more than repeats of Law & Order and counting the spots on my dog. But accept my limitations I must. If I don’t, I will sink like the Titanic – literally – with people screaming, splashing and all. I can hear that when I start to go under. I can actually hear the voices screaming and flailing. It is quite disturbing.

I used to be able to ignore those pathetic people as they jumped ship and splashed into the icy cold water. I was focused on the lights flickering in the upright part of the ship. I did not have the peripheral wherewithal to see the portion of the ship under the sea, to notice the gaping rip in the deck or the broken china on the floor. Damn those annoying quitters. I will push through – without a life vest – while listening to the quartet play me out – until I absolutely cannot think another sane thought.

Then, and only then, will I look walk casually to the top of the ship and look over the edge. I will consider the jump, consider the possibility of sliding slowly down the deck or taking the leap into the frozen arctic below. And I will hold on to the railing as the winds rip around me. And because I hate making decisions – I have never been very good at them – I will stall.

Instead, I will look down at my white feet and marvel at the purple pedicure I just got. Sponsor’s orders were to take exquisite care of myself. So, after I awoke from my nap and before I went to my recovery meeting, I decided to indulge in a little spiritual reading and a pedicure. I arrived with plenty of time to spare. But because I hadn’t made an appointment, I had to wait for the nice Korean people to finish with several other sets of fingers and toes before they took on the challenge of mine.

I finally sat in the massage chair with 30 minutes to spare. Plenty of time, I thought as I cracked open my book of spiritual nuggets. I read casually as I soaked my feet in the hot bubbly smooth water. After five minutes, I began looking around at the other guests, wondering when I would be taken care of. I tried my best to look focused on my reading while making sure the employees knew darned well that I was getting impatient. After all, I had arrived with plenty of time and now – holy crap! I only had 20 minutes until I had to leave.

Finally, after another five minutes of me visually chastising the workers, a nice middle aged Korean man came over and began tickling my feet with a pumice stone. I told him, between laughs, to please just get to the polish as I had to be out in 15 minutes. He obliged. He slipped my shoes on, threw the yellow spongy toe separators on and slathered my nails in the sparkly purple polish I had selected. I was out 5 minutes and $28 dollars later and was careful not to smudge my nails. But I was grateful. I checked another box.

When I got to Celebrate Recovery, I slipped the shoes off and let my nails finish drying while the band rehearsed. It wasn’t until we were wrapping up that my friend pointed out I had trashed the polish on both big toes. Great, I thought. So much for exquisite care. The darned pedicure had cost more than I wanted to spend, made me walk uncomfortably for an hour and now looked worse than before. The result was more stress than I had to begin with.

So now I stand at the railing, feeling the cold sea air whip around me as I look down at my purple polish. The two big toes stand out, marred, fumbled and imperfect. They are surrounded by eight perfectly polished pals. That’s just how it is. Sometimes I will be the big toe. Sometimes I will be the perfectly polished pal. And, I think as I let go of the railing and slide down the slippery deck – that will have to be okay.

Love myself unconditionally? I don’t know that I ever could. I think about how my daughter looks at me, with love only a child can have for her blotchy, jagged mother. I see the love in her eyes and hear her words when she says, “You’ll never know how much I love you.” They stab at my heart like little arrows from cupid. And I realize, she is probably right. So unconditional love for myself? That will take time – maybe an eternity.

And wisdom to know facts from feelings. Well, I actually Adjust her sailsalready do. It’s having the discernment to recognize when I’m choosing to accept feelings as facts – that’s where I need the wisdom.

So exquisite care is what I’m focusing on today. That might be all I am able to do. That and swat away the negative gremlins that grow with every ounce of attention I give them. Okay, maybe not even that. But I will stop feeding them so much. And if I can get through today without picking up a drink or drug, and without putting down those I love and myself – that will be a very, very good – dare I say – exquisite day.

 

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Getting Around to God

God's to do listI recently heard a woman talk about how she thought she was always last on God’s to-do list. She believed God was taking care of everyone else but her. He was doling his blessings onto everyone around her while she sat lacking. She thought for certain everyone else in her life was getting all the lucky, fortunate breaks while she remained stuck in an unsatisfying life. She was absolutely positive that God answered other people’s prayers and that hers ended up in His spam folder.

Until she got into recovery and met the God of her understanding. This God was not the same God she knew before. This God wasn’t selective and biased. He didn’t hold a grudge. He wasn’t easily flattered. This God was kind, loving and equal in His benevolence. He blessed everyone, forgave everyone and loved everyone, regardless of how they felt about Him.

I used to think that my God also tossed my prayers into the recycling bin. I was pretty sure that all those foxhole rants that I called prayers were rising up into the atmosphere and either evaporating into the ozone or falling on God’s deaf ears. I knew with absolute certainty that everyone else had a better God-connection than me because they were living better lives.

Until I got into recovery. Then I discovered that it wasn’t that God hadn’t gotten around to me at all. It was that I hadn’t gotten around to God. Wow! My mind exploded just a little when I had that realization. Me? Not getting around to God? But I had prayed. I had gone to church. I had even dropped a few bucks in the Salvation Army bucket. I had gone out of my way, inconvenienced myself ever so slightly to make sure everyone noticed that I was getting around to God. Sound familiar?

Getting around to God

But that’s not what it’s about. At least, I don’t think so. I don’t think my God wants me to show off. I don’t think He wants me to be inconvenienced in an attention getting way. He doesn’t want me to take inventory on my good deeds and wait for public recognition. He doesn’t want me to do any of these things in the same way that He doesn’t want to throw a pile of money in my lap so that He can be lauded.

My God is humble. He works with me, not for me. He works through me, not above me. He gives freely, when I am ready to receive responsibly. He pushes gently, when I am stuck in fear. He guides my heart to generosity when the need is unclear to me. He mutes my bitter tongue and patiently places loving words in my mouth. He lets me see myself the God's giftsway my husband sees me, love myself the way my children love me, and treat myself the way my best friend treats me.

All because I was willing to get around to God. You see, these things were always available to me, I just didn’t know it. These little gifts were lingering around the outside of my consciousness, always escaping my diseased, sick thinking. I couldn’t see them through my greed and pride. I couldn’t savor the sweet satisfaction that comes from being compassionate while choking on my need for recognition. I couldn’t feel the overwhelming peace of being alone with Him when communion was an event not an experience. There was no way I could have ever known the sense of gratification that comes from doing His work when I kept slapping my label on it.

Today I know that I can have as much God as I’m willing to get. I can go all in and and get all of Him in every area of my life. Or, I can dance around the pool of His glorious riches, dip a toe in and get a small dose of ease back. I won’t lie. I’ve done both. Some days I dance around the edge, unable to find the willingness to go any further than ankle deep. Other days – even if I’m scared and the water is frigid – I dive in knowing that the reward will be worth it. And so far, God hasn’t disappointed.

All in for God

So, have you actively gotten around to God or are you still waiting for Him to get around to you? If you’re still a toe dipper, I encourage you… come on in – the water’s fine!

 

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Homelessness and Mental Illness – All Too Common Bedfellows

Schizophrenic NYCI recently received a message from a girl that wanted my help. Her name is Michelle and she is the founder of Schizophrenic.NYC. She stumbled across my blog and wondered if I would be willing to write a post about her organization. She would even be willing to send me a free tee shirt. Now, she had me at help… but the word free sealed the deal.

See that cool t-shirt I’m wearing? That’s just one of many designs she creates and sells to help raise awareness and fund programs for the homeless mentally ill in and around New York City. And even though I’m not from New York, I can identify with the mental illness part.

I suffered my first depressive episode at sixteen and it sucked. It sucked my sanity, sucked for my family and nearly sucked the life out of me, literally. At the time, I had no idea what was happening. I thought I was just being witchy and mean. I thought I was just being overly emotional and sensitive. I thought I was a loser, a scumbag, a failure – not worth the air I breathed. And I at the time, I thought that type of thinking was normal.

Luckily, I had a great family who loved me, supported me and got me the help I needed. I learned about the illness and how to turn my thinking and moods around. When I struggled with depression as an adult, I was blessed to have a loving family and adequate insurance to get the care and support I needed. I again learned about the illness I had and how best to treat it. When I was finally diagnosed bipolar in my early 40’s, I again was fortunate enough to get the help and treatment I needed.

I was one of the lucky ones. But there are many more who are not as lucky. These are the one in four homeless that we see on street corners and under bridges. These are the mothers, wives, daughters and sisters who didn’t have insurance. They are the husbands, sons, fathers and brothers who were not given the information they needed to get better. They are college graduates, attorneys, doctors, entrepreneurs, laborers, teachers, scientists, engineers, professors who didn’t get the support and resources they needed. They are the stigmatized, the ridiculed, the ostracized. They are the homeless mentally ill.

THEY ARE YOU AND ME…

stripped of our insurance, our family, our finances and our dignity.

I won’t pretend to know what they feel like, the homeless mentally ill. I have never been homeless. I won’t lie and say I never walked on the other side of the street when I saw them, those reflections of a less fortunate me. I won’t sit here and say that I bled sympathy for them and willingly threw money at their open hands because I didn’t.

I JUDGED THEM.

Until I realized that I was just one drink,

one drug, one missed diagnosis away from being them.

That realization came one day early in my recovery. I was on that pink cloud, seeing everything with my new pair of glasses and frankly, feeling invincible. As I was driving, I passed a busy intersection and saw him, the man who would right size me. He was wild eyed and dirty. His clothes were stained and ripped and several sizes too big. His long dirty hair hung loosely on his darkly tanned, exposed chest. I couldn’t tell if he was young or old because he wore an overgrown beard and an expression of defeat.

But it didn’t matter. What mattered was that in that instant I knew that this man, this homeless, dirty stranger was me if I didn’t do what I needed to stay sane and sober. If I didn’t work my recovery program, stay accountable and do what my sponsor and doctor told me to do, I could be him. If I slid into the abyss of depression or the insanity of mania again and didn’t let people know, didn’t reach out, I could fall off the edge and wind up under a cardboard box.

I knew, in that flicker of an instant when my eyes locked on his, that this man had a name, a past, a history, a mother, a father, a purpose. And for whatever reason, he had ended up right there, on that street corner, at that exact moment that I needed to see him. Why? I didn’t know and didn’t care. All that really mattered was that he had and I was glad. I was glad that he had put me in my place. I was a sober, sane woman that day. But only for that day. I wasn’t before and had no guarantee that I would be in the future. And thanks to that dirty, homeless man, I was reminded of that and have never forgotten it since.

Michelle is schizophrenic. I’m bipolar. These are two different mental illnesses with different moods, behaviors, thinking and courses of treatment. But one thing both of these illnesses, and most mental illnesses have in common is that they are misunderstood. When someone has delusions or paranoia, it doesn’t always mean they are on drugs. When someone is weepy and negative all the time, it doesn’t always mean they like to play the victim and crave attention. When someone jumps at loud noises or panics in crowds it doesn’t mean they do it for the entertainment of others.

There is no one fix for mental illness or for homelessness. But there is a lot we can do to improve the lives of those suffering both. We can…

GET EDUCATED – learn about mental illness and how it affects those in your life

GET GRATITUDE – be thankful that you have what you have and figure out how you can share it with those who do not

GET ACTIVE – participate in programs or campaigns that advocate or raise awareness for mental illness and homelessness

GET GRACE – show compassion when you see someone suffering with mental illness

I’m so grateful that I saw that man that day. I’m so grateful that God gave me the ability to write what’s on my heart. And I’m so glad Michelle read it and reached out to me. Schizophrenia business cardsDespite all of the advances we have made as a society, there is still not enough being done or said about mental illness.

Please help this Michelle and her awesome cause by hopping over to Schizophrenic.NYC and checking out the tee-shirts Michelle and her organization offer. Note their tagline I LOVE IT! And please, talk about it. Talk about the site to others. Talk about mental illness and homelessness to others. Talk about what you know, what you don’t know and what you want to know so that together we can be more informed, involved and empathetic to our brothers and sisters in need.

 

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His Will or Mine? The Art of Discernment

Step 3 & Step 11Step 3 and Step 11 are the only two steps that refer to God’s will.

On the surface these two steps seem pretty simple. When I was first introduced to them I thought they were rather straightforward. No problem. I can turn my will and my life over to the care of God. Heck, I was doing a pretty lousy job caring for myself so I figured I had nothing to lose. And as far as my will? Well, I had been trying to change myself, trying to discipline myself, trying to will myself into getting better, healthier, saner. And that hadn’t worked out too well either so I was more than happy to let someone else take a stab at it.

I also figured that since I enjoyed listening to classical music on rainy days over a good cup of coffee at Panera, that I could definitely meditate. And prayer was a no-brainer for me. I had been praying for God to make changes in my life for as long as I could remember.

Yup. This whole 12 step thing was gonna be a cinch.

And then I read those steps again. And again. And… again. And I kept getting stuck on that little word… His. I had to follow His will. I had to abandon my will and rely only on His will. Being the intellect that I thought I was (another old idea), I figured that I was smart enough to know exactly what His will was for me.

I considered myself to be an expert listener because I had read books on how to listen. However, if you asked my teenage son to judge my listening skills, I would have failed. I Low scorealso believed I was very good at reading between the lines and discovering the true meaning behind things. But again, if you asked my husband to judge how well I received his well-intended love and support at the height of my illness, he probably would have given me a very poor score.

Regardless, I dove into these steps figuring that I was smart enough to navigate them quite well. Actually, I was so egotistical that I thought I would merely let God know that I was fully aware of His will and I that I needed no further instructions – check the box, done, move on. Two steps down, ten to go.

But then something happened. I started getting better. I got a healthy dose of ego-deflation that led to some clarity, sanity and dare I say it, humility. It didn’t happen overnight. Nope. It was like a medication that takes a while to build up in your system. You don’t feel the effects for a few weeks. And then when you do, you realize just how sick you were. You didn’t notice the giant ego and pride before because you lived with them forever. It isn’t until they’re gone that you notice just how toxic and unhealthy they were.

Once I gained some sanity and clarity, I could see that maybe I didn’t know everything. I even was willing to say that perhaps I knew very little. With every meeting, every sponsor session, every step, I learned that I knew less and less. This process was eye-opening and freeing. It lifted the weight of the world off of me. I no longer had to be responsible for every answer, every solution, every fix.

But it also caused me to doubt my ability to judge right from wrong, good from bad and most importantly – God’s will from my own.

His Will or Mine

How was I supposed to turn my will over to God’s if I wasn’t able to hear him clearly? How was I supposed to follow His will if I didn’t know what it was? How was I supposed to know the difference between my will, my desires and selfish motives and His good, pure will for me? The clarity that I gained in recovery also brought with it new and unchartered confusion. I had never worried about what God’s will was before because I had lived by Jenny’s rules and done what I wanted, when I wanted, for reasons that satisfied me. But in order to continue on this path, to complete the steps, I had to learn a new skill.

I had to be a Will Whisperer.

I wasn’t skilled in this area. I had no prior experience discerning God’s voice and will. But thankfully, others did. So I turned to the people God had placed in my life. I turned to my sponsor, my accountability partners, others in recovery and listened to them as they translated God’s voice for me. I turned to His word and began trying to read His messages as they applied to me and my life. And most importantly, I turned inward to me, to the me that had always been in there underneath the ego and the pride. I looked for the little child who had known what the right thing was before insecurity made her question herself. I looked deep within myself to find the spirit God gave me; the pure, selfless, true passion and love that He wanted me to use for good before I locked that all away behind a wall of fear and doubt.

MeetingWith the help of my sponsor and others, I learned how to better discern God’s voice. I was told that those awful, anxious, weird feelings in my stomach were not from God. If I ever took an action that made me feel like I had to hide it, lie about it or justify it, it was probably not the action God wanted me to take. In other words, doing things that I couldn’t be completely transparent about, that I couldn’t be completely at peace with, were probably not the things God was directing me to do. They were probably not God’s will for my life.

In time, I learned to spot several red flags that indicate when I’m following my will and not God’s will. They are:

  • doing things to gain self-glory or recognition
  • doing things that hurt others to make myself feel better
  • using others to improve my position
  • taking the easy path even though it feels wrong
  • seeking out people who will approve my bad behaviors rather than trusting those who don’t
  • justifying my actions, over and over and over and over again
  • making excuses for my actions and behaviors
  • acting on my own without discussing my decisions with another humble, sober, person I admire
  • lying to myself and others
  • ignoring obstacles that might be put in my path for a reason
  • ignoring the wisdom and advice of those that have gone before me
  • avoiding the difficult things even when I know they are the right things
  • believing that I don’t have to follow the nudging and urging I feel to do the next right thing
  • taking action even when it makes me feel all icky inside

These are just some of the signs that maybe I’m forcing my will on myself instead of surrendering to God’s will. There are other signs, too. They are subtle, tiny little God moments that make me aware I’m out of alignment and remind me to redirect myself. Things like feeling worn out, tired, sick tell me maybe I’m exceeding my limitations. Feeling angry or frustrated with someone might be God telling me to back off and mind my own business. Feeling like I’m failing at a job or project could be God’s way of telling me that He has something better planned for me.

1 Kings 19 12

I will never claim to completely know what God’s will is for my life. But I do know that I’m willing to be open to interpretation. I’m open to hearing God talk to me through you, through people in recovery, through my sponsor, friends and family. I’m willing to look for God’s signs in my surroundings. I’m willing to seek His messages in His word. And I’m willing to pay close attention to the greatest indicators of all, my physical and emotional responses to things. Because when I listen closely to all of these things, that still, small voice that is sometimes so hard to hear, finally becomes just a little clearer.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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FEAR – Getting Un-Stuck in Recovery

FearI am going to admit something to you that I haven’t even admitted to my sponsor – I know, I know. But c’mon, I know you’ve held something back from time to time too. But this isn’t a little something… this isn’t a small thingy that I just casually forgot to mention. Nope. This is a big, bad, hairy, scary boogie-man sort of thing that has been on my back, over my shoulder, in my closet and sometimes under my bed for as long as I can remember.

Ready? Okay… here it is… (big sigh)

I’M SCARED TO WRITE.

Now before you get all – What the what?! on me, let me explain. I’m not afraid to write behind the cloak of anonymity. (Notice I don’t have many personal pics on this site?) I’m not afraid to write for someone else (ghostwriting, freelancing, favors). And I’m not afraid to write for free (this blog, FB, Twitter, general mish-mash of musings – although I’m open to payment or donations :)).

But I’m terrified to actually finish something of my own that will be published. In other words, I’m scared to finish my books. I have a few, several actually, that I’ve already written. They need a little dusting off, a little editing, but otherwise they are ready for agents. And still, I have yet to get them to publication. I have yet to actually follow-through and take these works of blood, sweat and tears to the next level. What I have done, as I mentioned in this Sunday’s Facebook post about procrastination, is spent the past several months doing everything BUT working on these books.

I guess you could say – I’M STUCK!

I’ve seen many people struggle with being stuck in recovery. Sometimes it happens early on. It’s that paralyzing fear of actually having to recover that can stifle our progress. Other Christmas Storytimes I see it in the old timers. They have moved so far away from being new and fresh that they start to mildew and rot… growing fungus from lack of movement. They just can’t seem to shake that feeling and they feel stuck.

Other times I’ve seen people in recovery struggle with the same issues over and over again. On the surface, the stuck-ness always seems like it’s a new dilemma. Last year it was the husband, this year it’s the kids, next year it will be the boss. But when you dig down, you can clearly see the stuck-ness is just a symptom of the same root cause.

What is that cause? Heck if I know. It’s different for each of us. Why am I stuck? I have no idea. You might say I’m scared of success. You might think that I’m scared of rejection. I can tell you I’m certainly scared of failing – failing you, failing my family, failing my supporters – failing myself. But I don’t know if that is what keeps me stuck. And honestly, I don’t care anymore.

I could spend another four months – or four years – analyzing what keeps me stuck, asking why, why, WHY?! OR I could just plunge forward, not worry about how I got stuck and just focus on doing what I need to do to get unstuck. After all – there is no Y in stuck.

So here’s my plan. I started this whole ball rolling by getting honest with my sponsor (ugh). And I got the teacher/preacher act back from her – which is rare for my sponsor. She’s usually rather Pasta sponsorcasual and calm. But when I told her how I had done virtually nothing I had planned doing with my books and instead had distracted myself with oodles of other things, she kind of laid into me in an Al Dente sort of way. She wasn’t tough, but wasn’t all soggy and mushy either. She was lovingly firm. And I needed that.

Next, I figured I’d better take a cue from a girl that shared at the rehab meeting I attended last week. She said she stayed on track by calling her sponsor every day, going to regular meetings, having a commitment at her home-group and doing service work. She stopped doing those and ended up relapsing. All good ideas I thought. And since I was only visiting the rehab and didn’t want to be a patient, I should probably start implementing them regularly.

Lastly, I figured I better do the steps – again. I’ve done them before, more than once. And each time I did them, I did them thoroughly. But it’s been a while. And I know I’m getting lazy and complacent. And stuck. The Promises are coming true, but many of them are just out of my grasp. I’m not sure if I’m scared of all the good things I know I will get. I’m not sure if I still don’t feel worthy of God’s mercy, grace and blessings. I’m not sure if I’m worried I’ll be unable to fulfill His awesome plan for me. But again, I don’t need to know the “Y” behind any of it.

Proverbs 3 5

All I need to know is that I am at a point where I feel I’m not really moving forward. I’m not even sure I’m moving at all. Have you ever felt that way? And if that’s how I feel, I’m either stagnant or moving away from the goal God has set out for me. I’m either growing mold or not trusting Him. Or both.

For me, it boils down to one simple action – Trust. If I trust my sponsor, I will follow her suggestions – all the way through, which includes doing the steps. If I trust the steps, I will come out of the fog and into a deeper relationship with God. If I am closer to God, I will trust Him more and I will do the next thing He has set out in front of me without questioning the Y, when, where, how or what. And if I can do all of these things, I will eventually get unstuck.

 

 

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How to Help Someone with Depression

How to help someone with depressionThe farther away I get from my last depression, the harder it is for me to remember the specific feelings associated with that hellish place. But when the topic of depression comes up, a chill runs up my spine when I remember just how bad it was.

My depression was different each time. The first time I experienced depression I wasn’t quite sure what was going on. I was a teenage girl experiencing raging hormones, substance experimentation, sexual exploration and the normal pressures of high school. My blue skies turned gray over a period of years. Then in just a few short months, those gray clouds turned black and opened up, pouring rain and hail down on me and my loved ones. Before I knew it, I was sullen, silent and suicidal. The old Jenny was gone and a shell of a person, a ghost Jenny took my place.

My family tried to help… but only made it worse. They pushed me for answers, they prodded me with questions, they got angry. I was killing my parents. My siblings told me how selfish I was and what a toll I was taking on my mom and dad. Everyone hated me and I knew it. I knew I was causing everyone I loved so much pain. I knew that every silent moment, every drink, drug and inch of emotional distance was another knife in my parents’ hearts. I knew it but was helpless to stop.

The sickest part about my depression was that as I was causing pain to those I loved, I was screaming inside for help. I was begging and pleading for someone, anyone to help me stop these awful behaviors, to help me out of this evil, wretched place. And yet, I was unable to open my mouth and vocalize any of it. Instead, my depression shot daggers of hate out of my eyes, pushing those I needed most even further away. My depression strangled my throat so that only ugly words could be formed and it paralyzed my muscles so that I could no longer smile, hug or laugh.

The second depression was not quite as subtle. It was temperamental, demanding and bratty. At first I thought it was just normal to be completely nasty. After all, I was a young stay-at-home mother who hated winter and lived a life of “not good enough.” I tried to blame the feelings on everyone and everything outside of me. It was only when I got so low I couldn’t deny it any longer that I had to face the fact that I was depressed again. When this reality hit, the only option I saw was driving my car into the river. But instead of doing that, instead of telling anyone close to me what I was thinking or feeling, I called a therapist and finally got some much needed help.

The third visit from my dark nemesis was more noticeable to my friends and family than it was to me. I was demonstrating anger, agitation and irritability long before I realized anything was truly wrong. Then came the lack of concentration and focus. Fatigue and binge-eating followed. Within months I was avoiding social engagements and wanting to do serious harm to those around me. Not homicidal harm. I just wanted to punch my coworkers and slap whiny people. You know, those things we all think about sometimes. Except I actually saw myself doing them.

Once I recognized that I was again sliding and sliding fast, I told my family. I immediately got some help. But because I am bipolar, the antidepressants I was prescribed sent me intoGoing Insane Picture a psychotic episode. Ahhh… the shame of it all. You see, it was during this phase of my illness, during this insanely, maddening, overtly suicidal phase that I felt the truly sick nature of my depression.

I knew I was losing my mind and was completely and utterly helpless to do anything about it. I described it as if I was holding onto a rope with both hands and the rope was slowly being pulled from me. The tighter I gripped, the more my hands chaffed, ripped and bled. No matter what I did to try to hold on to the remaining strands of my sanity, it still slipped through my hands. The worst part was that I was still just sane enough to realize I was going insane. That was terrifying.

My family tried to help. My husband lost 15 pounds he was so stressed. My children tiptoed around me and worried every day. My parents and siblings called my husband long distance daily to check on me. My therapist gave me direction, my psychiatrist gave me medication and my job gave me time off.

None of it helped. In fact, some of it made my depression worse. Not because these were bad things to do for me. But because mental illness, depression in particular, is insidiously evil. It tells me that I am a piece of crap. It tells me that I am worthless and unworthy of anyone’s love. It tells me that no matter what YOU say, everyone would be better off without me. It tells me I am a loser, a mistake and a burden to you and everyone else on the face of the earth.

So when you try to help I will push you away. When you try to hug me, I will cringe in real physical pain because the emotional pain of hating myself is too intense. When you tell me you love me and want me to get better I will hate myself more because I know that with every passing second, I am hurting you more which makes me feel worse about myself. When you ask me what I want to do I will cry because I can’t even put two thoughts together. When you ask me if I would like to go for a walk, go to a movie or go out to eat I will shrug and try to comply, but only to make you feel better. What I really want is for you to make decisions for me but I cannot tell you that.

Psalm 143

You see, none of these things, no matter how well intended, will make me feel better when I’m depressed. I know that’s not what you, family and friends of us depressed folks want to hear. But for me, that is the dirty truth. Let me say it again:

NOTHING YOU SAY OR DO WILL HELP ME OUT OF MY DEPRESSION!

I will only get out of it when I’m ready. I will only come to the surface when I have the right medical, physical and emotional therapy. I will only accept those therapies when I’m ready. And I will only be ready when everyone leaves me alone and I make that choice to fight the demon inside me.

But until that time… HERE’S WHAT YOU CAN AND CAN’T DO FOR ME:

  • Leave me alone. Stop watching me, stop calling me, stop bugging me every second. Stop asking me how I’m feeling and checking to see if I’m still breathing. Not only is it incredibly annoying, it makes me feel worse.
  • Talk. Depression is an awfully silent illness. It renders even the most loquacious people completely mute. And when we stop talking things can get deafeningly silent. But please, keep talking. Talk to others in the house, talk around us, talk at us, even if we don’t respond. Keep the conversation of life going and eventually we might jump in. There’s nothing worse for me than silence, even if I’m the one creating it.
  • Live your life. I might want to end mine, but I want you to live yours. Yes, this is insane. You might think I want all the attention on me. You might think that depression is my way of getting you to coddle me and dote on me. WRONG! I don’t want your sympathy, your service or your attention at all. Actually, I just want to disappear in a puff of smoke. But somewhere inside my insane illness is a needy, greedy victim that thrives on your attention. Please don’t feed it. Live your life and let me know about it. I just might want to join you.
  • Keep to a schedule. Just because I’m going to sleep all day doesn’t mean you have to. Even if you live with me, please keep to a schedule. Get up, shower, make noise, fart, do whatever you would normally do. It might inconvenience me and that’s okay. Sit on the sofa and watch stupid shows or play video games while I’m napping. It might piss me off enough to snap me out of my mood for a moment or two. Who knows, I might actually watch with you.
  • Don’t give me choices. For the love of God, PLEASE don’t give me choices. It takes a Herculean effort just to decide if I will wear slippers or flip flops. Please don’t make me work any harder than I have to. Just state what is going to happen – “We’re having chicken for dinner.” or “Breakfast is on the table when you’re ready.” or “We’re going to the psych ward at 10:00.” Really, don’t give me any wiggle room. Just say it once and move on.
  • Offer me some help. Key word here is OFFER. I probably won’t be able to call psychiatrists or therapists myself, or won’t want to. But you can. You can even schedule an appointment. Again, don’t give me choices. Just schedule the appointment, tell me we are going and take me. Once I am in the care of a professional, let them do the hard work. If I choose not to go or take meds, talk to my therapist and ask them what your options are. But don’t make those decisions on your own and don’t force me to do anything after that first appointment. Just tell me and if I refuse, pray for me and keep on living.
  • Get help for yourself. I’ve always said it is probably 100 times worse living with a depressed person than it is living with depression. I have watched my husband suffer horribly as I pulled him into my hell. I watched him struggle, cry and die a little inside
    Get help for youevery time I got worse and sunk deeper. He stopped living and instead lived to save me. Even though his intentions were good, they made me feel worse. Please get help for yourself. Talk to other people who have lived with depressed loved ones. Call a counselor or therapist and learn what you can do for me and for you. Join a support group. I don’t care what you do, just do something. Take some of that attention off of me and put it on you, please.
  • Don’t celebrate my progress. Insane, I know. It might be cause for major celebration when I do something monumental like shower or get out of my pajamas, but please don’t throw a party. It’s okay to make a casual comment but don’t tell me I smell so good or look fabulous today. Just smile and go about your day. I will ask for recognition if I want it. Chances are I don’t. I probably just want to fly under the radar. Little positive steps will give me the strength to go further. If I think I’m being watched I might recoil.
  • Don’t try to understand it. Unless you’ve been depressed, you cannot understand what I am going through. What you can do is talk to people who have lived with depressed people. You can talk to mental health professionals. And you can invite someone with depression to reach out to me or vice versa. But don’t ask me what I’m feeling, why I’m feeling or what you can do because I don’t know.
  • Don’t accept unacceptable behavior. I can be really nasty when I’m depressed. Hypomania, mania and depression can all manifest with irritability and anger. Don’t let me get away with unacceptable behavior. Being ill doesn’t give me the right to be mean. If I’m overly sarcastic, vengeful, spiteful, rude or disrespectful, tell me that you do not like my sarcastic, vengeful, spiteful, rude or disrespectful behavior and you will not accept that. SET BOUNDARIES to protect yourself and to prevent my illness from gaining unlimited momentum.
  • Don’t leave me alone for too long. I don’t want to scare you, but I might be contemplating suicide or thinking some pretty dark thoughts. I don’t want you hovering over me and stopping by, calling all the time. But I don’t want to be alone for very long either. Even if I live alone, I want to have some sort of activity, obligation to keep me in front of other human beings. Try to encourage me to stay working or volunteering. If this isn’t possible, see if you can recruit me to help with a project of sorts. Again, don’t give me too many choices or options. If I feel I am needed in a way that has nothing to do with my depression, it might help me get out of my head for a little while. Heck, set me up with an accountability partner or sponsor who I have to be accountable to every day with a phone call. Give me responsibility instead of usurping it from me which will only makes me feel more useless.

Depression support

Disclaimer: I’m not a mental health professional. I’m not a counselor, therapist or social worker. I’m just a woman who has struggled with bipolar-depression most of my life. I hope my experience can help others living with depression and those who love us. The suggestions above are merely suggestions and you should always consult a mental health professional when facing depression, bipolar, suicide or any mental illness challenges.

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Thank God for Just Enough

Just Enough

I was making my morning coffee the other day and was down to the last few packets of Truvia. Over the years I’ve used sugar, Splenda, Sweet & Low and numerous other types of sweeteners in my coffee. And I’ve run out many times. But this particular morning, I had just enough. And I was grateful.

There have been many times when I’ve come close to running out of something and found that I had just enough. I’ve pre-soaked laundry and loaded it all in the washer only to find I had just enough detergent to clean that one load. I’ve done the same with the dishwasher. I’m sure we’ve all found ourselves in the shower with just enough soap or shampoo to get the job done. And everyone can identify with having just enough toilet paper left on the roll.

These moments are little “Thank God” moments for me. They are minor situations that cause me to stop and say, “Whew, that was close. Thank God I had just enough.” I’m reminded to be thankful because of how close I get to running out. But I don’t always do that with other things in my life. I forget to thank God for the things I have plenty of because I don’t think about them until I’m on empty.

The things I’m talking about are not coffee, sweetener, toilet paper or gasoline for my car. I’m not referring to electricity, money or even necessities like food and water. The things that I have plenty of, the things that I often forget to thank God for are the things that I Give to getused to live without. These are things like faith, willingness, self-love, patience, compassion, courage, honesty and hope. These things, these intangibles, eluded me for decades. I watched them flicker in and out of my life numerous times over the years, never understanding how these flights of fancy could fix themselves permanently in other people’s lives and not mine. I never understood how others had a seemingly unending supply of these things and I barely ever had any, never mind just enough.

Then I got into recovery. I worked these amazingly simple and brutally difficult steps. And I found a new relationship with God. In doing so, I discovered that these things that I never had were finally available to me. I learned that faith could be mine and could be mine forever. I just had to have faith to get faith. I was taught that willingness was there for the taking and I could have as much as I was willing to give. The same was true with patience, tolerance and honesty. I was able to acquire huge quantities of all of these treasures with very little effort. All I had to do was give them away. I just had to be patient to receive patience. I had to be honest to be treated with honesty. And I had to be tolerant, loving and compassionate to receive those beautiful things into my life. The irony is that the more of these I share and give away, the more I get back in return. So the never ending supply is directly related to my actions. If I want more, I must give more.

Luke 6 38

I also found that once I started getting these things, I didn’t truly appreciate them until I saw them running low. I didn’t thank God earnestly for the hope I gained in recovery until I was faced with my bout of sober hopelessness. When I found myself miserable, scared and backed into a corner, I reached for my hope only to find that I had so little I had to ration it. It was in that moment that I remembered to thank God for the hope that I had longed for. The same thing happens with patience and tolerance. I don’t recognize them for the assets they really are when they are overflowing in my life. I only acknowledge their value when I need a refill.

Sometimes God reminds me how blessed I am without having to take me to the brink of disaster. Every once in a while I’m obedient enough to listen when He sends these kinder, gentler messages. He uses hopeless people, those who are on the ledge, begging for the pain to end, to remind me to be grateful for the hope I have today, the hope that sits snugly at the bottom of my heart, so much a part of me that I almost forget it’s there. He uses angry, bitter, judgmental people to shake me up and remind me to be grateful for the budding tolerance I have today, even though sometimes I misplace it. He uses hurt, pained, broken, abandoned, abused, frustrated, desperate people of all shapes, colors and sizes to stop me in my selfishness and remind me to be grateful for the blessings He has poured down on me.

Grateful

God uses other moments of fallibility to bonk me over the head with gratitude when I least expect it, too. He uses my own angry moments to remind me to be grateful for serenity and my willingness to apologize to remind me to be thankful for the little bit of humility I have. He uses my frustration over a particular situation to force me to appreciate the fact that I don’t have to control everything and to be grateful for the power to let go. God uses all sorts of people, places and things to bring me to gratitude for the intangibles in my life. And as long as I still have obedience, just enough obedience to pay attention, I might get the message.

So the next time I see an irate person,  a hopeless person, an ungrateful person, whether in the street or in the mirror, I will take it as a sign from God and I will be thankful for the tolerance, hope and gratitude that I have today. I don’t have much of any of these things. But I have just enough. And for that I’m grateful.

 

 

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Character Defects – Can’t Live With Them, Can’t Live Without Them

Character defectsIt seems to me that Steps 6 and 7 are the most underused, overlooked steps in recovery programs. In the Big Book, they take up a scant two paragraphs. In other literature they are only touched on with a simple prayer or two. But for me, these two steps are vital to my continued emotional and spiritual conditioning and I cannot ever take them for granted. In fact, I must stay in these two steps every day.

Step 6: We were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character.

Once I completed my 5th step, I became acutely aware of all my shortcomings, my defects of character. At first I thought the choice of words, “defects” was rather harsh. I knew I was defective, there was no doubt about that. But I didn’t like other people to label me that way. Different recovery programs call these defects different things. Some refer to them as shortcomings, flaws, character traits, etc. No matter what I call them, they are things that have caused me pain and discomfort in my life. They have usually caused me to behave in ways that are harmful to me and others. And no matter what they are called, they are negative influences and must be removed if I ever want to find peace.

Some of these defects were things I was very eager to banish. I didn’t like them, I didn’t want to be associated with them and was only too glad to get rid of them. Defects like depression, fear, anger, self-pity, judgment, intolerance, impatience and isolation were all character traits I was more than ready to have God remove. In fact, I begged him to take them from me.

Others, however, were like old childhood friends. These were traits that had been my companions my whole life. I had grown up with these traits, made memories, good and bad with them. I had cried, laughed and hurt with these traits. They had kept me safe and protected me in times of danger. And they had also caused me tremendous pain. They were like those close relatives or friends that can cause me joy and agony. The ones your mother warned you about. And just like those relatives and friends, I didn’t want to let these traits go.

These traits were sarcasm, self-indulgence, victimhood, superiority, criticism, martyrdom, false humility, pride, self-reliance and self-medication. All of these friends had led me down dark roads and caused huge amounts of chaos in my life. But they had never left my side in times of trouble either. They were steady soldiers in my battle against myself and others. They were sharp and agile and I had mastered them all. To live my life without them was an overwhelming thought.

When I was confronted with the idea of never seeing these buddies again, my sponsorCoin pointed out that defects can be seen like coins. Each one has two sides. In other words, each defect can also be used in a way that makes it an asset. I just had to be willing to flip that coin over and polish the other side. This was very good news to me. But it was also scary. I was kind of afraid that I would never be able to flip the coins over. I was afraid they would be too heavy. I was afraid that even if I did manage to pry them from the dirt bed they were planted in that they would take years of cleaning and scrubbing before they shined and became truly valuable.

I also learned that the word “remove” doesn’t only mean to eradicate. According to the Merriam-Webster definition, remove has several meanings:

  • to change the location, position, station, or residence of
  • to transfer (a legal proceeding) from one court to another
  • to move by lifting, pushing aside, or taking away or off
  • to dismiss from office
  • to get rid of

This was great news to me. I was overjoyed to see that remove does not only mean “to get rid of.” It also means to set aside, move to another location, or as in the third definition… “to move by lifting.” This was exactly what my sponsor was talking about.

You see, the idea of never seeing my friends, now matter how bad they were for me, the idea of never seeing them again was scary. The Big Book talks about the hole in the doughnut. That’s kind of how I felt. I was quite certain that if all my defects were removed in the eradication sense of the word, if they were permanently taken from me, that there would be nothing left. I had been a sum of my defects my whole life. I only knew me by my defects. In fact, I didn’t think there Donutwould be anyone underneath all of them. Worse yet, I was scared to death there might be someone there, and she would be worse than the defective Jen I already knew.

When I realized I didn’t have to say good-bye to my defects, I was relieved. I knew I had a long road ahead of me, and still do. But I could face the prospect of working hard to turn these defects of character into positive character traits. I was ready to have God set aside the negative aspects and show me the positive potential of these friends of mine. I wanted Him to help me turn sarcasm into honesty, self-indulgence into service, victimhood into compassion. I was ready to trade my superiority for humility, my criticism for empathy and self-reliance for God reliance.

It was only by looking at my defects this way, but really understanding that just like me – flawed, imperfect, negative, defective me – these traits could be turned around. They could, just like me, be cleaned, restored and brought back to life. These character defects could be flipped over and instead of being used to tear things down, they could become the solid foundation on which the good traits are built.

When I could see the process this way, as restoration and not eradication, I became willing to complete Step 7.

Step 7: We humbly asked Him to remove all our shortcomings.

1 John 1 19

Steps 6 & 7 don’t require the same amount of work as some of the other steps. They are not steps that I have to do perfectly. They aren’t steps I have to share with others. But they are steps I must do every single day. I must ask God for the willingness recognize my defects of character. I must humbly ask Him to remove them. And I must work with Him to restore these traits to their intended purpose for His good.

Eventually, these old friends, the ones that got me kicked out of parties and blacklisted by family members, have become some of the most upstanding characters in my life. Instead of harming me, they have helped me learn patience and tolerance. They have shown me self-love, kindness to others and humility. They have helped me and others learn how to live with integrity and honesty. When they show up, people accept and admire these characters. And even though they are new to me, I’m learning to accept and admire them too.

 

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Rear View Recovery

Rear View RecoveryAs a sober woman, I get the privilege and honor of being a part of other women’s recovery journeys. This past weekend I met with one of my friends in recovery. She was having a particularly difficult weekend. She had some serious emotional upheavals and even though she had a lot of recovery, she was struggling. “I can’t seem to find my toolbox,” she said, referring to the many spiritual tools she has acquired along the road to happy destiny.

“Yeah,” I said, “I lose mine a lot too.” We decided it would be a good idea that once she found it, she should put a big neon flashing strobe light on it so it would be easier to locate next time. We joked about it, but the reality was that she was making some choices that were not in her best interest. She knew what she should do, what would keep her on the beam, but despite all the knowledge, she still chose to do things that could jeopardize her sobriety.

Monster in closetSome of the issues she was struggling with were huge. I mean they were big, bad, dark, scary, monster in the closet in the middle of the night during a thunderstorm huge! Others were not that big, but were significant to her. We talked about the challenges she was facing and the choices she made. We discussed and agreed on what were good choices and what were bad choices. And we laughed at the insanity of doing the wrong thing even when we know it is wrong.

As we laughed, my dear friend was able to gain some perspective. I saw something in her eyes that said, “Okay, I got through this and it’s not so bad now.” It was as if she was able to look at her challenges in the rear view mirror instead of in the windshield. This got me thinking about how we often look at situations in our lives.

My first sponsor told me to always keep my eyes on the road and only occasionally glance in the rear view mirror. She meant that I should focus on today and keep the past in perspective, in the rear. I think that whole rear view recovery thing can be taken a few different ways. Yes, my sponsor was right. If I continued to live in regret, doubt, shame and guilt, I would never be able to live in the hope of today. I got that message loud and clear and get a little better at that every day.

But rear view recovery can also describe how I look at the big hairy monsters I face. When I see them coming at me, head on in the windshield of my life, I kind of freak out. It’s like having a mack truck speeding down the highway heading directly for me. My fingers wrap around the steering wheel in a death grip, every muscle in my body tenses up and I am literally paralyzed with fear. As the truck gets closer I brace myself for the impending crash. My mind races trying to figure out if I should turn this way or that. Should I slam on the brakes? Should I veer off the road into the ditch? Should I close my eyes and hope for the best?

This is what it feels like when a big problem, dilemma or situation pops up in my life. My first reaction is to freeze. Oh my gosh, what do I do? The little energizer bunny in my brain hops on that wheel and goes to town, spinning, spinning, spinning. Thoughts fly through my head. I know what I should do, like call my sponsor, take a breath, grab a tool from that darned tool box. Where did I put it again? And I know what I shouldn’t do. I shouldn’t steer into the oncoming problem, ramping up my anger, rage and control as I go. I shouldn’t close my eyes and pretend that the truck isn’t actually coming right at me. I shouldn’t slam on the brakes and hope the problem miraculously dodges me.

I have tools so that I can use them in situations exactly like this. Even in a split second, I can reach for my tool of reason and quickly decide that the ditch looks better than the front end of the truck. I can use my tool of awareness and keep my eyes open and on the truck and see if it swerves back into its lane. If it does, I can avoid the ditch altogether. I can also ask another person in the car if the truck is actually heading toward me at all. Maybe I am imagining the truck is crossing the line. Maybe I had a bad driving experience before and am so terrified that it will happen again that I just expect it to. Maybe there is a barrier that I can’t see and the truck is nowhere near my lane. Maybe it’s the curve of the road and my perception is skewed. Maybe, just maybe, I’m not even driving the car, but am merely a passenger and it’s not my problem to deal with anyhow.

When the truck finally passes and the strong wind buffers the side of the car, I can breathe again. I’m still a little shaken by the close call, by the emotional turmoil that I experienced, Challengesbut I’m okay. I came out on the other side. The truck didn’t hit me. I didn’t have to crash into the ditch. I didn’t even have to pull hard to one side. I stayed the course, used my tools and got past this obstacle. And even though my heart still races and my hands are cramped, I’m otherwise okay and intact.

As I exhale, I glance back in the rear view mirror. I watch as the truck, the giant, looming, chrome monster that was threatening my very life just seconds before, gets smaller and smaller. A moment later, as I take another breath and realize I’m okay, I peek once more in the rear view and watch the truck disappear out of sight.

That’s the way it is with all of my challenges today. Some of them do a little more damage than others. Some even leave permanent scars. But eventually, they all end up in the rear view of my recovery. Most of them are no longer visible when I look back. Some, however, will always be there. And I am glad. Because they remind me that no matter how big they are when they are coming at me, I can and do get past them. And with time and the right perspective, even the largest obstacles become small specks on the horizon of my life.

 

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Willing To Go To Any Length… Except That

How It WorksIn the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous, Chapter 5 describes in detail, How It Works. Before the 12 Steps of AA are listed, buried in the second paragraph is a phrase that I don’t give a lot of thought to, but I should.

“…willing to go to any length…”

This is part of a sentence that talks about what we are willing to do to get recovery. What actions we are willing to take to achieve the sense of peace and serenity we see in our fellows. My first sponsor spent a lot of time on this particular phrase with me in early recovery. She pointed out that unless I am willing to put my recovery first, sacrificing all other people, places and things in my life, I will struggle and might never have that peace I so desperately wanted.

With her help, I realized that might mean giving up obligations and commitments that were very important to me. It might mean rearranging my schedule. It might mean going to places I didn’t want to go and doing things I didn’t want to do. Eventually, I got the point of that phrase.

But as my recovery has shifted from desperate defiance to more of a mellow adolescent acceptance, that phrase hasn’t popped out at me as often. Until today. I heard someone share how when she was actively using she rode a motorcycle everywhere. One day, her bike ran out of gas. Several people stopped by to help her and because she was so prideful and stubborn, she refused their help, focusing only on getting her next fix. She sent everyone away with her less than loving attitude and chose instead to push her bike the mile and a half to where her drug of choice was waiting for her. It was 100 degrees out, she was badly sunburned and extremely dehydrated. I’m sure she was far from comfortable. But guess what? She pushed that darned bike all the way to her destination. Her eyes were on the prize of her drug.

It made me think of her willingness. She was willing to go to any length to get her fix. Nothing was going to stop her. Not lack of transportation, not lack of money, not lack of humility. Nope. She was focused solely on one thing. That reminded me of a conversation I recently had with a good friend. She took some actions that she knew were wrong and ended up causing her unwanted drama and chaos. She knew in the moment what the result would be but she still took the actions. She also knew that these actions could not only cause her to lose relationships, finances and other things she valued, but more importantly, they could cause her to lose her recovery.

That got me thinking about how I interpret the phrase. What exactly are the lengths I’m willing to go to? I think we each have our own “lengths” and that it is a very subjective word. For some, it might mean being willing to ask for a ride, seek out counsel or raise a hand. For others, any lengths might mean ending relationships, changing jobs or trusting people. Those can all be very scary things and actions that are hugely frightening to take. But I’ve got that awesome Fear Prayer on page 68 and many more in the big, big book to help me with that.

Isaiah 41 10

Lengths don’t always have to be sacrifices. It doesn’t always have to be about giving something or someone up. Lengths can be positive actions. Replacing a negative behavior with a good, healthy one. Instead of calling my friend and gossiping about people, I choose to call her and lift her and others up. Instead of quitting my job, I might choose instead to see if my employer can accommodate a schedule that allows me to work my recovery. Okay, that part I just wrote about gossiping, I’m still working on that one.

Other lengths I’m willing to go to include making my recovery a priority, helping others and being humble outside and inside of my home. That last one is especially tough. But I know today that like that girl on the scooter, it’s doing the things I might not want to do, doing the hard work that gets me where I want to be. Before I found recovery, I would scale tall buildings and inconvenience myself and everyone else to get what I wanted. Today I choose to do different things, although often still inconvenient to me, to get happiness, joy and freedom.

A lot of what we must do in recovery, many of these requests and actions require humility and courage. They are often strange and foreign behaviors for us early on. They are challenging. In fact, they can scare the crap out of us. But like muscles that have been under used, with practice and exercise, these behaviors get stronger and over time, they take on definition in our lives.

Psalm 27 14I’m so glad that I heard that biker girl tell her story. I’m so glad my friend made some bad choices. These events helped me take a good look at myself. I know that even though I try really hard to keep God and my recovery first and foremost in my life, there are still some things that could get in the way of that. These are the lengths that haven’t been fully revealed to me, yet. These are the sacrifices, actions and changes I haven’t had to make, yet. These are the the yet’s that if I’m not “willing to go to any length,” could earn me another white chip.

But those unknown yet’s, those really long lengths aren’t in front of me today, so I won’t worry about them. I just hope and pray that when they present themselves, I have the willingness, humility and courage I need to “go to any length.”

 

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The Brat Dies Hard!

Brat dies hardI figured I’d blog about this because it seems to be a recurring theme in my life the past few weeks. Not only have I personally experienced my inner brat rearing her sweaty little head lately, but I’ve watched a few friends struggle with their inner brats as well.

I first heard the saying, “The brat dies hard,” in a meeting. As soon as the woman said it, I recognized exactly who she was talking about. I could not only identify, I could totally, completely, wholeheartedly get what she meant. I saw images of a little Jenny stomping her feet and pouting when she didn’t get what she wanted. It was like a silent movie playing in my head with the little Brat as the star. My childhood flashed by with regular appearances by that girl.

But it didn’t stop there. My mind filled with images of that same little spoiled girl acting up when my husband told me I couldn’t buy that new outfit or go away on a girls’ weekend. Snapshots appeared in my head of that obstinate Brat quitting yet another job even though she had no idea of where her next paycheck would come from. There she was again, avoiding people who could Brathelp her because she could handle her own problems. This Brat didn’t only have cameo appearances in my life. She had a recurring role.

Since I’ve been in recovery and God has taken over as the casting director of my life, the Brat’s lines have been slashed. She’s more of an understudy now. My director has called on other actors, like Obedience and Selflessness to play bigger parts in my life. These girls aren’t as experienced as the Brat, but they’re learning. They’ve been practicing pretty hard and usually remember their lines, although sometimes they still need prompting.

It’s only when these new lead actors are unavailable, blocked by those trouble makers, Pride and Ego, that the Brat appears, all too happy to soak up the limelight again. And it’s weird. Even though I know that she’s there and bound to put on a disastrous show, the director doesn’t stop her and neither do I. It’s almost like watching a car driving in the wrong direction on the highway. I know what’s about to happen. I can actually feel the impending doom, but I’m unable to stop it.

After talking with my sponsor and spending some one on one time with my casting director, I’ve realized that the Brat, even though she’s a bit of a diva, isn’t really all that bad. She has talents that when used properly, could actually add value to this performance. For instance, she has a very strong voice. But when she’s ready to Jeremiah 7 24speak, we could teach her to count to 10 or 20 or maybe even 100 before she does. This way, she has time to be quiet and take cues from the other actors before she opens her mouth.

I thought that was a great idea so I kept listening. My sponsor suggested that I learn to recognize that the Brat might be afraid of being cut from the show altogether. That might be why she is so rude and pushy. I had never looked at her that way. So I took some time and really reflected on how I could alleviate her fears. I decided to ask my director to help me with this and He suggested that we tell the Brat that acting on the same stage with others gives her the opportunity to share her experience and also learn new skills like humility and compassion. These traits will only add to her acting repertoire and ultimately, will increase her value and make her even more sought after.

I think she liked hearing that because she’s been a bit quieter lately. Rather than jumping onto the stage screaming at the top of her lungs, the Brat has been hanging out off stage. I can sense that she’s there, just out of view behind the velvet curtains, but I can’t see her. I can feel her anticipation, her fear and nervousness, but she stays silent during most performances. Don’t get me wrong, there have been a few nights when she hasn’t been able to control herself and she’s tried to steal the show. But even those have been less disastrous than before.

I think the casting director really made her think when He said there would be agents in the audience. It’s like the Brat is more concerned now about how others view her. I think she wants to be seen as someone who works well with Obedience, Selflessness and even big named stars like Humility. Not that we’ve had too much experience with Humility, but she’s made an appearance or two. Those were great shows!

Matthew 18 4

Regardless, I’ve seen a difference with the Brat. I think back to that line from the meeting, “The brat dies hard,” and don’t even know if I want the Brat to die. I certainly don’t want to be the one to kill her. I think I’d rather see her shed her costume of self-righteousness and instead try on faith and service. Those two outfits make even the ugliest actors shine.

Yeah, I think I’d like to try to work with the Brat. I mean I’ve known her for most of my life and I have a bit of a soft spot in my heart for her. And if my casting director thinks she can be turned around and become an asset to this show, who am I to question Him? After all, He worked miracles with me. Wish us luck!

 

 

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I’m So Unique…. You Just Don’t Understand!

HumilityI’m so important. I’m so special. I’m so unique. Yeah, right. But I really thought that. In fact, my favorite words were, “You just don’t understand.” Can you identify with this at all?

It’s funny how my inward perspective has changed since I’ve been in recovery. When I first arrived, I was quick to blame everyone around me for all of my problems. My husbands, yes, both of them, were to blame for my depression. My kids were to blame for my mood swings. My mothers-in-law were to blame for my frustration, and on and on. There were very few people in my life that didn’t get blamed for something. Sorry guys.

When I claimed my seat in recovery, I didn’t know I would have to undergo a complete makeover to keep it. But that’s what it required, and still requires, every day. At first, I focused on myself. I started to peel away the layers of denial and reveal my sorry state of terminal uniqueness. It came as a shock initially. What do you mean that my life isn’t more difficult than other people’s? What do you mean I don’t have it worse than everyone else? The realization that I was NOT that different was hard to digest. I had felt so different for so long. How was I supposed to believe that I was just like everyone else?

Romans 11 18Eventually, I saw that my problems, my errors and my defects were just as big as I made them. They didn’t grow and shrink when I added and removed people, places and things from my life. They grew and shrank when I added and removed my part. That was a sobering realization and one I still have trouble recognizing.

As time went on and I was able to see the enormity of my own faults, I noticed that everyone else’s defects got smaller. My intolerance of others’ laziness, anger and martyrdom started to dissipate when I saw my own behaviors reflected in theirs. I cringed a little inside when I realized that I was them not too long ago. And I could easily be them again.

24 Hour a Day Meditation March 25

The more I worked my program and surrendered to the steps and ultimately to God, the more I grew in spirit. It’s like He seeped into my soul and oozed into every nook and cranny of my being. His grace poured over my defects like water over rocks, gently wearing them away.

The first time I noticed this happening was truly awe-inspiring. I was driving in my car and saw a dirty, long-haired homeless man walking with ripped bags of belongings. Something made me slow down1 John 3 18 rather than driving blindly by. In that instant, I saw myself in that man. I saw that without the right actions, without taking the right steps, without my faith; my illnesses – even my stubbornness, could land me exactly where he was. I was amazed at the calm compassion that I felt. Probably because I had never felt that before. It was a genuine God moment. A moment when He took over and showed me what He sees every day.

I’ve had so many other little God shots since then, moments when I stand back and say a little prayer of thanks for being who I am and not who I was. I pause and see someone’s struggle not as an inconvenience, but as an opportunity to help and be of service. And I’ve learned to recognize too that everyone will be ready in their own time.

Now when I encounter people that test my patience, I react differently. Instead of putting someone down for playing the victim, I practice accepting and tolerating them. Sometimes this requires setting boundaries. Sometimes it requires removing them from my life or me from theirs. Most of the time I realize I need a lot more practice.

It’s truly amazing to me how this whole right-size thing works. I don’t understand it. I don’t want to understand it. I just want to keep doing it. Because the more I grow spiritually, the smaller I realize I am. And the smaller the “I” in me is, the more room there is for God to work in and through me. And if this is humility, then I’ll keep practicing because it sure feels good.

 

 

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Masking My Emotions

Mask

No one knew I was depressed. They didn’t know the first time, they didn’t know the second time. And by the third depression, even I didn’t know I was sinking.

The first depression occurred when I was 16. My parents probably thought it was just moody rebellion. I certainly did. I was defying rules, ignoring curfews, blatantly disobeying everyone and anyone in positions of authority. I experimented with drugs, alcohol and sex. I was 16 and life was good. Until it wasn’t.

The darkness came over me gradually brought on by a haze of substances and activities, all designed to twist my emotions and distort reality. Hormones raged and endorphins screamed. The old Jenny, the straight A student, the compliant child, got swallowed up like a fan in the stands of an Aerosmith concert. When I emerged, I was changed. The music had stopped, but the noise was still deafening. Voices that were never in my head before became my constant companions. They said things I didn’t want to hear and sewed new truths in my fertile mind.

Those around me noticed the change, but were equally unsure if it was just teenage angst or something more sinister. Clarity came in the ambulance. You see, they had to remove all of my other masks in order to put the oxygen mask on me the night I tried to end it all.

Later in life, being fully aware that I had a special propensity for depression, I watched for the symptoms. But ego and pride out-muscled humility every time. They beat down each sign like a constant game of whack-a-mole. A feeling, a symptom would pop up and BAM, pride would hit it hard, telling me that I was stronger than that. Another glaring red flag would rise, constant crying or feelings of worthlessness, and again, BAM. My ego would jump in, wield the hammer and tell me that I should just get it together and stuff those feelings down, especially in front of other people.

Whack a moleSo along I went, carrying my hammer and swapping masks as the years continued. Every time another emotion would appear, I would smash it with one hand while gracefully sliding on my mask of the moment with the other. In crowds I was outgoing, friendly and bubbly. When that was too much effort I would wear the “tired” mask. “Oh no,” I would say to concerned friends, “I’m just really tired.” Inside, the tears would be rising up ready to burst through my damned dam of pride.

Eventually, I succumbed to the realization that my depression was as much a part of me as my poor vision. I would never be rid of it and instead tried valiantly to fix it. Acceptance wasn’t part of my vocabulary yet. So a ruthless cycle of psychological experimentation, medication and intoxication ensued. All the while, I fine tuned my masks. I had more masks than any self-respecting 30-year old girl had shoes. But then again, I wasn’t a self-respecting 30-year old. I was the master of disguise.

My masks were pieces of art. They were so well crafted that nobody could even tell when I was wearing them. In fact, as time went on and seasons dragged me from summer bliss to fall anxiety to winter depression, those closest to me thought I had overcome my moods. For years I put on Oscar worthy performances to everyone I came in contact with, even that girl in the mirror.

When I found the solution to my problems – a geographical change – I packed up my masks and patted myself on the back for a job well done. “Good for me,” I thought. “I had finally solved the problem. No more self-loathing, no more endless weeks of crying, no more swimming through cement just trying to get from day to day. Florida would change all that. It would be blue skies from here on out. And it was. Until it wasn’t.

Everyone in recovery has heard the saying, “Wherever you go, there you are.” Well, not only did I bring myself with me to sunny Florida. I also brought all of my masks. When the time came to wear them again, as it always does, I dusted them off and found that even though it had been a while since I had donned them, they still fit perfectly. So well, in fact, that I wore them all the time. When my blue skies turned dark, I protected myself with my masks. When the storm got worse, I secured them more tightly to prevent any wind or rain from getting through. By the time the depression was evident to everyone else, I was like Jim Carrey. I knew I was wearing my mask, but was unable and unwilling to take it off. It had become my new identity. Jen was gone and this facade, this alter-ego had taken up permanent residence in my life.

They tell me I was sad. They tell me I was moody. They tell me I began to change months before my psychotic episode forced me to open my eyes and see through my mask of delusion. I had been sinking for so long that I thought I had always lived in the depths of hell. When it got so bad that it started to scare me, I attacked my situation with the usual suspects – pride, ego, denial, blame, self-pity and lots and lots of self-medication. All the while, I wore my mask like a champ. And all the while, I was screaming, crying and begging for someone to help me from this horror, this nightmare, from myself. And yet, no matter how loudly I pleaded on the inside, no one outside of me heard.

We all have masks. Some are simple, others ornate and quite elaborate. No matter what the mask looks like, they are all designed to do the same thing – to mask our true emotions. The insanity of it all is that we want more than anything in the world for someone to see inside of us, to see our pain, to reach in and heal our hurts. And yet, we stuff, hide and mask those wounds at every turn. We wonder how no one can see how much pain we are in while we graciously accept compliments on our beautiful masks. We wander around feeling empty, lost and scared, while receiving awards for our bravery and gold stars for our strength.

Masks are our downfall. Even the finest masks are forged from the hardest pride and staunchest ego. They are deceptive to those around us and if worn long enough, even deceptive to us. If we know this, we can justify our masks by saying we don’t want those closest to worry about us. But don’t we really want their love and support? Don’t we really want them to hold us and comfort us? So why, why do we push them away instead of giving them the opportunity to wipe our tears away?

Revelation 21 13I don’t have the answers. All I know is that my masks are like false idols. I put them in front of me, relied on them and was lost without them. God has since replaced my masks. Today, I put Him in front of me, rely on Him and am lost without Him. He is my support, my comfort and the one who will wipe my tears away, if I let Him. And He has always been able to hear my pleas through my pride and see my pain through my ego. The problem was, He couldn’t help me until I was ready to help myself. And that day came when I finally took off my mask.

Are you wearing a mask? Are you scared to take it off? Are you frightened of who could be underneath that facade? Don’t be afraid of who you might reveal to the world. Don’t be anxious about other people’s reactions to the little child hiding behind the mask. Instead, take one hand and reach out to God. He will strengthen your other hand so together you can take off your mask. And if you only have one hand? Put it in His and He will take your mask off for you.

God tells us all we have to do is reach for him… and he will be there.

Isaiah 40 31

 

Psalm 34:17-18 ESV 

When the righteous cry for help, the Lord hears and delivers them out of all their troubles. The Lord is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit.

Psalm 30:11 ESV 

You have turned for me my mourning into dancing; you have loosed my sackcloth and clothed me with gladness,

Matthew 11:28-30 ESV

Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”

John 16:33 ESV 

I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.”

Psalm 94:18-19 ESV 

When I thought, “My foot slips,” your steadfast love, O Lord, held me up. When the cares of my heart are many, your consolations cheer my soul.

Psalm 42:3-5 ESV 

My tears have been my food day and night, while they say to me all the day long, “Where is your God?” These things I remember, as I pour out my soul: how I would go with the throng and lead them in procession to the house of God with glad shouts and songs of praise, a multitude keeping festival. Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me? Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my salvation

1 Peter 1:13-16 ESV 

Therefore, preparing your minds for action, and being sober-minded, set your hope fully on the grace that will be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ. As obedient children, do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance, but as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, since it is written, “You shall be holy, for I am holy.”

Psalm 3:3 ESV 

But you, O Lord, are a shield about me, my glory, and the lifter of my head.

Psalm 40:2 ESV 

He drew me up from the pit of destruction, out of the miry bog, and set my feet upon a rock, making my steps secure.

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Bar Stool Dreams – Bar Stool = The Promises

I have a vision board in my office. It is filled with words and images of things that I want to accomplish or acquire. I made the board with a bunch of other women at a vision board party. We pored over stacks of magazines while we munched on sweets. Each of us picked and snipped sayings that held certain significance to us as we chatted about the meaning behind the words. We called out images we were in search of. “I need a campfire” I said, knowing that I really wanted to go camping with my family.

I used to camp a lot, in my previous life, my first marriage. Every memory I have of camping, from childhood to motherhood, is good. They are nestled in smoky smells and drizzled with the aroma of burgers on the grill and bug spray. When I close my eyes and think about those lazy summer days I can hear the kids laughing and the pool water splashing. The warm summer breeze wraps itself around me as I nap in the tent camper just feet above the leaf filled earth.

Camping, a cabin in the mountains, road trips, being on the water more… these are just some of the things that wound up on my vision board. I also added being happy and fearless, strong and fit, and of course financially stable; states of mind and body that have somehow always managed to elude me. I have had some of these wonderful moments in the palm of my hand a time or two. But circumstances, sickness and my own bad habits always caused most of them to slip through my fingers before I could feel the full weight of their lasting joyous impression.

One thing that isn’t on my vision board is a bar stool. Just like camping, I have a history with bar stools. At first, they were actual bar stools at fancy restaurants, Irish pubs and hometown bars. The ambiance surrounding them was festive and flashy. Sounds of glasses clinking and jovial laughter swirled Barstool dreamsaround these bar stools, completing the happy atmosphere. But over time, my bar stools turned on me. They were no longer reserved for special occasions or holiday parties. My karaoke bar stool was swapped out for a depressing laundry room, the only warm place to drink in my New England home. Days beginning with a celebratory cocktail after lunch soon ended with blackouts and remorse. This is why none of my past dreams, none of my past aspirations were ever sustained. Even if they managed to show up, I would eradicate them swiftly with my arsenal of self-medication and self-pity.

Bar stool dreams… What I realize today is that the bar stool is what stole my dreams. The same thing that inflated my ego and bolstered my self-confidence on many a night was responsible for robbing me of those same qualities in the light of day. When the sun would rise on my dreams, I would stare into the harsh morning light, searching for that motivation, that drive and determination I had the night before. But all that would be left was an overwhelming sense of fear and failure.

Through recovery, I’ve discovered that if I take the bar stool out of my bar stool dreams I am left with The Promises. I am amazed at the freedom I have found. Freedom from being shackled to an addiction and all the guilt and The Promisesregret that brings with it. Freedom to dream realistically and have the courage, faith and support to follow those dreams. Freedom to be who I am, not who I thought every one else wanted me to be.

I have found that much of my self-pity came from feeling useless. I felt useless because I talked a big talk but had no walk to show for it. I knew I had been blessed with gifts, that God had given me abilities and talents. But I had squandered them. I bragged about all I would do, and then made excuses for why I hadn’t. I justified and rationalized all of my self-defeating behaviors. My endless procrastination was really preparation. And the new best thing that came my way every few months really was the new best thing. Really. In the end, the result was the same. I would find myself back at square one, wondering how it had happened again.

Uselessness and self-pity are not part of my daily diet any longer. Through the steps, recovery and faith in God, I have lost interest in selfish things. I no longer strive for the material. Although having a little extra money or some nice things would be great. But I don’t need them. I don’t need to impress anyone or make up for lost time. I know that I’m exactly where I should be, doing exactly what I should be doing. And I’m not doing it for me. I’m doing it for God. I’m doing it to help others. I’m doing it because I truly believe that is what God wants me to do. And that is as far from useless as I can get.

The culmination of these changes is that my outlook on life has truly shifted. I no longer worry about the little things. I know my God will provide. I know that the people I used to be afraid of are the ones who I now make myself available to. The people I used to judge now have my empathy. Situations that used to baffle me are easier to figure out. The ones that really puzzle me can wait. I know that I can step back, take a breath and pray for direction. I don’t need to decide now.

Phil 1 6

All of these things have come to me as a result of recovery. Many dreams still linger in my heart and on my vision board. But without the bar stool, they are within my grasp. I can take the steps to accomplish them when I’m not sitting down. I can make these magazine clippings come to life today. No longer will my dreams and aspirations be whitewashed with substances and sickness. No longer will my determination and drive be riddled with self-doubt and fear. Today I will walk toward my dreams, one foot in front of the other, one day at a time. I will walk tall and hold my head high. I will be patient and trust God. Because I know that some of The Promises are already coming true for me. It is just a matter of time before the rest materialize. Because “they will always materialize if we work for them.”

Work, work, work..

 

 

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Don’t Be a Grinch – Serve With Love

Serve with Love Mark 10 45My daughter’s wisdom astounds me. I was driving her to school the other day and we began talking about this new game her brother helped her download on the computer. It was one of those rare moments that my children were not only getting along, but actually interacting in a kind and loving way. I know my kids love each other. But they don’t always like each other.

While her big brother was downloading the game, he began telling her about other games he had on his account and how he would let her play those, too. I busied myself in the kitchen trying not to jump for joy at the rare gift that was being unwrapped before me. I wanted to scream from the hilltops “How sweet! You are an awesome big brother!” But I didn’t. Instead, I soaked in the tenderness he was displaying to his little sister and eavesdropped as she reveled in the attention he was giving her.

On the way to school, I mentioned that her brother was very generous and had a big heart. “Yeah,” she said, “He has a big heart. But it shrinks a little when he’s mean.” Images of the Grinch came to mind. The big, green fuzzy body and evil grin floated in my head. I saw his heart, hard and cold. Then I replayed the scene in which his heart “grew three times” because he gave and received love and kindness from others.

I’m a visual person and the picture in my head made me think about how my own heart can do a reverse Grinch quite often. I love my children, my husband, my friends – no doubt about it. But sometimes, when I’m asked to do something I don’t want to do, when I’m inconvenienced, I feel a slight burning inside me. There’s a flutter of annoyance, a flicker of anger. This is when my heart hardens and crusts over just a little. Instead of being soft, pliable and resilient, in those moments the edges of my heart begin to atrophy and become brittle. I can actually feel it happening. The lining of my pink, healthy heart burns to black and charred ashes of intolerance take its place.

Listening to my daughter put it so plainly made me so aware of what happens when I’m mean. As a Christian, God commands me to be unselfish and kind to others. Not just when I want something. Not just when I want to feel good about myself. But always. And especially when it is not convenient. These are the moments that test my Christian walk. These are the soft whispers of submissiveness that my God longs to hear. These are the almost imperceptible moments that determine my character. Because it is not how I act in front of others, scenes on display for the world to witness that matter. No. It is how I act inside myself, in my heart, my mind and my soul that matters most to my maker.

Phil 2 3There will always be moments when I cringe inside when asked to do something. My heart will occasionally still shrink. And there will be many times I stumble and fall in front of others. But that’s okay. Because I’m a work in progress. And every time I falter, God is right there with His outstretched hand, ready to pick me up and set me on my way again. All I have to do is reach out and take it.

 

 

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Practice, not Master, These Principles in All Our Affairs

12th StepI have recently been thinking about Step 12: Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these steps, we tried to carry this message to (alcoholics, addicts, others), and to practice these principles in all our affairs.

It reminds me of when my son was in the marching band. Over 200 kids would show up in the heat of summer knowing not a lick of music slated for their upcoming season. They would spend weeks before school started, learning the music, learning the choreography, getting to know their individual parts and how those impacted the production as a whole. They got to know their abilities, their fellow band members, and every nuance of each song. Despite the fact that they worked their butts off, none of these kids ever expected to get out there on the first day and put on a perfect, flawless performance. I also bet none of them ever beat themselves up about it.

The band members remind me of each person in recovery. We all show up with a different expectation, a different role and a different level of experience. Some of us have been to band camp before, might even know a few people. Some of us haven’t and we are scared and nervous. We march around, taking direction, trying to stay in step with the beat of the group as a whole, eventually finding a rhythm that suits us. We work hard at learning the music, taking notes and spending hours reading the pages. We listen to the instruction of our section leaders and spend night after night rehearsing our parts on our own.

During this process we are both excited and apprehensive. We aren’t sure if we can cut it, keep up with the rest of the band. Self-doubt causes some of us to hold back and not really explore our musical abilities. We can build walls that prevent us from really bonding with our band mates. When we do, we miss out on the thrill of camaradarie that we see in our fellows. We realize, after watching and wanting, that we must step out of our comfort zone and reach out to them in order to enjoy the company, the coffee after practice and the laughs, the never ending laughs rising above the field.

As we work through each and every step, we finally arrive at the last step. We are amazed when we realize that we have made it to the big show. It’s halftime and the football team is leaving the field, the lights are beaming and the crowd is cheering. This is it… we are ready to show the world what we, we as a group, have accomplished. We lift our instruments and with one wave of a gloved hand, we carry the message we have been sleeping, eating, breathing, sweating and crying for months. Our tune floats out of us like a beautiful poem, words hidden in a life-changing melody. Our song reaches our family members cheering us on, our friends, the hopeful and doubtful fans in the stands. It winds its way up through the crowd, disappearing into the bleachers, caught only by those who are willing to hear it, the rest evaporating into the cool night air.

When it is all over, when we have played our hearts out, listened to the applause and received the accolades, we pack up our instruments and music, careful to keep them at the ready. We retire for the night satisfied. And in the morning, we practice again.

Recovery is practice. I see myself as a band member on that field. Sometimes it’s rainy and cold, other times electric, warm and thrilling. Every day I must practice. I must take my music, my notes and my instrument out and listen to the direction of my fellows and leaders. I must pay attention and make changes as I take my steps. I work hard. Sometimes I am out of step, sometimes I can’t hit the right notes. But still I practice.

I don’t practice because I want to. I don’t practice because I like to. I practice because there is no other alternative and because that’s what Step 12 tells me to do. “Practice these principles in all our affairs.” I’m so grateful it doesn’t say “Perfect these principles” or “Master these principles.” I’m so glad I’ve grown enough to have a younger, less burdened mind that doesn’t expect me to put on a flawless performance every day. I am immeasurably grateful that the other, wiser, more senior band members took time to tell me that I didn’t have to get it all right on the first day. I’m glad they were patient and kind to me and gave me the confidence I needed when I didn’t have it. I’m glad they showed me, and told me, how they got through the grueling practices without giving up.

Helping anotherNow it is my turn. Not because I feel I know it all…. oh no. Not because I can’t wait to share my experience with others. But as my sponsor told me, I should show others the way because I know how. She also told me that I don’t have to, but rather, I get to.

Today I try to live in Step 12. I try to keep my mind focused on diligent practice. I strive to always be improving, knowing that I may never perfect my tune. But also knowing that the tune I play today might be exactly what someone needs to hear.

 

 

 

 

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Accountability, Recovery and My FitBit

Fit Bit

For Valentine’s Day this year, my husband and I decided to let each other pick out our own gifts. We went shopping together and paid for each other’s new purchases. His was a new pair of Dr. Scholl’s gel inserts. Mine was a FitBit. Not too romantic, I know. But we got what we wanted and that’s what matters.

I’ve been using my FitBit for a few days now and have to say, I’m really impressed. Not with the technology, although it’s quite amazing. But I’m impressed with my motivation to walk more and eat less. The FitBit tells me how many steps I’ve taken, how many calories I’ve burned and provides a mobile or online dashboard that lets me log my food intake. This way, I can see the number of calories coming in and going out.

My weight has always been an issue for me. When I was in my 20’s and 30’s, I never thought I was thin enough or fit enough. Today, that undesirable body is the one I strive to get back. I was so blinded by illness and addiction and the disease of “less than” that I never realized what an amazingly healthy and beautiful body I had. Youth is definitely wasted on the young.

Junk Food

I have tried countless diet and exercise programs, only to give up after not getting the instant gratification I needed to keep me motivated. But with this FitBit, I can see my progress in real time. I can see how much I’ve moved and how much I haven’t. I am acutely aware of what I’m eating and burning off. My nutritional conscience (which I didn’t even know I had) has started kicking in and saying, “No Jen, you worked too hard to cave in to that craving.” It tells me to park farther away, stand more than sit and pick better foods. In essence, it is making me accountable to myself.

Accountability is a key component of my recovery. I couldn’t get better on my own. I know because I had tried. I couldn’t stop drinking, stop lying, stop crying or stop living in denial. I needed to hold myself out to others and say, “Here I am, here is what I struggle with.” Eventually, I was able to say, “I’m willing to do this or that to get better, and you can call me on it if I don’t.” This didn’t happen all at once, oh no. If I had to say those things the first day I walked into recovery, I never would have come back.

My process started with simple sharing to a group of complete strangers. Every week, the women in my group were required to make three phone calls to each other. This was really hard for me. I didn’t know these people and I was still stuck in the “better than – worse than” mode of judgement. But that painfully simple act was the beginning of my accountability. The following week in class, we had to report the number of phone calls we made to the group. This was the beginning of my honesty.

Over time, these women, and men and women throughout various fellowships, have become my accountability partners. I have discovered that when I share my struggles with a group who have similar trials, not only am I welcomed and understood, I’m supported. Better still, I’m offered suggestions that I hadn’t thought of, methods of getting better, stronger, healthier.

AccountabilityIt never would have occurred to me that I could start my day over if I screwed it up. That was awesome. I never knew that I had the option to dismiss my first thought and wait for a rational one to show up. Wow. These are the exercises that were taught to me by others in early recovery. They helped me get stronger so that I could continue on. In time, I felt my emotional sobriety strengthen. I could sense the definition in the muscles of my mind. Before long, I was able to run through an entire day without feeling like a complete failure.

I also became accountable to myself and a sponsor. She would ask if I had been taking my spiritual medicine and doing all the exercises she suggested. My first thought was to embellish or lie. But because I had been taught proper form, and how to dismiss the first thought, I waited until I felt the courage to be honest and then told her the truth. I also found that after getting to know and trust her, and getting to know and trust myself, that I felt pretty crappy when I wasn’t honest with either one of us. I know now that that was my moral conscience in its infancy.

2 Timothy 1 7Today I try to be accountable. I’m accountable to my group, my fellows, my forever family, my immediate family, my sponsor, my friends, myself and God. It may seem like a lot of accountability… but this girl needs it. If I don’t put it out there, I will keep it hidden. I will keep my fears, my lies, my struggles and my diseases buried inside where they will eat away at me. They will wither my heart, brittle my soul and weaken my spirit. And my God did not make me to be weak.

How do you stay accountable? Share your tips for staying real, honest and real honest in the comments and help others find their path to accountability and recovery. Thanks!

 

 

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Recovery Taught Me What Therapy Couldn’t

Therapist couchNearly everyone I’ve met in recovery has some experience with a psychiatrist, psychologist, therapist, counselor or mental health professional. Coincidence? I think not. I lump myself into that group because over the span of my 40 something years, I’ve had more visits to mental health specialists than to the dentist.

You would think after seeing countless doctors and having undergone every mental, emotional and physical test know to man, that I would have learned exactly what my ailments were. But I didn’t. I listened diligently over the years as medical professionals asked questions and dissected events in my life trying to rationalize and label my behaviors. I followed their instructions to read, exercise, eat right and take my medicine. I tried individual therapy, group therapy, intensive therapy and even light therapy. Some of those methods worked a little. But none of them healed me.

It wasn’t until I came into recovery, into a room full of strangers, that I was able to begin the process of truly healing my mind, body and soul. Looking back over decades of expensive 50 minute sessions, I know today that the doctors and counselors who sat across from me are not to blame. They never had a chance. How could they help me when I was never truly honest with them?

Not willingI knew that I should stop drinking when my psychiatrist told me my red blood cells were enlarged. But I wasn’t willing. I knew I should probably exercise more and take my vitamins, but I didn’t do either. I knew that if I continued to lie to all of the well meaning people I was laying out good money to see, I might never get better. But I lied anyway.

Honesty has always been a gray area for me. My daughter told me that I have a habit of exaggerating things when I recall certain events to other people. Even though I’m fully aware I’m doing it, I have a hard time not embellishing. Who is it hurting anyhow, I think? The stories are more colorful and entertaining when I add a few juicy details. Telling a few tales about how bad that driver was or how many times I worked out aren’t big deals. But for me, one is never enough. A little white lie can spin out of control and become a web of fables that even I can’t escape from.

When I sit in a room full of other people and just listen, really listen to the stories, the fear, the guilt and the miracles that recovery has brought, I can connect dots in my past. I can see patterns of behavior clearly and understand certain reactions. All without having to say a word out loud. I don’t have to spill my guts, remove my mask of superiority or come out from behind my fear of judgement. But the funny thing is, in these rooms, in these safe places, with these strangers, I do all of those things.

There is truly something magical about recovery. I have learned so many things that I never learned in therapy. Not because my shrinks weren’t capable of teaching them. But because I wasn’t willing to learn. My recovery wasn’t shoved down my throat. I chose it. I wanted it. I had reached my bottom. I had, as they say, received the gift of desperation. And that made me willing.

Some of the things I have learned in recovery are:

Honesty – That it only works if I am honest. I can’t Luke 16 10get better if I hide behind lies and half truths. I must come clean to myself, those who are trying to help, and to God. I must be completely and totally honest about everything in my life in order to get the freedom I so desperately want.

Patience – It takes time to change. I spent my whole life perfecting the hot mess I was when I found recovery. It’s unrealistic to expect those finely honed habits to be broken overnight. It’s okay if I only change a little at a time. Because every change in the right direction is a victory.

Pausing – What?! I never knew I could pause before acting. I thought reacting was a good thing! Okay, so it sometimes got me in trouble, but really, pausing!? My pause button didn’t exist when I entered recovery. It’s still a little faulty, but I’m learning how to use it more and more each day.

It’s About Me – That was a big one. I blamed everyone else around me for my problems. I wondered why even though I was busting my butt trying to fix everyone else, I still wasn’t getting better. Recovery taught me that it is about me, my level of acceptance, my serenity, my ability to take action, my reaction, my peace.

Choice – I have a choice in everything. That one blew my mind. I had been really hurt by other people and didn’t understand how I had any choice in that. I learned from strangers, from other brave souls bearing their wounds, that I had a choice to hang on to those hurts, or let go. In fact, I had choices in every area of my life. Once I realized the power of choice, like choosing to let God into my life, then I realized I had the power to change.

Fear – I was so afraid that I would be judged, looked down on or dismissed by medical professionals. I was terrified that they would think I was a pathetic loser or a hopeless case if they knew the extent of what really went on in my head. Perhaps it is the sterile setting or illusion of superiority that hit me when I would walk into a psychiatrist’s office. Regardless, it made me afraid. Afraid to be who I was, afraid I wouldn’t be who they wanted me to be, and afraid there wasn’t a real me behind all of these defects.

Unconditional Acceptance – There is such a sense of abnormal normalcy in recovery that it oozes a feeling of safety. When I first arrived, it was as if everyone was saying to me, “It’s okay. We know where you’ve been, what you’ve done and what you’ve thought. We know and we don’t care. We’re going to show you how to get better.”

I still see my psychiatrist. It’s necessary for me. She evaluates my blood tests, checks in on my mental health and reviews my medications. But our relationship is very different.today than it was years ago. Today she is nicer, more accepting and more supportive of my path than she was in the beginning. And that’s funny, because she hasn’t changed at all since the day I met her.

I don’t know how any of it works. I just know that recovery has worked for me. It has shown me things that so many others couldn’t. It has given me a foundation of safety to explore my scarier sides. It has shown me that I had to walk a broken path to get where I am today. It has allowed me to look at my past honestly and accept responsibility for my actions.

But most importantly, recovery has taught me to get out of myself and be of service to others. Because the only way I can continue to get better is to carry the message to other hurting people. And the fact that I can be of help to anyone is by far one of the greatest miracles of recovery for me.

 

 

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7 Sneaky Symptoms of Depression

DepressioonThe term “depression” gets tossed around quite casually in today’s world. But clinical depression, also called major depressive disorder or major depression, is a mental illness caused by a chemical imbalance. We’ve all felt down or sad at one time or another and admittedly, it’s no fun. Sometimes a depressive episode starts with those normal feelings of being down or sad. But major depression hangs on and persists. People who have never had depression have a hard time knowing if they’ve crossed the line from being down to being clinically depressed. What makes it even more challenging is that those around the depressed person don’t know what’s happening either. They tell their loved one to “snap out of it” or “cheer up,” which is nearly impossible to do when you’re stuck in the deep, dark pit of depression.

I have struggled with depression and the depressive side of bipolar for most of my life. And still, I can miss the subtle signs of depression when they rear their ugly heads. I have been to countless therapists and psychiatrists and have researched everything I can get my greedy hands on to better understand my illness and to arm myself and those around me with ammunition to combat this deadly disease.

Because that is exactly what depression is: deadly.

Make no bones about it, depression can take you out. I can go from normal to certifiably insane in 60 seconds. Most of the time, I don’t even see it coming. That’s why I try to share the symptoms, even those that provide me a big pay-off, with my family and friends. They are my lifeline. When I’m drowning and don’t even realize it, it will be those around me that Hope for Depressionsee my arms flailing and hear the splashing. It will be those closest to me that will look up and down the beach and  say, “Where did Jen go?” And most often, it will be up to them to reach into their ammo bags, grab a strong rope of knowledge and toss a buoy out to me.

There are many symptoms of depression and they vary from person to person. Some of the more common symptoms include:

  • fatigue
  • loss of appetite
  • loss of interest in things
  • crying
  • physical pain
  • anxiety
  • poor concentration
  • isolation
  • being unusually quiet
  • hopelessness
  • suicidal thoughts

But depression is a sneaky adversary. It takes root subtly and if untamed, will grow swiftly and choke out all of my rational senses. So I want to share with you 7 of the sneakier symptoms of depression.

  1. Anger – I usually like my family and everyone around me. But when I am depressed, everything they do irritates me. The sound of their feet on the floor, the way they look, their voices. In a nutshell, they can’t do anything right. I know that it is not them, it’s me. When I start to feel this way, completely and utterly irritated by everything everyone does, it’s a clear sign of depression.
  2. Increased appetite – I never lose weight when I get depressed. Instead, I crave sugary foods and overeat. Breads, sweets, chocolate, caffeine, fatty foods and anything else bad winds up in my mouth. Binge eating is another common symptom of my depression, whether I’m watching Netflix or not.
  3. Sleeplessness – Feelings of fatigue are common with depression. But many people struggle with restless nights and insomnia. I find myself waking up in the middle of the night and having very fitful sleep when my depression is on the horizon. Watch out for this one.
  4. Forgetfulness – When I’m on the slide down, I cannot remember anything. This doesn’t just apply to little things, like a scheduled meeting or a task that I need to do. My memory completely blanks out and whole chunks of time disappear. If someone tells me about a conversation I had with them and I don’t have any recollection, it’s time for me to do a symptom check.
  5. Self-medication – Because I’m in recovery, I don’t abuse chemicals anymore. But self-medicating comes in many forms. I can medicate with food, television, shopping, work, allergy medication or anything at all that will help me escape the reality of my feelings. For people who are not in recovery, over indulgence and abuse of alcohol or drugs could be an indicator of depression.
  6. Over-compensating – Even though I don’t realize it, I often take more on before I fall into a depression. I think that perhaps I try to fill my unconscious feelings of inadequacy by achieving or accomplishing more. If I notice a big spike in my  volunteer time, personal or recreational activities, commitment to projects or work obligations, I’m probably spinning too many plates, and inevitably they will all come crashing down.Fan-Girl
  7. Hypo-manic mood swings – Mood swings are common with depression. But my bipolar has shown me that hypo-manic moods are almost always going to end in a depressive episode. If I am over-energized, over-compensating or just plain super-charged, I might be climbing the ladder to the top of the slide. Signs of my hypo-mania include talking faster, working faster, abundance of thoughts – so many that I can’t keep up with them. I also find I’m highly creative and motivated in this state. There’s a huge pay-off for me when I’m hypo-manic. But it always costs me my sanity and serenity. And that’s a price I’m just not willing to pay anymore.

All of the subtle symptoms I’ve listed above always precede my slides into hell. Because I am aware of them today, I recognize they are warning signs and know what to do when they start showing themselves.

Here are 5 steps I take to prevent them from escalating into a full-blown depressive episode:

  1. Slow-down – I almost always take on more than I can handle. The problem is, I think I can handle a lot. The reality is, I have limitations. This realization was a hard pill to swallow, but necessary medicine for my recovery. Once I was able to accept those limitations, I could let go of the need to be super-Jen and be okay with doing less. This allowed me to release the guilt of failure and the stress of over-commitment.
  2. Exercise – Yep, I hate it, but it is absolutely necessary for me to stay mentally healthy. Even a 20 minute walk in the fresh air is good enough. It clears my head, gives me exposure to sunlight and God’s beauty, and gets my feel-good brain chemicals firing again.
  3. Avoid the sugar, caffeine and addictive substances – I avoid all drugs and alcohol and try my best to limit my caffeine and sugar intake, especially when I’m feeling off-balance. Adding more fresh fruits and vegetables and eating on a regular schedule helps regulate my blood sugar levels and minimizes mood swings.
  4. Take my meds – Some people with major depression benefit greatly from medication. For me, the right prescription includes medication, exercise, eating right and following my 12 Step program of recovery.
  5. Turn it over to God – This one is easier said than done. I know from experience that my depression will eventually pass. But when I’m in it, when I’m stuck in the dark hole, clawing at the sides trying in vain to climb up to the pinhole of light at the top, it feels like there is no hope. It is then, especially then, that I must turn it over to God and trust that He has me there for a reason. And more importantly, that He is in that dark hole with me. When I do that, if I can do that, I almost always feel a sense of relief and am rewarded with a glimmer of hope. And in that dank, desperate place, that’s usually enough to keep me going a little while longer.

1 Peter 5 7,9

All of the symptoms above are based on my experiences only. I am not a medical doctor, psychiatrist or psychologist. I’m just another bozo on the bus who has also rides the Bipolar Express.

If you or someone you love is experiencing any of the above symptoms,

YOU ARE NOT ALONE. There is hope.

And please, do not take depression lightly. It is a serious disease. It can kill you. But it doesn’t have to. Talk about it.

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline

1 (800) 273-8255

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Chatting with God

Dear God
I’m not really feeling on my game today. I’m kind of moody, overtired and very unmotivated. I figured since I work so hard every other day that I deserve to take a day off today. Besides, you have millions of other people working for you that can pick up my slack. How would you feel about me calling in sick today?
– Jen.

Dear Jen,
That’s funny. I was just thinking that since I work so hard every day that I deserve to take a day off today, too. Besides, there are other people that can take over and pick up the slack for me. How would you feel about ME calling in sick today?
– God

Dear God,
On second thought, I don’t think it’s a good idea for either one of us to call in sick. Even though I’ve run the show without you before, things go a lot smoother with you in charge. Maybe we could both show up and tough it out together. What do you think?
– Jen

Dear Jen,
I like your attitude. As long as you’re willing to do your part, I promise to show up and do mine. Now, let’s get to work.
– God

 

Exodus 23 25 Square

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I had to confess the one thing that I hoped I would never have to confess again

I had to confess the one thing that I hoped I would never have to confess again. I fought it though. I think I fought it longer than I care to admit. Sure, the long naps, intermittent fitfully sleepless nights and incredible sugar orgies should have been a sign, but denial flows thick in my veins.

I had to confess that my depression might be coming back. I actually said it out loud to my sponsor. After I sipped on my coffee for forty-five minutes and asked her about her life with feigned interest. I looked attentively at things she showed me on her smart phone while I hoped the minutes would tick by and I wouldn’t have to spill my guts. But she knew. I know she knew. She probably knew months ago. She’s one of me. She has spent years on the bipolar express and tried to outsmart the pendulum as it swings violently from superhero to angel of death.

The words came out in a round about way. “I think I’m a little distracted, just a little off the beam.” That darned beam. I didn’t know what people were talking about when I first came into recovery. I looked around the musty room and saw no evidence of a beam. Eventually I got it. And then I even got on it.

My good, grounded, sane sponsor reassured me not to jump to conclusions as she pulled me back from my bleak future. “Just focus on right now.” I mentally erased all thoughts of excruciating middle school fights with my daughter who hadn’t entered sixth grade yet, all visions of Christmas stress and tacky Halloween costumes and instead tried to focus on the July heat and how the sweat droplets it created on my cheeks perfectly masked the tears I couldn’t contain.

I hate depression. I like recovery – except when I’m depressed. Because that is when I have to do the things I don’t want to do. I know I have to share about my feelings – makes me kind of want to vomit. I know I have to tell my husband that even though I think he can’t tell that my sarcasm and irritability are out of control, that I actually love him despite my cleft tongue; I have to tell him what he already suspects – the despised depression is trying to take over his wife again.

But this time I won’t let it. Ahhhh… if only it were that easy. I don’t want to let it. But I don’t want to do what I have to do to keep it from swallowing me up. That’s the nature of the illness. So I guess for now, I’ll just try to stay focused on staying in the moment. The moment of just off the beam. I’ll do my best to reach up and keep one finger on the beam – or is it in the beam – like today’s 24 Hour a Day reading referred to? Either way, I’ll try to stay in close contact with the beam until I can get back on it comfortably.

Because I will. In the meantime – I’ll remember the rule of 62 and try to read some funny stuff. ‪#‎AnneLamott‬ is keeping me company today.

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