Archive | July 2012

My (copycat) experiment with no artificial light and sleep and much more.

A few weeks ago I was listening to the radio and John Tesch told me about an experiment a man had done to see if he got better sleep with no artificial light after sundown.  Yes, that means no lights, no TV, no computer, and so on.  I am a huge fan of simplicity, and a crummy sleeper from way back, so this idea appealed to me on many levels.  Lest you think that I do whatever I half-hear John Tesch tell me to do to improve my life, I did not immediately pull out the candles.  No, I needed to research this idea first, and it was then that I came upon the fine blog of J.D Moyer.  Mr. Moyer and his family have twice gone without artificial light after sundown, once in the month of June, and once in the month of February.  He has a young family, and they cosleep as I did with all of my kids, so his desire was for more and better sleep for himself and his family, and it worked.  It is an excellent blog post that includes a link to a lengthy, but worthwhile, New York Times article.

It was after reading his blog detailing his family’s experiment, and the positive results, that I dragged out my candle collection.  I commenced that night, turning off all lights and the computer at sundown.  I told a few friends what I was doing, and they seemed scared for me by the mere thought of me being in nothing but candlelight for an evening.  I assured them that “real light” was just a switch away.  Yes, I was looking for better sleep, but my reasons for undertaking this ongoing experiment went a lot deeper.  You might say that the reasons went clear down into my very soul and I felt as if I was strongly being called to return, or move forward, into a higher level of simplicity, and away from the many distractions of today’s world.  I was being called closer to God.

There were also practical reasons for my decision to start this experiment.  If you search through my blog you will find that my son and I live in a little cottage in the woods.  I love the solitude and nature all around me.  However, the cottage gets very little natural light inside, so my electric bill has been obscene no matter how careful we are.  Since I heat the cottage entirely with wood in the winter, and the stove is gas, the power bill is all lights and appliances.  At the same time, I use my cell phone as my sole source of internet, and I had gone over on my data plan two months in a row, which hurt a lot.  I realized that my dedication to my Facebook owners page was the culprit, or more to the point, my ego, and my desire to see the page grow.  The Facebook page was also pulling me away from real pages, in actual books, like the Bible.  I needed an excuse to step away and this was it.

At the same time, I was suddenly dealing with chronic pain coming from what I found out to be extensive arthritis in my spine.  The pain was so obnoxious that a prescription strength anti-inflammatory medication was needed, as well as physical therapy.  My physical therapist tells me I have excellent flexibility, which comes as no surprise, but my core muscles are weak.  Blame it on having carried seven children.  That is what I do. 😉  I am a nurse, so I know that being chronically tired because of poor sleep makes any pain feel magnified, so I wanted to see if I got better sleep without artificial lights, and if I would have less pain as a result of getting more sleep.  It seemed that weakness of my core, both physical, and spiritual, were my biggest problems, and something as simple as turning out the lights at sundown might be the cure.

The first night, and every night since, has been heaven.  At sundown, the candles are lit, the computer goes off, and I read the Bible for a while.  I may sit up to do some reading, or I may dance to music by candlelight.  Some nights I do not feel like dragging the candles upstairs and downstairs repeatedly, so I just get into bed to read.  I am usually yawning and ready for “candles out” within 30 minutes to an hour.  I do sleep better and those periods of quiet wakefulness that Mr. Moyer mentions are truly lovely.  Some mornings I am up by 5 a.m., but I feel well rested, and I enjoy an hour of quiet, and a cup of coffee, before my son wakes up.  To my literal relief, with each passing day, I have less back pain.  In fact, it has been almost non-existent the last day or two, and because we vacationed last week, I was less than faithful to my core strengthening exercises. My middle of the night cravings for a couple of homemade cookies seems to have vanished, as well.

The most important aspect of the experiment has been my realization of just how thirsty I was spiritually, though.  I drink up the Bible when I read it each night and I discover more than I ever have.  I am also reading several devotional masters from throughout the centuries and so many speak of simplicity in a way that resonates with me more deeply than ever.  Mr. Moyer spoke of missing TV.  We don’t have cable TV–only DVDs and I rarely watch one just for me.  I feel like I am missing nothing and gaining everything.  I have gained freedom from something that I was allowing to enslave me–the computer.

I notice much more.  Did you know that it is getting darker earlier each night now?  “Of course it is,” you are thinking, but have you really noticed?  I listen to the other rhythms of my body more instinctively now, too.  If I am hungry and want dinner at 4:30 p.m., that is when I have dinner.  Everything simply feels better by candlelight and if I go to sleep at 9:30 p.m., so what?  Gone is the fear that if I go to bed early I will be up far too early.  It just does not matter anymore.  My son loves it, too.  He is an early to bed sort of guy, so it suits him fine as long as there is a small night-light left on in the stairway.  I sleep much better without the night-light, but him screaming “Mom, there is no light!” at 3 a.m. is far more disruptive, so…  I had no idea I was that sensitive to even a tiny amount of artificial light, but it seems that I am.  I was happy before, but I am happier and think better in the afternoon now.

I am old enough to remember when unplugging meant turning off your TV, or using an acoustic guitar instead of electric if you were a musician.  Now we live in an age where entire blogs are devoted to the art of “unplugging,” and articles are written in magazines and newspapers.  Many articles detail the procedure as if it were akin to quitting heroin or crack.  We have to prepare to unplug, we have to notify people, we can expect this or that feeling on day three, and on and on.  Life it too complicated if we need instructions on how to turn off our computers and cell phones for a few days.  Life is far too complicated if we are all deeply sleep deprived and overly stimulated and fat because we are attached to one device or another all day and night long.  Life is too complicated if the thought of reading by candlelight is scary.  Gads!  What are we all doing to ourselves in the constant attempt to be heard, and seen, and to accomplish…what is it again?  To have more?

No, I have had enough and have just enough.  I want no more than that, and less is even better.  I have no desire to possess anything more than good health, a good attitude, and good relationships full of love.  My relationship with God must come first, and I am glad to have been reminded of that.  Being well fed spiritually, and well rested physically, makes me so much better able to love all of the wonderful people in my life.   Thank you, God, for sending John Tesch and J.D. Moyer my way.

Gifts and blessings are delivered in so many forms.  My most recent gifts came via electronic devices, both of which I am about to turn off for the night.  You might consider doing the same for a time.  I have found it to be a joy filled, delightful, experience.  If you do decide to try this experiment, please report back to me with your results.  I would love to hear anything, even something as simple as someone noticing the stars for the first time in years.

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The truth about women and addiction.

In the early 1980’s I was working as a nurse, fresh out of college, and found myself caring for a couple of patients whose illnesses totally baffled the doctors. One day while I was caring for one of these very sick gentlemen, and doctor informed me that they thought they might “have that AIDS that everyone is talking about all over the news.” We were all terrified. I look at the years that followed the appearance of AIDS, then HIV/AIDS—first the fear and condemnation, then the research and education, and 30 years later, as a society, we view HIV/AIDS with compassion, and through totally different eyes.

And yet, in the same 30 years, while we know much more about drug and alcohol addiction, there is still an incredible stigma attached, especially for women who suffer from addictions. We still cast stones and make harsh judgments rather than working to increase public knowledge, as well as increasing funding for treatment. Instead, funding is drying up, and beds in rehabs and treatment centers are disappearing for women in need of help for drug and alcohol addiction, but who cannot afford to pay for it themselves. When it comes to drug and alcohol addiction and how we view women addicts, we are still living in the Dark Ages. After all, women are supposed to be good wives and mothers, not addicts and alcoholics.

When we take a closer look at drug and alcohol abuse, we can see that women differ from men in many areas. To begin, it is estimated that 20 million girls and women in the United States abuse drugs and alcohol. Women get drunk or high faster than men, and it takes less of whatever substance is being used for a woman to get drunk or high. Also, because a woman’s body contains less water and more fat than a man’s, combined with the hormonal and psychological differences that exist between men and women, women are twice as likely than men to become addicted to drugs and alcohol and in a much shorter period of time.

Women also get sicker faster, developing things such as cirrhosis much sooner. This is a triple whammy for women who drink or use drugs. It is also estimated that 90% of women who need treatment for drugs and alcohol do not get it. In many cases, this is probably because they are afraid of how they will look if they admit they have a drug or alcohol problem. Women still want to be viewed as ladies, and a drunk or an addict is not a lady.

Women drink and use drugs for different reasons than men, too. Women drink to self medicate from depression, or psychological pain. In America, one in every four women has been a victim of sexual abuse of some sort, and most of the abuse occurs before the woman reaches the age of 30. Women who have survived sexual abuse are six time more likely to suffer from PTSD, thirteen times more likely to abuse alcohol, and 26 times more likely to abuse drugs. I was sexually abused at the age of 5, and again in my early teen years, and raped at age 18.

Women use substances to relieve stress, feel better about themselves, and even as a means to lose weight. Women do not drink or drug for the fun of it, and speaking very personally, once a woman is addicted to alcohol or drugs, there is absolutely no fun in the use of the drug of choice. Mine was alcohol, and it was hell, and it became a vicious cycle of guilt and shame. We drink or drug because we feel bad about ourselves, and as our addiction begins to ruins our families and our lives, we use more because of the shame of being a bad mother, or a drunken wife, or just not being a lady, in control and functioning.

Alcohol and drug addiction are fatal, progressive diseases, like diabetes, or heart disease, except there are no magic medications to take to control the progression of the disease. Annually, 80,000 people die from alcohol addiction, and another 60,000 die from drugs. It is not lack of will, or caring more about a high or a drink than family, friends, and work, that keeps women using. It is lack of treatment and support.

And while, getting clean and sober is great when it happens, staying clean and sober is not easy, and just being off of drugs and alcohol is not enough. Unless the woman addict gets to the core issue of why she drinks or drugs—gets to the bottom of that essential pain, and works to vanquish it, long-term sobriety becomes even harder. And all of this has to happen while we are raising children and having careers, and in the face of a society that views women alcoholics and addicts with little more than disdain and disgust.

I am one of the lucky ones. I have been sober for 5 years, but not without three rehab experiences, a 6 month stay in a half way house, several incarceration experiences, more relapses than can be counted, a great deal of therapy to get to essence of my pain, and the continued hard work to complete the healing process. By all rights, I should be dead many times over. I have a family that loves me deeply and friends who have stood by me and cheered me on. I almost lost all it all. I am so blessed that I did not.

At the same time, I very deeply know what the stigma of the female alcoholic or addict looks like because I have seen it first hand, and it is ugly and mean. I also know what it is like to live with the seemingly impossible-to-bear guilt and shame that goes along with being a woman alcoholic and a wife and a mother. It is the type of pain that at times feels bottomless and beyond healing. Just when you’ve peeled away a layer, and healed it, another layer of shame is just beneath, bursting forth with more pain, either to be faced and healed, or to run from.

I choose the pain and healing. But, my sobriety tomorrow is no more guaranteed for me than it is more any other alcoholic or addict. I have a disease that I will have to treat the rest of my life, and it is a disease that does not care if you are rich or poor, well-educated or not, a talented and beautiful celebrity, or an average wife and soccer mom. I treat my disease every day with what works for me, which faith and devotion to God, prayer, attentiveness to my needs and temperament, and a lot of self-care.

It’s time to come out of the Dark Ages and work towards a real understanding of drug and alcohol addiction, especially in women, and it’s time we got rid of the shame and stigma, and replaced with help and compassion. We managed to do just that with HIV/AIDS. For the life of me, I cannot figure out why we cannot do the same for women suffering and dying from drug and alcohol addiction. Perhaps it is time that we who are women alcoholic and addicts came out of the shadows and spoke our truths out loud for all to hear.

Maybe it is time to stop being anonymous, and to be visible instead—to fight for acceptance, understanding, and increased public knowledge. Maybe then the stigma will vanish. Maybe then we can do something to stop beautiful women addicts and alcoholics from hiding in shame rather than getting help. Maybe then we can stop women suffering from addiction from dying tragic deaths each and every day.

 

Helping someone newly sober…what you can do.

Last week, my friend, El, over at Running From Hell with El wrote a blog post about walking away from a gin and tonic that she saw sitting in HER kitchen on the counter.  It was a brave and honest post and I felt proud and happy for her in the end.  I say in the end, because as I read the post the single thought that kept running through my head was this: “What in the hell was a gin and tonic doing on the counter in her kitchen?”  As an alcoholic in recovery, I was angry for her, and at whoever had made the drink in HER kitchen and left it sitting there.  I was so upset that I almost called her immediately and asked her the question that would not leave me, “El, what in the hell was a gin and tonic doing on your kitchen counter?”  But, I didn’t.  I didn’t want to intrude–her house, her family, her rules.

Today I gave El a call on an unrelated topic.  We talked a lot about writing and then we hit the subject of blogs.  It was at that point that I did ask the question about the gin and tonic.  I asked because El is an alcoholic in early recovery, sitting at about six months, and I remember well what that period of time looks like and feels like.  It is a vulnerable time where sometimes it feels as if you are staying sober minute by minute.  Early sobriety looks and feels a lot different than five years of sobriety does, or ten, or twenty, I suspect.  Early sobriety is a tight wire walk where balance is continuously being reevaluated and reestablished.  It is a very selfish time in a great many respects, because in order to maintain the balance needed to stay sober, we need to ask for help from a variety of different types of people.  The people who we will need the most help and support from are those closest to us…our friends and family.

This can be very hard for many of us to do—to ask for what we need during that first year.  El told me that she didn’t want any booze in her house, but felt she might be asking too much to demand that alcohol not be present in her home.  She is not asking too much.  In fact, by not demanding that there be no alcohol in her house she is asking too much of herself, and too little of those who need to be supporting her.  Alcoholism is a disease and yet so many people see it as weakness of will, or a character defect.  It is a disease just like diabetes, or heart disease.  Most of us would never dream of sitting down and eating a big bag full of candy in front of a friend newly diagnosed with diabetes, especially not his favorite candy.  We would think that rude, lacking support, or just plain disrespectful of his battle, and his feelings.

Likewise, when a person is newly diagnosed with heart disease, the whole family makes changes.  This was certainly the case when my father was diagnosed with heart disease.  My mother kicked into high gear and changed what she cooked and how she cooked it, and she did not just make the changes for my father.  We all had to make the same  dietary changes.  We loved him and wanted him to live, so we didn’t complain.  We just did it.  We didn’t care if we ate chicken every night of the week.  We could get a hamburger somewhere else.  We could not get another father.

Just like diabetes and heart disease, alcoholism, if not treated, is a progressive, fatal disease.  People die every day from alcoholism and addiction.  Also, just like diabetes and heart disease, alcoholism in a family member affects the entire family.  Everyone will need to make changes to support the one who is working to stay well.  Giving up cake, or steak, or a nightly drink is precious little to have to give up if it mean helping to keep someone we love well and making them feel loved, and supported during a time that is stressful by its very nature.  Alcoholism is a chronic disease and anyone living and coping with a newly diagnosed chronic disease will grieve and move through many emotional phases as they find their center again.  In turn, the entire family system will need to lovingly recalculate their choices, behaviors, and roles in the now changed family.  Flexibility, understanding, and love is required of all those involved.

What can you do if you are living with someone in early sobriety?  First off, you can and should give up your nightly drink and keep alcohol out of the house.  If this is a change that you are not willing to make then you need to ask yourself if you might have a problem yourself, of if there is a rather ugly agenda underneath your unwillingness to give up your drink.  It is not uncommon for a partner to miss drinking with his loved one and may, unwittingly or not, seek to have that special bond back.  A relapse would do just that… That is selfishness and it is playing Russian roulette with your loved one’s sobriety and very life.  Certainly, you would never force them to drink, but action do speak louder than words… Oftentimes, a family member may have a hard time dealing with the raw emotions of the newly sober person and might unconsciously want them to drink again so things will go back to “normal.” Examine your own feelings honestly.  Of course, if an alcoholic really wants to drink they will find a way.  I know I sure did, but why place temptation right on the counter?

Also, if you do give up that drink and get rid of the booze in the house, please don’t act put out, as if you’ve made some sacrifice akin to giving up a kidney for them.  Do not talk about “the good times” you had drinking together, and don’t glamorize drinking, or talk about how much you miss booze.  Take the time to educate yourself about alcoholism and addiction.  Read all that you can, and if you need more help understanding, find an Al-Anon meeting and go to it.  Get family counseling, and individual counseling.  Denying this is big for the whole family is a big mistake.

Be respectful of what your loved one is going through–and this goes both ways–and forgive.  Forgive your loved one for being an alcoholic and for causing you to have to give up things that you like, and times you cherished.  Love each other.  Rediscover each other.  Move forward together, gently, respectfully, and with the greatest amount of love and understanding possible.  Be a team because that is what families do.

I know better than anyone that no one ever poured a single drink down my throat when I was drinking, and I am not implying that it is anyone’s responsibility but the alcoholics to turn away from the drink, as El did.  I am saying that if you can make changes that will make it less likely for a person new in their sobriety to have to walk away, then you should do it, and do it gladly, with no resentment.  Over time, things will change and sobriety won’t be as brittle and thread-like anymore.  When that time comes, everyone will know it, but until then, simple changes can make a huge difference, so please make them.  It’s the opportunity of a lifetime to create health for your entire family, and for generations to come.

The fine art of pampering…

To begin with, when I said that I would be blogging less over the summer, I certainly did not think I would go this long between posts, but it has been a wild ride of a summer so far!  My daughter is officially married two weeks as of today.  She is also back from her Caribbean honeymoon.  The wedding weekend was perfect and the wedding itself was like a fairy tale, only better, because it was real.  She was a gorgeous bride and my son-in-law, who I adore, was a very handsome groom.  Best of all, I had all seven of my children in one place at the same time, which is rare these days.  My 7 year old was in heaven all weekend, flitting from one sibling group to another.  Everyone had a splendid time, and there was no “anyone-zilla” moments at any time.

Could they look any happier or more stunning? No, they could not.

Can you believe that I took this picture, and the one above? No one else can, either…

 

A professional “First Look” image by Susan Shek. (susanshek.com) If you live in the NYC area and need a wedding photographer, she is the woman for you! She did a fabulous job!

Not a single thing went wrong the entire wedding weekend.  You see, my daughter is a planner, unlike her mother.  She had everything organized so beautifully that it was seamless.  She gave me the role at the wedding of the “go to” person, something that I excel at, and I carried that role through the reception, happy to do it.  It was a weekend to remember for a very long time to come.  NYC is gorgeous in the summer, if not a little hot…

My daughter is not just a top notch organizer, she also is caring and generous, so I felt more than a little pampered during our stay in NYC.  My two daughters, the little bro, and I stayed together in a lovely suite with a full kitchen and all the amenities one could need.  On the day before the wedding, Emily took her matron of honor, her sister, and I out for manicures and pedicures.  What a treat!  During the pedicure phase, the technician was massaging my feet and asked me if I’d like a 10 minute foot massage.  Oh, it felt so heavenly that I jumped at the opportunity, and it was during this divine foot massage that I found myself fighting back tears.

These tears were not the emotions of a mother about to marry off a daughter, but of a woman realizing that despite her dedication to self care, she had forgotten entirely about the fine art of pampering one’s self.  It wasn’t self pity.  It was like life–my life for the past 12 years–passing before my eyes, as if a small part of me was dying.  I think it was the part of me that felt it needed to be punished.  In those 10 minutes, I saw, and felt as much as I could in the middle of a nail salon, what the last 12 years had been like for me as a woman.  I saw the drinking, and the rehabs, and the relapses.  I saw jails, and prison.  I saw a very bad marriage, and leaving it on my 50th birthday.  I saw the death of my brother-in-law and moves.  I also saw the healing of myself and my son and my whole family post the drinking, and the incarcerations, and the abuse of my marriage, and I saw sustained sobriety, love, peace, and a very happy life.  What I did not see was me taking the time to ever truly pamper me in that time period.  Like the weeks preceding my daughter’s wedding, I had spent 12 years moving steadily from one thing to the next to the next with little thought for niceties for myself.

Rest assured that I do not go without goodies entirely.  I have a friend who spoils me with things regularly, and my children spoil me with gifts on the three major Mom holidays—Christmas, Mother’s Day, and my birthday.  I want for nothing, except for the things that only I can give to myself like the nightly bubble bath I took for most of my life, or doing my own nails nicely, or giving myself a facial, or putting a few “Me” movies onto our Netflix queue.  No one can do those things for me, and those things are my idea of pampering, simple as they are.  How could I forget something that I used to be quite good at, like slathering myself with lotion any chance I got, or having matching undie sets?  Lack of time and money are not excuses.  I had been neglecting the one person who I need to take the best care of and that person was me.

As I mentioned, I am quite good at self care.  I eat an impeccable diet, and have my BMI well within a normal range now.  My blood pressure is normal, and I went off of my statin with my doctor’s approval and lowered my cholesterol to within normal limits in three months time.  I exercise, I have a regular bedtime and wake up time, and all of my female tests are perfect.  My body is in fine shape.  I take care of my mind by reading, writing, and playing Scrabble, I take care of my spirit by listening to music, dancing, and again, writing.  I take care of my soul by praying for an  hour every day, reading the Bible, and the devotional masters from past centuries.  I took care of my emotional needs by getting the help I needed to heal from a lifetime of trauma.  As a result, all past psychiatric diagnoses have disappeared, and I have rewired my brain to the point where I need no psych medications and have never been happier, or more at peace.  Self care is work and it takes practice, but it pays off greatly in the end.

However, self care without pampering is like cake with no frosting. The cake may be good, but it will be lacking the fullness of its delight without the frosting.  What good is a well cared for mind, body, and soul, if you do not pamper it from time to time even in the most simple ways?  I have begun again to build the habit of pampering into my life.  Being a single mom makes it harder, but not impossible.  I started yesterday by dressing up for no reason.

I have begun my nightly baths again, and bought a pumice stone for my feet.  Yesterday, I did my nails and instead of the usual messy, slap dash, job that I do myself, I took my time and made it a half day event.  I used a base coat and let it dry fully, two coats of carefully applied polish, well dried between applications, and a top coat.  I didn’t try to do a million other things with half dry nails, and what do you know?  My nails look like they were professionally done.  This morning, I gave myself a decadent kitchen cupboard facial, with a sugar and lemon juice scrub, a cocoa and oatmeal mask, and a coating of olive oil.  It took all of 30 minutes.  My feet have been moisturized twice, and do they feel happier for that small effort!

Sometimes it feels like life is about putting out fires.  We run from one fire to the next to the next to the next.  At some point, we think, “Okay, I have finally got this.  I have achieved balance.  All of the fires are under control.”  Inevitably, something comes along to show us that we have not quite “won at life” yet.  I thank God for that–for the continual opportunity to learn and grow and to make adjustments, even if the lesson that needs to be learned is a repeat of something that I used to know.  Relearning to pamper myself regularly is a lesson I know I am going to enjoy.  I hope you all will learn to enjoy it, too.  Thank you Emily for helping me to remember to pamper me, too!  Now, you all go do something nice for yourselves!