Tag Archive | choices

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.

Celebrating life every day

Celebrate the happiness that friends are always giving, make every day a holiday and celebrate just living!

 Amanda Bradley quotes

Today I am celebrating life because life is good every day, and God is good every day.  As a culture, we tend to wait for a holiday or a certain event to feel as if we are allowed to celebrate, but this way of thinking robs us of the opportunity to celebrate every single day.  We need to give ourselves permission to find cause to celebrate each day no matter the date, or the reason.

Perhaps you are thinking right now that there is no real reason to celebrate–that you have nothing worth celebrating.  That sort of thinking usually stems from a lack of gratitude for the miracles present in each moment of life.  It can take practice to develop an attitude of gratitude, but it is something that will change your world, and your view of life in general.  Even on a day filled with annoyances, distractions, and unfortunate events, there are things for which you can be truly grateful.  Start small by making a list of five things that you are grateful for and do this every day.  Over time you will find that your list begins to grow and then it will grow again some more.  Look around you, wherever you go, specifically searching for often unseen things to dazzle and amaze you.  As you begin to notice more, your gratitude will increase yet again, and as your gratitude increases, so will your desire to celebrate life daily.

Certainly, there are many conscious choices that you will need to make if you are not in the habit of celebrating life.  Deciding to feel grateful is one of them, and deciding to be responsible for your own happiness is another choice you will need to make.  You will have to choose to slow down and look around.  You will have to choose to begin to work towards becoming someone who sees the positives in life more than you see the negatives.  You are going to have to let go of grudges, and complaining, and blaming, and feeling sorry for yourself.  Those are big choices filled with huge responsibility to yourself, and others, and it will take work.  Begin by believing that, step by step, you can do it.  Choose not to get discouraged, or berate yourself if you have to keep starting over.  Just begin again and keep moving forward.

As you make headway with these thought changes you will find that you will begin to celebrate life without having to force yourself to do it.  Sometimes you will find yourself swept over by random gratitude waves so big they nearly wash you away.  You will feel joy and wonder for reasons others cannot quite comprehend.  Don’t worry about what anyone else thinks.  Go on and celebrate anyway!

What does celebrating life look like in practice?  That will differ for each individual, so be creative and follow your heart in how you celebrate.  As you become a happier, more grateful, and celebratory person, do not hide your sparkle and shine, not that you really will be able to hide it.  Imagine what a gift you are giving your family and friends with your new way of life!  Think of the many excellent and valuable lessons you are teaching your children each time you dance with them for no reason, or bake cupcakes just because it’s Friday, or watch a special movie together just because you are so happy to be with them.  Your personal changes will have a huge ripple effect on the people around you, and you will find more and more to celebrate effortlessly, and so will the people around you.

For me a celebration can be as simple as painting my nails, or watching a movie, or dancing in my living room with my son, or outside under the stars by myself.  It may mean making a nice meal, or baking cookies, or cupcakes, or counting Lady Slipper’s as I walk up my hill.  I counted 43 yesterday.  I think that is cause for celebrating life, and I am doing that today, all day.  How will you celebrate this amazing life that you have been given today?  When you think about it, there is no reason not to celebrate!

Idealism and Radical Acceptance: Where the rubber meets the road

I’ve mentioned before that I am a tried and true, dyed n the wool, Meyers-Briggs tested, idealist. This changes being an idealist from what I am to it being who I am. There is a big difference. There are any naturally happy, optimistic, people who try to find the positive is most situations, but these happy-go-lucky folks are not true idealists. They don’t ache to the bones over injustices in the world, and they seem to come to terms with “Life isn’t fair,” pretty easily.

A real idealist, like me, will rail against injustice, and will wage an almost constant internal battle trying to wrap their heads around life not being fair. I know I sure did, and sometimes I still do. I do not innately get mean, unkind, vengeful, and just plain nasty. When I hear it, or see it, it always makes me wince, and causes some deep pain, even if the person hurt isn’t me, or someone I love. I’d greatly prefer not to even know some of these more ugly emotions exist in the people I know, but they do and I somehow manage to love them anyway 😉

 

However, in the last few years, something has changed within me. I am not fighting life anymore, and life has not been a cakewalk in the last few years. What changed? I made some pretty important decisions. I decided that I deserved happiness and love and all good things just as much as anyone else. I decided that I am more than good enough just as I am, and I decided to be me as fully as possible, not allowing others to attempt to recreate me in their own image. At the same time, I decided not to try to change others into something they were not. I decided that I’d had enough of shame, and that my life was too full for mean people, and negative people, and for people who hurt me without a second thought. I decided that life was as good as I made it, and most importantly, I decided that, no matter what, everything was going to be okay.

 

All of these decisions just happened to coincide with my 50th birthday, which was also the day I left my abusive husband with only a child and a dufflebag of clothing. Basically, I decided to be happy, and to take full responsibility for that happiness. That this all happened when I was homeless, facing a prison term, and with my sister’s husband dying seemed to amaze most everyone. My own counselor at the time once said, “I don’t know how you do it. You keep going, and you keep smiling, and you seem happy.” It was true. I was happy. Then she said, “Radical acceptance. That’s what it is. That’s what you’ve got going on.” That was the first time that I had heard the term “radical acceptance,” but yes, wrap all of my decisions into a big ball and that is what you get—radical acceptance, of life, and others, and of circumstances, but most importantly, of myself.

 

I cannot even begin to describe the freedom I feel every day now, and I felt that freedom even when I was in prison. In fact, I believe that one of the reasons that God wanted me in prison was so that I would realize that I had really been in prison all of my life. At first, others built the prison walls, and I just stayed put, and then it became an entrenched way of survival and life long after the initial wall builders were gone. I didn’t put myself into that prison, but it was my job to break myself out, and I did just that, finally freeing that poor, wounded, little girl for good, while I was in an actual concrete and steel prison. There is a certain irony in gaining true freedom while in prison…

 

I love my life and my life is good, but my life is messy as hell. It’s never been neat and tidy and I have no reason to expect that to change, but I don’t care. What I have within that messy life fraught with circumstances that would crush other is love, and joy, and freedom to be me—messy, happy, mostly peaceful me.  I have God and my integrity, and I have found that’s all that I really need.

 

The people in my life, with their neat lives, stand back in wonder and amazement. The people in my life love me dearly, and there are a lot of them. They love me messy, and happy, and real, and me. That’s radical acceptance on their part and it’s pretty darned cool. I think they even learn a little from me.

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Am I still an idealist? You bet I am, but I know how, and where, to channel that energy now. I have big plans for the future, and I know where changes need to be made in the world. I will continue to grow, but now that I am free, and I radically accept me, I am not going back to any form of prison again.