Recovering Out Loud

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A funny thing is starting to happen: I’m beginning to tell people in casual conversation that I’ve overcome an addiction to alcohol. What’s particularly surprising, even to me, is that I’m saying it with pride. I’m kind of glowing even, and a little giddy, like I’m sharing a great secret along the lines of “I just won a million dollar lottery” or “I’m being inducted into the sober hall of fame!” It’s the coolest feeling. And guess what? People respond in kind. I’m sharing from the heart, and I’m giving them a chance to do the same.

What they don’t see is shame.

The shame is dissipating, like smoke rising into thin air. I used to duck my head when talking about addiction. I used to cringe when admitting that I had to stop drinking. I felt vulnerable in sobriety — as if I’d been thrown out of an exclusive club.

Here’s a secret about the drinking club — anyone can get in. It takes a rock-solid superstar to check out. And I’m proud I did.

I can see the seeds of this pride years ago, when I’d get a few days sober, and tell someone — tentatively, barely meeting their eyes — that I was abstaining for a while. What I didn’t tell them is that I had a tiny hope that it would be my last Day One, that I could finally stop drinking my life into ruin.

I was right to hope. It’s possible, it turns out, even after decades of trying. I’m grateful that I reached beyond the veil of shame to ask for help — from the universe, from God, from Buddha — I didn’t care who. I was too desperate to be picky. And I’m proud of myself for being willing to believe what the universe told me — that I was worthy of being saved. That I was loved and precious beyond measure, and was meant for much greater things. It turns out the universe was right.

Forgiveness Is Like Kale

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Some things you have to experience to believe.

I’d heard about the power of forgiveness for a long time before I tried it. I didn’t see how it could make that much of a difference, really. And if I did mentally try to forgive someone, it was always half-hearted, like trying to make yourself like kale. I knew that kale was good for me, and that it would be helpful to eat it, but that bitter taste drove me away. I had to disguise the kale with a lot of other stuff to make it edible. So really, I was just choking it down.

Same with forgiveness. I didn’t really want to forgive say, someone like my ex, because it was all his fault. To forgive him would mean he got away with it. It would be condoning his behavior. I would be a victim all over again.

Now I can see that all that finger-pointing kept me from owning my part in anything ever. By projecting blame outward, I didn’t have to examine my own behavior. I used other people’s bad behavior to justify my own. He deserved it! And then I became this little gremlin inside, always plotting to undermine someone or manipulate people to join in my finger-pointing. And because I was a gremlin inside, I felt guilty. My thoughts were anything but pure.

Guilt is a bitter pill to swallow. Worse that straight kale, no dressing.

Everyone chooses their own path to forgiveness. AA talks about letting go of resentments. I follow A Course in Miracles, which tells you that forgiveness is the way to nirvana, basically. And who doesn’t want that? It teaches how to let go of blame completely by seeing other people as completely worthy of love. That took a lot of reading and practice from me, but I’m getting there.

I’ve found that forgiving is entirely in my own self-interest. And it’s true! It really works. I feel so much lighter and happier, now that I’ve set down the burden of attack and guilt. Ultimately, it allows me to forgive myself. It’s like a process for me. I forgive someone, and then I have a memory of something I did that I found unforgivable. Now, however, I see myself with the same compassion I extended to the person I forgave. I see it in the same light of forgiveness that I shined on someone else.

So all forgiveness is really for you. When you can see yourself with compassion, the gremlin goes away, and all that’s left is the beautiful light within you, shining out into a world that needs it.

The Blessing of Addiction

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If all things can somehow be used for good, what good can come from an addiction?

It’s easy to see the downside of addiction: It can be mind-boggling to overcome because it’s cunning, baffling, and powerful. But what about the power that comes from releasing that addiction?

One answer is obvious: If you manage to extricate yourself from your own addiction, you can guide other people by sharing your story. (Actually, this is true if you escape or not. Some of the most compelling stories I’ve ever heard came from people who were still using their drug of choice.)

A great analogy for me is that of a heartbreaking relationship. What good can come from being deserted by the person you love most?

It happens every day and to everyone. Who hasn’t been rejected by a friend or lover who we idolized, whose good opinion meant everything to us, and who devastated us simply because they didn’t recognize in us the same thing we thought we saw in them?

What results is a perilous loss of self-esteem, as with addiction. Life loses its spark, and we ruminate on what we lacked that would have earned this person’s love.

And as with addiction, we blame ourselves.

For a brief time in my early twenties, I gave my power to someone I barely knew, really. But I bestowed upon him the keys to the kingdom. I decided that he was what I wanted, despite evidence suggesting that this was not a match made in heaven.

I’d been on the other side of relationships, and often wondered how someone could be so devastated after a break-up. Why was it such a huge deal?

I was taught why, as life tends to teach us what we need to learn.

The man who didn’t love me committed no crime except to realize that I was not the woman he was destined to spend the rest of his life with. He was right. But because I had made him the arbiter of all that was worthy, his rejection signaled to me my total lack of worth.

And even though the circumstances were largely beyond my control, I struggled to make sense of what had happened. The mind seeks reasons, which the ego is happy to supply.

To start with, I’d never lost the weight I’d been planning to lose for years. I didn’t have my shit together, and sometimes drank too much. But what really happened is that subconsciously I felt powerless in the relationship. And with this loss of power, I became someone else — someone over-emotional and easily hurt. I checked my confidence at the door, and never got it back.

By having my sense of self shaken, I was forced to confront how easy it is to feel unloved by the world. To give your good opinion of yourself to other people. To let the world tell you who you are.

What I know now is that this relationship was not a failure; it was an invitation. Through it, and other life experiences, I learned to forgive myself and love myself completely.

What took me years to discover — having later given my power to another lover, alcohol — is that my worth comes from a source that dispels all self-doubt. I am a child of God, and my strength comes from a universe blessed by my presence. Seeing this in myself makes it easier to love other people wholly, seeking to forgive their shortcomings as I do my own.

I know absolutely that I am completely worthy of love, and that knowledge has helped me create a world that reflects this love back to me.

And I know absolutely that you are as worthy of love as I am.

 

“ … I begin to remember the Love I chose to forget, but which has not forgotten me.”

A Course in Miracles, Lesson 60

Struggling with a “Higher Power”?

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There is a consciousness and an awareness that exists always and everywhere—the name you give it is unimportant.   

— Bernie S. Siegel M.D.

So many people are stuck on the idea that if they don’t believe in a traditional version of “God” that they are somehow excluded from the benefits of meditation or prayer. This doctor offers an alternative view here:

Feeling Alone and Afraid?

The Wine Diet

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Last night, I had an unusual dinner … Wendy’s french fries and a large chocolate frosty. I like the way the hot salty fries are cooled by the sweet bliss of the frosty.

I’m on a sugar detox diet, allegedly, but I fell off the wagon with a cookie here, a muffin there, and now I’m on the sugar overload diet.

Drinking wine used to take care of my sweet addiction, although wine itself contains very little sugar. Like diet drinks, it still seemed to satisfy my sweet tooth. Later on, sugary mixed drinks were my appetite suppressant, causing me to eat far less than I normally would for dinner. They even functioned as a meal replacement. And because the alcohol was nonnegotiable, I could bypass desserts with ease. I’ve found through experience, however, that I have to get rid of all sugar to be successful, just like with alcohol. I will never be a moderate sweet eater. I’ve tried. It doesn’t work.

I approach this addiction a lot like I did with drinking: I binge on sugar because I’ve come up with a plan, which will start tomorrow. (My plans always start tomorrow, rarely today.) Tomorrow, I will start my sugar shut-out for let’s say … three weeks. (And by sugar, I mean pasta and bread and white rice too.)  I know I’m going to go through sugar withdrawal — I’ll be tired and edgy for a few days, craving sugar in all my waking hours. And just like with wine, I have to binge to really prepare for the purge. I usually begin on a Monday, but because it’s a holiday, I’ve allowed myself an extra day of sweet indulgence.

It just so happens that Hip Sobriety has some perfect advice for the occasion:

Sugar Addiction in Sobriety: Why it Happens + 13 Tips How to Break it.

In one hour, when the doors open, I will be back at Wendy’s, claiming my final Frosty.

Wish me luck!