You are not alone

DamagedPeopleAreDangerousIf you’ve ever felt alone, misunderstood, insignificant, scared, weak, furious, guilty, or just plain baffled about your addiction or someone else’s, you’re in the right place. YOU are not alone.

We all have a story to tell. We all need inspiration in our lives. Whether you decide to reach out and tell your story or choose to keep that shit locked up, it helps to hear about others’ struggles. There’s a new book out there, Hearts and Scars – 10 Human Stories of Addiction (FREE on Amazon), that I’m slap-my-ass-and-call-me-Sally thrilled about! It’s a collection of non-anonymous, open and honest stories from real people in recovery. A super bonus – my story is in the book! You know what this means, right? I have arrived, people. Yes. I’m totally legit. But enough about me. This book is a project working toward awareness and healing. Here’s a bit of what the mastermind/dude in recovery (Jake D. Parent) has to say about it…

We lose more than 350 people every day in the United States to addiction. This collection of stories shows how the deadly disease is a conflicted struggle, not simply of broken people, but one that encompasses the human condition that affects us all.

For those directly affected by this horrible affliction, these stories will help you make sense of your journey, both where you came from as well as where you are going.

For advocates, policy makers, and others with the power to help, this collection will help humanize the issue. Because, while addiction may be a cunning, baffling disease, it is ultimately one that affects real people.

Only by understanding the humanity within those who suffer from it – as buried as it may sometimes seem to be – can we as a society find the courage and will to finally do what needs to be done to end the suffering.

– Jake D. Parent

Did I mention it’s FREE forever on Amazon? That means you have no excuse not to read it. If you’re reading THIS, you’ll want to read THAT. We all need awareness and a little inspiration once in a while – this book is it – do yourself a favor.

That is all for now, my friends. Stay tuned though…the release of this book has lit a fire under my ass…

Never give up on anybody. Miracles happen everyday.

-Chrystal

Shame, SHAME, go away! I’m coming out AGAIN today!

No more shame

maskI’m going to kick shame’s ass today. I hate shame. Unlike guilt, which is the feeling of doing something wrong, shame is the feeling of BEING something wrong. It’s ugly. And private. It’s silent on the outside, while it burns hot and loud on the inside, a soul-sucking black hole. Shame, associated with addiction and mental illness, is created by our own imaginations, fed by ignorance and self-stigma.

Did you know that many addictions are caused by underlying mental illnesses? That shouldn’t surprise you – the information is out there and it makes sense. So, here’s my truth – I live with mental illness. Not just one, but two of ’em bad boys – depression and an anxiety disorder. There you have it. Mental illness. Oh boy, I’m really OUT now! Here we go! Weeeeeeeee!

You are not your illness. You have an individual story to tell. You have a name, a history, a personality. Staying yourself is part of the battle. – Julian Seifte

The thing about these two words, “mental illness”, is they cause so much judgment and fear. This is, perhaps, the ultimate example of a stigma. Society probably spends more time trying to ignore mental illness than to understand it. And that’s not easy to do, given almost half of American adults will develop at least one form of mental illness during their lifetime (according to the CDC ). I would bet this statistic is far from correct and that it’s closer to 75%, but I’m just a girl with a laptop. Sometimes stigma and uneducated discriminatory attitudes are worse than the addictions and illnesses themselves – often leading to SILENT SUFFERING and people who never recover. People who never recover! We have to do something about this.

Life shrinks or expands in proportion to one’s courage – Anais Nin

Until recently, I’ve been consumed with shame. Not about having alcoholism – I’ve come a long way in that realm. I’ve been ashamed that I can’t “handle” depression and anxiety on my own. Ashamed I even have to deal with it in the first place. Ashamed that I am weak. Ashamed that I need help. Ashamed that I’m ashamed. But not anymore. Shame doesn’t motivate me. Shame doesn’t do shit, but hold me down. I’m owning this shit, so I can soar above my old self, high up in the glorious free sky where I belong. I am an eagle and shame is my prey. I’m gonna chew it up and spit it out, over and over again until I’ve had my say.

Where we are at is where the cancer community and HIV community were 25 years ago – NFL Player Brandon Marshall (in reference to mental illness)

I’ll probably write more about my experiences with mental illness in the future, but for now I focus on beating the shit out of the shame. It really doesn’t matter why or how the mental illness got there.  I likely made mine worse with the drinking thing, but I’m over it. Right now I don’t feel the need to describe my struggles. They are there, trust me. The worst thing you can do to a person with an invisible illness is make them feel like they need to prove how sick they are. I think we are all crazy in one way or another, just some are better at coping. But people are afraid of labels. They don’t like “crazy”. I’m not easily offended when “crazy” gets thrown around at my house. It’s a survival tool. I can get pretty “out there” and am not easy to live with. Not that my husband is a cake walk, but referring to my craziness helps him keep his own sanity. Being able to laugh about our struggles is important and “crazy” talk brings us onto the same page. It’s not a label, it’s an explanation. Crazy people aren’t weak, we are resilient. And we are deep sons of bitches.

Sometimes it’s the crazy people who turn out to be not so crazy. – Kevin Spacey

Here’s the thing about anxiety that sucks – it’s a prime contributor to poor decision-making, which gets tricky in sobriety. The more anxious you feel, the more likely you are to act on impulse, without considering the consequences. Your brain focusses on relieving the anxiety, not on the rational processes needed to exercise good judgment. Throw depression into the mix and you’ve got a shit storm of daily battles – one hell of a challenge of staying sober. This is not an intelligence thing, or lack thereof. This is illness. And this is a reason why we see good people relapse, time after time, if they aren’t addressing their needs.

Shame is a soul eating emotion. – C. G. Jung

What you hide controls you and what you don’t say owns you. Getting mental help should feel more common. If you tell someone you’re going to a counseling appointment, they really shouldn’t bat an eye, just as if you’d said you’re going to your regular doctor for a checkup. Mental health is as important as physical health.  My approach to recovery from mental illness is personal and completely mine. It’s ongoing, just like my recovery from addiction. It took me a while to realize my anxiety wasn’t normal. It took me even longer to realize I could do something about it. We don’t talk about it enough as a society, or I may have recognized it sooner. I recently started seeing a psychiatric nurse practitioner, which was a big, scary step because I’ve never known someone who’s done this and didn’t know what to expect. Because of this step, I have found a way to take the edge off of my anxiety and depression. I wasted 10+ years on ineffective antidepressants, unaware that my primary care physician wasn’t properly trained to offer this service. Now I am on the right meds. They have a very subtle effect, to the point I didn’t think they were working until we dove deeper into my day-to-day. I do my part too, dappling in cognitive behavioral counseling here and there, and practicing self-care in various forms. I’m not cured by any means, but I have tools that make my life manageable now.

Far too often, I hear of a friend or family member who is effectively taking antidepressants, intending to get off of them in the near future. Why?! This is stigma and shame at work. This decision doesn’t make sense to me. I’ve never been a pill-popper – I suffer through most headaches and pain because I just feel better “muscling” through it. But, when it came to the chemical imbalance in my brain, I decided to suck it up and get the help I needed. Antidepressants aren’t for everyone, but there is no shame for those who can benefit from them. I have no intention of ever getting off of my meds. They are helping me and I am not ashamed.

Some ignorant assholes might tell me I’m not sober if I’m on antidepressants, so I’ll just say this to them – go read a different blog because I don’t care what you think. This is my life and I’m in charge of it. I’m all about compassion, understanding, hope, and empowerment – for myself and for others who struggle. Mental illness is a flaw in chemistry, not character. It’s not a label, it’s an explanation. Medication doesn’t alter my personality, it helps me LIVE MY LIFE better. There’s no shame in that. No shame.

It doesn’t matter how this looks to other people. If this is something you gotta do, then you do it. Fighters fight. – Rocky Balboa

I’m grateful to tell my story and shed more light on mental illness because I know many who are reading this are struggling at varying degrees or know people who are. It is what it is, people. Life is such a beautiful journey, and we are learning all the time – let’s learn a little compassion and patience for those who struggle for whatever reasons. At the end of the day, all that really matters is if we were kind to ourselves and each other. I’m doing my best today and I hope you are too.

Shame, consider your ass kicked. Shame is an illusion – it’s not real. We are all important and we are all worthy. If you’re struggling right now, for whatever reason, please know that you are not alone. You matter. Don’t give up!

Thanks for reading,

Chrystal

Sleeping with the “normie” – recovery with a spouse who drinks

My husband still drinks. I haven’t asked him to stop drinking because of my situation – that wouldn’t seem fair – he doesn’t have a drinking problem. We have a shit load of alcohol in the house, but I don’t freak out about it because we keep it out of sight. Our lifestyle has changed tremendously since I quit drinking and, for the most part, we are both happy with how we compromise in that respect. I do struggle when he’s having a drink or two at home, though. I don’t know what the hell he gets out of just a few drinks, but that’s a mystery I’ll never solve. On these evenings when he drinks, I often have to remind myself that he doesn’t have the same kind of relationship as I do with alcohol. A few seconds of reflection are tolerable, but some nights aren’t as smooth.

DISCLAIMER: YOU ARE ABOUT TO READ SOME OF MY PRIVATE, NOT-SO-PRIVATE-ANYMORE THOUGHTS. I’M NOT RESPONSIBLE FOR HOW YOU FEEL ABOUT THEM. IF YOU HAVE SOMETHING SUPPORTIVE TO SAY, I’M GAME. ALSO, I’M TERRIFIED TO CLICK “PUBLISH”, BUT WHATEVER.

Sitting at the counter, rests a water-stained stem-less wine glass, ravenously filling with rich, grapey, smooth perfection. Hints of oak and mild tobacco pillage my fluttering nostrils – and it all smells like home. As the vino gurgles through the aerator, it taunts me, “Neener, neener, neener! I’m sophisticated and delicious and you can’t have me!” My internal dialog gets a wild hair up its ass and goes to town. Come along on the crazy train for a minute and sample my secret, not-so-secret-anymore hell:

God damn wine. Screw him. Why the hell can’t I drink it? I’m a grown woman, I can make my own choices. Who does he think he is, giving me an ultimatum and then flaunting it in front of me?! That gurgling makes me want to shove that aerator up his ass. Why does he have to invite the booze, can’t it just be me and him? Hmm…Maybe this is just my perspective and not reality – if I had one or two drinks, that’s all I’d be focused on. He probably doesn’t focus on it one bit, he just has a drink and lives his life – he’s so weird. This isn’t fair. I bet I could have just one glass now. It’s been so long. Maybe I’m cured! Maybe I’m not actually an alcoholic – I was never THAT bad, anyway. I functioned well in all aspects of my life still. Well, except for verbally abusing the shit out of him – yeah, I guess that was pretty bad. Glad I don’t remember any of it. Would it hurt anything to try again though? I miss wine tasting with him. I miss our happy hours and funny adventures. I miss the relaxation. I miss the buzz. I miss getting wasted. I miss feeling normal. But I’m not normal, am I? I’m such a loser. I could never stop at just one or two, all I’d want to do is get shitty drunk. But what would that really accomplish? A glowing buzz, a moment to just let go and be wasted. Shit…I’m totally obsessed! The next day I’d be hung over AND be required to be a good mom, no thanks. I’d regret the shit out of losing my 8 years’ status and have to start back at day one…hour one…that’d be enough of a disappointment and reason to drink myself into oblivion. I don’t want to lose my life. I will not disappoint my family or myself. Plus, I have two kids I am responsible for! I want them to look up to me and know that because Mommy can do anything, they can too. Shit. Once again, I’ve talked myself out of this shit. Good. Like it was ever really touch-and-go. This is still annoying, though. Why can’t he just not drink? Would that be a fair ask? What if I did ask him to not drink? Would he be willing to? That’s a scary thought…I wouldn’t want him resenting me anyway, so it’s not an option. I’m the one who is strong enough to overcome resentment, I’ll take this on. I’m so much stronger than anyone knows. I’m actually the shit. He’s so lucky to have me. OK, now I feel a little better and actually hope he enjoys his wine…but not too much. If he gets a buzz on, I’m going to go through this all over again and want nothing to do with him. Maybe I should get out of here and head for the hills. Ok, ok. Simmer down, cray cray. All is good in my world. And both worlds can still meet for now. He’s totally fine. Stop watching him. Don’t count his drinks…STOP! Deep breath. Everything’s ok. I’m ok. One day at a time and I’m still sober. Damn, I think too much. I’m so strong, though. Look how I just worked through that shit. I really AM the shit…

Yep. Pretty intense for a gal on any given evening, huh? Sometimes I honestly wonder if I could be considered clinically insane in these moments. Why is it so hard to remember that I choose sobriety for myself?

Face it and conquer it!Why does it take a few grueling minutes of inner torture to bring myself back to a place of peace? Sometimes I envy those who have significant others who are also in recovery, versus being with a “normie”. What a huge and instant support system, plus, they’d understand you on that level that only addicts could. But the grass is only greener where you water it. And I love my man. If I didn’t have challenges, I wouldn’t be human. And I’ve learned how strong I am. I’m not willing to give that up for anything.

So, here’s my takeaway: Boundaries are essential. In early sobriety, I had a rule that I wouldn’t open or pour drinks for anyone. I don’t know what happened, but somewhere along the way I started to slack. I think I wanted more normalcy and to be useful and less of a burden. My husband and I recently discovered that this boundary must be reset. Holding or pouring a drink is too dangerous for me. It’s death in a cup and could easily slide down my throat, poisoning everything beautiful in my life. This telling conversation sparked after I’d snapped at him – he was innocently pouring wine and I heard gurgling – “Go into the friggin’ pantry and shut the door when you’re pouring that gurgling shit, mother fucker!” For now, I am going to keep being real with myself about what sets me up for success. I’m grateful to have a partner who wants me happy and will agree to pour his wine in the pantry, so I can’t hear it. He’s pretty incredible and boy, has he learned more than he ever wanted to about alcoholism! I’m not a big fan of “rules”, but they are necessary in my life, at least right now. I’m hoping someone out there knows what it’s like to go through this. I always come out on the bright side, sure, but why does it feel so traumatic every damn time?! It’s draining and infuriating, but in the end I’m grateful that I can coach myself back to my peace. I always reach my peace, and that’s what matters most.

Thanks for reading,

Chrystal

3,000 Days Sober! No more stigma…

No more shame!On this 3,000th day of my sobriety, I sit here amazed. I’m amazed at myself, of the life I’ve created, and at how damn difficult this journey has been. I’m even more amazed that so many people out there are still suffering in silence. My heart is troubled lately, as I’ve realized how big of an epidemic this really is. Alcoholism isn’t what I’m referring to – it’s the stigma. This stigma is a salivating beast and a force to be reckoned with. I’ve joined the mission to kick its dirty little ass.

Off the top of my head, I can think of about 20 people who I know personally, struggling with alcoholism and problem-drinking. A handful is in the closet, dealing with their spouse’s drinking, some are getting divorced, and the others live in their own private drinking hells. People have confided in me – it’s awesome and a little scary – but mostly it’s a kick in my ass to get louder. So many are miserable, but very few are talking about it. Shame is all around us. I hate shame. This silence feeds the stigma, which, in turn, enables denial. Maybe more of us would have turned our lives around sooner, had we known more about this shit and the real people going through it. Alcoholism doesn’t discriminate like stigma does – it takes idiots and scholars, assholes and saints, wealthy and poor, good-looking and fugly, strong and weak, and everything in-between. We are no more flawed than anyone, we are not a disgrace. It’s addiction, not a plague. We, in recovery, are not victims, we are warriors. Sometimes we fall – we get right back up. We are brave and amazing sons of bitches. And we must help others get out of the dark.

Knowledge nugget: You don’t have to join AA or get anywhere near the 12 steps to recover. I am proof of that with 3,000 days, dude! This misconception is driven by AA, and has ultimately fed fear and stigma. There’s no right or wrong way to recover. Recovery is yours. You don’t have to have a plan – the only plan I’ve had is: don’t drink. You don’t have to claim powerlessness. You don’t have to be anonymous! You don’t have to go to meetings. I’ve done just fine without meetings and some would even argue that I’m better off. Support is essential, whatever that means for you. I started off with a few close family members’ support. My greatest source of support these days has been from social media. More about that later. For now, as I revel in the last hour of my 3,000th day in recovery, I leave you with this…To my friends in recovery – you are never alone and I’m so proud of you. I’m here if you need anything. To those who are struggling, afraid to reach out for help – you can find your strength, it’s there, and we can help you. To all the sorry sacks out there that support this stigma – suck it and stay tuned.

Thanks for reading,

Chrystal