HOPE is not a four-letter word

I’ve felt pretty defeated lately – can’t seem to get a handle on this depression and anxiety. My frustration is growing and I’m tired. I’m tired of being so wound up. I’m tired of being dragged down. I’m tired of making the same mistakes. I’m tired of disappointing myself. I’m tired of feeling like a shitty wife. I’m tired of missing out. I’m just really tired. All of my energy goes toward being a mom. It’s the only thing I feel like I do right these days. My heart soars with countless moments of joy as I get swept up – it makes me so grateful for the love in my life.  I have it really goddamn good. But, those other moments are breaking me down and I wonder how much longer I can keep this up.

This is a scary place – I can’t imagine that many people manage to sustain their sobriety once they get here. I can see the potential for suicidal thoughts, too. Don’t get your panties in a wad, I’m not going to drink and the ONLY thing that is clear to me about suicide is that people don’t really want to DIE, they just want their PAIN TO END. I’ve always known that things will swing back up, but this time around has certainly been the most challenging.

stand in the light

Last week I found the mother of all sparks  – things were definitely looking up. I’d found a glowing light in the form of a handsome 2-year-old malamute mix. We were gaining a new family member who was offering me a legit way out of my hell. I don’t mean to get all dramatic here, but in saving his life, he was truly saving mine. Dogs love us more than we love ourselves and they make our lives so much better. They make us better people. The week leading up to the adoption was full of excitement, planning, and a blossoming love. That sweet fuzzy boy owned my heart and I felt lighter and brighter already. Just hours after we got him shit hit the fan. Although he was an amazing dog, he clearly needed a family without kids and it wasn’t going to work. My heart broke into tiny pieces and I cried harder than I can ever remember. I’d lost my new love and I’d lost my way out. I didn’t know what I was going to do with myself and felt heavy with despair.

A few days later I went to a meeting and saw what appeared to be a broken man. After spending the past 5 years in a battle with relapse, his wife had decided to leave him. It wasn’t that she didn’t love him, she just couldn’t trust him and needed to move on. Prior to this five-year battle, he’d been sober for 21 years.

He stood before a room full of his peers with slumped shoulders and defeated tone, and announced his 23rd day of sobriety. He went on to tell us more about how his life had fallen apart and I couldn’t help but notice the attention he commanded. The room was his. I don’t know how else to describe it – the confusion, embarrassment, agony, and support – we were all in it with him. The compassion surrounding him was palpable as we all became one beating heart.

This shattered man then declared how grateful he was to be in the room with us. I suddenly realized that even though his life may be broken, he in fact, was not. Although he was practically breathless with pain, there was something that brought him to us that night, into his 23rd day of sobriety, and to a place of gratitude. He wasn’t broken at all. He had found a spark – hope. And in that moment we all had hope.

Until then, I’d felt quite conflicted with the term, hope. I’d always thought hope was for religious people – hoping to escape eternal damnation by being just righteous enough – but that’s not hope, that’s fear. And I’m not saying that’s how all religious people are, so just chill. I thought of hope as a form of denial, clinging to something unsubstantial, or an excuse for not taking action. You know, like when dreams die because they turn into wishes instead of goals. Hope is what turns into change IF/WHEN you act on it. If you don’t act on hope, it also turns into a wish and then you turn into a pussy. I ain’t no pussy. Hope is the spark in a tunnel of darkness. Hope is exactly what I needed.

SO, I decided that this guy is pretty amazing – and if he can do it, I can too. I found hope and now I can set it on fire! The only thing that gets in the way is me. The only limitations set upon me are the ones I entertain in my freaky little brain. I can change how I feel inside and out. I can turn the voices around. I don’t need an excuse to get off my ass, I can just do it. And I’ve already begun.

THIS must be what people in the rooms refer to as spiritual awakenings. I never wanted or expected to have one. I look back in awe – I was hard when I walked in and soft when I walked out. I was overflowing with hope and felt that glow from within.

So there it is. A new chapter, now that there’s a fire under my ass. I will find my peace, I know it. With hard work I will turn my life around for the better. Depression and anxiety are gonna suck it. If something else tries to knock me down (and dude, that’s life) it will get bitch slapped. There’s no more time left for weak bullshit; it’s time to wake up and ACT. I am responsible for my life. I’m going to rediscover my badass.

If I can do it, you can too.

hope is everything

 

 

 

 

 

Thank you so much for reading.

Thanks for your support,

Chrystal

 

Seasonal Depression – 7 ways to help yourself through

FuckWinter

Winter has always been like a big black hole for me, but this year is far worse than any I can remember. Having struggled with year-round depression and anxiety for most of my life, I’ve navigated through some dark shit. But, this recent spiral into seasonal depression has got me by the throat. I hope to help someone else to not feel so alone and to send a message of hope and inspiration because it will get better.

Waking up

An uncomfortable discussion with my husband (I’m being polite, don’t get used to it) is what woke me up – “THAT’S why I’m feeling and acting like THIS!” Something similar occurs almost every month when I finally realize that PMS is responsible for my current misery, but THIS was way more intense. I was a deer-in-the-headlights for a few days, stunned at the realization that depression had taken hold of me in this way. I was shocked that I hadn’t consciously seen it coming. I knew I had no energy and felt like an irritable, negative piece of shit, but that cloud of doom held me tight in its shadow, forcing me into straight-up survival mode. It’s called seasonal depression, seasonal affective disorder (SAD), or what I like to call the winter blues. It sounds a little lighter to me that way and isn’t technically accurate for my situation, but I don’t give a fiery deuce. Whatever you call it, it’s emotionally defeating and negatively impacting my life in a very real and frustrating way.

Maybe this current episode is due to the added stresses of the recent holidays or having the huge responsibility of molding my kids into highly functioning, well-adjusted, self-reliant adults. Maybe it’s because the only exercise I get is putting the dishes away, making vacuum marks, and sneezing on occasion. Maybe it’s caused by the lack of sunshine (I still love you, Seattle), a chemical shift in my noggin, or maybe it just IS. Sometimes I get caught up in the “why” and that’s not where I need to be.  All I know is that if there were an award up for grabs for Most Miserable Negative Wretch, I’d probably win 3rd runner-up (because I suck that much) and then insist on a digital copy, so I wouldn’t have to go pick it up.

Being depressed

Prepare yourself, this section is pretty depressing. I want to paint a picture of what depression looks like. It’s different for everyone, of course, but the theme is there. It doesn’t ever go away, but there are times when it’s much worse. This is a bad time for me, as you’ll clearly see. If you could hear some of my thoughts, you’d probably have tears in your eyes, but I won’t go into many of those.DrowninginDepression

I look around and see gray skies, barren tree limbs, bare streets, and death. Yes, death. Everywhere. People, animals, garden flowers, dry skin, my will to shave or get out of bed – all dead. I’m reminded of those I’ve lost along the way. I think of our pup who left us almost 2 years ago…it was so traumatic, I don’t know if I’ll ever get past the horror of losing him the way that we did. I miss his loving heart, protective nature, and his big fuzzy ears. Then there’s my grandma. I long to be in my happy place – in her green, 70’s-inspired kitchen eating a peanut butter and butter sandwich on Wonder bread, having her tell me I have a “cute shape” and how talented and special I am. It makes me so sad to think of these things that I’ll never have again, these bonds that have been broken. That’s a never-ending road if I let those memories drive. Of course I’m grateful for those memories – but being grateful doesn’t take away the pain. Depression feeds on the dark stuff and sucks out the light.

Depression is feeling like you’ve been ironed out by a steamroller, like when you get the flu, only there’s no phlegm and the zap just doesn’t go away. I feel weak, tired, emotionally detached, tense, and heavy. I visualize myself wearing flannel, drowning in a murky, cold, stagnant pond of goo. Occasionally I manage to break free from the darkness and gasp for air, but my limbs are too weak and I slip back under. This time of year it’s dark when I leave the house and dark when I get home. All I want to do is sleep. I know extra sleep won’t help, but I desperately fantasize about sleeping for a month. Just a month to check out, and then maybe I’d wake up feeling refreshed. Just want to check out.

My worries tend to haunt me – futuristic crap like having to go find my next job, having to talk to someone when I’m not ready, my loved ones dying, getting into a car wreck, or the Seahawks not making it to the Super Bowl. I’m extremely irritable, indifferent, foggy-brained, and self-critical to the point that I’d classify as my own relentless bully.

JustTiredDepression

I don’t want to do anything or see anyone and would rather spend all day locked up in my bedroom with chocolate cake and booze (don’t worry, I’m not going there). My instinct is to isolate for a few reasons; I’m too busy spending time in my head, I don’t want to depress anyone, I don’t want anyone to see how miserable I feel, and most people either irritate me or stress me out for some reason. Often times I’m a raging, ball-breaking hag because I just can’t handle how I feel. My husband gets the brunt of it, the sorry sack.

If I could have a superpower, I’d either want the ability to fly (fly away FAST) or become invisible. I want to be invisible more often than I want to admit. Depression is an overwhelming experience and frankly, when I’m in the throes of it, it makes me not want to be me. This is a big problem because I’m actually happy, I’m pretty cool, and I have an amazing life!!! I have it all – in fact, I think that makes me even more depressed about being depressed. As a recovering alcoholic, it’s especially important that I fight through. Hopelessness and desperation is a recipe for relapse or worse.

“The most powerful words you can say to someone with an invisible illness is…I believe you.”

 

Finding the light

Depression is dark, so we must seek the light, whatever that means to you. There are things we can do to help make it through. Here’s how I find light:

1. Be with people

  • Supportive people. Luckily, I have people who lift me up. My husband steps up continuously and I depend on his optimism, strength, persistence, and mind-blowing amount of energy, even though it annoys the shit out of me. My kids help me appreciate the simple, most valuable parts of life, pulling me back into the moment. My mom has always been my key to staying grounded and my dad relates with me because we experience a lot of the same struggles AND we can laugh about them. My brother and sister-in-law inspire me and love me for who I am. I even have a close friend or two. A girl couldn’t really ask for more.
  • Set boundaries. I set internal boundaries with everyone. One might call them walls – whatever works. I don’t hang out with assholes and I limit my time with people who trigger negative emotions in me. I don’t care about the reasons why at this point, I just keep my distance as much as possible.
  • Spend time with an animal. Animals are far better than most people. Pets offer unconditional, uncomplicated love and acceptance. They distract us, bring us into the moment, promote touch, get us outside, ease anxiety…need I say more?

2. Be aware of moments

  • Be grateful. You know that feeling when you go on vacation and the stresses of your everyday life disappear and your partner doesn’t annoy the holy living hell out of you? I know that a similar state of being is achievable. It’s probably called peace. I experience peace every night when I kiss my 5-year-old before bed (I love the other kid just the same, but I can’t risk waking the beautiful little freak up at this point) – he’s sleeping so soundly and he’s so damn amazing, I take a big whiff of his neck, give him a few pecks and walk out of his room with a pure, whole, glowing white heart. That’s peace. Sometimes that’s the only peace I get all day and I’m grateful for it.
  • Slow down. Take a deep breath. One deep breath does wonders, you just have to actually remember to do it.
  • Set small goals. I found some pro-longed peace the other day (better than I’ve felt in months) – I’d completed all 3 tasks on my to-do list, sat in front of my “happy light” for a few hours, AND did yoga! While I still felt like a constipated asshole, I felt much lighter, accomplished, and optimistic. Optimistic?! Yes, optimistic! Now that I’m awake to this current depressive episode, I am able to do more about it bit by bit. Some days brushing your damn teeth is an accomplishment…celebrate the fact that your teeth are no longer wearing wool sweaters.

3. Go outside

  • Get some sun. I’ve always been a sun worshipper, probably because I’ve always been depressed. The benefits I get from the sun far outweigh any potential risk of skin cancer. My husband doesn’t get that. He sings a melanoma song sometimes when he finds me sitting in the sun, but I’m not a pasty white English boy with a history of bad sunburns. Now that I’ve entered mid-life (WTF?!), I can only handle 10-20 minutes in sun before I’m spent anyway. But that’s all I need. The feeling I get when I’m sitting in the warm sun is amazing. Drink it up with your eye balls and soak in the warmth on your skin. (I don’t want to get sued, so I’ll just say, please don’t look directly AT the sun. Sun rays can enter your eye balls if you’re simply looking in its direction. If you look directly at the sun, you’re an idiot and you need more help than I can lend.)
  • Try light therapy. I’ve used my new “happy light” 5 or 6 times within the past few weeks or so and I do believe it is helping my mood. It gives me a bit of a headache at first, but then I’m good.
  • Remember that Spring is coming. It helps to be reminded that winter won’t last forever. If we could remove January, February, and March from our calendars, I’d be stoked. Living in Seattle during wintertime is a real pisser.

4. Eat OK

  • Make better choices. I’m not asking you to change it all and emulate Dr. Oz. You don’t have to get all freaky about it and go organic or vegan, just make small improvements. Instead of a candy bar, choose a juicy sweet apple. Instead of white bread, try a loaf of wheat or sourdough. Have 2 scoops of ice cream instead of 5.
  • Give yourself a break. I have the tendency to eat my emotions or attempt to fill voids with food. Rather than fight that urge to binge, I just let it be and make sure it’s food that isn’t completely useless. I take down a seriously large bowl of popcorn with coconut oil regularly. Popcorn = whole grain, fiber, antioxidants. Coconut oil = saturated fat (it’s good, y’all), vitamins and minerals, digestive benefits.
  • Drink water. Water is important for so many reasons. Flush those toxins out. If you’re like me, dealing with constipation, water is essential. Having a large, compacted piece of shit crammed in your intestines doesn’t feel good and certainly adds to irritability, at least for me.
  • Eat less sugar. Sugar is evil.
  • Don’t eat fast food. The only thing you score with a $4 lunch combo is fake shit full of chemicals, sugar, and fat. McDonald’s is a twisted joke. Fast food is an energy suck. Please don’t put that shit into your body!

5. Get into a routine

  • Get up early. I started getting up at the same time everyday about 2 weeks ago. When I hear my alarm go off I want to scream and thrash about like a 2 year-old, maybe even poke my husband in the eye, but I do feel more prepared for the day, once I’m ready to go.
  • Get enough sleep. This isn’t news. It’s hard to feel human, let alone like a good one when you’re tired.
  • Challenge your negative self-talk. This shit is exhausting. But, if you just try to be more aware of it and do what you can to redirect your thoughts or tell yourself to shut the hell up, it will help. Every little effort counts.
  • Take meds if you need to. This here a controversial one, but I’m going to set it right. First of all, see a mental health professional, not your regular doctor. Regular doctors aren’t trained in mental health and don’t know shit. If you’re anti-meds, just hear this – no one is going to give you a medal for toughing it out on your own. If you’re miserable and can’t break free on your own, get some god damned help. Give it a whirl. If you’re afraid of becoming dependent on it, you should probably let that shit go – if it makes life easier, so be it. Life is too short to feel like shit all the time. I’ll pop a pill till the day I’m dead if it helps. Educate yourself.

6. Move more

Exercise is a tough one for me. It used to come naturally, but not anymore. I see people running on the street and I want to open my car door and clip ’em. I’m jealous as hell that I don’t have that drive or will to be able to commit to something so challenging and rewarding. I don’t like committing to things like gyms or workout routines now because I end up losing money and feeling like a worthless dumbass. I am careful not to set myself up for failure. “Well, just DO it then” you say? How about that doesn’t work for me and we’ll just leave it at that.

  • Make small changes. Instead of organized fitness, I’ve been making small efforts throughout my day. Parking farther away from the grocery store is a good one (no, I’m not 80 years old, but all it takes is a little shift of intention sometimes). I’ve taken a few flights of stairs at work for the hell of it (or maybe it was to get away from some idiot crop dusting my area). No matter how I get there, I am making an effort to move more. I’ve taken a few yoga classes and managed to hold my fart in, so those were HUGE encouraging wins. None of this is routine and certainly won’t get me bathing suit ready, but now this is all I can handle. At least it’s something. Plus, I don’t know if I even care if I’m bathing suit ready anymore…I just want to FEEL good.

7. Laugh

LaughterHelpsDepressionLaughing makes us feel better instantly. It is a natural pain reducer, lowers your blood pressure, and lowers stress hormone levels. It relaxes our bodies and gives us an overall feeling of well-being.

  • Find something that makes you laugh every day. Sitcoms are great. Check out some YouTube videos of people falling down or look at pictures of animals cuddling or being cute. Find a goofy morning radio show that makes you chuckle. Whatever makes you laugh, find more of it. And don’t forget about the power of farts. Thinking about, talking about, and ripping farts is funny. And not just to me…you know you can’t help but laugh when someone in the stall next to you rips a long, raspy toilet bow fart. Those echo chambers are there for your entertainment! Smelling someone else’s fart is highly offensive and instantly turns me violent, but everything else about farts is hilarious. Enjoy them!

I’m still pretty deep in that pond of goo, but I can see a ladder to grab and my legs are kicking. This too shall pass and life will go on. I’ll take my moments of peace and keep trying for more, by taking small mindful steps.

If you’re really struggling, this list looks like a piece of shit. I know. It’s so hard to imagine feeling better sometimes. In that case I’ll tell you to do this: put your hand on your heart. Do it. I’m not going to move on until you do it…….OK….Do you feel your heart beating? I couldn’t either and it almost freaked me out…try your pulse. Feel that? That’s your heart pumping blood. That’s love in there. That’s your strength to get you through another day. If I can do it, you can do it. Please don’t give up. Every effort counts, no matter how small it seems to you or others. Your story doesn’t end here and neither does mine.

Thanks for reading,

Chrystal

“Depression is like a bruise that never goes away. A bruise on your brain. You just got to be careful not to touch it where it hurts. It’s always there, though.”

10 things you should know about people with anxiety

Anxiety makes daily life a real pain in the ass for everyone involved. We all feel anxious from time to time, but people with anxiety disorders have a hard time controlling it. There are at least 40 million American adults living with an anxiety disorder (source: National Institute of Mental Health). It might be helpful to know a few things about us anxious folks, since we are everywhere. My assumption is that you want to help someone you love if you are reading this – if you’ve never experienced it, you will probably never understand anxiety and that’s okay. You can still be helpful through the unfolding of it. Keep in mind that no experience is the same. I’m not speaking for everyone with anxiety, just doing my part to increase awareness. If I scare the shit out of you, you’re welcome.

1. It has nothing to do with you

Our anxiety has nothing to do with you, however directed at you it may seem. Anxiety is a constant mental battle that manifests physically, or does it start in our bodies? Either way, being miserable in our own skin makes it hard to be pleasant sometimes – and we might not even realize what’s happening. Irritability is a near constant in my world, so while it’s possible I’m annoyed with YOU, don’t take it too personally. Hopefully I don’t seem like a complete asshole, but if I do, just be happy you’re not me.

MjAxMy1lZTE0NGM4ZWJiM2JmMGI5

www.someecards.com

2. We know we’re irrational

The epitome of anxiety is this: Knowing, as you’re freaking out, that there’s no reason to be freaked out, but you can’t shut it down. Some of the emotions we entertain are like the fruit flies currently invading my kitchen – they’re tiny, annoying, and useless, yet we can’t seem to take our focus off of them until they’re all dead and gone. Sometimes a worry can start being legit, but we take it to an epic and destructive level.

3. Anxiety hurts

Physically

The physical toll anxiety takes on my body is the most frustrating aspect of anxiety for me. Anxiety is really physically uncomfortable – it doesn’t hurt the same way for everyone.

  • Hot and cold flashes – When I was working in customer service, I ran into my favorite teacher from 3rd grade! Rather than act like a normal person, my body flushed over in a cold wave of terror and then I was instantly a hot mess of dripping, beastly sweat, a stuttering fool with horrific red blotches on my chest. Awkward. That was bullshit – I experience similar moments regularly.
  • Racing heartbeat, palpitations – Heart palpitations feel like having a goldfish flopping around in my chest. I even visualize the scaly thing in there and start to wig out even more. There have been several times when I’ve been close to dialing 911, but instead I sit in paranoid silence, waiting it out, realizing I’m not ready to die.
  • Feeling restless or on edge – If you see me in the same spot for more than 20 minutes and I don’t look like I’m in agony, consider it a small miracle.
  • Easily tired – I’m always spent. There are multiple reasons for this, but anxiety is one of them. Fighting anxiety is like being in a constant state of fight or flight and takes its toll daily. I rarely get to take naps with two small kids all up in my grill, but when the opportunity knocks, I indulge and it feels so luxurious.
  • Muscle tension and pain – My jaw is so buff from clenching my teeth, I’d put a pit bull to shame. My chest, shoulders, and neck are always tense. Massages can be helpful, but I’m so paranoid about letting one fly, I don’t get very relaxed.
  • Intestinal shit – Speaking of letting one fly, I can be  a gassy gal. 1 part genes, 1 part anxiety. I probably have IBS. This is a overshare, but my husband can tell when I am constipated. Isn’t that nice? Sometimes, if I’m a bit unruly, he’ll ask, “Have you pooped lately?” At least he pays attention.
  • Knots and stomach butterflies – I eat to cover them up and then I don’t shit them out. Good stuff.
  • Dizzy, light-headed – Makes me feel incapable at times.
  • Numb or tingly – Usually my arms or legs get pins and needles and that’s when I recognize I need to sit down for a few minutes and chill.

Mental

Many thoughts, emotions, and behaviors revolve around anxiety. I’m too exhausted from listing the physical symptoms to delve into these much, but here are some common symptoms:

  • Obsessive thinking
  • Compulsive behavior
  • Difficulty concentrating – I don’t play cards or board games because I just can’t focus.
  • Memory problems – Sometimes I have a hard time forming thoughts because my brain and body are so concentrated on the sustained anxiety. This is why I can’t tell a story to save my life, turn into an inarticulate moron during job interviews, and repeatedly ask if anyone has seen my phone. I go blank during any type of confrontation and could never EVER be in a debate club, no matter how passionate I am.
  • Irritable

4. Social situations can be torture

I'm leaving early!

www.someecards.com

Although avoidance can lessen anxiety in the short-term, it doesn’t work for actually living life.  I’d probably be a hermit most of the time if I could. I’d just sit in my house, back out of plans, and be happy as a clam doing so. Back in my drinking days I’d “pre-funk” before every type of social event so I was loose, less self-conscious, and more outgoing. Now that I’m sober, my pre-funks consist of mostly internal freak-out sessions over shit that will never happen. I secretly hope shit gets cancelled all the time and would even welcome a hearty cold if it meant I could stay home.

Because interacting with people can be so anxiety-inducing, we are picky about who we let close. We put up walls for those who don’t make the cut to keep ourselves safe.

5. Don’t try to talk us out of it

panic attack

www.someecards.com

The worst feeling in the world is when someone tells me to “get over it” or “just relax.” These statements make me feel like I’m broken and alone, and show a blatant misunderstanding of the nature of anxiety. Believe me, if it was that simple, I would have done it already. More often than not, there is no logical reason for my anxiety, it just is. There’s a fine line between talking me out of it and helping me. “Let’s get down to the bottom of this, why are you anxious?” That’s what my well-intentioned husband says, trying to get me to put it into words so he can help. It has helped a few times, but most often my mind goes blank, my body gets tighter, and I feel even more like a freak, especially since I was trying to hide my anxiety in the first place and got called out on it.

6. Panic attacks are real

I remember when I thought that people who had panic attacks were legitimately crazy. How can you be so whacked-out that you lose bodily control in a terrorized panic over nothing?! This is where there’s a huge disconnect – it can make sufferers and their loved ones really frustrated. It’s really hard to understand and even harder to describe. A panic attack can come out of nowhere or it can be fear-induced. You can maybe feel it coming or suddenly it’s happening, taking your breath away. Either way, once you’ve experienced one of these bad boys, it’s like a mission in life to never ever have another. Panic attacks are so scary! To me, it feels like my body is completely out of control – sweating, fuzzy headed, pounding heart, blurred vision, shaking, gonna shit myself – sheer terror. I had my first panic attack at a grocery store in my early 20s and it was so unexpected and terrifying, I felt like I’d lost a bit of my sanity, never to be found again.

7. We have moments of brilliance

When we are aware of our anxiety and working on it, we experience glowing moments of perfection. These moments come and go and sometimes we shock the hell out of ourselves with our amazingness. I’m not always a total freak. Especially since I’m getting older and caring a little less about what people think of me. I’ve managed to reduce the frequency of some of my more useless agonies, like the torture of walking through the cafeteria at work to get some damn food. Sometimes I can actually get in and out of there without feeling a thousand eyes upon me, waiting for me to trip or shoot a boogie out of my nose… I consider these moments huge successes for me. Don’t always assume we are having anxiety. The last thing we want is for you to approach us like wigged-out weaklings, plus it could totally deter a brilliant moment or just piss us off. If we have shared some triggers with you, then it’s cool to be mindful of them, otherwise, let us be. And don’t push us to get better. We are handling it and always trying to be better.

8. We are grateful people

We are grateful for our moments of brilliance  – for every time we overcome a situation – we experience intense relief and these moments accumulate. We are also grateful for those people in our lives who try to understand and work with us. I never take for granted those who are there for me and are genuinely interested in my well-being and happiness. My circle may be tiny, but it’s solid. I’m most grateful for my mom’s unwavering support and for my husband’s patience and commitment to me.

9. We know living with us is hard

My anxiety is our anxiety, sorry

www.someecards.com

As long as you know that we know, and we’re working on it constantly, you need to allow the process. We know how much of a burden our anxiety is, and we do not need a reminder. I know the consequences of my anxiety are annoying, frustrating, and sometimes hurtful. Try being me. There may never come a day when I’m fully composed or uninhibited – that ship sunk when I got sober. I consider myself a positive person, but anxiety breeds negativity – it just does. Again, take a step back and be grateful you aren’t me. Your patience and compassion are appreciated. Remember we are always working on it and we are worth it.

10. We want you to learn more

Whatever you can do to learn more about what anxiety looks and feels like in someone’s everyday life, the better. You don’t have to be able to relate to us, in fact I’d rather not subject you to that – a general understanding will do. Compassion goes a long way.

 

 

Here are some ways you could potentially help someone with anxiety:

  • Be mindful – Knowing some of their triggers may be helpful. When we’re dining at a restaurant, my husband takes the seat that’s facing the crowd, so I can either look at a wall or fewer people. It makes me nervous seeing people and eating in front of them, so he shuts it down every time. I appreciate it every time.
  • Be proactive – Take steps to help mitigate the anxiety or lighten the load. My husband does a lot of the talking in social situations and helps me out when I’m fumbling for words (except for when Roger Goodell asked me how I liked the NFL and I froze like a fool, LIKE A FOOL! – I’ll agonize about that until the day I die!). Actually, he talks more than anyone I’ve ever known and rarely shuts up – I’m almost always grateful for it.
  • Find compassion – If you can’t find compassion, keep your thoughts to yourself. I don’t like to hear negative shit about people who struggle with this shit like I do. When people like us hear you judging so-and-so for not wanting to hang out or for being weird or socially retarded, we’re subconsciously understanding that it’s not okay that we’re that way. So, no matter how whacked someone may seem, maybe if you just let it go and move on with your life, we’ll all be a little lighter. It’s sometimes second nature to make fun of shit we don’t understand, just consider your audience. If we do it, it’s okay though. 😉
  • Compromise – We aren’t as social as my husband would like to be and he doesn’t complain about it – having said that, he’s a social freak and that shit needs to get locked down anyway. I need my down time and he knows that’s important to me. I can’t always be “up”. It’s not in my nature and doesn’t serve me.
  • Touch us – My husband often rubs my hand while we are driving around in the car, knowing the extreme effect it has on my well-being. Ahhhh. It can change who I am in a moment. Touch is powerful. Touch is survival. I need more of it.
  • Remind us to breathe – “Take a deep breath” – My mom is so good at reminding me to do this. One deep breath can completely turn a moment around. I need this reminder more often.
  • Laughter is the best medicine –  We are always winning when we’re laughing! I find it soothing to watch mindless comedy on TV. Being gassy comes in handy, too. Sometimes I act a fool, like a giggling, immature school girl…you might not get it, but I do, so let me have it! Sit down with your anxious friend and watch some good ‘ol Tommy Boy or I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry. Light moments are fun.

There are no cures for anxiety disorders, but there are many ways to find some relief. No one disorder or management of it looks the same as another. I hope you learned something new about people with anxiety, I know I did by putting it into words for the first time. If you struggle, I hope you find the help you’re looking for. If you suffer from knowing one of us, don’t be a dick and try harder to understand. If you question something, ask me. I’ll tell you what I know after I’ve obsessed about it and rehearsed my answer for a few months, then spell-checked it and re-rehearsed and then contemplated if it was too late to answer. 😉

Thanks for reading,

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

Debunking the Dry Drunk

Somebody called me a “dry drunk” behind my back. That was over a year ago, but I’ve carried it with me ever since. It’s probably time to let this shit out because I’m getting pissed about still being pissed. I had to do some research, as I’d never heard of a dry drunk before. Turns out, I have a BIG problem with this label, so I want to raise awareness of its absurdity and potential for damage. It’s not helpful to anyone and needs to go away.

You can Google the shit out of “dry drunk” – it’s everywhere. It might seem like a simple term, but it’s riddled with bullshit. As I understand it, a dry drunk is someone who is abstaining from alcohol or drugs, but still hasn’t found inner-peace or happiness in life because they’re stuck in their old ways of thinking. The original term referred to a rare condition that can occur during the first few months of recovery — you stumble around like a sloppy drunk, even though you’re stone-cold sober. In reality, it’s an imaginary disease invented by A.A. and has evolved into a condescending slur, suggesting that the sober person is angry, resentful, and emotionally stagnant – surely on the verge of relapse. If you don’t do the twelve steps, you will likely suffer from this “condition”, according to many members of A.A. Legitimate recovery sites play into this fear and nonsense. They advise about “how to avoid dry drunk syndrome”, “signs you’re a dry drunk”, and “treatment for dry drunk syndrome”.

soberchrystal.comI take my sobriety seriously and no one is going to scoff at it on my watch.

Labeling someone in recovery as a “dry drunk” only feeds the stigma we are all trying so desperately to annihilate. It’s insulting and shameful, and sows the seeds of fear. Everyone judges; it’s human nature. But this is taking it too far. It’s a display of ignorance and makes my name-caller look like an evil piece of shit.

Hell yes, I call people names. But it’s usually contained within my vehicle, aimed at other drivers, and more than likely true. I never said I was perfect. If you’re on my ass, slowing down to merge, honking at a traffic light (wtf?!), not waving after I let you in, or performing a 10-point parking job at Costco, you’re a “dumb ass” (totally censored) and I would like you to eat shit. I get that I should probably tone it down, especially with kids in tow, but I consider my road rage a survival tool. This way my head doesn’t explode and we don’t have a parking lot derby on our hands. And let’s be real – there are a lot of stupid and rude people. You can't fix stupid. But, you can beat the shit out of it.When someone else’s lack of awareness slows me down, I release my fury in a Tourette-like fashion – quick, loud, and vulgar. After that, it’s out and I’m done. When assholes dare to speculate about MY sobriety, it simply isn’t overcome with an epic tongue lashing. We need change.

I am privileged to be part of an amazing, brave, remarkable community of recovering addicts. We must support and celebrate each other on all paths, whether we understand.

I’ve compiled the following list of “symptoms” that dry drunks tend to portray. NOTE: I’m over 8 years into my recovery and still experience most of this stuff regularly. I don’t believe we should focus on trying to avoid it; we need to live it and learn. It’s absurd to assume that any sort of combination of these “symptoms” will inevitably lead to relapse.

“Symptom” Logic
Old patterns remain. This shit takes time. And some things never change. Patterns are hard to break and recovery requires patience. This does not mean you are on the verge of relapse.
Struggling in sobriety. If you’re struggling, it doesn’t necessarily mean that you are doing anything wrong. If it’s not a struggle, you’re probably a robot. I struggle often, which is the purpose of this blog and my Twitter account. For those in recovery there are endless resources, such as treatment centers, websites, books, and counselors – proving that everyone struggles in recovery.
Romancing the drink. This is when we remember all the good things about our drinking past. We push the pains we experienced as a result of our booze binges aside and daydreams dance through our heads like happily drunken rainbows and booze-soaked cotton candy. Who the hell doesn’t reminisce?! It’s totally normal to get caught up in these “enhanced” memories. They are moments that we all must work through and I don’t expect them to ever go away completely. Plus, I had some damn good times. I always get back around to embracing the reasons for and benefits of my sobriety.
Anxiety. If you don’t have anxiety about shit, how do you know if it’s important to you? I think anxiety is a necessary natural force that has alerted me of potential dangers, especially in early recovery. NOTE: There are a ton of alcoholics that have other shit going on, like other mental health issues they struggle with, as well as their addiction. Describing these people as dry drunks is stupid and makes me want to punch someone in the face.
Angry and resentful. Clearly, this is me. Often. Sometimes when my husband is drinking, talking about drinking or spending money on drinking, I want to chop his egg-shaped head off. Sure, anger and resentment blow, but they’re a work in progress and are stepping-stones. I’m not on the verge of relapse because I have domestic fits of rage. I may drive my husband to drink, but that’s a different story!
Jealousy. You can bet your sweet ass I’m jealous of the “normies”. It’s ugly, but it’s part of the deal. In some ways, I think jealousy has helped push me in the direction I want to move toward my own goals. In other ways, it makes me want to shove a half-drunken beer bottle up someone’s ass.
Being impatient or pursuing whims. I tend to exaggerate the importance and urgency of things to the point that I’m hostile. If I miss out on something because of someone else’s stupidity, it pisses me off. It’s not going to make me polish off a fifth of vodka, though. And I consider the ability to pursue a whim a beautiful thing.
Inability to make decisions. The only things I truly know are how I like my coffee and that I’m always hungry. I couldn’t decide on whether or not to comment further on this.
Detachment and self-absorption. These are survival skills! I think self-absorption is necessary while we’re relearning how to approach just about every single thought and feeling in our lives. Sobriety is an intense personal journey. I have to detach at times to keep my sanity.
Mood swings, trouble with expressing emotions, feeling unsatisfied. I’ve been a moody son of a bitch all my life – it is part of my charming personality. I have trouble expressing my emotions to others because I am socially retarded. And any time I feel unsatisfied, I see it as a kick in the ass to change something, no matter how long it takes me to realize. None of these are going to send me crawling into a liquor store.
Less participation in a 12-step program, or withdrawal from it completely. Suck it! Suck it right now!

We have the right to judge and say whatever we want, but I expect a healthy heart and mind in recovery to be a little more accepting and a little less spiteful. Maybe this name-calling is a coping mechanism because she (my name-caller) is scared to consider another path. The freedom of my 12-step-free journey requires self-awareness, self-empowerment, and accountability that she may not have the balls to explore. It’s natural to try to make sense of things that we don’t understand. She has been sober for over a year and still goes to two A.A. meetings per day. That shit boggles my damn mind. I’d be whacked to keep that up – my knuckles would probably glow in the dark! But I don’t know what it’s like to live in her world and I don’t need to understand. I am still proud as hell of her for staying sober all this time and support her journey moving forward. I expect more compassion and flexibility of my recovering peers. I expect more accountability.No one understands and that's ok

We all work really hard in sobriety. One more day sober is another amazing feat. We don’t know what anyone goes through every day. We don’t know how anyone feels. We don’t see the work people are doing on the inside. And we are not psychics or mind readers. Sometimes just staying sober is ok. It has to be – we’ve all been there. Recovery is likely the hardest thing we will ever have to live through. Can we please be a little gentler with each other and lose this label? There are lots of mysteries in recovery – focus on your own. If you don’t have something nice or supportive to say about someone else’s recovery, please keep your mouth shut. And maybe I’ll work on my road rage.

Thanks for reading,

Chrystal

‘Tis the season to get shit-faced – staying sober through the holidays

‘Tis the season to get shit-faced! The holidays – between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Eve in the US – can be one of the most dangerous times of the year for those of us who are trying to maintain sobriety. It can be a time of happiness and celebration, a time of pain and desperation or a little bit of both – all of which are equally good reasons to get drunk. This is also a time where drinking is not only more accepted, it almost seems to be expected. It’s hardly surprising that so many people indulge in seasonal binge-drinking. Throw us sober folks into the mix and it’s a perfect storm.

The good stuff

This time of year makes me feel warm and fuzzy for so many reasons – the warmth I feel from within, the twinkling lights that surround me, the gratefulness I feel toward the people who touch my heart and the giving-ness I feel toward complete strangers – that’s powerful stuff! Every time I hear the song, O holy night, I get serious goose bumps and a feeling I can’t quite explain – and I’m a “non-believer!” My point is, for many reasons this season tends to make the world around us seem a bit brighter, warmer, more magical, giving, and hopeful.

The other stuff

For many of us, this isn’t necessarily a happy-go-lucky time of year. It’s a time to reflect on our lives and what’s missing from them – lost loves, lost money, lost dreams.

If you’re anything like me though, you may tend to get depressed no matter how wonderful life may be. I do believe that you can’t truly know one extreme without the other; stars can’t shine without the darkness. I’ve been low. I’ve experienced devastating losses. I’ve been lonely, scared, dark and broken. I’m grateful for those experiences now because I’d never known joy could be so peaceful, passionate, warm, uplifting and all-encompassing. Having said that, often when I’m in those moments of joy, I’m suddenly reminded of the people I’ve lost, with whom I’d love to share those moments. The awareness of those losses is the ickiest part for me.

Also at the tip of our minds may be money, or lack thereof – this is the time of giving. There’s so much pressure on us to buy shit, it’s ridiculous.

It’s easy to lose hope without a supportive family and/or environment. A bad attitude will bring you down, too. Isolation is a common theme for many of us sober folks and this time of year it seems to have a magnetic effect. I am so happy to report that MY ENTIRE FAMILY IS SOBER! How awesome is that?! (My husband and mom don’t count, as they can have just one or two drinks and call it a day – non-alcoholic freaks!) I feel such a tight bond with my dad and my brother, especially this year. Even my sister-in-law is sober! We are not only family, but it feels like we are part of an elite club. A club so many won’t ever understand and that so many could only imagine having the balls to join. If you’re in our club, you know what I mean and you should be damn proud of yourself.

Just don’t do it

Succumb to these seasonal feelings of darkness – isolation, pressure, loss – and you’re lurking in the danger zone. But would the world really end if you had just one? Sometimes I entertain the idea of having just one White Russian to honor my grandma’s memory. She too, was a boozer after all. And we sure do have good memories from our drinking days, don’t we? That general feeling of togetherness is what I miss the most. But we must remember where it ultimately led us – one drink and we’d be there, only worse this time. It’d be the end of life as we know it. At least that’s how I see it.

Please consider the following advice to help keep your hard-earned sobriety intact throughout the remainder of this season:

  1. Focus on your health. Get enough sleep, eat well and relax.
  2. Remember, you’re not alone. Don’t isolate yourself with the hopes of staying sober – loneliness is a HUGE trigger. Reach out if you need the help. If you’re worried about your pride or looking like a pussy, it’s too late – you’re already an alcoholic, so just get over it. Must. Stay. Sober.
  3. Let the pressure go. Do what you can and want to do. Set aside an evening to shop online instead of venturing out into the madness; Amazon rocks. Leave the cookie making to someone else this year. Don’t make that grueling 5 hour drive just to see people you’d rather see on Skype. Making others happy is certainly one thing, but when you’re compromising your own happiness, it’s just not worth it. Do something different. Or don’t do anything at all. Just let it go and do your own thing this year.
  4. Keep your distance from any annoying relatives, if you can. If you can’t, just be grateful there’s no chance you’ll get wasted and try to beat their face in or tell them how you really feel. Don’t let their idiocy ruin your cool, sober vibe.
  5. Plan ahead. Don’t get into those situations that you can avoid, but if you have to go to an office party, for instance, have an escape route. Or go late and leave early, no one notices or cares how long you’re there.
  6. Make it count. If you’re like me, a bit of an anxious introvert, and you’re feeling nervous or awkward about attending an event, just don’t go. It’s better to be sober and at home, than to be uncomfortable, on-edge and potentially tempted. Only you can protect your sobriety.
  7. Remember – No one cares if you’re drinking or not. If they DO care, they’re obviously retarded and you can feel free to junk punch them. Screw what people think about you – you get to decide who matters.
  8. Believe – It’s not what’s in the glass that’s important; it’s what’s in your heart.
  9. Realize – Taking one drink is like jumping out of a plane without a parachute. It will cost you everything, my friend.
  10. Remind yourself and be very proud of just how far you’ve come. Your sobriety is everything! You are worth it.

Happy holidays my sober friends. May you stay strong and sober this holiday season and be reminded of just how amazing and special you truly are. 2013 and its abundance of opportunities and challenges is quickly approaching!

A special note to my friends who DO drink, please Please PLEASE remember the following:

  • Plan ahead – designate a sober driver THAT YOU CAN TRUST
  • Buzzed driving is drunk driving and you know I’m right, so just nutt up and leave your stupid car while you take a cab home. Choose inconvenience over jail or death. You started it anyway, by either being unprepared or by being a lush, you jackass.
  • Don’t EVER tell me how proud of me you are when you’ve been drinking…it makes me want to poke your eyes out and dropkick your head…just had to throw that one out there…

Dangerously Close to Relapse

Last week it presented itself. That moment you look back on and think, “What the hell just happened? How could I let myself even THINK of going down that road? Who AM I?” It was the closest I’ve ever been to relapse. But I’m still sober.

The Moment

It seems surreal to me as I replay the scenario backward and forward in my head. I wasn’t in any particular mood and I hadn’t had a bad day. I have been living a joyful structured life with a fairly simple routine. I was getting ready for dinner on a work night at home with my husband, kid and two dogs. As I poured a glass of wine for my husband I had a light-bulb-moment – “Wait a tick, I think I could handle a glass of wine,” said my suddenly inspired and disillusioned mind. I was so very hopeful and optimistic that this revelation could work; I actually started trying to convince my husband of it OUTLOUD! I had freaking butterflies of nervousness and excitement as I tried to exploit his perceived ignorance, to get him to buy-in. Did I truly believe I could do it in that moment? Well, I had a heaping bag of hope that I could “handle” it, so it was worth a shot, wasn’t it?

“You know you would regret it,” is all he had to say. BAM! Reality quickly took hold and there I was; my bubble burst and ego bruised. Having experienced and exposed such an irrational and crazy train of thoughts made me feel so foolish and unsteady – oddly, like I hadn’t been the one in the driver’s seat for those fleeting moments.

I’ve since realized that ridiculous and scary moment is now just a story. It’s SO last week! It has absolutely no power over me, as long as I don’t let it. I’m still shaking my head in shock and bewilderment however, so in the interest of transparency and further understanding I write this blog today.

What I Think I Know

We recovering alcoholics most certainly are not doomed; we have the power to make healthy choices for ourselves. I do think it’s important to be aware of the forces we’re up against however, so we can proactively arm ourselves for any future episodes that may slap us in the face.

Stress

Science has taught us that stress is a common trigger for relapse. I thought I had managed my “bad” stress well, until I wrote down a list of a few of my current stressors. Duh! I think managing stress is somewhat of an illusion, anyway. Life will always be stressful. I don’t care who you are, attempting to achieve balance 100% of the time is almost impossible and unrealistic if you ask me. Stress isn’t all bad; it helps us to meet goals and alerts us of when it’s necessary to make changes in our lives. Relaxation is just another tool we can throw into our ammunition belts! We’re never “too busy”, it’s all about priorities. Put this at the top of your list. Just slow down and breathe.

The Brain

Science also tells us that alcoholism is not a psychological disorder, a spiritual illness, weak will or character defect. Even though it affects seemingly all areas of your life, it is a brain disease. Over time, continuous use has changed my brain structure and function. Essentially, alcohol will always be on the “good list” inside of the “rewards center” in my brain; it has saved a permanent spot for my dear friend, Alcohol. I can do the hard work to reprioritize and fill this rewards center with healthy, rewarding acts and things, but as far as science has proven, the memory of the pleasurable effects of alcohol is engrained in my brain and will attempt to trick me. No matter how intelligent I think I am, or how life-or-death the decision to drink is for me, I’m always going to have to work against this tricky shit. I dumbed this down to the point that I’ve amazed myself; if you’d like to know more about the alcoholic brain you should look it up. There’s fascinating information out there and they’re learning more and more every day.

Keep Moving Forward

Don’t assume you’re ever “safe,” no matter how focused you are. It’s also one thing STAYING sober, but only through personal growth, will you be successful in LIVING sober. You want to LIVE, don’t you? Be loving. Be patient. Be tough. Be you. Be kind. Be thankful. There is always something to be thankful for. Happiness is living every moment with love and gratitude; it cannot be traveled to, owned, worn, consumed or earned. It just is. Be prepared to protect your happiness and sobriety. Keep moving forward, be in this moment and take it one day at a time. Living sober is just living.

Grow Up

In order to be all we can be we need to join the army. Just kidding, we need to start by growing up a bit. Most of us alcoholics feel some degree of shame – it’s damn near unavoidable – especially in our society where there is still so much stigma attached to alcoholism. We can’t control what anyone thinks about a given situation and we’re not ever going to be aware of the half of it, so we just have to let it go; not learn to let it go, just let the shit go. Life is too precious to let such an icky emotion fester when the shame affects nothing but our own beating hearts. In addition to the shame we often torture ourselves with are a number of psychological immaturities we must recognize and work through. Most of us started drinking in our teens or early twenties, when the frontal lobes of our brains were still maturing – responsible for our reasoning and problem solving capabilities. This is a huge one, people…I don’t know that many people realize this. Be accountable and apply the principles of logic to given situations.

Self-talk

If I had a friend who spoke to me the way that I speak to myself, I would have said, “good bye forever, you evil bitch” in an instant. I may have even pulled her hair out and poked her eyeballs a few times, but that’s just the angry drunk in me. It’s really ridiculous how vicious I am to my self when I consider how truly amazing I am. It has been a lot of work, but very rewarding as I am learning to recognize the bullshit things I say to myself about my worth on a damn near moment to moment basis, replacing every destructive thought or emotion with an opposing, positive one that’s more powerful. Start listening to your thoughts.

If you take a few steps back and dissect your reactions to things, they’ll most likely come back to a few key “truths” we subconsciously tell ourselves. My resonating theme seems to be that I’m not good enough. It breaks my heart to admit this to the world, but I have to to work it out. It can be a moment as simple as catching someone’s eye at the grocery store. I instantly get irritated. What’s behind the irritation is insecurity – I assume they are thinking that I look tired, or my hair is freakishly long, or I’m just plain ugly; I’m not good enough. Once I walk through this in my head I replace the thought with, “I AM good enough. I am beautiful in my way,” or whatever makes sense for the instance. I don’t believe it a lot of the time, but practice makes perfect, right? It’s really disappointing when my husband has to tell me how immature I’m being sometimes. Not everything is about me, but I sure do react that way more often than I’d like to. The person I made eye contact with could have thought about a joke they heard, wondering what to make for dinner, or trying to decide whether they should fart or go to the bathroom. No matter what, feeling defensive is certainly in my control. I’ve learned to recognize that when I’m defensive or angry, it’s usually because I’m being irrational. Slow down and walk through it, however exhausting it is! This will also help me to think before I speak, which is SO important – Is it necessary? Is it kind? Is it true? Will it hurt anyone? I sometimes try to accept that I’m one of those people who just sticks their foot in their mouth on a regular basis, but it doesn’t have to be that way. My self-talk controls the way I feel and act.

Attitude

A bad attitude is like a flat tire, you can’t get very far until you change it. My mom used to always say, “Bite yourself and get it over with.” If you’re feeling icky, just suck it up and stop. Realize the positive in every situation, everything and every person. The power of your thoughts can open any door.

Be You

With all the social conditioning out there, it’s easy to forget that this is MY life and I don’t need to do what everyone else is doing. I will never fully believe in myself if I compare myself to everyone else. Instead, I’ll compare myself to who I was yesterday.

It may be easier for most recovering alcoholics to NOT be around alcohol, have it in the house or pour it for someone, but avoiding it like the plague won’t work for me. This “all or nothing” girl now has shades of gray! Woo hoo! There’s no rule book when it comes to recovery and my decisions are just that, mine. I want to function on my own in the society we live in now, without trying to change anyone or anything. I’m certainly strong enough to do so. You may think I’m silly for wanting to be able to pour someone’s drink, but I don’t really give a shit what you think. How do you like them apples?! I’m excited to report that my husband has recently come to understand that all I really wanted was for him to acknowledge how inappropriate it was to assume I’d be okay to serve alcohol. Now that he’s validated my feelings, I feel respected and better understood and free to make my own decisions about it. Now it doesn’t feel like a compromise to pour him a glass of wine. To be clear, I AM still hot or cold about putting my hands on an alcoholic beverage at any given moment – one moment I can’t stand being near it and the next I’m enjoying a good sniff. It’s the respect and understanding I now have that gives me this freedom to choose, though. Naturally, my hubby thinks I’ve lost my marbles, but I don’t care! I reserve the right to be bat-shit crazy; I think I’ve earned it.

Remember that no matter how much progress you make, some people will insist that whatever you’re trying to do is impossible – and these people are a waste of your time. Do what you want to do because other peoples’ boundaries are not your own. No matter how much work I put into this on a daily basis, nor how proud I am that I’m different, there may always be a part of me that comes from deep inside that just wants to fit in and be “normal.” I think that’s a human instinct, but I believe that the more I accept me for me this urge will dwindle. The more proud I become of my choices, the less others’ opinions about them will matter. Don’t ever judge yourself through someone else’s eyes.

Be Nice

I’ve always been under the impression, if you’re nice to me I’ll be nice to you, but that’s kind of lame; there have been a few times lately that people have come off a little rude to me, but I’ve given them the benefit of the doubt and have actually responded MATURELY by STILL being nice. I do believe I helped to turn their days around because of it! Smile at people. Say hello to strangers, ask how they are doing. Listen, help, be courteous, be humble and be sincere. Forget about the mean people, it doesn’t matter why they’re mean, they have a long way to go and they’ll only bring you down.

Be Present

For me, being present means letting the past and future be. Some forces are simply out of our control but our attitude is what affects our overall potential. Anticipating or stressing over something that could happen is such a waste of the present. My scenario driven anxiety sets me back on a regular basis still, but when I concentrate, stop, breathe and let go, it’s really a powerful and uplifting feeling.

I’m not proud of many things I’ve said and done, but that’s okay. The past can’t be erased or changed; only my attitude about it can be. I am not my mistakes and I have learned from them all. I might eventually apologize to a few people, but for the rest of it all, I’m now banking on the past is never where I left it, so move on!

Be Prepared

It all comes down to being prepared. No matter where you are on your journey always be ready for the unexpected. I wasn’t ready to ever be in the place where I’d consider taking another drink, because I thought I was better than that. I’ve considered myself pretty savvy having saved a collection of inspiring quotes in my phone, but in the midst of that impulse was I really going to have the gumption to go searching for some positive affirmations? Negative, Ghost rider. To be prepared, we must be proactive. I might be special, but I’m not invincible or superior on any level. I’m just as susceptible to relapse as anyone else out there. I can’t tell you how huge of a revelation this has been for me. Relapse can happen to anyone. Anyone.

Aside from the growing up I have to do, I have determined that to be better prepared for something like this in the future, I must carry something meaningful to me on my person, at all times; something that supports and celebrates my sobriety. A symbol representing my life, why I want to be here, where I want to be and the struggles I’ve overcome will “hold the power” for me. I have an AA coin in mind – I endured an AA meeting just so I could get my 9 month coin. I will make it into a necklace or bracelet. A tattoo would be easier, but that’s not my style – would you put a bumper sticker on a Ferrari?! 😉 Now that I’ve determined how I will best be prepared for a future slap in the face like this, I’m not afraid, like I was a few days ago. I strongly suggest having something like this for all of my friends who are in recovery out there, if you don’t already. This challenge will likely always exist for us – carry a physical reminder with you everywhere.

Everyone is Susceptible to Relapse

It used to just blow me away that my dad would relapse, especially after going through treatment and basically having everything to lose. Now I get it. This is monumental, people. I wasn’t even going down a slippery slope; I was high on the mountaintop, enjoying the view when this unexpectedness occurred. I was lucky to have my husband right there as my voice of reason, but what if I had been alone? Now I get it.

It’s not about weakness. It’s not about willpower. It’s not about focus. It’s not about support. It’s not about intelligence. It’s not about love. It’s about YOU having the right tools to help you make the right decisions. It’s about taking care of you, being a good person and continuously growing. It’s about having that physical reminder handy to ward off those demons! The difference between who you are and who you want to be is what you do. Be prepared and be amazing.