There is, as the saying goes, a first time for everything. And oh how we long for the firsts. We plan. We prepare. We get excited. But what to do when there is a second time for a first time? I had a friend tell me, "Your first year sober is a year of firsts." And it totally is. For anyone in recovery from something. Especially when you are learning how to do it all. All over again.
When I think of firsts, I, of course, think about those firsts I saw my kids experience. Their first sleep through the night (a favorite of mine). His first solid food. Her first word. His first step. Her first nap accident free (whoop whoop!). Milestones that every parent waits for. If we are lucky, they happen, and when they "should." We write them down in a book. Share a video on Facebook. Instagram the moment. Tweet about our BRILLIANT child's accomplishments. Shout it from the rooftops to all who will tolerate our long winded expressions of joy and gratitude! We celebrate like we never have before, right? "YOU POOPED!! YOU POOPED IN THE POTTY!! Get the application to Harvard Law ready! YOU GENIUS, YOU!"
But once we jot it down, or saturate our social media outlets, that milestone is behind us and on to the next! Rarely do we ever stop to consider the possibility that these met milestones may become milestones to MEET once again someday. Horrible thought, right? As we all know by now, life takes it's own course. Things happen. Accidents. Health. Luck. Choices. All of these factors determine whether or not we will have ANOTHER year of firsts, in a life after the shit. A do-over if you will.
I never envisioned doing anything over again. Learning how to do it all over again, but different. My first time in the grocery store after I came back from treatment, I walked in and stared. Just stared. Frozen. I even knew what I wanted but didn't know how to execute. Sounds crazy, I know. But trauma effects the brain's ability to do what we have already trained it to do. Literally stared. I had two choices. Run to the car in a panic. Or grab some bananas. So I stepped. I stepped forward to the bananas because to run to the car would have been a step back.
Uhhhh...I saaaiiid I went and got bananas! Did you miss that part?? Where are the cheers? The rooftops shouts? The slow clap? Where's the fanfare? Sound the trumpets! The crowds of adoring fans rushing the produce section? The crescendo of of my name in chants? Oh yeah, and did I also mention? I didn't black out on the couch today! AND I gave my 3 year old a bath...SOBER y'all! ...crickets... Where is the celebration for those "life after" firsts. Well, there aren't any. And nor should there be. Because at some point you just continue to do what we should have been doing all along. Living the life we were given in the way it was intended. With purpose.
And I sure as shit did not share those little "accomplishments" of mine on Facebook. Not a Facebook live moment, friends. No one rewards you for doing what everyone else does just 'cause they're supposed to. Guess what? It's all the crap you do that you shouldn't be doing that gets noticed. People whisper concerns. They initiate heart to heart chats. Those are your true adoring fans. The ones who face you.
But it feels different. The sense of accomplishment is different. With life lived on the "other side" you learn to do it all over. And it's good. Because not only do you learn to do things again, but you have been given a gift. The opportunity to do it better. And, oh my God, remember it! Don't take it for granted, folks. Celebrate those mini victories in your heart for there is where it matters. Pat yourself on the back for getting out of bed in the morning. You, yourself, know it may be the hardest thing you do today. Show gratitude for the second chance to do the firsts. And know that you have been chosen to do it all again. Not everyone is as blessed.
Ah, surrender. One of the biggest hurdles I have had in this recovery process. And I am so not alone in that struggle. The concept of surrender. In fact, I had to do it before I even knew how. Or even knew what it meant, for that matter. My way was always the best way. The only way, really. So why concede? What was the point? I knew that if I was going to emerge victorious over this disease it would be because I fought the good fight and won.
Is it giving up? Is it giving in? Is it giving up control to someone else? No longer owning the sole responsibility? In some ways, yes. But life is all about perspective, now isn't it? In the depths of my active addiction, no one was going to tell me how to live my life or what decisions would be "best" for me. Even today, while in recovery, I fight this battle. But I have heard time and time again, and it couldn't be truer, my best thinking got me, and kept me, drunk. I justified it all. It made sense to me to hold onto whatever bountiful control I may have thought I had. The reality was that I was dangling there, all alone. And didn't want, nor thought I needed, another branch to help keep me from falling.
But there is so much irony in this whole idea of surrender. When I finally made the decision to relinquish whatever control I had, I had no other choice. I am powerless over so many things in this world. And funnily enough, I ended up having more control by giving it up. I was completely out of control but I couldn't see that. But I didn't need to get a DUI, lose those I love, or worse, to hit my emotional and mental bottom. I simply had to get to a place where I faced reality and said, "I'm not doing this alone." Fact was, I hadn't been "doing this" at all. I was sinking. And fast.
And make no mistake, I didn't decide to surrender and check it off a to-do list. No. This is on my list of things to remember every minute, every day. It never stops. I didn't surrender to a person. I surrendered to a process. I surrendered to possibilities. And oh my GOD am I grateful I did!
What a sense of relief! To catch the life raft when you're sinking instead of throwing it back, frantically treading water. I grabbed hold and took a deep breath. And I could surrender in one of two ways. Accept the life raft and survive. Or accept the end of a struggle and sink. The fight was no longer mine alone, but rather one to be shared. It's not to say that I absolve myself of any responsibility because that couldn't be farther from the truth of what this is. It is accepting help and offering what you have. It is putting yourself in position to receive a miracle.
And I know this is a little heavy. Not totally the direction I want this to go in. BUT, I think it's important to lay the foundation on which to build anything and everything. And it isn't all going to be unicorns and rainbows! While pretty and tempting, one's imaginary and the other, impossible to follow. Sometimes we have to sift through the shit to get to the good stuff. Consider this shit-sifting!
So now we float. We float up to bigger and better things. We move up. Weightless? Not really but certainly a hell of a lot lighter than before. And what's more...we have people to swim with who won't let us sink. Won't let us drown. How cool is that?! I looked around and decided there was much more fun to be had up there. So I gave up and joined them on the other side.
"Most people believe vulnerability is weakness. But really, vulnerability is courage.
We must ask ourselves...
are we willing to show up and be seen?"
I couldn't tell you the last time I had a drink. I may never know the answer to that. But I can tell you the day I decided it had to stop. And that I couldn't do it by myself. All the endless bargaining, shame-fueled hiding, broken promises, looks of disappointment, destructive lies had to stop. It was killing me and those I love. And relationships were tested beyond measure. Feelings ran cold and people were effortlessly discarded. There wasn't an area in my life that this addiction didn't touch. Alcohol is cunning, baffling, powerful and consciously optimistic is about finding a sense of self and a life in recovery.
I thought a really long time about this post and if I should write it at all. You see, there will be plenty of those who never had an inkling that this was my life. This is where my disease had led me. And honestly, it has been a mere blip of time since that decision to go to treatment. Months, really. But my secrets will keep me sick, if I keep them secrets. So here we are.
Drinking is hilarious, right?! I mean that's what moms do! We get together for our girls' night out's and pour bottles of wine down our throats, while talking about whiny kids and sex lives. Well, some can and be fine the next day. Others of us have to keep going. And can't stop. I will never understand the person that can have just one drink. Why would you drink for any other reason than to get drunk? And, man, the opportunities! I drank to celebrate. To erase a trying day. To numb pain. To feel pain. To socialize. To isolate. To laugh. To cry. To mom. To wife. To function. To live.
And still there are times when I get angry with myself for screwing it up. Screwing it up enough that I can never have another drink and expect anything other than disaster. I romanticize my relationship with alcohol and think about all the good times we had on patios, at BBQs, in bathtubs. I'll never have that again. It's so crazy to think how easy it is to focus on the one thing we don't have instead of looking at all of the things we have and can have as a result of its absence. And there are times, and forever will be, from what I gather, that my sick mind tells me I can have a drink noooow that I've taken a little hiatus. I needed to be scared straight and now I'm cool. No. Not so.
This is not a place for war stories. We all have plenty of those. Instead this is a journey away from the battle ground. It is a place for hope and honesty. It was the stigma attached to all the "ism's" that kept me sick. In treatment, I honestly looked around and thought to myself, "How did I get here? How did I get with these people?" I got "there" and was with "those people" because these sicknesses know no boundaries and no one is above being struck at any moment, so why not grab reality by the balls and live life on purpose.
This is not a blog about alcoholism. Not even one about addiction. Addiction is a part of my story but not everyone's. But this is a blog about recovery. Living life on the other side. Will I be funny? Will people want to hang out with me? What do I like to do? Who am I really? Will I laugh again? All questions I've asked myself and all questions I continue to find answers to. And people recover from all sorts of things. Not just alcoholism. Not just addiction. Depression. Grief. Co-dependency. Abuse. Cancer. We need to know that there is hope buried in all of those that plague us. It is not our fault. It is our responsibility.
In treatment, I decided that I was going to do things differently. Not take things for granted but rather be grateful for all that I had because I heard so many stories from those who had less, lost more. I got back to the gym and in three months, lost 30 of the 90lbs I had gained in a year (calories on that booze will blow your mind). I am working to connect to my higher power. I'm also working on honesty, it's not my jam but I am getting there. I'm repairing relationships, even the one I have with myself. I am searching for self, and probably will be for eternity.
I'm not perfect. Nor do I claim to be. Nor do I WANT to be, for that matter. I'm not going to get it all right the first time. More than likely it will take lots of times. Well then, isn't it totally cool that life gives us chances? We have endless opportunities to get it "right." And we will fuck it up. But we will also conquer it.
And we will laugh again. And we will learn who we are. And we will like it. It is all about being aware, mindful, and positive. It is a belief that something greater than ourselves can guide us. It's owning our shit. It's being vulnerable. It's finding a reason to get out of bed every morning for something good! It's being consciously optimistic.
Fate whispers to the warrior, "You cannot weather the storm." The warrior whispers back, "I am the storm."
My mom was in town this past week to spend time with the kids and ring in another Independence Day with us self-appointed Southerners. Before moving forward, you should know that my daughter is fiercely independent and doesn't need one specified day to celebrate or exercise it. Being three and female, W is very rarely happy or even appeased for more than a 2.5 minute span without some major catastrophe erupting. For example, such horrendous injustices as her dress not twirling high enough or even worse, getting a fudge PopTart instead of cherry. These seemingly minor hiccups to the rest of the world could ruin the day of a 3 year old girl, and thusly, ruining everyone else's.
These issues are frequent. Far too frequent, in fact, that I could never keep up with trying to tidy up the emotional aftermath even if I wanted to (which I don't, if you were wondering). If she would just let me help and stop being so damn independent then things would move so much more smoothly. The world would continue to spin, and revolve around something other than her. I have taught her, well, communicated to her but not really "taught" her, that in those moments of dire, world-ending desperation, all she needs to do is simply and calmly proclaim, "Help, please." THAT"S IT! Does she do it?... Just fucking ask for help!
As my frustration with W's stubborn unwillingness to ask for help would fester, my mom, whom we only see about 1x a year, saw my patience wearing thin (or non-existent, you decide the adjective). She would kindly offer to make lunch for the kids or go drop this one off, pick this one up, trying to lighten my load whenever possible. I felt bad! She's here so rarely that I don't want to ask her to do my dirty work. Besides, did she really think that I was so incapable of "mom-ing" effectively that her 38-years of experience had to jump in and save the day for us all? Thanks for thinking that I don't know how to handle arguments with my kids to find resolution and peace once again. Aaaaand another thing...
Oooooh, I see. Independence Day. I do the same fucking thing! This is not a personality trait randomly dropped upon my daughter from on high. No, she earned this fair and square. And quite frankly, so did I. Here I am, accusing her of being too independent and prideful that even when she needs it the most, even when it comes at the cost of her happiness and tranquility, she still won't ask for help! Like, helloooo! Do yourself a favor and release the peace!
Now, for argument sake, are these the typical behaviors of a said 3 year old? Why, yes. Yes they are. However are these the typical behaviors of a grown, mature, reasonable 38 year old, with responsibilities to fulfill and relationships to maintain? Ummmmm. Hmm. Not really productive behaviors, I guess. Now, I realize that my mom's aim was only to alleviate some stress and see me smile. It had nothing to do with my misperceived judgement at all. I know this because when I offer help to F or W, that is all I want to do for them. No parent wants to see their kids struggle if they think their support might be of use! How could you not offer it? If only we could get out of our own way for a minute we would have a clearer view of the truth.
Note to self...
So, if it's not productive why hold onto it? If it keeps you on the Treadmill of Misery then shut it off and find a new machine. Ask for help. Learn to put pride aside and be dependent sometimes. It's good to need and be needed. The parent-child relationship will always be a reciprocal one. Both parent and child must learn the times to be confident and victoriously independent, the times to be humbly and vulnerably dependent. We can't do life alone so there is no need to push away the helping hands that reach for us.
Seriously, my friends, what is it to be "consciously optimistic?" Let me start by saying I have not always taken this approach to life, nor do I do it impeccably now. It was a running joke in my family, my mom lovingly referring to me as Eeyore. Besides a "Oh, it'll never work out" pessimistic perspective, the frequent misplacement of keys and/or phone (instead of a tail), and figurative dark cloud over head, we shared nothing in common, he and I. Looking at life through those cliched rose-colored glasses went against everything in my genetic makeup, or so I believed.
Happiness, unless restricted by the ever looming chemical imbalance, is attainable as long as you make the decision to work for it. This is not a natural or comfortable concept for me so initially it was super difficult. It totally felt weird and awkward. How can one decide to be happy and positive? It requires a certain level of awareness and acceptance of life as it is and what it could be if you get out of your own dern way.
I recently read this phenominal book by Jen Sincero, You are a Badass: How to Stop Doubting Your Greatness and Start Living an Awesome Life. If you haven't read it and question your own "badass-ery" then scoop it a-sap. In it she says "What you focus on becomes your reality." Looooove thaaaat (I sang that part)! If you fixate on all the crap that life has thrown your way then you will continue to recognize only the crap. By appreciating all that is good in your life, more good will come your way. The energy that you send out into the Universe is what will find it's way back to you so it behooves you to send out the good stuff, man.
As I work through this refreshing and uplifting perceptive, I thought I'd share some thoughts about what conscious optimism is comprised of. Hope it helps!
"How hard is it to decide to be in a good mood and be in a good mood once in awhile?"
Well, Lloyd Dobler was onto somethin' y'all. Never did I think that Say Anything would make it's way into a 2017 blog post, but here it is, as poignant as ever. Sometimes it's that simple. Being consciously optimistic starts with the conscious decision to be positive. To be happy. For me, that didn't come easily. The behavior had to come before the feelings. And it's way hard, I am not going to tell you otherwise. For example, I constantly have to remind myself to smile. Just smile (and yes, I do have to remind myself as friendliness is not a natural part of my guarded personality). Studies have proven that smiling can actually increase the dopamine and serotonin levels in the brain and that is a must if you want to improve your attitude. So, be sure to smile and wave to the cantankerous neighbor you know will let his dog take a dump on your lawn the minute your car is out of sight. Give it a shot. I promise it will make you feel better.
Yip! You've got it. MEDITATE (or even pray, for that matter). Quiet your brain for a bit. Chatty Cathy has been whispering in your ear for, like, years basically, so let's give her a break and give silence the reigns. Cathy has not always served you well; she's super bossy, opinionated and kinda nasty at times. If you are anything like me, it is tough to sit quietly and not work out your grocery list, race through song lyrics, or want to sleep. But, again, the behavior often has to come first before the desire to do it. I have to force myself to sit lots. The cool thing is that there are so many awesome resources at our fingertips for learning how to meditate. Whether you decide to watch YouTube videos, listen to guided meditation, or read books on practices, try it out. I started with a minute. That's it. One. Minute. Why? Because at first it was all I could do to sit through that brief 60 second eternity. Even today, at most I do 5 minutes. It doesn't have to be a long time to be effective. What a way to start or end a day. Just sayin'.
Do What You Love
For 10 years I was a teacher. I loved it every now and again but, over time, I grew tired of the life it left me. I never saw my family. Forget "me time." And when asked, I had no idea what I was passionate about. I was becoming quite passionate about NOT teaching anymore, actually. So I had to step back, take inventory on my life, and act. I'm not suggesting taking a huge leap sans net but most definitely take said leap. I fell in love with helping launch EVER Skincare and guiding other women to successfully launch their own businesses. Talk about fulfilling! And hearing from women and men who have finally found confidence either in themselves or in their tweens/teens. Who wouldn't want to build a life surrounded by that level of positivity? I left teaching in 2016 and have sought happiness and fulfillment in my EVER journey and life as a rockin' blogger. Finally I am doing what I love! And guess what? Because I love it, I want to do it all the time. And I'm good at it! What a sweet gig.
This is wicked hard. My mind wanders. I will straight-up watch someone's lips move, then ask me what sounds like a question, leaving me with no response other than, "Wait, what? I totally wasn't listening." (brutal honesty is both a blessing and a curse). Someone once told me to practice being present and in the moment, by repeating in your head the words the person is saying so you can better internalize it. Interesting. It takes some time to adjust. Some time to not think about how weird "ointment" sounds or how much you hate the word "juicy" (Just me? K.) Or even click the top of a pen. It will drive those around you nuts, however, it will serve it's purpose for keeping you in the moment. Let the others deal with their own distractions as you handle yours.
Follow Your Moral Compass
We all hold dear core values and beliefs by which we live and die. There are some that we steadfastly abide by, for me it's expressing appreciation, tireless determination = success, and responsibility, a.k.a. owning it. And those on which we will always be working, again for me it's acceptance of things I can't control, mindfulness, and family first. Follow your heart and your gut. Trust that you know what's important enough to cherish. And share your best self with the rest of us waiting for your unique greatness.
In Order of Importance
Obtaining and maintaining balance in your life is huge. Those to-do lists aren't going to write themselves, party people. And those lists aren't limited to errands and housework. What tasks must you prioritize to grow your business, for example? Is it more important to complete your blog post or go down to the kitchen to get five mint Oreos? You tell me. (No. Seriously tell me because clearly I don't know.) It is certainly more productive to get the blog post done which is why those five cookies were brought to the desk instead of leisurely savored over a warm glass of milk. Success will come with more time dedicated to that blog post.
However, on a deeper, life-level, what is more important...precious time spent with too quickly-maturing children or watching re-runs of Real Housewives seasons alone? Everything is relative and everyone's priorities and life circumstances are different. Meaning only you can prioritize your own life in order of importance. Just be sure to put the things, people, experiences that mean the most to you first. Be mindful though, what may seem to be the most important because of it's time-sensitive nature may not be so on a grander, more big-picture scale.
I think it's fairly obvious that I am, by no means, perfect. That said, I, by no means, do all of the above perfectly. These elements are all ingredients in a recipe for living on purpose. Living consciously optimistic. I approach this recipe like an Italian making grandma's famous meatballs. I try to include all of the ingredients but sometimes I forget one and I may use a pinch here, a dash there. The measurements are different every time. But, ya know what? The end result is always delicious and well-worth the effort.
Join me on this journey to living consciously optimistic in all areas of this fabulous life; in mind, body and soul. I can't wait to share this with you!