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Powerless Over What?

“Our pressures and anxieties don’t disappear just because we are sober.” –Living With Sobriety, p. 18

My father was an alcoholic. Though he never missed a day of his job as a police officer, he drank daily, and it sometimes caused him a problem. For me as his daughter, I was powerless over his mood swings, harsh criticism and belittling comments. When I got older, I couldn’t understand why I felt so defensive whenever I was criticized.

Because of the alcoholic environment, I had developed defenses that somewhat protected me as a child. As an adult, these defenses got in the way. The threat wasn’t there anymore, but I still reacted as though it was. There was no reason to be afraid, but I felt plenty scared.

In Al-Anon, I learned that even as I grew older, I was still powerless over the effects of my father’s disease. I was powerless over the effects of his behavior while he was drinking.

We Admitted We Were Powerless

We admitted we were powerless over alcohol, that our lives had become unmanageable.” –Step One

Powerless does not mean helpless. When we lose electric power in our house due to a downed wire or a storm, I call the power company and pray for the power to come back on. There is nothing I can do in my own ability to repair the electricity.

Yet, I can light candles for light. I can take care where I step, and be sure important things are within reach.  I am not helpless.

Babies, either human or animal, are both powerless and helpless. They can’t get their own nourishment and are mostly dependent on the mother, or other caretakers, for all their needs. Alcoholics and addicts are powerless over their addictions, and we are powerless to make them recover.

Last year just before Thanksgiving I hurt my back. It kicked up an acute inflammation of sciatica. It was awful and painful. I took pain medication for about a week. After that, I had to rely on meds designed for nerve inflammation and ibuprofen.  I moved slowly and everything hurt. What helped get me through this until I was scheduled for an epidural injection a couple weeks ago? Distraction.

A distraction of any kind, whether it was a game on my phone, a Netflix series to binge, or a fantastic book–these are the things that got me through.

Powerless does not mean helpless.

Peace out,

Chris

What’s Eating Judge Judy?

judge judy

Mom and I watch Judge Judy together as often as we’re able. When we’re not, for whatever reason, by the time we dive in for an afternoon episode it’s as if into a long-awaited meal. Starving, we sit, rapt, eyes glued to the TV screen.

“Is she still mad?” Sometimes we’ve asked the words aloud. Lately, a puzzled glance toward each other lets us know all we need to know. Judge Judy’s ticked. Something’s not right.

Maybe she had one of those years. You know, clothes just not hanging like they should, to-do lists too often becoming to…morrow lists. 

We each of us know that feeling. We can completely understand.

My main objective this year — my theme word (sounds silly, I know) — is confidence. Confidence: the acquisition, and what to do with it once it’s acquired. 🙂 Yes. 

What about you? I’ve heard it said that declaring your intention for the year helps to sort of seal the deal. 

Six Steps: Part III

When I spoke with my friend Jean, who hasn’t let go of me despite my absence from social media, I told her about my reticence in blogging. I’m struggling, and I had the absurd idea that I should be much further recovered before I write anything. Well, I didn’t realize how absurd it was until we spoke. 🙂 She reminded me that you all, like me with you, would want to share in the struggle. We need to know we’re not alone.

Here, then, are the last two of the six steps.

5. Your choices are yours. It might be tempting to tell ourselves that we’re making a change to please someone else. That way, if it doesn’t work out the way we would like it to, we know where to place blame. “You happy now?” we shake our fists in frustration. It’s because it’s so hard, that’s my opinion. Withdrawing from my medications is the number one most difficult thing, next to my father’s death, that I’ve ever been through. Does my decision have wide consequences/rewards? Of course, it does. The difference in who I am off meds with who I was on them is like – well, like the difference between milk chocolate and dark. I’m dark chocolate now. I’m richer with my emotions, like eating the most expensive caviar, but there is a slightly bitter bit at the end. Dark chocolate is an acquired taste. I’m teary a lot, over silly movies and TV shows. And my emotions are all over the place. God bless my mother, as she accepts who I am now in all its nakedness, reassuring me I’m much better to be around without being literally sedated. I suppose in a way I’ve been sleepwalking through the last 28 years. Does my family’s happiness at my condition mean they want to see me struggle? Not at all. I think what I’m trying to say is that it’s my life and I made this choice. Whatever happens, good or bad, it’s my responsibility.

6. Practice loving kindness. Times like these, fraught with emotion, need lots of affection and tenderness. Everyone, including ourselves, needs our loving kindness or at least the benefit of the doubt that we are all doing our very best. My mind is sharper now, which I’ve decided is not necessarily a good thing. With no buffer between my mind and the memories of nearly thirty years, I grieve for all that was lost. I grieve the loss of who I might have been. I grieve at costing my family, especially my mother, so much sadness and fright over the years as they had to deal with a shell of a human being. So, yes, I need to practice loving kindness with myself as I try to keep myself mindful and free from the gaping maw of past defeat. I’ll never do it perfectly. All I can do is my very best, and sometimes be happy with half-efforts. That’s all we can do, any of us.

Six Steps to Take Back Our Control: Part Two of Three

Good morning. 🙂 If you are just tuning in, you can find steps one and two written in the previous blog post.

3. Politely listen but don’t necessarily follow well-meaning advice from family and friends. It’s human nature to want to tell someone or share with that person our ideas about what we think should be done in certain situations. In some cases, this helpful advice comes from family members who have heard us sound entirely different than usual. In my case, it was other siblings who heard me on the phone coming off slurred, drugged, or very sleepy. That’s alarming. I agree. It was disturbing to me as well, even as it happened. Others, including friends who are still on medication and doctors who don’t believe it can be done in your case, offer entirely different words of advice.

4. Visualize all possible outcomes of your choices. I did not do this before I chose to wean myself off my psych meds, but I wish someone had suggested it. I like to play the “What if” game in my head these days. It helps me with most situations. If I’d played this game before I weaned off my psych meds, it might look like this:

  • What if I get anxious? Coming off bipolar and meds for anxiety (specifically Ativan 2mg tablets 3x daily), this is a pretty likely event and concern. So, if I get anxious, I’ll have to cope.
  • What if I can’t cope? What if I *can’t* cope? What do I mean here with this fear? What if I don’t have the *ability* to cope, or I do have the ability, but I’m afraid I won’t want to deal? Suss out those meanings for yourself. I might have to ask for help.
  • What if I ask for help and I’m turned away, or the person I call isn’t home? Then I keep asking. If I have to call the suicide hotline for help, I’ll do that.
  • What if whoever I ask for help that person tells me I need to be admitted to a psych ward? So, is this a terrible thing? It’s *incredibly* difficult to wean off meds by oneself. I’m sure I did it more quickly than I should’ve.

Anyway, you get the idea. Play devil’s advocate on this step.

Peace. xoxo

Chrissy

Six Simple Steps to Take Back Our Control: Part One of Three

I’ve been having the most difficult time putting my words down here. It can’t be because I’m afraid I’ll get it wrong. It’s my story, my life. How wrong could I get it?

It seems that my most effective/popular blog posts have been when there is a specific list to help change something in one’s life. Hey, who doesn’t like lists, right?

Six Simple Steps to Take Back Control

1. Question everything, and don’t be afraid of your doctor. When we lose or think we lose control of our lives, it’s not always with a crash and broken bones. It’s sometimes pretty subtle. For me, it starts with my doctor says that I need Prozac because I am in a major depression. I’m 27 years old at the time. I can say no, but he’s a doctor. If I didn’t need a pill, surely he wouldn’t suggest it? What I learned years later, something most of you probably know but I will share anyway, is this: doctors have to dx something in your chart in order for the insurance to pay. It’s not as important as Monty Python’s The Meaning of Life, but for some reason it scared me when he said that. So, being a little shell-shocked, I would have agreed to anything short of a lobotomy. Here’s the thing. Our doctors stumble in the darkness too. They aren’t perfect. Don’t be afraid. Honestly, I still get fearful, and have to tell myself over and over before an appointment: “He may have more medical knowledge, but I know myself better.”

2. Trust your instincts. I have been on psychiatric medications for over 30 years, and I’ve written before about trusting our instincts, especially with health concerns. I think I wasn’t absorbing for me what this actually meant. It means knowing how my body feels on drugs, identifying side effects you are absolutely not willing to live with, and letting that be okay. I’ve had two different reactions to my objection to side effects which made me so light-headed and clumsy that I fell twice in six weeks, once spraining my wrist. “You have to weigh the cost of living with the side effects on one hand or living with the symptoms of your illness on the other.” That was my psychiatrist.

I’ve gone on and on. Important things to ponder. I’ll cover steps three and four tomorrow.

Peace. xoxo

Christina

Are You Happy? You’ll Live Longer!

May is Mental Health Month, so – while I most likely will not post every day – when I post, the date will coincide with the letter of the alphabet from A-Z. Today is May 8th so we will focus on a mental health trait starting with the letter H.

According to this article from the National Institution for Mental Health,  life expectancy in the U.S. has definitively increased. This should not be surprising, if we consider medical treatments, technology, and vaccines available today that weren’t in the early 20th century. The article states that longevity has increased “from 51 years in 1910 to nearly 79 years (81 years in women, 76 years in men) in 2010.”

Since I know my perception changes with my attitude toward any problem situation in my life, I’m often curious about how others deal with illness (in general, not just those with mental health issues). Does anyone know of the “belly laugh” experiment by Dr. Norman Cousins in 1964? It’s an amazing story. After returning from a stressful time in Russia, Dr. Cousins “was diagnosed with ankylosing spondylitis (a degenerative disease causing the breakdown of collagen), which left him in almost constant pain and motivated his doctor to say he would die within a few months.”

Instead of giving up, Dr. Cousins dug deep. He watched humorous shows on TV and read funny books, comics, and so forth. He claimed that a mere 10 minutes of belly laughs would allow him two hours of sleep without pain when even morphine couldn’t help. Defying all odds, he was able to return to work full-time within two years! In 1979 Cousins wrote a book, Anatomy of An Illness, in which he shared the astonishing results of his experiment.

Though I can’t say that we all should try the doctor’s method, it certainly ought to give us pause. Although striving for more happiness to boost our mental health does not guarantee a longer life, it is said that people who are mentally ill tend to die at least 10 years earlier than their more healthy peers.

How happy are you? 🙂

Peace,

Chris