“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 defensesthat 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.
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.
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.
According to Dictionary.com, the loaded word gaslight means “tocause(aperson)todoubthisor hersanitythroughtheuse of psychological manipulation.” If you’ve ever seen Gaslight the movie then you might relate to Ingrid Bergman’s character, Paula Alquist Anton.
If you have been gaslighted, here are five things that I hope might help:
You are not insane.You might feel like you are, but you’re not.
Gaslighting is powerful. Do not think of yourself as weak. It takes someone quite strong to overcome such manipulation. If someone says things like: “You’re too sensitive; that’s not what happened; no, that’s not what I said, you must’ve misunderstood; you’re overreacting; I never said that; you must be confused again,”nine times out of ten you’re being psychologically manipulated for the purpose of causing you to doubt yourself.
Trust yourself. Your manipulator may dump shame on you for doubting him. The gaslighter hopes all this will cause you want to check yourself all the time, scrutinizing your own beliefs to the point you almost have none of your own.
Reach out and get support. Even if it’s just someone to be a sounding board for you, it’s important to connect with others as much as you can. Because the gaslighter wants you to feel unworthy, this will be hard. Do it anyway. Don’t let yourself isolate.
You are worthy. If you take away this one thing, this one thought, it may save your sanity. Speak your truth to a close friend or confidant who doesn’t have a stake in what seems like a very high-priced game of cat and mouse, It helps immeasurably to hear the words: I believe you. I’m here. You are not crazy.
Probably each of us has, at one time or another, felt self-conscious about ourselves. I’m sure even actors (John Cusack), and people in high-powered positions have those times when they’d really rather not be there. It’s too hard sometimes to be with other people you’re sure are better than you; a better person, better wife/husband, daughter/son, mother/daughter, people in general.
I’ll tell you something about myself, but you have to promise to keep it secret. “Three may keep a secret if two of them are dead.” There are many things I do ritualistically and some things I can’t do at all. IF I go to Starbucks, I first look online to see what the slowest time will be, go then, even if it’s not uil 7:00 at night. I’m sure to take the garbage out when it is still dark, and that’s when I pick up yesterday’s mail as well (I don’t like to be seen walking down the driveway during the day — too many eyes on me). It’s not a narcissistic thing. It’s paranoia and huge, insurmountable fear. I walked my dog Pookie once, it was the most natural and most pleasurable walk I’d ever had (not because I forgot about myself for a change) but because I had the perfect harness and leash so that my dog walked right next to me.
Still, I looked down at the ground a lot. When I looked up, I was careful not to focus on anything too much, because someone might notice. I counted steps, and when I wasn’t counting, I was saying to myself, “left, right, left, right.” Anything to get through it and be sure the dog got some exercise. Sometimes (seriously) I’d rather have a root canal than put myself through all this bullshit.
How can anyone get through something like this? The only words that have ever helped me are from my 90-year-old mother.
She said two things that have just begun to take hold. The first wise, experienced words she said were, “Chris if you knew how much people didn’t think about you at all, you’d be surprised.” And she’s right, you know? When on the porch smoking, I might glance up and see someone walking, either alone or with a dog, I might say “Good morning, nice day,” or whatever, then go straight back to book. It doesn’t register on my radar. It’s something I see people do every day.
The other thing is this: “All you can do is try. If you fail, try again, and keep trying. That’s all you can do, the best you have in you.”
“Change is inevitable We can depend on that. By letting go of our efforts to influence the future, we become freer to experience the present, to feel all of our feelings while they are happening, and to more fully enjoy those precious moments of joy.” –Courage to Change, One Day at a Time in Al-Anon
So, you might think, as you read this, that bringing humor to the situation is insanity. But you know me and my sarcastic wit. Would you recognize me any other way? 😉 Besides, the alternative is too stupid to consider, and useless. Plus really, who doesn’t love a little Tina Fey?
But seriously, I have had such a hard time writing this (it’s been on my mind for a while), because I honestly don’t want to come off sounding pitiful, or elicit sorrowful responses, most of all. What has happened to me could happen to anyone–could happen to you. So please–don’t feel sorry for me. I’m here, I’m alive, and that’s a good thing.
It has not been the greatest year so far. Lol. First, I had to go back into a psychiatric partial day treatment program to get my bipolar meds adjusted. But what I learned shortly after I was admitted was that this therapist had noticed my hypomanic episode building since before Christmas. Why she didn’t say something earlier is still a mystery to me, but hey–at least she copped to it when my mom finally told me my agitation and irritability were getting hard to deal with. All of this explains why I had such a hard time decorating for the holidays last year. Seriously, I was like a slug, and even when I’m depressed it’s like my favorite time of year. I barely put up lights on the ceiling and yanked out the tree (with lights already on), no ornaments—voila. There. Be happy. Ha ha.
Psych partial started on January 25th. My psychiatrist there (it’s like you no longer have the shrink you had on the “outside;” this shrink, the one in the hospital, calls the shots) tried several different meds, at different levels, and suddenly—instead of hypomania, I started feeling incredibly depressed. Yeah, I know–I should have my own channel on Youtube, because my life is just that fascinating.
Then, I went home early from the program on February 13th, because my back and left leg were just killing me. All I missed was relaxation therapy, but you’d think it was chemical engineering, for all the tap dancing I had to do to get out of it. So I went home.
That night, I woke up in the wee hours freezing cold with my teeth chattering. Yikes. I can’t remember the last time my teeth chattered. So I got up, took my temp, and it was elevated; something like 101. (I’m not totally sure at this point; my baseline temp is 97. I just know I had a fever) I also noticed like a big cyst or something high up on my inner left thigh. I wasn’t too worried at this point. I took a couple aspirin, ran some hot water on a washcloth to lay on the cyst and went back to sleep under like 5 blankets.
The next I knew it was morning and I was in a sweat. Good. So my temp was down and the cyst had also diminished. But then, my fever spiked back up again at around eight. I told my mom I thought I needed to go to the ER, and she agreed.
Long story short, what started out as a simple cyst turned out to be necrotizing fasciitis, or flesh-eating bacteria. Yep. My WBC, which is supposed to be 10 or under, was 21, so I was admitted—instead of let go from the ER—on Valentine’s Day. I had three surgeries in four days in that most private of areas–whether you are a woman or a man–and spent eight days inpatient. Granted, I was on morphine, and much of the pain is now a blur, but still. My fever was up and down, up and down. They had me on I.V. antibiotics, three at a time (once I read a label, and it said 2,000 units!!)–like throwing paint on the wall–trying to see what would work. Finally the WBC came down enough that they could let me go with Amoxicillin for one week.
I had to have the surgical sites packed (with gauze) by home care nurses for at least two months, my surgeon said. So yes, I’m positive 2,000 people have seen my va-jay-jay at this point. I kept forgetting to charge an admission fee. I always meant to, though. At least I still had some self-respect. Just kidding. The nurses were so kind and gentle with my body and my heart. I couldn’t have asked for nicer people to care for me.
Now here’s the best part. I saw my surgeon yesterday for our weekly checkup of the surgical wound sites, right? She was SO pleased with how well everything is healing. Everything has closed (from the inside out, to prevent future infection) at least halfway, in some cases more. In fact, I’m doing so well that she said I can say goodbye to the daily nurse care and she doesn’t want to see me again for a month. After that, who knows? That’s exactly five weeks from the day I was admitted, right?
What an incredible journey!! I wonder what the rest of the year has in store? Bring it on.