Addiction

Accept the Guilt, Then Surrender and Recover

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Please welcome today’s guest post writer Amy Baumgardner, co-author of From This Day Forward, A Love Story of Faith, Hope and Forgiveness with her husband Matt and a freelance contributor to In Recovery Magazine. Amy was a guest on Oprah’s Winfrey Lifeclass where she learned healing and forgiveness from Iyanla VanZant. Watch the YouTube video of Amy, Oprah and Iyanla below. Links to her websites and how to order her book are below. One reader will be chosen to receive an autographed copy of From This Day Forward by leaving a comment below.

Guilt is strong. It’s ugly and it’s complicated.

I should know. There exists this crazy tug of war inside my head between what my addiction wants me to do and what I should do. Alcoholism is relentless. My disease does not rest.

Guilt’s role in addiction

Guilt played a major role in my addiction for a long, long time. As a newly sober person five years ago, I made the mistake of letting guilt set up camp in the back of my mind. I now know that I was afraid to let it go. If I did, how could I atone for what I had done?

The booze and self-hatred controlled my life. You’re a lousy mother, you’re a spiteful wife, a bitter drunk, a no good piece of garbage unworthy of any second chances or saving graces, my mind’s voice continually cried. I was so out of touch with reality that I believed the voice.

I refused to forget. I refused to let go. I was stuck on January 10th 2010, the day I drove drunk head first into a tree going 60-miles-per-hour with my children in the back seat.

I was haunted by guilt. And who wouldn’t be? For years I have asked myself the same question night after night, “Why didn’t I see the signs?”

And now, after the accident, there was no other way to prove that I was sorry. I had to hold on to the guilt and shame of that moment when I put the key into the ignition, that second it took to completely lose all trust in my ability to be a good mother and thus negate any possibility of denying that I am an alcoholic. Why did it have to come to this? I would always wonder.

I spent 21 days in a facility getting treatment for my alcohol addiction and learning the tools to I needed stay sober.  I drank 30 days after the near fatal car accident that put me in there. I had been given all the tools, knew all of the steps to take, who to call and where to go for a meeting.

I relapsed eight days after leaving rehab. I let my fear consume me and totally swallow up any confidence I had that I could live a happy life. But sobriety was daunting. It was too much to handle and I quickly found myself seeking refuge in a bottle of Captain Morgan.

Watching for the turning point

I thought of my children. If I was going to survive this and if they were ever going to have a chance with me as their mother then I had to turn my will over to a higher power, something greater than myself, whatever was out there and was willing help me, guide me, save me from myself, from my drinking.

It wasn’t easy and I certainly struggled with the idea of NEVER having a drink again. I slowly and gracefully let the idea of living sober take shape in my life. I took baby steps and constantly reminded myself of my new mantra that Living sober is the best amends!

I started writing, journaling, listening to others and paying attention to the whispers of my life. Eventually, my fears and guilt began to fade. The chatter filling my head with negative thoughts began to fade as well and I was able to start moving forward.

I realized that all of my guilt was wrapped up with my drinking, the accident included. Can I give up this guilt so I can move forward? Was I willing to surrender the guilt so I could live my life freely and faithfully?

Through my struggle I have found strength. All of the blocks I spent decades building were replaced with wisdom. Being active in my recovery and searching for a softer and easier way lead me to the Oprah Winfrey show with Iyanla VanZant. Sharing my struggle with guilt and hardship of letting it go as a guest on her show opened up enough space in my mind to believe that change is possible and to make that change.

Then I needed to give myself permission to surrender and move forward. I alone held the key and I was the only person who could unlock—then release—my burden of guilt.

My life was waiting.

Amy and her husband Matt have formed a foundation called 4-give.org to help other families remain together as they recover from addiction. Their website is Mattandamyb.com and Amy can be found on Twitter @AbaumAmy. Their book, From This Day Forward, can be found on Amazon.

Photo courtesy of greyerbaby

How to Practice the Fine Art of Listening

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“I like to listen. I have learned a great deal from listening carefully. Most people never listen.” ~ Ernest Hemingway

The ability to listen well is a skill often arrested by addiction.

I’ll speak for myself here, although I’m pretty sure my lack of social graces while in the throes of alcoholism wasn’t much different from anyone else’s. Back then, I didn’t care about the sound of anyone’s voice but my own.

When drinking, I waxed philosophical with deep conversations broken by an occasional slurry “ya know what I mean?” I only took a breath when I paused to slurp from my glass, dixie cup, can or bottle.

At that point it was your turn to take me hostage with your jib-jabbering. The exchanges between us were meaningless but did serve to bolster our egos.

What a miserable way to co-exist!

Sobriety doesn’t make you a rousing conversationalist instantly

Listening, like the rest of the skills most teenagers and young adults learn as they mature, is stunted by alcohol and drugs. For example, I had a 15-year span of hard drinking, from the time I was 15 until I was 30. So in addition to stumbling through the minefield of early recovery, I had to re-learn all the stuff that alcohol drowned.

Thankfully, I’m a quick learner.

Unfortunately, not every sober newcomer has a mentor who models social skills. Believe me, there are plenty of folks out there with decades of recovery who remain poor listeners. They still thrive on the syllables of their own boasting.

For that matter, there are plenty of non-recovery people doing the same.

Learning the art of deep listening creates vibrant new experiences

Here are some listening tips I’ve picked up through years of observing and practicing. I’m convinced that all relationships great and small would benefit from more listening, in fact, the world would be transformed!

  • * Look at your conversation mate’s mouth instead of her eyes. You’ll be able to concentrate more on what she’s saying plus you’ll have the added benefit of avoiding direct eye contact which intimidates many people.
  • * If you’re having a one-on-one in a crowded room, look down and tilt an ear slightly up, then lean in a bit. This adjustment avoids the temptation to look around the room or become distracted by other conversations.
  • * If seated at a table, put on elbow on the table and rest your chin on your fist or open palm. Again, lean in and let yourself fall into conversation captivation.
  • * You can also do the above when standing. Simply place your fingers on your chin while your elbow rests on your other folded arm. You’ll look so engaged–and you will be with a little practice!
  • * Ask questions. The best communicators don’t interject their own stories unless they have an experience with the topic. Even then they dodge any opportunity to play the one-up game. Questions indicate a deeper connection.
  • * Give physical cues like a slight tilt of your head, a nod, smile of recognition or even touching the other person’s hand or shoulder.

It’s okay if you’re uncomfortable at first–that’s natural. I’ll let you in on a secret. I really, really don’t like social functions where you stand around blah-blah’ing with a bunch of people who are rotten listeners. I know I’m in for 60+ minutes of inanity.

But, give me 60 minutes of intimate conversation with someone who asks questions and practices at least one or two of these tips and I’m in heaven!

Unless you want to be Jeremiah Johnson living out in the woods, you have to talk with people. Why not make it a mutually satisfying adventure? Let me know how it goes!

I’d love it if you’d leave a comment below and if you liked this post, please share it with your social media connections. Thanks so much!

Love and hugs to you!

Photo courtesy of jppi

Book Review: Dark Wine Waters

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Late last summer, just before Recovery Month in September, Fran Simone emailed to see if I’d be interested in taking a look at her book, Dark Wine Waters: My Husband of a Thousand Joys and Sorrows. She thought I might want to write about it here, for Recovery Month.

Sure, I said, send it on. My blog calendar was pretty full for Recovery Month 2014 but I told Fran I’d see what I could do.

Rigorous honesty, right? Fran did indeed send her beautiful book and here’s the truth: It became buried on my desk.

You see, Recovery Month is a tiny-bit hectic for a recovery writer. I’m a piling sort of writer anyway—put Dark Wine Watersstuff away in desk drawers and I have a hard time finding it—so there are sensible stacks on my desk that grow out-of-control during hectic times.

Please consider this my amends, dear Fran. I’m sorry I didn’t read your book then but I have read it now—and I am moved by its transparency. Thank you for your bravery.

For the readers

I want to tell all my friends in recovery and those who love us that Fran’s Dark Wine Waters may cause you to cringe repeatedly as you read. That will be a normal response so don’t panic.

You will quite possibly shed tears at times too, and don’t be surprised if you become enveloped in sadness. That was my experience as I read.

Please don’t turn away in fear of these emotions. One of Fran’s gifts to her readers is the idea that feelings need acknowledgement. They must have a safe place for expression and that safe place begins within the confines of our hearts.

Tweet: Without expression, feelings congeal, becoming resentments we use to beat ourselves and our loved ones. http://bit.ly/1uRU1uf @bheretoday

Dark Wine Waters is a memoir of Fran’s life with her husband  Terry and their relationship with alcoholism and drug addiction.

Much of the book describes their painful, tortuous descent into the belly of the beast, played out with lies and subversion, disappearances and blackouts. In many ways, the day-to-day drama is different only in the details of other stories lived every day in every town, perhaps on every block, in America.

Terry’s drunken escapades—and Fran’s valiant efforts to hide them behind a normal facade—felt intensely familiar to me; I suspect they might to you as well.

The gut-kicker

Terry’s story is so much like my story, like many of our stories yet society still looks past him—and me—and says, “why can’t you just stop?”

Fran writes about the times when Terry thought he could stop on his own. She also writes about how she thought she could get him to stop—on her own.

But alcoholism and drug addiction gradually took possession of his body and their lives. It rendered them powerless to stop its onslaught.

That’s what the disease of addiction does. It ravages the wiring in our brains and does its damnedest to convince us we’re in control. There’s nothing wrong, we think; just drank a little too much.

Virtually all Americans are affected by addiction, whether they’ll admit it is another story. Too many remain hidden behind walls of shame and denial.

But thank God for the Fran Simones of the world who have stepped from behind the wall as family members of the afflicted. Thank God she now knows she didn’t cause Terry’s disease (or her son Matt’s), she couldn’t control it and she certainly couldn’t cure it.

There are 23 million people in the United States who are in recovery from a addiction. Another 20 million suffer with substance use disorder; a large portion of them don’t get the help they need. For every person afflicted, there are several family members and loved ones deeply affected by the disease. 

Thank you, Fran, for sharing your family’s story with us. May you find continued peace in recovery and retirement!

For a copy of Dark Wine Waters, click here. Please leave a comment and I’ll enter your name into a drawing for a free copy.

Photo courtesy of richcd

15 Incredible Sources of Inspiration

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As 2015 sprints by (can you believe we’re already entering the last week of the first month of the year?), I’m trying to decide if the bloom of the new year rose is still pungently hopeful. The answer is yes, especially after a weekend of greyhound-inspired good feelings.

There’s good news and bad news about good feelings. They feel squishy and huggy when they’re happening but after a bit when the dopamine levels in the brain dip, you need a little something more to throw your hat toward.

Here’s the ringer for your hat: Create a list of incredible sources of inspiration that’s personal for you. I’ve put mine together to help you get started.

The year will ebb and flow so refer to your list often so you’ll stay right-sized. Remember this:

Kornfield

My list in no order of importance with the exception of #1 and #15 (saving the best for last):

1.  My life in recovery from addiction–as I approach my 24th anniversary, I love knowing that inspiration waits around every corner. 

2.  Greyhound Adoption League of Texas (GALT)–With the tagline “No Grey Turned Away,” this organization, its hearty band of volunteers (including me!) and the beautiful grey babies fills me to overflowing!

3.  The ocean and beach walks–There’s something about stepping toes on the beach that instantly calms my mind and relaxes my body so that I can feel the awe of God’s inspiring landscape.

4.  U.S. Marine Sgt. Andrew Paul Tahmooressi and his enduring courage while in a Mexican jail last year–Enough said.

5.  Prayer and worship–I’m a lapsed church-goer but a staunch believer in the rhyme and reason of both prayer and worship (neither of which has rules!).

6.  My Bloggers Alliance–This stunning collection of men and women are my models, my muses and my mentors.  

7.  Young People in Recovery (YPR)–Inspiring seems like a tame word to use for these friends and colleagues in recovery, many of whom weren’t born when I entered recovery!

8.  My little brother–Jeff turns 50 later this week (Holy Cow!) and although we live far apart and we aren’t as close as we once were, I’m grateful for the care he provides for our father and for the principled life he lives.

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9. The process of learning–I pray that I’ll always find inspiration in keeping my mind and my heart open to learn.

10. Spending time with like-minded friends–Taking time to mindfully listen creates so many opportunities for rich conversations and I cherish these times with friends.

11.  Art in all its forms–Paintings, glasswork, pottery, stand-up comedy, movies, Broadway shows, music, and so, so much more: count me inspired!

12.  Playfulness–Also considered an art form by many, there’s something about singing to my dogs, dancing while cleaning the house or just old-fashioned silliness that fills me with joyous inspiration.

13.  Restfulness/napping–Necessary for my inspiration list because I don’t do enough of either but I’ve recently discovered that there is serenity in surrender.

14.  My work as a recovery writer–When I lost my dream job at a national non-profit two years ago, a part of me died only to be resurrected by the inspiration of an older dream that found expression.

15.  The sweetness of my heart connection–Becky inspires me to be a persevering writer, a more patient mom to our four-leggeds, an unconditionally loving companion, and B-2 to her B-1.

It’s your turn! What would be at the top of your Incredible Sources of Inspiration list? Please share in the comments below and pass along this post to your Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and Pinterest pals via the icons below.

My Love/Hate Relationship With Codependency (the word)

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Did you know that this month is the very first designated National Codependency Awareness Month? I didn’t either until a couple of weeks ago.

The soft, squishy, awwww part of me felt a glowing sweetness, similar to watching a slumbering dog, when I heard the news. I thought, “Well isn’t that nice. Melody Beattie must be so proud.”

I decided, as I usually do when I get excited about something related to addiction and/or recovery, to write a blog post. I started laying it out in my head: 1. Go to the national sources that usually dish out the monthly themes. 2. Get some background from the appropriate “anonymous” site. 3. Call up Melody or maybe Oprah for some nice touchy-feely nuggets.

The hateful thoughts

Two things happened. First, a Google search for National Codependency Awareness Month didn’t lead me to any federal agencies that usually back monthly designations. Instead I learned that an author named Diane Jellen designated January as National Codependency Awareness Month.

No hateful thought yet because, gosh, I don’t even know Diane. Her new book, My Resurrected Heart, looks like it’s selling well on Amazon. She’s a pro and has apparently survived the crappy undercurrents of addiction’s codependent hostages.

At the same time, I felt some kind of itch that needed to be scratched, and it became more insistent as I watched Diane’s YouTube video on why there needs to be a National Codependency Awareness Month.

So I did another Google search: codependency and why it gets a bad rap.

It doesn’t hurt to see if others are scratching their itches too, right?

And there it was. A group in London called Harley Therapy wrote this blog post last year: The Great Codependency Hoax: Are We ALL Codependent?

The first hateful thought: Guess I won’t be talking to Oprah.

The second hateful thought:

Tweet: Most people use the word codependency incorrectly, including me!

Here’s the thing: the true meaning of codependency has changed over the decades; it’s original definition had to do with being “addicted to those who are addicted.” Webster’s has codependency listed as first used in 1979 and meaning “a psychological condition or a relationship in which a person is controlled or manipulated by another who is affected with a pathological condition (as an addiction to alcohol or heroin).”

Codependency does not mean that when you feel comforted and dependent on someone in your life, that you are codependent. It doesn’t mean that wanting to please your boss means you’re codependent. You’re probably not even codependent when you get pissed off when someone hurts you, breaks a trust or takes something that is yours.

You’re a human being with normal human feelings.

Tweet: Please, please, please don’t allow the flippant overuse of the word codependency talk you into something you’re not.

According to the Harley Therapy folks, truly codependent people tend to seek out others who are counterdependent (meaning they’re buttoned up, show few emotions and have little regard for others’ needs or feelings). These relationships are usually a recipe for disaster.

Instead of co- and counter- combo, I like the Harley Therapy idea that we all work toward being interdependent. They describe the two characteristics of interdependency:

1) You come from a place of self-respect and self trust. In other words, before you depend on the one you love, you also know that if push came to shove you can depend on you to take care of you. So it’s not about needing the other person to survive, which is dependency, it’s about being able to survive by yourself but allowing the other person to help you to not just survive but to thrive.

2) You depend on the each other in a completely equal way. They depend on you for some things, too. It’s an equal game of give and take.

Simple but not easy, yes, I realize. But I like it! What do you say we try to become more interdependent as a means of relating with others. Doesn’t that sound much more healthy?

Photo courtesy of ArielleJay