Al-Anon Relapse

I joined Al-Anon more than 8 years ago when I had hit a horrible bottom. I found myself alone, with a new baby, and completely lost. I was in a very bad place emotionally and Al-Anon literally saved my life. Since joining Al-Anon my life has changed in more ways than I could ever have imagined.

One characteristic that I have; similar to many Al-Anons, is a fear of abandonment. I was abandoned by my father at a young age which has affected the way that I connect with others. Some people who experience abandonment become very clingy. I, on the other-hand, let very few people into my heart. I tend to keep my close friends for long periods of time and can be fiercely loyal, sometimes to a fault. This is something that I haven’t done much work on and, after 8 years in recovery, it led to my second Al-Anon bottom.

This second bottom was not nearly as bad as the one that brought me in to the program. I am still calling it a bottom because, as step one says, I was “completely powerless and my life had become unmanageable”.

3 years ago a lifelong friend decided that she didn’t want to continue our friendship any more. We had been growing apart over the years and had always had our ups and downs. I assumed this would be a break and eventually we would come back together, as we had several times in the past.

You see, this friend had known me since I was 9. She was there when I was living with a heroin addict, she was there when I lost my virginity, she was there for all of my heart breaks, she was the maid of honor at my wedding, there for the birth of my second child. I was there for all of her life lessons that are only hers to tell. She was too close and the thought of loosing her terrified me.

As time passed I would occasionally text her . Sometimes she would answer and sometimes she wouldn’t. I remembered that, about 10 years ago, I had cut her off and she would text me almost every morning to tell me to have a good day. Eventually this won me over and I forgave her for what she had done. About 6 months ago she texted me and we had a conversation about how much we missed each other. I had hope.

After that conversation my life started to get unmanageable. I would frantically text her every couple of months. No reply. Her lack of response caused me to feel foolish, anxious, and unworthy. I would promise myself that I wasn’t going to text her again and after a month or two I would pick up the phone and the cycle would repeat itself. The feelings of guilt and embarrassment were overwhelming. I would lose sleep from racing thoughts and regret. Why did I reach out to her again? Why did I think that this time would be different? Eventually I started to feel depressed and weepy. These feelings were all too familiar and I knew that I was in an Al-Anon relapse.

I was reminded of a story that my first sponsor Nancy told me. It was about a psychology study with rats. 3 different rats were in 3 different cages. The first rat would hit a lever and each time, the lever would dispense food. The second rat would only get food occasionally when they hit the lever. The third rat would never get food with they hit the lever.

“Which rat pushed the lever the most?” she asked me.

The one who didn’t get food,” I said.

“No, the rat who never got food gave up first since there was no point because it never got the reward. The rat who always got food gave up next because he sensed the game had changed. But the rat, who only occasionally got food, that rat drove itself crazy pushing the lever.” she said. “ It’s called intermittent reinforcement and is the hardest behavior to change.”

This is what happens with us Al-Anons. Addicts/Alcoholics occasionally give us what we want/need, therefore we keep going back, in hopes that this time there will be food.  This story deeply impacted me when I first heard it. The story still rings true for me today.

I kept pushing the lever (texting) in hopes that she would respond. One night I went out to a concert and drank a lot of alcohol. I had been sad the days leading up to the concert, thinking about how this old friend was about to be married and I would have no part in her wedding. After a few glasses of wine I sent her a slew of  drunken messages, basically begging her to forgive me. I also called her three times. No response, no answer. I was devastated.

The next morning I woke up with a reply from her. The response was argumentative. I didn’t agree with everything that she said but I had no fight left in me. I felt humiliated, like I had lost all self-respect. I had basically begged someone to love me who didn’t. I was harassing someone by sending repeated unwanted texts and calls. I had hit another Al-Anon bottom. How did I get here? How did my self-esteem get so low? I responded with a short apology for the messages from the night before.  Feelings of sadness washed over me and lasted for the next several days.

That was the wake-up call that I really needed to let go of that relationship. Sometimes in life you have to crash and burn and that is ok. One thing that I’ve learned in Al-Anon is that it is “Progress, not perfection” that is important.

Does this mean that all of the progress that I had made was lost? No. It means that I have more work to do. More work to do on loving myself. I have always known that in Al-Anon the work never ends. A person is never “cured” or “fixed”. I just never quite imagined myself in this situation.

Today I will practice forgiving myself. Loving myself. Practicing grace.

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Anxiety

Heavy heart.

Empty stomach.

Rapid pulse.

Aching chest.

Deep darkness.

Sadness.

Tears.

Ache.

Racing thoughts.

Focus on tools.

H.A.L.T

H– Hungry? Yes.

A– Angry? No.

L– Lonely? Yes.

T– Tired? Always.

Go home.

Eat.

Focus on taste.

Breathe.

Play with daughter.

Heaviness fades.

Pulse slows.

Aching subsides.

Make art.

Body lightness.

Exhale.

Relief.

Peace.

De-Cluttering My Mind & Finding Balance

THE CYCLE
A few months ago I decided to make some radical changes in my life to manage my stress and create a more balanced life for myself and my family. My whole life I have always been the type of person who takes on too much. I’ve learned through working a recovery program in Al-Anon that this is a common trait of those of us who have been affected by someone else’s Alcoholism/Addiction. Perfectionism often rears its ugly head, causing me to take on more than I can handle. At fist I love the feeling of the rush of the crisis of being busy, then of course there is the applause of society, “I don’t know how you do it!” “You are like Super Woman!”, then there is always the crash and burn. This is a cycle that I have practiced my whole life. I once had a good friend who told me, “You know the saying, ‘When life gives you lemons, make lemonade?’ Well, when life gives you lemons you just keep picking more and more lemons until your hands bleed.” Throughout the years she would remind me of this, saying, “Christi, stop picking lemons!”

STOP THE MADNESS
A few months ago, I decided that I really had to stop the madness of being busy. I had taken steps in the past to work towards this goal but I always ended up in the same place, no matter what circumstances where surrounding me. It’s like the AA saying, “No matter where you go, there you are”. I knew that I would have to do the work from the inside out to make real and substantial changes. 9 months before having this revelation I had started this journey by leaving my job.   I was working as a director of a small non-profit. The job basically consumed my whole life. When I wasn’t working, I was thinking about work, and when I was able to finally fall asleep from worrying about work, I dreamed about work. It was really unhealthy. So I left that job and began working at another non-profit working as a Development Manager. While this position was indeed less stressful than my previous one, I realized that it was just a step down on the same huge ladder. I was still commuting to work; causing a strain on my children as they were spending long days in daycare. I began getting emails and texts at night about work, then the cycle returned: Working outside of my schedule to get tasks completed, losing sleep, and dreaming about work. I quickly realized that this needed to end. As an Al-Anon and a recovering perfectionist, I found it difficult to leave a job that I had just started only 9 months prior.  I knew that I needed to swallow my pride and make space to do the deep work that needed to be done and I resigned.

FAMILY OF “ISMS”
My family is full of “Isms”, Alcoholism, Addiction, Work-a-holics, etc. I had already made a choice to stop the family cycle of codependency by joining Al-Anon several years before, now it was time to stop the work-a-holic cycle. I decided to go back to my previous career as a Sign Language Interpreter, as I knew that it would provide more flexibility with my family and I wouldn’t take my work home with me.  This was a big shot to my ego, not because I felt that interpreting was “less than”. I loved and continue to love and value interpreting and Deaf culture. It was an ego killer because I had gone back to school for my degree in Social Work and no longer than 2.5 years in the field I was leaving it. What would people think? What will they say? My mind raced with the “What ifs”. Through working my program, I realized that I had stuff to work through and could not let the “possible opinions” of others control my life and my ability to make healthy choices for myself.

DE-CLUTTERING MY PHYSICAL SPACE
I was lucky enough to be able to take a couple of weeks off in between jobs to do some work on myself to get my footing and feel centered. As I began settling in to being at home with the children I realized that my busy mind and life had caused me neglect my home, making it cluttered and over-whelming. I sat down and made a list of all of the areas in the house that I wanted to organize and de-clutter. I then made a list of what I really wanted from here-on-out for my schedule and my time. This felt so good. This is where the process began, I took several loads of unused clothing and household items to Good Will. I re-organized my living space to feel more open and free. Organizing my physical space gave me enough serenity to encourage me to even further de-clutter my mind.

DE-CLUTTERING MY MIND
The next steps were related to technology. I deleted hundreds of emails that I didn’t need to save and organized my personal email into folders. This felt so good that I finally felt the courage to do something that I’ve known that I needed to do for a while, step away from Facebook. Facebook had become an addiction for me. An unhealthy addiction that fed into my need for approval from others and low self-esteem. It was a superficial world that had so much control over my emotions that it began to feel like my past addiction to cigarettes.

Not only did I monitor who interacted with me on Facebook but also who didn’t. I would see co-workers or family members leave me out or “like” and comment on each other’s posts but not mine. This hurt and my longing to feel apart of and accepted, probably the very thing that brought me to social media was being crushed. The odd thing about social media is that everyone uses it constantly, yet it is sort of taboo to say if something that happens on social media is hurtful. “It’s just Facebook” I would tell myself. “It’s stupid to get upset about it.” This unkind self talk was dismantling the work that I had done towards practicing self-love.

FACEBOOK DETOX
So I did it, I deactivated my account. I deactivated it and it was hard. It really did feel similar to quitting smoking. I had gotten so used to browsing through the news-feed throughout the day when I was bored or had a moment to spare. I was used to constantly knowing what everyone was doing, all of the time. Sitting in boredom felt foreign and uncomfortable. After the first several days I began to find happiness in being disconnected from the online world. I increased the interactions with my friends through texting and chatting on the phone. I felt like I was able to have deeper conversations with them than I would through quick comments on a post. I felt reconnected to the people who I enjoy and have been able to disconnect from the ones that I found to be hurtful online. The truth is that the people who I have in my life regularly never bothered me on Facebook.  I was able to feel more grounded in my surroundings, more mindful of my children. It was freedom. I was also able to get more of my de-cluttering done in my home and feel more productive without the invisible chain connecting me to my phone.

I’m feeling more and more free and look forward to seeing what this new year has in store for me. When interviewing for my interpreting job, the employer asked me where I saw myself in 5 years, what were my goals? I looked at her with a chuckle as I thought to my self about my lifelong-habit of constantly developing bigger and bigger goals for my career. This time my response was different, I simply stated, “Balance”.