burnout work

Is It Burnout?

I go through this period at work every quarter that involves a solid three weeks of higher than usual stress and an incredible work load. I tried to describe what happens during these cycles to a friend over the weekend, and he said that it sounds like I work the equivalent of two full-time jobs. It’s true. Two full-time high-pressure jobs rolled into one. I’m doing my normal day-to-day work, which can be harrowing on its own, and adding a massive extra task with a very short deadline on top of it.

I am in the middle of that particular phase at the moment and no matter how much I try to take care of myself, the tension can get unbearable. I always head into these things prepared to get daily exercise, meditate, eat well and make sure I sleep, but it never quite works out that way. The stress becomes impossible to escape. My therapist continues to tell me that I can only do what I can do and if it’s not sustainable and I don’t meet the deadlines then I’m not going to die. While I appreciate that sentiment and it does help me to keep my perfectionism in check with a lot of my normal work, it’s not so easy during these heavy deadline periods. As it is, I already always run past the targeted due dates because it’s too much to manage.

I sometimes wonder how little sleep some coworkers get. I know mine suffers during these phases and I don’t even have children to also look after. I watch people with families who are pushing through the heavy workload on top of trying to handle their family situations and I feel for them. We all work long days in the office and typically log back in after finally getting home at night and on the weekends. That’s pretty standard for even a normal work day, but it’s even more necessary when this quarterly cycle comes around. We all spend these times in the office a little grumpier, a lot more tired and generally lacking any positive energy. There are body aches and short fuses to contend with everywhere you turn. No matter how hard we all try, the mental and physical exhaustion run rampant.

When I stop to consider that I spend a minimum of three weeks every quarter going through this, that’s three months of my life each year. Three months of stress levels that are off the charts. Three months with little sleep or much in the way of self-care. Three months where I neglect much of what is important and valuable to me. Maintaining the positive attitude that has come to be expected of me is becoming more of a struggle with each passing quarter. I try to put on the brave face and show everyone that I can handle it, while in reality it’s tearing me up inside. I always come into this cycle wanting to make it better somehow, but by the end of the three weeks even this queen of positivity is left feeling defeated.

None of this seems like something a person should go through. I am incredibly grateful for what I have and for the opportunity that I’ve been given. I like who I work with and I like the good that we do, but the balance is lacking. Burnout is a very real thing. This isn’t something that just impacts my business, it’s the culture that we are surrounded by in this country, in general. Burnout can lead to a whole host of problems. All work and no play makes Jack a very anxious, forgetful, tired, pained, ill, depressed, lonely and addicted boy.

In no way am I blaming my alcohol use on my job, but I am keenly aware that it was how I coped during the high stress cycles. Maybe it’s being sober that makes me hyper-sensitive to the pressures of the job, or maybe it’s getting older and recognizing the value of each moment in this short life. Work is important and certainly necessary, but there must be a way to find joy and balance in it instead of watching the years melt painfully away as the hamster wheel keeps spinning.


alcoholism recovery urge

Sunday Blues

Yesterday was an odd Sunday for me. I woke up quite early already carrying the gloom of having to go to work on Monday, which is my least favorite way to start any day out. I haven’t had that feeling in quite some time and have had much success managing the stress at work, but for some reason the weight of it decided to hit hard this weekend. It was a such a beautiful day and the time spent with my husband was very nice, as always, but I could not shake the overwhelming dread of what was to come. Despite all of the tools at my disposal, the heaviness on my chest was determined to stick around. That heaviness turned into a strong, and I mean very strong desire to drink.

I was resting comfortably on the sofa with golf on TV late in the afternoon when my struggle to fight off the worries over work turned into a battle to get thoughts of alcohol out of my head. I fiercely tried to change my thoughts around by reminding myself about how badly I would feel afterward, but I still wanted to have that one glass of chardonnay or shot of whiskey. It didn’t matter what it was, I just needed to feel the warmth of it running down my throat. I reminded myself of all the work that I’ve been doing and how I want to change not only my future but want to help others with theirs, and how could I possibly do that if I had a drink? But that voice inside was persistent that it didn’t give a fuck about any of that. It didn’t care that I would have to take my 75 days of sobriety back down to 0 or about how anyone else might think of me. It didn’t want to consider any of the ramifications, it just wanted to lift a drink to my lips. My feelings were so overwhelming that I was nearly overcome with the desire for the old tool that I used to keep them at bay.

My husband could tell something was not right and asked if I was doing okay. I tried, but I couldn’t quite put what I was feeling into words, but I did end up confessing that I really wanted a drink in that moment. After a bit of talking through it, but still feeling the temptation, I decided to take myself out to the back yard to water my flowers and plant my bare feet in our cool grass. It was only for a few minutes, but that sensation has always been one of my favorites. Standing there in the grass, in the beauty of our yard at the home that I love made me feel grounded again. My anxiety didn’t totally disappear, but it relented enough that I was able to carry on with the rest of the evening without feeling like I was going to make a mad dash for a bottle.

I’m not new to this, I’ve talked about random urges to drink here before, but that doesn’t mean that these events don’t still surprise me, especially when the desire is so insatiable. I’m pretty self-aware these days and already have my suspicions about where all of this came from. It may have been part anxiety, part hormones, and part what I like to call the Sunday blues. No matter what the reasons, I am most importantly reminded of how precious my sobriety really is to me.  Even when things seem like they have been flowing much steadier and I can loosen my grip, I can still come up against a vicious tide that tries to sweep my feet out from under me. I do know that it won’t always be that way, but for now I will fight to keep myself grounded because it is so much better here in the calm.

76 days and counting…

Preparing for Another Sober First

Tomorrow is a day that I’m both dreading and looking forward to. In the morning, I will head to Charleston, SC. A beautiful city that I love, and I will get to see people that I typically only have the pleasure of being around once a year. This is the time of year when my annual company meeting rolls around and it’s always been couple of fun days. The problem is that the fun over the past seven years has been laced with alcohol. Two days of meetings intertwined with social activities, nice dinners, and free flowing booze. I mentioned last week that my company thrives on the drinking culture, it’s the environment we’ve fostered, like many others. We have high stress positions with long hours and relentless deadlines, so how do we let loose? We drink. We party. We stay up late and bar hop until we can’t remember what time we got back or how we got to the hotel. I am no longer a part of that “we”.

The locations are always carefully selected, we’ve done NYC, Miami, Chicago, Orlando, and the most recent event was in Nashville. I spent the first couple of years calling most evenings early, not hanging out with the crowd getting wasted because I still felt too new to fully partake. Then NYC hit and I was out with a group exploring the city bars and the whiskey scene well into the early hours of the morning. I wasn’t inappropriate at all, but I had a massive hangover through 8 hours of meetings the next day, which was utterly miserable. Then came Miami. Just after landing at the airport, I met up with a coworker for an afternoon drink on the beach where we polished off two bottles of wine and headed to dinner with the entire group. That night would be filled with pre-dinner cocktails, wine with dinner, post-dinner cocktails, champagne by the pool and then a couple of hours at a South Beach nightclub with table service and an entire bottle of scotch split between three people. I am fortunate to have been with people I trusted because I have vague memories of getting into a cab to head back to the hotel in the pre-dawn hours, but nothing after that. Somehow during my blackout I apparently had enough sense to set my 6:30 a.m. alarm in order to make it to the early morning meetings. I remember wobbling into the shower and still feeling so drunk that I could barely distinguish the shampoo from the conditioner, and the tiles on the wall looked like they might be moving. I next leaned over the well-stocked mini-bar in my room seriously contemplating cracking open one of the little bottles to take the edge off and get me through. I opted against it because I didn’t want anyone to smell it on me, but the amount of alcohol that had to already be oozing out of my pores would have remedied that.

I could barely see straight as I walked into the meeting room when my boss came up beside me and whispered that he was still drunk. I remember feeling relief that I wasn’t the only one. I spent the next several hours chugging Sprite and water and picking away at crackers, trying my best to keep from vomiting. It was complete misery. I remember repeatedly saying “I’m too old for this” as my hangover continued through the airport that evening. The moment I boarded the plane for home, I powered through two glasses of red wine. It was the only thing that was going to help, because there isn’t much that’s more miserable than being on a plane in that condition.

Everyone still makes jokes about that night and how awful we felt but how much fun we had. That won’t be the kind of fun I’m partaking in this time. While there were some good times, much of it is so fuzzy that it almost doesn’t seem like a real experience. It’s as though I have someone else’s memories. There is also no amount of fun that is worth that kind of hangover. It took me the better part of two days to recover, talk about lost time.

I look forward to staying sober on this trip, but I am walking into this with some trepidation. I am not ultimately worried about taking a drink, while I expect a craving to hit from time to time, I am too committed to staying sober at this point. What concerns me is the feeling that I went through at the small work dinner last week, only this time there is a much larger scale to deal with. That night made me realize that there are still unknowns that lie ahead of me and those can be scary. All I can do is be as prepared as possible. With that, I’ll share some of the tools and thoughts I plan to focus on to help get me through:

  1. Leave both dinners early, no matter what. The one sober person I planned to stick to will be headed out on Thursday and that will be the biggest boozing night of all. I may be compelled to stick it out, but I know that the longer I stay the more opportunity arises for struggles, so this time I’ll keep it short.
  2. I plan to take early morning walks around the city, starting the day with a little exercise and meditation to keep my thoughts on track.
  3. My phone is loaded up and ready with sobriety-based podcasts for those walks and the times spent getting ready in my hotel.
  4. Books and writing. When I come back early from those dinners, I’m well prepared for writing or reading something inspirational.
  5. I picked up a little pocket amethyst stone while in Arizona. Yes, I know it’s a little woo-woo and not something I would typically buy into, but amethyst supposedly has qualities to help people in recovery. If anything, when I hold the stone in my hands it reminds me of why I’ve chosen sobriety and sometimes that is all it takes.
  6. The Universe Has Your Back cards, from Gabrielle Bernstein. Sure, maybe another woo-woo item, but this fun little deck is a great tool for instant inspiration each day. It’s something new in my little bag of tricks and I spend time each morning reflecting on an affirmation for the day ahead followed by selecting a card that I’ll carry with me that day. For instance, today’s random card says “Surrender to a power greater than you.” That sounds like a pretty good idea to me.
  7. Just breathe. When things start to feel tough, I’ll take deep breaths and with every one I’ll consider how great it feels to have a clear head and no hangover. I’ll remember how proud I am of the hard work I’ve accomplished and of how so much greatness still lies ahead of me. I’ll think of everyone who has supported me and know that I won’t let myself or any of them down.

I already ordered a celebratory coffee mug as a reward for making it through this trip. With any luck, it will be here waiting for me when I return. Not to mention, Friday will be my two months of sobriety. When I get through the next couple of days I have something pretty big to look forward to, and that makes me smile.


Too Many Firsts

I’ve had a number of firsts since getting sober over the past few days. Saturday was the first time we’ve hosted dinner in our home for friends. They know I’m sober now, which helps but also makes it awkward at the same time. It has to be just as odd for them to have a drink around me as it feels for me to be the only one not drinking, at least that’s what I assume. We didn’t really talk about it, and even though I think my preference is to get it out in the open and have the discussion, I also don’t want to force that on anyone. Overall, I was a little anxious but it turned out to be a very fun night with people I adore and I have faith that it will get easier.

Another first came in the form of a dinner out with coworkers to entertain a client last night. This was not a good experience for me. In fact, this might have been the most difficult night of my sobriety since the first few weeks when my struggle with cravings was at its worst. My company, like many I suspect, is very centered around drinking. Everyone works very hard in a high-stress environment, so of course alcohol is the common way to unwind. Wine and beer are in our lounge area for late afternoon pours on occasion, Bloody Mary Fridays pop up from time to time and social events outside of the office are always all about the alcohol. Before sobriety, I was right in the middle of it all, partaking in every opportunity that came my way. I’ve been lucky to avoid most of those situations since I stopped drinking, until last night.

A few of my coworkers know I’ve quit drinking, but they don’t know the details and I certainly don’t think they realize just how hard this can be. I spent nearly two and a half hours sitting between 7 other people surrounded by drinks. I made the mistake of walking into this dinner expecting that I might have an occasional craving, but that I’d generally be okay. I’ve been out with friends on another occasion, so I thought I knew what to expect. I couldn’t have been more wrong. Here are a few things that I noticed over the course of the evening: 1) The conversation was almost entirely about alcohol – bad drinking stories, instructions on how to do a sake bomb, moonshine tales, favorite wines, favorite breweries, nonstop talk about booze. 2) I was offered the drink menu by someone nearly every 15 minutes, which was easily how often it was passed around the entire table for another round to be ordered. 3) I was surrounded by some of my former favorite drinks, a chilled martini sat across from me, a cold bottle of sake was to my right and both red and white wine were everywhere else. 4) As much as I tried to ignore it, I was well aware of how much everyone was drinking and exactly what they ordered with every round. My observations were relentless.

Here is what is most interesting to me – at no point did I feel an urge to order a drink or even taste one. What did happen is I was overcome with sadness and felt like I was teetering on the edge of a panic attack for two hours. I stared at the drinks around me, at all of the faces as they took those sips and I felt like an outsider and even a failure in some way. Don’t get me wrong, I know in my brain that I’m not, I am well aware that my choice to be sober is a powerful one, but it doesn’t mean that it there isn’t pain associated with the fact that I can’t join in with everyone like I used to. There were a few moments that I felt like I might burst into tears right there in the middle of dinner, my heart was racing and the sweat was out of control. I did my best to take deep breaths, put on a happy face and join the conversation while trying to plot my escape. I’m used to being a lively part of the banter, but I could barely contribute this time, because I didn’t want to talk about drinking and that was the theme of the evening. I can now recall that was the theme at nearly every event like this, I just never noticed it so much because I was right in the middle of it. Once upon a time, I could laugh with them and reminisce about a time or two that I had too much, but I’ve been so focused on my sobriety that it didn’t feel right to visit those places. I was also afraid that I would end up spilling some of my story and this was definitely not the time for that.

I started feeling desperate to get out of there, it was becoming too much for me to handle, but every time I would try to leave one of my co-workers, who also happens to be one of my bosses, kept telling me I needed to stick around for a while longer. He persisted several times, which only made me more uncomfortable and trapped. After about 45 minutes of this, as soon as another coworker stood up to make her exit to get home to her child, I ignored any further attempts to get me to stay and said my quick goodbyes and practically ran to my car. I could not get home to my safe space fast enough. Fortunately, E was home this week and after getting into the house I was able to talk through what had just happened, feel his comfort and reassurance, and finally cry.

Although I do feel much better, I’m still in the midst of the after-effects this morning. I know that I’ll find my way through this, but for now the sadness is still with me. To top it off, something that I hadn’t been overly concerned about before, but that is weighing heavily on me now, is that next week is my annual company meeting out of town. This is usually two booze-filled days of serious partying. After last night’s experience, no matter how much preparing I do in advance, I just don’t know what to expect. Fortunately, there is one other sober person in my company and she is aware that I’ve quit drinking, so I fully expect to stick close to her and to make quick and early exits from the evening’s events, but that doesn’t mean this isn’t going to be tough. I don’t like the way last night made me feel and I don’t look forward to going through anything close to that again. I’d prefer a little break from these ‘firsts’ right now, but that isn’t going to happen until I get past next week.

Until then, I’m taking deep breaths, focusing on my 50 days of a clear head and envisioning a beautiful future of sober living. One day at a time, right?


fear social anxiety

Social Anxiety Is A Very Real Thing

A goal that I had for myself this year was to try something new each month. It could be attending a class or Meetup group, or even just hitting a new museum or yoga studio. The idea was not only to help me push through fear (because social anxiety seems to be a problem for me these days), but to broaden my exposure and maybe even make new friends along the way. Developing friendships outside of my usual social circle has become of particular importance to me now that I’m in recovery.

January went by without much action on my part, but deciding to get sober in February brought this goal of mine to the forefront. My first step was giving a new yoga studio a try, which may not seem like a tremendously brave act to anyone else, but it did force me to step outside of my comfort zone. Next, I’ve been browsing the Meetup site looking for groups that are sober focused, but the only one I found was geared towards 20-somethings, which clearly wasn’t going to work. I next thought maybe a fitness related group could do the trick, but I wasn’t sure I was ready for a 50 person 5-mile hike just yet, and some of the other categories felt downright intimidating. After weeding through various women’s social groups, buried beneath all of the Happy Hour and Cocktail Night activities, I did manage to find a simple dinner and dessert meetup for women at my favorite café up the road. That sounded promising because the place is familiar and there was no mention of alcohol. The café does offer wine, but it isn’t what they are known for, so I figured this was a safe choice.

I put in my RSVP about two weeks ago and felt completely ready for it. I wasn’t even nervous, until about 3 hours before I was due to attend yesterday and wanted to cancel. This has been so typical of me in recent years and it’s what I desperately want to change. I constantly cancel events at the last minute because I’m suddenly filled with anxiety and the driving need to stick with what is familiar and comfortable. While this isn’t so terrible sometimes, it’s turned into an awful habit that is holding me back from so much experience in life. I don’t know how I became this person who is filled with fear and trepidation. I’ve always been a bit of an introvert, but not to this degree. In fact, I used to be quite the social butterfly, or at least I thought I was.

On Thursdays I work from home and I went from waking up in the morning feeling ready to take on the day to feeling agitated and questioning if I should go to this meetup at all. I couldn’t stop feeling like it would be so much easier to stay home and then somewhere in there I started craving a drink and craving it hard. I was pacing around my house thinking of the gin bottle still in the freezer. I had gotten rid of the vodka, but kept the gin because it was so full and I thought friends might enjoy it one day. I almost poured it out right then, but I was scared that the smell of it would push me over the edge. I then remembered reading on a blog somewhere recently that a craving supposedly only lasts an average of 18 seconds and if you can make it through that, you’ll be okay. I counted slowly to and from 18 about 6 times until I decided that wasn’t working. I somehow managed to refocus my attention on my work for a while, but I kept shifting over to group’s meetup page to hover my mouse over the cancel button. It came close, but I never pressed it.

I continued to think about how important attending was to me and how disappointed I would feel in myself if I didn’t go. I also knew that if I stayed home, it might mean it would be easier to give in to drinking and the fear of that happening outweighed my fear of this new social activity. It’s no secret that I’m still finding my way on a spiritual level and I’ve been turning to the energy of the universe as my higher power of sorts. So, I stood over my kitchen island praying to the universe out loud. I turned over my fear and asked to learn from and find peace in this moment. I read the faith statement that I recently created for myself, compliments of guidance from Gabby Bernstein, took a deep breath and headed out the door. I was going early, but I convinced myself that if I could make it as far as the café parking lot, I wouldn’t be able to turn back. That almost wasn’t true.

I arrived about 30 minutes early and the anxiety over this had built up so much in my body that my back and head were aching. I was uncomfortable and wanted to pull back out of that lot and head towards the house. I sat parked for a moment before hopping on my phone to consider hitting cancel through the Meetup app. Instead, I accidentally hit the icon for the app store and I was reminded of a search I did earlier that had been interrupted. I had originally been browsing sobriety apps and staring up at me was one that provided the closest AA meetings and schedules. I hit download. I then knew exactly what I had to do without any question. I either go in to this event, or I attend an AA meeting. There was no choice, it had to be one or the other because if I went home, I was likely going to drink. I found the closest and next meeting and was moments away from putting my car in reverse when I saw a woman get out of the car next to me and start to head in to the café. I didn’t allow any more time to think and instead got my ass moving out of my car. I approached her and sure enough, she was with the group I was here to join and we walked in together.

I won’t go into the blow by blow, but I spent two hours with a group of 5 women who were all different from one another, but the one thing we had in common was our search to meet new people. I was nervous the entire time and felt a little bit awkward, but I know I wasn’t the only one. In the past when I’ve been in a new social situation I’ve been much more at ease and can usually chat with anyone about anything, but I also normally have alcohol in my hand. This is the first time that I can recall that not being the case and it was very different. While there were no life-long friendships on the verge of forming at this event, it was still a great experience and one that may have saved me last night.

As I drove home, I felt so proud of myself. I was proud for having courage and I was proud that I chose this instead of drinking. I know it’s a step in the right direction, and I do believe that I can find my way back to being more at ease in social situations, it’s just going to take a little practice and time. As much as I have been trying to convince myself that I may not need it, I think the next time I push myself should be by attending an AA meeting. I can see how important being around other sober people is going to be for me in my recovery, even if I was secretly hoping I might be different somehow.

For anyone wondering, I poured out that bottle of gin this morning.


alcohol recovery

10 Days In

Yesterday made for 10 days of sobriety. 10 days with both ups and downs. There are times I have felt incredibly anxious and irritable, moments of absolute zen, and a time or two where I wanted to throw in the towel. While 10 days wouldn’t ordinarily feel like a long time, to me, it seems like a month. I have a long road ahead of me, but my 10 days sober deserves a bit of a recap.

I am tired of obsessing about alcohol. It has been F’ing fierce! It’s on my mind when I wake up, it’s with me through my work day and especially nagging when I get back home. I have to continually distract myself with other things to try to push the thoughts and cravings away. However, I will say this, the past two days were oddly easier. As I approached bed on Wednesday, I realized I hadn’t felt the need for a drink once that day and it was incredible. It was like I could breathe for the first time. The following day (yesterday) was still not terrible, but the thoughts were popping up to show their ugly faces a few times. I know that this doesn’t mean it’s going to stay easier, but I was glad for even a little reprieve in the midst of the chaos going on inside this head of mine.

Triggers are everywhere. I notice how often people around me talk about alcohol now, and it seems like it is brought up in nearly every conversation. I cannot get away from it. Then there is my mother. I learned first-hand this past weekend what a huge trigger she is for my drinking. I’m not blaming her, by any means, I’m a big girl. But, when she reaches out in one of her moods, I instantly want to drink. It didn’t take much this past Saturday, just a sad text and I was up and pacing the floors, trying my best to keep from grabbing a bottle. The good news is that I didn’t do it, but I’m going to have to work on a way past this if I’m going to make it through in the future.

My concentration and focus have been hit or miss. I’ve had some days where I’ve really struggled at work to keep my head into one task without being easily distracted. In fact, I feel like I’ve barely accomplished a thing at the office over these past two weeks, I’ve merely been picking away at my to-do list little by little, without any major progress. When I start on something I find myself suddenly in the middle of reading an article or blog post about sobriety, without even remembering how I got there. I am attempting to reign it in, I am just thankful that it has been quiet over the past couple of weeks to allow me the chance to regroup.

Despite the difficulty with staying on task, in some ways my head feels much clearer. There is a fog that has been lifting and I notice more things around me, more than just the amount of times alcohol is brought up in a conversation. I find myself noticing people and details with much greater awareness. I see when people smile, how they move, and what they are wearing. I can smell their perfume or cologne, even when it’s subtle. I immediately picked up on the scent of stale alcohol on a man riding the elevator up with me one morning, and it made me feel ill and then a little sad for him. I wondered if I would have noticed it before, and then I wondered if I ever carried that scent with me. God, I hope not.

The first week was draining and my body felt wiped out. My sleep was awful, maybe even worse than when I was drinking because at least then I was usually passed out until 1 or 2 a.m. before struggles set in. Without drinking, as exhausted as I felt, it was as though I was too tired to fall asleep. My body couldn’t get comfortable, my arms and legs actually felt tingly and no matter what I tried, a bath before bed, Sleepytime tea and reading, I just couldn’t settle in. I had very little sleep through the first 6 or 7 days, but fortunately, that has improved. For the most part, I’m starting to fall asleep much easier, and the best thing is that I haven’t awakened in the middle of the night with a racing heart and night sweats. That is a first for me in I don’t know how long. The interesting thing is that even for those first days with very little sleep, I still felt like I had more energy than I normally would if I had been drinking. That was certainly odd.

Let’s talk about my body. My skin is already looking better and my eyes are no longer red and puffy. I can actually apply mascara in the morning without any difficulty. I didn’t realize before just how much alcohol was affecting that part of me, and wow, do I really like this change! Speaking of changes that I adore, I’ve shed 7 pounds. Even though I’m getting a bit more regular exercise as a means to keep my focus away from the drink, I’ve had this extra layer of fat on my body for years. No amount of eating well and working out (and I went through some serious workouts for a time with Crossfit thrown into the mix a couple of years ago) was touching it. Suddenly, all my so-called problem areas have slimmed down in a noticeable way. I’ve never been body-obsessed, but like many women, I’ve also never been terribly pleased with my figure. Today I feel better about it than ever before.

Then there’s food. I’m slowly trying to work my way into better eating again, but for the most part, I’ve just been letting myself eat whatever I feel like having. Initially, my appetite was pretty lacking, but the past 5 days or so, I’ve been filled with food cravings that I don’t normally have, primarily for sweets. Oh yes, I indulged in some giant Reese’s Peanut Butter Eggs this week and even shoved down a somewhat controversial Cadbury Creme Egg. Either you love or hate the sugary snot-like filled things, I happen to stand with the lovers. I’ve been indulging all over the place and I’ve been massively hungry. I would guess that my body just wants to replace the sugars that it was getting from the alcohol previously, but it’s been downright unusual for me. Yesterday, I mostly cleared my cabinets of the junk and stocked back up on healthy foods but left a couple of packs of cookies in case of an emergency. I’d much rather grab one of those instead of going for the bottle, if that’s what it takes.

Beyond that, I’m filled with time that I never had before. I’m reading more and writing often. I’ve signed up for writing classes and a handful of events that don’t involve drinking. I even dug out my old camera as I want to try my hand again at photography. As truly trying as some moments are without alcohol, I’m at least starting to feel more alive. I love the time that has opened up and I’m excited to put it to good use instead of sitting in front of trash TV with my bottle of wine.


Panic on a Thursday

Several days ago I had a panic attack. I’ve only had a few of these over the past 5 years or so, and it’s been a long while since one has hit me. I haven’t had a single one since starting therapy a year ago, and then this one came out of nowhere – and it hit hard. I was working at home and had been dealing with a bit of stress over how things are going with a new cat we adopted a few weeks ago, but it wasn’t anything that seemed particularly overwhelming. Then, as I was going about my work day, I jumped on a quick and typical call with a colleague only to find myself barely able to speak part way through. I was desperately trying to get her to stop talking and let me go, but she thought I was just having a coughing spell at the tail end of having had a cold, and so she kept going. My heart rate was out of control, I felt like I was choking and it was nearly impossible to catch my breathe. I broke out in a sweat and as my heart performed somersaults in my chest, I thought I might pass out. I could hardly form any words when my colleague finally brought the call to an end. It was mortifying. I had been pacing around and moving from sitting to standing, then to sitting again all in an effort to find a way to make it stop. I made my way into another room and grabbed the blood pressure monitor that we keep on hand and within about a minute I discovered my diastolic was over 100 with a ‘resting’ heart rate of 157. The thought to call 911 ran through my head, but I wasn’t sure if that was the right thing to do. In the midst of wondering if this might be a heart attack, I started to recognize that this had to be a panic attack, instead. While I’d never had one quite so severe before, the symptoms were familiar. I next considered calling my therapist, but instead I sat myself down and started working through the diaphragmatic breathing that she had taught me. It took a few minutes, but eventually my heart rate dropped and things started to settle back down.

After a few minutes more, I broke out into tears. I mean, I sobbed hard. I couldn’t form any thought as to exactly why or what I was feeling, it just came. I let it come and tried to just stay open to the emotion pouring through me until it eventually just went quiet. I sat for a while, considering everything that had happened over the past half hour or so. It scared me. There were moments that it felt like I was going to pass out, moments there that it even felt like I might die. I was a little concerned something might happen again, and I was alone in the house, so I did something that made me feel more vulnerable than I have in a very long time. I reached out to my husband to tell him what happened and to ask him to check in on me if a couple of hours should pass without me making any contact. I hated telling him. It’s not that I don’t trust him and can’t confide in him, but it made me feel dramatic and weak and I considered that he might start to wish that he had a ‘normal’ wife. I didn’t want him to see me that way, it was almost shameful.

The reality is that my husband was nothing but supportive and he would never view me the way my brain told me he would. What I realized is that this is an old thought pattern, this is how my ex-husband would have treated me. He would never had understood and would likely have severely ridiculed me for being such an imposition to him. In fact, just two days prior to the panic attack, I dug into some pretty deep stuff in therapy about my relationship with my ex. She’s been giving me caution for a long time that as traumatic events start to come up, my body could react in a number of ways. As she reminds me, the body keeps the score. The trauma is still held inside and maybe this attack is how some of that was finally releasing. I know that release is the only way to fully heal, but I really hope it doesn’t happen in the form of such a vicious attack again.

The gratitude that I have for the awareness and the skills that I’ve gained over this past year is beyond anything I could express. My hope is that if I should ever find in the grips of another such situation, maybe remembering how I was able to pull myself out of it this time might help make it just a little less terrible.

recovery childhood

This is Recovery

Which part of my history or healing do I dive into first? Then where do I go from there? With so much happening these days, I’ve been nearly lost in the swirl of thoughts running around my head. This has made it a tad overwhelming in determining where to start. What is clear to me now is that I’m overthinking things, so consider today’s post a bit of a brain dump. I’m going to lay some of this out there, in no particular order or fashion, because it feels like the only way to move forward. Consider it a quick synopsis of where I am.

I’ve been spending this past year working on some pretty deep stuff with a therapist. I tried therapy briefly three times in the past, but either I wasn’t ready or I never fully connected with the therapist. The best example would be my last attempt a couple of years ago, which promptly ended after the 3rd session. It was in this early session that the therapist was already pushing me to have conversations with an empty chair, imagining it was my grandfather sitting there. The point was to confront him about the abuse that I had only just myself started to fuzzily recall. While I’m sure this technique can be very helpful, in this case it felt rushed and made me highly uncomfortable. I felt like I had to fake my way through just to get it over with, and so I did. Then I never returned. It didn’t sour me to the thought of therapy, I just knew that there had to be a different way. After some time passed, I finally did some research and reached out to someone else. This go-round has been spot on.

I’ve been exploring the impact of growing up with an alcoholic and substance abusing father and a mother who tried to do the right things, but was so deep in a depression stemming from her own difficult childhood, she wasn’t consistent or present in the way that I needed. I played the role of an adult to take care of not just myself, but my mother in her fragile state and my father in his drunken one. There was also the isolation and fear that being one of Jehovah’s Witnesses further developed. (To write this so openly still sends chills through me even all of these years later.) Then, as hidden and unnoticeable as I tried to stay throughout the years of moving from school to school, I was consistently a prime target for bullying. I’m sure I don’t need to tell you how cruel kids can be. Beyond all of that lies the sexual abuse by a grandfather, along with inappropriate sexual behaviors by other men while I was growing up. To round it out, there was the emotionally (and borderline physically) abusive marriage to a narcissist with rape fantasies during my twenties.

It would be fair to say that I’ve had a bit going on in my head these days. In fact, looking at the sentences above that barely scratch the surface, I can admit that it’s pretty incredible that I’ve made the life that I have for myself after having gone through all of this. I don’t seem to be suffering from depression, I have a great job and husband, and I’m not strung out or in any abusive situations today. Although, I have recently started to seriously consider that I may be using alcohol too much, but it’s just one more piece of myself that I’m trying to work out. Speaking of trying to work things out, I’m also struggling to find my way on a spiritual level after decades of feeling disconnected in that area. Talk about adding another heavy layer to my recovery.

Let’s talk for a moment about recovery. The definition of is:

  1. a return to a normal state of health, mind, or strength
  2. the action or process of regaining possession or control of something stolen or lost

Having been in a safe place for over 10 years, I found myself at a point about a year ago where I could finally start opening up to my past and learn how to heal. It took me months to understand and accept that what I’m experiencing is recovery. Recovery from anxiety, recovery from my stolen innocence, recovery from a lost childhood, and recovery from fear. There are moments that terrify me, there are moments where I feel relieved and enlightened, and then there are the moments that I want to push everything back deep inside so that I don’t have to feel the pain. Breaking through the barrier that I’ve built around me since childhood is the hardest fight that I’ve ever been through, but without a doubt, it’s been the most important one. I will forever be a work in progress, but I am already stronger, more self-assured, and filled with more genuine happiness and peace than I had just a year ago. Something significant is shifting in this life of mine, and I look forward to seeing where else recovery takes me.