The Worst Part

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I’ve read a few articles on the ongoing psychological impact of social isolation resulting from COVID. While the long term and actual effects of the unprecedented civil order to maintain distance from strangers and loved ones outside the household are still under investigation, I personally don’t know a single person who isn’t impacted and off balance.

Recently, like some kind of competition that no one wins, my connections have started speculating more and more on the “worst part” of COVID-life.  These reasons stem from the mundane and shallow to the seriously sad.  What I will say, before sharing my own “worst thing”, is that whatever challenges you are facing are valid and real. I understand the daily struggle that comes from being committed to doing the right thing, even if it is painful. And – regardless of your level of comfort with the idea of catching and surviving this disease, most of us understand the big picture of why we are taking this measure… we don’t want to hurt others.

My partner and I live in a century home in a small town in Southern Ontario which we moved into weeks before the world shut down.  Like most old houses, there have been challenges with foundation deterioration and one of our first actions on moving in was locating a contractor who could help reinforce the 100-year old joists in the basement. Unfortunately, due to this settling, the ceiling in a few of the older untouched rooms have sagged and adjusted with the home. Busy with other more critical tasks, we’ve been putting off addressing this damage.

Yesterday, we were sitting inside.  It was raining, a National holiday, and we’d exhausted all the low-hanging Netflix fruit (#fuckcarolebaskin).  Our couch time has increased steadily over the last few months as we’ve tackled all the house projects we can complete without assistance, are unable to easily acquire materials, and struggle with the tumultuous Canadian spring weather.

Mid-afternoon, after a few quiet hours of mucking around on the Internet, he turned to me and asked if I would like to demolish the ceiling in one of these rooms. I agreed and he quickly started collecting crow bars, masks, garbage bags, and other materials to complete the task.

For the first time in days we laughed easily, conversation flowed, and we enjoyed each other with a lot less effort than we have since the stress of pandemic entered our lives. It occurred to me that the worst part of this situation for our relationship is not the lack of services, restaurants, the financial strain, or the anti-aphrodisiac effect of wearing the same track pants for weeks on end.  It is the lack of spontaneity. Without personal choice and options, it is like the volume is turned way down and a grey fog has settled. Every day is almost exactly the same and while that same is much better than it has been in the past, without the ups, downs, and outside influence, it lacks perspective. I have trouble appreciating how amazing my life is compared to how it was when this blog started.

With that in mind, I remind myself to be grateful, humble, and compassionate. I remind myself to widen my tunnel vision, challenge my narrow perception, and acknowledge how far I’ve come.

I also want to ask you for inspiration; what is the worst part for you and how are you coping?

Change in Uncertain Times

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I’ve talked about my dog before on this blog.  She is a rescue mutt – sweet, loving, and scared of most things. She will startle at a pen falling off a table but shows absolutely no hesitation to go bolting off the deck into the night after an anonymous and unidentified shadow or noise. In these moments, she forgets she is afraid.

I have a similarly complicated and confusing relationship with change. Fed up with life and circumstances I can name an embarrassing amount of times in my life that I’ve bolted into the night, making impulsive and life changing decisions with very little foresight or appreciation for the consequences. I’ve cut people out, quit without notice, and generally acted like a wild and startled animal and not the intelligent homo sapien I am.

For my dog, those actions have resulted in several face-to-face confrontations with angry skunks.  For me, they have resulted in having to reinvent myself almost from scratch more times than I’d like to admit.

The irony of both our situations is that I believe we are both desperately trying to deal with paralyzing fear. Acting quickly, impulsively and desperately is often the only way for either one of us able to do anything without feeling our insecurities.

In the midst of all the pandemic restrictions, collective mental health crisis, and general world upheaval I’ve been approached with and accepted a job offer. Most people that know me well agree that this is an overdue and largely positive move. They reassure me that I am making a good decision and remind me of how much in my life has changed for the better over my last two years of getting vulnerable and uncomfortable…

But – I’m full of doubt and apprehension.

I am faced with the uncomfortable truth that I rarely feel good about my decisions. This is not about the lack of guarantees, the uncertainty, or any number of things that I believe are normal to feel in the face of change.  This is, like many things, another opportunity to examine how old habits are no longer serving me.

Even as a young and idealistic Jess, I didn’t get a lot of unbiased encouragement. I was lead to believe that even the most simple of personal needs or aspirations were selfish and somehow wrong. That things that were about me actually had a larger and more significant impact on others. I’ve spent most of my life believing that I am unable to do things myself, or rely on myself to make good decisions.

As a final carrot to stay at my old company I was offered a mentorship from a leader who told me they were sorry that I was uncertain of my value to the company and wanted to lead me to greater potential.

I know, right?

They could not have picked something that would be more attractive.

Screw money and title, VALIDATE ME and save me!!!!!

In lamenting this new offer, I was whining to a good and supportive friend, ripping apart (yet again) my decision to leave and leap into the unknown. He said, “you’ve always had to make it on your own, when somebody finally comes along to help it’s understandable that it should be both very strange and very attractive.”

It was like being slapped across the face.

I realized that I was being offered something abstract and that tying my success and perceived value to any one person was another attempt to fill the gaping void I’ve been clogging with food, alcohol, and emotionally unavailable people for the majority of my life.

It was a reminder that believing I’m not capable of things on my own is no longer an appropriate way to survive.  It was a reminder that I don’t accept that kind of emotional abuse anymore.

So here I am, sitting in my last few weeks of work ready to run and leap off of the deck into the dark again.  Truthfully, I’m still scared shitless, but at least I’m confident that I’ll make my way through it this time; as I always have before.

Pandemic

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I don’t know about you, but the current state of the world has my mental health on the ropes. It’s hard to pinpoint the exact cause: boredom, social isolation, an overload of COVID-19 news coverage; but I suspect any one of these elements alone is enough to topple the metaphorical apple cart.

After several weeks of self care, trying to be there for my friends and family and attempting not to burden my partner with my “crazy” it occurred to me in an insomniatic moment last night that how I feel right now is very similar to how I felt living with addiction.

Being codependent, for me, is a balance between ego and insecurity. In my experience, a major part of addiction (and codependency) is the inability to take ownership for yourself, your actions, and your consequences. Growing up with addiction, and finding it again as an adult, my ability to own what was *actually* my responsibility was damaged. I remember having the distinct impression that everything related to other people was somehow my fault. Unfortunately, that impression was not discouraged by the addicts in my life that were all too ready to blame someone else for their problems. So the addicts totally avoided responsibility for anything, and I avoided responsibility for what was actually mine in favour of what didn’t belong to me.

I felt (and was helped to feel) that I had incredible power over the happiness of others.  This was, of course, false and all my efforts to influence things were spectacularly unsuccessful.  I would then attack myself for failing at everything that was not actually mine to succeed at.

You still with me?

Most of the time this process was distilled into feeling helpless, angry, depressed, guilty, isolated, and desperate.  I didn’t know how to tell myself that everything was going to be okay because there was no clear solution or any indication of how long it would take to get there. I constantly felt like I needed to take action, but since there wasn’t actually an action to take which would get the results I wanted, I usually did the wrong thing, felt shitty, or both.

Talking to my friends, family, and colleagues these are common collective feelings we are all having in light of the current societal challenges. I wish I had a dollar for every time someone has complained to me in the last 3 weeks that this would be manageable if we only knew how long this would last, because surely this is not living.

Amen. I believe the familiarity of all these feelings is what is causing me to have to fight backsliding into my own unhealthy coping strategies.

I wish I could tell you how long this thing will last and that everything will return to normal soon…. But I think it would actually be more helpful to share a few things that I learned in recovery:

  1. Everything is temporary. Really.
  2. Focus on what you can control (hint: this is not how another adult feels / what they do)
  3. Make time to get your heart rate up and move.
  4. If possible, get outside.
  5. Do something you enjoy.  Preferably that doesn’t require any one else’s participation.
  6. If all else fails, return to the present moment.  Stop worrying so far ahead and remember that you can do anything for one day. Just worry about today.
  7. Repeat: Everything is temporary.

And finally – remember that, as a species (and as individuals), we have made it through all of our days before this one.  There is no reason to think that won’t continue.

Stay safe & stay home.

-J

 

Waiting for Worth / Worth Waiting for

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They say that the things that make it into your long term memory are significant.

I believe this to be true.  I don’t remember every mediocre cup of coffee, single-serving elevator friend, or my last 3 postal codes, but going through the recovery process has given me a unique appreciation for the stuff that I do remember, especially those events which have survived decades of trivia, service centre queues, and other mundane memory wasters.

Memory is a funny thing. If you ask two people to recall the same events, they will likely produce different details and maybe even bicker about the minutae of the conversation, the time of day, or the weather but ultimately the details don’t always matter.  Truth is somewhat fluid. What is true for me, may not be for you and vice versa; but how your brain files and tags your experiences is incredibly important for how you construct your image of the world around you. So – for everyone’s personal experience, how they recall something is often more important to them than the factual events.

This is part of the reason why I try not to get too specific in my writing. I’m conscious and fearful that I will inadvertantly hurt someone else by casting them in my recollection of events that are skewed to my own bias… but, I’m going to try something different today.  I wanted to write about one of my earliest memories.

When I was about 8 years old my family sat down to dinner. This dinner wasn’t special, or celebratory, it was just your average meal. During the dinner an argument erupted. My father was upset about something my brother was doing and it escalated ending in my brother crying, my mother consoling him, and my father storming off.

I remember feeling shocked, confused, and scared. My 8 year old brain was already worried about people getting hurt, abandoning me, of catastrophic events. I was already skeptical that things would just work out, because in my experience they often didn’t. There wasn’t alot of fighting in my household, but there also wasn’t a lot of resolution. We all struggled with communication and often when bad things happened we all went to our respective corners to “deal”.

My “normal” was a low baseline of tension at all times. I understand now that I didn’t have a consistent model for developing emotional skills.  My parents tried their best, but I don’t think emotional nurturing and protecting were gifts they had to pass along. If you’d asked me at that time, I would have told you that “home” was where I felt “safe” and “loved” knowing somehow that those were  acceptable responses but I don’t think I really understood what those concepts meant.

In that moment, watching my daddy storm off, I was worried that he had gone for a walk and wasn’t coming back.

I remember sitting in the garage waiting for him.  I don’t really have any concept of how long that was, but to my 8 year old brain it was an eternity. All that time I was imagning these horrible things that would happen to him and the chaos that would occur when he didn’t return. When he did finally reappear, he stormed past me and into the house.  He didn’t acknowledge me, he holed himself in the basement and coped in the only way that he knew how.

I understand now that everything that happened that day had very little to do with me, but I also understand that I wasn’t equipped to handle this stuff without guidance. Kids need direction, structure, and communication. We aren’t born with the skills to deal with complex emotional themes. I think that’s part of the reason we remain dependent on adults for so long. It’s like the universe is hoping that by making kids physically dependent for such a long period, they will have an opportunity to develop emotionally during the same time.

Unfortunately, in the absence of other information, my brain chose to store my narrative of that day as a message that I wasn’t important enough to care about. My child brain just couldn’t come up with a more plausible reason why my dad would storm past me, waiting for him.

For those of you that have now started to obsess and worry about your childs’ experiences and any traumatic events I’m pleased to tell you that for most people one traumatic or negligent moment will not give them low self esteem. Unfortunately for me, this was only one such event that would happen in my childhood to support this narrative.  I was a shy kid, I struggled to make friends, I had the unfortunate experience of many of them moving away for a variety of reasons in those formative and tough years.  My parents both commuted, holding long work hours and I spent a lot of time alone or with babysitters who ensured my safety but didn’t do much to interact with me. Admitedly, the downside of being in a small town as a kid was that I was isolated. I didn’t have a great variety of experiences outside of what was happening in the household.

I understand now how important those childhood experiences are. In my adulthood, I still struggle with the idea that I am worthy, worthwhile and enough.  I still worry that people will suddenly abandon me, figure out that I’m a worthless fraud, and my mind often wanders to the catastrophic. Slowly, as I unpack my past, and am patient and compassionate with those experiences, I’m able to start re-writing those narratives.

Regardless of what happens next in my life, I am monumentally grateful for the opportunity to believe that I am more than I thought. I understand this is not a gift that everyone gets and for the first time in my life I’m able to look back without regret. If I hadn’t been pushed to the point where I had nothing else to lose, I never would have started the work to be better.

Should you find yourself in that place of dispair and worthlessness, I see you.

Everything is temporary.

“Normals” and me.

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Recently I had a long conversation with a friend also in recovery.  The conversation was about the challenges and benefits of being in relationships with people not in recovery.

We affectionately refer to people who do not have similar challenges of trauma and recovery as “normals”. I understand that this terminology may seem self-loathing or judgmental to others, but that is not the intent. We’ve both reached a point where it is possible to joke about our challenges and not take ourselves and others so seriously. In our context “normal” is a convenient descriptor for those in our lives who find some of our challenges difficult to understand or relate to for the simple reason that they do not have those shared experiences.

I see having more people like this in my life than ever before a good marker for my own mental health. I believe there is truth to the fact that you are more likely to attract people to you who match your frequency (for lack of a better word). I see it as encouraging that I am interacting with more “healthy” people, hoping that it also suggests my mental health is improving.

However, there are also challenges in these relationships. I know I’m not alone in that change is an ongoing process and that self-improvement takes daily effort and attention. There are times that I revert back to my old behaviours, thought processes, and difficult belief systems. In those moments, the differences between myself and the “normals” are underlined. There are times that I need space and time to override my instincts and approach my interactions thoughtfully and compassionately.

It is painfully difficult to explain this process and the “why” it came to be with people who haven’t had this challenge or experience. I’ve noticed that although many of these newer connections care deeply for my wellbeing, constantly explaining my status to them also drives them away. It seems to present me as this deeply sensitive being and makes them wary of interacting with me. It makes them self-conscious of their interactions and suggests I need more special treatment than I do.  Often the only special treatment I need is a few moments of compassionate time and space.

I realize that mentally healthy people do not need to constantly bring up their past as a justification for their present actions.  They exist and they appreciate the moments as they come with confidence, humility, and presence.

Among other things to come from this open discussion was our attempt to approach explaining what recovery from codependency is like to someone with no relatable experience.  It came out something like this:

“A long time ago, before I was able to defend myself, a person I cared about very much told me lies about myself. I believed them and, until recently, built my life based on those misconceptions of myself and what I thought I deserved. I chose people, places, and things that enforced those ideas and rejected anything that suggested it may not be true. Some day I would like to be like the happy looking people in the coffee commercials, but currently I’m more like the mucous in the Mucinex commercials”

Good thing most colds are curable.

Love Shouldn’t be a Hustle

Recently I re-entered the dating scene. I’ve attempted this a few times since the end of my relationship with my addict, and truthfully, I wasn’t ready. Those experiences were disastrous and left me feeling more insecure, pitiful, and dejected. Following the last disappointing date, I decided to take another break and threw myself into recovery full time. Six months later, I feel like a new and improved version of myself, with the bulk of my baggage neatly sorted and stored away.

Reflecting on my relationships, I’ve always been drawn to the most emotionally unavailable and wounded people in the room; both as friends and romantic partners. Although not a conscious thought, I realize this is because I found them comfortable. My “normal” is not love that is freely given. My “normal” is love that has to be proven time and time again through obligation, sacrifice, and strife. Anything else feels insincere.

For the first time, I find myself faced with someone that wants to be with me and tells me so freely. He makes no effort to hide his attraction and admiration. He is patient and understanding when I say I want to slow down and seems invested in giving us the opportunity to grow together, at whatever pace I choose. His actions do not feel conditional or with the expectation of reciprocity; it sincerely feels like he is trying to have a good experience and is hopeful that things will work out. He is making space in his life without me asking and treating me like I have value worth respecting. Unlike my experiences in the past, he is available and not forceful but softly and persistently reassuring.

The insecurity gremlins warn me that this is probably a con, that love should not be so freely given, that I should be hustling and am not deserving…

But, for the first time, I’m not listening. I understand that everything has an element of risk and reward. That I may get hurt and there’s nothing I can do to change that. I understand that my part is to show up, be present, and participate as authentically and directly as I can manage. No more, no less. I understand that it’s okay to be optimistic and that worrying won’t do anything but make me miserable when I should be joyful.

I also understand that whether this works out or not, I do have value and I am deserving of love that is freely given. I understand that it is one of the easiest things for us to provide each other and most of us hold it back selfishly in our romantic and non-romantic relationships alike. I understand that we do this out of fear and to protect our misguided notions of love with obligations. I understand that for many of us, it is easier to hate than love because that is most of what we’ve known ourselves.

Like most life events post-recovery, dating is lending itself to reflection and introspection as I balance living in the moment with self-awareness. One day at a time, I’m working at putting my new healthier strategies in play and keeping the gremlins in the penalty box.

When I first started this journey, I was under the impression that eventually I would be cured. I understand now that isn’t the whole story. The more I practice, the more automatic things become as I get more confident and trusting of the process. But I also understand that this is a lifelong journey. The gremlins never totally go away, with considerable effort they loose their power and urgency.

And that’s okay.

At the suggestion of a friend, I recently re-read the blog from start to finish. I was, and am still, in shock of how different my writing is. I am less scattered, desperate, and hurt. It actually reads to me as almost peaceful in parts. I understand that I’m up to the challenge of continuing this process for the rest of my life; that it is possible to grow and overcome and it will be just as rewarding 10 years from now as it is today.

To those of you that continue to come back, who reach out, who share your journeys with me and also who maintain your own blogs chronicling your path: thank you. You inspire me by sharing those hard lessons, the backslides, and the successes. You help keep me grounded and remind me why there is value in growth and recovery. As hard as this process is some days, I wouldn’t change it.

Let’s not go back to sleepwalking in the land of scarcity.

 

 

Closure

Traditionally, my idea of closure came with an airing of laundry. I’d fantasize about blowouts where both parties would come together, say anything and everything, bury the hatchet and everything would be perfect. The underlying issues would disappear and life would go on.

I would use my fantastic overthinking abilities to script these confrontations, painstakingly cataloging and rehearsing all the events and ideas I would bring up to ensure that the encounter would go my way.

I admit this with profound embarassment but total honesty.

One day at a time I fight that impulse because I understand this is part of the conditioning that drives me to try and control everything around me. It is a coping strategy designed to curb my fear of the unknown and try and protect myself from risk and pain.

It is also totally unrealistic, ineffective, and serves only to prolong the length of time that I hold on to things. It impedes my ability to let go and get on to bigger and better things. It steals my energy and my serenity.

If you’ve had experience with someone in the mid- to late-stages of addiction you understand there is a lot of unethical, selfish, and baffling behaviour. You’ve probably been hurt in ways you didn’t think possible by someone’s apparent disregard for your needs and feelings. You probably feel that you deserve an apology..

And you do.

But the funny thing about words is that they are cheap and easy to deliver. I choose to believe that most people don’t knowingly and hurtfully deliver promises they don’t intend to keep or words they don’t really mean. I choose to believe that most people intend what they say in the moment, but that many of us have lost sight of what integrity of speech really means and don’t take the time to consider the weight of what we are saying.

There are unfortunately many times when people say or promise things they are unwilling or unable to deliver.

There is a chance that the words you are waiting to hear may never come from the person you feel owes them to you. There is also a chance that if they do, they will lack the appropriate action and change in behaviour that makes them meaningful. Because, really, an apology without those things is totally worthless.

But, because I understand that grief needs release and a catalyst, I wanted to share this letter that I stumbled across early in my recovery journey.

You didn’t deserve this.

I am an addict, representing all addicts. I might be your daughter, your son, husband, wife, mother, father or friend.

You might be reading this because you are searching for answers, hope, encouragement or some kind of comfort. You are hurting, yet you continue reading, because you have a loved one you really care about and maybe you even wished many a time for things to change. This loved one, may be better known as; the lost cause, the underdog, the pain bearer, the hopeless one, the destructor, or any other negative name, but finally this loved one, is better known as the addict!

As I go through the process of getting my act together and getting clean, I am not only struggling with the physical, emotional and mental withdrawals, but the regret, guilt, shame, agony and pain of what I have put you through. Dealing and facing what I have done and caused is breaking my heart into a million pieces in the very same way I, the addict, have caused your heart to break so many times. Regretfully, I want to apologize and say that I am sorry, for you did not deserve this.

I am sorry for the years of hell which I put you through; the many arguments, the fights, the screaming, shouting and the calling of names. I am sorry for breaking down your entire human being. You did not deserve this.

I am sorry for all the lying, stealing, robbing, cheating, breaking of our vows and for deceiving you. I am sorry that I have traded you for my drug of choice. I am sorry that I stole your inner peace, your sanity and for breaking your trust in me. You did not deserve this.

I am sorry for the many nights I have robbed you from your sleep, for stealing the car in the middle of the night, for all the time you spent driving around searching for me. I am sorry for all the phone calls I never answered, for shutting you out and not letting you know where I am. I am sorry that I have placed you in danger so many times. You did not deserve this.

I am sorry for all the suicidal attempts and the accidental overdoses. It was never my intention to hurt you, but the desperation to kill this addict inside of me. You did not deserve this.

I am sorry for neglecting you and our children. I am sorry that I never had the time to care for you or show you just how much I really love you. I am sorry that I was never around when you needed me. I am sorry that I did not fulfill the role I was meant to do. I am sorry for crushing your spirit and then walking all over it. I am sorry. You did not deserve this.

I am sorry for the heartache, the ocean of tears and all the many worries I have caused. I am sorry that my habit was the reason that we lost it all, the house, the cars, the furniture, our family and our friends. I am sorry that I have even lost you in the process. I am sorry for placing a financial burden upon you. I am sorry that I, the addict, caused that you also have lost it all. I am truly sorry and wish I could undo all I have ever done, but I cannot do so. All I can do is to say that I am sorry, for you did not deserve this.

I, the addict, acknowledge my powerlessness against addiction. I reached the point, crying out: “Please, please, I need help, I need healing, I want it to stop, I want to get off!”, but so also, you cried the same cries many a time. I have placed you in a position of powerlessness yourself, not knowing what to do, or where to go from here anymore. I am infected, but I know that in every area of your life, because of this addict, you were also affected. I am sorry, you did not deserve this.

The real me, searching for answers, has stopped playing the blame game; everything I did was my choice. I never thought that one time of using would turn me into the monster I became, yet, although it is hard to acknowledge, everything I did was my own choice. You had nothing to do with it! I was not your choice; it was not your fault, you have not caused any of this! Therefore I am pleading with you, that you would stop playing this blame game too, for it is the addict which caused it all. It may sound harsh, but I want to ensure you that your healing will also start, if you decide to forgive yourself for the things which were out of your control, as I was the one who made my own choice. You may even need more time, more healing, as I the addict need to restore because of the things I have done. I am sorry for the guilt or thoughts I have placed in your head that you were the reason for my addiction. I am sorry for doing that to you, you did not deserve this. 

I cannot make any promises, because my words were nothing but emptiness before. How many times did I promise, I will never do it again and honestly meant it, yet the addict had a stronger hold then I thought. Today I understand things better, and if you are willing, I want to show you who I have discovered and who I really am. Thank you for a second chance, a third, a fourth and even a hundredth time. I am thankful to God and for the opportunity of another chance in life.

Whatever you do to find your own healing or restoration, I will respect and accept that. You may never trust me again, nor respect me, and I know too well that I deserve this. Should you decide to police me, or watch me like a hawk, set limits, boundaries or rules, or even decide to move on without me, I will understand and know that it is because you love me and only want to protect me as well as yourself against the addiction which stole our love, our relationship, trust and bond. I am sorry for even putting you through this, for you do not deserve this

Therefore I ask. Will you please find it in your heart, to forgive me for everything I have done, caused and put you through? Will you allow time to pass to learn that I really have changed until even I am fully aware of my full identity of who I really am? I do not deserve this. 

I am so, so sorry, for you did not deserve any of this

With both love and much regret,

The addict (Posted by MercyChild on April 16, 2012)