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)

The Basics of Personal Boundaries

I’ve alluded fairly often to developing boundaries in relationships to improve the quality and health of connections. But, I’ve been vague because this is very much a work in progress and something I am still trying to understand and implement, one day at a time.

I need to organize my thoughts and I think that others could benefit.

First of all, it is important to understand that boundaries are not intended to be a tool to manipulate others to act a certain way. They are limits that we set out for how people act and behave around us. They define our behaviour when these limits are exceeded. Boundaries reflect our core beliefs, values, perspective, and opinions. They are like invisible bubbles, protecting our sense of self and wellness.

Boundaries are necessary because if you don’t define what you deem to be acceptable, you will be at the mercy of others. This means they will be able to tell you how to act, think and feel. This can result in you spending all your time and energy catering to what they want, which may or may not line up with your own needs and at its worst can result in emotional, physical or spiritual abuse. Over time, this can build to feelings of depression, isolation, perfectionism, people-pleasing, guilt, anxiety, lack of personal decision making skills, over or under-sharing, victimization, lack of identity and ability to express yourself.

So.. a lot of really crappy stuff.

Boundaries can be set for: personal space, sexuality, emotions, thoughts, possessions, time and energy or culture, religion, and ethics.

Things to consider:

  • Healthy boundaries attract people that are willing to respect you and want good things for you while poor boundaries are more likely to attract people who want to manipulate you.
  • It is good practice to reassess your boundaries over time; being too rigid can be  damaging by not allowing the freedom to adjust our limits as we grow. For example, I used to hate avocado, it was a hard boundary. Now I want it on everything. Growth and a boundary shift.
  • Boundaries are intended to protect your joy by ensuring that the things you choose to do match with your values and allow you to conserve energy for pursuits you find meaningful.
  • Sharing complex feelings and experiences gives you the choice of breaking boundaries, when the time is right, and being vulnerable. Shared vulnerability brings people closer over time. Vulnerability should not be confused with constant oversharing (a sign of poor boundaries) which can be a covert method of manipulation by holding a person emotionally hostage or pushing a relationship in a direction prematurely.

TMI red flags

  • posting personal rants and attacks on social media
  • no filter or regard to who gets a download of daily dramas
  • sharing personal details with new people in hopes of hurrying the friendship along
  • dominated, one-sided conversations
  • expecting on-call emotional therapy from friends and family

– Jennifer Chesak, Healthline.com

Where do you start?

  • Spend some quality time getting to know and understand yourself. This means easing up on the self-judgement and using mindfulness exercises such as meditation and journaling.
  • Be wary of asking for help in this exercise; it is possible that if you suffer from poor boundaries a number of your relationships will be codependent. This means that those people will be invested in you taking care of their happiness, which creates a conflict of interest in getting their input. If you need guidance, try someone without personal investment in helping you, like a therapist or councilor.
  • Be sure to consider your basic human rights, such as: the right to say “no” without guilt, the right to be treated with respect, the right to prioritize your needs, the right to make mistakes, and the right to refuse others’ unreasonable expectations.
  • Re-connect with your gut. If you are having a physical and / or emotional reaction to someone else’s behaviour, that’s an excellent sign that a boundary is needed.

So, you’ve done the work.  You’ve taken the time to identify where boundaries are required in our life and we are ready to roll them out.  How?

  • Focus on being assertive, not aggressive. Use language that is clear and non-negotiable without blame or threat. Focus on using “I” statements, such as: “I feel crappy when you ask about all the details of my dating life because I value privacy. What I need is space to organize my thoughts”.
  • Learn to say no without explanation.
  • It is possible that people will respond poorly to your efforts to enforce boundaries. That’s okay, remember that much like taking chemotherapy to reduce the size of a tumour, the greater good of setting healthy boundaries offsets the discomfort and the risk of pissing people off.
  • Learn to take time to tune out. No matter what the demands on your time, you are entitled to time to tune out, protect your privacy, and prioritize your needs.
  • Boundaries can be even harder to set with a person who lives with mental illness (such as addiction).  If you are experiencing problems setting or asserting boundaries, reach out to a mental health professional.

Finally, just as important as developing and protecting our own boundaries is the effort to respect the boundaries of others.  Time to connect with your intuition again and watch for social cues and body language that the person is negatively impacted by what you are saying (i.e. lack of eye contract, nervous gestures, folding arms, backing away, etc). If in doubt, ask people to be honest if you are pushing their boundaries. Often this can seem scary, but you may be surprised that people will appreciate your respect of their boundaries and consider you a safe person to be vulnerable with.

For some more information and another perspective, I enjoyed this TEDTalk by Sarri Gilman.

Choices

Recently I had the experience of getting some negative and pointed feedback on something I posted. I’ve taken for granted that my writing has a limited reach. I believe that most of the people who have stumbled across my content have done so mostly by accident and had they chosen to stay or interact it was due to shared strategy towards recovery, or at least something that I said resonated with them in the moment.

The item in question and the person who offered it are not really required for this discussion. I’ve said that I welcome alternate recovery strategies and I do. I also believe that by sharing we can all learn new tricks, which is always a good thing. I don’t think that personal improvement and healing is universal, I believe this process is best as a self-directed and adaptable plan. I accept that what I feel, say, and write is not for everyone and vice versa. It isn’t personal, we just like different things: I’m an autumn and you’re a summer – isn’t that grand?

However, I did find it hard to let go of the delivery of this alternate view point. The implication was that my approach to healing is wrong and they were right. They seemed to take personal offence to my suggestion that self-improvement was required on my part and that codependency is a farce designed to send wounded people on a quest of introspection and self-blame that is totally unnecessary and a waste of their precious time. They berated me for considering any toxicity in my actions which I found interesting considering they surely do not know me well enough to make such a flattering judgment!

I’ve given these comments some thought, and I agree with certain pieces of their argument.

Most of codependency behavior is basic and normal human nature. It is in our nature to want to connect. It is in our nature to want to invest in the growth of our families. It is seen as a good trait in a person to be willing to go to some measure of sacrifice for those they love. It is human to want to help someone you care about who is struggling, we all want to be somebody’s hero. It is normal to be disappointed when our contributions are not recognized. It is human to be upset when people’s actions and words sting us. Most of us also have slivers of narcissism, if only in our belief in our ability to inspire change in others or in our entitlement for recognition of our good deeds.

Much like addiction is to every person’s inclination to numb or require respite from the trials of being human, codependency is also an extreme expression of the human condition. And thus, I agree with the implication that being in a codependent relationship, much like being an addict, doesn’t make you fundamentally broken. We are all vulnerable to these states, and neither should carry the stigma they do. But, I do not agree that there is no room for adaptation and improvement.

Being human is laden with flaws but it also comes with greatness in that we have almost boundless potential for learning and growth. We can reinvent ourselves with enough effort and context. If a person is adequately motivated and determined, they can reprogram themselves in amazing and unimagined ways. That is not to say that everyone should be consumed by personal growth but it seems a shame to not take advantage of one of our greatest gifts.

With a year and a half of this journey under my belt, I see personal development and recovery not as an expression of hate for who I am. I see it as the ultimate expression of self-love; I recognize my potential, my resilience, my adaptability, and my strength. I owe it to myself to grow. I owe it to myself to learn when the context of my life changes. I owe it to myself to be open to joy, fulfillment, and opportunities.  I owe it to myself to be available for the moment.

I thank this commenter for the reminder that I am not broken but rather that I am evolving and that is something I am not ashamed to be excited about and share.

While I anticipate that at least some of you will challenge my ideas, and I look forward to that feedback, I request that we all approach each other with an open and respectful mind. I remind myself that every comment, like, critique, and message is from a live person and request that the same consideration is given to me.

I challenge us all to remember that we have choices. We can always pick where we devote our energy. While I hope that you will continue to share your stories, opinions, and experiences as well as considering mine I respect your right to divert your attention elsewhere.

All my best,

J.

What does addiction look like?

When I met my former partner I was at a low point in my life. I was lost and unhappy in a job I didn’t like and surrounded by unhealthy relationships. I didn’t think I had anything or anyone I could count on and I approached most things prepared for failure. I had been let down enough times that I thought that was my destiny; to get close to what I wanted but never be able to hold on to it.

He was lost too and shared some intimate stories of betrayal and hardship. He told me I was beautiful and I believed him. He brought me flowers every week and showered me with attention and affection. I wanted to believe that he was the sweet, kind and thoughtful person who made me feel appreciated in a way I truthfully hadn’t felt before.

As time passed I noticed he drank frequently and in quantities that should have sent me running. We were in our late 20s and many of our friends and acquaintances were drinkers. I’d grown up thinking it was normal to have a drink after work or on the weekend and didn’t have any real understanding of the spectrum of addiction or the warning signs.

In hindsight, there were a lot of clues.

He kept changing jobs because he was being singled out, treated unfairly, and overlooked for promotions; the same explanation for several lateral moves. He grew apart from his oldest friends, saying they were always unavailable as they slowed their partying and started families. He missed payments and was caught driving without insurance and an expired license, blaming someone else for misplacing the registered letter informing him of the cancellation. There was often a justification for whatever crises arose, and they almost always involved the negligence of another person. I wish I could tell you I called him on the inconsistencies in his stories, but instead I enabled him; in the last example by paying the hefty fine he received.

He used subterfuge to work late and to stay home alone instead of doing things we had planned together. I started catching him in little and then bigger lies about where he was, money, and other things. I’ve since learned that a lot of what he told me about his past was not truthful, but the only part that shocks me now is how consistently and effortlessly he could lie, as easy as I can breathe. Eventually, he became more erratic, secretive, and adept at deflecting my concerns and manipulating me by pushing my buttons and accusing me of doing things that made him unhappy.

There were many excuses to drink. Often something was annoying him that justified coming home, flipping on the tv and eventually passing out on the couch. If I gave any indication that I was having a bad day, there was a bottle of wine waiting “for me” that he had already been opened and sampled.

His sleep patterns were always strange but became more irregular. He was napping all the time, which he justified with his physical job and inability to sleep through the night. He was often groggy and moody in the evening but sweet, disarming, and apologetic in the morning. I even remember a period where I believe he attempted to cut back himself. Our bed was soaked with sweat and he would twitch randomly throughout the day.

At several points in our relationship I found empty bottles hidden around our living space; sometimes he offered weak excuses, other times he ignored my questions entirely as if I didn’t exist. His personal grooming suffered and he showed less and less interest in me. He withdrew and so did I as it became harder and harder to make excuses that others would accept. I didn’t understand what was happening, but I believed that there was something wrong with me. That I was crazy and somehow causing his mood swings, his lying, and his lack of interest. Slowly and insidiously the sweet and kind man I loved was replaced by another person. In the last year of our relationship I would call him Jekyll and Hyde not realizing how appropriate that comparison was.

I hid what was happening from our friends and family. I sacrificed what I wanted and gave up a job I was passionate about because the money was erratic and I couldn’t count on him to make contributions to our bills. I neglected myself, my needs, and over time became obsessed with him: what he was doing, what he was spending, and trying to solve the mystery of why it always felt like my life was falling apart.

The worst part is that although he was not a good partner, I wasn’t either. He didn’t ask me to do any of the sacrifices I made. I chose them. I tried to control and change him by belittling him, begging him, giving him empty ultimatums, and bribing him. And when none of my tactics worked and I couldn’t control the relationship that would not live up to my expectations I grew bitter and resentful.

I gave up and became a husk of a person. I hated myself. I stopped taking care of me, I gained weight, avoided people, and I sunk into a functional depression. I worried all the time and I drank more than I knew was safe for me both to cope and because it seemed to be the only time he was interested in spending time with me.

Believe it or not, shouldering it all was easier than believing that I was the other woman. That I had interrupted his relationship with something he loved more than he would ever love me. I recognize now that he was an addict when I met him; I didn’t cause it and I couldn’t change it but it wasn’t for lack of trying.

As I write this now, I am grateful for the power of truth and acceptance. I’ve sat down to do this post several times since starting the blog and this is the first time I’ve made it through without tears, overwhelming embarrassment, and (I hope) without casting blame. I finally accept that as personal as everything that happened seemed, it wasn’t. We both made choices that served our own unhealthy agendas and there were consequences. The empowering thing about owning that, even if it lead to mistreatment and victimization, is the knowledge that I can make different choices going forward, I have that power. I’m also able to keep working on the process of letting go by acknowledging that although there is grief for the loss, I understand that the relationship was not healthy for either of us.

If you suspect that someone you care about is struggling with addiction, I encourage you to educate yourself. The correct way to help an addict or someone in a relationship with an addict may not be what you think. Addiction is a complex disease and its effects can ripple outwards for generations. You need to understand that so little about what is happening with the person or people you care about is logical or easy. You need to be ready for the reality that giving up the substance is just the first step in the long, difficult, but worthwhile process of recovery. You need to understand that some people never recover and what that means for you.

Addiction is a dangerous and progressive deadly disease. It’s so important that we help each other in recovery by example and by sharing our stories.

I recomend using your favourite search engine to look for local addiction resources. I guarantee there are people and groups that can help, including Anonymous groups for addicts and families of addicts, rehabilitation centres, intevention councillors, phone hotlines, and crises centres to name a few. I have also seen free online support groups and consultants. Help is closer than you think.

To get you started, here is a good article from MedicalNewsToday.com which discusses some of the common symptoms of substance addiction.

Our Love Affair with Substance Use

I grew up in a very small town.

My hometown consists of a graveyard, a community centre, a couple of convenience stores, a church and about 100 houses. It’s also a 15 minute car ride to the closest more substantial small town. It is part of a large but underpopulated county in southern Ontario, Canada. My high school had about 500 students, grades 8 -12, many of whom were bussed close to an hour to get there.

Admittedly, I was an odd kid. I was teased in elementary school for being quiet, shy, a bit too liberal for that small farming community, and well… we’ve chatted previously about my home life, I didn’t think I belonged there either.  By the time I made it to high school I had cultivated a tougher persona. I lacked confidence in my appearance and my self and I tried to disguise that by being disruptive, argumentative, opinionated, and a general pain in the butt.

It’s safer to be feared than loved.

– Machiavelli, the Prince

I remember the first time I drank excessively, I was about 15. A girlfriend, that had an equally complicated opinion of herself and desperate need for approval, flirted with an older boy to get us a bottle of pear liquor. It went about as well as you’d expect. I still associate pears with hangovers. However, I persisted.

By the end of my high school career I could out drink most of my classmates (male or female), snuck into bars, experimented with several gateway drugs, was a chain smoker, a master of several drinking games, and spent most of my time in a perpetual state of party. Through those actions, I had the illusion that I gained acceptance. People seemed to find me more approachable or maybe, like many drunks, I just had an inflated sense of self-importance.

At university, in my final year, my party life ended. I was 23 and developed a blood disorder. As a result of this, I have to maintain a moderate lifestyle. Drinking in excess and drug use carry the very real threat of death. It was a lot earlier than I wanted to accept my mortality but, looking at the trajectory of my life, I could have easily graduated to full addiction so I am somewhat grateful.

Following my medical crises, my ability to fit in got worse. While I’d been partying for years, many of my conservative small town friends were just getting started and there were very few social events that didn’t involve excessive use of something mind altering. I found people who were intoxicated hard to be around. It no longer seemed fun to me; there was always drama, someone crying, fights, and conversation that can only seem interesting to people in a similar state.

I kept getting polite invites but I noticed I made people uncomfortable. They would question why I wasn’t drinking and pressure me to join them. When I politely refused, they would appear uncomfortable, like I was judging them. I eventually mostly stopped going to bars and gatherings where the intent was to party and it started to feel like my presence was requested mostly to avoid cab fare.

Later, as my friends started settling down and having kids, I started going to more events. I noticed that the drinking and the drugs didn’t stop. Name the occasion and I was offered alcohol and/or a joint was being passed: children’s birthday party, christening, baby shower. Again, with the questions about why I wasn’t drinking more or why I didn’t want to get high.

Substances are widely accepted to punctuate many life events and are a common theme in popular media.

Bad day at work? Have a drink.

Broke up with your boyfriend? Let’s get stoned.

Got that promotion? Cocktails!

Engaged? Vegas binge till we blackout, y’all!

Over time I developed the ability to nurse a drink or two for an entire evening, but generally still find it easier to leave before people get too sloppy and start asking questions about my relative sobriety.

I guess the point that I’m trying to make here is that I feel like we need to seriously look at our relationship with substance use. Especially following recent changes in legislation in Canada that make it easier and easier to obtain various legalized substances. Notably, recent changes to provincial liquor law providing more retail options for purchase of alcohol and allowing drinking in public, which was previously regulated. This nips at the heels of federal legislation reform on cannabis.

While I don’t necessarily think that regulation is the answer to reducing addiction, I think that increasing the availability of these substances without more discussion on how Canadians relate to them is a mistake.

Getting drunk or stoned is not romantic, it doesn’t make you cool, it’s not for everyone, and ultimately it should just be for recreation. Substances do not solve your problems, they are not a valid way to cope, they don’t make you more attractive or desirable, and are they really how we want to punctuate our happiest events — by potentially not being present for them?

Everyone is entitled to occasional escape, being a human is at times complicated and challenging but I wish we would do more to remind ourselves that substance use is a privilege, a personal choice, and should be approached with in a healthy state of mind.

You are not hard to love

About a month ago I posted a meme to Instagram from Word Porn, which stated:

To date, this post has had more attention than anything else I’ve shared: more views, more likes, more comments, more saves, and more shares. By far.

I shared it with the intent to draw awareness to the psychological damage that can be caused by emotional abuse. What I realize is that this is a message that more people need to hear.

In a lot of ways I had a privileged childhood. Both sides of my family are well-educated and accomplished. We weren’t wealthy, but I didn’t want for many things and there was no overt abuse. People were probably confused as to why I was not happier. We look great on paper.

I received the message that I was difficult to love as a child. This is not to say that my childhood was bad or filled with trauma, but there was a lack of affection and connection. I’ve mentioned before that there is addiction in my family, but I want this blog to be about healing and not about blame or the negative behaviour that accompanies this disease so I hope you understand why I keep the focus on myself.

I will make the point that if you are actively numbing yourself in one way or another to the world around you a wall is built. It is much harder to connect with people, be open to their needs, and connect with healthy intimacy. This can be an especially challenging situation for children who look to adults to model relationships, self-worth, and community.

As a child, I had the perception that the discord in our household was because I was not smart enough, active enough, social enough, thin enough, whatever enough. Positive achievement and events were applauded and then backhanded with suggestions on how I could be better next time. Negative events were blown out of proportion and over time lead me to conclude that no matter what I did, my deficits were glaring and insurmountable. I don’t have memories of discussion being encouraged and I recall my efforts to express my feelings being shut down, often with physical barriers as people stormed off and left me.

Interacting in this way was confusing. I don’t think the intent was to make me feel inadequate and unloved, I believe if anything it was to encourage, toughen me up, and ready me for high achievement in the same way that has been done in my family for generations.

In some ways, I guess it did.

I am driven, independent and strong, but I also have a crushingly low opinion of myself and have a lot of trouble being vulnerable and open. To this day, I shrug off compliments and achievements and push myself to the next goal. It’s hard for me to relax without feeling guilty and I am more invested in what other people think than my own opinion of myself. I sometimes feel that people aren’t being sincere when they give me positive feedback, like I’m waiting for the other shoe to drop and for them to tell me what I could do to be better.

Although not a conscious choice, it has lead me to sabotage relationships with emotionally healthy people for fear that they would eventually see my flaws and reject me. I believe it has resulted in me choosing to maintain relationships with people who are also emotionally closed because it is more comfortable not to be seen.

Reflecting on my childhood, I was a good kid; I was smart, caring, and cute as hell. I wasn’t hard to love or deficient. Without understanding why, I’ve been angry for her for a long time. As I work through recovery, I’m also starting to feel sorry for the people who couldn’t show her that they loved her in a way she could have understood. Likely because they also had not received this message when they needed it most.

I feel compassion and gratitude for her for continuing to try to protect me by pushing people away and lashing out in anger. I’m sorry that a part of me feels the only way to survive life is to be perfect, invulnerable and alone.

As I patiently wait for my heart to accept what my brain knows I work on giving myself what I needed as a kid: understanding, encouragement, and unconditional love.

I tell myself I’m not hard to love now just like I wasn’t then.

Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger

I went through a period in my mid 20s where I was driven to exercise. I got a personal trainer, showed up at the gym at the crack of dawn every weekday and watched what I ate. At that time my sole motivation was vanity. I had no self-esteem and was convinced if I overhauled my physique men would like me and I guess by proxy I would like me.

Remembering this time is maddening for me now. Looking back at pictures, there was nothing wrong with how I looked. If anything turned off interest it’s that they could smell my insecurity and desperation for approval. I’m embarassed how much I cared.

Part way into this gym obsession a funny thing happened. I stopped caring so much, I just kind of naturally felt better about me. I stood up taller, I smiled more and before I even had any significant results people were attracted to me. I had a few of the best organically social years of my life. It definitely wasn’t perfect, but it was the most relaxed I’d ever been.

I didn’t put two and two together, but I see the same phenomenon at work now in my recovery.

A few months ago I started going to the gym again 5 days a week. Mostly classes, a lot of yoga. I notice on the days that I attend my brain gives me a break: I let go a little easier and lean into moments a little more fully.

I think I’m more aware this time because I started working on my mental fitness before I started back at the gym. I’ve always considered myself to be pretty open-minded when it comes to treatment of mental health issues (for others) but truthfully I was never all that willing to consider it for myself. However, after I bottomed out on codependency I knew I needed help and found a therapist. Having experienced it now, I would encourage anyone who is curious to at least try it. It’s awkward at times, hard, and emotional, but it’s worth it. With her gentle guidance I finally think I’m starting to understand what shaped me and what behaviours aren’t serving me anymore. I’m also starting to understand that vulnerability can be done in a safe way that doesn’t have to lead to more pain.

Something that comes up in sessions is that she asks me to describe a feeling physically. Now, before you laugh, think about it. Describe where you feel sadness in your body. Is it in your chest? Your stomach? Does it feel like pain? What kind? Now describe that. Is it like a hand squeezing you? Are you being crushed by a heavy weight?

You get the idea.

Maybe this comes easily for you, but it’s a truly alien concept for me. I’ve come to realize that my brain and body do not communicate very well and I have little emotional intelligence. I suppose that makes sense; if you are going to live a life where you need to ignore your instincts and trust people who don’t have your best interests in mind you can’t be connected to your body or your feelings. I’ve spent most of my life running from feeling and shunning any ideas of self compassion. I shrug off any discomfort in my body and pretend it’s not happening. The truly tragic thing about this is you can’t just numb the bad, it takes the joy with it. Regret is a fruitless exercise, but I can’t help but wonder how many happy feelings I’ve missed in my efforts to run from potential (not even realized) pain.

That’s why exercise, especially the kind that teaches awareness of the body and mind as a cooperative, is helpful for people in recovery. By design it rebuilds those weak synapses and recharges those connections. With practice you start hearing your warning bells. You recognize when you need to rethink your actions or detach from someone who doesn’t have your best interests at heart. You start to understand that your body is just trying to give you a heads up about what your brain hasn’t figured out yet. You feel everything more fully, the bad and the good, and over time develop calmness, awareness, and acceptance. You don’t need to numb, you understand that feeling is normal, it’s valid, and it passes in the fullness of time with or without your intervention. And without even trying others will intuitively notice this shift and relationships will also become easier.  I know it sounds like mojo, but I couldn’t make this stuff up if I tried!

A year ago I wouldn’t have been caught dead in a yoga studio or a meditation class. I probably would have made fun of such an idea and anyone enjoying it. A year ago I didn’t understand why anyone would want to do something so vulnerable, let alone do it as a group. I just didn’t get it. Both yoga and meditation can be very personal practices, helping you feel grounded to the earth. Over the last few months I’ve started to prefer practicing in a group because in addition to feeling grounded I feel connected to the others in the space. It can be calming, energizing, and eliminates some of the social anxiety I sometimes feel making small talk with strangers. There’s no need to discuss personal details, you can just breathe and lean into the poses together.

I’m drafting this from deep outside my comfort zone. I went alone to a 2 day yoga retreat in the woods. This may not seem like a big thing, but for me it’s a huge deal. Since I was a child I have avoided trying new things that I wasn’t certain I would be good at or that would have put me in the position of being judged. I certainly would not have dreamed to take this sort of risk without the safety net of going with someone else. At least then I would be able to use inside jokes to hide my insecurity.

You know what? I’m actually having a good time. I tried snowshoeing for the first time, participated in a number of yoga and meditation classes with gusto, and feel the value of experience that isn’t numbed in any of the creative ways I’ve tried in the past. The people are lovely, the cabin is adorable, and the grounds are breathtaking. I even bought their vegetarian cookbook, the food is that good! I’m not even vegetarian.

I’m glad that rediscovering exercise has brought such unexpected gifts and adventure. I’m glad I know I can do things I want to do without waiting for someone to be available to join me. I’m grateful that I am getting the opportunity to retrain my brain to listen to my body, to relax, slow down, and understand that I don’t need to be perfect. It’s worth taking risks and being vulnerable for growth.

I’m grateful I finally understand the value of both my mind and body working together as allies and not adversaries.

A bit more about the benefits of yoga and meditation to recovery: Yoga for Addiction Recovery (Yoga Journal)

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Just ’cause, 10 years later this is still my favourite workout track. Outside of the yoga studio, of course.