When We Feel Too Much

Sometimes I wish I didn’t feel so much. I was reminded by my sponsor (again) today that I’m sensitive, emotional and all-too feeling at times. I’m sure there’s a million jokes that could be made about women and emotions, but in all seriousness, it can be devastating for someone like me; an alcoholic who used to drink to escape feeling.

I envy people like my husband who can be sad and empathize with what others are going through without taking on their feelings. Instead, I dive head first and take on their sadness, grief and heartache as if it were my own until it’s no longer about them, but about me (did I mention I can be really self-centered too?). Then, I slowly get sucked into this all-consuming depressive state of mind where everything is wrong and nothing is right in the world. My relationships and my spiritual life suffer. I find myself feeling angry, alone and isolated – the perfect storm for a relapse.

Even though I’ve been sober for a while now, it’s times like these when I know I can’t do this alone. I have to grab onto that life-preserver we call recovery if I’m going to pull myself out of it. Whether it’s going to meetings or meeting individually with my sponsor, I must be reminded on a regular basis that I AM AN ALCOHOLIC and what might seem laughable to some, is no joke for me. Because, that feeling, sensitive and emotional side of me that gets out of control at times could lead me to my death. Is that extreme? Maybe. Real? Absolutely.

Sometimes, it’s as simple as my sponsor looking at me and saying, “Chenoa, you need to put up some boundaries between other people’s feelings and your own.” Just because someone else is experiencing grief, sadness or pain doesn’t mean I have to take on their feelings as my own. I can feel bad for them and reach out to them, but I can’t, under any circumstances, let their experiences define my mood or behavior.

On this Ash Wednesday, I’m feeling renewed; stronger than I was yesterday or even this morning. As I go forward in this Lenten season, I want to focus less on myself and more on my spiritual condition and my relationship with God. I want to step out of myself and what I want for my life, and focus more on what God wants for me. How can I be the best version of myself? And, how can I better serve those around me?

I am reminded, yet again, that this is all part of the journey, and I find peace in trusting that God knows what He is doing and where He is leading me.

 

 

The Struggle to Survive

Be Kind

I was in my last year of college when I got diagnosed with depression and put on my first prescription of antidepressants. I now know leading up to that I had experienced my first mental break. I collapsed in my bedroom and my good friend at the time had to call my mom. She helped me pack my suitcase and I managed to get in my car the next day and drive home. I spent an entire week on my parents’ couch, mostly sleeping and only getting up to shower and eat. It was awful and scary. And, little did I know that I would continue to be plagued by those feelings for the rest of my life.

In graduate school, I was “officially” diagnosed with textbook Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD), which would manifest itself in severe compulsive activity and anxiety, which would then transfer to depression and feelings of despair. It was a horrible cycle and the only way I can describe it is like being stuck in quicksand. The more I tried to pull myself out of it, the deeper I sank. At the time, I had taken a break from my studies to regroup and was working at a nearby gym. I had an early morning shift and I vividly remember times driving back from work and thinking how easy it would be to just run my car off the road; and it would all be over. I felt guilty for the anguish and worry I was causing those around me and, in my desperation, I honestly thought it would be best for everyone if I was gone. Fortunately, the part of my brain that was rational was able to talk the manic and irrational side out of it. I was one of the lucky ones; or as I now believe, it was not God’s will for my life.

As the years went by, I would have good days and bad days. But, when my son was born, and I suffered from what I now believe was undiagnosed postpartum depression, I found refuge in drinking. Like many people who suffer from depression, drinking became my other “medicine.” It’s how I escaped the anguish, despair and loneliness I felt. I was ashamed that I couldn’t just “snap” out of it, which made me sink deeper and deeper into my despair. To those looking in from the outside, my life seemed happy and wonderful. However, at the time, I found little joy and happiness.

I share this because when people talk about the selfishness of those who commit suicide or state that suicide is a choice; I highly doubt that they have ever experienced the despair of depression and addiction. By no means do I agree that taking your life is the answer; I don’t. I believe that all life is a God-given gift to be treated with the utmost respect. But, I also believe, that like any disease left untreated, depression and addiction can and will kill you.

Those of us who do suffer from these diseases must take care of ourselves, which is why I couldn’t get to a meeting fast enough last night. I was starting to become complacent in my recovery. I wasn’t attending meetings, and just as I had heard from others’ experiences, I hit a wall. A day that was already filled with sadness from the anniversary of a close friend’s death, was exasperated with the news of Robin Williams’ death. And, with everything else going on in the world – it became too much. I felt myself begin to sink in that quicksand. The anger, anxiety and depressive thoughts were welling up inside of me and it scared me. Because, I know those feelings lead to a need for escape. The alcoholic in me doesn’t want to feel them; I want to drown them out until I get to a place of total and complete numbness.

So, when my husband got home, I high tailed it out of our house and drove to a new women’s meeting I had been wanting to go to. And, the minute I walked in and was greeted with smiles and hugs, I was able to breathe again. I was with my people. People who knew and understood the despair I was feeling. As we went around the room, we laughed over our crazy alcoholic stories and cried over this disease that has taken so many of us.

But, in the end, we all expressed how grateful we were to be there, in that meeting, not as addicts or alcoholics, but as survivors.

Today I am a survivor, but I know how quickly I could become a victim to this disease. We must be vigilant in our recovery and treatment – and we must ask for help.

 

Does Alcohol Make You Crazier?

As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, I have suffered from anxiety, depression and Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) from the time I can remember. For better or worse, it’s part of who I am. I wasn’t always comfortable admitting I had all these “issues,” but, eventually, you just have to accept it and do your best with what God gave you. Over the years, I have learned various ways to “deal” with my mental health issues – mainly counseling, medication and getting sober (that was a big one).

However, that wasn’t always the case. Drinking was the main way I used to cope – with everything. If I was feeling anxious, I would drink; if I was feeling depressed, I would drink; if I was feeling obsessive, I would drink. And, on and on. It was a nasty little cycle I had going on. Of course, I always thought that drinking would make it better; that a few drinks would make it all go away. I would FINALLY feel relaxed! Ha!

The thing is, I never even realized that those drinks could actually be making my mental health issues worse. So, you can imagine my surprise when I came across the new health guide created by treatment center, Yellowbrick, that states the “Ten Mental Health Reasons Not to Drink Alcohol.”

It was like the first time I took one of those “are you an alcoholic?” quizzes. As I read down the list, I mentally made a check note by each one: interrupts normal sleep patterns (check), leads to rebound anxiety (check), contributes to increased impulsivity (check, check), interferes with prescribed medication (is that why my Prozac wasn’t working like it should’ve?).

Yellowbrick

I’m by no means telling “normal” people not to drink alcohol in moderation, but the reality is a huge percentage of our population suffers from anxiety and depression. If those people were more aware of the real effects drinking had on their mental health issues would that change their drinking patterns? Would they think twice about having that second, third or fourth drink? Maybe.

I’m a firm believer that knowledge is power and if we arm ourselves with the facts, we might be able to make different decisions in the future. Decisions that could potentially change the future of our health for the better.

This post was sponsored by Yellowbrick.

Finding Joy in the Silence

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I grew up in the fog on the coast of California, but nothing compares to the thick, cold fog that has engulfed us over the past few weeks in the Oregon valley where we live. It’s hard to tell whether it’s 7 am or 4 pm, each day rolling into night only to repeat itself the next day. To say it’s depressing is an understatement. It’s why so many of us (despite the cancer warnings) are often tempted to find refuge in a tanning bed. I won’t, but, as I write this, it sounds absolutely amazing.

Today, despite the frigid temperatures and thick, white fog, I decided to bundle up and get some much needed yard work done. I was beginning to feel suffocated inside, surrounded by the stale air and constant buzz of the forced air heater. The air was cold and crisp, and hung low covering the yard like a thick blanket. It reminded me of the English moors that I’ve so often read about in the Secret Garden or Wuthering Heights, eerily enchanting.

My outfit on the other hand, was anything but enchanting.

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As I worked my arms back and forth, cutting down the grasses that had become brown and wilted, I felt a surge of energy pulse through my body. I could feel the blood flowing through my veins, heating my body up and giving me a burst of energy. As I breathed the cold, thick air in and out, I felt my lungs come alive, grateful for the fresh air.

Despite the silence and starkness of the yard, I heard birds chirping nearby, perhaps cheerfully optimistic of the upcoming Spring. As I pulled the remaining growth from the raised garden beds, I found great satisfaction in the flat, emptiness of the beds. Instead of seeing them as sad and empty, I saw the great potential for next season’s crops. I thought of the parallels between those garden beds and my life and an upcoming panel I’ve been asked to be part of where I will share my story of recovery. I saw those empty beds as my life when I made the decision to get sober – sparse and barren, yet so full of potential. I’ve been nervous and apprehensive about sharing my story in a panel-like format, but today I realized the power that a once empty, but now overflowing garden bed could have on one looking in from the outside. To see potential is to have hope.

As I walked through the yard, picking up debris from the recent windstorm, I thought of my mom who I often feel closest to while I’m gardening or doing yard work. I felt her presence all around me and pictured her in her robe and slippers working in her yard as I would so often find her growing up. I imagined her pointing out all the new growth on the camellias or the first glimpses of Spring in the daffodils pushing up through the hard, cold dirt. And, I realized no matter how much time passes, I still miss her just as much now as I did back then.

Yet, regardless of the sadness and longing I felt, I found a deep sense of peace and joy in the silence of the cold, thick fog – and hope in the new signs of life growing up all around me.

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I Need a Break

Stop

I’m an addict. I have an addict’s mind and I approach life with an addict’s mindset. If something brings be pleasure (or assumed pleasure), I want more of it. And, the more I get, the more I think I need.

My life has been consumed with different types of addictions. Praise from others, exercise, food at times, men and above all, alcohol. My addict mind becomes obsessed with my “drug” of choice to the point where it begins to consume my life. It’s very subtle how it sneaks up on me. Slowly, unknowingly I find myself struggling with the “need” to satisfy my cravings and the logical part of my mind that says, “It’s not good for you, it’s not important.”

Lately, I’ve found myself feeling uneasy, agitated, unsettled and disconnected. I knew something was wrong, I just couldn’t put my finger on it. And, then in a moment of clarity I realized what it was. I’ve been feeling totally and undeniably addicted to social media. I’ve been comparing my insides to everyone else’s outsides and that is dangerous ground for a recovering alcoholic like myself. I begin comparing who I am with how everyone else portrays themselves to be. I start feeling depressed, inadequate, incomplete and before long I begin to feel desperate. I feel desperate to “fix” how I’m feeling and that’s a scary feeling for me.

I think many of us go through phases where we realize we’re spending a little too much time online and make it a point to scale back – I know I have. But, this time it’s different. I’ve found myself caring more about what others think about me and what I post. Did they “like” it? How many people “liked” it” Why didn’t that person “like” it? Or, I fall into the trap of “needing” to share EVERYTHING in my life. Social media has created this “look at me” mentality that becomes all-consuming. Look what I can do? Look what I can make? Look how cute I am? Look how creative I am? Look how funny I am? LOOK AT ME! Really, it’s a disgusting habit that we’ve allowed ourselves to fall into. And, I take full responsibility for taking part in it.

In sobriety, we learn that being humble is a key part of our recovery. For me, social media attempts to take every ounce of humbleness away from me. Instead, it encourages me to act boastful and prideful. In essence, it takes me further and further away from my relationship with God where I find peace, clarity and humbleness.

I feel relief knowing what the problem is. And, now I need to take the steps to “get right” with myself and God again. I need to refocus my energy and my intentions. In the past, I’ve deleted my accounts, but not this time. Social media will always be there – it’s how I choose to approach it which is the key for me. I’ve deleted certain apps from my phone, which is a start. I’m coming “clean” with all of you, which is another step in the right direction. But, really, the most important step for me is focusing inward instead of outward. I’m okay with me. I’m okay with the person I am today. I’m not perfect. I’ll never be as skinny as I think I should be, or as creative as others. I’ll never be happy with my hair despite how I cut it or what color I dye it. I will ALWAYS have flaws. But, that’s not the point. The point is, I’m okay with me. And, most important, I know God is okay with me too.