Mental Wellness Challenge – 2020, June 12
Last week I challenged you to:
- BE INTENTIONALLY KIND.
- BE THOUGHTFUL. Think about what you are doing and why you are doing it.
- BE GRATEFUL.
I had a couple of carry forward challenges to work on too… but how did you do?
Being kind is so very important… not just now – when everyone is feeling the effects of this pandemic and physical distancing but always. I did well on this piece of the challenge this week. I tried to be mindful that I have zero clue what another person may be experiencing or what their motivations may be for THEIR actions. As I moved through my week I did my best to be as kind as I could be.
Being kind isn’t being a doormat, I had someone ask me if my kindness was letting people trod all over me – and that’s not the case. In fact, the contrary is true. Sometimes my kindness requires that I assertively inform another person that their actions aren’t appropriate or maybe appreciated.
My thoughtfulness the past week was ok. I did a pretty good job of thinking about my actions. I suppose I could say that if I was doing a good job with kindness, I was thinking about my actions – but there’s more to the thoughtfulness piece than my interactions with others. I slacked a bit when it came to being thoughtful or mindful about diet. I know I had too many sweets… although I was on about portion size…
Gratitude is a piece that seems to ebb and flow for me. I try to be grateful as I move through my experience… sometimes I lose track… I feel a bit sorry for myself and my circumstances… Gratitude helps to bring perspective. Perspective helps to bring forward my appreciation for the gifts and experiences I have in my life and that helps me correct the pieces where I am feeling sorry for myself.
My carry forward pieces were writing a letter to an old friend and limiting my intake of social media. I did far better on both of those. I wrote a letter to a friend I haven’t spoken with in decades. I think of him often, but have never taken the time to close the distance between us with a letter or call. I have zero idea what he will think of my reaching out… I do know that it felt really good to reach out, to share where I am, what’s going on, and offering time to re-connect. Maybe I should do more of that…
The social media piece was better – but not stellar… and maybe that’s ok too. I do not watch much television at all. (Its odd, but as I write this, I feel like I am self-justifying my watching YouTube videos… I’m going to have to think on that…) The time that I do spend on YouTube would be better spent on other projects for sure. I will commit to work a little harder on getting off my backside and into my shop to do some of the other things I enjoy as well…
This week I’d like to share a little about my experience with major depression and self-medication with alcohol.
I can remember the day when alcohol went from something that I used socially to something I did to take away the sharpness, the darkness and the pain. Looking back, the change in the pattern on my consumption of alcohol changed markedly as well.
As a young adult, I didn’t drink very often at all. I had what I thought was a conviction to “NEVER BE LIKE MY FATHER.” A drunk. To never be that mean spirited (when drunk) person who yelled and berated and complained and cussed and…. and …. That changed. I did… and there’s years of my experience that were changed, lost, destroyed because of it. Sure, there were differences between my experience with booze and my experience of my fathers drinking. I was never physically violent with my spouse or my kids, but I was a shithead just the same.
Drinking with a purpose started that day, tearing down a deck in my back yard – being eaten by mosquitoes – skin crawling. I can remember myself working outside, something changed in me and I used the words “I NEED A DRINK.” That drink, it wasn’t my first drink and it wouldn’t be my last, but that drink changed my world forever.
I am aware that the seeds and predisposition for addictive behavior were with me long before that day and I recognize other addictive behaviors that I pack around with me now… NOW. I didn’t see any of it then. I sometimes say “Sobriety isn’t about the drinking.”. My denial of my addiction to alcohol was so strong when I was drinking I could not, would not see it. Being sober is awareness, acceptance, vigilance, and a willingness or purpose to see the damage in my experience that a behavior is causing.
There’s rivers of sad things that flowed in my life between that first day and the day that gathered up the awareness, acceptance and willingness to stop drinking. There are so many things that I have apologized for saying, there’s so many social gatherings where I embarrassed my wife and myself, there are so many “good times” that we bad because I was drinking… I can’t change any of those things. EVER. All I can do is move forward with intention to NOT allow that behavior in my life again.
To be sincere – I suppose there are funny times and what not where the “Elixir of irrational thought” socially lubricated me to a point where I was able to tell stories or joke and make fun… but – for me – those instances pale and are few in comparison. Booze let feel like it was OK to do some really stupid things. NOTE THAT I SAID LET ME FEEL… not made me feel. It was 100% my choice.
I chose to have that drink that day. For sure – there was depression, anxiety, genetic predisposition, ADHD (studies have now proven that folks with ADHD are multiple times more likely to fall into additions) and on and on… I still chose to use alcohol.
So – what changed? What changed was I was faced with looking at the shipwreck I had become. My drinking had taken my relationship with my best friend to an untenable position. The specifics aren’t important – but the reality that my wife gave me a choice… I don’t use the word ultimatum, it was I suppose… “Continue alone, or change your path and continue with me.”
My choice was clear and immediate. I stopped drinking that day… October 01, 2013. I am not suggesting that cessation of drinking was easy, simple, uncomplicated, or anything like that. I was, at that time, physically dependent on alcohol and I did experience withdrawal, illness, and the rest. I also, did this on my own. Something that I learned much later was a very bad decision on my part. I did not know of the possibility of severe health issues from immediate cessation of drinking. That said, I quit my way… the only way I knew how.
In the quitting of the drinking, reality started to peak through, and reparations were then possible to the relationships in my life. Counselling, work and work started my healing process and the healing process of the relationships that I had bashed to heck along the way.
On this side of my experience with alcohol I have a far greater understanding of the reasons that I drank… what I was escaping from and what the booze did for me. There’s a sharpness, a cutting of experience that I now know that drink dulled. Drinking for me was like a… non-selective herbicide… it didn’t just take out the weeds, it killed everything… Drink took away all the feelings… good and bad… happy and sad..
Not drinking means that I get to feel all those things again… The cutting of some really bad memories, the thorns of loss, the darkness of depression and the anxiety that I still struggle with. I also feel more clearly the joy of seeing my grandson wobble as he learns his first steps, the warmth of my daughters smile and the loving kindness from my wife’s hug. Booze took all of that from me too… and I don’t ever want to lose those things again.
I also have a better understanding and appreciation of my father’s experience. I am not for one second suggesting that his drinking and the stuff that happened while and when he drank are in any way excusable, because they simply aren’t. I can however have some compassion and empathy for him in his experience. He too quit drinking.. about 7 years or so before he died… and it’s unfortunate that my life didn’t allow the time to get to know him in his sobriety… We don’t share the same story. When he quit drinking – he quit a lot of living too. His story is his story and its not for me to tell. I know now, from my experience that he had to go through the things he did to get to the point where he knew he had to change.
Self-medicating with alcohol isn’t uniquely my experience. To the contrary. Too many people use alcohol or drugs to escape the terrible reality that is depression, anxiety and rest. Booze, for me, wasn’t the answer. I can say that it didn’t even help that very first day… The first day started a pattern where 1oz “took the edge off” for a couple of days, then it took 2oz… then it took 25oz… and along the way it took years of happiness and living away. So it’s insidious… and alcohol is a central nervous system suppressant… its not helping… its making things worse… the water is deeper, darker, colder, more turbulent… I just couldn’t feel it…
In my life, in my experience now, almost 7 years have passed. The edges are still sharp, the thorns just as pointed, the smiles are just as warm and, the laughter… well the joy and the laughter seem to have amplified some. I don’t use alcohol any more… and I feel more life. I don’t even like using prescribed medications that are supposed to help with anxiety etc… I am super careful… I’m sober from drink, but there are other things in my life that I still struggle with… I impulse shop (I am getting far better with this), I am a nervous eater and I have some ticks… I’m human I suppose… but I am keenly aware that I have a thread of addiction that I watch…
I want to mention too that my way of stopping drinking is my way. I used some books and some talk therapy and some determination to not drink… I made a choice to continue along with my spouse… Alone for me wasn’t an option at that time… I would strongly suggest that anyone wanting help with a substance addiction to reach out to your doctor… to be 100% honest with him/her and get help… going it alone isn’t very safe.
I also want to acknowledge this. If I could “stop” depression, anxiety, ADHD with a choice… I would. Those things aren’t choices I have made. They aren’t like drinking or any other addiction. The point I am making here is that I made a choice to drink (even though at the time I was unaware that it was a choice I was making) to take the edges and points off… and that turned into an incredibly terrible experience, not just for me, but for some many who’s lives I interacted with. Part of the sobriety that I experience today is the understanding that there are things that I choose and things that I have no choice over. The things I choose, I can change – the things I have no choice over, I have to recognize, accept, adapt and move forward with. I suppose this is much like the reality of the serenity prayer…
My experience with alcohol is part of the fabric of who I am. While I am certainly not proud of the path drink took me too, I am proud of the recovery from that path and of the direction my life is headed now.
There is so much more about the links between depression, anxiety, mental illness in general and substance abuse that could be shared… maybe another piece, another day.
This week my challenge for you is to:
- Go for a walk by yourself. Pick up a small stone when you start your walk and keep the stone in your hand. As you are walking, think about the stressors that are in your life and mentally push them into the stone. At the end of your walk, cast the stone away from you far enough that you are not likely to be able to find the stone again… and in doing so – maybe you can cast away some of those stressors from your life. At the very least, this little exercise will bring awareness to the things in your experience that are stressing you.
- Just be. Take 5 minutes each day and just be. Put your feet flat on the ground/floor, put your hands on your lap, close your eyes and just be.
- Pay it forward. Perform one random act of kindness this week. Just one. This could be in the form of a “Good Job” compliment to maybe paying for the coffee for the person in line behind you.
That it, I challenge you!