Thursday, July 28, 2016

ACOA Characteristics and Self-Identity

While recording a podcast I needed to look up the characteristics of an ACOA or an Adult Child of Alcoholics. For whatever reason I clicked on a link that I didn’t recall seeing before. The wording was a bit differently and seemed more “broken down” or specific. I liked the way it was articulated, but I was suddenly overcome by some of the things that were staring me in the face. Things that I know in general, but the way it was presented, while I’m going through a transition in my work life, hit me pretty hard.

The way I’ve seen this example in the past is: Overreact to changes over which they have no control.
The way I see this worded in the above article is: Tendency to see everything and everyone in extremes, when under pressure….

There are other examples but this is the one I’m choosing for now.

When I look back at my life of anxiety and codependency, even before alcoholism, I see someone who overreacted. I didn’t have the internal “thermostat” to regulate my external reactions. Part of that, I believe, is “defective wiring” in the form of a chemical imbalance of the brain. The other portion was the environment during my formative years which, if nothing else, fed into that chemical imbalance. Adding fuel to the fire.

Remove either of these and I might be more highly functional that I am thus far.

In my current work situation, I think I’ve finally come to terms with it being just a “bad fit” for where I am in life now. I have become increasingly aware over the last couple of years that I am seeking order rather than chaos. Or to put it in more common terms: peace instead of drama. In a recent podcast I likened it to my alcohol use: I NEED sobriety, but had a craving for alcohol. By comparison, I think God has shown me that I NEED peace, but crave chaos.

This “revelation” was no small thing, either. I don’t want to be someone who seeks out drama. I don’t want to be a person who sees “everything and everyone in extremes” Thinking that this might be true is disheartening and humbling. At the same time, I avoid other people’s drama like the plague!

  • I am also a nervous extrovert who would just as soon isolate.
  • I am passive in my expression of feelings WAY past the point of being healthy, but when I decide I’ve had enough, I can get spun up pretty quick.
  • At this age I can speak calmly, when upset, but I can feel my voice shake and my face twitch.
  • I’ve been told (and I believe) that I am a “black and white” thinker, but my mind finds a million ways to over-analyze and ridicule myself for everything.

I’m a walking friggin’ contradiction!!!!

I usually have to breathe and back away from this kind of thing. We are ALL susceptible to this kind of run away thinking. Especially those with anxiety/depression issues. Addicts too! Many times we self medicate BECAUSE we can’t get our minds to slow down.

I don’t want to be this guy. It reinforces what I’ve heard over and over again in recovery and have paraphrased as: Being sober is only a PART of being sober minded. We have a lifetime worth of crap to overcome and it doesn’t happen overnight. I know that. I try to give myself grace.

For whatever reason, overreact to changes didn’t hit me as hard as seeing everything and everyone in extremes. I really do think this is something I need to look at, but it would be much easier to look at it if I could convince myself that it was everyone else’s problem!

This is the blessing and the “curse” of recovery for me. If I can look at everyone else and recognize their garbage, then I have to be able to look at my own or be a hypocrite. Looking at it, dealing with it, recovering from it and being free of it, is what brings peace. It brings serenity.

Serenity can beat addiction.

Addiction can come from anything.

It’s referred to as compulsion.

I need to work on these compulsions of thought. Of judgement.

Here is how I choose to combat this. I need to back off of myself and the world at large and look at what my Higher Power has said that I am…..

  • Bought with a price; I belong to God - 1 Cor 6:19-20
  • I am God’s workmanship - Eph 2:10
    • I was being prepared long before I knew it (same passage)
  • I am a minister of reconciliation - 2 Cor 5: 17-21

Those are from Freedom In Christ Ministries

One of the most significant things I saw on a popular bookmark this ministry has created, especially as it pertains to this topic is:

Satan’s lies tell me that my behavior tells me what to believe about myself. So if I overreact and get angry and seem people in extremes and show little grace, I’m screwed up and a “bad person”. But that’s not me!!! I love people until they give me a reason not too!
Well, next to Satan’s lie, there is a comparison column called God’s truth.  The truth is My belief about myself determines my behavior. SO it stands to reason that if I go off of my opinion of myself, I’ll see what a mess I am. All of my faults will take the forefront and any good that I do will be either pushed into the background or will never even come to mind.

Thing you wouldn’t do that?

Try it sometime. With someone else holding you accountable, try making an honest pro and con list of who you have been to this point in your life.

WHen making an honest assessment of who you are, you will mostly likely come up with a ton of faults and few good qualities, if you are an ACOA. If you suffer from depression or anxiety, you will soon find that you have a pretty bad outlook on yourself. Almost everyone else in your life gets a pass, in your estimation, but not you.

So how do you combat this? Stop trusting you assessment of your worth. Yes you can make a list of deeds and misdeeds in your life, but you cannot assess yourself objectively. That’s God’s job. HIS assessment can be trusted. He says, you have done A and B and C. He’s glad that you can own up to it. Not so He can say, “Told you so”, but so you can see reality and then HE can tell you, “you did those things, but there are reasons. Not excuses. Reasons. There are hurts you have been through and hurts you have caused. You live in a fallen, screwed up, imperfect world.You were raised by flawed, inperfect people. You admire flawed imperfect people. In your work and school you were influenced by flawed, imperfect people. You cannot trust another person’s assessment of your worth or who you are. I alone can.

From that same website:

Satan's lie - Your identity comes from what you have done. God’s truth - Your identity comes from what God has done for you.

If I can find more peace by listening to God’s assessment of me. Then, over time, I can not get so keyed up of feeling like I’m failing. Either in my job, with my kids, or at home. Then I can combat seeing everything in extremes, because I can lay aside my unrealistic expectations of the world and people around me. This takes pressure off of me. This allows me to not feel a compulsion to control or be perfect all of the time.

Zoom out. Look at what God thinks and stop grading yourselves on what you perceive others are thinking about us. You are too close to you to evaluate yourself. Others have an imperfect perspective of you as well.

Monday, April 25, 2016

Sad pride..

Haven't been on here for writing purposes in awhile but for some reason, sharing this in on a post rather than a PodCast seems more...well...comfortable.

Yesterday, while doing the most mundane things in the kitchen, I realized in a very powerful that I miss my dad. Now that may not seem like much of a revelation, but it's something that I have to look at and don't really want to.

Growing up my dad and I never got along. I was always the high strung kid who he didn't understand. I was just being me. What did I know? I held a lot of resentment toward him my whole life because of his drinking and the fighting and dysfunction that went on in the house. I didn't want my friends over to my place because I was fearful of being embarrassed by him. I didn't like anything about him back then. I had all of the normal issues a boy has with his dad, but also the "normal" issues that a kid has with one alcoholic and one co-dependent each for parents. It's nothing new. It's just as painful if you're the first kid who has to deal with it or the millionth. It doesn't set me up as being special or someone to be pitied. It's textbook. Typical for my environment of origin.

Something that recovery has taught me is to let myself mourn a loss. Some days I just need to mourn this situation. I always had sympathy for my father because he was in poor health by the time I was born. The most vibrant years of his life were behind him by the time he became a father at 40. I never complained or begrudged that fact. It's just the way it was. There might have been a few things I didn't learn how to do as a youngster because he wasn't able to show me, but that didn't seem to be a point of resentment. I think for me the resentment came from desperately WANTING to be ON his side for the way life had treated him, but I couldn't. Because he was a mean alcoholic at times and a silly alcoholic at times. I never knew which one I would get when I came home from school or on the weekends. Pair that with a mother who taught me fear in most all situations and I can see where my anxiety and self-doubt comes from. One says be overly cautious and withdrawn. The other is boisterous and outgoing and a bit of a drunken hard ass. A kid's head is on an automatic swivel and we absorb everything.

I didn't understand my dad until I got sober myself. By then he was long deceased. I learned that I was repeating his behavior and crawling into a similar hole filled with silent misery and chose to stay there because it was what I knew. I didn't know the depth of the his sorrow or shame. I didn't understand any of it until my mother was preparing for his funeral and while trying to explain who he was to the pastor, she said, "He just didn't have a very good life."


It's all true and I know it is. Truth is truth. Regardless of what the world tries to tell us. But how we deal with that truth, emotionally, is as varied as the clouds in the sky. It's what causes us to WANT reality to be different. But it's not. It is what it is. If I bend reality to my liking, I stunt my growth again. I deny myself the opportunity to deal with life on life's terms.

Sobriety has taught me that I don't want to come to the end of my life and have someone say those things about me. Yes I'm anxiety filled and have panic attacks and spent the majority of my adult life stunting my emotional growth through the abuse of alcohol. I can't fly or travel very well. Driving is still a challenge at times. But I am employed. I have a great family that is getting better. I continue to recover with Christ as my Higher Power and I assist others in their recovery. Regardless of where someone is spiritually, I try to come alongside them and "practice these (recovery) principals in all of my affairs".

These are things my father never learned. I can resent that I wasn't taught how to live. I can become angry when the arguments and fights come flooding back to me. A lot of those learned behaviors I have perpetuated on my loved ones in the intervening decades. Abstaining from alcohol doesn't cause all of those behaviors to go away. In many cases it just clears the way to be able to work on the REAL issues without any obstructions.

But there are other times. Times when I don't picture his angry face. I don't see the tell-tale swagger and the bloodshot eyes that used to inform me we was drunk before I even entered the room. I dad. Whom I love. I hated that love most of the time. It made me feel weak. I needed to toughen up. lol. That's funny.

It would be so much easier in life to set out to either love someone or hate someone and only have to do one or the other. Most times, we don't get off that easy. We live our lives in the gray area. Maybe that's why so many of us are "black and white" thinkers. Emotionally we are forced into gray areas so much that we DETEST it! We want something to be sure of. I'm telling you that nothing of this earth will give you that, but I digress.

I morbidly joke, these days, that he is the only member of my family of origin  that I can relate to. I "get" him now. Since all of my so called family is either dead or ignoring my existence, I really miss him. As much as it pains me to say so, I miss him.

I sometimes think that the past never hurts me anymore. I think about all of the fights and struggles and cold shoulder and slamming doors and....just all of it. I think, "It's over and done with."

I sometimes forget that I did understand on some level, who he was underneath and how I felt about him when I was a teen and things were at their worst. I forget about...Luke Skywalker.

That's right. In 1983 I saw Return of the Jedi in the theater. We never had any money growing up, so I saw the 1st Star Wars movie as the 2nd half of a double feature at a dollar theater, when Jedi was on it's last legs at the movies. On some level that Vader/Luke, father/son battle touched me. When Luke finally beat his father into submission, not with swashbuckling, smooth efficiency, but with all of the tact of someone beating another guy down with a baseball bat, I saw how rage took Vader down to literally his last few breaths. Remember? Vader looked pathetic laying there. Then the Emperor tried to goad Luke into finishing Vader off and taking his place. Luke backed away. He said "Never", and tossed his light saber aside. "I'll never turn to the dark side", he said....

Then those words that gave me chills that day and have ever since. Because of some kinda pride in his father. His love for a man he really didn't know? One who had seemed to never do a caring, loving thing in his whole life. At least as far as Luke knew. He said,"I am a my father before me."

Might seem silly, but it gets me. Every horrible thing Vader ever did....forgiven. His son was there to scream in the face of evil.

Well my dad was no Jedi and neither am I. Maybe the only thing we had in common was hate for ourselves and a love for alcohol. Maybe I get to recover and he didn't. But there is a pride there and a longing to hear his voice. He's not that different. I'm an alcoholic too. So their is a kinship and understanding there that I don't have with anyone else in my family. It was a screwed up, weird, confusing, unhealthy relationship.

Why should the healing thoughts be any different?


Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Denial - Don't pass it on

As I mentioned in my PodCast last week, I look back in ...awe? Frustration? Resentment? Gratitude? at the fact that there were warning signs of my anxiety problems on the mid 70's. And from what I've read, there were diagnoses, if not "good" treatment options at least as far back at the early 80's. There are probably a dozen different outcomes that could have still taken place, had anyone in my family known where to look. Honestly, many might have been worse than what happened. Still, it makes me wonder.
Because what happened was -  nothing. So there is reason to wonder.
Before I let myself go too far down that rabbit hole, though, I always have to remember that to maintain my serenity and subsequently, my sobriety, I need to not engage in the blame game.
If I'm going to do unto others as I would have them do unto me (Matthew 7:12), I need to recognize that I have made mistakes that have dearly cost others, as well. I need to understand that in the same set of circumstances as my parents, at a time where the stigma of emotional or mental issues was even greater than today, I might have chose to live as they did - in denial.
In fact, in many ways it wasn't a conscious choice on their part. It was simply living by the rules of the house that they either created out of some type of necessity, or had created for them earlier in life. People don't KNOW what they don't know. I couldn't expect them to know terms like panic disorder, chronic anxiety or toxic relationships. Words like co-dependency or enabling would have sounded like "head-shrink non-sense" to them. They didn't know the correlation between substance abuse and the effects on their kids. No clue.
Granted AA and AL-anon were around before I was born and The Gospels have been around for more that 2000 years, all telling us the same things -  Live in reality. Stop thinking you can do it all on your own. Just because you're angry, doesn't mean you're right. Your past has a lot to do with your pain.
Nowhere, in any of our secular or faith based recovery are we told that if we ignore the problem, it'll go away. And rightfully so. That's not reality. Just because many choose to believe that lie, doesn't make it any more plausible.
If I choose to be a victim, I can live in denial and be in pain all of my life. I can figure out ways to blame it all of someone else, if I choose to. Or I can cast aside the confusing crap of who had what responsibilities and when and just accept that I must now be the one to break the chains of denial. My life goal- Leave this generational line better than it was when I entered it.
Denial is not just a obstacle when it comes to substance abuse. It comes in the form of "I can't" or "I won't". It shows itself in "At least I don't use drugs" or "I just have a bad temper" or "We're all basically animals", "I'm still hungry", "I'm still fat", "I don't make enough money". "If my kids would just behave.."
This is why we say, "It is what it is". And that saying can be MADDNING.
Why? Most often because it's true and we don't want to look at it. We might find that we have a part to play in changing it.
Those of us in ANY kind of recovery have taken up that challenge. We don't need anyone to go back in time and fix themselves for us. We need to live in the now and look at our pasts as something that we cannot change, but we CAN heal from and not pass on to the future generation. No matter our circumstances, we all have that responsibility. We all have influence.
We have to choose....
Denial vs. reality
Denial vs. acceptance
Denial vs. help
Denial vs. hope
Denial vs. freedom
Our parents, siblings, spouses and friends don't make the choice for us. In fact they can't. They are just as flawed as you are. As I am. No person is LESS valuable than another. No matter what you've been told or by whom.

Friday, March 18, 2016

Link to the 1st podcast....

AudioRising PodCast 1

So I was kinda proud of myself as I posted the 1st PodCast. It was an internal thing. Heart level. I had to get past my head. The audio wasn't what I wanted, and I had NO script at all. Just me sitting in front of my mike rambling on. Even my pop filter was AWOL.  BUT...I let it go. I LET it be anything but perfect. I had to talk myself into it, but I did it.

This may seem like a small or simple thing, but not for me. I don't particularly think of myself as someone with OCD. I used to have a seemingly mild form back when I was a kid. Eons ago. I watch my family deal with it, but it wasn't until I got into recovery that I noticed just how serious it was for one or two members of my family of origin. The way it's always been portrayed on TV is this totally debilitating compulsion; like the hand washing we all see/hear about. The germaphobic aspect made sense to me, to an extent, but I always became annoyed at my family members for getting so caught up in that stuff.

Later on in recovery, I began to notice that, when I was around them, I noticed more and more behavior that got on my nerves! Had I been raised in a culture of fear and compulsion along with the enabling and alcoholism I was already aware of!?

I guess in my case it could be called being a "perfectionist." But I'm not! I can leave a t-shirt on the back of a chair for 2 or 3 days. I can remind myself that I need to put my tools away, but forget for a week.

Yet when it comes to "putting myself out there", nothing is ever good enough.


Monday, March 14, 2016

Quick observations: Looking back at a child

Sometimes I just write for the sake of writing. I decided to ask myself why and actually look and listen for answers. Once in awhile I feel as though I need to perform an "honest assessment of" myself. It's amazing how quickly and deeply I can fall back into thinking that is not realistic. As I typed that last sentence the memory of once living in a mental and emotional fantasyland popped into my head.

I remember playing when I was a kid, like all kids do. It's make-believe. It's guns and police cars and robots and starships and heroes (super or otherwise). It was riding an imaginary horse, packing everything I needed to go off into the mountains and capture the bad guys. I was the best shot ever in my head. It was traveling alone into deep space and finding ways to escape the clutches of bad people.

All in all when I look back (on those rare occasions I let myself) I see a kid that wasn't really that "different". I do remember having a feeling that people just put up with me and if they had their way they'd just as soon not have to deal with me. I'm still working on how an alcoholic/enabling home contributed to feeling that way by the time I was - ?? - 8?... 9?

I know for a fact that by age 11 I was dealing with some version of anxiety or panic. I can remember that my mind would never shut down. Especially when I was trying to go to sleep at night. I was never afraid of the dark, but I was deathly afraid of the silence. The overwhelming thought that I was going to die....someday...gripped me and would NOT let go.

One of this things that I've learned (notice how I moved off the previous topic) is that, my childhood mental/emotional state was not that far removed from other kids. The observation I make these days, is that it just lasted a couple decades too long.

Substance abuse causes a stunting of natural, emotional growth. I see that EASLIY from a recovery point of view at 49. But the alcohol abuse didn't begin until I was 18. It seems between 11 and 18 the anxiety/panic/OCD was at it's peak (well...first peak) during those years. It was post-adolescence; pre-alcoholic.

It's intriguing/maddening/aggravating/sad/exciting. Many times I just don't know what to do with the information I've had revealed.

Other times I know exactly what to do....and don't.

One thing I certain: I don't live back there in those days anymore. I have too much to do now that is productive. Ahhh yes, productive. The polar opposite of how I used to see myself in this life.

But there has to be room for that dramatic, dreamer. That kid who never did much with the stories of heroes and villains. Who always won the big one in his head, but knew nothing good could come from him in the future. Now that I know that isn't necessarily true, I sometimes feel too serious and wish that boy was as vital, energetic and imaginative as he was back then.


Thursday, February 25, 2016

My Chameleon Syndrome - A work in progress

I am amazed how reading posts on social media can sometimes trigger (in a good way) things that I should be concentrating on, but don't. I get so caught up in the day to day. Keeping my guard up and being on the lookout for things that can trip me up, or cause "failure" on my part. Being blindsided by something is a sure way to for me to lose focus. But many times I get used to being hyper-alert and I forget the simplicity of looking in the mirror and using the words that I need to use to describe where I am and where I have been. Like:
  • My panic disorder is still there, but it's being treated. Physically, mentally and spiritually. Daily.
  • I am a recovering alcoholic. Not a "former" alcoholic. Not a "reformed" alcoholic. A RECOVERING alcoholic. What that means to me is that I have two choices: Be a recovering alcoholic or an alcoholic. I didn't create the universe, so I don't make the rules.
  • I am a relational and emotional chameleon. All of my life I have instinctively (not on purpose) tried to be whatever the person in my presence needed me to be at that moment. To relate, I overcompensate.
It's common stuff. I grew up in a alcoholic/enabling/co-dependent home. The "rules" were always obscure to a child. Like an actual chameleon, I tried to constantly adapt to my environment in order to be accepted, not make waves or appear..sane, I guess. It's a bad survival instinct. A terrible coping mechanism. Go along to get alone. Subsequently, I started to lose (or never really had?) an identity of my own. It's fear based, I believe. It's not what I was created to be. The technical term is that it's bullshit.

I discovered (later in life, to my dismay) that there were ways out of this type of thinking. In one sense it was "easier" for me because I am an alcoholic. Once that term is accepted, there are counseling techniques that will go a long way toward helping. It's one of the reasons for Al-Anon and like minded organizations. Or divorce support groups, or grief sharing groups. But look at this idea in the broader sense: Other people's junk will affect me. It doesn't have to be alcohol or drug related. The 12 Steps as an example can be for anyone, for anything. And that is what I am using.

As a follower of Christ, I chose the Celebrate Recovery model, which REALLY includes everything we could ever struggle with in life. No separation of drug group, sex group, alcoholic group, food issues, etc. But, even though this model is for everyone, it's not for everyone. Meaning, some people do not choose the same Higher Power I chose. No worries. The only things you must do, are:

1. Get out of the denial that says you are not legitimately damaged (by your own issues or others).
2. Recognize that there is something/someone out there qualified to be your Higher Power.

Even if you don't buy into #2, please look over the picture I have below.

A friend of mine who I met in the teen version of Celebrate Recovery, printed up some truths about co-dependency. They are in a lot of their literature, so this is not self-invented. I keep it on the wall in my office at work and read it a lot!

I challenge anyone to read it and honestly assess if you SEE yourself this way......

..Horrible picture I know, but better n' nothin'.

After reading these over and over I realized that I didn't believe some of them about myself. Some scared me! Most just poked at my heart and said, "You should see yourself this way and practice what is said here in your daily life. And you don't bucko! Not at all".

So what to we do?
Give ourselves permission to try. No one has the right to take our individuality away OR keep us from discovering it! Spouse, significant other, parent, sibling. None of them! You were not created to be someone else's play thing. Now that doesn't give us permission to lash out at people who love us and use them as excuses for our hateful behavior. Don't be a victim. Don't be a martyr. Investigate who you are!

Look again at some of those examples: "I communicate what I am feeling and why", "I have not allowed someone else's anger (or sarcasm, or fear, or self doubt, or arrogance) to determine what I say or do", "I am aware of what I want" (I'm horrible at that one), " interests are a priority" (wow! really?).

Why I chose Jesus?
You can stop here if you want. I'm not a Bible thumper. I value other people and respect their point of view. In many cases I understand it and have lived it. I value authenticity over religion. So I will say this as my explanation: In my experience, investigation and journey, I have chosen the only authority I have ever encountered who is qualified to define me, love me without condition and yes, "re-parent" me. No other person, philosophy or discipline has the right to do that. Nor the wisdom to even try.

So tell me what YOU think. Comment below or email direct ( Don't worry about offending me if you disagree. Like it says above: "I value my opinion and the way I do things".

Love and peace,

Monday, February 15, 2016

The Seperation of me from them...

Here is something that can be overlooked for those of us struggling with addiction and mental/emotional health issues - My family of origin might have contributed to many of my problems.

This statement can be a powder keg if not handled properly. It's literally a balancing act between me and them. Whether they are still living or not, makes little difference in this context. The die they created was cast a long time ago. In recovery it became imperative that I define what balance looked like. And it's still a struggle.

Parent or sibling, aunt or uncle, it is my desire (and duty, really) to find out where they end and I begin. I believe it is that way for everyone, but especially those in recovery. I need to learn how to honor and love those people of my past, without getting caught up in their b.s. They are related to me, but they don't define me.

One way to picture how this might feel is to imagine taking a 4x4 up an incline that is, by no means impossible, and yet is definitely the road less traveled. On either side of the narrow path that I'm travelling is a steep embankment. Left or right too far, and I will slide right off into a ravine. Even though I have to pay attention, steer carefully and keep my foot on the gas gently, moving forward at a slow steady pace is the only way to remain healthy.

Too my right, down past the ravine I see the flat, easy path I used to be on, far below. From up here it looks flat. When I was down there I was constantly dodging quicksand-like mud. The earth tilted back and forth in subtle, but often quick angles and I felt like I might tip over. I always refused to slow down. I would panic and rush headlong into that mess and wonder why I always felt out of control. That was where I came from. Fight or flight. Navigate the terrain in front me, with no rules that make any sense, as best you can and hope for survival. No training on how to drive, where to drive. This is just what you do. Some loved ones set you in motion with no direction, no purpose. Just drive. Cause that's what they did.

What this really is - Familiar. Not good. Not healthy. Familiar. It's what I'm used to. The known path. The devil I know. It's not safe, but it feels safe even though there is a TON of anxiety. It's the side that says, "This is what I've been taught via observation.  It's chaos and confusion. It's anger and resentment. It's co-dependent and enabling. It's hiding the elephants in the room. It's thinking that peace is always defined by an absence of conflict. It's seeing one thing and being lead to act as if the opposite is reality. It's ridiculous. It's inauthentic.

Off to the other side, to my left, beyond that steep drop, is a place obscured. I can't really tell what's over there. It looks a lot better than where I am though. It's lush and green, but it's darker. Like a place I could get lost in and never find my way back. It's appealing. It gets me excited with an energy that makes me feel like I might explode. On those occasions when the view seems clearer, I feel an angry, hysterical laugh begin to develop in the back of my throat. My heart races and it feels like this is where I need to be. Still, I'm fearful of that place because of the darkness. It seems I catch glimpses of thorns, snakes, entangling vines. A different, but still deadly, type of quicksand. It looks like it's full of horrifying traps.

What this really is - Blame. It would be so easy to give myself over to this. To resent if not actually learn to hate those from my family of origin. To put it all off on them and say, "I'd have been fine if not for you! YOU did this to me! You let it HAPPEN! You ruined me before I even had a chance to start!!" But this kind of thinking is an attempt to "rewrite" history by saying, "I never had free will. I didn't know the difference between right and wrong. I was forced to turn left when I should have turned right". That would not be true. In many cases I was compelled by my own flawed and untrustworthy emotions to make the decisions I made. No one forced me. Oh I might have been unable to stand up for myself and say "no" from an emotional standpoint, but to say I was not physically able to walk away from people and situations would be a lie. And I don't want to live my life in a thorn filled, dark, decaying, dangerous, lifeless, lie.

I am a work in progress. Emotionally, I still get it wrong more often than I get it right. I am usually teetering somewhere between old comfort and outright blame. Thus, I'm on this rocky incline. I could topple off  to the left or the right, with just a slight miscalculation due to lack of paying attention. This path, the one less travelled, is not easy and sometimes the tension feels like more that I can stand. My "muscles" get stiff and I get sick of keeping myself steadily on track. I curse and scream and groan at the tediousness and boredom. But to do anything else, is my probable demise. Even if I survived the "fall", a slow, lingering death awaits below on either side. I have to continue this slow steady climb. There are beautiful spots and restful plateaus, but I have to be on the lookout for them or I'll miss 'em.

I have to trust that I'm gaining ground and seeing bits of progress, is the fuel that sustains the forward momentum.


Monday, February 8, 2016

Med vs mind...The God Side (A companion post)

As anyone who knows me can tell you: I'm not one to drop a dozen Biblical cliches in a 10 minute conversation. Not because I don't "believe" but because throwing those around is a poor substitute for authenticity. In many cases, it proves that there isn't any. The analogy I like to use is: If you speak Mandarin to me, it doesn't matter how many times you repeat it, or how loudly you shout it; I still don't understand you. I don't speak Mandarin.  We have to speak in common language, or stop talking so much. There has to be shared experience.
So for those interested, here is what I’ve learned over the last 15 years as a follower of Christ and the last 8 years as a recovering alcoholic. I’m using the section I posted as “ancient history” in my last post to illustrate some discoveries about my early life that I found just by looking back from a new vantage point.

After discovering what God says about me I chose to respond to it. I’m usually kicking, screaming and struggling all the way, but that doesn't change reality. One of my biggest "ah ha" moments?  I don’t create reality. Good or bad. My denial of that fact doesn’t change a damn thing except how content I am. God is the only constant in the universe, so I choose to believe Him over anyone. Including myself. Especially myself. You don't have to agree. It's not required that you agree.
The issue that a believer will always run into when dealing with either medication or cognitive therapy in regards to mental health, is the overriding fact that there is more at work than just doctors and meds and therapists. There is no circumstance that we walk through alone. Be it physical, mental, emotional or even imagined. Yes even imagined. God is concerned with the imagined and unreal as well! (2 Corinthians 10:5 and Ephesians 6:12) Why? Because it’s affecting His precious creation, which is you and me. Be it mental health issues or addiction (which is included in MH in my book), relationship issues, compulsions due to my past; it all falls under the umbrella of God’s concern. My chosen Higher Power loves me with a passion and it’s the same for any person He’s ever created. I will never struggle alone, although it may feel that way at times. Reading the Bible, any of us can discover that even Jesus felt as though God had abandoned Him. (Mark 15:34)
Here is the key point for me: God provides cognitive therapy in spades. I can’t slow myself down and concentrate on learning those facts if not for medication because my mind/nerves are too chaotic. If I learn these things, I cultivate a new desire to grow. That means meds will never satisfy me. Behavior modification, in my view, is a sham without a concrete reason and desire for change. If you can’t alter the behavior (white knuckling?) then what are you? A failure? Not true, according to God. This is heart level work. Nothing else will do. So...

Ancient history:

Age 0 - Born into a alcoholic/enabling/co-dependent home.
We don't get to choose our family of origin. But, if you're looking, it doesn’t take long to realize that God says YOU are NO accident. No mistake. YOU are not defined by where you grew up or with whom. Hurt people usually hurt people. In a fallen world, it's a fact of life. It’s not an excuse, it’s reality. The first thing an alcoholic/addict needs to learn how to deal with is reality.

Age 1-18 - Struggled with emotional sensitivity and worry. Quiet Chaos. Feelings of exclusion and embarrassment. Due to my family of origin, there is NOTHING unusual about feeling this way. Anxiety, depression, making (what I call) short-circuited decisions, etc. A lot of research backs this up. In many cases it sounds like, “Well d’uh! Of course these things will be the result”. I was past 40 before I knew that. There is a great book on this subject that my sponsor lent me. It’s called Adult Children of Alcoholics. What strikes me personally about this book was is it’s original print date. 1983. This was the year before I graduated high school. What did this mean? It's a new resentment for me to work on in my 12 Step life: ALL of this info was out when I was a kid! Someone could have pointed me in the right direction while I was still a minor. While I was still “moldable” and living under my parent’s roof. The source of the resentment becomes obvious.
Age 17 - High school graduation and work life begins. Out of control internally. Discovers drinking.
Gee. I was “always a good kid”. Who woulda saw this coming? ;) Couldn’t be biological disposition along with anxiety, a desire to escape AND my own poor choices, could it. Naw! Too easy. The statement above about hurt people hurting people doesn't give me the excuse to play the victim my whole life. Neither does a biological disposition. If I have the capacity to determine right from wrong, I have an obligation to "own my junk". That includes the choices I freely made. God is a gentleman. He doesn't invade on our right to choose.

Age 19  - Married
Neither of us knew God’s version of love. It's a harsh reality but if I don’t invite Him into my marriage, why would I be surprised when it fails? I can say I was too young and that’s true, but my idea of “true love” was way off base.

Age 21 - A father. Regardless of how the marriage ended, this was and remains one of the truest blessings of my life. A miracle. Not just once but twice. WIth the same kid! Not my story to share entirely so I won't. Suffice to say, reconciliation is always possible with God.
Age 25 - Divorced. Divorce drama. BAM! 1st full blown panic attack.This is what is called “the wreckage”. It’s going to happen if you coming into a relationship as ill prepared as I was. I am convinced that the panic disorder, which began here, was on the way regardless. This was just the tipping point to bring it to the forefront.

Age 26 - Age 28 - PCP diagnosed with Generalized Panic Disorder. Meds prescribed. Then another. (did not disclose my drinking).
This is why God calls us to be honest in our assessment of ourselves. (Romans 12:3). I was not, due to fear. Every character flaw I have found so far, has it’s root in fear. How many years did I waste in denial of reality?

Age 29 - Hospitalized for same. One week in-patient. New meds (did not disclose my drinking).
Same decisions, same results.

Age 29-33 - My world kept getting smaller. Had bouts of not being able to drive, shop/malls, movie theaters and work. It cut me off from my child. This was the worst. I may never know how much my subconscious fear or shame played a part in the panic, due to the feelings of failure as a father. Since I had no idea what the Godly idea of a father was, I failed in being ANY kind of father.

Age 34 - Father died and 9/11 occurred. I started asking question like: What’s this thing called life all about? What am I missing? Decided (or was lead) to look at what my local church had to say on the subject.

Age 34/35 - Was struck with a thought during a panic episode and a decent sized hang-over: I was not created to be miserable. That’s it. It was that simple. And the direction of my life changed from that moment forward. But I had to SEEK answers. Not sit on the sideline and whine, being a victim. If you're anything like me, trust is something you do not accomplish with ease. For myself, by finding the right church and people who could show me what the Bible really said about me, I began a journey of trust with God. It was (and still is) incremental because of fear and trust issues. Since He created me though, He has a better idea of who I am than anyone. Even my own family members!

To sum up.....
It is incredibly freeing to find out just how "normal" I am. Sure, chronic anxiety isn't something people run into every day, but how do we know? I could have attacks right in front of co-workers for years and they never knew it. I was in hell. Miserable. Daily. I never said a word. How many of us self-medicate because we have no coping mechanisms and yet are petrified to admit we have an issue? Then the substance becomes another issue. Another secret. Sooner or later we find ourselves b.s.'ing our way through most, if not all of our lives!

That is not what we were created to be.

Monday, January 18, 2016

Meds vs Mind...How I got here

Ran across some varying opinions on the subject of mental health issues on Twitter over the last few weeks and I figured I’d dissect it in writing (journaling) while posting it here (blogging). HA! I finally figured this out! Harder than it sounded, though.

Just my own point of view based on my experience...

It seems that there is sometimes a divide between the people who look at the medication side vs. the cognitive therapy side. Having accomplished most of my work by tripping over solutions that were staring me in the face, I don’t claim to be an expert on either. Still, there is something to be said for ALL of the opinions I’ve seen. Below is a brief “timeline” of my personal “chapters” and how it evolved into the healing MESS I am today.

Ancient history:
Age 0 - Born into a alcoholic/enabling/co dependent home
Age 1-18 - Struggled with emotional sensitivity and worry. Quiet Chaos. Feelings of exclusion and embarrassment.
Age 17 - High school graduation and work life begins. Out of control internally. Discovers drinking.
Age 19  - Married
Age 21 - A father
Age 25 - Divorced. Divorce drama. BAM! 1st full blown panic attack.
Age 26 - Age 28 - PCP diagnosed with Generalized Panic Disorder. Meds prescribed. Then another. (did not disclose my drinking).
Age 29 - Hospitalized for same. One week in-patient. New meds (did not disclose my drinking).
Age 29-33 - My world kept getting smaller. Had bouts of not being able to drive, shop/malls, movie theaters and work.
Age 34 - Father died and 9/11 occurred. I started asking question like: What’s this thing called life all about? What am I missing? Decided (or was lead) to look at what my local church had to say on the subject.
Age 34/35 - Was struck with a thought during a panic episode and a decent sized hang-over: I was not created to be miserable. That’s it. It was that simple. And the direction of my life changed from that moment forward. But I had to SEEK answers. Not sit on the sideline and whine.

Recent history:
Age 35-40 - Early on, I discussed with my pastor my panic/anxiety issues. I told him I was on meds for it and the attacks were fewer but I still wasn’t what i considered to be normal. I was flawed. Weird. Basically, I was “less than” everyone I had ever known (though these were not the words I used at the time).
He asked me something to the effect of, “You’re being treated, but are you better?” The question made no sense. In my mind, my options for an answer were “YES, I am still having panic attacks and bouts of anxiety. They are crippling”. Or, “NO I’m fine. The attacks are gone. I can drive, shop or hold down any job I choose”. What else is there? If the attacks would go away, I’d have no issues. Right?

It would be years before I understood his meaning in asking that question. I had no perspective that would enlighten me. The paradigm that was my life at the point, gave me no vantage point in reality.I didn’t dismiss what he was saying. I just didn’t “get it”. There’s a good chance I felt stupid not being able to understand. I don’t remember. I do remember that this just seemed to add to the spark of excitement I had been feeling regarding (for lack of a better term)...self-discovery.

I’ll save the details of this journey for “The God Side”, but the short answer is the Gospel message of the Bible gave me permission to investigate the REAL issues beneath my problems. Stuff I had carried or been “taught” to carry with me that had been piling up in the background for decades. I had never realized, before this part of my life, that I had a birth-right to look at these things and that they were not “all in my head”. There were logical REASONS for the stuff I dealt with.

Age 41 - I had noticed that my thoughts would sometimes drift into fantasizing about what it would be like to be sober. One day I even opened my refrigerator door and in a moment of clarity, I suppose, I heard my own voice in my head say, “Ya know, most people don’t have that much beer in the fridge. And the people that do won’t have to refill it all by this time tomorrow.” Hmm.

Sometime during this year, I had to face that had high blood pressure. Something I’d been trying to avoid dealing with for years. I thought, “well d’uh”. First off it runs in the family, second, who could deal with anxiety I had and NOT have hypertension?! It was one of the few times my anxiety worked for my benefit, though, because I would imagine myself as a ticking time bomb, which isn’t unrealistic.

I had gone through some job and personal issues in the recent past and I’m sure that didn’t help. I kept feeling….hot? Anxious of course. My heart seemed to pound “abnormally” and I could “feel” my heartbeat in my temples. It seemed my vision would blur momentarily and I just felt like death was chasing me and gaining ground. That’s some of the thoughts a panic attack produce besides the physical maybe this was just another form of attack? Maybe it was my overactive imagination. Either way it felt real, therefore it was.

Over a few months the feelings amplified and even drinking wasn’t quieting my mind as it always had before. I had finally had enough and made a doctor’s appointment, doing something I’d never done before. I told him I was an alcoholic.For me this was HUGE, but the doc took it in stride as if I had told him I had a pain in my elbow. Telling him this and admitting I had never really taken my meds as prescribed, for fear that it would interfere with my drinking, didn’t even cause him blink!

He ran some tests, prescribed some meds to control my BP, cholesterol and anxiety. He told me if I continued to drink I would be fighting him all the way and that we’d both be wasting our time. It seemed I now had the excuse to try and be sober. I filled the ‘scrips and went home telling the “God of my understanding” that I would need His help to not drink. I said I will quit for tonight, but the rest would have to come from Him.

That was over 8 years ago and I’ve been sober everyday since.

A few weeks later I began attending meetings because I didn’t believe the power to STAY sober was within me and I didn’t want to live a lie. I’m into authenticity these days. I had been a real drunk, so I wanted to be a real recovering drunk. If I was gonna be sober, I wanted to enjoy it. THAT I had no idea how to do.

I had to “stop the bleeding” in my emotional life thru trusting a doctor and taking medication. These tools put me on a even playing field to stand and attack the issues that had led me to alcohol in the first place.


Are there dozens of chemicals in the human brain that medical science still don’t understand? Yes. Could they someday find out that these meds are detrimental to a person’s overall health? Possible. Could they shorten my life? I suppose so. Are there side effects? Sure.

The point is: I was not created to be miserable. I was created with purpose and for a purpose. One is to help other addicts who may have never had a panic attack in their lives. They may never have suffered prolonged depression for seemingly no reason. If I can be there to help them with find sustained sobriety, then I am where I am suppose to be, doing what I was meant to do.

I am, slowly but surely, gaining the freedom, strength and will to not sit on my ass and watch life go by and leave my purpose undone out of debilitating fear.Whether that fear is caused by a physical problem, a mental issue or emotional damage, I will not use it as an excuse to wither away and die wondering why I was born in the first place.

I cannot let medication be my foundation. Self-medication through alcohol was my “god” for decades. Now I need something spiritual underneath me or I am done for. It has to be outside of me and will probably be almost totally beyond my understanding for the rest of this life. I will continue to migrate the tools in my toolbox from prescribed chemical to healthy thinking, as the path becomes clearer. For now, I need both.

I am an unfinished work. But I have things to do.