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.