Why is it that as a recovering alcoholic working a program and a yoga practitioner delving into the life of yoga beyond the poses, I still find it extremely challenging to have compassion for myself?  I seem to have a fairly easy time finding compassion for others.  I even manage to be compassionate toward inanimate objects like my car, apologizing to it if I slam the trunk too hard or open the door too wide and hit another object.  Hell, I am compassionate toward things that could do me or the people and animals I love harm – such as the nasty ticks I pull off my dogs and flush down the toilet routinely ( yes, I find myself feeling sorry for the little blood sucking buggers).  Yet still,  I remain my biggest critic, opponent, and enemy.

If I consider my position in any given matter and attempt to envision a friend of mine being in my shoes, I know that I would be there as her biggest cheerleader and supporter, telling her how proud I am of her and how amazing she is. Yet, somewhere in my wiring, I was programmed to not think this way about myself.  I know I have come a long way in my 7 years of recovery.  I’ve done a ton of work, and much soul searching and I’ve made great strides in improving on my self-esteem and self- worth, but there are times when I still struggle and feel as if I am regressing. 

Take for example my current situation.  Last July, I resigned from my job.  After years of struggling to find my place in the career my alcoholic self chose for me – sales, I resigned.  This company I worked for and the industry in general was full of deceit, selfishness, and dishonesty, the very qualities I’ve worked so diligently to eliminate from my life as a sober woman.  I was constantly at odds with myself, compromising my integrity and morals to succeed in a career I didn’t even like.  I made up my mind that all the praying in the world was not changing my situation so this had to be one of those times that God wouldn’t do for me what I could do for myself.  I had to show the initiative to face my fear of the unknown and just take the next step on my path.  It was clear that this was not the life He would want for me, as I believe wholeheartedly that God wants us to be happy and joyful, and I was spending most nights crying at the end of the day.  For months I found myself depressed and anxious to the point where I was not able to be present to my family. It seems like a no brainer, and if it were my friend going through this I would’ve encouraged her everyday to move on, for no job is worth sacrificing your mental health and family life over.  I, however, felt so guilty that I waited until I couldn’t take anymore.  I guess you could say I hit my bottom in that position and there was no other option.  I should mention that during this time, my fiance encouraged me to leave many times.  Everytime he would come home and find me crying and I would say I just didn’t know what to do, he would say plain and simply (that is his way), “Tell them to Fuck off!” Aside from being a lietenant in our local fire department, he also owns his own company and therefore doesn’t really have to report to anyone so naturally this would be his response. Yet, even with his support and promises that we would be alright no matter what, I couldn’t leave, until of course I did. 

As soon as I gave my notice, I began to see God’s will infiltrate my life.  My boss felt as if I had been pushed to the brink and was left with no choice but to resign, so he arranged it so I could still claim unemployment.  Then, the school I wanted to attend to become a certified yoga instructor was beginning a session, and was accepted to begin in the fall. Hope returned to my heart as I felt a powerful shift happening in my life and knew that leaving that job was like cutting one of the last ties to my old life as an alcoholic and moving into a new future based on who I really am and what I really want out of life. 

The hope was alive for several months as I enjoyed some time off with my fiance and my soon to be step children.  I looked for work but didn’t feel too much pressure when nothing turned up right away.  I felt that everything would unfold as it should.  I began my yoga training to become certified to teach and knew I would need time for studies as well.  As months began to pile up and the unemployment check was covering only my bills, leaving me with nothing each week for myself, I began to panic and the feeling of worthlessness began to creep in.  I searched for jobs, sent out resumes, even considered a return to sales and nothing came of my attempts. I attempted to find work cleaning houses and even that search was fruitless. By late in the year, I was fortunate to connect with an old friend who I worked with briefly in a position teaching writing for a special program at a local college, a job I LOVED, but left because I was in search of bigger and better things.  It turned out he was directing a tutoring center at another college and was in need of a part time writing tutor.  It was perfect!  I got to make a little more money and get back to my writing which I neglected for all of those years.  After all, I went to college to be a writer, not a sales representative!

So here I am, in school starting a new career path, working a part-time job, being super Mom (but only on the weekends, then the kids are gone and that is a whole other challenge),  making our house a home, raising a new puppy,  dealing with a recurring auto immune disease that literally wipes me out for weeks on end when it resurfaces, oh and did I mention I am engaged and am getting married in less than 2 months!  So my point is, I have alot going on, at least it would appear that way as I list it all here, but find me on one of the 3 days I technically don’t have any “work” scheduled and the kids aren’t here and my fiance is off working and I am a self loathing mess.  My ego takes the driver’s seat and begins the self talk, “You suck,” “You are a slacker,” “37 and this is all you have to show for yourself?”    “You are pathetic.”  I’ve learned enough to know that I don’ have to listen to that voice and that IT isn’t ME.  It stems from my lower power, my disease, the darkness, the unhealthy self, the place I have learned I need to stay away from.  So is it that I am not spiritually sound when these thoughts come up?  I pray and meditate every morning and night and throughout the day.  I turn my will over often.  I do my best to be kind, honest,and caring with others and most of all, I don’t do the one thing that my body was designed to do in times of crisis – drink.  That in itself is a challenge and I should be compassionate and proud at the end of each day that I make it to bed sober, but it isn’t enough.  Not only that, but 7 years ago, I was in a place so close to death that I am a miracle.  In fact, 9 years ago, I technically DID die and was brought back to this world only to continue my decent for two more years.  Everyday I have is a gift and I should be grateful for the day alone, everything else is just a bonus.  I know this!  I also know that if my friend had all of this going on and called herself a slacker, I would be angry.  I woudn’t rest until she saw herself in a different light.  So, why can’t I do the same for myself?  Why can’t I just give myself a break, accept me for what I am and just be?  Guess that just needs to remain on the list of “things I need to work on!” 

Well, if acceptance of a problem is the key to changing it, I think I’ve nailed that part.  I know the issue today and I have the tools to work on it.  That is certainly progress and for today I can say I am proud to make progress!

Advertisements

With regard to sustaining equanimity, the yoga sutras advise us, “ To preserve openness of heart and calmness of mind,” by displaying several qualities of character as we go through our daily activities.  Kindness, compassion, and honor are among these qualities and seem to be fairly straightforward concepts that we can strive to incorporate into our affairs, yet there is another that can prove to be quite challenging, “ Equanimity to those whose actions oppose your values.”

No sooner did I put down Nischala Joy Devi’s chapter on this very subject in, The Secret Power of Yoga, that I found myself frantically rushing around to get ready for work, feed and exercise the dogs, and prepare something for lunch.  I managed to get the keys in my ignition by 9:40 a.m. –  just 10 minutes later than I planned – and I was on my way to work.  As I listed to the soft meditative music and took some time to breathe I was able to regain my peace and made my way through several lights and onto the highway with ease. 

As I was rounding the final stretch of my commute, I reached a point where I was required to yield to oncoming traffic, which was in large volume and speeding toward me, requiring me to come to a complete stop and wait for an opportunity to merge into the lane.  Just as I was beginning to see a break, a large SUV came flying from behind me out of nowhere and attempted to cut by me on my right, not only scaring the daylights out of me but blocking my view so I couldn’t see when it was safe to go and the driver was literally forcing me out into the traffic.  Without hesitation, my hand, as if on its own, was in the air flipping her the bird and my mouth was shouting obscenities, calling her names that left me feeling shamed. 

When I realized she was taking the same exit off the highway that I was, my heart began to palpitate, “Oh no!”  I thought.  “Is she going to turn into the same parking lot – my place of employment?”  Mortification does not begin to describe how I was feeling.  As I took my turn into the parking lot, she thankfully proceeded to go straight and my heart calmed.  Still, I felt uneasy and disgusted with myself.  How, so quickly, and so instinctively, could I turn into such a foul-mouthed monster? 

It goes to show that, “Equanimity to those whose actions oppose your values,” may not be easy to come by, but there is truth in the sutras’ claim that doing so will help me to “preserve openness of heart and calmness of mind,”  seeing as doing the opposite did anything but.  In retrospect, I considered what could I have done in that situation to find peace in her actions?  I could consider why she was in such a rush? Perhaps she had a sick child in the back seat, or she was told she would be fired if she was late for work one more time. The possibilities are endless.  Then again, she could simply just be an aggressive driver, or even an unkind person, but even then, didn’t something make her that way?  

There is no way of knowing what causes other people to behave the way they do, but if we come from a place of love and consider that we are all born into this world as innocents,  infused with a spark of the divine, it can help us to see that rarely does anyone ever truly set out to harm anyone with their actions.  In doing so, we can take time to breathe, consider our next move and simply let those people pass us by!

Reading the comments on my last blog by my best friend Annette, I am saying prayers of gratitude, as I so often do, to the Divine Spirit I choose to call God, for blessing me with the gift of her friendship. I am extremely fortunate that in addition to my family, I have a few friends who stood by my side through the nightmares of my active alcoholism and early sobriety.

Since I got sober, my circle of friends has diminished significantly, and early on I felt sorry for myself for that.  I was upset that I didn’t get invitations to go out or to parties, not that I would or could go to them anyway, but I just felt like such an outsider.  The reality is that as soon as I put down the drink, many of the people I “partied” with for years just disappeared and the ones who didn’t just slowly drifted away once we realized that without alcohol, we had nothing in common.

Now, the fact that I only have a few very close friends as opposed to 20 or 30 people I drank with is fine by me.  I have more time to spend strengthening those relationships and I can truly be “in” the relationship. I can also open up space for meeting new people who share interests with me besides drinking.

So, if you happen to be someone new to sobriety and you are bummed because you are seeing your circle of friends grow smaller, it’s all good.  You’re going to get rid of a ton of stuff throughout recovery, inside and out, and as you do you will make room for all the gifts coming your way!

Love and Light,

Steph

Okay, so it’s not really music, but if it were, it would be something nice and calm  and new age-y…something you could meditate, bathe, or drink tea to (or all of the above – my personal preference ), but it is a little background and even right there I’ve already given you a taste of what life is like for me now, sans cocktails.  Although, can you really call warm, cheap, bottom of the barrel vodka straight from the bottle a “cocktail?” Probably not.  Though there was a time when drinking looked sophisticated and classy, you know like it did on Dallas and Falcon Crest.  I remember watching those shows at the age of maybe 9 or 10 with my Mom and seeing the crystal decanters these people drank from and lavish gowns they wore…to breakfast!  It all looked so regal.  Then of course there was real life and the parties my parents would throw where guests would come dressed up in those fancy clothes and my parents would break out the nice glasses and my sister and I would sneak peaks from the upstairs stairwell and watch as they laughed and blew smoke rings.  They all  just appeared so…at ease with life.  I mean, who wouldn’t want to try that?

So I did…likely I had my first drink stealing sips during some of those parties, but the true and steady drinking, my tumultuous 20-year love affair with booze, began in 6th grade at the sophisticated, mature, and fully blossomed age of 11.  From there it was the usual horror story of progression where alcohol called the shots and made most if not all of the major decisions in my life from where I would go to college to the man I would marry.

Sure, the high school and college years had some memorable and fun moments but at what price? At age 30, I was on the verge of death from where alcohol took me, in fact, I did die once and was resuscitated, yet that didn’t stop me from drinking.  It did make me realize that I didn’t want to die, before that I really don’t think I cared. Still, in the grips of alcohol, I didn’t have a choice in the matter.  In fact, if I DIDN’T drink, I was certain that I WOULD die.

It wasn’t until the drinking stopped giving any relief and I got to the place where both to drink and not to drink meant to die that I was left utterly helpless and desperate to do whatever it took to stop. So, at the age of 31, with the help of a growing fellowship of people just like me who had found a way out, I learned the most important lesson of my whole life – that the  inside hole that kept growing and growing my whole life that I tried to fill with alcohol and drugs and men and “stuff” was a hole in my spirit and therefore could only be filled by spirituality – a word I would come to learn was far different than religion, which I wanted nothing to do with.

There is so much more I want to share in the hopes that something in my story will help another person out there who is currently in the grips of this terrible disease or who is heading there, or even someone who can relate to the feelings.  I’ve lived through a good deal of shit both in and out of sobriety and I  believe that I am meant to share it, openly and honestly so I can use it to help others.  Much of it is incredibly personal and private but it is a risk I am willing to take if it means getting even one person to say, “Yeah, that sounds like me, maybe I can get sober and live through this.”

What I hope to convey most of all through this blog is the true miracle that is my ongoing recovery from alcoholism and the amazing journey of sobriety. When I put down the drink, I truly thought life was over – no more fun, no more excitement, good sex, laughter, dancing, flirting, dating, cooking, entertaining…the list goes on…but the truth I found is I never really felt or did any of those things…I drank.  The rest was just a cover up.  Today, I live and do all of those things and more (except date, because I am engaged, but I dated…oh man, there’s a blog there…good lord!) The day I put down the drink was the first day of the life I was meant to live!

~Steph