The good Percival J. Giddwich, Esq. at your service

The good Percival J. Giddwich, Esq. at your service

How often do we hear people talking about …what they’re going to do, …what they REALLY want to do, …when I get [___], I’ll. And so on. We’ve all probably had a little reinvention convention at some point in our lives. If you are like me and in recovery, then those musings probably hit you about the time things were settling down, turning around. Think about that six/nine month chip. For me it was some time around that second year. What most people would call a normal life was beginning to be a possibility. Things were  getting done without high drama or hopes or expectation. I was reliable once again. That flicker of hope was more than just a vague promise. Life was  noticeable if not particularly notable. As I began to find my rhythm and that last drink got less memorable and tomorrow got more reasonable, I found I had plans beyond next month’s rent and a paycheck existence; I found I had dreams. They weren’t earth-shaking, just shoved back into the mess that was once my life. Some of the pieces were missing but I still had the cards (most of ’em), some dice, a board and a vague memory of how to play. I was ready after two years to get back into the game.

I got sober in early 2013. That first year was rough. I was very bitter. I related in a passive/aggressive mode with just about everything. It was my normal. If I wasn’t fantasizing about you dying a fire-y death, I was hoping I’d be hit by a bus like Final Exit. As the neurological repairs began to take hold and I started re-learning how to live, it got better. A huge “thing” was being able to say, “That was then, this is now. What’s next?” That was a year and a month maybe two. Being able to talk matter-of-factly about my addiction and recovery was a big deal. And I don’t mean blathering on to the chap at the bus stop or muddling through some sort of correctness in a meeting full of confused souls desperate for something. It was being able to [sorry] process my recovery without it sounding like an amends or life-story. A co-worker asked one day where I’d gone to school. Without skipping a beat, I said I was too warped on drugs and booze to finish college. After a little stunned moment [because of my candor? her awkwardness?] she remarked her brother was “like that but he’s loving life now, and you?” And I could honestly if wistfully say, Yeah…this doesn’t suck.

After two years of believing that this was as good as it gets, I found out it could get better. At lot better. I used to be 4-5 times a week AA or some other feel better through immersive misery meetings, so I stopped. I went back to my rehab a coupla times hoping there’d be a light on, sadly, no. A few guys would beg my number, promise to write, call, etc and nothing. I even gave one guy a self addressed stamped envelope and said, “Just mail it with or without a letter” Oh, yeah, sure. No, I’ll write you a letter. Rarely have I seen anyone follow this path…I digress. This is what I started to do. Shakespeare tells us “to thine own self be true.” A lot of folks misinterpret that as something about honesty. What it is really saying is be true, as in faithful to yourself, first. Only when we are clear-headed and healthy can do something worthwhile. No one was going to do anything for me, not the way I’d do it or the way I’d want it done. Selfish? You betcha. But I didn’t aspire to alcoholism nor did I catch it like a cold, I wasn’t born that way and it wasn’t a moral failing, whatever that is. I drank too much for too long and couldn’t control my impulses. I drank to cope and control my emotional person. Finally, I was drinking because of dependency; if I didn’t drink, I might, literally, die.

I firmly believe I needed about a year plus some to see through the B.S. I, also believe the focus which becomes attached to a goal is a little bell that let’s us know this might the right time to start thinking about other things beyond the self centered sobriety club. Helpful too, is a simple set of rules. Number 1 Rule, don’t use. Number 2 Rule, don’t use because…, and Number 3 Rule, don’t use if… Simple. Everything else seemed to go away if I didn’t use. Like one of my mentors tells me, it never really goes away, but it does seem to fade away.

I am not a huge fan of self affirmation, but sometimes it might have its place. I do try to remember like an addiction, affirmation can become an obsessive crutch that soon enough loses energy. Then we get all boo-hoo because once again our life begins to suck. Properly used, can affirmation work? I know people that say “yep!” with gusto. I’ve tried and it didn’t do much for me. I really thought it was just another time-waster. Couple of months ago, I got schooled. I was involved with a group that focuses more on quality of life issues than recovery but…their outlook is similar and inspiring. These are people not only facing what I call periphery challenges. Those times when life isn’t fair. Where someone else’s problem(s) are encroaching and they themselves are blameless. Or when things like finances, health and other life changes give us a wake-up that no one was expecting. Sort of like when we have feelings of helplessness or we are having trouble putting a name (or face) to it, we go mad or we get overwhelmed, run over

One of the people in the group suggested that instead of calling it a self-affirmation you call it your bio. I thought sounded like something I could support and when told more knew I had to give it a try.

Go grab a hardback off the shelf, one with a dust jacket and look inside on the back flap. See where it has that short, a paragraph or two on the author. That’s the thumb and writers give a little blurb and the publisher embellishes. It kind of validates that this book was authentically written by a living, breathing human being. We can do that for ourselves, my friend said. Rather smugly, I add. We all fooled around with this for a minute. The great thing is, someone else can help you do this, too. I’ve shown this idea to people trying to get motivated to start their own business, write a proposal get the kids’ chore lists together. You’re not lying, you are embellishing. These aren’t fabrications, but promises. It’s stuff that deep down you care about and also stuff that’s pretty amazing yet you don’t think about…but others do! Here’s mine, sort of:

This Boston native is a classically trained cellist who has never used that talent publicly because s/he’s kinder than that. When not volunteering with service animals, s/he like to devote as much time as possible to adult literacy and juvenile authorship. With two dogs and a loving partner, s/he now calls Hawaii home.

There are five things cloched in these fifty words of which I am passionate: music, reading/writing, animals, my husband and the beach. When others help you with this it can unlock a different perspective we might not ordinarily consider. If I were struggling with my recovery, and I have often, I might write:

After nearly a decade of pushing back addiction and all the attendant issues, s/he has gone on to complete a degree in counseling and now works with At-Risk youth at The Margaret Truman School in Brooklyn, N.Y.

For me, it helps that I’m not crazy about leaving little un-truths about me out there. Consequently, I’ve just spent two hundred bucks on a used Cello and am looking for an affordable teacher. This exercise also reveals neglected strengths and maybe can bring to the fore possible new points of interest. A buddy of mine said he feels like less of a drudge in his career because he “promoted” himself to “Creative Marketing Director for their Australian offices.” My sister found that in her medical practice she has a renewed sense of worth. Now that she sees her name associated with Doctor and Helping and Children and Families and Community…well, you get the point.

I get a spark of motivation not just with the Work-A-Daddy part of my life, but I am reminded how much I love the two rescues lounging in the sun-room right now and what fun it’s going to be in a few minutes as I start in on dinner and game of Chuck-It. I think it settles me while at the same time gives me something to look forward to. When you are largely self employed, motivation…especially that elusive validation that doesn’t come in the zero’s before the decimal point is hard to come by. Obviously, I’m not suggesting anyone ramp up their resumes or applications for tenure, partner or marketing director down-under, but kept to yourself as a idea that can help you envision a better story-line or even just for a pause and a little self-backslapping, there should be no harm. Start believing this too much, or re-creating too often, then I think we’re back to Laws of Attraction and superstitious nonsense.

My friend who is now a Creative Marketing Director? Went so far as to have cheap business cards made up. I said, why cheap? Be good to yourself and better to others. I’ve got some tennis balls to chuck.

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To grieve a lost friend

To grieve a lost friend

When Dr Elisabeth Kubler-Ross, PhD edificed her work in Death and Dying, she formulated five stages of grief. At the time, this piece was looking at common threads of grief in the terminally ill. The classical stages are Denial, followed by Anger, which is then supplanted by Bargaining. After that, Depression or Isolation. Finally, as these emotions run their course, the individual comes to an Acceptance. It would be important to note that these stages or this process is observable in typical and I’d say, developed presentations and have a cultural bias. Or as one of my favorite sages likes to say,   “Generally speaking…”

Kubler-Ross would later expand the grief and mourning process to all manner of our sad and traumatic milieu  It is how we make sense of the sense-less. A valve that releases perhaps grandly at first, but then fizzles down into a reparative process. When we don’t go through all the phases and get stuck in say, depression/isolation, we literally get stuck there. A bit like Dicken’s Miss Havisham. Stranded in place. When K-B expanded the scenarios of grief from terminal illness to divorce and substance abuse, career implosion and deeper relationships it’s easy to see the patterns. Even natural disasters can be felt remotely. We see it now in other types of disaster, mass shootings and horrific events to which there seems no resolution, a plane crash in the middle of the ocean, horrific acts of terrorism.

I know I felt it each and every one of the times I attempted sobriety. I could get stuck on any one of those rungs. Sometimes it felt like I was trying too hard. Like I was tugging at knots, getting nowhere, just making them tighter. A good spot for me to settle was in that depressed mentality of despair. Of course, to say everyone, every time experiences grief in a proscribed manner would be reckless. Some people simply don’t grieve they way we see it on TV. Homicide detectives will tell you there is no pat response. But what I do find intriguing is where the stages are linked to substance abuse. I’ve been around enough addicts to note some validity to a “looping” of emotional expression. I see, too that some are more likely to bounce between Denial and Bargaining than working toward an acceptance. Look at twelve step logic.

While the steps are in a different order, you can see where AA expects an attitude of acceptance before the individual is, or has been through some of the cleansing the other stages afford. The reason I remark on this idea is that a friend is having a lot of trouble accepting this notion that he is not going to be able to drink again, either on a one-day-at-a-time basis are looking down the road into his sunset. After five months of abstinence, he’s all wrapped up in the anger/denial/isolation package. After he read a little about what grief and acceptance is with a more personal point of view, he’s been a little less depressed and his anger, not gone, but less irrational? As far as isolating, he really wants to talk about this. And communicating is always good.

Something this does for me is, now I have another little pause button I can press. Then I do a little checklist. Where it rubs me, I know I need more than a cliche’ response. Maybe I need to see the situation from another vantage, listen with a clearer head, look for understanding before offering criticism. Maybe the problem need real help, not prayers and platitudes. Either way, being able to see left and right, front and back, up and down keeps me out of my head and gives me another day to cherish.