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The End Became the Beginning

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I have an addictive personality, which has led to poor habits that I have quit or tried to quit. Drinking alcohol, doing drugs, and smoking cigarettes are three habits I quit over time. Each time I tried to quit one of these habits I used the cold turkey method. It stuck for a while and then I was right back at it until the next try at going cold turkey.

I don’t really remember how old I was the first time I took a drink of alcohol. My Dad was a drinker and we always had a cabinet above the stove in the kitchen that was full of various bottles of alcohol, a drawer in the fridge full of Pabst Blue Ribbon or Old Style beer, and a second fridge in the garage that had a half barrel of beer in it. I remember drinking with friends beginning in 7th grade or so and that continued all through high school, college, and beyond. Drinking was not my poison of choice in later years, but was something I still continued to do when I was using drugs.

My exposure to drugs was limited to marijuana and hash until 1993. I knew people who used other drugs, but I was always too afraid to try them. My life turned upside down in 1993 and I was desperate to be anyone but me, and to get out of my own skin. I’m not going to share all the details of why at this point. What I will share is that my drug of choice became crack and I was hooked the very first time I used it. That drug took away all of the pain I had inside, along with every other emotion I was feeling and all the thoughts and fears I was consumed with about what was going on in my life at that time. As long as I was using, I didn’t have to think or feel and that was such an immense relief that I did anything I could to use as much as I could. Eventually, my use of this drug took away so much more – security, self-respect, jobs, homes, relationships, and even my children. I had a few periods of clean time where I was free from drugs and alcohol, but I was not free at all on the inside. I couldn’t stand myself and didn’t know how to believe that anyone else could stand me either. In the throes of addiction, I convinced myself that my children and the rest of my family were better off without me.

I spent some time in various treatment centers and put together small amounts of clean time from a couple weeks to several months. Eventually my drug use led me to incarceration where I stayed clean for 23 months, which was the longest I had been clean in years. I continued to stay clean for a couple more years after being released from incarceration, until I fooled myself once again into thinking I could have a “normal” relationship with someone who was still an active and abusive addict and didn’t see any reason to change. I had this idea that I could save him. I was doing so well and I thought I could save him and bring him along into this new life. Instead, he almost destroyed me and drug me straight back to the hell we lived in for so many years. He is the last person I used drugs with. Our addictions and our relationship was so bad at the end that I truly believe one of us would have killed the other if we had stayed together any longer.

Along the way, I was led to move to a new city, live with my younger sister, and get involved in Alcoholics Anonymous. I gained some clean time and some inner strength through going to AA meetings when my significant other was incarcerated for short periods here and there. I got a little stronger each time he was gone and was willing to settle for less abuse each time he was back. One day I made a decision that I deserved more and that I would rather be alone the rest of my life than settle for being hit one more time. He didn’t handle that news well and ended up incarcerated again and I sought help for myself on a mental, spiritual, and emotional level. So much ended for me with that one decision, but that end became the beginning of a life I had rarely even let myself dream about. I have worked in the same department for 5 years and moved from delivery technician, to customer service supervisor, to director. I met a wonderful man in recovery and we have been married for 3 1/2 years. I have my children back in my life, and have four amazing grandchildren who have never had to experience the pain caused by my addiction. I have true friendships based on heart connections and shared interests. It is truly a miracle that I can say, today I have been clean and sober for just under 8 1/2 years.

Quitting smoking didn’t happen until several years later. Smoking was harder for me to give up than the drugs because it didn’t cause pain and chaos in my life the way drugs did, and it’s legal! I never went to jail for smoking a cigarette. The difficulty with quitting smoking came from it being a part of everything I did for over 30 years. I smoked after eating, when I was driving, when I was talking on the phone, when I was feeling any emotion I didn’t want to feel, and when I was feeling emotions I loved to feel!

The first time I really quit for more than a day or simply because I didn’t have enough money to buy a pack of cigarettes was after delivering some medical equipment to a patient who was also on oxygen. I hadn’t had a cigarette for several hours and had no idea that I still smelled like a walking ashtray until she pointed that out to me. She pointed at the tubing in her nose and said, “You take heed deary. You better quit smoking or one day this will be you too.” I called my doctor right away and asked her to call in a prescription for Chantix, which was the latest drug out to help people quit smoking. I quit smoking then and stayed smoke-free for 13 months. My husband continued to smoke and I went back and forth between feeling bitter that he could smoke and I couldn’t and superior because I had quit and he couldn’t – neither of which were healthy attitudes. I had a fight with my husband after those 13 months and had the crazy idea that smoking a cigarette would make it all better and really show him, so I bought a pack of cigarettes and smoked again for the next month. I was so disgusted with myself that whole month for starting up again and I knew I didn’t want to see my family for Christmas and have them smell the ashtray smell on me again and know I failed, so I called my doctor and asked her for another prescription for Chantix. I quit again in December, 2011 and have not looked back. I have no desire to smoke again and no longer have any feelings of bitterness or superiority about any of it. The best part is that my husband quit a month or two after I did the second time so we enjoy a smoke-free home too.

Quitting various things in my life has not been painless or free of struggles. In fact, I think working through the pain and struggles without going back to whatever it was I had quit is what made each quit so significant and opened doors to new beginnings. In order to hold out my open hands to accept something new, I needed to be willing to uncurl my fingers and loosen the death grip I had on what I had known for so long. This was not done without fear, but I learned along the way that when the pain of where we are is greater than the fear of where we are going, we’ll go. That has most certainly been true in my experience and I am contemplating where else in my life I have the opportunity to loosen my grip, stretch out my hands, and be open to more new beginnings.

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Two-Step

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I started following a nutrition plan and released several pounds, and then chose to give in to cravings for instant gratification and short-term satisfaction. I not only gained back several of the pounds I had released, I also went back to feeling bloated, fatigued, sluggish, and full of self-loathing. I was working out with a trainer twice a week and jumping on the treadmill or elliptical afterwards for some cardio. I was noticing changes in the way my body felt, the way my clothes fit, along with reduced stress and increased confidence, and then I chose to leave the gym right after meeting with a trainer instead of staying for any extra cardio, and not do any additional exercise during the week. Instead of feeling increased confidence, I am feeling increased self-consciousness and worry about what other people think. I started writing regularly and felt happy about the feedback from other people, and a sense of accomplishment about moving forward and taking action on writing goals I had set and then I chose to do anything other than write when the “writing time” reminder popped up on my phone.

I have been spending some time thinking about why I stop doing these things that move me closer to my goals and bring me happiness, improved confidence, stress relief, and a sense of accomplishment and forward movement. Part of the reason stems back to the idea I wrote about in my last blog post about enough. I stop making good nutrition choices, exercising, and writing when I start comparing what I am doing to what other people are doing and deciding that I don’t measure up. Comparing myself with other people steals my joy, causes self-doubt, and paralyzes me.

When I choose to compare myself with other people, I am really choosing to hide my true self from others. 

I stop all forward movement and run back to what feels safe and familiar – even when what feels safe and familiar is really oppressive and self-defeating.

Yesterday I realized a bigger reason for running back to what I know. Fear. My eyes filled with tears as soon as I acknowledged this feeling, this word, and let it roll off my tongue. The tears surprised me and led to more questions. What am I fearful of? What if I ignore the fear? What if I can’t get past the fear? Is fear a sign of weakness? Where else have I felt fear in my life and what did I do about it?

After quite a bit of thought, I realize that what I am really afraid of is succeeding – much more so than failing. Failing is familiar. Not meeting the expectations I think others have placed on me is familiar. Succeeding at something that adds to my self-worth or improves my physical or mental health is unfamiliar. I want to get to the point where doing things that I feel good about is a familiar action. The fear of succeeding is not about small or short-lived successes. The fear is more about not knowing how to, or not believing I can, maintain the success once I achieve it. It feels safer to run back to the familiar rather than take a chance at the joy of succeeding because I don’t have to risk losing that success. Reaching a goal and then going backwards has been more of a risk than playing it safe and selling myself short. How sad!

What if I ignore the fear? I don’t think the fear will go away if I ignore it. I believe the only way to get past the fear is to go through the fear, and then means acting in spite of the fear. I have taken some recent steps to do just that. I am writing this blog post after putting off writing. I worked out 5 of the past 7 days and I’m on my sixth day of tracking my nutrition intake so I can be more mindful of the choices I am making about what I am putting in my mouth. Each individual step may be small, but each is a step forward and the fear feels a little smaller or more manageable with each step I take.

What if I can’t get past the fear? A wise woman I know taught me the words can and will. I can get past the fear, and I will get past the fear – as long as I keep taking action and moving forward. Going back to the way things have been may seem like the worst that would happen, but really the worst that would happen is to never take the risk to leave where I have been.

Is fear a sign of weakness? I don’t believe so. I see fear as a sign of being human. Hiding, running, not taking any risks – those are signs of weakness for me personally, but not feeling fearful.

Where else in my life have I felt fear and what did I do about it? I have felt fear during the times in my life that have involved big change, where I didn’t know what was coming next. I have also felt fear after a big loss, again, because of not knowing what was coming next. In each of these instances I have spent time running and hiding, either physically or by using other means such as drugs, alcohol, and food. Eventually, most often with support from others, I put one foot in front of the other and started moving forward.

I look back now at the life I led when drugs and alcohol were front and center in my life and I barely recognize that girl. I can learn from her though. She took a lot of unhealthy risks for what she made up her mind she wanted, which at the time was drugs and alcohol. She ran and hid from the people she loved and who loved her because she didn’t believe she could ever be who they needed her to be. As a result, she was lonely and filled with regret, shame, and self-loathing. That is not who I choose to be today. I am taking little steps to move forward and I’m finding that it feels a lot like dancing the two step at my sister’s wedding years ago. I take a couple steps forward, or sometimes sideways, and then a step in the opposite direction. Sometimes I feel like im goibg in circles, and what I notice is that I am always moving and taking action. More importantly, I am laughing and smiling and enjoying the dance.

Where in your life have you recognized fear and how have you pushed through it?