My good friend Mish chooses a word of the year instead of resolutions. A word to love by, grow with, become. A word to inspire, drive, live.
I love words. Always have. If I could make out with them, I would. Yes, I would go so far as to marry a word. There, I said it. Now let’s all move on.
When I heard of this ritual, I was intrigued, but didn’t immediately hop on board. I was pretty sure I wouldn’t be alive in another year, so I wasn’t really hopping on much of anything at that time.
Then I watched the word “yes” transform my friend Mish’s entire world.
At the end of 2012, I was still suicidally depressed and chronically fatigued. I was on 4 psych meds that weren’t making me any better. I was mentally and physically ill and had been for over 1.5 years. I really didn’t think I would ever get better.
So I chose what felt like a Man of La Mancha sized word at the time.
To dream … the impossible dream … (To be healthy)
To fight … the unbeatable foe … (Crippling fatigue & mental illness caused by Hashimoto’s & adrenal fatigue)
To bear … with unbearable sorrow … (Not being able to care for my child, wanting to die, losing friendships, almost losing my marriage)
To run … where the brave dare not go … (Into the gates of insanity)
To right … the unrightable wrong … (A horrific misdiagnosis, years of unnecessary psych meds, scores of doctors not realizing the obvious)
To love … pure and chaste from afar … (My family, my God, myself)
To try … when your arms are too weary … (And every fiber of my being)
To reach … the unreachable star … (Radiant health, strength & stamina)
The word I chose was “healthy.” And while it did, indeed, feel like the impossible dream, all I needed was a spark of hope to get sober and it ends up that’s all I needed to get healthy. What I’m saying is -
But like faith, the word didn’t work without action. The word gave me a framework and also told the universe that I was ready and willing to do the work it was going to take and I had no idea what that looked like, but I was determined to try.
And it took a lot of work. Work that some days I simply couldn’t show up for, but other days I did and last January, I sat across the desk of a doctor who finally figured it out. I wasn’t bipolar. Yes, I’d been mentally ill, but the cause wasn’t my brain. It was my thyroid, adrenal glands and leaky gut.
But knowledge alone didn’t cure me. Neither did throwing money at it. And that doctor had good info, but she also put me on tons of expensive supplements and hormones that I didn’t need.
By relying on my instincts, I found a chiropractor who helped really steer me in the right direction with supplementation around April. Then right around my 10th wedding anniversary (June 20th), I found my holy grail to put my Hashimoto’s into remission and take my severe adrenal fatigue into the medium zone.
As most of you know, the Paleo Autoimmune protocol finally helped ease me into remission right around my 40th birthday (November 9th).
It’s been one hell of a year. I weaned from off of 3 psych meds and lost my stepfather when I was going through the worst of the Lamictal withdrawals. There were many times that I gave up, but that little spark of hope was always there – brightly reminding me to continue on with my quest.
The work doesn’t stop here and I still have adrenal fatigue, but the solutions have been unearthed.
So what now? What’s next? Well there seems to be a natural progression of sorts with these WOTY’s. I watched Mish travel from “yes” to “open” to “free” much like a river flows into the ocean. There wasn’t a lot of forcing. Not a ton of muscling or self-will. Just flow.
And my word flowed right off this quote from her WOTY post:
Now that I’m “healthy***,” it’s time to “shine.” Makes sense, doesn’t it?
I have a brilliant light inside of me today that started with a spark. A spark of hope. Everyday it grows. People who’ve known me for years stop to tell me how beautiful and healthy I look. I’ve even had a few people not recognize me.
Yes, I shed a lot of weight, but there’s so much more than that. I look younger. My eyes have changed. My hair has changed. Even my eyelashes are longer and my eyebrows are finally filling back in. These changes are from the inside-out.
I’ve also made some outside changes. I’ve started showering everyday and wearing make-up. I get out of my pajamas even when I don’t have to. These may sound like small steps, but they’re huge to me. I saw no reason to care about my appearance when I was sick so I didn’t. And I didn’t have the energy anyways. I went days without showering or washing my face. Today I do both!
I get to be a light for others today. I have strangers from all over the world send me questions about my recovery on Twitter and Facebook and my blog. I get to help people from the hell I’ve been through – and so much like my 12-step work, paying it forward keeps me doing what I need to be doing to take care of my continued recovery and it keeps me in gratitude. It’s a privilege and an honor to be able to share my experience on this whole new level.
I feel good about myself. I feel proud of the commitment I’ve made to my health. I feel so lucky that I found solutions for what felt so impossible.
And I have some impossible dreams. Oh yes, I do. I want to shine my light into a book. A delicious, brutally honest recounting of my journey from madness to optimum health. The book I wish would’ve been there for me when I was sick to give me hope and solutions. Then I want to shine my light on stages and podiums all over the world to tell my story so that others may be inspired and find their paths to health if that’s where God sees it fit to do so. I’ve had a passion for public speaking and inspiring others for decades that only grows with time and never fades, so it’s something not to be ignored, although it feels insurmountable.
And maybe I am fighting windmills in my mind, but that’s for me to discover. Maybe becoming an author and speaker is an impossible dream, but maybe, just maybe, it’s not all that impossible after all.
No matter what, this year is about shining. Brightly, brilliantly, beautifully. Anything is possible, my friends. Anything!
***I write that I’m healthy, and I while I’m much healthier than I was last year at this time, I have to tread lightly. My adrenals are still quite taxed and I have to take it easy. I can lose remission very easily and have gotten a taste of that horrific fatigue and depression in the past few weeks just from the combo of fighting a cold and traveling with my toddler. (This is me reminding myself to be the tortoise, not the hare.) Maybe world domination isn’t in the cards right now, but getting and staying as healthy as humanly possible most certainly is! And continuing to listen to my body…
I was born on the right side of the bed, or so my mother tells me.
I’ve always been a happy camper – a half-full-glass kind of kid. Even living in a violent alcoholic home for the first 8 years of my life, I still managed to find joy all around me – in churches, nature, animals, friends and random acts of kindness.
I lost touch with that happy girl during the past 2.5 years of illness. Wanting to die will do that to a person. I’m beginning to consistently see the sun again and that sunshine is reminding me of the happy person I really am.
This makes me think about Step 2 of the 12-steps.
Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.
This is one of my favorite steps. Growing up with an insane father, spending 12 years of my life drunk and insane, and then living through 15 years sober and on and off insane made and still makes the promise of sanity quite a draw for me.
There’s been a lot of peeling back the layers of the onion since I quit drinking and using at 24-years-old. Tearing down the walls and even the foundation at times, to get back to the truth of who I was before insanity came into my life and being hasn’t been easy, but has given me the opportunity to reveal some big truths about myself.
That’s why restore is my favorite word in this step. The notion of restoration implies that sanity was a part of me at one point in time.
I may have been a fetus, but I was sane once so I can be restored to sanity again.
I believe I can be restored to my true self. And I believe that true self is pretty darn happy.
Which takes me back to that little girl. The girl who found magic in caterpillars and dandelion fluff, even though she didn’t know what terrors the nighttime would bring.
That girl. She’s in there. I feel her inside of me. Curling up the sides of my mouth. Making me feel like maybe my dreams aren’t so unattainable. That there may just possibly be some magic just around the bend.
. . .
I went on a 12-step woman’s retreat in early March of 2013 with 4 girlfriends. St. Patrick’s Day was just around the corner so on the drive up, the very Irish one of us decided to give everyone our leprechaun names via an online leprechaun name generator.
Hi, my name is Stumpy McKnob.
Yes, Stumpy McKnob.
I found my name especially fitting – mostly because it’s so dumb. I’m the girl who likes stupid pictures of myself and even posts them on facebook. Don’t get me wrong, I’m vain like any other, but funny always trumps hot in my book.
Our driver, perhaps one of the happiest human beings I’ve ever known, was Goldie O’Rainbow. The other girl’s names were Tater and Spuds, which weren’t as apropos but sounded equally delicious. We were all in tears over Stumpy and Goldie.
Then that same Irish girl played us this hilarious video.
After which I felt compelled to tell everyone about my stingray, or happy pancake, obsession.
Yes, I can wrangle a 75-pound stingray onto my chest and I liked doing it so much that when we were in the Cayman Islands, I made my husband take me back to “Stingray City” four times.
Four. And he said “yes” because he’s that awesome.
Which reminds me of who I am. That little girl is also the woman chasing stingrays with reckless abandon. And now that girl is chasing yoga like it’s a stingray because there’s that same happy – the happy without negative consequences. The happy without hangovers.
I get lost so quickly in the dishes and the toddler and the dogs and the groceries and financial insecurity and fear of the future that I forget who I am. I squash my dreams as things for other people but not me because I’m not worthy. When I forget who I am I forget to practice loving-kindness on myself. I get too busy for self-care. And too unimportant.
That is the stuff of dis-ease, not recovery. And certainly not restoration.
But it’s so very clear who I really am.
I am Stumpy McKnob, the happy pancake wrangler.
. . .
Who are you? Tell me! When did you last feel alive? Unfettered? I want to know…
My bliss song of the day. They could be singing “death to the bee blogger” and I’d still have it on repeat.
I’ve been practicing Buddhist vipassana meditation for a few months now, and while I’m nowhere near an expert meditator or even a self-proclaimed Buddhist and I feel wonky even writing about anything Buddhism related, I feel a strong urge to write about the concept of “leaning into” emotions. Probably because I’ve been practicing the lean regularly and have found it to be quite powerful in my life.
By nature, I run from any emotion I don’t like. Sadness comes up and I default to fixing – fixing with drugs, alcohol, obsessive thinking, food, sex, fantasy – you name it, I’ve done it.
Getting sober took away some of those fixes and over the years, I’ve removed more and more fixes – smoking, toxic relationships, sweets, caffeine – but there are still plenty of places I can run to in my mind.
My neurotransmitters are grooved deeply to run when a disagreeable feeling presents itself, but in the opposite sense, they are also grooved to hold on tight when the feelings are fabulous. When something makes me happy, I want to do it all the time. For example, I loved to drink and do cocaine. I did it so much that I was going to die if I didn’t stop. Dammit.
Addictive personality? Perhaps. Who am I joking – yes. If there’s a way for me to become addicted to anything, I’ve probably already snorted all of it and left none for you.
Buddhist meditation teaches me to lean into the feeling instead of running from it and the surprising thing is that the feeling passes much quicker when I embrace it. It’s a cycle of attachment and detachment – I attach to the “good” feeling and try to elongate it as long as possible or I detach as quickly as I can from the “bad” feeling, attempting to negate it and return to my happy state.
Here’s my dilemma – do we lean into the happy feelings, too? The bliss? The ecstasy of feeling free? I ask because spending 7 years as a bipolar woman, I learned to become weary of any feelings that were too high.
Am I manic? Or am I just happy? Is this circumstantial? Or did I have too much green tea? Am I going to flip out in a manic rage any moment or am I okay?
These are the questions that would run through my mind whenever I felt “too good” and I’ve noticed that, even though I no longer believe I’m bipolar and I no longer drink green tea, they are still a default.
Because I feel really good. I’ve felt great since my 40th birthday almost a month ago. This is the longest I’ve felt good in 2.5 years.
And I’m leaning into it. I’m feeling blissed out often and it feels great. I’ve been dancing under the night sky when no one’s watching. I’ve been playing music that makes my heart feel open and light. I’ve been laughing and singing and kissing my dogs. And having sex, lots and lots of sex.
But my brain groove keeps taking me to fear – fear that I’m on my way back to crazy, fear that I really am bipolar, fear that I’m going to start flipping people off on the freeway and screaming at my husband and wanting to die again.
My Jungian therapist I worked with for 6.5 years always reminded me that to every high there is a low. And the lows last much, much longer. But I fired her a year ago, so do why is her voice still in my head?
I don’t know what the truth is anymore from all the years of illness and that’s why I’ve started my life over. I have a lot of good information, some of which I’ll keep, but I feel my bottom line lies in my heart. Fear is not the answer. Fear closes my heart so quickly that I now feel physical pain in my chest when it happens.
I’m becoming aware. I long to be free. To be liberated from suffering. This is what my meditation practice gives me now that I’m finally able to tap into the Universal ebbs and flows again. Now that I’m out of bed and living my life.
Maybe the answer isn’t to know – maybe it’s to feel. I’ve spent 40 years in my head, maybe it’s time to listen to my heart. And from a place of love I know that bliss is good. That life should be a celebration. That the spring has come and I’m not going to waste a second fearing the winter.
If it comes, it will come. Until then, I’m going to lean into the pillow.
TMI Warning: this blog has been written by a woman who has little shame around the topic of sex (me), so read at your own discretion.
I know I haven’t been writing a lot lately, but I’ve been busy – gettin’ busy. What?!? Yes. It’s true. Some amazing changes have been happening in my body and one of my very favorites is that my libido has returned.
With a vengeance.
She’s none-too-pleased about being stuffed down for 7 years with pharmaceutical medications and mental illness. Sex became a “to do” on the long list, not something I desired or wanted. It became something I avoided.
The shift happened right around my 40th birthday. Yes, I’m now 40. Hi.
After the early menopause scare, which completely squashed my sex drive for about 2 months, I got the courage to finally lower my Zoloft from 75mg to 50mg. It’s the last psych med I’m taking, but I’ve been on it for 10 years and am therefore overly cautious about weaning.
My OB took me off all the bio-identical hormones to see what my body would do naturally, and I had a normal cycle again. As my hormones started to settle down and my hair stopped falling out in chunks, a little fire began to burn. Downstairs.
So I fed it.
And fed it.
And then I fed it some more!
And the more I fed it, the more the fire grew. I increased my yoga practice, and the fire grew. And grew and grew and grew.
(If my husband was an extrovert like me, I’d insert a picture of him grinning from ear-to-ear right here.)
My body feels alive again. And not just my body, but my mind. I’m craving more of life. More bliss. More joy. More, more, more.
Oxytocin is triggered by orgasm and in addition to lowering cortisol, it’s just good stuff all on its own. Higher levels of oxytocin makes us happy. Conversely, low oxytocin is linked to post-partum depression and lower levels of thyroid hormone.
I’ve known about the medicinal benefits of orgasm for decades, but experiencing the healing benefits firsthand has been a completely different ride. Living with adrenal fatigue and Hashimoto’s means that my cortisol and thyroid hormone production is abnormal (putting it mildly). Orgasm is so powerful for mental health that it was at one point in time actually “prescribed” by doctors.
Imagine going to the doctor and having him fill out a scrip for orgasms rather than antidepressants. Wow, that would actually be the exact opposite of what happens nowadays.
But going straight into a (over)active sex life a year ago would’ve been the same as when I started doing CrossFit in attempts to fix my brain. I had severe adrenal fatigue. I’ve been on a strict regimen for healing my adrenals for quite a while now (AIP for 5 months, supplements and sleep schedule for 9 months), so my body can now handle and actually craves more exercise and sex now, when before I was dragging myself to the gym and everywhere else.
Today, I’m not dragging. Which is huge. Thank you, thank you, thank you. But jumping into this too quickly would burn my adrenals back out, so there is a delicate timing in everything when it comes to healing the body and mind from years of illness.
I think 40 is a damn fine age to be. Last year on my birthday, all I wanted to do was die. This year, all I wanted to do was live. It’s been a ridiculously long and painful journey, but maybe, just maybe, I’m entering the best decade of my life so far.
And I’m bringing you all along for the ride, babies!
. . .
Don’t forget to pay a visit to the ibeefree Facebook page once in a while for daily awakenings, links and life.
It’s been over one-third of a year now that I’ve been on the Paleo Autoimmune Protocol. I’ve given up caffeine, grains, dairy, nuts, seeds and eggs in hopes to get my Hashimotos into remission and get the adrenal fatigue under control.
The biggest, most obvious change has been weight loss.
Since weight loss wasn’t the point of the food plan, I didn’t weigh myself often or pay much attention to it. It just happened.
But it was rapid and shocked my body into ovulation failure. I missed a period, started having major hot flashes and my hair started falling out. They don’t advertise these fun facts in the Paleo before and after stories or on the cover of every other weight loss obsessed magazine.
Hormonal testing verified that I was in early menopause – not peri menopause, but actual menopause – which completely blind-sided me. I spiraled pretty low. Then I fired the doctor who tried to put me on every other hormone and vitamin on the planet and went to my new OB, who suggested I stop all the bio-identical hormones and let my body naturally reverse the menopause, which he figured it would do on it’s own.
So I kept on eating in faith that my body would adjust.
And it did. My last period was right on time. The hot flashes are almost gone.
My hair is still falling out, but the interesting fact is that it never fell out after pregnancy – I think because my cortisol was throwing off all my other hormones. So the kid is 26-months-old and my hair is finally falling out. Who knew.
I also never have had the typical thyroid hair loss issues. I’ve always had a thick mane and I’m grateful that was one of the few side effects I haven’t experienced.
Overall, I feel like I’m healing, slowly. I still need more sleep than most humans and my immune system is still quite compromised. I’ve caught all my kids colds again, but they haven’t turned into bronchitis or sinus infections or ear infections. So there’s improvement.
I’m back at work as full-time as I can be and still take care of my kid when he gets sick or has appointments, but it still exhausts me. I get out of bed everyday. I don’t have the coma sleeps that I had so frequently before. I go to yoga 3 days a week. I meditate daily. I go to church on Sundays.
Two weeks ago, I started wearing make-up and showering daily – because I wanted to. I felt like it. At my sickest, I went up to 4 days without showering and 2 days without even washing my face. And make-up? Not even on my radar when I feel like I’m dying.
My libido is back, too. Which makes me very, very happy, but that probably has more to do with the fact that I’ve gone from 4 psych meds to half of my Zoloft dosage over the past year.
Basically, I don’t love my life, but I don’t want to die.
I’m the tortoise. I’ve been the hare my whole life. This is very different for me, but I keep the faith. It’s working. It is.
A week ago, I found out that I was in early menopause. I was crying so hard on my mom’s voicemail that she thought I said “cancer” and thus ensued a small family scare.
No, I do not have cancer. Today. Thank you, God.
Two days later, I started taking bio-identical estrogen. Two days later, I started my period after 2 months of hot flashes, insomnia and hair loss. Three days later, I got a third opinion who told me that it was highly unlikely that I’m in early menopause.
Up, down, all around. Long story short, my ovaries stopped working and are working again. At least, right now. I think. I’ll be 40 in a month. Worst case, it could be early menopause from years of autoimmune disease; best case, I’ve lost a considerable amount of weight from radically changing my diet so my body may be responding by shutting down ability to reproduce.
Time will tell. Hashimoto’s and adrenal fatigue have been more than enough to deal with and this added a whole new chapter to the book I have no energy to write.
And the only answer is radical self-acceptance.
Acceptance that I’ve been experiencing quite a bit of fatigue again and with that comes the crazies. Somedays I wake up feeling great, other days that bipolar mind caused by hormonal imbalances and my overworked, under appreciated adrenal glands is ready to kick my ass all day long.
The crazies tell me I’m not enough, I’m a loser, I need to try much harder. And I need to hurry because it may already be too late to make anything out of this pathetic life of mine.
The crazies do all they can to push me deeper and deeper into the rabbit hole. When I’m in there, I forget I have people in my life who love me. Who care about me. After all, why would anyone care about a piece of crap loser like me?
I mean, I had potential. I was gifted. And I’ve done nothing but muck up my God-given talents.
The problem is that I truly believe the lies my brain tells me when I’m zapped. No amount of exercise or work pushes them away. No writing. No baby giggles. Nothing that has to do with movement in a forward direction, really.
Only rest, sleep or meditation does. The only way to fight my monkey brain is to lie down, which seems totally contraindicated at the time.
I’m learning, my peeps, I swear. And I think this is the point.
Acceptance is the key. But if I’m not serene, how can I find acceptance? My default is the courage to change. Taking the blame, I’m expert at seeing my part, unfortunately with a baseball bat in hand. And wisdom? Wisdom took the last train to the coast.
Last weekend I had quite an epiphany. If courage is my default, and action is my call, then my answer is inaction. Is ease. Is calm. Is laying on the couch with the baby. Napping when he naps. Letting the dishes pile up. The laundry sit in piles. Clean, dirty – everywhere.
It’s not that I don’t care; I’m in acceptance that the energy will come back. And when it does, I will move. I will become an object in motion again.
And it’s worked. It’s such contrary action. I’m listening to my body. It feels decadent. Delicious. Spiritual.
I’m living in the present. I’ve lived my life in the future. I’ve spent most of my time on this planet overexerting myself and look at what it’s done for me. I’m no further ahead of the race. Actually, I’m seriously considering dropping out of the race altogether.
Because I’ve never felt good enough just being me. If I joined a group, I had to me the star or leave. Being average wasn’t an option. I took this into my 12-step meetings and overcompensated myself to death. Undergrad, grad school, every job I’ve ever had – I always had to be the best, the shiniest. The center of attention. The fabulous Courtney.
Well, I’m starting to learn fabulousness in a whole different manner. And it’s pretty amazing. Accepting me for me with my current limitations is liberating me from me. From the need to be validated. From making the world victimize me.
What if me, just me, right now – is enough?
And I must accept where I’m at. I’m having hormonal issues. I just started to feel good from the diet after 2.5 years of illness and was expecting the world to be fair.
The world isn’t fair. And that’s OK. It’s much more fair to me than others and others than me. Who cares.
I’ve been sick and crazy. And now the thing I’ve been fearing has arrived many years early. Or not. Fine. Today I’m writing a blog post. I may not write again for months. I may write everyday. I’m floating down a river. It’s gorgeous. There are friends all along the way – waving from inter tubes, hopping into my raft, canoeing by – and I don’t know what’s around the corner.
I’m going to enjoy the ride. Rapids, waterfalls, smooth glass, rocks, big fish – whatever. It has to be cool. It has to be about the moment because it’s all I have.
It’s all any of us have.
It’s all good. It all ends the same. So why not have some peace? I’m in.
I’ve been on the Paleo Autoimmune Protocol over 3 months and I was really starting to feel good. I’d say I was at a solid 70% for about 2 months total, which is remarkable after 2 years of illness.
I upped my yoga from one time a week to three. I’ve done amazing things like take my toddler to the beach. Things I never had the energy or strength to do before the food plan. My chiropractor (who is my health partner really) and I cut my supplements by about 70% as well.
I started meditating again – now the Buddhist traditions are really working for me. I was really feeling quite good. Not amazing, but solid.
And then I took on another client so I’m finally trying to be a normal working person again. I mean, the sign that we’re no longer ill is that we’re able to work, right? It’s always been a big measuring stick for me.
And then my body decided to stop menstruating. I took a pregnancy test, but I knew it was a waste of money. See, I started having hot flashes. Like every hour. While that can be a sign of pregnancy, one of the bonuses of all of the work I’ve been doing is a familiarity with my body that I’ve never had before. I’m connected to my body, when most of my life I just felt like a floating head.
I still felt good. I had another 14 viles of blood drawn to compare my numbers to last January. And my results were better, except one biggie.
Seems I have no estrogen.
It’s been almost 2 months now since I’ve had a period. The hot flashes have lessened in severity, but I also cut my sugar way down (which really, really helps).
The doctor I use for prescriptions and lab tests (because she takes my insurance) put me on oral progesterone which absolutely zapped my energy. I knew I don’t respond well to oral progesterone and it was a reminder that when I see her I really have to self-advocate fiercely. She overprescribes and digs into my wallet at any chance, but she’s also helped me a ton.
My chiropractor helps me really get to the truth of the matter and simplifies the plan with me. He’s the one holding my hand through all of this and he can’t even prescribe. Don’t get me started on how challenging our medical system makes getting healthy.
I’m overwhelmed and exhausted. The fatigue came back last week along with the depression. I’m muddling through. I don’t want to die and I have hope that the doctor’s appointments today and tomorrow will tell me more. I’m pretty sure I’m hitting perimenopause a touch early if I had to guess, which is common for people with autoimmune diseases.
I’ll be 40 in November so I was hoping for another few years of health before hitting the next hormonal obstacle.
It all feels very unfair, yet is life fair? I’m grateful for the window of wellness I had and I look forward to being feeling good again. I have so many dreams and goals, but none of them make sense unless I’m healthy. So on the shelf the big dreams go again.
Back to basics. I listen to my body. I sleep as much as possible. I feed myself real food. I march forward within my limitations. I don’t push or force more than I have to.
I know someday I’ll be out of the woods. Hormones, ah hormones. Yes, perimenopause can take 5 – 7 years, but there are ways to manage it. Some women never feel a thing, but I’m pretty sure most of us with autoimmune diseases feel it a bit more.
Accepting what is. That’s what today is about. Radical self-acceptance and faith that more will be revealed…
I hit the wall on Friday. Took the baby to the big Whole Foods in Glendale, bought kombucha, coconut ice cream and ready-to-eat dinners – including full-gluten pizza for the kiddo.
I did not cook. I did not want to even try. I was done preparing meals with a toddler pulling on my clothes or yelling at me or a mixture of both and besides, my shoulders hurt.
Dinner out is very rare. Even more rare, at the checkout stand I bought a People Magazine. I haven’t done that in years. I also don’t recall my local Whole Foods carrying any magazines other than Yoga and I’m Super Healthy & Crunchy & Better Than You Weekly, so the temptation is rarely present.
Catherine Zeta-Jones and Michael Douglas are on the cover. I’m not sure if that’s what drew me in, but now I see meaning behind this impulse buy.
The checkout woman commented on my purchase, to add to my shame.
“Oh, People, huh? They’re getting a divorce? Yeah, he probably got tired of her depression.”
When there is too much to say, I prefer to say nothing. Which is exactly what I did. I gave her my paycheck and ran away to read my smut.
My smut ended up hitting home, which kind of defeated the purpose, but oh well. Ends up I found myself relating to and feeling compassion for the world-famous couple worth 200 million combined.
Although we live in very different realities from the Douglas Zeta-Joneses, my husband and I have been some experience with “in sickness and in health.” And by some, I mean a boatload.
Michael had stage 4 throat cancer. Once he recovered, Catherine went into treatment for bipolar disorder. She’s since been in and out of treatment a couple of times.
My husband battled an unknown painful illness for 10 years. It took 17 doctors for him to finally get an answer. I stood by him until my mental health finally landed me in the hospital. He finally found out that gluten sensitivity was causing his problems and he is mostly pain-free today.
And you all know my story.
Our marriage has fallen apart and come back together a few times during all the illnesses. Ends up “in health” is a hell of a lot easier to weather than “in sickness.”
Then there’s the aftermath. And the setbacks. It’s not like we get sick, go into the bedroom for a few years and emerge ready to tackle life again. It’s more like strings of days of trying, of overshooting the mark, of guilt, of shame, of fighting, of surrender, and eventually of getting on the right path and healing.
And finding that path may take years, and that path is still full of strong and weak days. In a marriage with children when one is down the other picks up the slack. But what about when both parents are sick? Who picks it up then?
Ok, that’s where 200 million sure can help. But no amount of money can make you feel like living. Or fighting. Money doesn’t protect us from crying out in the night for someone to love and nurture us when we’re sick.
We all know the pain of 3am. Of loneliness. Of feeling dropped. Like our illness is just too much for the other to bear. Wondering how many more months of a sick wife one man can handle. Wondering if he really understands how sick you are, how much pain you’re in and that you’re trying so hard to get better…
And then there’s sex. Marriages need sex. And it’s the first thing that goes out the window when sickness breaks down the front door. The illness becomes an unwelcome partner in a crappy manage et trois. It drains a marriage until you look over at the person you thought you knew and you wonder if it’s even worth salvaging. Because when we’re in separate rooms licking our own wounds, the distance grows. Hell, it can become the Grand Canyon at times.
I understand the toll diseases take on a marriage and I am so grateful that my husband and I have stuck it out and are beginning to reap some of the benefits of the long haul, because illness can separate a marriage, but it can also make a marriage tough as nails. We’ve taken some hard hits together and we’re both still in the game because we want to be. There’s still love – a lot of love – and understanding that comes on the other side of tragedy.
(And marriage therapy is a painful Godsend that has helped us come to those realizations, that and open, honest communication.)
I hope Mike and Cate (I feel so intimate with them now that I took it to the next level – abbreviated first names) can work it out. Sometimes we need a little room to breathe and reassess. The bottom line has to be love – if it’s still there, the rest can be worked on. Sometimes the whole house has to be gutted, but when the foundation is love, it’s pretty exciting to see what comes with the new digs.
I think of YouTube as a magic 8-ball of sorts. When I start obsessing at a red light, I’ll plug in a few words and see what pops up.
It’s fun. I never know what I’m going to get, but there’s bound to be some gold in there somewhere.
For the past few weeks, some seriously yucky feelings have been surfacing for me. And by yucky, I mean guilty. I’ve never been a fan of guilt – it’s a wasted emotion in my book. It does nothing for me and nothing for the person I harmed – besides piss them off even more, most likely.
Remorse and regret aren’t emotions I have a lot of experience with because before becoming a mother, the most harm I inflicted on others and myself were when I was drinking and using. Once I stopped behaving in that manner I no longer had guilt or remorse surrounding my misdeeds.
This time it’s different.
I’m feeling more normal these days, functioning on a higher level mentally and physically than I’ve been able to for a long time, so it’s not surprising that I’m starting to process the misdiagnosis and years of unnecessary illness.
Which I find incredibly annoying. Because I really just want to move on. I want to put the illness behind me, write a book about it, inspire people with my public speaking and live happily ever after.
Yes, my higher self is aware of the many problems with that thought pattern.
Being sick for 2.5 years – and off and on for decades – has left a wake of destruction trailing behind my life. As much as I long to move forward, I must come to terms with these feelings that are hitting me really hard and attempt to repair the damage, lick the wounds and process what the hell went wrong so it doesn’t happen again.
All of these swimming and sinking feelings are mixed with such deep resentment – mostly at myself. While I’m embarrassingly familiar with resentment, I’m unfamiliar with it gift-wrapped as guilt, shame and remorse. I’ve also experienced self-loathing plenty of times throughout my sobriety, but not with such intense regret.
So rather than calling my sponsor or therapist, I asked YouTube what I should do about this. When in doubt, YouTube – it’s much easier than picking up the 1,000 pound phone.
I love this man and I’m going to take his direction. Here goes. The mistakes I’ve made that I need to forgive myself for:
1. Taking Zoloft and Wellbutrin throughout my pregnancy and breast feeding.
2. Going to the psychiatrist rather than the endocrinologist when I was so “manic” and psychotic I was duct-taping my windows shut so I wouldn’t throw the baby out of them. What I perceived as mania was my thyroid. I chose to stop breast feeding and go back on lithium. I sobbed in a hot shower letting the milk pour out of my breasts off and on for days. I had no problems breast feeding and I missed it horribly.
3. My son was sick non-stop once he started daycare. He ended up getting tubes in his ears from a 4-month ear infection, just as he was really starting to talk. Now he has a speech delay and potentially needs therapy. I feel like all of this is my fault.
Those are some heavy actions and feeling to process. I start there and spiral down until I’m sick. Sick from my brain to my toes and only sliding backwards.
Yes, some anger is coming up at my doctors, but most of it is at me. I should’ve known I wasn’t bipolar. I shouldn’t have had a child if I wasn’t able to care for him. I should’ve, shouldn’t have, should….
This is called “shoulding all over myself.” It’s a downward spiral of self-pity, self-obsession and irresponsibility. I need to own my part and repair the damage. Maybe my actions hurt my son, maybe they didn’t, but no-matter-what, these thoughts aren’t serving me or him or reversing the damage that has already been done.
We all make mistakes. I could be a far worse mother. I cannot change the past, but I can change the present. I can be the best mother I can be now.
Do it now.
So I am. My amends to my son is daily. I’m avoiding overcompensating because that means I’m still coming from a place of guilt. If I am to forgive myself, there’s no room for that.
Today, I am the mother I always wanted to be, but wasn’t well enough to be – I am present with my son. I am showing up for our relationship and doing my best.
He knows he is loved.
I can’t change the past, but I can change my actions and reactions in the present moment. I’m not a perfect mother, nor do I strive to be. I am an authentic mother who shows up for herself and her family with open arms, heart and mind.
From my relationship with my father, I learned that I forgive deep wounds in layers. This is my process. It took layers of healing to finally be free of the anger I had toward him and today I am truly free of every last ounce of hatred. I embrace his memory with love and compassion. And honesty, of course – I don’t gloss over the wrongs, but I do forgive him and understand that he did his best.
And now that story I turn on myself, telling myself the things I say about him. I heal a layer at a time. Forgive a layer at a time. I look at myself when I was ill and the choices I made and know that I was doing my best. That I was on my path and my son was on his path. In retrospect, that kid literally saved my life.
And that I find meaning in all of this. I have a new way to serve the public with these facts about myself and healing from an impossible disease and in impossible circumstance so that I may throw the rope down to other struggling women and give hope to those in the darkness because I’ve been in that darkness and know the healing that comes from relating to one another.
But how do I forgive myself? What does the actual process look like?
This is part of it. This blog. Writing. Sharing it with all of you. Practicing loving kindness toward myself and others on a daily basis. And learning the Buddhist Metta meditation practice that teaches me to find a home within myself to heal and love the divine within.
And I’ve found the more I practice self-forgiveness, the more I love all of those around me. The more forgiving I become. I used to think that forgiveness stopped at me, but now I know that it begins with me and ripples throughout an ocean of peace.
I’m learning. I’m a work-in-progress. Self-forgiveness isn’t self-centered as I once thought. It’s actually quite the opposite. I am a light as are you and it’s not my place to try to burn out anyone’s light or my own. My job is to shine brightly so others can feel free to let their own light shine. It’s brilliant because we are brilliant and God-made, not self-made.
Oh yeah, and I finally talked to one of my sponsors about this, too. And she helped me immensely. As always.
. . .
These sites have tons of amazing FREE Metta meditations:
Join me in loving kindness my shiny friends!
I celebrated 15 years of continuous sobriety yesterday. Yup, I haven’t smoked a joint, snorted a line of anything or guzzled booze in 15 years.
It was a happy day, filled with calls, texts, Facebook messages and even a HUGE BEE BALLOON on my front porch in the morning. I was flying high on no longer being high.
And then I came across this news story of Lisa Robin Kelly losing her battle with the same disease I was celebrating freedom from and my heart grew heavy. It always does when a fellow addict or alcoholic dies of the disease and hopefully it always will.
So I decided to repost this blog I wrote after my good friend Liz died. I’ve gotten a lot of positive feedback from this post that it’s been helpful to many. I even got an email from a woman who read this to her group in a rehab after they’d just lost one of their own.
Anyway, I’m thrilled to be sober. I truly am. I hope I never take this gift for granted. Please pass this on to anyone who needs it and please be well, my friends! No darkness is too great that the light can’t come in, the light can always come in.
I said goodbye to a dear friend last week. She was magnetic, effervescent, beautiful and hilarious. She was a preschool teacher.
She was only 42-years-old when she died.
Liz struggled for decades with drug addiction, alcoholism and severe depression. At one point in time, she stayed sober for 4 years – after her best drinking buddy died of alcoholism at only 33-years-old, leaving behind two beautiful children. During those 4 years she was in love with recovery and full of hope. She was of service to others and had a large group of friends who loved her unconditionally.
Then the day arrived that she decided she didn’t need a sponsor or 12-step meetings anymore.
“I’m a grown-up. I don’t need someone telling me what to do.”
Within weeks, she was drinking and using again.
I didn’t think she’d make it back, but she did one last time, and stayed sober for about 6 months before her final relapse and subsequent suicide.
The day of her funeral, I found out that one of my other friends had taken his life two weeks prior. Larry had long-term sobriety then relapsed, then got sober again, then relapsed over and over again until he could no longer handle the darkness.
He was a doctor who specialized in addiction. He knew everything about addiction and still lost the battle.
People who aren’t addicts – we call them normies – have a hard time making sense of relapse. And many people don’t care to admit that they don’t understand something, so they lash out because they don’t care to admit ignorance.
Which brings me to Whitney Houston.
I was saddened to see several intolerant remarks on Facebook and Twitter about Mrs. Houston after she passed away. Here are the two that really got to me:
1. Oh, big deal, another crack whore died.
2. I’m not going to feel sorry for someone who had every opportunity in the world and chose to throw it all away.
Imagine someone posting these comments had she died of a heart attack or cancer. But when an addict loses their battle with their disease, the “pull yourself up by your bootstraps” people climb onto their high horses and spew out judgments because they think addicts can “just stay quit.” If we could “just stay quit,” we wouldn’t be addicts. That’s like expecting a Schizophrenic to “just stop hearing voices.”
“Drug addiction (sic) is considered a brain disease because drugs change the brain – they change its structure and how it works.” And most of us started in our teen years while our brains were still developing, which makes it even harder to quit. Our brains have been programmed to use drugs.
“Treatment of chronic diseases involves changing deeply imbedded behaviors, and relapse does not mean treatment failure.” Our brains are different than yours. We’re hard wired to drink and use. And for a large percentage of addicts, relapse is often part of the process. The 12-step program I have used to get and stay sober is called a program for a reason. My brain needed and continues to need to be reprogrammed on a daily basis.
I’ve been clean and sober for 13 years. For me, I had to change everything in my life to get sober, which means I had to admit that my way of life, my choices, weren’t working anymore. People don’t like to admit that they don’t know how to live life. That’s ego shattering.
But if one can get past the ego and change their lives, staying sober still takes daily work. We don’t stay full on yesterday’s meals and we don’t stay sober on yesterday’s work. The work requires honesty, open-mindedness, willingness and humility.
The best way I can describe addiction is that it’s like Godzilla and I’m a little, teeny, tiny ant. He’s ginormous and breathes fire. Oh, and if that wasn’t enough, he also shoots laser beams out of his eyes.
And here’s the worst part – nothing, and I mean nothing, feels as good as hanging out with Godzilla.
When Godzilla and I hook up, it’s limos and glamour and excitement all the way. I feel like I’m in heaven, but when I want to go home, when I get tired, Godzilla says “Oh hell no, little ant, we’ve only just begun.”
I have no idea when Godzilla’s going to be done partying and I have no vote for when we’ll stop. Only the monster decides and he can squash me at any time if he feels like it. That’s the risk I take to hang with the biggest dog of them all.
I have to stay far away from him, but it’s not easy. I have friends who hang out with him still and assure me that he’s cool. I get in my car and there are billboards with him looking fly in a tuxedo. He looks so good it’s hard to remember how bad he truly is for me. He even comes to me in my dreams.
In L.A., I can actually call Pink Dot and have him delivered to my house.
I haven’t gotten in his limo for 13 years, but I’ve flirted with him more than once. Every time I’ve even looked in his direction, he’s been on to me. He’s magnetic. He says things like:
“Girl, we haven’t hung out in so long that you don’t even know me anymore. I’m so much more chill now.”
“I promise we’ll just have a couple and then I’ll take you home, unharmed.”
“You’re so boring now. What happened to the party girl I remember?”
“You were so young when you left me. Everyone parties hard when they’re 20! It’ll be different this time.”
If he gets me, it doesn’t matter how hard I fight, only an act of Providence can save me. I cannot fight him on my own. He only laughs at my feeble attempts.
I’m an ant, remember?
All of the knowledge I have about the disease does nothing for me if I go near him. He’s too magnetic. The years I’ve been sober only make him want me more. I cannot rest on my laurels because he’ll be right there, Gucci sunglasses on ready to go.
And that’s only addiction. Many of us also have other mental disorders and were self-medicating with drugs and alcohol. So when we take away our medicine, we not only have to change our lives to get sober, we also have to take care of the other disorder or Godzilla will really hone in on us. When sobriety becomes more painful than the pain of drinking and using, Godzilla wins.
So when a celebrity or a friend or a loved one hops into bed with Godzilla again, try not to pass judgment. I know it’s hard. I know it doesn’t make sense, but try anyway. No one ever felt remorse at the end of his or her life for being too compassionate.
My heart is heavy. I miss Liz. I’ve felt angry, sad, hurt, confused and a zillion other emotions that come with grieving. She had so many friends who loved her and none of us could save her from Godzilla. I wasn’t as close with Larry, but did have the good fortune to be of service to him and have some splendid conversations. He was a truly beautiful man.
Dedicated to Liz T & Dr. Larry. Rest in peace, sweet friends.
Originally posted on April 11, 2012 at http://northhollywood.patch.com/blog_posts/understanding-relapse