On Surrender

Hearing the word invokes an image in my mind of a person on the ground with a hand up, holding a white flag with one hand using whatever energy they have left to wave it. It also reminds me of many times as a kid playing board games with my brother Mario where one of us was winning so far ahead of the other that the loser decided to surrender, to not waste any more time playing a “losing hand”.

 

The word always felt like defeat to me, but now I see it differently. I view the word as honesty, truth, and innate beauty. 

 

As I described it above, surrender can also mean not wasting any more time. Surrender can mean being honest about what isn’t working and accepting what really is. Why waste time doing what isn’t working? Why not be honest about the situation and go from there? 

 

I subscribe to Richard Rohr’s daily meditation. Each week is themed. This week’s focus is on Spirituality and Addiction. Today’s meditation is about surrender. In it he writes “Surrender is the strongest, most subversive thing you can do in this world. It takes strength to admit you are weak, bravery to show you are vulnerable…”. 

 

There were two days earlier this March where I “surrendered” and literally felt a physical shift due to a change in my mental thoughts. A shift so powerful that it tangibly exhausted me. 

 

The first was a day while I was living alone in East Haven and coming to grips with a pending divorce and newly achieved sobriety. I picked up a Dialectical Behavior Ttherapy (DBT) workbook that I hadn’t touched but owned for a few years. I decided to do some exercises in this book each day. I was a few days in when I came upon the term “radical acceptance”. I was performing the radical acceptance exercises and was challenged to fully accept my current situation. I looked around and cried. I didn’t want to. I could NOT accept where I was at that moment in time. But I wanted very badly to experience radical acceptance, as there were so many benefits to doing so.

 

I closed the book and contemplated this. It felt like an angel and devil on my opposite shoulders as my mind shifted back and forth about whether or not to accept my situation. At some point about ten minutes into a mix of contemplation and crying, the angel suddenly made perfect sense when she said “But it’s where you are!”. 

 

It occurred to me that whether or not I accepted it, it IS where I am. Why am I not just accepting that this IS my reality at this moment in time? Whether or not I accept it, it doesn’t change a single thing. 

 

I’m going to write that again – Whether I “accept” it or not; it doesn’t change a single thing. 

 

I’m still where I am. So why not surrender to accepting my actual reality? When I realized this; if there was a visual of two parts of me that were in conflict; one literally faded into oblivion while the other filled in what just left. In the next minute or two I began to feel whole; lighter, and open. A physical shift materially took place once I changed my mind and surrendered.

 

In A Return to Love, Marianne Williamson says, “Until your knees finally hit the floor, you’re just playing at life, and on some level you’re scared because you know you’re just playing. The moment of surrender is not when life is over. It’s when it begins.” 

 

The next moment for me was about a week later. It was a dark early evening on a Sunday night when I just had to get out of the apartment where I was staying. I left – with nothing but my wallet and phone and drove off. It was cold and I didn’t know where to go. I suddenly had the desire to just write. I drove over to Walgreens and purchased a notebook. I grabbed a pen from my glovebox and a blanket from my trunk and sat on the town green with the light of my phone. I put the phone on airplane mode and just started to write. And write. And write.

 

I wrote about “poor me”. I wrote about how my kids and husband would tell me these things about myself that “weren’t true”. I stopped. I thought about what I had just written and I thought about radical acceptance. Again, I had an angel and devil on my shoulders in conflict. What they said was not true, I thought, but should I accept it? I remembered surrendering the week before to my reality and thought about surrendering to this. I cried. I didn’t want to, but this time it was easier to imagine just accepting this, to explore it completely, and perhaps write about it. 

 

So I put pen to paper and shifted my thoughts to how this was their reality and wrote. And wrote, and wrote, and wrote… Until it occurred to me that there was truth in what they were saying. Whether or not I liked it didn’t matter. This is what they experienced and it was true despite why or how it came to be. The explanations didn’t matter- it all happened. I radically accepted this. 

 

It happened, and whether or not they want to accept what my reality was or why, I needed to accept my part in it wholly. And I did. In a very distinct moment I didn’t care anymore when, why or how; I understood them and understood it all completely.

 

At the time my son was off from his job on paid leave because of a COVID outbreak at the place he works and was staying with my husband. I decided to write him a letter explaining that I understood him and understood everything he has told me 100% inside and out. I wrote my heart out. I wanted to write a letter to my husband too but my energy had waned, so I decided to just rip out the pages that I wrote and share with him my thoughts and how they had shifted to an understanding of him. I added a few lines to explain why I was sharing and made the decision to drive the letters over and leave them in the mailbox.

 

By this time it was fairly late in the evening. I felt so amazing. Lighter. Freer. I went into Stop & Shop to buy them some cookies I was obsessed with at the time and I drove over to my old neighborhood. I saw the trash and recycling bins out front since it was Sunday night, and for the briefest moment I felt jealous that I didn’t live there and wasn’t part of putting out the trash. But more so I immediately felt radical acceptance that I didn’t live there and I imagined a world where I’d be in a new place with maybe a different trash pick-up day; and alone and even dare I say… happy? 

 

I was able to surrender. I was able to accept my circumstances. And you know what? I was really ok with it! 

 

I put the letters in the mailbox and sent my son and husband a text. I drove home in an almost bliss-like state. I felt light, tired, and hungry. Really hungry! I saw a McDonalds sign and craved a Big Mac! I hadn’t eaten meat in a very long time, but my body was just spent and I just wanted something highly caloric and comforting.

 

Surrendering never tasted or felt so good.

 The first of the 12 Steps of Recovery is to admit we are powerless. I first learned of the 12 steps on a spiritual Podcast around 2014. The speaker convinced me that every single one of us is addicted to something (drugs, drink, tv, shopping, money, obsessive thought patterns, etc) and that the first step is to admit powerlessness. Is that really different from surrender or radical acceptance?  

The moment I let go and opted to understand, somehow it gave others around me permission to do the same. The universe knew what needed to be done. When we admit where we are and our part in it, miracles happen. The happiness behind it just pours out because there is nothing, not a single story, holding it back. It’s acceptance of the present moment. Radical acceptance. It’s surrender.  Surrender changed everything and every important relationship in my life. 

 

Fast forward several months down the line. Daren and I have never been more understanding of one another. We renewed our vows a few weeks ago. We wrote our own to one another. I referenced the song “Moment of Surrender” by U2 and read out loud the portion 

 

The stone was semi-precious
We were barely conscious
Two souls too smart to be
In the realm of certainty
Even on our wedding day

 

10 years before on our wedding day we were like two robots going about in the world doing things that adults do because it’s what adults do. As the years passed I started to spiritually wake up and perhaps took him with me. We are now so aware and conscious of what our biases were; how they played a role in our history and what we do in the present moment. 

 

“We see the world, not as it is, but as we are” Stephen Covey

Don’t we all perceive things based on our own knowledge and circumstances? Couldn’t it perhaps do us good to know what our biases are so when we assess a situation we know our perspective and can imaginatively consider ways others see this same thing? The only way to do this is to surrender to the knowledge that we have biases in the first place. We are attached or addicted to the way we think or want something to be. Accepting it is freeing. Don’t we all want to be free and feel ok with life as it is? 

Later in U2’s song the lyrics state: 

I’ve been in every black hole
At the altar of the dark star
My body’s now a begging bowl
That’s begging to get back, begging to get back
To my heart
And to the rhythm of my soul
And to the rhythm of my unconsciousness
To the rhythm that yearns
To be released from control

 

Our bodies want that freedom. Once you experience surrender it’s hard to come to grips with that fight in you anymore because you know what is on the other side and it’s so much better to just let go and accept life as it is. If you fight this and you are aware of yourself, as Bono sings, you can actually feel your body begging to get back to that open good place where love and the soul accept life on life’s terms. The Marianne Williamson quote above is from A Return to Love. Because surrendering brings you to love.

I will not pretend that I don’t forget this a lot. But I can tell you that once you do, you know freedom and once you do, it’s far easier to do it again and again. I’m not saying this is easy, but I can promise you it is worth it.  

 

I’m going to end this blog with the refrain (below) which reminds me of the Safire Rose Poem “She Let Go”. Only you know when you surrender. The world goes on. The moon shines, and you – you are FREE.

 

At the moment of surrender
I folded to my knees
I did not notice the passers-by
And they did not notice me

 

 

Namaste

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8 months, but 10 years, A Short Story on an Inconspicuous Path to Overcoming Addiction 

It has been 8 months today since I have stopped drinking alcohol.  I feel like the pieces of my life have finally fallen into place. My baseline being with accompanying highs and lows feels manageable for the first time in my life. I no longer feel like a ticking time bomb. 

It’s almost like a switch flipped. The whole thing and the way my life and relationships fell into place is almost miraculous.

But is it a miracle? It feels like it. But when I stop to consider how this phenomenon took place it wasn’t magic. It was years of learning and work. A lot done in smaller, very memorable spurts. But it’s far from a miracle. 

As Alan Watts often said, there is no specific defining moment when an event begins. He challenged his listeners to think about when a war really begins. Or when life truly springs into action. At birth? Now of a proper embryo? When the sperm meets the egg and they mesh? Or is it at the point when there is a twinkle in the father’s eye upon seeing the female that he will procreate? 

My current sobriety journey started at some point. It was part of the plan long ago. It  has been 8 months since I have consumed alcohol. I did take Antibuse. I am on Vivitrol. I did increase my anti-anxiety medication. I did live alone for 2 months and dive headfirst into 2-3x per day sobriety meetings, visits, and activities. Those things made it easier, but the life lessons I learned through spirituality and yoga in past 6-10 years have made it so I may not have needed to start from scratch when it came to the absolutely brilliant concepts of AA where many recovering addicts learn to live a life without addictive substances. 

When I first learned some of the concepts that now use with ease, they all seemed to be “no brainers”. They were some of the most difficult and yet somehow simplest concepts to process and apply. They made sense. “Accepting life on life’s terms”. “One day at a time”. “It’s not your business what other people think about you”. “Nothing changes if nothing changes”. “If you want what you never had, you have to do what you’ve never done”. 

It was almost 10 years ago when I started to proverbially “wake up” spiritually and first began to contemplate that I’m in a participatory saga in this universe.  

This realization not being the norm, it felt jarring for a while. It wasn’t the way I knew the world to be. But it made SENSE. The world flipped on its head for me. I felt kind of lost but also curious and hopeful. 

The idea of “Let Go and Let God” wasn’t new. I went to Catholic school growing up and similar concepts were sort of beaten into my young mind. But I wasn’t taught what they truly meant or how to put them into action.  

It wasn’t until +/- 10 years ago after being divorced and seeing the world through completely different lenses which I, oddly, had difficulty adapting to, that I began to seek out spiritual living. When I listened to Podcasts on what “Faith” really meant. I realized I hadn’t really understood or practiced it. I wanted that. I wanted what people who live contently and simply had. I wanted to Let Go. I wanted Faith in something bigger than myself. 

Religion tries. Schools don’t touch it. Parents never learned it themselves. It took being downtrodden to want to seek it out. It took being curious, feeling scared, and feeling hopeless to consider a different way of looking at the world. It took having the security, intelligence and means in my life to have the luxury of exploring something else while living my current life as it was to test out different ways to approach things. 

TEST them out. Make mistakes. Try again, try something new. Watch the screw up or success. Learn and adapt. 

When I think back over the past decade, there were certain moments where I knew what was taking place was a turn off the current path and there was no road back. Unlike a highway where you can turn around, once we experience or know something; there is no way to unknow it. I am calling them Defining Moments. 

These moments were critical to me, but were any the start or even end to alcoholism? 

No doubt it all let to a more spiritual path. Everyone’s journey toward spirituality (if they get to experience it at all) is different. This was mine. 

When I first felt jarred, out of place, and not like myself – I noticed instantly. Until then I was one of the happiest people I knew. I thought this unsettling feeling would last a few hours. Then maybe a day. 

When a week passed, I realized a week had passed and I wasn’t myself again. I was worried but convinced that any day I’d snap out of it. But I didn’t. It was a time of absolute chaos. I had two tweens, two more young kids and my then fiancé at home. There were changes for everyone, not all being handled well by all the kids and more so worse with some of the adults that were throwing more difficulty at us by not adapting well in their own right and making my household even more disruptive. 

Defining Moment

I remember the very first time I used alcohol to chill out. It was a random weeknight. I picked up my kids from their father’s house. They were upstairs doing homework away from me at their desks) and I was practically home alone in a gigantic house starting dinner and anticipating the arrival of the other 3 household members to come bounding in with loud rolling backpacks, 3 dirty lunch boxes, dry cleaning and BAGs of stuff that needed to be distributed. It was around Jan or Feb 2011. I was OFF. My kids had complained to me earlier about how nothing felt normal for them. I now felt off, irritable, fearful, and uneasy for a few months on & off, but mostly ‘on’. I couldn’t take it. I didn’t know what to do, but I knew that if I didn’t make dinner and just went up to my gargantuan gorgeous bedroom to cry that it would disrupt the evening, the sports schedule, homework help, and my husband’s fear that the kids won’t see us as blissfully happy, that our coming together was just all the big mistake that everyone was hoping it would be… you get it. 

With my heart beating uncontrollably in my chest, I contemplated taking a shot of hard alcohol. It worked for me once before in 2009 right before a kid’s party when someone in my life (an alcoholic at the time) gave me a shot to chill out while I ran around at the last-minute putting things together and was completely amped up. I remembered how it worked INSTANTLY. As the heat of the liquor warmed my chest cavity, I felt my nerves unpeeling and my mind slowing down that day back then. Did I really want to go down that path? 

I kept putting it out of my mind, but my mind kept bringing it up. I went over to the liquor cabinet and looked at what we had in there for hard liquor. 

At the time I enjoyed beer and wine. Perhaps a little too much, but I knew my limits and when I was hitting them. I knew how to stop. Days, weeks, and months could go by without thinking about drinking. There is a history of alcoholism in my family, and I always worried about it for myself knowing how much I enjoyed it. I had never abused it though. I never drank alone; would never even consider it.

Until now. 

I KNEW it was a bad move, but it seemed like a viable option. It would have been  viable if it had been  once every two years. But something in me knew that night that if I took a shot that it wouldn’t be the last time. 

As I stood there contemplating whether to do this dumb thing, I heard the peppers and onions I was making for fajitas sizzling in the pan behind me. It sounded like a ticking clock that was reminding me any moment the garage door would open or one of my kids would come down and I’d have to pretend I’m not disturbed and feeling the way I felt that nothing was wrong with me, and that I had an unwavering interest in everyone’s day. 

I couldn’t even tell you what it was that I took a shot of that evening. I can only tell you that it worked. I do know that it was about another week until I did that again. And probably another month or so that it became a sporadic “go to” when I was feeling so “Off” and out of control. Within a year it became the norm to open a bottle of wine before dinner and drink while cooking sometimes after a shot of hard liquor. It helped. That is the tricky thing about alcohol. When used as a medication substitute, it helps. 

It helped at the end of the day. During the day I struggled. I woke up every day with a beating heart. I still had to be “normal” though. I still had work and a house and kids to take care of. I still had to be a mom and now stepmom and think about everyone else’s well-being while my own was deteriorating. 

At the time I van-pooled to work. I loved my “vannies”. It was a welcome relief from home and work twice a day. I laughed and let loose. They were all crazy but normal. More like people I grew up with and felt comfortable with. One of the guys in the van started bible study classes after work on Thursday evenings. I couldn’t van-pool those days since the van left before the bible study began, but I decided it was worth it and drove in myself on those days. At first, I did it to support his endeavor, but I quickly grew to really enjoy talking about a bible piece and delving into a deep introspective talk about what the piece meant and how to live a spiritual life. 

Defining Moment

Not long after on Feb 28 & 29th of 2012 I took a work class off-site on “The Seven Habits of Highly Successful People”. My intention was to somehow be more organized and streamlined than I already was to deal with the chaos around me, but I absolutely got far more than I bargained for. 

I don’t know if the intention of the class was spiritual or not, but it was spiritual for me. It challenged me to look at the paradigm I lived in. A paradigm I had never considered to be different from anyone else’s. It challenged me to think about being intentional about what I want in my life. The treadmill I was on never allowed me time to think about what was important to me and if it would fit into my life. I just believed that if I went faster, I could fit all things in just fine (important things and things thrown at me). Just Run Faster…

Of course, I knew that wasn’t the answer but there wasn’t time to stop to do anything else. Or was there? The class had us break down where we spend our time. Work, cooking, cleaning, shopping, kid activities. No time for exercise, leisure, taking care of myself or spending quality time with anyone I loved. I often did my nails in the car before I drove to meet my vanpool so they could dry on the way to work. My hair was often wet and braided on the way to work. I was challenged to think about how these activities met my values. Wait – what were my values? How could I be 36 years old and not have thought about them before? 


I left thinking about all the habits but determined to ensure I had the four areas of Habit seven (Sharpen the Saw) in my life. Social/Emotional, Spiritual, Physical, and Mental. 

I was determined, but beaten back because I was a mom first, a wife/stepmother, and an employee. Those were what I made more important than my own needs. Too much of my time was spent in the mental arena of work and focusing on what the  important people in my life considered important, which was school and work. I wasn’t strong enough, or didn’t realize that it wasn’t selfish, to put my foot down and assert what I believed was important. I didn’t know that my body had limits and that if I didn’t take care of it that it would crash and burn. 

I began to look forward to bible study on Thursdays. It was a respite from life and a recipe for how to live. I threw myself into faith. I stopped questioning things I always questioned as a Catholic like the virgin birth or life after the cross. I just absorbed the messages and didn’t ask. 

Defining Moment

It was April 2012. My husband and I were out at our favorite watering hole having wings, pretzels, and beer with my father-in-law. I had been going to the bible study for a few months at that point and had become nostalgic for some old childhood Catholic comforts. I prayed. I read the bible. I read other religious books. I downloaded and listened to church music and found myself surprised to know I remembered the words and would often tear up thinking about all those hours in church with my blue uniform and first friends and crushes. 

That evening my father-in-law asked me if I really believed in the Catholic and Christian concepts. Of course, I didn’t really, but I wanted to; so, I said I did. He pushed in a kind way and asked me if I really, really did believe. I was drinking and I so wanted to be someone who did. Something about the drink, the atmosphere, the diametric opposites of the atmosphere of a bar while thinking about Jesus… At the moment, I felt like something in me just opened. Something about that conversation and my answers of “I don’t question” made it so. There was an actual moment where I let go and felt that I didn’t need to know the answers. All I needed to do was believe. At that moment I knew what it meant to have faith. 

Without knowing the phrase, I Let Go and  Let God. And do you know what happened when I really really really let go? A whole new world opened to me. Within a few weeks a Bishop Spong book somehow ended  up on my lap. 

Bishop Spong was a Christian Bishop who delivered the teachings of Jesus his whole career  but also secretly questioned. Post retirement he became a mystic and found religion to be allegorical. He had his own theories of how humans developed as a species, and why it was important to take the words of the bible as literal earlier on in our human years. The ideas of us as humans becoming more conscious of being conscious were new to me and absolutely fascinating.

From there I explored discovered a  world of Podcasts from the Centers for Spiritual Living  and Science of Mind. Life as I knew it flipped on its head. The bible made complete sense from a metaphorical standpoint. I stopped going to bible study because I felt in some way, I outgrew the literal interpretation of the bible  that some others were stuck on. The idea of being born again and seeing the world through different eyes was how I was experiencing life. 

The spring and summer of 2012 were when I experienced the most profound changes I had ever experienced to date  in my life, and in the shortest period. I understood things that I couldn’t before from a positively new perspective. All religions and spiritual teachings make so much sense. More importantly they seemed to all be saying the same thing. 

It sounds elementary to me now, but we really do create our own lives, and how we think about it creates our own experience. Nothing made more sense. Our universe is metaphorical. Thoughts are like seeds. You can’t plant a watermelon and expect a carrot. In the same way you can’t walk around miserable and looking at the world like it’s dangerous and then except happiness and freedom. 

One of the more difficult things for me was changing the way I thought when no one else around me was changing. I thought very highly of the people that surrounded me in various ways until I realized most of them were living on a treadmill like I had been. I was so excited to get off and slow down, but they weren’t. I still had to live and work in the same paradigm. I tried to get others off too, but I sounded like a crazy person. Others agreed and had long deep spiritual talks with me, but then walked away and did the same things they were doing before. 

???

I felt alone.

So, I’d drink and read about other people who were experiencing the same thing. 

At the end of 2012 as the holidays approached, I was looking for gifts that would provide experiences rather than more “stuff”. I looked into the adult education programs in my town and aside from ballroom dancing for my husband and I, I decided to sign up for an 8-week yoga class starting the next January as a nice way to kick off the new year. 

I’d only tried yoga a handful of times before either in classes or on my own with videos. But something inside me always knew that yoga was going to be part of my life in a more meaningful way. Just the word itself when hearing it for 30+ years of my life invoked some kind of knowing inside of me. I never disliked it; I just didn’t understand it. I had danced for 10  years and had always been flexible, so I really did not feel anything by doing it. I loved Savasana, lying in stillness, at the end, but often got up from that part because I was always so busy, and it felt like a waste of time. Surprisingly, after just one class, I understood.  Don’t let anyone tell you that an instructor can’t make a difference! Even more surprisingly, not long after I started going to yoga, I realized it had the same effect as drinking. I felt calm, slower, more in control. 

I’d leave yoga class and come home to chaos. It was so jarring and shocking to go from one world to another. How did I deal with it? Wine of course. 

Wine, yoga, and spirituality through podcasts, books and web searches helped me to stay sane. 

Until 2016 when I started yoga teacher training. I loved yoga by that point. I recognized the mind/body/soul connection. I wanted to do it more. I didn’t realize until teacher training how spiritual and deep it actually was. On day 1 of training, I met my two teachers. They were so open about their depression and anxiety. I admired their openness and willingness to share their own foibles. 

It wasn’t until a month and a half later, while thinking about a stressful work event two-day safter it had happened, while driving to work, that I had my first panic attack. It was then that I realized the “Off” feeling I had had for the past several years and for  I was abusing alcohol over, was anxiety. 

It took a few subsequent panic attacks within the next few weeks to realize this was anxiety. Holy cow – I had anxiety! Real clinical anxiety. I wanted help for that, but I did not want to have a mental health diagnosis on my record to get medication for it. I was confused. I talked to the yoga teacher that had anxiety about it and unprompted she shared that while she herself wasn’t on medicine, she did know it was a much faster way to get things under control. She gave no advice but did give me some things to contemplate. I read through forums and decided that the people who took medicine and felt better shared that it was more important to feel like themselves than to have any silly perceived stigmatized thoughts about being on medication .

I read and considered my options carefully for a few weeks while having more and more panic attacks before making an appointment with my PCP.  I started Lexapro. I did not stop drinking. It helped. 

There are no miracle drugs either. Antidepressants and anti-anxiety meds do not instantly work. You must start with really low doses until your body adjusts and eventually learn at what dose you feel normal again. This can take anywhere from weeks to months. I started this crazy mix in March of 2016.

By May of 2016 I just couldn’t go through the motions any longer. At the point in my “career” I was serious about work and loved it. I had fun there while learning new things nearly all the time. I had been in my job for 14 years and knew almost everyone who worked in my very large organization. I felt respected by most people. I had mentored a few dozen employees in an official capacity and many others sought my professional advice outside of an official mentor/mentee relationship. 

Almost overnight that love of work shifted. Suddenly, I couldn’t imagine spending the remainder of life waking up early every morning, donning a monkey suit, and getting in the metal box/trap called my car to commute anywhere from 35 to 50 minutes to work. I was no longer vanpooling because my drive home often involved picking up multiple kids and a dog which at times meant I got home nearly two hours after walking out of the office (in a complete rush of course). 

Honestly, looking back, it was the drama in my home at the end of the day that  was the catalyst that caused the most stress. Nonsensical first world drama that wasn’t exactly aligned with my beliefs but was brought into my house by divorce and blending two very different families.  Beyond the drama, there were responsibilities that required my time and attention but didn’t align with my priorities or values.  

I loved everyone I lived with. I wanted to support them. I wanted to be a team player. But I just couldn’t do it all. The obvious thing to cut back on seemed to be work. I made much less money than my husband. If I cut back to part time, our expenses would decrease by that amount of my half time salary. My ex had moved to another state. My husband traveled often, as did his ex-wife. This left me mostly in charge of logistics of four teenagers. Work outside the home suddenly had no appeal. 

I was exhausted. I was burnt out to the max supporting things that didn’t align with my values,  for kids who had no appreciation for the amount of time, money and effort it required to keep it up.

I had always been a natural organizer. I always had dinners planned, food stocked and prepped, clothes washed and ready for the week. Events were organized on a calendar with duties known ahead of time. I talked to my kids weekly about what to expect and how to help out. But that all went to the wayside when I got remarried. At first it wasn’t that bad. But as the kids grew older and became busier, the chaos took over. 

 I didn’t even know what was going on week to week. Daily there were unexpected events that I should have known about, that affected my time and what I had planned. I couldn’t get others to cooperate and help us stay. My husband’s ex seemed to thrive on chaos and take delight in disrupting any attempt at organization  We failed to establish any boundaries about what we would and wouldn’t do. Our lives and our scheduled seemed out of control and at the whim of people outside our family who didn’t care and refused to collaborate.

The Lexapro helped. Weekly therapy was ok. Yoga was a reprieve. The drinking continued. I’m not sure it was helping any longer, but it was now a habit that I didn’t want to let go. I leaned on it as my evening wind-down. Some days it was all I had to look forward to and when I had to wait to have a drink because of nonstop evening driving activities, it made me even crankier. 

I had written a few blogs by that point. Once I started Lexapro, I decided I didn’t want to keep it a secret. I couldn’t handle my life any longer. I couldn’t work full time, let alone mentor others. I cut back to part-time. I stopped teaching a topic at work (Facilitation) that I had once been over-the-top passionate about. I didn’t even know who I was anymore. Everything I thought I knew about myself had flipped. My belief system had turned on its head and no one understood what I was talking about. I felt like the crazy person that was now documented in my medical charts who needed medicine. I was lost. 

What felt good about this particular time – when I came clean about not being able to handle life and needing medicine, was  that I felt loved. People I liked or mentored were surprised and almost happy that I wasn’t a walking miracle, that my  social media posts weren’t the whole story. I felt support like I never had before. Others told me for the first time in my life that they related to my stories and thought I was brave sharing. Me? Brave? 

I’d heard successful, friendly, helpful, lucky… but never brave. Those other things were fluff. They were what I thought I wanted and showed to the world. But the hardest and most brave thing was to be vulnerable. 

In that time – from 2012 to 2016 I was inundated with stress and immersed in spirituality tools, breathing techniques, movements, therapies, meditations, mantras, mudras, pranayama, etc. It was all so new. It made sense. But when I needed it, I couldn’t remember to use anything I knew would work. I’d just spiral into panic. I felt like a failure in some way for not being able to remember these simple tools, but yoga teacher training helped me to realize I’m human and that it could take up to 12 years to change a habit.

12 years??? 

Yes, 12 years. 

That’s pretty  stinking disappointing huh? 

I didn’t like that idea, but after learning much about it and why; it made sense to me, and I accepted that truth.  

Defining Moment

May 2017. I’ve written about it before. I realized I might have PTSD from a history of childhood abuse. It was late in the evening at a 50-hour mandated reporter course I was required to  take to teach  yoga in Connecticut  Domestic Violence shelters. There was a slide up on the screen that described  ME. 

Could I have PTSD? I never considered it before. That was something only war vets had. But that slide described ME. And it was the result of child abuse. It was an “Ah Hah” moment. 

At  that  point it was over a year since I began anti-anxiety meds. I was now working part-time. I was allowing myself to slow down and think. And to feel. Feel all the emotions that I never had time to process. 

That summer I had a major emotional breakdown in mid-July where I decided to admit myself to an Intensive Outpatient Program (IOP). I used FMLA and spent a month traveling to the Institute of Living in Hartford, CT for four days per week to immerse myself in healthy mental environment with others like me: professionals who chose to spend time at such a place. 

I was unable to attend the program without having to quit alcohol for at least a week before the start and for the duration of the program. UGH. At first, I told the admissions area I didn’t think I could do that. They told me if I could not quit, I would have to go into the sister IOP for addiction. I couldn’t be labeled an addict – so I quit. 

It was at the IOP where I was officially diagnosed with PTSD. During my time there I learned another host of tools for my proverbial toolbox to help deal with overwhelming emotions and breakdowns.  The tools were very yoga-like. They were called different things, had differences of course; but the intention and underlying process was similar.  The more I learned the same types of things the more they made sense and the more I believed they could work. 

The last week or so of the program when I knew I wouldn’t be tested for drinking, I started to drink again. As much as before, even though I knew I didn’t need to and felt quite amazing without doing so. I didn’t want to quit. I rather liked drinking. I loved the taste, the smell, how it accompanied my food. I loved going to wineries and  breweries with my husband. I loved everything about it. 

That fall I began advanced yoga teacher training and delved even more deeply into spiritual practices, tools and beliefs that were aimed at serenity and peace. I found a therapist that spoke my language. The day I walked into her office she had a Pema Chodron quote on the wall, a jiggle jar on the coffee table and gave me a handout on the Ego vs Higher Self. Finally! A person that related to the way I was learning to deal with the world! 

You’d think all these things would help right? Every Monday I had yoga teacher training all day and would spend that night in Branford alone. As I learned all these healthy messages and things I started to practice, my mind was adjacently taken over with thoughts of alcohol. Where I would buy the wine, what kind I could buy. Should I buy it? I was learning all these healthy things, so why would I poison myself? There was an invisible angel on one shoulder and devil on the other. Every week it was going to be the last week and that next Monday I would quit. I graduated the program in June of 2018, but that “Monday” never came” 

Defining Moment 

There was an infamous incident in July 1993 that was equally as traumatizing as most of my childhood but changed the course of how it was dealt with. Every summer I had a mini break down, but it wasn’t until the summer of 2018 – exactly 25 years later that I realized a pattern.

Once again, I had a mid-July breakdown. This time the police were involved. This time my husband and I lived apart for a few weeks and I made time for mental health. I realized I had to quit drinking because these incidences were alcohol related. I had a problem with alcohol. I said the words for the first time in an email to my husband. I am an alcoholic. I quit on 7/13/18. 

A few days later I had a another defining moment. I was coming home from a mental health appointment to the house in Branford where I was staying alone. One of my neighbors walked up to my car when I got out to tell me that she really enjoyed my blogs. She said she didn’t realize that it was panic attacks she had been having until she read what I was describing. 

She was NOT the first person to tell me that. I didn’t understand. Once I started thinking about my panic attacks, I realized that I knew they were coming from a mile away.  Everyone else who had them seemed surprised by them.  I was not. As I once told my previous therapist (one of the many I didn’t connect with); I almost welcomed the panic attack. It was such a relief of emotion that I felt build up. It was a way to purge. That therapist said that was “interesting”, gave me a funny look and wrote something down on her legal pad. To me it sounded normal, obviously to her it was not.

But that day when my neighbor approached me, it was kind of like the final straw of needing to wonder why I was different. A few minutes after going into my house, in a very actualized moment; I realized I felt panic rising ahead of time because I was triggered. I was triggered because I had PTSD. It took over a year, but I finally understood what having PTSD really meant. 

I was so excited that I broke out a flip chart and stickie notes (my problem-solving skills from my facilitation days) and started to think about all the instances where I broke down and what I felt. Then I thought about where those feelings were coming from and how they related to childhood. Within 2-3 hours I had a list of my triggers and where they came from. It was an exhausting but very exhilarating day. I felt like I unlocked a key piece to my being that I didn’t even know was there. 

Liberating. 

That helped. But it wasn’t a miracle. I immersed myself in DBT (one of the therapies I learned at the IOP). I immersed myself with yogic practices. I was sober. I was picking up on my triggers about 50% of the time. When I didn’t, much of the time I knew how to stop the cascade. I was starting to heal from trauma I didn’t even know was there for more than 40 years. 

I started having an occasional glass of wine about 6 weeks after I quit. For several months I drank once a week or less. And never more than 2 glasses. I didn’t want anymore and didn’t miss it when I didn’t drink. 

Life went on. The holidays came. Drinking was involved in everything, everywhere. All the time. I imbibed. By mid-January 2019 I was drinking every day again. 

At this point I had a lot of tools to lean on. I used them. It wasn’t always perfect. I had little flare-ups but was able to reel them back in and come back to stability. 

For the next two years that was my life. Drinking daily, earlier, and earlier in the day as COVID came around. Occasional flare ups while drinking with the ability to reel myself back in. 

I finally came around to being able to use what I had been learning, but at this point I was an alcoholic who desired to stop drinking, intended to; but never could last more than a few weeks at a time when I did try. 

Then this last February 8, 2021 came around. It was a Monday. I was off from work, and I started drinking early in the day. I won’t get into the specifics of the day but there was a cascade of triggers from early on. At a point in the evening when I should have left, there was nowhere to go. Life was closed due to COVID, and I couldn’t drive to some secluded area because I was inebriated. I had a breakdown. A bad one. Police were involved again. I couldn’t come down from panic and was taken to the ER at Yale.

While I laid in the gurney in the middle of the night in the middle of the hallway at Yale for HOURS, I thought about how I wouldn’t be here if I hadn’t been drinking for nearly 12 hours straight. I had to quit. I was an alcoholic. 

Most days when I watched Days of Our Lives (my beloved Soap Opera) through an app on the 
Smart TV I had to watch ads. There was this ad for Aware Recovery Care that came on a few times a day. This program explained that they come into the client’s home “Where Addiction Lives” to help addicts recover in their own environment amongst their own particular lives.  Each day as I sat there to watch this soap with a freshly chilled bottle of Chardonnay, I would silently think about calling that program at some time in the near future. If I couldn’t quit on my own. I should be able to quit on my own. “Today” was going to be the last day. 

Today was every day. Tomorrow never came. 

I looked up Aware Recovery Care on my phone at midnight on the gurney in the ER hallway and inquired about their services online. The next day while I was in court Aware Recovery called me back and I set up an appointment that same evening for a telephone intake. That Friday I met my care team and I’ve been sober ever since.

Naturally they came in and at me armed with tools and ideas and quirky slogans. I had heard most of them before. I had been getting pretty good at implementing them. The only thing standing in my way of fully immersing was alcohol. When I was drinking and I was triggered, I did not recognize triggers. Or if I rarely did or was told – I didn’t care. It was in the way of my life.  

In February this year I jumped in with two feet/full body; and used everything at my disposal that was recommended. Aware came in for visits 4x a week at first. I had appointments with 2 different therapists (my previous therapist I held onto as well as an addiction counselor) and a psychiatrist for my meds. I went to AA once or twice a day at first. I went to group appointments. I attended online meetings for trauma. I pulled out my old DBT workbook. I started Antabuse (which makes you violently ill if you drink) as well as Vivitrol (curbs cravings). I upped my anti-anxiety meds. I did EMDR and LOVED it. 

I’ve been healthy ever since. 

I am still with Aware Recovery and down to one weekly visit. I canned the Antabuse (my skin breaking out very badly) and still go for a monthly Vivitrol shot. I can easily remember all the quirky slogans, sayings, tools, reminders, and breath techniques, when I need them. I know the feelings I have as I am having them, and I will pull back and slow down or walk away. It’s easy. It seems like a miracle. My entire life is the same, but everything has fallen into place. Nothing has changed, except my reaction to things. 

But is it a miracle? No. 

It’s been years of learning. Not just passive learning. I have been actively seeking out tools and methods and trying very hard to put what is needed in place. Nothing about it was easy. People at AA have said they don’t believe me when I say I am not having cravings and I feel happy and healthy. They don’t know my story. They might have learned life skills at AA and feel it saved them and I’m just a newcomer who thinks she knows it all. AA is great. But AA’s tools are the same things that I have been striving to master for a very long time. I’m finally getting the hook of it. No miracles. 

Today is 8 months since I quit drinking. But it has been more than 10 years that I have been working at building mental stability for myself. It’s been 10 years since I ever needed it. 

My divorce and subsequent remarriage shook me up and stirred up emotions and trauma I didn’t know I had. I was on such a great path before all this, but I was done growing. I needed a good shake up to grow deeper. I learned so much about myself and people in the last 11 years. I know that this is what I needed. 

Bringing my addiction back to my Alan Watts reference in the beginning of this blog, I must wonder… when did the addiction actually begin? When I started drinking every day? When I had that shot in the early months of 2011 while making dinner? Or before that when circumstances led me to believe that a shot would help? Or during my childhood when the trauma started? 

When did my recovery begin? Was it in February? Or did it start when I began seeking out help for overwhelming emotions even before my body was physically addicted? 

I am also not blind and do realize I can be hit with something tomorrow and be right back to square one in a New York second. I hope not, and I hope all I have learned will kick in and keep me on the good path. I need new habits of a constant check in. I need to continually assess myself and ensure my environment is not triggering. It can’t always be helped, but if it can I will do everything in my power to ensure my mental health is my #1 priority. 

I hope I’m not done learning. I don’t want or need such a big shake up again, but I do want to keep having “Ah Hah” moments. I hope to continue to be amazed at how sensible and deep little things are that sages and very normal people before us has passed down as wisdom. 

It’s been a journey. Some of it wonderful, other parts absolutely horrific. It spanned the range of the highest highs and lowest lows. I loved it all. It’s life. Beautiful, messy, organized, ugly. It all belongs and accepting that it ALL belongs makes it all the sweeter. 

On How it Takes a Village

Last Friday was my birthday. Before the invention of Facebook and smart phone, my family would always call. I would get a few cards in the mail from family, in-laws and old friends. It felt very special.

For the past 12 years-ish, it is an avalanche of birthday greetings on social media, text and messenger apps. The calls and cards are nearly gone. Times have shifted. It is very nice, but it does not feel as authentic. Quantity does not trump quality. 

Every handful of people takes some extra time to write a few lines about how happy they are for me, or how they see my pictures and it looks like I’m doing so well. It is kind of them to put in the effort to reach out and say something specific to me. However, I realized last week that they are only seeing the façade that social media unwittingly enforces.  

We’ve all fallen prey to believing what we see, forgetting that as humans we aren’t capturing painful moments with our cameras; or putting out the dirty laundry for the world to see. Social media platforms are full of the good times, the beautiful moments, platitudes of gratitude, showcasing political affiliations, hating on articles or something that happened to you, asking for prayers for a situation, etc.

But how many people are being truly real? How many people do you see wear their heart on their sleeves or share with the world how they are suffering with personal issues? Or tell the world their worries about their loved ones (outside of disease or death)? 

I find it ironic when I talk to people off of social media that I do not know too well; they will comment that I wouldn’t understand something they are telling me because I don’t have issues with my family, that my kids went to college, or that I have a healthy life. I question why they think this, but it’s obvious that they see my feed where it’s tulips and daisies. 

I’ve used my blog in the past to communicate more heart wrenching stories. Honest truths about things I suffer with and unpleasant things that have happened. Most who read it thank me for being open because it helps them to realize we are all alike and suffer similarly. Some others question how I can possibly put it all out there? I’ve even been accused of being too negative on my blogs.

Yikes. You can’t win. 

I don’t post or blog for anyone’s benefit. I don’t post to make people feel good or bad. I post and write from my heart about what I’m experiencing in that moment. Life’s moments are not all good. It’s just as normal to feel negative emotions as it is to feel positive ones. So why pretend we are always happy and that everything is great? 

I’m day 18 into sobriety.

On February 8th I had an alcohol induced mental breakdown and went a bit crackers. It has resulted situation I never thought I would be in. It damaged relationships and my self-esteem.

I’m getting the level of help I never wanted to ask for because I saw such things only for other people. I believed that only a failed, broken person needs intensive level of services. Where did those beliefs come from?

They came from my environment. From stigmas. From the false belief that something is wrong if you aren’t happy because look around at everyone else – they are blissfully happy. Even though I share the ways in which I’m not happy, most people still see the tulips and daisies.

Human connection is at an all time low. We have so many platforms and mechanisms to communicate, but they strip away authentic relations. It’s easier than ever to show the world only what you want the world to see. When everyone does that, everyone else thinks they are the only ones who suffer and feel more alone and ashamed than ever. 

We end up trying to live up to unrealistic expectations of what it means to live out a human experience. 

I don’t want to do that. 

I have quit drinking for good. I have PTSD and it affects the way I perceive situations. When I drink and my brain slows down all bodily reactions, it also slows down my rational mind to pick up the signals that what is happening around me is not what my body’s fight or flight auto response thinks it is. 

I need help. Help to stop drinking and help to process old trauma that comes up because it would like to leave and finds opportunities when I’m not paying attention (drinking) to burst out. 

I’m getting help. I’m not perfect. Not getting help sooner has done a lot of damage. Some damage cannot be undone. 

It takes a village for each individual to be the best version of themselves. If a village has no real connection and facades of perfection, the result is that the people in the village are going to feel damaged, alone, anxious and depressed. 

Being real is what makes life and relationships real. Without pain there is no opportunity for growth or change. Pain is part of life too. It’s real and no one amongst us doesn’t feel it. 

I am asking anyone reading this who sees me in real life to honor the fact that I am no longer drinking. I’m asking anyone reading to be real with me about your life or anything I’ve done and how it has affected you positively or negatively. 

I’m real. I’m imperfect, angry, sad, hurt and suffering from my past and an unhealthy way of dealing with it (alcohol). I’ve hurt others because of this and trying to make it not true about myself. But I’m also really loving, funny, kind, creative, brainy and friendly. 

I wrote a blog not too long ago about embracing your Shadow self. We all have one. So let’s all embrace our own and learn to live with it and forgive others for their shadow sides as we would like to be forgiven. https://esterinaanderson.com/2020/10/30/on-halloween-and-our-shadow-side/  

I’m asking to be a part of a real village, even if I have to create it myself 

Peace 

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