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Trish DiMaggio-Zandlers Blog

By: Trish DiMaggio-Zander

Trish is a new voice to the Renew team and we hope you enjoy her blog as much as we do.

In Pursuit of the Balanced Life

Apr 10, 2018

In Pursuit of the Balanced Life

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“When you say yes to another make sure you’re not saying no to yourself” -Paulo Coelho

So much is said these days about having balance in our lives. Eating a balanced diet, work-life balance, balancing mind, body and spirit etc.; and there is good reason for this.  Balance is vital to living a joyful life that is filled with contentment.  As such, I strive to make sure I have this important component in my life.  Recently however, I found myself feeling anything but balanced.  I was physically & emotionally drained, and I felt resentful which was overlaying a lot of deep hurt.  That state of mind isn’t conducive to my health or my spiritual growth.  Like a sore throat alerts me to the fact that something is wrong with me physically, the feelings I outlined above alert me to something being wrong with my emotional health or what I refer to as emotional sobriety.

I went to a few meetings, shared about what was going on and how I was feeling.  I got some great insight from people. I also prayed and meditated on the issue.  All that kept coming up for me was that there was a lack of balance in my life; which was in fact, true.  I just knew there was something more to it.  I Googled the definition of balance and a lot of variations were returned but two struck me. 1. “To keep or put something in a steady position so that it does not fall.”  2. “To offset or compare the value of one thing with another”.  The second one started alarm bells to go off in my head.

That was it!  I felt off because I had been assigning a higher value to the wrong things.  Conversely, the important things that make everything in my life possible (recovery, spiritual practices, health, family and friends) somehow had reduced in value; discounted like day old bread.  Where had my priorities gotten mixed up and why?  This imbalance was a manifestation of a deeper issue.  As I constructed a timeline around what led up to feeling drained, resentful and hurt it became clear that I had reached this state of inequity in my life because I allowed my boundaries to be compromised.  Without healthy boundaries, there cannot be healthy balance. 

“Daring to set boundaries is about having the courage to love ourselves even when we risk disappointing others” -Brene Brown

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People who grow up in dysfunctional homes with active addiction live in an environment filled with denial, contradiction, distorted thinking, fear and often violence. It’s hard to tell where one person leaves off and another begins.  Boundaries are nonexistent.  This can be very traumatizing and deeply influence how we learn to have intimate connection to other people.  That was my experience.  It took several years of delving into recovery work to learn about healthy boundaries and how to practice them.  As I looked to see where I had allowed my boundaries to become compromised the three that surfaced came as no surprise.  They were areas deeply rooted in having a profound need to feel connection while simultaneously having a fear of being abandoned.   

1.     Over-sharing.  The individuals with whom we share intimate details about ourselves should be people who have earned the right to hear them.  They should be individuals with whom we have meaningful and equitable relationships.  There is two-way sharing; they open up to us as much as we do to them.  Those individuals will honor the sacredness of the information we entrust to them and will not misuse it.  It’s a good bet to steer clear of people who we cross paths with infrequently at work or we meet up with briefly at a volunteering event (or things of that nature).

2.     Going against personal values to please others.  Helping other people is wonderful.  To know we made a positive impact in someone’s life is rewarding and healing for both parties.  However, offering help at the expense our own health and happiness to gain approval and feel worth is people pleasing.  It perpetuates the belief that we have to purchase love and acceptance. 

3.      Feeling guilty for saying no.  This is another common trait of adult children.  We often think that we will be criticized and viewed as incompetent if we say no. We spent much our lives trying to prove we were worthy of love and this was one of those ways we bartered for our needs to be met.

“Our best teacher is our last mistake” -Ralph Nader

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As a member of the human race who resides on planet earth, even after years of being in recovery every now and again I take a few steps back.  Everyone does and anyone who tells you differently isn’t being honest with you; most likely because they are not able to be honest with themselves.  Sometimes taking a few steps back helps us get perspective and gain deeper understanding.  When we move ahead again we do so even stronger. When I started feeling hurt and resentful it motivated me to revisit my beliefs about healthy boundaries, and how I defined them.

I used to believe that boundaries were just about keeping bad things out but that’s just one element.  Boundaries also protect the things I love.  The reason I can let my dogs run freely and play in my back yard is because I have a fence that protects the perimeter of my property.  It not only keeps things out that I don’t want, it keeps in and shields the things I love. The new definition of boundaries I came up with for myself is as follows:  Boundaries make it possible for me to protect and honor the sacred parts of my life and who I am. They make clear what I will and will not tolerate.  Boundaries not only keep the things I don’t want out, they protect what is sacred to me and keep those things safe. I found a lot of power and liberation in rewriting this definition. 

Do you feel like your life is balanced? Do you have boundaries?  Do you honor and respect yourself by practicing them?  Below I captured some things that I found helpful as I worked through my issue.  If you have some that you think would be helpful please add them to the comments I would love to hear them.

1.     Pay attention to both physical and emotional feelings. If you notice you are feeling off physically and/or emotionally be curious and listen to what your body and Spirit are trying to tell you. 

2.     Know what your priorities are.  Identify what is important and sacred to you. Make a plan to protect those things.

3.     Know what your limits are.  Before agreeing to something, be clear on what you will and will not tolerate and be as specific.  If someone makes a request and you’re not sure if you can accommodate say you need time to think about it. If you can’t do it, respectfully say no without justification.

4.     Be Assertive.  State what you need without room for misunderstanding. Any ambiguity will create mixed messages and this leaves things open for boundaries to be crossed.

5.     Have self-compassion.  Changing behaviors can feel awkward.  Be gentle and honor yourself as a child of God. When you show yourself compassion and love you’re acting from a place of truth and you teach others what behaviors you will and will not tolerate.   

6.     Practice Understanding. Having understanding when we feel hurt is hard.  Extending empathy doesn’t mean we condone poor behavior.  It simply affords us an opportunity to see that another person’s behavior is not personal and it promotes our healing and theirs. Most people are trying their best given the tools they have at their disposal.  Asking God to enter the situation always tempers our vision with love.

Boundaries bring us to a balanced life and a balanced life brings us to a feeling of peace.  Our Creator wants that and so much more for us.  To think we deserve anything less would be to desecrate the beautiful handiwork of God.  YOU!

Peace and Love

Trish

Accept, Act, Awaken

Jan 30, 2018

Whatever the present moment contains accept it as if you had chosen it.  Always work with it, not against it” -Eckhart Tolle

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Recently, I found myself in a situation where I was feeling extremely stressed out. I had a ton of projects at work, tons of personal commitments and what seemed like little to no time for my family, friends or myself.  I felt like I was standing in front of one of those automatic tennis ball machines with hundreds of balls being hurled at me one after the other and I was trying to catch them all. 

My default reaction to situations like these is to resist whatever is causing me distress. It took me a few hours to start to realize how I was feeling both physically and emotionally.  Once I did I noticed my shoulder and neck muscles were tight along with my chest. My emotions were all over the place mostly vacillating between fear and resentment then finally exhaustion and powerlessness.  All of a sudden, a thought popped into my mind “all you have to do is take a step or two to the right or left and you’ll be out of the line of fire. So that’s what I did.  Then took 3 deep breaths and said the prayer I say right before I start to meditate “God, please help me see things differently.”

I meditated for a while listening for a response.  What came to mind was an old friend who studied a type of martial arts called Aikido.  This form of martial arts is peaceful in nature.  The name Aikido is actually three words “Ai” meaning harmony, “Ki” meaning energy and “Do” meaning path or way.  In short, the path of harmony or peace.  An Aikido master does not resist an opponent, nor do they use linear blocks or punches when being attacked. First of all, that causes themselves pain and second it stops the flow of energy. Instead of trying to stop the assault they redirect the attacker’s energy and move with it using it to their advantage. The movements in Aikido are flowing and circular. There is no struggle, all the effort is coming from the aggressor not the receiver.  If you watch a video on YouTube you’ll see what I’m talking about.  I am a visual person and this was a perfect analogy to help me visualize how getting pissed off at my current situation and all stressed was not helping me at all. 

The reason I usually want to fight against situations or things I find problematic is that is that for many years I equated acceptance with agreeance and/or having to like a situation that I opposed and definitely did not like.  Acceptance does not mean agreement. If someone hacks my checking account and steals all my money.  I don’t agree with what they did and I definitely don’t like it but I damn well better accept it and address it.  Not addressing it means I won’t have money for housing , food or whatever else I may need to survive day to day.  That creates a whole new set of problems.  One thing builds off of the next.  Not dealing with it makes the problem even bigger.

Living in acceptance means living in reality.  If I have a problem and I am not being real about what is going on, I have no chance of changing it.  Recovery has helped me learn to live in reality.  I had to admit to myself that I had a drinking problem before I could ever hope to get sober and start the process of healing.  No matter what the situation is I have to get really clear about the problem, before I can find a solution.   

You will either step forward into growth, or you will step backward into safety.” -Abraham Maslow

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I wanted to get to the bottom of what was going on with me so after my meditation I started to journal.    It was evident that underlying my feelings of distress was a ton of anxiety and fear.  For a while I wasn’t conscious of the things I was saying to myself which were along the lines of: “I’m never going to be able to do all of this.” “I suck at my job.”  “I’m going to screw something up.” “I’m not smart enough to learn all of this stuff so quickly.” “I’m a horrible partner and friend.”

Next, I grabbed some cognitive behavioral therapy or CBT worksheets my therapist gave me and I started to work on them.  These worksheets are amazing! They delve deep into the thought process and reveal a lot of helpful information.  I remember seeing them years earlier in one of the therapy courses I was taking while earning my degree in psychology.  I had long forgotten about them until she provided them to me again.  On the worksheet, there are 7 columns as follows:

1.      Situation
2.      Emotion or Feeling
3.      Negative or Automatic Thought
4.      Evidence that Supports the Thought
5.      Evidence that Doesn’t Support the Thought
6.      Positive or New Thought
7.      Emotion or Feeling

After doing the exercise using each of the negative things I was saying to myself, I got perspective.  There was no evidence supporting any of my negative thoughts.  There was actually more evidence to the contrary but fear distorts thinking.  After doing the worksheets, I felt some relief.  I thanked God for answering my prayer and helping me to see things differently. I honestly believe that no matter what someone’s understanding of God is (Jesus, The Great Spirit, The Universe, Energy, Nature or Whatever) when we ask our Higher Power for help, that Higher Power will always come through.  In fact, when you read what is below, I think it will blow your mind to see just how much the Divine equips us with everything we need to find the answers to the questions we have. 

Your mind will answer most questions if you learn to relax and wait for the answer”  -William S. Burroughs

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Our brain is the most complex, amazing, miraculous organ in the body.  It processes an unfathomable amount of information at warp speed and holds on to it for us to use later.  What helps our brains organize that information is known as the Reticular Activating System or RAS.  The RAS is a bundle of nerves in our brainstem that filters out unnecessary information.  

Do you ever notice that when you buy a new car all of a sudden you start seeing the car everywhere?  Or when you learn a new word you start hearing it all the time?  That, is the RAS at work.  It will take what you focus on and it will create a filter for it. It then sifts through all the information in your brain and presents only the pieces that are important to you.  It does the same thing with our beliefs.  It will look for evidence to that support what we believe about ourselves and then it filters our world through that lens.

When I sat down and started working through the CBT worksheets and wrote down hard evidence that countered my negative thinking I changed the things I was saying to myself.  Instead of saying “I’m never going to be able to do all this.” I asked, “what would be the best way for me to organize and prioritize my work?”  “Who do I know that is really skilled at strategizing in this type of situation?”   My RAS went to work to find answers to those questions.  Amazing ideas started popping into my head.

Then I thought I’d amp it up and call a friend of mine who is masterful at strategizing, planning and organizing.  She started tossing out even more wonderful questions for me to feed my RAS.  They were hypothetical but tough situations.  We went through scenarios on how I could be creative in solving for those situations.  She pointed out things I had already accomplished and encouraged me to build on those.   The exercise helped me to think like an Aikido master.  I was able to look at the perceived opponent I saw coming toward me and redirect the energy to my advantage.  It was very eye opening. 

“And God said “Love your enemy.” And I obeyed him and loved myself” -Khalil Gibran

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When it comes to acceptance above all else I have had to work diligently on self-acceptance.  It has been my experience that acceptance for anything cannot take place until we learn to accept and have compassion for ourselves. Years ago, I made a promise to a little girl. At the time, she was about 5 years old.  I promised her that I would always be there to help her fulfill all her hopes and dreams.  I broke that promise and as my drinking got worse eventually, I abandoned her all together. Coming to terms with that reality was hard.  She’s grown up now and everyday as I get ready for work and look at her in the mirror, I promise her that I will do everything I can to make it up to her. That’s why I journal, go to meetings and try to be of service to other people; both in recovery and outside of recovery.  It’s why I don’t hide what’s going on with me.  If I’m not o.k., I say “I’m not o.k.”  I don’t do things perfectly but life is about progress not perfection.  There is no particular end to this beautiful journey I am on.  I will for the rest of my life, one day at a time continue to practice things that feed my Soul and help me to grow Spiritually.

Here are some things I think are helpful to practice Accept, Act, Awaken (Take what you like and leave the rest)

1.      Accept:  Be real and acknowledge what is going on and how you are feeling both emotionally and physically.  You don’t have to like or agree with the situation but you do have accept it for what it is.  Take a few deep breaths and pray.  Then take some time to listen for an answer. 

2.      Act: Think about ways you solved other problems. Ask yourself solution oriented questions.  Chances are if you’re reading this you’re either in recovery from substance abuse or you’re an affected family member or friend.  Either of those qualifies you as a Badass Warrior who has accomplished great things already!

3.      Awaken: Everything is a learning opportunity. Nothing is wasted in God’s Economy.   Write down what you did and what you learned.  Trust me, that information will be useful in other situations you find difficult.  

Peace and Love,
-Trish 

The Best Gifts Don't Come in Packages

Dec 22, 2017

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“Giving to others is the greatest gift you can give to yourself”  Darren Hardy

In my life, I have received some amazing and miraculous gifts.  The first and most cherished gift was the gift of sobriety.  December 18,th marked 13 years sober for me.  Through the grace of God, working the steps, helping other people and finding ways to be of service I have continued to receive blessings.  The only requirement has been and is a willingness from me to be open to receive them.  It took me a while to learn how to do that in early recovery.   Active alcoholism and addiction, are illnesses that not only ravage our body, they ravage our souls.  It’s a world of shame and secrecy where everyone is trying to maneuver through life without being found out.  As such, we learn to build walls to protect ourselves from being hurt.  To hide, so that the world won’t see the pathetic disgrace we believe ourselves to be.  Sadly, when we barricade ourselves off to avoid hurt, we also block off the opportunity for experiencing love and connection which are as essential to our survival as are food and water. 

That said, I have also learned to be pragmatic.  The fact is that even though we have made great advances in our understanding of the disease of addiction, we still live in a world where it is greatly stigmatized.  Even for those of us who have worked diligently to get sober and rebuild our lives.  Because of that, in my professional life for many years I opted not to share with people about my recovery. It has only been in the past 9 months that I made the decision to startto share openly about being a recovering alcoholic.

About 2 years ago I started to become heavily involved in the diversity & inclusion efforts at my company.  In a nutshell, Diversity is any dimension that differentiates people and groups from one another whether it be in ethnicity, national origin, age, gender, sexual orientation, socio-economic status, disability or perspective. Inclusion is ensuring that the right conditions are in place to foster an environment of respect and support so that every individual can achieve their potential.  I add that definition because I hear a lot fo people defining it as something different.  What drove my initial interest was people with disabilities, specifically issues around mental illness and substance abuse.   

Maybe the notion appealed to me because it’s something those of us in 12-step programs live every day.  The definition above sounds very similar to what is written  in the Big Book on the first page of chapter two which says “We are average Americans. All sections of this country and many of its occupations are represented as well as many political, economic, social and religious backgrounds.  We are people who would not normally mix.  But there exists among us a fellowship, a friendliness and an understanding which is indescribably wonderful…. The feeling of having shared in a common peril is one element in the powerful cement which binds us.”  At the 1965 General Service Conference speaking about inclusion Bill Wilson was quoted as saying: “The full liberty to practice any creed or principle or therapy should be a first consideration.   Hence let us not pressure anyone with individual or even collective views.  Let us instead accord to each other the respect that is due every human being as he tries to make his way towards the light.  Let us always try to be inclusive rather than exclusive.”  

Although I knew the commitment the company I work for has to diversity & inclusion I was still afraid to disclose anything about my personal experience surrounding recovery from alcoholism.  I feared being criticized and judged by my professional peers.  I didn’t want to risk my reputation or credibility.  Then, something profound happened.

On March 28th of this year, at 2:00 am I got a call from my sister Audrey telling me that my older brother had shot himself.  This was the second death in our family in less than a year; both having ties to addiction.  I was still grieving the loss of a nephew who died several months earlier and now my brother too.  Reading his suicide note was painful.  Among the reasons that he didn’t feel he could go on, one was addiction.  My heart broke to know that he was in such a hopeless place that death seemed his only option.  I knew all too well those exact feelings of despair he described.  I had been in that same place many times throughout my life.   

After my brother’s funeral, I spent time in prayer and deep reflection about his suicide, my nephew’s death, my own past struggles, my strong beliefs about recovery, and my deep desire to end people feeling alone.  I had lost so many people I loved.  I thought about the things that were discussed in the diversity & inclusion meetings at work and the vision those of us involved hoped to achieve.  After that I made the decision that I would no longer stay silent about my recovery from alcoholism, depression and anxiety.  One reason my loved ones and many people never said anything about how badly they felt was because they didn’t want to be judged.  People struggling with addiction (and other mental health issues) face a stigma that is as painful as the disease itself. 

Stigma feeds on secrecy like infection feeds on bacteria.  Although, I had been sober for 12 years at the time of my brother’s death, during the reflection and prayer I realized I still held some remnants of shame and guilt around my disease.   I knew in my heart that if I really wanted there to be radical change at work (and in the world) I could no longer sit on the sidelines.  No matter how fearful I was of judgement and criticism I had to start living what I professed to believe in.   I had been claiming to want the stigma to end while simultaneously participating in the secrecy that perpetuated it.

It wasn’t like I went out campaigning about it but, if there was an opening in a conversation where the topic was relevant, I didn’t skirt around it.  If it was within the context of the conversation would disclose my experience. 

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 “Here’s the thing… You won’t find that magical time when your efforts aren’t accompanied by a voice of doubt.  At best, we get moments of perfect poise and flow.  Look around at anyone who is doing great things and remember that every one of them has to deal with that voice too.  The difference is, they are doing it anyway-and so can you.  Jacob Nordby

On December 18th, I made the decision to do something I had never done.  I took a picture of my 13 year medallion and posted it publicly on Face Book with the caption “Today, December 18th I am especially grateful for second chances.  Lucky number 13! Thanks to all who have supported me along the way.  I wouldn’t be here without you beautiful people!”  Many people I work with are Face Book friends.  When the picture showed up in the news feed initially, I felt really uncomfortable and wanted to delete it.  I knew the likelihood of me doing that was high. So, I closed Face Book and started making cookies for my department’s team meeting the next day and then finish up some work to get my mind off of it. 

When I woke up the next morning, and looked at Face Book there were tons of comments and reactions (likes/hearts/wows) on my post.  I figured they would be mostly from my friends in recovery and many of them were them were however, even more were from individuals I work with.  I scrolled down and read the heartfelt, and loving comments that people wrote.  Tears streamed down my face. I was so moved.    

When I was done reading them all, I felt a peace and freedom that could only be Divinely authored.  I hadn’t felt peace like that in long time if ever.  I was so grateful.  The past year had been filled with a lot heartbreak and loss.  One of the most painful times I have ever had to walk through in sobriety.  Even though I never thought about picking up a drink there were times when the pain was bad enough that I felt like I didn’t want to go on.  When I felt that way I would pray.  The best prayers I could muster at the time were ‘God please help me to trust you.”  Or “God please help me to see this through your eyes.”

As I recalled in my mind the events from the previous year to now, specifically thinking about the times that were hardest, I noticed they were also the times when someone was brought into my life that I felt a deep connection to or an opportunity come up for me to get involved in that would lift my spirits.  Even if just for a fleeting moment those instances gave me enough respite to make it through another day. 

Now, I clearly saw the hand of the Divine was holding on to me tightly.  I often hear people say that you can’t “see” God.  Maybe God looks nothing like we assume. I can’t see electricity but I see evidence of it when I turn on a lamp and see light.  I know for certain that when I pray I see evidence of God as well. 

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“In order to love who you are, you cannot hate the experiences that shaped you”  Andrea Dykstra

The best gift I got and gave this year was risking being vulnerable.  When you allow other people to see you, you also allow them to love you.  The following is one of my favorite quotes from the book “The Gifts of Imperfection” by Brene Brown.  “Owning our story can be hard but not nearly as difficult as spending our lives running from it.  Embracing our vulnerabilities is risky but not nearly as dangerous as giving up on love belonging and joy – the experiences that make us the most vulnerable.  Only when we are brave enough to explore the darkness will we discover the infinite power of our light.”  I would add that it also helps others see the infinite power of their light

 During the difficult year I had, I needed to work extra hard at my recovery.  But it was not the only place that got me through the rough spots.  I must credit a lot of the healing that took place for me to the people that I am blessed to work with as well.  I work at a company where I feel like I belong.  Not to be confused with fitting in, which requires me to change who I am to be accepted.  Belonging means I can show up as exactly who I am and still be accepted.  I’m guessing most of my colleagues would say they feel the same. 

As we come to the end of 2017, I want to wish everyone happiness, peace, prosperity and continued healing in 2018.  Step outside of your comfort zone, take risks, surround yourself with people both in recovery and elsewhere who support your healing and success in life.   

 (A very special shout out to Angela Russell, VP of Diversity & Inclusion, Joe Hankey, Diversity & Inclusion Consultant, Alyssa Ryanjoy Operations Manager and all my amazing co-workers.  Thank you all for your continued support.  You make CUNA Mutual Group the best place to work!)

Peace and Love,

Trish

Wounded Healer

Nov 05, 2017
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For a seed to achieve its greatest expression it must come completely undone. The shell cracks, its insides come out and everything changes. For someone who doesn’t understand growth, it would look like complete destruction.” Cynthia Occelli

 

I opened my eyes, confused and unsure of where I was, I scanned the room.  It took a moment before I realized I was laying on my kitchen floor.  I looked over to the 3-foot step stool that was slid up against the stove.  Then I noticed the open cupboard above it where I kept the unopened wine and liquor. My head was pounding, my face hurt bad, as did my right arm.

Although I was still very disoriented, I made my way up the stairs to the bathroom.  I turned on the light and saw the right side of my face was swollen and bruised.  It was the color of a ripened plum with faint shades navy blue and a tinge of pink.  I turned my body to the left to get a look at my right arm.  From my shoulder all the way to my elbow, it too was extremely bruised.  What the hell happened I thought?  The last thing I remember was coming home from the party I was at, making a drink for myself and lounging in my recliner, feeling quite comfortably numb as the song goes. I was happy that I hadn’t overshot the mark at the party and made it home without making a fool of myself or someone having to call my husband to come and pick me up.

The pain and throbbing in my head brought me back to the present moment; still staring in the mirror at my swollen face which was black and blue.   The result of taking a drunken nose dive from the top of that step stool into the hard-ceramic tile floor in my kitchen. I didn’t even recognize who was staring back at me anymore.  Not just because of the black eye but also because of how empty I felt inside.  How did I get to this place?  I backed up all the way to the wall to get a full look at myself in the mirror.  Disgusted with what I saw I slid down the wall to the floor, hung my head and started sobbing.  I felt so weary, hopeless and broken, I looked up and said “God if you are there, I beg you to please either end my suffering and take me from this earth or help me.” 

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Difficult roads often lead to beautiful destinations – Zig Ziglar 

As far back as I can remember, even as a young child, I was extremely sensitive.  I always felt uncomfortable in my own skin.  I constantly felt fearful and anxiety ridden and I never felt like I belonged anywhere.  Not even in my own family.  I was born into a large Sicilian family, the youngest of 14 children. The environment growing up was chaotic at best. 

At school, even though I had friends I felt like an outcast and like I never measured up.  I was forever judging how I felt inside with how everyone else looked on the outside.  This would become a theme throughout my life.  I was continuously trying to gauge “normal” against what I saw in the other kids’ families which were far from what mine was in more than one way.  It was a lonely feeling.  So, in an effort to fit in and be liked I would show only fragments of myself. I was emotionally invested in making sure everyone liked and approved of me while I betrayed who I actually was and how I felt.

To add insult to injury, by the time I was 10 I had turned into the chubby kid, easy prey for relentless teasing both at home and at school.  It was at that age that I started binging and purging.  Food was a comfort but not nearly as comforting as what I would come across next.  At the age of 11, I vividly remember taking my first drink, and feeling a sense of relief I did not know existed but that I wanted to experience as often as possible and did.  The painful feelings of fear and anxiety were distinguished.  What I did not know was that eventually over the next 23 years of my life, alcohol would lead me down a road filled with pain and despair.  I drank a lot, but to write down all of my experiences would leave you with a book and this is already a bit longer than I wanted, so I am going to give you the abridged version of my story.  

To give you an idea of how quickly the disease took hold in my life, when I was in 8th grade I was on occasion drinking before school.  I remember getting caught with a bottle of booze in my locker.  A week before my 16th birthday I was at a party and was so drunk I ended up jumping out of a 2nd floor window breaking my foot and rupturing my ACL.  I drank a lot.  In fact, that is what I looked forward to every weekend with my friends and if school was out, or it was summer, I drank even more. 

These were just a few of the bad experiences I had as a result of my drinking and they never swayed me from doing it again as they would most people.  My parents always minimizing these things didn’t help matters either.  Not that I didn’t get in trouble but the worst was being grounded for a few weeks.  Neither of my parents were drinkers.  Other than my father having an occasional beer or glass of wine with dinner and my mother every once in a great while having a grasshopper after dinner, they did not drink.  They were good people.  My father a very hard working business owner, my mother a teacher. 

By the time I was 21, I was in therapy and the therapist I was seeing was challenging me with the notion that he thought I had a drinking problem.  He went on to suggest that I go to treatment.  I had just lost my mother 2 months prior to this which is why I was in therapy in the first place. I certainly wasn’t there for help with a drinking problem.  And really, if you looked at some of the people around me, comparatively speaking my drinking really wasn’t all that bad.  One of my older brothers had even died from his alcohol and drug use (a cocaine overdose).  That wasn’t me, at that point I was only drinking.  Plus, I was in college. Who doesn’t party in college? At least that was my thinking.  Additionally, if that therapist had the incessant never-ending thoughts that I had in his head coupled with the anxiety that I felt he might need a few drinks too. 

Nonetheless, he did see that I wasn’t ready for the conversation he initiated, so he suggested that if I didn’t really think I had a problem to see if I could go without a drink between that day and the next therapy session.   I think I made it 4 days.  I admit his challenge, gave me cause to wonder (but still very seriously doubt) if I might have an issue with drinking.  Eventually he did convince me to seek help through a support group of sorts and I did get sober for a short time. 

In that time, I got married and divorced, became extremely sick and was diagnosed with Crohn’s (an auto-immune disease), became severely depressed and eventually drank again. I hadn’t gotten into enough emotional pain yet.  This is not to say that my life wasn’t painful because it was very painful.  But like my high tolerance for physical pain, I had an even higher tolerance for emotional pain.

Drinking or not, I was always able to hold a job.  How I managed that I have no clue because my priority was partying.  In my late 20’s I was married again to my current husband who I had actually met in recovery while I was briefly sober years before.  By now though, he was drinking again right along with me.    The disease brought us both down and quick. 

That leads me to where I started, waking up on my kitchen floor and then in the bathroom staring in the mirror at a woman with a black and blue face who I no longer recognized.  I was 33, my marriage was falling apart and we were losing our house.  Everything seemed to be crumbling around me.  In that moment in front of the mirror I knew that I had hit bottom.  I was broken.  Today I say, I was broken open.  At that breaking point everything that wasn’t truly me fell away. I had surrendered.  I quit thinking I knew everything and it allowed God to enter into my life and help me. Rock bottom was the solid foundation from which I was able to rebuild a meaningful life.   

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“Not until we are lost to we begin to find ourselves” – Henry David Thoreau

It was not easy trying to rebuild the life I had destroyed. Getting sober enabled me to stop doing any further damage however, I also became keenly aware of the horrendous mess I had made of my life and the hurt I caused myself and everyone around me.  

It’s hard to explain the depth of the pain I felt at first but imagine you’re having surgery and the anesthesiologist turns off the anesthetic. You wake up while the surgeon is cutting into you and you feel everything.  In this instance though, when you wake up, there is no surgeon cutting into you.  You are the person cutting and wounding yourself.  Removing the booze is like removing the anesthesia.

I did not know if I was going to be able to do this sobriety thing. I had only known one way of doing things and was very clear that had not worked. I had to depend on the thinking of the people who were staying sober and living meaningful lives. I had asked God for help and he put some amazing women in my life who loved me enough to tell me the things  I did not always want to hear.

They shared with me the painful experiences they had faced and made it through.  Seeing what they had overcome and gone on to achieve as a result of putting energy into their recovery gave me hope.  I was told I could do the same, if I just kept doing the next right thing and taking action contrary to my fearful thinking.

You see, I used to think I had to be someone better or stronger before I could do hard things.  I thought, once I mastered all those fears everything would fall into place and be great but I had it backwards. It was in doing the hard things, facing those fears and moving forward in spite of them, that I became a stronger person and the best version of who I am.  My new-found friends saw the value in me that I could not see in myself and they would not allow me to discount my worth as a human being.  It did not matter how many mistakes I had made in the past they showed me love and had compassion for me.

Pema Chodron a Buddhist Nun says “Compassion is not a relationship between the healer and the wounded.  It is a relationship between two equals.  Only when we know our own darkness can we be present with the darkness of others.  Compassion becomes real when we recognize our shared humanity.” 

That is what recovery is about.  The people who surrounded me early on, were wounded healers and they saved my life.  I never dreamed it would be my darkest moments that would catapult me into a life of being able to help other people.Never underestimate the hope you can inspire in others by showing up for your life and sharing your whole true self. Good and bad.  We are all wounded healers when we do that. 

underwaterCave

Joseph Campbell, American writer and lecturer best known for his work in comparative religion and mythology says “The cave you fear to enter, holds the treasure you seek.” Today I truly believe that. 

As a result of staying the course in recovery and walking through the fearful and difficult situations I have an amazing life today.  I have an awesome career, friends and family who love me, including the husband I almost lost.  This is not to say that I am always happy, or that things always go my way or that life is perfect.  No one is always happy, things don’t always go the way we think they should and life is never perfect for anyone.  Being in recovery has given me the tools I need to walk through times of uncertainty and fear.

Today when I am sad, afraid or having a hard time, I don’t have to check out with things that will numb my discomfort.  In fact, I do the opposite.  I check in.  I check in with friends who love me and I share my feelings honestly.  I check in with my God.  I pray (talk to God) and meditate (listen for God’s answer).  When I feel unsettled one of my go to prayers is one we often hear in the rooms:

God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change. 
The courage to change the things I can.
And the wisdom to know the difference

When I say that prayer, I am provided a moment of pause and am reminded that sometimes I’m powerless to change difficult situations, people, places and things.  What I have also learned is that whether I accept them or not, often times the things I cannot change end up changing me and usually for the better. 

Being a recovering alcoholic means that I don’t get to live an ordinary life.  What It means is I get to live an extraordinary life.  The gifts I have been given are beyond anything I could’ve ever thought up for myself because they are Divine.  That feeling of belonging I wanted so badly has been given to me and I get to be of service to other people and give back to life.  Recovery is most definitely about being abstinent from alcohol (or whatever you use to numb out).  Even more importantly it’s about learning how to live a meaningful life sober.  How to be a loyal friend, a good employee a loving spouse/partner and a contributing member of society.

Peace and love,

Trish

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