G – Grieve (The Old You)

Grief
Grief (Photo credit: tombellart)

Grief.  It’s one of those things that is hard to let go of and hard to handle.  We grieve loss: Loss of people, places and things; loss of pets. But did you ever consider grieving over yourself?  I’ll bet you never quite looked at it that way.

Recovery is a rebirth.  We come into the rooms, the doctors’ offices and the out-patient programs beaten and broken. We are torn, tattered and abused; looking for something or someone to save us.  We’re either meek and mild or loud and brazen.  Some of us are a little of both.

When I first got sober I was a little of both. I was kind of shy (especially around women) and I dressed provocatively, stuck with the men, pulled up at meetings blasting my heavy metal.  I needed to be noticed. I needed that attention to flip that self-worth switch on inside.  Seeking outside validation is classic in alcoholics and I was (still am!) a classic alcoholic.  I made all the conversations about me (I was really good at this!).  Gosh, I could go on forever!

This self-seeking behavior (definitely a character defect) went on for years until one day…

I got serious about my program.  I started hitting six meetings a week.  I got another sponsor and actually talked with her and did step work with her.  I listened at meetings and even started sharing at some of them.  I started hanging with the women, giving my phone number to newcomers and even hung out with these chicks outside of the rooms. What was happening to me?!  Who was this woman who stared back at me in the mirror every day?  I didn’t know her, but I liked her.

She was different.  She didn’t want to wear “hoochie mama” clothes anymore; felt comfortable around other women.  She liked the image in the mirror.. sometimes.

Yes, I still blast my heavy metal but I definitely notice a change in me.  So do a lot of other people.  I like who I am these days.  I no longer hide behind the insecure mask of “LOOK AT ME!”  I know that sounds strange, but insecurity leads to external validation which is a band-aid that never heals internal wounds.

And I did take a moment a couple of years ago to grieve the old me.  I sat down in a park with my journal and nature and wrote a letter to myself.  I said, “Goodbye, Old Darlene.  There are some parts of you I shall miss, but ultimately, not much.  This is my new path, with my new life and a new me.  I’m sure you’ll visit sometimes, Old Darlene, and that’s okay, but you cannot stay.”

Have you ever given any thought to an “old you” and “new you?”

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F – Fear – An Integral Part of Life

Dangerous Risk Adrenaline Suicide by Fear of F...
Dangerous Risk Adrenaline Suicide by Fear of Falling (Photo credit: epSos.de)

When I was little, I wasn’t scared of much, which is kind of scary in itself.  I remember being afraid of my closet and upsetting people.  Oh, and worms… but these days I love worms.  Funny how feelings change.  All my life, while not afraid of objects, heights, scary movies or a bad hair day, I was terrified of hurting others feelings, failing and not measuring up.  Most of us can probably relate to these fears which are normal to an extent.

These fears destroyed me!  My fear of failing caused me to not try. My fear of not wanting to hurt others’ feelings caused me to make choices in my life that were damaging. My fear of not measuring up kept me in toxic relationships because I felt, “hey, I cannot do any better than this!”

Having no fear isn’t healthy, either. I remember when that slogan was everywhere: NO FEAR.  I saw it on pickup trucks, shirts and have even seen a tattoo or two of this slogan.  It is fun to project the ‘no fear’ attitude, but fear is real and sometimes it is there for a reason. Fear is that feeling in the belly that says, “Danger!” It is up to me to assess that fear.

Is my fear legitimate?

I found a fascinating article on the five basic forms of fear here. The interesting this is that they all deal with the death of that crazy thing called EGO.  I suggest reading the article.  It details great explanations of the five basic forms of fear:

  • Extinction
  • Mutilation
  • Loss of Autonomy
  • Separation
  • Ego-Death

In my twelve-step work, I had to take an honest inventory of my fears (which was a fear in itself!) to get to the nitty-gritty of why the hell I could not stop drinking, why I insisted on sabotaging my life and a host of other calamities that caused me unnecessary stress.

When I got the core of my fear of abandonment, rejection and humiliation my life started to change; I started to change.  I asked for a raise.  I left a toxic relationship. I let my guard down and started being me.

As I continue my journey to self-discovery, I still have fears.  After all, that human element is something inherent in me forever.  With the help of God as I understand Him, my program, and the awesome people in my life, I am able to work through those fears and grow.

How do you handle fear?  Do you recognize an irrational fear?

E – Empathy – and Lack Of

Empathy (software)
Empathy (software) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Empathy is described as: the action of understanding, being aware of, being sensitive to, and vicariously experiencing the feelings, thoughts, and experience of another of either the past or present without having the feelings, thoughts, and experience fully communicated in an objectively explicit manner; also: the capacity for this in the Merriam-Webster Dictionary.

A lot of people are able to sympathize, however, empathy is a little deeper than sympathy.  To sum it up: empathy is the ability to relate or ‘walk in someone else’s shoes’ where Sympathy is feeling sad, sorry or bad for someone.  Now, you  might not be one to mix these two up, but I know plenty of people who have.

I learned about empathy in drug & alcohol classes in college (the irony, right) and that lesson flipped a light on in my head.  In order to be good with people, empathy goes a long way.  This is true when dealing with alcoholics, addicts and the mentally challenged.  This also holds true when dealing with someone who has a story that is hard to grasp.

I’d like to say that after the mountains of crap I’ve climbed in my life that I am one of the most empathetic beings on the planet.  I can be; but not always.  I’m human, therefore I judge.  It happens and it is sad but I owe it to myself to be honest with myself and my readers.  There will be no sugar-coating on this blog… ever.

And here is the scary thing about empathy.  It cannot be taught.  It is something inherent inside of most beings, and other beings lack the trait.  Still, others, like me, are empathetic at times and other times think things like:

  • you got what you deserved.
  • I cannot relate.
  • I’ve heard it a million times.
  • that is not an excuse.
  • suck it up.

And who of us hasn’t thought these things when listening to another’s woes? We might think it about the mother who is a stripper, the father who has a hard time paying child support or the screaming boss.  It happens.

What is your experience with sympathy vs. empathy?

D – Decisions: How To Make One

Questions...

Decisions, decisions… we make hundreds a day.  Some are made with much thought and others are automatic.  Like, this morning, I had to decide what to wear (that took a little time since I hadn’t done laundry in a week!) and then I had to decide which way to drive to work (automatic – I go the same way every morning).

But there are other decisions we must make through our busy days. Bigger decisions we don’t even realize we are making!  Decisions like: which bill to pay first (for those with struggling finances), public school or home school (for our kids) and whether or not to work from home.

For those tough decisions, I like to do a “pro & con” list.  I actually did one of these when I was in outpatient therapy in 2006 for alcohol/drug addiction.  Being new in sobriety, I needed all the help I could get and kept that list with me for the first year of my new-found freedom.  In group, I had to list the pros and cons of using my favorite narcotic.  Honesty was important!  This list helped me much in the beginning, because abstinence from alcohol and drugs for someone like me is not just stopping.  To never use or drink again required a change in thinking and I was prepared to make that change no matter what.

The most important thing about making a decision is deciding what is the most important (a little Cheshire cat action there for ya).

So the next time there is a big decision to make, get out that piece of paper and make a ‘pro’ column and a ‘con’ column.  It sounds silly and childish, but the best decision is an informed decision.

How do you make big decisions?

C – Character – Defects Can Be Assets

Love/Hate
Love/Hate (Photo credit: guevo)

I never knew what a character defect was until I stepped into the rooms of Alcoholics Anonymous.  I know, I am breaking my anonymity, but it is no secret I am a sober woman of almost seven years and I didn’t get sober alone.  No one gets sober alone.  We might stop drinking alone, but sobriety is deeper.

I found an interesting list of character defects in my research of things I’ve not committed to memory.  Check out the list and see which ones might be screaming at you on any given day.  Go ahead, this can be a kind of liberating fun (okay, I’m reaching).

When I did my fourth and fifth step with my al-anon sponsor, she said something really poignant. “Character defects are assets unchecked.” She gave me examples like the opposite of happy is sad and so on.

The opposite of humility is arrogance.  These are both character defects.  Yeah, I never thought humility would be a defect either, but too much of anything is a bad thing.

We turn our defects into assets by getting somewhere in between the two.  This sounds like a challenge, and it is a challenge.  However, challenges and that “I feel uncomfortable” help us grow and blossom into the human being we were always meant to be.  Ya dig?

One of my chief character defects is laziness…  interpreted through the Seven Deadly Sins: SLOTH.  But my laziness is an asset in moderation.  For example:  It’s Sunday (as I write this it really is Sunday) and I am feeling sleepy, unmotivated and well, lazy.  I can turn my laziness into an asset by assessing why I am feeling lazy.  Am I just being a tree-climbing sloth or am I legitimately tired and need some rest?  Once I do an honest inventory of my sloth-like ways, I can make an honest judgement (honesty is crucial when doing a self-imposed defect check!).

Each day I humbly ask God to remove my character defects that will not serve me that day.  I take my will back.. frequently. As I work my program I am learning when I do this and then ask him throughout the day to take away the defects I don’t need.  Sometimes my defects serve me… most times they don’t.

Check out the list of character defects/assets… are any familiar to you?

B – Believe In Yourself

Freud's diagrams from 'The Ego and the Id' (1923)
Freud’s diagrams from ‘The Ego and the Id’ (1923) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

When we were little we believed in the Tooth Fairy, Santa Claus and maybe the monsters in our closet or under our bed.  As we aged, the Tooth Fairy and Santa were either found out by keen detective work or at the age of thirteen we were told by our parents, “Look, kid, it’s been us the whole time!  Sorry to shatter your world.  Eat your peas.”

Now those monsters in the closet and under the bed…

Those monsters turned into inner demons.  That dark, shadowy figure that was only there when the light was off, crept into our soul and became a black mass of self-loathing, jealousy and a giant ego that whispered in our ear every second of every wretched day; lights or no lights.  Sucks, right? Yeah.

The ego does get in the way of believing in yourself.  You might think, “ego… that’s me!  If I have a huge ego, of course I believe in myself!” Hmmm…. no, not really. See, the ego is a dirty, nasty, self-sabotaging entity that keeps you in a mode of comparison.  You might see or feel something that hurts your precious ego, makes it feel bad and… boom!  You no longer believe in yourself.  You are now believing all those voices, images and thoughts that you process (most times without realizing) that tell you “Not _______ enough.” (Feel free to insert trait or attribute)

When the ego is bruised, insecurity seeps in and the belief we need in ourselves vanishes like a vulture that smells a fresh carcass down the road.  We are now believing the hype, media and our peers.

The most important thing you can do to believe in yourself is this:  compare yourself to yourself.  There will always be someone with a nicer car, more money, bigger boobs, a tinier waist, smarter kids… the list goes on and on!  We cannot change what others have and sometimes we cannot change what we have.  Comparing “us” to “them” leaves us broken and bruised every time.  Believing in ourselves is a form of self-love.

Do you let your ego get in the way? 

A – Anger: External and Internal

Straßenschild Anger
Straßenschild Anger (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

A raw emotion that sucks the life out of us, anger is a byproduct of one of the two core motions: hate. The other core emotion is love, but that does not apply here. Oh yes, people will cry “anger!” in the name of love, but alas nothing could be further from the truth.   I read a lot of self-help books and (as you know) attend meetings to help me in my recovery from alcohol. One of the emotions touched on a lot is anger.Internal anger:  that rage you feel when you perceive an injustice.  Oh how could they do this to me!  Those bastards!  You get that knot in your stomach, your heart races and it takes all your mental strength not to resort to tactics of passive aggressive neanderthalism.  Now, for a drama junkie (or a former one like yours truly) this is prime pickings for digging deep down in the crevices of justification so the gnashing teeth of self-righteousness can prevail. And if you are a true alcoholic or have anger management issues, this leads to external anger.

External Anger:  not always beating the crap out of someone.  External anger comes in the form of violence (against others and/or self-harm), breaking things, driving recklessly and silent scorn.  External anger stems from unchecked internal anger.  Think about it.  If you weren’t so pissed off inside, you wouldn’t feel compelled to exude physical forms of anger.

There are a lot of ways to deal with that seething, inner rage:

  • count to ten or twenty.
  • go for a brisk walk.
  • run.
  • write (careful with this one – it can keep you in the anger).
  • find a place (alone) to scream, yell and cry.
  • listen to music.
  • clean.

After you’ve calmed down, if you’re angry with someone, and you’re able to talk it out, be sure to come from an “I” place and not an accusatory “you” place.

How do you handle anger?