Saturday, December 7, 2013

Seven Days Sober: Help is Not a Dirty Word

I had a complete meltdown yesterday.  A complete and total meltdown, curled in a ball and crying.  I have been dealing with intractable pain for about four years now, from a condition that causes bone spurs to form in my vertebrae and crush the spinal cord and nerves leading to my legs.  I am at times reduced to a wheelchair, and even on a good day I risk spiking the pain level from picking up a gallon of milk.  Surgery in June has not provided any significant relief and I am facing another year of pills and injections and scans and ...

I picked something up wrong yesterday and blew my pain through the roof.  Looking at the array of medication bottles while getting a pain pill, I was suddenly struck with an overwhelming sense of hopelessness.  “Look at me,” I thought, sniffling.  “My whole life I’ve been a rock-climbing, whitewater kayaking, horseback riding monster.  Now I can’t even pick up a &^*% box of Christmas ornaments without wanting to fall down.”

Facing an uncertain future that likely will be about managing how much pain I’m in instead of getting rid of it altogether, I collapsed.  I couldn’t imagine living this way for another forty years.  Anyone who knows me would have been shocked to see me sobbing into a pillow, but I couldn’t keep up the smiling any longer.

Why, you ask, am I rambling on about myself?  It’s simple; I was comparing my life before with the life ahead of me and being frightened and depressed, just like so many of us feel when we seek to get sober.  Looking behind us, we see someone who could handle stress, who could cushion her anxiety and sadness with alcohol.  Looking forward at a life without that support leaves many terrified and not sure it’s “worth the risk” of facing the future squarely and sober.  We want our old lives back, even though we were killing ourselves slowly.

Many of us also played the role of Superwoman; we couldn’t say no, couldn’t cry, couldn’t show any sign of being imperfect.  Unable to ask for the help we needed, we held it all inside and turned to alcohol as a solution.  I am very guilty of this perfectionism even with seven years of sobriety under my belt.  I no longer drink to maintain a sense of control, but I still have a huge problem with asking for help when I need it.

Statement One can apply to a physical disorder, such as mine, as well as addiction.  We must put aside the past and take charge of our lives in the now, whether that be not drinking or not holding in our emotions until we collapse.  It is when we take that responsibility that our disorder becomes something that “once had” us.  We are no longer just responding to life, we are seeking to create the life we want.

Statements Two and Nine go hand-in-hand to provide a blueprint for taking charge of our reality.  The past is gone forever.  I can’t go back and neither can you.  We cannot change what has already happened, but we are creating our New Life with every decision we make.  We victimize ourselves by brooding about things we can’t change; we keep the tape of negative thinking rolling loudly in our minds.  Those thoughts are like kudzu, growing and strangling attempts to move forward.  We must remove that negativity in order to embrace our New Life.

If you are new to sobriety, I would like you to close your eyes and imagine this: all your negativity and brooding are rolled into a vicious, many tentacled beast that has followed you around for as long as you can remember.  Every time you’ve tried to break free, a tendril reached out and pulled you back.  Now imagine that beast locked behind a gate; in embracing sobriety you create that barrier.  Negativity reaches out through the bars trying to drag you back; the beast whispers that unlocking the gate will solve your problems.

You have a choice; listen to the words that you know in your heart aren’t true, or turn around and walk away.  That is your first conscious sober act—you simply walk away.  Each negative thought is a tendril reaching out to stop you, but they are not all the same length, and with every step, you break away from one.  With every tendril you shake off, it becomes easier to continue forward.  You are a new person and will no longer allow negativity to victimize you.

It is important to realize that you are not walking alone.  The tendril that tells you asking for help makes you weak is one of the longest negative thoughts we face.  Asking for help shows strength.  It shows you are willing to admit you don’t know everything and are open to the wisdom of others who have walked the same path.

Yesterday, I had to make that choice.  I could continue adding the pain of reminding myself what I could no longer do on top of the physical pain I was in, or admit my imperfection and reach out for help.  I posted on Facebook; the hugs I got lifted my mood.  I tend to feel alone because I have difficulty making friends, and seeing that others do care allowed me to stop thinking I had to suffer silently.  I told my partner instead of trying to hide it from her.  She couldn’t support me if she didn’t know how I felt.

Statement Ten: All love given returns.  I will learn to know that others love me.  We don’t have to be isolated.  We aren’t the only one feeling this or worried about that.  Misery really hates company when that company is uplifting.  The WFS message board and chat room are there to help you, to break the feeling of isolation and offer hope and support when you feel you can’t go on alone.  Make use of these tools without fear of looking weak.  Every one of us has felt that helplessness at one point, even those with years of sobriety.

To sum up this meandering musing, I offer Statement Eight: The fundamental object of life is emotional and spiritual growth.  Daily I put my life into a proper order, knowing which are the priorities.  Negative thoughts, especially in early sobriety, keep us from that growth, from understanding of what our priorities are.  Asking for help when we are struggling should be one such priority.  Inner growth does not happen independently; it comes from seeking to replace our negative beliefs with empowering ones.

Don’t wait to seek support until you’ve collapsed.  Reach out and open yourself to the caring and wisdom of others.  The past cannot be changed, but the future is a blank book.  Fill that book with happiness, remembering that you are in charge of your mind, your thoughts, and your life.  Asking for help doesn’t show weakness, it shows growth, so don’t be afraid to use it as an important tool in your journey through recovery.

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