1 September 2019, I was away, laughing, smiling, life and soul of the party…. But hiding, very well I thought, my little secret. After a decade of utter crap, I thought I was “burnt out”. I was of course depressed, but it would take another 3 months or so, before I would use that word out loud.
What made this weekend different from all the other “Running away weekends”? I had just started talking to 2 people on Twitter. Strangers. And by talking, I had started telling them how I really was feeling. I’m a strong person; I don’t do pity; I don’t do vulnerable…. But something about these 2 strangers or maybe I was just exhausted from pretending, made me talk…. And talk….. and talk…… And they didn’t offer pity, they offered empathy… They said all the right things, and have encouraged me, endlessly, to face all of my demons…. I had spent years and years putting on a face to the world, while I became more and more disillusioned with myself. I had to (and still have to be) strong for my family. But they told me it was ok to admit that I was not ok.
Being a strong capable woman is both a blessing and a curse. There is a meme that travels around to the effect of “Check on the strong people in your lives, because they may well be struggling in silence”. And it is true. If you appear to be coping, people don’t always offer to help. If your response to “I don’t know how you do it?” is “Because I have no choice”, it is actually not true. Not coping, is not a failure, it’s just life. If I had let myself be honest and say, “I’m not, I’m just keeping going, because I don’t know how not to”, you would not be reading this blog…
When I started these conversations, I found myself deciding something had to change. I gave myself 3 months to “sort myself out”, and then “get back to normal”… Ha ha ha… I was wrong… here I am 11 months and 10 days later… still “sorting myself out” and finding out that I still need to give into the process of recovery if I’m going to keep making progress…. I have been my own worst stumbling block; I am a smart woman, and think I know better than I do… it’s at times been a painful and humbling experience, to prove myself wrong on more than 1 occasion.
One of these friends was part of an online Twitter group collected under the #RecoveryPosse; a collection of people all in recovery from alcoholism, drug addiction, gambling addiction, mental health problems, or just recovering from life…. A brilliant group scattered around the 4 corners of the world; some of whom have now become really, really good friends. Not a formal group, just a collection of people who interact on and off Twitter.. supporting, helping, being honest; offering non-judgemental advice and care. “My DMs are always open”, means they will sit and listen until the urge to drink, or use, or gamble, or cry, or self-harm passes… They were life savers…
I use 1 September 2019 as an arbitrary date to signal the start of my recovery. For some their date is the day of their last drink or substance abuse or gamble or, like me, the day realising you just can’t keep up the pretence that everything will be ok…
By this date, I was drinking too much; eating junk food; spending my days watching bad tv on the couch; doing the bare minimum to keep our house running. Impending huge life changes terrified me, and my favourite escape was either wine, or “running away from home” – visiting friends and going out of town, to avoid what was coming….. I was very “busy”, I know I was really not facing reality, but who wants to admit that to themselves?
From this #RecoveryPosse group I have learned life skills; I have learned the #ODAAT – One Day at a Time – Theory; we are all on One day of recovery, at a time; each day, like the very first day, learning to live in a healthy whole way… I have learned to do a daily gratitude list – focussing me on the good things, even if on some days that was to just keep breathing… I have learned that sharing my experiences, while cathartic for me, may just help someone having a bad day – as I have been helped by other people’s stories…. People whose, almost nonchalant, honesty about their life histories has both humbled and inspired me. Nobody thinks their story is better or worse than anyone else’s, it’s just their story. We take comfort that we are not alone. That we are not unique in our struggles. I have found likeminded people all over the globe. That there is always someone a message away, who will just hang out for a while… and we have laughed, damn have we laughed! There is much healing in laughter…
I have learned, that to take care of all the people I need to in my life, I have to take care of myself, every day. I have learned that #Selfcare, is my most important recovery tool. I got off the couch and started walking. Every day. And I discovered at 54, that I love long distance walking… I easily do 8-10 km a day now! Who knew, this formally unfit couch potato would find that moving was the very thing I needed to do. I call it my “Moving meditation”, I’m a fidgeter and the combination of the outdoors, music and walking gives my mind the chance to work through the issues that I need to sort. I have stopped the solo drinking. And decide at every event if I will drink or not. I like to think I have rid myself of the ‘negative drinking”, but who knows, full sobriety might be something that happens in the future.
Recovery has brought with it anxiety attacks. And boy, am I torn between needing to get over them as soon as possible and being frustrated with myself that I’m having them at all. All the while eventually just having to give in to the process of recovery.. There have been days and times over the last few months, especially when dealing with the anxieties around Covid, when my support crew have messaged me to just breathe… .
I have learned tools to ease my anxiety. Its ok to leave a situation when I’m not comfortable. Getting up and leaving is healthier than staying and struggling. I have found music to be my friend. Earbuds in, favourite playlist on has got me through grocery shopping at level 4 lockdown; walking through crowds; being unable to sleep… Letting myself be ok with not coping in a situation that I used to Ace, has been a real biggie…
I have learned to say “No”. Lol, am no longer over committing myself – well almost, but baby steps, I am getting better at this. I have learned to not buy into other people’s dramas. I only give as much of myself as I feel I can. This has been huge for me because I am hard wired to help people. But I am only useful to others if I am whole with myself. I have started re-evaluating all of my relationships… giving myself permission to leave those that are toxic to me; or limiting time with some that drain me.
Early on I was encouraged to tell people in RL (real life) about my struggle… that was terrifying…. But most people already knew, lol.. my “keeping it together” had not been as seamless as I had thought. I have little by little chipped away at “The List” of people I needed to talk to. Every time, I was met with unconditional love – why had I been so afraid??? I can remember asking my support crew if I needed to keep telling people – “Yes Chris”, was always the answer…
4 months in I wrote a Letter to my 16 year old self. dear me….. It was a hard task. Much harder than I had ever thought. But it set me on the road to uncover why I have such self-esteem issues, and how to work on them… I named the evil self-destructive voice in my head “The Bitch Troll”, and over the last few months have found ways to ignore her influence. If I find her taking up space in my thought process now, I pause, breathe, and see why she has appeared. I don’t believe her as much anymore. Learning to lose my hang ups or throwing them in The Fuckit Bucket as I term it, is ongoing. The first one was photos. I hate photos of myself. Avoided them if I could possibly help it… Cue the “selfie a day” challenge. Take a selfie a day, post some, share some, keep them all…. And guess what ? the sky didn’t fall in; and ironically, I discovered that I quite like the video chats now, who would’ve thought that????
Occasionally I use that familiar term The Black Dog. In the early days I would let myself spiral back down, because it felt cosy and familiar. Rather like a friendly old dog. Of course, as was pointed out to me, that’s because there is security in the familiar – even in the darkness of depression. The disease likes to fool the mind… I find now that The Black Dog, sits with the Bitch Troll, quietly in the corners of my mind. I am aware they are there, and I’m learning to recognise when they try and intrude into my thoughts. And I up the #Selfcare, reach out, chat to a friend… Telling people it’s a bad day, does not come naturally, but I’m trusting the process….. mostly… lol
And through all of this, I now find myself having pockets of Calm…. Zen…… And for me, this has been the greatest gift. Now my good days so outweigh the bad, it is almost unrecognisable. And I now know that if I hit a bad patch, it will pass. That if I keep up the self-care, and the talking, I will come out the other side. I’m stronger – both physically and mentally – than I have been in years. But I am also committed to keep taking care of myself.
So here I am, 11 months and, oops now 11 days in. I am wiser, healthier, calmer than I was. I have been given the gift of friendship by so many whom I admire. In learning to take care of myself, I have learned tools, that I can now pass on to others – Recovery carries an element of giving back, passing on the wisdom, and although you focus on your own recovery, helping others makes sense of your journey.
Where will I be in another 11 months and 11 days? Who knows? But hopefully I will still writing here, passing on some bits of wisdom that I have picked up on the way, connecting with all you out there who stop by for a wee read…
As always, thanks for your time. Take care and stay safe xx
(*All original artwork created by my daughter. Please respect her gifts and don’t borrow any of it. feel free to contact me if you would like to see more of her work.. )
4 thoughts on “1 September 2019”
Chris, that was one powerful read. I cherish our friendship, made on that very same #RecoveryPosse group and how we came together through writing to our 16 year old selves. What a powerful exercise that was. Thank you for sharing with such honesty.
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It is a very powerful group..
It is my daily gratitude
Really appreciate reading this Chris. Got some of my own to get rid of.
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Good luck. Really worth the work 💜