Greek Gods & Gratitude

Something I seem to struggle to let go of is this illusion that things keep getting “better” if I keep working at them. I erroneously believed and desperately hoped that life after completion of the twelve steps would be pain-free. In my head, being “well” meant being happy ALL the time, and I thought with each step I took I was approaching a plateaued state of euphoria. Obviously, I was seriously deluded. I was seeking euphoric perfection in sobriety, the same way I sought it via drugs and alcohol. For me, the frustration I can still feel as a result of life failing to deliver (my expectations) is sometimes very hard to bare. I have to let go of the struggle and let go of the illusion, have that truly blank canvas of a mind I pray for, if I am to have any peace.

My delay in writing has largely been due to this. I so desperately want only to write positive and uplifting content and ignore my struggles, but I guess to do so would be to deny who I am, and I am supposed to be embracing all that I am.

I will get to those struggles, but for today I just wanted to share something that made me laugh and made me grateful.

Dionysus was the ancient Greek god of wine. “His reported behaviour, which ranged unpredictably from sentimental to savage, confirms the diagnosis (that he was a classic alcoholic).”* This made me laugh because it is quite possibly the most accurate description of my old self I have ever read! And it made me grateful, because I am no longer like that. I have my ups I have my downs. I have phases of thinking I am well and then boom! I’m back in my armchair with a blanket, movie marathon and only my solitude for comfort. But the difference is now I know it will pass. And the volatile, ferocious beast is gone (well, unconscious – never definitely gone).

* Quote from The Spirituality of Imperfection – Ernest Kurtz and Katherine Ketcham

Ideals are like stars; you will not succeed in touching them with your hands…

…But like the seafaring man on the desert of waters, you choose them as your guides, and following them you will reach your destiny.” Carl Schurz

Perfectionism. To write about this perfectly ;) I could be here for days, so I will attempt to do it imperfectly, and as concisely as possible. Defined by Wikipedia it is a “disposition characterized by an individual striving for flawlessness and setting excessively high performance standards, accompanied by overly critical self-evaluations and concerns regarding others’ evaluations.” In its maladaptive form it “drives individuals to attempt to achieve an unobtainable ideal, and their failure to meet their expectations causes psychological distress“.

For me, these expectations extend to other people and I have always demanded perfection from not only myself but those around me. Setting impossible standards for myself and others has inevitably led to a lot of failure, discontent and pain. My first step 4 illuminated this in excruciating fluorescent white light.

Today I live in a very different place, wrapped up in the Serenity Prayer* like a blanket. It’s a very old blanket though, moth eaten and threadbare, holes threaten to destroy it. It is imperfect. (The Serenity Prayer is not imperfect, it is my thinking that pokes the holes. ) This prayer, and the integration of it into my being, is my protection from my own thinking, from my expectations of how the world should be. When I (attempt to) stop imposing my beliefs/ views/ expectations of perfection onto others and myself I am much happier. It really is that simple. Unfortunately, it is not always so simple to put into practise. Ultimately I believe perfectionism is (perhaps unconsciously) a resistance to reality, a refusal to accept very normal and very real flaws and limitations of the self and others.

Perfectionism is also an attempt at an antidote to poor self-esteem, yet paradoxically can exacerbate feelings of low self-worth. I was always filled with feelings of inadequacy, believing I was stupid, ugly, worthless etc and by striving to achieve perfection I believed I could eradicate these feelings. I was wrong. What actually resulted was a persistent, aching reminder of my shortcomings, as I was never able to attain my impossible goal of perfection. This failure to achieve led me to paralysis and the bottle.

Today I truly believe that as a result of being sober, as a result of working the steps, my increased self-esteem has contributed to a decline in my perfectionism. I am comfortable in my own skin in a way I never was before and consequently don’t feel the need to overcompensate with the perfect grades, the perfect job, the perfect relationship, perfect hair/ face etc.

Lastly, a massive issue of contention for me was how do I reconcile embracing my flaws/ defects with striving for perfection, as it is suggested in step 6? How do I pray for the removal of my perfectionism whilst striving to be perfect?! This really bent my head for a long time, still does if I’m honest. But an old sponsor of mine explained it to me beautifully, much in the same way that Carl Shurz did. Look at perfection simply as if it were a star – use it for guidance but know that it is unattainable.   Is perfection therefore the absence of perfectionism? I think it must be.

Perfect post-it

*God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
Courage to change the things I can,
And wisdom to know the difference.

We claim spiritual progress….

Funny how the length of time between this and my last post is so long, since I am supposed to be examining my character defects! What was that I was saying about procrastination!?
Before I begin my exploration of these traits I would just like to express, yet again, my gratitude for AA. Yesterday I had my second session of CBT. The therapist was trying to establish where my problems lie and listed all the “thinking errors” characteristic of depression/ anxiety. As she went through them I listened to her describe the old me. My thinking used to be characterised by the things she was saying, but not anymore.
All or nothing thinking – I used to see everything in black and white, absolutely no shades of grey. I either loved you or I hated you. Everything was either terrible or amazing. Now, I try to visualise and accept all shades of the spectrum.
Should and must statements – I truly believed people should behave and think a certain way, myself included. The inevitable failure of myself and other people to do so led me to wallow in unfulfilled expectation and drown in resentment. Now, I believe the word and notion of “should” is just ridiculous, as essentially all it does it argue with reality.
Emotional reasoning – My emotional response to every person and every situation used to be my true north. The way I felt, I believed, was indicative of the truth. Now, I understand that feelings are not facts, and that feelings of eg. hopelessness, do not mean that I am hopeless.
Personalisation – Everything was always about me. My whole attitude was excruciatingly egocentric. Now, I understand that I am not the centre of everyone else’s universe (although acceptance of this is a little harder!) ;) 
Minimising or catastrophising – I used to exist in a whirlwind of catastrophe. Everything was a drama; I thrived on the rollercoaster ride of emotion. Now, the calmness and serenity I used to dismiss as boring is what I strive for.
All this negative thinking wildly distorted my perception in the past. Today, things are so different and it wasn’t until I sat in the therapist’s chair yesterday that the extent of this change was truly illuminated. 100% I credit this change to AA and the twelve steps. My “journey” (and how that word used to make me cringe!) however, is never complete and I will keep going, propelled by the gratitude I feel for my progress up until now.
“He who rejects change is the architect of decay.” Harold Wilson

The dead girl inside of me

Although I whole-heartedly embrace and encourage the concept of self-love and self-acceptance, this is something I apparently still struggle with! I know I am a million miles from the girl who spent years hating herself, feeling truly worthless and incapable of looking in a mirror without recoiling, and for this I am deeply grateful. My self-esteem is incomparable to what it used to be – that feeling of uselessness and self-pity did disappear. I have confidence in my abilities and am not afraid to pursue new ideas, whereas in the past I was paralysed by fear into inactivity. Procrastination has been replaced by inspiration.

However, the outcome of a mini step 5 yesterday revealed so much more! Self-acceptance is still a very big and painful problem for me, and it is my “defects” that I have trouble accepting. I am so disgusted by them that I pretend they are not there. Hypocrisy, jealousy, insecurity, judgemental-ness and perfectionism therefore all simmer seductively under the surface, and I struggle to truly love myself.

So…my goal is to try and learn to love these fabulous flaws, until they are removed! I’m going to utilise this blog to explore and understand them, and maybe in the process help anyone else “suffering” from these same afflictions ;)

The dead girl inside of me is how I perceive my alcoholic self. She is an indispensable reminder of who I used to be and a motivator of change. If I don’t love her as well, she starts to throb and before I know it she might wake.

“To love oneself is the beginning of a life-long romance.” Oscar Wilde

This post is a direct quote from Shaun which I found to be truly inspiring:

Why do you need to love yourself?

Fully and truly loving yourself will never lead to anything less than complete joy.  With full belief in yourself and who you are you will have the confidence, internal power, and endurance to not only reach your true potential, but constantly exist in that state, and be able to make any dream or goal become an accomplished reality.  No longer would you seek, desire, nor need the approval, acceptance, or love from an outside source.  The only purpose for that is the intention of bringing it internally to repair and patch the obviously missing pieces.  The action itself is a clear and obvious statement something is missing internally.  Your life should not be based on the dependency of others to fill your voids.  You may be happy so long as the source keeps providing, but what happens when that stops? What happens when the fake “self-confidence” supplier goes out of business? That is not life. That is not living.  That’s a crappy attempt at survival.  You need to make the choice to be the change that you deserve.

Why would you choose anything else?

Love for the self is the ultimate source for joy, success, and truth.  Lack of love for the self is the easiest source for pain and misery.

“Taught to drown but told to swim…” The Bluetones

How do I keep swimming? Sometimes I just don’t know. I am embedded in a reversal process, unlearning all  my self-destructive patterns. AA and the gratitude I feel for it seems to slowly rewire my thoughts. I am able to transition from feeling that my world is collapsing around me, to feeling OK again within a day or two (as opposed to weeks or months, like when I was drinking). My “problems” are still there, but they no longer swallow me up. It reminds me of that scene in “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind”, in which all Jim Carey’s surrounding elements burst into blackness, one by one, leaving him alone and exposed in a black hole with no protection. Just like that, my external environment can evaporate and I exist solely in the recesses of my mind, the “problem” magnified to such an extent that it is my only thought my obsession. No exit…

…Until I practise what I’ve been taught in AA. Pick up the phone. Write an email. Write an inventory. Look at my part. Pray and work at removing my character defects. Go to a meeting. Remind myself This too shall pass. Feel what I’m feeling and don’t run away, conscious that all this makes me stronger, flexes those under-developed emotional muscles that I need to cope with adversity. Be aware of the lesson being presented to me. And maybe most importantly, for me, evaluate my HALT status. Hungry. Angry. Lonely. Tired. If any of these components are ignored I am guaranteed to feel off balance. Address this. Do something about it.

When I do all these things the results truly astound me. I find my feet moving to where I need to be (whether it be work, social, or a meeting) and HP takes care of the rest.

F**k growth!

Having moved countries recently and therefore AA fellowship, I was struggling to find someone I connected with. However, last week I found myself sitting next to the same woman for two consecutive meetings and what a blessed coincidence that was. She has nearly 17 years and like me, got sober in her late twenties. Straight away I liked her, felt very comfortable and was able to talk to her with great ease. I was delighted and hugely relieved. Since then she has already been an invaluable help to me, and I wanted to share some of the reassuring things she has written to me.

“What I would say is that I have revisited feeling broken and raw many times in my recovery and bounced back.  In fact it is a right of passage.  It shows growth is happening …. (I know…. f**k growth – who needs it…lol)  Now, I know that will give you no hope at all right now!  And in fact – I’m not saying I love the experience either!!  But, it has given me faith that all will be well in my world…. eventually – that I will be ok, no matter what.  And it’s built my emotional muscles for dealing with my feelings.  Unfortunately because we by-passed a lot of this emotional growth as kids, it comes back with a wallop when we experience it as adults.”

So much hope. So much strength. Just what I needed to hear.

I Am Alcoholism

I am your disease. I hate meetings. I hate higher powers. I hate anyone who has a program. To all who come in contact with me, I wish you death and I wish you suffering. Allow me to introduce myself, I am the disease of alcoholism. I am cunning, baffling, and powerful. That’s me. I have killed millions and I am pleased.
I love to catch you with the element of suprise. I love pretending I am your friend and lover. I have given you comfort, haven’t I? Wasn’t I there when you were lonely? When you wanted to die, didn’t you call on me? I was there, I love to make you hurt. I love to make you cry. Better yet, I love to make you so numb you can neither hurt nor cry. When you can’t feel anything at all. This is true gratification. And all that I ask from you is long term suffering.

I’ve been there for you always. When things were going right in your life, you invited me in. You said you didn’t deserve these good things and I was the only one who would agree with you. Together we were able to destroy all the good things in your life…

…More than you hate me, I hate all of you who have a 12 step program. Your program, Your meeting, Your higher power. All of these things weaken me, and I can’t function in the manner I am accustomed to. Now I must lie here quietly. You don’t see me but I am growing bigger than ever. When you only exist, I may live. When you live I may only exist. But I am here…

We read this at the meeting tonight and it blew me away. Never heard it before, so glad I have now.

“Just keep swimming…” Dory, Finding Nemo

“When life gets you down…. just keep swimming”. My words of inspiration today, as spoken by Dory in Finding Nemo.

I’ve had a shit few days and I just keep swimming (trying to anyway). My head has felt like a washing machine, feelings reminiscent of way too much MDMA. Don’t like feeling like I’ve consumed too many drugs when I’m stone cold sober, but that’s what emotional upheaval can do to me. Dealing with other people’s idiosyncrasies  (and that’s putting it mildly!) can turn my head inside out. I literally want to slice open my head to relieve the pressure, “crazy” a physical presence that resides in my skull.

But alas no such drastic measures were needed. Just a fucking good cry. On and off for two days. And with that came the support of a lot of people for whom I am incredibly grateful. It’s times like this that gratitude is difficult for me, but these people, who metaphorically hold my hand through difficulty, force gratitude upon me effortlessly. I love you so much, you know who you are xx

“Feeling gratitude and not expressing it is like wrapping a present and not giving it.” William Arthur Ward

Fragile as a Butterfly

Today was a hard day which had me reaching deep inside my AA tool box. Trial shift  in a fairly dull but busy cafe. I prayed for my usual: an open mind and freedom from expectation. I didn’t feel any fear prior to the shift. I trusted that if they didn’t want me, there was a reason. What I hadn’t anticipated as a possibility would be that I didn’t want them! I got the job… I just don’t want it.

The manager was a prick. His face didn’t break, not a smile in 4 hours, not a please nor a thank you from his lips. Any initiative on my part was punished with an order to do the opposite, and then thirty seconds later a retraction and an order to do the thing I was originally doing. His general demeanour was hostile and he made me very uncomfortable. Several repetitions of the serenity prayer, some deep breaths and some serious restraint of my (previously toxic) tongue got me through. I easily concluded the job was not for me, although solidifying assertions such as these is where I struggle – having the courage to follow through decisions without guilt. I expect myself to put up with shit, rather than walk away when someone crosses a boundary. Self-love/ protecting myself still feels foreign I guess.

I know when I make the right decision though when I realise my sobriety is threatened. On the walk home this afternoon I really wanted a drink. Not in a scary, all body consuming kind of way. Just as a fleeting antidote to how I was feeling as a result of my boundaries being crossed. The thought was there, I didn’t act on it, it passed. The whole time mentally reiterating “my sobriety comes first”. Any job, potential or current, any person, any thing, any situation that jepoardises my sobriety…. just not worth it. Sobriety first, everything else will follow.

What comes out of today I do not know. It did, however, give me a kick up the arse and make me realise just how fragile I am. Don’t get complacent.

Close your eyes. Let this song wrap you up when things get rough xx


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