Tag: healing

No Thank-You, Anxiety

 

anxiety

Ten years ago I think if you would have asked me, I would have told you that I believed that I was an outgoing, people-oriented person. Never-mind the fact that it only took three or four various types of Benzo’s carefully carelessly mixed with any amount of cheap alcohol to render my central nervous system inactive just enough, that I felt like I could interact with other humans without bolting or vomiting…but viola.

After the chemicals dissolved into my bloodstream, I was gently catapulted right out of my metaphorical, safe-place. I would be temporarily transformed into a person who I thought I liked, who was also likable. Deep beneath my scar tissue I was obviously a fucking blast. This way, I was friendly and interpersonal, yet zombie-like and unable to decipher real connection from shallow interaction.

For years living this way satisfied my deep longing for connection. I thought I was filling my empty spaces. Isolation became this sad, empty, arena that I mistakenly thought was my happy place.

Sober, not only have I learned to embrace who God made me to be even if that person pushes the barriers of what it means to be imperfect, my empty spaces are filled and I understand true connection.

Among other characteristics, qualities, and quirks, I am a confident, introverted, personality type who is also supremely awkward, and inept in particular social situations. Overall, I am a person who prefers to escape, and in short, I struggle with some co-occurring anxiety stuff. If I can even smell conflict, confrontation,  or any situation that makes me feel like it could be considered ‘high-stress’ I just prefer to disappear.

My life is calm and I am happy to say, drama free. My boundaries with my family ensure that I am not in any immediate danger, I don’t get screamed at or threatened anymore. No fist fights, no yelling matches, nothing. My relationships are safe and typically dysfunctional.

And it’s beautiful.

Over the years (special thanks to counseling and my healthy boundaries), I have learned about why I experience anxiety and what (mostly who) triggers it. My anxieties have lessened and aren’t as widespread, but there are a few areas where it will still try to rule over and suffocate me.

For instance, I have no problem getting up and sharing my story with large groups. Churches, treatment centers, small groups, meetings. Totally fine. I am confident and even excited to have opportunities like that. I can have a one-on-one conversation with a friend, and can manage having the passing, pleasantry type of interactions just fine.

But when I am thrown into any situation involving an unknown, (e.g., ice-breaker ‘activity’ “Let’s go around the room, state your name, or why you’re here or your favorite _______!”) one by one, in front of a large group of people, or am invited to be a part of a discussion panel or a podcast, I instantly freeze up.

The same feeling washes over me if I am introduced to a stranger and then abruptly left alone, standing there expected to carry on the conversation. (e.g., “Oh, hey Jill, this is my friend Brittany. I just think you two have so much in common!”)

No. No and more no.
Please, just stop.

“Maybe, if I sit still enough or quiet enough, they will skip right over me.”

“Which path can I take from here to make a break for the bathroom in the most unsuspecting, casual, way?” (as if anyone really gives a shit if I get up to use the restroom).

“How can I get out of this?”

If I fail to actually morph into an inanimate object, which most of the time I doesn’t happen, I will stay and participate or try to carry on the conversation for exactly the least amount of time that is socially acceptable.

And somehow I don’t actually die.

I will sweat and my mind and heart will race so rapidly that I have to fix my eyes on something to avoid vomiting, but I try to breathe deep and remind myself that although my feelings and the tingling sensations are very real, my anxieties aren’t logical. It isn’t real, and it will be okay. I am not in actual danger and all of my red flags need to chill. But I still feel terrified,out of control, and have to fight through every natural instinct that still lives within me not to run away.

Sometimes when it is my turn to respond out-loud and unplanned in a group setting my answers take what feels like three whole minutes to come out of my mouth before I start talking. I might mix up my words or stumble around trying to come up with an answer, and if there’s food involved you can bet that I will always shake just enough to drop pieces of lettuce on my shirt as I try to look as calm and casual as whoever I am sitting next to.

If I had to try to explain it to someone I would say it’s different for everyone, and anxiety by definition is a normal phenomenon. It is when you have a disorder that it becomes difficult to manage and to navigate, and even harder to help make sense to those who have never experienced it.

For me it is like a tiny, raging, internal battle for control of my attention. On the outside I might just look like a shy or uninterested person with drops of salad dressing on her shirt who can’t carry on in intelligible conversation.

On the inside I am overwhelmed and distracted by all of the red flags that are unnecessarily popping up warning me of ‘unknown’ things happening; warning me of impending danger that is too close. My body is gearing up for take-off as I silently work to turn off the engines against its wishes.

So. I still find myself battling old demons from time to time, but at least my life isn’t actually in imminent danger so that is something to be grateful for.

And listen.
I struggle.
And I probably look stupid, or maybe that is my anxiety talking.
And I know at times I am misunderstood.
And sometimes I want to wear a sign or hand out cards so that people would stop asking me why I am “so quiet.” (Nope, just talking myself into staying, thanks.)

But most importantly I push myself. I want to quit. I want to run and hide, but I don’t.
I go to ladies events,  holiday parties, birthday parties etc. I play board games with our family that force me to stand up in front of all of them and look really, really, ridiculous and vulnerable (Quelf).
And sometimes I hate it.

I have to talk myself out of staying home, or not participating, or making excuses to avoid going EVERY SINGLE TIME.

Not because I enjoy self-torture, but because I know what my track-record looks like when I choose isolation over interaction.

It’s a dangerous game.

I also know that I cannot make any progress if I don’t make some attempt to try.

I might succeed, and by succeed I mean make it through from start to finish without leaving.

And sometimes I skip one event or invite but try to make it to the next thing.

But I go at my own pace. I go.

I deep into God’s truth and I hold onto the reassurance that His strength is sufficient. I use that strength to resist giving my internal fears one nano-second more of me, my life, or my opportunities to build and engage in my relationships, than I have already missed. I have buckled, and I have given in, and I have cowered in fear, I have hidden, and stayed down, too many times throughout my life for far too long, and have missed so much already.

So no thank you, anxiety.

I might not be able to get rid of you completely in every area of my life, but I will continue to fight through you every single time.

So I encourage you, not to do what I do or to think how i think, or to believe how I believe, but only to challenge yourself a little bit.

Challenge your old ways of thinking or and your comfortably uncomfortable ways of reacting.

Whatever a tweak or a change or a step in a progressive, healthy, direction looks like for you, safely within the confines of your life, do that.

Take tiny little baby steps, but push yourself out there a little bit further than you ever have. If you’re anything like me you will get discouraged, you will take one step forward and ten steps backward, you might get salad on your shirt, or trip over the carpet on your way to run to any other room than the one you are in that has people, but even so, decide those things will not be the reasons that you decide to quit trying altogether.

Because inconsistency is not synonymous with failure. 

Be nice to yourself as you are transforming. Life and change and growth is hard enough.

(Note: As a former substance abuser of all kinds, and a person who spent years addicted and dependent on prescription medication, I choose not to medicate myself for my anxiety disorder(s). My mental health is important, but I do what is best for my life as a whole. It is a personal choice that is best for me. However, I am not advocating for the ‘pulling yourself up by your bootstraps’ technique and barreling through without medication, especially if medication can benefit you and improve your quality of life. I am, however, always an advocate for pushing yourself out of your comfort zone.) 

 

Guest: Alexandrea- Choosing to Live a Sober Life

I’ve never written about this.

Most of the people in my life know nothing about it, yet here I am, penning an entire article about the dirty little secret my family adamantly ignores as much as possible.

Whenever we gather, there’s an elephant in the room. I grew up with him.

For the first decade or so of my life I didn’t even know he was there. All I knew was that there was something that kept my mother’s side of the family disjointed and angry. Over the years I managed to catch tiny tidbits of the stories; little pieces of information I was never meant to know, but I learned anyway. I got in trouble quite a few times for being in “grown folks business.”

What I learned was this:

  • At some point, my mother and her many siblings were placed in foster care before going to live with her grandmother.
  • There were hushed accounts of molestation and incestuous rape that everyone skated around and avoided like the plague.
  • My mother and her siblings were subjected to severe abuse, including being locked in a closet, burned, beaten, and left unattended for days at a time.
  • My grandmother was addicted to drugs, including heroin and cocaine.

 

None of these things made sense when I was younger; it wasn’t until my teenage years that I began to really understand.

When I was eleven I met a woman named Queen for the very first time. She was introduced to me by my cousin as ‘auntie Queen’ and I remember feeling uneasy around her whenever she was around, which honestly wasn’t often. Queen dressed strangely- always in at least three layers of clothes. I recall thinking it was so strange that she wore a beat-up old coat in the middle of Florida summers.

 

I remember my mother being upset that I had been around Queen but not really understanding it. She was so angry; there was furious yelling like I’d never heard before, and my home was hardly a silent one. I remember being told to never be alone with her or another recently introduced member of my extended family- an uncle.

 

I remember being alone with that uncle. I remember suddenly understanding why I was supposed to stay away from him.

 

When I was about 14, I was blindsided by a revelation: Queen was not my aunt, she was my grandmother. It made no sense to me, then, but looking back it should have. My mother and I called the same woman grandma- of course she was actually my great-grandmother. Her name was Virginia and she was a powerhouse, the loving and gracious. I miss her dearly at the strangest times.

 

My mother sat me down just once to explain what happened in her childhood. She told me about the neglect and abuse she and her siblings endured at the hand of their mother, under the influence of drugs and a (then undiagnosed) mental illness. She told me about taking the brunt of it as the oldest in order to protect the younger kids. She terrified me and broke my heart in one go.

 

Not long after that, my mother left. In the middle of the day, she was shipped off in the back of a police car and immediately Baker Acted. She had written a letter to a friend, confessing that she was on the verge of suicide. She told her friend she would take my brother and I with her, so we wouldn’t suffer without her. Her friend saved our lives by calling the cops before we ever got home from school.

 

To be honest, I’m not sure what would have happened if she hadn’t.

 

That began a tumultuous period in my life, filled with powerful emotional pain and confusion as my mother was in and out of mental health hospitals, trying to finally deal with the demons in her past. I remember being so angry; so terrified; so lost. I harbored that anger for a long, long time. To be honest, I still haven’t been able to address it with my mother, even though I am no longer angry. I have abandonment and trust issues, and a gnawing fear for my own mental health because of what happened through my childhood and teenage years.

 

That’s the saga of Queen. That’s what addiction does- even generations removed.

 

The damage isn’t limited to my corner of the family. Though my mother has proven strong enough to forgive the woman who never asked for it, most of her brothers and sisters were not able to do so. Three of my mother’s siblings developed substance abuse disorders. One of my aunts- a twin to my uncle- died due to HIV complications after contracting the virus through needle sharing. I ache for her daughter, even though she is older than I am.

 

Virginia, the woman I will forever call my grandmother, died three years ago. I haven’t seen Queen since the funeral; she’s now living with one of my uncles and his wife.

 

As far as I know she has been sober for at least a decade now. In a weird way I’m proud of her, yet I feel like she is a stranger. I don’t know if she thinks of me as anything different. I’m not sure I want her to. But I would be lying if I said she didn’t play an important role in my life, even if she was absent of much of it: she is the very reason I lead a sober life.

I’m sure she never imagined her life turning out the way that it did. For my grandmother, my mother, and yes, even for her, I am doing the best I can to make sure I don’t follow her.

 

 

Meet Alexandrea:

2015-10-06 08.58.24

Alexandrea Holder is a South Florida native working toward double Master’s degrees in Psychology and English. She finds the psychological aspects of addiction and mental illness fascinating, as both are prevalent in her family’s history. Through her work with Harbor Village Rehabilitation in Miami, FL she has garnered valuable insight and experiences which she applies to her work and personal life. When not researching and spreading addiction awareness, Alexandrea enjoys sparring, artistic pursuits, and admiring puppies online.  

Healing Our Voids.

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C.S Lewis describes lust, as he does every other topic:
His description is not only beautiful- it is complete, intricate, complex and yet somehow he makes it simple.

I have no idea how his heart and mind were so able to mesh concepts in such a way –
but he was so gifted and insightful.

He talks about desires of the flesh and states that as humans when dealing with any ‘pleasure’ that we healthily or unhealthily indulge in-
if we have yet to fill our hearts with Jesus we will eventually find ourselves in this predicament:

“With an ever-increasing craving for an ever diminishing pleasure.”

This phrase hits it right on the head for me. Yes it describes my personal experience with substance abuse, but long before I ended up struggling with addiction, I was searching.
I really had spent the majority of my life searching for something that would satisfy my craving for loyalty, peace, consistency, someone to love, and a need to let myself accept love.

So maybe, I searched in a bottle for whatever ‘that’ is.
Other people might look in needles, pill bottles, bars, relationships, shopping malls, or casinos trying desperately to fill that void.

That void represents a broken place that we are trying to fix the wrong way.
We are seeking anything that lessens the pain or that gives us the illusion of happiness, even if we know it won’t last.

But as C.S. Lewis said, each time we use these things to fill that gap, it loses some of its luster. Over time it doesn’t do its job anymore and we either try to find more or move on to something more powerful or that takes up more space.

We are all really on a journey of personal experiences and there will come a time that we all have face the hard things. Some of us might be able to elude this for a larger span of time, but eventually, we will all find a place to land.

What I think we are really searching for is a place where we can are safe to feel freedom, to find peace, comfort, and a true sense of self.

 

Fighting Within.

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A person who is struggling with addiction is fighting an epic battle.
The fighting is fierce and continuous.
It is tiring.
And it becomes more and more intense with each passing day.

It is a fight between
the person struggling with addiction,
the substance,
and a third.
The quietest one of all.
The whisper of truth.

All 3 are striving to be heard.

The Person is saying:
How could I let this happen?
I hate myself.
I am not this person, or am I?
I can’t even want to look at myself in the mirror.
Maybe I won’t wake up.
No one will notice.
There is no going back now anyway.
I am too far gone.
No one will ever see me the same.

The Substance is saying:
F*ck the world.
You are fine.
One more time is not going to kill you.
(Who cares if it does?)
You have tried to stop.
You won’t ever be able to.
You are nobody.
Look at all that you have done.
Pick up the phone. Find more. You might not
Everyone has abandoned you.
This is who you are now.
No one cares.
It is us against the world.

The third voice is saying:
This is not who you are.
Do you remember who you are?
Look around, what are you doing?
These people don’t love you.
You are going to die.
You need to stop.
You do have things to live for.
Today can be the last day that you use.
Pick up the phone and call _________(insert name of a person who reached out to you here)
You can do this.
You are worth it.

There was a time where I would have told you that I truly believed that I had strayed too far from who I once was.
I believed that I would never know who I could have been.
I really thought that I been fooled by the voice of the substance.

Today, I would tell you that I was manipulated, deceived, and wholeheartedly believed the voice of the substance..….
but my real fear was that that third voice.
What if it had been telling me the truth?

Any amount of sober time, forced me to see myself for who I had become.
I did not like that.
I hated that feeling.
I hated seeing myself in the mirror.
I truly felt disgust and embarrassment at the thought of who I was and what my life had become.

If I could have told myself one thing- what would I have said?

I would have told myself that I am invaluable and worthy of forgiveness.

That is the one thing that I think I needed to hear all along.

I mattered.

Someone told me that despite all of my choices,
there was a God who loved me and created me to do something bigger than myself.
Someone told me that I was loved and invaluable.
Someone told me that it did not matter what I had done, or who I had become. My secrets could be revealed, and I would still be worthy of love.  I wanted to know more.

That is what I want to tell other people.
You matter.

Recovery is more than possible- it is promised, and you are worth it.

Spiritual Death.

.Becoming dependent on a substance takes time.
No matter what your substance of choice is, I bet we can all agree that the ultimate result of addiction is death-
but before that, there is this place where we live.
It is the last stop before physical death:

Spiritual death.

This is a place where nothing good happens.
No positive thoughts enter.
No smiles form.
Tears dry up.
Everything cuts deep -but isn’t felt at all.
On the surface, we show apathy for everything.
Neutrality is where we live, as long as our one need is met.

This is where we go before we die.

Some of us stay for a long period of time, and for others the stay is shorter.

Aside from drug dealers, liquor store clerks, other addicts, bail bondsman who know us by name, or people who we consider ‘friends’ there is usually no one else around.

No meaningful, intimate human relationships are left.
Not one.
We have shut them all out, or they have had all they can handle.

How do we make it back from a place where we spend most of our time harming ourselves wondering why we haven’t died yet?

Well, it takes a village to tear the walls down. 

The intense discipleship that has taken place in my life from the time of my overdose, right up until this very moment is absolutely breathtaking to think about.

God has placed so many people in my path who have all played a vital role in helping me to tear those walls down that I had built around myself, and in learning how to rebuild my life wall-free.

We really are stronger together.

If you are someone who is going through the difficult process of rebuilding after tearing walls down,
Here are reasons why we have to learn to let people in to help:

1. They help the walls to come down.
I get it. They’re our walls. We can get a tiny bit territorial of them and angry if we feel like someone is crossing a boundary or tearing them down too quickly. The truth is, they need to come down, and the faster the better. It is not going to feel good to see beyond them at first, but it is what is best for the long run. Let them crumble.

2. To Combat Negativity.
We are totally fine with being alone and walking alone, crying alone, worrying alone, and doing life alone.
But this is just not a healthy way to try to attempt lasting recovery.

Lies, shame, guilt, and other creepy things really prefer us to be alone and will thrive off our self-doubt.

We need have to have some people around us to help us get through some of the tough spots that we will all face in early recovery.
We have to have people to help us separate the lies, and what the truth is, the facts, and the crap that we have been believing about ourselves for so long.

3. We can learn valuable things from others in Recovery.
No two walks or journey’s are the same but being around people who have been where we been makes us feel hopeful.
We see that they have made progress and have really turned their life around.
We really start to believe that maybe, just maybe we can too.
This requires us to be around people, to meet new people, and to be willing to put ourselves out there by attending groups, counseling, or meetings of some kind.

God works in many ways and one of them is through people.
He will use them in different capacities to love you back to life.

It took that first person in the long line of people who have been a part of my healing and recovery, simply looking into my eyes, and not seeing what I saw- they saw a person.
They saw broken.
They also just happen to know someone who knows what to do with broken.

 

 

The Beauty of Letting Go.

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Don’t we all have those feelings…
The ones that we just want to hold onto- even when it hurts us or is holding us back from something new?
The ones that have the ability to completely conquer us if we allow them to?
All of those things that we really can’t change or control. Wouldn’t it be nice to just let them go?
That was a very important part of my early recovery.

*It all started with my sobriety.
Being sober for any big chunk of time feels really foreign. It is almost like finally waking up from anesthesia after a really long surgery and not being coherent for a few hours, feeling groggy, and finally coming to. Then, the world starts to feel more real and less like Super Mario Land 3, and your vision begins to clear up.
As you look around you try to feel amazed or surprised at all of the things that have been waiting for you, but if you are going to be real- you knew they were there all along.

*Uncovering the Junk.
-Anger

I was an angry person. I was mean and negative.
Early sobriety challenged me to really begin the process of taking a look to see how much stuff I was carrying around.
The truth is, until that time, I really didn’t want to let go of what I carried.
I really battled with myself; because I just had to keep all of the hatred.
In order to stay exactly where I was, I needed to keep that resentment and anger right by my side.
This made my addiction seem necessary to me.
I relied on having the convenience of falling back on all of this.
I had packed these feelings away for a very clear & obvious reason: to continue destroying myself.
So, I had already started the process of learning to forgive, and let go of the anger.
By allowing myself to forgive people in my life who had hurt me, that meant that the healing process had permission to begin. Over time, the resentment and bitterness began to dissipate too.
and it felt so refreshing.
-Shame
This is the kind of shame that takes years to develop but only a short time to completely base your identity on.
I am guessing that it resulted from years of struggling to be seen by parents who had problems of their own that they were focusing on, and not having my needs met as a small human.
Pair that with years of chosen self-destruction & knowing all of the people that I trampled on and treated poorly, and wala. You have a nice recipe for some self-shame. It was a sad cycle of self-hate. I would not let my mistakes escape my mind. I reminded myself all of the time of the things that I had done and who I had become, and then I would hide.
Facing this shame meant that I had to analyze some things that I preferred to keep quiet, and in order for me not to think about any of it, my plan had been to stay incoherent. It was always so much easier than thinking about any of it.
I had to admit that I had actually stolen, lied, cheated, and manipulated.
I burned bridges.
I hurt a lot of people.
I had made a long list of really terrible choices that were physically and emotionally unhealthy. Facing all of that meant…
that I would have to fess up to mistakes, take responsibility for my actions and in some cases, inaction.
I had this crazy huge fear of being exposed for what and who I had become.
Even though I was finally facing a version of myself who everyone else could plainly see already.
The reality of it was, I didn’t have to face every bad choice all at once. I had envisioned what facing these things would be like, and the reality was different. People were pretty accepting and understanding for the most part. The ones who weren’t I quickly learned were out of my control and I could only do my part to make amends. Either way, I fought my own self-shaming, by facing one thing at a time.

Facing the anger helped me to get rid of bitterness and resentment.
Facing the shame I hid from, helped me to feel less sad and really helped with my negative outlook on life.
Facing the fact that I simply won’t be accepted by some people, really helped me to embrace self-acceptance.
Over time I got strong enough to branch out, and start work on the other things.
The idea of letting these things go was really was scary.
Like everyone else I started this process feeling blind. I wasn’t sure how to ‘be’ without that familiar stuff that I identified with. Who was I if I wasn’t that old me?

After about a year, I began reading my Bible and really digging into it. I wanted to know about Jesus and who He was.

Turns out, as I learned about who He is, I began to form a more clear picture of who I was; who I really am.

God knew who I was all along, and was still waiting for me anyway. 
I learned that His word tells us a lot about self-destruction.
*Hebrews 12:15 says: See to it that no one fails to obtain the grace of God; that no “root of bitterness” springs up and causes trouble, and by it many become defiled;
*Micah 7:19 says:  You will again have compassion on us. You will overcome our wrongdoing. You will throw all our sins into the deep sea.
*Romans 6:6 says: We know that the person we used to be was crucified with him to put an end to sin in our bodies. Because of this we are no longer slaves to sin.

To make the decision to try to learn how to let go of the things that we cannot control means that we are finally ready to accept things for exactly what they are. We are learning to be strong enough to live with reality, even if it isn’t how we expected it all to turn out.

 

 

 

Admitting that I needed help.

Happy are those who know they are spiritually poor. (Matthew 5:3)
We have the choice to change our lives and we don’t have to do it alone.

 

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