I don’t think I knew how to feel any real feelings, except maybe brief, barely contained spasms of all-consuming rage (though even that much was rarely expressed), until I was 19 years old.
But as far as the rage goes…
I remember vivid bursts of white-hot intensity at various times in my youth, mostly stemming from feelings of indignation and feelings of being wronged and feelings of very much not being heard by the adults in my life.
And I remember that screaming into a pillow and punching the bedsheets repeatedly with all my might felt like not NEARLY enough to contain my anger… I remember that I wanted to literally DESTROY something.
And at the same time, on some deeper, instinctive level, I knew that there was no possible PHYSICAL outlet I knew of for that overwhelmingly destructive impulse (born of overwhelmingly destructive emotional pain that I didn’t know how to release) that wouldn’t also destroy me… so I bottled it, more often than not.
And I remember feeling HUGE tsunami-sized waves of shame over the very existence of that anger and that destructive desire, at several points in my adolescence.
As you may have picked up from my previous writings… I’ve been a closed shell for most of my life, but most notably in my younger years. Much of it stems from what I attribute to a lack of physical affection at a very young age, since I was in and out of the hospital frequently as a newborn, due to health issues… and when not in hospital care… well…
I was the child of a teenage mother — a mother who was a wild child, a flower child in many ways. And the only memorable photo I remember finding in my grandmother’s things of the two of us — my free-spirited mother and I — spending time together when I was an infant was an image of me lying alone on the sofa, clearly in designated “tummy time,” surrounded by pillows, all by myself, with my mother sitting beside me but yet completely apart from me, not touching me, not smiling at me, even her attention focused on someone else out of the frame of the photo.
My true, deep, non-rage-induced feelings finally erupted out of me for the first time in the middle of a Wal-Mart parking lot when I was around 19. But that’s another story. A complicated one.
But the feelings… I drowned them in alcohol, because that was what I knew, at the time. It was all I knew to do.
Because I knew that PURPOSEFULLY drinking an excess of alcohol… for the first time ever in my life, in an incident which had happened less than 2 years prior to this Wal-Mart incident — 100% coordinated and orchestrated by ME (because empowerment, y’all) — was the first time I ever in my life could remember laughing heartily, for no reason at all, just staring at my reflection in a bathroom mirror, all alone. Seeing me, and being joyful.
At least, it was the first time I remember experiencing anything close to what I could equate with “joy” at the time. (I know it wasn’t true joy now. But it was the first step along a spectrum, for me, that I had to walk, to get to where I am now.)
How do you even begin to learn how to effectively and healthily manage your emotions when you’ve never even learned how to let yourself experience them in the first place?
I think that’s where a lot of recovery programs go awry, to be honest. The root problem starts a lot earlier than we all imagine it does.
Anyway, as I was saying… I went through high school in a haze, an automaton, for the most part, programmed to success mode, to “get the fuck out of here” mode, to “make money at all costs” mode. I got the grades.
I avoided getting close to anyone. Not that I could have, even if I’d wanted to. I didn’t know how to connect, how to trust, how to TRULY let anyone in. I didn’t have the slightest clue how to begin doing any of that. And I didn’t believe that anyone liked me much, anyway, so why would I even bother trying?
In high school, I was actually teased and bullied more times than I’d care to admit, by more people than I’d care to admit. I rode a long-distance school bus to and from my downtown-area school for all 4 years of high school, which entailed 45-90 minutes spent idling in traffic each way, all of which was funded by my nerd scholarship, which of course contributed to my popularity problems in ways that only those traumatized nerdy individuals who vividly remember their school years can possibly relate to.
And, because it was a location from which I couldn’t escape, this school bus became where I was subject to teasing most mercilessly… by even the ELEMENTARY school kids who rode that bus with me. And besides just hurling insults, they would throw things at me. Food, mostly, that I remember. Orange peels. Nobody cared. Nobody stuck up for me. And seeing no other real options, I mostly ignored it.
The few annoyance-fueled protestations and outbursts that I allowed to escape from me over the years, though they happened rarely, only proved to me that giving any attention to the bullying offenders only made the offenses become much worse.
Because, as I learned, the cardinal rule is always: Never throw fuel on a bullying fire. Never let them see you upset, no matter what. That’s what they are going for. That’s their reward. You cannot give it to them. Ignore the injustices at all costs.
Which means, essentially, that you cannot stick up for yourself. It’s the all-powerful double-edged sword of bullying that I’m not sure even the recent anti-bullying campaigns have been able to completely eradicate. (Although I am grateful beyond any words can even express that I grew up in an era where cell phones, Facebook, and Instagram were not the institutions they are today.)
This bullying continued, of course, throughout my high school years, despite (or perhaps aided by) the fact that I’d made it through every single year of school at the top of my class, and was graduating as my high school’s salutatorian. It didn’t matter that I was, throughout a good portion of those torturous bus-riding hours, writing and practicing (silently, in my head) a rousing, inspiring and comedic speech that I would later give to a packed house of over a thousand parents and family members at my high school graduation (the content of which was actually a lot of bullsh*t, because I never once talked about how I never fit in at that school, and how it was ironic that I was chosen to represent the group, and how no one there loved me or even KNEW me, really).
But the fact is, all of that unsaid stuff was true. And bullying doesn’t stop just because you wish it will.
I had always been bullied though. It wasn’t only in high school.
I remember, once, letting my true feelings out about how horrible school had become for me to my mother, sometime around the 4th or 5th grade, when I was being mercilessly teased by a few male classmates for being tall and giraffe-like, taller than all my classmates, whiter-skinned than all of my classmates, a true “haole” girl. (I grew up in Hawaii, where being tall and pale-skinned made me different than most of my classmates, and as a result, I was often teased and derided using the term “haole” — a Hawaiian word meaning foreigner or outsider — despite the fact that I was born and raised in the islands and had a significant amount of Native Hawaiian blood running through my veins.)
And of course, I was seriously hurt by the teasing and cutting words, since it was the first time I could remember ever being treated so badly for what seemed like NO REASON at all. (Sidenote: Is 3rd grade when kids start all that divisiveness bullsh*t? I really wish there were some sort of warning signs to look for, or some kind of book written about it for parents of kids who were “doing their own thing” like me.)
Anyway, I expressed that hurt I was feeling to my mother, and it is one of the only times I ever remember crying throughout my entire childhood (except, of course, for the time I was LOCKED out of the house by my entire family, as they attempted to force me to learn to roller-skate in a truly fucking traumatic — yet I would imagine probably well-intentioned — “ride or die” fashion).
And my mother responded to my hurt feelings and to the whole incident (it was a series of incidents, really, but I didn’t bother telling her that) with righteous indignation, telling me that she was going to talk to my teacher, and to my principal, and to the parents of the boy who had made me cry, and she would put a stop to it, by god, because nobody treated her baby that way!
As an adult, of course, I know where this urge to protect and defend comes from, but even now, if I had a child of my own, I think I would be able to recognize the “more harm than good” truth behind this line of actions and hold my tongue.
Because I’ve been a child. And authority figures are not ALWAYS there.
And there are always creative ways for mean-spirited children — who have been thwarted in and/or chastised for their devilish actions — to express their frustrations at such chastisement by taking retaliation for the apparent tattling that caused it.
And, as shouldn’t surprise anyone, children can always find new and vicious ways of being cruel to one another. Ways that aren’t immediately obvious to the casual parental eye.
Anyway, I was terrified by my mother’s proclamations of “making things right” by “talking to them all,” and — amidst voicing STRONG protestations against any such actions — this is where I learned the importance of not airing one’s feelings. Not to anyone. Not ever. Because it didn’t seem to ever help anything. (This was a difficult habit to unlearn later, though I did, thank goodness.)
I never really got the emotional validation or the reinforcement of a sense of consistent strength and stability that I think is what I was truly looking for from that interaction with my mother. She tried her best, I know she did. But she was so young. She just didn’t have the life experience, the perspective, to think it through the way I can now, as a 40-something-year-old woman. And I don’t blame her for that.
But I can see it, and understand it. And that helps.
It helps me to be okay with just feeling my feelings — now, today, and all the days going forward from here.
It helps me to be okay with feeling my feelings without having to do anything about them at all. Without having to try to change them, or drown them out. Because I am finally in a place where I can accept life’s most basic invitation — to feel my feelings and just allow them to be. And to accept myself for having them, without judgement of myself.
But also. It helps me to be strong enough not to take sh*t from ANYONE anymore. Because I refuse to take on the burden of allowing myself to become the collateral damage of someone else’s low opinion of themselves. Because I am FINALLY starting to know and accept my worth, and to know and accept that NO ONE deserves to be treated with anything less than respect.
And my greatest hope for you is that perhaps, in reading this, if you are struggling with any of these things, you can begin to be okay with feeling your own feelings. And allowing them. And being gentle and kind with yourself for having them. And accepting your own undeniable worth.
I love you.
Thank you for being here.
Thank you for bearing witness to this process.
Thank you for bringing your sacred energy and emotions to this space.
Your presence is felt, and you are deeply appreciated.
For context on this post, and links to related journal entries from this particular piece of my life's journey, see My Sobriety Journey, Journaled.
A lot of things have got me thinking about relationships lately… and my relationship to being in relationships… and my history of attachment issues and glomming onto people who are bad for me.
For historical reference:
At the oh-so-mature age of 15, I attached myself with a vengeance to the first person to show me any romantic attention ever. I think this is because I had somehow been led to believe, from watching the behavior of many of the adults around me, that “romantic” attention (or, what I interpreted “romantic” attention to be — which was really less on the romantic side and more on the blatantly sexual side) was the only kind of attention that really meant anything.
Anyway, this person, the one who first showed me this attention, happened to be an Army private stationed near my hometown (and 4 years older than me). In true “romantic,” (read: not-so-romantic) classy style, he gave me my first kiss, felt me up, and shortly thereafter took my virginity, with me lying on my back in the dirty gravel of the open carport in the front of my mother’s house.
And because I don’t do anything halfway — and also because, of course, I thought I was in looooove — I followed him across the country as soon as I graduated high school, where I proceeded to marry him at the ripe, super-mature-and-responsible old age of 18.
When the marriage turned sour (is anyone surprised by that?), I jumped into a relationship with my then-work-supervisor (who was, probably not surprisingly, only the 2nd person in my life to show me any serious so-called “romantic” attention).
To make things even more emotionally confusing for me, this happened while I was still in the process of filing divorce papers and doing my best to stay off the radar of my soon-to-be ex-hubby, so as not to encourage his stalker-ish tendencies (which included but were not limited to: calling both my mother and my grandmother multiple times over a period of months, and regaling them, for hours, with his tales of woe about how much he missed me and asking them again and again what he needed to do to win me back).
Okay. So fast-forward through a series of subsequent sh*tty, ill-considered decisions (that I made in the throes of desperation, aloneness and neediness, and silent but spiritually violent outcries for love and attention), and a few months later…
I found myself pregnant by the aforementioned work supervisor (and still not yet divorced from my ex), with both of us soon to be out-of-work and out of health insurance, since we’d just found out the company we worked for was closing down the location we worked at and laying everyone off.
And I suppose, given the potential shock and awe accompanying that bit of information, you might think that’s where the hammer dropped completely, and that that’s where the interesting part of the story ends.
But it’s not. At least not in my story.
I really, really wish it were.
But in my story, it was at this point that I found out that:
- my work supervisor was not only still sleeping with his soon-to-be-ex-wife (because he was, like me, ALSO in the process of a divorce when we hooked up… though he’d told me when we first got “romantic” that he barely had any contact with her anymore, because they didn’t get along very well), but ALSO…
- he had another girlfriend (the very same someone he’d falsely called an “ex-girlfriend” when casually mentioning her to me once) whom he was, of course, sleeping with at the same time, and…
- all three of us oh-so-lucky females had been simultaneously impregnated by this f*cking winner of a human being. Yes. Yes, I really did say…. at. the. same. damn. time. (Apparently, this guy was on some sort of a “spread your seed far and wide” trip that fed his ego and made him feel more “needed and important,” according to what he told me about it much later.)
And because that just wasn’t enough of a one-two-three punch of hurt and humiliation to have to deal with, somehow (because, amazingly, miraculously, the main thing I was worrying about was losing him, in the middle of this clusterf*ck of a situation), I let this dude convince me that the only way for he and I to stay together was if I got an abortion, and that me agreeing to doing that would somehow “fix” everything that was wrong with everything that was happening in the world, and that we’d then be able to ride off into the sunset together and live happily ever after.
Honestly, I have no idea what I was thinking to believe this line of total f*cking BS… except that I was 19 years old, and he was a good decade older than me… and that I believe that I was actually addicted to him in the same way that I later got addicted to alcohol, because he said and did things that made me feel “good” about myself in ways that nothing and no one else ever had (I mean, not truly and honestly good… but he made me feel needed and important, no matter that it was a false feeling… and, no, the irony of the fact that the sense of presumed fulfillment that he and I were both searching for had pretty much the same roots in our respective psyches is not lost on me).
Anyway. Yeah, I was addicted to how he made me feel. Or how I thought he made me feel. And I didn’t think straight about anything concerning him for a long, long, long time.
Long story short (too late, I know), I got the abortion (he drove me to the abortion clinic, like a true gentleman… and of course, just to make sure I actually did it… okay, probably more the latter than the former), and the whole abortion experience was emotionally utterly awful and physically unexpectedly painful and spiritually just all-consuming and depleting, and I felt a leaden-heavy, all-encompassing sense of guilt about the whole thing for years afterward.
The experience opened up a huge sense of ineffable and unspeakable LOSS inside me that I will always have with me.
I mean, I’ve always supported a woman’s right to choose (and still do), but I’d never, before that moment, thought about it in terms of how the experience might affect me personally, and I hadn’t realized that I’d feel such a STRONG sense of attachment to that life growing inside me, or that it would hurt so, so f*cking much to lose that connection to that tender spark inside of me. It was an emotional pain more sharp and vast than I even have words for… more than I will ever have words for, I think, really.
But there’s something else about this experience that bears mentioning, too.
Because while I know a significant part of that feeling of enormous loss had to do with the winking out of that tiny ember that had been growing inside of me… for a long time, I thought that was the ONLY place that sensation of loss came from.
But it wasn’t.
I realize now, with the benefit of hindsight, that another HUGE component of that sensation of loss I felt came from losing so many other things at the same time.
I mean… I lost my faith in the innate goodness of humanity. My innocence. My ability to trust fully (not just in others, but in myself).
And this man, this winner of a man, shortly after this seriously traumatic yet relatively unacknowledged event in my life… he told me that while his ex-wife had gotten an abortion as well, that the other girl — the not-really-ex-girlfriend who was also pregnant by him — was not getting an abortion, because she was in the military and could support the baby on her own (because the government would pay her extra for having a baby, basically).
And because he supposedly wanted to do “the right thing” by her, he was staying together with her and her baby. Not with me.
Okay. I know I was super gullible, y’all. I can see it now, looking back, with years of life experience under my belt. But I saw NONE of this then.
I mean, looking back, I’m 99.9% sure that this was what he planned to do all along. But I never saw it coming. Not one little bit.
Yeah, I’m a sucker for pain, apparently. And back in those days, I naively always just believed that what people were telling me was the truth. Because despite all the bullying that I’d endured in my school years, I hadn’t yet been truly and fully hardened by life.
(This was, of course, one of the major turning points in my life’s journey, where I started turning away from innocent naivete and toward cynicism and suspicion of others and their intentions.)
Anyway, back to the story.
As it happens, this guy’s ex-wife and this other girl who was having his baby — they were apparently all three somehow still good friends even after everything that had happened (which is super strange and honestly still confuses me to this day).
And one day the two of his “other women” were hanging out together there with him at his place, and I guess he got pretty drunk (a daily occurrence) and told them about me and my pregnancy by him (thank you very much, ex-supervisor guy who shall remain unnamed here), and then the two of them decided they were gonna conference-call me together, from his house, probably also at least half-drunk, because they were pissed that I had, as they put it, “taken advantage of him.”
So I got a page from his number.
Yes, this was indeed back in the days when people didn’t all have cell phones, but a lot of the “cool kids” did have pagers, which meant that we could call our friends back when they paged us. (I was not a cool kid, but somehow I had managed to get my hands on a pager. The universe works in mysterious ways, I suppose.)
Anyway, I got this page.
Thinking that it was him paging me, I was excited of course, and I called back right away, from a payphone in the front of the Wal-Mart parking lot, where I happened to have been doing some shopping at the time.
And this is where I was standing — on the sidewalk in front of a Wal-Mart — when I found myself on the receiving end of some serious verbal harassment by these two very hostile, angry women. They spent the majority of the time that they were on the phone with me taking turns calling me a whore and a homewrecker and explaining how this guy (whom I was still hung up on, even then) didn’t even like me.
I wish I hadn’t responded at all. I mean, their abusive statements didn’t warrant a response. At least, not from a mature, collected person with healthy self-esteem.
But I did respond. Because I was hurt, and naive, and unsure of myself in so many ways, and because I knew that what they believed had happened was untrue, and I thought that if I just explained, they would understand, and then maybe they wouldn’t be so angry anymore.
Did I mention that I was naive?
So I tried to defend myself by explaining that I had been with this guy at his place just the night before, because he had called me and asked me to come over, so I obviously wasn’t “stalking him” as they claimed. I mean, I hadn’t even been the one to initiate the relationship in the first place.
Explanatory sidenote: This guy, my ex-supervisor… he’d actually used confidential company records to get my phone number and call me at home one day, asking me if I wanted to “hang out” (code: f*ck). And being the soft, unbaked cookie that I was at the time, I never once questioned the invasiveness or complete lack of professionality that this action implied. I was just grateful to be called, y’all, if you can believe that. Because I was amazed, honestly, that anyone thought me worthy enough to hang out with. I surely didn’t think that highly of myself at that time in my life.
Anyway, back to the story. I defended myself on the phone. And of course, when I said all this stuff in defense of myself, these two girls, they laughed and called me a liar. (I wasn’t lying, but apparently that was too much truth for them to process.)
Oh yeah, and to add insult to injury, this guy’s roommate, who was sitting right there with this guy and these two girls as this conversation happened, picked up the phone at their request and proceeded to lie for him, telling them that I hadn’t been at his place. (Where, BTW, my car had been parked all night, visible to anyone who might have driven by. And the roommate was home. And didn’t just say hi to me. We all ordered Jack-In-The-Box that night and watched TV together. I got the cheddar wedges.)
Anyway, this very painful conversation went on for quite a while, during which the two girls took great, vindictive pleasure in revealing to me that:
- the ex-supervisor was actually gonna marry the not-really-ex-girlfriend,
- I was just a piece of trash who needed to stop harassing him like a desperate slut, and
- they hoped my abortion hurt a LOT, because I was a wh*re and totally deserved it (yes… I had, for some reason, at some point during this call, been WAY more honest than they deserved, and had admitted to them that my abortion was a very painful and traumatic experience… primarily because I was 100% naive and trusting at the time, and I had just assumed that women with shared experiences of hurt would naturally support one another rather than ripping one another to emotional shreds).
Anyway. I have no words for how that last piece of their verbal assault felt… it went too deep, and I can still feel it today, sometimes. I mean, it was detailed, y’all.
Like… just for comparison purposes, they felt the need to tell me that his ex-wife’s most recent abortion procedure at the Planned Parenthood was, according to her, “so awesome and not painful at all, because they gave me lots of valium and I didn’t feel a thing, cause like, I was feeling kinda high and stuff and mostly just happy” (but, I think, also because apparently this was her 3rd time getting an abortion as well… so she was pretty much a pro at it by this time).
But the big question here really is… why did I stay on the payphone with them and let this verbal abuse continue for so f*cking long, y’all… I mean, the whole time snotting uncontrollably and sobbing my eyes out in the very public space of the Wal-Mart parking lot?
Why did I allow myself to be assaulted and harassed this way?
Did I mention I had low self-esteem at the time?
But also… I think I kept hoping and praying that what I believed about the world being essentially a good place was true, and that this guy would eventually stand up and do the right thing and tell them the truth and get them to stop verbally abusing me.
I kept hoping that good would win out in the world. You know, like it always did in the movies I watched in my youth.
But good didn’t win out. At least not right then.
This was one of those pivotal moments in my life, though. I know that emotionally, spiritually, and in every other way that matters… I marked it.
Because this was when I lost the biggest piece of my innocence — the innocence that I had somehow managed to stubbornly cling to throughout my school years, despite growing up with a series of physically, verbally, emotionally, and spiritually abusive addictive personalities as live-in father figures.
And because I know for certain that this is the point when I started to consciously and deliberately use alcohol to drown out my feelings, rather than just using it as a social lubricant to be a “fun girl” and fit in.
Because I had feelings that felt WAY too big and unspeakable to hold on to, and I didn’t want to even try to hold onto them. I wanted them to float away.
I also think this is the point when I started to believe that I deserved having bad things happen to me. Because, god help me, I internalized a lot of that Wal-Mart payphone conversation, on a very deep and insidious level.
(Which is why I urge you all: Be thoughtful with your words. Especially your angry ones. Because, my friends, we can hurt each other so very deeply. We can create lifelong wounds in each other, whether we intend to or not.)
Back to the story, though… this guy… he did eventually marry the not-really-ex-girlfriend, just as predicted, and he ultimately had not just one but two children with her. In quick succession.
And then he divorced her.
All within the space of less than 2 years.
(I’m sorry, no, the story doesn’t end there. I wish it did.)
This guy. He started calling me again. And you all… OMFG y’all… I cringe to think about it… but I went back to him.
And I have no excuse but youth and utter brokenness. Because the familiarity of the evil you already know and have dealt with before… that feels more comforting than the vast yawning scary emptiness of an unknown potential future, sometimes.
But after a while, this guy… he had to move several hours away due to a job transfer. And we drifted apart.
Which was a breath of fresh air for me…
But then he moved back to the area I was living in. And he emailed me “just to say hi” and let me know he was back in town. And I went back to him. Again.
Yeah. A cycle of brokenness continued there that, like a broken record, I had to eventually completely jump tracks to get out of.
It wasn’t easy. Or fast.
The fact is that it took me almost a decade to shake this guy and his dark influence on my life. Eventually, I had to just tell him to stop contacting me.
I don’t know how I got the energy or the will to do it. I’d like to think that the universe was guiding me.
I think my actual last words to him were something along the lines of “hearing from you reminds me of some very bad choices I made in the past, and that’s just not a good energy for me to hold in my life anymore, so please know that I wish you well in life and that I don’t hold any resentment toward you, but also.. please don’t contact me ever again; if you do, I won’t respond.”
It really did feel like the universe was guiding me in finding those words.
I’d like to think this is when I started rebuilding my self-esteem. Which is still an enormous work-in-progress. But this one small thing… it was a huge step forward for me.
Anyway, I’m still working on acknowledging some of the past traumas in my life, because I think there are a lot of sh*t-storms that I’ve been through in my years on this earth that I tried to get through by pretending them away or pretending that they didn’t affect me, when they very much did.
And I believe there is a lot of wisdom to be found in acknowledging the things that happened in my life in the past, and in looking at my part in all of it, in how things went down, in how I got to where I eventually got to with alcohol and everything else, and in striving to just be a better human in general.
P.S. I love this Buffy video speech about cookie dough because it kinda just speaks to my soul. (And I feel like there are lots of things about me that are not “cookies” yet, outside of the relationship stuff even, and I need to be patient and keep moving forward until my cookies are done baking.) And this video just makes me laugh. Hope it makes somebody else laugh a little too.
For context on this post, and links to related journal entries from this particular piece of my life's journey, see My Sobriety Journey, Journaled.
Hey y’all! Just wanted to jump in and say hello (yet again)!
I’m Trish — she/her pronouns, full-time RVer, 9/11 military vet, divorcee, polyamorous, pansexual, kinky, nerdy, overly blunt at times, 2w3 on the enneagram scale, INFJ on the MBTI scale, horribly inept (and perhaps a bit lazy) cook, and UBER protective dog mama.
I travel around a bit, but I’ve been calling AZ and SoCal my home/s most recently. I’d guess I’m ’round about a year or so sober now, but I don’t do the day counting thing (it was counterproductive for me in the long run), which means I don’t have a number to throw up on the scoreboard (so if you don’t either, you’re in good company!).
I spent a good 20+ years drinking to excess prior to getting sober, so I’ve got lots of experience with f*cking up, lots of experience with day 1s and broken promises, and lots of experience with scary blackouts, drinking to fit in and be more of a “fun party girl,” and drinking to numb emotional pain.
I’m also a recovered bulimic and am currently working on applying a lot of the tools and principles I learned from sobriety on breaking free of my emotional eating patterns (which involves acknowledging and dealing with some unacknowledged past trauma… ugh… fun stuff y’all… but I’m doing it! which is empowering, really).
My journey has not been without its ups and downs or without struggle, so please don’t take the relatively lighthearted tone of this post to mean that I think I’ve got it all figured out.
It’s a process. An emotional one. A tough one. One of the toughest things I’ve ever done, really.
But this whole addiction experience, and everything I’ve learned along the way, everything I’ve gained while clawing my way out of the multiple abysses I’ve fallen into in my life — it’s all amazing, and a huge gift, and I wouldn’t change a minute of it for the world.
Maybe that doesn’t sound like it makes sense, on the surface of things. But it’s all a part of my history, and thus, a part of me. And if I didn’t have all of that in my past, then I wouldn’t be the same strong, knowledgeable woman I am now.
Building blocks, y’all.
And I love who I am now. Well. Most days. 🙂 Yeah, that’s a work-in-progress too.
Anyway. I’m kinda feeling like this, these days, more often than not, and it’s a kinda awesome feeling:
Thanks for sticking around to witness this journey of personal transformation. It’s been an honor to have you with me. Love you all!
For context on this post, and links to related journal entries from this particular piece of my life's journey, see My Sobriety Journey, Journaled.
So this week, my online recovery support group has been talking a lot about how to use nutrition and lifestyle changes to support the body’s healing during the early years of recovery.
I’ll be honest, this particular topic of conversation is suuuuuper tough for me in a lot of ways, because the whole concept of “nutrition” is all entangled and enmeshed in my head with my disordered eating history and body image issues.
And while I’ve been working a LOT on loving myself as I am right now, where I’m at right is basically…
And to add insult to injury… the (very well-meaning but not very circumspect) receptionist at my dentist’s office actually went into this whole cooing and clapping fit the last time she saw me, asking me WHEN I WAS DUE, y’all. And… well… ahem… spoiler alert: I’m NOT f*cking pregnant. Although apparently that’s the impression that my tummy is putting out into the world right now. Ugh.
But seriously y’all, harsher words couldn’t have stabbed me as deeply in my tender, still-healing heart as those did.
And of course, I laughed it off, as I always do. Defense mechanisms, and all that.
Anyway, back to this whole “nutrition” concept. As I’ve been learning to listen to my inner wisdom a bit more, I’m becoming more and more aware that my body is giving me pretty clear signals that I really need to start taking the nutrition part of sobriety more seriously (I’ve been having digestion issues, been more prone to catching colds, getting winded more easily, and having some weird flashes of scary chest pains that Google tells me are not lasting quite long enough or occurring concurrently with enough other signs/symptoms to be heart-attack-related but possibly HOPEFULLY only anxiety-related… because I’ve totally been avoiding the doctor and doing the whole ostrich-ish head-in-the-sand thing).
Anyway, I’ve been absorbing this information but also not prodding myself to start acting too much on it. I’ve found that if I try to focus too much on changing my eating habits all at once, I can deplete my willpower very quickly to the point where everything else starts seeming super f*cking hard and like I don’t have the energy in me tackle any of it… and I don’t want to jeopardize my sobriety.
But I think I’m starting to get to that point where it’s time to jump into this whole nutrition thing and start making some real changes. Err, scratch that, bad turn of phrase — maybe not JUMP in (that’s how I used to do it, like BLAM!, whole hog, all or nothing, and it never lasted). So. I shall dip a toe into the nutrition waters here and there, and sloooowly ease myself into better sustenance habits with little baby steps. That’s the plan anyway.
But there’s still this weird feeling of churny anxiousness mixed with a bubbly bit of hopefulness and excitement in the pit of my stomach about it all.
And I am so incredibly thankful not to have to tackle any of this alone. The support I’ve been getting from my online recovery community about all of this — disordered eating and all — has been more than I could have ever hoped for.
Anyway. Feeling some things, but definitely counting my blessings today. And sending out lots of love to you all.
So I was out for a walk this morning with my dog-daughter, the inimitable Ms. Betty Boop the Mini-Schnauzer (you can find her at #bettybooptheschnauzer on Instagram), and I saw someone off in the distance walking along the lakefront, strumming a guitar and singing.
Sadly, I was not close enough to hear exactly what was being sung, and I never got close enough, because at some point this very minstrel-esque human turned off onto a sidewalk and started strolling down a road in the other direction, slowly moving away from me.
But just watching them walk away, totally comfortable and at peace and surrounded by their own music, gave me this feeling of deep comfort and peace myself.
And… like, also, it left me with a sense of wanting to surround myself with my own happy “music” too, whatever that might look like. I mean, I feel like having a positive morning “anthem” that I hop out of my bed and jam out to whenever I wake up would be a great way to start the day. Doesn’t that sound awesome?
But since I can’t play the guitar and I only sing in the shower (badly), I think surrounding myself with my own personal happy music might look more like playing these Starbucks commercials in my head and humming along to them — at least for right now.
Y’all. These commercials rock. And I would just loooove to have a personal pep squad following me around during my day, for no other reason than to sing my praises. For reals.
(This may also partially explain my strong affinity for Starbucks iced coffee in my sobriety years, since I was really NEVER a coffee lover of any kind in my 20s or early 30s.)
Anyway. What’s your fight song for the day? 🙂
I am a loud-and-proud mega-dork, which is the only explanation I can give to preface the pics I am about to post along with this bit of writing, which are the result of a somewhat craftsy project I attempted after waking up to 6 inches of snow on the ground on a quiet New Year’s Day in the Arizona desert (!!).
Me and the pup were both feeling a little cabin fever, since we were mostly hanging out in the RV with the heater running so we could stay toasty warm in the unexpectedly cold weather. So I decided that spending some time making matching puppy and puppy mom fleece vests (with NAMES on them, of course) was the way to go. It definitely kept my hands occupied. And I am kind of in love with the dorkiness of matchy-matchy outfits now.
So anyway, as far as my drinking story goes, which is what we are really here to talk about, right…
I come from a long line of closet alcoholics, perfectionists, and overachievers. I started drinking at the age of 18 and pretty much never stopped, from that tender age straight through until just this past year. Well… with the exception of a few months here and there (“scared straight” stretches of time that usually came after I did something really regrettable or was told about doing something really regrettable that I had little to no memory of).
I’m a 9/11 military veteran, and I remember joking around in my early 20s with my military roommate (who was also my best friend at the time) that we would both need to go to rehab together at some point in the future, with the amount that we were drinking.
Isn’t it interesting how humor lets us blurt out the starkly blatant truth, to let out what we’re really thinking, under the comforting veil of a “joke”?
But I think even at that time, some deep hidden part of me knew that what I was joking around about wasn’t really a joke at all. It was a glimpse of insight into a murky future that terrified me. But this is the home of brave, after all… so I didn’t let that terror slow me down ONE BIT when it came to drinking. In fact, that terror just became yet another reason to drink. To numb out. To not have to think about the murky future.
Indeed, it took at least another decade and a half for me to even begin to acknowledge that I needed to change my ways, to stop denying the damage I was doing to myself — mentally, emotionally, spiritually, physically. And with that dawning realization, I began a slow slide into a years-long avalanche of attempts at magical-seeming “quick-fix” solutions, during which I tried all sorts of ways that I thought would SURELY help me in drying out / moderating / slowing down / getting healthier / centering myself — including yoga retreats, juice fasting retreats, fitness retreats, a stay at an ashram in Texas, and going off to intuitively paint my feelings away in the woods with the help of Franciscan nuns.
And some of that stuff worked for a while, but none of the quick-fixes “took” long-term. I mean, you can retreat all you want to, but real life is always there waiting for you when you get back, you know?
Anyway, after going through a rough divorce in 2017 and ending up in a place where none of that expensive quick-fix stuff was really an option anymore, I finally realized what I should have all along — that I had to pull up my big-girl pants, and dig deep in my heart, and find in ME what it took to do this, because no one could do it for me… and that led me to the realization that — surprise, surprise — what I needed had actually been inside of me all along, not waiting for me in some fancy retreat setting (although retreat settings are really nice, to be honest… and I’d totally go back to all of those beautiful places again one day, just without the expectation that they would “fix” me in any way, you know).
Ironically, while much of the aforementioned quick-fix spiritual soul-searching activity was going on, I was actually working as a holistic life coach, and one of my specialties was leading discussion groups at substance abuse recovery facilities (back in those days, I was good at helping everyone except myself, it seemed).
However, despite my intimate familiarity with the recovery community (and — intellectually, anyway — with the tools needed to successfully navigate the recovery process), I still floundered a lot in my own recovery efforts. A lot a lot. I mean, sooooo much. Like a third grader with bad behavior being forced to go back to kindergarten to relearn the rules of being a good human — like THAT kind of floundering.
Truth: When I first found the online sobriety support group I’m a part of now… I had this weird, off-kilter feeling for months, like I just didn’t “get it” on the level that everyone else did. I mean, intellectually, I did technically understand what everyone was talking about… but emotionally… I just didn’t feel like I was moving forward in the same way that everyone else seemed to be.
Because, y’all, real talk… my sobriety is imperfect. And my early sobriety was way, WAY imperfect. I spent a lot of it wondering why I felt like I was drawn to suddenly want to drink MORE, now that I’d made the decision to quit, and worrying that I was missing something on some fundamental level since I wasn’t racking up double- and triple-digit sober days right out of the gate.
It felt like everyone else was ahead of me. And that seriously made me feel like a failure. (I was really good at queuing up the old scripts and stories that I’d been telling myself about my life to support that feeling, too.)
I stuck with it, my whole third-grade-but-really-kindergarten-level sobriety effort, despite my many “failures,” and ended up meeting a few really great sober friends along the way, and finding the guts to get back in touch with my therapist to process a load of emotional mess that came up during my early sobriety efforts, and as a result of all of that, I ended up making strides I never thought I could, and finally, FINALLY embracing the “sober mentality” that I felt like I had been chasing for so long.
Of course… looking back now, I realize that because we are constantly growing and changing, my “sober mentality” is also an ever-evolving thing, and not something that I ever really have to chase down. It’s always been a part of me, I just needed to learn how to listen to the quiet wisdom it has always been whispering to me.
Anyway, all that is to say, mostly… hello! 🙂 And also to say… hey, I’m no sobriety expert, and I don’t claim to be. I still have a lot to learn, and I’m sure that will be true for the rest of my life. At least, I hope it will, because otherwise life would be super boring. In any event, I’m more than a bit curious to see how things unfold over the next few months and beyond.
And thanks for listening. Big hugs to all!
So. Today’s recovery group mantra has me repeating over and over that “my beauty is made in the fire.”
And this mantra, while it feels truthful to me… well… meh… that truthfulness has the bitter taste of an ironic sort of slap-in-the-face thing to me. Which kinda sucks, on an emotional level.
But it is still probably, overall, one of the cooler and more thought-provoking mantras we’ve covered so far, at least to me — primarily because it’s about FIRE. (I’m just not a super-fan of mantras in general, FYI.)
So yeah. Fire.
FIRST of all… don’t get me wrong, I’m the polar opposite of a pyromaniac.
I mean… I’ll be honest, y’all, I’m actually terrified of fire almost to the point of rabid, drooling paranoia at times… like, well… I’m not really sure what I believe about past lives, but if you look at things from the science-y side where energy is neither created nor destroyed, it only changes forms… I’ve actually wondered a few times if maybe I was burned at the stake in another life or something, because that’s quite literally how terrified I feel of fire and its many, many, manyyyyyy oh-so-numerous potential dangers.
I mean, terrified, like… going to a camping outing and spending all night worrying that a stray spark from the fire your friends built (and that is currently located THREE TENTS AWAY) is going to catch your tent on fire, that sort of thing. Yeah. That’s me. And I mean, terrified, like… living in an RV and NEVER, EVER using the stove YOU PAID FOR because it requires you to light a match and stick it in a stream of propane gas. Yep. Me again. I kinda think maybe you’re starting to get the idea?
Anyway, many people (me included, oftentimes) seem to think firstly of fire as a destructive force.
The thing we don’t seem to often think about is that it is also a force necessary to sustain, regenerate and renew life.
Sustain — in that it gives us the ability to stay warm and cook our food, etc. Regenerate and renew — in the context of basic fire ecology: fires are essential to the sustained health of a forest by clearing overgrowth, returning nutrients to the soil, and providing new habitats to wildlife in the form of burned trees. In fact, I’ve been told that some vegetation actually requires the heat of fire in order for its seeds to propagate (and I think that’s SUPER cool).
So fire can be really f*cking scary, but it can also bring REALLY good things in its aftermath.
Beautiful things. Renewal. New life.
And I really like that whole analogy as it applies to the recovery/sobriety journey.
So anyway. Here’s a story for you, and a true one.
One day a few years back, I was taking a brisk walk through an urban park I’d trekked through many times before, and I made my normal loop and then turned back on the route returning toward my car, and while retracing my steps… I came across a tree with its base, quite literally, on fire, y’all.
And I was confused and scratching my head (as I placed my first-ever-in-life personal call to the fire department), because I’d just walked past this same tree, like, less than 10 minutes before, and it had appeared fiiiiiine, or at least, not noteworthy to me at the time.
And it was one of those trees planted in those little ovals of grass next to a walkway, surrounded by concrete and sidewalk on both sides, you know, so it seemed so completely random and without any discernible cause.
And the only thing I could think of at the time was that maybe someone had walked by and thrown a cigarette butt on the dry grass at the base of the tree.
And I actually never found out exactly what caused that tree to burn, but wow, it went up fast. The fire department was already on its way from another bystander’s call, or so they told me just before I pulled my car out of one of the park’s many parking lots, and I assume they took care of it, because it wasn’t a big story on the news that night.
But I did start Googling a lot of things about random fire events after that, because I was curious (you know, my fire paranoia in action and all) about what it could have been.
And OMG, y’all… I found out, in the course of this research, that — lo and behold — fire can actually travel through the root systems of trees and bushes and other vegetation, and in fact, it can smolder beneath the ground for DAYS even after a fire seems to be out (and if you’ve seen the movie Backdraft or read about the Combustion Triangle, this isn’t nearly as far-fetched as it seems… and this is exactly the kind of nerdy stuff that toooootally fascinates me… and of course, feeds my terrors at the same time).
Anyway, there was a big open field on the other side of the sidewalk, across from this tree, that had burned the previous week, so there was a lot of black scorched vegetation not too far away, but in between these two areas was nothing but concrete. But if the root systems of those two areas had any sort of connection, it was possible for that fire to jump… from that blackened, burned field… to that single, solitary tree. I mean… wow. Just wow. Isn’t that wild? (Ahem, insert “wildfire” pun here. **cough, cough** Totally ironic coughing too, FYI.)
Anyway, the point is, I feel like my journey so far has had quite a few of those smoldering-roots-erupting-into-new-flames moments — necessary moments, I suppose, but moments that still blindsided me like sudden, scorching flames flaring up in front of my unsuspecting face (usually coming RIGHT when I felt like, yeah… I’ve got this! oh shiiiiit, no I don’t!) and I definitely felt the heat, the burn. The pain of it.
So many moments of renewal… and relearning.
And I can’t help but wonder if this is what Pema Chodron means when she talks about the difference between the burn of “hot loneliness” and how the experience of cool loneliness is so profoundly different — like in the moments during the fire, and then after.
Anyway, these are just a bunch of wandering thoughts that I wanted to put down on paper to sort them out a bit from where they were floating around in the back of my head. I’m kind of an analogy lover, in case you didn’t already guess. I think that’s how my mind tends to try to sort through what it deems “mostly unsortable” data.
Because nothing is unsortable, damn it.
And thanks for listening. 🙂
So I had a ROUGH, rough, rough emotional night last night, and felt 1,000% overwhelmed due to a bunch of things that were and are completely out of my control (control freak perfectionist here, hi!), and all of the feelings and rawness and things just going WRONG on me — all of that collided in just the right way to crack me open like a fragile little egglet, leaving me sobbing and leaking a TON of messy fluids everywhere and just feeling, like, broken, you know?
And at the peak of that emotional carnage, ultimately (along with enough crying to puff my eyelids for days), I gave in to some alcohol cravings that I now realllllly wish I hadn’t caved to… especially since one more night would have made the longest sober streak I’ve had yet.
So then of course, this morning I had to deal with the killer headache and the shitty regret hangover, both of which SUCK… but I think the regret hangover is worse for me than the actual physical hangover.
But I decide how my story ends! Right? (Am I trying to give myself a pep talk? Yes. Yes, I am.)
And actually I think last night helped cement in my head some realizations about myself that are gonna be key in my long-term sobriety. Because as much as I hate to admit it, I really kinda felt like EVERY day was a struggle up to this point.
(P.S. Why does admitting that recovery has been a huge struggle for me feel like such a dirty little secret!? Have I been sober-shaming myself with this need to “hide” or cover up the fact that this whole process has been SUPER F*CKING HARD so far? I think on some level, I have for a long while felt like, if you’re doing it “right” and just basically “killing it” at recovery, then it shouldn’t be a struggle. But I don’t think that’s right. I think sometimes it just IS hard. And that’s okay.)
But anyway… all of that is to say, I think this morning I reached critical mass for just surrendering this whole recovery process to a higher power than myself instead of continuing to struggle against it (and myself) every day. So I guess there are really truly no mistakes. Even the f*ck-ups and missteps in “falling off the wagon,” as some call it.
(Sidenote: Regarding the “higher power” concept, I feel the need to clarify that I definitely don’t subscribe to all of the tenets of Alcoholics Anonymous. In fact, some of the beliefs that AA asks its members to embrace just don’t sit well with me at all. But the idea of opening myself to the wisdom and guidance of a higher power rings true for me, because I do believe that the universe guides me, when I’m willing to listen.)
Anyway, I’m feeling a lot lighter emotionally and mentally in my sobriety today than I ever have before… which is amazing, considering how my night went.
Lots of love and hugs to all, and thanks for listening to this rambling bit of processing.
So here’s the truth. I spent most of 2017 struggling. With a lot of things, really. With EVERYTHING… or at least, it felt like that some days.
I was struggling against a divorce process that I didn’t want to be going through (but that was also probably one of the best things that could’ve happened to me as far as my love life goes… because hindsight is 20/20 and all that).
I was struggling with fears over my future and how I would survive being ripped away from everything that I’d known for most of my adult life, everything that I believed in, everything that I’d built my life around.
The ex was the main breadwinner in our household at the time, and had (in my opinion) helped to cultivate a whole “monetary value equals personal worth” thing in our relationship dynamic for years (but only after he started making more money than me, interestingly), and when you couple that with the fact that I ended up having to sell/donate a lot of my stuff and live with friends and family for a while after the divorce, well… I found myself just sort of bouncing around in a half-hearted, reactionary, ungrounded state during a large part of 2017… feeling lost… feeling completely unsure of myself… feeling unsure of what I even really wanted.
I was struggling with unhealthy behaviors that were escalating out of control… binge eating, drinking myself to sleep, late nights spent sexting and/or having phone sex with people I’d met online but never ever planned to meet in real life (you know… the exact opposite of any sort of meaningful connections, basically).
And all of that left me feeling empty and alone in the long run, you know? I mean, when the distractions were over — when the food and alcohol was gone (or I just couldn’t consume anymore of either because I’d made myself sick), when whatever high-class human I’d been sexting randomly stopped responding to my late-night messages… there was just… nothing. Emptiness. A never-ending hole inside me demanding to be filled with something other than what I was attempting to fill it with.
I was also struggling with identity issues and feelings of being a fraud at work, since I held myself out as a health and fitness coach, and spent my days helping other people get their sh*t together, and was even getting paid to lead discussion groups at in-patient and IOP recovery clinics (so basically, I’d been spending a lot of time giving everyone else the advice that I needed to be taking myself but absolutely wasn’t taking).
So like… with 2017 being soooo f*cking hard, I just had this idea in my head that 2018 would be like “The Year of Trish,” you know (catch that “Happy Endings” reference, anyone)? Like… I imagined this major turnaround in my life, where I would get it ALL together with gusto and banners flying and balloons and celebration. Huzzah! You know? Or something like that.
Anyway, 2018 has turned out to be a year of change, for sure, and challenges, and growth, and learning, but it’s been NOTHING like what I expected. There haven’t been any banners or balloons, and it definitely hasn’t been an easy-peasy walk in the park.
I did decide to take a lot of leaps of faith this year, though. So maybe 2018 is the year of the leap?
I mean… I leapt into the full-time RV lifestyle this year, embracing my independence in finally not having to live with family anymore, and embracing a dream I’ve held onto quietly for years about living a free-wheelin’ nomadic adventure.
I leapt into this online recovery support group I recently joined, and started doing the work to confront my alcohol overuse issues, and actually finally got real with myself (and a few close friends and family) about my drinking.
I leapt into therapy. Again. I’d actually been in therapy to help me process some of the issues surrounding my divorce for a while prior to this, but this time I came back to get real with my therapist about my drinking and eating issues (something I’d not discussed or revealed to her up to that point).
And I’ve been slowly leaping (err… as much as anyone can slowly leap… which I guess entails waiting motionless for a while and then making a big dramatic jump, and repeating that process over and over again) into the practice of not pushing down my feelings, of being with them as they arise, and of not holding myself back from speaking my truth. And that’s a work in progress.
But I’m looking forward to 2019 with a sense of hopeful curiosity. Which is, I suppose, all anyone can really do, right?
And I’m so grateful to be able to be here right now sharing these feelings and insights with you all. I think there’s a kind of magic in the group synergy of conscious presence and intent that exists in the sacred spaces we create for ourselves, whether online or in-person. And this feels like a sacred space to me. I hope it does to you as well.
So I’m kind of a “challenge-all-social-norms, alternative-lifestyle-embracing” sort of girl, and probably mostly not everyone’s cup of tea. And that’s okay. I actually think my unique blend of quirks and weirdnesses are the exact parts of my personality that drew me to this online recovery support group that I’m a part of now like a homing beacon.
And when I first found this community of special humans, the recovery space they shared — online thought it may have been — just felt like home to me. Probably more than my own familial home growing up ever did, honestly, even though I love my family with all my heart. I mean, the amount of acceptance and love in the words I’ve seen shared in this space, between total strangers on the internet, is just, like… an uber-supportive, all-encompassing, spiritually touching approach to sobriety that I’ve never been exposed to before (and I worked in the recovery business for several years, so that’s saying something).
Anyway, now that I’m a part of this community of special humans… as tends to happen in support groups, I find that I’m often re-introducing myself to the group, whenever there are new people that come into it. And since I think it could be an interesting thing for me to witness how my own introduction of myself to others — especially in relation to my recovery — changes over time, I’m going to record my latest re-introduction posts here, going forward. So here goes…
Hey there, y’all. I’m Trish. I’m a relatively recently divorced 9/11 military veteran, have been leading an ethically non-monogamous lifestyle for the past 6 years or so, and am a newbie full-time RV dweller (by choice) who is about to migrate from Southern California to Arizona for the winter.
I’ve struggled with alcohol for about 20 years, with my divorce and subsequent issues probably bringing that more to the forefront over the past couple of years than in the past. I’ve also struggled with eating disorder issues rather sporadically throughout that whole time. The eating disorder stuff was really bad for part of my early 20s, but I thought I had totally kicked it, until I started purposefully trying to incorporate periods of sobriety into my life over the past few years. And then, surprise surprise, the eating disorder behaviors reared their ugly head again.
I’ve actually spent the past few months with my therapist working through how all of that mess is tied together with my tendency to subsume my own desires for those of my romantic partners, and have basically been learning to stop repressing my feelings so much, so that I won’t feel as strong of a need to turn to consumption of anything (food or alcohol) as a numbing or distraction agent.
That’s definitely a work in progress, but I’ve started practicing… IDK… “conscious vulnerability,” I guess is what I would call it, with trusted friends and family thus far, and it’s been… well, way more positive of an experience than I expected. I’ve read a lot of Brene Brown’s stuff (“Daring Greatly,” “The Gifts of Imperfection,” etc.), and I guess it makes more sense to me now how sharing the story of my softer and more vulnerable parts has made me feel strangely better. But dang, it sure doesn’t make sharing that stuff any less scary.
Anyway, that’s all I’ve got for now. Sharing is hard, y’all.