No, Deb, We’re Actually Not Playing in the Same Sandbox

I’ve written about the long period of time when my kids were young when a few businesses my husband was involved with simultaneously combusted – leaving our lives scattered in pieces to salvage the best we could.  So I won’t bore you with the story again except to reference an odd phrase one of my husband’s employees repeatedly used in conversation with me to convey – I am not sure what – “We’re all playing in the same sandbox!” she would exclaim every time she saw me.  Um….was it solidarity?  Compassion?  Manipulation?  Honestly, it annoyed me because we were SO NOT in the same “sandbox,” figuratively or literally.  There were disastrous and long-term financial and professional consequences from the partnerships and businesses that fell apart that affected many people – just not so much “Deb.”  The memory of this strange interaction tumults my consciousness back to a feeling of deep isolation.  And that’s when the addictive thinking began.

I mention this because I want to talk about trust and friendship and understanding.  These are the best contexts for me to share with you that recently I chose to have a couple of glasses of wine.  Relapse.  That’s what my Therapist calls it.  I think that is a brutal word, especially since some of the recovery literature and support groups make it sound so hauntingly awful – and shameful.  I am not ashamed that I wanted 2 glasses of wine ….. twice lately …. and that I gave in to my desire.  My Therapist wants to make sure I understand that the “relapse happens in the thinking a long time before the behavior” – and I do.  I will be honest, both times I drank I felt utterly terrible physically for 2 days after.  Nor did I get the “fun buzzed” feeling I recollected and longed for.  Just swallowing a sugary drink in hopes of recapturing a feeling of escape.  But the feeling never came and the after effects were awful.  So I don’t think I will be doing it again.  Yet my Therapist and I both want to know why I did it.

Isolation and not feeling connected are the roots of my addiction.  When I look around at the true friendships, real connections, and budding feelings of purpose I have at this perfectly awkward midlife time of life, what I have is good.  REALLY good.  I just don’t seem to want to accept it, if that makes sense.  My friend Shelley, a dear old friend with whom I have recently reconnected, helped me see something about myself glaringly obvious to her:  my addiction must have somehow also been driven by the desire to escape from the natural physical changes women experience in midlife. Yes, Shelley, yes! You are right!  Her compassion, insightfulness and kindness led to tears streaming down my face when she said:  “You are probably just now, in your sobriety, learning to accept your body and wrinkles for what they are while other women your age have had more time to adapt.”  Bingo.  I’ve written about taking dexedrine (pure speed prescribed by a doctor) for (I can’t even remember the bs diagnosis – something like “unresponsive depression”).  I was super skinny then.  Now I am hungry all the time.  But if you compare my overall health today to what it was during my skinny and addicted years – I am far healthier, though more plump, today.  Shelley is helping me understand “you are not supposed to look like you did 25 years ago.”  My body today is not a “mistake.”

I think comparison is the reason why I relapsed.  “Everyone else” is having so much fun drinking and having fabulous bodies.  I hope you are laughing because I am!  Our addictions will tell us lies about ourselves and others all day long if we let them.

What will I do now?  I will work harder to accept and love myself.  I have learned so many things from this journey but it takes time and effort to put it all into daily practice. Drinking is and always will be a problem for me.  When I drink, I am not my authentic self and it is difficult for me to get back to that.  Some of today’s “spiritual junkies” tout that “Calm is my superpower.”  And that sounds attractive.  I want it.  Like sobriety, I will do anything to get it and keep it.  Now back to work.

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Why I love Brene Brown

Self-proclaimed “shame researcher” Brene Brown first entered my awareness a few years ago when I was listening to her interviewed on National Public Radio.  I was exhilarated to learn there was an actual person researching the phenomenon of shame and extrapolating from those findings practical, hopeful, actionable insights for people desiring to live “in the truth” of who they are.  In other words, she appeared in my life at exactly the right time, a period of intense change and transition during which I began asking myself, “How can I live more fully, less materialistically, and enjoy the fruits of just being ME in this crazy world?”.

Having been raised Catholic during the 70’s, the word shame resonated BIG TIME.  I was shrouded in shame from an early age.  It was the easiest means of eliciting good behavior, I suppose.  But damaging to the core once a person learns how to think for herself.  I don’t blame anybody for accessing this useful behavior modification technique, but I have been determined to dedicate my adult life to banishing every shred of shame from my path and seeking out ways for understanding the way people think and act, instead.

What does this random thought mean on a Wednesday morning in February, friends?  I mention it because I have discovered that Brene Brown, her research and writing, her TedTalks and mere co-existence with me during my time on this Earth, has opened up for me a very optimistic, hopeful and enthusiastic approach to moving forward in life.  We live the first part of our lives following the rules and “setting up shop,” so to speak, so we can “have” things like a good job, a nice family, a safe home and other standards of living well.  But Brene Brown reminds us to be brave, open-hearted and courageous enough to look within ourselves for the ultimate source of “living well.”  Like shame, external forces and identifiers of “success” can pull us off course from the destiny our uniqueness can attain.  Brene Brown helps me come closer to finding that “true self” every time I read something she has written and commit to practicing authenticity, allowing my true self to be seen.

I am inspired this morning by the opening quote from the chapter “Cultivating Authenticity” in Brene Brown’s book, The Gifts of Imperfection:

Often people attempt to live their lives backwards:  they try to have more things, or more money, in order to do more of what they want so that they will be happier.  The way it actually works is the reverse.  You must first be who you really are, then do what you really need to do, in order to have what you want.

Margaret Young

Today, I am just grateful to have access to Brene Brown’s wisdom during this time of my life, and I hope you will seek her work out, too.  Joyfully and Authentically yours, Joan