Tough Times; Times of Growth

I brought a friend home from the hospital yesterday. She had the fourth operation on her back to replace a spinal disc with one made of titanium. It’s part of a series of replaced discs that will allow her to continue to live independently and pain free–once it heals. Until then she will have to go through a lot of pain and three months of recuperation. However, had she not had the operation, she would go through many more months of pain and suffering with no guarantee that the spinal column might be completely severed by the shifting vertebrae. Kind of a hard spot to be in, especially having gone through it three times previously.

A few things come to mind. First, sometimes we have to endure a great deal in order to make it through the present challenge. It may be physical, mental or spiritual pain that we are enduring. And like any change, it brings discomfort and few of us relish being uncomfortable. But we must keep our eyes on the end result to help us keep our sanity. If all goes well, in three months, or however long this challenge should last, life will establish a new normal. We’ll find a new comfort zone and hopefully the pain we experienced will be a memory and we can be grateful to have lived through the experience.

Second, I am struck by the difficulty in accepting help when we are so used to being independent. I was thinking this morning that we all know that infants and elderly need our assistance. But I think that we must remember that all of us are dependent on everyone else. I can’t do it all, and I never could. I rely on the ‘kindness of strangers,’ as well as that of my family and friends. I needed people when I was going through difficult times in my life and I need them to share the wonderful times as well. When we share our interdependence, we help to balance out the good times with the challenging ones. I willingly assist you and later you assist me.

Third, no one likes to give up control. Placing ourselves into the power of another is very difficult for many people. I want to control what is happening to me. Yet, there are times, such as going under the scalpel of a surgeon, or getting strapped into the seat of a jet that we do give up complete control of our lives. But we usually don’t do this on a whim. The people upon whom we rely are trained professionals. There still are risks, but they are minimized by their experience.

All of these three: passing through an ordeal, relying on others and giving up control all are part of trust: trusting others, trusting the process and trusting life. And they have to do with taming our egos as well. ‘I can’t do it all and I never could,’ is a good lesson to practice once in a while. It is also a lesson that we survive everything that comes our way. It may not be the manner in the which we had envisioned or in the time frame that we were hoping for, but we get through it. I am reminded of the character in the movie ‘The Most Exotic Marigold Hotel’ in which the young entrepreneur says “It will all work out in the end. If it’s not working out, it’s not the end.” Whatever it is, you will make it through.

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Dealing with the Blues

I am grateful to be living in an area where I no longer experience winter. However, the post holiday season can be a difficult time for many of us. We spend so much time preparing for Christmas, Hanukkah or special days as well as the New Year and suddenly, it’s all over. If you live in the northern hemisphere, you suddenly notice that daylight is short and there are three to four more months of winter to deal with. The January Blues are very real for many people. Seasonal Affective Disorder may also play a part in our sense of depression.

I have dealt with depression for far too many years. Sometimes I have been able to manage on my own, or with the help of a friend. At other times I’ve taken natural medications such as St. John´s Wort. For about five years I took prescription antidepressants. Clinical depression is very real and most of us experience it at some point in our lives. Some of us are able to come out of it without taking anything and others need varying degrees of assistance to deal with the depression. Everyone is different and so it is important not to compare with others but to treat it properly.

Since I have been in recovery dealing with depression has become easier. After a few years in my program and, with my doctor’s advice, I was able to slowly wean myself off of the medications for depression. However, that doesn’t mean that I am ‘cured’. I still have to be conscious about how I am feeling.

So what do I do when I feel myself spiraling down? There are a number of things that help me. I get my butt to a meeting. When I am down, I don’t want to see anyone. And that’s probably the worst thing for me. I need to get out of my head. Going to a meeting helps me to get out of myself and engage with others. A meeting also reminds me that I am not alone in all of this. I do have a lot of support. After the meeting I can talk to my sponsor.

Exercise also works. It doesn’t have to be a three hour marathon at the gym. A walk to the store instead of driving, or taking the dogs for a extra walk. Getting the body moving releases endorphins which help to regulate our mood. There’s a very steep path near my home up to the top of a mountain that doesn’t take more than ten minutes to climb, but it leads to a great view, it’s good exercise and my dogs love the run.

As much as I griped about it when I was first in recovery, I now often write a Gratitude List. There are always at least three things that I can be grateful for. Again, writing this list takes my focus away from those things that I find depressing. How can I be depressed when I have been given so much?

Clinical depression is very serious. If none of these suggestions help to alleviate your depression, seek professional help as soon as possible. There may be a chemical imbalance in your body and like I did, you may need to take a medication to help correct the imbalance.  It may be that you need to talk to someone who is a professional and has more experience than your sponsor or your friends in the meeting rooms. In the same way that if you had a bad head ache lasting a week without seeing your doctor, don’t let depression go untreated when it lasts a week.

We all have down days. It’s normal. But remember that the better days are on the way. We don’t have to remain down. It’s not the end of the world. I’ve often shared that even in Recovery, I still have ups and downs in my moods and how I feel, but the extremes of feeling really good or really sad now seem to be gone and for that,  I am grateful.

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Leave the Drama Behind

When I was in my disease it was so easy to be the barstool philosopher, solving the enigmas of the worlds of religion, politics and people. Through tyraids, tears and sometimes both, I fought for my beliefs and ideals in order to create a utopian world. “We need to…” “We ought to…” “I’m going to…” Of course, I needn’t finish the phrases because they were as empty as my resulting actions. Nothing ever came of it. The next morning I would be in such a fog that I would be more interested in an immediate hangover cure, if I remembered anything at all, that is. And soon I would be onto my first of the day and a repeat of the vicious downward spiral I had fallen into.

In recovery I can leave all of that outside drama behind me. Initially, just staying clean and sober was my focus. It didn’t matter what was whirling around in the world, it was all I could do not to start again. I went to plenty of meetings, talked to other members and read our literature. Gradually the drama toned down. Once I stopped, I had money to pay my bills. I did the work I was supposed to do; I started to become a responsible person and my life became more manageable. I slowly began to see that the huge problems I thought were insurmountable were actually a result of my using. The people around me suddenly became more reasonable, even personable. Stop the drugs and alcohol and my life calmed down substantially.

Take away the drama and my life became more balanced. Oh I still have bouts of mania and depression, but the swings aren’t so broad: I’m more centred in my self, my relationships and my world. Things aren’t so extreme. It’s not the ‘absolute best’ or the ‘most dismal failure’. I can look at things in a reasonable perspective and see them for what they really are. If I find myself caught up in the tornado of life, a talk with my sponsor will often help to calm the winds. The Serenity Prayer reminds me of the little I can control and the rest? Well, I’m learning to let go of it.

The suspenseful drama slowly gave way to a melodrama and today it’s more of life adventure. I awaken refreshed most days, ready to face what life offers. I trust that I will make it through whatever comes my way. I know that I have the backing of my Higher Power and my recovery program. I try not to worry about tomorrow or fret about what happened in the past. Live in the moment. One day at a time.