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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russian blue kitten on brown woven basket

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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.


Progress, not Perfection

Last week I sneezed rather forcefully and my back went out. There went the weekend plans out the window. I was forced to make changes. It was not the first time it happened and fortunately, I have a small ‘TENS’ unit which I can use to send electrical impulses across my lower back and a good ice pack. Using them alternatively helps to ease the discomfort. Regardless, I know from experience that I need to do two things. First, I need to relax and take it easy, resting horizontally for a couple of day. Second, I need to look at why this happened, asking myself what are the physical and spiritual components to this occurrence.

I have come to learn from my own disease of addiction that I am an interconnected: when the body is in pain, so is the soul, and visa versa. I admire societies where a shaman is called who works with the body and the soul to promote healing. Western society separates the role of the doctor and the priest: medicine and spirituality are kept apart. Like my addiction, I know if there is a physical component, there is also a spiritual one. When something is wrong with the body there is something wrong with the soul and the soul-sickness usually develops before the bodily one.

Looking back I can see I put myself under stress physically (more intense gym workouts) and spiritually (holiday preparation, work and not keeping up with my program of meditation-journaling). I believe both of these resulted in my back deciding to go on vacation, forcing me to change some plans, slow down and get back to basics.

I am grateful that I have a recovery program to turn to. I am grateful that I have learned to see the signs, sometimes even before the physical torture of a lower back spasm. My spine is like a river with its electrical impulses flowing up and down. I can dam the flow and when I do that, I cause problems. And like the river, it takes time to take apart the pieces of the dam that restrict the flow but gradually it returns to normal.

These few days have given me time to catch up on reading, writing and appreciating the health that I do have. They have been a reminder to me how important it is to keep up my program and the short distance between ease and dis-ease. The steps of my recovery program require that I live them. They are not a checklist that I can forget about once finished; they require a daily recommitment to keep them fresh and alive.

I know this, and yet I still let things slide once in a while. I am grateful that this is a program of progress and not perfection: one day at a time. Our goal isn’t becoming saints, rather pilgrims enjoying the journey of life with others. I am grateful that I can now recognize when that’s not happening and that I have the tools to put me back on that path. Maybe next time I will recognize it before I can’t get out of bed in the morning.