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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The Power to Carry It Out.

Last post I wrote about knowing what my Higher Power’s will is for me. This post will address the second thing we are told to pray for in the Eleventh Step:  the power to carry out that will.

Just where do I get that power? I’d like to say that there’s an automatic line from heaven to me that pumps energy into my to do the will of my HP. But I can’t. It just doesn’t work that way. My Higher Power only does for me what I cannot do for myself, so if I can do it – it’s up to me.

When I came into the program, I believe that HP removed my obsession to use. I sure couldn’t do it myself. I had been trying for years to stop without much success. Suddenly I no longer had the urges and for me, that was a miraculous power. I was told that faith in a Higher Power does move mountains, but to bring along a shovel and a wheelbarrow. In other words, there are things that I have to put the work into. It takes time and it takes an effort forge a life that is truly happy, joyous and free. So where did I find the power to keep trudging the path of happy destiny?

I found power to do HP’s in my own past. If I could stay sober yesterday, then I could use that as encouragement for me to stay sober today. Gradually the days added up. I can still find self esteem and courage in the small successes to keep me going through today. I have been through separation, death, and broken bones in recovery, and I didn’t fall apart so the small victories, one day at a time, gave me power to get through the traumatic times. I admit that my mind sometimes throws my failure at me with full force. However, by developing the habit of looking for successes, I can find power even in the smallest ones. They encourage me.

photo of four persons uniting hands

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I found power in my recovery fellowship. I listened: at meetings, before meetings and at the coffee shop after meetings. Here were people who were doing the same thing  as I was and they were finding a path through difficulties. They were showing me what to do and sometimes, what not to do, by their example. Their experience became my valuable experience; even though it didn’t happen to me I could learn from their lessons. I needed and still do need my recovery family to help me through the difficult times that pass through everyone’s life at sometime or another.

I found power in the assistance of mentors in recovery. Sponsorship helped me to see on a person to person level how to go through the Twelve Steps of recovery. It allowed me to share things I wasn’t ready talk about with a group or perhaps weren’t appropriate for a meeting share. Having a sponsor helped me to see and celebrate those small successes, as well as the major ones.

Past successes, recovery fellowship and sponsors are also there to challenge us. If I am the same as I was yesterday, then I’m not growing. I believe that this is a program that requires growth and constant learning. The power I need to step out of my comfort zone and into unknown territory comes from knowing that I can face fears and walk courageously forward because others have done so before me. I know that I have the power to carry out my Higher Power’s will for me today.

 

Who Are Your Friends?

There’s the old say: you are what you eat.  It makes sense, if you eat garbage you can’t expect to have the body of an olympic athlete.  The movie “Supersize Me” demonstrated just how quickly that change can take place.  There’s also another truism:

“Show me your friends and I’ll show you your future”  -Dan Pena

Hanging around with the same five or six people will keep all of you at the lowest common denominator in terms of interests, pursuits and goals. If I try to improve myself, those friends of mine will often, unconsciously and without malice, hold me back from reaching new goals. I do it to myself as well: I wonder what the ‘group’ will think if I do this? By the time I hit bottom in my addiction, I was mostly hanging out with others who used the way I used. If I was going to survive and recover, I needed to get away from that environment.

There was a study done years ago on fleas.  A bunch of fleas were put into a jar and the lid was put on.  After a few days of bumping their heads, the fleas learned to jump only as high as just below the lid of the jar. When the lid was removed, these fleas didn’t jump out of the jar.  They stayed at their level because the believed they couldn’t jump higher than they were jumping. Even subsequent generations of fleas only jumped as high as their parents because well, that’s only as high as fleas jump.  However, if you took one of the fleas from this jar and put it into another jar where the fleas were jumping twice as high, it didn’t take long before the flea learned to go far beyond its former limit.

day242The message for us is very similar. If we stay in an environment where limits are put upon us by social pressures and our own beliefs then making permanent changes in our lives is very difficult. For those of us in recovery, making the choice to be clean and sober is often regarded with skepticism by those we hung around with. It’s important in the beginning to seek out others in recovery to help us and encourage us to move forward. We don’t necessarily drop our old friend, but we spend less time with them. Our common interests are changing. As we move forward in our recovery, they may see the results and want the same, or not. Ours is a program of attraction; it can’t be sold.

I have little in common with those who are still in their disease. I hope someday they will receive their own gift of desperation and find recovery.  I will gladly help in whatever way I can but it’s up to them. I am grateful for my friends in recovery. It’s a very different group of people from my old group. And they continue to assist and challenge me in my recovery. They help me soar in my recovery, showing me that I can not only jump, I can fly, higher than I ever thought was possible.