September

I always hated my birth month. September signified a new school year – the arrival of which I despised more and more as the years passed. I was expected to sit still and think thoughts that were no longer my own. My teachers reported that I was easily distracted by windows or daydreams. They compared me to a butterfly… darting from one flower to the next. They wanted to pin my wings inside a glass case.

When I didn’t understand the math problem or possess the necessary patience for hours of bland nightly reading, I felt stupid, angry, and worthless. I wanted to read a book that didn’t traumatize me with religious teachings beyond my developmental capacity to process. I wanted to mix mud and decaying plant matter into secret recipes of my own imagining. I wanted to climb trees and survey the world from behind a lush screen of pine. At those heights, I felt momentarily safe from all who wished to enslave my mind and crush my spirit. My only agenda was freedom. My only obligation was to execute my own self-directed curiosity.

September was physically uncomfortable, too. The mornings were bracingly chilly but, by the time afternoon recess passed, the classrooms reeked of sweating children. At days end, an open lunch box smelled slightly sour; hints of warm milk and stale peanut butter and jelly.

Not much has changed in thirty two years. I may no longer wish to live in a treehouse or a boxcar (and even that is only a half truth), but I am still resisting the glass case. I am still heeding the call of wild meadows, tangled with blooms of freedom and self-directed curiosity. I still dread the coming of September. I  press each passing wildflower between gossamer pages and run my fingers longingly over the stationary. I know my ministrations won’t bestow the weight of permanence upon page nor plant, and yet I devoutly honor the ritual.

Dr. Gabor Maté – a man who possesses one of the most beautiful minds on our planet – describes this phenomenon as counterwill. I have spent most of my adult life hating this mysterious characteristic. “You need to fix it,” became my internalized mantra, born of years of external pressure. Much to my surprise, there is nothing to fix. The work is to accept my natural wildness and refrain from self-punishment. It is only from the safety of this space that authentic growth can occur.

Everything I know about healing is counterintuitive. The less I resist my own resistance, the more liberated I become.

September was somehow different this year. I never noticed it before, but everything looked so gold. The landscape was sun drenched and harvest-colored. Some website on color symbolism says that gold is “associated with higher ideals, wisdom, understanding and enlightenment. It inspires knowledge, spirituality and a deep understanding of the self and the soul”.

Maybe it’s not that September changed. After all, it was still cold in the morning and sweltering in the afternoon. School commenced as usual, congesting the highways with extra commuter traffic.

Maybe I have changed. Maybe I put down my sword and discarded layers of heavy armor. Maybe I grew weary of waging a war that had already been won.

Maybe the only thing left to do was surrender, propelled by easterly winds and the promise of foreign flowers.

The equator is middle ground. A halfway point between two extremes. Balance.

Maybe I am finally ready to drift in that direction.

Sugar, We’re Going Down

So…I’ve been watching more documentaries. Does this mean I am posed to write another hippie manifesto? Not exactly. I am having a hard time relaxing when I have a few hours of free time. One evening this week, I had to pull out a mindfulness coloring book because I just could not settle. I desperately needed to unplug and anchor myself in the present. Spring is dragging its feet here in New England. Getting centered will be easier once I can spend evenings walking outside. However, with a windchill below zero one night and rain the next, adult coloring pages and educational Netflix respites have to suffice.

I’m a little stressed. It’s fair to say that I have been stressed since I entered the work force at seventeen. It’s not anyone’s fault. It’s not because I’ve had “bad” jobs. It’s just that my A.D.D. is debilitating. Recovery has made coping easier – and now I can hold down a job for years at a time and be considered “good” at what I do – but the past fourteen years have felt like a prison sentence in the realm of gainful employment. While I look like I am functioning on the outside, on the inside I would rather be locked in a cell for eight plus hours a day because at least my mind would be free. Instead, I wage a daily battle against my own brain, essentially forcing it to focus by mental violence. As a result, I feel sad, irritable, discouraged, and dishonest. Why dishonest? Well, despite my A.D.D. diagnosis, I am able to thrive when I utilize certain intrinsic skills. Life has necessitated I ignore these skills for the sake of survival, societal contribution, and “productivity”. Surviving has required me to wear a mask even when every atom of my being fervently resists. I am unable to be myself or feel my true feelings.

This is what A.D.D. feels like in a nutshell. However, I have also heard other addicts describe this experience. When we are not using our natural talents to help others, we feel trapped, disingenuous, and unhappy. Helping other addicts keeps us alive. I recently heard someone say that addicts are divinely chosen because we are not only strong enough to handle our disease, but also because our primary purpose is to be a beacon of hope for others. This resonated deeply with me.

Now that I know my fourteen year struggle is coming to an end, my bottled up resentment has exploded. I  was stifling one heck of an angry baby bear. One would think it would be easier because the end is in sight, but I never dared hope that my dream job would be possible. I had resigned myself to mental imprisonment. I tried to be grateful and kind despite my inner struggles. Now that I am aligned with my true purpose, accepting anything less feels unbearable.

The stress of this transition period has highlighted my last remaining active addiction: Sugar. The subject of sugar addiction has been serendipitously popping up over the past few weeks and the significance of the problem was cemented by the last two documentaries I watched. (You would think the significance of the problem would be cemented by a trip to the gastroenterologist and an endoscopy but…it takes what it takes.)

Sugar is literally a poison. It is a classified liver toxin. It changes the brain like a drug and most of the population is hopelessly addicted. I know I am a certifiable sugar junkie.

I remember when my wife, J.L., came home from the gym one morning and brought up the idea of attending a nutrition class. I got irrationally angry and then I cried. That is not a normal reaction. More disturbing still is that J.L. didn’t ask me to make any changes and yet I still felt threatened. It is no different than defiantly clutching a bottle of booze to my chest. The only difference is that this type of addiction has less visible societal consequences.

When I eat an entire pint of Ben and Jerry’s (after eating nothing but junk all day, BTW), the only person I’m killing -albeit slowly- is myself. But is that really true? My unhealthy lifestyle does impact society at large because I add weight to the overburdened, ineffective healthcare system and I support an unsustainable food system. Therefore, the consequences of food addiction are arguably just as severe as the opioid epidemic – if not more so.

I keep saying this over and over but addiction is the Achilles heel of our modern civilization. If we don’t treat this prevalent disease and start making changes, we will destroy ourselves. We are ruled by the 1%…and they profit from our sickness. But I digress.

As I’ve also been saying, no one else is responsible for my recovery or my life. Nor can I count on the 1% (or the 99.9999%) to change. I simply must change. And that is not going to be easy.

I recognize that I am not ready. First of all, I am still working in an environment where junk food is readily available. It is a recipe for failure. It would be like trying to get sober while tending bar. If you can do it, all the more power to you, but I cannot. However, that particular circumstance will change by mid-summer. The other issue is my upcoming vacation in May. There is a milkshake and waffle bar in St. Augustine…and I’ll be damned if I’m not eating there twenty five times before we leave. As far as the stages of change are concerned, I am only in the contemplation phase.

It’s hard not to feel a little angry. I’ve given up alcohol, drugs, toxic relationships, credit cards, and more. Now I have to stop eating my favorite peanut butter M&M’s? Mint Oreo ice cream? Chips? Cookies? Pies? My enflamed digestive system says: “Yes”. My broken-out skin says: “Yes”. My exhausted body says: “Please. Help”.

I have to remember that for every one thing I have given up, I have gained unimaginable, unbelievable, downright miraculous gifts. I also feel so awake in a cosmic, spiritual sense. It seems impossible to feel any more awake. But then I continue to learn and expand. Endlessly.

While I am afraid to let go of sugar, I know what it’s like to purify my body of other toxic things. When I look at organic farmers and gardeners, I feel inexplicably envious. I want to eat food that is straight-from-the-earth fresh. I want to have a relationship with my food and with the people who grow it. I crave clean, green things. I want to be clean.

It’s just that staying sick feels easier…even though it’s not. It’s not easy to hold junk food in your hand and say “I don’t even want this,” and eat it anyway. I never pegged myself as sugar obsessed – I don’t think about it a lot (unless you try to take it!)  – but the compulsion and the powerlessness are certainly there.

I would love to hear from readers who have experience with food addiction. What are your suggestions? Do you intend to abstain from sugar forever (one day at a time, of course) or do you create bottom lines to measure and guide your recovery?

I guess all of the above is to say: “Hi, my name is Autumn, and I’m a sugar addict. I am powerless over sugar and it’s making me sick”.

I shared something today that said:”Healing is not linear”. Thanks for being on this healing journey with me.

 

 

The Slippery Slope

Self care is a slippery slope when you spend years neglecting it. Just when you think you’re getting ahead, something new pops up. Truth be told, that “something new” is more realistically a long ignored issue that is now too pressing to sweep under the carpet. It’s easy to shrug and say “Well, that was pointless. Why do I bother?” and sullenly backslide the ten feet you’ve managed to ascend. I haven’t been succumbing to that attitude lately. Somewhere along the way I went from saying that success can only be reached via baby steps to actually believing it. Those of you who have been following since the beginning of 2016 might remember that I chose “faith” as my word for the year. Life had different plans. At every opportunity, the Universe has asked me to exercise patience. Ironically, patience leads to success…and success leads to faith. It’s funny how that works. You have to be careful what you ask for because you just might get it – albeit in a very strange package.

So, no, I have not been back sliding down the slope with two fingers in the air… but my baby steps are tenuous. For example, I can’t even manage to get started on my goal of daily yoga. I have everything I need: a Wii Fit, a DVD, athletic clothes… My excuse was that we had a giant air conditioner in the middle of the living room and I didn’t want to move furniture every day to practice. (Aren’t those of us with addict brains MASTERS of justification?) I guess I must not want it bad enough…which is sad. Yoga and meditation make me feel great. However, I have been to the Doctor three times in less than a month to deal with x,y, and z. For the record, x ,y, and z are not crazy issues. It’s pretty run of the mill stuff that normal people take care of long before it takes a big chunk out of their ass. I’m just the woman who shows up late to the game with one or three missing chunks. Regardless of what it took to get there, dealing with x, y, and z has given me the momentum to move forward and deal with a, b, and c. Again, funny how that works. One step is all it takes to achieve a whole lot of empowerment.

What else has changed? I guess part of it is what still hasn’t changed. (Go me!) I’m still not quitting things or jumping impulsively into them. I’m getting better at minding my temper. (A big part of that has been realizing that the world isn’t bettered by my opinion.) I haven’t quit my job. In fact, I made some self-caring changes to my contract to make the year easier and POOF! my schedule lightened up even further on its own. (Funny how that works!) I haven’t quit my blog, business, or not-for-profit social media campaign. I have to be honest, though: I am putting my business on the back burner until I can reassess what product(s) I will be offering. Why? The short answer is that the market is over saturated with portrait photographers. The era of  profitably for the shoot and burn photographer is ending. If you’re new to photography, trust me, print product is the best way to make a living. The long answer (which I won’t get into fully here), is that business has cheapened my passion. It becomes about what people can take, and take, and take. So I am shifting my focus to things that fill my spiritual bank account.

My not-for-profit social media campaign, Human Too, is the most rewarding thing I have ever done outside of my recovery and marriage. I’m glad I started my business because it gave me the confidence to start Human Too. (There is a reason for everything!) What does working on Human Too entail? Well, I team up with volunteers who sit for portraits and share their firsthand experience with addiction. We try to get at the essence of what it means to be human and to share that with others. It is symbiotic and powerful. We give with no expectation of receiving and yet, somehow, we are blessed beyond measure in return.

Making money pales in comparison to the fulfillment I get from Human Too.

I’ve always had a very hippie-dippie attitude toward money. What I never understood, until now, is that it was never about embracing a fringe mentality. It is the pure and simple fact that I am best able to contribute to society when doing something I find neurologically engaging. I’m sure everyone feels that way to a certain extent but, for me, it is a matter of functioning/thriving v.s. barely functioning/failing. I am not lazy or unmotivated. My brain does not work normally unless it is engaged in very specific ways. Unfortunately, these ways have never coincided with the path to a million dollars. I’ve learned a lot about the way my brain functions over the last 45 days. I’ve also learned that my brain needs a little help to be “normal”…and that’s okay.

Just because I understand myself with a new clarity doesn’t mean that I need to be a slave to my brain’s selective whims. Now that I understand why I am the way I am, I can take measures to function better in situations I would otherwise deem intolerable. Money is, indeed, important and my ever-improving self-care philosophy aims to honor its significance.

As serendipity would have it, I recently stumbled upon an article on the Frugalwoods blog. (Don’t just walk over there and take a gander…run.) The Frugalwoods managed to retire to a beautiful homestead in their early 30s. Now, before you roll your eyes and imagine any semblance of sanity I have left whistling away on the wind, let’s get one thing straight: I am not impulsively jumping on the frugal bandwagon. I do not plan on retiring by 33, I am not going to share a toothbrush to save money, I am not going to start obsessively clipping coupons, and I am not going to make my own toilet paper from trees in the back yard. Extremism is not my friend. All that being said, the Frugalwoods really made me think about the value of things (or lack thereof) and my priorities. My laissez-faire attitude toward spending is not a self-caring approach. I don’t just mean in the addictive sense  – and I’ve definitely used shopping to make myself “feel better” – I mean that every time I piss away money on bullshit I don’t need I am robbing my future self.

I won’t lie. I had a blast at the craft store this week. I’m not even sorry. However, if I hadn’t used a gift card to treat myself to more Halloween decorations, that money would have been better invested in the pursuit of our retirement dream (a forever home in a beach town). Lord knows I don’t need more Halloween decorations. When I am not financially thoughtful, I send a message to my wife that our mutual dreams are not important to me. Why would I buy a $6 latte when I could invest in a day spent hunting for sand dollars?  That’s the only dollar I want to waste my life chasing.

I don’t prescribe to a deprivation ideology, but I definitely think that having a daily $6 latte, a weekly roll of sushi, or a new shirt whenever, tends to rob that experience of its value. It becomes commonplace. The first time I signed a lease by myself, I remember how impactful it was that no one could take my home away from me. (Well, no one but the landlord.) It was a safe place and it was mine. I was so broke I could barely feed myself but I was so happy. I specifically remember my mom giving me a bag of coffee – a luxury I couldn’t otherwise afford – and it tasted so good. Money can’t buy that deep feeling of appreciation.

The Frugalwoods inspired me to start savoring experiences and to get off the “more is better” merry-go-round. I may not shop compulsively at this stage of my recovery, but the pursuit of “more” – which is the popular pursuit in our society – is not healthy  for me and is not beneficial to my marriage. I brought the idea of making some lifestyle changes to my wife and she was very supportive. We are embarking on a “challenge” starting in October. One of the things we agreed to do is to tone down Christmas. In the past, our attitude has been “go big or go home”. Instead of feeling sad about a simpler holiday, I feel more excited than ever. My creativity has been sparked. On Christmas Eve, we are planning to camp out in front of the tree and watch Christmas movies. Creating these traditions together is so special to me. A central part of our marriage has been molding our identity as a family from scratch. I love who we have become as a family and I can’t wait to see how we will continue to evolve.

I think that’s really the key to it all…isn’t it? At some point, self-care stops being an arduous uphill battle and becomes a really cool adventure. Sure, maybe you only make it ten feet before a boulder pops up in your path… but you can take that moment to look around and reflect on the scenery. I guarantee that things will look a little brighter from even the smallest height.

 

 

 

 

 

Remaining Teachable

Unless you subscribe to the school that says ignorance is bliss, one arguably fun thing about recovery is that the layers of your own personal onion keep unfolding. You discover more and more about yourself as you go along. I think there’s a grand myth that once you have a few clean and sober years under your belt, you’re fixed. Ba-da-bing, ba-da-boom. Cured. The thought just made me snicker out loud in my living room like a maniac. Because nothing could be further from the truth. If all goes well, I will have 7 years of recovery next month..and I still have my fair share of issues to slog my way through. The good news is that most people could stand to do a little “issue slogging”, so I’m not alone.

One can ascertain a lot about my present brand of crazy by either observing my recent purchases or peeking at my shopping list. The items I have collected lately include 3 pairs of athletic shorts, other assorted articles of athletic wear, and a beginners yoga DVD. The items I have on my “to-purchase list” include a book on living with adult ADD and a Missy Elliot CD.

This is a hilarious amalgamation for a number of reasons. Those of you who know me are fully aware that I hate the idea of doing anything that requires exertion or sweat. I was possibly the most awkward girl in my high school gym class. The poor teacher didn’t even know what to do with my lack of eye-hand coordination. I can’t eye-hand coordinate, make my limbs look natural, or do math above a second grade level. It’s just who I am.

Missy Elliot is there because she’s my go-to for what I like to call “ass-kicking anthems”. When I need to get pumped up, Missy is my girl. And lately I need some help to get in the mood for ass-kicking.

I have a lot going on. Not only am I managing a day job, a (struggling) photography business, and a sparsely updated blog, I’ve also started a (successful) social media campaign called “Human Too” to combat stigma against addicts and alcoholics. If that list doesn’t perfectly illustrate my ADD, I don’t know what does. On top of that, my body is changing in a way I do. not. like. If I could sum up turning thirty in two lines, I would say this: Don’t expect to even LOOK at a dessert ever again without gaining two pounds. And don’t expect to drink coffee on a road trip without almost (or actually) peeing your pants at least once.

That brings us back around to the shorts and the yoga DVD. Lately, I’ve gained some weight.  My unhappiness with this has delivered me face to face with the fact that food has become just another drug for me. In fact, it really always has been just another drug for me, but I HAD a great metabolism so I could live in happy denial. Stressed? Donut time. Bored? How about a cookie? Or a cupcake? Or a bag of cheesy popcorn? Or a bowl of sugary cereal topped with whipped cream? Or just a plain old bowl of whipped cream with a spoon? Because god damn it all, I have NO VICES LEFT. No credit cards. No weed. No Jack and Pepsi. And MOST CERTAINLY no bat shit crazy women.

It sucks to get honest and admit that food is another item on the list of things I need help managing. When I was a teenager I got really sick and really thin. People reacted positively to the weight loss. Since then I haven’t experienced being any other size and my self image is struggling. I’m used to being a notch or two above sick looking. Now I just want to get to a place where I feel healthy. I’m hoping the fake-it-til-I-make-it approach will work. If I LOOK like I can run a 5k, maybe I’ll get to FEELING like I want to run a 5k. And let’s face it – that flexible waistband feels a HELL of a lot better than trying to squeeze my ass into last summer’s clothes. But I’m not living under the delusion that I’m going to jump right into running. Ohhhh boy, just the idea is funny. I’m starting off small with some regular walks, irregular sprints, and possibly some light yoga. There are muscles in my body that I forgot I even had.

In my last post I talked about how the group I joined for 8 months helped me to stop jumping into things so quickly and also to stop quitting. I’m still doing really well with that. I haven’t quit my job. I haven’t quit any of the things I’ve started (blog, business, campaign). I haven’t decided to sign up for a 5k or join a Cross Fit gym. I’m trying baby steps. (A. Find shorts that don’t cut off your circulation. B. Stretch out muscles that you forgot existed. C. Stop pounding carbs.) The other thing that helped was when the gears of my brain finally clicked into place. I was on a marathon of self-berating about my perpetual career woes when a tiny, timid little part of my brain piped in and said “Hey, you remember when you were a kid and you got diagnosed with ADD?” I did some reading, and my whole adult life finally made sense. The 18,000 tabs always open in my head, the inability to complete one task without starting 10 others along the way, the boredom, frustration, and irritability at work, the constant noise in my brain, the success I have when I’m hyper-focused on a task I like…

I think it’s important to acknowledge that sometimes a recovery program can’t address all of your needs. Before I’m able to explore other career options, it makes sense that I’m going to need some help treating my ADD.

I SUFFERED at school. If I go back to school or back to a professional work setting, I don’t need to suffer anymore.

Sometimes this whole growth thing can be a little overwhelming. Especially with a noisy brain that NEVER. SHUTS. UP. But at the end of the day I am so thankful. My life may not be perfect, but the beautiful thing is that I KNOW myself. I am aware of who I am on a very deep level and I become more and more in tune each day. I seem to remember an ad on TV that says “Know More, Do More”. That is a great summation of what recovery is all about. When I’m not in the process of actively learning, I’m in the process of actively dying. I can’t speak for anyone else, but I think I would prefer to remain teachable.