My Journals Knew I Was an Alcoholic Before I Did

#truelove #allowing #dating

GPS for the Soul – The Huffington Post
My Journals Knew I Was an Alcoholic Before I Did
For TueNight.com by Susan Linney

2014-03-31-TN000264journals.jpg
Photo credit: Andy Kropa

For many years I wrote nightly in a journal, with a pen and a bound book of beautiful empty pages, which I filled fast and furiously before bed.

Then one day, I stopped. As near as I can figure, this quitting occurred around the time Wifi came into my life and my apartment. Instead of bringing my journal into bed with me, I brought my laptop. And while I’m pretty sure I simply meant to shift my personal reflections to the digital writing device I was now using so often, clearly I was an analog-only journaler. It was in 2007 — ironically, the same year I started a Facebook account — that my 20-year journaling career came to a screeching halt.

I realized this a few weeks ago, while organizing boxes in my stuffed-to-the-max storage unit. I found one filled with all of my old journals; writing that began in the 8th grade and went right through my 32nd birthday. There were more than 30 various notebooks in that box, of all different shapes, colors and sizes. A 20-year record of some of the most important (and not so important) moments in my life.

I’ve been pouring over these journals for the past few weeks, and I’ve realized that the negative voice in my head — that THING that’s so closely tied in with my alcoholism — existed before I ever drank.

In my earlier entries, the teenage years, there’s a pervasive undercurrent of self-loathing. I know that most kids experience the inevitable teen angst “bullshit” (some even come with a body count), but there’s something about my writing that goes beyond basic growing pains.

In most of my entries I question my entire being — not my circumstances (such as, I hate my school, why is everyone so stuck up?, etc). Instead, I cite laundry lists of problems with my character. Things like: “What’s wrong with ME? Why am I so different? Why can’t I just feel normal? What can’t I say what I want to say? Why am I so broken?”

This entry, from October 22, 1991 (I was 16), sums it up the best:

“Why was I born like this? I try so hard to speak, to pull those strings of thought from the pit of my stomach into my throat, but it only makes me choke. I doubt what I have to say makes much difference anyway, but why can’t I at least say it? I find safety in silence, but it also makes me hate myself. How can I expect to be or do anything with my life when I’m so afraid of everyone and everything in it?”

Or this poem, written on January 3, 1992:

“She rests her hand on her empty belly
That is starved not of food, but of feeling.
In a light sleep, she can trace the edges of happy memories
But the pictures fade and her open eyes erase.
She frowns and sees her companion birthed by the mirror
And knows that she can only starve for so long
Before nothing molds her into nothing.”

OK so the poem is pretty bad. But its basic message is very helpful to me now: I was empty. I was lost. I had nothing inside that excited me. I had no idea who I was. I had no idea what I wanted to be.

All things that alcoholics often feel — and find relief from in the form of a bottle.

Perhaps the most telling tidbit to share is my first entry that mentions booze, which was written in 1998. I don’t say it explicitly, but the connection is clear. Mind you, at this point I’m 23, working at a publishing house, no longer a kid but clearly still struggling with self-doubt. (“Why can’t I just SAY HOW I FEEL?” I whined in one entry from late ’97. “Everyone loves me at work, I’m able to step up to the plate, but it’s torture. I want to share my ideas without feeling like I’m going to faint or forget how to speak.”)

But on the night of October 3, 1998, something clicked. Why it hadn’t before, I’ll never know, but it really doesn’t matter. That voice I longed for? That empty hole I was trying to fill? I finally found the solution that evening. Alcohol.

“FINALLY. I was the person I want to be tonight. I was in my body and able to speak. XXXX took me to a launch party for one of her clients, and while I was around people I didn’t know, I was actually able to talk. And enjoy myself. I felt like I fit. They were all grown ups, and I felt like a grown up, too. The pre-party open bar certainly helped, and I even bought a few rounds for my new friends once the freebies were finished. So maybe it just takes time. Getting older. Believing I’m a grown up, cocktail in hand, unafraid to express myself and tell my funny stories. Could this be it? The end of my social anxiety? God, please, I hope so.”

Sadly, the answer was yes, but for a limited time. Because it was the booze that gave me a feeling of self worth that night — a feeling I had never really had before. I wouldn’t call it liquid courage, it’s more complicated than that. Instead, it was a solution, something that finally filled that hole, squashed those fears, shut off that negative voice and allowed me to express myself. Something that felt so right. It was what had been missing all along.

And it worked for quite a while. A long while. And that’s the real the bitch of this disease. It works until suddenly it doesn’t. It turns on you when you least expect it, and if you drank as much as I did, it leaves you in the clutches of a progressive, irreversible illness, and will not let go without a vicious, down and dirty fight.

So you drink more, hoping beyond hope that things will go back to the way they used to be.

But once you’ve passed a certain point, it’s impossible —  and almost equally impossible is the ability for the active alcoholic to understand this fact and believe it. I never did, until I finally hit that bottom that gave me no choice but to see the truth.

But you’ve heard about all that.

So I’m grateful for all those pre-computer years when I wrote in a journal. Those entries give me insights that are so helpful to me now. I’m going to try to get back into the practice, because who knows what I could teach my future self? In many ways, those writings probably saved me on certain occasions; if not then, they certainly are now, as I look back in an effort to live forward, clean and sober. Alcoholism is a chronic, progressive, lifelong disease  — one that cannot be cured but, luckily, can be treated.

But it’s often easy to forget this fact. Now that I have my journals, I have yet another reminder of what I am, what I have to do to to live well, how far I’ve come, and how much I have to lose. I’m still learning how to fill that hole — and why it came to exist in the first place. Which certainly isn’t easy. But I’m no longer living with booze-filled blinders on. My life may still not be what I’ve longed for (although it is getting close), but at least it’s no longer a lie.

Read more of Susan Linney’s “Bottles Down” column on TueNight. You can find her on Twitter @Susan_Linney.

About TueNight:
TueNight is a weekly online publication for women to share where they’ve been and explore where they want to go next. We are you, part two. www.tuenight.com

Need help with substance abuse or mental health issues? In the U.S., call 800-662-HELP (4357) for the SAMHSA National Helpline.

The Gifted Speaker: ‘Like, Um, Like, Like, Like, You Know, You Know’ — Filler Overload
“So um, today I’d like to talk about like, you know, um, like, like you know… “

If there is any one bad speech habit that makes me check out it’s filler. Similar to our habit of the up-inflection we discussed a week ago, nothing annoys an audience more.

The up-inflection and the filler are frequent complaints I hear from people about speakers. Here’s what my readers said about the up-inflection:

“This is like nails on a chalkboard. Why do they do it?”
“This makes me so crazy.”
“I hate when people do this, I can’t listen to them.”
“This and like, like, like. I just hate it!”

The problem with the up-inflection and the filler is that for most people those habits become the entirety of the speech. The sound of a like, like, like, makes many of us start to bristle. I know when I listen to it I start to wonder if the person talking actually has something to say or simply decided it was their turn to talk.

For many people the filler is ingrained into their daily speech and difficult to get rid of. As ingrained as this is however keep in mind; nothing will make you sound less professional, too young to know your subject and yet again put people on the fast train to not listening to you. You could be talking about the cure for cancer, the stock that will make us all rich or the absolute biggest revolution in technology but I will not have heard you. You could be the smartest person who ever uttered the words “OMG, like, um, you know” but I will have checked out after the first paragraph.

Problem
I can’t control my fillers.

Solution
This one is tough. I’m not sure you can fix this problem without help but here are some things you can try.

Tape yourself and count. The sheer embarrassment of that number may make you think twice about using the filler.

Slow down and don’t improvise your speech. Memorize it. Know your topic so well that no matter what happens in the room you will not get derailed and start adding filler.

Hire a coach or enlist a friend to listen to you. Have them count the number of times you use fillers. It will probably be important in this fix to enlist someone who doesn’t use a lot of fillers when they talk.

Assess why you use the filler. Do you get derailed? Do you really want to talk or do you feel obligated to talk? Is it just a habit that you and your friends do?

It’s Not Hopeless
I have many students who have struggled with this problem. All of them have been able to conquer it with some success. Most important though is consider where you are and what you are trying to say. There is a time and place for everything. I’m sure you’d rather those CEOs you are trying to sell your product to did not hear you say, “OMG like, like, you know?”

If you can’t rid yourself of the filler, hire a coach. Ask yourself: Is filler what you want to be remembered for? Or do you want to remembered for what you talked about?

Embracing Boredom
When I do assembly programs for kids, I tell them that I’m really a kid at heart. (This serves to level the playing field so they want to listen to me.) To prove it I recite a poem I wrote when I was 11 years old:

A Boring Day

On a dreary, gray, cloudy day
There’s nothing for me to do or play.
“Why don’t you dance?” my mother says,
“Or cook a meal or make the beds
Or read a book, or play with Elly.
And if you’re hungry eat bread and jelly
Play the piano or fuss with your hair.
Don’t just sit around and stare.
I can name hundreds of things you can do.”
“I know that,” I say “But I don’t want to.”

Then I poll the group, “How many of you have ever felt like that?” Most hands go up and I make sure that the teachers also participate. One might think that today’s kids, who are constantly connected to electronic devices, may not experience boredom, but apparently that is not so. (Boredom is defined as an unpleasant state with no engaging activity or interest in surroundings.) I then proceed to tell them how I hate to be bored and that the library is anti-boredom insurance, trusting that this will be a nice segue into a discussion involving books. This has worked for me for a long time.

Scientists, who study boredom, seem to find that boredom is not a good thing. In fact, they’ve recently discovered a fifth type of boredom — “apathetic boredom” — that is particularly troubling, especially in teenagers, because it can lead to drug use. However, there is another side to this.

The recent reading I’ve been doing about the impact of technology on behavior, particularly on the behavior of children, has got me wondering. What happens when we’re bored is that we’re suddenly thrust back on our own resources. It is an uncomfortable feeling. We have to do something to escape its pall. (The entertainment industry is really selling escape from boredom. Solitary confinement in prison is the punishment of forcing one to live with oneself without distraction.) We look for diversions outside ourselves with varying degrees of success for snapping out of it. I have discovered that I always experience a period of boredom prior to a period of intense creative activity. Hmm… Is there a connection here or is it a superstition?

I’m not a neuroscientist but I have learned how to make my brain come up with stuff. I treat it just like the computer it is. I feed it information in small and large chunks including reading and experiencing and interacting with others. In the last few years I’ve been on a very steep learning curve. I’ve started a new business. I’ve become a videographer. Currently, I’m researching a new book about flooding, interviewing experts from New Orleans to the Netherlands. I read Kevin Kelly’s book What Technology Wants after reading The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains by Nicholas Carr. I’m interacting with lots of new people after leading a pretty solitary existence for years as a writer. So there’s a lot being put into my head that I haven’t yet sorted out.

If I have an assignment (and lately with all my blogging I always have an assignment) I give my brain instructions. I tell it to think about the assignment and the information I’ve put into it. I tell it to make connections. I also give it a deadline to sort out the information and come up with the big idea. Since I don’t like working at the last minute, I always give my brain plenty of lead time. Then I wait. Occasionally, something I come across triggers a connection. Sometimes nothing happens for a long time — days, even weeks. I get bored and depressed. I find other activities to do. Then suddenly, when I’m just waking up, or I’m in the shower, or I’m taking a walk ideas start popping into my head. The pressure builds and I can’t stay away from my keyboard. Blat! It comes out of me, fingers flying feverishly. I perseverate and read it over and over, tweaking at words here and there. I sleep on it and review it the next day and always see ways to make it stronger. This can go on for a while until I see no more changes to make. Then I let it go. (Now, whenever I get an inspiration, I rush to write it down, stockpiling ideas, so I have something to turn in when I’m too busy to think.)

Time and boredom appear to be integral parts of the creative process that has limits on the speed of turn-around, which is highly individual. Young Isaac Newton was a student in Cambridge when the Black Death broke out. He retired to the boring countryside to wait out the siege and entered the most creative period of his life (1665-1666 “the prime of my age for invention”) possibly because he had no distractions. Poet Laureate Billy Collins said:

What I need to write is boredom. I need stretches of inactivity, of doing nothing in order for the poem to get generated. I think boredom is like the mother of creativity.

Although I hate to be bored, I’m rethinking it. Boredom, for me, is now a harbinger that something good is about to happen. As an educator, I worry that kids have no time to process what they input and no periods of boredom for it to gestate into something new. I’m worried that their brains will be permanently numbed by overstimulation without time to recover. I’m worried that if they’re never bored there will be a hefty price to be paid both personally and by society.

I hope I’ve given you something interesting to think about. Apparently I’m not the only one who thinks this way.

The Key to Being Happy, No Matter What Happens
When my father died there was a great upheaval in my family. We moved several times, my mother re-married, and we lost touch with his side of the family. The greatest causality was losing contact with my half-brother, Peter — my father’s only child from his first marriage. Eighteen years older, he was in the air force, newly married and starting a family. He wasn’t sure which name we went by or where we went. As the years flashed by, after many attempts to find him, I was sure I had lost him forever.

As I grew into a young adult I developed a personal history. I authored a narrative — a story — about where I came from, who I was, and all the people in my life. It included the heroes who inspired me and the villains that stood in my way. In my story I was the main character telling the tale of everything that had ever happened to me. I recounted my joys and sorrows, my greatest successes, and my most stinging failures.

My story about my personal history became the filter through which I experienced everything. Unfortunately, it greatly distorted what I perceived. My story held together my construction of reality — a framework of all my beliefs, my opinions, other people’s opinions, my experiences, and all my accumulated knowledge. What happened to me did happen. It was true, but my story about it was only my interpretation — what I decided it all meant.

I even began to pass my story onto my son. Good and bad it contained real tragedy — how I lost my brother and could never get him back. Telling that story invoked an upheaval of emotion. Telling the story about how I lost my brother made me unhappy.

Then Google happened. With the revolution of the Internet came the ability to tap into vast resources of information that never existed before. With a little effort, and Google, I found my long lost brother, Peter.

But the reunion was bittersweet. Peter’s health was failing. There were so many questions about my Father and his family I wanted to ask Peter. I asked my questions, but his memory, along with his health, was frail and failing.

So we just sat together. Spent time. Talked about whatever came up. Even though he understood that things for him were not going to get better, he was happy. He chose not to create a big tragic story about his situation because of the way it made him feel.

The lesson I learned by finding Peter, reinforced over the years, is simply this: The only real power we have is what we decide every experience means.

I used think it was impossible to be happy and content in the most difficult times. As hard as I tried my desire for happiness wasn’t being reached by having more, knowing more, or finding my long lost brother. The problem with my search for happiness lay hidden within the core of my deepest beliefs, and the stories that were fueled by those beliefs.

We think we are in control of so many things, but in fact we are not. All we have control over is where we place our attention and the decisions we make about what happens to us, or around us. We decide what things mean and those meanings become the stories we tell about everything. More importantly, the stories we tell ourselves invoke emotions perfectly aligned with those stories. Unhappiness is manufactured by how we interpret what has happened. No matter what happens.

It’s funny, but now when I practice yoga, mediate, or just hike in the mountains and quietly align with the present moment, everything is okay! And I’m happy. What’s extraordinary about this is that nothing has changed.

The key to being happy is realizing that you decide what everything means kindling emotions that are in line with the story you have been telling yourself. With that awareness you have a choice — the choice to be happy, no matter what. Happiness just happens. Unhappiness is a byproduct of every limiting interpretation you make.

Choose to Be Brave!
We all face challenges. Some of us actually face such monumental challenges, they could be our very demise. For me, the loss of my youngest daughter, Cait Chivonne, has been the challenge of my lifetime. It is perhaps within the depths of facing such unimaginable and overwhelming challenges that we find our true saving grace. For in the very center of our devastation, we just might find our courage. We just might have the opportunity to choose to be brave. At least that is my prayer…

“I am a survivor. I stand tall to represent my loved ones, both passed and present. You might not see the pieces cruelly blown apart from me. You might think I appear whole and remain unscathed. But, make no mistake, I am mortally wounded; however, I have made a conscious decision to survive.

I have suffered and have dived to the very center of myself. I have eaten my guts and spat them out. I have questioned every move and decision I have ever made. And yet, I choose to survive.

Yes, I choose to survive: to accept that I am not perfect and neither have all my choices been. But in the whole scheme of things, I have loved well, made the tough choices, dedicated and honored well, and in the final analysis… lived well!

I have been blessed, mightily, and will not ever take that for granted. No, rather, I shall be thankful for all that I have, and I choose to survive so that I may continue to honor my Caity, my whole family, friends and community.

I choose to survive and to live, to empower myself with the richness life offers. Never to simply exist, but to embrace each opportunity provided to me, so that I may represent — represent myself — represent my family — always with respect, pride and deep gratitude for this thing… called life!”

At one point during my journey, I was further inspired by a music program that was being developed for children’s hospitals. It made me think about the choices we have before us in life… the choices we make when faced with life’s most difficult challenges. I wrote the following song, Choose to be Brave, in celebration of the depth and breadth of the human spirit, as per my own experience.

Choose To Be Brave

There are times in life, when we face a choice
In those times of strife, I hear my inner voice
Something deep inside bubbles up and out of me
I stand tall and proud, I shout out loud

I will not fall down, I’ll be courageous
I will face the things that seem outrageous
I will stand by you, never, ever cave
I will choose…
I will choose to be brave!

In those times of fear, when I wanna run away
I will hold you near, forever and a day
I will call upon something deep inside of me
I’ll stand tall and proud, you know I’ll shout out loud

I will not fall down, I’ll be courageous
I will face the things that seem outrageous
I will stand by you, never, ever cave
I will choose…
I will choose to be brave!

So when we’re afraid, and things seem so scary
We won’t run away, no — on the contrary
We will call upon something deep inside of us
We’ll stand tall and proud, we’re gonna shout out loud

We will not fall down, we’ll be courageous
We can face the things that seem so outrageous
We will stand together, never ever cave
We will choo-oooo-se…
We will choose to be brave! We will choose to be brave!
We will choose to be brave!

From: Love Honor Celebrate: A Mother’s Journey of Transition, copyright 2013 Deb Carlin Polhill.

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