Eighteen

This morning, I was leaning into the refrigerator to get the milk, and I was startled by a realization. Today is my eighteenth anniversary of getting sober.

Eighteen years is a long time. A lot of the memories are simply words now. The emotions attached to the words have faded. I remember searching for release from my demons. I thought liquor was the release. It wasn’t. It made matters worse. Sobriety and the steps and friends and therapy and medication for my mental illness and meditation gave me release.

Release certainly didn’t come in an instant. It took time. I slogged through years of depression trying one medication after another. None helped. When I was five years sober, I had a realization that I was attached to my suffering. I was able to slowly let go of my need to be sick.

It’s not an easy feat, but I’m not sick any more. I like being whole. I honestly love myself now, which is something I couldn’t imagine. I think I began to be completely comfortable with myself somewhere around thirteen or fourteen years of sobriety. I found unconditional love two years ago. It’s quite strong.

I don’t want to change anything about my past. I’m quite happy with my life now, and I have hopes that it will even get better. There’s still a few things I want to do.

Waiting

I had to drive to another location for work yesterday. I got to one point, and there was some road work. The lanes going to the place I needed to reach flowed smoothly, but I noticed the other side of the highway was backed up a very long distance. There was a long line of cars going in the direction I was coming from. I decided that on my return, I would take an alternate route.

I reached my destination and accomplished my task. After the day was done, I began the return trek. I quickly went to the new route and sailed along at a high rate of speed. It was a beautiful drive. There were green mountains and blue skies overhead. It was lovely.

I came around a bend on the freeway to spy cars ahead of me with their brake lights gleaming. There were many cars. I began to slow and tapped my brakes numerous times to alert the drivers behind me of the approaching slowdown.

I reached the cars and stopped. I stayed stopped. I began to wonder what was causing the freeway to be at a dead stop and imagined there was a wreck somewhere ahead.

This is the 21st century, and I had a smartphone equipped with traffic information. While we were stopped, I checked traffic. The map was a mass of red lines where the roads were, meaning the traffic was greatly congested, but there was no information as to the cause.

We continued to stay stopped. And continued. And continued.

I finally rolled down my windows and shut off the engine.

This is going to sound odd, but I wasn’t bothered by it. It’s traffic. I can’t do anything about it, so why let it upset me? The breeze blew through the car, and I listened to the engines of the other cars. I played my radio a bit. My favorite NPR station was having a fund drive asking for donations. I switched the radio off and sat listening to the ambient sounds around me. It didn’t really bother me.

After more than 20 minutes, the cars began to move. We very quickly got up to highway speed, and I got home just fine. I warmed up some curry and rice for dinner.

My mood this morning is nothing like my aplomb in the midst of being at a dead stop on the freeway. I’m quite agitated at my situation, and I’m wailing loudly to the heavens, shaking my fist, demanding attention.

I take a deep breath as I write that. How do I transfer the patience I have in traffic to another part of my life? It makes me smile.

Here I am faced with another instance of something I cannot control, but I have the opposite reaction. In traffic, I’m a saint. In this situation, I’m a toddler.

I need a good walk.

How Do I Tell My Story?

In the past few months, I have been reminiscing about my recovery. It’s astounding! Since I’ve started writing in this blog again, I’ve been reading some of my old entries. My recovery is astonishing! I have seen dark places. I have been to the edge of the abyss, and I have looked in and escaped.

What seems clear to me today is that recovery is for everyone! Absolutely everyone can recover. Each of our recoveries will have its own identity. They will each be unique, but we can each recover. Everyone can recover.

The patient in seclusion in a psychiatric ward can recover. The adolescent experiencing the beginning of symptoms can recover. The young adult just starting independent life who is struck by psychosis can recover.

Recovery is for everyone!

I want to share my story. It is the most valuable thing I have, and perhaps hearing it, some person may find a flicker of hope to ignite their own journey to recovery.

This is the point where I am dumbfounded. I don’t know how to start telling my story. When I try to think of ways to start, I draw a complete blank.

Do I start by trying to write a book? Do I try to write a workbook incorporating ideas that helped me? Do I use a blog?

Not only do I not know what vehicle to use to spread my story, but I also don’t know exactly what parts of my story need to be told. Basically, it’s not a complex story. I was sick, and I got help. I could list the things that helped me. I could conceivably do that in one short magazine article, but I don’t think that would do the subject justice.

I survived the darkness. I want people to feel that. I want them to understand that I know the darkness intimately.

I want them to feel the steps I took along the way in early recovery. I want them to live the joy I had when my negative inner voice went silent. I want them to hear the enthusiasm of teaching my peers about recovery.

When I sit and begin to imagine the outline, I go blank. I don’t know where to start.

I want a companion to work with me on this journey of telling my story. Someone who knows something about storytelling. I need a coach and mentor. I want someone to say, “Start here.”

Perhaps s/he’ll come. In the meantime, I’ll keep writing here. I’m glad you’re reading along with me.

Thank you.

Incidentally, this blog is 7 years old today. It’s kind of a nice milestone. I was silent for 2 years when I was busy changing my life, but I never thought of erasing the blog. I kept it safe and open for all to find. It’s fun.

Invisibility

I have a job now. I’ve been working for about a year and a half. There are two of us in the office I work in, and we are both persons with lived experience with mental illness.

I lived on disability for twelve years. It was a long time, and some days were very difficult. It is very difficult to describe, but for those twelve years, I was invisible as far as society was concerned. I was not a contributor.

Make no mistake. I was not idle for those twelve years. I volunteered at the library’s literacy center teaching English as a Second Language. I was very active in the community theatre group where I lived. I even served on the group’s board of directors.

Perhaps it’s because I’m male, but since I was not being paid for this work, it was not highly valued.

I was invisible.

One payday not long after I started working again, I was holding my paystub, and my colleague in the office, the other person with lived experience, said, “It feels good to be paid, doesn’t it?” I quickly and loudly agreed. It felt quite amazing actually. I appreciated it like I’d never done before.

Today was my colleague’s birthday, and I arranged an office party for him with all the other people from the larger office. It was a pot luck, and everyone gladly brought food to share. It was a real feast. We had much too much food. The office refrigerator is bulging at the seams with all the leftovers.

A birthday party hardly seems like a special thing. On a grand scale, it is very small. Still, I was near tears. All these people were celebrating with a person with mental illness. There he was; I was right next to him. We weren’t invisible. We were considered valuable members of the group.

It’s a very big deal.

Thank you for your patience

I am grateful today for your patience and your continued support of this blog while I’ve been away living life. I am grateful today I have a life to live. I have indeed come very far from the inception of this blog.

I have an amazing life today. Let me tell you about the changes since the last time I wrote here more than two years ago.

The most important change has two parts: I got a job, and I moved. I was living on disability in a small town, and I gained a great deal of strength from the quiet. Today, I live in a city, and I work. These are enormous changes in my life. They would not have been possible if I had not had a solid recovery. There are many people who helped me with my recovery. Each one of them is precious to me.

I am now working in the mental health field training my peers to be Certified Peer Specialists. It is an honor to watch a group of my peers as they learn about the aspects of recovery and how to help their peers. It is pure pleasure to hear them report about the work they are doing one-on-one with our peers.

I have my own apartment! I got very lucky when I moved. There was an opening in a building where a friend had moved a few years prior, and they accepted me. It’s wonderful to have friendly neighbors that I know by name.

I bought a car! I got very lucky and found a good, used car that gets superb gas mileage.

Parking is by permit where I work, and that’s based on seniority, so needless to say, I do not have parking. I take the bus to work. It’s honestly a pleasure. I get on the bus near my apartment. I’m always able to find a seat where I can pull out my Kindle and read or scroll through my phone. I have conversations with my seatmates, too. It’s usually very quiet, though. About 20 minutes later, I hop off in front of my building.

When I moved, one of my first orders of business was to get the pieces of my support network in place. I asked some knowledgeable people about psychiatrists and psychologists. The next thing I knew I had appointments with some very good caregivers.

I rely on my caregivers a great deal. I count on them to help me remain stable. My recovery is the most important thing I have in life. I tell people who ask that my recovery has five pillars holding it up: medication, meditation, therapy, exercise, and sleep.

I’m lucky. Medication actually works for me with only a few side effects. In my work, I have had the pleasure of getting to know peers for whom medication does not work. They maintain stability using other means. Most have a WRAP. Some are close to their pets. Some use talk-therapy; some don’t. It’s up to each individual to determine what works best for themselves.

I meditate every morning. It’s not long: 10 to 30 minutes. It varies. Meditation gives me a few minutes of calmness to start my day. It gives me a calm core that I can go back to at any time I feel myself straying too far one way or the other.

I’ve been in therapy for 30 years. I swear by it. It is so valuable to have a disinterested third party to tell all my thoughts to. That person guides me to decide for myself what I think about my many situations. My therapist is a guide. He is not a director. I am in the driver’s seat.

I powerwalk. I used to go out every morning, but I had a hurt foot that prevented that. I’m starting again, and I’m walking 3 mornings each week. It feels so good to move and breathe deeply. I love it.

Sleep is very important to me. I went through a period of sleep difficulties for almost a year that was quite painful. I’ve found a working solution that I’m happy with that does not involve sleeping pills. A good night’s sleep sets me up for success the next day. Sleep resets all my circuits.

There are other parts to my recovery that are important. They are so imbedded in me now that I give little thought to them. I’m sober. It’s been seventeen years since I last drank any alcohol. I have a WRAP. I am fully committed to staying in the “what I’m like when I’m well” place. I eat good food. I eat very little processed sugar. I never drink soda. I am sure my good diet aids my recovery.

I am glad you still want to read my blog. I will be writing in it again. Thank you.

Feeling

Ah, yes, emotions. I have those. They’re pesky things that pop up throughout the day. I am a sensitive person, and I feel.

I do have to say that since I my life shifted, my emotions have been very different. They are much more subdued. They don’t wash over me and threaten to drown me. Nevertheless, I still have them. They are part of being human.

As I sit and write this out I’m feeling blue. I seem to have upset or angered someone I respect a great deal. I haven’t found out what he’s feeling, because he hasn’t answered my emails, in which I apologized and asked for clarification. When I say I respect this man a great deal, I am deadly serious. He is a pillar of a local organization I belong to. He’s always witty and has a great deal of fun at events where we meet. Today, he became terse with me, and I honestly don’t know why. I’m baffled.

I’m also tired. I have been waiting for something important for five long months, and there’s no end in sight. The thing I’m waiting for is completely out of my hands. I have done my part, and now, I can only wait, wait, wait. In the beginning, I was impatient, but that faded. When the shift occurred, I felt relief and joy for this thing that I am sure is coming into my life. Sitting here at this second, I’m tired. I don’t ask for the end to be revealed, but I would like the Universe to give me a clue that things are at least moving. As things are, I’m in the dark.

In addition, I am leading an important group activity with a fixed end in sight. It’s going well, but some things were suggested tonight that made me question my capability to lead. I’m suddenly unsure of myself. I feel shaky.

I have a new way of looking at emotions today. I’m not scared of them like I was for much of my life. I was often overwhelmed by feelings. Today, I can look at an emotion and observe it and let it do its own thing. I don’t have to try to control it. Right this second, I have the blues.

I am grateful I have a consciousness that is ever on watch for situations that might require defense. My mind swirls with thoughts that can be viewed as attempts to defend myself from imagined incidents in the future. I really am grateful for this magnificent mind.

I’m asking it right now to relax. I have done what I can in each situation. I give my ever vigilant mind the rest of the day off. Let’s chill out.

Interesting Changes

I took a break from writing for a while, and some things in my life have changed.

One startling change is that I have started to watch a television show. Many regular readers know I have been seemingly allergic to all varieties of television shows. I had a physical reaction to the machine that rendered me incapable of sitting through anything. I also avoided videos online, though this was not universal.

You can read about my difficulty watching television here, here, and here. It was a real handicap, and I have met other people with bipolar disorder who had the same experience. Television caused a switch in my brain to click that incapacitated me.

I have started to watch the new series called Cosmos with the host Neil deGrasse Tyson. In fact, I haven’t missed an episode of it. I enjoy it greatly. I sat down apprehensively to watch the first episode, and I was pleasantly engrossed. I have not felt the old click in my head that forced me to stand and pace or even leave the room. I am very happy with this change.

I have another pleasant change to report. I have had a spiritual shift, and I am now able to experience my emotions with more detachment. When emotions arise, especially the heavy, negative ones, I can observe them, give them the attention they deserve, and watch them pass. I still feel everything a normal person feels, but I don’t succumb to them. They no longer overwhelm me.

I had an occasion to witness this closely just two days ago. An event occurred that made me very sad. My feelings were hurt. I endured the sadness for a whole day, but it did not incapacitate me. I meditated on the event. I recognized the sadness. I welcomed it even. I did not fight the emotion. I simply let it sit in my being, and I watched it.

It was there all day, but as I lay down that night to sleep, I knew it would be gone when I woke the next morning. I was correct.

Many readers may be wondering how I made this spiritual change. I did it through meditation. I sat on my special stool and went to my happy place. While I was relaxed and letting my mind concentrate on itself in my happy place, I asked my Higher Self if it would like to be part of my everyday existence here and now. My Higher Self obliged. I now maintain a conscious connection with this part of me that is new. I walk taller according to my therapist.

This new connection has given me a new perspective on many things. I have a firmer sense of self-respect. I know my worth. I suffered from low self-esteem for decades. That has miraculously vanished. My thoughts are clearer. When negativity arises, I ask it where it came from, observe it, play with it at times, and let it pass.

I am growing, and I like it. I celebrate me today.