On the other side of the alcohol fast

I have seen and soaked in the light at the end of the tunnel!

Giant hand

My husband and I went alcohol-free for 43 straight days. It started on February 1 and ended, fittingly enough, at a St. Patrick’s Day party (in case you were wondering about the random number). Together we do this fast annually.

Despite not being a heavy/binge drinker (less than 2 – 3 beers a week if that), I slogged through this year’s second annual alcohol fast. There were many moments that reminded me of how prevalent alcohol was in my life. Especially my social life. I didn’t go out much during the fast. Without alcohol I just didn’t feel like it. Why put myself in the path of temptation, right? Not that it was considerably easier to avoid at home… At the end of the week, my husband and I like to sit back with a beer after dinner, talk, laugh and let the absurdities of the work week slide away. One Friday night my husband and I were playing music that we liked for each other and halfway through the night I paused and blurted out, “I miss beer. Are we crazy for doing this?” The few times I did go out with friends, including to attend a Super Bowl party, involved people who were light drinkers so there was no pressure to drink. It was still hard but we survived and even had a really good time.

Now that I am free to drink again I am feeling a little anxious. A little hesitant to start again. Maybe even a little guilty…

You see, during this year’s fast, a friend invited me to attend an Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) meeting with him. He thought that maybe I would appreciate and benefit from the solidarity. I was nervous – not knowing what to expect. But I found the meeting to be very powerful. Somehow. Some way. Not sure why. It seemed like a straightforward enough formula. Just people meeting everyday and talking about their experience with alcohol recovery. There were no counselors or other “professionals.” It was a meeting for alcoholics – run BY alcoholics. And yet, this simple act of gathering with others and talking is helping a lot of people cope with alcohol addiction.

Listening to their stories made me think about my own relationship with alcohol. They didn’t seem so different from me and yet I am not an alcoholic. (Yet?) But I realized then that the only reason I can do these alcohol fasts is that at the end of the 30 days (or however many days I decide to abstain) an ice-cold beer is waiting for me. It’s not forever. Not even close. That is not the future that these people see. If you told me I couldn’t have alcohol ever again, I don’t know how successful I would be. I just don’t know if I could give up something forever… not willingly anyway. And now that I’m drinking again I feel a little bit like a coward. Even though I know their battle is so very different from mine.

Ultimately, I am tremendously ill-equipped to grasp the struggles of recovering alcoholics. I could try but not without coming off as patronizing or just plain stupid. There are people out there with problems bigger than my own. And I walked away from that meeting immeasurably moved but also feeling small and petty. And a little silly for thinking that my few weeks of abstaining had some sort of meaning in the larger scheme of life. But I’m not sure it has to. Maybe it’s enough that it has meaning for me…

We don’t have an understanding of addiction. Let alone a solution for recovery. We try a hundred different ways including acupuncture and for some people it works. But for others it’s back to square one.

As for me, I will continue to abstain for a few weeks every year, in the hopes of learning something – maybe about myself – maybe about others. And I encourage you to do the same. It doesn’t have to be alcohol. Anything really that you think you can’t live without. You will learn so much about yourself – good or bad. Maybe, like me, you already have…

What would you give up temporarily if you were to embark on your own experiment?

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Falling into emotional traps

When I step through my door at home I always feel like I’m taking a giant exhale from a long day of holding my breath in. It’s like switching from fancy pants to ones with an elastic band. Or swapping high heels for flip flops. Or simply wiping off makeup. It’s a slow unraveling of the day… Divesting a little bit at a time to a more recognizable me.

Then I sit on the couch and let my mind go blank. I don’t think about what happened earlier – what was said at work – something I did that I wasn’t proud of – not even conversations I had on Twitter or Facebook. Just a nice blank thoughtless few moments of peace… At this point my mind is healing from the ravages of the day – from the unpleasant thoughts that have come in and the worry cobwebbing various corners of the day. With a sweep of my mental broom I attempt to brush out the ugly things.

That is my usual after work mental routine…

But not yesterday…

Yesterday something happened at work in the early morning that really made me angry. Someone acted poorly and it pissed me off. I was upset but I did my best to let it go. I did eventually brush it off but it took a while.

When I came home later that day, I recounted the offense to my husband and found myself getting angry and worked up all over again. All the emotions that I felt that morning came rushing back. My heart was racing. My face was flushed. I was yelling. It felt like the incident just happened all over again.

After I was done “venting” I felt terrible, spent and empty. My anger turned inward. What the hell??? Why did I just do that to myself? I didn’t need to feel those emotions again. It wasn’t like my husband could have done anything to help me. I had already planned to talk with my supervisor the next day so what was the point? Was there some sort of masochistic satisfaction in repeating the story?

I ended up nursing a headache for the rest of the night.

I completely regretted re-living the emotions and even now I fail to see any reason for needing to. The smart move was to let go and move on. I definitely lost more than I gained. In fact, I didn’t gain anything – unless you consider a headache a gain. Sometimes it can be as simple as saying to yourself, “It’s okay. I’m done with that.”

I tell my students all the time that we can only be as strong as our ability to let things go. That when you free yourself of constraints your ability to expand is limitless. I forgot that yesterday but it was a lesson well re-learned.

Emotional traps are easy to fall into. But when you pay closer attention to your emotions, you will get better not only at not setting emotional traps but avoiding them as well.

How often do you do this to yourself? Are you able to recognize them? Do you make the conscious decision to avoid rehashing old negative feelings? What tricks do you use to get around emotional traps?

Photo via Flickr (Creative Commons) by Billaday.

My motivation

Why do I exercise?

  • Because I feel like a badass after pushing myself harder than I ever have before…
  • Because it’s not called an adrenaline rush for nothing…
  • Because I don’t want to feel my age when I’m over 50…
  • Because I love myself more than my couch…
  • Because I can’t afford a whole new wardrobe every six months…
  • Because my family and friends deserve me at my best…
  • Because vanity won’t allow me to do any less…
  • Because donuts and cupcakes aren’t going to eat themselves…
  • Because heart disease and diabetes are not my friends…
  • Because I want to live long and I want to live well…

Why do YOU exercise?

Meditation: It’s here to cure what ails you

When you find a nice flat rock, you should sit on it.

These days we’re hearing more and more about the benefits of meditation. We’re reading about how it can make you more alert, reduce your stress, enhance your creativity, make you taller and pump up your biceps… (Okay, scratch the last two…) But it is starting to sound like the magical pill that will cure whatever ails you and it seems like everyone is trying to get in on it… After all, it’s only about sitting on a cushion, closing your eyes and breathing deeply, right?

Well, yes and no.

Meditation could be as simple as that but it actually takes a lot of work to get there. And you’re selling yourself short if you don’t consider all the possibilities of meditating. Don’t forget that it is an ancient tradition and certainly an important part of any yoga practice. Its powers can literally transform you if you let it.

But what makes meditation hard? Well, try this little exercise with me: Sit still for a moment, hands in your lap, back straight and shoulders relaxed. Now turn your attention to your breath and let it come in and out without any effort. Then clear your mind… Try not to think of anything. Just sit quietly blank for a few moments. Continue to keep your mind clear and keep pressing away any thoughts that may come in. Are you breathing still? Okay, now keep it going for a solid ten minutes…

Not so easy, is it? Little thoughts keep trying to jump in and drag you away from your center. Maybe your back will start to twitch or slouch or maybe you get completely carried away and start to fall asleep! Like everything else it requires discipline and practice and a helluva lot of patience.

But, Sam, how can I get in on this, you ask?

To start, I highly recommend you participate in a guided meditation class to get an idea of how it goes. Let someone ease you into it. Let them guide your breathing and your posture. You can very easily find a free class to join if you google “free meditation class” in your neck of the woods. Try it a few times. Try several different studios until you can find one where you feel comfortable. Then go ahead and try it at home.

Don’t forget that there are many different styles of meditation. And just like yoga, meditation is a personal journey. Some need a space to do meditation while others can do it just about anywhere. Some include moving (e.g. walking) while others involve visualization. There is no one correct way to do it. It’s about getting in touch with what feels good for you and what allows you to let go and surrender to the present. I wish I could tell you how it’s supposed to feel but I can’t. It is going to be different for you.

I think it would also help if you read about meditation, its history and its tradition. I would recommend The Miracle of Mindfulness: A Manual on Meditation by Thich Nhat Hanh. Allow yourself to obtain a deeper understanding of the practice including its variations. Learn about different techniques and immerse yourself in it. It will give your process a whole new dimension.

But make no mistake meditation is not a quick-fix for your not taking care of yourself. If the source of your stress is doing too much or not getting enough rest, an additional activity is not going to help. Trust me. It certainly does not take the place of much needed sleep or exercise.

So that is MY take on meditation. Excuse me while I get off my soapbox now. If you have tips, books or experiences in meditation to share with me and my readers, please feel free to do so! In the meantime, let’s all slowly say OM together… Ooooooooooommmmmmm….