Finding Calm

Captiva Blue(c) Open Hearted

I spent the other week on a little island in the Gulf of Mexico, a place that holds a lot of magic and healing for me.  The sunshine and humidity warmed and brightened up my spirit from the inside.  The salt water washed away the sadness, grief and depression that had been plaguing me in San Francisco.  It was a little staggering how quickly my depression receded.  I felt like myself again – real laughter, real rest at night, moments of real joy, and real love in the arms of my daughter and husband.  While I’m so grateful to have had that time in Florida to find myself again, it made coming back to San Francisco unbearable.  This angry, overtired, mean and grumpy person, I felt desperate not to let her take hold again. The answer is that I need to put taking care of myself (and my sobriety) at the top of my list.

I’ve been plodding along in recovery from alcohol for the past two years with the help of a twelve step program, and now that I’m solid in my sobriety I’m feeling a nudge to go further.  I found a psychiatrist that deals with depression and anxiety, a counselor who works with addiction and now it’s time to make the changes that I’ve been avoiding.  In the beginning, I did whatever I needed to not to drink. Everything else could wait, and I’m so glad I did that because it let me find freedom from drinking. Now, the things that I have been looking to for relief – sugar, comfort eating, TV – aren’t helping me. They’re keeping me stuck. I want to get back to that joyful, easy going girl I remembered on that island. So I’m posting here for some accountability.  These are the main stays of my self-care.  (Not to mention, the holidays are here so having bullet proof self-care is a good plan.)

Casting a Spell

Essentially setting an intention is always the beginning for me.  The inner witch in me likes to thing of it as casting a spell. I want to heal from the emotional pain I’ve picked up over the course of my life and move through it, rather than drag it behind me.  That’s why I’m doing this.

Sleep

At minimum, 7-8 hours of sleep keeps me on an even keel.  With a toddler that often wakes up at night that’s not always possible.  In that case, I nap whenever I can.

Exercise

Running, yoga, dancing anything that gets my body moving and my heart rate going I count.  For some accountability, I took a little risk and reached out to find a running buddy.  Now I have two women that I meet twice a week to run and it’s the only thing that gets me out the door on the cold, dark nights of winter.

Eating Well

I have a lot of issues around food.  In the past I’ve obsessed about calorie counting, restricted and binged, and stuffed my face with food hoping it would make me feel better.  What’s working for the moment is focusing on structure – three meals and one snack – as well as getting enough protein.  These two pieces have been helping the most.  My energy is better and I feel like I’m eating for nourishment.

Spiritual Growth

I try to do one little thing every day that makes my spirit happy – reading a poem, going to recovery meetings, or reading recovery literature.

Creativity

Maybe it’s a strange one but when I’m not creating something I feel really angry, like there’s something inside clawing at me to get out.  Writing in a journal, cooking a new meal, writing a blog post, singing anything that helps me feel like I’m living a creative life.

Meditation

This is the one I don’t do, but makes me feel immeasurably better when I do.  Time to start doing it…

Gratitude

Every morning I write a list of the things I’m grateful for right when I wake up.  I’m also part of a private gratitude group on Facebook.  A small group of women friends all post each day about one thing they’re grateful for.  It’s been a really powerful way to connect and stay grounded no matter what happens.  Each day I’m reminded that I have everything I need, and a lot of things that I want.

 

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Finding an Opening in a Song

A string of chords, a wisp of lyrics, an intrinsic rhythm of a song can rip your heart wide open when you least expect it.  Sometimes it’s a song you’ve never heard before.  Sometimes it’s a song that’s worn itself well into the tiny crevices of your heart, hiding so deeply you wouldn’t even know you remember it until you do.  I’m a sensitive person, so much so that it can overwhelm me.  Music helps me float in that sensitivity without drowning, coast with it, overcome it, or open up when I’ve shoved everything I feel way down deep.

Things were pretty rocky growing up in my house.  My parents were deeply unhappy in their marriage in the early years of my childhood.  Certain albums cast shadows in my past.  When I heard Carly Simon’s Have You Seen Me Lately, the sense of betrayal and despair that swept the house was palpable, even to a seven year old child.  The notes of Jackson Browne could cast a spell of sadness in a moment that transfixed all of us.

The pain of those years is still so accessible that as I prepared to marry my husband I was haunted by Coming Around Again. It got stuck in my head, around and around, warning me that I was signing myself up for some sort of inescapable disappointment.  The lyrics hit at the core of my fear: “I know nothing stays the same… but if you’re willing to play the game… it’s coming around again… so don’t mind if I fall apart… there’s more room in a broken heart… and I believe in love… but what else can I do… I’m so in love with you…” I thought that no matter how happy I was with my partner now, in a marriage you inevitably doomed yourself to decades of unhappiness.  Eventually I worked my way through by remembering that I was making my own choices and not destined to reap the same pain I saw my parents grapple with.

When I was young there were also the nights when Buckwheat Zydeco blared loudly out of the giant speakers in their bulky wooden cases, pumping out through the open sun room and out through the glass slatted windows opened wide to the muggy Chicago summer air.  My dad making us laugh wildly as he danced around the house. Or Baby Now That I Found You which we sang with our mom on every family trip until our adolescence crept in and made us reluctant to join her.  Those memories come back as vividly as the painful ones.

Those are the songs at my core. They’ve shaped in one way or another the role music plays in my life now.  I’ve created my own soundtrack too, certain albums and playlists represent whole periods of time, disappointment in love, loneliness, newly found independence, new jobs, new cities, new friends, new chapters.

As I sat down to write tonight I longed for the perfect song for the first time in a long time.  I realized it had been ages since I’d bought any new music, much less thought about it.  So I followed the nudge and started browsing through new music.  The waves of emotion that rolled through me as I found one song after another I understood how long it’s been since I’ve had my heart open.  This week I’m listening to more music to create more openings for however I’m feeling.  You pour what you’re feeling into the music, but it offers something back to you too.  It’s no wonder they say that music can have a profound influence on our moods.   Depending on what I choose to listen to it’s wondrous how hopeful, heartsick, pumped up, or nostalgic can feel after listening. In a song, I can find the emotional opening I need.  Keep listening.

Creative Recovery: Day 0

Via

I’m going into creative rehab today.  Creative recovery is a term that I read about in Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way, a brilliant book about uncovering your creativity and artistic inspiration.  One part of her introduction really hooked me, and I thought, “Oh god that’s me too.”  It was in the introduction. She hints at her issues with alcoholism.  What I understood from her writing was that she came to a point where she had to make a choice between alcohol and art.  She realized the two couldn’t coexist.

At the time I read that, I felt like I wasn’t really ready to make a change.  I wasn’t convinced that I needed to.  Sitting where I am today I feel like it’s time.  I choose writing.  I choose my art.  I choose the difficulty and discomfort of facing and sorting through my raw feelings.  I’ve written before about how I tend to run from difficult emotions afraid that they’ll gobble me up.  I run, by self-soothing with food, wine and TV, numbing out from the world around me.  You cannot selectively numb, as I’ve learned from Brene Brown. If you numb the bad, you numb the good.  When I finally drag myself to my desk to write, I’m left with nothing inside to write from.

I have this great habit of getting all excited to start a new program, or lifestyle, or endeavor, and never make it through dinner of the same day.  Posting here, is way of holding myself accountable.  Though no one’s watching, I’ll feel like someone’s watching.  A nice kick in the pants to stick to somtehing for once.  I’m trying to go day by day and leave it at that.

Daily Creative Recovery:

  • Morning Pages (See Julia Cameron’s book for this one)
  • Healthy Diet (Sugar, Caffeine, Gluten, Alchol, Dairy Free)
  • Enough Sleep
  • Fresh Air
  • Excercise
  • Open Hearted Post

Removing some of the crutches I cling to, a glass of wine, comfort eating, and so forth, I take away the layer I normally use to cover over whatever I’m feeling or thinking.  This is an experiment in learning to live without those buffers.  At the very least I hope I get a better understanding of myself.  I also hope my health and energy levels improve.  Most importantly though, when I sit down to write I want to know that I’m doing all I can, working my ass off to haul up my own star. (Have to thank APW for that little gem of wisdom.)