Monday, September 8, 2014

Drinking for Fun or Drinking to Numb?

I swear I've written a blog about this subject, but for the life of me I can't find it.  So, if you've been reading this blog for years I apologize if this is a repeat.  But then again, maybe it bears repeating.

I received an email from someone who was generally beating herself up because of a falling out with family members during the last week.  Her husband has only been gone a month.

Now, as almost all of you know...nothing brings out the best and the worst in people like the death of a loved one.  We all say things in the heat of the moment that we hope will be forgiven someday (or we hope we find the patience to forgive others for things they might have said).  I know I've been there - as those of you who read my book know, my mom and I had a falling out over the cardboard boxes in my garage just weeks after my husband's death. 

It happens.

But this woman's problem is compounded by the fact that she was "under the influence" when she had these discussions.  And she's having a really hard time forgiving herself.

Again, I feel like I've addressed this before, but I know from hanging out on the widow block for a while that extreme grief and can sometimes lead to addiction.  I know I joke about having a glass of wine or two every once in a while and maybe I shouldn't - it is a very real problem in our community.

The difference between widow drinking and other forms of consumption is that we're not doing it to have a good time.  We're not doing it because we're out partying it up with our friends.  We're not necessarily hoping it will make us feel better and we find it hard to believe that we could feel worse.

So, why do we do it?

Because we don't want to feel anything at all.  At least for a little while.

I will admit that I've stared down this abyss myself.  Widowed, stuck at home with three small children who would go to bed at 8 PM and leave me with a silent house and a feeling of loneliness I don't even think is possible to put into was sometimes pretty hard to fight the urge to seek that numbness.  And when you're already in a state of feeling abandoned by the person you thought would always be there and wondering would anyone care if I just had one more...?

Yes.  Someone cares.  There is a whole community of us who care.

The issue (one of the many) with self-medication is that it compounds the problems we already have:  We're depressed, tired, and emotionally drained.  It can make us feel anxious (which most of us already are) and depletes us of our already vanishing physical reserves. 

We're already dehydrated from crying so much and then we tack on a bender?  That can't be good.

As with most things, I've figured out there is no one solution for everyone.  Some people have found solace and help through churches and support groups.  You know me - I'm all about finding a good counselor to fix what ails you.  And some people just have a wake-up call of their own and suddenly think, "I just can't do this anymore."

But the number one thing that I hope that anyone reading this understands is, as with most things when it comes to widowhood, you are not alone.  There are others out there who are struggling just as you are.  There are those who have climbed out of that abyss and are willing to share their knowledge and understanding to get you through.  Remember that there are online communities (like mine and many others) where you can post anonymously without worrying your mother-in-law is going to read it.

Find those people

You are not alone.

Friday, September 5, 2014

The Fine Art of Self-Forgiveness

I'm beginning to think that all of us women in our thirties and forties are just a hot mess.

We're not young enough to still have that sunny outlook that everything is going to be okay all of the time and we're not old enough to just say "screw it" and completely not care what other people think about what we do.  And, unfortunately, we're a couple of decades away from completely losing that filter between mind and mouth when we can actually say "screw it" to anyone we feel like and move on, driving forty-five miles an hour in the left hand lane on the highway and blocking the Metamucil aisle at the grocery store with our Hoverounds.

It seems like most of the friends I talk to who are my age are going through something similar to what I am.  Even though our circumstances may be different, a lot of us our in a "what now?" stage in our lives.  And because we're slightly embarrassed to admit that we're going through a mild mid-life crises and none of us have the funds to go out and buy a Porsche and fund a boy seems like we're all suffering in silence.

We're tired.  We feel stuck.  And many of us feel slightly dissatisfied with the life we're living.

I can only speak from personal experience, but part of my issue, I think, is that I've been churning for so long trying to live my life's motto of "if you don't like where you are or where you're going, change it" and I'm suddenly realizing that I'm not always in control of everything my life, no matter how hard I work at it. 

You'd think someone who's had a dead husband for seven years would have figured this out by now, but I'm a slow learner.

And anyway, I'm not really talking about big stuff like that.  I'm talking about the little stuff, like career, dating, friendships, kids, etc.  Okay, maybe that stuff isn't so little but in the grand scheme of things (like when you compare it to death) it really kind of is.

I'm very much in a "wait and see" period in my life.  I'm tired of desperately trying to make things happen all of the damn time.  I mean, you're reading about a woman who tried to fast-track her grief, jump into dating because she was positive that if she put her mind to it she could find "the one" in thirty days or less...all while she was building her dream career.

Some of it panned out, some of it didn't.  The problem is that I think I was under the assumption that if I successfully checked off all of the boxes on my to do list, I would end up at a destination called Happy and have absolutely no worries after that.  I'm not kidding.  I think that was what was in the back of my mind.  And even with the things that worked out the way I wanted them to, it's not like I've ended up where I thought I would on my personal road map.

Is that what's wrong with us?  We've lost the ignorance of youth when we actually think we are in control, but we don't yet completely have the knowledge that we don't and, really, it doesn't matter as much as we previously thought?

The women in my age bracket are doing one of two things (or both):  We're in the thick of raising children and have, in many ways, lost our sense of self or we're in the thick of working on our careers because we feel like we need to be settled in what we are going to do for the rest of our lives.  Either way, there's this "now or never" mentality and we put so much damn pressure on ourselves to do it all right because we're positive that only we know how it's supposed to be done and we can't let go of that control.

Okay.  Everyone practice this with me.

Screw it.


Last weekend, I was having a glass of wine with a friend and mother of four when she confessed something to me.

"I took a nap today," she said, her eyes downcast in shame.

"So?" I said.  "What's wrong with that?"

"I just know I should have been doing something else."

I paused for a minute.  "Why?"

"I...I don't know.  But there's always something that needs to be done."

Of course there is.  There is always something that needs to be done and someone else who needs to be taken care of.  That will never change - that is a constant for everyone.  The thing is...we don't have to constantly be doing it.

"I just don't know what I'm doing anymore.  I feel like I don't have a direction.  I'm not inspired," she said.  And I nodded with complete understanding.

But here's a thought:  What if being directionless is actually a direction?  What if being in a place of not knowing is exactly where you're supposed to be?  What if taking that nap for an hour means that you're going to suddenly wake up inspired?  And what if it doesn't and it just means that you needed a nap?

I've really slowed down these last few months.  I've taken that nap she's talking about and I've learned not to feel so bad about it.  But here's the thing - learning how to slow down is a hell of a lot harder than working yourself into the ground.  Giving yourself permission to just be rather than move takes more discipline than I ever realized. 

It also takes a lot of self-forgiveness.  

I'm just to the point where I'm ready to let go a little and see what comes to me.  I actually think we all have to do that sometimes:  Stop trying so damn hard to take control and just hit pause and see what happens.  Because when we quit constantly concentrating on the end game - you know, that moment in life when we have raised the perfect kids while running a multimillion dollar company and our houses are clean for five blessed minutes...

...we actually open ourselves up to all kind of possibilities.