Going Home

Today, I finish packing everything in my townhouse. Tomorrow, after the movers are done, I will unpack everything in a house .9 miles away.

In the past 18 years, I’ve moved over a dozen times. Two times, I moved into houses with husbands. Every other time, I moved into apartments or townhouses, perceiving myself as incapable of taking care of a house by myself. I saw myself as fragile, a dependent, in need of help.

Tomorrow, at age 55, I move into a house all by myself. It was built in 1944 and has 1600 square feet. It has a yard with a lawn and a garden. I’ve mowed a lawn once, tough bahia in Tampa. I can generally recognize a weed and pull one or two. I do know how to find someone to garden beautifully. So I’m not a homeowner or a mower or a gardener and tomorrow I will become all three.

Here is what I intend to do in my new house:

  1. Write a memoir of 2006-2014. I will pen the first word on the first day I wake up there, Thursday, November 20, 2014. Make tea, feed cats, write. Unpack and everything else later.
  2. Watch more Disney movies. That bitch TV stole my husbands and I’ve only let her into my world again recently, scorned, banished to the floor. It’s a groaner to get down there with her to watch Monsters, Inc. Enough. A La-Z-Boy sofa with built-in recliners will be delivered on moving day. Bitch TV is not to blame. I love her, too.
  3. Walk around the yard. The former owner planted blueberries and blackberries and apples and some kind of wondrous exotic pear tree in the front yard. Just look. See what I see.
  4. Have people over.
  5. Acknowledge ambivalence. Eye the bamboo in the backyard, feel the rage and, to quote David Pitonyak, try to make friends with it. Ponder whether or not I will handle my projection onto the bamboo of my rage against all-things-uncontrollable with a hatchet or with a backhoe.
  6. Not have a glass of champagne, or a bottle, or two, to celebrate moving into my new house. In fact, never have a glass, or, inevitably, a bottle, of sauvignon blanc, or Rogue beer, or tawny port there. Ever.

What I will miss most from my townhouse:

1) The Wall

Wall mural designed by Babs Chenault, created by Jeff Proco

2) Tiger, my neighbors’ cat, who made himself at home in my heart.

Tiger

I am moving to the neighborhood in which I lived from 4th grade until marriage. I don’t remember who lived in the house. But Donita’s parents still live next door and Adrienne’s old house is right across the street. My dad still lives in my childhood home, around the corner, .2 miles away.

At 55, I feel like I might finally have found a home.

. . . . .

Added 11/21/14: My townhouse is ready to be home to a new owner! Here’s a full description!

Treatment Center for One

Looking back, I think two selves moved into the townhouse – my can-do self and my broken-down self. My can-do self decided this townhouse would do as an addictions treatment center and she opened a rehab and put my broken-down self into it.

On July 2, 2012, I moved from a 2001 house into a 1985 townhouse. Six months abstinent from alcohol and newly separated, I would estimate on that day, and many, many to follow, that 95% of my hours – day and night – were distress-filled.

Sixteen months later, now 22 months abstinent and, regrettably, divorced, I experience distress about 10% of each day.

That’s an astounding reduction.

When I moved into the townhouse, my can-do self researched addictions treatment. She found few options locally and an enraging lack of consensus on what addiction is and how to treat it. So she did her linear little thing: called forth her master’s degree in counseling, pondered her experience with what seemed to help people when she worked with them in many settings, relentlessly read as much research as she could, saw my desperation, said, “Good enough will have to do – the client is suffering!”, made judgment calls, and cobbled together a treatment program for me.

She organized and scheduled my days, transported my broken-down self to meetings and appointments with counselors and health care providers and whatever else she could find, and hoped for the best.

She did all right.

I so respect Lance Dodes’s work on addictions treatment. He scoffs, however, at equine therapy and other non-evidence-based treatment for addictions. What I don’t think he gets is that sometimes it doesn’t matter if addictions treatment is evidence-based. It matters that it’s something to do, something pleasant and kind and engaging and absorbing to do as a calming respite from the all-day, every-day strain of not doing, of not drinking or using.

And my can-do self recognized I needed help, not just with doing, but with being. And I needed a place to be to see beauty without when I couldn’t feel it within. My can-do self did something new, too. Instead of trying to do it alone, she asked for help.

Look at my beautiful treatment center.

Wall mural designed by Babs Chenault, created by Jeff Proco

Wall mural concept and design by Babs Chenault, layout and precision painting by Jeff Proco, photo by Sean Shannon.

1722 Emerald Street Front Garden

Fall view of front garden highlighted by geraniums, conifers, and blueberries, designed and planted in May, 2014, by Pamela Cadmus of Specialty Garden Design. Pamela’s three-year plan for a garden is “Sleep, Creep, Leap!”

When I look back at the past 22 months and think of all the people who came to my townhouse, met with me, called me, texted me, emailed me – helped, comforted, calmed, reassured, supported me… Treatment center for one, staffed by hundreds.

Thank you so very, very much, treatment team. The client is progressing nicely.

. . . . .

If you’re interested in a tour of Anne’s little treatment center, here’s a link to more photos. To enlarge, click the image. To scroll, use arrows at bottoms of enlarged images. In the photos, the master bedroom is used as an office and the larger hall bedroom is used as the master bedroom. Not pictured: about a billion cat beds, cat playgrounds, cat toys, and cat litter boxes – except for one little peek here. Photos by Sean Shannon

Wall mural contacts: Babs Chenault, 540-998-6161; Jeff Proco, 540-357-4880

Garden: Pamela Cadmus, 540-651-4464. Here is the garden’s plant list, the garden design layout, and another view.

A Shim for That Too-Far Feeling

I want to live my life for real. I used to want to feel all and think all at all times. I have realized that there’s a no-stop in me that takes me too-far. To handle too-farness, I began to drink wine each night. Without wine, too-farness still happens. I’ve learned that what I want – all – I can’t have. I can’t be completely open to all and stay abstinent and mentally healthy.

A shim of awareness helps with balanceI find abstinence primarily hell. But. With 21 months of seemingly infinite effort on my part and on the part of people who want me to stay sober and sane, something is starting to help me when too-farness happens.

Awareness.

Awareness helps. But it’s not enough. I need to be able to do something with that awareness. For example, how about me becoming aware I have homicidal thoughts or just want to do some damage with a 2′ x 4′ and my mighty little gym-trained biceps? A girl’s gotta have a process – something to do – before she gets into this awareness thing.

If I could just pry apart a gap between that too-far feeling and what I used to do, i.e. pick up glass after glass of wine instead of the 2′ x 4′, I’d have a chance to do something different.

A process is beginning to form.

I have started to become aware of when I am starting to feel a lot. Maybe the a lot that leads to too-far.

I am learning to quick, quick, slip that awareness – like a wooden shim under the foot of a too-far-forward-about-to-fall bookcase – in between what I’m feeling and what I used to do.

When I become aware, I pause.

Into the gap made by the pause, I wedge a new process.

Old process:
Feel > Act > Then think, “What was I thinking?!”

New process:
Feel > Pause > Think > Act

Within the space and time and balance offered by that shim of awareness, I think, “What am I feeling? What is the origin of this feeling? Is it helping me? Is it good for me?”

While I’m asking those questions, I calm and comfort myself. I reassure myself and think, “You have reasons for what you think. It’s okay to think what you’re thinking. Let’s take a look. Okay, yes, it makes sense you’re thinking that. It’s okay.”

While I was driving to have dinner with women friends a few days ago, I was listening to NPR about a man who volunteered to collect and cremate bodies of people who had died in Liberia from Ebola.

I started to feel. I felt the hint of too-farness. I quick, quick, stuck in the shim of awareness. I started the process. This is what I remember feeling and thinking:

  • On the way here, I passed the corner I used to drive up to the house where I lived with my former husband. I miss us. I feel sad.
  • I used to live with him and my cat and his cat. Both of those cats had to be put down. I miss my cat. I miss his cat. I feel so sad.
  • I know I have a push-pull relationship with attachment. Ah, hearing of the man witnessing losses in other lives is bringing up my own losses and my longing to be attached. It makes sense and it’s okay. I’ve done the best I can. I’m okay.
  • This man has to be traumatized from his experience. I should help him. How can I help him?
  • Ah, there I am feeling responsible for others again. It’s okay. He is responsible for himself and he is responsible for asking for the help he needs. As Dr. H. says, I’m not responsible for un-upsetting him. I’m responsible for un-upsetting me. His inner wisdom will guide him. If in the unlikely chance he asks me for help, I can decide whether or not I can – or am available to – help. I know from my own experience that there are lots of people available to help people with problems and I am not The Only One Who Must Help. So, I feel compassion for myself and for him and all who help others and turn my thinking back to being helpful to myself.
  • People in recovery are encouraged to think hard about the news. It can feel like added hardship over which we have no control. We’re allowed to choose whether or not we let in news. It would be okay for me to turn this off, to not listen to it.
  • Why am I not turning this off? Why am I listening? This probably isn’t good for me…
  • It’s okay that I am uncertain about the answer to that question. It’s okay that I don’t know.
  • And there it is, involuntarily: I want a drink.
  • It’s okay. I’m not going to choose that. I’m just about there. I’ll meet with women who understand. I can tell them I’m getting upset and they’ll be okay with it and they won’t upset me further by judging me or giving me advice. They’ll accept me and just be with me while I handle these current feelings and thoughts and make progress with the process of growing in my ability to manage no-stopness.
  • I feel kindness towards myself. I see how hard I try and how goodness is what I most want.

A lot of approaches to addiction recovery exhort self-exhortation. I’ve done self-exhortation for 55 years and I’m not a fan. It hurts. A girl could drink over it.

Kindness feels better.

I have heard often over the years that my exhaustive style of probing is exhausting. I get it. From that effort, though, I am deriving a way to not drink and maybe even to have a little peace, a little happiness, a little joy in my life. Towards my exhaustive and exhausting effort, I feel kindness.

I Control You Because I Can’t Control Me

One of the top triggers people with substance use disorders cite as threatening their abstinence or causing relapse is problems with relationships. Because of attachment issues, insufficient self-care and self-love, and other emotional challenges, some people suffering from addiction begin or stay in relationships that don’t help them with a fundamental of sobriety: feeling better about ourselves. Simply put, we need to leave, but don’t. Laurel Sindewald has done extensive research on the subject and synthesizes her findings for us and adds her own insights in this post. Thank you, Laurel!

– Anne


I Control You Because I Can’t Control Me
by Laurel Sindewald

“I put a spell on you… Because you’re MINE!” Screamin’ Jay Hawkins belts chillingly out from my speakers.

He is not the first to think of love as possession or as a permission slip to control another person. What makes me feel the need to control you, my love? It certainly isn’t something you’ve done, though I may have told you so when I was angry or scared.

controlabuse“People who can’t control themselves control the people around them. When you rely on someone for a positive reflected sense of self, you invariably try to control him or her.” says Dr. David Schnarch in his book Intimacy & Desire. Dr. Schnarch is a licensed clinical psychologist and author of several other books. He has found that the need to control others stems from a fundamental lack of ability to regulate one’s emotions.

The “control freak” is depending on others for a sense of self-worth and for emotional stability. In the face of uncontrollable depression or anxiety, it is unsurprising that she is constantly afraid to lose those she has come to need. She seeks to shape and determine their behaviors, their opinion of her, who they can see, and even how they feel. She is terrified that if her loved ones develop autonomy that they will not choose to be with her, perhaps because she would not choose herself.

People, like me, feel the need to control other people out of just such a desire for self-preservation. What began as an evolutionarily beneficial capacity to shape and control my environment for survival has become a coping mechanism for managing my unmanageable emotions.

I might self-deprecate and break down in tears, begging for your help. I might lose my temper and yell at the slightest scent of another argument. I lie and manipulate you, anything I can do to keep you here to keep me stable. I might not even be aware that my actions are trapping you, but my hyper-sensitivity becomes your prison nonetheless.

. . . . .

Control may be a deep human need, but it need not extend to the lives of the people around us. Whether you have a tendency to control, be controlled, or both, it’s important to be able to recognize when caring has tipped over into disrespectful restriction. This helpful list covers some of the many ways in which controlling behaviors can manifest. Other warning signs can be found here.

Examples of exerting control over others:

  • Micromanagement
  • Keeping a person from seeing or talking to loved ones or friends
  • Gaslighting
  • Dishonesty
  • Over-protective or helicopter parenting
  • Physical, sexual, or emotional abuse, bullying, or taunting

People who are subject to any of these, or other abusive and controlling behaviors, may not recognize the trap they’re in. Victims of abuse may come to believe they deserve such treatment or that this is as good as it gets. They may have, in turn, lost a sense of control over themselves, and may even begin to mirror some of the same controlling behaviors in an attempt to satisfy their own needs for control. The same vulnerable people who control others for a healthy self-image may be the people at risk for becoming the victim of someone who is abusive or controlling.

. . . . .

Ultimately the spell is a dance that takes two: a controller and someone who is willing to be controlled… or simply unable to leave.

In the face of cycles and spirals of control and abuse, it can be difficult to break the spell and leave if we need to. We feel lost, we victims and perpetrators of controlling behaviors. We struggle and shift our need for control from one person to the next, from one habit to the next, from one substance to the next. We look for any way to manage the unbearable sense of helplessness and terror at our cores.

Examples of controlling self or environment:

  • Disordered eating
  • Complusive exercising
  • Self-harm
  • Substance abuse
  • Compulsive arranging, tidying, or cleaning

Dr. Schnarch states that the only way for any person to have healthy relationships is to develop emotional autonomy. As he puts it,”one of the kindest things you can do for the people you love is to develop more emotional autonomy. Managing your own emotions, anxieties, and feelings of self-worth gives other people back their lives.”

. . . . .

This doesn’t leave us farther apart, as you might expect. If anything, emotional autonomy is the only way you and I can have enough stability together to develop healthy interdependence. “We might fall in love but we don’t fall towards each other – we choose to stand tall by each other,” Anne told me once.

Emotion regulation is the practice of moderating and modulating our emotions so that they don’t come to control our actions (or others!). Healthy emotion regulation techniques are ways of recognizing overpowering emotions and modulating them according to how we wish to live and behave. They all begin with higher awareness of emotions as they come.

Control freaks control others partly because they are unable to tolerate negative emotions such as shame, fear, or rejection. In order to change the controlling behaviors that follow from this they must learn to cope with or moderate these negative emotions.

I need to accept even that my worst fears might come true. My controlling behaviors may have destroyed whatever precious excitement, love, and attraction might have existed in our relationship. We both may need space to heal before we can pick up relationship our again. You may need to leave to find yourself again.

If I can become emotionally autonomous, I can learn to trust myself. There is no need to fear my loved one’s actions or even mistakes as long as I trust that I can manage my own self and my own emotions. My need to control vanishes. I can leave if I want to.

The spell that keeps us dancing, focused minutely on the other person’s slightest changes of mood, focused ever intently on whatever he wants us to be doing, is broken as soon as we turn our focus back inward.

Take a deep breath, dear self. You’re wounded and that’s okay. We need some time and space to heal, but this isn’t the last time we’ll find love.

Post and image by Laurel Sindewald

Do As I Say, Not As I Do: Don’t Tell

If you’re in recovery from addiction to alcohol or other drugs, don’t share that publicly.

That’s my advice to people in recovery who are not super models backed by fans or public officials backed by The White House.

Few have the backs of those in recovery from addiction.

Mums the word on recovery from addictions and alcoholism

It’s not because we’re bad or wrong or because they are. It’s because we’re all uncertain.

“[S]ociety seems not to know whether to regard substance abuse as a treatable medical condition akin to diabetes or heart disease, or as a personal failing to be overcome,” Stephanie Desmon and Susan Morrow write for The Hub.

About a Johns Hopkins study published in October, 2014, Desmon and Morrow write that researchers found, “Only 22 percent of respondents said they would be willing to work closely on a job with a person with drug addiction…”

I feel empathy and compassion for employers and employees who hesitate to hire or work with people in recovery from addiction. It’s dangerously difficult for a business to make money in a tough economy.

I started a company in 2008 and went 54 months without a paycheck. I needed to hire contractors who could crank out work with little supervision. If they had needed down time for the 24/7/365 condition of addictions recovery, or cost my company clients because of stigma, although my personal philosophy would have been to embrace and transcend such situations, the bottom line was my company simply wasn’t established or profitable enough. If my employee had done what I have done – shared publicly about being in recovery from addiction – I doubt, as a small startup company, we could have recovered.

So why did I tell that I am in recovery from addiction to alcohol?

People with addictions have deficits in self-care.

As the abstinent days began to accumulate to months, I realized self-care for me would be to tell.

. . . . .

I agonized over the decision.

Business-wise, it’s a bad move for me and, to a limited extent, for our business community in which I have been active. And for my company’s clients. In an ideal world, if we Golden Rule it, that should be enough for everyone to think we’re okay. In the real world, what others think has power, especially market power. Social stigma about addiction is real and hard to change.

It could be considered risky now to shake hands with the founder of Handshake Media, Inc. in public. The handshaker could be judged to be tainted by stigma, too. Does the handshaker think Anne’s “personal failing” is okay? If you’re seen with Anne, are you “one of those,” too?! Being at business events is hard on me because of the drinking, and hard on others because I’m not drinking and for what being with me might mean. I just don’t go very often these days.

I’m still too weary from being in early recovery to try to seek new clients and customers. Selling others on doing business with me and my company will be tough, maybe impossible. What if the company founder relapses? It’s a legitimate question.

Me having a drinking problem taints my family, too, and I am deeply sorry for that.

Silence would have protected them.

Silence felt like it was killing me.

I am a writer. I yearn – I must – be free to be open, to tell the truth, to write what is most in my heart and on my mind. I ran my longing by my father and sister, my friends, my counselor, my mentor. I have my father’s and sister’s support. But I was told point blank by some not to do it because the stigma would ruin my future work career. I was told by others not to do it because I am too early in recovery and the repercussions from being open might drum my fragile sobriety into relapse.

But I feel called to words…

If I were in my 20s, 30s or 40s and still needed to pay for my children’s braces and their college tuition, I think a self-care balance sheet calculation would have resulted in silence. I would have let the part of me that writes die a little, hope perhaps I’d have my chance when my finances didn’t depend upon the goodwill of corporations or organizations and their markets, and handle silence the best I could.

But I am 55, divorced, childless, and financially supported by my company and my family. I live modestly and have health insurance thanks to Obamacare. I have a cat and a kitten. The kitten has never had to turn her face away from me whispering endearments to her with wine on my breath. I waited 16 months. If being openly in recovery from addiction to alcohol takes me down, it will be primarily me and only so far. I’ll have enough for cat food.

Super model and actress Amber Valletta shared in July, 2014 that she is in recovery from addiction. She said, “I’d like to have a walk with 10,000 people celebrating sobriety and recovery.”

We could host that walk. In my town and its environs, I am one of 15,000 people with drug and alcohol problems.

I appreciate Amber Valletta’s optimism and activism. Still, for the people I know who are holding tightly to their hard-won hourly wage jobs or seeking tenure at our local university, my two cents would be that until society knows what it really thinks about addiction, not to go on that walk quite yet.