Last week, as I stood up to join hands with the people in my early morning 12-step meeting, the group started to recite the "we version" of the serenity prayer and as I went to open my mouth nothing came out. I couldn't remember the words. I had forgotten this simple freaking prayer, a prayer that I usually recite dozens of times during any given week. A weird, panicky feeling washed over me and I chimed in near the end with ...and the wisdom to know the difference. This should have been my first clue that something was amiss, but I forged ahead without giving it too much thought.
At this point in my sobriety, I have a boatload of tools that I can choose from to help me resist the urge to drink or help quell my anxiety. The tricky part of this equation is that I somehow always seem to forget to use the tools in my sobriety-slash-anxiety toolbox when I'm actually in crisis mode. The words to that simple prayer should have been my flashing yellow warning signal, but that's not how it works, at least not for me. I have to be hit over the head and only then will I pause to see what's up.
The last month was full of travel and uncomfortable situations for me. I went into the month knowing I would need to be on high alert in order to thwart any potential anxiety flare-ups and I needed to be super prepared to support my sobriety. I was traveling to Austin to take part in an AA conference panel discussion on social media + sobriety called Living Cyber. I was flying and staying in a hotel room with my friend, Natalie, who lives near me in real life. She held my proverbial hand as we navigated security and suggested healthy eating options before we boarded the plane. She literally held my hand as our plane left the runway. Upon landing, I was ready to meet several new friends that I'd only ever chatted with online and over the phone.
New situations, security at the airport, PEOPLE, and standing up and speaking in front of a room full of strangers - what could go wrong? Well, it turned out that nothing went wrong. I had prepared well and was surrounded by people who totally got me. I took a yoga for recovery class with my friend and teacher Laura McKowen while I was there. And, I ate my way through the weekend. I'm not kidding - carrot cake french toast, a blueberry crumble with vanilla ice cream, more carrot cake, chicken-fried-chicken, buttermilk pie, my weight in tortilla chips and plenty of Topo Chico mineral water (which I'm on the hunt for now in California). I think eating kept my anxiety at bay, or at least that's what I'm telling myself. And, sober people are the total bomb. No small talk. They cut to the chase. They are truth-tellers, mostly introverts, authentic and genuine to the core.
The Thanksgiving holiday went over pretty well this year. Last year, I spent the holiday alone with my fellas but this year I was ready to entertain on a small scale. One thing that I should mention was that I had a little blip of a trigger after all of my guests left. That trigger was a half empty bottle of Iron Horse Summer Cuvee sparkling wine leftover from earlier in the evening. While I was alone drying the last of the dishes, the thought crossed my mind to take a quick gulp, not a sip, a gulp. As soon as that thought hovered in my mind, I immediately put down the dish towel, brushed my teeth and crawled into bed. I made sure to get up early and drove myself directly to my 7 a.m. 12-step meeting. The feeling had left me by then, but it unsettled my mind a bit. Note to self: Tools. Use them.
Between all of the traveling and the actual Thanksgiving holiday itself, as well as school commitments and the three recovery speaking gigs I said yes to, I'd say I've done pretty well with my recovery over the last 30 days. Here's where I was at last year at this time.
I got all the way to November 30th without any major issues connected to my anxiety, but I wasn't quite out of the woods. A big 'ole anxiety ball dropped in my lap immediately after co-hosting the live Since Right Now podcast with Sondra Primeaux on the last freaking day of the month! Once we were done with the show, I started experiencing physical signs of an anxiety attack - numbness in my arms, my throat restricting and closing up, tingling in my upper chest. Again, I put myself to bed and just thought I could fall asleep and be done with the feelings, but that's not how it worked out. I ended up having to get into a scalding hot shower at 11 o'clock at night, breathe in some essential oils and try to calm myself down. The good news? It worked. Again, tools.
Reflecting upon the experience the next day, I realized that I had two cups of black tea while we were recording the podcast. So, I guess this means that I am really sensitive to caffeine and I kind of already knew this, but now it was confirmed. After returning from our Paris vacation earlier this summer, I have been limiting myself to one cup of coffee in the morning and that has really helped to decrease my anxiety levels throughout the day. This most recent post-pod anxiety episode helped me to understand that, quite obviously, my anxiety flares up when I have too much caffeine. This was good news, sort of. I will have to remove it from my daily routine and I'm sure I'll reap the benefits quickly, but it will be so hard to say goodbye to my morning cup of joe. [UPDATE: since originally drafting this blog post I am six days without coffee. On day one, I experienced a debilitating headache and slept for 12 hours straight that night, but the last five days have been just fine. I have allowed myself one cup of black tea in the morning, but that's it for the day]
My college courses are coming to an end for the fall semester. As usual, I bring my recovery into most of my classes either with my art or my writing. Here are my entries for the Women in History project at the junior college I attend. Of course, Betty Ford, right?
The Mantra Project: 40 Days of Sobriety released the weekend I was in Austin, on 11/11. You can read more about it here. You can still buy subscriptions to the e-course by clicking here or clicking on the banner ad at the top of my blog website. If you purchased one, thank you. If you didn't, think about subscribing for the new year. I'm going to subscribe starting on January 1st and let it take me through the first 40 days of the year.
I read this quote today before my morning meeting started and it has stayed with me throughout the day. I wanted to share it with all of you, too.
The depth of our anxiety measures the distance we are from God. I think that's right. My higher power is LOVE and so I interpret this a little differently, but I think the quote is generally on track with how I feel. When I forgot the words to the serenity prayer last week, the act of forgetting was actually a measuring instrument for calculating my distance from my higher power and the work I'm doing in A.A. I've languished in my step work a bit and I've been on Step 9 since the end of July. I know it's supposed to take as long as it takes, but I feel stuck, stagnant. I need movement and some spiritual mojo. I plan on finishing up my amends in the next week or two, which is no easy feat, but I feel it will shift something in my recovery and I want that.
Hell, I need it.