When Things Don’t Go My Way

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Human beings are fixed creatures.  We like knowing what comes next, planning ahead, and most of us are not fond of unexpected surprises unless there is a birthday cake involved.  Routine keeps us feeling secure, and structure for a recovering addict, is imperative.  We need to set boundaries.  We require lines to be drawn.  It’s in our best interest that we follow simple guidelines.

I do my best to keep myself on track, but it’s easy to become frazzled when my structure or routine is infringed upon, like this morning, when the shower water was lukewarm instead of hot.  More and more I am learning the significance of going with the flow and letting go of my ties to the world around me.  I often get reminded that I must be in a mindset of continuous surrender.  Boundaries and structure are good, but being flexible saves me from feeling stressed out when things do not exactly go my way.

I grew up with a family who were all sticklers about time.  If we didn’t show up to the dock when the boat was scheduled to leave, we were either left behind or lectured and ridiculed.  Until just recently, if I was running late anywhere, I became overwhelmed with anxiety.  As a mother now, I try to give my own children the space to learn structure and boundaries without being militant.  When we get set in our ways, it sets us up for disappointment, and we experience unnecessary stress when rules are broken.  It is so much simpler to live in flexibility mode, as opposed to being rigid and formatted.

Our self-will is a dominating force that desires to be the driver in our life, but we should be aware of constant reminders, like traffic and moody children, teaching us to lighten up.  It is not the end of the world if I am five minutes late, or if my plans unexpectedly change.  If I don’t go jogging today, or even for a week, I am not going to fall out of shape.  If dinner burns because something interrupted my cooking, it is not going to matter tomorrow.  Everything in life is subject to change.  Literally, everything.  I often tell my eleven year old (who gets apprehensive when plans change), “be still like the water and go with the flow”. 

If there are people in your life who drift rather than root themselves, or those who constantly spill milk in your presence; instead of yelling at them, try to take a step back and muster up a smile.  Thank the universe for people who are teaching you that life is not about your rules and expectations.  Once you receive the lesson, you won’t be as overcome with emotion when things don’t go according to your plans.  You may even discover less unexpected things occurring when you surrender to the world and people around you.   

As I showered in lukewarm water this morning, I stopped myself from being annoyed and thought, Well this is one more lesson in surrender.  I have no control over this situation, but at least I have water.

You see, we are not the conductors of our lives; we are merely passengers on a journey.  No matter the circumstance, the speed, or the turbulence, we should try to get a window seat and simply enjoy the view!

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Excerpt from ‘THE DEVIL’S ALTAR, An Alcoholic Woman’s Spiritual Journey into Recovery’ – Coming Soon to Amazon and Kindle

Ego

 

 

An Alcoholic in the Making

 

Much of my life has been spent searching for meaning.  More specifically, my purpose for being here.  I have never bought into an idea that there is no purpose for my life and that death is the end all for me.  If this were the case, I would have never stopped drinking. 

My curiosity and questioning has dominated any savage religious doctrine that I was predestined to buy into, or some lackluster philosophy that this human experience is strictly non-dimensional and linear.  I do not believe that this is an assembly line we were born into with random moments of bliss.  If this were the case, why do we have endless desire, multiple talents and brilliant minds?  Why are there varying degrees of personalities, stars which bring us to awe and an instinctual yearning for exploration?  Why is there unfathomable beauty, immeasurable contrast and limitless color?  How do we explain harmony, expansion, octaves, vibrations, music and the depths of love, if creation is simply an accidental calamity?  Why the full spectrum of emotions we experience as opposed to robotic responses?  What’s with laughter and humor?  Why do we dream and why do we have an endless myriad of choices?  Why do humans both differ so immensely and correlate so intimately?  Doesn’t everything we experience from birth to death point to a bigger picture?  I conclude, it certainly does.

If we were here to merely exist and then to die, what’s with the magic in between?  I mean really, why fuss with teasers of unexplainable phenomenon if there isn’t something greater happening?  What on earth, exactly, would be the point?

When life began feeling like an assembly line, somewhere in my mid-teen years, I had a vivid image of being a meaningless ant in a droning line of other ants, hauling salvaged crumbs around as a desperate method of survival.  I grew restless, irritable and discontent, constantly staring at metaphoric ant butts while carrying the lead weight of life upon my shoulders.  Unable to bare the tedium of my existence for long stretches of time, I created ways to make things more exciting for myself which included excessive drug use, drinking and spontaneous decision making.

 This eighteen year stretch of insanity led to me finally admitting that I am completely powerless over alcohol and drugs, and that my life had become unmanageable (Step 1 of Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous).  I made this assessment several times throughout my drug and alcoholic years, but the final declaration was on April 21, 2011.  This is my sobriety date.

 When I finally decided to quit the delusional race of running away from myself, the first steps of an incredible journey began.  It has been over two years of continuous sobriety; something I never believed was possible.  What has also occurred on this journey of mine, is that I am fully discovering a beautiful and complete person who I left behind in the wake of my running.  It is as if I have returned to the innocent child I once abandoned, and we are reconnecting on a very deep level. 

My story is a drastic tale of how I began running away from myself, and the turbulent journey back home.  I tell it without any shortage of clarity.  Everything connects, and as I review my life, it is easy to follow the thread weaving through my colorful tapestry.

– J.L. Forbes

https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/455639

For The Newcomber in Recovery

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I clearly remember the day I landed inside of a six month residential rehab, knowing that it was either do it or die, for me.  I recall feeling both equally safe and insecure.  After attempting to get sober several times in seven years, and failing hopelessly, I was uncertain of being capable of long-term sobriety.  Yet, I wanted it.  More than anything, I wanted to learn how to not pick up a drink.

I was so willing.  I would have swam the Bay naked in winter surrounded by great whites, if that’s what they told me was going to keep me sober.  Like most people in recovery, I was tired and desperate.

After rehab, I still felt very uncertain.  It’s so easy to stay sober when you are under conditions such as an institution provides, and under the scrutiny of hyper-alert staff, but I wasn’t naïve to think I was in the clear when I walked out of those double doors.  Rehab was merely a foundation for me.  I had the rest of my life in open space to build myself back up with the recovery tools that were provided.  It’s one thing to stay sober in rehab; it’s another to stay sober in the real world. 

It took about a year in the real world for me to feel like I had a real shot at staying sober.  I went to meetings, got a sponsor, and moved into sober-living apartments for ten months with my treatment peers.  I backed off of my career and took a couple of mediocre jobs that didn’t cause me stress.  I took things really slowly because I did not trust myself, and I did not want to fail.

I experienced what it was like to have a full-on alcohol craving without drinking.  The cravings in my first year were brutal.  I’m talking vampire-needs-blood-immediately, vicious cravings.   Prior to treatment, I’d never gotten through a craving like some of the ones I had in the first year, but like I was informed in treatment, the cravings are temporary.  They do pass, fairly quickly. 

My longest craving lasted about two hours.  I was so close to giving up and running to the liquor store for a bottle of vodka.  I was so close that I could taste it.  I wanted it desperately.  I began shaking.  I was so incredibly scared that I was going to drink.  I didn’t know how to stop myself.

Before running to the liquor store, I took a moment to pray.  My words were, “Please help me, God.  Please help me.”  A second later I found myself grabbing my backpack and running up the Berkeley Hills to the treatment facility where I got sober.  The first person I saw was a former peer, who had gone through treatment with me.  He relapsed and was back in treatment again for another six months.  He was sitting at the front desk.  No one else was there.  I sat down on the bench in the lobby, and sobbed.  I knew it was my higher power at work when I saw my friend’s face.  It could have been any of several clients at that front desk, yet it just happened to be a former peer.  I shared my experience with him, and also to a counselor, which immediately alleviated my craving.  I spent a few more hours there, talking with the women who were still in treatment.  I went to a group that day as well, and I came out of the day feeling like a champion.  It was both emotional and terrifying, but I knew what occurred was a huge step forward in my recovery.

I am over two years sober now, and I can honestly say that I have not had a craving like that one, since the day it happened.  I believe that it takes practice not taking a drink, under the wickedest of circumstances, in order to fully overcome addiction.  Habits need to be broken by practicing a new way of doing things.  Cravings have to be experienced in order for them to dissipate.  Emotions need to arise and regarded, rather than embellished upon, in order to for you to heal. 

Think of recovery as a re-balance in action.  It’s simply a journey that brings a disconnected person, back to themselves.  In order for this to occur, one should visualize their recovery as a long term goal.  In order to meet the goal, you must overcome the circumstances provided to you (emotionally, physically, mentally and spiritually).  You must face adversity, walk through doubt, acknowledge fear and keep moving forward.  You should also remain compassionate toward yourself knowing that you are new to life as a sober person.  Take things slowly and take care of yourself.  Be kind to yourself and laugh when you are clumsy.    

The greatest understanding I have received in my recovery is that every emotion I experience, is temporary.  Nothing I a feel at any given time, is eternal.  Everything will pass.  Fighting or resisting emotions only prolongs the pain and discomfort.  Buying into anger, stress, sadness, loneliness, etc., and taking a drink, will completely strip you of your self-worth. 

I just want to say one more thing… I have never felt better, dreamed bigger, loved deeper, laughed harder or been more clearer than I am since it’s been my life goal to recover.

I Bury the Bottle (Poem by J.L. Forbes)

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I bury the bottle

Deep in the earth

Pour out this poison

Being high was not worth

Ignoring my essence

Drowning out pain

Hurting my loved ones

My life lived in vain

 

I bury this bottle

My life is now mine

No longer a stronghold

Time to refine

I walk away sober

Turn my back on this hell

To begin a real journey

To climb out of this shell

 

I bury this bottle

Today is the day

Not one drop of booze

To steal me away

Goodbye you ol’ havoc

A friend you were not

A liar, a cheat

From the very first shot

 

– April 21, 2011

Mind Spam and the Human Heart

Spam

I woke up this morning to an email inbox filled with spam, probably from a single website I visited, and blindly plugged my information into.  It’s such a waste of time having to sort through all that nonsense to search for legitimate email.  I purposely keep a junk email account open for this sort of spam, but once in a while I find my personal accounts flooded with crap about the newest weight loss pills and how I can get cheaper auto insurance.

It reminds me of how I used to maneuver through life.  Even before I really started drinking, I believed that life delivered me a handful of cards and I was doomed to live out a fated destiny.  Provided to me were expectations, conformities, beliefs, fears, doubts, judgments, opinions, and ridicule.  I was offered opportunities, distractions, religion, free-will and too many choices.  We all come into this life open and carefree, yet we are passed into the arms of people who condition us the way they believe best suits our needs.  It’s all so weird, and very restricting.  People go crazy because they find themselves trapped as a result of limitation.  The way we are brought up these days, is not natural.  Mental illness is a result of spiritual distress, and it is unconsciously passed down from one generation to the next.

I literally had to institutionalize myself in a substance abuse program, in order to drudge myself out of spiritual conformity, and paddle my way back to freedom.  I went in there plagued with so many people’s voices carrying on about whom I was supposed to be; unceasing in my hectic mind.  After six months of following rules, going to groups and getting my ego mercilessly skinned, I left with only one voice.  It was my very own.  I didn’t even realize I had a voice of my own.

There is one voice within each of us.  It’s extremely clear, if you become quiet enough to listen to it.  It’s not the voice that chatters insistently in your mind.  The true voice comes from a deeper part of you, and it’s the one that never leads you wrong.  The voice in your head is a parrot really; delivering nonstop gibberish of every conformity, fear, doubt, belief, trauma, expectation, or judgment you’ve been acquainted with all your life.  This is what we are accustomed to buying into.  It’s the spam that never ceases, until you make it clear that you are no longer distracted and enticed by its deception.

You see, if you buy into the spam of your mind; you will never live a life of freedom.

Your heart’s voice, however, is the one that doesn’t become corroded over the years by careless conditioning.  It has the same knowing and understanding from the time you are born, until the moment you die.  It is kindled with direction, purpose, insight, maturity, knowledge, intuition, perspective and perception which go beyond the limitations of the human mind.  It is flawless and boundless.  There is no nonsense involved when your heart is guiding your way. 

We get so caught up in the web of our minds; when it is so simple to drop down into our heart center and follow a clearer path, which we were meant to follow all along.  I wrote this today because I get distracted and bombarded with the spam in my mind more often than I like to admit.  I have ideals, concepts and beliefs that I buy into, but it only takes a few seconds for me to place all that aside and become present.  Once I am present, I don’t have to look back and beat myself up over that time I was distracted.  If I do that, I’m living right back in my mind.  I like to think of my heart as a place of the constant smile.  There is never judgment there, and always a way out of the mess I got myself into.  We all have the ability to see our life clearly, but it takes consciousness to wake up and make our way back home to the heart. 

Most mornings, I wake up badgered by the spam in my mind.  It seems to take up a lot of space, and can be difficult to sort through.  This morning I decided to forget the spam and find a place of silence.  I wanted to start my day with a clean slate and the opportunity to make my way along in total clarity. 

If you become lost in your life, simply take a few moments to clear your mind and center yourself in the boundless space of your heart.  The heart is the identity of the spirit; the initial membrane which formed the human whole.  You are never separate from your wholeness.  It is only an illusion of the mind.

 My desire for you today, is that you toss the spam and get to the sustenance of who you truly are!  Get to the heart of the matter!

RELINQUISHING UNESSESARY BAGGAGE

Regardless if you are in recovery or just a human being living in this rat-race of a society where stress is an epidemic, you certainly have some emotional and psychological baggage.  If you think you don’t, you are probably living in a tree house somewhere, making friends with squirrels and sparrows; or under a ridiculous rock.  The rock is probably your mother, who takes all of your bullshit and turns it into pearls.  She probably displays these shitty pearls… on a wall… in her fancy den.

Most people don’t realize their own baggage until they are directly involved in a human-relationship.  It doesn’t matter who the human is; we all reflect one another’s bullshit.  Trust me.  I know. 

After six months of treatment in a therapeutic community where the program is based on facing ourselves directly in the mirror, as opposed to pointing fingers, I got a non-stop dose of my strange behaviors and arising emotions. If the chubby girl across the room irritated the shit out of me, it was because she reflected something I disliked in myself. If the asshole in the corner constantly pissed me off, then it was me who had the issue with anger. The list goes on and on. I am bossy, arrogant, entitled, judgmental, angry (really?), self-centered.bag.. you name it. Whatever emotion came up for me in the face of other people, was a reflection of what I needed to work on in myself.

I carry this information with me now as a constant reminder that I’m no where near perfect. I actually enjoy humility when it’s not delivered in the form of degrading humiliation. Seriously, it is pretty pathetic how the human ego inflates itself in such a cunning way that we actually buy into everything it tell us. Listen, there are seven billion people on this planet… you are a mere pion. So am I. Let’s face it… the human ego is an embarrassment to the human spirit. They are always at war; Ego resisting Spirit. I’m embarrassed of what I used to buy into about myself. I was in treatment for severe alcoholism, believing I was better than some of my addicted peers because of things like having a career, being a mother and having a book published. Forget the fact that I was too hung over in the mornings to keep a consistent job; my children were no longer living with me, and I only made $30 in book royalties that I probably spent on boxed wine.

Let’s move forward to recovery… So here I am trying to live it up in this world, believing that I’ve got it going on spiritually. I am centered. I am focused. I understand that I am creating my own universe, etc… but here’s the catch… I’m living under one roof with an eleven year old and another adult. We have never all lived together at once. People have moods. I have moods. I also have emotional baggage that I didn’t know about, but these things come up and I’ve either got to face them like a warrior, or do what I used to do and blame someone else for how I feel.

Luckily I’m with a person who understands the human condition and what it looks like to purge old habits and fears. I’ve been resisting facing these old behavior patterns for the last two months, but it finally got to the point that it was affecting my relationship. I begrudgingly surrendered and asked the Universe for help. Within days I had a very vivid dream, which brought immediate clarity. I was able to identify my fear, call it was it was, and take responsibility for it. I wanted to blame my mother, then my father, then my boyfriend; because that’s what the ego loves to do, but after all that nonsense passed through me, I was able to look at it and see that it belonged to me. I’m the one with the old fear and the crappy behavioral pattern. I’m the one who has to own up to my bullshit. So I did. And today I feel like I shed a really old, very uncomfortable skin that no longer suits me.

Essentially, we are all gifts to one another; provoking each other’s emotions and old behaviors, which are begging to be identified, and then relinquished. This is how the shedding of old skin is properly done. This is how growth is done in a conscious way. However, we are conditioned to believe and behave in the exact opposite manner. This is truly a disease of the soul, but the good news is, you can begin today, merely by looking at yourself instead of the person provoking your emotion. Feel everything that comes up for you and take ownership. If you want to change the world, you’ve got to start with you.

In the rich words of many philosophers, “Know Thyself.” And then thank your bitchy mother-in-law for mirroring your deep-seeded anger…

Any thoughts or comments?

DRINKING DREAMS AND DOWNWARD STREAMS

Dream

On July 4th I met a woman who has over twenty years sober.  While we were chatting, she mentioned that she still has drinking dreams.  We met at a party on my grandparent’s river island on the San Joaquin Delta.  One of the other guests graciously plugged two of my published books.  Afterward, people came up to me, including this woman with twenty years clean.  She asked what I write about and I said, “Spirituality and Recovery.”  That’s when I discovered she was a former alcoholic haunted by occasional drinking dreams and fleeing moments of the casual desire to drink.  Like me, she sometimes catches herself romanticizing what it would be like to have a glass of wine with dinner… or a shot of tequila on a Saturday afternoon.

 We didn’t actually talk about the shot of tequila on a Saturday afternoon.  That’s my fleeing fantasy.  In Fairfax (cool ass town in Central Marin) a few weeks back, there was live music at a patio bar where a really happy guy was taking Tequila shots along with his friends.  It was appealing to me for about thirty seconds.  It takes me about thirty seconds to play the preverbal alcoholic tape all the way through.  (I would love to take a shot right now.  I’m so jealous of that guy and his friends.  I used to do that too.  It was fun.  If I did that today, I would take one shot and then I would want another.  I would take another because… well, what the hell?  The second shot would be amazing and the heat of the alcohol would kick right in.  Here comes the buzz.  Wow.  I need another shot.  Let’s just get this over with.  I need another, and another.  I can’t stop.  Pretty soon, I’m smashed.  I’m blacking out.  I’m waking up in either a hospital, a bush in someone’s yard, or I’m in jail for something I don’t remember doing.  Yeah… I don’t really want a drink.  Ick.  I’m a shitty drunk.  I will never be able to drink like a normal person, so moving on… Babe, let’s go get some Thai food…). 

A glass of wine with dinner sounds boring in comparison to my tequila fantasies, but I apparently this woman’s drinking dreams are as horrific as mine.  We swapped stories of what it feels like to dream we’re drinking, now that we are sober.  We both wake up feeling hung-over after many of the dreams, and the guilt involved is so intense and real. 

 People have different ideas of why these dreams occur, and question if there is some kind of cycle involved.  Some people think these dreams occur during certain milestones of recovery.  I’m sure that’s true, but I have a lot of friends in recovery, and it varies for all of us.  Some of us have them more often than others.  Because we are all uniquely psychologically, emotionally and mentally wired, and in different phases of our recovery, I doubt anyone could track and target when these dreams are going to occur for a recovering addict. 

I can only speak for myself here.  What I’ve noticed, is that drinking dreams occur most often when I am under stress or undergoing change.  I don’t mean physical change like I’m having a penis added on or anything.  I’m referring to life changes, like moving, promotions, changes in routine, relationships, etc.  Stress happens naturally with change, so there’s a double whammy for me.  I just got serious with my boyfriend, switched jobs, moved my daughter back into my life after 3 years, moved to another county, and changed up my whole routine.  It’s a lot to take on for anyone.  I wonder what “normies” have dreams about during life changes… Overeating, watching too much t.v. and hiding it???

Regardless of how others handle change, I know that it was probably too much for anyone to take on, so I’ve been going with the flow of all my emotions, instead of identifying with them.  I’ve felt elated, exhausted, irritable, impatient, doubt, fear, excitement, confusion, peace, upheaval, numb, bored… you name it.  I felt all of these things, yet I didn’t crave a drink, and I stayed aware that these mood swings were all very temporary.  I knew the end result was that I was going to be really content.  Back in the day, these emotions and fears would have provided several reasons to drink.  I think that’s why I had a dream last night.

I was finally feeling a little bit settled; getting used to my new routine and loving my time with my daughter and my boyfriend.  My job is kick-ass and my new home is like living in a summer cottage in the woods.  At night, I hear CRICKETS.  Outside I see STARS.  Literally thousands of them.  I even enjoy watching the garden spiders weaving webs in my yard.  It’s just incredible to live so close to the earth away from concrete.  Anyway, I went to bed feeling like the dense fog of emotion was lifting, yet I experienced a brutal drinking dream.  In the dream I found myself fully self-destructing and starting all over again, back in the throes of my addiction.  I was back in Detox, feeling hopeless and ashamed.  I wanted to lie about my sobriety date, but too many people knew the truth.  I was a failure.  I drank and blacked out and tried to run away so no one knew, but everyone knew.  It was a nightmare really. 

 We are always grateful these are merely dreams, and many of us feel like they keep us from drinking because the shame and hopelessness we feel, is so vivid.  They temporarily help, but we still need to work a program.  I shared this dream with my boyfriend this morning and he says it’s like I’m purging those old memories every time I have these dreams.  I think he’s right.  To add to it, I feel like I am psychologically and spiritually detoxing when I experience these dreams.  I’ve made some huge leaps and bounds in my life this year, and I’ve had a lot of support.  If this had been in the past, I would have found a way to destroy what I’ve created. 

 I think that’s what the dream was about – past fears and mistakes I’ve made when I’ve gotten new jobs, succeeded, or had good relationships.  Emotions and fears need to arise in order for the healing to take place.  Resisting these things is like deepening the wound.  I look at my life as an overall picture instead of through the limited lens of detail.  If I look at my life in the eyes of a recovering alcoholic, I need to be aware of every emotion and behavior I’m having so that I can fully recover.  I don’t have to get caught up in a memory, a dream, an emotion, a fear or the stress I’m experiencing. 

 It’s like living life on a river, where I’m floating along and always headed downstream to the great big ocean.  I will experience all the elements of the river, but overall, I’m still making my way downstream to the ocean of recovery.