To think about

To think about

The name of the blog

"It was never just an affair" needs to be in quotations, because it was something my ex-husband said to me early on in the break-up. I guess he thought it might make me feel better to know it wasn't just a fling per say, it was real love? It didn't make me feel better. Him ending the affair and being willing to work on the marriage would have made me feel better.

Friday, 7 March 2014

Do you, and how do you, self-medicate?

It can be really tough not to give in and self-medicate to get oneself through the agonizing quiet times during a rough spell in life. Especially when you want to be alone with your thoughts about as much as you want to be lounging naked in a pit of vipers. My mind, and my thoughts, can be as deadly poisonous as a snake bite. I start to wonder, what did I do to get to this place of loneliness in my life, and even worse, wonder, will I always be in this lonely place? With time, journalling, pondering, and a lot therapy through reading, TED talks, and with my psychologist, I am slowly becoming more at ease in the silence, although it is still not a comfortable place to sit. I have gotten better at shutting my mind off and stopping the negative spiral of self-criticism, self-doubt and loathing. So the need to self-medicate is easing a bit. My psychologist reminded me yesterday that the thought triggers the emotions, which prompt the behaviour. The need to self-medicate begins and ends with your mind. 

And how do I self-medicate? Very well thank you. I became a master at avoiding negative feelings about situations that seemed beyond repair through gambling, overeating, and comfort eating. And I smoke to boot, although I truly see that as more of a chemical addiction than a numbing behaviour designed to escape reality. To be clear, this article is not touching on the vast topic of addiction, only self-medicating behaviours which may or may not be addictive. A natural chocoholic, I routinely soothe myself with chocolate or ice cream. And there is nothing quite like a monotonous slot machine to turn down the volume of my mind. In fact, there was nothing better for me to escape my whirlwind thoughts than gambling with a drink in one hand and a cigarette in the other. God love Las Vegas, the last bastion of freedom for those of us that sin to excess. However, since the break-up, not even my trifecta of personal numbing agents has worked when I am really struggling. Once I acknowledged my brain was still going a hundred miles an hour, and I was losing money, I eased off on the gambling. It just wasn’t cutting it anymore for me. 

And where has all this self-medication gotten me? Overweight, addicted to smoking, and I am a compulsive binge gambler which well may have cost me my marriage, or at least contributed to its downfall. And that doesn’t even touch all the money I have wasted during my life on smokes and gambling. The only blessing I can find in this is that for whatever reason, alcohol never grabbed a hold of me, and I was terrified to try drugs. I think it is the controlling side of my personality that never wanted to let go in that way that has saved me from having to go through detox or attend Alcoholics or Narcotics Anonymous meetings. Not that it matters; how people stuff their negative emotions and thoughts differently than me is irrelevant; why we are driven to the destructive and self-serving behaviours that we are is what interests me. 

A date recently commented that he appreciated that I had shared that I had not self-medicated after the break-up. I welcomed the demons and when I couldn’t fight them head on, I hung out with them and willingly let them do their damage. Then, when I felt stronger, I resumed my efforts at undoing the chaos I had let them wreak, along with maybe some older crap from childhood that has been lurking unattended in my mind. My new friend, on the other hand, fully acknowledged that he had self-medicated with work for years and is now facing the same problem he had five years ago. The result of which has left him feeling shameful and regretful for the lost time and personal weakness. I am pretty sure my ex-husband was probably only sober when he had to go to work for the first four months after our break-up; or at least that was how it seemed to me. I seriously doubt he has yet to deal with our break-up fully between drinking, working lots of overtime, and having a new girlfriend; all just different versions of self-medication and avoidance. As for the man advice I got recently from a friend when I talked to him about getting back into dating: less thinking, more drinking. 

Knowing that burying the grief is the primary side effect of self-medication, and likely the direct goal, was the exact reason I chose not to. I wanted to have my pity party and get it out of my system so that I could move on and deal with my baggage. That is my impatience, another wonderful personality trait I have, rearing its ugly head. Why procrastinate when you can get it done and over with, and maybe if you are lucky, get it done with yesterday? We all have our issues as we accumulate relationship failures, career let-downs, or personal dreams that haven’t ripened to fruition. To not acknowledge those issues and find ways of making peace with them is to stuff or avoid; neither of which is indicative of personal growth. Trust me, I have 42 years of experience with avoidance. Your problems are patient. My ongoing experience with a stuffer, my father, a classic passive-aggressive personality, is that they will eventually blow up, and most likely over something quite trivial. A snarky comment or poorly phrased question at the wrong time will be the proverbial straw that broke the camels back and the stuffer will barrage you with everything you have done wrong since the inception of time. I don’t want to be that person, especially since a blow up from me could only be directed at an innocent person. 

Therein lies our personal responsibility to deal with our minds garbage can of moldy beliefs, leftover heartaches, and half realized, and then discarded, dreams. The next person that comes into your life, be it friend, lover or soul-mate, is new to you and deserves the very best version of you. Not perfection, for we all have flaws, but certainly they deserve someone who is aware of their pitfalls and actively challenging the triggers and land mines to keep them in check. The next person you will share yourself with deserves a growing and healing version of you, not a broken, bitter, fearful you, or a five year stuck self-medicating you. That next person deserves your presence rather than a self-medicated and dumbed down version of you. 

My favourite antidote to my personal demons is a walk in nature for at least a half hour or three kilometres. Better yet is a six kilometre one hour plus walk; that generally shuts my mind right down, or at least gets my anxiety down to a tolerable level. My personal insecurities and fears are no match for sunshine, birds chirping, the sight of the snow capped mountains, the sounds of the river, or the endorphins my body produces when I exercise. Zumba, with its sexuality and upbeat music is another fine way to get feeling better about yourself. To each their own, the trick is to find your physical hit. Another brilliant solution to self-medication is time spent with another person, so long as that person is a positive influence for you. Perhaps if you too couple a natural stress reduction with some gratitude, you will be less likely to self-medicate with: alcohol, food, chocolate, sugar, drugs, shopping, cigarettes, sex, gambling, work, or whatever your personal poison is for feeding the abyss and avoiding what you are unhappy about. These behaviours are called numbing behaviours by Doctor Brene Brown, a research professor in social work, and a personal hero. 

In a blog article chronicling an interview with author Jennifer Louden, Brene Brown writes: “When we numb the dark, we numb the joy. When we’re anxious, disconnected, vulnerable, alone, and feeling helpless, the booze and food and work and endless hours online feel like comfort, but in reality they’re only casting their long shadows over our lives.” And her interviewee, Jennifer Louden writes about what she calls shadow comforts in her book The Life Organizer: “Shadow comforts can take any form. It’s not what you do; it’s why you do it that makes the difference. You can eat a piece of chocolate as a holy wafer of sweetness—a real comfort—or you can cram an entire chocolate bar into your mouth without even tasting it in a frantic attempt to soothe yourself—a shadow comfort. You can chat on message boards for half an hour and be energized by community and ready to go back to work, or you can chat on message boards because you’re avoiding talking to your partner about how angry he or she made you last night.”

So when the going gets tough, and: the man I thought would be my best friend and lover until the day I died doesn’t even want me in his life, the guy I desire doesn’t desire me back, the date I had last night has drastically changed his communication pattern and I am feeling insecure about that, my son cancelled our dinner date and leaves town again tomorrow for another week, and my cell phone is dead quiet, it becomes really easy for me to sit in the oppressive, deafening silence of my life and let the demons in my mind tell me it will always be this way; that there is no point fighting on because it is never going to get any better. Which is when I start running for an escape mechanism. It is really tough for me, and quite tiring, to get going and put on my big girl panties and fight those demons every day. It is so much easier to self-medicate with Bailey’s in my coffee in the morning, followed by 30 or so Hershey’s kisses in the afternoon, and then a big bowl of ice cream after dinner. I know what I need to do on a dreary winters day when I can’t get out for a walk is turn up the music really loud and have myself a dance party instead of a pity-party. Self-medication might be the easier route, but for how long, and at what cost? At what point do we stop stuffing and avoiding, and face reality head-on and start doing the work that needs to get done to move forward out of a difficult situation? 

At my recent counselling session, my psychologist told me about her author friends acronym MORE. I cannot properly credit the source of this acronym because I was not given the authors name, or the title of the book; my apologies. M stands for Movement - people, like water, need to keep moving. If we aren't moving, we aren’t growing and learning, and we become stagnant. Like stagnant water, we become smelly and gross with insects laying larvae on us. I say no thank you to that disgusting image. O stands for Opportunity - find the opportunity in every situation. My psychologist said that for me, I may never have this opportunity of time again in my life, and I should use it to lose the weight, I think is holding me back, take stock of myself, and really learn from each moment. She referred to each date I have been on as a learning opportunity about people in general, and myself within the context of that communication or in reaction to that personality. R stands for Realistic - take a realistic account of where you are, where you want to go, and what your opportunities are and then make a plan. E stands for Exceptional - if you do these three things you can't help but become exceptional. Sign me up, I want to be exceptional! Mostly, I just want to be healthy; I don’t want to screw up my next relationship. I want to be content enough with myself that I don’t feel the burning need to self-medicate. I want to be grateful for the quiet times in my life and see the opportunity in every situation, no matter how challenging. 

So for now, I remind myself to breathe, tell myself that I am right where I need to be on my journey, tell myself I am safe if the emotions are really overwhelming, tell myself that I will try again tomorrow, and most importantly, tomorrow morning, I wake up and tell myself that something amazing will happen today. Sometimes the amazing thing I write that night in my gratitude journal is going for a walk in nature.

You can read the full interview with Jennifer Louden on Brene Browns blog at -

You can read more about how exercise combats depression at -  

You can read about other forms of self-medicating at -

You can read about the superpower you already have at - 

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