When will the darkness leave?  My lifelong battle with depression

I was totally devastated this week.  Chester Bennington, singer for Linkin Park, ended his life.  He was my age.  His Arizona home is a few miles from mine.  His son attends my daughter’s high school.  In fact, our next concert was next month, Linkin Park.  Tickets purchased months ago.  Before the news broke, we were talking about how excited we were that the concert was just a mere month away.  He, like me, and so many other people, struggled with depression and addiction.  Before Chester, Chris Cornell.   Are their lives more valuable than any of ours? Of course not.  But the tragic loss of their lives brings back to the forefront the often silent and ignored battle many of us fight alone.  Chester’s lyrics always reflected what he was going through, which made him such a relatable figure.  I have read so many tributes.  “A part of me dies with him.”  “I feel like I just lost my childhood.”  “You always spoke to me.”  “Please come back.” And then, then inevitable, “Only a coward commits suicide”, which truly, maybe shut up if you are saying that.  Just don’t.  Same goes for the “Suicide is the most selfish thing you can do” people.  Stop talking. 

We don’t shame people for having cancer, or heart disease.  We do like to judge people who are in depression, or have a form of mental illness.  I distinctly remember being a young mother, sitting at a table at work, when a man who was in his forties came and sat at the table with me.  He started talking badly about a more difficult customer, calling them ‘bi-polar’ as an insult.  I pulled out my courage and  said to him, “I’m bi-poplar, but you are still talking to me, so he must not be that bad then I guess.”  The simple truth is this.  If you have not experienced the sucking black hole of depression, or a depressive disorder, perhaps you should sit down and stop talking.  I’m not meaning to come across as harsh here.  Or maybe I am.  


A few years back, I sat in a meeting with the owner of the company I work at.  It seemed obvious that something rather earth shattering had happened to either him, or someone close to him.  He started to talk to us about signs.  We all wear signs.  Most of our signs are invisible.  The person who smiles at you in the hall everyday may have a sign that says, “My son is being bullied and I don’t know how to make it stop.”  The person you work next to you may have a sign that says, “I don’t fit in here or anywhere.  Please help me.”  But because our signs are invisible, we can’t know what anyone else is feeling or going through unless they tell us.  He asked us to please remember that every one of us has something, and kindness is always warranted.  

I remember the first time I felt depressed.  I was 10 years old.  I went into my bedroom, shut the door, sat in the dark and cried.  My sister came into my room and asked why I was crying.  I told her I didn’t know.  I just can’t not cry.  She sat with me and hugged me, and then left.  As much as I wanted her embrace to make me feel better, it didn’t.  I just felt dark.  Like all of the light in the room and in my body was being sucked away from me, like a black hole swallows everything around it with no remorse.  It is not sadness.  It is empty.  It is feeling that no one cares, and you are a burden.  You want people to stay, but you want them to leave you alone.  It’s confusing.  You can’t articulate what you want or what you need.  Others may marginalized your feelings..  Everythign cuts.  Everything hurts.


In my early twenties, I was diagnosed as a rapid cycling manic depressive.  What the heck is that, right?  Basically, I can go from the depths of depression, to an all out mania, back down to depression several times a day.  For someone who craves stability, you can only imagine how frustrating and exhausting this can be.  The mania helped to get me into steep credit card debt, but also helped me to have a very clean house and organized files.  I remember being up at 2am on a week night feeling like I needed to reorganize and purge all of my files.  To the point where I felt jolted out of bed because the need was overwhelming.  I know now that my drinking was self-medicating to just make it stop.  If I got drunk enough, I wouldn’t wake up.  There were times that I hoped that I would just go to sleep and never wake up again.  Thankfully, that didn’t happen.


There was one point in my life that I was on 4 or 5 different medications, drinking heavily, and taking sleeping pills.  How did I live through this?  Friends, this is why I forever admire the resilience of the human body.  It seems impossible that I didn’t accidentally die from overdose.  To this day, I can’t bring myself to even take Advil unless there is just no other way.  I maybe take 10 a year, if that.  I don’t impose this strict regimen on anyone else.  I know, for me, I am lucky to be alive.  I need to respect my liver and kidneys and give them every opportunity to recover and heal from the years of abuse.  

There is help available.  It is hard as hell to ask for help.  And you need to use the help in a way that if helpful to you.  That sounds dumb, let me explain what I mean.  I took every pill the doctor gave me.  I told him that they don’t work, give me more and more and more.  I didn’t tell him I was drinking at a very dangerous level.  If my older self could kick my younger self’s ass, you bet I would!  Medications help to stop the cycle.  They can help you put on the brakes so you have an opportunity to work on yourself.  For me, I have found what helps is for me to have an honest dialogue constantly with myself.  I have to recognize negative self talk when it creeps in, and I have to vigilantly keep it from taking hold.  I have to deal with every painful thing that comes into my life immediately, and I have to let shit go.  What I did with medication was not what it was intended to be used for.  I used it as a crutch instead of a tool.  Talking helps.  I talked, but I was never honest.  To be able to keep my mental health in check, I have to be 100% honest with myself, and with everyone around me.  Now, there is a difference between honesty and over-sharing.  It’s important to be appropriate, and not over share with people who don’t need to know EVERYTHING about you.  Still…talk to people..  There are times that I feel depression creeping back.  I talk about it.  I call out the boogeyman.  I will not suffer silently anymore.  I will not let the emotional pain become so debilitating that I wish for the end.


As we have seen from these very high profile suicides lately, this disease doesn’t discriminate.  I encourage you to take courage.  Take people to task who believe that calling someone ‘mental’ or ‘crazy’ or ‘bipolar’ is acceptable. Let’s stand up and stop stigmatizing mental illness.  I am no longer hiding in the shadows.  I have problems.  People who know me now have no idea what I used to be.  “No way are you bipolar!  Impossible!  You’re such a positive person!”  I think that maybe we should recognize those invisible signs.  Maybe compassion, empathy, and understanding don’t have to be lost on us anymore.  Maybe just listening for once, instead of just making our own points, is more important.  Maybe that person next to you needs to hear that you are glad to see them today.  Maybe a passing smile and nod is all the person on the street needs today.  Today, I pledge to you that I will smile more, I will acknowledge strangers, I will speak up and say, “I hope you have a good day today.”  We can change the world.  Kindness is all it takes.  I challenge you to join me.  Let’s help carry the load of others.  

I am sitting and watching a July 2017 Linkin Park concert, and I am fighting back tears.  To be surrounded by thousands of people who love and admire you, and still feel empty.  Please, don’t choose a permanent solution to temporary problems.  The world can’t stand to lose any more of us to this affliction.  Keep fighting.  You are not alone.

…and you are probably not crazy either!

SURPRISE!  The unexpected consequences of losing weight and making positive changes in your life.

At the point that you commit to making healthy choices for yourself, and start losing weight, some interesting things start to happen.  I very clearly remember fantasizing about the 6 pack abs that would magically appear once I dropped the weight.  I envisioned that I would have the self confidence of a super model.  I would wear bikinis with reckless abandon.  People would cheer me on as I walked the halls, much like the slow clap that turns into a roaring applause featured in all teen movies from the ’80’s on.  Much to my chagrin, none of these things materialized.  In fact, the things that did happen were quite the opposite.  

I have a pretty healthy case of self diagnosed body dysmorphia.  I don’t talk about it, which I really feel is a mistake.  The embarrassment has always outweighed the good that can come from talking openly about it.  Until now.  The very interesting thing about body dysmorphia is that it isn’t a new thing for me.  When I started to gain weight rapidly, I didn’t see the change in the mirror.  At my heaviest of 265 pounds, size 24W+, when I looked in the mirror, I believed I looked more like a size 8.  However, now that I am down to a healthier size and average weight, I see in the mirror the 24W person that I never saw before.       I have tried to talk about it with close confidants, but it is often met with “Oh, but that is silly!  People would kill for your body!”  Ok, maybe not THAT extreme, but it is just not something that is taken seriously.  I don’t know for sure that it happens in every case, but I do know it happened to me.  I don’t know how it happens or why it happens, but it’s pretty tough to deal with.  I have found that it is important for me to acknowledge that it is there, and speak out loud about the ridiculousness of it.  In the times I spent trying to keep it secret, it led to what I now know is an eating disorder.

I had a lot of great success with losing weight once I committed and accepted that this is now how I live.  There was no Plan B.  There was no option to fail.  However, when I hit my goal weight, I wasn’t able to stop.  I weighed myself multiple times per day, I obsessed about every food and beverage I put into my mouth, and I started to use exercise to justify having a small cup of frozen yogurt.  I beat myself up over any failure.  I demonized certain foods.  I would make myself sick if I strayed from my food plan for the day.  In essence, I went from total indulgence to total restrictions.  When I got to size 4, I needed to get to size 2.  When I got to size 2, I obsessed over eating to size 0, which I never was able to do.  I recognized that this was not normal behavior.  I backed off weighing myself before and after going to the bathroom, before and after work, when I got up and when I went to bed, to just one time a day.  Although this was definitely a step in the right direction, it was still driving my restrictive behavior.  I have recently been able to weight myself just one time a week, which I never thought possible.  I have also accepted that the scale is just one small piece of the picture.

The obsession with the scale was a bit of a surprise.  For those of you who may not be at your ideal weight, maybe you relate to total scale avoidance.  I don’t really know that 265 was my highest weight.  I refused to get on the scale for years because I just didn’t want to know.  When I would go to the doctor, I would just ask them to not tell me what the scale said.  I would joke about it.  “I bet your scale doesn’t go that high!”  I believe that the obsession started as soon as I lost my first 10 pounds.  Seeing the scale drop, even just a little, was success.  Finally…I was winning!  And I had control!  Every day, I had one opportunity to be a success, so I became addicted to it.  Seeing that scale drop then began to control the food choices, which initiated the eating disorder.  When we think of eating disorders, we think of Anorexia or Bulimia.  When you become scale obsessed and extremely restrictive on food choices to control, you may have an issue.  Committing to lifestyle changes can really force you to walk a fine line between healthy and disordered eating.  Be mindful.  If you think you have a problem, talk about it, and seek professional help.

Losing a lot of weight takes a toll on your body.  It really doesn’t matter how slow or how fast you lose the weight.  If you lose mass amounts of weight, you will likely have loose skin.  THANK GOD FOR SOCIAL MEDIA!  Losing weight today has a much different level of reaity than it did even 10 years ago.  People now have the courage to post honest images of their ravaged bodies after weight loss to show you what to expect.  As I mentioned, I was ready for my honorary washboard stomach to be awarded to me when I hit my goal weight.  What I did get was a saggy sack of skin at my stomach, a completely deflated chest, saggy underarms, and loose inner thighs.  I look at photos like this and laugh:

Nope, doesn’t happen.  This helps to perpetuate the myth that your body is just going to magically deal with the fallout of your bad choices and somehow get rid of all that extra skin it needed to grow to compensate for those choices.  It can’t just un-grow it.  You should expect this instead: 

A million crunches aren’t going to get rid of it either.  I wore my saggy stomach as a badge of honor and a reminder to myself for about 5 years.  I asked doctor upon doctor what I could do to make it go away.  Unfortunately, the only option they could give me was surgery, which was the option that I ultimately chose.  Also, it’s not just a matter of loose skin in many cases.  You may have torn your abdominal muscles to the point where they also need to be surgically repaired.  It’s not cheap, and it’s not covered by insurance.  I do not regret the decision I made to have the skin removed.  I was using it as way to punish myself for the bad choices I had made.  When I decided to get rid of it, I finally accepted that I had made mistakes, and I was convinced that I was not going to go backwards.  The financial commitment helped me to stay motivated to continue on my path to recovery.  There are some people who jump the gun a bit and get the surgery after losing just a fraction of the weight they need to, and end up doing it again.  Make no mistake, this is a major surgery, and costs between $10,000 – $12,000.    Please understand that this will not magically award you the abs you are dreaming of.  You do actually have to work for those.

Speaking of those abs, did you know that every magazine, movie, and publication uses make up and photoshop to give you the most perfect image possible?  I am sure that you do know that, but I didn’t.  So, the scale obsession and restricted eating, combined with the naivety of not knowing about photoshop really sent me into a deep depression.  Why, even after losing weight, eating a perfect diet, and working out for hours a day, most days a week, is my body not looking like what I see?  

The best thing that you can do for yourself is accept that your body is unique.  You may NEVER see visible abs, and that has to be ok.  You may always have a flat bottom, and that has to be ok.  I have previously discussed accepting yourself for who you are and what you look like but always striving to be the best you that you can be.  I had to eventually understand that it was necessary to shift my goals from a number on the scale to accomplishment.  For instance, I wanted to see 135 on the scale.  When I couldn’t break 137, I started to punish myself and give up.  Negative self talk took over.  This was not a healthy mindset to be in.  However, when I decided that if I eat more good than bad, and I exercise more days than I don’t, I started to think about things I could never imagine that I could do. Run Pat’s Run.  Complete a half marathon.  Be in Oxygen Magazine.  Become a Certified Personal Trainer and help others.  When my focus shifted to achievements from scale numbers, things started to be easy and enjoyable.

Finally, the absolute hardest thing to deal with was other people.  When I had lost about 80 pounds, it started.  “Don’t you think you are losing weight too fast?”  At 100 lbs, “Wow, how much more do you plan on losing?” At 110 Lbs, “Do you really think you can keep the weight off?”  At 120 lbs, “You are really getting too skinny.  Are you anorexic?”  At 125 pounds, “I am so glad you’re done.  I am so worried about you, I think you need help.”  Funny thing is, it was similar to quitting drinking (“You don’t really think you have a problem, do you?  You’re FINE!”) and quitting smoking (“You’ve quit for two weeks, you’ve proved you can do it, why not just have one with us?  You’re FINE!”)  I tried to remind myself that people were just trying to show concern.  I found that people who I thought were friends became very jealous and couldn’t be friends with me anymore.  It became a competition to them.  If we were together, and people said hello to me first, it would be an issue.  To them, I suppose I was just the fat friend, not an actual human being.  I was there to make them feel better about themselves, not for an actual friendship.  People started talking about me behind my back under the guise of concern.  They started to watch everything that I ate and chime in if they thought it was too healthy or a bad choice.  (This actually happened this week, 9 years after I lost all of my weight.)  I also noticed that people who would never even look me in the eye before were now talking to me and seeing me as a human being.  You can’t imagine the rage that I felt.  I vowed to NEVER treat people differently based on their looks.  I know that we all tend to see ourselves as benevolent acceptors of others, but are we really?  Do we see someone and immediately judge before we even speak to the person?  It’s definitely something we can all examine and improved in ourselves.


I know  I have given you a lot to consider, and I do NOT want to discourage you from losing weight or making changes in your life.  When it comes down to the nuts and bolts of things, you can learn and grow from ALL of these things.  I can’t tell you how invaluable my experiences have been for me.  I am able to help people around me.  I thirst for knowledge on nutrition and health, and just basically making good and healthy choices.  I was recently asked, “If you had two years to live, what would you do?”  I would travel the world, meet as many people as possible, and do all of the things that I was always too afraid to try.  I would not go back to drinking, smoking, or eating myself to death.  In answering that question, I am reaffirmed in my commitment to my way of life.  All of it is worth it.  You will succeed if you stay committed to yourself.  Through all of this, you may not believe me, but I know it’s true…

You’re probably NOT crazy!!

ACCEPT YOURSELF!

When I was a kid, I was shy.  I didn’t have very many friends.  I used to think that I was just plain unlikeable.  I didn’t feel like I had anyone to talk to, so what was my strategy?  Cling to anyone who showed any interest in me, and go along with whatever they wanted me to do.  Change myself, and don’t stand for my own principles.  Morph myself into what other people thought I should be.  For me, this meant that I would date any boy that liked me, and do almost anything that would keep them around.  I look back and consider myself pretty lucky that I didn’t fall into drug use, and I drew a line with what I was willing to give up for acceptance, MEANING, I didn’t let boys guilt me into having sex with them when I wasn’t ready or willing.  That was more likely because I was terrified of anyone seeing me naked and judging me at my most vulnerable state.

I used to think to myself, “Once I am out of high school, things will be different.  I will be different.  People will see that I have value, and they will want to be around me.”  Things did change, but for the worse.  I had a wider array of people who preyed on low self esteem.  I welcomed those people into my life and allowed them the power to control me through my need to be accepted.  I would cry sometimes.  Why do I have to be this way?  Then I found alcohol.  Alcohol took me to places that I thought I liked.  I was able to talk without being afraid that people would think I was stupid.  I could be free.  I had liquid courage!  Years later, I realize that alcohol was a substitute for dealing head on with my need for accceptance from other people.  I felt like people liked me because I was that crazy girl that you never knew what she would do next.  Karaoke?  YES!  Flirt with anyone?  YES!!  Party all night, and still show up to work the next day?  Oh yeah!  Close down the bar?  You know it!  What a fun girl!

But you know what?  It wasn’t fun.  I was slowly losing every bit of my authentic self while striving to be what I am not.  I am not a party girl.  I love spreadsheets.  I am not a flirty girl.  I am reserved.  I am smart.  I am scheduled.  I am loyal.  I am driven.


As you know, this lifestyle caught up with me.  Two completely failed marriages, doubled my body weight, fired from a great job, and, SURPRISE…all those people that loved the crazy girl weren’t there for me when it all crashed in.  They moved to the next crazy girl.  They peeled off, one by one, as things got hard.  My life fell apart, and they were only interested in watching the train wreck.  They didn’t seem to realize or maybe even care that I was an actual person.  

Flash forward to today.  Even though I have lost weight.  Even though I have acccomplished goals.  Even though I am at peace with most parts of my life, I still struggle with accepting every part of myself.  In the header photo for this blog post, I have put a picture in from my recent dream vacation to Hawaii.  I don’t see the beautiful ocean, or the famous pier in Hanalei Bay.  I see cellulite.  I see the constant negative self talk about my ‘disgusting’ legs.  I didn’t put it up for you to tell me, “Ah, but you are pretty!” or for you to tell me it’s not bad and you can’t see it.  I posted that picture because I am outting myself.  I struggle every day with accepting myself.  I love WHO I am, but I am critical of what I look like.  


Last summer, Wave and I decided that we should go to the high school pool one Saturday.  Typical Arizona summer day, stifling hot and unbearable.  I was excited!  Yes, let’s go cool off and swim.  But then, I put on my swimsuit and I was horrified.  I was paralyzed.  I started stalling.  Of course I have to sweep and mop before we can go.  Oh, but I need to do our weekly meal prep before we can go.  Finally, Wave took me by the shoulders, looked me in the eyes, and asked me what was going on.  I knew I had to be honest, so I told him that I am terrified of people looking at my cellulite and being disgusted by me.  He just hugged me and told me that we didn’t have to go.  I, on the other hand, knew that I had to face this.  It was scary, but I did it.  No one vomited, or fainted by the sight of my cellulite, so that was good.

  

So, how does one begin the journey of self acceptance?  For me, it was a pretty methodical process.  First, I had to write out everything I hated about myself.  What were the negative thoughts that were rolling around in my head?  “No one likes me.”  “People think I am stupid.”  “I am a burden to others, because they only feel sorry for me.”  There is a lot of healing that is initiated in this step.  Shining a light on the monsters under the bed makes them less frightening.  I looked at each piece and broke it down.  Why do I think no one likes me?  Maybe I am surrounding myself with people who are not really there for friendship, but are they going to use me for something in their own agenda.  Am I truly an unlikeable person?  What are the qualities that I see in myself that ARE likeable?  Finally, what kind of person do I want as an ideal friend?  Do the qualities in me line up with the qualities I want in a friend?  We often hear the phrase, “Opposites attract.”  Though that may be true in science, in my experience, birds of a feather really do flock together.  If I want a friend who listens to me, and who keeps things in confidence and doesn’t blab my problems to everyone, am I a friend who listens to others intently, and keep their issues confidential?

In essence, self acceptance comes with a lot of soul searching and brutal honesty with yourself.  We often tell ourselves what we want to believe, but is not exactly true.  One may tell themselves, “No one wants me because I don’t have the body of a cover model!”  In reality, no one wants me because I act like a piece of human trash who is selfish and doesn’t value others in the way I expect to be valued.  The only way we can truly change is to first and foremost, be honest and cut out all the BS.  You are only a victim if you want to be.  Feeling sorry for yourself is being a victim.  Being shy is not a character flaw.  Expecting the world to cater to you because you are shy is. If you want to be accepted, then start with accepting yourself.  If you want a great self esteem, do something esteemable!   If you don’t like what you are, change it!  You have power over your thoughts, words, and actions.  If you want people to be friendly with you, then be a friendly person!  Say hello to a stranger. There is no danger in that.  Just a simple, “Hello!”  Tip the corners of your mouth up and walk around with a smile instead of a stoic and unexpressive face.  Let people know that you care what they have to say. If you hear someone say something that strikes a profound chord within you, tell them that you appreciate their words, or if you like what they are wearing that day, say so!  Be honest with yourself, and decide if you are willing to acccept the things you don’t like about yourself (like cellulite on your thighs), or if you aren’t willing to accept it, then are you willing to change it?  For me, I have to always be in a constant state of loving who I am right now, but always striving to be better.  Be willing to adapt the belief that the only opinion that matters is your own.  If no one else likes it, F*&k ’em!  It just does not matter what other people think.  They don’t get to have that power over you, unless you let them.


My friends, what I know is that we all have really silly hang ups, and monsters in our closets.  I haven’t met a perfect person yet.  I know that a lot of people that know me think I have my act together, and I am a zen master.  But I am not.  I have issues.  There are things that I accept.  There are things that I am working on changing.  There are things that I am finally admitting to myself, and I am always and forever cleaning out my closet.  Please know, whatever it is that you are going through, you are not alone.  That deep, dark secret that you have been carrying around for most of your life…I am positive that someone else has done that too.  In finding ourselves, we become less judgmental of others.  We start to appreciate the flaws and failings that make us who we are today.  We become more open and honest beings with one another, and we start to become just a bit more understanding and open to others.  I am always here for you, either by the ‘contact’ form at the end of the blog, in the comments section, or on Instagram (@healhierversionofchris).  We are all in this together.  Stop questioning yourself, and understand this….

You’re probably NOT crazy!!!

Change Your Mind, Change Your Life

Have you ever read that book, “The Secret”?  I know, I know…but stick with me on this one.  For those of you that haven’t read the book or seen the subsequent movie, the basic premise is that what ever you put out into the universe, you will get back.  If you put out worry that you will be broke, the universe will grant your wish, and you will find yourself broke.  On the flip side, though, if you visualize yourself being content and financially stable, that will happen for you as well.  This is the secret that separates you from the wealthy and successful.  They know how to harness their thoughts, and you don’t…yet.  Now, I am NOT presuming to know if you are wealthy, successful, or content.  What I do know is that when I talk about controlling my thoughts, I usually get a very puzzled look.  “There is NO WAY to control your thoughts!  My brain thinks thoughts all day and all night, it has nothing to do with me!!”  If this is true, then why the slogan ‘Think Positive’?

The first time I was told that I could control my thoughts was shortly after I sobered up.  I am sure that not all who come to read these musings know what that is like, so let me explain.  Have you ever gone swimming all day long in a pool with your eyes open?  Your ears are sloshy.  Your eyes sting and you can’t see anything clearly.  Your skin crawls and tightens from the chlorine.  People talk to you, but you feel tired and groggy and not really present.  That’s how the first bit of sobriety felt to me.  So, when I heard this revolutionary idea that I can control my thoughts, my honest reactions was, “Bullshit”.  The truly beautiful thing about our minds is that we take ideas, push them to the back,  roll them around, and digest them, all without knowing it.  

When I was finally ready to accept that maybe I could try, I also had to swallow a pretty big pill along with it.  I had to accept that if I had power over my thoughts, then I have always had power over my thoughts.  Therefore, this warped reality I had been living, these negative thoughts that consumed me, were all within my power.  I had to accept that I had done all of this to myself.  Maybe knowing that I had to accept this idea was what made me balk so heavily in the first place.  It’s pretty scary, but, as we have already discussed, you can’t live any kind life if you are consumed with fear.

Albert-Einstein-quoteIf you’ve ever taken a yoga class, or tried to meditate, you may have heard the idea that you can guide your thoughts.  So, how the heck do you do this?  You may be yelling at the screen, “How do I stop thinking about my grocery list, my kid’s schedules, the vet appointment, the undone laundry, EVERYTHING going on at work, not to mention what I am doing for dinner?”  Well, let me tell you how I did it, and maybe you can find a way too.

In my previous mariage (let’s just get this on the table, I have been married 3 times…THREE TIMES!  So, yeah, I have a lot of marriage experience, and a great sense of humor regarding my failings.  Moving on…), I was always focused on being a victim.  I seriously was always mad about what my ex husband was doing to make my life so terrible.  If I think of things in terms of ‘The Secret’, you can only imagine how much misery the universe was dropping at my doorstep, because all that I was putting out there was how miserable I was.  One day, I changed.  I decided it was time to change the course of things.  When I started to think about what a jerk he was, I noticed the thought, and replaced it with The Lord’s Prayer.  If you’ve ever been in a 12 step program, The Lord’s Prayer is like saying ‘Om’ over and over and over.  It was the one thing I knew like the back of my hand.  At a moments notice, I could think the words, “Our Father, who art in heaven.  Hallowed be thy name…” and it acted like a mantra.  

Happy-face-among-sadness That’s it?  Yep.  That’s it… First, notice the thought.  Your brain is often working on auto pilot. By the time we reach adulthood, we don’t even notice thoughts coming and going anymore.   So, by noticing the thought, you are starting to turn off the auto pilot.  If the thought doesn’t serve you, start methodically repeating, in your mind something that does.  “Life is beautiful.”  “Today I will be the change that I want to see in the world.”  “It is never too late to be who I always should have been.”  “There is no time like the present.”  Anything that is at least neutral, at best a positive message.  When you start, you may find that you are repeating your mantra almost all day.  The great news is, we are very intelligent and adaptable beings.  Once you make the decision to change your life, your mind will follow suit quickly. The first few days are the hardest.  If you fail, then you redeploy your mantra, and you keep going as soon as you noticed that you failed.

Now that you are starting to come off of auto pilot, you will start to notice your thoughts, and you may start to notice patterns.  These patterns may surprise you.  I personally noticed that my mind was often giving me thoughts such as, “You are fat.  No one likes you.  You have no friends.  People only feel sorry for you.  You will never be truly loved.”  Just typing that makes me feel terrible!!  None of that is true, nor was it true at the time.  Once I gained confidence with changing my thoughts, I started to push out the negative thoughts consciously with their positive counters.  “I am healthy.  I like myself.  I don’t care if people like me or not, I have value.  I am appreciated.  I feel loved.”  Do not let the negativity of your auto pilot thoughts scare you.  If you were harnessing your thoughts all along, you never would have allowed this to happen.  You just didn’t know that years and years of people telling you you are not good enough and you believing it have manifested in your thoughts for reinforcement.  

After a while, it feels like you have an angel on one shoulder, and a devil on the other, like a cartoon.  You become pretty skilled at recognizing the lies that your brain has grown accustomed to telling you, and you easily shut it down and replace it with something that is true.  In time, you will have completely retrained your way of thinking, and you will likely go back on to auto pilot, but this time, your thoughts are now geared towards your opportunities and possibilities, and not pinning you down to the ground.  You may find that stress is no longer really stressful.  You may also start to see that a lot of what you found so stressful before is totally manageable now.  What if you started to write down the changes that your see, so you can go back a year from now to remind yourself just how far you have come?  

If you have mastered guided thought, but all of sudden, you start to feel stressed again, or maybe you are feeling uneasy or just not at peace, start listening in on your thoughts.  Unfortunately, it is possible to relapse into that great abyss of negative self talk.  You may have had an upsetting event at work.  You may have had a senseless arguement with your spouse that fed the negativity.  Maybe you have a parent that is like the T-Rex at Jurassiac Park, and is constantly testing their boundaries with you.  Check in with yourself.  Find your mantra again.  Every time you need to get back on track, it gets easier and easier.

Friends, take care of yourselves. Maybe you are thinking of Stuart Smalley on Saturday Night Live from that late ’80’s.  Maybe you’re thinking that this is a lot of new age bullshit.  Maybe.  Or maybe it is going to the back of your brain now for you to roll around and consider until you are willing to accept responsibility for the role you have played in your own misery.  Or maybe you are already here, and, like me, you find gratitude for the hard pieces of your life.  For, if we don’t have the hard times, we would never know what we are actually made of.  

How do you feel about the idea of controlling your thoughts?  Is it really hocus pocus, or is there something to this?  Let me know in the comments section, or on Twitter or Instagram, or you can contact me by using the contact form on the home page.  I think that you may be starting to figure out that I know one for sure….

You’re probably not crazy!!!

FEAR: That OTHER 4-letter F-word

Have you ever met someone that is an adrenaline junkie?  “Man, all I want to do is jump out of a plane and pretend like I am falling to my death, and at the last minute, deploy a parachute!”  “Base jumping is life!”  Though I respect and applaud these people, I do not relate, even one iota.  Why?  As it turns out, a natural driving force behind much of what ails the addictive mind is fear.  Not healthy fear, which I would personally define as respecting the fragility of our existence.  I’m talking about an unnatural fear of driving, because you might get in a crash.  Or that my spouse is going to cheat on me just because.  Or that I’m going to lose my job, even though I’ve never had less than a stellar performance review.  When I made the conscientious decision to change my life and recover from all that ailed me, I discovered that I was nothing more that a million unreasonable fears packaged in a human form.

I have to ask myself why?  Why was I so consumed by all of these ‘what if’s’?  How did I go from a kid who would ride my bike across town by myself to procure a slushee from the gas station with no fear of cars, strangers, or anything nefarious, to being an adult afraid every single day to drive on the freeway because someone might hit me?  Some of this was certainly from past experiences.  I had been in a few accidents on the freeway.  I had been fired from a job once before.  However, in my quest to find answers, I have only come up with this.  I had created this boogie man.  This monster was of my making.  All of my years of drinking, smoking, and treating my body like a trash can had reduced my logical mind to a bottom feeding, gossip spewing, gutter.  Instead of seeing a beautiful day, I could only complain about how hot it was.  Instead of celebrating a child being born, I moaned about having to go visit the parents and offer my congratulations.  I had gone from a bright, sweet, and caring person to a dark, angry, fearful jerk face.

The thing about unreasonable fear, is that it paralyzes you from action.  I was afraid of failure.  I didn’t want anyone to know that I was trying to lose weight, because if I didn’t succeed, then it would be just another failure. “Sure Chris…this time will be different, right?”  I have to imagine that the addictive behavior in me creates this in me.  The longer I don’t take action, the longer I can keep treating myself like a dumpster fire.  I often vascilate between giving my addictive mind life, and reducing it to science.  There is, after all, scientific proof that shows alcoholics and addicts are lacking in serotonin in the brain, and have a greater amount of receptors in their brain, hence the unreasonable and maniacal response to alcohol, drugs, and sugar.  (See: Potatoes Not Prozac by Kathleen DesMaisons, Ph.D). 


Ok, great!  So how do you get out of the paralyzation stage and get rid of all of this empty baggage?  I am not a doctor, but what I can say is that even doctors often don’t know what to do. What I do know, and what I can tell you is what worked for me.  The first thing I needed to do was write down (yes, LITERALLY write down) all of the fears that had me pinned in a corner.  

    • I’m afraid I’m going to lose my job.
    • I’m afraid to drive on a winding road, because I will lose control and die in crash.
    • My husband is unhappy and will have an afair and leave me.

    Next, dissect each fear.  Why do I think I am going to lose my job?  Is it because I have been showing up 10-15 minutes late every day?  Is it because my boss has warned me that my performance has become troublesome?    Am I calling in sick for reasons that are not valid?  Is there a real threat here?  Or is it made up ‘what ifs’ in my head.  When I am active in my addictions, I become very paranoid.  Is it paranoia?  Or is there an actual foundation to the fear?

    Finally, what is the fear really rooted in?  When I looked at everything that ailed me, my actual fears all stemmed from fear of losing financial security and fear of death.  Fear of financial instability is an issue for many of us, as is fear of death.  Realizing this, somehow, was comforting.  I am not so different from everyone else!  However, my fears are unreasonably amplified and causing me to create self fulfilling prophecies.  If I was going to survive mentally, I had to reel these fears in and get them ‘right sized’ in my life.

    There is something magical about calling out the monsters in the closet.  Once I acknowledged these unreasonable thoughts and brought them out, front and center, they shrunk.  If I drive on a winding mountain road, I can slow down and go at a speed that I feel safe at.  If the people behind me don’t like it, they can pass.  BOOM!  How about that?  I can secure my financial future by showing up on time, going to work and not calling in because I have a mild head ache or a stomach ache.  I have control over my thoughts, words, and actions.  I can be sure that I am giving an honest day’s work every day.  So long as the company I work for is healthy, I can ensure my longevity.  

    You may be at a fork in the road right now.  You can choose to stop blaming others and start to look introspectively, or you can continue to let your fear paralyze you.  The choice is always yours.

    As a fun side note, I recently faced a GIGANTIC fear of mine (fear of heights) and zip lined through Hawaii.  It wasn’t jumping out of a plane, but it was one of the most fun times I have ever had facing a fear!

    Oh, and I’m pretty sure, even as much as you don’t believe me, you’re probably not crazy!

    -ism’s and me

    Hello, my name is Chris, and I am a recovering alcoholic. What makes an alcoholic? Am I an alcoholic? Am I ready to know if I am an alcoholic??

    Chances are, you don’t know me. You may see my pictures on instagram (@healthierverrsionofchris) or see my tweets (@OlFthfulFitness), but that’s just the side of me that I carefully craft.  The pieces of me that I’m not afraid to show the world.  My natural instinct is to hide the darker reaches.  To conceal the very things that make the bright side of me so brilliant. Inside of me lurks the frightful -ism.  Alcoholism.  Addict.  Reject.  Mental.  Stigma.

    I am not what you might picture as an alcoholic.  I have a home, a family, dogs, gainful employment.  I was never homeless, on the street, brown bag in hand, begging for change.  In fact, I was terminated from a pretty great job during the height of my active alcoholism by a boss who would go out drinking with me.  I was deemed ‘unreliable’, which really irritated me at the time, but years later, I feel that he did the right thing.  He helped to save my life.  Interestingly enough, many people are still surprised that women can also be alcoholics.  Maybe they are just shocked to learn that I am an alcoholic.  

    According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, 60% of women have at least one drink a year…HAPPY NEW YEAR (right??).  Of those, 13% have more than 7 drinks a week.  In the United States alone 5.3 million women drink in a manner that threatens their health.  So, when does it turn from HAPPY NEW YEAR to OH MY GOD, WHAT HAVE I DONE?  That is not easily answered.

                                                           
    Just as with everything else it seems, every body is different.  Any person who has been in the rooms of AA, NA, GA, etc… will tell you that only YOU can decide if you have a problem.  That then begs the question…if you are neck deep in addiction, how can you have the clarity of thought to decide if you are on the wrong side of the fence?  Let me share with you my abbreviated story, maybe it will help.

    I had my first drink at 12 years old.  It was. a wine cooler.  I had a ‘cool’ older sister who let me drink.  Mind you, I went to church every Sunday, sat in the front of the church, knew my scriptures, and had a family that was straight laced and decently successful.  I may have had one or two more, then guilt consumed me, I confessed to my church leader, and was back on the ‘right’ path.  Forward eight years to age 20.  I started drinking to defy my parents and the church, and show everyone that I was my OWN person.  Once I was legal, I was off to the races!  I was drinking every night.  I was young.  I was having fun!  I got married, had a baby, got divorced, got remarried to a fellow alcoholic, led an insane life with his three kids and my one, was involved in things I swore I would never do, gained 130 lbs, and stopped having fun.  At 3 o’clock every day, my mouth would start watering for my next drink.  Every morning was a hangover, every night was hair of the dog.  I got up for work and was on time every day.  I managed people.  I had successful teams.  I met deadlines.  And I was barely hanging on by a thread.  

    Unrelated, or so I thought, I committed to a ‘Biggest Loser’ challenge at work (more on this story in a future post), and drinking was keeping me from losing weight, so I quit.  I was angry and self righteous.  I decided that my husband had a problem, so to show him that I was more powerful than him, I very publicly went to an Al-Anon meeting.  Well, I thought it was an Al-Anon meeting.  I took a wrong turn, and ended up in an AA meeting instead.  As I sat in the back, I realized that I was sitting among my people.  In a moment, I saw the wreckage of my life flashing in front of me.  I knew that I was done, and it was time for me to face this.

    In a review of my past, I realized that I had a problem when I recognized all of these behaviors:

    • Drinking every night.  Even if I was trying to cut back I was scheduling my drinking.  (I am only going to drink on the weekends, I am not drinking on Tuesdays, Thursdays, or Sundays-because that’s a holy day).
    • Inability to take any responsibility.  Nothing was my fault.  I was not the problem, I was the VICTIM!
    • Paranoia.  EVERYONE was against me.  No one cares about me.  
    • Powerless over alcohol.  Powerless over my destiny.
    • My kids begged me to please just not drink today.
    • Other people joked that I was an alcoholic, because what makes jokes funny?  (Answer:  because they are true).
    • Thinking that harming myself was a good way to control the people around me.  (If you leave me, I am going to kill myself).
    • Committing wreck less behavior with little thought of consequences (drunk driving is a big one here).

    While it is true, only you can decide if you have a problem, chances are, if you are wondering if you have a problem, you probably do.  HERE IS THE GOOD NEWS: there is help.  There is a way.  I’m not preaching one form of recovery over another.  What I know is that I was a hopeless cuss back then.  Today, I haven’t had a drink in over 8 years.  The more I learn, the more I understand that certain brain chemistry causes a predisposition to addiction.  It’s not your fault.  But though it is not your fault, you can only get into recovery by accepting that this is your life and that you are the only one that can take steps to recover.  Ain’t no one gonna do it for you, kiddo!

    On the same note, if you have a family member who suffers from addiction, IT IS NOT YOUR FAULT EITHER!  There is help for you, too!  You can still love these people, and not contribute to their addiction.  In fact, the more you hold them up and prevent them from hitting the bottom, the longer they will drain the life out of you.  Remember, these are not BAD people.  These are SICK people.  
    If you need immediate help, please reach out to your local Alcoholics Anoynomous chapter (for the alcoholic) OR Al-Anon (for family members of the alcoholic).  There are many resources available to you.  If AA isn’t your deal (a lot of people get hung up on the ‘Higher Power’ concept, because once you are at the point of no return, you’re kind of done with God for a while or maybe forever, and that is OK!), find something that does work.  But don’t give up.  And just don’t drink.  

    I promise you…you’re probably not crazy!!

    What the What???

    Hello, and welcome to my first post!  I’m glad you’re here!  So, let’s address the elephant in the room, namely, Why in the name of Super Chicken am I writing a blog?  The answer is simple: why wouldn’t I?  Just like many people, I have distinct and severe sections of my life.  Childhood (eek!), young adulthood (ugh!), mature adulting (yay!).  The thing about my experiences, is that I have been able to keep coming back, meaning, I get knocked down.  But I get up again.  You know,  you’re never gonna keep me down.  Sorry, it will be in my head all day now too (it’s a ’90’s song that was pretty epic if you don’t get it).  Seriously, though.  At one point in my life, I weighed 265 lbs, smoked, drank until I was drunk every night, and completely hopeless.  I was on all kinds of medications for depression, mania, and insomnia.  I was fired from my job.  On my second marriage.  No friends.  No Prospects.  No life.  But then I changed.  People often ask me for help.  “What’s the easiest way to lose weight?”  “How can I quit Drinking/Smoking/Eating?”  “How can I do what you did?”  <— This.  This is why I decided to write a blog.

    There is so much more than that though.  Years ago, just before I quit drinking, I started writing a novel.  I mean, I decided I was going to do it, and wrote it in 2 weeks.  Not a novella, an actual novel.  I wrote it, and then put it in a drawer, and there it has been for 10 years.  I actually carry around an electronic copy on an old thumb drive in my purse.  I don’t know why.  I forgot it was even there until this morning.  So, my husband (third time is a charm, for anyone who is counting) got me an iPad for my 40th birthday, solely for the purpose of editing and submitting my novel.  I think it was a ‘no more excuses’ move on his part.  It was amazing…and terrifying.

    I am not big on putting myself out there.  I am the person that you work with that isn’t flamboyant or loud, but is a work horse.  I’m quiet, a chameleon.  I like to blend in.  The prospect of taking characters that formed in my head, that talked to me and took on their own life, being rejected countless times by faceless people makes me want to hide behind a rock.  Writers have all of my respect.  Who else can just say, “Here are my deepest thoughts!  Please critique me!”  Although, I will say that I really enjoy my annual performance reviews at work, but that’s just because I know I do a great job, and I like to see if my boss can get creative whilst basically saying the same thing every year.

    So, I’m sitting at the kitchen table this morning, and I decide to run the idea of a blog by Wave (my husband…heretofore known as ‘Wave’).  I expected him to say, “Why in the name of Super Chicken would you write a blog?”  but instead, he said “Why wouldn’t you?”

    My intention is to write a weekly article and post it up on Monday for your consideration.  Of course I will talk about the things people ask me most about, but I will also talk about other things…like being a child of divorce, and surviving 2 of my own, losing my boyfriend to Hodgkin’s Disease at the age of 16, becoming a medical mystery for most of my adult life, and finding true love after trying so many times.

    What I can tell you for sure, is that you’re probably not crazy… Continue reading “What the What???”