Monthly Archives: September 2017

Why 12 Step Programs Don’t Work For Me

FullSizeRender (1)….right now.

It’s been about a year since I’ve been to a meeting.

For a couple of years, I went to a meeting a couple of towns over.  I was having coffee with my sponsor and another oldtimer, and they were talking about someone who was sharing their trauma history at a meeting.  The oldtimer  was ripping her apart.  I could see the potential outcomes of sharing trauma at a meeting (i.e., triggering others, setting yourself up for victimization if you’re not in a healthy place), and I also left that conversation with a sinking feeling.  It was the age old, shitty, generations-impacting, “You can’t talk about your trauma” feeling.  Rational me knew there were places to go with that trauma – therapy, etc.  But still.  It had that patriarchal, either-or, “you don’t change this rule” vibe to it.

And I sure as shit wasn’t impressed that an oldtimer was ripping into someone with one fifth the sobriety he had.

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Let me back up.  I’m eight years sober.  Which means nothing and everything.  When I got sober, I NEEDED something like a 12 Step program.  I hated where my life was going, and I needed a community of like-minded young people I could hang with who let me say and do crazy things.  My mind was spinning so fast then I literally couldn’t speak because my mouth couldn’t keep up with my brain. I remember celebrating my first year sober with my father, then alive, and my group in Brookline.  I met an amazing woman who became my sponsor, and we went through the steps together. It changed my  life, it truly did.  I would not be where I am today without that program and those particular people.

A year in, however, I started to realize there were some “sharks in the tank”.   Five months in, I met a young man at a 12 Step conference who completely invaded my physical boundaries.  Of course, at the time, I didn’t know this, because I was 5 months sober, and I was used to men assaulting me in various ways, quite frankly.  And I wondered why I felt suicidal a couple of weeks later when the romance ended, gazing over the side of the Tobin Bridge.  Now I can see, but then I couldn’t.

A couple of years in, I started to hear some expressions at meetings that made me squirm.  “You either grow or you go.” All-or-nothing expressions that I had been taught in therapy to challenge or ignore.  “You can be too intelligent for this program.”  That initially made sense, when I was a newbie (i.e, you can analyze something until it doesn’t work for you anymore), but I started to see its limits as I moved on.  Sometimes, I’d try to challenge or explore other, more ambiguous options in my growth, and people would dismiss them with the “too intelligent” thing.  I began to see why some people never left those halls.  Because they listened to that.

Also, there was inevitably that well-meaning person who thought they needed to teach me a lesson and tell me exactly what I was doing wrong with my life after a meeting.  THANK YOU VERY MUCH, I would scream silently in my head.  BECAUSE I ALREADY DON’T BEAT MYSELF UP ON A DAILY BASIS FOR LIVING.

And the GOD THING.  Oh God.  I never had a problem with God, but I can count about 10 problem drinkers I know who have purposefully stayed away from 12-Step programs because of the God thing.

I had a baby, left the program for awhile, and came back to a meeting that saved my ass…for a bit.  My dad was dying, and I was getting married. What a mindfuck. The donuts, conversation, company and commitments distracted me.  I truly loved some people at that meeting.

AND….it was at that point I noticed myself embodying some of the qualities of that young man I encountered 5 or so years earlier. I was using other people to distract me emotionally.  It wasn’t OK, or fair to anyone.  It snowballed and snowballed until I left that meeting, a little over a year ago.  Turns out the program could be just as triggering for me as a bar, at times.

When I stopped going to that meeting, I literally felt as if I was having withdrawals. I missed the meeting and had to do something to distract myself on Thursday nights.  Then, I started to work later, and I slowly forgot about it.  I’d remember from time to time, and wonder what they were doing when it was 830 on a Thursday night.  Over time, I forgot completely.

It was then I realized I was addicted to the meetings, and to people at them.

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Over the past year, I have gotten healthier and healthier. I’ve never eaten better. I’ve noticed that my tendency to seek joy or fulfillment through other individuals has decreased.  It’s almost died out, actually.  I don’t think about drinking often, and I’m 100% submerged in my life.  Which does not mean it’s perfect!  IT IS LIFE.  Which means it can be annoying and messy and just plain hard. Especially when my husband wants me to check in more to our marriage or my daughter is pinching or hitting me because I wouldn’t let her watch TV during dinner.  But I’m in it, and I’m feeling shit.

Do I think 12 Step Programs suck?  NO WAY.  They save people’s lives and marriages and families.  Do I think they need some work? Absolutely.  And I think we need to do away with not challenging some tenets of the program, and talk about what’s wrong with it.  Because let’s face it.  What Bill W created in 1935 may have lasted, but it doesn’t fit 2017 so snugly.

So yeah.  The program isn’t for me now, but it might be sometime again.  But not right now.  I do therapy and exercise and writing and other spiritual work as my self care. And where I stand with it makes me no better than you.  Maybe you need it every day.  And that’s cool.

Cause different things work for different people.

(I picked that gem up at this 12-Step Program I went to.)

 

 

 

Why “If Mama Ain’t Happy, Nobody’s Happy” is a Bullshit Lie I Live

IMG_6863There comes a time in you life when you are doing something really mundane, like going on your daily run, when you realize,

Shit.  I’ve been selling out.  I’ve been settling.  I’ve been settling for behavior from others and myself.

And there are layers to these epiphanies.  My first one?  Came when I realized I wanted to recover from my eating disorder.   My second?  When I wanted more from my life than forgetting the night before because of too many rum and cokes.

My 45th came today when I realized I don’t want to yell anymore.  And I don’t want a partner who yells either.

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I am a mother.

I am a wife.

I am a co-owner of a business.

I have a shit ton of stress.

Because, as a woman, I’m expected to “do it all”.  So not only do I manage the money, I make the majority of the money upfront, and I also am expected to do all of the housework, manage my child’s appointments, playdates, extracurricular activities AND manage the psychological well-being of my child.

It was very furtive, wasn’t it?  How, in the span of 70 years, men have continued to deftly sidestep responsibility in any way they can.  Shit, I have to chores now? Guess I can still be lazy emotionally.  Sweet.

Before any right-wing idiot or plainly, insecure men jump down my throat, I want you to do something.  Walk up to the woman in your life.  Ask her what she’s worried about.  Chances are, her experience will be more rich than yours. She’ll be worried about being able to schedule their child’s gasto-intestinal appointment in between the clients she sees.  She’ll be thinking about how her husband yelling at their child mimics the traumatic experience she had as a child and how she’s failing.  She’ll be wondering if she can work out while the baby sleeps because somewhere, in the back corners of her mind, a demon tells her to be attractive for her boyfriend.  Now ask yourself if you have those same thoughts.

The pressures are not equal. NOT.  YET.

So when I hear, “If Mama Ain’t Happy, Nobody’s Happy”, I want to scream.

Why?

Seems to be yet another misogynistic turn of phrase, so eloquently masked as feminism.  It’s misogynistic, because it puts all the pressure on the female to chart the course, when males are perfectly capable of doing some of the emotional work. They’re perfectly capable of putting themselves first, taking care of themselves so they don’t take it out on their children.

It’s just that we haven’t EXPECTED them to, since the dawn of time.

And it reinforces that disgusting, martyr-like dynamic in older women that I despise. “Poor me, I’ve put up with so much from your father.”

EXACTLY.  You put up with it. You’ve enabled it.  Women have enabled it.  And that’s our part.  And that can be changed.

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Am I a sanctimommy who expects herself or others to never yell?  No.  But let me tell the truth and talk about yelling, because a lot of us have a ton of shame over it.  And it’s important to talk about during this time of year, when kids are going back to school and transitions are driving us parents nuts.

We’ve been yelling too much in my house.  I know my part – part of me has been justifying my and my husband’s trauma histories.  A refined form of “If we were ok, then she’ll be ok.”  “I’m a good parent.” “I’m doing the best I can.”

Maybe I’m fucking not.

Maybe I’ve been enabling years and years of the masculine approach to things.  The masculine approach of anger, of forcefulness, of yelling.

All I know is, This Mama Ain’t Happy.  Period.  And I’ve been justifying stuff I’m not OK with.   That’s my part.

And it’s my husband’s job to work on his.

How Telling Your Child to Be Positive Is Worsening the Opioid Epidemic

IMG_84791It is a crime to teach our children to “Be positive”.

I’m sure you think I’m nuts.  It’s totally fine.  People have literally thought that about me since I was 5.  I stand by what I say – we do ourselves and our children a disservice every time we tell them, “Hey, it could be worse!” or, “Be the change you wish to see in the world!”

In fact, you could be contributing – not causing, but contributing – to the opioid epidemic that is happening right now in our country.

Now I bet you think I’m really crazy, eh?

Let me explain a bit further.  There are positively viewed emotions like happiness, joy, silliness.  And there are negatively viewed emotions like anger, jealousy and sadness that are typically stereotyped as morally “bad” to experience.  Think about it.  Would you want to be labeled as a jealous husband who rants at his wife about where she was?  Or an angry mother who yells at her children seven times out of ten? No, of course not, because if you’re emotionally abusive you’re in the “bad” category.  Even though the wife most definitely played a part in his jealousy. And if you’re the shouting mom, you most certainly are not as good as all those attachment mothers.

But here’s the thing.  Anger and jealousy isn’t good or bad.  They are simply ingenious little signs our bodies gave us to tell us where to go.   Here’s a little answer key, courtesy of Pixar’s “Inside Out” and Glennon Doyle:

Anger: Tells us when something is not fair.

Jealousy: Tells us when we want something someone else has.

Fear:  Keeps us safe.  Physically and emotionally.

So yeah, negative emotions aren’t that negative, it turns out.   They’re actually pretty fucking vital to our existence, and if you’re making fun of them, you’re living by an extremely outdated code.  However, in a Trump era, where pull-yourself-up-by-the bootstraps-baby-boomer-either-or attitudes exist, this can be hard to remember.  And some people can make you feel like embracing emotions means you’re weak.  This, I tell you, is complete bullshit.  Humans can hustle and work 12 hours a day and still tune into their feelings.

The smartest, healthiest, most successful people I know follow their gut intuition about situations and others.

Let me get back to my point about all of us contributing to addictions.

Say your child got up and started whining about going to school. “Mama, I’m so tired.  I can’t go to school today.  I hate going to school.”

“Honey, you have to go.  I can’t do anything about it.  You can do it!”

VERSUS:

“Mama, I’m so tired.  I can’t go to school today.  I hate going to school.”

“Honey, I bet you’re super tired after your first week back. I can’t even imagine.  I feel like that about work too.”

Because the thing is, we do indeed live in a super insane world that doesn’t provide for enough sleep for our children.  And it’s ok to validate that for them.  It doesn’t mean you still can’t teach them the value of showing up for something when they don’t feel like it.  They’ll feel seen and they won’t be taught by you that their negative feelings need to be squashed immediately.  Because what’s one way addicts can start to be addicts?  By having strong emotions, and being told they’re “overdramatic” or to “get over it”.  Then they find tricky ways to numb their strong emotions that their community or society rejects.  Eating a whole pan of brownies.  Drinking their mother’s beer.  Shooting up the next town over.  All because they were taught not to sit with themselves and their strong feelings.  I’m sure some 12 Step programs will disagree, but that’s ok, I didn’t fit in there either.

The truth?  We all have to feel a feeling until it’s done coursing through our brain.  And the more we push it away, the bigger it will come back.

A lot of people – including my husband – accuse me of being too cynical, too pessimistic.  Nah.   I’m usually just telling the truth or calling the situation as to how I see it.  I, in turn, think they’re (typically) uncomfortable with the negative emotions I point out because society has socialized them that way.

Humans are these super amazing, instinctual beings who literally know the way like Moana, if only they listened to every emotion.

And am I the perfect parent who meets her daughter where she is every minute of every day? No fucking way.  On a bad day, I push my anger away, which makes it bigger, and then makes me scream like a crazy woman at my daughter.

But I’m shooting for meeting myself where I am.