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The power of a sound bath

14 Sep

10:19 pm

I think I mentioned in my last post that I recently spent a week on the west coast of Costa Rica, mainly to do yoga, but also to be alone to process the fact that there are changes and evolutions going on in my life, and there is grief, and I am having a hard time dealing with all that AND keeping everything else in place.  I only spent four days there–two were traveling to get there, and then, the final two days were spent getting home (and, stressing:  I was booked through Miami on the way home, and Hurricane Dorian was just picking up speed that week and it looked like it was going to blow through Florida).  Anyway, my time there was short and I only had four days, but four days was enough to see a transformation.

WhirrWhirrWhirrrrrrrring.  This was the sound of my mind–the sound of my incessant thinking–during the first two days (well, all the time).  I filled those days taking yoga, walking along the beaches (gosh, the Pacific is immense and amazing–and warm!?–down there), eating fish and rice and fruit (my perfect diet, I must say), and going to bed.  Yet, my mind!  Would.  Not.  Stop.  Thinking.  JESUS.  I mean, I could literally hear the whirring sound…like a swarm of mosquitoes, filling my skull to the brim, spinning in one huge loud circle of BUZZ, WHIRR, WHIRRRRRRRRING.

On the evening of the second day, I decided to take a sound bath.  The instructor was fantastic–the resort where I took my classes had some of the best teachers I’ve ever had, actually–and the sound bath was really cool.  I mean, I’ve participated in sound “healing” ceremonies before; and yeah, afterward I do feel calmer and I can remember at least a few interesting visuals that came up during the ceremony; but, I have never felt anything beyond that.  I enjoy them, that’s true, but I’m not sure I would consider them to be healing, per se.

Until I woke up on the third day feeling…quiet.  QUIETED.  Happy.  Calm, clear, optimistic.  Like, the sense of clarity was unmistakably uplifting!  The whirring had stopped.  What the…?  I walked along the beach that morning, noticing that all my confusing, conflicted thoughts and thought tendencies and thought patterns–this mental weight that had been bogging me down for the past two days–had just gone away.  The whirring was gone.  Now, I don’t know if I should credit the sound bath, but…

The following night, my last, I went to my second sound bath–and this time, I listened a bit more closely to what the teacher was saying before he started in on his instruments (I have to admit, during the first class, I was just like, yeah, uh huh, right).  And what he said was:  by utilizing sound waves, sound baths ultimately allow your higher mind to distance itself from your lower mind (the thinking, the judging, the ego mind)–which helps to quiet the lower mind.  I was like, what?  That is literally exactly how I felt; that I had this newfound sense of clarity because the whirring just seemed to have ceased, and my higher mind was now fully present–quiet, not as judgmental, open.  This, in turn, made me feel happier, friendlier to self and others, more willing to have conversations with strangers, more able to take in and enjoy the scenery…

At home now, what this clearer, quieter state of mind has allowed me to do is be more positive, in general, and resist negativity (from my own mind, from others).  I don’t feel like judging people or situations or getting angry; I just want to let it go and continue to vibrate, as it were, at my higher, quieter level.  It’s helped me feel and be more positive toward my relationships, my job, my coworkers; it’s helped me let things roll off my back and maintain a sense of calm happiness.

This feeling was really strong during the first week after I got back; I’m on my second week now, and while I don’t feel as happy and/or quieted, I find myself going back to that place of quiet clarity in my mind.  I mean, even if I no longer presently own that sense of clarity, I can remember I once did and what it felt like–which goes a long way toward cultivating (I guess you could say) that state of mind.

It was definitely worth suspending my disbelief!  Now, I feel like there is hope, there is a place to go, there IS clarity and quiet to be had–it’s just a matter of finding the tools to get there and developing those tools to keep you there.

Being here, and now

23 Jun

10:37 pm

Just a quick post tonight to say, be here, now.

DDG, try to stay in the moment and, be here, in the now.

After a great workout this morning–where I thought of nothing but how nervous my job is making me and that I have GOT to get some Xanax or something to bring along with me to the next team meeting if I’m EVER going to get through the presentation that I’ve been tasked with giving–and a nice evening on the beach; I realized just how hard it has become for me to stay in the moment these days.  If I’m not obsessively checking my work email and making my work to-do lists, I’m checking personal email or scrolling through Facebook and LinkedIn.  I am always thinking about something, or thinking I should be thinking about something; I am forever making plans, or making contingency plans.  It’s starting to feel a bit obsessive.

When I was getting sober, I didn’t feel so wound up.  When I was working at my last job, I didn’t feel so controlling.  I feel like there is a lot riding on me staying focused these days, especially at my new job.  I do have a lot to get done–thing is, I don’t have to do it all perfectly, and I probably could get away with not getting it all done!  I keep telling myself I have nothing to prove, yet, around every corner, I am doing things that scream, Love me!

Lately, I’ve been feeling like if I let one thing go, the entire sweater will come undone, the house will collapse, everyone will find out that I’m really an imposter.  And let’s face it, these days, I’d rather not be writing most of what I have to write as a science writer, sitting on a beach in a meditative state.  I’d MUCH RATHER not be pretending to care about chasing after the rewards of the rat race.  Island life taught me that it’s OK to reject these ideas and it’s even more OK to choose to live a life that does not glorify them.  Yet, I’m in this new life out of choice, so…I had better learn to live in it without having panic attacks!

There MUST be some value in literally refusing to let one’s mind wander.  You know, down that road of distraction via social media, or negative thinking by way of obsessing over events yet to happen.  I’ve been guilty of both of those lately, and I have to believe that forcing myself to think positively–differently, at least, than I have been doing lately–will have some sort of impact on moving my thoughts to a different place and/or new level, to staying in the here and now.

I MISS that me, that girl who somehow, after all her time chasing and competing on the mainland, was able to finally unwind and unplug and learn how to just sit, and breathe, and embrace the rich nothingness of the moment.  These days, I am preoccupied and miss the richness of a lot of my moments.  My goal in the next few weeks is to focus on learning to stay here, now, while also getting my work done; to breathing through my anxiety and thinking beyond it; to remaining at least somewhat of a willing participant in the life I have chosen.

I know it won’t be forever, and I’ll come around to finding a new here and now.  But for now?  Stay in the moment, DDG.  Be here, and now.

Inspiration to others

2 Sep

8:25 am

Well, it’s now the second day of September–can’t seem to hold onto the days! Happy Labor Day, all.

I’m up early, mainly because it’s so stinking hot here in the mornings, but also, I seem to have recovered some of my lagging (depressed) energy! Thank Jesus to that. I was starting to wonder, am I going to simply be down forever? I’ve been down before, but not really severely, I guess, and not for over a month; my depressive episodes are more low-grade and last a long time. This felt severe, but it seems to have literally lifted.

I’m tired this morning, but you know what? The simple fact remains: I am sober. Wow. Here I am, like it or not, sober. What a great feeling. Being sober is a given, a known. And, I like this given, this known, this certainty, this…solid ground…more than, well, getting to drink. I can’t have both, and I’m becoming OK with that.

I meditated yesterday, and it helped. It was good in that I got to “somewhere else,” which I’m relieved about because sometimes, it takes a lot longer than simply one time. I mean, that someplace else lasted for about less than 10 minutes, but it was enough to make me really want to do it again. I’m actually thinking of taking a “soul vacation,” as coined by one of my friends down here: one month at a meditation retreat, one month volunteering somewhere (like, another country). I can’t wait to move on from “this phase,” which is basically me having no enthusiasm.

I got an email the other day from a friend of mine who says she’s tired of embarrassing (and dangerous, I’d say, if she asked me) things happening when she drinks too much. And, I think she is starting to, you know, exhibit “me”-like drinking behavior, which includes things like drinking for 2.5 days straight and doing alternately wildly inappropriate and bizarre things while out on a date (well, multiple dates with multiple men).

Anyway, she’s going for a Sober September. To “get her shit together.” This is the same girl who, well, I wouldn’t say wasn’t supportive of my getting sober, but I think it put her in a really weird place, questioning her own habits. I also felt like she secretly wanted me to fail, and actively dissed me a little bit at first for the reason(s) behind this. In any case, that’s all in the past, I haven’t looked back, and it’s interesting to see that maybe, just maybe, she’s SEEN the benefits in my life of me getting sober and is using it as inspiration to make some changes in her own that might have a broader effect. I hope it works, and I’m rooting for her!

Well, I think it might be time for a nap. It’s a little past 9, and I’ve already made coffee, showered, threw a load of laundry in, did half my bills, wrote this, and opened a few browser windows to look up Vipassana retreats! Cool beans, eh? Thank you, sober me. You did it. You’re doing it, I should say.

(And, man, did I really, really, really want to drink on Saturday night, but the few tears I did cry made me laugh at how silly I was being. The music didn’t hold sway over my feelings, I got dressed, I did my errands, and I came home, feeling for once (in a long time) peaceful and creative-I-don’t-care-what-happens kind of creative. I read, I listened to a The Decemberists Pandora station (do they play any Decemberists anymore on a Decemberists station?), and went to bed feeling like I was 19 instead of 39, like the world was ahead of me, like I was ageless and free. It’s these moments, when you tackle the craving and actually GET SOMETHING of wonder, and peace, in the end; it’s these moments that make it worth the effort, that offer a glimpse of–gasp!–the liberation ahead.)

God in my garden

21 Jul

3:47 pm

I am growing things. I have what some urbanites might call an “urban farm,” but what this farmer’s daughter (yes, I grew up on a dairy farm) calls a garden.

Actually, all my plants and herbs are in pots, and I’ve now got about ten going! Three of them are massive Jack-and-the-Beanstalk-sized tomato plants that I’ve had to re-pot three times already! I staked rods in them this time so that they have something to lean into as they continue to shoot up. I cannot WAIT to see some actual tomatoes on the vines, too–the produce down here leaves a lot to be desired.

I’ve felt very quiet of mind lately. Well, this morning. For a few hours. LOL. It was nice to be alone, in the sun, gardening. It’s cool to see my plants actually coming along; I don’t even care, really, if the tomato plants bear fruit.

I think I’ve had enough time and space to “recover” from my friend’s visit to have come to a few hard conclusions: she and I likely won’t continue in the same kind of friendship we’ve been having, and, I need to actively speak in a more positive way.

Our relationship was a co-dependent one. In a nutshell, she needed me to be a drunk in order to diss on me to make herself, who is very insecure, feel better; and I needed her to diss on me because I felt afraid, I guess, of shining. There’s a long trail of “hiding your light under a bushel” behavior in my life, but with this friend, it’s clearly a defense mechanism for me. I couldn’t confront her feeling jealous and expressing it by hating on me; I wanted to assuage her feelings of self-loathing by bringing myself down to her level. We commiserated a lot together, but deep down (and this came out in my blackouts), I hated myself for participating and I hated her for trying to bring me down to make herself feel better. I wish this didn’t sound so harsh because underneath it all, she’s a good person–aren’t we all?

Fast forward to now. Cut the bullshit, basically. The weekend was me being strong, present, direct, and apparently invested in an actual life here. A life that you all know about, but that she could only imagine until she got here…and saw it for herself. It threw her for a loop, to put it mildly. And, I have to say, I don’t think either of us knew how to interact with one another in these new “roles.” It seemed like she noticed that I had not only changed, but grown up, taken hold of my life, and moved forward–not to make her feel bad, but because this is me now and this is what I do now. It was apparent to me just how insecure she feels about herself–her job, her relationship status, and especially her looks (which may never change, and which I simply don’t play into). We performed a balancing act the whole weekend, and while it was nice to see her and get caught up, I was relieved when she left.

As for me, I noticed that when unsure what to talk about, I would often hear a stream of negativities come tumbling out of my mouth. Literally, it was like I was listening to someone else. These were not so much direct complaints, but rambling monologues that tended toward why this doesn’t work, and why that’s not for me, and why I don’t like this or that. YUCK. I couldn’t wait to get home sometimes and lapse into the fun–and for lack of a better word, “ego-relieving”–“cartoon” voice I use with the dogs.

I don’t know why, but it kept happening/I kept doing it! Maybe I’m still trying to downplay my happiness (or at least, contentedness) because I’m afraid of success, or because I still care too much about what others think, striving for their approval, i.e., I better talk badly about my cooking or my car or my apartment before SHE does, just in case she doesn’t approve. UGH. DOUBLE-YUCK. The point is, I want to change this as much as possible and immediately; it affects everything, and not in a good way. Sometimes I wouldn’t mind going back to the uber-quiet girl I was growing up–maybe there was a lot to be gained from being “too quiet” all the time?

Again, it was nice to be alone this morning, without my thoughts, in the “garden.” A lovely morning, literally. Maybe love is transcending all the bullshit and just being quiet, aware, and absorbed in growing things? Maybe that’s a metaphor for life? If I believed, I would say, possibly that’s even one for God…

What day is it? I’ve got my eyes set on 180 days, which is September 14th. No point in even thinking about drinking until that day comes. (In fact, is that my Unicorn with Sparkly Teeth over there, kicking the grass? Isn’t that where the remains of wolfie-boy are decomposing? Get it, GIRL.)

Anger, Buddhism, and the 12 steps, oh my!

6 Jul

1:11 pm

As I posted yesterday, The Fix published a piece I wrote about blogging myself sober. Obviously, it’s not the ONLY thing I’ve done to “get and stay sober,” but that’s beside the point. I think connecting with others who share your problem, and who can help you DEFINE its gray areas, is the key. So, thanks to all of you out there who continue to help me stay the course.

There were some negative comments posted in response to the piece, which I found, for the most part, to be instructive (thankfully!).

Why are some people so angry about a seemingly-successful recovery that either does not involve meetings or the 12 steps, or does not involve “as much work as someone else” or “the way that they did the work?”

What can I glean from the 12 steps, and why do I keep coming back to them, feeling like I’ve got some unfinished business? Maybe I AM a dry drunk?

If it wasn’t the personalities in AA, or the sharing, or the group therapy aspect that bothered me all that much, it must have been the steps, right? What am I afraid of? What about the steps hangs me up?

It’s those words: powerlessness, God, higher power. To me, the 12 steps are not rocket science; in fact, in order to get sober, EVERYONE has to do some version of these “steps,” I’ve come to believe. You might not KNOW you’re doing the steps, but you are. We admit we can’t drink anymore; we accept this fact. We feel remorse and say we’re sorry. We work on our relationships, we question our sense of purpose–why are we using booze to avoid or hide from what we know, deep down, we should and could be doing? I used wine for YEARS to avoid writing; yet, it’s the one thing I knew that if I just fucking DID it, I’d be free. Free of both the urge to drink away my fear and sensitivities surrounding “putting it out there” and possibly failing, and free from the self-loathing brought on by not doing it!

I wondered, how do atheists approach the steps? Do Muslims go to AA? What do people who come from non-Judeo-Christian backgrounds and worldviews think of AA? I mean, people all over the world have drinking problems–how do they approach the steps if they don’t, actually, believe in “God,” per se? What–or who–IS God? A quick Google search made me realize that the concept of God is extremely broad, and can range from an overlord or all-knowing being to, well, “being” or “existence” itself. Huh. As a scientist, I am not a theist, but neither am I convinced that “being” or “existence” does not hold a higher order. The whole is, most of the time in the biological sciences anyway, greater than the sum of its parts. Systems biology takes advantage of the FACT that studying systems of genes, or proteins, or cells can lead to surprising insights into how things actually work when we’re not reducing them to their parts.

At the beach yesterday, I felt the need (and this is usually accompanied by a lot of gesturing and loud talking to myself, so my apologies to the boyfriend–LOL) to tease out my “official” definition of these words. And, here’s what I came up with:

Powerlessness: To me, this is simply my desire (key word) to drink more than just one. I can never drink one. Why? Because I don’t WANT to. And this, I think, is where the neurochemistry of addiction comes in: my brain is wired–at the moment, at least, because I’ve abused wine for so long–to want more than one. It’s an urge that is VERY strong. And, already after one, my “rational brain” is starting to become overpowered by my “irrational brain.”

This is actually the opposite of the general idea that most people, including myself, have of powerlessness. I have a choice, yes I do; and that choice is to drink a second. Whether or not that choice is a good choice, well, morals aside, the powerlessness lies in my reward system being fucked up.

God: Well, since I do not believe in a deity or any sort of omniscient creator being, I would say that “God” is the order of the universe, being, life itself.

Higher power: I’ve always thought that this is simply my higher self, a literal higher consciousness. In fact, I now believe that when we “bottom out,” or hit our lows, we’re actually becoming our most self-aware. Our wake-up calls are just that: we snap out of it, we awaken, we’re fully conscious of just how bad it is. We’re at the top of our game then, not the bottom. This higher consciousness is our most aware selves–the self that knows better, wants the best for us, sees our potential, follows that “order” of the universe, or at least, of being human, which is to protect our bodies and minds from harm, to sleep when it’s dark, to wake when it’s light.

Defects of character: This was a hard one, but I figured it out on the ride home, with the help of my boyfriend. My biggest problem in this whole nightmare has been learning how to forgive myself. I realized that IF, in fact, I viewed my higher power as myself–the best version of myself, the mindful, awakened version–then, couldn’t asking myself for forgiveness be the same thing as asking “God” to remove my “defects of character?” YES, it really could.

In my research last in night, I came across Kevin Griffin, who founded the Buddhist Recovery Network, who has written some excellent pieces for HuffPo on the Buddhist approach to recovery, and whose work I can’t wait to read more of. It sort of helped to confirm some of my new ideas, which, apparently, I’m not the first person to have. 😉

I guess maybe a step meeting could’ve helped me wade through the murky semantics of the steps, or a Google search earlier in my recovery, but so it goes. If I look at the steps with my new definitions in mind, they might read as such:

1. We admitted we were powerless over alcohol—that our lives had become unmanageable.
(I am powerless to not want that second drink…and then, it’s all downhill because my rational brain turns off the warning and my irrational brain turns on the “It’ll be different this time, it won’t hurt you, you can drink as much as you want, forget about last time, there is no last time…”)

2. Came to believe that a power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.
(That power is myself–my aware, awakened, mindful self; the one who’s looking at me when I’m jogging in the hot sun thinking, Good job, and, You deserve to be awesome.)

3. Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him.
(Wonderfully explained by Kevin here.)

4. Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.
(Among a lot of other things, this would include shit I did that I still haven’t forgiven myself for…because I have offended others and hurt myself.)

5. Admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.
(Admitting to ourselves, really, the things that we haven’t forgiven ourselves for having done. I have a few select people who know EVERYTHING, and I’m grateful that it’s been easy, in a way, to “unburden” myself to these friends.)

6. Were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character.
(Ready to forgive ourselves, to stop caring if others have or will forgive us, to really let it all go, and to start moving forward in our emotional lives. Self-actualizing?)

7. Humbly asked Him to remove our shortcomings.
(Asked ourselves for forgiveness, and the power to let it go.)

8. Made a list of all persons we had harmed, and became willing to make amends to them all.

9. Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.

10. Continued to take personal inventory, and when we were wrong, promptly admitted it.
(Being aware of our thoughts and feelings, of our actions and especially, REACTIONS, to these thoughts and feelings. To live in the world without taking anything personally.)

11. Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God as we understood Him, praying only for knowledge of His will for us and the power to carry that out.
(Staying aware, practicing mindfulness.)

12. Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these steps, we tried to carry this message to alcoholics, and to practice these principles in all our affairs.
(This one, I’m not sure about. Maybe just helping others see their problem is not necessarily about moral flaws, it’s about fear of living and fear of self-discovery–and, the truth (your personal truth) will set you free…?)

What do you think?

Reaching out, or, I’m not the only human who has human thoughts?

4 May

9:29 pm

I had some dark thoughts today. I woke up bored, and it just spiraled down from there.

Yes, it’s possible to simply wake up bored. It was hot, I didn’t sleep well, blah blah blah. I then proceeded to sit out on the porch, contemplating just how much “life sucks.” Thoughts like, I’m ready to go, What do I have to live for?, etc.

For most of my years here, in my Human Skin on Planet Earth, I simply did not share these thoughts. Of course, I’m the ONLY person to ever have existential angst, right? And on top of it, despite all my competing thoughts, screaming at me how amazing I’ve got it right about now; I couldn’t lift my head out of the vortex.

This time, I decided to share these thoughts, hoping that it might help. (I was also thinking about drinking, starting to plan it already, and I knew that I had to do SOMETHING else.) So, I emailed Belle, one of my sober pen pals, and then I told my boyfriend about them.

“I’m ready to go.” He was like, OK. “There’s really nothing left for me to do here, in this life.” He was like, Are you going to take the dogs with you? Hmm…I had to think about that.

We all have bad days, I guess. What’s different–and a relief–is that I chose to reach out and share. Even though I was pretty ashamed of these thoughts; as in, what’s wrong with me that I have these thoughts, and worse, what’s even more wrong with me that I can’t control these thoughts, usher them out, and think more positively? I tried to meditate, and that did help a bit.

The afternoon progressed better, though. We went for a longass snorkel at a very local (read: backyard) beach, and then I went to the store and got a bunch of stuff for my upcoming master cleanse (I’ll get to that in a different post). On the errands front, I booked a trip back to that cold east coast city I came from (to investigate that new graduate program I mentioned), took care of my IRA (finally), and…well, you get the point. Moving forward.

I still don’t feel 100 percent awesome right now, but I think that has a lot to do with my master cleanse “prep,” which I may or may not go through with. In this depressed state of mind, I’m not looking forward to staying sober, I have to admit, but onward, fair Unicorn with Sparkly Teeth–to 7 weeks this coming Monday, then 10, then 12, then 90 days…then?

A little slack in my comments and posts lately, but…

1 Apr

11:43 pm

I’m on day 14 (again), and I just wanted to check in and tell you that…I’m on day 14 again. Why? I feel myself slipping. I feel like I can drink now. Or, I can contemplate drinking now. That’s better, yes: I can think about it again. Which is NOT GOOD. Which is, not easy. That little slip was bigger that I thought, I have to admit.

Today I spent a while, let’s just say, staring at the wine selection at a local big box store down here, thinking that I could just “pick up a bottle no big deal.” Except, a bottle’s not enough. And, two, as we have seen, is way too much.

So, I’m going to try harder to connect with this blog, try more and better to keep blogging–like I was last summer, feverishly–and keep replying to all the comments I receive. Granted, 98 percent of my lack of response (well, maybe 95) is a lack of time; but the remainder is the crack in the window, the wolf’s in. If I don’t reply, if I stay quiet…the more I let myself believe that I’m right, and you’re all wrong. That’s simply put, but I think you get it.

So, here’s to 2 weeks. Two. Little. Weeks. Sigh. And, wasn’t it just a few days ago that I was riding high on my unicorn, happy and proud of my “decision” to take the weight of All Those Days off my back so I could continue moving forward? Nonsense.

I envy Belle, hitting that sweet spot where things have changed. I can’t wait to get there, too.

(Btw, I’ve started to crochet again. I’m either old, hip, or a combination of the two. I used to do it as a kid, and I won some crafty awards. It was very meditative, and I hope to find in it that simple, mindful mindlessness that might improve the hours of ambivalence facing me over the next 16 days (I think getting a month under my drinkin’ belt again will help my MIND, alongside my heart, commit to being sober)).

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