It Takes Two to Tango

Hello Anxiety! Hello Addiction! Let’s Dance! If you are anything like me, which I am guessing most of you are, then you have spent a large portion of your life being controlled by your disease/disorder. I let anxiety control my life, instead of me taking control of my anxiety. As a result, I was less productive in school, did not always perform at the level I expected of myself at work, and last but certainly the worst – I self medicated with alcohol to the point of becoming an alcoholic. As I move along in my recovery from anxiety and alcohol, I am finally starting to realize that it “Takes Two to Tango”. I can let my disease/disorders rule the day, or I can confront them each day (or maybe many times throughout the day), and slowly but surely regain control over my life.

For those of you who are familiar with 12-step programs, you know the first step is admitting you are powerless over (insert alcohol/drugs/mental health issue), and that with it, your life is unmanageable. These 12-step programs are not just for addictions, but also they are a great way to live your life regardless of any mental health diagnosis or disease. Father Martin, who was an alcoholic priest that founded the rehab to which I attended, summed up the 12 steps in six very simple words: Steps 1-3: Trust God, Steps 4-11: Clean House; Step 12: Help Others. Now I am not going to go into detail on the steps here- I do not represent any group – these are merely my thoughts on life, and more specifically MY thoughts on MY life. However, I cannot help but notice these simple words are essentially the basis of all religious and moral teachings. By realizing that it takes two to tango, that is, my disease/disorder and myself, then I can use these simple concepts to combat my anxiety/addict-riddled brain.

I heard a psychiatrist speak recently who said that each day she wakes up with anxiety, and each day she says good morning to her anxiety and asks it how it’s doing. This may seem crazy, but to me it’s crazier to ignore our diseases and disorders. I know that regardless of what is going on in my life, anxiety and addiction are sitting around somewhere waiting for their next chance to strike. So why wait for them to strike first? By acknowledging our shortcomings and facing them head on, then we have the opportunity to regain control of our lives and begin to make them manageable. I may be powerless over the fact that I have an anxiety disorder and the disease of addiction, but I am not powerless over how I handle it.

How often are you willing to give yourself a break? My guess is very rarely, I am the first to focus on all of the negatives and quickly dismiss any positives. I could have the most productive day at work in years, run my fastest 5k since high school, and forget to mail a letter, and the only thing I will remember when I am lying in bed that night is the letter sitting on the counter. I won’t give myself a break. Every day should be the most productive day of the year. I should always be running faster – that is what I expect of myself – that is not a positive. I also expect myself to remember to mail a letter. So, obviously I should dwell on that when rehashing my day!

Each day I have a choice – I can choose to be a slave to my addiction and anxiety, or I can acknowledge its presence and go about “Trusting God”, “Cleaning House (taking care of my shortcomings)”, and “Helping Others”. If I do those things, then regardless of whether I suffer from depression, anxiety, loss of a loved one, addiction, etc. I will be putting my best foot forward. I must learn to give myself a break. I am not perfect, but if I remember that it “Takes Two to Tango,” then I have the chance of regaining control over my life, one day at a time.

“It takes two to tango, and if you dance too long, implosion is inevitable.” – Allie Burke

-A.S.

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Three Simple Words That Are Not So Simple…

“I Need Help.” “Can You Help?” “Please Help Me.”  These phrases are not complicated, and contain some of the most basic words in the English language. Yet we struggle daily to string them together and to utter them out loud to another person. For people struggling with a mental health disorder and/or the disease of addiction, we can find it increasingly difficult to ask others for help with our issues. Shit, I am so arrogant and stubborn, that I could be lying bloodied in a ditch, unable to walk, and I would tell a passerby that I am fine; I got this. Some people say it’s a male thing that I refuse to stop and ask for directions, that I won’t read the instruction pamphlet on furniture I have to assemble, and that I certainly never would directly ask for help with my anxiety or alcoholism. It could be a male thing, but really it’s just an ego thing. I don’t want anyone to know I have a weakness; I want everyone to think I have this thing called “life” under control!

The truth is that I am not weak, but I also am far from having this thing called “life” under anything even resembling control. Being vulnerable and asking someone for help is not a sign of weakness. In fact, it is the very opposite. Socrates figured this out ages ago, “The only true wisdom is in knowing that you know nothing.” This should not be a scary thought, but instead an empowering thought. As someone suffering from alcoholism and a general anxiety disorder, I take a great deal of comfort in realizing that it is OK to know nothing. I have no idea why I am an alcoholic, or why I have general anxiety disorder, but by asking for help from others who suffer the same illnesses and diseases, then I can start to learn more about combating them. I certainly don’t think I know nothing. Come on; I am an arrogant, alcoholic, male – I obviously believe I know something. Hell, just by having the audacity to write this blog, and assume people will read it, means that I think I have something worth saying.

However, when it comes to dealing with my issues of anxiety and alcoholism the truth is that I really don’t know anything. More importantly, I was too stubborn, arrogant, and unwilling to admit this and to ask for help. Thus I have put myself in the position I am in. If I had asked for help with my anxiety issues 10 years ago, maybe I never would have self-medicated with alcohol and maybe I wouldn’t be an alcoholic. Then again, maybe I would be – either way I don’t care and it doesn’t matter. I am whom I am, and I should really start to get used to it. After all, I have to be me for the rest of my life! When I finally admitted defeat, and surrendered to the fact that I cannot deal with everything on my own, I felt a huge burden lifted off of my shoulders. Anyone who is in therapy, taking medicine, going to AA or NA or any other support group, has taken the first step in asking for help.

It is OK not to be able to handle everything on our own, and we need to do a better job of recognizing that. Doesn’t it seem silly that I would be able to ask my wife to fold a load of laundry because I have to run out to the store, but that I wouldn’t call my sponsor when I was craving a beer or shot of vodka? Well if it does seem crazy, that’s because it is. Everyone has a gift to share, and when we ask for help then we give that person the opportunity to share these gifts.

Sports have always been a major part of my life, so I will leave you with a basketball analogy that many coaches have imparted on their teams: When you hold your fingers apart and smack someone on the arm it makes a lot less of an impression that when you bring the five fingers together in a fist and punch. Seems a bit brutal, but the analogy is there. We can accomplish a lot more together than we ever can alone.

Ask someone for help today. You will be helping them as much as they are helping you.

-A.S.

Stinkin’ Thinkin’

Today was one of those whirlwind days where I could not figure out if I was happy, sad, anxious, depressed, bored… you get the picture. The day started out just fine, productive even. I took care of what I needed to take care of in the morning and was getting ready to head to an early afternoon meeting, when out of nowhere my anxiety kicked up and my alcoholic brain kicked in. Some like to call it “Stinkin Thinkin”. I quickly went from being upbeat and happy to pissed off and miserable. For those of you that are like me and in the early stages of recovery, you know that these waves of emotion can come and go frequently. I find it incredibly frustrating annoying, and in the past have used it as an excuse to drink.

I live in New York City and as luck would have it I cannot walk out of my apartment in any direction without passing a liquor store. Not to mention there are about 20 bars to each block… So as I walked out of my apartment today I was anxious as hell, but determined not to drink (and hoping I wouldn’t) – just get to my meeting that was all I had to do. I was going to a new meeting today, and of course I couldn’t find the door to the building – but I could see three Irish Pubs all within about 25 feet! The curse of the addict, we can always find what we don’t need, but never what we really need! My mind was starting to tell me it was a better choice to go have a few pints and some nachos than to continue searching for this meeting. Thank God, it was right about then that I found the address I was looking for and walked inside. I figured this was all part of the plan and that I would leave the meeting feeling better and my day would get back on track. Unfortunately, as I started my 20 block walk home, my brain in all its infinite wisdom and glory started looking at every bar and restaurant we passed.

Brain: “Look that bar has craft beers, you can never have a craft beer again!”

Me: “Why do I have to deal with this, why can’t I have a beer again, I love beer.”

Brain: “Hey it is happy hour at that pub, you can have 5 drinks and pay less than $20, In NYC you are almost losing money if you don’t take advantage of that”.

And so on and so forth this continued, me listening to music and walking angrily towards my apartment. All the while trying to practice what I preach and remember that I didn’t have to give up craft beer for the rest of my life, just until I got home! I came home and quickly went to the gym to work out my aggression, when I received a text from an alcoholic in need. She is in the hospital and wanted to talk to me about the residential treatment program I went through! I spent the next 45 minutes talking to her and her husband about the program and how it had changed my life, my way of thinking, and given me the tools to deal with the awful disease of addiction. Towards the end of the call she was thanking me for my time and honesty, when I immediately realized that she had changed my day. I immediately thanked her – the simple act of one alcoholic helping another completely changed my thinking and my attitude, had I had a drink this afternoon that would not have been possible. While I am not yet to the 12th step – there is no reason why I cannot reap the benefits of helping others whereever possible in early recovery.

Today only helped to solidify my belief in the theme of this blog, 24 Hours is all we have. I don’t have to worry about not drinking craft beer or enjoying happy hour tomorrow, I just need to worry about doing the next right thing and it will all work out.

“There is more happiness in giving than receiving.” Acts 20:35

-A.S.