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My people. They get it and they don’t try to fix it. My people listen and hug me and remind me I am loved and doing great. I am loved and I’m doing great! Yes, that is true. Sometimes, I am loved and not doing great, that’s just as real.

I was a mother of two and nearly twenty-three years old when I got clean and sober. A counsellor named George helped me to see there was more to life than substance abuse and a marriage destroyed by domestic violence and addiction. George met me where I was at and helped me move along the path to a better way of living. He introduced me to authors whose work changed my thinking and my life’s trajectory. George would say at the end of every appointment, “You haven’t had your best day yet, kid!” He was right.

Wayne, my AA sponsor found me pretty humorous. He would chuckle while I belly-ached about something or someone, then give me some wisdom to live by via a question like, “Who can you change?” or  “What’s your part in this?” He would remind me, “This thing isn’t gonna crawl up your ass and into your heart, sweetheart! You gotta do the work!” Wayne was the first man I knew in my soul, loved me for me. He never expected a thing from me. He also did not believe my bullshit. He was the first man I trusted with my truth, no holds. 

Those were the early days of change for me. I was a single mom and trying to figure out a creed to live by. I was learning to adopt the 12-Step program into my way of life along with the wisdom of authors like Leo Buscaglia and Hugh Prather. 

Since those days I have been blessed by the addition of tremendous women into my life, the same women I have walked the path with for more than twenty-five years. Most of these women hail from the addiction recovery world, however, two come from my church background and a couple of them are past colleagues. Two recovery women in particular, made the ride much richer and more bearable because they chose to love me no matter what. Wendy and Anne stayed the course, whether I was sitting, singing or squawking. Forever, I will be grateful for the heavy blanket of unconditional love and acceptance they have covered me in.

Being connected to others has been life-restoring for me. My journey has been shaped by all kinds of learning; physical, emotional, spiritual. A few years ago, I read enjoy every sandwichby Lee Lipsenthal, M.D. (2011). In the book he speaks to what we can do when we are living within “four small walls” of pain, depression, self-pity, etc., those things that make us stuck:

“…scratch away with prayer, meditation, yoga, exercise, laughter, art, movement, gratitude, acceptance, and love. Scratch away with the knowledge that there is so much more to life than what we imagine it to be. There is so much to death than what we imagine it to be. And there is so much more to living and loving and being than can be seen from inside our little walled-in world. If you choose not to, there is no one else to blame.” Lee Lipsenthal, M.D. (p.193)

Long before I read his book, I had utilized all of Lipsenthal’s suggestions. I add to his list, my own items that encourage growth and change in me: therapy, 12-Step meetings, service to others, workshops, silent retreats, running, writing and reading. Where would I be without writing and reading?! 

I just keep making the effort, and when I am unable or unwilling to do what is needed, I have folks in my life who encourage me, wait for me, push me, sit with me, pray with me, and prod me when it is time to change forward. These are my people, changelings like me, people doing the work, the ones whose magic fairies have not yet climbed up their asses into their hearts to fix everything. These are the ones who stayed, they are tellers of their own truth, they light the path should the path be of interest or need to others. It is a path of love. And I am surrounded by it, enveloped in its juicy, healing heat.

The Red Plaid Rambler

Lipsenthal, L. (2011). enjoy every sandwich. New York, NY: Random House Inc.

Our conversations during our free monthly meet-ups take us in a variety of directions, and in order to ensure we circle back for reference, we post these resource blogs the day (or two) following a meet-up. The intent is to provide a roundup of resources or references from the conversation that night.

Last night, we had some new faces and some inspiring regulars. It was a night of many gifts and many lessons for us all, but there were some recurring themes to make note of.

THEMES

  • Trauma and control: trauma takes our control from us so it’s natural that survivors and victors of traumatic experience look for control in other areas of their lives. Disordered eating, addictions, compulsive behaviours — all examples of looking for control. Is it possible to seek control over something that is not unhealthy? Yes! We can choose healthier food options, we can choose to exercise and how we exercise. This leads us into the next point…
  • Mindfulness: mindfulness and meditation were constant themes last night, as many participants noted these as being important tools in their toolbox. One of our favourite participants, Susan Rochow of Eckert Centre, explained the notion of mindfulness in this aspect so perfectly:

“It’s really the issue of intentional dissociation.  There is a time to be present with thoughts and feelings, and there’s a time to turn them off.  When we do it via auto-pilot, that’s dissociation – great survival technique, but not particularly “healthy” as a lifelong strategy.  When we do it mindfully, we are saying to ourselves, “this is important and needs my attention, but not right now.”  This is a really important skill to develop….to be able to be with our stuff, or put away our stuff, depending on what we need in that moment.  For example, it’s important for me to be able to contain my stuff when I’m going to work, when I need to sleep, when I’m tired of crying, etc.” — Susan Rochow

  • Forgiveness: this question always gets asked, and it’s the hardest one to answer. There is no secret recipe for getting to forgiveness. Try not to pressure yourself into forgiveness. Forgiveness is a feeling, not an action. Forgiveness can be difficult for many reasons: we haven’t let go of our anger, we want to harm those who’ve harmed us, or simply the notion that forgiving will free our offenders from justice. When battling with being able to forgive, it’s important to note that forgiving does not mean forgetting, nor does it mean justifying the actions of your offender. [Read more]

“Remember, real forgiveness does not make excuses for the other person’s hurtful behaviour. Forgiveness is a decision that you make with your whole self after you have done your emotional work.” — Kim Barthel, from ‘Conversations with a Rattlesnake’ 

IDEAS & INSPIRATION

  • Spirituality: this is a concept that circled back into the conversation last night. Spirituality often gets mistaken for religion, but spirituality is broader than religion, it’s a simple belief system that helps us connect to ourselves, others and things beyond us.

“To me, spirituality is all about relationship. Most addicts are traumatized in their family of origin situations, so what they really lose faith in is relationship. That’s a setup for addiction. The trauma causes emotional pain for which the best answer is spirituality.” — Theo Fleury from ‘Conversations with a Rattlesnake’

REFERENCES

  • EMDR: EMDR stands for Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing, which is an integrative psychotherapy approach. This type of therapy uses a patient’s own rapid eye movements, to take emotionally charged memories out of traumatic events. Using eye movements and “tricking your brain”, therapists can essentially reprogram the memory of a traumatic event to more positive or neutral emotions. [Learn more about how it works]
  • Eastside Family Centre: this is a walk-in counselling service provided by Woods Homes. If you are looking for help between meetings, this is a great option.

NEW MEET-UP STRUCTURE

Because our meet-ups are growing each month (which we are so grateful for), we now have the need to provide more structure to these meetings so everyone gets more out of them. Last night we introduced a few rules and ideas for the meetings:

  • Please no cross-talk. We want to be respectful of people’s stories and their time, so please allow others to finish their piece, before adding on.
  • We encourage participants and members of our community to reach out to new joiners and offer to support them or be a mentor of sorts. This type of thing is a successful structure in Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) with their ‘sponsor program’.
  • As BFF members, we are at the meetings to facilitate a safe conversation, but a reminder that we are not therapists.
  • If you need someone to talk to between meetings, please reach out to the Calgary Distress Centre or call their 24-hour line at 403-266-HELP.

FUNDRAISER

We are in a dire position. Funds are extremely low and as a result, we have a long waiting list for our Therapy Grant program. Many Calgarians are reaching out, in desperation with their PTSD and mental health symptoms, and BFF is left in the saddest of positions — unable to help.

Because of this our Chair, Amber, has organized an emergency fundraiser to help our organization stay afloat! Trauma comes in all forms and BFF sees it all, and we need your support. On February 24th, you can take part in an incredible evening in support of BFF. Some of Calgary’s most talented artists have stepped up to help us put on a night that will drive incredible conversations and much-needed funds.

At the event, you’ll be able to bid on inspiring art — all inspired by trauma or PTSD. The stories behind these incredible works of art will flood you with emotion. Not to mention, these are breathtaking pieces that anyone would want to have in their homes! In addition to the silent art auction, songwriters and spoken word poets will be performing pieces, inspired by their own trauma experiences.

It is going to be an incredible night. Space is limited, so get your tickets! The event is taking place at the gorgeous new Railyard Brewing. Please note: there is no kitchen on-site, but we will have a small concession open with proceeds to BFF.

Now that Christmas and New Year’s are behind us, all the talk is around whether people are still making resolutions or not. The general consensus is that they set us up for defeat and that very few people are successful at maintaining their resolution.

I’m glad I started this #BF4ME challenge in November because I’m one of those people who could care less about resolutions, I just want to change and grow year round. It does, however, give each of us an opportunity to reflect on what went well last year, what didn’t, and what we can choose to do differently in 2018.

I for one, was happy to say buh-bye to 2017, let me tell you! I did wake up on January 1st, however, with firm resolve. It was a knowing deep down that this year would be different.


re·solve

rəˈzälv/
verb
1.
settle or find a solution to (a problem, dispute, or contentious matter)
“the firm aims to resolve problems within 30 days”
synonyms: settle, sort out, solve, find a solution to, fix, straighten out, deal with, put right, put to rights, rectify
2.
decide firmly on a course of action
“she resolved to call Dana as soon as she got home”
synonyms: determine, decide, make up one’s mind, make a decision | “Bob resolved not to wait any longer”

Resolve doesn’t have a date attached to it, nor does it require creating a habit of some sort.

My paraphrase to the dictionary definition is to make a firm decision to solve a problem. My way of dealing with my health was to make a firm decision to enter a marathon, announce it publicly, and use it to inspire others to not only get active but to find ways to take control of their own journeys and destinies. It comes back to the recognition that bad things have happened, but how I move forward is completely in my control – my attitudes, my actions, my thought processes, and how I want to “be and do” in this world.

Saying that I have had some serious epiphanies in the past couple of weeks and have made some strides towards change:

  1. I am an enabler. I had to choose my own mental health over that of another, and it was gut-wrenching to verbalize my boundaries, knowing they would be met with anger, and it wasn’t even my kids! I also had to recognize that others’ choices are not my responsibility. While I know this in my head, I would just rather look after things (or people) because it’s much easier that way.
  2. If I’m not okay, the influence on my kids and those I care about will be negatively impacted. It’s quite preferable that we look after ourselves, considering that none of us can pour from an empty cup. This has smacked me in the face repeatedly over the holidays, so much so that I have told my teenagers that I’m on a staycation for the next two weeks. What that looks like is them taking care of themselves while I take care of me. So hard to do, and it’s going to be very challenging to follow through on it.
  3. I know that I know this is the year my health takes precedence, and that I am actually going to make sure of it. Between ensuring my brain gets what it needs, to finding sleep solutions, to setting emotionally healthy boundaries, to food choices, to .. ugh .. running to prepare for a 5K marathon, to reflecting on my spirituality, it all matters. Every bit that makes up me is part of my #BF4ME challenge this year, and I know I’m going to win!

So there’s my resolve. Now to how things have been progressing.

The Good | finding joy

  1. I decided not to weigh myself over the next months while preparing for the High Altitude Challenge in August, but rather measure my progress with size change, muscle tone and my ability to actually run. It was a mental boost the second I chose this path.
  2. Kombucha! I’ve discovered that drinking 2.5 ounces before coffee or breakfast has improved my gut health immensely, as well as the acid reflux that has been tormenting me.
  3. Christmas with my parents. I’ve never had my family members in my home at Christmas and I’m more than grateful for the memories.
  4. A wedding. My kids and I were invited to share a special day with friends, a wedding that was planned in a week! It was beautiful and pretty perfect.
  5. I attended a meditation workshop presented by one of our BFF volunteers. My head knows the value of deep breathing, my discipline (or lack thereof), however, has not followed suit. If you’re not sure what meditation actually is or how it works, this Meditation to Embrace Difficulty & Open Your Heart to 2018 is an easy to follow, helpful introduction.
  6. I fully enjoyed the season and didn’t worry about much, outside of the crappy night my kids had with their dad. [read more here]
  7. The Simply Fit Board I received for Christmas is pretty great [unbiased review]. I could never have guessed something so “simple” could work so well. It will be the key to my winter activity, and I actually enjoy using it.
  8. I’ve implemented boundaries and self-care priorities, and I feel like a weight has been lifted from my shoulders. A friend of mine suggested that maybe dealing with some of that emotional weight may influence my physical health. I think she may be right!

“Unexpressed emotions will never die. They are buried alive and will come forth later in uglier ways.” ~Sigmund Freud

The Bad | stuff that didn’t go well

I ate too much. It was a deep freeze in Calgary, and we mostly hibernated which equals to no gains towards increased activity. The Simply Fit Board is helping with that.

The Ugly

Addressing the choices I’ve made or am making to inhibit healthy living – emotionally, physically, mentally, spiritually and financially – has been eye-opening but certainly no fun. One step, one day at a time. The ugly has been the internal struggle, the tears and the feeling of being alone (even though I know that’s so not true!).

When you’re trying to retrain your brain, being kind to yourself is paramount. This article on Forbes.com about changing negative thoughts was helpful for me.

As happy as I am that 2017 is behind me, I’m just as happy to see what unfolds in 2018!

Resources

Join the #BF4ME (Breaking Free 4 Me) Community on Facebook

6 Life Lessons Learned From Running

21 Ways to Help Yourself Heal | #9 is my challenge to myself this week! I’ve never successfully accomplished that one.

Vulnerability seems to have been one of my strengths throughout my life. This video is so powerful, bears watching again and again, and will provide insight on why it’s so important: