Step 3: Turning Over our Will

Is it just me or did February just FLY by? It feels like only yesterday we were starting this month off.

To be honest, I had planned to write this big thing about love, and how love could be a higher power to drive us. Then I had a pretty terrible week at work, and not going to lie, I got very jaded about the whole thing. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying I don’t believe in love. I’m just saying, my whole post on “love can fix us all” got drowned out by real life being not so-cheery-sweet.

Then I realized…that moves perfectly into March and our 3rd step.

In January, for step 1, we recognized the things we are powerless over and accepted some of them as being uncontrollable

In February, for step 2, we recognized that there is a higher power, much greater than ourselves, that can save us from these problems

This month, step 3, is probably one of my favorites (and also the hardest for me to readily accomplish):

 

“Make the decision to turn our will and lives to the care of God as we understand him”.

 

Now: some of you may be thinking: wouldn’t this not be your favorite? It’s another step that is completely focused on religion. And yet, from the meetings I’ve attended, I see this step in a completely different light.

First, I see it as a willingness to relinquish control. The ability to acknowledge that we cannot control every situation. Whether it’s other people in our lives, whether its fate, whether it’s our own thoughts, we cannot ALWAYS be in control. This is something I struggle with daily and something that most of my posts will probably focus on. I am a huge control freak, and my type A personality makes it very difficult for me to accept I don’t have control over something. But step 3 urges us to accept that there are some things in life that we cannot control. By turning our lives over, in whatever way works for us, we acknowledge that we cannot be blamed for the things that happen. For addicts, this portion of the step could allow them (as it did my father) to stop using alcohol as a means of drowning out guilt. For non addicts choosing to live life through the steps, it is an opportunity to give ourselves just a little break.

Secondly, I see this step as an opportunity to take a conscious role in our own lives. There is a huge feminist movement right now to “lean in”, but I think it goes far beyond that and just women. It is the idea that, but taking an effort to relinquish control and give ourselves to something beyond just our selves, we are in fact taking a conscious step forward in recognizing ourselves. We are investing ourselves in our own lives through divesting of the unnatural boundaries we set on ourselves. We are better able to evaluate who we are, why we do the things we do, why we react the way we react when you take a forceful step back and evaluate your own will.

Lastly, I see step 3 as a very harmonious outlook on life in general. It is a chance to see life through rose tinted glasses, in a way. You relinquish control over the things you cannot control. You consciously step into activeness in your being and your lifestyle. Finally, you see things in a way you didn’t before. Step three makes you more susceptible to the beauty in your life that may not have been there before. It sheds away the things that hold you back. It removes some of the stigma and negativity that surrounds you. When blame falls away and your tough grip gets loosened, things get a little bit brighter.

As we move through step 3…and really take the time to turn our will to God as we understand him (again, this step for me will focus very little on religion…but maybe God is the answer for you!), I’m sure I’ll have more weeks like this one, where every single thing went wrong. Where my cheery posts aren’t prevalent to what’s really going on in my life…and I want to stay as transparent as possible here.

 

Quick side story, because I haven’t done one in quite some time. This weekend I am going on a pub crawl to fundraise for a great charity called St. Baldrick’s. I’ve done it before, and I’m super excited. However, as a child of an alcoholic, being around drunk people (and getting tipsy myself) is always a double edged sword. I have a good time, but I also look at people and wonder about their families, think about whether this is standard for them or just a one night thing, look at myself as I stay more sober than most and wonder if that road is inevitable for me. I’ve been trying really hard lately to escape my own head when it comes to drinking, and yet it seems like even 7 years later I’ll always stay a child of an alcoholic…

-Joanie

It’s a Balancing Act

So as we move forward through February and applying Step 2 to our every day lives, we have to ask ourselves: how on earth do we balancing our acceptance of a higher power as the ultimate entity in saving us from ourselves, and living our everyday, normal lives?

Now clearly, this post is geared to people like me: the slightly less religious. Those that have yet to find a balance between faith and life. Those that are striving to find some kind of semblance of guidance through their lives. Addicts need it to get back on the path to salvation from the powers that hold them back…but anyone can use guidance as a way to salvage themselves from SOMETHING. Maybe not drugs or alcohol, but SOMETHING.

In my every day, non blog life I am a chemist. This is a seemingly difficult place to live every day if your hope is to accept a higher power as the one “entity” that can guide us to a better life. As a scientist, I am constantly looking to find answers to the questions in life. Hypotheses, no matter how large, CAN be answered. Data is definitive. Questions that lead to questions eventually lead to answers. We seek tangible solutions to our problems, not spiritual ones.

But I’ve come to find, even as I stayed on my scientific path to get my doctorate and a really good job, that the tangible life can be relatively hollow. When bad things happen to good people, and you want to be angry, science tells us that it is all just cells and motion and physics. That the explanations are medical, practical, and focused. But sometimes, bad things really do just HAPPEN to shitty people, and those people guided by faith tend to more easily accept that god’s plan has an end game beyond cells and physics.

In today’s times, the balancing act between faith and whatever other force guides you has become incredibly more treacherous. Our government is required to balance faith and governing, but does it really? Do we really keep them separate? And how CAN we? If we believe that godliness leads us to salvation and sanity, if we truly embrace the second step for how it will cultivate our lives, CAN we keep our government completely divulged of spirituality? Is it best for our well being? Likewise, at what point does the belief in a higher power have to come face to face with the 21st century? At what point does religious belief need to grow WITH the time, instead of standing firmly against it?

Life is all about a balancing act, and for me moving through the second step requires creating a new balance in my life for some sort of faith. I’m not sure that I will ever be a completely spiritual person: the chemist in me still has some struggles with not asking so many questions, or looking for a tangible explanation to life as we know it. I still have a very hard time looking at friends who are gay and not understanding why religion pushes them away. But I’ve started praying at night again. Reaching out to a higher being. Believing in something greater than myself. I keep my scientific side to what it is. I stop asking myself HOW certain things happen, but what instead I can do to ACCEPT that certain things happen. I’ve read up on the teaching of other religions, tried to immerse myself in a world that is loving, forgiving, and virtuous. Our belief in a higher power and its ability to effect our live does not have to live in contrast with a life devoted to what is “real”: instead they can be harmonious. We can love our fellow human for being human. We can accept that we are not all knowing. We can be analytical AND spiritual. The scales do not have to be in opposition.

There is so much in my life I cannot control, and my strong analytical background does not change this. It does not make me have a stronger control. And more than anything, the steps for me have become about loosening my grip on my need for control. I’ve always been a ridiculously controlling person in my own life…and step 2 has been all about relinquishing some of that control. Casting aside blame. Doubt. Fear. Knowing that my life is not completely in my hands…and that’s ok.

Balance isn’t easy. But coexisting IS possible. Opening ourselves up to a higher power IS possible. Being a scientist and a spiritualist IS possible

Losing My Religion

As I mentioned in the introduction to step 2, so many people lose faith at some point along the way. Typically happy, faith-abiding people have something somewhere that throws them completely off their track. But why? What happens in our lives that can take someone off a path they feel so surely in?

I was never a very religious person. I did occasionally go to church as I got older (more to come), I did try to talk to god about the things that plagued me, and I eventually even switched my faith in order to try and connect with something bigger than myself. So for me, losing religion is merely speculative. But I can understand from the perspective that I never really CONNECTED with a higher power. I never found that THING that anchored me to the ground, the way it did so many others.

My cousin, who is 21 now and just a wonderful human being, has been in touched with his spiritual higher power for as long as I can remember. He leads bible study at his college. He goes to church every Sunday before meeting me at football games. He quotes bible passages to describe the things going on in his life, he prays to his higher power for forgiveness and in bad times, he literally bleeds holiness.

He has never lost his religion.

So how does it happen?

I asked my father (who yes, is a very devout man, regardless of everything that has happened) how he fell away from his faith once, when he was still in the thick of falling apart. He waved his hand around his head, pointing to nothing in particular, and said “look at the world now. how could you not”.

It was then that I got it. You see, faith is a deep seeded, unbelievable, BELIEF in something bigger than you, regardless of your religion. It is the belief that their is something guiding you, teaching you, driving you forward. But in the face of death, destruction, endless natural disasters and terrorist attacks: how do we, as humans, rationalize that some force bigger than us has CHOSEN this path? That those terrible things we see every day are not awful punishments, but instead life lessons that are somehow meant to help us while ruining someone else?  I could understand why my father stopped going to church during his darkest times: he couldn’t contemplate how his God had let him go down this path.

I asked my cousin, not long ago,how he maintained his faith. How had he not lost his belief in his higher being? He merely looked at me, and with the calmest of faces, said “Because God has good intentions for me, and I just can’t see them”.

Step 2 is about having this mindset. When we feel, at any dark point in our life, that our higher power has abandoned us, we must remember that we are wrong. We do not understand the world. We do not understand our impact on the greater good. But we DO know that we will feel best when we believe there is something truly bigger than us. That our lives have purpose. That WE have purpose.

Embodying the second step means not losing our faith, but hunkering down in it. Feeling it. Believing it. Knowing that something, somewhere, much bigger than ourselves is the greatest ally.

-Joanie

Are You There God? It’s Me, Joanie

The first time I tried to talk to God I was 15.

I had gone to the movies at the mall with a boy I had a stupendous crush onto see Hitch, one of my favorite Will Smith movies. It was St. Patrick’s Day. In New Jersey, you can find a mall about 10 miles in any direction, and this one was no more than 15 minutes from my house. I waited in the cold for my dad to come pick me up, my mom was out of town and I couldn’t drive yet, and I urged the boy to leave me until he got there. Part independence, mostly embarrassment. I knew my dad was only ever late for one reason.

When my dad got there, I could tell from the way he pulled up he was drunk. We had gone to a parade in my hometown and I had left him there, hoping I could fulfill some teenage dream of a first date without having to worry about being a parent. As he stammered trying to ask me about the movie he tried to drive us back to the highway, slamming his breaks and weaving in and out of the lines of the parking lot. It was late, but not late enough for there to be no one on the roads. As we pulled onto the highway I finally convinced him that it was time to pull over, reminding him that he was “tired”, not “drunk”, which never would have convinced him to give up the wheel. I drove the rest of the way home in silence, barely reaching the brake pedals, and hoping that a cop wouldn’t pull me over for clearly being underage. He passed out in the passenger seat and I left him there.

When I got in my room that night, I laid in bed and stared at the ceiling. I said hello, and then bawled my eyes out as I told God how much I didn’t want to have to be a parent anymore. I wanted to be a kid. I wanted to go on dates, be independent, and make mistakes. I wanted to be able to be free; to not have to worry about the condition my dad would show up in. I wanted him to go away.

The first day I talked to God, he didn’t answer.

The next morning I came downstairs to my dad doing yard work, oblivious to the happenings of the night before, with a Budweiser on the counter next to his headphones. It was the fourth empty on the counter.

I wasn’t a religious person. My parents had chosen to not have me baptized, much to the chagrin of my paternal grandmother, who believed it was a sin to even go outside without being blessed. I didn’t go to church or join all of my friends in catechism classes (more on that later). I celebrated Christmas and Easter with presents and jelly beans, and hadn’t been in a church except for a funeral or a wedding.

I spoke to God that evening because I felt like I was out of options. I think a lot of us “non-faithful” do the same: we find him as a last resort. We pray because we feel we have exhausted every other plausible avenue. We reach out because we have hit some sort of rock bottom, whether physical or psychological, and we need answers. We need help.

The “non-faithful”, as I’m calling this time in my life, do not actually expect an answer. We would probably fear it if we did. Our last ditch efforts are also riddled with insecurity and doubt. Why would God help us? Why would God accept us? Why would it be any different than any other day?

Throughout the years, I would occasionally lay in bed, looking up at the ceiling, and start talking to God even though I wasn’t sure I believed he was real, and even though I knew I didn’t expect anything to change come sunrise. I see-sawed between religions (more on that later), so the “God” I was speaking to was not always the Christian one. But I looked up and begged him to fix my life. To create change. To make my family matter. I gave him my hopes, fears, and tears…and got very little in return.

The moral of this story may be hard to see. I am not Joan of Arcadia. I am not a prophet. God never spoke back to me. God never gave me the change I wanted to see. Sure, years later, my father would get sober. I would get to be a self-sustained adult. I would get my freedom. But I didn’t ask God to help me when it finally came to fruition: it happened all on its own.

But, those conversations with God led me to accept the life that had been given to me. You see, no, those talks never made me more faithful. They never solidified God for me. But they gave me an outlet. I was able to allow those conversations to seep into my bones, to cleanse my spirit, to release every pent up emotion I was building inside. You see, I had spent so much time trying to appear “ok”, that it was only in those hushed moments between me and a higher power that I let the guard down. It was during those talks that I was honest with myself, and honest with him. I was free.

I don’t honestly think I’d be where I am now without those moments. I wouldn’t have gotten through. I would have broken down more times than I could count, probably in front of people, maybe somewhere I couldn’t take back. I would have ruined relationships and maybe even my life. I would have drowned in my feelings and insecurities. As things got better, the talks slowed down. I stopped reaching out. I healed on my own.

Maybe he answered after all.

-Joanie

 

Step 2: A Higher Power

Welcome to February and with it, Step 2! We’ve made it through the first step in self-reflection and achievement, now it’s time to move on:

“Step 2: A power greater than ourselves can restore our sanity”

Truth be told, when I first started visiting AA meetings with my father, this was the one step I always hoped the meeting would never focus on. It was the hardest for me to grasp, and one I still have trouble with from time to time. It can take on SO many different meanings in so many ways; I’m hoping to explore many of them this coming month.

But first: why is this step so hard to wrap our brains around? I’m going to focus for just right now on the “power greater” part in the relatively assumed format…more will come later of other ways to interpret Step 2.

There are a few different types of people. Like me, there are those that are general skeptics of the concept of “faith” and a “higher being”: the non-faithful. I was raised by a Catholic father and a Methodist mother in a completely agnostic household, primarily due to a minister demanding my mother donate to a church in accordance with her paycheck instead of out of the goodness of her heart: terrible mistake. I went to a public school surrounded by Lutheran and Episcopal friends who sometimes cared more about the boys in their youth groups than actual learning. I grew up to be a scientist and was always analytical at heart. These ideas made it very hard for me to even believe in the existence of a higher being, let alone one that was powerful enough, or controlling enough, to dictate any facet of my life. I had known very little to suggest that there was an “unknown” out there controlling the universe: I found most things to be explainable by science, logic, or well thought out debate.

Then there are the people who have a great deal of faith, but have somehow lost it. The addicts who have slid so far into their addiction they can’t see a way out, and cannot believe their higher power has allowed them to fall so hard. The skeptic who has seen so much destruction and pain they can’t fathom how a higher power can allow humanity to struggle and lose and hurt so deeply. The devout who has seen their higher power abandon them: either through a loved one or themselves, and has somehow lost the trust. True believers in the concept of a higher power, who have somehow, someway, been taken off the path. Faith that a great power can restore you is hard to have when you’ve moved so off course.

Step 2 is all about finding that connection with some kind of power greater than ourselves: and allowing yourself to accept that it is the only thing that can save you from yourself. I see it in a way as blind faith: a concept I had some real trouble with. So we will work through it together. Remember, the steps build. First, we acknowledged that we were powerless to something in our lives, something potentially unmanageable. Now we are recognizing that we alone can not make ourselves whole again, but that a power greater than ourselves can restore us.

If you have some thoughts on this step, please share them. Who (or what…we’ll get into that) is your power greater than YOU? How do you believe in that power? How do you let yourself submit to restoration? How do you grow in your faith in that power to help define your existence? As always, this month will be filled with some reflection as we move through the steps and my own personal stories of surviving being the child of an alcoholic and how the steps helped me become a more self-aware, realized person.

-Joanie

Hiatus is Over!

All,

Just wanted to stop in and promise I did not forget you!! Step 2 is coming: HAPPY FEBRUARY! I have unluckily come down with some sort of awful sickness, but I am just reaching the end of it and therefore should have NO problem starting step 2 off nice and strong…most likely tomorrow! I’ve already got the blog post written but want to fancy it up a bit.

Hope everyone who reads this has enjoyed the month of January: exploring what we are powerless against, how to combat it, how to recognize it, and how to overcome it.

Cheers and stay healthy!

 

-Joanie

Body Image is a B*tch

The first month of 12 Stepping Through 2017 is nearly over! How did this happen? It feels like only yesterday 2017 was starting fresh.

So here we are. Remembering that we are indeed, powerless, to so many things. Acknowledging our shortcomings against life’s vices, whatever they may be. As January, the month of typically meaningless New Year’s Resolutions rolls to a close, I couldn’t help but choose something I am powerless against that defines the beginning of nearly every year.

I am powerless against body image.

Now yes, if you hold yourself accountable to all of your other “powerless” mantras, it should be easy to reject and overcome a negative body image. It fits almost directly into last week’s powerlessness over judgement: you cannot control the body image that is projected on to you. You cannot control what mass media, social normality, and the fashion industry/atmosphere deem “acceptable”. You can only control yourself. But this time of year…do we lose that control?

I have always struggled with weight, in the eyes of my peers more than my own. As a teen, I loved to cook. It helped me escape from the insanity that was my home life: it was ridged, exact, and methodical. Of course, if you cook a lot, you must eat a lot, and as such it became harder and harder to lose weight, despite being a relatively active person who loved horseback riding and being outside.

Unlike many, I went to college and lost weight. Without a kitchen to help me regulate my stress (and more importantly without an alcoholic I had to mother breathing down my neck) I lost track of my food intake. I ate three square meals a day, rarely snacked, and joined the dance team which required rigorous exercise. I fit into clothes I never had before. I never was exceptionally thin, and never got below a size 6, but I felt proud of myself for my accomplishments.

Now, 10 years later, I’m out of graduate school (let alone undergraduate), living with my boyfriend, drinking occasionally (this will be a post all to itself: drinking as the child of an alcoholic is it’s own monster), and just trying to be happy. I’m a solid 8-10, so not overweight, but not normal for my 5’3 frame either.

Now all of this may sound like I am confident in the way I look, or my weight, or that body images don’t plague me. Negative. I am powerless to the desire to fit some mold that wasn’t made for me. I force myself to the gym. I take extra dance and aerobic exercises. I monitor my water intake and I try to pay attention to the calories I ingest. Does it change anything? Not really. I have been stuck at my solid state for quite some time. I look in the mirror and am not blatantly unhappy with what I see…but I’m not stoked either. I don’t like my thighs. I don’t like my stomach. I hate my natural curves (which are boxy at best). Body image is a perpetual roller coaster of emotions; and I am powerless to get off the ride.

So whose fault is it that I am powerless against body image? Who can I blame for the fact that I can’t look in the mirror and tick off the positives without also harping on the negatives? Is it me? Am I striving for perfection that I can’t obtain? As a perfectionist, the fact that the hours I put into the gym don’t show up in immediate results is maddening. Do I need to accept that some people are just BUILT a certain way? Or is the real culprit the mass media? The fashion moguls? The vanity sizing? Is it really my fault that I’m angry I don’t have a thigh gap when NO one actually has one outside of an airbrushing lab? Should I blame myself when I can’t fit in a size 10 in certain stores, when studies have shown that sizes can actually be three to four times too small (or too big) in order to influence your shopping?

This year, I have taken on a new mantra to fix my body image issues. Yes, body image issues are a forefront of most New Year’s Resolutions, but to live my life by the 12 steps to the fullest, I am taking on a new outlook to my own body image. I cannot fix the stores. I cannot fix the magazines. But I can acknowledge that I cannot out do them, and I can acknowledge that my own standards are unnecessarily off the mark. I’ve begun tracking my calories and my water intake: not to lose weight, but to better balance my portions to include wholesome, healthy foods and to flush my system of unnecessary drinkable sugars. I try to go to the gym 4 times a week for a good, intense strengthening workout…not to push myself unnecessarily on the treadmill. I watch videos by trainers (looking at you blogilates!) who embrace everything I want to see in myself as “physically fit”: smart, motiving, true to one’s own self, and carefree. I treat myself to at least one (usually 2) cheat meals a week, where I can cook to relax and not care how many pounds of pasta I might ingest. I shop to find clothes that FIT well, enhance my straight curves, and highlight my best assets…without noticing the number.

This new process is not easy. In 25 days, I have pissed myself off more times than I can count. BUT I am embracing my body image. I am accepting myself. I am embodying the 12 steps to live a fuller life…and for January, I can’t really ask for more.

-Joanie

Mirror Mirror on the Wall…Why Must We Judge At All?

On this inauguration day, it’s time to talk about the thing people urge you not to talk about but is SO prevalent in today’s society: politics.

I am a log cabin republican. We are real, I promise. We are the republicans who believe in some strong, core, true republican values: strong national defense, limited government, low taxes, and individual liberty. We are typically comprised of hard working, middle class Americans who believe in the value of hard work, free market, and success through determination. Log cabin republicans are different than traditional due to our break from the “moral high ground” typically emphasized in 2017 circles. We believe in the right for a woman to have an abortion (even if, as individuals, we don’t believe in it), the right for gay marriage (again, even if our religious values tell us otherwise), and the need for scientific advancement beyond that outlined in the bible. We allow church and state to remain separate, but equally important domains. Log cabin republicans are the definition of moderate republicans: grounded and entrenched in TRUE republican values, while adjusting our moral compasses to reflect modern day issues.

But today? You can’t say you’re a republican anymore without vile, non-stop, blatant hate.

I understand that people are upset about Donald Trump being sworn in as the 45th president of our great country. I understand that many who didn’t vote for him did so out of a deep fear that they may be discriminated against. But there are two things to remember, which get lost in this sea of judgement: 1) not every republican is a racist/sexist/homophobic and 2) not every republican voted for Trump.

I chose not to vote for Donald or Hilary. As a log cabin republican, I cannot find myself voting for Hilary, both due to her policy stances and some of the outcomes of her biggest tenures in office. I frankly don’t trust her, and couldn’t imagine putting her name down to paper in the voting booth. I also did not vote for Donald Trump. The man ISN’T a republican: he’s just riding on the wings of a need for change. He wasn’t a candidate I could remotely get behind.

I am also not a racist. I understand there is this truth that any white person in today’s society, born ultimately of privilege, is racist, even if they don’t acknowledge it. The debate on racism is not part of this blog; instead I choose to see myself as not meaningfully racist. I understand and acknowledge that my whiteness makes me inherently so, but I do not seek to imbibe that with additional feelings on race.

I am not a sexist; while yes as a republican woman I have a serious problem with being handed things or being paraded or treated a certain way for being a woman, that doesn’t mean I don’t appreciate my gender or the roles that need to be expanded for them. I just don’t believe it has to happen by FORCE.

I am also not a homophobe: my best friend in the whole world is gay, and I support LGBTQ rights. I may never understand them, I may never fully comprehend what it means to be gay or transgender, but I absolutely believe those individuals should have identical rights as anyone else. Why am I not these things? Because I believe whole-heartedly, regardless of political affiliation, that we are all ONE race, ONE unit, and we should be equivalent in the eyes of our governing bodies. It may not ever be an achievable belief widespread, but it is one I fully dedicate myself to.

Being a republican today is hard. I am NOT saying that those people, truly in fear today, are any “less” struggling. Struggling should not be rated on some scale. I am saying it is hard today to wake up and try to live by your convictions and your beliefs and be vilified by so many for being something you’re not. For a world that tweets incessantly about #lovetrumpshate, anyone who is not a democrat can tell you, that love is subject to judgement and scrutiny first, and not everyone is worthy.

Today, I am choosing to see the optimistic side of the inauguration. I am choosing to believe that Donald Trump, or the people around him, will be good, wholesome, REAL people who only strive to truly make America “Great” again (although I’m not sure when it ever stopped being so fan-frickin-awesome, but that’s beside the point). I am choosing to believe that the highest position in the United States brings with it a bit of humility and tolerance. That the age that has come to EVERY president ever also touches him gracefully and opens his eyes. But most importantly, I am hoping today ends the horrible judgement that has flooded mainstream media, facebook, and the halls of my work. I am hoping today everyone accepts that Donald Trump is YOUR president, whether you want him to be or not. By living in a democracy, where people are free to elect who they choose, you did in fact CHOOSE him, even if you did not put his name down on your ballot. The freedom you are granted by this country chose him. Your ability to vocalize your disapproval is granted BY him, and by the office he upholds. Stop taking it for granted. I am hoping today everyone realizes the people that work next to you, who voted for him (or didn’t) are just as much Americans as you are. That the people you loved pre-election day are the same people that you SHOULD love after election day. Republicans are not awful people… “awful” should not be categorized and pre-labeled on a group just because. Be better. Be bigger. Be what you want the world to be.

Judgement eats at you. It hurts you. It corrodes at every good, decent thing we feel and believe in. Ultimately, as our lesson is for the month of January, judgement is something we are completely powerless to. We cannot change the way people look at us, examine us, define us. We are only able to define ourselves. Examine ourselves. Look into the mirror and really SEE ourselves. Judge your own character…and stop judging others.

-Joanie

Coffee Beans and Me

This next post is going to break from my “norm” here, so to speak. It’s going to be just a little less serious because, let’s face it, on this 18th day of January; we all could use a little light-heartedness.

I am powerless. That is our current mantra.

Today, I am powerless to caffeine.

My story is slightly different than most: I haven’t always loved coffee. Even as a double major in undergraduate, chemistry and forensic science, I didn’t once have a sip of coffee that wasn’t ladled full of sugar, cream, and heaping globs of caramel. I just didn’t need it to get through my day; I was naturally a morning person and had spent the better part of 4 years taking 8 a.m. classes.

Then graduate school happened.

If you’ve never met someone whose decided to pursue a PhD, let me let you in on a secret: it’s hell. Absolute hell. You think you know your stuff and frankly, you haven’t got a clue. I was juggling teaching, my own classes, studying like crazy, research, and the commute into inner-city Philadelphia every day. I was leaving my home in South Jersey at 6 am just to not get back home until 10 or 11, to start over again a day later. To say I was exhausted was an understatement.

So I started buying coffee from the lunch trucks (and yes, what EVERYONE in Philadelphia says is true, the lunch trucks are a way of LIFE). I never exceeded a cup, maybe two, a day…but the powerless-ness started almost immediately.

I am a long-time migraine sufferer, and caffeine has always been one of the few things to stymie them. I usually took it in pill form, or in chocolate…but the coffee in the morning would help as well. I noticed I got them less frequently and when they would come up, I’d run to the truck for my next cup and it would be fine. At least, at first.

At about my 4th year of graduate school coffee-drinking, everything started to change. I decided to start saving money and foregoing my coffee on the weekends. The migraines returned with a vengeance. If I woke up in the morning on a school day and didn’t have a cup within the first, oh hour or so? I was feeling awful by mid-day. The migraines would last longer than ever before and I wouldn’t be able to shake them. I would drink two, three, four cups a day just to get me through, and I started rearranging my time to make SURE I could have a cup every single day. I didn’t quite feel right in the morning if I made it to 10 am without the caffeine surging through my body. I also found myself needing the sugar as well…I would crash by midday if I just tried to have it black. I was a mess.

Let’s face it: I was addicted, and powerless, against caffeine.

Again, caffeine is a light-hearted post. How bad could it really be? Now, nearly a year out of grad school (that’s Dr. Joanie for you!), when I don’t have a migraine (which I now have meds to fight against, thank goodness), I can make it on about half a cup a day. I got a Keurig, so I spend significantly less money on those cups. While my coffee is ALWAYS iced (I HATE hot coffee, although I’ll drink it if I have to), I’ve cut back significantly on the creamer, and don’t even use sugar or caramel. I can function better, but it took a few extra years of work, a good bit of cash, and countless days of feeling kind of like crap.

In other words, I’ve taken a very real physiological addiction and made it manageable.

That’s not to say that for addicts, this is the case. Physiologically or mentally, just merely “managing” an addiction is usually not a cure, and not always healthy. A first step, surely, is the admittance that something is unmanageable, but adjusting it to becoming manageable is typically not the end-all-be-all. But for me, I acknowledged my powerless-ness over caffeine and worked to improve it. I am embracing the 1st step: and nearly every day I get a little bit better. Again, lighthearted, but true for the month of January: admitting your powerless to something is the first step to successfully overcoming it.

Do NOT get me wrong: I still love me some Starbucks and Dunkin Donuts. I get a nice specialty coffee just about twice a month to quell the cravings and again, I have a half cup every day on my ride to work. But caffeine is my frivolous powerless-ness: what is yours?

-Joanie

P.S.: I only have a few more powerless mantras to discuss, and then we’ll be moving on to February’s 2nd step! I hope you join me readers…I won’t lie, every time one of you likes or reads or follows these posts, a part of me gets so RIDICULOUSLY excited. It means someone is actually out there somewhere…I promise I will try to write more on the steps, some more stories about myself (I feel like they are a great way to really explain why I’m doing this, and maybe help anyone out their struggling no what its like), and just keep up!

P.P.S.: A special inauguration day “powerless” blog is coming up….I’m hoping it’s my best one yet!

How I knew my Dad was an Alcoholic…and Bullying

Hello followers! I hope you’re reading and following along. Feel free to input whenever you feel like it!

As promised in some of my parentheses, I want to talk a little bit about my story and how I decided following the 12 steps was right for me. I thought to myself just the other night, “you have to start where it REALLY starts”.

The moment I knew my dad was an alcoholic. It is not the story most people would think, and it actually focuses far more on another terrible, powerless subject than him, but it is here to prove a point.

Back in 2000, when I was in 7th grade, I would say I was a “smart” kid, but by no means a popular one. I had a core group of good friends, I was babysat by a wonderful woman I considered a second mother, and I was heavily involved in dance. I did incredibly well in school, and at the time did not know how to NOT express that. So when my friends would complain about getting 70’s on a spelling test, I’d pipe up about my 95. I hadn’t quite learned how to be tactful and keep it to myself.

One day, in the age where internet was JUST starting to become popular, I saw 4 of my friends huddled around a locker, purposely ignoring me and giggling with a few boys while pointing at me. On the white board? a URL to a website I had never heard of. I brushed it off and went about my day…until my babysitters son pulled me aside to show me the website during library time. It was dedicated to making fun of me: calling me fat, ugly, a nerd. Exposing the childhood crush I had trusted them all with to the world, and reminding me that he would NEVER like me. They posted it in their AIM profiles, brought it up during classes, yelled the URL at me when I walked by. I was mortified…and utterly alone.

When I got to my babysitters house, she hugged me. When I got home, my mother made me my favorite dinner before calling every single one of those girl’s parents and screaming at them. There were people in my corner, sure, but I still felt miserable. That night, I sat under the stream of the shower and wondered if I could actually go into school the next morning. I played with my razor for my legs and wondered if the blades were sharp enough that I could get out of school until something equally embarrassing happened to someone else. I cried until I couldn’t cry anymore.

When I came downstairs that night, my father had just gotten home. It was pretty typical of him back then, although I didn’t know what it meant. He was poorly shaven, his work clothes were frumpled, and he smelled like what I would one day know to be vodka and very little soda. I knew he drank: we got new 30’s of budweiser almost every weekend, and I knew that he constantly argued with my mother about being “sober” on drives home from family parties. But I didn’t know how deep it went. My mother yelled at him immediately; she had been calling him all afternoon. I was a daddy’s girl after all.

He slumped into a chair and asked me what was up. I told him what had happened, what the girls had done, how my life was over. He looked at me then, with glazed over eyes, stood up, and said “Life sucks, glad you learned it now. Tomorrow may be different, or it may suck too.” before walking up the stairs.

I understand now that I experienced probably the very start of cyber bullying, and I understand more than anyone else how kids end up committing suicide to make the hate stop. I also understand that to most kids, those words would have been the worst thing possible to hear. A parent not really helping them. But to me? They were magic. They were a window into the man I kept on a pedestal: he didn’t think the world was full of rainbows, he acknowledge that it COULD be terrible. All I had done all day was CRY. And MOPE. And be coddled into thinking that I was a poor victim who couldn’t do anything but sink back into my shell. I was told tomorrow would be little-orphan-annie sunshiney; instead he had leveled at me and told me it might not immediately get better.

My father was an alcoholic. I knew he had a problem, even if “alcohol” wasn’t what I connected it with. He fell into alcohol because he had problems dealing with how much life sucked, and how much tomorrow wasn’t always different from the day before. He dealt with life’s pains with alcohol, but he also knew that those pains wouldn’t just disappear. He KNEW that yes, life sucked. And YES you need to just buck up. And YES, it was better to learn young then learn late.

The next day? I went to school. I held my head up high. I didn’t cry once, and I didn’t let them get to me. Was it easy? No. Day 2 sucked just as much as day  1: my teacher’s saw the website, and most didn’t know how to handle it. Or handled it at all. And yes, the next couple of days sucked. Bullying is a terrible thing. But I went on to be stronger for it, better for it. I grew up quickly that day.

And I learned my dad was an alcoholic. He saw the world through an alcoholic’s not-so-rosy-colored glasses. He saw the real PAIN that exists in life. He LIVED the real pain that exists in life.  I learned that night that my father saw the world a way I didn’t, and the fog of booze made it a little more bearable.