Saturday, February 5, 2022

An Example of Releasing Control

One very common trait of people in general, but especially those who deal with addiction, is the desire for control. The Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) describes it well in Chapter 5 - "How It Works, pages 60-62."

"Each person is like an actor who wants to run the whole show; is forever trying to arrange the lights, the ballet, the scenery, and the rest of the players in his own way. If his arrangements would only stay put, if only people would do as he wished, the show would be great. Everybody, including himself, would be pleased. Life would be wonderful. In trying to make these arrangements our actor may sometimes be quite virtuous. He may be kind, considerate, patient, generous; even modest, and self-sacrificing. On the other hand, he may be mean, egotistical, selfish, and dishonest. But, as with most humans, he is more likely to have varied traits.

"What usually happens? The show doesn’t come off very well. He begins to think life doesn’t treat him right. He decides to exert himself more. He becomes, on the next occasion, still more demanding or gracious, as the case may be. Still, the play does not suit him. Admitting he may be somewhat at fault, he is sure that other people are more to blame. He becomes angry, indignant, self-pitying. What is his basic trouble? Is he not really a self-seeker even when trying to be kind? Is he not a victim of the delusion that he can wrest satisfaction and happiness out of this world if he only manages well? Is it not evident to all the rest of the players that these are the things he wants? And do not his actions make each of them wish to retaliate, snatching all they can get out of the show? Is he not, even in his best moments, a producer of confusion rather than harmony?

"Our actor is self-centered—ego-centric, as people like to call it nowadays. He is like the retired businessman who lolls in the Florida sunshine in the winter complaining of the sad state of the nation; the minister who sighs over the sins of the twentieth century; politicians and reformers who are sure all would be Utopia if the rest of the world would only behave; the outlaw safe cracker who thinks society has wronged him; and the alcoholic who has lost all and is locked up. Whatever our protestations, are not most of us concerned with ourselves, our resentments, or our self-pity?

"Selfishness—self-centeredness! That, we think, is the root of our troubles. Driven by a hundred forms of fear, self-delusion, self-seeking, and self-pity, we step on the toes of our fellows and they retaliate. Sometimes they hurt us, seemingly without provocation, but we invariably find that at some time in the past we have made decisions based on self which later placed us in a position to be hurt.

"So our troubles, we think, are basically of our own making. They arise out of ourselves, and the alcoholic [sex addict] is an extreme example of self-will run riot, though he usually doesn’t think so. Above everything, we alcoholics [sex addicts] must be rid of this selfishness. We must, or it kills us! God makes that possible. And there often seems no way of entirely getting rid of self without His aid."

Several times in the years since I recognized that I'm an addict, I have heard the first bolded quote in support groups. Every time it hits me really hard personally. I'm one who LOVES to be in control - even while I fully understand that it's a wrong way to live. The other bolded quotes describe me during the tale I'm about to tell. 

It describes it so perfectly... in other words, life would be so wonderful if everyone and everything would line up to what I want.

This past week I had a big lesson in releasing control. I dropped my phone on tile and, even though it had a shockproof case on it, it hit in such a way that it immediately died. As I am a freelancer and I call my phone my "external brain," it was a huge issue that needed to be resolved asap. 

After researching various phones, I finally decided on the one that was the best balance of performance and cost and got it ordered. At first, I was optimistic about getting a new phone quickly, thinking that the one I ordered would be delivered the next day. 

I looked at my receipt, waiting to see an estimate of when it would arrive. It just said "processing." Since I didn't know what that meant, I called the company to ask for an estimate. 

My stomach dropped as I heard the words that it took a couple of days for processing and 3-5 days to ship it. WHAT?! I would have to go a WEEK without a phone? How would I work? How would I relax? What would I do?

I went into troubleshooting mode, trying to figure out a temporary solution. I knew with enough time and effort I would figure it out and fix this issue. I gathered up old phones I had and asked others if they had old phones I could borrow. For different reasons, nothing worked. 

Racking my brain for other options, I finally realized that a pre-paid phone was the way to go, though not a cheap one. The only place I could find one in a store that was still open was across town, but my boyfriend was willing to go and get it for me. Knowing that sometimes it takes a while to port a number, we activated it together with me using a borrowed phone (not my number) late that evening, fully expecting it to work the next morning. 

Whew! I had made it through the day without my phone and my phone number. I was really proud of myself.

Boy, was I wrong. This next morning, I met my boyfriend at his office to get the phone. When I turned it on, it didn't work. I got home and began the many, many phone calls and online chats to various customer reps about what was going on.

By that evening, I gave up on this phone. There was nothing I could do. Apparently, there was a defect. I returned the phone to the store and got a refund on the service, planning to buy one from a different company.

Because I didn't find a good deal on another phone, had already made it two days without one, and was trying to be optimistic that my new permanent phone would come sooner than promised, I went into Wednesday knowing I wouldn't have a phone at least one more day.

I can't remember how I realized this next issue, but it was even more stomach-dropping... Because I had canceled my service plan the night before, I possibly lost my phone number permanently. I have had this phone number for over 20 years and now run a business with it. I can't even imagine how many hours it would take to inform everyone about a new number and how much business I could lose every day until I had fully switched over.

Spending another day working on this issue, I was able to figure out a solution to hopefully keep my phone number, but I wouldn't know for sure until I activated the new phone. I bought another pre-paid phone to get my account going again as soon as I could. 

Trying to activate it for the first time Wednesday evening, it didn't activate immediately. Again, there was nothing I could do about this part of the process. My stomach had been in knots all week but I was exhausted. Somehow I was able to get to sleep. 

I woke up about 4am, as I often do (though I usually go back to sleep relatively quickly).  My first thought was to check my new phone and see if it had activated. It hadn't. So, I went to my account for the permanent phone to see when it would arrive. 

I almost threw up from anxiety when I saw that the order had been canceled. As the company didn't open until 8am, I had 4 hours to worry about what was going on. Needless to say, I didn't get back to sleep.

Calling at exactly 8am, I then found out that the service with this company wasn't available in my area. Nothing in the ordering process mentioned that it wasn't in my area - or that it was something I should even check on. There was again nothing I could do about this issue... I had to start over researching and buying another permanent phone.

To complicate matters even more, the pre-paid company I was using had issues with both phone and chat in their customer service department on Thursday morning and I couldn't even check into why the second phone wasn't activating. Once AGAIN, there was nothing I could do.

I moved into the mode of finding another service company and another phone. It was a lot harder this time as I had already been burned by several wireless companies over the years and wanted one with inexpensive plans and phones as well as good customer service (a hard thing to find). Finally, something I could control! 

However, I still couldn't control the fact that my pre-paid phone still wasn't activating. I couldn't control that it would now be Monday before I got the permanent phone. I couldn't control if I had, in fact, lost my phone number and would have to deal with the complications of getting a new one. I couldn't control that, because of dealing with this issue, I had lost almost a week of work.

I finally surrendered to the situation (at least partially) Thursday afternoon. I didn't stay on the phone and/or chat (yes, I did both at the same time occasionally because I got different answers about what was wrong from almost every rep I talked to) like I had been doing all week. I still checked into the issue, but I tried to move on and recognize that this issue wouldn't go on forever.

Friday morning I had peace about it. I woke up and checked my phone and, once again, it still wasn't working. I waited patiently for the call center to open up and checked into it again.  Still nothing. However, I was assured that the problem had been found and I would have service by 6pm that night. I was able to do some work that day, with exhaustion from the stress of the past week now affecting me more than anxiety about the future.

At 6pm when the activation still hadn't happened, I called again. This time I got someone who saw the real problem and fixed it. WOO-HOO! I had a phone again... and I got back my original number!

My happiness was short-lived as there was a problem with my service plan. I spent another hour or so on the chat and phone trying to figure it out, finally talking to a supervisor.

This is when I knew I had really surrendered. Instead of arguing with the supervisor about how unfair this ordeal was and how I was still dealing with it, I calmly explained the situation and accepted her solution (though I still don't feel it was fair). 

I have no doubt that this entire week was a lesson in letting go of control. I didn't even go into every problem that I dealt with during a workweek without my phone (things like having one photography assignment I had to get done and still being on the phone with a service rep when I needed to get ready and leave). There were too many coincidences in things happening with the worst timing possible for me not to recognize that it was a chance maybe set-up by my Higher Power, or at least used by my Higher Power, to work on my character defect of having to be in control.

But, even though it took a week of stomach-churning anxiety to get there, I was able to eventually get to the point of surrender (at least this time) and realize a taste of the serenity we are promised if we work the Steps.

Wednesday, February 2, 2022

Two Steps Forward, One Step Back - The Roller Coaster Ride of Mental Illness

(Trigger warning for discussion of suicide.)

It is truly amazing how good one can be doing in progressing in mental health issues, only to have a huge setback. I know what I wrote for the title, but lately, it seems like two steps forward, five steps back.

I have no doubt I've made a lot of progress in the past few years. Since experiencing the lowest time in my life about 6 years ago, I have 1 - become a professional writer and photographer, dreams I had completely given up on; 2 - become semi-fluent at sign language, another dream I had given up on; 3 - been able to be around for my parents who, though still mostly independent, have needed that help several times and honestly, probably wouldn't still be here if I wasn't around; 4 - found a therapist with whom I'm actually making great progress; 5 - realized I'm an addict and am now sober for over three years in one addiction and making slower progress, but still progress, in the other; and 6 - met an incredible man who is my partner in so many ways, who puts up with all of my baggage and truly loves me anyway.

Writing all of that makes me remember just how far I've come. Knowing how far I've come makes me even more discouraged about yesterday.

I haven't been suicidal in a while. In fact, I thought that was one aspect of my mental illnesses that I had conquered. But yesterday I found out that it's not gone... it was just in hiding.

[Note - just as I was writing this, a random background out of 600 or so that cycle on my computer came up: "The devil couldn't take you out so he's trying to wear you out. Don't you dare get tired. Hold on because the tide is turning."]

Apparently, all it takes is an accumulation of really stressful circumstances to bring those thoughts back. Plus, I know exhaustion, both mental and physical, is a part of it (see the previous paragraph). 

On Christmas Eve my mom went in the hospital. What we thought would be a few days there at most turned into 15. Then when she got home she was still weak, confused, and in overall rough shape. My dad, a diabetic who doesn't keep his blood glucose at the right levels in the best of times, ate horribly during the hospital stay and it has affected him badly too. His blood sugar levels are still really high and he's had both physical and mental issues due to it.

While mom was in the hospital, it fell on me to be her primary caregiver, which mostly involved navigating between her many doctors to make sure they each knew what was going on and informing my family what the doctors and test results were saying. It was exhausting physically but even more mentally, trying to keep up with everything and trying to keep my mom fighting all of the issues she kept having.

I thought that when she got home, I could get some rest. I didn't realize how far behind I was with work and personal matters. Even more so, I didn't realize how much she and my dad would need my help at first, which made catching up much more difficult than I thought it would be.

Add to that some big computer issues and it's several weeks later and I'm just now catching up. 

I've been trying to rest but it hasn't come easily. I'm still exhausted, again, both mentally and physically.

When I dropped my phone and it stopped working a couple of days ago, at first I handled it okay. I had been getting ready to go swim because I was already a nervous wreck for some unknown reason and I had to put that plan on hold, knowing the priority was ordering a new phone.

I got online and started shopping for phones, comparing plans, phone prices, and the phones themselves. After a lot of indecision, I finally landed on the one I wanted and ordered it.

Only then did I find out that it could be almost a week before I received it. As a freelancer, I use my phone for more than the basics... it's my lifeline to work opportunities. I asked around to see if anyone had an old phone I could use temporarily and found a few to try. Each one of them had something that kept it from working for my situation.

After realizing that none were going to work, I tried to figure out another way to make it until my new phone came. After a lot of research, I figured out that a pay-as-you-go phone would work. It would be expensive to use for a few days, but I would have one.

The shopping started again - to find a decent phone at a low enough price for me to justify going this route. I found one, only to call the store to verify it was in stock and find out it wasn't. My boyfriend checked at this same store near his house and they had one. So he ran out and bought it for me. We when ahead and activated it that night in case it took a while for my number to transfer.

The next morning, I got up early and met him at work to get it, thinking it should be good to go. 

It wasn't.

I proceeded to both call and message customer service for the phone I bought off and on all day. I'm pretty sure it was at least four calls with long hold times and two or three chats (when I was finally able to connect with them). Every encounter tried a different solution and none worked. It was more than frustrating.

During this time, I also had some computer problems I was trying to fix. The various customer service representatives for the software and hardware companies in question also didn't have the answers I needed.

I finally gave up on the phone and made one last call asking for a refund for the service time I had already bought. I packaged up the phone and took it back to the store. Then I looked for a replacement phone.

This store had very little stock and I had to choose an inferior phone for the same price as the one that didn't work. The monthly service with this phone was more than my original one. However, it had a deal that the first month's service was free, so that made it reasonable.

I got up to the register and found out that there was fine print and you had to commit to a monthly plan to get the free month. Since I only needed it maybe three days by this time, that was crazy. I decided to deal with having no phone rather than pay that much and potentially have the same hassle I had with the first one.

So... two days were spent working on getting some kind of phone only to still have no phone for the next few days. 

In the middle of this was another big issue - trying to find a time that my family could get together for Christmas (since my mom was in the hospital during that time). Every date that was suggested had at least one person who couldn't come. 

Normally that wouldn't be a big deal. But on top of the stress I was already under, it almost broke me.

After one more bad customer service call and another issue with scheduling Christmas, I thought about taking a few handfuls of pills so I could get out of this pressure cooker.

I was able to shake the impulse pretty quickly so I wasn't really in danger. But it happened again when I found out that the phone deal I wanted to use to get a cheap temporary phone wasn't valid. 

Once again, I was able to shake off the impulse quickly.

My point is that I haven't even had those thoughts for a pretty good while now. I assumed that I had made so much progress that those thoughts wouldn't even return. It was discouraging to realize they are still there, under the surface, like an alligator waiting for the best moment to strike.

My fellow stressed-out peers who have had suicidal thoughts - with or without mental illness - be ever vigilant when life becomes especially hard. Ramp up what you have learned about coping and do something, anything, to bring the stress down. Keep supportive people nearby.  

But mostly remember that suicide is a permanent solution to a temporary problem. As big as my phone issue, my parents' health, my exhaustion, and getting together for Christmas all seem right now, in a few days or, at most, a few weeks, most of these issues will be resolved. Do whatever it takes to keep going... but just keep going.