This is my second review, and I am starting to wonder if I am using CBR12 as the therapy sessions I can’t ever seem to make it to, no matter how much I preach the virtues of therapy to my husband. I have had a lot of comments on my first review, about how personal it was, and I was mostly trying to be funny in that one, so I guess strap in little campers because this post may lead to my eventual EPC (also known as a 51/50) but there is someone out there who needs to read this/listen to this (maybe more than I do). I needed to listen to something at the gym (which is also a very knew and novel thing for me) and so I downloaded it from the local library (how did I ever live without Hoopla?) and decided to give it a listen while I walked on the track. I had it for two weeks, I finished it in two days. I loved it so much, I downloaded the second book and the first one through Amazon using my highly coveted Audible credits. I can’t wait to listen to part two, but this book will be a part of my ongoing life, and was worth the credits. (Thank God my sister bought me Testaments for Christmas which I am currently savoring but which I will review as soon as I finish it—one cannot rush Margaret Atwood).
In order to tell you how I came to this book and why it was it had such an impact on me, I have to go back. Way way back, and so this is going to be a long one. I share these details with you, not because I want to be the verbal vomiter or oversharer, but because I spent all day in a trial yesterday with a mom trying to get her kid back from grandparents who can totally provide more for her, and yet, my client wants to be a mother, something we overlook a lot. And I realize that after 5 years of representing her, I hadn’t taken much time to really get to know her or see her. More than that, however, it reinforced what I have always said when people ask me how I do what I do. “There but by the grace of God go I.”
I’m not going to get real deep here because Gary would get mad at me for using my childhood as an excuse. (He made a huge impact so I can call him Gary, right?) Needless to say, children have what are called Adverse Childhood Experiences, or ACEs. All children have them at some point in their life. These are traumatic experiences that shape them and change how their lives become. This is not some psychological mumbo jumbo either, even the CDC recognizes this. Children who are traumatized and have long term consequences tend to score anything over a 4. My score is a 9. And I thought my childhood was idyllic. Want to ruin your day? Just google Adverse Childhood Experiences and take the quiz at NPR. You will realize just how fucked you really are.
There was also trauma when I reached adulthood, including a sexual assault, a miscarriage, a violent relationship and failures both in college and in my personal and financial life. By the time I was a junior in college I had wracked up more than $14,000 in debt and the only things I had to show for it were an ill advised tattoo and a whole lot of hangovers. I learned the joys of cash advance early and often and people will buy you liquor if you are underage, so long as the price is right. I was wired to be an alcoholic because my mother was a huge drinker when I was younger, and made a lot of dumb decisions. I followed in her path, though the only thing I can say for myself is that I didn’t drag any children along with me. I certainly ended a lot of relationships and had a lot of drama filled nights because of my drinking. Somehow, drunkenly and self destructively, I managed to stumble through my 20’s and most of my 30’s in a stage of life that I call the “So I was so drunk last night….” stage that I am surprised I made it anywhere, let alone to where I am.
I am an educated and trained woman when it comes to the law and even some level of psychology. I am an advocate for families, children and adults. I work with people everyday who have addiction issues and are unable to manage their own lives. And yet I couldn’t see any of that in my life. I was living with and dating a guy who had a huge meth problem (to the point that after I finally decided to leave and move hundreds of miles away, he became a cook and went to prison for his involvement in a meth deal shooting…I was 34 by the way). I could barely make it to work most days because I was so hungover I couldn’t get out of bed (and my house was literally in the backyard of my office). I couldn’t manage my finances because wine and cigarettes were more important to me. I could barely pay my bills and my career was spiraling. This is G version because no one wants to read a 37 page review. Needless to say, I was a terrifying experience for boyfriends, my parents and anyone who actually cared about me.
I decided to change my life. I moved, I met the man I would eventually marry and his four kids who I love with the fiery passion of a 1000 suns. I got back into my career and eventually moved on to my own practice where I could do what I wanted to do. I started working out. I started eating healthier. I became super mom and eventually adopted them after their own mother couldn’t come to terms with her alcoholism. I became a soccer mom, a coach, a friend and a person I really wanted to be.
But always lurking in the background was this heavy drinker. It really messed with me. I used to love going to trial but then suddenly I became too scared. I procrastinated everything and justified having a vodka or 7 when I got home. I was stressed. I was a mom to four kids when I didn’t want any. And look at them, they are successful athletes, students and all around people. I worked and supported my family and at least I wasn’t their mom. I wasn’t going to the hospital or getting arrested. I wasn’t engaging in domestic violence or sleeping around. So what if I tied a few on before bed, I worked hard dammit and I deserved to relax.
It started out as fun, honestly. My husband and I would drink (his mostly from physical pain and me from emotional scars). We would drink a lot. But we were parents and were there for our kids so we were fine. Besides, we had both been through a lot and well, we were managing right? But as with any self medication tool, it started to take control. I couldn’t go to a kid’s concert or a soccer game without having a flask and a few sodas in the car. I would tailgate for Parent Teacher Conferences. I would drink while I prepped for trial. I convinced myself that it was because it helped me relax and be a fun mom.
Then I did get a charge. My daughter was 13 (now 16) and saw me get arrested. It wasn’t all alcohol, just fyi, it also involved ambien and a trip to the gas station (as well as the grocery store apparently) and some phone calls that were ill advised. I told myself it was because my friend had died, because I was stressed, because we had a toddler. I made all of the promises I would make. That I was going to cut back and be a mother and all of those things. And I did for a time. A short time. An embarrassingly short time.
Things continued to mount. We bought a bigger house, took on foster kids, bigger expenses and more costs. More heartbreak and more struggles. (Dan please forgive me if you ever read this, because I should have asked before I shared). My marriage took a ton of hits. Our sex life ended, we fought a lot. This was my best friend and my confidant and instead he was a burden to me. We lost all of our intimacy and we basically co-existed. I started drinking as soon as I got home. I went to the ER twice for head injuries from falling. I gained 20 lbs from drinking my dinner and inactivity. I lost all hope of liking myself and my husband liking me, to be honest. How could he? I was surly and angry all the time. Which just made him drink more and so night after night one of us had to send the other bed in order to keep our kids from seeing it. This came to a head on New Year’s Day when we sat in our room and argued and came to the realization that if something didn’t change, it would be our last New Years.
But even that wasn’t what pushed me into a change. What pushed me into a change, was my daughter (the now 16 year old) showed me a note she had written for her own therapy. A note she wrote in order to unfuck herself. A note where she was trying to gain real insight into who she was. And the first thing she wrote was that all three of her parents were slaves to alcohol. I shared that with my husband that day, and we made an agreement. If we were going to fix our marriage, and our lives, we would have to leave the boozing behind. It’s only been 10 days but honestly, it’s the best choice I ever made.
However, I have done this before. Made promises I couldn’t keep (mostly smoking) and let my kids down. I decided that I also needed to work on my marriage because my children needed that. So I started reading a book, Unfuck your Intimacy, which is not by the same author, and while I was looking it up, I saw the book I am reviewing. It interested me but I wasn’t sure I would have time to read it, so I tucked it away for later. But honestly, it nagged at me all day. It got into my head and during that day at work, I started thinking, how fucked am I really? Is my marriage salvageable, is my career something worth saving, am I kidding myself thinking I want to be a mom? And if I am fucked, how do I fix it? How do I undo years of fucked up choices? How do I stop myself from fucking up my kids? How do I do all of this sober?
So I decided. I was going to listen to this book. I was going to listen to it while I was at the gym. I could give any self help book 30 minutes of my day while I was at the gym. But it wouldn’t stay in the gym. Suddenly I couldn’t stop listening and not just because Gary has the greatest Scottish accent I have ever heard. I mean seriously, I wanted to bathe myself in his glorious accent and tone. It was also because it was all the things I had said to clients as platitudes, staring me in the face. And because he wasn’t nice about it. Which actually turned out to be a kind of a turn on.
Unfucking yourself involves 7 very simple mantras. Totally self explanatory, and totally logical. It’s something you could probably read in a pamphlet and say, “interesting,” before you throw it away and move on with your life. Each mantra alone is nothing revolutionary. It’s not as if Gary is trekking brand new ground here. It’s not the mantra’s themselves even that matter so much, but the over arching theme, which is god dammit, breathe and get the fuck out of your own way. But it was Mantra #5 that really stuck with me. “I am not my thoughts, I am what I do.” This one hit me hard. Because honestly, who doesn’t look in the mirror and see themselves and wish they were thinner, smarter, a better mom, a better (insert career here).” And honestly, my thoughts are pervasive in everything that I do.
I’m scared to go to trial because I’m not smart enough or organized enough or prepared enough. I am afraid to parent my children sober because I’m my mother, cold and withholding. I am afraid to love my husband and be intimate with him because I don’t like the way I look, or smell, or I’m too busy or what if I can’t stay focused. If my brain were really writing this review, it would just be a constant stream of negative statements about who I am. Negative statements that would make sense to no one but if I read through them, I wouldn’t be able to get out of bed for a month. Even now as I am reading this and writing it, I know my thoughts are getting in the way of what I set out to do.
The seven mantras go like this (it helps if you hear them in a sexy Scottish accent):
I am willing. We have the lives we are willing to put up with. We are also good about saying we are going to, or we want to, or I will. Or we think in terms of I’m not going to, I’m not able or I won’t. How liberating would our lives be to just take the first step to tell our brains, I don’t care what you say, I am willing to do __________. I am willing to quit drinking for my kids. I am willing to walk three more laps. I am willing to put the time in to work on this case. Or I am unwilling. I am unwilling to let myself be talked to like that. I am unwilling to be a failure to my children. I am unwilling to lose myself in the bottom of the bottle. I am unwilling to lose my marriage and my family. Either way you slice it, it’s about saying what we are willing to do rather than some abstract claim of what we might do, or would do if we had the time, the energy, the money. It’s easy to say I am going to change something,it’s not as easy to say you are willing to do so and then take the steps that are necessary.
I am wired to win. Whether we want to admit it or not, the life we have is the life we have created. If we convince ourselves that we are unlovable, untouchable or irredeemable, that is what we will be. We may not believe these things willingly or even consciously. But somewhere, in the deep recesses of your brain, your belief of who you are or what you deserve (especially the negative thoughts) you will “win” at that by attaining it. Winning isn’t always a good thing. But seeing that you are winning the game you choose to play can help you to find the confidence to win at a game you haven’t yet been willing to start.
I got this. Have you ever misplaced your keys and lost your mind and temper because it’s the olive on top of the shit sandwich that is your life? Maybe it’s something else, the email that upsets you or the call from a customer that sends you over the edge. Maybe it’s your kid’s 19th tantrum in a day or her relentless baby talk even though she’s 9. Whatever it is, whatever sparks that feeling of the downward spiral of negativity, remember that this is not new. You have lived through this before. There is no reason this time should be different.
I embrace the uncertainty. Nothing sends us into a spiral of sadness and doom like having a plan that doesn’t ago, well, according to plan. Our lizard brains want certainty and security but our inability to adjust when that happens is what allows that negative self talk to derail us. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t have a plan. But being able to accept when that plan laughs in your face is necessary in order to be able to make the steps forward that you have to. Something goes wrong, you adjust. No one ever got ahead by having everything go according to plan. It’s in those moments of chaos, when the plan is falling apart, that you can choose to give up and give in, or to accept what is in front of you and adjust accordingly. When you can adopt this mantra and really feel it, you can see your own ability to move forward and succeed.
I am not my thoughts, I am what I do. Your thoughts are no excuse for avoiding self improvement. Self improvement is not an epiphany or a sudden burst of motivation or inspiration. Self improvement is just that. It’s self improvement. Not perfection. But it’s also about action. About the actions we take as people and the steps we take to move forward. Yeah it’s going to suck (as I am writing this my 9 year old is in her 3rd crying fit and we have been home for 10 minutes and all I want is a beer). There are going to be times that you are ready to throw in the towel. And guess what, everyone feels that way. But it’s what you do in those moments that really define you. It’s how you adjust and take action that matter. No one gives a shit what you think. It’s what you do that matters.
I am relentless. This does not meant that I am an awesome force to be reckoned with. It’s more simple than that. It means that just because things seemed fucked doesn’t mean I am. When you are wandering through the desert you don’t know if you are 30 feet or 30 miles from civilization but that doesn’t mean you stop walking (Gary’s example not mine). You have to persist, no matter what. You have to keep pushing, you have to keep striving. You don’t get to give up because something didn’t go your way or things didn’t go as planned. Successful people don’t see results quickly but they keep going until they do.
I expect nothing and accept everything. When it comes down to our sadness, our lack of what we perceive as success, our anger and our resentments, it comes down to one thing, unmet expectations. But here is the fucker of it, sometimes we don’t even realize that we have expectations at all until they are unmet and we end up unhappy. Leaning into our circumstances– rather than believing that things will work out, or worse, losing our shit when things don’t work out,– is what real strength looks like. It’s easy to lament the things that we didn’t get, or see coming, or to be angry for the things we can’t control is what is really standing in our way of success.
It’s not going to be easy. It’s easy to get sidetracked by the slings and arrows of others or the world around us. It’s easy to mire in our own shit and to bury our feelings in the bottom of a glass or whatever vice you might be struggling with. And if you are willing to live that life so be it, and embrace it. But for me, I choose differently. I choose myself. I choose my kids. And I choose to tell the voice in my head that is telling me otherwise, where it can kindly go fuck itself.