If I’m being totally honest with myself, rigorously honest, shall we say… I’d be remiss if I didn’t admit I sometimes take things too seriously. Although I’ve learned to have a tough skin—meaning I don’t take a passerby’s comments or a friends off the cuff to heart, nor do I feel insulted if a friend cancels last minute. No, I’ve gotten good at letting those things slide off my back. But when something I consider ‘defining’ like my talent or even finances is threatened, it can be devastating for me. As a result, my anxiety increases enormously and worse, I sometimes react in the extreme. Neither is ever a good thing.
In recovery circles, some consider this personality trait of “going global,” “overreacting or too reactive,” or being “melodramatic” as a defining alcoholic personality trait. To combat this, counselors don’t suggest to people in addiction recovery to pray, meditate and use restraint of pen and tongue for no reason. So in these past few months of turmoil, when I’ve found myself more reactive than usual, I’ve also been blessed with situations that may have seemed trivial on the surface but actually have helped me sort through my emotions.
One, the puppy. Nine months ago I brought home a tiny, baby puppy. Suddenly being responsible for this little puppy life forced several things on me. The huge amount of care he requires, and has required since I got him at six weeks, made it impossible for me not to regulate my own life and habits. We have a firm schedule every day that includes a morning trip to the dog park—a great way to start my day--, and several walks following. Due to his health problems and mine, we have a health and wellness plan that includes sunshine every day, eating mostly healthy, drinking lots of water and getting plenty of rest. He’s also a natural anti-depressant with his unlimited amount of cuteness and energy. And while he’s forced me to be at home more than I normally would, time at home has become more relaxing with him around.
Two, meditation. I have a lot of respect for people who are living a healthy, spiritual life. So if someone invites me to meditate I say yes, unequivocally. Especially if it’s a known, safe environment. Because of these spiritual friends, meditation has been introduced to my life in a much more formal and structured way. Months ago, one friend encouraged me to do a silent meditation retreat, which although painful was very enlightening. It taught me to sit with uncomfortable feelings and not to chatter when I become anxious. So when a recent invitation came to join a Buddhist meditation weekend, I jumped at the opportunity.
Meditation comes down to basic science. If you meditate every hour and a half for ten hours over the course of two days you’re naturally going to feel better due to a decreased heart rate. Meditation practitioners also have structural changes in the brain that is involved in monitoring focus and self-control. It boosts compassion and lessens anxiety as well as allows you to stay on task when you practice deep breathing.
A human’s relationship with dogs also comes down to basic science. Taking care of another living creature who loves you unconditionally is another recipe for mental health success. Why? There are no head games with puppies. They, like all little ones, need a schedule, love and their basic needs met. It’s clear, there are directions, and if you follow the rules you usually get the intended result.
The universe brought into my life this amazing little dog and friends who meditate allowing me to pass as gracefully as possible through this moment of distress in my life. My health and wellness routines were established as I dealt with my puppy’s health issues. In fact, his medical problems forced me to deal with my own. His need for play, sun, rest, healthy diet and lots of affection dictated that I had play, sun, rest, a healthy diet and affection. And listening to women I admire opened my life to the new coping skill of meditation. I now know that if I walk into a meditation class from time to time I will experience real, immediate relief from my anxiety. And like everything else I’ve had to practice in recovery, I had to find my way into it and allow the door to be opened.
Here’s to the sober reference that sometimes what feels like the unnecessary struggles are the exact things that are helping to carry me through.