One of the most amazing gifts I have been given as of late, was the opportunity to be the ‘speaker’ at my dear friend’s 1 year recovery celebration. It’s sort of a big deal being asked to share your experience, strength and hope with fellow 12-step members. And being that I only have 10 months of recovery, I was SO surprised when she asked me, and of course I excitedly said yes!
Like I have mentioned before, 12-step meetings are not what most people imagine. Movies and television portray their environment as glum, and dreary. They make it seem as if we don’t want to be there, and that we are all unemployed and depressed. Now to be fair, there are some unemployed and depressed people who attend meetings, but there are unemployed, depressed people everywhere. Painting every 12-step member with that paintbrush is simply not even close to realistic. After following the steps, and embracing the promises the program has to offer, we don’t ‘white-knuckle’ our way through a sad, recovery life like many people may think. In fact, many of us, if not most, enjoy happy and fulfilling lives without the obsession of mind for our vice at all; lives which we never believed were possible! At Homewood I could have saved myself a whole lot of grief if I had clued in earlier to the fact that these 12-step programs actually work when I learned that there are over 300 types of these programs around the world addressing more addictions and emotional illnesses than you can imagine!…but ‘learning the hard way’ and I were BFF’s back then. Insert ‘what was I thinking’ head shake.
The night I was the ‘speaker’ was extra special because I brought a friend, my daughter, and her boyfriend to the meeting to hear me speak. It was so nice to be able to show them what it was like behind the mysterious 12-step walls! And it was so wonderful to be able to introduce them to my friends and prove to them that we have fun and laugh and support one another more than most people could imagine. We’re a pretty fun bunch!… who knew right?
What a night it was! When I took to the podium, I was blessed to see 100 sets of smiling eyes starring back at me. I had an idea of what I would talk about, but decided to speak from my heart and let the words come to me naturally. So away I went, and over the next thirty minutes I was able to share the story of my alcoholic childhood and the battles I conquered while being a teenage single mom. I shared of my love of being a paramedic and how sadly a double murder call that I did in 2012 gave me PTSD which partially caused me to spiral into a deep depression, lose the love of my life, and almost cost me my life with a suicide attempt and multiple overdoses. I spoke of how this mental illness and my disease of alcoholism reeked havoc on my family and friends, and how I ended up almost completely alone with Children’s Aid restricting the contact I had with my son, and my daughter dangerously ill in the hospital. And with chilling memories running up and down my spine, I shared with the audience that less than 1 year ago my family had seriously discussed my funeral arrangements and planned what to do when I was gone…not if.
Now I want to let you know, and possibly eradicate another false 12-step assumption, that the purpose of being a speaker at a 12-step meeting isn’t to glorify the bad that happened in our lives. On the contrary! It’s by sharing our journey that we are able to take pride in the magnitude of our recovery, and even more importantly, hopefully inspire others to continue with theirs. Being a speaker doesn’t involve puffing out your chest and showing how your struggle was worse than anyone else’s. It goes without saying that every participant in the room has fought the fight of their lives while suffocating under the darkness of their disease. Furthermore, sadly every 12-step goer in the room has been directly and/or indirectly affected by the loss of familiar faces who once shared their honest stories too; some lost to the return of the obsession of their vice, and more often than I had expected, some lost by death related to their disease.
As a speaker, the main purpose of sharing life-stories is to show that through the darkness their IS light! And as a speaker it was my honour to shout from the depths of my heart that a happy life in recovery IS POSSIBLE! I am LIVING testament to this fact! I was able to share how waking up in the morning is a gift. And how the feelings surrounding my heinous obsession with suicide are actually hard to even remember now. I was also able to share how I live my life mindfully with my Higher Power, God, leading the way. And how even though I still have nightmares in my unconscious sleep, I know that my conscious wakefulness will be filled with new found patience, peace and love. In short, I was able to share with so many surviving souls, that their strength and perseverance is WORTH IT, and that HOPE and LOVE are what will launch them into the ‘4th dimension’ of recovery FREEDOM!
How happy am I that I don’t need to hold a glass of wine up high to ‘cheers’ to my success’ anymore. On this very special night, I was given the gift to celebrate my success’ by holding my head up high instead.
I recently posted a blog entitled: Appreciation of Life Through a Paramedic’s Eyes for which I have received wonderful feedback and many shares (thank you!). This important post highlighted the contrast between life and death, and how as first responders it is so important to not only be mindful of the death side of the spectrum of life, but also the beautiful life side as well.
So, I asked YOU, the amazing first responders out there, to share YOUR beautiful life stories, and the response was overwhelming! So here are a few stories of hope and happiness from services all over North America. Keep the beautiful life stories coming, (email@example.com), and I will continue to share 🙂 I hope you enjoy reading them as much as I did! …. ps. get a tissue! And let the tears of happiness begin….
Nicole from Orangeville wrote: My partner and I had picked up an elderly female patient from a nursing home and brought her to the hospital as she was septic and sadly wasn’t going to survive the night. We were at our local hospital waiting for a room for the patient.
A lady had walked by earlier to visit a patient and when she was walking out to leave she looked at our patient and asked us if our patient was going to be OK. We said no, she was not doing very well and would probably not make it through the night. Well that lady said that she wasn’t able to see her father as they had sent him home without her knowledge. She asked if she would be able to pray with our patient and offer her comfort in our patients time of need.
Of course we said yes.
That lady stayed and prayed with our patient, holding her hand and just being with her when she was alone and there was nothing that we or the hospital would be able to do for her. The lady stated that there was obviously a reason that she was brought to the hospital, and it wasn’t for her father, but to be with a complete stranger in a time when she was alone and dying.
It was such a touching moment for me, I still cry when I think about it…..one beautiful soul helping to comfort another soul in need. It gave me a new perspective on things, including that sometimes all you can do is hold a patients hand and let them know that they are not alone.
Dan from Mississauga wrote: It was another long tedious day. Crews are lined up down the back hall in the emerge. Endless hours of waiting ahead. Medics were doing what medics will do when left to their own devices and bored. Which is rarely good.
My partner was joking with one of our colleagues. I stepped out to bug the triage nurse about the delay. When I turn to go back I see Rob doing cpr on the patient of the crew he had been joking with as they were moving the stretcher down the hall. Did someone miss something? No, STEMI negative. They had checked several times. No previous nitro use so they gave him ASA per protocol. They had reported properly to triage. His Vital signs were stable and there were no available beds, so it was “join the line up in the hall”. He was alive then he wasn’t.
We slapped on defib pads and shocked him. Moved him to the resus bed and started cpr again. Slowly his hands moved up to my wrists, pulling me off his chest. His eyes were opening and that “what the hell just happened?” look was on his face.
I turned around to see his daughter standing there, realization dawning, unsure whether to be scared or relieved. She had been there the whole time. Waiting in the hall wondering why her dad wasn’t in a room. Watching over him when he stopped responding. Watching helplessly as things started to happen too fast for her to comprehend. She knew something bad had happened, but was it still happening? The only thing that was certain was that she was scared, and bewildered.
A quick discussion with the ER Dr followed by a transfer to the cath lab and everyone could start to breathe again.
A month or so later, and some sneakiness by my supervisor, I’m looking at the face of the patients daughter again. A smile, a hug and a “thank you for giving me my dad back”.
Anonymous from Canada wrote: We are often referred to as medical interventionalists and I guess to some degree we are.
However working in this job you very quickly realize that its actually pretty rare that you get to “intervene” in a medical sense, although depending on your temprement, there are many opportunities to intervene on a humanistic level.
For me, that is the most precious element of my profession.
I was recently asked by a colleague and former instructor, to write a positive story I recall from work, and so here we are.
For me this human element of my work was highlighted by as particular call I did working for a rural service in the North of Ontario.
Transport times can be long so It’s not unusual to be in the back for 60 minutes or more monitoring and Interacting with your patient.
On a hazy morning we were called out at 06h to respond to the far side of our coverage area. It took nearly an hour to arrive on scene and then another hour to the nearest regional medical facility.
I walked into a house to find an elderly gentleman in his 80’s , AOx3 but not looking too healthy, sitting slouched – sweaty and concerned, at his kitchen table. He had been out working on his boat yard when he began to suddenly feel weak and dizzy.
He was a strong, proud man. The kind that had worked more for the sake of others – than others had worked for him – but I could tell, despite his hiding it, that today he was scared.
I went through my usual routine, and packaged him for transport. A few questions, 2 aspirin and some strapping and my two years of college training was exhausted…
Then the real work begins.
As we sat in the truck discussing the patients medical history, I realized that both he and the road we were on, had the same name. So I asked:
“How come they named this road after you?”
And he began to tell me about how his father, after serving during The Great War, had been discharged and returned home to Canada.
However disillusioned with society and the sights he had witnessed on the battle field, his father had chosen to move North, to the woods to escape.
At that time the country couldn’t afford to pay returning soldiers, but instead offered them tracks of undeveloped land in the back of beyond in lieu of cash.
And so his father moved. Found love and together, built a very rustic log cabin. Etching a living from felling trees and manually chopping lumber in the back country.
It was onto this dirt floored world my patient had emerged some time later. And it would be there he’d make his life.
Continuing his fathers tradition of hard work, he had built a small but successful boat launch company, raising and supporting his family and eventually their families as well.
That’s what he was still doing that morning, well into his 8th decade – working for his family’s benefit.
As he recounted his story to me, I could see the tears forming in his eyes as he remembered his own fathers kindness and pondered each of their mortality.
It seemed appropriate, so I placed my hand on his arm, thanking him for sharing with me.
At that point, I wasn’t a medical interventionalist and he wasn’t just “my patient”.
We were two humans caught together in the rip tide of life.
Impotent, and unable to control the external situation, but united in our humanity, sharing an unspoken beauty.
It’s exactly these moments that I live for within my career. Actually if I’m honest, within my life.
They’re real, without pretension. Honest and raw. I feel privileged to experience them, honoured that these individuals allow me to witness it.
As we said our goodbyes and I transferred care over to the hospital, he took my hand and thanked me for listening. I could see the gratitude within his eyes as he asked me to ” Please, never forget those stories.”
I promised him I wouldn’t. In fact I’d share them with others…. (see told you).
In fact I doubt I ever will forget. At least not until the dementia kicks in… if i make it that far.
You see, in this job, sometimes all you can do is just be there.
A witness to the passing of events. A little slither of humanity within the darkness of another’s passing.
‘Dispatch Monkey’ from Canada wrote: The world of police dispatch is by nature a very stressful environment. Many of the calls received at any given time, are usually quite serious in nature. Most people who are calling the police, are doing so because they believe that they or someone else are in some sort of danger. Basically, it is not usually a “happy” environment. However, there are moments that are happier, or end on a happy note.
I have been a police dispatcher for just shy of 10 years (including my training period) and I am posted in a busy communication center in Western Canada. In those 10 yrs, some of the calls that I find affect me the most are ones that involve the children and/or the elderly. These affect me because I am also the father of four wonderful boys and still have two living grandparents. When I receive these types of calls, I can’t help but think of my own children, or grandparents.
I recently took one such call, involving a child, when I was working a day shift on a very busy weekend. The call volumes into the center were very high that day, so needless to say, it was stressful. I had just finished up with a simple complaint and moved quickly onto the next call. On that next call, at the other end of the line was a very frantic and emotional mother. This sort of caught me off guard, as I had just finished with a “routine” call and wasn’t “ready” for this crying mother on the other end.
Apparently, this mother’s three year old son had disappeared from the house. One moment he was playing happily in the living room, while mom was busy in the kitchen and the next moment he was gone. Now some people will say “How can a child disappear like that?”, or “Shame on the mother, she should have been watching more closely!”. However I have never thought that, because as a parent of very active boys, I know how fast and sneaky children can be. So I did not scold her, nor did I get upset, because the last thing that this mom needed was a police dispatcher getting mad at her and telling her “what for”.
After my initial, “Gee, I’m not ready for this call” moment (which realistically only lasted a few seconds), my training took over and I got down to work. I calmly assured this mother that I would do my best to help her and send officers right away. Then I walked her through my questions: What does her son look like? What was her son was doing last he saw her? Where he was when last seen? Etc. She also informed me that when she noticed that he was missing, she started looking and had her neighbors join in the search. After about 45 minutes with no success, she decided that it was time to call the police.
As I was finishing the gathering the information, the mom suddenly exclaimed that her neighbor had found her son. I could here the relief in her voice as she began to cry. At that moment, I asked her if he was alright and when she confirmed that he was, I also felt a deep sense of relief.
With these types of calls there are so many scenarios that run through my dispatcher’s mind and none of those end well. So, when this type of call ends the way this one did, I consider it to be a “happy” call, knowing that the outcome could have been very different.
Kate from British Columbia wrote: It was a hot summer night in August. I got called to work a night shift at a station I don’t usually work for. It was a total fluke and I just happened to be available.
The call came in at 01:30. Gun shot wound to the head for a 16 yr old female. I recognized the area we were going to. A small community down a small country gravel road notorious for weird things happening. We pull up to the house, and there’s no electricity. A place full of squalor. Where you can feel the sadness and despair the moment you walk in. We package and treat our young patient the best we can and go lights and sirens to our local trauma centre. I was driving that night and all I can think about on the drive is my own attempt at my own life at her age where the paramedics saved me. I couldn’t help but feel like I was trying to pay them back for saving my life. In the end she didn’t make it. We watched her take her last breath at 0430 and went back to the station.
I watched the sun come up, sitting on the gravel leaned up against the bay doors outside. I couldn’t help but feel the sadness that the sun wouldn’t come up for her that morning. I drove home at 0800. I walked in the door to the sound and smell of sizzling bacon and pancakes. My husband making our 3 year old son breakfast. My son came running to me with bright eyes totally unaware of the nights events or where I had been. Kissed them both and had to cry. At that moment my heart was filled with so much love and appreciation for my own life and those who had saved me. I’ll never forget that sunrise or that morning coming home. I have this beautiful life . I got a second chance. And I love that I can one day give a second chance to someone, the same that someone else did for me.
Jeff from Canada wrote: My partner and I got a call for chest pain/sob after a male patient went out onto the ice to rescue his dog. En route we get an update that the pain is getting much worse. When we arrived in scene, fire was there, kneeling beside the patient who was laying down on the front porch. My partner looked out his window and said “oh that’s not good, they just out pads on him”.
We make patient contact, and confirm he is VSA. One shock, and about a minute or so of CPR and the patient opens his eyes, and then a few seconds later sits up fists clenched and swinging! We are able to get him calmed down, and onto our stretcher. We start transporting and while doing all that I had to do, I start chatting up the patient about everything. Asking what he last remembers, does he still have chest pain – particularly in the area where the defib pads are, what he was doing on the ice etc. I was amazed that this patient was VSA, we shocked him and within a few seconds he was talking to us as if nothing had happened. This is the first time I had ever seen someone regain consciousness post arrest, especially that fast.
Fast forward a few months when our base hospital hosted their annual Survivor Day. This patient spotted my parter and I from across the room, and ran over to us, giving us a hug and thanking us time and time again. He remembered everything that happened, everything we talked about, remembered the re assurance I gave, and was so happy to be there with his family.
I often get asked, as I’m sure ALOT of paramedics get asked, “what’s the worst thing you have ever seen?” and I reply with “let me tell you about the best day of my career”
Steve from Toronto wrote: I’ve been fortunate in my short career that my exposure to death and trauma has been somewhat limited. I appreciate that it’s a number’s game and eventually my time will come, but for now I try to appreciate the limited number of haunting images in my mind.
I was transporting a palliative patient to hospice, and he was barely concious during the transport. In the back he started to feebly grasp at the buckles as he seemed to have become slightly distressed by it. I took off my glove and held his hand, and he instantly relaxed. Judging by the way he stroked the back of my hand he was holding his wife’s hand. He didn’t know he was dying in the back of an ambulance, and the look on his face said he was remembering better times.
That look of peacefulness on a dying man’s face is why I do this job. Sometimes you get to genuinely be there for somebody when they need you the most. It isn’t always trauma, tubes and drugs. Sometimes it’s just holding somebody’s hand.
Paul from Arizona wrote: A long time ago …
Early after sunrise, responded to a “check deceased subject.” Arrived to find an elderly man having died peacefully tending his vegetable garden. Nature was already doing her business, as the ants made their way about the nose and ears of the body. This man’s wife of many years awoke to find him as such, and she was standing alone out of the way, quietly watching responders go about their duties. I asked her to sit on the garden bench with me, close to where her husband lay. I don’t remember what I asked after I had information for the report, but I let her talk. We sat together for a good while, chatting about her and his life together. Before we cleared, I gave her a hug, knowing how radically her life was changing.
After we cleared the scene, my veteran partner said, “I have never seen a paramedic do that before,” taking time to slow down and have a family member talk about recently deceased loved ones.
Looking back at that call, it took me a while to appreciate the most important skills of an EMS provider in the proper order. Communicate. Alleviate suffering. Once in a great while, save a life.
We can be that calm in a storm – kinda awesome, really.
Been through some rough patches over 27 years in the field. Took a while to mindfully appreciate life.
And last but certainly not least… I wanted to share a blog post from a good blogging friend, Tim from Chicago, about his experience with PTSD, the lessons he’s learned, and how, in his word’s, “if you can move yourself from the dark back into the light, nothing will be impossible. Life will no longer seem impossible”.
A Year of Healing Gracefully
It has been over a year now since I took the first step towards healing from PTSD, and I want to share with you some lessons learned. I will start from where I was, to where I am now. I can most certainly say that this has truly been an amazing year of healing gracefully. Here are my thoughts as written during the magic of 4 a.m.
It was in April of last year that I hit my low point with PTSD, although I did not know it was an issue I carried with me for over 16 years. Once I was shown the light it became very clear that I needed help to heal. At the time of my epiphany (so to speak), I hated mankind in general and it was a real struggle for me to sort out or recognize the good from the not so good. It did not matter to me because most people were being lumped into the bad category, and this ran counter to the oath I swore to serve others in need. This inner turmoil is what I believe caused me the most pain.
I have extensively chronicled my healing journey in this blog so it does not bear repeating. After a combination of counseling, acupuncture, chiropractic care, massage therapy, exercise, nutrition response testing, meditation, and now Kundalini yoga; here are my greatest lessons learned:
1. PTSD is something not to be taken lightly as it can be an all-consuming social anxiety disorder. In order to effectively heal from the wounds, one must make the concerted effort at creating a self-care (wellness) plan. An individual must take this first step forward because no one is going to do it for you. My advice is to seek treatment before you are compelled to by either the courts or an employer.
2. Once one makes the decision to become well, know that recovery is not an easy task and will require daily effort on your part. It takes great courage to make a trip around the dark side of the moon and face the demons of your past. More than likely you will find out that it was not just one specific incident, but rather a lifetime of micro-traumas that lead to the erupting volcano inside your mind.
3. Seeking help should not be viewed as a sign of weakness or social stigma. In fact, the more you share your story with others, the easier it becomes to tell with poise and dignity.
4. PTSD is not going to just go away, and it will be a life- long journey to maintain this peaceful state of mind. I realize that I stand on a very narrow ledge between a balanced life and jumping back in to the throws of PTSD. Hence, why I continue with acupuncture and have added meditation, yoga, and nutrition response testing to my regimen. Just when I think I have faced everything that has caused me pain, something else seems to creep up from the basement of my mind. However, I now tackle these issues one at a time, on more rooted ground.
5. As a first responder, I still work within a stressful environment that can exacerbate the symptoms of my PTSD, and these hits will keep on coming as long as I wear the uniform. The only difference between then and now, are the arsenal of tools I possess that help me to cope.
6. It is paramount to journal your healing experience (s) for two reasons. First, it helps you to purge the most painful moments in your life. Second, you have a written record of these events that can be shared when you pay it forward and help others in kind.
7. This last lesson is not really a lesson at all, but rather a gift. After a year of healing I am once again beginning to recognize who is a good soul in this world (my healers would fall under this category). To me, a good soul is someone who uses their God-given talent in the service of others, with no other agenda other than to do just that-serve others. This applies to not only wellness practitioners, but also the general public-at-large. If I come into contact with someone who runs contrary to this belief, I now show compassion rather than contempt, because they may be suffering from his/her own inner struggle(s) that are not recognizable to me. I must constantly remind myself “Who am I to judge another?” This type of inner dialogue will also take a life-long, thoughtful effort
Today, on this Memorial Day let us pause and remember those who have given their lives in the service of others, because it is their sacrifices that have led to our freedom.
In closing, know that living with PTSD is not the end of the world, and some suffer more greatly than others. However, with treatment, a detailed wellness (self-care) plan, and a solid circle of support, you too, can navigate life’s obstacles with grace while firmly grounded to this Earth. If you can move yourself from the dark back into the light, nothing will be impossible. Life will no longer seem impossible.
Find Tim’s blog at http://abalancedlifeselfcare.blogspot.ca
Thank you to everyone who contributed! If you keep sending them…I’ll proudly keep posting them!
With Deepest Gratitude ~Nat xo
I just woke up from the most amazing, restful nap!…and I would love to teach you how YOU can rest just as deeply and peacefully. Now those of you who know me well, know that I have always loved a good daily nap, but now that I’ve added listening to guided meditation just before I fall asleep, my body feels SO much more rested and my mind feels so much more clear in 30 minutes than it ever has before.
To be honest, I always doubted the healing power of meditation. Sure, I thought that it could possibly clear my mind for a short period of time, but just as my alcohol buzz would eventually leave me with my crazy life again, I thought “what’s the point of meditation? I’m just going to ‘wake-up’ back in my chaotic and restless world anyhow!” Sigh. This was a pretty typical ‘old-Natalie’ way of thinking. Before I gave this healing tool a try, I thought that throughout my busy day of being a mom, paramedic, teacher, loved-one, friend, and superwoman, I had no room for taking ‘time out’ to meditate! Well, the irony of this past mentality, is that because I lived such a superwoman life, I should have been taking the small amount of time needed to meditate even more! When I thought of meditation, I pictured a monk on a mountain in silence for days. And granted, there are monks on mountains silent for days, I didn’t have to be anything close to that to reap the benefits of this magical mindful skill.
Step 1 to basic meditation is, be open-minded! Rather than kicking a potential benefit while it’s down (like I did), allow yourself to give it a fair try. And once you’ve completed step 1, step 2 isn’t far behind…try and try again. Meditation takes practice. Sure it may seem like a simple concept, but us human beings sure do have a lot of junk running through our minds 24/7, making sitting quietly a pretty tall order at first. So my advice is start small, start simple and start ‘guided’ if possible.
Guided meditation is just what is says…you are guided through peaceful, mental images by someone else’s voice. The theme options of the guided meditation are endless, but generally speaking most start with some type of focused breathing exercise or body-scan. For example, the guide may ask you to focus on your inhalation and exhalation, and to invision clear air moving into your lungs, and grey toxic air leaving your lungs. Or, they may ask you to focus on specific body parts allowing these parts to relax even more deeply.
These are two of my favourite simple guided meditations:
The last of these 2 meditations refers to what are called ‘chakras’. Very simply put, chakras are energy points in our body which correlate to specific human functions and human psyche. To be clear, they do not correlate to any religion, they simply represent energies in which every human body feels. By using a guided meditation related to chakras, we allow blocks in these energy points to be removed.
You don’t need to be a spiritual guru to reap the benefits of a chakra meditation. The result of focusing deeply on any of our inner emotions and physical feelings (chakra or not) can bring a deep sense of peace and clarity. So for you skeptics out there who scanned through this blog and saw the image of the ‘spiritual person’ and thought right away that this blog wasn’t meant for you because you don’t believe in that ‘weird spiritual stuff’, well you’re wrong 🙂 This blog is for ANYONE who wishes to achieve more peace and clarity in their daily lives…it’s as simple as that.
Meditation has allowed my day-to-day life to be so much more mindful. I enjoy moments I never would have before because with practice, my mind calms on its own, and gets rid of the clutter that use to block so many possible mindful moments in my life. I even find myself doing breathing meditations while I drive (eyes open!…lol), and I simply…be. When I focus on my inner-peace, I have no time to focus on unnecessary inner-pain. Yes, inner-pain needs to be addressed and dealt with…but not felt relentlessly! Our minds and bodies need a break and a rest from pain in order to heal years of damage we may have done physically and emotionally.
So take my advice, and grab a set of earphones, find a comfy place to rest, and click on one of the meditations I suggested, or any you may know. And ENJOY! And remember that there are only 2 steps to learning how to meditate.
1. Keep an open mind & 2. Keep practicing.
~Love Nat <3
In my drinking days, I use to have what I called a ‘Sparkle Party’ around Christmas. It was a night where people could come over wearing something sparkly (just because it’s fun) and enjoy an evening of laughs …and a lot of alcohol! This year was the first time I didn’t have one, and that made me really sad. I had so many good times with my friends at those parties, and I wasn’t sure if I would ever have one again. Well last night, unexpectedly, I attended the biggest and best sparkle party I could’ve ever imagined! I was very fortunate to attend Homewood’s 25th Annual Spiritual Renewal Service, which is an event celebrating the gift of recovery, and the creation of 400 pairs of healthy, sparkling eyes, filled with hope, happiness and gratitude. Allow me to share my experience…
I hadn’t been back to Homewood, or even Guelph for that matter, since I was discharged in January of this year, and I was very nervous about the emotions I was confident would bubble-up throughout the night. Buckle up Natalie! This may be a bumpy ride! My first emotion was good ol’ anxiety on the ride there. It wasn’t anything over-the-top, but I could definitely feel it rumbling through my whole body. Luckily, I drove with two friends who’s chatting distracted the anxiety, and allowed me to quietly reflect on what it felt like to drive the route to Homewood again. It has only been 6 months since my life-changing stay there, but as we drove it felt more like 6 years. At one point I started to regret attending the event, as now being mindful of my emotions so well, pretty much guaranteed a lengthy ‘self-analysis night’. Sigh. Nevertheless, I told myself that I would survive. I was going to kick my anxiety’s butt, like the anxiety-pro I am, and soak in every moment of the evening.
When we got to the event centre, my anxiety had lessened, and began to mix with excitement as the memories of the difficult times, as well as the life-changing times at Homewood, came rushing back… vividly. I felt like I had suddenly jumped back on the Homewood emotional roller coaster; the one that scared me, twisted me in so many directions, made me sick, and made me cry, but also made me laugh and feel relief when the ride was finally over. I had no desire of riding that roller coaster again, but there I was, with another ticket for the ride, and my proverbial vomit bag tightly in hand. I wish this ride was out of order.
The Centre was beautifully decorated, and displayed obvious months of preparation. We were all given a pin that said, “Recovery Means Freedom”, and as I was examining it, I immediately bumped into my first wonderful staff member. She said I looked great (which I’m sure she would be saying to everyone, but I still accepted the compliment ), and asked about my family and how we were doing. My family!…OK, hold on tight Natalie, the roller coaster is clicking up the hill! I told her that we were all doing great and immediately I felt my old friends ‘guilt’ and ‘shame’ flood my body. Rather than feeling gratitude, I felt sick as the memories of what I had put my family through were at the forefront of my mind, and they stung really bad. I knew that I should have only been feeling happiness when speaking about my family now, but it quickly became apparent to me that ‘guilt-ridden Natalie’, was still alive and kicking. Damn-it. After chatting a bit longer, I took a quick bathroom break and tried to tuck any negative emotions into my back pocket to be dealt with later. Then, one foot in front of the other, I continued to mingle amongst staff and friends with what I’m sure was a timid look on my face.
Since leaving Homewood, many people have told me that I have a ‘sparkle in my eyes’, and you know what, I can confidently say that I probably do with the amount of happiness and love I feel for life now. And amazingly, last night I got to see first hand what that ‘sparkle’ looked like, because I saw it in so many of my friend’s eyes. It was truly amazing! I could barely even recognize some people, but that sparkle was impossible to miss! Positive physical transformations made my jaw drop, and the happiness in their eyes made me smile from my soul! “THAT must be the ‘sparkle’ people are talking about”, I thought to myself. And WOW, was it a blessing to see!
The night was filled with speeches of gratitude and wellness. And at one point we did what’s called a ‘recovery countdown’. This is where a year, or month, or day is called out, and people stand up and receive a round of applause when their correlating recovery day is announced. As the days of recovery got shorter and shorter, “3 weeks”, “2 weeks”, “1 week”, I could see that the ‘sparkle’ was not so prevalent in people’s eyes. And as they continued to count, I could also increasingly see the physical demons of addiction which were still tightly grasping onto so many new-comer’s lives. All I could think was, “WOW! that was me only six months ago!” I was the one who felt and looked hopeless and scared. I was the one who simply ‘existed’ and nothing more. I was the one who had so much doubt in the program or any chance of fully recovering. And I was the one who still so desperately wanted to die as I saw death as the only way in which I could end my suffering. When a very sick lady with 5 days of recovery, who had difficulty walking was assisted onto the stage to receive a 12 step book, I could physically feel her pain. I could so clearly remember how every step felt like a mile in early recovery. I imagined how difficult it most likely was for her to even stay awake, as it was for me. I could imagine the ‘shakes’ she probably battled, and the memory ‘fog’ that would make it difficult for her to speak properly. And I imagined the darkness that I can guarantee filled her entire body and soul, and the hopelessness that she was feeling with every…single…breath. I so badly wanted to tell her that her sparkle could come back too… But she would have to learn that for herself.
Who knew that I would be attending a sparkle party again!? Certainly not me. And who knew that I didn’t need a fancy dress or shirt to have that sparkle radiating from me? Once again, certainly not me! I know that some days my sparkle won’t be as bright as the next, but what a gift to know that it’s there!
“I put my hand in yours and together we can do what we never could do alone. No longer is there a sense of hopelessness. No longer must we depend upon our own unsteady willpower. We are all together now, reaching out our hands for power and strength greater than ours, and as we join hands, we find love and understanding beyond our wildest dreams”.~ Closing Prayer
As my recovery progresses, I’ve realized that many people have the same interesting questions for me. So I thought I’d dedicate a blog to answering some of them as I love to educate 😉
Do you still crave alcohol every day? No, not at all actually. In the early days of my recovery from my alcohol addiction I craved it quite often. But as I have completed the 12 steps, my obsession of mind has been removed. As it has been taught to me, alcoholism is but a symptom of a greater malady. In short, alcoholics use alcohol to numb and hide from deep rooted issues, and by honestly progressing through the steps which tackle root causes of our alcoholism such as resentments and fears, we recover from our malady and joyfully do not need alcohol any more. I do still have dreams of drinking, which I’ve been told is quite normal, but the actual desire to drink is gone.
I remember thinking that people in 12 step programs must be miserable and constantly trying to avoid their cravings and battle their inner demons…but it’s not like that at all. At meetings we discuss our new found happiness and purpose for life. We rejoice in having our families back, and the opportunity to live in a world that we actually love. At meetings we enjoy a fellowship that is based on courage and mutual support, not negativity and sad stories. We go to fun events and celebrate on a regular basis. I actually look forward to going to meetings to laugh with my new-found family. Meetings are nothing close to what I had imagined (or what many movies portray), and probably nothing close to what you have imagined either.
Are you a Buddhist now? I always giggle at this question. No, I am not. However, I have definitely enjoyed learning about the gifts of love and compassion in which the Buddhist culture thrive on. Attending classes at the Buddhist Centre has also taught me how to meditate more effectively; a healing tool I originally learned at Homewood. Furthermore, classes have definitely taught me to live mindfully in the moment and have allowed me to experience deep spiritual healing through guided mediation. And icing on the cake, is that I attend the classes with my sister-in-law.
Have 12 step programs made you religious? Once again, the answer is no. 12 step programs are not a religious, but they are spiritual. A life-saving component to a 12-step program is that we (the addict) accept that we could not manage our own lives, that probably no human power could have relived our alcoholism, and that a God of our understanding could and would if He were sought. ‘God’ can be anything to us. We individually develop our own understanding of a power greater than ourselves. My concept of God may be vastly different than any other person’s in the program, and that’s ok! The purpose is to realize that we couldn’t recover from our life-threatening disease by any human means, and by turning our will surrounding our disease over to ‘God’, we take the burden off of our own shoulders, and trust that faith and rigorous honesty can allow us to recover from a ‘seemingly hopeless state of mind and body’. For millions of alcoholics this acceptance of spiritual strength, not religion, has worked. And I am testament to such a powerful, life-saving component.
Do you ever regret being a paramedic? Absolutely not! I LOVE my career and the opportunities it has provided me. I still have the urge to jump in and help every time an ambulance drives by me, or every time I see ORNGE fly over my house. Being a paramedic is a gift! The lives we impact on such a positive and monumental level is profound! And the power of the relationships we develop with our colleagues is beyond words. Yes, being a paramedic made me sick. But being sick has now opened doors I never could have imagined otherwise! I have been able to educate and connect with first-responders and their families from all over the world, and have also been able to learn so many valuable tools regarding how to heal from PTSD and have been able to share them with thousands of people. I miss being on the road every day, but I cherish the time I have been blessed with to fully-recover, and hope to become an even stronger paramedic one day soon.
Do you still talk to AB? At the present time AB and I have parted ways. I love her dearly and always will, but our views on what I could manage on a personal relationship level through my recovery became different, and I needed to go my separate way for my own personal health (and probably for hers as well). My recovery is a life and death matter, and there is NO DOUBT that AB firstly saved my life, and secondly was a profoundly loving part of a major portion of my journey, but opinions change, as do people, and we respectfully have given each other space for both of our own benefit. I do believe that there is a season for everything, and maybe AB and I will reunite one day. But in the meantime I wish her happiness every day! And will NEVER discount or not cherish the gifts she has given me.
Where do you see yourself in the next year? For now I am still taking things day-by-day. I am enjoying life for the first time in my life, and making concrete plans for the future doesn’t sit well with me yet. However, I can say that I am working alongside a friend, developing a presentation I am excited to share with all of you soon. My recovery work will never end, and I look forward to seeing where this new, healthy path may lead me. Happily, I now trust in whatever the future holds, and I look forward to sharing it with you. 🙂
Happiness to many is a very simple emotion to grasp. You want it. It feels good. You get it. Right? Well, it’s not that way for everyone. Crazy as this may sound, happiness can also be a very scary emotion for some people. But why? Why is it easier for many of us to stay content with emotions that block happiness? Why are we often more comfortable having emotions like anger sewn into the fabric of our personalities? It certainly doesn’t feel good to be angry. But at the end of the day, when it’s all we’ve ever worn, it feels…comfortable.
I think many people are afraid of things that feel different…even if that ‘thing’ is suppose to feel good. I bring up this topic because at times I notice that when I am not mindful, happiness seems to hide in a corner, even completely separate from my depression and anxiety. After all of the healing I’ve done, I at times find myself subconsciously content with an undertone of anger in my gut. It’s like an old friend who shows up unexpectedly, convincing me that I should let them in. I’m comfortable with that friend…we’ve been together for a very long time. So I sit all ‘cuddled-up’ with my friend ‘anger’ and let it slowly convince me why my dreams are impossible to fulfill, or that I don’t deserve to be happy. It can convince me that happiness just isn’t my forte. In fact, lots of negative emotions can and will convince me that answered prayers or granted wishes only lead to responsibility…and who wants that?
Equally threatening can be the concept of possibility. Many of us don’t like not knowing what ‘possibilities’ may lead to? In fact, we often lock possibility’s proverbial ‘open door’ before we even take a look outside. We shy away from a road which may lead to fulfilled dreams and joy because the road is so unfamiliar. When the saying, “the possibilities are endless!”, falls upon the ears of a happy person it’s like, well…music to their ears. But when those four words land on angry ears, the promise of anything ‘endless’ can be far too intimidating.
If your dreams were scheduled to come true tomorrow, would you say you’re ready for that? Or when the time came to act upon your dreams, would you rather retract the dream for fear of the unknown? Finish this sentence; I’m afraid that if I start dreaming… What is your answer? And if you do have this fear, how can you overcome it? I personally think that a lot of our fear of happiness and possibilities comes from the fact that in order to truly appreciate them, you have to allow yourself to be vulnerable. Take the happiness of ‘love’ for example. It takes courage to love. The emotional stakes are high when the possibilities of the heart are exposed. When we are in love, it’s like our hearts are beating behind a cellophane wall…so easy to see, and so easy to break. Therefore, rather than possibly experiencing the magical happiness that only love can provide, we hide behind our armour of anger, which in turn protects our hearts from damage…or does it?
Will I always have a difficult time clearing my mind from my cunning ‘friend’ anger? Or will I continue to feel the peace possible if I practice mindfulness enough? I hope for the latter. But if there is one thing I do know, it’s that this girl is ready for her happiness to continue to grow each day. I’m good with making vulnerability my new ‘friend’, and seeing where the possibilities of this journey continue to take me.
Do you have any ‘jerks’ in your life? You know, those people who get under your skin, who you’re convinced are in your life to make you miserable? That guy or girl whose voice you compare to nails down a chalkboard! That person who just keeps testing your desire to punch them in the jugular! If you say ‘no’, I call bull-$h!+. Heck, I bet you can name 5 just off the top of your head! (I know you’re doing it right now). Now, what if I told you that everything you believe to be annoying and unbearable about that person is actually an illusion? What if I told you that every person, place or thing we encounter is a projection of our mind, and often a cocktail of delusions? Futhermore, what if I told you that that jerk is actually not even separate from you? That YOU are in essence that jerk yourself! Mind blown? …well maybe more like mind puzzled. Allow me to explain further. Enter the Buddhist teaching my sister-in-law participated in this month.
First let me preface this blog with the clear message that I am in no way even close to being a Buddhist teacher! (Ha, ha…that even made me laugh!) I am simply a girl who enjoys writing about topics which are fascinating to me, and a girl who likes to now challenge ‘the mind’ (mine and yours) because I am on an exciting healthy mind exploration of sorts. After being trapped like a prisoner in a mind that fooled me into thinking that any enlightenment was purely out of my reach, I now can’t get enough of this ‘mind-medicine’! And all I want to do is share it with anyone who will listen.
Alright, so…the Natalie version/translation of this month’s teaching goes like this: To put it simply, most of our focus in life is fu@k3d up! (Shout-out to my sister-in-law for that line!). We perceive ourselves as unique and completely independent people, with our unique and for the most part, automatic, perceptions of the world and people around us…but we’re not. When that ‘jerk’ cuts us off on the highway, we don’t see ourselves as a reflection of him at all, so we give him the finger and let anger out which we feel is totally justified, only to go about the rest of our morning annoyed, and possibly even furious. How dare HE ruin your day? Right?…
Well, here’s what I’ve learned this month about how perceiving that jerk as separate from you or I, is very much an illusion. That ‘jerk’ is actually an interdependent being on this planet … in short- we actually aren’t separate at all. The Buddhist teacher explained this idea deeper by challenging us to find something, anything, that does not come from another being on this planet. Everything from my clothes, to my body, is the result of other beings. My car, my house, my dog, are ALL in my life as a result of other being’s efforts and thoughts. Without other beings, you and I wouldn’t exist! We are actually all one. Therefore, when I hurt you, I am also hurting myself. But equally as so, when I love you, I am also loving myself. In the most simplest of terms, we are all interdependent with one another. So that jerk isn’t so separate from you after all.
The teaching also goes on to explain that the negative feelings you or I project on this jerk, are actually an illusion, and controlled by what Budda calls our mind’s ‘delusions’. Every feeling we have is created by our mind. Without thinking that that person is a jerk, they aren’t a jerk at all. Budda says that all negative feelings are delusions, and in being such, can be removed from our repertoire of feelings, leaving only loving ones remaining. TOTALLY easier said that done! Why? Well we as a society have made living with delusions the norm. Media, government and almost all aspects of human-nature, have made negative delusions common-place. We’ve been taught that we must fight at other people’s expense for status, material things and ironically, happiness. But if we were only able to see that fighting with others is actually fighting with ourselves, there would no longer be any pain in the world. (Are you still with me?) Furthermore, if we were able to see that the jerk is actually a spiritual teacher for us, illuminating which negative delusions we need to work on absolving, rather than looking at him like a retched nuisance in our day, we may not feel the need to get angry at the next person who cuts us off (because you know it will happen again), hence making any future mornings anything but miserable at all.
Sigh…ok, that’s a lot of heavy stuff to even try to absorb! But how about we play a game? Call it your ‘halt-illusions homework’. Try to be mindful of the ‘jerks’ who push your buttons tomorrow. For example, the guy who orders 5 bagels, 6 sandwiches and 13 coffees in front of you at the drive-thru window, or the girl who is popping her gum loudly behind you at the check-out line, or, heaven forbid!…the person who leaves their shopping-cart in the middle of the aisle like they have valet parking privileges, and TRY not to look at them as jerks, but as opportunities for your happiness to grow by tossing the negative delusion from your mind, and replacing it with a grateful thought of your choice. The key to being able to do this homework is to be mindful of when the jerks appear. It’s not going to be easy, and I know several of you who are laughing at this idea (you know who you are!) knowing full well that I usually had more jerks in a day than anyone else! This is true…so if I can do it, so can anybody else. This busy life is filled with so many negative emotions, removing even one of them may be the medicine we need.
In short, the Buddhist teacher taught us that WE are the masters of our own minds. WE choose what we see and how we react to it. WE are responsible for allowing someone to upset us, or for allowing someone to love us. And WE are here on earth as ONE spectacular, ever changing and growing being.
As I grow along this journey of enlightenment in which I’ve clumsily stumbled upon, I continue to possess this deep desire to continue sharing with you. I liken the desire to how I felt as a child when it was show-and-tell day…do you remember that feeling? Excited and nervous…not knowing exactly what to say so that everyone watching ‘gets’ how important the object is to you. Sad when time ran out and your turn got postponed to the next-day because you just couldn’t wait to share. So connected to the belief that once you shared, others would ‘feel’ the same level of appreciation as you did for the object. And also proud when someone came up to you afterwards and expressed how much they liked the object too. Well that’s how I felt anyway 🙂 Ok, moving along, I would like to attempt to ‘show’ and ‘tell’ you about the importance of acceptance, and how I am learning about its healing qualities in a forum I am grateful to have been exposed to.
A few mornings ago, my sister-in-law and I bundled ourselves up on a damp, dreary day (coffee in hand) and excitedly travelled to a yoga studio about 30 mins away from home for a seminar on ‘taking and giving’ delivered by a brilliant Buddhist teacher. As mentioned in a previous blog, we have become quite fascinated by these mindful teachings and can’t seem to get enough of them. When we arrived, we nestled in for the 3 hour class, which included 3 guided meditations, and proceeded to open our minds to enlightened possibilities.
During the beginning portion of the class we were introduced to acceptance which reminded me of the ‘distress tolerance’ I have learned in save my life grad school, but on a much more vast and spiritual level. Early on I could feel myself get nervous when we were encouraged to meditate on a recent upsetting emotion and rather than closing our minds and hearts to it, like so many of us do as a human reflex to limit or even completely avoid pain, we were to open our minds and hearts and allow it in. SUCH a foreign idea to me less than a year ago! So I went all in and did my very best to recall the feeling I felt when Ian moved out. It was a scary task because I’ve done a really good job to date moving on from this emotion, so feeling it again was extremely uncomfortable. Through the meditation we were guided to slowly shed the armour on our hearts heavy piece by piece, and let the emotion move in. Once we welcomed it in, we were reminded that we could still survive without any cold and uncomfortable protection on our fragile hearts. Who knew? We then imagined the emotion flowing through us, and moving on into the universe in which it came from. How interesting to see that we didn’t need to keep it in our hearts forever.
Moving on through the afternoon, we were taught how ALL painful human emotions are universal. We ALL feel guilt, sadness, fear etc, at some point in our lives. And not only do we block many of these painful emotions from ourselves, our egos also contain them so tightly behind our armoured heart that even the human beings closest to us (who could help and support us) have no idea of the pain we are experiencing. We don’t want to admit that we may be depressed, or sad, because so much of western society has taught us that these emotions equal weakness. So we lock-up our hearts and throw away the key…sometimes forever…and how tragic is that?
The teacher shared how giving any emotion permission to exist as it does, moves our minds away from constrictive ‘protection’, to an open acceptance which can lead to peace…if we allow it to. What a mind-blowing concept. But to me it makes sense! For example, take the emotion guilt…a relatively common emotion which can bring about immense personal pain; unless you’re a sociopath, we’ve all felt it. Personally, this emotion makes me feel ashamed, and for lack of a better word, gross; not a sensation I would choose to have and experience. But none-the-less it exists and has consumed me for years because I buried it so tightly in my heart. It was never something I wanted to talk about because it made me feel weak. But according to the teacher, if I would have accepted the presence of this emotion, dealt with it rather than hiding it, and let it move on, I would have been free from it a lot more quickly. I thought hiding it took strength, but accepting it was actually the strong knock-out left-hook.
Acceptance of our emotions doesn’t mean we necessarily agree with the events they result from. For example, if we are in an abusive relationship it’s not ok to stay and ‘accept’ the abuse. But regardless of where they originated from, our emotions are delivering us powerful messages filled with the possibility of self-growth and inner-peace.
Maybe try to remove one layer of your armour today? See where it takes you and what it teaches you. Maybe try to accept that whatever you find shielded inside your heart is a universal emotion…and that no matter what you tell yourself, you are NOT alone in feeling it.