Pull the frigging band-aid off

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Recovery is not a life-long quest. It is not an endless journey away from your addiction and toward a better life. It is a limited process that starts with the recognition you have a problem and ends with freedom from the struggle of addiction.

Some people might disagree with me here (twelve-steppers, please calm down and hear me out) but it is my experience and whole-hearted belief, that health is not just the absence of illness, but the presence of wellness. Alas, the recovery process is only what we do to bring ourselves from less than zero, back to the baseline of life. It is a process of breaking free from the confines of addiction. It is the taking back of our joy, our heath and more importantly, our choice. When I say choice I mean, choice over what we struggle for.

Life is an ongoing struggle. We should not expect that once we lose the desire for our drug of choice that we will no longer have to deal with cravings, wants and needs. Oh no! Life is full of things to pursue, but once we have recovered from addiction we can dedicate our energy toward more meaningful things than mind-numbing drugs and behaviours, that suck us beneath the thrive-line of existence.

Personally, I will not identify as a person ‘in recovery’ for the rest of my life. I will not be someone who clings to a past illness as the rate-limiting factor of all my major life areas. I will wrap up the problem of addiction and all it’s associated evils (depression and social anxiety) and rise up to life’s next challenge.

The gift of recovery is the ability to let it go! Use the tools and the practices, make them part of your life and then once your addiction-free lifestyle has become your new normal… it’s time to jump over the line. It is time to ask yourself what will take your life to the next level. I am sure if you think about the most important things in your life that you could decide what deserves your energy more than a life-time of commitment to an old problem.

I think people cling to their recovery identity because they are afraid of relapse. And rightly so, because they have been warned they could slip. They are pressured to stay committed to meetings, shame-practices and immersion in recovery culture. And yes, relapse is a possibility. In fact it may have been a part of your personal stages of change. It may have even scarred you. But why let this fear be your cause for struggle? Is addiction going to be the hill you die on? Why not learn from your relapses and know that your change is made? And then go find something else to fight for.

Imagine what would be possible if you let your recovery identity go? What could you do? Who would you be? How would you serve? How would you find meaning? What sparks your flow?

I am not saying we need to forget all about our recovery experiences; I am saying, forgive and let go. I’m asking that we understand there is both a start and finish, to recovery. Just like everything else in life it has an end. The end of recovery is the beginning of a thriving life.

I have never subscribed to the “one day at a time” mindset that is so popular in twelve-step communities. That kind of mind-trick is like slow and unnecessary cruelty. Certainly it seems nearly impossible for people who are in the beginning days of sobriety to imagine going their whole lives without their drug, but why is it better to let these people think…. “if not today, maybe tomorrow”? Or “I just need to get through right now.” Why not choose to embrace the truth that you will never drink or use again? Pull the frigging band-aid off and start healing now! With acceptance and excitement for a new life, people heal faster and better.

Recovery is the route you take away from your forced struggle against addiction to your chosen struggle to engage fully with all the awesomeness this life has to offer.

As always friends, I welcome and encourage your feedback on this.

Be well,

Karyn

Four ways I can tell if you are on your way to recovery or to relapse.

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It seems pretty bold that I might make such a prediction about people with addiction problems: whether they will recover or relapse... yet boldly I go as I share my observations of key indicators which have led to success or failure for the many people I have encountered (myself being the main subject of this non-research).

So if you are curious about what I think are the traits of people who recover or relapse, I will list them below. If you find that you are offended or disagree with my observations, please comment! This passion could be and indicator of your high level of engagement in recovery, which could be a positive for recovery. On the other hand it could be a defense mechanism, which is an indicator that your locus of control is more external, thus a sign you are moving toward relapse.

  1. People who recover genuinely want it; People who relapse lack the desire.

    I have had call after call with people who are not truly dedicated to recovery. In some cases they are feeling pressure from family or friends, or in some cases they believe their stresses are more than they can handle. They believe there is something about their drug of choice that will help them escape their problems. The love/hate they experience for their drug of choice is leaning toward love. They do not believe they are going to recover. This belief in the long-term win is absolutely key. You must want to get better. You must have a burning desire to make the necessary changes to improve your life.

  2. People who make a good plan, recover; People with no plan, do not recover.

    James Clear, author of Atomic Habits says "You do not rise to the level of your goals. You fall to the level of your systems.” People who say they want to change their lives but do not put a solid plan in place, with options for evaluation and adjustment, will fail. People who write down their plan, gather resources and follow through (practice the changes daily) will succeed.

  3. Resourceful people recover; the uninformed relapse.

    You absolutely must be your own advocate for recovery. If you wait for someone to hand you the tools and relieve you of your cravings and issues, you will be waiting a long time. You must go out and explore all the options for recovery that await you. People who recover are reading about recovery, attending meetings (not necessarily 12-step meetings) and seeking out help from doctors, counsellors, coaches, friends and the internet. People who recover make resources work for them. People who relapse wait for someone to do it for them.

  4. People who bounce-back, recover; People who give up, relapse.

    Relapse is actually a stage of change. It is common for people to experience ‘stinking thinking’ or to have slips, but how a person manages relapse is an indicator of their success long-term. When people learn from their mistakes- when they carefully evaluate and make appropriate changes to their plan, they bounce back into recovery. When they give up or deny the important lessons from the relapse experience - they stay in the cycle of addiction.

I welcome your feedback and questions on the above statements. I have not yet conducted any real research on these items, they are simply my observations based on my experience as a coach, counsellor, student, friend and person with addictions.

Interview with a 10-year-old on how to Quit Drinking

I asked my 10-year-old son, how a person with an addiction could stop drinking.

He said three things:

1. Find something you like to do more than you like to drink.

2. Find some sober friends who like to do the same things.

3. Use an app to find those friends - something like facebook for sober people.

Pretty wise and obvious suggestions I thought. It seems that if a person were to follow these steps a they could successfully get sober. It’s not that any of these things are that hard to do with a little bit of thought and effort. So why is it we struggle to follow through?

Shouldn’t it be easy to find something you like to do more than drinking alcohol? I mean, wouldn’t that be just about everything? After years of hangovers, surely alcohol has lost its appeal? Yet, somehow, the dark side of drinking seems to fade away from your mind, at the end of the week when you try to think of a fun way to spend your time. How could you go out for dinner without drinking? Beers after the game? Wine with girlfriends? Almost every activity in life has somehow been paired with alcohol. Even though it is the activity itself that we actually get the joy and reward from, each experience has been artificially boosted with booze for years or decades. Alas, we can no longer imagine these activities without a drink in hand.

‘Sober friends’ is a great concept, but a challenging reality. When a person first quits drinking, she is typically surrounded by a community of people who drink. Drinkers hang with drinkers. So in the beginning stages of sobriety, when you really need a sober friend, you must reach out to new people. Sober or not, this can be an intimidating thing to do. Making friends can be very difficult. Making friends takes skills - skills those of us who drink (or used to drink) never learned. We leaned on alcohol to give us the confidence to communicate, engage - or dance.

I don’t know if there is a sober app for finding friends but I do know there are a number of online communities. These are great for chats and for venting, but they are not great for genuine, real-world connections. The only way to create these vital relationships is to go out into life and make them happen.

And now the good news….

It is possible to think of things you love to do more than drink, you just have to go back in time. What did you love to do before you ever took an alcoholic drink? Were you an artist? a poet? an athlete? a reader? thinker? dreamer? Revisit those things and pick up where you left off.

I will admit, when I was drinking I did not want any sober friends. I thought they were boring. I didn’t even like the word “sober”. I had such a negative perspective - visualizing all sober people as white-knuckling addicts, or church-going uppity snobs. Oh the ignorance! My perspective on sober people now is more like the picture of health. Sober people have goals and get things done. Sober people contribute to the community. Find these friends!

I thanked my son for the wise advise and he then said to me, “Mom, I never want to drink alcohol.” For a minute I wondered if I had pressured him? I asked him if he feels like drinking would make his day better in anyway? Like, going to the park, hanging out with friends, after the game? He said no, of course - he couldn’t imagine drinking being added to any area of his life. He is ten.

He may change his mind when he is older but for now I am happy he can enjoy a happy life without being surrounded by alcohol (we don’t keep alcohol in our house). He is great model for me, as I continue to learn the skills he has already fine-tuned: doing what he loves and making friends to do those fun things with.

If you have any questions for my wise son… please leave us a message below :)

1000 Days to Create a New Normal

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I am celebrating a milestone (my sober app tells me) of 1000 days alcohol free.

I was pleased to get this notification and felt a sense of satisfaction about the big round number. But, what made me want to give a big “yeee hawww” about the accomplishment was not the abstinence, but the realization, that sober has finally…. become my new normal.

That may not seem like a big deal to some, but it is huge for me. When I quit drinking 1000 days ago, I had to put some serious faith into the idea that a few years down the road, my sober lifestyle would feel more natural. In the beginning it certainly did not feel normal. Every moment involved a conscious effort. Nothing seemed right. Everything I did, everyone I spent time with, almost everything I was motivated to do, think or be, somehow involved drinking. It was hard to imagine a life without it.

Perhaps it seems like I am romanticizing alcohol here, but in this case I am not. It was not that I was always wishing I could drink again, white-knuckling my way through life. I had weighed the benefits and costs of booze and decided it was not for me. Rather, the conscious effort was needed because I didn’t know how to live my life without alcohol playing a role somehow (good or bad). It had permeated my work, family, social life - even my dreams.

For a while I continued to let alcohol take centre-stage, even after I quit drinking. If alcohol was going to be at the party - I wouldn’t go. If alcohol was the topic of conversation, I left. If alcohol was posted on your social media page, I unfriended you. This was what my first year of recovery was like. Alcohol became the enemy. I avoided it (yet studied it carefully), while formulating my defense plans.

In the second year the tension subsided. I realized that my addiction was an aspect of a greater problem - depression. In the second year alcohol free I was able to investigate and explore my issues with depression, from a sober and more chemically stable perspective.

Over this past year, leading up to today (1000 days sober) I have been focused on building a healthy lifestyle. I am back in school doing a Master’s in Counselling Psychology; I am a Recovery Coach and Addictions Counsellor: I am a volunteer mindfulness instructor and I also teach yoga! My daily routine includes a LOT of self-care and I get nine hours of sleep at night, every night.

Last night, I was getting ready for bed after studying, blogging and hanging with my family when I got the notification I was about to hit the 1000 day mark. It occurred to me that I don’t check that app everyday anymore. Actually I don’t check it every week or even every month. My sobriety is not a constant and conscious effort anymore - sober is my new normal!! Hallelujah, Amen!

Neuroscience says we can re-wire our brains to learn new habits. And my personal development books tell me that with practice, we can become more resilient and live more meaningful lives. But, I had not genuinely experienced this phenomenon myself. Or at least I had not experienced it to the extent I wanted to. I wanted to be free from the addicted mindset. I wanted this beautiful world to be enough for my craving mind. I wanted to love life the way it is - and not always need to alter it.

Getting that message last night that I was 1000 days sober felt like an encounter I once had with an old boyfriend. When we broke up I was pretty emotional. I was angry and sad and lonely. I would often think about the things I would say to him if I ran into him again. I had quite a speech prepared. Then one day, several years after the break up, I did run into him. I had my chance to let him have it! What happened of course? I couldn’t even remember his last name. I felt nothing for the guy. I was over it, soooo over it.

Now, I know I am not over drinking, in the way that I was over that boyfriend. I know recovery is going to be part of my life-style, for a long, long time. But, I am free from the grip alcohol once had on me. I am feeling good about my lifestyle and I have found purpose and meaning in my life.

There is an expression in the recovery world that goes something like this: Recovery is about building a life you don’t need to escape from….

My 1000 day gift to myself is my wonderful life. A life I don’t want to escape from.

Healthy Lies

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Although many aspects of Freud’s psychoanalytic theory have been disproven, there are some concepts that have been accepted in the field of psychology today (according to the text I was reading this afternoon). These concepts include: the unconscious, repression, projection and displacement. As I read through these concepts, I couldn’t help but try to make sense of them with respect to my own experience (apparently Freud liked to self-study as well). The process actually gave me a sense of relief, because ultimately Freud suggests that the lies we tell ourselves are simply defense mechanisms, meant to uphold good mental health. Over the past few years I have uncovered/discovered a number of lies I had been telling myself. Consequently, I felt badly about my lack of awareness and my resulting behaviours. Well, it turns out I should not have been so hard on myself. Here is a brief explanation:

As we have seen, these defense mechanisms are unconscious denials or distortions of reality. We are lying to ourselves when we use these defenses, but we are not aware of doing so. If we knew we were lying to ourselves, the defenses would not be so effective. If the defenses are working well, they keep threatening or disturbing material out of our conscious awareness. As a result, we may not know the truth about ourselves. We may have a distorted picture of our needs, fears, and desires. There are situations in which the truth about ourselves emerges, when our defenses break down and fail to protect us. This occurs in times of unusual stress (or when under- going psychoanalysis). When the defenses fail, we are stricken with overwhelming anxiety. We feel dismal, worthless, and depressed. Unless the defenses are restored, or new ones formed to take their place, we are likely to develop neurotic or psychotic symptoms. Thus, according to Freud, defenses are necessary to our mental health. We could not survive long without them.

Here are a few of these mechanisms and my history of use:

Repression: Involves unconscious denial of the existence of something that causes anxiety

I don’t think I do this, but then again if things are highly repressed, I wouldn’t know!

Denial: Involves denying the existence of an external threat or traumatic event

Direct quote from myself, to myself: “I drank a little too much last night, but that doesn’t happen often. I wasn’t that bad, and besides everyone else was doing the same thing…”

Reaction Formation: Involves expressing an id impulse that is the opposite of the one truly driving the person

Looking closely at the development of my career in recovery coaching - it was initially based on my attraction to alcohol. I wanted to oppose the desire with all my the power of my superego (conscience).

Projection: Involves attributing a disturbing impulse to someone else

“No, YOU have a drinking problem” is what I thought or said to the people around me before (and for a while after) I quit drinking.

Regression: Involves retreating to an earlier, less frustrating period of life and displaying the childish and dependent behaviors characteristic of that more secure time

Clinging to my husband for financial and emotional support, refusing to deal with adult problems and playing the victim role.

Rationalization: Involves reinterpreting behavior to make it more acceptable and less threatening

Almost every blog I’ve ever written.

Displacement: Involves shifting id impulses from a threatening or unavailable object to a substitute object that is available

Shit flows down. Only after I quit my job did I realize how much I took my workplace stress out on my family. I couldn’t fight back with my boss (the ego suppressed that) so I unloaded on my family (and some friends).

Sublimation: Involves altering or displacing id impulses by diverting instinctual energy into socially acceptable behavior

My drive to soothe anxiety with alcohol (unacceptable behaviour) with a socially acceptable behaviour - art (writing).

Well, there you have my Freudian analysis of my personal defense mechanisms. I am continually uncovering these lies as I practice mindfulness and work to improve my life. I can see now, how the lies I told myself were meant to keep me drinking, which was my go-to mechanism for reducing stress. Now that I have learned other ways to reduce tension, I no longer need the old lies. According to Freud however, the lies never stop. We continue to use a variety of defenses throughout our lives to keep us functioning and our stress levels low.

What are your defense mechanisms? Have you been lying to yourself? Can you see how the lies were meant to reduce stress and preserve your mental health?

He blames other people, because that is what 'addicts' do...

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Recently I spoke with a woman who was frustrated with her loved one, who she claims is “an addict”. She talked about how she had tried to help this ‘addict’ countless times, but he did not get better. She said, “He blames everyone else for his problems”, qualifying the statement by telling me “That is just what addicts do – they blame everyone else. They are selfish people.”

How sad I thought, that her impression of people with addictions, is so negative. I wonder if she had ever analysed the ways she tried to help this person. Did she give him ultimatums or conditions? Did she give him money or shelter or bail him out of jail? Did she ever ask him what he needed to get better? Did she listen to him? Did she love him unconditionally, sit with him or hold space for him? Did she give him compassion? Or, did she just judge him because he didn’t respond the way she expected.

I also found it ironic that she was blaming him for his addiction and his behaviour, not knowing what the cause of his addictive behaviour might be. Did she know his personal traumas? Did she know the chemical make-up of his brain? Did she know what it is like to walk in his shoes…. truly what it is like to be him and not what she assumes he should be thinking or doing?

In my experience, “addicts” are some of the most amazing, compassionate and resilient people on earth. In many cases, these people are desperately trying to find ways to deal with their problems, yet lacking the experience, support and love to do so. Addiction can affect anyone, not just selfish people. Addiction is a faulty way to deal with pain and there are a variety of stages involved. Some people die from addiction and others learn from it and evolve into happier and healthier lives. Regardless of where people are at on the spectrum of addiction, I have noticed that addicts all have something in common: vulnerability. People with addictions know they are not perfect, and they have a beautiful humility that connects them to others in a genuine way.

As a recovery coach and counsellor, and as an addict, I have had the privilege of spending my time with all kinds of people with addictions – people who are trying to help themselves. These people are going through some of the toughest times of their lives but still find it within them to reach out and support someone else. They are far from selfish.

I have also spent plenty of time in my life with people who are addicted, yet not in recovery. These people may be in denial or may never address their addictions. These people know on a root level that they are not perfect as well. They carry this humility, but it shows up in different ways. They might be more apt to project than to be vulnerable, but on some level, they know they are one of us.

If you are free from addictions, I expect you are not free from problems. Certainly, everyone is fighting a battle of some kind. Wouldn’t it make more sense that we try to see ourselves in other people and dig deep to find some compassion for each other?  Essentially this is all I am asking in the blog: Know that we are all the same. The addict is no more selfish than the non-addict. We are all trying to live, love and be loved.

The Opposite of Addiction is not Connection

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Countless times, clients have told me they are fine to smoke marijuana or cigarettes, or consume copious amounts of coffee - because their drug of choice was alcohol and these other drugs are not a problem for them. I have made the same rationalization to myself, as I sip a coffee in the afternoon and hide chocolate from my family in little corners of the cupboards. The truth is, our problem is not the particular drug of choice, be it sugar, chocolate, heroin or gambling. It is addiction that is our problem and until we disrupt the cycle of highs and lows, we will not recover.

Gabor Mate says addiction is about pain management. Often times addiction starts with an attempt to feel better or avoid the pain that comes from social anxiety or worse, trauma or abuse. The nature of any addictive drug is that it initially causes a sense of pleasure or high, followed by a negative experience of depression or anxiety. Chemically, we are throwing the system out of whack and it is desperately trying to come back to homeostasis. We cannot handle the hangover or the withdrawal that follows after taking our drug of choice and then we seek out the pleasure feeling again, this time just to help us return to feeling close to normal - not even to a sense of pleasure. Once we are in this loop it is difficult to get out of it. Physically it hurts to go through withdrawal; socially and emotionally we have repair work to do because inevitably we sacrifice our values and priorities, while riding the addiction roller coaster. It can seem overwhelming.

So instead of doing the hard work to overcome the problem of addiction, we just take another ride. We start to lean on other drugs or behaviors to help us escape pain, and avoid our problems. We are creatures of habit and even if the pattern is killing us, we choose to keep going instead of face the fear of change.

Johann Hari did a fabulous Ted Talk about addiction, in which he suggests that the opposite of addiction is connection. He claims that people need support and connection with others (and themselves) to thrive in a world instead of suffer with addiction. I agree that part of the process of healing addiction involves connection, but it is not the opposite of addiction. I think the opposite of addiction is stability. When we are in the addictive loop we are lost in a never-ending pattern of ups and downs - physically, mentally, spiritually.

To heal from addiction it requires firstly an awareness that you have been a slave to addiction. Do you start your day with coffee and end it with alcohol? Do you eat junk food or energy drinks all day? Do you lean on carbs for energy? Maybe you are hooked on social media, gambling or video games?

Maybe you consider yourself sober, like I do (used to). Are you sober from alcohol or cocaine, but still smoking like a chimney? Some people call this ‘dry drunk’ syndrome, which is to have kicked one drug but not addressed the issues behind why you did the drug, thus continuing with negative patterns of addiction elsewhere in your life. Are you a dry-drunk? Have you simply transferred your addiction?

Certainly it is an achievement to kick a bad habit and you will get all kinds of praise for me for doing so, but i invite you to join me in taking a good look how addiction has manifested in our lives. Are you still an addict? In what ways do you still need to stabilize your life? When you are honest with yourself you can identify the work that still needs to be done and take the next step forward in your recovery.

Recovery is an ongoing process of healing your life. It is never easy to overcome an addiction, but it is always worth it!

What you did this morning can tell you a lot.

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Take a moment to think back on your day from the moment you woke up to this very moment. Did you wake up to an alarm? Did you hit snooze? What kind of mood were you in when it went off? Why was it set for that particular time? What were you wearing? Did you stretch or drink water or pray before you woke up? Who was there? How did your morning unfold? How much was planned? How much was routine? What happened randomly? Did you eat breakfast, exercise or write? Did you meditate, watch the sunrise or hustle off to work?

Tara Brach says “The way you live today, is the way you live your life”. It is not our title or label that defines us, but the little things we do every day. For example, if you chop vegetables and prep for meals each day, you will be a good eater and healthy person. If you are kind to people and do good deeds you will live a connected life full of friends and community. If you make your bed in the morning you will appreciate your bedtime ritual and sleep well.

So the question is… Who do you want to be? Once you figure that out, the next question is: What kinds of things does that person you want to be, do on a daily basis? If your current actions are not in alignment with that of the person you are becoming, ask yourself… What needs to change about my daily routine that will bring forth the new me?

I asked myself who I wanted to be and decided the person I am becoming is organized, professional, positive, productive, genuine, loving, healthy and inspired! Alas, some changes need to be made to my daily routine!

Organized: In addition to my google calendar I will add alarms and notifications to ensure I am prepared for meetings and events. I will set a regular alarm in the morning to leave time for a morning ritual that sets me up for success.

Professional: I will partner with professionals in my field for inspiration, support and collaboration.

Positive: I will write out my daily gratitudes, set an intention not to complain and commit to choosing thoughts that serve me as part of my mindset practice.

Genuine: What I say and do will be real. It will be my truth, my perspective and no bullshit.

Productive: Social media and Netflix are out - scheduled self-care is in.

Loving: I am committed to meeting anger with compassion - particularly my own. I have a number of exercises and apps to help me with this.

Healthy: I am only as healthy as my thoughts. Everyday is a commitment to choosing healthy thoughts. Mindfulness helps me to identify my thoughts. I continue to learn about and practice physical health routines. ie. exercise, nutrition.

Inspired: My universe is a classroom. There is no end to opportunities to learn. Learning is evolving and evolving is my life’s purpose!

Friends… I challenge you to go through this process and see how your daily routine is a map for your life. What do you do each day that reflects who you are becoming? Do you like who you are becoming? Is your routine intentional? What needs to change to live your most amazing life?

I love you, alcohol.

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Every time I catch myself thinking fondly of red wine, I immediately get scared and think, “I must be experiencing relapse! Why does my mind keep thinking of all the good times I had when I was drinking?” I assume I am romanticizing about alcohol (which is dangerous to a person in recovery) therefore I must quickly remind myself of all the negative repercussions of drinking and ground myself in sobriety. I am going to guess this happens about 3 times a day. (That may sound like a lot but in the beginning it was about 20 times a day). I like to think I am retraining for my brain for sobriety by reviewing all the terrible things alcohol can do to me, but am I also reinforcing a negative mindset?

A common exercise for people in recovery from alcohol is to write a ‘goodbye’ letter to alcohol. It is suggested we make a list all the toxic and damaging experiences we had with the drink and keep this letter close should we ever feel tempted to go back to it, like the desire to go back to an old (yet abusive) lover. I have been a fan of this exercise until today… when it occurred to me, that my efforts to re-train my brain, may have served to sabotage my joy. A goodbye letter does not need to be mean good riddance, why can’t it be a love letter?

I know as much as the next adult that alcohol is bad for you. It is toxic and addictive and has ruined billions of lives. But when I think about my experience with alcohol, most of my memories are good. That’s right, my experiences with alcohol were mostly good - until they went bad. When they went bad, they went real bad and it was indeed time to stop. But does that mean the I need to look at the length of my relationship with alcohol as all bad? And not only that do I need to look at all the relationships I had with people who drank with as bad too? Of course not - but I will admit, this is what I felt I needed to do to overcome my addiction. Wow, it’s been a long and painful few years.

I compare it to my relationship with my father and the grief I experienced when he died. A few years after he died, all I could think about was how sick he was in the end. Eventually, I started to remember the years before his death and some of the good times we had. Now that my kids are getting older I am having memories of beautiful times spent with my dad when I was a little kid. The full range of our relationship is finally settling in my memory and I am at peace with him. The relationship is over and he is gone and I accept what it was, including all the flaws.

My husband does not drink alcohol either. Yet, he loves to talk about the old days when he was a wild teenager drinking with his buddies and getting in trouble. I would drive me crazy to hear him talk like this and it scared me that this would influence our children to want to drink. Really, I think it was just a sign that he was comfortable with his relationship with alcohol and remembering his youth fondly without judging himself or others. He doesn’t want to forget his drinking days, but he has no intention of reviving them. Drinking stays where it belongs for him, in the past.

What a lesson this is for me today! It honestly never really sunk in how paranoid I have been about talking about drinking with any kind of fondness, or of people who drink and talk about drinking fondly. I felt like I might get sucked in and manipulated back into the miserable state I was in before I quit. Of course this would not happen. I was trying way too hard to protect myself!

It is time to change the power dynamic between me and alcohol. My letter will not be a goodbye, rather a letter of love and appreciation:

Dear alcohol,

You have been there for me my whole life and will be with me until the day I die. I trust you will never leave, and I am grateful for all the support, lessons and opportunities you have given me.

You continue to help me grow and evolve as a person, as I come to understand what you are all about. You have given me a channel for connection with other people. Because of you, I was inspired to dig deep, live consciously and make improvements to my health and lifestyle.

Thank you alcohol, I welcome the memories, good and bad. I look forward to our future together and all that it shall bring. There is enough room in this life for the both of us to live interdependently. I am sorry I ever tried to cut you out of life. You are vital to my past and to my future. I accept, welcome and embrace you.

I love you, alcohol

Karyn.

Because it was never a secret!

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If you are wondering whether you should tell a friend or family member about your problem with alcohol, I have some news for you. Most likely they already know. In fact, it is highly likely that almost everyone you know, knows. It is you, who is the last to know. It is called denial friend. Good news is, if you are thinking of talking about your problem - you may have just gotten through one of the most difficult stages of recovery.

The same applies to depression. Feeling like you should let people know you struggle with depression but feeling afraid the stigma may be too much? Know this - most likely the people you know and love are well aware of your depression and are desperate to help you, but don’t know how. They are walking on eggshells and wishing you would just talk about it. Indeed there may be some stigma involved in your choice to talk about your problems, or seek a formal diagnosis, but this perceived judgement is a tiny price to pay for the loads of love and support that could become available to you, when you open up.

I found myself laughing out loud to myself today, as I drove home from work thinking about my last few years of change. I was thinking back to the email I sent my family members saying I had depression issues and was going to be taking medication and would no longer be drinking. It was like I expected them to gasp in disbelief. Much to my surprise, they were not at all surprised. There were no comments like “ You have a what? A drinking problem? I never would have thought….” Nope, not one. And, nobody said, “Are you kidding? You are depressed? Not you…. you are always so together!” That statement did not come my way. Instead it was more like… “Of course we will support you. Glad you are getting help” and “Thanks for sharing.”

So please, my fellow human who struggles with difficult thoughts and cravings to escape - do not go another day thinking you are hiding your dirty little secrets. It is always better to share. You will discover your issues are nothing to be ashamed of and that there is a world of support waiting for you.

There is a secret involved with this blog however - and here it is: It is not the people you expect to help you who will be the ones who help you most. You will be surprised by the miracles that happen when you open up. For me it was the people who gave me “likes” on facebook, with a little message of hope. It was the neighbour who dropped off a newspaper article at my house with a note of encouragement. It was the text that said, “Me too! I read your article and it helped me!” It was the people who started saying hi to me on the street or in the grocery store who never did before - but since speaking up they felt connected and welcomed me in with a smile.

Now, I’m not saying you need to become the poster-person for addiction or depression and start blogging and writing about every little detail (that’s my jam :) but I am saying you will not regret talking with people - a number of different people, with different perspectives, about your problems. It is not a burden to others when you make yourself vulnerable; it is an opportunity to connect and share gifts. It is not likely the person you open up to will have a toolbox of mindfulness techniques to teach you but they may intuitively know how to hold space for you and listen.

If you don’t know where to start, start here. Send me a message and I will write you back. You will be heard.

Much love friends,

Karyn

Some of the Truths I did not tell you.

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A few years ago I started to write about the changes I was making in my life. I talked about depression and addiction and the struggles and accomplishments I was encountering. I was determined to tell my truth, mostly as a way to motivate myself to keep going, but also to start a conversation with other people who are going through the same thing - to give other people permission to speak their truth and find comfort from others.

I have learned so much since I started sharing and not all of it is good. Not all messages were met with compassion and not all conversations became a platform for positive connection as I hoped. Sometimes I would post something and then quickly take it down. I would tick-tock between pride and shame about the things I put out there. Sometimes people would say negative things, or accuse me of being an attention-seeker. Other people would interpret things in a way I did not intend and I could not accept it. I wanted to erase the interactions that didn’t go my way. I wanted to control the externals, but of course this is impossible. Growth and evolution require making mistakes and trying again.

I realized this morning as I jogged along thinking about life, that I have been selective about what I share. As much as I have tried to put it all out there, I have held back on the things that might contradict the image I am creating for my best self. I am pointing out my flaws, but doing it carefully. I realized this morning this goes against my reasons for sharing. It is just another way of being safe or of self-promotion - like people posting selfies and telling stories with snapshots with no context.

So here are a few truths that keep me up at night still. Here is some of the real me. I am telling you this because I want to relieve myself of some burdens and so you can take comfort in knowing you are not alone. We all have our issues and not all of us will find comfort in sharing. For me there is some freedom in telling the truth.

Death: I think about death constantly. I am afraid of it, yet intrigued by it. If my husband doesn’t text me back I think he is in a car accident and then I play out all of the scenarios of my life without him. I fear the pain that comes with death, particularly my own. How much pain can a person take? How does that work? What is consciousness? How will it serve me when my time comes. Is there a soul that transcends my skin-suit? When I am depressed I romanticize death. I think about how much I want to leave this world. Then I think about my kids and hate myself for thinking that way. I still feel guilty for being a bad friend to Alex, who died when I was 12. I wonder if her soul resents me and I wonder if I am wasting my life, having been giving the gift of staying alive, when her chance was taken away.

Addiction: I still wish I could drink wine sometimes. I feel jealous of other people who don’t have addictions. But then I think about how everyone has addictions and how lucky I am to be sober and to be free from the cycle. I catch myself doing relapse thinking and wonder… will this ever go away? Will I always have something inside me that craves the escape that alcohol gave me? I coach people every day about how to overcome addiction, yet I may never be fully recovered myself. I know this gives me an advantage in that I can relate to the struggle of others, but I still lay awake feeling like a fraud.

Independence: I am ashamed of my salary. I have never made enough money to support myself or my family. Even when I lived on my own in my twenties and had a decent job, I lived beyond my means and did not manage my finances well. This lack of independence weighs on me daily. I am grateful to the people who have supported me but my intention is to change this situation. I worry my depression will hold me back from accomplishing this. Perhaps this thinking is what has held me back all along. I know I am smart enough to make good money, yet, I have never done it.

Mental Health: I resent being on medication. There is no shame for a person with diabetes to take insulin, yet I struggle to think a person with low seratonin should take SSRI’s. I am constantly looking for ways to blame life circumstances for my mood, rather than accepting that my chemicals are insufficient. I cannot believe that chemicals effect my personality. I keep believing my thoughts should be independent of my chemicals… even though I continue to learn this is not true. What I teach and what I believe does not always align.

Friends: I think people hate me. Even though I have no real evidence of this, I constantly tell myself a story about why people dislike me and how they try to exclude me and avoid me. I know… that most people do not give my existence enough thought to try to avoid or invite me to anything at all. They are wrapped up in their own lives and really do not care enough either way - but this is one of my insecurities. I am constantly working on this. It consumes me a lot of the time.

Inspiration: I still believe I am special. There is something inside me that knows I have a lot of motivation, drive, insight, intelligence and compassion and that I was meant to do something wonderful with it. On a daily basis I am recognizing more and more opportunities to put my unique gifts into practice. My jobs are a better fit for my skills. My connection with my husband and kids is deepening and I am loving life more than I used to. I am grateful more and resentful less. I am evolving. I am a work in progress.

YOU: I do not know who will read these words or how it may affect you, but my hope is that you may feel some of the relief as you read this, as I am feeling as I write it.

Be well,

Out of the mud, blooms a thousand-petaled flower.

The philosophy of yoga uses the thousand-petaled white lotus flower as a symbol of inspiration. This flower is said to rise up from deep down in the muck and blossom into a beaming white oracle. We are also meant to rise up from the darkness and bloom.

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The muck for me, is called depression. Like the lotus flower, I have had moments of rising from the darkness and sharing my gifts with the world, only to watch my pedals fall off and my stem rot. And then I must start over.

Just as nature is an ongoing process of growth and decay, so is my depression. Every stage in the cycle has value. I have come to accept that the dark times need not be dreaded. In nature, this is when the nurturing and development happens. In the cycle of depression, the dark times are when the learning and healing happens.

However, one can get stuck in the mud. When this happens, a little fertilizer may be in order. If you are feeling stuck and need a boost, here are some tips. I made this list to help me out of my depression. Please use it to help yourself blossom:

To move out of sadness and into happiness, practice gratitude.

To move out of insecurity and into confidence, practice affirmation.

To move out of anger and into calm, practice compassion.

To move out of bitterness and into kindness, practice charity.

To move out of exhaustion and into feeling energized, practice self-care.

Be the Tortoise.

It’s easy to quit drinking: I’ve done it number of times, but it is hard to stay quit.

For those of you who have struggled with drinking, please let me offer some words of encouragement and a little bit of advice. BE THE TORTOISE! You know who wins the race in the end right?

If we use the analogy of life being a race, then let’s think about it like an ultramarathon. It requires endurance, resilience, training and unwaivering faith to make it to the end.

So, if you happen to be someone who is new to recovery and you came out of starting gates like a rabbit, feeling empowered, inspired, motivated and confident, only to find yourself relapsing within a few days or weeks, please keep this in mind… it’s a good thing that you have been feeling so pumped! The excited feeling is what helped you to fall in love with sobriety. It’s like the feeling of being infatuated with a new lover (well maybe not that good). Point is: to get hooked on recovery, you need to have a honeymoon period.

But there is always a bump in the road. It may not be a full-blown relapse, but inevitably you will find yourself losing steam. Old patterns or stress will tempt you to give up on your new lifestyle. You might want to give up and just step out of the race altogether.

This is not an option friend, and here is why. You have already entered the race. You have already taken steps toward creating a better life. Everything you have learned and experienced up until now is still with you, regardless of any setbacks. Of course we want to avoid relapse, but if it happens, be sure to use it to your advantage. Use it to learn about the course and how to steer around obstacles next time. Use your mistakes to improve your running style. Let relapse help you to become a more solid in your sobriety.

Relapse invites you to take a good, honest look at your strengths and weaknesses. It serves as a starting place for digging into your root issues. Maybe your recovery plan needs some tweaking? Maybe you need to acknowledge that you need support or help in some way from friends or family? Maybe you need a pit crew?

Keep putting one foot in front of the other and moving in the forward direction. Just like the tortoise, if you shift into ‘slow and steady’ gear, you are bound to win this race.

Just say to yourself, I am fine with that.

There are some things in life I just don’t do anymore, and I am fine with that.

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For example, I won’t be having any more babies. It was a special time in my life (albeit very tiring) but that time is over. Another example, I don’t do gymnastics. It was fun to do back handsprings as a kid, but that will never happen again for this spine. Here’s another thing I won’t do again: drink alcohol. It served a purpose for me at various times in my life, but the my relationship with alcohol turned bad. My drinking days are over.

In life we learn to accept that certain things will come and go. We expect to go through a number of stages and we appreciate our experiences along the way. When we experience ends, we make space to embrace the next thing. So why is it, when it we realize the time has come to put an end to drinking, we just can’t seem to let it go? We hold onto it like a an old football star who constantly relives his glory days, or a prom queen who wears her tiara to the grocery store. We deny the reality that those days are done. We keep thinking we can go back for one last ‘hurrah’.

Sobriety requires acceptance and understanding. The acceptance is about letting go of the past. The understanding is about knowing yourself and your addiction and learning to love your life right now and plan for an awesome future.

When we relapse, it has a lot to do with the belief that we can go back in time to a romantic moment with alcohol. My romantic moment is always about the first drink. I see myself sipping a glass of wine in this fun or relaxing scenario or that, never fast-fowarding to the second or third or forth glass. My trick for avoiding relapse is to play that tape forward. How does it all work out after the fourth glass? Not well of course.

* This trick only works if you can be really honest with yourself. Ask yourself: When was the last time I had just one drink and stopped there - really?

Everyone has problems. As much as it may seem that the people around you are “lucky’ because they can still drink, your perception may be very skewed. Perhaps the people you see drinking do not have a drinking problem, or perhaps they do and have yet to determine their relationship with booze. You can never know what is going on for them in their lives with any real understanding; you can only know what is true for you - your truth being that drinking is no longer a part of your life.

Once you have decided you are no longer a drinker, the angst of making the decision is over. Few!

You can go out into the world an embrace new things. You will realize that life is enjoyable and exciting and there is so much more out there to rock your world, now that you don’t numb your brain with booze. Work on a mindset that appreciates your personal insight and maturity and rolls with it. You are evolving and making yourself open to greatness!

Quitting drinking is not something to lament over or grieve for any length of time. I invite you to tell yourself “I don’t drink, and I am fine with that” and move on with your day. In the beginning this little ‘mantra’ may feel kind of weird, especially if you identify as a drinker.

The prom queen need no longer tell herself ‘I am a prom queen’. Her tiara does not define her. She might call herself the …CEO, friend, mom, volunteer, activist, or whatever it is that she has become. Don’t define yourself by what you were - rather embrace who you are now and who you are becoming.

Thank goodness I have a drinking problem!

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Of all the problems a person could have in this world, I thank goodness my problem is drinking. I haven’t always felt this way, but I certainly do now that I am 2.5 years sober and still learning and growing from the experience of quitting drinking.

Let me share some of the ways this so-called problem has enhanced and improved my life. Perhaps my realizations will serve to help you see your current struggle with alcohol, as a gift.

  1. Unlike other illnesses labelled as ‘diseases’ the physical symptoms of the disease of alcoholism disappear, when the alcohol disappears. An alcoholic, in most cases, can expect a full recovery if they quit drinking, perhaps even a journey to thriving vitality!

  2. Quitting drinking requires a deep level of self-compassion and significant periods of solitude. Getting to know myself on a new level has been a valuable experience. Especially now that I realize, I am child of this universe, and I deserve to be here.

  3. Until I quit drinking I was unable to see myself in others. I looked for ways to separate myself out of fear and insecurity. Now, I spend a lot of time with people with addictions and mental health issues and I have come to understand, truly, how we are all the same.

  4. Personal development is my jam. When people quit drinking they discover and re-discover things they love about life. We get more creative, more energized and find purpose and meaning in life.

  5. I used to pair alcohol with almost everything under the sun. Name the occasion, I could find a reason why it was better with alcohol. If I had kept drinking I would never have known how to appreciate life naturally. It turns out I gave way to much credit to booze for enhancing my experience. I have discovered that life is actually quite amazing - particularly now that I am present for it.

  6. Patterns are hard to break, especially if you are genetically pre-disposed to certain diseases or disorders such as alcoholism. The study of epigenetics says that we are not slaves to our history. We have a lot more control over who we become and how our lives will unfold. We can break patterns, evolve and make the world a better place for our children.

  7. If I didn’t suffer with a drinking problem, I would not have the deep appreciation for the power of my own mind to overcome adversity. As well I would not have developed the desire to help people on a personal and meaningful level as I do now. I had to experience the depths of despair that came with drinking to know the genuine sense of connection that comes with sobriety. Like most things in life, you can’t know the good without the bad.

What a husband could say to help his depressed wife.

In moments when I am suffering, I do not know what to do to help myself, nor does my husband. The two of us play out a pattern that typically ends in me coming completely undone, feeling totally isolated and hopeless, and him feeling sad, angry, frustrated and helpless.

Depression is a sneaky disorder. I’ve heard the expression “depression lies to us” and in moments of clarity I can see how this is true. Depression tells us terrible things about ourselves and others. Depression tells us life isn’t worth living. Depression is so incredibly dark.

I am guilty of always trying to intellectualize depression, trying to think my way out of the spinning decline to misery, but it is impossible. Thinking amplifies depression. Distorted thinking that is, paired with heightened emotions and some physical symptoms such as exhaustion and pain.

In my last bout of depression I found myself desperately trying to get my husband to help me. I wanted him to say something to make me feel better. I was unable to help myself. We were both at a loss. But now, that the fog is clearing it occurred to me to prepare for next time - and as much as I like to deny it, there is always a next time.

This is what I think a depressed wife needs to hear from her husband, when she is unable to help herself out of the darkness:

You are not wrong, or a bad person, or crazy.

Indeed people have done things to hurt you, but people are flawed. People forgive, that is what they do. Other people get along well because they can forgive. Try to be forgiving. You will feel better soon.

You are not hated, the kids love you like crazy and so do I. This will pass and we will be okay.

Things seem dark right now, but a lot of this is physical. You are tired, how can I help you get rested?

Do you want to watch a show together? It’s time to rest your busy mind.

I can think of so many things that I love about you.

Tomorrow will be a better day.

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Just quit drinking and you have to go to a party? Don't panic! Here are some Dos and Don'ts

It is tough to quit drinking. Not only do you need to re-wire your brain, you need to re-structure your life - every aspect of your life, including your social life.

In the beginning stages, it may seem easier just to avoid socializing all together; just the thought of a party can cause huge fear and anxiety. But eventually there will be a wedding, funeral, birthday party or family dinner that you simply cannot avoid - nor should you, because this event can help you to realize, it isn’t all about you. You need to show up for other people.

And so, how will you do it? Well, let me start by telling you what not to do - based on my own personal experiences:

1) Don’t spend every minute before the event, stressing about it and picturing yourself feeling embarrassed because you don’t drink. Don’t assume people will judge you or that they will think you are judging them. This negative thought loop could tie you up for hours or days… don’t go there. All the fear and anxiety lives in the moments before the event. When you get there, you will realize it was all for nothing. People really don’t care what you are drinking. It is YOU who is overthinking it, and only you.

2) Do not show up empty handed. Set yourself up for success by bringing your non-alcoholic drink of choice. My favourite is non-alcoholic Grolsh beer. Your host will be grateful there are no awkward moments that can happen when trying to find the sober person a non-alcoholic drink.

3) Do not look for evidence that you do not belong. Early in my sobriety, I went to a birthday party at which all I could do was pick out reasons I didn’t belong. People were talking about how much they love having alcohol available in grocery stores; people were complimenting the hosts on the fine wines they were serving; people were toasting and glasses were clinking. It was like the sound of a thousand nails on a chalkboard to me. I ran out of that house within minutes of arriving. All because I convinced myself I had no business being there, as a non-drinker. Of course this is ridiculous. Nobody changed their habits beside me. Nobody had decided I should not be there, in fact I was invited and therefore welcome to be there. It was all in my head. Don’t let this happen to you. Remember: You were invited. You belong.

4) Don’t judge. You quit drinking and I congratulate you and commend you on your choice. But don’t look for reasons why everyone else should quit too. Surely other people have problems they are not recognizing or dealing with, but it is not your business. Try to just be and let be. This can be hard to do when you have been working on your own awareness and trying to surround yourself with awesome people who inspire you - but at a party, it is not your place to judge. It is your place to be polite and honour the people you are there to celebrate.

5) Don’t stay late. Nothing good happens after 11 o’clock. Enjoy the conversation, the food and the fun and then get on outta there before things go sideways. Just don’t be there for it - go home.

6) Celebrate sobriety at home the next morning. Wake up after a great sleep, make yourself some pancakes and a healthy shake, drink some coffee, read, exercise and spend the day with your family or working or whatever floats your boat. It will come so easily to you because your mind is clear and you feel fantastic. You will be present for your children and proud of yourself for making the good choice.

So, go forth sober friends and embrace the celebrations ahead! You deserve to be there! Your true friends and family love the real you - the one who doesn’t drink. Go and support your loved ones in a genuine and healthy way!

Is there anything more important than quitting drinking? Really?

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If drinking is a problem for you and you have decided you need to quit, then quitting must become your absolute top priority - or your chances of success are slim. Sound a bit extreme? Consider this:

Has drinking ever come before your family? Perhaps you have chosen to drink instead of spending quality time with your kids? Perhaps you let drinking cloud your relationships, or cause conflict between you and your loved ones?

What about your finances? Have you ever spent more money on drinking than you meant to? Have you ever regretted your spending after drinking too much? Have you ever missed work because of drinking, or perhaps under-performed at work, therefore negating your chances of a raise?

And then there is your health. How many times have you ignored signs of illness (short-term or chronic) due to drinking? Have you ever picked up a brochure about drinking and read about the health risks and told yourself, that won’t happen to me? Have you lied to yourself and others about your physical well being for fear you might have to consider reducing or quitting drinking, in order to get better, or even to live?

And your mental health? Feeling depressed or anxious? Feeling shame or disgust about your own behaviour? Noticing yourself deny signs of poor mental health, so you can keep on drinking?

Have you turned your back on groups, activities or communities you were once glad to be a part of ?

Has drinking come before every other priority in your life at some point? YES?

Well then, if you have decided to quit drinking, you must make recovery your highest priority. As you heal from your addiction, you will find yourself getting back in touch with what truly matters to you - but only after you give sobriety your utmost respect and commitment.

There is no half-ass, part-time effort involved here. It is a big, big deal.

There is an exercise the SMART Recovery group uses to demonstrate the concept I am discussing here. It is called the ‘hierarchy of values’. I suggest you check it out, as part of your exploration of sober living. The SMART Recovery people are great - wonderful group with really practical tools and strategies for recovery from addiction of all kinds. Go here to learn more www.smartrecovery.org

Force the smile if you have to

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A big part of the recovery process is getting in touch with your real feelings. People spend years of their lives numbing and avoiding unwanted feelings or thoughts, so they can survive in life as they know it.

Indeed it is important to go through the unwanted feelings but is it really necessary to show them? Do you need to get mad, sad and angry? Do you need to let all the people who have done you wrong, know exactly how and why they hurt you?

I’m going to give you advice I wish someone gave me. Don’t show it. And here’s why. Nobody is coming. Nobody is going to respond to your cries for help - sounds harsh, but I’m sorry, it is the truth.

Now, I’m not saying you shouldn’t feel the feelings and let it all out somehow, I’m just saying not to do it publicly. And I say this to help you - because what you really want in the end is to connect with people and feel supported. You aren’t going to attract love and kindness, by acting out with pain and anger. You will send people running. They will not like you. You will perpetuate a cycle of rejection, sadness and anger.

Here are some ways you can express your negative thoughts and emotions, without ruining your chances at finding love and connection. Hire a therapist, write letters, blogs or poems, draw or paint, run or do yoga. I have seen hundreds (really… hundreds) of women cry on their mats. Scream in your pillow. Shout it out in your car with the window up…. and then let it stop there.

Recently I met a man who showed me this lesson. I couldn’t see it in myself, until I witnessed the way he interacted with the world and how it worked out for him. It was like looking in a mirror. This poor guy had a story about how he was adopted and how he felt like an outsider in his family growing up. He was skinny and unhealthy and people didn’t like him or pick him for teams, or even invite him to birthday parties. He told this story any opportunity he could get. He still wasn’t over the way he was treated as a kid. It was like he expected everyone in his current life (even though they knew nothing of his past) to be on board with the mean people and join in making his life hell. When I saw the way people interacted with him, I realized he was right. People appeared not to like him. They tried to avoid him. They didn’t take any interest in what he was saying. They did this not because they wanted to make him a victim, but because they had no interest in spending time with someone so negative and life-sucking. Why would they?

I realized I do this. I look for reasons to be offended. I expect people to treat me in ways people have treated me in the past. My attitude creates a self-fulfilling prophecy. People shy away from me, because I send out the vibe that I expect them to do or say something mean or hurtful. We are all falling in line with the law of attraction. You get what you put out.

So yes friends… feel all the feelings you need to in order to process your past and then leave it where it belongs. In the past. Get mad and upset and angry and express it through art, writing, crying or screaming… but do it alone (or with a therapist). And then go out and seek what you truly desire and deserve. Wear the smile you want to see smiling back at you. Do the kind deed you would love to receive yourself. Be the kind of friend you seek - loving, compassionate, fun and free.

Don’t forget. You are a child of this universe and you deserve to be here. Who are you not to be amazing?

Namaste.