Vol.13 , No. 2
Welcome to the May edition of Tips and Topics with special guest writer, my son, Taylor. I hope you enjoy his blogging debut.
David Mee-Lee M.D.
I don’t have the family construction business or ice cream store where I can hand over the reins of management to my children. I’m not in a business where my son can become the CEO while I hold onto Chairman of the Board. But I can provide an opportunity for my children (and in this case, my son) to try their hand at leadership and personal and professional growth through writing and speaking, just like dear ole dad.
So please enjoy Taylor’s first Tips and Topics piece. Here it is – from the life and pen of Taylor Mee-Lee:
A couple of years ago, a friend introduced me to the idea of “Sober Q1”, abstaining from alcohol and any other intoxicants for the first 3 months of the year. At the time, it had about as much appeal as carrying a backpack full of rocks around all day. However, like most good ideas, a seed was planted that waited for the right conditions to germinate and grow. Those conditions arose in late fall of last year, as I emerged from a relatively intense period of anxiety. Some people struggle with anger, others with boredom and apathy; for me, worrying and the tendency to ruminate about all that could go wrong has caused a lot of pain over the years. Whether it was the natural questions arising from turning 30 last year – What am I doing with myself? Why do I keep doing this (insert any unhelpful behavior)? Why don’t I have what I want yet? – or just bad timing, I found myself feeling scared, shaken, and resolved to get stronger so I didn’t have to go through that kind of suffering again.
They say it’s always darkest before the dawn; there’s always breakdowns before breakthroughs; or you must hit rock bottom to really get motivated to make a change. (I’ve been hearing about the Stages of Change since I was a teenager!). Whatever it was, I was ready to take something on, to feed that part of me that goes on a mission for something. It dawned on me that Sober Q1 could be it.
Find your “why”, and keep reminding yourself, again, and again
What’s the point? It is that running away from something is rarely enough to keep you committed to a goal. I learned the only thing that helped me honor my word throughout Sober Q1 was realizing why I was doing this, and then reminding myself over and over again. I knew giving up drinking for three months would have a lot of benefits, but as I approached January 1st, it dawned on me why I was doing this: I wanted a clear mind more than anything else. I wanted to face the insecurities, the fear, the uncomfortable thoughts and feelings that would come up…and move through them. What I really wanted was to discover who I could be without alcohol.
I won’t lie, it was hard at first. In mid-January, when I was standing in a bar watching the New England Patriots go down by 14 points twice in the same game against the Baltimore Ravens in the National Football League (NFL) playoffs (Go Pats!), every fiber of my being wanted to order a drink. I was sucking back soda waters with lime like a camel about to enter the desert! In that moment though, I reminded myself of why I was doing this, and I held firm. I can promise you that in that moment, nothing less than my deepest commitment, my real “why” would do.
Whether it’s Sober Q1, cutting out sugar, going to the gym 3x/week, or giving up criticizing yourself, I learned that the most important thing to be nurtured is the commitment to your goal. We often think of commitment as something which lives only inside of us personally. When we’re feeling good, it’s easy to say no to the drink or the piece of cake. However when we’re tired, frustrated or things become stressful, that commitment is gone and we usually end up slipping. If you’re like me, what follows shortly thereafter is withering self-criticism about how I’m lazy, can never stick to anything, and will never get what I want!!
There is a way around this. It involves tapping into a whole other realm of where your commitment can live: with other people. I learned that people get inspired by your goals and want to help. First, you must tell them what you’re doing and why you’re doing it. If you do that, your commitment now lives not only inside of you, but in the minds and hearts of everyone you speak to. When I would go out with friends, they would always make sure my soda water glass was full, or asked the bartender to concoct some exciting virgin cocktail.
I think the best thing about telling all of my friends, co-workers, housemates, and even random strangers about Sober Q1 is that it firmly slammed shut the back door I could have kept open. When thoughts crept into my mind of “Screw this. I don’t care anymore. I’m just gonna drink,” I knew that there was a boatload of people I would have to answer to. In essence, my commitment didn’t live only inside of me, subject to my moods, levels of energy or inspiration. It lived outside of me as well, and that made all the difference.
As I write this, it’s late April and I made it!
Take a look at the lessons learned from Sober Q1.
LESSON: All that you’re ever dealing with is an uncomfortable thought or emotion, and they will pass. What’s on the other side is bliss.
Before I took on Sober Q1, I had a number of fears: “What if I don’t enjoy going out to bars anymore? What will I do on a Friday night? Where do I take a girl on a first date? What if I get awkward?” Underneath it all though, was really this: “What if I’m unhappy?”
Throughout these 3 months, there were a number of times, while at parties, concerts, or happy hours, when I would think: “What if I don’t have fun?” Almost simultaneously, an emotion would come over me – a mix of fear, worry, and general discomfort. And then…it would be gone, just like that. Sometimes it would take 10 seconds, other times it would hang around for hours, but it always went away eventually- always. What would be left after the fear or discomfort dissipated is hard to put into words. But here are some adjectives which seem to fit: rooted, centered, rock-solid, unshakeable, deeply peaceful, excited.
LESSON: It’s easy when you’re all in.
Jack Canfield, the author of the “Chicken Soup for the Soul” series, has a saying: “99% is a bitch. 100% is a breeze.” This goes back to the idea of keeping a back door open for yourself. If you’re always negotiating with yourself about whether or not you will stick to something, the most tiring and cumbersome part is trying to figure out, in each moment, whether or not you should do this or that. In the past, I’ve said to myself, “I’m only gonna drink when it’s really worth it, when the mood is right, or I’m with great people.” What inevitably happened was an opportunity to drink would come up. I would debate back and forth in my mind as to whether it was “worth it” or not. Whether I did or didn’t drink was unimportant. There was a cost! It was in the mental bandwidth taken up by constantly debating between my commitment and my desire in the moment.
In my Sober Q1, I realized just how much energy that debate of “should I or shouldn’t I” takes up, and because I was all in, I realized how free it feels to be 100% committed. The energy that would have otherwise been consumed by the internal dialogue was free to go to other things, or nothing at all. Either way, there was no struggle.
LESSON: I can do whatever I want.
On one level, Sober Q1 was about a rather narrow slice of my life: whether or not I would drink a certain type of beverage. However, what it took to stay true to my commitment and what got strengthened and uncovered in the process, is something affecting every area of my life.
I think there is a part of us that lives beneath all the ups and downs of life, and knows we are good and everything is going to be OK, no matter what happens. I like to refer to that part of me as “Big Me”. “Little Me” can be freaking out about how I’ll never get what I want because I’m too lazy, don’t work hard enough, or will end up alone and unhappy. But Big Me just sits in the background like a happy rock – peaceful, at ease, and free. I imagine this is what many religious traditions refer to as the laughing Buddha, or Spirit, or the Peace of God.
What I do know is that Big Me was strengthened by taking on Sober Q1. I faced the fear and discomfort of unknown territory. I became more acquainted with what has always been there underneath. Now the question can be, “What do I want to do next?”
From the Soul of Taylor:
I imagine some of you have known my father or been reading Tips and Topics for years. For others, this may be your first edition, in which case I give you my apologies and promise the expert will be back next month! In any case, I thought it would be nice to use this section to tell you what I really love and admire about my father.
1: He’s always there. Always.
When I was in junior high, class got out at 3:15 pm every day. I would wait on the corner for one of my parents to pick me up. I soon learned if it was my mom’s turn, it was best to tell her school got out at 2:45 that day, so with the customary 30-minute lag, she would be right on time! My mother is a wonderful woman, but punctuality was never a strength in those days. On the other hand, there would be Dad sitting in his car right as the bell rung. This is just a fun memory now, but I have learned so much from him about the power of showing up, especially for those you love. Emails always get answered, phone calls are always picked up. What that has given me is an unshakeable foundation I have relied upon again and again for comfort and strength, as I’ve grown up and ventured out on my own.
2: He lets go of the past and listens with an open mind.
No one is perfect. I’m sure my mother might have a thing or two to say about this after 42 years of marriage, however my father is one of the most present and generous people I know. My sisters and I have come to our parents with all sorts of grand plans (or expensive ideas!) over the years, whether to lend us money to travel or send us to study abroad. My Dad’s reaction has never been to criticize, bring up prior failings, or otherwise allow things that have happened in the past to cloud his judgment of the situation at hand. We have always known if you just explain to Dad why you want to do something and your thought process behind the decision, he’ll support you.
As we’ve gotten older, decisions are less about his giving us money and more about sharing with him our goals and dreams. I can’t overstate how lucky I feel to have the space and encouragement to explore different career paths, lifestyles, and creative endeavors. I know it takes a lot of work to stay open and loving, especially with people you have known for a long time. I admire him for staying so committed to that, and I’m inspired to do the same.
3. He is committed to something bigger than himself.
There is a wonderful quote by the author James A. Michener which reads:
“The master in the art of living makes little distinction between his work and his play, his labor and his leisure, his mind and his body, his information and his recreation, his love and his religion. He hardly knows which is which. He simply pursues his vision of excellence at whatever he does, leaving others to decide whether he is working or playing. To him he’s always doing both.”
I have always laughed at the idea of my father retiring. I simply can’t imagine him sitting on the deck sipping iced tea or playing golf. When my Dad isn’t eating, exercising or traveling, he is working. While this has been labeled by society as workaholism in a derogatory sense, I am inspired by it because I know what drives him. He is committed to empowering systems and people to be well, to be effective, and to thrive. I have seen the joy and satisfaction his mission has brought him over the years, and the energy and purpose it has brought to his life. It makes me want to look beyond simply getting my own needs met, and daring to consider what my gift to the world will be. What will it take to give fully?
Here are a couple of readers’ comments on last month’s edition of Tips and Topics:
I as always enjoy reading your “Tips and Topics” and I would like to add a comment to the discussion of SMART Recovery. (The April 2015 edition included information about SMART Recovery: https://www.changecompanies.net/blogs/tipsntopics/2015/04/)
As a clinician with over 50 years of experience in addiction, I prefer 12 Step group involvement for continuing care both because of its documented success and its availability, but this is “when I have my druthers.” The problem is that I sometimes don’t have “my druthers.” Regardless of how helpful 12 Step Recovery Support groups can be, it won’t help if patients refuse to attend or be involved in them. Their reasons are many but chief among them seems to the “God thing.”
There is now some early research* that indicates that people with an external locus of control (outer-directed) seem more attracted to, and do better with 12 Step Recovery groups while people with an internal locus of control (inner-directed) seem to do better with SMART Recovery (and possibly other cognitive behavior therapy – CBT-based approaches) that rely more on self than on a Higher Power. I believe that more research needs to be done in this area but even prior to that, when a patient objects to going to Alcoholics Anonymous, other options, particularly SMART Recovery, should be offered.
*Personal Responsibility and Locus of Control
A. Tom Horvath, Ph.D., ABPP, Kaushik Misra, Ph.D., Amy K. Epner, Ph.D., and Galen Morgan Cooper, Ph.D., edited by C. E. Zupanick, Psy.D. CenterSite.net.
Shulman Training & Consulting in Behavioral Health
2780 Kelsey Place, Jacksonville, FL 32257
Thank you for your Tips and Topics email. It broadens my life and work. Three great topics in one in this last edition.
I appreciated your mention of how some counselors ignore the smoking addiction of their clients, but I wish you had taken it one step farther. While smoking is the number one cause of death of our clients, overall health care, including obesity, is also a major factor in the wellness of our clients. I work in a community Mental Health (MH) and Substance Use Disorder (SUD) system.
It bothers me when we work to make a client a bit less anxious, depressed, confused, or substance using only to see them become disabled and die many years early from ignored medical problems. My organization is working in several ways to integrate physical care with MH/SUD treatment. All of us can ask about, discuss, refer, and be in touch with the clients’ primary care providers (with releases, of course).
I encourage you to use your pulpit to mention this.
The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) has an effort to increase awareness of wellness and their 10 by 10 initiative at this link, with a goal to increase the life span of our clients by 10 years in the next 10 years.
But above all, thank you for the work that you do.
Gary McNeill APRN, LADC, CCS
Maine Behavioral Healthcare
2 Springbrook Drive
Biddeford, ME 04005
Until next time
Thanks for joining us this month. I’m glad I could introduce Taylor and his writing to you. See you late in June.