Confessions from an ex pill popper
Originally published on Medium.
For years before I got sober, I was on a variety of anti-depressants for all of my outside issues. My marriage was in the toilet. My son had a condition I couldn’t cure. I was struggling with balancing my writing with my domestic responsibilities and frankly, I was just having a hard time transitioning from my childhood to the intense demands of adulting.
Zoloft calmed me down. After all, my issues were in my tissues, and I hit the genetic lottery in many ways. My family on both sides were kind, loving, funny and smart people. Many of them also struggled with mental health.
If my relatives came with a Tarot card reading, you’d say I came from a line of Bi-polar with Neurosis and Addiction Rising.
I don’t blame my parents for my emotional disposition. They loved me well and gave me an amazing childhood complete with private education, art lessons and lots of time in a beautiful home to work on my writing. In fact, one of my main regrets for a long time was that I was not able to give my own kids the life I had growing up. I felt I had somehow failed because we weren’t celebrating at Jerry’s Deli once/week with Corn Beef sandwiches and black and white cookies. Life wasn’t a constant loop of performing arts and vacations back east or cruises. I wasn’t able to take my daughter to the mall every time she needed a new pair of shorts. Thrift stores became our go-to and “making due” was our motto.
Yet despite my longings to give them more (and some occasional bouts of anger) my kids had a great life.
Looking back over my mothering now, I see that it wasn’t the inability to financially provide for my kids that I regret most. It was not having the tools to navigate the pressures that come with parenting. Enter Zoloft.
Zoloft took the edge off of a very confusing time of my life and allowed my very spinning and creative brain to CALM. DOWN.
It allowed me to focus just a bit more and, like a grace note in a sheet of music, provided just enough pause for me to think rationally about how I wanted to handle my failing marriage and special needs parenting.
But here’s the problem:
Zoloft itself didn’t fix my situation. Only a spiritual solution did. It’s been five years now since I’ve been off the psyche meds and, while life hasn’t been perfect, I have never looked back.
NOTE: Before anyone reaches through the internet and wants to throttle for me for saying that pills aren’t a reasonable way to cure depression and anxiety, you can hold off. I am not a doctor. I am simply telling you what worked for me. Take what you like and leave the rest.
10 Items from my My Spiritual Tool Kit
Here are ten nuggets of wisdom that have transformed my life. I use them still every single day and, while life isn’t always easy (especially the last two months) I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that the God of my understanding is with me. I don’t need to dull the pain anymore with alcohol or Zoloft. I simply need to practice some very simple principals, face what isn’t working, and give it God. These simple steps have transformed my life, and they can transform yours (whether or not you choose to be on medication or not!)
- Gratitude: Every day I write a list of five things I’m grateful for. Staying grateful even in troubling times does not take the difficulties away, but it makes them bearable. I have done them so consistently, in fact, that now my mind automatically goes to grateful even when I’m less than enthusiastic about my Monday morning routine. Ex: Grateful for a working computer! A cup of hot tea on a desk my husband made me! My beautiful brick wall pictures of my kids smiling down at me! Netflix playing a cozy cafe’ scene in the background! My ridiculous camel lamp lighting up my office, reminding me to ‘Get over the humps with God’! Yup, gratitude lists have re-set my negative thinking to positive thinking and it’s made all the difference.
- 12-Step Programs: I go to 4 12-step programs a week. I have a sponsee. I take calls daily. I reach out to others who are struggling. I would say I spend, on average, 10 hours/week dedicated to this practice. And while, yes, that’s a lot of time, I also used to spend a lot of time being depressed, anxious and out of control with my emotions. Being an active member of 12 step groups allows me to be connected to a community. To not feel alone. And most importantly, to be reminded that God, not me, is in charge. This reliance on a power greater than myself has kept me out of my head and into action where the solution lives. This leads me to my next point:
- Service: In helping others every day, I get out of self. Unlike in my past where I’d help to subconsciously be liked, or to feel worthy, I now do it because it’s what I feel God would have me do to help others heal as I was able to do. I get to pay back what another so kindly paid forward to me. (Thank you, Violet!) Seeing someone else transform their mindset or simply get temporary comfort is a mental boost I never got from Zoloft.
- Music: I’m not going to lie. I play Christmas jazz all year long. The sounds of the bells and the happy voices put me in a cozy mood that transcends any negativity in the world. It also sets a joyful tone in my home. Sure, my teenagers roll their eyes when I lip sync “All I Want for Christmas Is You” with my wooden spoon microphone, complete with 50-year-old bootie shakes #okBoomer, but I know they are grateful for my present day levity instead of the past heaviness. I also know for a fact that God has wired me to be happy, joyous and free, but it’s so easy for me to forget with the myriad of tasks on my to-do list. Music is my soul’s gentle reminder that it’s okay to feel happy even when I’d rather get back under the covers and sleep.
- No Coffee: I know! I know! This one is crazy. But in giving up caffeine I’ve found I have more patience for my family, friends and co-workers. Every time I think “Man, I could use a cup of Joe” I automatically picture myself pouring out this bad breath juice, saying, “God, I’m emptying my self-will. Fill me with your spirit today.” And I swear, it works. (Though I won’t lie. I miss the taste like crazy. And no, I won’t do decaf. Too many chemicals. Like alcohol, coffee’s treat had become my prison with last minute bathroom trips and an overly stimulated nervous system. Like Marie Kondo, I thanked it for it’s service and ushered a host of delicious teas into my kitchen instead.)
- My Will Vs. God’s Will: My default mode is “Control Freak.” In remembering each day, and sometimes on a minute by minute basis, that God is in charge, I have so much more peace. It also helps me make better decisions. When I’m in God’s will, there is serenity. When I’m in my will, I often find myself hurting the people around me in a mad attempt to be right or get my way. I find myself clinging to ridiculous beliefs like, “If only my kid would fold the towels exactly this way I’d feel better about the linen closet and I wouldn’t be angry.” Um, how about instead I look at what is going right instead of what is going wrong? I have a kid who is home, during Covid, folding 1970’s towels. I’m pretty sure the only thing “wrong” in choosing my will instead of God’s is that I make towels and rigidity more important than the loving, easy going spirit of God’s will.
- Inside vs. Outside Based: As an A+ Catholic student, who was far too tall to attract the popular boys and not good enough athletically to make any sports team, I found that my grades were a super big validation for me. Unfortunately, it was very outcome based. It didn’t matter if I was feeling overwhelmed or exhausted, as long as I got that “A” all was right in my world. Ummm… “my” world as opposed to “the whole big world”… a world I was ill prepared for with this thinking. My tenacity with grades might have landed me in top universities, as well as landed me as a TV writer when the competition was super fierce, but it wasn’t sustainable. I could not “study” my way into getting people to like my scripts once I was hired. I couldn’t “A+B+C” my way into getting my kids to remember to take the trash out. I couldn’t “1+ 2 = 3” my way into getting my husband to want to spend $5k on getting our house painted. Enter frustration. And yes, Zoloft took the edge off this anger. But in getting to the bottom of the anger, and surrendering to the fact that God loves me… and I don’t have to control everything to be happy… the anger faded. Takeway: When I remember that my insides are more important than the outcomes, I feel peace.
- Prayer: Keeping constant contact with something greater than me reminds me that I am never alone. Instead of getting into a “My Will” vs. “God’s Will” battle, I can just choose God’s way first. I can pray something as simple as “Thy will be done.” In doing so, I can surrender to whatever is happening in my life as happening on purpose for a reason. I don’t have to agree with something, but I can get into acceptance. And ah… the Land of Acceptance. It’s a destination that I can keep in my heart and soul twenty four hours a day and doesn’t cost a thing. (Note: Not being in acceptance costs plenty in terms of lack of sleep, fractured relationships and anger.)
- Meditation: You’ll be sick of hearing this, but meditation has quieted my brain in a profound way. If prayer is talking to God, meditation is listening. Every morning I take just 10 minutes and get still. In doing so, like in #7, I’m offering up my insides to God to take care of my outsides. It helps me be less outcome based and more present. It reminds me that rest and beauty and nurturing is just as important as my pay check. And when I slow down, I am more aware of beautiful synchronicities and signs that remind me I am on the right path.
- Keeping it Light: When I think I’m in charge of the universe, anger and frustration enter. When I remember that life is one giant game to grow my soul, I can laugh at misfortunes. Ex: Yesterday my car broke down. Twice. Once on the way home from my overnight stay at the beach (which was supposed to be my spiritual retreat for myself) and once at the Whole Foods parking lot with a car full of groceries and beer that this alcoholic was delivering to my 90 year old mama. I could have gotten furious, but I remembered to say, “Thy will be done” and just called a tow truck. If I had not been in fit spiritual condition I’d have been calling my husband in a spitfire rage of pissiness, inwardly cursing him for not showing up quickly enough. I’d have stayed in my victim story. Instead, I simply walked back in Whole Foods, asked for a cup of hot water, and drank some herbal Chai while waiting for the driver who, miraculously, appeared within 20 minutes. This brings me right back to #1: Gratitude.
When I Surrendered My Outsides to a God of my understanding, I didn’t need Zoloft for My Insides anymore.
I know many of you out there are suffering. Perhaps my reasons for suffering are different than your reasons. And I can’t pretend that doing one thing on my list, or all of them, will “cure” you right away. But I can promise you this: There is a greater being out there that loves you. And if you can take the time to tap into that being, in whatever form works for you, your burden will lighten.
You will find freedom.
And most importantly, you will find peace.
Today I wish you joy, hope and love. Whether you are on meds or not, I hope you will find time to get outside and see the beauty of a flower. Take a strong sniff of the sea. If your house is a mess, stop focusing on the dishes in the sink and find one small corner of your home where you can sip some tea and get into gratitude for what is working instead of what isn’t.
There is always something to be grateful for.
There is always something to hope for.
I pray that in a world that can often feel dark and despairing, that, as my 12-Step Program promises, you ask God to “Grant you the serenity to accept what you cannot cannot change, the courage to change what you can, and the wisdom to know the difference.” In doing so, with the God of your understanding residing within you, your outsides might not change over night, but inside you will transform to the radiant person you were meant to be all along. And your life will never be the same.
Why not start today?
I’m a published TV, blog, magazine and book writer who also coaches moms and grandmoms to write books rooted in wisdom, spirituality and humor. Find out more at Andrea Frazer Writes or at Facebook. Come back Monday — Friday where I’ll post about spirituality, writing and sobriety. And sometimes tacos. Because Tacos make everything better. Always.
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