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AlisonFSmela

AlisonFSmela

Alison Smela, is in long-term recovery from alcohol and an eating disorder following a 30-year struggle with both. She’s an active member of a 12-Step Recovery fellowship and serves on the Board of Directors for MentorCONNECT, the first global non-profit online eating disorder mentoring community. Alison is also a writer and author of the forthcoming book, “Slow Down. Breathe. Recover” while she maintains her blog, “Alison’s Insights” focused on the life lessons she’s learned through the course of her recovery process.

Posted by on in Recommended Reading

Have you ever shown up to a family function only to leave as a much younger version of yourself?  I sure have.

When out-of-town family members come for a visit there’s always a get-together. Maybe two. I arrive feeling connected and collected but then something happens and suddenly I’m a wobbly teenager lacking the sense of self-confidence I carried through the front door.

This type of mystical age transformation is not new and something I’ve tried to better understand about myself over the past several years.

In the early stages of recovery many suggested I take a good look at who I am from the inside out. Soon what once made sense didn’t and what didn’t make sense started to. One of the more challenging concepts to accept was that most who battle addiction stop growing emotionally when they first feel a positive jolt from using the drug or behavior of choice.

I felt insulted by even the suggestion this could apply to me. I was a grown woman, successful in the eyes of many in my profession. I’d managed multi-million dollar pieces of business, got married, bought a house, invested in the stock market, and traveled the world. Now I’m to believe that because I started drinking and investigating ways to attain a body not meant for me at 13 I’m emotionally stuck at that age? I don’t think so.

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Posted by on in Recommended Reading

Have you ever wondered why, no matter how rationally phrased in your head, the idea of asking for help seems about as reasonable as asking for a snake bite?

Somewhere along life's way I told myself a story that asking for help meant failure, weakness, and a lack of intelligence. The older I got the more I believed this fictional description if I needed the assistance of others. I went to far as to drop projects if the challenge was too great or the outcome would seem less that perfect.

However no one gets through life without some guidance and I'm certainly no exception. The difference for me was I'd silently pray for guidance rather than ask. When someone would offer unprovoked direction I'd smile, thank them kindly for the "reminder" and move on without any idea of what I needed to learn along the way.

This was exactly the approach I took when the whispers about how much I drank and how little I ate began to filter in. I heard only what I wanted to acknowledge and filtered the rest to suit my comfort zone. If someone mentioned I do something that hit too close to home, I'd consider their words as expressions of judgment and therefore white noise.

Upon reflection I knew I'd hit my "bottom" when I finally became willing to listen for the message not just the words. Yet asking for help didn't seem possible for me. In truth, I didn't even know what to ask for.

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Posted by on in Recommended Reading

Don’t you love inspirational books that seem pointedly written just for you? There’s something oddly magical and not at all creepy when reading words you felt sure the author wrote after spying on you in your darkest hour.

I love those kinds of books as I never tire of their uplifting, reassuring, and thought course-correcting messages.  Better still is the opportunity to share them with those I believe might feel the same.

Most of my days include time spent with those who battled or are still fighting the insidious disease of alcoholism and the endless mental trap of an eating disorder. Often I find myself talking about how these personally touching and hope-filled books awaken my spirit and provide me courage to believe I'm not alone in my thoughts and actions.

One such day I received a comment I found rather interesting. In so many words my friend said, “I used that same book during my early recovery and found it very helpful back then.” While I understood the intention of the comment, I shudder to think I’d come to the point in my life where I'd find no need for inspiration just because I’ve overcome that which held me hostage in mind, body, and spirit.

Some messages simply never grow old.

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Posted by on in Recommended Reading

Imagine if you could wake up one day with answers to all your problems. In theory that would be ideal. In reality that will never happen.

Yet for some reason I tried very hard for a very long time to do just that. Each plate of food pushed away certified I was in control of things. Each glass of wine put to my lips fortified the belief I could not only solve my issues but yours too. I’d find the answers. I’d orchestrate the solution. I’d be my own “go to” person.

Yet inevitably the day came when there were no more answers, solutions, or overall direction. I had no idea where to turn because I’d shut out everyone who tried to offer input.

For reasons I may never know, I did listen to one person. She pointed me toward the door that led me to my recovery.

Yet old habits don’t die easily. Always a rather strong-willed woman, those early days in recovery were rough. I wasn't all that thrilled with the idea I’d no longer be in charge or able to forge my way to overcome addiction. All my defiance led me to a solid understanding of a very simple fact.

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Posted by on in Recommended Reading

A few months ago a staff member of the NEDA (National Eating Disorders Association) Community Outreach program contacted me to write an article for publication in their Parents Family Network magazine, Making Connections. The subject matter was intimacy and eating disorders.

Although I'm not one to share rather personal information, I accepted the offer believing some aspect of this topic would spring to mind. In a haze of contemplation I found myself mindlessly staring at my wedding rings when all of a sudden the winds of wisdom blew through me. Suddenly my fingers flew rapidly over the computer keyboard like a well-choreographed dance to create what was eventually titled, "The Ring".

I thought I'd share the original piece here as I believe the message is worth repeating.

Intimacy is a connection; a sense of silent knowing of the thoughts and feelings of another which radiates from deep in the heart. 

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Posted by on in Recommended Reading

For a very long time only straight line solutions existed for me. When I’d worn out a pair of shoes I got new ones. When I the guy I was dating started showing signs he wasn't good for me I’d break up with him while seeking another. When the car ran out of gas I’d stop to refuel.

In other words, acknowledge the problem, solve immediately, and move on.

Surely this same systematic route would be the way I’d overcome alcoholism and an eating disorder. My “problem-solution-move on” theory of navigating life would be the plan. However what I found was, yes I had a problem, yes there was (and still is) a solution and yes I would move on. The only difference was no one would guarantee me that path would be a straight line.

Thankfully I stepped forward on the trail anyway. Fast forward many 24 hours of one-day-at-a-time later and I'm here to report we learn our best lessons in the curves.

The road to Heart tree

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Posted by on in Recommended Reading

I recently called a friend to talk with her about a choice I needed to make. I've learned through the program of recovery how valuable perspective beyond my own helps assure I’ll do the next right thing.

However there are times, like this one, when I already know what I want to do yet I go through the motions anyway.

Bad idea.

Sure enough things didn't pan out the way I had wanted. When I ran into my friend, I had to fess up about the result. This is pretty much how that conversation went:

FRIEND:  So how did everything work out?

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Posted by on in Other Addictions

There have been many times in my life when words or phrases came to mean something other than what many understand them to mean.  Off the top of my head I can think of a few examples.

My husband and I communicate in ways often causing our friends to do a double-take and wonder what in the world we are talking about.  For example, I might be in the living room doing something and yell down to my husband in the basement to bring me “that thing next to the big thing.”  Seconds later he hands me exactly what I needed.  We share a language created during our many years of living together.

Another opportunity to share a unique means of communication is in the work environment.  When I was still active in the corporate world, my team of many years knew exactly what each other needed or what we meant by a simple nod of the head or a raised eyebrow. We had spent hours together creating, editing, masterminding and learning to trust one another.  In all that time we eventually understood things without needing to say a word.  When we were in situations where verbal connection wasn't an option, those non-communication actions spoke volumes.  I was somehow comforted by this; feeling a sense of security knowing I was part of something uniquely special.

When I was drinking and rarely eating, there was a lot of conversation in my head which was uniquely special for me too.  I never shared these ongoing internal dialogues with anyone because I couldn’t explain them.  I had a difficult enough time myself just trying to understand how and why the subject matter would roll back and forth like a pendulum. One moment I’d be justifying my irrational behavior and the next I’d be mentally berating myself for having such thoughts.

I carried on with this silent metronome of conversation for years.  I was absolutely certain if anyone else could hear what I heard, they’d consider my train of thought not only foreign but nowhere near normal.

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Posted by on in Alcoholism

Over the last 12 years, I've done a lot of self-study about what kept me in lock step with the powerful disease of addiction. I've peeled myself back, layer by layer, to unveil the root causes for this.

One of the most profound things I uncovered during that investigation was how the toxic phrase “I should know better” directed my life.

Growing up, I heard, " Honestly, Alison you really should know better” on a rather regular basis. This phrase was so ingrained into my head that as I grew older, if I found myself in a bad spot, within a second I’d think, “Ugh! I should have known better!”

For the average person, a reflection like that is nothing more than a casual check-in.

Not so for someone who lived for decades underneath the addictive, obsessive diseases of alcoholism and an eating disorder. For someone like me, that statement is monumentally damaging.

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Posted by on in Recommended Reading

In early recovery, I was often told, “Trust me, you’ll feel better soon”, or, “I know this is hard, but I promise, you’ll feel better soon.” I lived by those words.  I was so shaky, ashamed and scared. I felt awful.  I desperately hoped the non-stop physical, emotional, spiritual and intellectual suffering would stop.  I wanted so badly to feel better, physically as well as emotionally. I tried each and every day to focus on those words of reassurance and deny what I thought and felt inside.  I held tight to the recommendations of my recovery role models, the encouragement from my friends and family outside the rooms of recovery and my own willingness to get better, hoping eventually I’d feel better.

And eventually I did, but not in the way I had expected.  What began to happen was I started to feel my feelings better.  I started to feel happiness better, I started to feel anger better, and I started to feel sadness better.

Although this sounds like a play on words – feeling my feelings better - the point is, in order for me to experience healthy recovery I had to allow myself to actually feel what I had long been trying to deflect, change or control.

For example, during the Christmas holidays my emotions would always kick into overdrive.   No matter what age I was, I would become completely nostalgic.  I’d think about stringing the lights with my dad, hearing my grandfather whistling a holiday tune or sitting at the top of the staircase with my brothers and sister waiting for my Dad to tell us Santa had arrived.  I’d get excited to watch “It’s a Wonderful Life” with my family or maybe catch an old Charles Dickens movie by myself.  As I got older the holidays stopped being those experienced as a child.  They became strung by addiction instead of lights and wrapped around bottles of wine with little food instead of gifts presented with love.

I won’t lie, those first few winter holidays in recovery were difficult.  I couldn’t stop focusing on how sad, angry and frustrated I felt for all those Christmas and New Year holidays lost in the blur of addiction.  In those early recovery years I had difficulty fully embracing the magic of the season.  To be honest, I really wanted nothing more than to get through the series of events, wishing they would just be over.

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