I treasure my recovery. I love the calm and finding moments of serenity in each day. In early recovery I used to think that a life without chaos would be boring. I was worried that without the ups and downs of crises and resolution, relationships that were no longer based on F&F (you know what that is), an emotional landscape that was no longer out of control would mean that I was no longer vital, that I was living a mundane, dull and uninteresting life.
I discovered that calm was enjoyable and contentment did not equal a colorless life. In fact I discovered that I did not have to contribute to the insanity of life; life would present me with adequate challenges, thank you very much. The principles of recovery would see me through with equanimity.
I have been lucky enough to have gotten clean and sober in my early thirties which meant that I had been sober for a while when I hit menopause. A couple of things happened then. I felt isolated in my madness. I was mad, insane, a pre Step Two experience I had not had in a long time. I was isolated in my relationship because it is a lot worse than it sounds: “The Change”. It isn’t like a light bulb or the time you need to replace your oil. It is a complete transformation.
My physical body was no longer predictable: hunger, sleep patterns and spontaneous gas explosions were erratic and capricious. While I have never been one comfortable with missing a meal – hunger became dangerous; I would become emotionally volatile if not fed regularly. I had to have a snack with me at all time. A little tube of nut meats would suffice, but it had to be on my person, at all times, just in case.
I experienced erratic sleep patterns. If I didn’t get to bed when my energy was at a lull, I may not be able to get to sleep for hours. Once asleep I couldn’t be certain I would stay asleep. My body thermometer was totally out of whack. I would explode in drenching, itchy, flushes of uncontrollable heat that threatened to have me tear my clothes off.
And I farted. All the time. I still do, but not as loudly; not as constant. Step, step, step: poot, poot, poot. I was a one woman percussion section. And no ladylike toots – but bellows-like announcements in the grocery store, in meetings, having sex. No space or place was safe. And I peed. I peed when I ran, when I jumped, when I sneezed, coughed and laughed.
So, I packed snacks, carried a Spanish lace fan, wore layers so I could peel them off, and I would retire to the bathroom frequently to rage, to fart, to question my whole existence in private and in pain. I carried extra panties and / or wore “pee pads” to stay dry. I was a physical mess.
But that isn’t the whole picture. Yes, there was more. The emotions were overwhelming. Between random unformed thoughts of suicide, inappropriate bouts of disproportionate rage that could veer into thoughts of homicide (think of an “off with their heads” attitude rather than actual violence).
I was sad, maudlin, overly nostalgic and morose. I cried as easily as I would shout at people – often within the same sentence. I had a tough time, and I gave others a tough time. I was surprised at my feelings; they came unbidden and often seemed to have no direct relationship to what was going on. I hadn’t felt this out of control since I entered my teens, when, coincidentally, I began my drug and alcohol use in earnest. It was frightening.
I felt betrayed by my body. This was not emotional sobriety. There was something gravely wrong. I felt cheated by my recovery. I had been so grown up! I had achieved a sense of even-tempered behavior. I had several years of treating people fairly and I had experienced some relief from the “shitty committee” in my head. All of this changed. While I knew I was aging; I had no idea the process would include something as unlovely and uncontrollable as this. I sought help.
There are a lot of remedies and supplements, western medicine and “original medicine.” There are things to do and things that we can take to help the symptoms subside. Each of us is different. Each of us will experience these symptoms to a greater and lesser degree. This was just my path.
I have read that the timing and degree of severity of our menopause experience can be predicted by those of our mothers. Mine had passed before I could ask her so I was on my own. If your mom is still alive talk to her if you can. This might be a way that bridges can be mended, that amends can be made bonding as women. Maybe.
Menopause is a long process. The severity of symptoms and the types of symptoms remaining over time is a journey in itself. It is hard to know, then, what is hormonal and what is just me and my feelings, my aging body, my adaptation to new and changing life circumstances.
I know I am not bat shit crazy, but when I feel that way from time to time I now have another tool to evaluate the reactions: is it hormonal or is it Step 6 and 7 issues rising up to be addressed. My H.A.L.T. is still the foundation of my assessment. Do I need to take a little more care of myself? Try to do that before making a big decision. Take time before making a change.
Yoga has helped in many ways. Ayurveda, the sister science of yoga, has also informed me of ways to address my physical changes and needs. We seek homeostasis as animals. We want to be in balance. Ayurveda teaches us that we have symptoms of illnesses when we are being out of alignment or out of harmony with our true self. We can get sick or have chronic discomforts if we are not eating well for our stage of life and our personal constitution. We can heal or balance certain conditions with food and herbs. I used that advice to help me.
What I do now to get off of the roller coaster are some simple practices from yoga in addition to eating wisely; using food as medicine. I use specific breathing rhythms to calm and compose myself. Specifically I do a counted breath sequence called 1:2 breath. This is done by breathing in for three counts, hold for three, breathe out for three, and hold for 3 counts. I extend the exhale by one count after several repetitions doing so over and over until my exhale is twice the inhale.
Once I was comfortable with that duration of inhale and exhale (over the next few days, weeks; whatever time it takes to do this with ease) I extend the cycle to begin with four breaths working toward an eight exhale; then five:ten and so on. I now practice with an 8:16 when I am combating insomnia and a shorter version for stress.
My yoga practice has changed to a slower cooler style. I am much more likely to focus on stretches, balancing, and prolonged holds for strength than I am likely to move in a quick sequence method. I incorporate yin yoga, restorative, and what we now call “gentle yoga” (which is a more traditional hatha practice) each week. A nice balance between pose investigation as well as strength holds helps me keep my aging joints and fussy body mobile and toned. Moving slower in a more contemplative way also keeps me in touch with how I am feeling, so I am more aware during the day. I am then more likely to catch a tsunami of emotions while it is still a small wave and take appropriate actions to sooth the process.
I keep coming back: to the basics of my recovery principles, to the breath, the moment, and the mat. These solid “knowns” make life living in the unknowns of hormonal ups and downs, the process of aging and adapting to the new me a little more comfortable. All and all I am grateful to be here long enough to have to learn how to adapt. There were some years when living to a ripe old age were doubtful to others and an abhorrent idea to myself. I now rejoice in having survived this far and having such healthy tools to enjoy my life.