62: Thoughts, Words, and Actions

62: Thoughts, Words, and Actions

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Think Possible

Thoughts, Words, and Actions

By doing the work to love ourselves more, I believe we will love each other better.

~Laverne Cox

I sat across from my counselor Christina during my one-on-one session at the outpatient rehab. “You want me to do what?” I asked, incredulous. I had suffered from liver cirrhosis just two months before and had barely escaped alive. Determined to keep my newfound sobriety, I had checked myself into an outpatient rehab to learn about why I was an alcoholic and what demons from my past I could deal with. After spending seven years at the bottom of a vodka bottle, I was going to need all the help I could get.

“I want you to look in the mirror every morning and I want you to repeat your mantra for the day. I am going to give you these Postits and every morning I want you to write something positive about yourself and say it in the mirror.”

I hadn’t looked in a mirror in years. Any time I was faced with one I averted my eyes and literally jumped out of the way. My eyes and skin were still yellowed by jaundice. My abdomen was immensely swollen from fluid and I endured daily questions about when I was due. My hair was falling out in clumps due to an iron deficiency, and I still couldn’t climb stairs without running out of breath. I was crashing at my mother’s house because I had nowhere else to go. I couldn’t work. I was broke. My limbs were so skinny they knocked together at night, waking me up with bruises. She wanted me to do what?

“So after you write it down on your Post-it note, I want you to paste it in your journal so you can see it throughout the day. I will be checking it next week.” I started to grumble but she held up her hand. “Just try it. It’s an experiment.”

I left her office with a stack of Post-it notes. I had promised myself that I was going to try whatever they suggested.

The next morning I stared at my Post-It note, pen in hand. “You are important” came into my head and I jotted it down. Now for the hard part.

I peeked around my bathroom door. The mirror ran pretty much the length of the entire bathroom, so there really was no other option than to face it once you entered. I closed my eyes and walked in, laughing at myself for being so ridiculous, but also recognizing that my heart hurt. I felt so sad that I had come to the point that just looking in the mirror was such a burden. Did I really hate the sight of myself that much?

I forced myself to open my eyes. There I was, skinny limbs, jutting belly, bird bone wrists… I kept looking and told myself, “You… are important… You are im… portant… You are important. You are important. You are important!” By the end I was shouting at myself, shaking my fist at my reflection. I hadn’t survived this far to give in to my fear! I needed to face myself.

I proudly posted my proclamation into my journal. I continued to do so every day that week.

I gained sober time, was put on a diuretic for the bloating and slowly began gaining muscle. The Post-it notes gathered in my book. “You are beautiful.” “Look at how far you have come.” “You are intelligent.” “Your feelings are valid.” Soon I was looking at my face in the mirror every morning without flinching.

Another part of rehab that filled in quite a bit of the puzzle was PTSD therapy with a local group that offered services for survivors of sexual abuse. All of a sudden I had a name for the terror that I felt, and an opportunity to take control of that fear. The counselor handed me a ball of clay. “I want you to sculpt your future. You’re an artist, right?” she asked. I nodded my head. “You have as much control over your future as you have over this ball of clay. Shape it.” I sculpted a tiny book for my novel, a Ph.D. graduation cap for my education goals, a small skull for my future shop, a plane for travel and a TV because one day I’d like to have my own travel show.

“Your thoughts become words, and your words become actions,” she said, observing what we were creating. “Positive thoughts become positive words and your positive words will become positive actions.” I had been talking to myself like I was a piece of trash for decades. No wonder I was where I was.

The next morning I said to myself in the mirror, “I love you. We are going to get back on our feet. We are going to get a job. We are going to find an apartment. I. Love. You.” Those thoughts became words and pretty soon after landing a full-time job at a hotel, I got off the wrong stop on the bus. I huffed and lugged my bag off the bus. I still wasn’t at full strength and was incredibly annoyed at myself for the added ten-minute walk. I started to curse myself and then stopped. That kind of thinking wasn’t going to get me anywhere. Sometimes the best things are found when we get lost. I passed by the street next to the donut shop with all the lovely Victorian row houses, the last ones in Kansas City. I had always wanted to live there, but they never seemed to have a vacancy. Of course, this was the first time I saw a “For Rent” sign, and pretty soon I was living there and paying for it myself.

Actively practicing positive thinking continued to yield results for me. The crippling anxiety that I had lived with for years subsided. I had finally learned how to control the fear that seemed inescapable.

I have been sober for more than two years now, without a single relapse. I have recovered as much as a person can from liver cirrhosis and now lead a normal life, albeit with a lot of doctor checkups and a few prescriptions. And I will never be able to drink again.

That little flicker of optimism has turned into a full-blown lifestyle. Without it, I certainly would not still be here. People ask, “How do you stay so upbeat?” It’s not easy. Sometimes I come home and want to sell all my things, live in a yurt in the desert, wear fancy hats and never speak to anyone again. That’s okay. I let the emotion roll over me, but I don’t let it control my behavior. After a good cry, it’s back to planning mode. Happiness is a conscious choice, one that I make every single day. It’s a choice that anyone can make. Make it.

~Monique Gabrielle Salazar

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