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Balancing Act or Circus Stunt?

Margaret Phillips
| October 14, 2016

It is possibly a little of both. Ever been to the circus? Then you’ve seen the clowns out in the ring, juggling plates, balls, or whatever. They start with two or three, then end up with 30!

If you’ve tried to juggle, then you know that with three balls you can get through maybe two cycles before you start dropping them. This is mainly because gravity is on your side initially, and you’re really pumped starting out thinking “I got this!” Or, at least that’s me. Then reality sets in and I drop them all. Gravity turned on me. Or maybe I just bit off more than I could chew. That seems like the real answer.

So, have you ever had one of those weeks where it seems like work is beating you to death, you can’t find time to get all of your personal activities done, and there is no time to just enjoy the moment? It is like trying to be a professional juggler when you aren’t.

Whether you are in recovery from something or not, it seems that life for everyone gets quite overwhelming at times. For some people it’s just the way it is and they don’t think twice. For others, times like these can throw a wrench into your level of serenity. At least, for me, that’s the case.

When long days turn into longer nights, it’s hard to shut off the brain. Physically, I’m not getting the necessary rest needed and not spending time relieving stress by doing physical activity. Mentally, I can’t stop thinking about all of the work to do and anticipating the next fire to put out. Spiritually, I can’t get quiet to feel the presence of the higher power that feeds my soul. Emotionally, since I’m burning the candle at both ends, I become more sensitive to things that normally seem like no big deal.

You know what I mean, ladies– like the loving, sweet husband who says before he leaves for work, “you look really pretty today.” And you reply with “what the heck are you saying? Do I look like crap every other day?” No. He was just trying to be nice. I’m the one who has let life’s stresses mess with my head! We’ve all been there.

When all four of the major components of life are in order I’m full of peace and serenity. When I’m out of balance in any single one, or perhaps all four, look out!! My perception of life becomes all about me, what’s being done to me, and my attitude flares up. Why is that? I don’t know. But I can tell you with certainty that when I’m out of balance, my attitude goes downhill fast 100% of the time. When that happens, I have to get a recharge and center things back up.

Why the sense of urgency? Because having obtained serenity through a hard fought battle, I’m not willing, nor do I wish, to be in a space that’s not conducive to keeping that serenity.

Remember the attitude example above? Let’s say I’m out with friends for dinner. There happens to be a bar in the restaurant. If I’m not focusing on my recovery because I’ve been doing too much, then the idea of blowing off steam with a drink at the bar may seem like a good idea. That thought for someone like me is insane!

It doesn’t matter how much time we have in recovery; we are all just one drink or drug away for screwing up everything we worked so hard to obtain. We should never forget that or we may be doomed to repeat what once tried to kill us. Focusing on the four main components critical to living a healthy life in general keeps me on track. I’ll break them down in a little more detail.

Four Main Components of a Healthy Life

Physical Health. I’m in better health than ever because I’m taking care of my body. When we are out ripping and running there is the notion that nothing that can hurt us. No fear of what goes in our bodies. No fear of where that drug came from or that this time it may not be what we thought. At some point, the physical body is going to cave in. Along the way it has given you signals saying, “Hey. Stop it!”

For me, I notice a lot of tension in the neck and shoulders. I get the tension headaches. I feel tired and just can’t get motivated to do things. Those are big red flags for me. One day like that is ok but when the days stack on top of each other it’s time to make a change. I have to make a conscious decision to treat my body with respect and give it the break it needs. This body has been through enough already.

I can do several things depending on what’s going on around me. I may go get a massage to let the muscles be treated like royalty. Or I may force myself to carve out time and head to the gym. Or I get home and just play with the dogs in the yard. Someone told me one time that if I felt like I needed to get grounded then put my feet in the dirt. So that’s what I do. I take off my shoes and stick my toes in the dirt. Ahhhh.

Mental Breaks. We all need a break. We can’t function at a high level 24/7 despite what some people think. Our brains are designed to work hard, but also to rejuvenate with rest. I can tell if my brain needs a break when I am in rush hour traffic. How many times have we called that driver that just cut us off every name in the book, possibly thrown out some sign language, and perhaps made riding their tailgate all the way home our life’s mission. Never happened to you? Hmmm…I need to move to wherever you live.

At any rate, when something like this totally random example happens that’s my clue that I need to chill out. My brain needs to rest with mindless activity. Go home and watch a movie. Read a book. Write in a journal. Call an old friend. Focus the chatter in the brain on something that makes you feel good. Your mental state is screaming, “I need a break!” So listen to it.

Spirituality. Spirituality is something that keeps me centered. I don’t know how I survived without it for so long. Probably because I was caught in trying to be religious, not necessarily spiritual. At least for me, there is a big difference. Spirituality saved my life so when I feel as though that piece of me is at risk I’ll do whatever it takes to get centered.

Think I’m kidding? When I got out of what I pray was my last treatment center in 2008 I knew my corporate finance career was not going to be somewhere I wanted to stay. My life’s mission had changed and was no longer in sync with what corporations wanted from me. I started to feel out of sorts quickly after returning to work. So what did I do? I quit. Easier said than done, I know. But to me, the importance of maintaining my serenity through my spirituality is a must. Whatever alters that state of being needs to go. Best part is that I was ok with that decision and everything worked out just fine. My faith in my higher power allowed me to make the leap and hence land in a better career that is much more in tune with who I am today.

Emotional well-being. This sounds like something a therapist would say. I should know. I think I wore my therapist out (smiles). But she was right on so many levels, yet I just couldn’t hear what she was saying before I got clean and sober. Now everything she said makes sense. Imagine that. How do I know my emotional state is in balance? Not sure, but I do know when it’s out of balance! I try to look for signs again, like starting to feel overly sensitive or thinking about all of the time I’ve wasted.

Step back for a second. Time is never wasted. It’s about your perception now. Before you got derailed with stressors, life was great. Now that you are not taking care of yourself, by your own choosing, you think life sucks. Nothing on the outside has changed– just your perception which is feeding your emotional well-being. You can change how you see things by just acknowledging the clues your body sends you. Sit down. Take a break. Breathe. How often do you do this? If you are like me not as often as we should.

I remember hearing the “give ‘til it hurts” slogan so many times in so many different places. But when all you do is give, you drain your resources so the giving isn’t what it used to be. You can’t give what you don’t have.

How can you give 100% to your family, your employer, your friends, your sponsees, the newcomers, etc., when you’ve totally drained your own resources? I can tell you, it’s impossible and you’ll put yourself at greater risk for a possible relapse. If addiction isn’t your thing you can still put yourself at risk for health problems or making some decisions that you possibly wouldn’t have. You get the point. Take care of yourself first, so that you can be the giver you truly are. We are all wired to help each other. It’s like on the airplane where you put on your oxygen mask first so that you are able to help others. It’s not being selfish. It’s being smart.

The Juggler,


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