Recovery Is More Than Not Drinking

Recovery is the process of changing/modifying unhelpful behaviors and introducing balance into your life. Removing your addictive substance is step one. The rest is the real work. It’s identifying all the ways in which you used (alcohol, in my case) to soothe and block out stressors. I thought, after two years of sobriety, that I had done it. But I hadn’t. A new stinky layer is starting to peel off now.

It seems that I have suffered with general anxiety disorder on and off my entire adult life. I remember going to see a therapist in college because I was convinced I had contracted HIV and was going to die (I was in a monogamous relationship with a guy who had slept with like one other person and we always used condoms). I didn’t believe the negative test results I got. I thought that there was contamination at the lab. I would wake up on a beautiful day and think: Oh, it’s so lovely outside. Too bad I’m going to die. This might seem funny, but trust me, I believed it to my core. Eventually, after therapy and time proving that I was not sick, I let it go. It was the beginning of my ability to distort reality to the point of incarcerating myself in my mind and sincerely believing that I am destined for the worst possible outcome. I started doing it again. This time, it’s all about money. I am convinced that I am going to end up homeless and completely destitute, although I have no evidence to support this. It is reaching a fever pitch now because my husband and I are in the process of putting our house on the market and all the “what ifs” are coming down the pike. I am not experiencing all out panic attacks, but I am having obsessive thoughts, constantly painting myself in the worst possible light, taking on unearned guilt for the weirdest things. I do the comparison game all the time, not just with other people but with former versions of myself. Back when I wasn’t in business for myself and earned a very healthy salary.

I have a million reasons to happy. A lot more than when I was earning that big salary. But these distortions have pretty much taken over. It started out slowly and gained momentum until two days ago. On Wednesday, I had a visit with a wonderful, highly recommended therapist. After just one visit, I felt a huge weight lift off my shoulders. I am so looking forward to this journey with him.

I am not looking for answers, so much as cognitively therapeutic ways of dealing with these damaging thoughts. I am looking for a way to challenge them and to develop an alpha voice in my mind that gives myself permission to experience joy and call bullshit on the obsessive voice. A therapist is a perfect solution because unlike using general tools from a book or guide, he will customize them for me, because he knows exactly where my head is at. He also wants to get to the root cause of the distortions. Shit, so do I. I present to the outer world very normally and I am able to offer rational advice and perspective to my friends. Somewhere in my brain, though, I made this weird executive decision that I am undeserving of rational thought.

I used to hush all of this with alcohol. Obsessive thoughts be damned! I’ve got cabernet! (Of course, the racing thoughts would always find a way to sneak back into my brain at 4AM, when I was sober and vulnerable.) Now, I have empower myself to get to the bottom of this and develop strategies for dealing with them without booze.

 

 

 

 

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Not Much You Can Do

I wasn’t going to post about this, but I reconsidered because I think there is a lesson to learn in it. Back in September of last year, my recovery meeting organizer ask me to host our meetings for a few months because he wanted to coach his kid’s football team. I thought it was good that he wanted to be so involved in the extracurricular activities of his son, so I gladly stepped in. I also figured that when the busiest time of my business kicked in, he would be done, so I could have the option of not going to meetings if I was dog tired.

Well, he never returned except for maybe one meeting. And during this time, the size of the meeting got bigger and we were running out of chairs every week. I wasn’t familiar with the people in the building in the way that he was, so I didn’t know how to address the issue. Every time I attempted to get him back involved, it was met with, “Sure, sure, I’ll be there next week.” Except, he never showed. People started becoming concerned about him, as was I. The last time I spoke with him, he acted as if I was really bothering him and suggested that the meeting should simply run itself, without a facilitator. I’m also friends with him on Facebook and I noticed that there were pictures of him showing up in my feed from ski trips with his new girlfriend. Some of the pictures were in bars.

Now, I am not suggesting that he went back out. I honestly don’t know. I do care about him and I hope that he remains sober, however, I think it’s pretty weird to just ditch the recovery meeting that you started without making sure there was someone committed to facilitate moving forward.

I decided to switch meetings. I did not want the responsibility of running it every week, as my work hours get funny from time to time. I also did not take the training, nor did I ever want to. Hosting for a short time was fine, but that’s all I really can commit to. It just raises an odd question. What do you do when the person you looked up to in recovery simply loses interest? What do you do when you think this person is in danger of falling off the wagon? The answer is: nothing. There is absolutely nothing you can do. I am now attending meetings on a different night- one that actually works better for me because it coincides with an evening that my husband has to work late. A lot of the same people who attend my previous meeting also go to this one, so I haven’t lost contact with many people in my recovery community. I have heard that one of the attendees of my old meeting wants to facilitate it, and I really hope that happens.

As for my recovery, it continues to be strong. And I honestly love the facilitator of my new meeting. He has a genuine gift. Perhaps I have done more for myself by switching.

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Happy 2016!

It’s been a long time. Happy New Year! I hope you all had wonderful holidays. Mine were lovely and work was busy, as that is my craziest time of year. I was fortunate in that I did not have any real temptations during the course of all the good cheer, except one brief moment. I was attending a very small gathering at a friend’s house and when I got up to refresh my soda, I noticed that there was a bottle of rum conveniently sitting right there next to the Coke. For a split second (and I mean SPLIT second), I thought, “Hmmm, I could put a splash of rum in my soda and no one would know.” I didn’t. But I took that as a sign that it was time for me to go. So I did.

My 2-year mark is a little over 4 months away and I seem to find myself in a place of simply not thinking about alcohol anymore. I do when I attend my meetings, but my mission in going to meetings is to help others and to get that wonderful, warm and comforting feeling of being in a room with other alcoholics. It’s like being able to take all of your guard down and your armor off. Not having to sensor all of the things that swirl around in your head about drinking and alcoholism. Not having to worry about making other people feel weird or uncomfortable because everyone there gets it, everyone there understands, everyone is seeking that same feeling that you are. It’s one of the most beautiful parts of my life, but I find it impossible to describe to my friends and family. Pretty weird that the people who know me most intimately can’t begin to understand the depth of feeling that occurs during my meetings. I suppose they don’t need to.

I wish I had more to share. I don’t know. I seem to have just gotten on with my life. Maybe it’s because I am not in a 12 step recovery group and I’m not working my way through them. I’m just living life without alcohol. I know enough that I must go to meetings, but things have become pretty routine with me. I like it. I don’t miss the hangovers, I don’t miss the blackouts and most of all I don’t miss the unpredictability that comes with taking that first drink. Will I be able to pace myself? Will this be a normal night or will I end up falling down the stairs? Will I say something ridiculous? Will my friends take pictures of me passed out on the sofa? Boy am I happy that is all in the past.

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Home Alone

home-alone-boyThis week, at my recovery meeting, someone in the group mentioned that he was struggling with staying away from drinking when his wife goes on business trips. Personally, I remember how I looked forward to weekends alone during my drinking days. I am not sure what it is about the alcoholic brain, but knowing that we can drink as much as we want without anyone peering over our shoulder was a tempting offer. Like a huge party for one on the couch. I would drink double what I usually had on these occasions and nine out of ten times, I would wake up and not remember much about this good ole time I supposedly had the night before. I would pray that if my husband called me from where he was to say goodnight that (a) I answered, (b), I didn’t sound drunk and (c) I didn’t fall asleep on the phone with him. Naturally, everyone in the group was able to relate to this, as I am sure many of you can.

It’s hard to stop drinking on a regular basis and abstain at gatherings, etc., but perhaps one of the most difficult things to do is to resist the temptation to drink when no one is watching. When you can only be accountable to yourself. Here are a few things you can do should you find yourself in this situation:

  1. Plan a night out with friends who know you are sober. If possible, make sure that it’s a sober night for all. Go to a movie, grab some coffee, hang out somewhere safe.
  2. Go to a meeting.
  3. Surround yourself with sober materials (recovery books, etc.).
  4. Read sober blogs and perhaps write in your own if you have one. Write in a personal journal if you have one.
  5. Go to a yoga class or do yoga at home. Even planning a nice evening walk in the fresh air is a good activity.
  6. Engage in a project that you might have been putting off.
  7. Binge watch your favorite television shows. If you have a show that your partner doesn’t like to watch, this is a great opportunity to indulge in that guilty pleasure!
  8. Clean the house. Reward yourself with a nice cup of your favorite tea (and maybe some cake!).
  9. Do a “Cost-Benefit Analysis.” Write down all the benefits of getting wasted alone and all the things it’s going to cost you. You will quickly see how much the costs outweigh the benefits.
  10. Play the tape forward. Imagine yourself drinking all that booze, then imagine all the crappy moments that will likely follow.

I don’t struggle with this so much anymore, but the memories of drinking up heavy when my husband was out of town are all too vivid for me. Just the idea of avoiding the shame of overdoing it continues to be enough motivation for me. It’s no fun to face two empty bottles in the morning, especially when you feel like absolute shit, physically.

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Acknowledging the Voice of Your Addiction

My addictions speak to me more during specific times of the year. In the summer, my alcohol addiction tries to make a case for drinking. It shows me images of red plastic cups at backyard barbecues, dewy glasses of cool wine at the beach, cold beer necks stuffed with fresh slices of lime held around fire pits. It promises me a good time. It pleads, just this once! My nicotine addiction pipes up around this time of year. It knows how much I am going to need to accomplish for work and it lets me know that should I bring it on board, I’ll have an easier time. It will give me those much needed breaks in between huge projects and it will be a soothing presence when the stress begins to consume me.

In the past, I didn’t really know how to talk to these addiction voices. For years, I was weak in the face of them and quite happy to buy what they were selling. I didn’t resist – I thought that these substances were assisting me. My life is so hard, I obviously need all the help I can get, right? No one has it as tough as me, who could blame me for leaning on these things?

Now I have to talk back to the voice. It’s weird. I never really did that before I quit. I thought about using the, “I’m perfectly happy without you” technique. Or the, “Who needs you anyway?” comeback. The problem with those lines is, they aren’t true. It’s like saying, “I’m great and everything is fine.” For me, the only way to fight with the voice and actually win is to be honest. So, here is what I usually tell the voice and it actually helps:

“I hear you. I understand what you are trying to do for me. Yes, those things sound tempting and I remember a time when they seemed to work. Would I like to engage in those things again? Yes, yes, I would. But there are strings attached, which, funny thing, is something you never really talked much about, addiction voice. You are like a used car salesman,  always pushing the benefits, but failing to mention the downside. And the downside, unfortunately, could cost me my life. Short term relief equals long term damage. So, inasmuch as I would love to give in, we both know that there is no such thing as just this once. Thank you for reminding me that I am worthy of help and that I need to find ways to soothe myself during difficult times.”

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A Coupla Thoughts

Driving home from my studio last night, I had this thought: Being addicted to alcohol is like listening to a voice that insists you do things that are unhealthy, while simultaneously pretending that the voice doesn’t exist. It’s a strange kind of craziness, isn’t it? You are doing things – compulsively – and deep in your gut you know it’s just awful for you, yet, you refuse to acknowledge that you are being compelled to do them. Pulling into that liquor store, whether you were happy about it or not, had to be done. There was no way you were going to face that evening without it. I mean, panic would bitch slap me right across the face if I even dared entertain the thought of having a sober evening. Where is the ice pick, so I can poke my eyes out?  I would have rather have done that than sit there with no liquid lubrication. What was I going to drink, anyway? Soda? I read that soda is unhealthy. (A bottle or more of wine is so, so much better.) Coffee? I’ll be up all night. I’ll just twiddle my thumbs like an idiot. No way! Wine wins! 

I am so, so, so relieved that I don’t have to play that ridiculous, counterproductive mind game with myself anymore.

By the way, am I the only one who ever failed at drinking a glass of water in between glasses of wine? I was advised to try this to keep my drinking from funneling out of control. In the end, I always felt like that glass of water was the most detestable, horrid tasting thing. Mainly because it was keeping me from you-know-what. It was annoying. Like a party pooper, objectified. My glass of water had a weird face superimposed on it – an old boss from a job I didn’t like, smirking, judging. Those sips of water were like heavy sludge sliding down my throat, thumping into my tummy. It was WORK to drink this “in between wine” water. Not fun. Which defeated the whole point of being social and drinking for fun.

One neat thing I can report: I have been made “intermediary” facilitator of my SMART meeting. Our regular meeting leader has been out for a few months coaching his son’s football team. It’s been nice to lead the group in his absence. Next week, I’m going to be little miss goody-two-shoes SMART facilitator and I’ll be guiding the group through a couple of exercises from the program. By the way, those large format post-it pad things are expensive!

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Whoa, Has It Really Been This Long?

Yikes, I’ve been away from my blog for a long time! I guess you can say that I took a summer reprieve, just like the fine ladies over at The Bubble Hour.

My summer was filled with beach time, long walks, bike riding, ice cream, exploring, backyard cookouts and lots of work! We adopted a new kitten (we now have 4 – that’s our maximum), we celebrated our 2 year wedding anniversary, we spent time with family. We really made the most of our summer. And this past weekend, we initiated our fall activities by selecting our pumpkins from our local pumpkin patch, picking apples and putting up our Halloween decorations. I sure as heck don’t have time to drink. Too busy enjoying myself!

Two little observances to share:

  1. At one of my outdoor events, a woman came waltzing into my booth with a huge plastic cup filled with red wine (it was an evening event and booze was served quite generously). She seemed like a nice enough lady, but my knee jerk reaction upon seeing her with her cup filled to the brim with red wine was, “Well, that’s not going to be enough.” I actually started panicking FOR HER. On her bloody behalf. I know where the bar is at this event and I know how long the lines usually are and I was worried for her, that she would somehow drink her wine the way I used to, and have to wait a long time for more. Craziness! Just insane!
  2. I woke up at 4 AM the other day. Since getting sober, I have been sleeping pretty well through the night, but something stirred me awake early for whatever reason. Anyway, I noticed right away that I didn’t have that horrible frozen in bed feeling. The worries of my life did not come washing over me. I did not feel like a worthless piece of shit. I did not feel like a failure. I did not feel helpless and frightened. Instead, I felt happy. Because I knew I had a few hours left to sleep. So, I snuggled back up in bed, smiled, and drifted back into zzzzzzzzz.
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Labyrinth on Block Island

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View of the Harbor on Block Island from Our Brunch Table

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Recreating “Christina’s World” by Andrew Wyeth

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Hooper, our New Kitten

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From Our Apple Picking Adventures

I hope you all had lovely, lush, beautiful, sober summers.

xoxo

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