The Problem With Fake Booze

My mother-in-law gave us this bottle of grape juice that’s in a wine bottle. It’s made my some Buddhist monks near her home, and I know the gift was given with love, but I hate it. Every time I open the fridge, I think about wine.

I think about all the times I tried to drink non-alcoholic beer and wine in an attempt to get sober, and all the times I failed. I’d keep a six pack of non-alcoholic beer in the fridge for times when friends came over with beer or wine and wanted to hang out. But it didn’t make me feel like I was fitting in or participating, it made me want the real stuff more.

The problem isn’t that I want wine right now, it’s that I’m thinking about it. Thoughts have a way of permeating and growing and developing, and I don’t want it to get to the point that I want wine again.

Non-alcoholic wine is grape juice. If you wanted grape juice, you’d buy grape juice. If you’ve got a problem with alcohol that you want to try to make go away, you buy non-alcoholic wine. And it doesn’t really work.

Psychologically, you’re still drinking alcohol. It makes it really hard for your brain to make that switch to being ok with being completely sober, when all you’re doing is slapping a band-aid on the problem and playing pretend with grape juice in a wine bottle.

I urge you not to buy these products. I know at first it seems like the perfect solution. I’ll go to the bar with my friends and order a non-alcoholic beer! But, you’re still at a bar. Surrounded with people who are drinking. Drinking a beverage from a beer shaped bottle. The only thing that happens is you getting frustrated.

Get a club soda and just be honest with yourself, and your friends, and let go of the fake booze so you can finally let go of the real stuff too.

Remembering

I recently passed the date where a year ago I relapsed after rehab. I felt strange about it all day, just kind of uneasy. Not that I was worried that I would relapse again. Just that all the memories were coming back to me.

It’s easy these days to go a long time without having to think about what happened to me. I’m able to push it out of my mind and forget about it. And when it resurfaces, even just for a moment, I have feelings of sadness.

It was a hard day for me that day. My husband had been in a serious accident. I was only home for about three weeks at that time. The experience was just too much for me. And instead of employing the safe coping strategies I had been taught at rehab, I fell back to my old ways. It was almost too easy to drift back to that place. I justified it to myself by saying, I’ve been to rehab, I’m good. One drink to take the edge off will be fine.

Well, I know full well now that one drink will never be fine. I can’t ever go there again. It simply doesn’t work for me anymore.

I recalled how sad and scared I was that day, both about my husband and also about stepping over the line again and drinking. There was so much uncertainty in my mind. Remembering myself in those scared, lost moments makes me very sad. I’m sad that I was ever that person. And I’m scared of someday becoming that person again.

Not drinking is much easier these days. I hardly ever think of it at all, even when I’m having a particularly stressful day. I’ve got a lot of other things I can do to get past it, and I do that instead. But sometimes the memory of being so deep in alcoholism that I knew no way out, and the memory of sad, stressful times in my life, they get the best of me. I try to talk it out, but I can’t quite find the words for exactly how I feel.

People in my life are worried I will relapse when I talk about feeling sad or stressed. I don’t worry about that, but I do wish away the bad feelings. I have been taught to sit with the feelings, analyze them, really let myself feel them. And also remind myself that the bad feelings will eventually pass, and things will feel ok again. That can be more difficult to do in practice than it seems in theory. I still struggle with this.

If you find yourself on the brink of relapse, I urge you to reach out to someone, anyone. A counselor, a friend, your spouse. There’s no feeling so big that someone won’t be willing to help you with it. And once you talk it out, it’s likely you won’t feel such an urge to drink. Once you let out all the feelings, and talk them out with someone, they seem less heavy, more manageable.

You can always find another way out. Going backwards doesn’t get you out, it sinks you further down. You need to keep moving forward, and moving on.

You’re Always On Step One

I attend AA weekly on Sunday nights. I feel that this gives me a good jumping off point for the week. It sets the right tone, and I can tackle my busy life with the right mindset. This week’s meeting was powerful for me, and has stuck with me. At the suggestion of one member, we discussed Step One of the AA’s 12 Steps:

We admitted we were powerless over alcohol – that our lives had become unmanageable.

We specifically discussed the importance of repeating this step every day, rather than ignoring it because we have “already done that one.”

Many people in the group expressed the belief that the first step is really the only step that matters. Once you admit that you are powerless over alcohol, then you can begin the real work of recovery. Before you make that decision, you can’t truly heal. Afterward, you can not only heal, but you can begin your work on the other steps, if you choose, and you can make your life even better than it was before your addiction took hold.

One member of the group said that they had noticed that the first step is the only step to actually mention alcohol. None of the other steps are specific to alcohol, and could be applied to almost any aspect of ourselves that we are trying to improve. But the first step says quite specifically that we must acknowledge that we cannot manage our lives under the influence of alcohol. I found this realization to be quite prophetic. Our only job, truly, as addicts is to admit we are addicts, and to always be aware of the presence of addiction as part of our being. Once we have mastered that, we can accomplish anything.

Still others brought up the concept of “going back out there.” Or, getting caught in the trap of thinking we’ve been “healed” or “reset.” Many alcoholics, after a certain amount of time has passed, will begin to think that it’s ok for them to drink again. They will assume that they’ve been “fixed”, or that in the amount of time that has passed, they have matured to the point that they could handle using alcohol again without allowing addiction to take over. But, as one person mentioned, “those people are wrong 100% of the time.” An addiction is an addiction, and no amount of time separating you from your substance of choice will ever make the addiction go away. In some cases it only intensifies over time, and the experience will be even worse than it was the first time around.

Some people are uncomfortable admitting powerlessness over alcohol, fearing that it makes them seem weak or that they have a character flaw. Some will only introduce themselves by name at a meeting, and will not also say, “I’m an alcoholic,” as per the AA tradition. I too felt uncomfortable with Step One at first. At rehab I was urged to say to myself that I am powerful over alcohol because I was able to make the choice to get sober. But, I have learned over time that while I am powerful for seeking help and getting sober, I am also still powerless should I ever take a drink. While under the influence of alcohol, I would still be powerless. It doesn’t make me any less powerful now to admit that to myself.

Another member at the meeting said that, “Each of us is always still on Step One, every single day.” And they are right. No matter how much work we do on the other 11 steps, and no matter how much progress we make on those steps, we must take a moment each day to remind ourselves of Step One, and what it means. We must remember how important it is to stay away from alcohol to avoid losing control of our lives again. And we must remain humble enough to admit that we can never, and would never want to, go back to our lives as participating alcoholics.

In recovery we are often reminded that each new day is a gift, and should be treated as such. And if every new day is a gift, we must begin that day with a reminder that we are powerless over our addiction and therefore will take every step to ensure we remain powerfully sober.

Stay the Course

I’ve been reminded lately of how alcoholism is a lifelong struggle. I haven’t had any desire to drink, but I’ve just been letting things slip. I haven’t been keeping a schedule, I haven’t been engaging in activities, I haven’t been taking care of myself and I’ve been letting my mood get the best of me sometimes.

I suppose it’s the down feeling we all have in January. All the fun and excitement of the holidays is over, and it’s back to business as usual. There’s also the added pressure of new year’s resolutions and making the most of the new year. So, it’s kind of a down time for everyone.

I’ve been letting routine slip a little simply because of the madness of the holidays. There’s always somewhere to run, something to get, something to do. So, all that structure and routine goes out the window. But, it’s important to get back to it as soon as you can, to avoid a lapse or relapse.

I suppose what I’m going through could be called a lapse. The old me would certainly have turned to alcohol by this point in time. But, I’m so grateful that I’ve gained the strength and self-confidence to avoid that whole mess. Now, it’s just time to take care of me. Get back on track. Keep things going so I can keep going.

How are you holding up in these early days of 2016? Have you had down days? Doubts? Struggles? Remember to keep on the path of sobriety, and keep taking care of yourself. It’s essential in recovery. Hang on, seek help when you need it, and this too shall pass.

Surviving the Holidays

For an addict, getting through this time of year can be particularly rough. In some places, the AA chapter will hold special meetings on Christmas and New Year’s for this exact reason. It feels like everywhere you look, people are drinking, and you miss that social aspect of it. But, it’s important to remember that, for us, drinking became about something completely different than just fun socializing a long time ago. And that we must stay sober to stay happy.

It’s also kind of a stressful time of year, with all the activity going on and all the things that need to get done. But, also remind yourself that while in the moment it might feel like alcohol eases your stress, it really doesn’t ease anything at all, and you will only feel more stressed and anxious if you drink.

I haven’t done a safe coping strategy in a long time (sorry!). I think one that is fitting right now is:

Think of the consequences. Really see the impact for tomorrow, next week, next year.

You might think you can have a drink or two over the holidays, just to celebrate. But, in reality, it’s dangerous for you to even consider taking one sip. This is how you start down that slippery slope into making yourself think a little more is ok. Then just a little more. Then a little more. Until you’re right back where you started. Which I think we can all agree is not somewhere we ever want to go again.

Focus on your feelings, and work through them. Resist the urge to “drink them away.” If you’re feeling stressed with the amount of things you have to do, really look at your to-do list and cut out the non-essential items. Don’t worry about disappointing people or letting someone down. Chances are, you won’t. And you’re health and sanity are far more important.

If you’re feeling down emotionally, seek out other people. If you don’t have anyone in your life that you can turn to, then get to a meeting. There you will find solace. Being alone this time of year can be dangerous. Find ways to interact with people, and find things to do that will bring you joy.

We trick ourselves into feeling like this time of year means more, or is more special, than the rest of the year. But really, it’s no different than the other months out of the year. Stop putting pressure on yourself to make the time of year perfect, and just try to relax and enjoy it. Every day of your life is meaningful and special, not only these last few days of the year.

Make special plans for next year. Think of all the fun things you will do. Think of all that you will be able to accomplish. Think of how much better you can make your new year, than your last year. Look toward the new year with happiness and confidence, instead of fearing or dreading it.

Happy holidays, and be safe.

Surviving and Thriving

I haven’t written in ages! I’m so sorry. Part of the reason is that this time of year is so incredibly busy, with parties, and dinners, and gifts to wrap, and gifts to send, and a big pile of cards to address.

The other reason is that I just had my third foot surgery. The bone structure in my feet leaves a lot to be desired. I had both feet operated on, but was warned I might need to have the left one operated on again sometime. It had started causing me some pain again, and we met our insurance deductible for the year, so I went for it.

The whole premise of surgery worried me. Not just being put under anesthesia and being cut open and being in pain and recovering from it forever. But also, I was going to be prescribed a narcotic pain killer. Would I take it? What would happen if I did? What did this mean for me, a recovering alcoholic?

I was afraid it would trigger something inside of me. The Reality-is-Best-Dealt-With-Under-the-Influence side of me I had fought so hard to get rid of. I was also afraid that all the sitting around and boredom would also trigger something inside of me.

I took the medication. I was in an incredible amount of pain the first few days, and I didn’t know how else to deal with it.

And it was fine. I didn’t at all like how the medication made me feel. It made it hard for me to eat and sleep, two things I need desperately to do right now. And when I did sleep, it gave me insane nightmares. And during the day, I felt dizzy, loopy, spacey, just uncomfortable. I was relieved when I could take Aleve and get by. And it still took a few days for the loopiness to subside.

One of my counselors in rehab said generally people my age don’t give up one addiction and find another. Young people often do, they are willing to try a variety of different things. But by the time you’re in your 30s or 40s, you have found your “substance of choice” and are unlikely to turn to something else. I’m so glad this is the case for me, and it’s a weight off my mind to know.

Though I would urge you to tread very carefully if you’re put in the same situation. Because there is always that chance when you are an addict to become addicted to just about anything. So, it’s important to be aware of that and mindful of how you feel on any substance. And if prescription medications are your substance of choice, then obviously you need to be even more careful, and avoid them completely if possible.

I find through this experience that I’ve come a very long way from the person I used to be. Back in the day, this might have been a huge issue for me. But, not only do I not want alcohol at all anymore, but I’m still mindful enough of my addiction to be careful what I put in my body. I learned many things about myself and about addiction through my experience in rehab, and I have seen that I can put that knowledge to use in my everyday life.

I feel stronger now than ever. I can make the right choices. I’m happier being sober. This happiness can be the rest of my life, instead of the misery I was feeling this time last year. And that feels amazing.

Don’t Let History Repeat Itself

In recovery, it’s important to remember where we came from, what we have achieved, and what we have learned along the way. It’s what keeps us going, what gives us the forward momentum to stay clean and sober.

It was last year around Thanksgiving time that I was, for the first time, attempting to get sober on my own. I was giving it my all, but still failing miserably, which only added to the pain and frustration. But, when I look back on how far I’ve come in the last year, I am proud of what I have accomplished and happy with the place I am in now.

I’ve learned so much over the past year, about myself, about addiction and about life in general. I picked up some real life lessons, and I carry them with me as I go. I’m far from perfect, and an addict is never truly cured, but I have learned from my past how to make my future what I want it to be.

This week’s safe coping strategy:

Learn from experience. Seek wisdom that can help you next time.

When you find yourself in a mood or situation that might cause you to use or to relapse, think back on the lessons you’ve learned in your recovery. Whether they are lessons you learned the hard way, or lessons you took from counselors, remember them and use them to your advantage. If I do this now, what will happen? What happened in the past? Do I want that for myself again? Do I want a worse result this time around? Chances are you will be able to talk yourself out of just about anything by remembering where you were and seeing where you are now.

You can also seek out experiences of others. Attend meetings and really take in people’s stories. They’re likely to be similar to yours. Listen to them tell how they managed to get through it, and how they’re getting by day to day now. Talk with someone close to you who also struggles with addiction. The relationship will be beneficial for you both. Sharing information goes both ways, and you might just have some advice that will help them.

The main thing is to prevent history from repeating itself. To keep yourself moving forward, always, and never falling back into old patterns. Now that you’re sober, it’s no excuse to forget that part of your life completely. As painful as it is, keep those memories alive to remind you why you’re doing this.

Things will happen in life, and temptations will arise, but you will be safe knowing what you need to do in order to keep yourself from falling back into your old ways. Remember what life was like back then, remember all the things you’ve learned from AA or rehab or books or whatever. Then take that information and make the right choice. You are strong enough now to do it.

What is the Meaning of your Sobriety?

This week’s safe coping strategy:

Creating meaning. Remind yourself what you are living for: your children? Love? Truth? Justice? God?

There will be low times. I am in the middle of a funk right now. I though getting sober would fix everything, but there’s still a lot about me to fix. Like my worrying, my future tripping, my motivation. It helps in these times to remember what matters.

I am living for my husband and children, mainly. But I’m also living to give kindness to the world. To create meaning out of my life. I am living to enjoy myself, to make the most of every moment. All of that is pretty hard to do when using.

Think about what it is that you are living for. What do you want to do? What are you living for? What made you decide to get sober?

Chances are there are a great deal of things you’d like to do, positive things you’d like to contribute to your family and the world, and reasons you’re happy that you’re sober.

Hold on to those things, hold them very near. Use them each day to remind yourself why you got sober, and why you need to stay sober. Create meaning in your sobriety, and it becomes less abstract, and more something you can really feel and see in your everyday life.

Having reasons to keep going and to stay sober helps you get through the bad days. The days you question your decision. The day you have urges and cravings. Dig deep down inside and remind yourself of that meaning. Those things that are important to you. The things that would go away if you started using again.

Life can be beautiful and meaningful, and sobriety makes it easy.

Rewrite the Story

I struggled with my sobriety in the beginning. I wanted to be sober, but alcohol had immersed itself in my subconscious so deeply, that getting sober involved me grieving for my previous life as a drinker. My counselor would say, “It’s like losing your best friend.” Your drug of choice was not your friend, obviously, but it was always there for you. Dependable. Predictable. And a piece of you. A piece of you that you have to let go of.

Something that helped me through that was the realization that I could create a new life. New pieces of me. I wasn’t tied to alcohol, as much as it felt like it. I could walk away from whenever I was ready. And I could make a new life, write a new story. This week’s safe coping strategy:

Create a new story. You are the author of your life; be the hero who overcomes adversity.

Think of the book or movie that would be made about your life. You don’t want to be remembered as a drunk or drug addict that succumbed to addiction, got some horrible resulting disease, and left the world too early. This should not be your legacy.

Instead, you want to be remembered positively. As someone who was a good person, and put a lot of good out into the world. You want people to remember the joy you brought to their lives. And in the end, you’d like to be known for the long, productive, positive life you lead. Right?

With sobriety, you have the unique chance to rewrite the ending of your story. You have the opportunity to rewrite the middle to, what leads you to the end. Getting sober gives you a second chance at life. And a chance to do and try new things, and make the life you have always wanted for yourself.

You don’t have to trudge through, day after day, living a mundane life. I think that’s what some people struggling to get sober are afraid of. That somehow their life will be less exciting, more boring. But it can be so exciting.

Make a new story. Be the hero of that story. Live each day like the blessing that it is.

Make Good Choices

At my older son’s school, kids who do something “bad” are told to “make good choices.” And I figure what’s good for kids is usually good for adults too. So, on that theme, this week’s safe coping strategy is:

List your options. In any situation, you have choices.

When I was trying to get sober on my own, I would always want to choose to not drink. But, I would eventually end up drinking again. I was making the wrong choice. I knew my options and I opted for the easiest, quickest way out: drinking.

I could have told myself a million and one things to remind myself why drinking wasn’t a good idea at that time, or ever. But my brain ignored all that and instead chose to listen to the few justifications I had for drinking again.

This goes for more than your addiction though. You can list options for any situation and make good choices. How to deal with your kids when they misbehave. How to drive safely. How to get along with someone you don’t like. How to think positively in the face of a challenge. And there’s always a choice that will help you deal with the situation in a good way, and a choice where it will end poorly. And the right choices are not always the easiest, but still the choices that need to be made.

We can choose to go through life making wrong turn after wrong turn, but we will find a dead end. If we make the right turns, we can keep on going. We can choose to be miserable and negative, but the road will be tough. If we choose optimism and positivity, we can smooth the way.

Practice listing your options in your daily life, and making good choices will begin to come naturally.