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.

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.

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.

Mottos

This week’s safe coping strategy:

Find rules to live by. Remember a phrase that works for you (e.g. “Stay real.”).

I have a few personal “mottos” that I live by. I find it helpful to repeat them to myself whenever I’m feeling sad, angry, sorry for myself or negative. It helps lift me up out of that negative space. A big part of successful sobriety is staying positive and hopeful.

If it’s not ok, it’s not the end. Basically, I take this to mean that you will get through any tough situation. It can be easy to think that “it will always be this bad” or “I will always feel this way” when the truth is that things will eventually get better, and you will feel better. If you’re able to, take matters into your own hands and make things better. If you can’t, then just wait it out. It will pass.

When shit happens, turn it into fertilizer. This is a play on the old “when life hands you lemons…” idea. When bad or negative things happen, you can learn from them rather than just get angry and throw you hands up at life. Every experience is an opportunity to learn and grow, even the crappy stuff. I even consider my addiction a learning and growing experience. I’ve learned so much about myself, my world, my friends and family and addiction itself throughout this experience. And without it, there are things I’d never have learned or tried. Keep on trudging through the shit and you’ll come out the other end a happier, more learned individual.

You can do this. This is an important one. It’s good to always think positively about every situation you encounter. You need to remind yourself that you’re smart enough, strong enough and completely capable of navigating whatever life throws your way. I also tell myself One way or another, you will get through this. Eventually it will be over, and you will have survived, no matter what the actual outcome. You might suffer a little, but it will come to an end. And you can endure it. And you will be ok.

This day is a gift. Whenever I find myself having “one of those days,” I remind myself that having a crappy day is better than having no day at all. When you opened your eyes that morning, you were among the lucky people allowed to still be alive. Any of us can be taken from this world at any time, we don’t know what will happen. So I remind myself that I’m lucky to be here, and then I am motivated to make something of the day, no matter how bad things seem.

What are some of your mottos or sayings that help you through a tough situation? What do you tell yourself to help keep you sober?

Lizard Brain

The “lizard brain” or limbic cortex of our brain is the oldest part of the brain. It is responsible for many of our subconscious behaviors, and our emotions. It is also the source of our “fight or flight” response to trauma.

Impulse control is in another part of the brain, which doesn’t fully form until we are in our mid-20s. This is why small children have a hard time regulating impulses, including hurting their peers and blurting out exactly what they’re thinking, appropriate or not. They also have a hard time being able to understand reason and logic.

For addicts, the lizard brain is mostly responsible for your addiction. It stores information about how good using feels, and how your body “needs” a substance. It’s very difficult, almost impossible, to change how the lizard brain feels about addiction, which is why cognitive behavioral therapy is often used to treat addiction: changing the way we act in order to eventually change the way we think.

It’s important to remember that our loved ones that watched us in the throes of our addiction, and helping us through recovery and also in a sort of recovery of their own. And their lizard brain is programmed to detect lapses on our part.

Overnight last night, someone left an empty wine bottle and some empty beer bottles in a paper bag on the ground next to our recycling bin, which was on the curb for today’s collection. My husband’s first reaction was that it was mine. His lizard brain went back to a place where he would find bottles, or in some other way find out I’d been drinking again.

The bottles weren’t mine, and I deeply resent the person who left them there. Why not throw them in a trash can? In their own trash bin? Leave it on the curb if you must? Or even throw it in the damn recycling bin that was right there? I’ll never understand why some people do the things that they do.

Since they weren’t mine, I was tasked with trying to convince my husband they weren’t mine. But all the words I could think of, everything that was coming out of my mouth, was some excuse or cover up that I had used in the past. So it obviously triggered old memories in his lizard brain. With the exception of the fact that I am taking Antabuse, all signs pointed to a relapse. My husband didn’t see any other way.

The point of me telling you this story is for you to remember that you’re not the only one in recovery. Your addiction was drugs, alcohol, etc. Your loved one’s addiction was you. Taking care of you. Worrying about you. Watching you closely. It can be just as hard for them to give that up as it was for you to give up using. If this kind of situation arises in your relationships, be as patient as you can. And remember that you are still earning back trust. You are still under suspicion. They are still on guard. It’s one of the difficult truths of being in recovery. Just because you’re clean doesn’t mean the past has been magically erased, and everyone feels as great and accomplished as you do.

But don’t let it set you back either. You know the truth about your addiction and your recovery, and nothing will change reality, not even a little distrust. Stay strong and stay on the path to recovery, despite what others think. There’s a tendency amongst addicts to think, “Well, if they think I’m using even when I’m not, then why am I not just doing it anyway?” But, of course you know why you’re not doing it. It was ruining your life, it was ruining your health and it was making you miserable. A little bump in the road like this should not take all of that away from you.

The Role of Trauma

This week’s safe coping strategy is:

Link PTSD and substance abuse. Recognize substances as an attempt to self-medicate.

I don’t know if I qualify as having full-blown PTSD or not, but I don’t think that’s the point here. All I know is that my drinking picked up speed very quickly following my miscarriage in 2011. Then, it improved a bit. I went a long time without drinking, as I was pregnant with my second son from January to September 2012, and breastfeeding him after that. When I was diagnosed with melanoma in March of 2013, it started back up again, and was about 10 times worse than before.

These were two traumas I experienced, and I went into a sort of anxious shock after each. Though, I didn’t recognize it for what it was, either time. I didn’t recognize that I was in a pit of depression, and I didn’t realize that I was having full-blown anxiety attacks pretty much all the time. And I certainly didn’t recognize that I was using alcohol to numb myself to the anxiety and the pain. But looking back, I can see that’s exactly what was happening. I’m like a textbook case for self-medication.

Some people endure massive trauma: complicated military service, sexual abuse, death of a spouse, severe illness, loss of money or property, losing an important job. And these people often become addicts too, in response to their tragedy. But, “smaller” tragedies can have the same effect on us.

It can be easy to miss the signs as an addict. All you know is when you drink or use, you feel better. And at first, you think it’s no big deal, because you’re not really doing that often. But it soon begins to take over your life, before you’ve even realized it. In AA, they call addiction a “cunning and baffling disease” because it seems to creep in slowly and sneakily, and wreaks havoc before you even know there’s a problem. The people in your life can often see the problem right away, but unless they confront you, you rarely see it for yourself.

Ask yourself now if there is any trauma in your life you might have been numbing yourself to. It can often make you feel a little less shame and guilt to realize your response to your trauma was completely normal. And if you’re getting the help you need, and staying sober, then you’re doing the right thing and you’re on the rig