Meetings

My counselor asked me to write about meetings and how helpful I have found them to be, for people who may be thinking of attending 12-step or other meetings, and are wondering what they are like. This week’s safe coping strategy:

Go to a meeting. Feet first; just get there and let the rest happen.

I think what the wording here is trying to say is just go. Even if you’re doubting the process and are nervous and aren’t sure if it’s for you, just try it at least once.

I went to my first AA meeting about a year ago, when I was first attempting to get sober, on my own. My husband urged me to join AA, and found meetings near us that were convenient for me to attend. He drove me to my first meeting, and waited outside for me while I was there. I was so nervous, I was visibly shaking and I felt dizzy. I didn’t know what to expect. My hugest fear was that I’d be forced to speak. And I didn’t know what kind of crowd awaited me.

When I walked in, I was only the third person to arrive. The secretary was there, setting up, and there was also an older gentleman there, dressed nicely, wearing a fedora. When he saw me, he said to me in an East Coast Italian accent, “Well, you don’t look like a drunk.” It made me laugh, and he introduced himself, and I felt a little more at ease.

When the meeting started, we all went around the room and said the line you know from TV and movies, “Hello, my name is … and I’m an alcoholic.” Other than that, I was not expected to speak at all. And I didn’t, not for my first two or three meetings.

It got easier, and I always found the meetings helpful. The topics of discussion were always relevant to me and there was a sort of kinship, being in a room full of people that are in the same boat as you–just trying to recover and feel better.

I went to meetings off and on for the next few months. After attending rehab and other recovery meetings, I have found that while AA is incredibly supportive and helpful, it’s not my favorite group. Mainly, they say in their literature that the only requirement for membership is “a desire to stop drinking.” We all have the desire, but not necessarily the action. I have been to many a meeting where an attendee is obviously under the influence of something. And I myself went to some meetings having had a drink before I went. This seemed counterproductive, to allow this to happen.

I have gone to what are called SMART recovery meetings. SMART stands for Self Management and Recovery Training. They help with the recovery from anything, from prescription drugs to behavioral addictions, such as gambling and sex. There, they do not allow you to attend if they can tell you’ve been using. People are not allowed to wear attire that advertises drugs or alcohol. And they do exercises, similar to the worksheets I did in rehab. This kind of environment was much better for my recovery and I found a higher level of success.

There are far fewer SMART meetings to attend than AA meetings, which is one of the downsides. And one of the reasons I keep going to AA, even though it’s not my “favorite.” AA is still useful, and much more readily available. It’s a good starting off point, if you are in early recovery.

Your first meeting will be scary. You will be nervous. But rest assured you won’t have to talk any more than you want to. And the people will be friendly. And you will belong. It will make you feel good to have attended a meeting, and that you have made progress in your recovery. And they call them meetings. So, if someone asks you where you’re going or why you’re busy, you just say, “I have a meeting.” Who can argue with or judge that?

I urge you to find a meeting close to you, and go. Even if just the once. It’s a great tool to have in your arsenal, and it will make you feel good. I know this, because even when I truly did not want to go, and I dragged my feet all the way in, I always left feeling good about the experience.

I once broke down and cried listening to another AA member share at a meeting I attended while in rehab. His story touched me to the bone, and I just couldn’t help but let it out. Afterward, several people approached me to find out if I was ok. They were truly concerned by my reaction and wanted to help in any way they could.

Meetings are the most supportive thing you can do for yourself. It will open you up to a whole community of people in recovery. People who have been where you are. People who are where you were before, that you can help with your experience. It’s amazing what human interaction can do for your sanity and your recovery.

Trinkets and Treasures

This week’s safe coping strategy:

Inspire yourself. Carry something positive.

I carry around two things from my time in rehab that are symbols of my sobriety.

The first is my 30-day AA chip. It is red and made of some lightweight metal. It is nothing overly special. But it reminds me of a time when I only had 30 days under my belt, and how scary and empowering that felt, all at the same time. It also reminds me of my relapse, and how I gave the chip to my husband and told him to give it back to me when I “earned it.” And I did. And now I have 160 days and it’s amazing to look back and see the progress I’ve made.

I also carry a small, smooth, light green rock. Towards the end of my first stay in rehab, a counselor put a pile of pretty little stones on the table, in all colors, shapes and sizes. She told us to choose one to represent our time there, and to carry it with us wherever we went. And that’s what I do. Every time I see it, I’m reminded of all the times I smiled in rehab, and all the positive things we did there. I’m reminded of the bonding I did with the other woman who stayed there at the time. We remain friends.

I carry both with me in my wallet, and see them nearly every day. And each time I see them, I am filled with positive thoughts and feelings, about me, my choice to attend rehab, my recovery, my future.

Choose something for yourself, something small you can carry with you to remind you of your recovery. Why you’re doing it, who you’re doing it for. It can be anything as long as it means something to you. A poem, a ticket stub, a pebble, a ring or necklace, a button.

Sometimes it takes something physical and visceral to remind us of what’s important. Something we can reach out and touch, rather than the abstract “recovery” or “sobriety”, or our feelings. This little trinket will serve this purpose for you. And it will also help you stay positive and focused. Positivity is extremely important in recovery, so why not take all the help you can get?

Do you already have a special memento you carry? Or do you have one in mind you’d like to use?

Fight For Your Sobriety

I remember in recovery being told many a time to “avoid triggers.” Which seems like an easy thing to do. Trouble is, there are triggers everywhere and I run into them quite often. Today’s safe coping strategy:

Fight the trigger. Take an active approach to protect yourself.

Just because triggers are coming at you left and right doesn’t mean you can’t do anything about them.

Some of them can be avoided. Don’t go into that corner market where you used to buy your wine. Don’t hang out with friends you used to party with. Ask your spouse not to keep alcohol in the house.

But some you can’t avoid. Like seeing a billboard advertising beer, or watching a show and suddenly someone is pouring themselves a glass of wine. Or the beer and the yogurt are in the same aisle at the grocery store for some reason. Or just having a bad, stressful day. Those kinds of things are going to happen to you.

But, what you have to do is identify the situation as a trigger. Tell yourself, this is a trigger. And then work against it. It wants to bring you down. It wants to burrow into your subconscious and pull you right off track. You need to fight it. See it for what it really is. Remind yourself of the consequences of drinking/using.

A trigger can happen without you even knowing about it. It’s really about getting that itch. Having that feeling that gee, a cold pint of beer would be awfully good right about now. The fleeting thought that you want something you used to have, but can’t have anymore. And maybe that’s all it is: a fleeting thought. But if you don’t hone in on that thought, and label it as a trigger, and an urge or a craving, then it can eat away at you until you cave in.

It’s unfortunate, but as an addict, you always need to be on your toes. You need to watch out for things like this. See the warning signs. Learn your individual triggers and avoid them whenever you can. Having an anxious day and maybe you want to take the edge off? Don’t go down that aisle at the store, no matter how bad you wanted the yogurt. In fact, avoid the store altogether. It can wait, nothing is more important than your sobriety.

Fighting the trigger means fighting for yourself. Fighting for you sobriety, your sanity, your safety. Nothing comes before that.

Do Something Fun

Through all of the important and difficult work you are doing toward your recovery, it’s important to always be aware of how you’re feeling about all of it. If you begin to feel bogged down or overwhelmed, you need to take time out for yourself. This week’s safe coping strategy:

Self-nurture. Do something that you enjoy (take a walk, see a movie, etc.)

The road to recovery is long and difficult. The work you are doing is extremely important, both for your happiness and your survival. But it is a lot of work, and you continue to struggle with it day in and day out in the name of sobriety. You are to occasionally be rewarded for that!

And, let’s be honest, even though you are surrounded by supportive counselors, family, friends and advisors, there are still times when you are the only one who can make you happy.

Take time out from your daily grind and do something just for you. Do something that brings you extreme joy, and that will have you feeling positive and motivated. The things you choose to do can be large, planned out activities that you schedule in advance, or simple outings you choose to do on the spur of the moment. Some examples of ways to self-nurture are:

–Talk a walk. Long or short, that’s up to you. Choose a location that brings you happiness, such as a hike in the woods, or a walk along a beach, or just a stroll through your neighborhood.

–Take yourself to a movie. It can feel strange at first to see a movie by yourself, but I’ve done it a few times and I think you’ll find it to be a very enjoyable experience. You don’t have to share your snacks with anyone!

–Take yourself to lunch or dinner at a nice restaurant. This can feel weird at first too. You might feel as if everyone in the restaurant is staring at you, wondering why you’re alone. But, odds are no one is looking at you at all. If it helps, bring a book or newspaper to read. Order your favorite dish on the menu, even if it’s the most expensive. And by all means, order dessert.

–Plan a weekend trip to participate in an activity you enjoy, such as kayaking, hiking, camping, fishing, visiting art museums, participating in a meditation retreat, antiquing or visiting friends. Just get away for a while. It doesn’t have to be a long drawn out vacation, just a day and a half or two days away from home to relax and refresh.

–Get “dolled up.” Go get yourself a new haircut or new hair color. Get a manicure and a pedicure. Buy yourself a new outfit, it doesn’t even have to be for a special occasion, just for fun. Buy a new lipstick color. Anything to change up your look a little bit, and make it feel refreshed.

–Do something good for your body that you enjoy. Take a fun class at the gym. Get a massage. Take a yoga class. You’re having fun but you’re also doing good by your body.

–Nurture yourself spiritually, whatever that means for you. Go to church or temple. Do a private Bible study. Spend some time meditating. Listen to a spirituality podcast, or read a book about spirituality.

–Do something artistic. Paint, draw, sculpt, craft, build something. Anything that’s creative and involves you using your hands, and really participating in the process. The creative process can be incredibly freeing and healing.

These are just a handful of ideas, you can come up with your own. Anything that’s fun and brings you joy, and is outside your normal daily routine. Take yourself on as many of these “self dates” as you can. The happiness it brings will be extremely beneficial for your recovery and your outlook on life. You’re dealing with an addiction, which is hard work. But you can have fun with life too!

Keep Your Eyes Open

I’m late this week with the safe coping strategy. Sometimes life is so darn busy! But, I didn’t want to put it off until next week.

I wanted to talk a little this week about getting comfortable with sobriety. It’s good to start feeling comfortable in your own skin again, and to feel confident in your sobriety. It’s definitely a positive thing to be happy again and moving on with your life. But, it’s very important not to get too comfortable and too confident, or you risk falling back into old patterns.

Never forget that you are still, and will always be, in recovery. And no matter how many days you get under your belt, the risk of slipping still exists. I’ve heard too many a tale of a person with years of sobriety falling off the wagon. You need to stay focused, and always be on top of your condition.

A coping strategy I feel relates to this is:

Prioritize healing. Make healing your most urgent and important goal, above all else.

This is one of those times it’s helpful to think of your addiction as a disease. It’s something that you will carry with you for the rest of your life, and you need to keep up with the treatment.

When we find ourselves getting too comfortable with any situation in life, it’s easy to get complacent. Like, if you lose the amount of weight you sought to lose, you feel comfortable going to the gym less often, and pretty soon you’re not going at all. Or, you get rewarded for doing a good job at work, so you feel comfortable slacking off a little bit, and your work actually begins to suffer.

Recovering from an addiction is like this too. If you start to get a little too confident in yourself, you might stop going to meetings. Or you might stop taking your anti-depressant or anti-anxiety medication. Or you might even start to think you can use again, because you’ve got it under control.

But these are dangerous things to do, at any stage in your recovery. As difficult as it is, you need to keep the fact that you are an addict in the forefront of your mind. Always be doing something that benefits your recovery. Keep going to those meetings, keep taking necessary medications, keep reminding yourself what your life could become if you ever start to use again.

And if you find yourself feeling down because you’ll never be “normal” again, remind yourself that you never really were. Your addiction took you to places that were certainly not “normal”. And though you didn’t know it at the time, you were always an addict. Now that you’re aware of it and have taken steps to correct it, keep up the good work and keep yourself safe, happy and healthy. Don’t let yourself become complacent. Your life is worth more than that.

This Roller Coaster Ride

I take issue when someone tells me, “each day will be easier than the one before it.” Because, it’s simply not true. In terms of recovery alone, yes, each day it will be a little bit easier to be sober than it was the day before it. But in general, the statement isn’t true.

Some days are going to be awesome. Sunny, happy, flowers blooming, everything going your way, a smile on your face from ear to ear.

But some days are going to suck. It will seem as if every little thing is going wrong. You’ll feel down. You’ll maybe be angry or sad.

Life also has natural ups and downs. And we can’t stop life from happening, just because we’re in recovery. Huge life-altering events are still possible.

We need to teach ourselves how to handle the bad days and the big upsets without turning to our old way of dealing with things: using.

Today’s coping strategy is this:

Solve the problem. Don’t take it personally when things go wrong–just try to find a solution.

I used to take everything personally. All big upsets, little upsets, other people’s upsets that really didn’t even involve me. I took it upon myself to feel way too deeply about it. And I’d send myself into a tailspin of depression, anxiety, and of course, drinking.

I’ve learned through hundreds of hours of counseling and therapy, and lots of recovery training that this isn’t the right way to react to life, and that using won’t help the problem either. These days, I’m much better at facing a problem when it knocks on my door, and reacting to it calmly.

I fix the problems I can fix, I seek help for those I cannot. And, as hard as it is, I just deal with the problems that cannot be solved. That doesn’t mean I never get sad or angry anymore, or that I don’t overreact when I’m having a bad day. I’m still human, all of that still happens.

But, I was using alcohol as a means to dull the pain of everyday life, and pain of past traumas, and it was only making everything worse. If I was to survive, I had to find another way. I needed to learn to let life run over me like a river, and just go with the flow, if I was ever going to get by. I needed to figure out how to handle life without drinking. A bad day does not mean that recovery isn’t working or that I’m destined to be sad all the time. It just means I’m having a bad day, and need to deal with it. Simple as that.

It was really hard at first. To imagine navigating any part of my life without the “help” of alcohol felt impossible. But, the longer I stayed sober, the more clearheaded I became. And the more I was able to realize that the alcohol was never helping me. It was only hindering me, even making things worse. And over time I came to realize that life was made to be dealt with. Coped with. Survived. It was not made for me to roll over and pull the covers over my head.

And once you learn how to get through life’s ups and downs without using, then you start to get brave enough to take on new tasks. To challenge yourself. I am enrolled in an online school on track to earn a new degree. I also took on a part time job after my second stay in rehab. I’ve been a stay-at-home mother for 7 years. The idea of a job, any job, made my heart pound in my chest. But, I felt strong enough to accept the challenge, and now I could not be happier.

In recovery, learn to cope with problems rather than dwelling on them or trying to ignore them by using. It’s an important coping skill to know how to handle life as it’s handed to you. Things won’t always happen the way you want them to, and life will throw some real curve balls at you, but you have to learn to live your life in spite of that. And live happy and strong.

You’re Allowed to Feel Good

I spend a lot of time talking on here about negative emotions: sadness, anger, frustration, anxiety, guilt, shame… These are emotions that a person in recovery, especially early recovery, spends a lot of time with. But, don’t forget that you’re allowed to feel good too!

My last post was about crying, and how healing and cathartic it can be. Well, the same is true for smiling and laughter. If you feel a smile creeping onto your face, or a laugh bubbling up from inside, let it shine! Let it out!

Studies have actually shown that you can improve a bad mood simply by making yourself smile. And double if you can make yourself laugh.

It’s also been show that laughter has healing properties. Laughing helps boost your immune system, lowers your stress hormones, relaxes your muscles and can help reduce pain. It has even been shown to help heal heart disease and cancer!

In addition to physical benefits, it just boosts your mood. Puts you in a better place, so you can tackle your day and handle the problems life throws at you. Everything is smoother with a positive attitude. It’s hard to feel depressed and anxious when you’re smiling and laughing.

If you find yourself in a down mood, expressing negative emotions or lashing out at loved ones, find a way to make yourself smile and laugh. Go to one of your favorite places. Eat at a favorite restaurant. Go see a funny movie. Get together for coffee with a fun friend. Play with your pet, if you have one. Go visit the small children in your life. Just get out and do something fun like hiking, shopping, miniature golf, bowling, anything to get you in a positive mood and get a smile on that face.

Your mood will improve, your relationships will benefit, and you will feel better physically. Use one of nature’s best medications to help you heal on your journey to recovery.

Let Yourself Feel Again

For this week’s safe coping strategy, I chose a simple one:

Cry. Let yourself cry, it will not last forever.

By “simple”, I don’t mean that it’s easy to cry. For some people, it can be very difficult. What I mean is that it’s a short and simple strategy, the idea behind it is very simple, and we can all cry with some practice.

First you need to let go of the idea that you aren’t supposed to cry. And that you aren’t supposed to cry in front of other people. You are allowed to cry, and you are supposed to cry. It’s your body’s way of releasing tension and negative feelings. As for other people, don’t worry about what they think. They do not have to walk in your shoes.

Crying is a physical response to very difficult feelings. For many addicts, we are actually feeling our feelings again for the first time after a long time of numbing ourselves to them. Crying will seem to happen all the time in early recovery. It is a way of getting the bad out to make room for the good.

If you find yourself tearing up, anywhere, anytime, for any reason, if you are in a safe space, just let it out. Let it all out. Cry until you don’t feel like crying anymore.

After a good cry, you will feel a sense of relief. Studies have shown that tears shed for emotional reasons (as opposed to eye irritation) contain more protein, and are actually helping you heal. We are also releasing the stress hormones from our emotions as we cry. That is why a “good cry” can feel so cathartic–there’s actual beneficial stuff going on with your body and brain when you cry.

Crying it out won’t solve all of your problems, and it won’t make problems disappear. But, it can help your brain to think about the issues in new ways, and serves as a natural stress reliever for your body.

Sometimes it can feel silly to cry, based on our location, or who we are with, or what is triggering the tears. But, it is advised that you just let it out when you feel it coming. Expunge the bad, and let in the good. Crying plays a big role in early recovery, and you should embrace it rather than try to be “tough.”

Soothing Self Talk

When you start down the road to recovery, it can be a scary time. You’re feeling new feelings all the time, and learning a little more each day who it is that you really are. And even after you’ve been in recovery for a while, you’ll still have bad days. Anxious moments, tough situations, triggers. There are a lot of ways to handle things when you feel this way. That’s what all of these safe coping strategies are all about. But there are a few things you can try right when you feel the bad creeping in that may help ward it off. I have combined two safe coping strategies for this week, because I feel they go hand in hand.

Talk yourself through it. Self talk helps in difficult times.

Soothing talk. Talk to yourself very gently (as if to a friend or small child).

I don’t mean that you have to go around talking out loud to yourself, that could be embarrassing, right? You can talk to yourself silently, in your head. Start by just calming yourself down. I usually let myself know, “You’re going to be ok. Everything will be ok.” In moments of panic, it can feel as if the sky is falling, but it’s not, and eventually, whatever it is you’re going through will be ok again.

Maybe you’re doubting your ability to do something. Self talk is great here. Let yourself know that you can do anything you put your mind to. Remind yourself you’ve got strengths and talents. And a little hard work goes a long way. Bolstering yourself in this way will raise your confidence level and help you feel better.

Learning to live with anxiety and depression can be difficult too. And perhaps you’ve been given medication to help you with it. But, the idea is to not have to take the medication forever. And learning how to use self talk to your advantage will help a lot with that.

Use self talk to comfort yourself during scary, difficult or confusing times. Use self talk to boost your confidence during a challenging time. Use self talk to remind yourself why you’re here, why you do what you do, that you matter and that you’re worth it.

Be kind to yourself when using self talk. For example, don’t use language like, “You’re such a wimp.” Don’t put yourself down or be too hard on yourself. It’s important to stay positive, and to be gentle and patient with yourself. Negativity will spread like wildfire to other aspects of your life. Stay positive, be positive, talk to yourself positively.

It’s a practice. You will learn over time to automatically begin soothing self talk when it’s needed. A good way to get started is to use a list of positive affirmations as part of your daily routine. This is a good idea anyway, it’s an amazing self-esteem booster. But, it’s a way to practice self talk. Use only those affirmations that you feel apply to you and resonate with you. It’s not important to use all of the affirmations on a list you find, just the ones that work for you. You can also come up with your own affirmations based on your goals and situation. Here are some good sites to get you started:

100 Positive Affirmations

How to Change Your Life and Your Mind by Using Affirmations

The Power of Affirmations

Make Your Self-Talk Work For You

Mayo Clinic-Stress Management-Positive Thinking

 

Anger

The subject of anger has been on my mind lately. At an AA meeting I attended recently, it was the topic of discussion, and so many great points were brought up.

Anger is one of the stages of grief. And in recovery, we are in a grieving process of sorts. My counselor describes it as having lost your best friend, i.e. the substance you were abusing. And you are grieving that life, even though it was a negative one. First you’re in denial that you even have a problem, but then you give in and get the help you need.

Then comes the anger. For some people, there’s resentment toward the people that put them into treatment. For others it’s anger directed inward, anger at yourself for having let your habit get this far. For me it was a little bit of both of those, and also some anger at having to be watched all the time. Monitored closely lest I slip up again. And these days, I get angry when my husband gets concerned about a situation I think he need not concern himself with. I feel like he’s overreacting sometimes.

At the meeting, we discussed anger as an emotion. What it really means, how it can manifest, and if it’s really worth it. Some people spoke about how easy anger comes to us, and it feels really good to vent our frustrations in the moment, but later we regret what we did or said. One person said, “anger is a cheap emotion, easy and readily available.” We need to start using some of the more difficult emotions if we are to make any progress.

Others talked about how anger is a cover for what we are really feeling. Anger is easier to feel and to admit to than sadness, weakness, guilt, shame or self-doubt. We use our anger to cover up those other feelings, to seem strong and in control. And we use anger to avoid feeling those other feelings they’re hard to deal with, and anger comes so easily.

So, it makes sense that the next stages of grief are bargaining and depression. After we’ve gotten over all that anger, and we just don’t have any more to give, we start to feel the real feelings associated with recovery. Having used a substance for so long to help us not have to feel any feelings at all, it can be extremely difficult to cope with the feelings that come with recovery. It’s important to reach out to your therapist or counselor, and your 12-step or other recovery groups to get through the rough times.

Anger comes so easily to most people, it’s right at the surface of all of our emotions. But, for positive emotional growth, we need to learn to suppress our anger a bit, and find more productive ways of dealing with the tough situations life throws at us. And after a while, the tough stuff will slide off like water off a duck’s back.

The next time you feel anger rising up within you, take a moment to analyze what you’re really feeling, and face those feelings head on. Try to cope with the situation in a more positive and productive way. You’ll feel much better for it in the end.