Missing Out on All the Fun

Once at an AA meeting I attended several months ago, a man said, “If you’re in AA, the fun days of your drinking are over.” And I’ll never forget that. He was joking, and we all laughed, but he was also poignantly correct. The statement got me thinking, and changed how I viewed my addiction.

One of the first thoughts that came to my mind when I had the very first fleeting thought ever about trying to get sober, was all the fun times I’d be missing out on. And I’d venture a guess that this crosses the mind of every alcoholic.

No champagne on New Year’s, no beers at cook outs or baseball games, no wine with fancy dinners, no margaritas on Cinco de Mayo.

But truthfully, my drinking had stopped being about that kind of stuff long ago.

Wine with fancy dinners was replaced with an entire bottle of chardonnay alone watching TV on the couch. Beers at cook outs were replaced with swigs of vodka or tequila from the bottle in my purse in addition to beers. Semi-hiding bottles of wine in the back of the fridge, or filling the wine rack back up with cheap grocery store wine was replaced with fully concealing bottles of liquor around the house. And there’s nothing fun at all about living with the kind of constant, deep fear and shame that goes along with those things.

I thought about that man’s quote for the first time in a long time last night, as I wrote in my journal before bed. I was lamenting on how fast time had flown for me lately. I’ve been having a lot of memories recently of a weekend vacation my husband and I had taken to a really nice bed and breakfast, back in January. And now it’s nearly May already. In between, I’ve spent 38 days in total in rehab, away from home. Time seems to have gone by in an instant. I wrote in my journal, “I’m missing out on my life.”

I used to think that getting sober meant missing out on life. Missing out on the fun. Not being a part of the action. When in truth, my addiction was holding me back from so much more. I wasn’t relishing in and enjoying those sweet, quiet moments with my children, who are growing up way too fast. I wasn’t spending any quality time with my husband. I wasn’t involved with any hobby or activity that was just for me. I woke up, I drank, I went to bed.

I’m finally able to see that being sober doesn’t mean missing out on all the fun. It means finally being about to allow yourself to have a little fun. And finding fun things that are beneficial to you, healthy for you. I keep telling myself lately that I need to get my life back on track. But, I’ve been thinking of it in terms of life being in some kind of paused state. But, life never pauses; it’s happening all the time, all around us. And when you’re using, you’re not really paying attention, and you’re not truly enjoying yourself at all.

Getting Help

In light of my recent relapse, I have chosen this safe coping strategy for the week:

When in doubt, do what’s hardest. The most difficult path is invariably the right one.

It was definitely a difficult choice to return to my rehab house. Not only is it disrupting my husband’s life again, not only is it confusing for my children, not only did I have to uproot myself from a number of commitments, but above all else, it was so difficult and frustrating to have to admit defeat and failure and return to a place I swore I’d never need to.

But, a skill I’m still trying to master is to take help when I need it, and from whom I need it. At this time in my life, I need serious help, and the counselors here are professionals trained to help people like me. I must remember that what’s happening to me is not entirely my fault, and not entirely in my control. So, I am getting help and support and learning to build a new life on the foundation I have left.

This is also a coping strategy I will need to use when I do return home again. Things in my life have really shifted this time around, and it will be a long, hard road to get back to where I want to be. I will have to do the hardest thing in most situations to get ahead.

I’ll add a bonus coping strategy for this Monday, since my situation has become more serious. It is (I think not coincidentally) the very first one on the list of safe coping strategies:

Ask for help. Reach out to someone safe.

That’s what I did when I decided to come here. I was no longer safe at home. Maybe I never really was. I knew that I’d be safe here, and that they’d know what to do with me. My husband and kids and friends and family have no idea what to do with or think of me right now. But here, they do.

I needed help. Badly. I finally owned up to it and did what, for some reason, is the hardest thing for me sometimes: I asked for help. It’s difficult to be here. It’s killing me to be away from my children and husband. And I feel very ashamed to have to give up my daily duties to other people, that I was no longer able to fulfill them. But, I know that at some point in my life, I can look back on this time positively, and know that I made the right choice.

Deep down right now, I already know I made the right choice.

Relapse

I have returned to rehab for a while, because I had a relapse. And it was a big one. A very bad one. Things have significantly changed for me personally and professionally as a result.

They say that relapse is very normal. And not to beat yourself up too much about it. But I just can’t help but think to myself that all of this could have been avoided if I just. didn’t. drink. So much of my time in rehab was spent on relapse prevention, that I feel foolish to be back here again.

I feel very hopeless at the moment. I really messed things up this time. I know hope is the key to successful recovery and sobriety, so I’m also very frustrated with life and with myself. I just want things to feel “normal” again.

My counselor here has me reading a book about anxiety in general (not associated with substance abuse), and it has me realizing just how bad my anxiety really is, and for how long it has been that way. I’ve always had anxiety, my entire life. And I learned different ways to cope with it.

But the past four years of my life have been incredibly difficult and painful, and I should have sought help much sooner than I did. I tucked all of my anger, sadness, grief, doubts, anxiety, stress and pain into a neat little pocket of denial. I felt like I could handle it all. I didn’t really have it that bad, I thought. I just ignored those feelings and trudged on. Eventually I used alcohol to cope with the fact that I couldn’t handle it all on my own, and I was overflowing with negative thoughts and feelings, about myself and the world.

I got to the point where I need to begin to release those feelings, but that’s where the real work comes in. Some of it came easily, other stuff is buried deep inside. I thought when I left rehab that I’d done the work, and everything would be fine. But in truth, I only felt fine because I was in rehab. I was away from the stress and pain of my everyday life, and had been given time to focus only on myself. Once I left, focusing on myself and overcoming the stress was all up to me, and I wasn’t ready to handle it.

My words of advice right now are to avoid relapsing as much as you are able. Beginning the recovery process was an enormous task for me. And it is so much harder this time around. It’s harder on me physically to go through the withdrawals. It’s harder on my relationships to have let everyone down again. It’s harder to climb out of the pit of guilt and shame. It’s harder to view the future in a positive light.

Keep on the path, and you will feel better eventually. People would often tell me, “Each day will be a little easier than the one before it.” But, that’s simply not how it goes at all. Some days are amazing and easy and bright and you feel full of potential. Other days are difficult, dark, tiring, endless and you feel like you accomplished nothing and nothing is worth the effort. But, you have to remind yourself that although those days come, they also go. And there are brighter days ahead, if you can stay strong and committed to your sobriety.

Establishing Structure

A day late! But not a dollar short. My post for this week about safe coping strategies is about:

Structure your day. A productive schedule keeps you on track and connected to the world.

I like the idea behind this one, but truthfully I need some work on it myself. It can be way too easy, especially for an addict, to check out, to not care about getting things done, to not feel the need to be productive.

But then the next day, I always regret all that lost time. And it also doesn’t do great things for your addiction to isolate yourself and let your mind wander. There’s that old adage about idle hands, I think the same holds true for an addict with an idle mind. And time to kill.

Setting a schedule and structuring your day might seem daunting at first, I know it was for me. In rehab, they gave me this grid. Every hour from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m., every day of the week, had it’s own box. And I had to fill it up. All of it!

It was a great exercise though. It made me really understand where my blocks of free time were, the times that could get me into trouble. And that have gotten me into some trouble since I’ve been home. I’ve learned that whenever I don’t know what to do with myself, I find that schedule and I see what I’m supposed to be doing during that time.

The idea is not to overbook yourself, or have such a packed schedule that you don’t have time for everything. I found in the beginning that I lost sight of the fact that other things still needed to get done, like the occasional chore around the house, or the odd doctor’s appointment for one of my kids.

The idea is also not that you need to stick to the schedule like glue. One of my counselors in rehab said the phrase, “Nothing is set in stone.” probably 6,000 times while I was there. You don’t have to become one of those people that does the same thing at the same time every day.

But, you should have a plan. Don’t get too comfortable with the idea that things are good. Your addiction can roar at you anytime, anyplace. Even if you feel really aware of your triggers. Because I know that for me, some triggers are happening subconsciously. You need to know what you will do if (when) those triggers show up.

Living a structured life is key for people in recovery. The structure should be different than it was before, and it should be specific, and you should follow a schedule the best you can. This will help you avoid falling back into old patterns, which will lead to a relapse.

Structure helps you move forward, and make the kinds of changes you need to make in order to get, and stay, recovered.

 

 

Taking Care of Your Body

It’s tougher than I thought it would be to narrow down the very long list of Safe Coping Strategies to just one for a weekly post. (If you want to know more about Safe Coping Strategies, you can check out my first post here.) I think the reason the list is so long, however, is that there are so very many ways we can take care of ourselves. So many right choices we can make when sometimes it feels like we only want to make wrong choices. And such a long list of options means everyone can find something that relates to them, and that will help them.

This Monday, I’ve chosen to speak about this Safe Coping Strategy:

Take good care of your body. Healthy eating, exercise, etc.

I know, this one seems to go without saying, right? Do right by your body, and it will do right by you. And chemical dependency can really harm your body.

But, I had a moment this past week where it was very clear and very obvious to me how much worse I feel when I abuse my body, more than just with alcohol. I mean with junk food and lack of exercise and protecting my skin from the sun, and the whole gamut. I noticed also how much better I feel when I’m really, truly taking care of myself physically.

In recovery and therapy and groups of all kinds, aside from specifically not using your substance of choice, the focus of everything seems to be on a person’s mind. Getting to the bottom of why we used. Getting in touch with feelings that our using had allowed us to ignore. And changing our thinking to avoid using and relapse. And that is all very, very important stuff to consider.

But, when you’re in recovery, it is also your body that is recovering. You have put it through the ringer for a long time, and while you may not have sustained any life-threatening illness or injury, your body is still damaged, and must be repaired.

In my rehab program, a healthy eating regimen and exercise routine were a very central part of the recovery program. Being active, and putting the best foods into our bodies. The importance of that was spoken about daily. When I arrived in rehab, I’d been drinking heavily for months on end, and often I’d go entire days without eating. When I did eat, it was very unhealthy food. And it showed. After only a few days of eating regularly and eating well and exercising even just a few minutes a day, I could see a difference in myself physically. I began to “pink up” again. And I had more energy. And the better I ate, the more my cravings for junk food diminished.

Back at home, keeping up with this routine was up to me. And for the most part, I did. Of course, I am not perfect, and I skipped workouts and indulged in junk food. But, I felt it immediately. It affected my energy levels throughout the day, it affected my appearance and it even affected the way I was sleeping.

Those kinds of things being out of sync can affect your mood. Our mind and our body are not separate. They are part of one another, and they work together to keep things regulated. So, if you’re not kind to your body, your mind notices. And we all know that when our mind isn’t in the right place, that’s when we’re most at risk for using.

That’s why I chose to write about this sort of mundane, no-brainer Safe Coping Strategy. Because I see the benefits directly and immediately when I use this strategy. And it really is a way of coping if you view it as taking care of your body so that your mind will also feel taken care of. All systems working together to achieve your sobriety and success.

Try this week to eat well, and get some exercise (even if that’s just 10 or 15 minutes of walking in the morning), and see how it makes you feel. Chances are it will invigorate you and bring you some peace of mind.

 

Setting Boundaries

Today I’d like to introduce the first of what I hope will be a regular post on Mondays: a series of “safe coping strategies.” These coping strategies were introduced to me in my rehab program as part of a curriculum that my counselors worked from, entitled Seeking Safety, which was written by Lisa M. Najavits, PhD.

Seeking Safety actually offers a very long list of coping strategies, 200 to be exact. I had a difficult time finding them all listed together online, but click here to see a PDF I found. Some of them are things we can do mentally, others are things we do physically, some overlap with one another. But, the main idea behind all of them is to choose a way to survive a difficult life moment or event in a safe and positive way, rather than using an unhealthy coping strategy. Which in my case was drinking. But it can be any number of things such as overeating, cutting, using drugs, committing vandalism, etc.

So, each Monday, I’d like to introduce a Safe Coping Strategy that I have chosen from the list, and explain what it means to me. Not all of these coping skills will apply to you and your situation, and not all of them will necessarily help or be the coping strategy that you go with during hard times. But, I hope that as we go, I will discuss at least one that you can relate to.

Today I’d like to start with:

Set a boundary. Say “no” to protect yourself.

Recently I had to use this coping strategy, but previously I had not seen it as one I would ever really need. It’s a good one for someone like me though, and I’m glad I recognized that I needed it.

I can’t get into too much detail or I might compromise my anonymity. But, what I can tell you is that I had committed to a group of people to help them with a special fundraising event. I made the commitment to help them prior to my stay in rehab, prior to recognizing and admitting that I had a problem. The event was scheduled for three weeks after I arrived home from rehab.

Historically, this event is quite the party. Those who attend are there for a night of letting their hair down. There’s always alcohol, typically in excess. People get drunk. Really drunk.

In all likelihood, I would have been fine at the event. I’d only been home for a few weeks, I was still holding very strong to my promise not to drink. I had no desire to drink, I didn’t feel “left out” by not being able to attend the event as a drinker, as I had in the past. I just did not care. I did, however, wonder what it might be like to watch everyone else drink heavily. How it might feel not to be a part of that.

My own drinking had in the past been a way for me to fit in and belong with a group. I feel like this is a common theme amongst alcoholics. I hear that story so often in meetings and groups. So, while I did not desire to drink, and I did not think I would feel pressured to drink, and I knew I could turn down drink offers, I was wondering if I would feel sad or left out or nostalgic. And it was too soon for me to have those feelings. I needed more time.

So, I had to back out of my duties at the event. I had committed to the event, and I was required to be there and contribute. I had to find a way out of it. In one plan, my husband would take over my duties at the event, and I’d spend the evening at home with our children. But then he had sustained a semi-serious injury which caused him to be unable to attend the event as well.

I told the organizers I could help before and after, just not during the event. And I offered to do anything and everything to fulfill all duties and obligations, and avoid attending the event. I knew I was putting the organizers in a difficult spot, which I typically have a very hard time dealing with. But, I knew for my own safety, I could not be there that night.

In the end, I used my husband’s injury as my main excuse, even though it really had no bearing on the situation. The event organizers said they understood, but still kept asking me to attend part of the event, half of the event, to still attend in some capacity. I needed to firmly set my boundary, but I didn’t know how. So, I contacted the main director of the event, one of the few souls on the planet who knew I had spent my February in rehab, and not just on a personal vacation. I told her the situation, she agreed it was too soon for me, and she got me out of it.

I hate letting people down. I loathe being a burden. And I have the hardest time in the world reaching out to people and asking for their help (which is actually the first safe coping strategy on the list). But, I had to do all three. The one thing that made it tolerable for me was knowing that I did it all in the name of my own health and safety.

There are times when one can be too focused on their own well-being, to the detriment of everyone else’s. Which is what I think I’m really afraid of when I never reach out for help and never say no to people. But, this was not one of those times at all. I was reminded by several loved ones that this group could handle the event without me. What if I had still been away? What if I had never returned? What if my husband’s injury had been as severe as I had let on? What if I’d had my own injury or illness to contend with? The truth of the matter is that the event would still have happened. It did not hinge on my being there, as I was letting myself believe. Sure, they were disappointed in me, maybe even angry. But, they aren’t privy to the entire situation. And they don’t have to live my life, only I have to do that.

In the end, it all completely worked out. Everyone softened when the director had stepped in on my behalf. And although I still felt a little guilty “milking” my connection to the director and my husband’s situation, in the end it was what was right. It was what I needed to do to protect myself.

When you’re in recovery, you need to worry about your future and your health and your sanity, above all else. It sounds selfish, but often those who have a problem tend to put themselves last, which is how they end up in their situation. I certainly had not put my health and happiness first in my life. Not ever, that I could remember. The old me would have done that event. The old me would have said yes to anything, to avoid feeling like a disappointment or a burden to anyone. The old me would have tolerated the emotional anguish and dealt with in later in an unhealthy way.

It was one of my first real tests in the “real world” after rehab. To be able to say no when something made me feel uncomfortable. To be able to judge what was best for me and only me. To be able to pull out a safe coping strategy and really use it, rather than fall back to my old, unhealthy strategies.

Now the event has come and gone, without complication. And I’m so much happier for having set a boundary.