Glamorous

There’s a certain romance to drinking. Or at least that’s what advertisers will have you think. In our culture, it has a dignified status. Drinking pretty much anything except beer is glamorous. Charming. Even beer has its own charms, both a down-home girl- or boy-next-door charm and a sophisticated hipster charm.

Not to give too much of my anonymity away, but I live in an area of the country famous for wine. There are advertisements for it everywhere you look. And food culture is big here too. I subscribe to several food magazines, and just about every other page features an ad for wine, or an article about new wines to try, or something about pairing food with wine.

In rehab, I talked about that with my psychiatrist. He described it as “sexy.” And for a good while, I did feel sophisticated and glamorous and sexy being a wine drinker. This was my drink of choice. Any port (no pun intended) in a storm, but white wine was my go-to.

Somewhere along the line, however, the glamour dies out. The sophistication fizzles. The charm is gone. There is absolutely nothing glamorous or sexy about guzzling warm chardonnay at 7 in the morning.

I had a moment where I realized what I was doing was no longer part of the food and wine culture I’d seen advertised all around me. That culture was intended to be enjoyed in moderation. A once-in-a-while thing. For the occasional celebration or backyard barbecue.

I would wake up in the morning and thing to myself, I’ve got to get through another day?! And the only way I felt like I could handle it was with a sustained buzz. I put myself and other people in danger, and I spent money we couldn’t afford, and I let go of all my moderation to get that buzz.

Living life like that was anything but glamorous and sophisticated. In many ways it was the complete opposite. I began to feel like I was no better than the bum I saw passed out on the sidewalk. What’s between my life and that life, I’d think to myself. And the truth was, not much. In fact, continuing down the path I was on would surely have led me there, or to my death bed.

Glamour and sophistication and dignity come from many places. I did not need a glass of wine in my hand at all times at every event I attended to seem sophisticated. It took me a long time to realize that I could be fun, and socialize, and impress people without being seen with a drink, or being buzzed enough to feel “comfortable.” I was living life like I depended on alcohol, and eventually my brain and body felt like I was dependent on it.

And I used to actually be scared of the thought of not drinking. Of never drinking again. How I ever got to be more scared of that than all the things I had to lose in my life because of drinking is a mystery. Just another testament to how the subconscious brain has such control over us. The idea of attending any social event of any kind without the aid of alcohol seemed impossible.

The longer I am sober, the more I notice other people who are not drinking, for various reasons of their own. And I don’t feel so out of place. I’ve been to a couple of functions recently where people drank, but I did not. And it didn’t feel as weird as I imagined. And I never once felt out of place. I was able to talk and be myself and have a good time, without my glamorous glass of wine in my hand.

I had just dug myself into a deep hole that I thought I couldn’t get out of. With the help of rehab and my loved ones, I’ve realized the cost of my addiction and the reality of surrendering to the fact that I can’t drink anymore. I know there will be difficult days in my future. But I have come to accept that alcohol will not help me on those difficult days, the way I thought it was for so long. It will only make things worse.

Real glamour is inside of me already. I don’t need an artificial feeling to put that image of myself out to the world. I only need to be myself and find true happiness in my life. This is real sophistication and dignity.

Memories

During this past week, I reached the 30 day milestone since my relapse. I’m feeling proud, and I’m not as scared and confused and shaky as I was last time I hit 30 days. I’m feeling confident, able to handle stress better, and carving out a better future for myself. One of the mechanisms I’m using to stay strong in tough times relates to the safe coping strategy I’ve chosen for this Monday:

Replay the scene. Review a negative event. What can you do differently next time?

The events I have to review are limitless. After years of battling addiction, I have a huge cache of scenes to replay to remind myself why I chose to get and stay sober. In therapy, I am reminded many times to let go of guilt and shame, but I harbor guilt and shame for many moments in my past. They are moments I would take back, if I were able. Although, without them I may not have ended up in the place I am today, which is actually pretty good.

Using this safe coping strategy can help with sobriety by reminding us why we want to be sober in the first place. It’s a way to remind ourselves of the negative impact that our addiction had on our loved ones, our lives, our health, our jobs and responsibilities, in some cases our freedom.

Remind yourself of how you felt when you drank or used. Physically, you likely did not feel well at all. In my hey day I was basically a zombie. I was always buzzed, I never felt well, I never wanted to eat, I was tired all the time. I was a much different person than the one I am today, and for that I am grateful. It’s easy to be so deep in your addiction that those things begin to become your new “normal”, and you think you’re fine. But if you’re honest with yourself, you know you were not feeling well at all.

Remind yourself of the stress, guilt, shame and torment you were going through have to hide your habit. There was likely someone in your life that you had to hide it all from. Perhaps a concerned loved one that you didn’t want to disappoint, or just acquaintances you’d be embarrassed if they found out about it, or maybe a boss you were afraid would fire you. All the energy you spent on hiding your habit from them can be put to so many better, positive things.

This coping strategy asks us to replay a specific scene. What scene can you replay for yourself, to remind you of how far you’ve come? To remind you why you’re doing this? You can choose any scene you’d like, big or small. The important thing is to focus on how you were really feeling in that moment. If you’re like me, your biggest feeling was to do anything to go back in time and prevent the scene from ever happening. And the sick pang of guilt in your gut. The disappointed looks on the faces of those around you.

Sobriety offers freedom from those moments. You’ll never have to be in that scene, or any other negative scene as a result of your addiction. Keeping your addiction at bay provides you with a bright, clean future to create positive moments. Positive scenes you can remember down the line.

You Take the Good, You Take the Bad

For the past two or three days, my anxiety has been rampant. And for no apparent reason. Things are moving swimmingly. Yes, my youngest has been sick for a few days, but nothing serious. Yes, I had to leave work early on Monday to retrieve said sick child from preschool, but it was a non-issue for my boss. Yes, the weather has been cruddy and I like my sunshine, but that’s not usually something that sets off the anxiety.

I think it’s just rearing its ugly head to remind me that it’s there, or something like that. Hey, don’t forget me! Your old pal, anxiety! Just popping in to say hi! It’s been there all my life, so it’s been hard to just kick it out the door and not look back.

I have a prescription for Clonazepam which it says on the bottle to take “as needed for anxiety.” At first, I took it a lot. Nearly every day. And lately have been trying to go without. Sometimes, I feel myself getting uppity, and I go for the bottle, but my husband encourages me to take a time out, breathe, let the feeling pass, and in 5 or 10 minutes if I’m still on edge, then take it.

And that’s been working pretty well. The idea is for me to have the medication for only a few months anyway, so I do need to start recognizing the anxiety for what it is, the actual level that it’s at when I start to feel it. And to train myself to get over the hump and move along with my day.

But, the other night, I didn’t take it at bedtime, though I wanted to. I hardly slept at all that night. I’d roll over and glance at the clock just about every half hour, all night long. And there was nothing specific on my mind, just a bunch of thoughts racing through my mind. I’ve got a long to-do list to accomplish before the kids’ summer vacation starts, but there’s still time for it all to get done. I just felt…on edge. Jumpy. Unsettled.

At bedtime last night, I was feeling slightly anxious, but ok. So, again, I didn’t take it. But, when I caught myself wide-eyed, and for some reason drafting my father’s eulogy in my head (he’s 54 and not even ill), I knew it was time. Somehow I’d let my anxiety take over my brain again, and all my swirling, crazy thoughts had led me to that place again. I haven’t been like that in a while, the anti-depressant I’m on has helped me immensely. But, I guess there’s still going to be those times when I fill up with steam and have to let it out somehow, before I explode again. So, I got up around 1:30 a.m. and took the medication. And I feel calmer this morning than I have in days.

I had so many awful days before, when I was drinking. And now that I’ve started having good days, and lots of good days in a row, I guess it’s easy to forget that there will still be bad moods, tough days and a little anxiety sprinkled on top, because that will always be a part of who I am. But, I’m learning that I have tools to get through: meditation, talking it out to someone, focusing on a hobby or my writing, going for a walk, having a cup of tea, basically just relaxing and getting my mind out of the irrational-worry gutter.

Anxiety was a big part of what fueled my addiction. If it is for you too, I suggest that you try to focus on worry and anxiety as a part of your recovery. Not focusing on it enough played a big part in my relapse, so I’m trying to really focus on it now. Trying to be aware of it all the time. When it’s not there, I’m so happy and peaceful; a new and completely amazing feeling for me.

Take each day, each moment, as it comes, and try to remember that you’ll be ok. You’ll get through. Some days you’re the pigeon, some days you’re the statue. That just makes you human.

If at First You Don’t Succeed…

I’ve made so many drastic changes to the way I live my life in the past couple of weeks, and they are really working for me. Which is helping my recovery move a lot more smoothly than it did the first time I returned home from rehab. So, for this week, I chose from the list of safe coping strategies to write about:

If one way doesn’t work, try another. As if in a maze, turn a corner and try a new path.

When I first went to rehab, I though I had hit my rock bottom, I had gone to the place where people go when they hit rock bottom, and I was going to leave there fixed. And I think that’s what my husband thought too. I had a successful, powerful, insightful, restful, healing 30 days in rehab and returned home.

It was, of course, a complete shock to us both then, when I relapsed after only a few weeks, and hit a true rock bottom. The kind that actually makes you feel physically like you hit a rock. Like you can’t breathe. It gives you that suffocating feeling of having failed and disappointed everyone you love. Where there are relationships you don’t know will ever be mended again.

And you’re trapped in your own depressed and anxious brain, and no one knows what you’re going through (because you don’t know how to open up about it) so they can’t help you. And all they know how to do when they can’t help you is just push you away. Take their good, healthy, normal lives and get away from you.

This is where my husband was at when I hit my real rock bottom. Which is why I agreed to return to rehab for 10 more days. I knew I’d be safe there, and he’d feel calmer knowing I was in a safe place. And I knew that even if I didn’t get everything all figured out before I left, at least I was trying to figure it out. At least I was going somewhere to heal and get help. At least I was being proactive about the recovery.

When I returned to rehab, I had the attitude that I would do anything and everything they told me to, so long as it kept me sober. That’s why I finally, after years of doctors and therapists and family and friends suggesting I do, went on an anti-depressant medication. That’s why I spoke more openly to a psychiatrist than have to anyone before in my life (not even my husband) about the true frightening and crippling hold anxiety had on my life, and had for most of my life, and agreed to take an as-needed anti-anxiety medication as well. And that’s why after being offered the first time I left rehab, a chance to take Antabuse, a drug that makes you violently and sometimes dangerously ill if you have a drink, I chose to take it this time. And my husband holds the bottle and watches me take it each morning.

I made these changes fearing how the medications would make me feel. Wondering if they’d really work. Wondering if them “working” would be all placebo effect. Wondering how I got to a place in my life where drinking massive amounts of alcohol to feel better seemed like a better idea than taking a few safe pills. But, I tried the medications, to see what would happen. The worst that would happen, I figured, was that I wouldn’t feel any better, I’d be right where I was, and they’d try some other approach.

All I knew was things didn’t work for me the first time. Something was still bothering me inside, and it wasn’t letting me be free from my addiction. It was my emotional health and stability that threatened to take away all my hard work, which eventually it did. I just did not have the mental strength and capacity to cope. I was far too depressed, far too anxious, and still refusing to reach out to loved ones when I had those feelings. So, I knew I needed to try something new.

It has only been a few weeks now, but this approach is working much better. By this point in my last return home, I had already started the relapse process in my head. I was thinking about alcohol. Wondering if I could have just one drink. Imagining myself using it every once in a while, “just when things are tough.” But, duh, things for me were always tough.

I still don’t remember the real choice point, the moment I had that first drink after rehab. Those moments tend to be very fuzzy for me. My psychiatrist says it’s very common, and describes it as being on auto-pilot. But, in any case, it happened. And I did ok at first, but very, very quickly fell into all of my old patterns, all of my old habits, all of my old ways of dealing with emotions, and it wasn’t long until I metaphorically fell and hit my face on the ground. If I had actually physically fallen and hit my face on the ground, it would have been an ugly, bloody show. I mean, I hit ROCK BOTTOM. That was it. The urges, cravings, binges, they were all so much worse than before.

It finally became clear to me that I needed a new approach. I needed to be in recovery for myself, not others. I needed to take my thoughts and feelings into account when it really mattered. I needed to learn how to battle my anxiety when it threatened to ruin perfectly good days for me. And I needed to learn to use the tools and resources available to me in order to heal. There’s no shame in that.

If at first, you don’t succeed, try, try again. And that goes QUADRUPLE for sobriety. Do whatever it takes. You are and individual and the things that will get you sober and keep you sober are individual to you. Just keep trying until you figure it out. If one path is blocked, take another.

The Future Belongs to You

“I am not what has happened to me. I am what I choose to become.” –Carl Jung

I read this quote last night from a book I’m reading, and I just loved it. It’s very similar to a safe coping strategy post that I have already done, and it is an idea that gets repeated continually in any rehab program or set of recovery meetings you attend. I heard a version of it at nearly every counseling session, every rehab group meeting, every AA and SMART meeting. It’s the cornerstone of getting and staying sober.

This particular version of the idea sticks with me for two main reasons. The first being that I can change the idea that I am a product of what has happened to me. In my therapy sessions we talk a lot about what my childhood was like. What it was like to grow up in a strictly religious home. What it was like to be one of the poorer kids. What it was like not growing up near any extended family. What it was like to see alcohol drank in my home. How my parents’ divorce affected me. How my awkward teen years affected me. And then they get into all the stuff that happened in college. And all the recent trauma I’ve been through.

I used to blame so much of that stuff on how I “turned out”. And to a certain degree those things DO mold us and shape us and send us down certain paths that lead us to where we are today. But to a much lesser degree than I thought. And people who went through much more difficult situations than I did find a way to move past it, to thrive even. Letting go of blaming others for your troubles is a big lesson, and one that needs to be learned to know you can heal from your addiction and you can go on to live a positive life.

And those things you think have caused your problem are not you. They are a part of you that you carry with you wherever you go, but they aren’t you. They aren’t a sum of what you are. They are only a piece of what you’ve become.

The second reason I like this quote so much is the idea that the future is so wide open. I fear the future more than anything. It’s a good portion of the reason I am on an anti-anxiety medication. There is so much unknown in the future, and I just do not do well with unknowns, in any situation. It’s like that feeling when you see someone squeezing a balloon. You’re afraid it could pop. It might, it might not. And if it does, you won’t know when to expect that loud startling noise. It could happen any second. That is a really good metaphor for how I see the future. There’s always a balloon being squeezed somewhere, and it could pop in my face at any time.

I’ve learned through a lot of therapy how to better manage my anxiety. I’d love to tell you those days are behind me, but they’re not. Although those moments of panic that I have about it are happening far less these days.

And I try now to see the future as Carl Jung describes it. It’s what I choose to become. And I can choose to become anything. I can try new things, and maybe I’ll enjoy them. Maybe I won’t, but that’s ok, I just try something else. The future is mine, it belongs to me. It doesn’t belong to my past and it doesn’t belong to my addiction and it mostly doesn’t even belong to any other person. It’s mine to do with as I please.

In the darkest days of addiction, it’s very easy to think that your future belongs to addiction. I can never get away from this. I can never get out. It has complete control of me. This is what I will be forever.

Once you break free from that thinking, give up your alcohol or drugs and let your mind clear up a bit, you can see that your addiction is not in charge, and it never was. It has extreme control over your subconscious thinking, there’s no denying that. But it is not in control of you, only you are in control of you.

Whoever you become in the future is the result of the choices you made, and the paths you took. There will be bumps in the road, but do not let them define you. They happen externally to you. Respond to them, deal with them, move on and make it to that amazing person you will be in the future.

Distract Yourself

The Safe Coping Strategy I have chosen to share with you this week is:

Practice delay. If you feel you cannot prevent a self-destructive act, delay it as long as possible.

As I mentioned in one of my first posts, the “one day at a time” mentality most people recommend for recovery can sometimes be confusing or overwhelming early in recovery. I chose a couple of different ways of accomplishing the same thing.

For one, I follow “The 24 Hour Plan”. It’s basically the same thing as saying one day at a time, but somehow the explanation resonated with me much more. I may have had a drink yesterday, but yesterday is gone and I can’t do anything about it. I may even drink tomorrow, no one really knows what will happen tomorrow, nor why. But today. Today is here, and I have control over it. So if I only commit to not drinking today, it takes some of the pressure off. I’m not going to have a drink today. The rest is up to actions and stimuli and unforeseen events, and a tomorrow that none of us can really plan for.

The other thing I have tried is that I just take the next five minutes. I can handle five minutes. They’ll be gone in no time. As the coping strategy says, you can delay the thoughts of your self-destructive thoughts from becoming actions. I want a drink, but I’ll wait 5 minutes. I’ll wait a half hour. I’ll wait until tomorrow. And when that time comes, you tell yourself, I’ll wait 5 more minutes. One more day.

Eventually, the craving, the urge and the desire will subside, maybe even go away completely. And maybe go away completely for a long time.

If it was a life event or stressful moment that triggered the urge, while you’re waiting out your delayed actions, use the time to tackle the issue in a positive, productive manner. Help out a loved one who is in a tough place. Have a talk with your boss that did something to irritate you. Take a moment for yourself to get out and be alone and just breathe. If a situation is stressful, excuse yourself from it completely if you’re able. For serious life events, seek counseling or confide in a close friend. Allow yourself to recover or grieve. The event may have caused you to want to use, but if you can delay the use, approach your life problem with a positive attitude and the desire to solve the problem, you may just find at the end of the day, you don’t have that desire anymore.

Once in our recovery, we find our triggers and urges and cravings and desires tend to only be momentary. What in the past our addicted brains had tricked us into thinking we needed to use just to get by, our new conscious brain knows the urges will pass, the feelings will ebb, and we can be proud of ourselves for not using when we wanted to, and remaining on our path to sobriety. At the end of the day, the sense of accomplishment you will feel for having another sober date under your belt by far surpass any momentary high you would have had by giving in to the addiction.

You will have weak moments where you have been triggered and you feel like reaching for your drug of choice. But, practice this safe coping strategy. Delay it as long as possible. Talk yourself down, talk yourself out of it, and the feeling will pass.

Happy Mother’s Day

Mother’s Day is tricky when you’re a newly recovering alcoholic mother.

Today is 19 days for me since my relapse. 19 days is good, braggable even. But, I’ve got a good long while to go before people start believing I can really do it this time, and before people start really trusting me again.

I say Mother’s Day is tricky, because on the one hand, I feel like I am a good mother. I take care of my children. I make sure they have food in their bellies, clothes on their backs and a roof over their head (with some help from my husband). I make sure the house gets cleaned, the laundry gets done, the homework gets done, the permission slips get signed, etc. etc. etc. My kids love me.

But, on the other hand, sometimes I would totally phone in some of that stuff I mentioned above. It was mac and cheese for dinner 3 nights in a row. Or, I haven’t done laundry yet this week, so let’s wear this ratty old pair of pants and stained shirt to school. Or, I forgot to help you study for spelling, and you didn’t do so hot on the test. Or, I got really irrationally mad at you for something small and I yelled at you and made you feel bad.

And the ultimate thing, really, the thing I’ll never stop mentally lashing myself for for the rest of my life, I drove drunk with my children in the car. Even having admitted it out loud to my husband and my counselors, even having written it here and admitted it to you, I still can’t really believe that I let my addiction take over to the point that I would do that. When I have a memory of it, it’s like I’m outside of myself, watching myself doing that. Because it couldn’t possibly really be something I did. Right?

There are a lot of moments I regret about being around my children in the throes of my addiction. Most of the time, I was functional. But very absentminded. And quick to anger. And lazy. And those are moments I won’t ever get back. Moments of their sweet childhood that I totally missed out on, and it’s all in the past. I can’t try to reclaim it. I feel a lot of guilt and shame surrounding that.

In recovery they are always reminding you that you need to let go of that guilt, shame and regret. At least most of it, however much of it you can. That’s when you’ll truly be able to move on and be happy again. So what I’m trying to do now is focus on the here and now, today. This day is all we have. We can’t get yesterday back, and we have no idea what will happen tomorrow. We can’t even be sure there will actually be a tomorrow. We don’t even know what will happen five minutes from now.

It has really helped me with my anxiety to view life this way. One foot in front of the other. Enjoy the good stuff, let the bad stuff happen and respond to it, don’t react to it.

Today, in this moment, I am sober. My children love me and are safe and well cared for. That makes me a good mom.

Happy mother’s day to all the mothers out there.

Doing it for Me

There are a number of major things that have changed since my second stay at rehab. I’m now taking an anti-depressant and when I need it, an anti-anxiety medication as well. This is the first time in my life giving these kinds of medications a try, and they’ve made a major difference.

When I left after my initial 30 day stay, I was prepared to be sober, I knew how to be sober. What I wasn’t prepared for and didn’t now how to do was to work on my depression and manage my anxiety. That, paired with some life events that popped up, I feel are the reason I so quickly and easily fell into my old patterns and relapsed.

I’m also taking Antabuse, a medication that will make me violently ill if I have any alcohol. So, psychologically, it’s a lot easier for me to accept that I just can’t drink. Can’t do it. Not even a sip. Previously it was more like, nope, I can’t drink. Can’t have a drink. Can’t do it. Well…just this once will be ok, right? But, with the Antabuse, it’s a reality. I am not going to put myself in the position of the horrific reaction it will give me. So, no more “just this once.” And it’s actually kind of liberating. That little voice in my head has totally shut up.

And I’m also in the midst of cleaning up the mess I made with this past relapse. I disappointed a lot of people, and flat out humiliated myself in front of other people. There are a lot of people I need to make things up to and I need to earn back a colossal amount of trust. All of it, really.

But, there’s something different going on with my recovery right now, above and beyond all the changes that have happened. I think the biggest change is a shift in motivation. At some time in the last month or so, my motivation to change and to get and stay sober changed directions.

In the beginning, I was doing it because I thought it was something I should do. Something I was supposed to do. I was doing it for my husband, for my children, for my friends and family. Because society looked down on it. Because my doctor told me to just knock it off already.

But, I realized yesterday when I spoke with my counselor, these days I’m doing it for myself. Because I want it. Because it’s important to me. Of course I’m still doing it for the other people in my life, but the main thing is I’m doing it because I want to. I finally want it for me.

My counselor and I talked about internal vs. external motivation for sobriety. It’s ok to have both. In fact, it’s a very good thing to have both. The more reasons you have to be sober, the greater your likelihood that you will succeed. But, your internal motivation should come first. The reasons for getting clean, staying clean, finding positive things to do with your life, creating a positive future for yourself, those should come from within.

It’s still a good thing to want to accomplish all of that to satisfy others in your life. That will help you build and maintain good relationships and friendships, and help you have a meaningful family life. But ultimately, your loved ones are not in charge of you. They can’t force you to stay sober, only you are in complete control of your sobriety.

I’ve learned after my relapse that I need to be doing this for me, before all else. Because if I don’t want it and if I don’t believe it can happen, then my chances of success are slim. And I truly want to succeed.

You Write Your Story

I returned home from my second stay at my rehab house on Saturday afternoon, and I feel like I’m on the precipice of a new beginning. There’s a lot of possibility standing right in front of me this time. Freedom to explore new activities, new places, new parts of my personality. So, for this week I have chosen this safe coping strategy:

Create a new story. You are the author of your life.

This is just all-around great advice for anyone, any walk of life, facing any adversity. Our lives are what we make of them. We make our own choices, and as a result of those choices, we create our stories.

Some choices are small: paper or plastic? one cup of coffee or two? soup or salad? get up or hit snooze?

Some choices are big: take the new job? move to the new city? have a baby? go back to school?

But, big or small, every choice we make has some sort of effect on our lives, and changes the outcome of our individual stories.

It’s an important thing to remember when you are in recovery. The choices you make today affect the outcome of tomorrow. You have to remember your goals, and the things you’d like to have happen to you in life, and the way you’d like your life to turn out.

If you have a moment where you’re doubting yourself, maybe you’ve been exposed to a trigger or maybe you’re just having a craving, focus on the story you’re attempting to write for yourself. If you give in and use, what does that do to your story? What are the possible (probable) outcomes for the choices that lay in front of you?

If you take even just a ten second break to really think about what you’re feeling and what’s going on inside of your head, you will likely choose the right path. We all want our story to be a good one, to turn out the way that makes not only us, but all of our loved ones, have a long, prosperous, happy story to tell people later.

And most importantly, no one else can write your story. That’s all up to you. Take the time to consider your options and make the choices that will benefit you the most in the end. We can all have a great story if we stay strong and focused on our goals.