Fake It ‘Til You Make It

It’s easy to dream. To close your eyes and imagine yourself in another place, doing other things, breaking your bad habits and making the life you really want. Everyone can dream. It takes almost no effort.

It’s actually getting out there and doing something to achieve those dreams that’s the hard part. It’s hard work, and nobody likes hard work. But, you have to put in the work to get what you want.

Achieving sobriety is no different. You must want it badly enough to put in the hard work, to stay motivated and to be successful. And although you’re resistant to the change and feeling like you’re not up to the challenge, it’s what you need, so you just get out there and do it anyway. And eventually you will see your progress, or reach your goal, and be so glad you did all that hard work. Today’s safe coping strategy is:

Actions first, and feelings will follow. Don’t wait until you feel motivated, just start now.

If you sit around, waiting for motivation to hit you, you’ll sit forever. Motivation isn’t something that comes to you, it’s something that you create inside of yourself. You might not feel particularly motivated to tackle a particular goal, but if you start creating a world for yourself where that goal is possible, eventually the motivation will come. Few people can put in a good deal of hard work and then turn their back on a project. Motivation builds as progress builds.

Getting sober is one of the hardest things I’ve ever done. And in the beginning, I didn’t really want to do it. And I didn’t know how to do it. And I didn’t want to put in the effort. And I didn’t think it was possible. But, I knew it was what I needed.

When I first arrived at rehab, I just kept putting one foot in front of the other, and doing all the things they asked me to do. Eventually, I started to feel better, I started to feel like I was making progress, and I started to feel like sobriety was achievable.

It’s always hard to make a big change or begin a large project, but in order to get anywhere, you just have to start. Take the first step, and the second will follow. Make the first move, and something will happen. You don’t need some big, elaborate plan, and you don’t need to get everything done in one day. You just have to start.

Confidence

“Nothing can be done without hope and confidence.”

–Helen Keller

I’m not known for my confidence. As a child, I was known for basically the opposite: my shyness. I was highly anxious, even as a kid, and lived in constant fear of saying the wrong thing, or saying something that someone would deem stupid. As I matured, I also began to fear saying something that might make someone angry, or stir up controversy.

When I knew the answer in class, I never raised my hand. Every time a teacher asked a question I knew the answer to, and I sat there in silence until the teacher finally revealed the answer, my answer, I wanted to slap myself in the back of the head. Just raise your hand! What are you afraid of?

It’s silly to look back on, now that I’m much older and have matured and could go back and reassure my teenage self that everything would be fine. But, the fear back then was real. I would sit in classes where the teacher called on people randomly, and have silent panic attacks. Heart racing, body shaking, palms sweating, and just pray I wouldn’t have to say anything.

I had no confidence back then. No one had ever really instilled in me a sense of confidence. For reasons unbeknownst to me, that it will probably take a licensed professional years to dig up, I am not a fan of myself, generally speaking. I am not confident enough to take risks and try new things, because I am afraid of failing. I am not confident enough to speak my mind or express myself, because I am afraid of criticism. And I am not confident enough to fully open up to other people, because I am afraid of the vulnerability and shame.

When it finally became clear to me that I needed to choose the path to sobriety, I wasn’t confident about that either. It seemed impossible for me to do it. It promised to be painful, scary, difficult and uncomfortable. It took weeks of having my self-esteem re-inflated by the counselors at rehab before I had a shred of belief that I could manage life without alcohol.

And then I finally realized that I was going to have to muster some semblance of self-confidence if I was going to have any chance at succeeding. This is why they have me listening to and repeating so many affirmations, I realized. Because they were rebuilding my confidence. My hope. My belief that I could do it.

In the end, the only thing stopping you from doing anything is a lack of confidence. It’s the last road block that’s left at the end of a plan or a dream. You have to break through all the messages coming at you that you’re not worthy, you’re not able to, you can’t, you shouldn’t, you won’t, you never will, you aren’t going to.

You need to move past all of that. Or through it. Over it, under it, whatever it takes. And then you’re there. And then you can look back at your struggle. And here’s the best part about confidence: once you get a little bit of it in you, it grows, and grows and grows. And pretty soon, you’re unstoppable. And your confidence spreads to those around you, and they believe in you too.

I’m 96 days sober. And I never could have done it without self-confidence. And now, I feel like I can accomplish so much more. I look forward to the next 96 days, instead of dreading them. And the days and months and years after that. I am excited to see what I can do.

In your struggle to be sober, you must believe in yourself, above all else.

Keep On Truckin’

Today marks my 90th day of sobriety. A milestone I never in a million years thought I could achieve. But, I am here and I did it! And I have faith that you can do it too. I did not achieve this on my own. Although it was up to me to change my behavior, and change the way I think, and to stop drinking, I could not have done it without the love and support of my husband, my family and all of my counselors at rehab. I have already blogged about the safe coping strategy, “Attend treatment.” But I thought another good strategy that was appropriate for my 90 day anniversary of sobriety was:

Trust the process. Just keep moving forward, the only way out is through.

The first days, weeks and months of sobriety are difficult. I won’t sugar coat it for you. You are angry, you are sad, maybe even a little resentful. The idea of life without your substance of choice seems impossible. Absurd. Unbearable. I had to be away from my husband and children for 30 days. And I thought, my problem can’t possibly be bad enough to warrant this. I constantly yearned for home. But then when the day finally came, I wondered if I could manage away from rehab. If I could battle the constant triggers and stay strong. I left feeling accomplished and strong, but a little shaky.

And just when you think you might be starting to get the hang of the sober life, along comes a trigger so big and so scary, it sends you in a tailspin. At first it’s just one drink here, one drink there, but before you know it, you’re worse off than before. I’ve been told lapses and relapses are the rule, not the exception. It happens to the best of us. This is not to excuse the relapse, but only to let you know that you can pick yourself up again. You don’t need to, and shouldn’t, stay down. You can file it away in your “learning experiences” folder and use it to make you stronger, rather than let it keep you down.

And even if you don’t relapse (congratulations on persisting and staying strong), you must contend with an outside world that still sees you as an addict. You have changed, inside and out, but they are going to treat you as they did before, at least for a while. No one is throwing you a parade or awarding you a medal, which is what it feels like you deserve. They’re treating you the way they always treated you, and that can be extremely frustrating. It seems unfair at times, but you need to remember you’re earning back their trust. Trust is so easily lost, but so hard to get back. It takes a lot of time and patience. And, some people will treat you as if you are going to fail at some point, they’re just waiting for it. You’ll feel like a bird in a cage. But, you can use this to your advantage. Use it to fuel your desire to stay sober and get your life on track. Prove them wrong.

It’s important to persist. To trust the process you’re in. To keep putting one foot in front of the other and getting through each day feeling more positive than you did the day before. I’d not be the person I am proud to be today had I not gone through the whole process, up to this point. There’s still a lot of process ahead of me too. But, there’s no way I’d have made it to 90 days sober without just trusting that moving forward was the only way out. That not drinking was the only way to feel better. That counseling was the only way to identify my root triggers and problems, and deal with them accordingly.

The process is long, difficult and painful. And sometimes you wonder if anything’s really happening, if you’re really changing. At times you will wish for and try to find an easier, simpler way to feel better, to feel changed. But there just isn’t one. As it says, “the only way out is through.” Not over, not under, not around, but through. And through is hard, really hard.

But you must trust that if you keep going forward, stay on the right path, that eventually you will see the benefits. The fruits of your labor will be revealed to you: a healthy body, a prosperous career, mended relationships, a happy sober existence. It doesn’t happen overnight, but it does happen, if you do the work.

Progress in Recovery

My counselor recently asked me to give some thought to what progress really means to someone in recovery, and what it means to me. What does progress look like? What does progress feel like?

Progress is defined as “forward or onward movement toward a destination.” But, is there really a destination in recovery? Is there a final step we take, and then we are fully recovered? Of course, there is a goal: to maintain sobriety for the remainder of our lives. But, are we ever done making progress toward that goal? Or is it ongoing every day?

Consider progress as just “forward or onward movement,” and what that means to someone in recovery. Leave out the idea that there needs to be an end, a destination. The forward or onward movement is one of the most important parts of recovery. Forward movement is integral to our success. If we stop moving forward with our life, we fall back into old habits, or we get stagnant, both of which threaten our sobriety.

But a forward movement doesn’t have to be a big one to count toward recovery. Every small step we take, provided it’s taken in the right direction with the right intentions, moves us further along on our recovery journey. And the more road we put behind us, the better off we are.

That’s why the one-day-at-a-time method has helped so many people achieve sobriety. We focus on the littlest accomplishments, the smallest steps forward; even just one day sober is a reason to celebrate. And each day we get up and we do it again.

It takes time to get to a place where we can look back and see how far we’ve come. And that can be very frustrating. Many of us want to see all the progress happen all at once, for everything to just magically be better and for us to be cured of our disease overnight.

But, it doesn’t happen that way. It comes in small doses, over a long period of time. So, it’s important to set our sights on the future. What will we do with it? Who do we want to become? Where do we want our path to lead us? And when we find ourselves moving down that path, making the right strides to become who it is we want to be, that’s what we can call “progress” in our recovery.

Self Praise

Before we choose the path to recovery, most of us are bogged down with extreme feelings of guilt, shame and self-loathing. We are physically ill most of the time, we are addicted to a substance and feel trapped not knowing how to eliminate it from our lives, and many of us are hiding our addiction from the public and from loved ones. The negative feelings just keep coming and coming, and we don’t know how to fix them.

When we begin to recover, it’s still difficult to shed these feelings. But we must get rid of those feelings, and replace them with self love and self care in order to fully recover. Today I have chosen this safe coping strategy:

Praise yourself. Notice what you did right; this is the most powerful method of growth.

As you begin your new sober life, you will stumble once in a while. It is inevitable. Even if you stay on the path and do not relapse, you will still experience urges and cravings. And on days when you’re feeling down and lost, you might snap at loved ones and say things you don’t mean. It’s still easy to be down on ourselves, even though we are sober.

But, it’s important to notice what you’re doing right. For example, you’re staying sober. You’re employed or you’re attending school. You’re reconnecting with loved ones. You’re exercising. You’re eating healthy.

Don’t focus on the junk food you had yesterday, or the argument you had with your spouse, or the urge to use that you had to talk yourself down from. The more bad thoughts you have toward yourself, the more will come. It’s a downward spiral that’s difficult to escape from. And in the end, you will think it’s ok to use again, because you’re not worth sobriety.

It’s important to know that’s not true. You’re more than worthy of a sober existence, you deserve it. And beginning to love yourself the way you are, flaws and all, will help make your journey that much easier. None of us is perfect, and we all need a little help once in a while. When you find yourself caught in a negative feeling directed at yourself, take time to remember the things you did right. Take time to remember that you can make the next five minutes, the next day, the next week, better.

Each of us is learning new things every day. Learning to love ourselves again after a battle with addiction is no different. Of course, we should reflect on our past mistakes, and learn from them, but we should not hold on to them and use them to judge ourselves. Positive thinking, positive self-talk and self-forgiveness are very important in any recovery journey. Remember to love yourself as you are.

Grounding Techniqes–Moving Beyond Bad Feelings

I mentioned in an earlier post that using grounding techniques are a good way to manage anxiety and depression, and also any urges or cravings to use that you may encounter. It’s a means to detach yourself from any emotional pain you’re experiencing, and using your external environment to center yourself again.

Grounding is more than just talking yourself out of the craving or distracting yourself. It’s really getting your mind to move away from the feeling and getting out of the bad moment. It’s not the same as just relaxing yourself. It’s a technique to use when relaxation is not enough. When you just can’t seem to pull yourself out of the bad moment.

You first need to practice getting in tune with your emotions and feelings. Really tap into what you’re feeling, and what might have brought it on. It’s impossible to be grounded if you don’t even know you’re having a craving or an overly anxious moment or a depressed day, or suffering PTSD symptoms. Be aware of your surroundings, and get to the core of what you’re feeling, and why you’re feeling it. This takes some practice, but over time you will get to know your mental self much better. Learn to rate your feelings on a scale from 0 to 10. Feelings that are lower on the scale are safer, and can be dealt with using simple relaxation or distraction. But if you find yourself at a 6, 7, or even a full 10, you need to ground yourself.

Grounding is not a way of coping with the bad or negative feelings, but a way of eliminating them completely. So, if you feel like you need to use grounding techniques, don’t use methods that cause you to focus on the negative energy, such as journaling or trying to talk yourself out of it. The best thing about grounding is that you can do it, and no one will know you’re doing it. Most of these techniques you can do silently, in your head, and get through a tough moment in a crowd, in the middle of family dinner, anywhere.

There are a few different methods to grounding, and you can use one or any combination of them that work for you. Try them out, notice what improves your mood and what doesn’t. Some of these may seem silly, or you may think they won’t work, but keep an open mind and give them a try. Anything’s better than feeling miserable, right?

1. Describe your environment in detail. Focus on the details of the room or space around you, the very minute details. What color are the walls, or the furniture. What’s the texture of the item you’re seated on. What is the temperature, what does it feel like. “This chair is green with blue flowers. It is soft to the touch. I feel warm, but not too warm.” The point is to hone in on these details, and think about nothing else. Don’t think about how they make you feel. They just are. You are giving your brain a break from whatever it is that’s bothering you, and occupying it with something else.

2. Play a categories game with yourself. Start listing off all the things you can think of in a particular category. State capitals. TV shows you enjoy. Rock musicians. The players on your favorite sports team. Kinds of dogs. Foods that start with the letter P. This grounding technique forces your brain to concentrate on another subject.

3. Describe the steps of an everyday activity. Such as, how you brush your teeth. How to make pasta. The route you take to work. Take a moment to list each step, in the order you do it. “First, I back out of my driveway. Then, I turn left. Then I drive for two blocks. I stop at the four-way stop.” And so on. Run your mind through the steps slowly, and in as much detail as you can think of.

4. Read something aloud to yourself. Pick up a magazine or a newspaper. Or pull your favorite book off the shelf and open to a random page. Choose a passage and read it out loud to yourself, concentrate on each word. On each syllable. When you finish a sentence, really reflect on what that sentence said and meant.

5. Say a safety statement. Bring yourself back to the moment, and remind yourself that you’re safe. “My name is _____. I’m living in the present, not the past. Today is Wednesday, July 8, 2015. I am going to be okay.” Just reassure yourself that you don’t have to live in the past, you don’t have to worry about the future, you are safe in the moment you are in.

6. Use humor. There’s a lot of truth to the old saying, “laughter is the best medicine.” And laughter is also an automatic emotional defense mechanism for a lot of people, and for good reason. Laughter produces endorphins, which decrease physical pain and lessen stress. Laughter is also described as “contagious”, and can bring people together, increasing your own sense of belonging and feeling loved. Picture or recall something funny you have seen or heard before, or watch your favorite sitcom and just have a good laugh. It will have you calmed down in no time.

7. Repeat a saying. Find yourself a mantra. Even something as simple as, “I am okay,” will work. Or try things like, “I am safe.” “I am going to be ok.” “I am happy with my life.” “I can solve this problem.” Keep it positive, and repeat it to yourself several times. Eventually you will believe it, and you will feel much better.

8. Count to 10 or recite the alphabet. This is a good one, because these are really easy to do. Recite one slowly, and really concentrate on each number or letter.

The idea behind all of these is to move your mind from the panicked or sad or angry or dangerous moment into a safe, happy moment, and to do so semi-permanently. And grounding techniques are very effective because, as I mentioned earlier, you can usually do them without anyone around you knowing there’s anything wrong at all, so there’s no need to feel self-conscious.

Remember to stay in the moment. Don’t let your mind wander to the past or present, and also don’t let it digress back to the problem you’re having. Stay focused on neutral details, not on your feelings or emotions. You are distancing yourself from these feelings. Try a grounding technique the next time you find yourself in a low mood, in a panic attack, having a craving or feeling any kind of emotional turmoil. It will greatly improve your day-to-day life and make negative feelings much easier to cope with.

Getting Treatment

As cliche as it sounds to me sometimes, I’ve come to realize my addiction is a disease. A disease I carry with me for the rest of my life. A disease for which there is no cure. And it should be handled like any other disease: with care and treatment to improve your quality of life as you live with the disease.

Today I have chosen the safe coping strategy:

Attend treatment. AA, self-help, therapy, medications, groups–anything that keeps you going.

Treatment is not a one size fits all sort of deal. What works for one addict will not work for another, and vice versa. You have to try out different forms of treatment to see which ones work for you, and which ones just don’t seem to be helping. Eventually you will find the magical combination that will get you through the tough days.

For me, the three most important pieces to my treatment plan are counseling/therapy, self-help and medications.

My counseling and therapy are very important. I have a hard time opening up to people, but not opening up for so many years about my anxiety and depression is really what landed me in this boat, so I’ve learned to harness the power of counseling to benefit my recovery. I used to feel foolish just sitting there and talking about myself to someone else, but I’ve learned how important it is. How good it can feel to just get things off my chest. And often, the person on the other end has enlightening advice, or I come to an amazing discovery on my own, just by talking it out.

Self-help has also been really helpful. As I said, I’m an introvert and an independent person. I like doing things on my own, for myself, whenever possible. And thankfully, we live in an age where there is information around every corner. I read self-help books, I find articles and discussion groups online. I host this blog, which on most days feels more like a glorified journal. I journal on paper. I meditate, I exercise, I go out and treat myself once in a while. There’s more to self-help than just reading the books, although there are so many good books out there to motivate you. But it’s just about self-care. This approach won’t work for everyone. Some people thrive on the interaction with other people, and for those kinds of people, the groups like AA and SMART are there for you, and will greatly benefit your recovery. Even way back when I was attending AA meetings and still actively drinking, those meetings still helped, believe it or not. Just knowing you’re not alone, and that sobriety is possible, is a very powerful thing.

And my medications have been the final piece of the puzzle. I rejected the idea of taking an anti-depressant and anti-anxiety pills and Antabuse, but these three drugs have changed my life in ways I previously could never have imagined. The anti-depressant has lifted my mood to the point where I no longer feel like sobriety is impossible. I wake up with hope in my heart, rather than the dread I lived with for so many years. The anti-anxiety medication has helped me with my panic attacks and swirling negative thoughts and the urge to run and hide. I’m not completely free from these feelings, but it’s a matter of feeling them once a week vs. 10 times a day. A complete transformation.

The Antabuse has freed my mind completely from the desire to drink. Not only am I much too afraid of the drug’s reaction to drink even one sip of alcohol, but it has even made drinking, and the smell and appearance of alcohol, seem undesirable. Sometimes I interact with people who have been drinking, and I smell it on their breath and I get a very queasy feeling. And I have memories of myself drinking, which I had a lot of with this past Independence Day holiday, and I am both disgusted and confounded that I’d ever have done that. That’s also a drug that doesn’t work for everyone, my psychiatrist has grisly stories of people who take it and continue to drink, despite the violent reaction. But, for me, it’s a total game-changer.

I can’t forget to mention the one thing that has helped me above all else: my stay in rehab. This is sort of the Granddaddy of all treatment options, and might seem like a drastic approach for some people. I pushed off the idea for months, and tried to do it all on my own, but through a series of events was eventually convinced that it was what I needed. 30 days away from my husband and children, and away from my home and friends, and all my familiarities, was one of the most difficult things I’ve ever done. But, it was the only thing that got through to me enough to make me really want to make a change. It’s not too drastic of an approach if it helps you. Nothing that helps you, even just a tiny bit, is too drastic or a waste of time. If someone in your life has suggested a rehab program, and you are serious about your sobriety, you may want to give it some extra thought.

Help is out there. And it’s not very hard to find. Take it, and believe me when I say you won’t regret a second of it. Get out there and get yourself some treatment, in whatever form(s) work for you.

Anxiety

Anxiety is one of the biggest problems I face. I have dealt with crippling anxiety for most of my life, and it was the biggest factor in my addiction to alcohol. It’s normal for everyone to have a certain level of anxiety. It’s our brain and body’s defense mechanism for the stressors we face every day. But if it is having a negative impact on your life, career or relationships, then it is true anxiety and needs to be treated so you can live a normal life.

Anxiety disorders are often stereotyped or misunderstood by those who don’t suffer from them, and it’s possible as a result of that many people are afflicted with anxiety and don’t even realize it, or what it’s doing to them.

It’s estimated that 3.3 million Americans live with some form of anxiety disorder. This can range from generalized anxiety to severe panic disorders. Anxiety disorders come in many different forms, and it can be difficult sometimes to know that someone is suffering from one.

For example, I have trouble being in large crowds. But, I never had a full-blown panic attack in a crowd. My anxiety would manifest as anger and frustration. After spending time in a large crowd, I get snippy and short with people and I’m easily agitated. But people probably just see me as being rude or angry, not suffering from an anxiety attack.

Panic attacks aren’t all like what you see in the movies either. Not everyone is hyperventilating into a paper bag, turning red and fainting. Sometimes a panic attack only involves a rapid heartbeat, or breaking out into a sweat. But, if this is happening because you’re stressed or obsessing about something, likely something small, then that’s a panic attack.

Sometimes a panic attack makes you have a funny “fuzzy” feeling. Like you can’t focus or concentrate, and you get a little scatterbrained. Most people don’t realize this is a response to anxiety. Or you just feel very tired and fatigued. And you have trouble focusing on anything except the thing that’s causing you to panic. I used to have obsessive thoughts about death. When the thoughts started in, I couldn’t stop them. And I couldn’t think about anything else, sometimes for hours on end. It was very overwhelming, and I was miserable.

For me, getting a hold of my anxiety and treating it with therapy and medication was key to my sobriety. When I first left my rehab home, I thought I had all the tools I needed to stay sober. But, I hadn’t addressed a big issue: my anxiety. When I got home, all those old stressors were still there, and my response to them had not changed. My anxiety quickly reclaimed its place in my life, and I was back where I started: drinking to dull the feelings.

The second time I left, I was armed with new knowledge about handling anxiety. I use different grounding techniques to prevent anxiety attacks, like counting backward from 100 or focusing on something else to take my mind off of the anxiety-triggering event. Or, I use breathing techniques or meditation. I also now take anti-anxiety medication when I feel really overwhelmed. And most importantly, I’m teaching myself how to alleviate some of the stress in my life and cut out things that used to cause me anxiety.

I used to have a lot of codependency issues, and took everyone else’s problems upon myself. If someone I knew was suffering, I felt like I needed to suffer right along with them. And obviously this caused me great stress and anxiety. With the help of my counselor and psychiatrist, I am learning to recognize which problems are really mine, which ones I can actually change, and which ones don’t belong to me at all and I just need to let go of.

If you suspect you may have an anxiety issue, or if you know that you do, I urge you to seek therapy or counseling. Sometimes just talking it out with a professional can help alleviate some of the panic. And it may benefit you to also see a psychiatrist or your medical doctor to get a prescription for an anti-depressant or anti-anxiety medication. I used to scoff at the idea of taking a pill for my mood, but when I finally decided to give it a try, it was life-changing. And I mean that literally. Situations crop up now that previously would have wrecked me and impacted my life negatively, but I am responding to them with a much cooler and clearer head than I ever thought possible.

Anxiety is a normal thing, but if it is a problem for you, seeking help is important. You should be able to live your life without the terrible panic and fear that you live with now.