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.

Honesty

A huge part of my recovery has been owning up to my own mistakes and being fully honest with myself, my husband and my children. Once you get rid of the lies and the secrets, you feel free, and you can truly relax and be yourself. For this week, I have chosen the safe coping strategy:

Honesty. Secrets and lying are at the core of PTSD and substance abuse; honesty heals them.

No doubt, at some point during the development of your addiction, you began to tell lies, hold secrets and hide things from your partner or other loved ones, from coworkers and from friends. And you also told yourself lies to justify your addiction.

At some point, you were caught in a lie, which is usually the first thing that leads an addict to get help and enter the life of recovery. It might be a very long time between that first time getting caught and a life of sobriety, but it’s usually what gets the ball rolling.

As an addict it’s painful to wake up every day, participating in your addiction and wanting to stop, but not knowing how to stop. Knowing you’re causing yourself harm, but continuing anyway. But what can be even more painful is the guilt and shame you carry around from all the lies you’ve told to your loved ones, and all the things you’re hiding and keeping secret. Carrying all of that around is exhausting. Keeping up with your enormous web of lies, finding hiding places for those things you’re physically hiding, seeing the love and trust in your loved ones’ eyes as you tell them a lie, it’s a terrible feeling.

I hid alcohol all around the house. And I told my husband I hadn’t drank, even though I had. And I really thought I was getting away with something. But, eventually the guilt and shame caught up with me. And I was so paranoid, all of the time. It exacerbated my already serious anxiety issues to have to constantly be looking over my shoulder and making sure I covered my tracks.

When I went to rehab, and I put all my cards on table with my husband, I felt such a sense of relief. Feelings of guilt and shame lingered, but at least he knew everything now. I could just breathe, and be myself again, and not have to constantly fear being found out.

And over time I learned to be honest with myself. In SMART Recovery, we do an exercise called Refutations. You take one of your old excuses, one of the lies you told yourself to justify your using, and you come up with all the reasons that it’s wrong. For example, I used to tell myself, “I’ll just have one drink.” Knowing full well that it never ended with just one drink. Or, “No one will know.” But the truth is, everyone knew. It’s pretty hard to hide being drunk.

Being able to examine your thoughts, and to be honest with yourself about what you’re thinking is a big part of recovery. Knowing that you need to avoid your substance of choice at all costs, and stop that little voice full of excuses dead in its tracks when it starts up in your head.

The honesty doesn’t stop there though. It continues throughout your daily life from here on out. Be honest with yourself about how it felt to be in a group of people who were drinking. Be honest with yourself about how it feels to see that aisle in the grocery store. Be honest with yourself about how you’re doing day-to-day, are you having a good day or a bad day? Can you pinpoint why? Staying in touch with your feelings and opening yourself up to discussing these feelings with your partner or a counselor will help you a lot as you struggle through those first days in recovery.

Being honest with your partner will help you earn back all the lost trust too. Those wounds take enormous amounts of time to fully heal, but full, true honesty, and lots of talking things out, will help the process along. Think of honesty as a medicine that’s helping to heal all the pain and suffering your addiction caused.

But above all else, it really is an amazing feeling to be able to be truly open and honest with yourself and your loved ones. You will feel free once again, and relieved of the burden of guilt, shame, and lies. No more will they hold you down. Living a open and honest life can only lead to good things.

Live For Today

For this week I have chosen the safe coping strategy:

Focus on now. Do what you can to make today better; don’t get overwhelmed by the past or future.

As an addict, it’s effortless to let yourself get overwhelmed with guilt and shame about the past. It’s like a constant current running through us, it never goes away. But, we must learn to let go of some of those feelings, make amends, and move on. To be proud of the sober individuals we have become. The past cannot be relived and cannot be changed, and it’s best to let it go and start anew.

It is also very easy to be overwhelmed with thoughts about the future. I tend to think (more like worry) about the future. It’s something in AA they call “future-tripping.” There’s a lot of stuff to worry about when it comes to the future. We don’t know what will happen, and the unknown is very scary for most people. As an addict, you wonder, will I relapse? Will I ever be really cured? Will I be tempted? Will I be put in unsafe situations? Will I have to let go of friendships to stay safe?

But there’s a lot more going on in our lives for us to worry about too. Will I ever find a mate/will my mate ever leave me? Will I have children/am I doing a good job of raising my children? Should I change careers? Should we buy/sell a home? What if I get sick or hurt? What if my partner gets sick or hurt? When will my parents die? When will I die?

These are big heavy issues that weigh upon us, and take our minds out of the present. It’s important to remember that we have no control over the future. We cannot mold and shape it into what we want it to be, it simply happens to us. There are no guarantees we will even wake up tomorrow morning, so worrying about what will happen is pointless.

The only thing we need to concern ourselves with is here, now, today. This day, this hour, this moment. Focus on what’s important right now. Focus on the things we can control right now. Focus on making the right decisions now that will help give us the kind of future we want.

Keep putting one foot in front of the other, both literally and figuratively. Choose sobriety for today. Choose to set realistic goals for today. Be the kind of person you’d like to be today. And at the end of the day, celebrate yourself and your accomplishments.

Don’t get upset if you catch yourself mulling over the past or worrying about the future. None of us can really escape this, these are normal human thoughts. But, just remind yourself in those moments of the importance of living for the moment, and that you can’t do a thing right now about the past or future. It will help comfort you to know that you only need to take care of the immediate things in your life, the things that need your attention right now.

Keep making the right choices today for the path you want to go down, and tomorrow will be beautiful and bright.