You’re Always On Step One

I attend AA weekly on Sunday nights. I feel that this gives me a good jumping off point for the week. It sets the right tone, and I can tackle my busy life with the right mindset. This week’s meeting was powerful for me, and has stuck with me. At the suggestion of one member, we discussed Step One of the AA’s 12 Steps:

We admitted we were powerless over alcohol – that our lives had become unmanageable.

We specifically discussed the importance of repeating this step every day, rather than ignoring it because we have “already done that one.”

Many people in the group expressed the belief that the first step is really the only step that matters. Once you admit that you are powerless over alcohol, then you can begin the real work of recovery. Before you make that decision, you can’t truly heal. Afterward, you can not only heal, but you can begin your work on the other steps, if you choose, and you can make your life even better than it was before your addiction took hold.

One member of the group said that they had noticed that the first step is the only step to actually mention alcohol. None of the other steps are specific to alcohol, and could be applied to almost any aspect of ourselves that we are trying to improve. But the first step says quite specifically that we must acknowledge that we cannot manage our lives under the influence of alcohol. I found this realization to be quite prophetic. Our only job, truly, as addicts is to admit we are addicts, and to always be aware of the presence of addiction as part of our being. Once we have mastered that, we can accomplish anything.

Still others brought up the concept of “going back out there.” Or, getting caught in the trap of thinking we’ve been “healed” or “reset.” Many alcoholics, after a certain amount of time has passed, will begin to think that it’s ok for them to drink again. They will assume that they’ve been “fixed”, or that in the amount of time that has passed, they have matured to the point that they could handle using alcohol again without allowing addiction to take over. But, as one person mentioned, “those people are wrong 100% of the time.” An addiction is an addiction, and no amount of time separating you from your substance of choice will ever make the addiction go away. In some cases it only intensifies over time, and the experience will be even worse than it was the first time around.

Some people are uncomfortable admitting powerlessness over alcohol, fearing that it makes them seem weak or that they have a character flaw. Some will only introduce themselves by name at a meeting, and will not also say, “I’m an alcoholic,” as per the AA tradition. I too felt uncomfortable with Step One at first. At rehab I was urged to say to myself that I am powerful over alcohol because I was able to make the choice to get sober. But, I have learned over time that while I am powerful for seeking help and getting sober, I am also still powerless should I ever take a drink. While under the influence of alcohol, I would still be powerless. It doesn’t make me any less powerful now to admit that to myself.

Another member at the meeting said that, “Each of us is always still on Step One, every single day.” And they are right. No matter how much work we do on the other 11 steps, and no matter how much progress we make on those steps, we must take a moment each day to remind ourselves of Step One, and what it means. We must remember how important it is to stay away from alcohol to avoid losing control of our lives again. And we must remain humble enough to admit that we can never, and would never want to, go back to our lives as participating alcoholics.

In recovery we are often reminded that each new day is a gift, and should be treated as such. And if every new day is a gift, we must begin that day with a reminder that we are powerless over our addiction and therefore will take every step to ensure we remain powerfully sober.

Surviving and Thriving

I haven’t written in ages! I’m so sorry. Part of the reason is that this time of year is so incredibly busy, with parties, and dinners, and gifts to wrap, and gifts to send, and a big pile of cards to address.

The other reason is that I just had my third foot surgery. The bone structure in my feet leaves a lot to be desired. I had both feet operated on, but was warned I might need to have the left one operated on again sometime. It had started causing me some pain again, and we met our insurance deductible for the year, so I went for it.

The whole premise of surgery worried me. Not just being put under anesthesia and being cut open and being in pain and recovering from it forever. But also, I was going to be prescribed a narcotic pain killer. Would I take it? What would happen if I did? What did this mean for me, a recovering alcoholic?

I was afraid it would trigger something inside of me. The Reality-is-Best-Dealt-With-Under-the-Influence side of me I had fought so hard to get rid of. I was also afraid that all the sitting around and boredom would also trigger something inside of me.

I took the medication. I was in an incredible amount of pain the first few days, and I didn’t know how else to deal with it.

And it was fine. I didn’t at all like how the medication made me feel. It made it hard for me to eat and sleep, two things I need desperately to do right now. And when I did sleep, it gave me insane nightmares. And during the day, I felt dizzy, loopy, spacey, just uncomfortable. I was relieved when I could take Aleve and get by. And it still took a few days for the loopiness to subside.

One of my counselors in rehab said generally people my age don’t give up one addiction and find another. Young people often do, they are willing to try a variety of different things. But by the time you’re in your 30s or 40s, you have found your “substance of choice” and are unlikely to turn to something else. I’m so glad this is the case for me, and it’s a weight off my mind to know.

Though I would urge you to tread very carefully if you’re put in the same situation. Because there is always that chance when you are an addict to become addicted to just about anything. So, it’s important to be aware of that and mindful of how you feel on any substance. And if prescription medications are your substance of choice, then obviously you need to be even more careful, and avoid them completely if possible.

I find through this experience that I’ve come a very long way from the person I used to be. Back in the day, this might have been a huge issue for me. But, not only do I not want alcohol at all anymore, but I’m still mindful enough of my addiction to be careful what I put in my body. I learned many things about myself and about addiction through my experience in rehab, and I have seen that I can put that knowledge to use in my everyday life.

I feel stronger now than ever. I can make the right choices. I’m happier being sober. This happiness can be the rest of my life, instead of the misery I was feeling this time last year. And that feels amazing.

Paranoia

Have you ever been so paranoid, that you thought someone could see you, from across a city, through walls and buildings, and miles away? Well, I have.

There came a point with my drinking, when my husband asked me to cut back. And when that didn’t exactly work, we decided together that I would stop completely.

But, as a fellow addict, I’m sure you know how hard that was. I stumbled a lot along the way. A LOT. There were times I was drinking a lot, all day long on occasions. And every swig I took, I thought he could see me. He was miles away at work, but I was sure he could see me somehow.

Half my brain knew that was impossible, but the other half was convinced he would know, somehow. Did he hide cameras in the house? Did he never actually leave for work that day, and was lurking outside, watching me from the street? Was he going to come home early, and walk in the door, and catch me drinking, redhanded?

I also thought he could see all bottles I had hidden around the house. They were well hidden, and I rotated hiding spots to throw him off the trail. But the neurotic paranoid side of me was sure that he could see them. Like, there were bright, glowing orbs of light around each of them. Blinking on and off, like those arrow signs directing people to a rest stop. “Here they are. All her secrets and lies. Yours for the finding.”

When I was drinking, I felt free. Like I could do anything. And in that state, I figured other people could do anything too. Like seeing through walls and just knowing I was up to something. And of course, when you are up to something, you act funny. Suspicious. So, I always did get caught at some point. No matter how careful I was. At a SMART meeting once, the leader of the group said, “The longer you do something, the more likely it is that someone will notice.” And it was never more true than hiding my drinking from my husband. I was never successful, always got caught. It didn’t help that I was trying to be so sneaky and deceptive while I was drunk. Have you ever done anything like that successfully while under the influence?

Drinking also exacerbates paranoia. Especially the morning after, when you’re in recovery mode. Drinking heightens anxiety, and any paranoia and anxiety you were already feeling are magnified intensely.

When I stopped drinking for good, I felt so carefree and relaxed, and after a few weeks it dawned on me that it was because I wasn’t hiding things around the house anymore. And I wasn’t doing anything wrong, or suspicious, or deceptive. It was amazingly freeing to not have to lie, and lie to cover up the lie, and then lie some more. There were no hidden bottles to make me feel like Lady MacBeth with the burn that wouldn’t heal, that reminded her of the crime she had committed.

Think of how tied down, how bound you feel when you’re drinking or using in secret. How the bright, hot redness of fear and paranoia follow you wherever you go. And then imagine if those feelings could suddenly be lifted from your life, and how great that would feel.

Giving up your addiction of choice, getting the help you need to kick the habit and then sticking to it will do wonders for this. I still have bouts of paranoia now and again, even though I’m not drinking anymore. I think it’s an old habit. But certainly one that I can break. The longer I go without drinking, the better my chances are of getting rid of those feelings altogether.

 

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.

Change

I was tasked this week with writing something  about the word “change.”

Change is essential for recovering addicts. Without change, no progress can ever be made.

Change just means one reality is becoming another reality. And change can be good or it can be bad, but it is always scary and stressful. You have to work to make it happen, and nothing that’s worth anything in life comes to us without a little work. It’s difficult, I’m still working on making changes myself. But, it’s necessary, and worth it in the end.

Even small changes are hard. So the big ones are a bit earth shattering. But, often they need to happen so we can move along on our path and get to where we’re meant to be.

In recovery, you are making so many changes. You are changing your daily routine, changing the people you interact with, changing the way you interact with the world. You are giving up a substance you’ve come to depend upon. You are learning to reconnect with loved ones. You are learning to reach out for help when you need it. And the hardest of all, you’re learning how to feel your feelings again.

One of the famous one-liners from AA is “easy does it.” And I like to keep this one in mind when all the changes feel overwhelming. The changes are going to happen, whether I want them to or not, so sometimes it’s best to just lie down and let the change wash over you. Take it as it comes, adjust your life to fit around it. If you fight it, it makes it that much harder in the end. Rather than delay the inevitable, embrace it. Especially the changes that are guaranteed to improve your life and help you stay sober.

Change is stressful, difficult, disorganizing, irritating, and challenging, but changes are also inevitable. For an addict, change is among the most difficult things to get through, but we have no choice. The only choice we can make to ease the burden is to choose to get through the change sober and clearheaded. It will go much smoother that way, and we can come out the other side a better person.

Even if you’ve got a positive change headed your way, a new job, a new baby, getting married, these kinds of changes are still stressful. You need to remember to take care of yourself through these changes and make sure to ask for help if you need it.

We can’t avoid change, but we can control how we respond to it. I’m trying to roll with it, stay positive and figure it out one day at a time, sometimes five minutes at a time. And I am trying so hard to release my anxiety and find the silver lining in everything. There always is one. Sometimes it can take us years to see it, but eventually we can find it.

Costs and Benefits

In rehab and at SMART meetings, we often did a Cost/Benefit Analysis worksheet. It is designed to make you really stop and think about the costs and benefits associated with substance abuse and with sobriety.

You are allowed to list benefits of using, such as “makes me feel good”, “helps me socialize”, or “reduces my anxiety”. As part of the exercise, you learn which benefits are short term, and which are long term. And these are most certainly short term. Very short term in some cases.

Long term benefits often fall on the side of sobriety. “Better health”, “improved relationships”, “clearer thinking”, “saving money”, “meeting career goals.” The exercise helps you realize that you stand to benefit from sobriety much more than continuing down the path of using.

For this week, I chose the safe coping strategy:

Notice the cost. What is the price of substance abuse in your life?

This safe coping strategy doesn’t mean the literal monetary cost and price of substance abuse, although that is not to be forgotten. For many addicts, money that you don’t really have to spend is being spent to maintain your habit. And some drugs of choice are very expensive. I met a man in one of my SMART groups who was young, bright, talented, was making 6 figures a year, and blew it all on heroin and illegal prescription drugs. I mean all. He ended up living in his parents’ basement and blew all his credibility at his high-powered job. His habit caused him to lose all of his monetary wealth, as well as many other things.

But the other costs need to be focused on as well. The man in my description lost his career. He lost possessions, such as an expensive car that he treasured. He lost his apartment. He sold many of his prized possessions to pay for drugs, like stereo equipment, guitars, televisions, bicycles, and much more.

But, it even stems further than the physical items in our lives. We also lose relationships. We lose trust in our loved ones and acquaintances. We lose our self-esteem. We lose happiness and peace of mind.

Some people lose their freedom. After a DUI, their driving is restricted. I’ve heard stories from people who have gotten more than one DUI and have had to spend time in jail, and have no vehicle as a result. And some people lose the unimaginable. In a drunk or high driving incident, they may end up killing a friend, a family member, or even themselves.

There are real costs when it comes to dealing with an addiction. If you’re one of the lucky ones, you can come to your senses and achieve sobriety before you lose too much. We all lose something in the end, but the earlier you choose to embrace sobriety, the less you stand to lose.

The next time you feel an urge or craving, no matter how small, really stop and consider your consequences. What would a stumble like that cost you? Even if you think no one will ever know. Maybe you’re right. Chances are you’re not. Your loved ones care enough about you to notice. But, let’s say no one will ever know. The truth is, you will know. There is cost associated with that. Not only are you saying your opinion doesn’t count and doesn’t matter, but after you’ve used, you will feel terribly about yourself. Wouldn’t you rather go on being proud of yourself and your sobriety? Wouldn’t that feel so much better?

Try to remember how it used to feel when you used. When you knew you shouldn’t, but you did anyway. And someone would find out and you’d feel terrible for letting them down. You carried such heavy amounts of guilt and shame around with you as a result. Or you walked on eggshells and were terribly paranoid all the time, trying to hide your habit. Those feelings take huge tolls on your emotional health. And that is a cost.

Doesn’t it feel so much better to have nothing to hide? To show that you can be trusted again? To know you’re doing right by your body? There is no cost to doing the right thing, only benefits. Sobriety gives you a second chance to earn back all those things you lost while using. To live a full life, peaceful and serene.

Higher Power

It’s no secret that AA has a deep basis in Christianity, and that Bill W. began his road to sobriety after a life-changing moment in the hospital where he was moved by the spirit. The literature has been changed to read “God as we understand him” but there’s still a deep undertone that you need to believe in God for the program to work for you.

Spiritually, I’m in a strange place in my life. I don’t think I believe in God, but it’s really hard to give up on the idea. I grew up in a fundamentalist Christian home. And my extended family, to this very moment, is 99% made up of devoutly religious people. And I admire them for it, I really do. Their unwavering faith and hope in life after death is inspirational. There are times when I wish deeply that I had their faith. Which might sound a little condescending, but I swear, it’s not.

I wish I had a higher power that I believed was watching over me, had my best intentions in mind, and I could turn to in any crisis. But the truth is I just don’t believe in that. Truth be told, I’m not sure I ever did. I went to church with my family every Sunday, and while I loved the messages of the sermons, I don’t think I was ever a true believer, not like my family. And most of them still think I’m a believer, and going to church. They think I am raising my children as Christians. Coming out to them as a non-believer is just too hard. I don’t want them to resent me for it, and I don’t want to hurt their feelings or insult their beliefs.

In college, it wasn’t long before I stopped going to church. Not because I was lazy or thought I was too sinful (those first years of college were pretty debaucherous) but because it didn’t feel right. It didn’t fit. I realized I enjoyed church more at home because of the fellowship. Going each week to visit with people who’d known me for years, watched me grow. In a new church, everything felt out of place. And I wasn’t getting the same spiritual fulfillment with a new congregation and new pastor.

Over the years, I have only moved further and further from Christianity. I straddled the agnostic fence for years. Confident that there wasn’t a Christian God, yet still having that itching feeling in the back of my head that there just might be. The ideas of heaven and hell were deeply ingrained in me, and as someone who’s afraid of death, it’s hard to think about the afterlife without falling back on whatever ideas were told to you as a child.

For a time, I gave up on a higher power completely. In April 2011, I had a miscarriage. The pregnancy was very much planned and very much wanted, and I was so happy and excited about it. I had already had a successful and uncomplicated pregnancy, so the thought of miscarriage never entered my mind. And when it happened, I was devastated.

I told myself there was no way there was a God that would give me the baby I so deeply desired and then take it away from me. I fell into a deep depression that I am only now beginning to climb out of.

I have since had another child, which I thought would make all the bad feelings go away. But, it doesn’t work like that. I still think of that baby daily, and I still cry when I talk about the miscarriage in therapy.

When I began to tackle my sobriety, I got onto the AA website and instantly said, no this won’t work for me. The program is religiously based and the steps involve trusting in your higher power to set you free. I had no higher power and didn’t understand how a program that relied upon the idea could do anything for me.

My husband found a series of agnostic and “freethinking” AA meetings for me to attend. But even at those meetings, the idea of a higher power permeated. For most, it was just the universe. Or nature. But, I didn’t understand how I could put my faith in those kinds of things, let alone use them to get sober.

I learned in rehab that this is common. Most addicts struggle with the whole higher power concept. But I was urged to give it some thought, and dig really deep, and find something, anything, that gave me purpose and helped me maintain sobriety.

I struggled with this so much. But I thought about it a lot. What was it that kept me going? What was it that I believed in? I had given up on everything, so what could there be? What was still there for me?

I dug and dug and thought and thought, and nothing came to me. I returned home from my first stay still not having nailed down a higher power. I thought I didn’t need it at that point. All that talk about it had just been one of many techniques they used to help me get sober. I could use the other stuff and forget about it.

I relapsed and returned to rehab, and opened my mind to anything and everything that could help me. Including reopening the chapter on a higher power. There must be something to this, I thought. Or, why would they keep bringing it up?

And one night, lying in bed, I figured it out. I had my Bill W. moment, though it was much less dramatic, and the idea still took me a few days to process and bring together.

The thing that keeps me going, that makes me think it’s all still worth it, is my interconnectedness to everything else. I suppose it’s the universe that’s my higher power. But I needed that to be more concrete. And I started to think about my place in the universe. And how we are all connected. All of us as humans, but also we are connected with the animals and plants and forces of nature.

When the tides shift, that happens to all of us, wherever we are. When something happens in the solar system, it happens to all of us. We are all a part of one big thing. I’m still not sure what that thing is, but I know it exists. I don’t know what happens when we die, but I do know that things will go on living and being born and existing after we are gone. And those things are still a part of us, and we are still a part of them.

Relying on the higher power is the hardest thing to do. But I’ve learned to remember everyday that I’m connected to everything, and it gives me strength and hope. I feel a warmth, a belonging. I’m here for a reason, that will become clear later. I’m here because I was supposed to be here. I’m a part of a much larger web of things, and without me, it doesn’t work.  I needed to get sober and stay sober to keep my place in all of this.

This might not be what works for you, but I urge you to find something to fill that higher power void. It has changed everything for me. There’s something bigger than you and me out there. No one is really sure what it is, but we all need some kind of idea of what it could be. Only then does the human experience make any sense.

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.

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.