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.

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.

Relapse

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Establishing Structure

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

This is Recovering Motherhood

Welcome to my new project: the Recovering Motherhood blog. Thanks for reading the first of what I hope will be many posts. I’d like to tell you a little bit about myself and my goals for the blog.

I am a woman in my mid-30s. I am wife and a mother to two young children. I live in an urban area. And, I am a recovering alcoholic. At the time this post went live, I was on day 40 of sobriety.

I attend AA meetings. I see a counselor. I recently finished a 30 day residential treatment program (better known as rehab). I have been a blogger for 6 years, and I thought I’d start a new blog to document my experience and my recovery, so that I might pay it forward and help someone else. Ideas for a new blog came to me free-flowing during my stay at rehab, and I’m thrilled to get started.

I’d like this blog to encourage and comfort those who might be struggling with addiction, or know someone else who is. I’d also like it to break down the stigma surrounding addiction, and treatment for addiction, because I want people to seek the help they need. For a long time, I felt too scared, ashamed and guilty to seek treatment. I wish I had done it months, maybe even years, before I did. Without it, my disease of addiction would surely have killed me. I really worry about all the other people out there who are not seeking treatment, and who may not even be aware that they have a problem.

The domain name “Recovering Motherhood” has a double meaning as well. Not only am I a wife and mother in recovery, but I am also recovering my place as a wife and mother in my home, and in society. So much of my time spent drinking had me isolated from my husband and children, and probably in their eyes, disinterested in having them in my life, which simply was not true. I’m clean and clear-headed now, and trying to make up for that lost time. I want other mothers of small children who are battling addiction to know that it’s ok to seek help. People will be less judgmental than you think. Those who truly love you only want to see you well, and will help you in any way they can, including helping you with your motherly duties while you seek treatment.

Recovering Motherhood isn’t just for mothers, or even just for parents. It’s for anyone and everyone who’d like to hear and know more about addiction and recovery. Being a wife and a mother to young children while going through the process is only part of my story, which is why I share it. But with this blog, I plan to focus mainly on my recovery, and the recovery process.

Please feel free to reach out at any time. Email rm [at] recoveringmotherhood [dot] com. Or, comment on any post. Please browse my resources page for places you can anonymously go for help. You don’t have to feel alone anymore, there’s a lot of people out there happy and eager to help.