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.

No Pain, No Gain

It’s important to remember that change doesn’t happen overnight. It’s often a long, difficult process. But, in the case of sobriety, fully worth it in the end. When we’re working to live life without a substance that we had become dependent upon, much of what we’re doing can feel unnatural and uncomfortable. I chose this as the safe coping strategy for the week:

Expect growth to feel uncomfortable. If it feels awkward or difficult, you’re doing it right.

Remember when you first became sober, and how the idea of going an entire day without using seemed impossible and unbearable? But, you did it, and then you did it again and again until you achieved several weeks or months without using.

At first, it felt strange and forced, and you may even have felt a little odd and out of place in your everyday life. But, that didn’t mean the change was a bad thing. You knew in your heart it was a very good change, so you stuck it out.

And even after having a few months under your belt, it will still feel a little difficult. The difficulty of living with a substance addiction is that there is no real cure for it. It will always be hard for us to resist using and to live a sober life. Though, over time, it will become easier and easier.

In life, it’s often the things that are most worth it that are the hardest to achieve. Getting good grades in school. Working hard to have a successful and fulfilling career. Having children, and raising those children to be good, productive citizens. Sobriety is no different. It’s something we need to achieve to be happy, successful, and to keep our lives intact.

Yes, the path to sobriety is rough and filled with obstacles. But, if you push yourself just a little bit each day to get over the feelings of doubt and fear, and forge through on your path. If it feels difficult, that’s a good thing. Because it’s supposed to be difficult. And that means you’re doing it right.

 

Serenity Prayer

I love the Serenity Prayer. It was a prayer I loved even long before I became an alcoholic, long before I joined AA and attended rehab. It’s just good for the soul. Three simple lines that help us remember that we’re not perfect, our lives are not perfect, and that’s ok. But we can do things to change ourselves and our lives for the better, with the right approach.

God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change

The courage to change the things I can

And the wisdom to know the difference. 

You don’t have to believe in God to use this prayer as a daily meditation. I spoke at length in a previous post about how God is not my higher power, but I still love to say this prayer. If you need, simply omit “God” at the beginning when you say it to yourself.

Each line has meaning to me in its own way.

Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change. This was a huge issue for me as I struggled with sobriety and recovery. As an overly sensitive and anxious person, I longed to be in charge of everything. I wanted to be able to control so many aspects of my life that were simply impossible to control. My miscarriage was out of my control. My ability to conceive again was mostly out of my control. My child’s SPD diagnosis was out of my control. My melanoma diagnosis. My older cat’s death. Having to leave our beloved home of four years. Having a difficult teacher for our child’s 1st grade year. Problems in my extended family.

These were all things that brought me pain and caused a flare in my anxiety, and I let it get the better of me. I didn’t realize at the time that  I had no control, and all I could do was accept these life events and respond to them more positively. I allowed myself to fall into any abyss of depression and fear and self-loathing that eventually I used alcohol to self-medicate for.

These days, I find myself more easily accepting things I don’t control and can’t change, and recognizing them for what they are. I focus my attention instead on shaping my life around them, learning how to move past them, and trying to stay positive through difficult situations.

The courage to change the things I can. There are those things, however, that we do have control over, and can change. Those things that we own, but don’t want to admit we’re in control of them, because that would mean taking responsibility for them, and being held accountable for them. My drinking, albeit difficult in the end, was in my control. I had the power to stop, to change the course my life was taking. But for so long, I refused to admit I had a problem, and I refused to accept help. That takes courage. And courage is hard to come by in a person with a dual diagnosis. (A dual diagnosis is addiction paired with depression/anxiety issues.) Courage is often the last thing that comes to us, but the most important ingredient for success.

Change is also uncomfortable. Even when the change is desired and positive, it can still cause stress and discomfort. Moving from one reality into another is hard work and you need strength and a good support system to be successful. In the safe coping strategies, change and growth are described as “uncomfortable.” We should expect change to feel awkward and maybe even a little painful. That just means it’s really happening. And we should allow it, if it promises to improve our lives.

And the wisdom to know the difference. This is the trickiest one for a lot of us. Knowing what problems you own, and what problems you can let go of is not always such a black and white decision. For instance, when something tragic happens to a loved one. While you want to be there for them and comfort them in any way you can, you also need to realize that the situation is out of your control, and that while you can lend a helping hand, you cannot solve their problem for them. Knowing when to step back from the situation to protect yourself from getting too stressed and anxious about it is key. It takes time, but you can learn when and how you can step in and change things, and when you simply need to sit back and accept things for what they are.

Reciting this prayer daily is a great way to keep this in the forefront of our minds. Taking on the pain of others in situations I could not change was a huge problem for me. I thought I had to carry the burdens of the world on my shoulders. But through counseling and rehab I learned that not only can I not shoulder all of those burdens without hurting myself, but that it is also not my responsibility to do that.

Knowing which external life forces can be changed, knowing which ones need to be changed, knowing which ones cannot be changed and can only be accepted, and knowing how to decipher everything as it happens to us is an important part of recovery. Keep the Serenity Prayer in the back of your mind the next time you face a life challenge. Is it something you can change, or something you should work toward accepting? This will make the whole thing go a lot more smoothly, and will aid in your recovery.

 

Examining Excuses

I was recently reminded of an exercise I have done in SMART meetings about excuses for using. The stuff we tell ourselves when we use that makes it feel ok or acceptable. I thought this safe coping strategy related a bit, so I have chosen it for this week:

Identify the belief. Shoulds, deprivation reasoning, etc.

The exercise is called Refutations. In the exercise, we choose one excuse we used to make, and we examine it. These excuses are usually pretty common to all addicts. Stuff like, “no one will know.” “It’ll just be one drink this time.” “This will be the last time.” “No one really cares.” “I’ve had a bad day and I deserve a reward.” “It will help me feel better.”

You take one of your own many excuses, and you examine it. You think about what you are really saying, and you then use logic and everything you’ve learned in your recovery to refute it.

One of my all-time favorites used to be “no one will know.” But the truth is, a lot of people knew. They just didn’t say anything. And I knew. A SMART group leader once told us, don’t forget that even if you really were fooling everyone around you, you know. And you count as someone. This is also a lesson in self-esteem. Not to mention having to carry around a dark secret all the time. It’s exhausting.

A fellow SMART meeting attendee also pointed out that the longer you do something like that, the more likely someone’s bound to notice. You may think you’ve become an expert at hiding your habit from those around you, but sooner or later you’ll slip up. You’ll get caught. And that’s a feeling even worse than the guilt and shame you already carry around.

I also used to love “I’ve had a bad day and I deserve a reward.” The thing is, in my mind, every day was a “bad” day or a “hard” day. Being a stay-at-home mother, being any kind of parent at all, is difficult. It keeps you insanely busy and it tries your patience and it can be overwhelming. I’d gotten myself caught up in a cycle of having a “bad” day and then “rewarding” myself with alcohol. As if abusing my body in that way and making myself useless physically and mentally was any kind of reward that anyone would want. It only made me feel worse, and furthered my addiction. And my days truthfully were really not that bad, obviously.

The point is, you need to find and isolate those excuses that you’re making, and really think them through before you give in to them. What are you telling yourself to make using seem acceptable, even useful or beneficial? Because you know in your right mind that it is not.

Also, think about the “shoulds” in your life, as it says. I should be staying sober. I should be getting my life together. I should find a hobby or a job. I should I should I should. You and I both know sitting at home and telling yourself you should do something doesn’t get it done. And though it may feel good to think these things and feel like you are being a good, positive force in your life, unless you go out and do all those shoulds, you don’t benefit from it at all. If you never get out there and change your life, you stay stagnant. You sit in the same spot, and risk falling into old patterns. If you’ve got something you keep telling yourself you should do, just get up and go do it.

I made this mistake the first time I left rehab. I had a list of things I was going to accomplish when I got back home. I was going to find work. I was going to get back to hobbies I had let slide because of my addiction. I was going to seek extra counseling. And I never did any of it. I had every intention of changing my life to further my new sober lifestyle, but I didn’t do it. I was stuck. And as predicted, I fell back into old patterns and eventually started drinking again.

When I came back the second time, I put my plans into action. I have a job now. And I have picked a few hobbies back up. I’m trying to be more useful to the people in my life. I’m reaching out for help when I need it. I’m using medication to manage my depression and anxiety. And I am having far more success than I ever thought I could.

The main idea here is to examine your thoughts and beliefs. Determine if they are positive or negative, and react accordingly. If you feel a strong craving or urge to use, and start making those old excuses, take a moment to stop and think about it. And if you’re not making changes to your new life in recovery, start making them as soon as possible. It makes the road much smoother, and boosts your confidence and self-esteem.

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.