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.

Getting Treatment

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

Today I have chosen the safe coping strategy:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

You Take the Good, You Take the Bad

For the past two or three days, my anxiety has been rampant. And for no apparent reason. Things are moving swimmingly. Yes, my youngest has been sick for a few days, but nothing serious. Yes, I had to leave work early on Monday to retrieve said sick child from preschool, but it was a non-issue for my boss. Yes, the weather has been cruddy and I like my sunshine, but that’s not usually something that sets off the anxiety.

I think it’s just rearing its ugly head to remind me that it’s there, or something like that. Hey, don’t forget me! Your old pal, anxiety! Just popping in to say hi! It’s been there all my life, so it’s been hard to just kick it out the door and not look back.

I have a prescription for Clonazepam which it says on the bottle to take “as needed for anxiety.” At first, I took it a lot. Nearly every day. And lately have been trying to go without. Sometimes, I feel myself getting uppity, and I go for the bottle, but my husband encourages me to take a time out, breathe, let the feeling pass, and in 5 or 10 minutes if I’m still on edge, then take it.

And that’s been working pretty well. The idea is for me to have the medication for only a few months anyway, so I do need to start recognizing the anxiety for what it is, the actual level that it’s at when I start to feel it. And to train myself to get over the hump and move along with my day.

But, the other night, I didn’t take it at bedtime, though I wanted to. I hardly slept at all that night. I’d roll over and glance at the clock just about every half hour, all night long. And there was nothing specific on my mind, just a bunch of thoughts racing through my mind. I’ve got a long to-do list to accomplish before the kids’ summer vacation starts, but there’s still time for it all to get done. I just felt…on edge. Jumpy. Unsettled.

At bedtime last night, I was feeling slightly anxious, but ok. So, again, I didn’t take it. But, when I caught myself wide-eyed, and for some reason drafting my father’s eulogy in my head (he’s 54 and not even ill), I knew it was time. Somehow I’d let my anxiety take over my brain again, and all my swirling, crazy thoughts had led me to that place again. I haven’t been like that in a while, the anti-depressant I’m on has helped me immensely. But, I guess there’s still going to be those times when I fill up with steam and have to let it out somehow, before I explode again. So, I got up around 1:30 a.m. and took the medication. And I feel calmer this morning than I have in days.

I had so many awful days before, when I was drinking. And now that I’ve started having good days, and lots of good days in a row, I guess it’s easy to forget that there will still be bad moods, tough days and a little anxiety sprinkled on top, because that will always be a part of who I am. But, I’m learning that I have tools to get through: meditation, talking it out to someone, focusing on a hobby or my writing, going for a walk, having a cup of tea, basically just relaxing and getting my mind out of the irrational-worry gutter.

Anxiety was a big part of what fueled my addiction. If it is for you too, I suggest that you try to focus on worry and anxiety as a part of your recovery. Not focusing on it enough played a big part in my relapse, so I’m trying to really focus on it now. Trying to be aware of it all the time. When it’s not there, I’m so happy and peaceful; a new and completely amazing feeling for me.

Take each day, each moment, as it comes, and try to remember that you’ll be ok. You’ll get through. Some days you’re the pigeon, some days you’re the statue. That just makes you human.