What is the Meaning of your Sobriety?

This week’s safe coping strategy:

Creating meaning. Remind yourself what you are living for: your children? Love? Truth? Justice? God?

There will be low times. I am in the middle of a funk right now. I though getting sober would fix everything, but there’s still a lot about me to fix. Like my worrying, my future tripping, my motivation. It helps in these times to remember what matters.

I am living for my husband and children, mainly. But I’m also living to give kindness to the world. To create meaning out of my life. I am living to enjoy myself, to make the most of every moment. All of that is pretty hard to do when using.

Think about what it is that you are living for. What do you want to do? What are you living for? What made you decide to get sober?

Chances are there are a great deal of things you’d like to do, positive things you’d like to contribute to your family and the world, and reasons you’re happy that you’re sober.

Hold on to those things, hold them very near. Use them each day to remind yourself why you got sober, and why you need to stay sober. Create meaning in your sobriety, and it becomes less abstract, and more something you can really feel and see in your everyday life.

Having reasons to keep going and to stay sober helps you get through the bad days. The days you question your decision. The day you have urges and cravings. Dig deep down inside and remind yourself of that meaning. Those things that are important to you. The things that would go away if you started using again.

Life can be beautiful and meaningful, and sobriety makes it easy.

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.

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.

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.

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.

 

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.

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.

Missing Out on All the Fun

Once at an AA meeting I attended several months ago, a man said, “If you’re in AA, the fun days of your drinking are over.” And I’ll never forget that. He was joking, and we all laughed, but he was also poignantly correct. The statement got me thinking, and changed how I viewed my addiction.

One of the first thoughts that came to my mind when I had the very first fleeting thought ever about trying to get sober, was all the fun times I’d be missing out on. And I’d venture a guess that this crosses the mind of every alcoholic.

No champagne on New Year’s, no beers at cook outs or baseball games, no wine with fancy dinners, no margaritas on Cinco de Mayo.

But truthfully, my drinking had stopped being about that kind of stuff long ago.

Wine with fancy dinners was replaced with an entire bottle of chardonnay alone watching TV on the couch. Beers at cook outs were replaced with swigs of vodka or tequila from the bottle in my purse in addition to beers. Semi-hiding bottles of wine in the back of the fridge, or filling the wine rack back up with cheap grocery store wine was replaced with fully concealing bottles of liquor around the house. And there’s nothing fun at all about living with the kind of constant, deep fear and shame that goes along with those things.

I thought about that man’s quote for the first time in a long time last night, as I wrote in my journal before bed. I was lamenting on how fast time had flown for me lately. I’ve been having a lot of memories recently of a weekend vacation my husband and I had taken to a really nice bed and breakfast, back in January. And now it’s nearly May already. In between, I’ve spent 38 days in total in rehab, away from home. Time seems to have gone by in an instant. I wrote in my journal, “I’m missing out on my life.”

I used to think that getting sober meant missing out on life. Missing out on the fun. Not being a part of the action. When in truth, my addiction was holding me back from so much more. I wasn’t relishing in and enjoying those sweet, quiet moments with my children, who are growing up way too fast. I wasn’t spending any quality time with my husband. I wasn’t involved with any hobby or activity that was just for me. I woke up, I drank, I went to bed.

I’m finally able to see that being sober doesn’t mean missing out on all the fun. It means finally being about to allow yourself to have a little fun. And finding fun things that are beneficial to you, healthy for you. I keep telling myself lately that I need to get my life back on track. But, I’ve been thinking of it in terms of life being in some kind of paused state. But, life never pauses; it’s happening all the time, all around us. And when you’re using, you’re not really paying attention, and you’re not truly enjoying yourself at all.