Remembering

I recently passed the date where a year ago I relapsed after rehab. I felt strange about it all day, just kind of uneasy. Not that I was worried that I would relapse again. Just that all the memories were coming back to me.

It’s easy these days to go a long time without having to think about what happened to me. I’m able to push it out of my mind and forget about it. And when it resurfaces, even just for a moment, I have feelings of sadness.

It was a hard day for me that day. My husband had been in a serious accident. I was only home for about three weeks at that time. The experience was just too much for me. And instead of employing the safe coping strategies I had been taught at rehab, I fell back to my old ways. It was almost too easy to drift back to that place. I justified it to myself by saying, I’ve been to rehab, I’m good. One drink to take the edge off will be fine.

Well, I know full well now that one drink will never be fine. I can’t ever go there again. It simply doesn’t work for me anymore.

I recalled how sad and scared I was that day, both about my husband and also about stepping over the line again and drinking. There was so much uncertainty in my mind. Remembering myself in those scared, lost moments makes me very sad. I’m sad that I was ever that person. And I’m scared of someday becoming that person again.

Not drinking is much easier these days. I hardly ever think of it at all, even when I’m having a particularly stressful day. I’ve got a lot of other things I can do to get past it, and I do that instead. But sometimes the memory of being so deep in alcoholism that I knew no way out, and the memory of sad, stressful times in my life, they get the best of me. I try to talk it out, but I can’t quite find the words for exactly how I feel.

People in my life are worried I will relapse when I talk about feeling sad or stressed. I don’t worry about that, but I do wish away the bad feelings. I have been taught to sit with the feelings, analyze them, really let myself feel them. And also remind myself that the bad feelings will eventually pass, and things will feel ok again. That can be more difficult to do in practice than it seems in theory. I still struggle with this.

If you find yourself on the brink of relapse, I urge you to reach out to someone, anyone. A counselor, a friend, your spouse. There’s no feeling so big that someone won’t be willing to help you with it. And once you talk it out, it’s likely you won’t feel such an urge to drink. Once you let out all the feelings, and talk them out with someone, they seem less heavy, more manageable.

You can always find another way out. Going backwards doesn’t get you out, it sinks you further down. You need to keep moving forward, and moving on.

Stay the Course

I’ve been reminded lately of how alcoholism is a lifelong struggle. I haven’t had any desire to drink, but I’ve just been letting things slip. I haven’t been keeping a schedule, I haven’t been engaging in activities, I haven’t been taking care of myself and I’ve been letting my mood get the best of me sometimes.

I suppose it’s the down feeling we all have in January. All the fun and excitement of the holidays is over, and it’s back to business as usual. There’s also the added pressure of new year’s resolutions and making the most of the new year. So, it’s kind of a down time for everyone.

I’ve been letting routine slip a little simply because of the madness of the holidays. There’s always somewhere to run, something to get, something to do. So, all that structure and routine goes out the window. But, it’s important to get back to it as soon as you can, to avoid a lapse or relapse.

I suppose what I’m going through could be called a lapse. The old me would certainly have turned to alcohol by this point in time. But, I’m so grateful that I’ve gained the strength and self-confidence to avoid that whole mess. Now, it’s just time to take care of me. Get back on track. Keep things going so I can keep going.

How are you holding up in these early days of 2016? Have you had down days? Doubts? Struggles? Remember to keep on the path of sobriety, and keep taking care of yourself. It’s essential in recovery. Hang on, seek help when you need it, and this too shall pass.

Surviving the Holidays

For an addict, getting through this time of year can be particularly rough. In some places, the AA chapter will hold special meetings on Christmas and New Year’s for this exact reason. It feels like everywhere you look, people are drinking, and you miss that social aspect of it. But, it’s important to remember that, for us, drinking became about something completely different than just fun socializing a long time ago. And that we must stay sober to stay happy.

It’s also kind of a stressful time of year, with all the activity going on and all the things that need to get done. But, also remind yourself that while in the moment it might feel like alcohol eases your stress, it really doesn’t ease anything at all, and you will only feel more stressed and anxious if you drink.

I haven’t done a safe coping strategy in a long time (sorry!). I think one that is fitting right now is:

Think of the consequences. Really see the impact for tomorrow, next week, next year.

You might think you can have a drink or two over the holidays, just to celebrate. But, in reality, it’s dangerous for you to even consider taking one sip. This is how you start down that slippery slope into making yourself think a little more is ok. Then just a little more. Then a little more. Until you’re right back where you started. Which I think we can all agree is not somewhere we ever want to go again.

Focus on your feelings, and work through them. Resist the urge to “drink them away.” If you’re feeling stressed with the amount of things you have to do, really look at your to-do list and cut out the non-essential items. Don’t worry about disappointing people or letting someone down. Chances are, you won’t. And you’re health and sanity are far more important.

If you’re feeling down emotionally, seek out other people. If you don’t have anyone in your life that you can turn to, then get to a meeting. There you will find solace. Being alone this time of year can be dangerous. Find ways to interact with people, and find things to do that will bring you joy.

We trick ourselves into feeling like this time of year means more, or is more special, than the rest of the year. But really, it’s no different than the other months out of the year. Stop putting pressure on yourself to make the time of year perfect, and just try to relax and enjoy it. Every day of your life is meaningful and special, not only these last few days of the year.

Make special plans for next year. Think of all the fun things you will do. Think of all that you will be able to accomplish. Think of how much better you can make your new year, than your last year. Look toward the new year with happiness and confidence, instead of fearing or dreading it.

Happy holidays, and be safe.

The Role of Trauma

This week’s safe coping strategy is:

Link PTSD and substance abuse. Recognize substances as an attempt to self-medicate.

I don’t know if I qualify as having full-blown PTSD or not, but I don’t think that’s the point here. All I know is that my drinking picked up speed very quickly following my miscarriage in 2011. Then, it improved a bit. I went a long time without drinking, as I was pregnant with my second son from January to September 2012, and breastfeeding him after that. When I was diagnosed with melanoma in March of 2013, it started back up again, and was about 10 times worse than before.

These were two traumas I experienced, and I went into a sort of anxious shock after each. Though, I didn’t recognize it for what it was, either time. I didn’t recognize that I was in a pit of depression, and I didn’t realize that I was having full-blown anxiety attacks pretty much all the time. And I certainly didn’t recognize that I was using alcohol to numb myself to the anxiety and the pain. But looking back, I can see that’s exactly what was happening. I’m like a textbook case for self-medication.

Some people endure massive trauma: complicated military service, sexual abuse, death of a spouse, severe illness, loss of money or property, losing an important job. And these people often become addicts too, in response to their tragedy. But, “smaller” tragedies can have the same effect on us.

It can be easy to miss the signs as an addict. All you know is when you drink or use, you feel better. And at first, you think it’s no big deal, because you’re not really doing that often. But it soon begins to take over your life, before you’ve even realized it. In AA, they call addiction a “cunning and baffling disease” because it seems to creep in slowly and sneakily, and wreaks havoc before you even know there’s a problem. The people in your life can often see the problem right away, but unless they confront you, you rarely see it for yourself.

Ask yourself now if there is any trauma in your life you might have been numbing yourself to. It can often make you feel a little less shame and guilt to realize your response to your trauma was completely normal. And if you’re getting the help you need, and staying sober, then you’re doing the right thing and you’re on the rig

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.

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.