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Missing the point…

This last month has been an odd month.  I’d say it’s been the most anxiety I’ve had in over a year.  I’ve been really busy at work – dealing with argumentative clients.  I’ve been having a really hard time sleeping.  Now, I’m also considering a job change.  I don’t know if these are related to the anxiety or not. I don’t think it actually matters. What’s important is that I figure out the right way to handle it.

Many of us spend a lot of time trying to avoid unpleasant things. It’s natural to not want to feel crappy, but I’m learning it’s actually important to learn how to deal with unpleasant things effectively.  Distracting ourselves, putting things off, running away, numbing ourselves from things… none of that solves the issue at hand.  Things like boredom, loneliness, stress – these are all things we are meant to sometimes experience.  It’s funny how I use to expect everything to feel good all the time and how little tolerance I still have for anything else.

Today, I am tired.  I am tired of politics, controversy, and people finding something wrong with everything. I thought I had a meaningful conversation with someone that had a different opinion than I had. I thought it was a discussion about topics and nothing about each other. I thought it was a discussion that gave new perspective to each of us. I left thinking it was a good conversation.  Then later, I overhear that person talking about the conversation to someone else.  Their opinion of what happened was so different from how I thought the conversation occurred.  I feel like I will never actually know how anyone really feels about anything…like somehow, I speak a different language than the people I’m talking to.

Two people watch someone draw a circle on a piece of paper.  One person walks away talking about the piece of paper.  The other person walks away talking about the pen.  Both people missed the fucking circle all together. What’s the point?

This is the stuff I now think about instead of wine and vodka.  At least I’m thinking, I guess!

 

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Relapse Prevention

I’ve been attending SMART meetings recently and have been reading through their workbook. I find SMART to be a great addition to my sobriety toolbox.  It’s aligned with the sobriety school that I attended and really builds on what I’ve already worked through.  I’m grateful to have found it.

I’m coming up on 11 months alcohol-free.  Alcohol isn’t really on my mind much.  I don’t have to use my tools as much as I use to, and I don’t generally have to worry about sobriety.  I’ve figured out how to replace my old thoughts and activities with new healthy thoughts and activities.  I’m living a new life now, but just because I don’t have to worry often, doesn’t mean I should stop planning.

As the SMART workbook says, “The best way to handle a relapse is to prevent it”!  I really liked the section in the workbook that addressed relapse prevention.  This is exactly what I was looking for at this stage!  Here are the main areas they say to always keep an eye out and prepare for:

Complacency – Beware of thinking “I’ve regained control and might be capable of moderation”.  I’ve had experience in the past with this, and it’s exactly where I tripped up before. My reality – and what I remind myself of when this comes up – I’ve tried the moderation thing.  The thing is – if I could moderate, moderation wouldn’t even be something I’d need to think about doing.  Moderation is a myth.  Either you don’t need to do it, or you wish you could do it.  There’s really no in between.

Association – Even though I’ve worked through a lot of “firsts” and changed a lot of associations that I’ve had with alcohol, there are still some that come up when I’m not expecting it. For example, the other day we were out eating sushi, and I saw a bottle of Sopporo.  For a split second, I thought “Oh wait – why haven’t I ordered Sopporo? I always have Sopporo here”!  Then immediately, I caught it! Without even realizing it, I was already responding to myself “Because I don’t drink anymore, and it wouldn’t be good anyways.  It wouldn’t be just one, and it wouldn’t do anything to improve this experience”.  Luckily, thanks mostly to the book This Naked Mind,  I’ve practiced recognizing this type of thinking and my rational thinking now automatically jumps into place.

Boredom – This is one I am still perfecting.  I didn’t realize how much of my time use to be filled with thinking about drinking and drinking.  And honestly, if I was bored and had no idea what to do… I just made some fancy drink and let the day proceed as a drinking day.  Now, if I am bored and have no idea what to do – I have to actually THINK…TRY…GET OFF MY ASS.  This is something I don’t have a lot of practice doing. I also don’t have a lot of patience – so trying to come up with ideas when I haven’t practiced it much – well, I grow tired of it quickly.  My inner two year old comes out BIG TIME.  “Why do I have to come up with something.  Can’t something just happen already”?  That’s not how the world works, missy!  Be responsible for yourself! Figure your shit out!  So, I need to make a list of “shit to do when I can’t think of shit to do”.  Then it won’t be so hard and frustrating when it comes up.

Emotions – This is another one that I’m still working on.  The thing is, drinkers don’t have a lot of practice in this area.  A lot of us used drinking to help us cope with emotions.  Excited and ready to celebrate? Pop some bubbly!  Exhausted from dealing with work divas all day?  Pour a glass of wine!  Bored out of your mind and don’t want to think?  Have a couple beers!  See what I mean?  Rather than dealing with and going through emotions we didn’t really care for… we just muted them with alcohol.  Early on, I figured out how to have happy moments without hooch.  Those moments are actually SO MUCH better without it, and that’s because it feels GOOD when you’re present and happy!  But… wait, you want me to also be present and feel the shitty ones too? WHAT?!  Yeah, that’s right… the shitty feelings ARE part of the human experience too.  And sure, we can try to distract ourselves, numb ourselves, push those things off for a while – but ya know what? They don’t go away until we face them!  So – while I am not enjoying stress, anger, boredom, frustration… I AM learning to appreciate them. I AM starting to see the value of those emotions. I am also realizing – they don’t last forever!  And honestly, I am starting to appreciate that I have the ability to have them.

Fantasy – We tend to glorify the “good times” and forget the bad parts.  While I don’t believe dwelling on the bad parts is what keeps me sober, I do believe remembering the reality of the situation does.  When I catch myself thinking back to “that cold mug of beer”… or “how great wine on the patio was”… I now think through the entire event.  I question myself. I make myself see the true reality of how I have a bunch of associations to alcohol that are lies – those associations don’t tell the full truth.  They might as well be ads for a big-promising-but-actually-crappy product that you’re like “this is nothing like they said it would be” after you get it!

Frustration – This goes back to that thing I discussed before – we tend to want what we want when we want it… and how we want it.  Part of being sober is recognizing that life isn’t always the way we want it. I am slowly learning acceptance and patience.  Things you watch parents teach their two year old – “no, you have to wait your turn” …. “no, you can’t play with that, it’s not yours” … “we can’t do anything about the fact that it’s raining”… that’s the stuff that I’m having to teach myself now, and it’s important to be patient with myself and remember drinking doesn’t make that stuff any better.

Opportunity  – This one was an interesting one I hadn’t considered until I read it in the workbook.  A triggering event can literally be a situation where you could drink, and no one would ever know.  So, maybe you’re on a work trip – you could drink and get away with it.  Or maybe you’re home alone and there’s a bottle of liquor in the house – you could drink, and no one would even know.  Because I don’t really think about drinking much at this stage, I hadn’t really considered this as a potential situation I’d face.  BUT – I also know perfect storms happen.  So, I think it’s important to plan for situations like this.  Going on a work trip?  You have no plan to drink, but what if the trip is total shit AND your presentation went bad AND you’re bored with nothing to do in the evenings AND your sitting at the hotel bar eating dinner?  It’s pretty damn possible that those circumstances could cause a trigger.  I think the best way to be successful through that is to prepare and have a plan for what I’d do in that situation OR how to prevent it from happening all together!

So, there’s my take on SMART’s relapse prevention tips.  Do any of you have other tips or advice? Have any of you gotten to the “I rarely think of alcohol” and then faced any of the above?  What did you do?

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Everything Isn’t Always Perfect…and That’s OK!

When I was drinking, I led two separate lives. There was the life that everyone on the outside saw, and then there was the life that I actually lived on the inside. This is also how I view my life with an anxiety disorder. Everyone on the outside thinks I’m put together, but on the inside it takes a lot of medication, CBT, and other internal work to not lock the doors and never leave the house. I think this is also how many people feel with other mental illnesses.

I was not what society tends to think of when they think of “an alcoholic”. That’s because society has a completely inaccurate view of what that means. Unless you have struggled with alcohol or know someone who has – all you have to go by is advertisements, TV, and movies. We all think people with alcohol struggles are homeless …or cant keep jobs …or are the falling down drunk at the bar …or some other example of what is really the absolute end-game of addiction. There are SO many stages long before that happens. Unfortunately, because we don’t know that – a lot of troubled drinkers can continue their unhealthy relationships with alcohol for a lot longer because they have those examples to lean on. “I cant be an alcoholic, I work. I cant be an alcoholic, I’m responsible”.  The whole world believes we should be able to “drink responsibly” and magically consume an addictive substance using just “self control”. Meanwhile, alcohol makes you feel better (at first) when life is a little shitty – so why wouldn’t you use it to help get by? Then you play “Russian roulette” with the addiction-odds for the rest of your drinking career.

There are SO many people who struggle with substance use…so many people with anxiety disorders, depression, and other illnesses. Suicide rates, bullying, and mass shootings are climbing. These are all signs of people struggling to get by and not having the proper coping mechanisms. We don’t know how to recognize problems. We don’t know how to cope with them. We don’t know what to do once we realize we have them. So often, we see everyone else’s perfect lives and compare our reality to their carefully molded and Facebook-edited lives. We think we are broken because we don’t see anyone else broken. We think we are broken because no one else admits they struggle too. We think we are hopeless because we don’t know how to escape our issues, and no one else seems to have them.

We need to talk about our lives. We need to admit the good and the bad. We need to learn about the things our friends, family, and community are facing. It will never change if we keep hiding our problems. It will never change if we pretend nothing is wrong.

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Overwhelming Power of Fear

I posted last week, that despite horrific fear, I went to a local SMART Recovery meeting. Today’s the day to go back… and I am scared to death! I can do this… right? god, what’s the worst that can happen? What if I am trembling again when I walk in the door? What if my voice shakes when I speak? What if I turn bright red again when it’s my turn to introduce myself? WHAT IF WHAT IF WHAT IF.

I can do hard things… I am willing to start before I’m ready…I believe in myself…I show up for myself even when I don’t feel like it….I trust the evolution of my life….my challenges are my greatest learning devices…

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My First SMART Recovery Meeting

I have been looking into non-AA ways to expand my IRL sober network and recently found a local SMART Recovery meeting near me. I’ve been SCARED TO DEATH to go and was trembling just walking in the building…but apparently I can do hard things…and I didnt come this far to only come this far….and I’m a fierce mother fucker….soooo I dragged my scared ass there, and I did it!

For anyone else worried about something like this – do it! You will feel so much better after you face the nervousness! It felt good to face a big fear. It also felt good to see people face to face and talk about sobriety.

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A sense of belonging…

Sobriety really can be a lonely path. It’s odd – because I have support groups that I can lean on and my hubby always has my back, but it still feels like I’m on this weird, secret path that no one in my world really cares about. I literally have spent 9 months changing my entire life and identity, and most people don’t know about it or if they do, they don’t think it’s that big of a deal. None of them understand why I have done what I have done. None of them understand what I’ve gone through to get here. None of them understand how hard or how exciting it’s been. None of them will ever be as passionate about alcohol-free living as I am. None of them want to carry on exciting conversations about it. Sobriety is my biggest success, biggest struggle, biggest thing ever in my life – and it really doesn’t matter to anyone but me (and hubby, of course). Most people, quite honestly, just want to defend why their drinking is acceptable or why they don’t have a problem -so it’s not something I can even have a conversation about. I guess the bottom line is- you just can’t comprehend, care, or appreciate what someone’s going through unless you’ve gone through it too (or are affected by someone going through it).

I’m not a super social person. It took me most of my life to find just a handful of really close girlfriends, and we’ve grown apart over the years. I’m in a situation of needing to start all over with creating new friendships while being what feels like a teetotal, social-outcast. To meet new friends, you have to have something you’re interested in doing. But I don’t even know what I’m interested in doing – I haven’t done much of anything in the past.

This sounds like a horrible downer, I know. I’m not depressed, sad, or any of that. This is just part of the process. I have recreated myself and need others in my life that appreciate that, but I haven’t figured out how to do that part (yet). This is something most of my support group members are going through too – so it’s a real issue that most of us face at some point. This is less about being alcohol-free and more about needing common connection. I could just as easily replace sobriety/alcohol-free with any major life change – moving to a new place, changing careers, becoming a parent, becoming religious, getting divorced – whatever. When you go through a major life change, you want to be able to talk about it with other people who have either experienced it or can appreciate what you’ve been through. The hard part – when it comes to alcohol-free living – is that there just aren’t that many people around me that feel the same way that I do.

To be honest, I’m struggling with social encounters and meeting friends in a big way. Early in life, it was pretty easy to find friends – as we’re all put together in school or other group activities. I am also starting to think that it’s easier to find friends when you’re young because you don’t really know who you are or what matters to you – or at least not that much. As an adult, we have a lifetime of experiences and opinions that we also consider when meeting new people. I have mentioned before that I relocated a few years ago. My new home has some amazing benefits – people are friendly, hospitality is amazing, the weather is awesome, the nature is gorgeous, and OH MY GOD, the food. But there are also differences living here too – mainly religion and politics. Two pretty big topics that define a lot of people are now two topics that I am typically on a different page than everyone around me. I spent a lot of my life feeling like I didn’t belong, and I didn’t fit in. I struggled my entire childhood and adolescence to find ways to connect with people – so sometimes, it’s hard to ignore that here I am, a 40 something, and I’m kinda in that place all over again.   How do you find people who wonder how you’re doing, who remember your birthday, who want to support you when you’re struggling? That’s what I still need to figure out.

Right now,  it’s really easy to find all the ways I don’t fit in and don’t belong.  I know that the first step is to get it all out – pour my soul out to the strangers on the internet until I feel like it’s all been said – the good, the bad, the ugly. (Check!)  Then, I gotta get off my ass and try to change my perspective.  No one is going to knock on my door, take me by the hand, and show me how to be liked.  It’s just not going to happen.  I know how important it is to belong and how dangerous loneliness can be to everyone and especially to sobriety – so I need to find a way to make it a priority and change it. Sometimes, I can’t make something a priority until it hurts enough that I become sick of hurting (Check!).  But this is not that much different than cutting out alcohol, is it?  At the time, that seemed like an impossible feat …but I eventually figured out that I needed to make a change and I did! It wasn’t easy…god, it wasn’t easy… but I did what I had to do because it was important to do it.  That’s clearly where I need to get with this whole loneliness thing too.

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Emotionally Exhausted

Woke up emotionally exhausted today. I could feel it coming on yesterday and tried to turn it around with meditation and a bubble bath, but I guess sometimes ya just gotta feel the feels. The meditation said something interesting “Don’t try to push away bad feelings. Think of them as a good friend, in a bad mood, that just needs your support”.

Fathers day and Mothers day always eat at me. I was born to teen parents – never met my mom, and my dad was in and out of my life. When he WAS around – he was drunk and abusive. I was raised by a combination of my aging grandmother and whatever family member could take me in.   Every Fathers Day and Mothers Day, I grow increasingly tired of all the happy, lovey posts. It’s not anyone else’s fault that my parents are fuckups….its not like I wish everyone else had tortured childhoods and shitty parents….so idk why it annoys me so much when these days hit.

Anyways…I wont drink over this, and I’m not worried about that – but this is the shit I hid from with drinking, and now it’s the shit I need to get through sober.