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Self-Care has Many Faces

I am feeling burned out. Last week’s political topics had me exhausted, and I am a member of several sobriety-related groups that were filled with tons of “oops day 1 again” posts that left me feeling like I just can’t possibly help. Exhaustion is my absolute biggest threat to sobriety, but here’s the thing… it’s something I can completely control. I can set appropriate boundaries, arrange my time within them, and limit my exposure to things that drain me quickly. That’s something I use to think was out of my control, but thanks to Holly and HSS, I now know that it is absolutely in my control. So, I spent the weekend off of news and Facebook, I said “No” to hubby when he wanted to go out and invite friends along, I canceled a baseball game with neighbors, and I downloaded some Facebook apps that filter out political posts and sponsored ads (all my sponsored ads are always alcohol products -no matter how many times I say they aren’t relevant to me). I’m not going to “hide from the world” forever, but I love the idea of being able to filter out content when I’m not up for seeing it. When I’m having a conversation and a hot topic comes up, I can say “I don’t want to get into that right now”… so why shouldn’t I be able to tell Facebook the same thing?

I was watching a show the other day that triggered me. I was caught SO off guard. I don’t really think about drinking much, and I can’t think of the last time I was triggered. That’s a beautiful place to be in sobriety, but also a scary place to be when a trigger DOES come up. That night, I had a drinking dream (which I haven’t had in months). I’ve had several dreams about drinking since then, and I keep having this random fear come up “what if I forget that I’m sober and accidentally drink”. It seems RIDICULOUS. How do you forget that you’re sober? But maybe that fear is really telling me that even though I feel stable in my alcohol-free ways, I shouldn’t get too confident about it.

What are you guys doing to keep your energy balanced and sobriety strong as time goes on?

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Sober vacation was awesome!

Many of you know, I had my first sober beach vacation this month! I was really worried about the trip.  I wasn’t so much worried about being triggered or wanting to drink, but more so about if I’d actually like the setting now that I don’t drink.  In some ways, it’s been 8 months of learning what the hell it is that I like to do.  See, in my old life, I spent a lot of time sitting around, not doing much… except drinking.  I mostly drank at home, alone, watching tv and movies (all shows I can’t remember the end of, by the way).  As a constant planner/worrier – this is what plagued me up until the trip:

Will I be bored sitting around completely present with nothing to do? Will the vacation, that me and hubby have grown to love, be yet another thing that has to change because of my sobriety? Will I even like going to this place now that I am able to remember it all?

Once I got to the destination, though, I was just as happy as I’ve always been there.  Part of the reason this trip was so easy to do sober is because I really planned my ass off beforehand, and part of it is because the place is absolute paradise! Now, for me, there’s a fine line between overthinking and being prepared, but I have learned that preparation before “firsts” really goes a long way. I am also so grateful for my support groups and husband for always having my back through this all!

So what did I learn about sober vacation?  I learned that the salty air still smells salty …that the hot sun still feels amazing…that the sounds of the ocean are still relaxing…that there are  A LOT of delicious drinks that don’t contain alcohol…that conversations are actually more meaningful when you remember what you’re saying…that waking up and watching the sunrise feels a hell of a lot better without a hangover…that things cost a ton less when you’re not buying mixed drinks…that there is SO MUCH MORE TIME when you’re not wasting half of it taking drunk naps…and that I might actually like to be a little more active when I vacation now!

All in all – the vacation was a huge success! I was prepared, had great support, enjoyed everything I always enjoyed before – but even more so because I was completely able to appreciate it.

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8 months!

This weekend made 8 months without a drop of alcohol. 8 months of learning how to actually LIVE, 8 months of reality, 8 months of remembering what I ordered on Amazon, 8 months of SO MUCH MORE TIME, 8 months with NO HANGOVERS, 8 months of figuring out what I like and doing it, 8 months of happy, grateful, scared to death, lonely, but SOBER and glad to be it!

I cant believe I am going into Memorial Day weekend, and all I can think about is how awesome every morning will feel!

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The Reality of Mommy-wine & Drinking Memes

Mothers Day is quickly approaching. With the rise of the mommy-wine culture, there are a disturbing amount of cards “joking” about how moms need alcohol or drugs to deal with the stress of parenting or how children are the reason moms need to turn to substances. Just take a look at the images above for a sampling (thank you to my Hip Sobriety group-mates for posting these)! This messaging is so dangerous but has really taken off. You can’t go a day without finding a meme justifying substance use in the name of stress.

I would have been the first in line to buy the socks that said “if you can read this, get me more wine” or the sign that said “its 5 o clock somewhere” – so I get it. But the thing is, I related to these messages because I had a problem. I related to them because I did not know how to face struggles in life, and alcohol (at first) helped me forget about them. Then later, I still didn’t know how to face them, AND there were even more of them, AND alcohol wasn’t really doing a good job at helping me forget them -so I had to drink a little more of it to forget them. Then later, I still had all these damn problems, and I had to drink even more alcohol to forget them, and I was starting to feel worse and worse about them. Then later…you get the point, right? I had a bad relationship with alcohol, and it was damaging my life and soul, but damn those socks are cute – am I right? Because if I can act like the funny little socks and the funny little memes are just jokes – and not actually signs of my big scary ass problem – well then, I can carry on drinking and harming myself right in plain sight with no one stopping me.

What’s frightening to me is how much of this message is out there! How women and moms are being targeted and marketed to. It’s like the booze industry is screaming “Life is hard! Don’t waste time facing adversity and learning to be present! Instead, avoid life and check out with this cup of potentially addictive poison! While you’re at it, teach your kids that this is what they get to do when they grow up too! Go ahead and start our marketing job for us, Moms”!

It seems like the booze industry use to target the occasional and social drinker. They’d tell them that booze made that occasional good time, a great time! But now it’s like -Why stop there? Why not go big or go home? What’s something everyone has? How can we make booze related to THAT? I GOT IT – Let’s teach society that PROBLEMS are better and easier with alcohol! What a bigger target audience THAT would be! Oh!! And what if we target women specifically too – they literally shape and mold the thoughts of our future customer base, after all. And just like that – we’ve got alcoholic memes all over the internet, wine yoga, pink spirits, an ever-growing nation of women facing alcohol related issues, and a generation of children believing THEY are the reason mommy lost her shoes and fell asleep before the bedtime story was over.

This is a big deal, ladies and gents.  Nobody starts out drinking to end up addicted, and most people still believe that you don’t have a problem as long as you aren’t drinking liquor out of a paper bag and fighting your buddy over using the grocery cart for the day.  So while the majority of people are sipping away their day-to-day stresses and keeping their shit together (for now), we are all facing a rise in addiction and don’t have the first clue how to even spot it let alone address it.  Meanwhile, the booze industry is raking in the cash at our own expense.

There are different types of drinkers and most people believe there’s “us” and “them” – those who can’t control alcohol and those who can.  In reality, you can be in any of these categories and still be struggling or on your way to struggling.  That’s because alcohol is an addictive substance.  Bottom line – the more often you drink it, the more likely you are to face problems related to it.  And guess what? Our culture begins drinking in our teens, and we drink most of our lives!  Addiction and alcohol related problems can creep up.  It happens so slowly that by the time most people realize they are facing negative impacts from alcohol – they are way further along in or toward addiction than they would have ever guessed. And the stigma related to alcohol – no doubt fueled by all the marketing we are fed our entire lives – makes it nearly impossible to catch it in time or fess up about what we’re experiencing. Chances are, no matter how you drink and no matter how your friends drink, you probably know someone who is having an issue with alcohol. Just think about these types of drinkers and the people you know. Think about the friends you have that wear the shirts, buy the cards, make the jokes.  Could any of them be having a harder time than you think? Could you be?

Occasional drinker – These drinkers drink every once in a while. They drink during special occasions, holidays, or just once in a blue moon. Most people would never question if this person is struggling or having problems related to alcohol, but just because you only drink once a year, doesn’t mean you can’t black out and spend 3 days nursing a hangover! Maybe the reason some of these drinkers are occasional drinkers is because they have such a hard time when they DO drink! Also, you have no idea how often someone really drinks.  I used to be known as an occasional drinker to some people!

Social drinkers – These drinkers drink when they are out with friends, at networking events, or having people over for a barbecue. They may only drink a couple times a month or they might literally socialize every day and drink. This group is that misleading group where many people in it are struggling to deal with their alcohol consumption but everyone around them touts “You can’t possibly have a problem! You’re just a social drinker”! Meanwhile some of these folks are starting to socialize every chance they get just to have a reason to drink.

“Because of” drinkers – These are the “woo, its Friday, pour me a martini”, “ugh Mondays are hard – let’s have some wine to unwind”, and the “it’s a baseball game – gotta have beer at a baseball game”! This group wears the wine socks and buys the mom cards.  This group has started to believe that alcohol makes things better. At first, there are all these great things in their life and then they add alcohol to make them even better. Over time, though, something can flip, and the brain will start to think alcohol is the common denominator…the thing you NEED for the good times. Once that happens – it’s more about the drink and less about the Friday or the Monday or the baseball game. You’ve basically graduated to the…

“I drink because I drink” Club – THIS is where the booze advertisers want you, and they start by getting you into that last group. The more reasons and occasions you can tie to a boozey beverage, the more likely you are to end up in this group. The group of frequent buyers. The group of recurring customers. And sure, you’re also more likely to end up with an addiction or at least a harmful problem – but ya know, that’s the cost of doing business. Plus – most people who quit have a hard time quitting – so they won’t lose too many customers to sobriety anyways.  It seems obvious when describing it in writing, but many people in this group are seeing negative impacts from alcohol in their life and surprisingly, most people still will say they don’t have a problem.

These are just a few “types” of drinkers, and I can think of a time when I fell into each of these groups.  I always had my shit together. I had good jobs, great homes, kept my obligations, and drank like a fish.  I bought the marketing hook, line, and sinker and drank my way through the boozey-matrix of life. For years, I suspected I was better off without alcohol.  For years, I questioned if I should maybe cut back or give it up.  For years, I secretly tried to cut back with no luck.  I’d occasionally bring it up to friends or family just to be told there was nothing wrong with me and that everyone feels the way I do sometimes.  I’d be reminded of all the great things I had going on and how an alcoholic couldn’t possibly have that.  My friends would buy me magnets with cute little drinking phrases on them or share embarrassing drunk stories about me on Facebook… but I didn’t have a problem, right? Why does everyone want you to wait until you’ve fucked it all up before you stop?  Why does everyone think it’s a good idea to wait until you’re so far gone that it’s nearly impossible to quit? I know some people believe you have to hit a “rock bottom” or that no one but you can influence your choice to quit… but that’s sort of bullshit, folks.  Life changes are not usually about singular moments.  Usually it’s a combination of experiences that lead us to the path.

Three people, over a few different periods in my life, told me they were worried about my drinking. No, I didn’t quit right then and there, BUT their concerns and words did stick with me.  Their words would come to mind when I was nursing a hangover or waking up in the middle of the night with the room spinning.  Their words would come to mind when it mattered, and ultimately their words were part of the reason I chose to make a change in my life. So when you’re with the people you care and love – think about this stuff.  Be the one who cared enough to bring up the “reality” behind the funny memes. Be the one who plants the seed that will someday help steer a friend in need.  We live in a time where we post all the good about our lives, where we create “social brands” and people believe only the story we make up about ourselves.  It’s even easier now to hide our problems and pretend they aren’t there. Take a look around.  Really look at those you care about.  Do you have any loved ones that might be struggling? Is it really funny that they are having such a hard time that they need wine to raise their kids? Is it really funny that their life feels so overwhelming that they can’t get by without a little something to take the pressure off?

 

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To Beach or Not To Beach… Vacation Prep

I am headed on vacation next week and am very excited! I am also a little nervous! Although I have vacationed since giving up hooch, I haven’t been to this particular place since then. It’s a beach destination. I grew up LOVING the beach. (Honestly, every bit that makes up who I am has a little bit of beach in it)! And although I spent my early years creating non-drinking memories of the beach, I also spent… oh… at least 20 years associating the beach with alcohol.

Since getting sober, I’ve learned that a lot of things are really different sober vs. drinking. Some things that I thought I loved were actually just backdrops for drinking. And other things that I didn’t think I liked at all… are actually really fun now that I’m able to be present for it! I think maybe… just maybe… part of me is scared that I won’t love the beach anymore… that I’ll learn I never really loved the beach… that I just loved drinking at the beach. And if that were true?? Well, would that mean I just discovered another big piece of fiction about myself?! I just can’t even bare to think that a major part of my identity could be another falsehood!

I can’t necessarily do anything about the “what if” part of if I like the beach or not, but I CAN prepare for this vacation and make sure that my sobriety is at as little risk as possible before I go. I have found that preparation before a trip or event can make ALL the difference. The more I think about things beforehand, the less I have to think while I’m there. And isn’t that the whole point of the vacation – to stop having to think so much and so hard?!

Thanks to the help of my support groups, Hip Sobriety School, and my amazing planning talents (drum roll…ta da! Here is Super Planning Girl! No… that doesn’t sound like a very good super hero after all), here is my plan of attack for…er…planning:

Planning:

  • Why do I want to go? what do I want to do or achieve?
  • What triggers do I anticipate? What other tricky situations might come up?
  • What will I say if asked about drinking? What will I order instead of alcohol?
  • What will be my go-to tools during the trip?
  • What routines/exercises will I do to keep me grounded and secure?
  • What is my exit plan when in an uncomfortable situation?
  • What is my plan if an urgent situation (sober-risk ) occurs?

Travel Partner(s):

  • What do I need to let my travel partner(s) know about this trip related to my sobriety?
  • How do I want my travel partner(s) to support me?
  • What can I ask of my travel partner(s) that will aid me?
  • Is there anything related to my travel partner(s) that I should prepare for?

Visualization:

  • Show my brain what right looks like -visualize the event as detailed as possible- What am I doing, what are the sounds/sights/smells around me, what am I wearing, and what’s going on around me? Envision how I will answer questions about drinking, what it looks like to order non-alcoholic drinks, and what it looks like to have a good time without drinking.
  • Show my brain what right feels like -feel the feels- how do I want to feel during the event? Visualize myself feeling happiness, serenity, presence. How does it feel to be sober, fully aware, clear-headed, and rested?

Meditation:

  • Use Simple Habit or other meditation apps before and during trip

Reinforcement/Reward:

  • What will I do during and after to celebrate my successes and reinforce my positive sober experience?
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My Sobriety Journey: 0-7 Months

When I first quit smoking, the support group I used did a great job of outlining what happens to the body over time after quitting. I found that motivational when going through the cravings and other hard stuff early in the quit. I haven’t been able to find something similar for stopping drinking. Maybe it’s radically different person-to-person when it comes to the physical changes. Or maybe the physical changes are not as big? If any of you reading this blog know of any sources like that– I’d love to hear about it.

There were some common threads among myself and other members in my sobriety school, so I thought I’d outline some of the things I experienced.  Quitting drinking is a bit different for everyone – we all have different lives and have different support and tools at different times, but we all do seem to go through similar feelings throughout the start.

If you’re thinking of quitting and want to know what you’re getting into, or if you’ve quit but are wondering if what you’re going through “is normal”, maybe this list will help.

 My Timeline

Day 0: hungover, exhausted, sick and tired of saying I won’t do it again but still doing it again, hopeless, full of doubt and fear, high anxiety, signed up for Hip Sobriety School

Day 1: anxious, scared but mixed with hopefulness, weight lifted from me because I’ve decided to stop the insanity, physically exhausted

Week 1: exhausted, trouble sleeping, moody, unable to keep still, battling cravings, still hopeful, grateful for sobriety

Week 2: sleeping a lot, still battling cravings and witching hours but using tools to face them and get past them, drinking dreams begin, still hopeful and grateful for sobriety, started reading Annie Grace’s This Naked Mind

Week 3: the “new and shiny” part of sobriety is starting to wear off, the reality of the hard work to stay sober hits me in the face, old thinking is creeping in (starting to question if I really have a problem and if drinking was really that bad), facing boredom for the first time, life feels bland, extremely cranky

Week 4: continuing to do the work, know that my mind is doing anything/everything it can to get me to go back to my old ways, exhausted but learning new ways to tackle old thinking, learning to fill time with new activities to overcome boredom, starting to face the world and be out and around drinking, facing “firsts” successfully, starting to see drinking differently than before, extremely grateful for my new life, starting to recognize how beautiful life really is and how much I’ve missed by drinking, cravings reducing, several days in a row pass without thinking of alcohol

Week 5: overall anxiety lessens, ability to handle stress increases, ability to think through problems seems to improve, starting to experience “seconds” and realizing that things are getting easier because I’ve successfully conquered “firsts”, seeing that it’s hard work but it gets easier with repetition and preparedness, thoughts of drinking dramatically decreased

Week 6: continued improvement, starting to face “the hard stuff” – the “what made me drink” stuff, starting to see how much more I could have lost, questioning if I really deserve what I have after almost throwing it all away, drinking dreams ramp up, dreams of the past begin, lots of emotions come up as past memories and traumas come up, thoughts of drinking coming up as I work through difficult emotions

Weeks 7-12: more happiness than sadness, alternating between working on past issues and taking breaks to just be happy with new life, increased energy, normalized sleeping, overall gratitude for new life, rarely thinking about drinking but occasionally getting caught off guard with triggers, still needing to remind myself of what’s at risk, started Annie Grace’s 30 Day Alcohol Experiment

4 Months: feeling “clunky” as I try new things, learning that I avoided a lot of life by drinking and that I have a lot of things to catch up on, figuring out how to socialize sober, rarely think of drinking, still working through lots of “firsts” and still need to prepare for each and every one of them, still grateful for sobriety but it no longer feels new – it’s part of who I am now, starting to see financial benefits from not drinking

7 Months: spending less time focused just on being sober and more time on day-to-day life, starting to figure out how to incorporate sobriety into normal daily life, learning how to manage energy and face normal day-to-day stress without turning to alcohol, still working through “firsts”, learning to re-frame old memories and see how much better they’d be if drinking wasn’t a part of them.

As I write this post, today marks 7 months for me! 7 months ago, I woke up in the middle of the night, half drunk and half hungover, and clicked on an email to join Hip Sobriety School. In some ways, it feels like barely any time has passed at all.  In other ways, it feels like lifetimes have passed. While there was a lot of hard work to get here and there have certainly been ups and downs, I can honestly say that life has NEVER BEEN BETTER. When I do things, I am fully present and appreciate all the little things that I use to miss completely.  When I say things, I mean them.  When I feel things, I REALLY feel them.  It’s all about the little things now – all the little details that got completely muted with wine – watching my husband’s face fill with joy when he is about to go fishing, seeing my dog sniff the air with excitement when he’s about to go on a walk, really getting to know people instead of just having small talk.  There is SO MUCH MORE to life than what I use to experience. I wouldn’t trade this for anything!

 

 

 

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Hindsight

I often drank to calm down after a stressful day. I thought that escaping from my busy and overworked life -just for a few hours- was the best way to handle things. Back then, I would have said “Why spend my leisure time semi-stressed when I can just eliminate it and really enjoy the time”? The thing is, I wasn’t really enjoying those times. I was just numbing out. I was basically choosing to skip that leisure time rather than BE in it. I might as well have just fast forwarded through it. I wasn’t really there, and no one around me was benefiting from me being there in that state either. And when the altered state ended, the stress was still there to deal with anyways.

Being sober and looking back, I realize that numbing out with substances actually robbed me of my leisure time. It seemed like it was a good time, but now I know that “good time” was fake… a sham… just a chemical reaction. Rather than actually having fun, I just tricked my brain into thinking it was having fun. Rather than actually winding down, I basically pretended to. Rather than enjoying quality time with someone, I was letting a chemical hijack my mind and tell me lies.

A funny thing about being sober: I’m learning all these life lessons…all these amazing skills. I’m learning things that would honestly benefit EVERYONE, but it’s kinda funny how the broken are usually the only ones that have the chance to learn these lessons. Meanwhile, there are people who don’t even have substance abuse problems that don’t know how to be present, how to reduce stress in their lives, how to face uncomfortable feelings head-on and move through them, how to have fun without being in an altered state of mind. And of course, most of us with substance use issues probably wouldn’t have even turned to substances had we learned those lessons earlier in our lives. Makes you wonder why we aren’t teaching these life lessons right from the start.