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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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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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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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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.

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Warm Weather Triggers

Early in my sobriety, I learned about “the witching hour” and ways to tackle it.  The witching hour is that time of day (or day of the week) where you used to look forward to and regularly drank. When I first quit drinking – I had to figure out how the hell to tackle that evil witching hour.  For me, it was 5pm everyday and Fridays.  For the first two weeks – those times were hell! I was crawling out of my skin. I was unable to keep still. I was bored, I was mad, I was sad, and I was OBSESSED with alcohol. I couldn’t imagine going a single Friday without drinking. I couldn’t imagine that I wasn’t going to go COMPLETELY INSANE not drinking! I couldn’t even comprehend HOW I would ever get to a point that I wouldn’t feel utterly miserable about not drinking! I Just Couldn’t Imagine!

Part of the work to get past that stage was changing how I operated during the day -so that I didn’t work myself up and then feel like I NEEDED something to calm me back down at the end of the day or end of the week.  Part of the work was also learning to replace those drinking times with other activities that later I’d look forward to instead of drinking.  I remember right around a month of not drinking, I realized I had successfully gotten through a weekend without even thinking about drinking. I was so excited!  FINALLY, I had seen the work pay off!  From there, I had a lot more not-thinking-of-drinking days than thinking-of-drinking days.

Fast forward to 6ish months and I rarely think of drinking, but the funny thing is – when I do, it catches me WAY off guard.  Early in sobriety, I expected cravings and triggers and had all the tools to tackle them when they popped up.  If I’m not careful, though, it’s a lot easier to forget about those tools now that I don’t have to use them regularly.  In fact, warm weather snuck up on me.  It’s apparently another witching hour… a witching SEASON?! I have A LOT of glamorized alcoholic memories tied to warm weather – brunches with bloody marys, wine tastings after farmers markets, beer at baseball games, beer at barbeques, wine while dining outdoors, margaritas on the patio – the list can go on endlessly.  And that’s the thing! The list literally can go on endlessly because when I drink, I drink endlessly.  I drink indoors, outdoors, at an event, not at an event – it doesn’t matter what or where – when I drink, I drink.  I might have a bunch of memories about “great warm-weather drinking”, but let’s face it –drinking wasn’t ACTUALLY different in the warm weather. Is it possible that I just like warm weather? Is it possible that right now I associate drinking with warm weather because I’ve never had warm weather without drinking?! I mean, what am I doing now that would be ANY BETTER if I were drinking? NOTHING!  Me not drinking is WAY better than me drinking.  I LOVE remembering all the things I do.  I LOVE meaning everything I say. I LOVE that if I’m doing something – it’s for that thing, not because it’s just a backdrop for another drinking story. I LOVE that I actually DO THINGS now.

Is it possible that this “warm weather drinking nostalgia” is no different than 5pm.. or Fridays.. or any other first?!

LIGHTBULB! Maybe just like I had to recreate my 5pms and Fridays so that I looked forward to something other than drinking during them – maybe I need to recreate new warm weather activities so that I have new things to look forward to next spring and summer!  The best part about tackling cravings, triggers, witching hours – each time you face one head-on and win, you’re stronger for the next one.  So sure, this unexpected-warm-weather craving was surprising, but I have done this before. I have a proven track record that anytime I face a first, the next time is easier. I have a proven track record that after a few times of doing something sober, it becomes second-nature to me. So sure, maybe this first warm season is a trigger – but just like all my other firsts – this uncomfortable feeling WILL pass, and I WILL learn to love this first even more than all of the old drinking versions before it!

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Burnout

Yesterday I found myself in a crazy space I haven’t really been in before. I had so much to get done and had the day meticulously planned – to the minute – on how to get it all done. I’ve been there a million times before. In fact, I use to say that I thrived in that environment – running back and forth project to project, juggling multiple ideas all at once. I am quite talented at taking a complex problem, breaking it into little pieces, and executing flawlessly.

But….Not…Yesterday!

Yesterday, I couldn’t decide where to start. Yesterday, I couldn’t remember where I left off on any project. Yesterday, I thought I lost my spark!  I hate yesterday! Yesterday almost won, but guess what? Yesterday can suck it!

This morning I was thinking more and more about what happened.  My work hasn’t changed.  I know that sobriety has made me feel all the feels, but I’ve been doing a pretty good job of keeping my energy in check and doing the lemon water, bubble bath, meditation, stuff… so, what the fuck? Then it hit me.  Sure, my work hasn’t changed, but when I drank, there were at least two days a week where I was hungover and unable to dive into my work right away.  I’d waste entire mornings (sometimes even entire days) getting back on my feet.  Back then, I probably would have drank heavily before a busy day like yesterday (because I thought that was a way to relax before a busy day).  Then I would have drank WAY too much wine (doing the exact opposite to my body than relaxing), and I’d have woken up hungover. Then, I’d look at that busy-ass schedule and say “Well, guess that’s not gonna happen today”, and I’d proceed to nurture my hangover.  Every week I had at least one or two mornings like that.  Every week, I found it completely acceptable to blow off work for self-care because “I needed it” – never mind that it was self-induced.

Now fast forward to 6ish months sober.  Except for pre-planned time off, I don’t have any of those “fuck off” days where I have no choice but to blow off work and take care of myself.  I can’t even imagine looking at my busy schedule and saying, “fuck it, push everything on my calendar by a day”. I just can’t!  So now I see the problem!  Sure, I am managing my energy, doing my lemon water and bubble baths, loving my sober life – but my schedule is completely unrealistic as a sober person.  I overbooked myself before, but I probably only actually did 75% of what I booked.  I probably HAD to overbook myself just to get myself to do that 75%! But now, now I’m overbooked but trying to do ALL of it!

Yesterday wasn’t some fit of craziness – yesterday was actually filled with true signs of major burnout! Six months of an overbooked schedule with no “excuses” to FORCE me to stop.  Sure, I took a two week vacation – but if you come right back from vacation and keep doing what caused you to need the vacation – what good is that?!  I thought I was a fantastic consultant back when I drank. I even joked “If this is me at 50%, imagine what I’d be like at 100%”!  And sure, I want to be better than when I was a drinker, but do I really need to hold myself to such a high standard that I run myself into the ground?  One of the top threats to sobriety is stress – and while I feel pretty stable in my sobriety, I think that’s one of those things that can really creep up if we don’t keep it in check!

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Yes! No! Um, what I really mean is…

My mindset about change is one of those things that can wreak havoc on my life if I don’t keep it in check.  Even the simplest thing – like shifting my schedule by an hour – can send me into a complete tizzy. It might start out with me realizing the change isn’t working out as well as I thought, but by the end of the thought process, the entire world is about to cave in because of it!  “I’m not sleeping well with this new schedule change. I can’t possibly accept less sleep every day! I can’t possibly learn to deal with less energy every day! I can’t possibly start every day with so little energy and patience!  How will I ever get through life like this?! Clearly, good sleep is gone forever and life as I knew it is gone for good”!

OK OK – calm down, self! Change doesn’t have to be THAT bad, and change sure as hell doesn’t have to be bad forever! Keep things in perspective, drama girl!

My default state is to assume ALL change is BAD change until proven otherwise.  Because I know that I naturally resist change -I am trying to make an honest effort at being open to change.  Because I’m giving a lot of new things a try, there are going to be some things that just don’t work out.  So, I need to learn how to speak up!  So many times in life, I’ve just continued on with a commitment just because I committed to it… resenting everyone involved all the while… when in reality, everyone would have been better off if I had just said “Ya know what, I need to tweak this a bit” or “This isn’t actually working the way I expected”.

Hubby has started a new routine – which is amazing.  He’s super organized and super motivated. I love seeing this new routine work so well for him.  Of course, when one partner changes their routine, it also changes the other partner’s routine too. He’s awesome and realized that up front – so we worked together to come up with what seemed like a decent compromise – which shifted our sleep schedule by an hour.  This whole sleep schedule change isn’t working out the way I thought it would, and we had to make some tweaks to what we originally planned.  In the past, I would have just trudged along miserably until the lack of sleep caught up with me.  Then, I would have resented hubby (even though I never told him there was a problem and he never had any say in me continuing to live with it). Inevitably, there would have been some stupid argument about shoes being left out or how I hate our dishes or why does his stupid pocket knife always fall and hit my foot every time I do his laundry! And poor hubby would be all “Wow, I had no idea the pocket knife was such a big deal” and I’d be all like “Yeah, this sleep schedule fucking sucks” and then we’d be all like “Oh. This has nothing to do with a pocket knife”.  So – speaking up and working together to resolve the issue totally avoided the whole pocket knife fight!  See- that’s growth!  Look at that!

Like I mentioned before, I want my happiness to be intentional, not accidental.  Part of that is listening to my body and what I need and being open and honest about that.  I’m hoping over time, I’ll start to see the difference between “change is scary as fuck” vs. “no, THAT change just sucks”, but in the meanwhile, I’m going to practice speaking up and being true to myself when something inst’ working out.