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?