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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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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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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.

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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!