Posted in addiction, recovery, sobriety

Sober and Struggling?

Sober and struggling today? Surrounded by relatives driving you insane and “just one” glass of wine seems like a way to get through it? Or home alone and “just a little” would really help you get through it?

Think it through. Why did you decide to quit in the first place? What lies did alcohol tell you? What truths were no longer true about drinking? Did the “just one” ever really end up as just one? Did the scattered memories the next day really make you feel better? Did the shame and regret that came the next day….along with the really shitty hangover…really serve you well?

What will you ACTUALLY get out of drinking today?

Humor me for just a few more moments… close your eyes and envision the following: you in your current situation… feeling strong and committed to not drinking today. Imagine the people, the smells, and the feelings. Think about all the details, and imagine you going through all the activities today, not drinking and feeling good about it. SHOW YOUR MIND WHAT RIGHT LOOKS LIKE. Now, imagine tomorrow. What do you feel like after keeping your commitment? What does it feel like to face a hard craving and conquer it?

You can do this. I know it’s hard, but every craving you face and conquer…is a craving that you will face with ease next time. Distract yourself, meditate for a few minutes, or make a really fun non-alcoholic drink. DO WHAT YOU NEED TO DO, BUT DO NOT DRINK. And tomorrow, reward yourself for your amazing work.
You’ve got this.
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Forgiveness

Forgiveness is such a tricky thing. I’ve written a little about my upbringing – I was born to a 14 year old mom and 21 year old dad. My dad struggled with alcohol (among many other things), and my mom was a teenage runaway. I was raised by my very old grandma for most of my childhood – and the occasional relative whenever she was sick, and I couldn’t stay with her. Me and Grandma…we were poor, we were different, but we did the best we could. My dad was in my life off and on, and I never met my mom.  Thanks to my dad, I was exposed to so many ridiculous things as a child.  I frequently sat in the passenger seat of the car as my dad drank beer and filled the passenger floor with beer cans. I watched my dad pass out from being drunk.  I endured sexual abuse as a kid.  I was brought to bars and strip clubs – in fact, I had a stripper try to take me away from my dad once because she felt he was being such a bad father!  I was around my step mother having an affair, and I had to see my dad in the hospital …almost dead… because my step-mom’s boyfriend shot him. All of that shit…all of it…I understand for what it is and have made peace with. But there’s this whole other area in my life that I just can’t seem to get over. It comes and goes, it always hurts, and I really don’t know why.

When I was 13, I moved in with extended family – let’s call them Bob and Jan and their son Jimmy. Bob and Jan took me in when I needed it so badly.  They got me out of my dad’s house and into a good neighborhood, good school, and a somewhat “normal” life. I owe what my life has become to Bob and Jan. But the thing is –  even though it was a better environment – that time in my life is still a giant source of pain for me.  All my life, I never felt like any place was my home. I was always sleeping on a couch, sharing a bed, staying in a guest room, or moving somewhere new. Bob and Jan’s place was no different. I was living in a guest room, and I was a source of resentment for Jan and her son Jimmy. Jan was always angry with me and constantly told me how selfish I was. Now don’t get me wrong – I WAS selfish -I was a teenage girl. They are always selfish.  I was also a kid who grew up neglected and abused and always had to take care of myself.  The only thing I knew was self.  Jan argued with me, argued with Bob about me, and took Jimmy’s side in everything.  I never felt like I had the right to speak up or stand my ground – it wasn’t MY home…it wasn’t MY family. I’m sure Jan expected me to understand how much more of a burden I caused by them taking me in, but how can any teenager understand that? I’m sure she expected me to just happily accept my upgraded life and keep to myself. But I was a teenager…a traumatized teenager. She tried to force me to face issues before I was ready, she was angry that I wouldn’t, and she wanted me to just get over myself. She was never abusive, but she wasn’t loving. She never showed she cared, even though I’m sure she did in her own way. She always seemed in a competition with me – a competition I didn’t know how to play and didn’t want to be in. Back then, all I wanted was to be loved unconditionally… and all she could offer was conditional love. All I wanted was to belong, to have a home, and to be a part of the family… and all she could offer was a guest spot.

Fast forward 20 years – Bob and Jan adore me and speak proudly of me. They refer to me as their daughter. They visit me and my husband, and we have a good time together. Me and Jan have meaningful conversations and have a lot in common. From the outside, we seem like we have worked through a few difficult years. And the thing is – up until last year – I thought we had gotten past it all (mostly). Then last year, I decided to quit drinking and EVERYTHING changed.  I mean everything.  Things that had nothing to do with drinking changed.  For some reason, all of my relationships were back up for review.  For some reason, everything I thought I knew …was wrong, different, or changing – including me and Jan. Without wine, suddenly, I hated Jan. When I thought of Jan, I just thought “how could you treat a broken child like that”? It’s like I am hurt all over again. Even though I never really drank to avoid things – daily drinking does that, doesn’t it?  I basically spent my 20s-40s in a perpetual cycle of work hard all day long, then drink wine all evening long.  When did I ever have time to actually address my feelings about anything?  I guess I didn’t.  I guess that’s why it’s still raw and painful and shitty.  But how do you deal with all the past stuff? Stuff from 20 years ago?  I don’t feel like she owes me anything. I don’t even feel it’s necessary to discuss the past with her.  It’s something inside of me that needs to be resolved and nothing she can do or say will do that.  I just don’t know how to process old feelings…how to let go…how to forgive.  Maybe it’s just a time thing?  What do you guys think?

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I did not drink…but I thought about it

In 11 days, I will be 1 year alcohol-free. I have done a ton of work – regularly blog about being alcohol free, attend a weekly SMART meeting, stay active on several sobriety Facebook groups. I rarely think about alcohol and usually anticipate potential triggers and pre-plan my ass off.

So – I have my shit together, right? I’m stable, right? I have nothing to worry about, right?

Last night, me and hubby checked into the cutest boutique hotel. We walked into this gorgeous suite, and were greeted with two bottles of red. I did not drink, but I thought about it.

Later, we walked down to this gorgeous restaurant with romantic live music playing. We sat at the over-sized table and looked through a delicious farm-to-table menu… covered with fancy drinks that we use to drink at places like this. I did not drink, but I thought about it.

We then booked a spa appointment and were told that they would be happy to welcome us with champagne. I didn’t take them up on that offer, but I thought about it.

While sitting through our delicious dinner, I heard wine glass after wine glass being poured and clinked with cheers. For a moment, I entertained this idea “I could drink tomorrow while hubby goes fishing. He would never know. I could just do it this once”. I sat with that thought for a minute. Normally I’d talk to hubby about it, but the tables were so huge that I felt like I’d be yelling across the room – so instead, I sat with it on my own. I then took a big deep breath and told myself what I’ve said to so many others in this situation… “Think it all the way through. How will you feel when you waste your weekend getaway drunk? How will you feel going for a massage dehydrated and hungover? How will you feel when hubby gets back from fishing and you’re clearly drunk? How will HE feel? Do you want this to be the weekend you drank 11 days before your 1-year celebration”?

Today, hubby left at 5 am to go fishing. I woke up happy and refreshed – because I wasn’t hungover. I had room service delivered – with pineapple juice and sparkling water instead of mimosas. Then I went to the spa where I was welcomed with delicious green tea instead of champagne.

Yesterday, I thought about drinking 4 different times. Today, I can’t even imagine any other way to be other than alcohol-free.

I’m sharing this for a few reasons…1) no matter how long it’s been or how much work you’ve done – don’t underestimate the power of memories and associations 2) that stuff passes just like everything else does 3) we have been taught great tools to get through this stuff – remember to use them 4) I am so grateful to have taken this journey and to have met all of the supportive, wonderful people (like you guys) through this process!

Today I am sober. Today is good. Alcohol can go fuck itself!

 

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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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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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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!