Posted in acceptance, addiction, change, growth, motivation, recovery, self-care, stress

Dear Avoidance,

I sit here this morning feeling fairly broken. I have many great things going for me. I just successfully completed my first semester in grad school. I’m over two and a half years alcohol free. I have a great marriage. I have sweet dogs that bring me joy on a daily basis. No matter how many amazing things I have going for me, though, sometimes shitty things happen anyways. Sometimes the economy is upside down. Sometimes the world has a global health crisis. And all too often, everyone seems divided about how to handle these things.


I’ve spent a lot of time these last few months being pissed off. I’ve followed the experts, I’ve read the evidence, and I’ve compared the models. I’ve made my mind up on what is right for me and my family, and then I continued to judge and ruminate over how everyone else SHOULD be doing things differently. It made me full of rage because every day, someone was doing something that SHOULD be done differently.


I’ve spent so much time angry and exhausted and guess what? It didn’t change ANYTHING. I have no control over the outside world. The only thing I managed to accomplish with three months of anger …is the ability to completely ignore how I’m feeling about this pandemic. I’ve spent so much time focusing on what everyone else SHOULD be doing, that I got to blissfully ignore my own emotions about this crisis. I masterfully escaped the fear, anxiety, and grief in the only way I’ve ever known how – running away from it.


Today, I say farewell to this old defense. Avoidance, you are no longer needed. Thank you for what you did for me before. You protected me when I couldn’t face reality. But I am now a strong woman who can face uncertainty and get through it. Today, I can lean into uncomfortable feelings and work through them. Today, I can focus on myself and what I can control. Today, I can let the rest of the world worry about itself. Just like my old friend, Alcohol, use to serve me well and then it didn’t…you, Avoidance, are the same.

Posted in acceptance, motivation, self-care, sobriety, social anxiety, stress

External Measures of Success

So as you guys know, I started grad school in January and am pursuing my masters in Clinical Mental Health Counseling. I made the decision to make this complete change in career while blogging in October! It is hard to believe that everything has happened so quickly!

When I made the decision, I knew it would be difficult. I haven’t been in school in over ten years. I have pretty bad social anxiety -so working in groups and presenting things to the class is going to be tough. Part of the school work is essentially intense therapy, and we all know I have my share of issues! but I wanted to do SOMETHING that mattered. I didn’t want to be a cog in the wheel anymore. I didn’t want to work in a field that is oversaturated and no longer creative and fun. I didn’t want to pretend for one more minute that I give a damn about forecasts, budgets, business suits, and sales meetings.

I want to do something meaningful, compassionate, creative, and purposeful. I told myself that I would simply work hard, do my best, and not let myself worry about the grades, the assignments, the approval of other students. Ha! I think we all knew that I’d be a stressful mess in no time lol! Well, I just got past my first round of exams and papers. I’m a walking ball of knots and stress! I had wine cravings and when I didn’t give in to those – my mind thought it would try for another old escapism go-to -gaming cravings. I did not cave to those either.

The thing is guys, I am programmed to give a fuck about all the stuff. I have spent my entire life believing I have to get the grade, the promotion, the 5 star writeup, and on and on. My anxiety is driven by my constant search for external validation…and here I am…enrolled in 2 years of constant external measures of success lol. Now, I can’t avoid it. I MUST find a way to be successful while somehow not caring SO MUCH about success. It is a great lesson to learn – one that I’m sure I’ll be helping many people through in the future.

Isn’t it funny how we can help others through something and be completely blind to our own selves needing to do the same thing? If I were supporting a friend right now, I would tell her to ramp up her self care. I would tell her that she needs to slow down and remember to also ENJOY the program. I would tell her she is smart and capable, and she always succeeds at everything she tries – so give herself a break! When she pushed back, I’d ask her to list a few times she was doing something REALLY important and thought she’d fail…and have her see how it worked out just fine then too. I’d even ask her to describe what would happen…on the totally unlikely chance that she didn’t make it through the program…and she’d see that everything would still be fine. Then I’d remind her that the reason she is anxious and stressed is because she wants to do well…and that’s totally normal too!

Well, it sounds like I have a pretty good idea what I need to do, huh?

Posted in Uncategorized

1 down 2 to go…

Last time I posted, I talked about how I made the decision to go back to school and change career paths. I want to become a mental health counselor. I am still very excited about the decision, but today I am feeling a lot of doubt.   Do I really have any shot of making this happen?

Last week, I got word that I was turned down by one of the three schools I applied to.  It’s funny, because I had actually decided I didn’t want to go to their program after all…but then they gave me the form letter rejection, and it hit me like a ton of bricks.  I actually wish I hadn’t gotten the notice until after my next school interview – because it really shook my confidence.  Logically, I know that I was never guaranteed to get into the program.  They get 100s of applicants and were only selecting 6.  I’m a great human being, but I’m not necessarily top 6 of 100s.

I just got home from a group interview from a second school.  In that interview, every other applicant was already in the field!  For every question, they could speak to how they’ve already encountered it professionally or how they’ve been trained to.  Then there’s little ol me.  I work in a completely different field.  Most of my experiences related to therapy are related to my own personal therapy journey.  Many of the reasons I think I would be good as a counselor are related to my mentoring within sobriety – which I have no desire to even discuss publicly.  The other candidates seem to already know exactly what they want to do, what will be involved, and how to articulate it.  Meanwhile, my social anxiety was alive and kicking in a way I haven’t seen in over a decade.  I just couldn’t get the words out of my mouth.

I don’t believe I did great on the group interview.  Maybe, it’s just a case of me needing to know what a group interview is like.  After all, I’ve never been in an interview with other candidates before. Or maybe, I’m not far enough along to really deserve to be there.  What gives me the right to decide to go into this new field with little to no experience in it?  On the other hand, this is a field where there is a shortage of professionals AND an increase of patients.  Why is it so damn hard to get into a program when you’re willing to cast aside a successful career to get involved and help?

I should hear back from this 2nd school at the end of the week.  I’m either going to get great news… and then can start planning for how I will tackle social anxiety on a weekly basis while role playing and presenting things in front of groups of people LOL…or I’ll get bad news and then have to reevaluate what I’m going to do differently.  Either way, I know it will all work out in the end.  It always does.

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.
Posted in Uncategorized

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?

Posted in Uncategorized

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?