Saturday, September 13, 2014

I've Migrated

I decided to migrate to Wordpress. I've had some folks experiencing difficulty commenting and/or subscribing. I guess everyone is using Wordpress these days!

Here is my new blog.

Thanks!

Friday, September 12, 2014

Lifting Out

Well, I'm back, baby! My fatigue started to lift this morning. I don't know when the next episode is going to come, but I'm hoping to have a little break. I like when positive thoughts mill around in my brain. When I am looking at the world through a rosier lens, which is most often as I am pretty much an optimist by nature. I feel like PAWS not only makes me feel icky on a physical level, but the negative thoughts are so toxic. Also, our country had a very sad anniversary yesterday and I was confronted with all of that drudging up. There was a special on the History Channel with footage that people in New York had shot during that horrific tragedy. It brought back all the same feelings of panic and helplessness we all felt across the country. This led to me reflecting on the afternoon of the Boston Marathon bombings, as I was "fortunate" enough to have been 500 ft. from the second blast. Ironically, I was there with friends who I met when I was living in Philadelphia, the very place I was on 9/11. It was a strange, full-circle kind of thing for me. I am still not quite over it. Added to the fold of bad thoughts - I live 10 miles from the site of the Station Nightclub fire. I grew up 20 minutes from the Rhode Island border in Massachusetts and the people who perished in that fire were all my age (I bought that first Great White tape when I was a single in high school). So, all of this was swirling and swirling and swirling in my brain the last couple of weeks. Now that the PAWS fog has lifted, I feel "right" again. I guess my point is, (a) PAWS is real and (b) the timing of that bout was pretty bad. I am reminded that self care is critical. For me, it means making the time to go grocery shopping for healthy food every week. I am pretty good about this, but I missed shopping this week and it threw my nutrition off (if I don't pre-plan my meals and PAWS creeps along, I am left making some not-so-good choices). I have to exercise. During an episode of PAWS, it's quite literally the last thing in the world I want to do. But even if I don't do my usual routine, I think that at least doing some of it is better than doing none of it. I have to listen to my body. If I need to go to bed at 8:30 PM, then I just do. And I need to practice gratitude.

Moving on!

I am so glad I can come here and write about this. No one in my life gets addiction besides people in my recovery group, so talking to people about PAWS would just be weird. 


Thursday, September 11, 2014

Follow Up to Today's Earlier Post or Of Course It's PAWS!

Everyone is different. Some people will never feel symptoms of PAWS. I wish that were true for me, but, alas, I'm a bonified PAWS sufferer. I've said this before, but it's worth repeating: If this is the worst consequence of my drinking, then so fucking be it. I know it's not ideal, but at least there is a name for it. And when there is knowledge, there is power. No wonder I just wanted to plop on the couch last night. The main symptoms I am experiencing are fatigue, lack of motivation, inability to concentrate, memory loss, difficulty in solving problems and thinking clearly and obsessive thoughts. 

And this can lead to some icky things. It can lead a person to buy a bottle of non-alcoholic wine. It can make said person beat themselves up about it. And the negative dialog leads to more negative dialog. I am feeling somewhat better today, but still not 100%. Not even close.

I am a bit of a type A personality. I own a business and I am accustomed to drawing up a huge to-do list a the beginning of the week and working hard to cross every little item off over the course of the week. I am never able to do it, probably because it isn't always feasible. But I give myself a ration of shit about it. I call myself lazy and accuse myself of being wasteful of time. I regret spending time on Facebook and wish instead that I had filled all my time with work. I've always been this way. Part of the perfectionism piece (I need to get that book, Anne!). But when I'm in the middle of a PAWS episode, everything gets amplified. I am so physically exhausted, but the negative self talk doesn't change. Actually, it gets worse because I am accomplishing less. Instead of breaking down tasks and doing one small thing at a time, I become seriously overwhelmed.

I don't think this is depression because my mind actually wants desperately to accomplish my tasks. It's just engaged in a huge duel with my body and my body says, "Fucketh You!"

I'm not suggesting that I'm not getting things done. Of course I am. But not nearly as much as I usually do and certainly not as much as I was able to do when I was actually drinking (go figure).

Here's what I read one ought to think about during a bout of PAWS (from elementsbehaviorhelth.com):

Despite the intensity of the cravings in the acute stage, many addicts are able to resist them, only to relapse later during the post-acute stage. This is because substance abusers are often well-prepared for the strong physical symptoms that accompany abstinence, but they are not ready at all for the scary and unfamiliar emotions they are suddenly forced to deal with after the onset of PAWS. That is why knowledge is the most important defense an addict can have against PAWS; as long as they know what to expect, they will not be taken by surprise when the various manifestations of the post-substance abuse blues descend upon them. When dealing with bouts of PAWS, recovering addicts should remain calm and relaxed, realizing that this too shall pass and that all of their inner turbulence is just a natural and unavoidable consequence of getting clean and sober.

The best strategy for coping with the negative emotions and loss of focus and motivation associated with PAWS is to scale things down and to simplify. Outside of work, days and nights should be filled with small activities that bring pleasure, such as playing sports or games, exercising, reading, taking nature walks, journal writing, pursuing favorite hobbies, and so on. Generally anything that does not involve too much time or effort is acceptable; however, it is not a good idea to while away the hours by surfing idly on the internet or by vegging out in front of the television, since passive, unfocused pursuits like these can actually reinforce a negative mindset and end up making a person feel worse rather than better. Activities that require real effort and concentration in manageable doses, which is what recovering addicts dealing with the symptoms of PAWS should be looking for.

So, yes, it's all pretty straight forward. Take care of yourself and try not to be too hard on yourself. Simple things, but not inactivity. Okay, I'll keep trying. I know the episode will pass. 

What I'm Missing + More PAWS Crap

Warning: It's time to beat a dead horse!

So, last night, I did what a lot of people in recovery would stone me to death for. I bought a bottle of non-alcohol wine. *Shudder* I've been struggling with PAWS a great deal. Yesterday, I was smack-dab in the middle of a particularly torturous episode of fatigue. I was feeling crummy and all I wanted to do was have a sandwich and plop on the couch after work.

I drank 2 glasses over the course of about 4 hours. And what I realized is that it really isn't the wine I crave so much as a room temperature, unsweetened, slightly bitter, non-carbonated beverage. I don't even want the alcohol part. I LIKE feeling sober. Hot tea usually does the trick for me, but it's been too hot for that.

I guess I'm just hopeless when it comes to this stuff. I obsess about the appropriateness of drinking non-alcohol beer and wine, yet, when I do, it doesn't make me want to drink the real thing and I don't drink a lot of the fake stuff. So, I don't really see the harm. Conversely, I am happy to drink all sorts of non-alcoholic beverages when I am out. But in my mind, I see this entire arena of recovery people screaming really judgmental things at me from a distance. I suppose I will continue to struggle with this issue until I come to some kind of firm personal policy about it.

On the plus side, I am feeling a wee bit better today. This fatigue is miserable. I feel fine for a while and then - bam! - it hits me. This coming Monday will make 4 months for me and I have read that PAWS symptoms peak between 3 and 6 months. I do have a check up scheduled at the end of October with my doctor, so I will mention everything and if there is something else going on, I'm sure I will find out. I started taking a multi-vitamin this week, too, so that can really only help.

  

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Let's Change the Conversation

Once I started learning more and more about addiction, a funny thing happened. I began getting a little ... how should I phrase this? ... annoyed/offended when I heard the way some people referred to alcoholics and drug addicts. It started making the hair on the back of my neck stand up a little. Now, I certainly don't want to pretend I didn't do it. I most certainly did and sometimes I judged harshly in my mind as a way to put great distance between myself and my fellow addict. I'm sure I made poor choices of words when describing some people. One develops a sensitivity to others in recovery (and those actively using) once one educates oneself about addiction.

There isn't any person to blame for this. Society has taught us that we are the way they are because we refuse to stop drinking. That we are bad people. That we are horrible people and if you don't label us this way, you just aren't seeing us for who we are. Society says, "They know they need to stop, but they won't. It's their fault. They hurt themselves and cause damage to those around them. They ought not to be pitied, but blamed. Perhaps even incarcerated or institutionalized where they can no longer cause harm and think hard on what they have done." We are taught that this is an appropriate response to someone suffering from addiction. Okay, I understand that certain things happen in the wake of one's addiction. Car crashes, manslaughter, theft, parental neglect. Lots of things that are tragic and punishable by law. And those who have taken a life or harmed someone in an illegal way ought to serve for that. The addiction itself, the source of the pain and damage, should be treated. If it isn't, that person is going to continue causing harm to themselves and those around them.

When someone on television or even a person I know uses the word "alcoholic" with a tone of disgust, I at first feel hurt. I take it personally. I believe that they are disgusted with me. But after a second or two, I realize that they are simply not properly educated about it. And unless they struggled with it, why on earth would they need to be? I certainly didn't think I had a problem for a long time. I know I was judgmental and critical, too.

We need to change the conversation about addiction. I'm not sure how that happens. If we live in a world where everyone involved in the struggle is anonymous, how in the world is society to catch up with those in recovery who are close to the issue and educated? 

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

The Word "Habit" and More Thoughts on Advocacy

I've been thinking about the word "habit" and how it relates to addiction. It seems that attaching the word "habit" to something like alcohol consumption, smoking, drugs, etc. sort of makes it seem a little benign and easy to end. So-and-So should really put a stop to that cocaine habit. Habits, unlike addictions, are actually more like little, harmless rituals. I check the oven twice before I leave the house out of habit. When I was younger, it seemed that the words "habit" and "addiction" were somewhat synonymous. But how can you compare double-checking the oven to smoking cigarettes? Maybe the science behind addiction wasn't as comprehensive back then. Perhaps people are collectively realizing that addiction is real and it is powerful. Labeling it as a "habit" causes harm. For one, it minimizes the damage it does us. It also blames the victim because it assumes that habits can be controlled with a little good ole fashioned willpower. Calling it a habit says, "What the heck is wrong with you? Why can't you stop doing this?" When we call it addiction, it forces us to examine it further. It's more clinical and less "pesky."

This is a pretty good little article I discovered that goes into a bit more depth about the difference between the two.

I started listening to this week's episode of The Bubble Hour on my way to work this morning. Amanda and Jean interviewed Greg Williams, the filmmaker behind "The Anonymous People," a wonderful documentary about the emergence of addiction advocacy and how it is reducing the stigma, bringing about programs and legislation that give people greater access to recovery programs (You can view the trailer my clicking on the link in the right navigation on this blog.). The film raises awareness about the issue and debunks an outdated notion of what addiction looks like. This episode is the second interview they have done with Greg and I am anxious to listen to the rest of the podcast today. There are a couple of ways people can go regarding anonymity and addiction. It is good to know that we have choices. These pathways are not set in stone, either. If one elects to keep their recovery under wraps, there is no rule that says they can't change their mind at a later point in time. Of course, once you are public with it, there's no turning back and I believe that fear of being judged is what prevents so many of us from being "loud and proud." It's really quite personal. No matter how each of us ultimately decides to share (or not share) our story with those we know, my wish for all of us in recovery is that we have a healthy, realistic and beautiful view of ourselves. We can't control how the outside world views people in recovery, but this perception need not be attached to us as individuals. This is why Greg's movie is so important. People need to understand that this struggle has no bias. He has received a lot of flack from certain sectors of the recovery community. However, this world is evolving and the longer we keep ourselves secret and pretend that the problem isn't as pervasive and nondiscriminatory, the more we are hurting people who might otherwise reach for help. The good news is that attitudes are shifting. Instead of maybe seeing their addiction as a tricky little "habit," people are beginning to understand that this is a medical issue. For which it most certainly is.

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Kitty Challenges

Our Jojo, 4 Months Old

One of our kitties, little Jojo, was recently neutered. He was born feral and we socialized him with our cats when he was 4 months old. I had been feeding his mother, who has established our backyard as her territory, for a long time and little Jojo since he was old enough to eat solid food. My husband and I established a bond with him pretty quickly. He got all his shots and was checked for FIV and other illnesses and was a-okay. Still, it took time to get him settled in our home. The first trip to the vet was rough on him, so we wanted to give him a few extra months before getting him "snipped," as they say.

After his surgery, he developed a UTI because of the stress he experienced (even waiting the extra few months) and had to get antibiotics to clear it up. That was another traumatic trip to the vet's office. Once he started feeling better, he decided to sneak out of the house. This is my fault, really, because though I thought I had latched our side door after popping out to my car for a second, I did not.

Jojo was gone for more than 24 hours. None of my cats had ever escaped before. Well, a few times, I've had cats scoot out for a second, but since they were all totally domesticated, all it took was me lunging at them and picking them up quickly. Jojo still has feral instincts and my husband and I worried that he might just decide not to come home. I don't have children, just our furry friends, so they mean a lot to me. This isn't to say that people with children and pets don't love or care about their animals. Of course they do, but these are the only little ones I look after and I am quite attached. I was sick to my stomach while he was out there. We have lots of feral cats in the neighborhood and a few coyotes, too.

There were a few moments that I actually rationalized drinking. Or at the least, I thought that smoking a cigarette would help. I was paralyzed with worry and felt that I needed booze and/or cigarettes to manage. Even if I snuck them behind my husband's back. I am happy to report, though, that I did not indulge. My nerves were shot, but a little voice crept in every so often that said, "Just relax, he'll be home soon." As it turns out, that little voice was right. This morning, at about 6AM, he must have had enough of "roughing it," because my husband saw him outside, called to him softly, held the door open and in he went. No coaxing, no trapping. He was just tired and hungry. After he ate, he came right over to me for cuddles. He couldn't wait to saddle up next to his kitty friends (our other two cats) and they seemed pretty happy to have him back home, safe and sound.

Today, I've got a little extra skip in my step. It's going to be a good day.

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Anatomy of A Wine Drinking Evening

Maybe I was what you might call a boring alcoholic. Although I did have my glorious drunken moments, I wasn't exactly Lindsay Lohan. Here is what a very typical night might have looked like.

4:30 PM: Oh, it's going to be nice to go home, relax, make dinner and have a glass of wine.  Today has been exhausting!

5:30 PM: Almost quitting time! I can make my famous tomato basil pasta dish and maybe I'll pick up some fresh Parmesan cheese to grate. We have like, a week's worth of Jeopardy to catch up on, too! I'll go by the place in the village for wine tonight, since I went to the other place last night.

6:30 PM: I hand the person at the register my debit card and wish I weren't on a first name basis with every liquor store clerk within a five mile radius of my house. I say, "Let me know if you get in any sulfite-free wine anytime soon!" Because it's the sulfites that cause my sinus problems and acid reflux. Not the fact that I drink an entire bottle at a time.

6:45 PM: Ah, opening the bottle always makes me feel relaxed. That first pour signals the beginning of the night.

7:00 PM: Halfway done with the first glass and in the middle of dinner prep. I top off the glass.

7:15 PM: Ready for dinner and oopsie! Down to half a glass again. Maybe I'll just bring the wine bottle out to the table so I don't have to keep getting up.

7:45 PM: Dinner is done. Ready for another glass of wine. Time to start the Jeopardy marathon!

8:00 PM: I love this show. And I am on fire! Nailing all the answers. They tailor-made this episode for me! I am tied with my (non-drinking) trivia-headed husband.

8:30 PM: Crap, this happens every time. I'm two-thirds of the bottle in. I have to make this last.

9:00 PM: I'm totally sucking at this episode of Jeopardy. It's like I know the answers, if I just had like two or three more seconds to come up with them. They are all on the tip of my tongue! My husband is creaming me.

9:30 PM: My phone rings. It's my best friend. I have to take it. "Do you mind, honey?" I pour the rest of the wine into my glass. Uh, oh.

10:30 PM: I hope I have done a sufficient job convincing my friend that I sober. I might have gotten a little overly emotional about something at one point. We hung up on normal terms, so I'm probably safe. I think there is some leftover Bud Light somewhere in the basement.

10:40 PM: Okay, whatever, I know I don't particularly care for beer, but so what? It's my house and I'll drink it if I want to. I can pour it in another glass so I don't feel so "King of the Hill" drinking it out of the can. Come to think of it, I'll use a mason jar because I can fit two cans in it.

10: 45 PM: Back to Jeopardy. I really stink at this. I'm stupid. Why did my husband even marry me? I'm getting sleepy. I'll just check Facebook real quick before I hit the hay. (I swerve and sway over to my husband to kiss him goodnight. I am trying really hard to just look like a tired person.) Maybe I don't look super drunk. No, I'm probably fine. He hates me. He is just disgusted with me. I can totally see why, too. I mean, I am just a wreck.

11:00 PM: I'm posting something really clever on Facebook before bed. Because I am a fucking genius and all my friends will think this is hilarious. How did brushing my teeth become the hardest thing in the world?

12:15 AM: What the fuck was that? Oh, it's just my husband moving me onto my stomach. Is my snoring that bad?

4:00 AM: Wide awake. I have to pee a river. Now, all the negative and paranoid thoughts come barreling at me. What the hell did I post on Facebook? Shit, all the bills are due at the end of the week! And I haven't even started that crazy work project yet! God, I'm thirsty. I am such a loser. Oh, shit, what was that? Is that where my liver is? Was that like a pang of some kind? Maybe it's just a little cramp. I'm fine. I'm totally fine. I need to get back to sleep. Did I ever send a thank you card to my mother-in-law for that gift? I am a horrible person.

5:00 AM: Still awake. Awesome. This is just so fucking awesome. But it serves me right.  I need more water. And I have to pee again.

5:45 AM: Finally ... drifting off ...

6:30 AM: What's that noise? Is that the alarm? Where's the aspirin?

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Guiding Priciples: Mutual Help

As participants progress in recovery their focus can shift to enjoying the activities of a healthy, fulfilling and productive life, including the satisfaction of assisting new participants in SMART Recovery.

Okay, so I am still pretty new to this sobriety thing. I am 105 days in, which would be pretty impressive to my day 1 self, but compared to the total days I hope I have left to live, this number is pretty low. I am still crafting my own program and my opinions about things shift quite a lot. Just look at how long it took me to wrestle with "To O'Doul's or Not to O'Doul's?" And "Will I become addicted to recovery, the same way I was addicted to alcohol and cigarettes?" I mean, protecting my sobriety is serious business, so I think about these seemingly silly things. A lot. I think that is a natural part of early recovery. Figuring out what works for you, what feels right and what sorts of things you know you want to avoid/welcome into your life. It's a work in progress and I am sure that there are people with decades of sobriety who continually discover new things as the years go by. That's a wonderful thing.

So, how does one in early sobriety assist another person in recovery? What could I possibly offer my friends who share this struggle? The answer is: plenty!
  1. Share your story. The simple act of sharing your story is enormously helpful. Just knowing that you aren't alone in this struggle can help take pounds of invisible weight off one's shoulders. All of those little relatable pieces really do add up. It's so powerful, but simple, too.
  2. Actively listen without judgement.  
  3. Share resources that have been helpful to you.  Whether it be books, podcasts, discussion boards, articles, support groups, movies, apps - whatever. 
  4. Be supportive, encouraging and positive. Relapses are common and I think the best way to help someone in recovery who has relapsed is to let them know that you are there for them.  

Here are some things you might not want to do:
  1. Don't tell someone to take a specific medication. I would leave this to the medical professionals. You can share perhaps what you have taken if you want, but I wouldn't dispense that kind of medical advice without a license.
  2. Make suggestions, but do not force or push. When I was actively drinking, the last thing in the world I wanted was to be bullied by someone. It made me want to do more of the things that were harming me. That defensive part of my brain is still there. I didn't suddenly become a different person, so my panties still get in a bunch when I am browbeaten by someone, even when they have really great intentions. Of course, everyone is different, but I generally avoid urging people to do this or that. Suggestions are better.
  3. Unless the person is your patient and you are a doctor, do not make a medical diagnosis. I wouldn't go around telling people that they are bi-polar, diabetic, or chronically depressed. Just not a good idea.
  4. Do not judge or label. Goes without saying.
  5. Do not forbid, warn or use scare tactics. This is tricky. Sometimes people use very dramatic language to get their point across. For example, if going to parties causes you too much anxiety, do not assume that someone else won't be able to handle it. It's appropriate to share that you are not able to do it, but forbidding someone else to do it, is, in my opinion, not the best way to communicate with a fellow person in recovery. I can go to parties and bars with friends and I am perfectly okay. Some places, I know I can't go, so I avoid them. Regular bar: Fine. Wine Bar: No way. Given that Cabernets and Pinot Noirs were my drinks of choice and that wine bars are loaded with pretty excellent ones, I would rather not torture myself. But I wouldn't run up to someone I hardly know (or someone I know well for that matter) and warn them not to go to places like this or horrendous consequences will ensue. There is a difference between dispensing helpful tips and coming across like Crazy Ralph in Friday the 13th, screaming, "You're all doomed!"

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Wedding Wrap

Here's the first thing I can tell you about the wedding. It was freezing cold. You know how they jack up the air conditioning in movie theaters (to me, it seems like they do this all year, which is one of the reasons I rarely go)? Well, that was the climate at the wedding. It was held in a little event space at a cute New England inn. There were really sweet touches, like a huge candy bar, where guests were literally encouraged to take home a little grab bag of candy; delicious passed hors d'oeuvres and ... an open bar. The couple who got married were totally gracious and it was quite a merry time. I know that if I were drinking, I would have really laid into that open bar with a vengeance. I would have danced to all the songs - ones that I liked and lots that I didn't like. I would have eaten way too much (Oh, man, they had these little fried macaroni and cheese ball things at the buffet - dangerous!). When I wasn't knocking back free booze and scoffing down food, I would be in the bathroom peeing up a storm. I would have started getting super sleeping by midnight and maybe I would have asked to "take a little nap" in the car long before my husband was ready to go. I would not have felt the excessive air conditioning because I would have been loaded. I'm pretty sure that's why everyone else was comfortable. I would have talked to strangers about who knows what. I might have fallen down by the end of the night or come very close to it. Really, I can see all of that playing out vividly. Instead, I kept with my program. I had an O'Doul's when we got there and then I asked the bartender to make me a "non-alcoholic, citrusy, grown up drink." I should learn my lesson with this one because they always give me a drink heavy on pineapple juice. I don't much care for pineapple juice, but bartenders go right for it when you ask for something non-alcoholic and citrusy, though I am not sure if it falls into that category. Tropical, yes. Citrusy, not really. The next time, I was specific. Club soda, cranberry juice and lime. It was perfect. When the coffee was served, I guess I didn't get there in time, because all that was left was decaf. 

The people we knew were all on the same nicotine schedule as one another, so we spent most of the night going in and out of the space, following the smoker's herd. I used to be one of them, so, I know all about that, too. I smelled a lot of booze and cigarettes and I will have to be honest and say that, at moments, I was jealous. But then, I reminded myself that I am healthy now and even one drink or cigarette will ruin everything. I didn't see any of "my people" there, but maybe they didn't see me, either. An O'Doul's looks like a regular beer unless the person holding it is kind enough to do so in such a way as not to cover the label. A fruit juice and club soda looks like any old boozy cocktail.

I had to chuckle when I saw the party favors. Huge bottles of champagne for everyone to take home. That was the universe slapping its knee and laughing really hard in my face. Good one! 

I did have fun, I did enjoy the conversations I had, I did remember everything. My husband kept saying things like, "Gee, Mr. So-and-So doesn't seem as grouchy as he usually is," and "So-and-So was asking weird questions." I was just like, wow, I can't believe you don't realize how huge a part booze is playing in this entire event. If weddings didn't have booze, do you really think people would linger as long as they do? Especially with the air conditioning turned way up like that?

I am truly happy for the couple. They really did a nice job putting everything together and I know that if I were still actively drinking, it would have been paradise for me. The champagne favor at the end would have made them my heroes for life. But, they are still a cool couple nonetheless and I wish them a lifetime of happiness.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

A Big First Tonight

So, I'm capping off this kooky week with my first sober wedding. Tonight. I'm sitting here with hair dye actively doing its thing on my head under a plastic thingy, the nape of my neck kind of stingy from the dye and I know that this kind of uncomfortable is nothing compared to how I am probably going to feel this evening when wine and beer and champagne are getting swirled around my face like leaves in the wind on a brisk fall day. Yes, I know that I have the option to turn down the invite. That's always on the table. But that's not how I roll. Case in point, the insane house party I decided to attend less than a week into sobriety. I am a leap now, look later type person. This has both pros and cons, but one of the pros in this situation is that since I white knuckled that party (and drank no fewer than 10 mocktails in 4 hours), I've got this. Also, my husband doesn't drink and we have a code word for "I've got to get the hell out of here!" should the need arise. I have actually forgotten the code word, since I haven't had to use it yet. Yay! That's good! Maybe we'll come up with a new one during the drive to Connecticut. I like: biscuit! Or maybe: crunchberries! Actually, I think it's a nogo on the plural. I think singular is best for a code word. We can always steal George Costanza's, Tippy Toe! Tippy Toe! But then, if there are Seinfeld fans there, this might cause suspicion. Oh, who cares? They'll all be hanging out with my best friend, anyway. I could care less what they think.

Friday, August 22, 2014

Guiding Priciples: Recovery through Self Empowerment

I thought I would blog about the guiding principles of my program, SMART Recovery. SMART stands for Self Management and Recovery Training. The first principle is Recovery through Self Empowerment.

Our purpose is to help participants gain independence from any addictive behavior. We believe that individuals seeking recovery should be fully informed about the range of recovery options and free to choose among them. Our program encourages participants to take responsibility for their own recovery. Our meetings support their capacity to regulate their own behavior.

I should state for the record, that I do subscribe to a higher power. However,  for me, my higher power is not part of my program. I have nothing against people who draw on strength and guidance from their higher power to keep them sober. There are no rights or wrongs in this. It's all about what works for the individual. Even folks who use their higher power as a primary means to keep them on track, practical, self-empowerment is never a bad thing to have in one's back pocket.

Prior to discovering seemingly simple tools, alcohol would always win. It's almost like there was no one else contending. Booze was running the show. Now, I feel like I have tangible ways to deal with cravings, giving alcohol a run for its money. None of this would have been possible, though, if I had not come to understand my illness and how it works. You can't slay a dragon if you don't know how big it is. Armed with education, acceptance, and practical tools, I feel like I am in a good position to be able to slay the dragon. I got myself into this. I need to be responsible for managing my condition. I'll be doing this for the rest of my life, so I have to be comfortable with my special brand of recovery. I use the SMART program, but I am not adverse to picking up bits here and there from other programs and fitting them into mine, if they make sense to me.

Staying Present

Moi at Rockaway Beach in Queens

This week has all over the place. It started in New York City. I spent an evening visiting one of my dear friends in Brooklyn. We headed over to Rockaway Beach (I had never been) and I got to see it in it's full post-Hurricane Sandy splendor. They did a great job re-building in the area. I was so encouraged, though I know it had been a long road. This particular friend has a studio in Red Hook and was intensely active in the recovery effort in that part of the city after Sandy hit. I have had some truly eye-awakening conversations with her about it and I am so incredibly proud of the work she has done in getting Red Hook back in business. When the rest of the world had moved on, she was still working diligently with a group of volunteers to get basic things back to normal in some areas. It's humbling to hear about it. I also know that she is not the same person she was before Hurricane Sandy and that her volunteering was a transformative experience for her in a million ways.

When I visit this friend, we always head to the same neighborhood haunts. One of them in a bar several blocks from her apartment. They make a mean fried catfish sandwich. When we went this time, I ordered seltzer with cranberry juice and lime. Ironically, she was the one who suggested we leave after she finished her beer because it was a loud night and we could barely hear each other. So, we ended up having coffee and cupcakes at her place. We never run our of conversation and laughter. Usually, by that time in the evening, I am on my 4th glass of wine, possibly finishing her wine, and unable to remember the last bits of chit-chat before turning in for the night. This time, though, I not only remembered everything, I FELT the laughter more. It was real laughter, not fueled by booze, not ushered along by alcohol. It was genuine and genuinely felt. I was fully present. Just as my friend's experience in helping to restore Red Hook has permanently changed her, my recovery journey has been doing the same for me. I knew I needed to stop drinking. I had no idea that I would be blessed with such great gifts in recovery.

When my New York trip was over, I barely had time to catch my breath before my husband and I headed up to New Hampshire for a funeral. This is the 2nd death I have experienced since getting sober. After the funeral, we all headed to a nice restaurant, where the family had put together a wonderful slide show filled with touching pictures of the departed. Many folks were drinking. Instead of joining them, I opted for coffee and lost myself in the slide show.

Being fully present is a great gift. Never take that for granted. I hope I never do.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Idea

I'm still in early sobriety, so I spend a good amount of time listening to sober podcasts, audio books on sobriety and reading up on sober blogs. When does early sobriety end, by the way? I am guessing after a year, though I have heard that the first 6 months are the most difficult.  My first 3 months have been full of ups and downs, but I have tried to maintain a good balance. I am still experiencing my "firsts," as in my first sober party, my first sober funeral, my first sober beach weekend. Each time I embark on one of these "firsts," I find myself not necessarily wanting to drink, but not exactly feeling calm and relaxed, either. I'm antsy, acutely aware of all the alcohol around me and trying to convince myself that everything is okay, that I can find enjoyment in these activities without my old friend. Easier said than done. I'm glad I am knocking these "firsts" out of the way. I look forward to a time when I am not obsessive about alcohol in these situations. Since I'm only 3 months in, I am being patient with myself. I am telling myself that this is a process and that it is perfectly natural to feel anxious in these situations where my social lubricant was flowing like a mighty stream.

Anyway, I have found tremendous comfort in learning that I am not alone. It is such a relief to hear other stories and identify countless numbers of similarities to my own. As you may know, I am a really big fan of The Bubble Hour, a weekly podcast created by and posted by women in recovery. I have never met them, but through the generosity of their wisdom and time, I feel that I know them well and they inspire me. I certainly know their stories. I lived it, too. I find myself wanting to listen to more recovery stories. I have searched around and I have seen some TED Talks and, as I once mentioned here, the After Party podcasts. I have also heard a few AA podcasts, but I must admit that I was turned off right away. The first one I listened to was given by a 35-year-old woman who had been in recovery since the age of 15 and, in my view (I know I am not supposed to judge), might just be a little too dependent on the program.

I am thinking of starting a quick podcast series, maybe 30 minutes each. Ten questions. Always the same questions. The person in recovery can remain anonymous or give their name, which ever they choose would be fine. Here are the questions I am thinking about asking:
 
  1. Tell me about the beginning of your relationship with alcohol.
  2. At what point did you start to sense that the honeymoon period of your relationship with alcohol was starting to wane? What were the early signs?
  3. What lengths did you personally go to in order to manage your drinking? Did you ever hide your alcohol from anyone or stash it in secret places?
  4. Describe some of the ways in which you were dishonest to yourself and others about your drinking.
  5. Did anyone ever express concern to you about your drinking? What was that like?
  6. Describe your “bottom.”
  7. How did you find recovery? 
  8. Describe some of the challenges you have faced while in recovery.
  9. What are your best tools for staying on track? Where do you draw the most strength? 
  10. What advice would you give someone who is on the fence about entering a recovery program? 

I think this would be a nice, digestible series that could be helpful, particularly to people in early recovery. Maybe I can draft another series of ten questions for people who have been in long term recovery.

What are your thoughts? Do you think this could be useful?

Taking it Up a Notch

An interesting topic came up in my recovery group meeting last night. It is yet another way that our disease came through as a lying, maniacal manifestation. One of us brought up the whole "looking forward to when your partner/spouse goes away for a couple of days" time and how our inner addict immediately took our intake up a level or two.

If you read my blog or know me personally, you know how much I love my husband. He is my entire world. He is kind, thoughtful, gentle and sweet. I am a lucky woman. We spend most of our time off together, doing something we both enjoy. However, once in a while, he or I will go on an adventure with a friend, instead. In my case, I go to a remote island in Maine with my girlfriends from college for an artist's retreat once a year and in his case, he travels to different baseball parks with a friend of his. It doesn't happen often, but I do believe that it's healthy for couples to have a little time apart now and then for such things.

When I was actively drinking, though I knew I would miss him, I began to look forward to the time he might be gone for a night or two. Why? Because that meant I could drink as much as I wanted to without any judgement. If I wanted to open a second bottle of wine, I could do it. And I could drink as much of that second bottle as I felt like because no one else would be around to see. My addiction loved that part. The freedom to glug, glug. glug it up. It was like having a huge party for one person. Sad, really.

Turns out, I'm far from the only person whose brain operated this way. All of us in last night's group did this. I am willing to bet that most other addicts do it, as well. It's a strange, knee-jerk reaction, akin to taking off your shoes after a long day. Exhaling. Anticipating the fix. I suppose a food addict might see this as an opportunity to have a huge smorgasbord. A sex addict might see this as a way to spend the whole weekend watching porn. Just fill in the blank; it's all the same, really.


It reminds me of an old Simpson's episode in which Homer decides to stay home on cold Sunday morning while everyone else goes to church. He sleeps in, turns up the heat, dances around the house in his underwear, makes a huge breakfast for himself and watches football.  I (heart) The Simpsons.

Friday, August 15, 2014

ARGH! PAWS is back.

It started yesterday. Not good timing, as I had a class of people to teach after work and needed all the available positivity and energy I could muster. I started dragging ass around noon, got through the afternoon alright, but was in desperate need of a strong coffee from the cafe across the street by 5 (class started at 6). The coffee helped me get through class, but here I am again, a day later, feeling draggy. I have another class to teach starting at 5, so I am already thinking about jaunting over to the cafe. The best way I can describe the level of fatigue is like coming off anesthesia. I had to get "the gas" once for a minor surgical procedure back in my twenties and afterward, I was awoken from the best sleep I think I had ever had in my life. There was nothing I wanted more than to go back to sleep and be left alone. It's that level of tired. In case you are wondering, I am getting plenty of sleep and exercise and I am eating very well. This has to be PAWS, coming back to haunt me. Oh, when will this end? Actually, I ought to be grateful, if this is the worst consequence of my drinking career. It's actually a sign of getting better, of my body and brain normalizing itself.

I hate to use a drug (caffiene) to deal with this, but I can't come up with a better option at this point.

Zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Service, Advocacy and Recovery Addiction

How's that for a topic?

I'll start with service, because that was this week's Bubble Hour topic. I am still in early recovery, but the more time I have in sobriety, the more I would like to be of service. I'm not sure what that looks like, exactly. In the SMART recovery program, we don't have sponsors. But, we do have weekly exchanges/check-ins with the people in our group. Our organizer has our contact information and I think we all have his, so if one of us should be in crisis, someone is available. I don't think it's fair that it should all fall on him. He is doing an incredible service to us by organizing the meeting, providing the space, coming up with weekly exercises, making coffee for everyone and supplying workbooks. I feel like there ought to be ways that we can all be of service to each other, besides listening and helping people through difficult situations on a weekly basis.

In AA, people sign up for commitments, which is generally little things at meetings like greeting people and making beverages. This may include sponsorship, I don't know. I strongly agree with the AA theory about service. Helping others helps you stay sober. It's a two-way street.

This brings me to advocacy. I finally saw The Anonymous People, which is a very powerful documentary about taking the stigma away from people in recovery. In it, there are people in long term recovery who speak out on behalf of people with addiction, lobbying hard to change legislation and provide real faces and stories with recovery. In my last post, I talked about how I am not afraid to publicly identify as an alcoholic. I don't think it ought to be a secret or something to be ashamed of. Of course, I must be talking out of my ass, because I have yet to "come out" to my family and extended group of friends about it. I do intend to let people know, but I don't want to just rush out of the gate with it, either. I suppose, if I am asked, I won't withhold or lie, but if I'm not asked, maybe I won't bring it up. I don't know. It really depends on the circumstance. I am thinking about making a soft announcement on Facebook when I get to 6 months or a year (universe-willing). Anyway, I would really like to get involved in advocacy, too, though, again, I am not sure what that looks like for me.

So, I am going to end this post with the idea of recovery addiction. In my mind, this is when an addict becomes completely absorbed with their recovery to the point where it may have negative consequences. This is a personal journey for us, no one-size-fits-all. But we are all addicts. That part of our brain that we fucked up? It's all pretty much the same for each of us. My personal concern is over-committing or being so ensconced in my program that I begin to lose touch with the things in my life that I am fighting for in recovery. Things like my marriage and my friendships. I don't want to get to a point where I can't do something important with my husband because I have a recovery thing to do. This is a tricky subject, I realize, because most people will say that you can't be good for anyone unless you put your recovery first, and I totally get that. But I also have an addicted brain which can be one-tracked if I don't manage it, and I worry that I will get so heavily absorbed in all the wonderful things that recovery offers, I might lose perspective. So, it's a balancing act for all of us. For me, I think it means moderation. It's periodically checking in to make sure that I'm still completely available to the man I love, all while finding ways to be of service and advocate for people in recovery at the same time.

So much to sort through!

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Not So Anonymous

It's funny, when I started this blog, I was still drinking. I was questioning whether or not I was an alcoholic and I embarked on a moderation adventure, which, though I thought it was successful at the onset, turned out to be a colossal failure. I slid right back into my old drinking patterns pretty quickly. I was not ready to come out as an alcoholic at the time. I wasn't even willing to utter the word out loud, let alone attach myself to it. I was terrified. So I remained anonymous. I didn't tell anyone about this blog, nor did I reach out into the blogsphere for other people like me. I think I was holding out hope that maybe I wasn't an alcoholic, that perhaps I could turn things around and behave like a normie.

I didn't know much about the disease at the time. I mean, just look at that last sentence. "Behave like a normie." Alcoholism isn't a behavior to be controlled, like remembering to sit up straight or floss your teeth. It's an illness. As I wrestled with this, I held on to anonymity because I carried around so much fear. I was afraid of judgement and this created a horrible sense of shame and guilt. Again, not understanding the condition, I assigned blame to myself for "refusing to stop" drinking. I am not suggesting that there isn't accountability involved. I most certainly accept responsibility for putting my liver and pancreas through the ringer. I did that. No one else did. I get that. But I also get that I am predisposed to this illness and that I waltzed right on into it as naturally as can be. It's a complicated thing, but there is a definite reason some of us become addicts and others don't and it doesn't have much to do with willpower.

So, when I finally peeled this protective layer of lies and denial away from my soul, I felt something that surprised the heck out of me. Relief. I had liberated myself. I didn't have to cling to this ridiculous notion that I can simply "cut back." There was a reason I couldn't and every attempt I made to do so was just another opportunity to fail myself. How come other people could stick their hands in the fire and not get burned, but every time I did, I wound up a welted mess? It didn't seem fair. Until I had the courage to entertain the notion that I was an addict. The amount of fear involved in facing that label is overwhelming, but once you do, well, I can only speak for myself here, but it is so fucking emancipating. I revealed my real name on this blog, where I am from, what I do, who I am. Yes, I am an alcoholic in recovery, but I am so much more! And so is everyone in recovery. We have so much to offer the world. We aren't this one-dimensional thing that is obsessed with booze, which is what the stigma of alcoholism offers the world. We are husbands, wives, girlfriends, boyfriends, professionals, moms, dads, best friends, etc.

Once the fear of the label is gone, acceptance of the disease is much easier. So, why is it that so many people continue to live with this "secret?" It's like they admit that they are powerless to alcohol in the safe haven of their group, but walk around the whole rest of their lives never discussing it? Acting as if recovery isn't this fucking huge part who they are? As if recovery isn't responsible for all of the positive change in their lives? I'm not judging, but I don't want to be part of any organization that promotes secrecy about recovery. I'm not going to play this game where I can speak freely about my truth to these people, but, those people over there can't know my struggle. Fuck. that.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Three months ago ...

... I had my last drink. At least, I hope and pray it was my last drink. Every day seems to be easier than the last, though every so often a curve ball comes my way. I just remind myself that the moment is temporary and that it will pass.

After my extreme fatigue went away, I started feeling great. I still do. Generally speaking, I sleep well. I no longer have acid reflux, which I had given myself after years of daily drinking. I actually started wheezing and coughing as a daily consequence of my alcoholism, but was still not ready to stop. Now, it's as if it never happened. But that's one of the quirky things about alcoholism. When you go back to feeling great, your disease taps you on the back and offers you a drink. And you're like, "Well, what's the harm?" At the moment, I am winning the fight. But I know that this can change because I have no idea what sort of situations wait for me in the future. So, all I can do is use the practical tools I have found in recovery to empower myself through those situations and hope I remain sober on the other side. Thankfully, there is a community of supportive people who get it and can come to my aid should I need them.

May the force be with us all.

 

Saturday, August 2, 2014

Three Reasons to Stay Sober

My Three Kings
Who are the luckiest kitties in the world? These guys! Spoiled and adorable, they are part of my motivation to remain in recovery.

Thursday, July 31, 2014

A New Adventure

So, I tried a cool new mocktail recipe last night. Citrus + rosemary. I think I am hooked on this cool beverage fun! I never made fun drinks before, so this is all new to me. I made a simple syrup by simmering sugar, fresh orange and lime juice and a few sprigs of rosemary. I have a nice reserve of this and I only need 3-4 tablespoons per 8 ounces of plain seltzer for 1 serving. Throw some ice in there and viola! A great adult, alcohol-free summer drink! I grow basil in the backyard, so I am thinking about making something with that tonight. This syrup thing is so kickass. I love it. I sort of don't want to call it mocktail, though. How about spritzer?  I like that better, but, whatever you call it, it is easy, delicious, healthy and fucking fresh as hell. 

This Sunday's Bubble Hour topic was about desperation. As a gift. There were terrific guests on sharing their stories and Amanda went through her rock bottom in detail. I have heard her describe her experience in previous episodes, but for this one, as it was appropriate, she shared a lot more. I relate more to Jean, as my bottom was rather high, but she threw in a cautionary word about how some HFA's with high bottoms may be tempted to compare their lives to others who perhaps may have progressed further into the disease and think that they are fine. In reality, we are all the same. We all have a very toxic relationship with alcohol and the only way to get better is to be sober. There was a mention of the twenty questions that  Johns Hopkins University Hospital uses to see whether or not you are an alcoholic. Here is what the results mean:

  • If you answered YES to any 1 question, there is a definite warning that you may be an alcoholic. 
  • If you answered YES to any 2 questions, the chances are that you are an alcoholic. 
  • If you answered YES to 3 or more questions, you are definitely an alcoholic. 

I answered yes to 8 of the 20. I certainly wasn't surprised by the results. The funny thing is, the first time I took the test, I thought I was doing pretty well because I checked "no" more than "yes." Then, I pressed the results button and got a pretty hearty laugh.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Warning: This Is All Over the Place

Lately, I've been thinking a lot about replacement. In my last post, I wrote about how awesome it would be to go to dry bars and have fun with other sober people, without the danger of alcohol ever being a factor. I do think that some recovery groups plan get-togethers where dancing and general merriment is had. I really love this idea. Anyway, I have been reflecting on this weird chasm that seems to exist between actively drinking and being totally sober. I think the alcoholic automatically thinks that they have demoted themselves to something like the little kid's table that they set up at Thanksgiving. Or maybe a Chucky Cheese kind of environment. I mean, hey, I'm all about having fun, kid-style. I love amusement parks and zoos and playing games. But I am an adult. I have a more sophisticated palette than I did when I was a little kid. Back in those days, I was content to fill my plastic cuppie with artificially flavored grape juice.

But I'm now 42. And this divide between the adult, drinking days and the "What do I do now?" days of sobriety is rather deep. Especially in early recovery. I have realized that I really enjoy the ritual, however, there are a couple of ways of viewing that.
  1. The ritual itself is part of the addictive cycle. We must, as people in recovery, recognize that we do not NEED the ritual. It's our addiction speaking to us, trying its best to lure us back into actively drinking. It's that old reward center of the brain piping up and reminding us how good it feels to give ourselves something special. 
  2. We ought to replace the ritual of drinking booze with safe rituals like walking, meditating, eating a bowl of ice cream, gardening and yoga. 
But there are also conflicting views on the whole idea of replacement.  For some people, whether it's something they want to admit or not, going to meetings can become a bit of an addiction. That's a rather taboo statement and it can cause a lot of defensive responses, as a lot of people in recovery believe that you can't attend too many meetings. I don't stand in judgement of anyone, but I am curious about the varying opinions. Replacing booze with sugar is a very common practice for people in recovery, the idea being that chocolate cake isn't going to kill you, but booze eventually will. Some people replace drinking with obsessive exercise. Again, not a life threatening replacement, but it can get out of control if it's taken too far. And addicted brains have a tendency to take things too far.

I think replacement is fine if it's done in a way that isn't obsessive.  The tricky thing about recovery is that there isn't a "one size fits all" style of sobriety. My truth is different from yours. I love sobriety blogs and podcasts and my SMART meetings. I have discovered that I do NOT like sobriety message boards. I find that people who are trying to be helpful are also dishing out the "one size fits all" type of advice and some people even throw in a little judgement for good measure. We are snowflakes, remember? We are all different, unique individuals and while there are very strong similarities between us because of our addictions, there are also great differences. Perhaps I don't feel like I need to limit myself to diet soda or just plain old water. That feels like sitting at the kid's table. I find myself wanting to explore all sorts of flavors now. Instead of limiting my palette as I once did (while I was drinking), I want to run out and try all sorts of non-alcoholic drinks. I want to be a mad scientist in my kitchen and bring things together that I never would have thought of. I want to explore beverage making in the same way that one has culinary adventures.

I'm not a child, so I'm not going to sit around drinking juice boxes. I'm also in recovery, so, of course, I won't be consuming alcohol. If it's easier for someone in recovery to limited their beverage choices, so be it. But if I want to try all sorts of kooky mocktails, please allow me to do so without judgement.

I'm going to try this one really soon! Check out all these cool recipes - you might find the mad scientist in you coming out, too!

Blackberry Lavender Lemonade (from Autostraddle.com) - YUM!




Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Island Getaway


It was our anniversary weekend, so hubby and I went to our favorite little island in New England to celebrate. I found it difficult at times, as it was my first time visiting this gorgeous place without drinking. Usually, there's a cocktail with dinner, cocktails on the beach, cocktails on the porch at night. Not this go-round. So, yeah, I was triggery a lot of the time. Most people who come to the island do so to drink, drink, drink. It's a very laid-back sort of place with fire pits on the beach and cover bands at bars belting out Jimmy Buffet. Did I have fun? You bet I did! We biked all over the island, went to places we've never ventured to, and we walked and walked and walked. I had a non-alcoholic Beck's beer with dinner and at one point, I got a no-booze margarita, which was actually pretty good. I was really craving the salt and lime juice aspect of it. Beaches always make me want to consume seafood and salt. It's just a thing of mine. It was a very successful, alcohol-free get-away. I didn't miss the booze, but I find myself at a loss during the times and moments I would normally be drinking. I think it is just a matter of getting used to doing other things. This is really like another "first."

While we were there, I thought that it would be neat to be able to go to a non-alcoholic bar. In England, they call them "dry bars." It would be cool to go somewhere that is an adult-type place, but doesn't serve booze. A place where people can enjoy sophisticated non-alcoholic libations and have sober conversations with other adults. They have them in England and a few here and there in the US, but none around here, unfortunately. A lot of places do offer mocktails or would be more than willing to make one for you if you asked. It's not really the alcohol that I crave, it's the sort of specialness of it that I like. Many people in recovery can't handle anything beyond seltzer and coffee (and I'm sure seltzer is even difficult for some people, if they used to splash their booze into it when they were actively drinking), but I am the type of person in recovery who is all about FLAVORS! In my drinking days, I would generally deny any type of drink that wasn't red wine, even if it was boozy and pretty. I was attached at the hip to my wine. But now, I am really excited about all kinds of new beverages. Being sober does not have to be boring! Unless, of course, anything outside of soda and milk sends you back to drinking. I am lucky, I guess.

Saturday, July 26, 2014

New Rewards

For so much of my adult life, I fed the reward center of my brain with things that, in the long term, were not rewarding at all. Dangerous, actually. But darn, that reward center craved them. Alcohol, nicotine, bad food. I am now free of all of these things (okay, I do have occasional sugary treats, but I eat healthily 80-90% of the time). I gave up all meat (except fish, which I eat rarely, as my husband is a total vegetarian) almost 10 years ago. A lot of "depravity" has entered my life and now, without alcohol, I find myself to be the person Adam Ant makes fun of in his 80s hit, "Goody Two Shoes." It's odd to be this non-drinking, non-smoking, veggie burger eating, exercising, yoga person who is about to enter the world of massage therapy. This is a completely different person from the 25-year-old girl I used to be in 1996. The girl who used cigarettes to soothe her anxiety. The girl who used drinking to soothe her anger, heighten all her pleasurable experiences, and provide the necessary lubrication in social situations in which she found herself too shy to cope. If she had a bad day at work, she would write herself a prescription for (1) Chinese takeout, (2) a bottle of wine, (3) a pack of cigarettes and (4) a pint of Ben & Jerry's ice cream. Good thing she didn't have bad days very often!

Now, I am nearly 100% removed from that person. I never want to work in a cubicle again, I want to remain sober and nicotine-free forever and I want to continue along the path of health and wellness that I began traveling on when I made my first batch of natural soap way back when. Since I changed my brain chemistry, though, it is a challenge to re-think rewards, to come up with strategies for dealing with cravings. "Play it forward" is excellent and seems to be the best tool in my toolbox at the moment. I also like the idea of sitting with the discomfort and asking what it really is that I am upset about. What is it that I feel I am lacking that booze/nicotine/chocolate cake will somehow make better? Really steeping in it and working to identify that issue.

There are, of course, healthy ways to reward yourself.

Good, nutritious food. Fresh, local produce. Simple foods. Food that might cost a little extra, but will be such a treat for your body. 
Healthy, natural body care. I make soap with fruit and vegetable purees (those are my soaps!) and I also encourage my customers to make their own facial recipes with fresh, simple ingredients. Your skin is an organ and deserves as much respect as your insides.

Adequate rest. Seven to eight hours of sleep every night.
Time with nature. I get three miles of cardio in every day and I am luck enough to live up the street from a huge and gorgeous city park (I took this pic on my exercise route). I don't see this as forced exercise. The park is like a church to me, a special and sacred place that I am honored to exist in. 
Appreciation of your body. Not just how it looks or yay! I just lost 3 pounds! I mean, it's great to lose weight (if you are overweight), but I think that if we take the time to appreciate what our bodies do and celebrate that, we can learn to love ourselves more. The human body is an amazing thing, capable of so very much. And we take a lot of this for granted every single day.
Appreciation of your family and friends. This is your support system. And for me, it's the reason I want to be healthy. My husband deserves that. My kitties deserve that. My family deserves that and so do my friends. How can I be of service to others if I am not healthy enough to do so?


I should also add that being able to connect with other alcoholics in recovery has been invaluable. My SMART meetings, The Bubble Hour podcasts, and sobriety blogs - all amazing, inspirational and absolutely essential. Removing alcohol, nicotine and crappy food isn't ignoring my reward center. It IS the reward. Good health is what we all deserve. We are all worth it. Being strong enough to silence those cravings and talk through all of those nagging reasons why we have them ought to be celebrated. With each day, we become more divine, more powerful.

Reward yourself! You deserve it!


Friday, July 18, 2014

More PAWS

Indeed, the fatigue came back this week. It reached it's peak on Wednesday evening. I even had an energy bar in the afternoon to try to combat it. Nope. My husband and I went out to dinner with friends and I really had to struggle to stay awake. I wasn't thinking about PAWS at the time, but looking back, I think that's what it was. I had it a little yesterday and even some right now. The crazy humid weather doesn't help, but I spend the majority of my day and night in air conditioning, so that's not much of an excuse. I have also been getting plenty of sleep.

I have read that the PAWS fatigue can come and go for up to a year. At least it's easier to deal with when I know what it is. And these episodes are not nearly as challenging as hangovers, which makes them dealable. But, of course, I keep thinking that I gave myself type 2 diabetes or worse.



Wednesday, July 16, 2014

What's Attached to Your Drink?

This disease is a trickster. It tries hard to convince you that it would be fine to have just one. I mean, you've proven that you can handle life without booze, right? That old reward center of your brain waits and waits and waits. It bides it's time, knowing that there will be a celebration or maybe even a tragic time at some point down the road. "Remember me?" it asks. Yes, I remember you. I do remember the way you made me feel. The relaxation that you gave me, how you helped me talk to people when I was shy, the escape you allowed me after a long day of work and oh, how you stopped me from beating myself up after I made a mistake. You hushed the negativity. You were like a nice, comfy blanket I curled up with at the end of the day.

Every day. No matter what. Even when I was too tired to drive to the liquor store, I became like a robot and pulled into the parking lot anyway. When I was starting to get tired of you, you tightened your grip.

The next time I am tempted to cave into your sweet offering of one drink, I will remember what that drink is attached to. It has an invisible string tied firmly to a dump truck filled with all sorts of things. Horrible things. Hangovers, embarrassment,  health problems, daily dehydration, blackouts, guilt, shame, financial consequences, maybe even legal problems. As you begin to lure me with that soft voice of yours, I will hear the "beep, beep, beep" of that dump truck, backing up, ready to unload all the things that come along with that drink. And I'll know better. I see that string now, even though you might think it's invisible. I see the light glistening on it as it sways back and forth. You can't hide anymore. I don't want what that dump truck holds.




Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Week Wrap Up

Good news! I am now over my 2 month mark! It hasn't been without it's challenges. And I think there will be some unforeseen ones on the horizon, too. This past weekend, my husband and I had a wonderful time with his side of the family. We played on the beach with our nieces and nephews, swam in the pool and played mini golf. It was a beautiful New England summer weekend and we enjoyed it to the maximum. We ended our time with them by having a nice dinner out. My father-in-law was drinking beer and I was not. I had made mention that I stopped drinking in May (didn't say why or make a big deal out of it) and he made a remark about how I was a lush. I think he was joking and if he understood the seriousness of my abstinence and that I am actually an alcoholic, he would have had a bit more tact. He also has no idea how very much I was drinking, but the comment still stung me a bit. He might also be a bit jealous. He drinks more than he ought to. I don't know, maybe it shouldn't have bothered me. I really need to see it for what it was and not take it personally. He doesn't know the half of it.

I haven't had the urge to drink for some time, it seems. I haven't had any huge epiphanies during my sobriety in a while, either. Just kind of trucking along. It's the new norm and it's okay. Every so often, I beat myself up for abusing the privilege of drinking, for ruining that pleasure for the rest of my life. But then I must remind myself that I did not set out to become an alcoholic. Of course, I own every little part of it, but I didn't ask to get to this point. It just sort of happened, and here I am.

Am I perfect? No. But I am trying to be a better person, to make better decisions. I have a ways to go, but I like to think that with every day I don't drink, I am getting closer to that person I want to be.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Excited/Nervous

So, I made the decision to go back to school. I have always wanted to become a licensed massage therapist and I have finally made the decision to do something about it. I am going to begin the program in January. My goal is to combine this with my soapmaking career to sort of become a pillar of relaxation in many different ways. I don't think I would have had the courage to do this if I were still drinking. I might have, or I might have just thought about it and drank myself into a wishful coma. Either way, I am really excited about it! I submitted my application today and I am hoping to meet with an adviser next week to go over the details. It's an affordable, but highly comprehensive program that I can complete in 15 months. I figure, I can scale back my soap business while I am training, then figure a creative way to combine the two after. I might end up working for an established business for a while, though, to get real world experience first.


Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Trudging Through

I don't know if it's because of my friend's death or what, but this week, I spent a lot of time thinking about the fact that I'm never going to be able to drink again. There was a VFW bar right next door to the funeral parlor and I kept thinking, "Wouldn't it be nice to go in there and tie one on with the rest of them?" I know that where a lot of people B-Lined to after the wake.

I confess that I did have a non-alcoholic beer the other night. I am not as against that as some alcoholics are, I don't consider it cheating or whatever. Especially since it doesn't lead to anything other than a cup of tea or water. But at the very least, it does tell me that I need to be doing more self care and work on my sobriety.

Tonight is my SMART meeting. Just in time, I think.


Friday, June 27, 2014

44

44 Days and Going Strong!


Interesting Read

As if we need more motivation. Here is an interesting study.

"From 2006 through 2010, an average of 87,798 deaths were attributed to alcohol each year, the study found."

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Fatigue = Gone, At Least for Now

The last few days, I have finally been feeling like myself again. No need for that 2nd coffee just to keep my eyelids from drooping. I'm not saying that the fatigue won't be back. I have read that it can return. But I am enjoying this normal feeling right now.

It has been 42 days since I turned in my drinking card. 42 days since I voluntarily gave up my booze privileges. The privileges I obviously abused. I am still amused/frustrated that my husband thinks I should be able to moderate at some point. I heard a good snippet somewhere, recently. Maybe it was one of the guests on The Bubble Hour or something from one of the audio books I have been listening to. "No is easier than maybe." This is so true for me. I don't even know what maybe looks like. Maybe is scary. Maybe gives me anxiety,  just thinking about it. Normal drinkers don't have this obsessive relationship with alcohol, thinking about what "maybe" might be. They are either in the mood or not in the mood for a cocktail. It's just that simple. I was out to dinner with a couple of friends on Saturday night and one of them had a ginger ale, I think and the other ordered a margarita.  The first thing she said when she took a sip was, "Wow, that's strong." She only drank half of it. I don't get that. I won't ever get that. Not in a million years. But that's what normal is.

I used to live in Philadelphia. Loved it. Still miss that city. They had Yuengling beer there. I never was a beer person (but I wouldn't kick beer out of bed for eating crackers). However, I really enjoyed Yuengling. It has more alcohol by volume and it's delicious. It wasn't available in New England until recently. Rhode Island just got it. Like a week before I stopped drinking. A normal person wouldn't be as upset as I am about it, even though I stopped drinking on my own accord.

My hope is that alcohol just won't be important to me anymore someday. That it will slide down the scale and turn into just something that people do. I also hope that I am never complacent and think that I can once again go back to drinking. Because, truth be told, even if I were, by some miracle able to hit the rewind button on my brain function, I have already consumed so much booze into this body. Why on Earth would I want to throw more down the gullet? I have done enough damage. It's not like I was eating too much broccoli and had to stop. I was consuming a toxic substance in huge volumes on a daily basis. What purpose would it serve to moderate, anyway? What benefit could I possibly be getting from alcohol? Yes, red wine helps keep your heart healthy, but so does grape juice. It isn't the alcohol part that does the good stuff (but boy did I use the "red wine is healthy" logic when I was actively drinking).

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Firsts

I received some sad news on Friday. A high school friend died suddenly. Aneurism. I had just seen him a couple of months ago. My oldest friend and I were out and we ran into him at a bar (right before I stopped drinking). He was a larger-than-life personality and I am so grateful we had a nice conversation with him before he passed away. We hung out for about an hour or so, reminiscing about high school. It was a joyful moment.

When I heard the news, it really touched a nerve. Alcohol would have helped me numb the sting in the past, but I am forced to deal with raw emotions sober. The wake is tomorrow night. It is still all so surreal.

I'm finding that the "play it forward" tool has been extra helpful. I keep weaving in and out of moments of wanting "just one," so I have to go through the mental exercise of going to the liquor store and imagining what might happen. Of course, I know that there wouldn't be "just one" and that I would guzzle the entire bottle and feel like shit the next day. So glad I have this in my arsenal. I have a feeling it's going to save me many times in the future.

The Bubble Hour topic was right on point for me this week. It was about "firsts" and toward the end there was a discussion about facing difficulties sober. There was a lot to cram into the hour, so they are breaking it up into 2. I look forward to the 2nd half next week.

Friday, June 20, 2014

When Will This Fatigue Go Away?

I have been reading about fatigue as a symptom of PAWS. It seems to be the only one I have, except for momentary lapses of patience. My God, I am tired. Still. I should go see my doctor, but I really want a few months of sobriety before I do. I want to give my body a chance to simmer down before all the blood tests and whatnot.

I drink a good amount of caffeine. One large Dunkin Donuts coffee every day and sometimes a little more. I usually have a mug of tea before bedtime, which tends to relax me despite the caffeine. Do I even need to be relaxed? I feel like a sloth on the couch by 9:30, fighting to keep awake. My husband and I work pretty late and don't get to spend time together until 8PM, most nights.I feel bad and wish I could be more alert for "our time."

I am eating REALLY WELL. I know it isn't my diet. Maybe I can use more protein. I am a vegetarian, though, so meat is out. I am consuming lots of fresh fruits and vegetables. I'm watching my calories. I exercise every morning. I am doing yoga every week. I feel like I am doing all the right things, but I can't shake this stupid fatigue. It's worse in the morning and seems to get better as the day goes on. Fuck a duck, I want to feel better.

My SMART meeting finally included some women this week. Two, actually. AA drop outs. Our meeting isn't super structured. We talk about our week, each person gets a chance to talk. The moderator picks out one tool from the manual and we discuss ways to apply the tool. One of the things we talked about this week was always having a plan. For example, when you go to an event or place where you know alcohol will be served, you should always know what you are going to drink, even if that means bringing your own. That way, your brain doesn't have to agonize over it when you get there. Seems simple enough, but it really is important. Also, we discussed having a plan in the event of an unexpected trauma. One of our group members was sober for 8 years and then something really, really bad happened. Out the door went his sobriety. Life is full of surprises, good and bad, and we have to be ready without the option of returning to alcohol. Even if it's a horrific event. I drank through the deaths of my parents. Less than an hour after my mother passed away (I was with her, caring for her at the time), I popped open a bottle of wine and drank it. Before the funeral home even carried her away. I always need to have a plan, even if it means drinking all the Lapsang Souchong tea in the state of Rhode Island.


Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Food for Thought

I've been listening to Anne Dowsett Johnston's, Drink: The Intimate Relationship Between Women and Alcohol. In one chapter, she talks about the makers and marketers of alcohol and how they target specific groups. If you do the math, it's pretty easy to figure out that these companies actually depend on people who drink alcoholically to stay in business. This is a great article about the subject.

Key paragraph:

Indeed, advertising that encouraged only moderate drinking would be an economic failure. This becomes clear when you know that only 10 percent of the drinking-age population consumes over half of all alcoholic beverages sold. According to Robert Hammond, director of the Alcohol Research Information Service, if all 105 million drinkers of legal age consumed the official maximum "moderate" amount of alcohol - .99 ounces per day, the equivalent of about two drinks - the industry would suffer "a whopping 40 percent decrease in the sale of beer, wine and distilled spirits." 

But aren't they always asking us to drink responsibly?  What they really mean is, go ahead and get smashed, just don't drive or become violent and injure someone.

Find Your Truth

I had a few white knuckle rides this weekend. I went to NYC and had dinner with an old friend. This is a person who I love dearly and who came into my life when I started drinking heavily. He started drinking heavily around this time, too. We both had our excuses: Job stress, external factors romanticizing alcohol, etc. I told him of my recent decision to be sober and he fully supports it. He also admitted that he and his partner have increased their alcohol consumption to dangerous levels over the years. It is highly likely that they are both dependent and need to start asking themselves some difficult questions.

The next day, my husband and I went to an outdoor movie and people were boozing it up all around us. I could see it and smell it everywhere. It was horribly distracting.

But I made it through without drinking.

I have resolved not to have a full-blown conversation with my in-laws about my sobriety. It doesn't need to become a drama. The most important thing isn't whether or not people understand or support me (although those things are very helpful), it's about my choice to be sober.

You can call it a disease. You can call it poor decision-making. You can say a person is genetically predisposed. You can call it whatever you like. Whatever the label or non-label, I was drinking at an alarming rate and was unwilling to control the volume and speed in which I was drinking. Some say you are powerless. Others say, you have the power to make better choices but choose the substance instead. One thing is clear to me, however, and illustrates, without a shadow of a doubt that I must abstain from drinking: When in the rare situation where I was allowed only one drink, I would be angry. Normal drinkers would be so happy. Yay! I get a drink! Not me. Though I would never vocalize it, I would be seething and frustrated. One drink wouldn't do it. One drink was impossible to savor and enjoy. One drink fucking sucked. That's me being 100% honest.

Whatever you decide to put in your toolbox, you must find your truth. You must be clear about the facts of your drinking and your motivations. You you must carve out an individual path that works for you. Call it your own special brand of recovery. Recovery should feel right, whatever that becomes for you. Cherry pick what you need from various sources. If you don't agree with something, don't be afraid to say, "fuck that." This is your life. Philosophies and theories are not hard truths. You know your story, you know what informs your decisions, you know your triggers, you know your truth.

Friday, June 13, 2014

He's Still Not Getting It

This weekend, my husband and I have plans to see my father-in-law (Father's Day). I made mention that I will need, at some point, to tell my in-laws (who I love dearly, by the way) about this. To my knowledge, they do not know that I have a drinking problem, let alone that I am an alcoholic. They drink, too, probably border-line socially (and perhaps tip-toeing into something more), and I've never gotten obliterated in their presence, though I did overdo it this past Thanksgiving. However, I was far from the only one super drunk that day.

My husband started asking how I knew I was an alcoholic. "Shouldn't you be diagnosed by a doctor?" he asked. I explained that alcoholics diagnose themselves. He was confused, this didn't seem like a good enough response. Almost like I made it up or something. I told him that I forever altered my brain chemistry. He still isn't buying it. He thinks that I should be able to drink, at some point, like a social drinker. I am thoroughly exhausted from explaining this to him. I also felt that there was something more going on here. I asked him why it bothered him so much that I had resolved to never drink again. I started wondering that maybe this wasn't about me. That my coming out as an alcoholic somehow worried him because of how it might appear. Then, a little truth started seeping out.

His sister's ex-husband was/is a cocaine addict. We still don't know for sure if he is actively using. When they were married, he was so ensconced in his addiction, that he stole money from her to buy drugs and was high around the children. When my mother-in-law found out, she was livid. She demanded that my sister-in-law divorce him, for the sake of her grandchildren. He isn't really the nicest person, addiction or not, and I think it really was for the best. My nieces and nephews and my sister-in-law are about the most loving, most adorable people I know and I am sure that they are so much better off without him. He did go into recovery (not sure if he kept sober) and explained that he had a disease. My mother-in-law, still so angry for his actively using around her grandchildren, said, "He doesn't have a disease! He's just an asshole!" I think these words stuck in my husband's mind. He mentioned them last night. So I asked him if he thought I was an asshole because I have an addiction. Of course, he said no. I asked if he thought his mother would think I was an asshole. Again, he said no. A highly functioning alcoholic does their best to protect the people they love. I did not jeopardize our marriage, didn't steal money from anyone, didn't endanger him or myself, etc. In fact, I've carried the financial burden in our marriage. But I still believe that I have a disease.

I know my mother-in-law. I love her with all my heart. We have a mother-daughter bond. When I tell her, she isn't going to suddenly accuse me of being an asshole. So, on top of protecting my sobriety, I now have to help my husband process my disease. I actually have to defend my own diagnosis to him. Do you know how weird that feels? Do you know how much I wish I could agree with my husband? "Yes, honey, you're right. I can probably have a drink every now and then." And he doesn't even drink! So it isn't like he's missing his drinking buddy or anything. I am so confused.