Posts Tagged ‘early recovery’

For those of you who are deep enough into your sobriety to pay attention to what’s going on in the world around you, you might have noticed that the Oscars were held this week. I don’t typically pay a lot of attention to these kinds of things (if watching people half your age win awards for wearing tacky dresses and making bad movies isn’t reason enough to drink, what is?), but it does get me thinking about the roles that appreciation and public recognition play in early recovery.

It’s ok to admit it: some of us just like to be recognized from time to time.

There is a good side to this, and a bad side. Just as some Oscar attendees can only manage to halfheartedly clap for the terrible actor who stars in a string of predictable flops, it can be difficult for the people in our lives to “recognize” the hard work we’ve done in putting our lives back together. In their minds, the fact that we haven’t been thrown in jail, lost our jobs, or slept outside for a few months on end doesn’t really seem worthy of a lifetime achievement award.

In fact, bringing it up ourselves can make us look even more terrible, since it’s a reminder of just how often we’ve failed at the box office of life so many times in the past.

As I mentioned, however, there is a good side to all of this, too. Your non-alcoholic, non-addict friends and family might not know how hard you’re working, or understand why it’s such a big deal that you’re making the effort… but others who are in early recovery do.

That’s why it’s important, especially in the first few days, weeks, and months of your sobriety, that you make it to a regular meeting and make friends with people you can lean on for support. They know what you know: that every single day can be a struggle, and a victory.

Take the time to appreciate how far you’ve come – even if you can only measure that in hours – and it will give you the strength to keep going.

With the Oscars right behind us, and most of the country thinking about whose work they do and don’t appreciate in Hollywood, keep both of these ideas in mind. It isn’t fair to expect your loved ones to give you the red carpet treatment just because you’ve managed to string a bit of sobriety together. At the same time, though, don’t be afraid to give yourself a little acceptance speech now and again, to reflect on how far you’ve come, and be as proud of yourself as you should be for making each and every day of sobriety possible.

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When I was still drinking alcohol and January rolled around, I’d get really depressed.  The holidays being over meant that people were going back to their normal lives, no more parties, no more days off, no more excuses to drink all day. Not that I needed an excuse to drink, but the fact that other people were letting loose over the Holidays was a great way for me to be ‘inebriated incognito’.

Though flying under the radar didn’t last long, soon people noticed that while they might have a few drinks at the office party or with the Holiday dinner, I often looked like a possessed baby calf, with bloodshot eyes and legs splayed awkwardly in opposite directions trying to find a foot hold. I’d spend the time stumbling around spouting funny one liners (or so I thought) only to be told the next day that I really should call so-and-so to apologize.

The truth is I know I’ve managed to ruin quite a few Holiday get-togethers.  Sometimes, not even making it to the party at all, deciding instead to have a drink while getting ready. Somewhere along the line, the bottle would end up in the bathroom with me and I’d pass out on the floor with my husband banging on the door.  Although being a no-show was often better than ruining the entire evening for people which is what happened one New Years. After renting a condo in the mountains and having friends drive all the way up from Denver to bring in the New Year, I managed to piss off  my closest friends to a point where they turned around and drove all the way back to Denver that same night. Of course, my response was what the hell was their problem?

In fact, the first time a friend actually said to me that they thought I had a drinking problem was after that New Year’s Eve. This was the first time someone had said this – to my face anyway – and I acted as though I was mortally wounded.  How dare she say such a thing? What a bitch she was! I’d have to get her out of my life, I certainly didn’t need that kind of negativity. So I avoided her and coincidentally people started avoiding me.  As my alcoholism progressed, it wasn’t long before I didn’t get invited out anymore, or I had no inclination to go out anyway. The husband left, the friends stopped calling and at the time that was just fine with me, they all got in the way of drinking anyway.

Unfortunately, it would be many more wasted years before I was able to admit to myself that I did have a drinking problem and I wanted to stop. And if you find yourself in a place where you want to stop drinking, this is as good a time as any to get sober. Sure, people who over indulged during the Holidays will make it their New Year resolution to cut down and if they are normal drinkers they will succeed. But if you are like me, and have tried every trick in the book to control your drinking, there is no going back.

And if you can’t go back, don’t stay stuck – try going forward. A good way to do that is to find a recovery meeting and get your ass there. And if you have ideas surrounding A.A. like I did, such as it’s full of fucked up people, who are full of fucked up ideas, it might help to keep in mind the New Year saying, “Out With The Old and In With The New’ – it just might change your life. Happy New Year.

The book is available on Amazon – check it out here: Don't Let the Bastards Grind You Down: 50 Things Every Alcoholic & Addict in Early Recovery Should Know - By Georgia W.

georgias-book2Drawing on my own experience and that of others in recovery, this book highlights fifty things that all of us should know once we’ve decided to treat our addiction. Some of the topics included are:

The First 30 Days – What to expect and how to get through it.
Things to Avoid – Protecting your recovery and coping with stress.
Dry Drunk – How not to be one.
Relapse –Developing a prevention plan and what to do if it happens.
Spouses & Partners – How to include them and rebuild relationships.
Children – It’s never too late to be a good parent or role model.
Dating in Early Recovery – The not so good, the bad and the ugly.
Twelve Step Programs – How they work and what you should know.
Isolating – Why we do it and why we shouldn’t.
Substituting and Fixing – Things we substitute for our addiction.

Believe it or not, it doesn’t matter how you got to this point in your life – the most important part is that you did. Too many alcoholics and addicts die from this disease before they get a chance to recover. Just remember that you don’t have to do it alone. There are people who want to help, those who have been to the bottom and back and are now living a life without drugs and alcohol. All you need to have is the willingness to follow some simple suggestions that have worked for many others and can work for you too.

I received an email yesterday from a lady who is just starting to live sober. She has 30 days in recovery under her belt and is understandably nervous, apprehensive and scared.  She mentioned that she thought she may have left it too late in life to get sober. At 47 she feels as though she has wasted so much of her life, drinking away many years, before she finally admitted that she had a problem.

I remember thinking the same thing too and many of my friends did. I was 36 when I first got sober and now I’m 41, I have friends who were 26, 45, 54 and 60 when they sobered up.  It really doesn’t matter what age we are when we get sober, there will always be some excuse not to. It’s the nature of our disease, the part of our addiction that is centered in our minds, the part that tells us we are useless and worthless.

Feeling like this is far from unusual and unfortunately this thinking keeps many of us ‘out there’ drinking and using. Our disease is telling us, “What’s the point in getting sober, you’re ____  years old (fill in the blank), it’s too late, you’ve wasted your life up until now anyway, what can you possibly do?”

I’ll never forget this one AA meeting I went to early in sobriety. An older man was sharing, he started by saying he was 75 years old (I immediately assumed that he must have twenty or thirty years sober because of his seniority).  I was very surprised to hear that he had just celebrated his first year of sobriety. I was even more surprised when he said the last year had been the happiest year of his life. He had reconnected with his children, his grandchildren and he had found a new happiness that he never thought existed for someone like him. When I heard his story, I was inspired and thought “Wow, that’s f**king awesome – there is hope for me!”

Yesterday, when I read the email from the 47 year old, it made me think of that 75 year old man again and I decided to look up some achievements made by people later in life and here are a few of what I found:

  • At age 40 – John Glenn became the first American to orbit the Earth
  • At age 43 – Marie Curie won her second Nobel prize
  • At age 45 – George Foreman recaptured the heavyweight championship with a 10th round knockout, becoming the oldest person ever to win the heavyweight championship.
  • At age 47 – Edward Jenner, an English doctor, pioneered the use of vaccination against smallpox.
  • At age 49 – Julia Child published her book, Mastering the Art of French Cooking
  • At age 53 – Ludwig van Beethoven completed his Ninth Symphony despite being so deaf that, at the end of its first performance, he could not hear whether the audience was applauding.
  • At age 59 – Clara Barton founded the American Red Cross.
  • At age 62 – J.R.R. Tolkien published the first volume of his fantasy series, Lord of the Rings

Reading about these people inspired me all over again, it’s never too late to change our lives and to get clean and sober, and while most of us won’t be orbiting the earth or winning a Nobel Prize; we get to live a life that we never thought imaginable – a sober one.  We get to experience life and the things that come with it, all the cliches – the good and the bad, the laughter and the tears, the success and the failures.

We all have something to offer and we all deserve a second chance, whether that chance comes at 27, 47 or 77 – don’t let your DISEASE talk you out of it.

In early recovery, I was angry, bitter, confused and stark raving mad but knowing that now didn’t help me much then.

Sometimes, a simple saying that I heard in a Twelve Step meeting might set me off, quotes like ‘stinkin thinkin’ for instance. Whenever I heard this I’d imagine myself as a cartoon character from Looney Tunes, Wile E. Coyote sticking dynamite in his ears and Road Runner lighting the fuse. I didn’t want to hear it! It really bugged the shit out of me – stinking thinking? I stink not!

Another thing I heard said often was this zinger: “It’s easy to stop drinking, it’s staying stopped that’s hard”, hearing that one sent the barometer in my brain shooting through the top of my head. The first thing that came to mind was,  “If it was so fucking easy to stop drinking why are all you nut jobs sitting in this room talking about it? Shouldn’t you be getting on with your perfect alcohol free lives and leaving us losers to it? In fact, hearing this made me think I was in the wrong place or at least the wrong meeting; all these folks obviously didn’t have a problem like mine, because it seemed that when they wanted to stop drinking, they just stopped!

I couldn’t relate at all because once I started drinking I couldn’t stop until I passed out. When I came to, either the next day or in a few hours, I’d start drinking again immediately to block out the guilt, dread and eventual withdrawal symptoms. In fact I’d only stop when my body physically rejected the alcohol. Whenever this happened – which was often – I’d take sips, throw up, take more sips, throw up until somewhere along the way I’d pass out in a pool of puke. That was how I stopped drinking; it wasn’t because it was easy, it was because I had lost control over my bodily functions.

Another saying I heard was, “Stick around for the miracle to happen” – Hmm, I’d hardly say any of the people I saw in those meetings qualified for the Vatican’s  ‘Call-in a miracle line”. Nope, I didn’t see any miracles going on there and definitely no images of religious icons in the tossed out coffee filters. Thankfully, I was desperate enough to want to know why these people stuck around, why did they quote all these useless sayings and why did some of them look so happy? At first I thought it was because they came to gloat, “Look at me, you poor bastards, I don’t have a drinking problem and you do”.

Turns out, I was more like Wile W. Coyote than I realized because no matter how much he got hurt, blown up or tossed into a bottomless canyon in his attempts to catch the Road Runner, he always tried again, trying the same thing over and over and expecting different results. That is exactly what I did with my drinking, I drank and drank, hoping that this time, I could just have one drink and stop, or this time I could control my drinking and drink like other people.

Thank God I stuck around and took the dynamite out of my ears and starting listening. I realized what these people were actually saying was that it wasn’t necessarily easy to stop  drinking,  it was just a little easier than staying stopped.  Because the truth is, most of us will swear off the booze time and time again only to pick it up a day, week, month or even a year later. I was one of these people, and the only thing that stopped this nightmare cycle for me was to commit to a program of recovery and in my case it was Alcoholics Anonymous.

After a few months in AA, the sayings didn’t bother me as much, if people got something out of them and they stayed off the sauce for another day, who was I to judge? Plus I began to see the miracles they were talking about, whether it was someone opening up and sharing for the first time or a milestone celebrated by someone who was clearly a different person than they were when they first walked into the rooms. And yet another saying I heard began to ring true whereas before when I heard it, I almost lost the plot completely. This I had heard many times,  “There’s good news and bad news, the good news is there is a solution to your problem, the bad news is, we are the solution”.

They were right about that one too.

Having spent the last few weeks in the company of teenagers, I’m more convinced than ever that the act of having a real (non abbreviated conversation) is going to be a thing of the past. In fact, I have no idea what they are saying most of the time because not only do their fingers communicate in shorthand but now their mouths seem to have followed suit.

It’s a whole different lingo and it makes me feel as though the English language as we know is disintegrating in favor of the quicker, easier, lazier way.  One teenager I spent time with had her phone with her 24 hours – it had become an extension of her hand. If she was doing her homework, the phone was in the hand that didn’t hold her pen; she sat with it while we watched DVD’s, constantly tapping away in the background. It was next to her while she ate meals and she slept with it at night, the only clue that she was no longer texting came via a loud crash from her bedroom – it was explained the following morning that the crash was her phone dropping out of her hand and landing on the hardwood floor after she had fallen asleep.

The normal moods and rants of the average teenager seemed to be perpetuated by the jingle of his or her phone and the subsequent electronic epiphany. There was laughter and cursing, tears and frustration. I wasn’t sure how much of these reactions were down to teenage angst or the misinterpretation of an emotionless text. A few letters that are zapped between teenagers seem to have the ability to insight feuds that I can only recollect happening to me on a face to face basis in the school playground. Only when I saw that persons face or heard their voice could I see if they were joking, angry or about to beat my head in.

The teenagers I met didn’t seem to want face to face time or actual conversations with their peers. In fact, it seemed like an inconvenience when I suggested they call the offending person and clarify what exactly the issue was. It was exhausting just to watch as they went from their cell phone to the internet, bearing their souls and innermost feelings on Facebook with 400 of their closest friends – each of whom, incidentally, got to put their two cents in and fuel the shit storm further.

So what does this rant about teenagers and texting have to do with recovery? In the past I have communicated with my peers via text, and for the most part, it worked out okay – especially if I was sociable and in good spirits. The problem came when I wasn’t and I wanted to isolate. That was when texting became my disease’s best friend;  no one had to see my face or hear the depression in my voice – all I had to do was zap a quick note that all was great, followed by a smiley face, or if I really wanted to seal the deal and convince the recipient of my well-being, I would throw in a recovery slogan like, “I couldn’t be better, I’m letting go and letting God!” When the truth was, the only thing I was letting go was my ability to be honest – as I sat on the couch crying, munching chocolate and pretending to be fine.  As a recovering alcoholic, I needed to be accountable and rigorously honest. I found that I couldn’t do that if I was able to hide behind a keypad instead of making a phone call. Because instead of verbally saying “I need help,” I’d find myself texting “ I can’t make the meeting tonight – don’t worry about me though, I’m doing great :)”.

For now, it seems teenagers, texting, and all the drama are bound to go hand in hand. But in recovery we are learning to live in the real world and decrease the drama. This means having open conversations, face to face meetings, and other personal interactions with people who can see through the smiley face bullshit and figure out what is really going on. The best thing I did in early recovery was pick up the phone and talk to my sponsor on a daily basis. It was her suggestion, not mine.  At the time I hated the idea of speaking to her every day, but it just so happened that I hated the idea of drinking again just a little bit more, and so I did what she suggested 😉

counting sheepIt’s common to have problems sleeping in early recovery and insomnia can cause irritability, lack of concentration,  dizziness and poor judgment, to name but a few.  Any of these symptoms can put us at risk for relapse (and make us a pain in the ass to be around).

That being said, most of us have never given a good night’s sleep a second thought because  as practicing alcoholics and addicts, we were usually either sleep deprived or comatose.  I viewed ‘sleep’ as the time when I would inevitably pass out and waking up was merely coming to.  When I got sober, I heard all kinds of advice about looking after myself, physically, mentally and spiritually but this was a whole new concept (I’d been treating my body like a trash can, certainly  not a temple).  Thankfully, I was told to keep it simple and with that in mind here are a few tips that helped me get some drug and alcohol free shut eye:

  • Stick to a regular sleep routine. Try to go to bed at the same time every night and set an alarm to wake up at a similar hour each morning.
  • Avoid caffeine within 6 hours of going to bed. It might seem like a good idea to have 3 cups of coffee at the 8pm recovery meeting, but you’ll likely pay for it later.
  • Don’t drink too much liquid in the evening. Having to get up in the middle of the night to go to the bathroom obviously disturbs sleep but can also leave you unable to nod back off.
  • Make your bedroom a sleep sanctuary. Keep your bedroom clean and clutter-less, if your room is free of clutter and mess, your mind will likely follow suit. Keep the temperature cool enough for a blanket and dark enough so that there’s no lights shining through the drapes or blinds. If you can’t fix the curtains try an eye mask.
  • Take a relaxing warm bath or shower before bed. The warmth from the water raises the body temperature and when the body cools,  we become sleepy.
  • Don’t watch TV in bed. TV can be too stimulating, try reading a book instead or listen to calming audio – ocean waves, rain, whale sounds etc. are much more conducive to sleep than the screaming and drama on Reality TV.
  • Exercise. This was a dirty word for me early on (see what I mean here) but the truth is, even a little exercise can help with sleeping and improving our mood in general. It’s better to exercise earlier in the day or at least give yourself 3 hours after exercising before going to bed, as it stimulates adrenalin.
  • If you can’t fall asleep after 30 minutes – get up. Most of us have ‘committees’ (constantly running minds) I prefer to call mine ‘hamsters’. When I can’t shut my head up, I get up out of bed and read for a while, or sit quietly and write about the day I’ve had (journals are a great recovery tool).
  • Share your bed with your spouse or significant other – no kids, no pets. To minimize the chance of getting a foot in your ribs or a bed hogging hound; keep the kids in their own rooms and pets outside of the bedroom.

It’s a good idea to remember that getting a decent night’s sleep is important for everyone, but to newly sober alcoholics and addicts, it can be the difference between serenity and an unexpected slip.