Posts Tagged ‘early sobriety’

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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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.

bad dayToday isn’t going that great but at least I know that it could be worse, I could be drinking. I had to do something pretty scary this morning which involved facing an authority figure plus everyday ‘stuff’ has just been mounting up, I’ve got a constantly whirring mind, a knot in my stomach and I haven’t slept properly for weeks.

A few years ago, contemplating these things would have set me off on a colossal bender. Today things are a bit different, I have a program of recovery and tools that I use when I feel like I’m losing grip on reality.

It might take an hour or even a day of living inside my own head in complete terror before I pick up the tools – but I usually do. Of course I need a reminder sometimes of what those tools are, especially when I just can’t seem to get out of my own way.

If you are new in recovery and find yourself in a funk or are facing something that has got you jacked up, here’s a few things that were recommended to me:

  • Go to a recovery meeting and share about what is going on in your head – just being able to verbalize the ‘chatter’ in our minds can be a huge relief.
  • Talk to another newcomer at a meeting, the best way to get out of self is to help another alcoholic or addict, and helping sometimes can be as simple as listening.
  • Call your sponsor. (If you don’t have one, go to a meeting and share to the group that you need one).
  • Turn it over. Think about the problem/feeling/situation in your mind and mentally turn it over to your Higher Power. When I’m in a place where I’m looking for a specific outcome or I want someone to do what I want, I find it helps to let go of self-will by saying “Let your will be done not mine” or when I’m feeling particularly impatient, ‘In God’s time – not my time’.
  • Work the Step you are on. If you are working the 12 Steps, do some work or thought about the Step you are on at the moment. You could also write in a journal if you have one.
  • Go for a walk or get some exercise.
  • Get out of your head, watch a movie or go to the book store.
  • Keep your side of the street clean. Be honest. It’s easy to tell that white lie or mistruth so that we look good or we’ll get our own way, but the cornerstone of sobriety is the willingness to be honest in every area of our lives. It’s not easy, I was so used to being manipulative, selfish and dishonest that sometimes I’d catch myself lying without realizing I was even doing it and I’d have to stop and say ‘wait a minute, that’s bullshit, this is what is really going on’.
  • Progress not perfection. In early sobriety, sometimes progress meant actually getting out of bed instead of hiding from the world under the covers. Sometimes getting out of bed is all we can do, just don’t beat yourself up over it.
  • Gratitude for what we’ve got. In the grand scheme of things, everyone has problems, whether it’s money, relationships, health or job problems, it’s how we deal with them that matters. Being thankful for the things we have and not worrying about the things we don’t have or want. When I’m in self-pity, I write down 5 things I’m grateful for, even on the worst of days I can come up with that.

Just remember that no matter what, you don’t have to pick up a drink or drug today – we have alternatives. We have tools to deal with it, move on and get up tomorrow with a clear head, knowing we faced our demons and did the best we could and we did it clean and sober.

giftI’d hear people talk about the ‘gift’ of desperation in recovery meetings and wonder what the fuck they were talking about.  All I knew was that I couldn’t stop drinking, no matter what I tried, whether it was a few days in detox, a month in rehab or 9 months on Antabuse. It didn’t matter what I did, inevitably, I would get drunk. Over a period of four years I tried everything to stop, eventually I took a handful of pills, hoping that I wouldn’t wake up, instead I woke up in restraints in the ER covered in bruises from apparently fighting off the doctors and nurse who were trying to help me. I spent a few days in the psych ward in a bed opposite a lady who barely made an indent in the bed, there was nothing left of her, except a hollow expression and loose orange skin that made her look old, way beyond her thirty some years. Liver failure will do that to you. That was it, I was scared straight and vowed I’d never drink again. A week later I was back in detox.

I’ve said this before, but no one decides to walk into the rooms of AA, NA, detox or the psych ward because it looks like a fun way to spend the afternoon. Circumstances take us there, some of us are there because we’re trying to save a marriage, our family has given us an ultimatum or the courts have ordered it. That was my story for a while, I was there because other people wanted me sober and I found that while that reason worked in the short term, it never lasted longer than a few months.

When I finally wanted sobriety for myself, there were no more ultimatums, because there were no more people. I’d succeeded in driving them all away and I was completely broken. I knew I was fucked and that was when I became willing to do anything to stop drinking. Sure, I had sat in AA meetings before, cynically watching these ‘fakes’ pretend to be happy, but I had never got off my opinionated ass and asked for help. I just assumed that no one could help me because my alcoholism was different and they couldn’t possibly understand where I was coming from. Something had changed though; I was completely beaten and somehow that spurned me into action. I asked for help, got a sponsor and worked on the 12 Steps.  I did what was suggested – even if I thought it was crap (and I often did).

When I was in early sobriety, I did not see this desperation as a gift – it was more like a curse – but today, I realize that had I not felt as hopeless as I did, I might never have got off my ass and on the road to recovery. 

 

 devil-angel2Alcoholism and drug addiction are called cunning, baffling and powerful diseases mainly because they often trick our minds and get us to turn on  ourselves and sabotage our sobriety. The worst part is, it’s often very subtle and  we don’t notice these changes in our behavior or our thinking until it’s too late.  And by too late, I mean we’re already off to the races, we are no longer in  control and our disease is in the driver’s seat.                                 

Here are some of the signs that you might want to watch out for:                                                                                                                                                                           

  • You stop going to recovery meetings.  In early sobriety (at least the first year) it’s a good idea to do 90meetings in 90 days for the first three months and after that, at least 3-4 meetings a week. If you begin to think that you don’t need as many meetings – it’s your disease talking.
  • You start hanging out in bars with your old drinking buddies. If your friends want to meet you in a bar, tell them you’d rather meet in a coffee shop. If they are truly friends, then they will meet you there. If you decide it’s a good idea to meet them in a bar on a Friday night and drink soda while they pound drink after drink, then it’s your disease talking. (For more on this see People, Places and Things).
  • You start thinking that surely non-alcoholic beer or wine can’t hurt? Just think about this for a minute! I’ve often heard of alcoholics going this route before and what usually happens is once the alcohol hits their system, the body immediately craves more and they can’t stop. In fact, they’ll generally consume a 12 pack of near beer in a very short period of time before eventually moving onto the real stuff. There’s trace amounts of alcohol in these beverages, if you think that putting any amount of alcohol in your system is a good idea then it’s your disease talking.
  • You stop working the Twelve-Steps. Maybe you were working a Twelve-Step program of recovery but somehow decided that you don’t have to finish the Steps because it’s too much hard work. In my experience, when I thought I could do it alone and I stopped working on my Fourth Step, I started off feeling relieved that I didn’t have to do that shit anymore. The relief didn’t last long though because I increasingly became restless, irritable and discontent and then somehow I found myself at the liquor store. Do yourself a favor; see it through to the end, some things are worth the hard work and finishing the Steps was key to my long term sobriety and to many people I know.
  • You look for the differences in other alcoholics and addicts, not the similarities. When we think we are different from the addict who was on the streets, the alcoholic housewife who only drank at home or the teenager who hit bottom early in life, then our disease is talking. The circumstances of our decline into alcoholism and addiction may be different from others but the disease isn’t. Our disease will tell us we are different because it wants to keep us away from our peers.
  • You decide you can handle a new relationship as well as getting sober. Your disease wants to get laid so when the new relationship goes south (as they very often do in early sobriety) you’ll get drunk or high. More on dating in early recovery here

Obviously these are just some of the ways we can get off track, if you want to add any, please feel free to make a comment.

 

bottomI can’t recall the amount of people who asked me this, but I do remember being pissed off at the question. Of course I was done, I was sitting in a f**king recovery meeting wasn’t I?

My indignant attitude usually lasted between 2-3 months or until I’d start to feel better. Once I’d got a new place to live or a new job, things didn’t look nearly as bad as it was before. That’s when I started to feel like maybe I wasn’t done and that I might just have to do a little more ‘research’. And so it would begin again and I’d lose that new job, get tossed out of my new home and find myself in detox, dazed and confused, wondering why this could possibly happen again.

I learned a lot of from each and every bottom that I had, most importantly I learned that I was very lucky not to ‘get dead’ before I ‘got done’ with alcohol. There are a lot of people who think that they’ll go out and drink or use just one more time and unfortunately that one time, becomes the last time because they never wake up.

I also learned that while I could tell people what I thought they wanted to hear and tell them I was ready to quit drinking, the truth really was that I wasn’t done until I was done. When I finally admitted to myself that I was beaten and that I’d truly had enough was when I became willing to go to ANY lengths to stop drinking and stay stopped. That’s when I started to listen to the suggestions of the people who had some time in recovery – the ones who had been waiting until I could get honest with myself and admit that I was well and truly beaten – until I was done.