Posts Tagged ‘recovering alcoholic’

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.

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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.

stressRecovery meetings are a big part of staying clean and sober because they get us out of our heads and out into the world and sometimes we just really need to be around people who are as bat-shit crazy as we are.

In case you are wondering what some of the signs might be for getting your ass to a meeting, here’s a few clues (feel free to add any):

  • Who knew the laughter of small children could be so irritating?
  • The dog’s incessant tail wagging is really pissing you off, why does it have to be so happy ALL the time?
  • You think you don’t need a meeting, what you need is an evening in watching TV.
  • You find yourself shouting obscenities at the cartoon octopus on TV – the one  on the commercial promoting household air fresheners – it just doesn’t make any sense!
  • You tell the Girl Scout Cookie seller to go shove the cookies where the…you get the idea.
  • You find the line in the ‘fast food’ restaurant isn’t fast enough and you take it out on the 16 year old serving the fries.
  • Taking recovery tips from Lindsay Lohan seems like a good idea.
  • When the check-out person at the grocery store tells you to have a nice day, you tell her to go f**k herself.
  • Someone cuts you off in traffic and you think it’s a good idea to  follow them to their house.
  • It’s been 4 hours and you’re still trying to come up with an interesting enough status for your Facebook page.
  • You’ve  listened to The Eagles’ Desperado 10 times today.
  • Watching Titanic just doesn’t make you laugh like it used too.
  • You’re on Twitter and there’s no time for meetings, you’re too busy twittering and tweaking (I mean tweeting).
  • What’s so cute about kittens anyway?

And last, but not least,

  • You find yourself writing a blog entry about going to a meeting instead of actually going to a meeting.

sisters-beach240Sometimes I need a really big kick up the ass to remind me of just how lucky I am to be sober. Drunks like me die every day from this disease and by rights, I should be dead. You’d think that would be enough to keep me in an eternal state of gratitude? Yet somehow, I manage to piss and moan about something completely trivial on a daily basis. Even the most obvious ‘grateful’ scenarios, (like a beautiful sunset and the Mediterranean sea), can get spoiled by the addict in me  always wanting more…

I just spent a month with my family in England – something I’ve not been able to do in 19 years. During this time, I was lucky enough to go to the Costa Del Sol in Spain with my sister (who is also sober) and celebrate my sobriety birthday with her.

Now comes the part where I almost mess it all up. I wanted more – I didn’t want to leave! Thank God I have a program of recovery and so does my sister. We were sitting in her kitchen in England, the night before I was due to leave to come back to the USA and both of us were very upset. We were talking about how rotten we felt about the prospect of saying goodbye but somehow we started talking about our recovery programs and amidst all the self-pity, we managed to get our heads out of our asses and realize how lucky we were.

Boo ‘fucking’ hoo, so what! We hate to say goodbye  – at least we got to see each other in the first place AND take a vacation – how many people never see their families or get to go on a vacation? How ungrateful and selfish were we?

Our disease likes us to forget how bad it was and where we came from. Both of us had bottoms where we lost everything, we were hopeless drunks, chronic alcoholics, we lost our families, our homes, we lost touch with each other, yet here we were, clean and sober and moaning! That’s when I really felt immense gratitude for my sobriety, my sister’s sobriety and the program of Alcoholics Anonymous for giving us the tools to recognize our own bullshit.

I cried my eyes out the next day when I left and so did my sister, but having a recovery program allows me to take it one day at a time, and I’m certain we’ll be sitting having a cup of tea again in no time at all (and no doubt finding something to bitch about).

 

sponsor1When I became a Sponsor, I was so excited and ready to work with another alcoholic or addict, I was going to make a difference – sprinkling my experience, strength and hope around like fairy dust. Taking all the newcomers under my big Fairy Godmother wings and protecting them from relapse and early recovery jitters.

Needless to say, it wasn’t long before I fell off my pink cloud and plummeted down to earth for a dose of reality. Being a Sponsor is hard! Actually, I’ve come to realize that it’s accepting that I can’t make people do what I want that’s the hard part. I’ve spent many a day wondering why my Sponsee doesn’t do what I have suggested, surely my story of what it was like for me was convincing enough! After all, I was a hopeless drunk, I always relapsed, NOTHING worked for me until I finally lit a fire under my ass, got a Sponsor and worked on the 12 Steps.  Wasn’t my story of redemption enough to light a fire under someone else’s ass too? Apparently not.

After talking it through with my own Sponsor, I have to remember back to when I was the one who was indifferent and not quite sure if I was ready for sobriety.  I went through about four different Sponsors before I got desperate enough to start listening and taking suggestions. Before that I’d sit there telling people what I thought they wanted to hear, all the while thinking to myself, what a croc! My gnat-like attention span would only get it together long enough if the conversation was about me and how bad my life was, I didn’t want to hear about their story – b-o-r-i-n-g!

I continued this way until I was completely ruined, physically, mentally and spiritually, that’s when I finally admitted defeat, surrendered to the process and made a choice to complete the 12 Steps. Until I was ready to do that, nothing anyone said or suggested was going to make a blind bit of difference to me and that’s what I have to remember when a Sponsee hasn’t called in three weeks, is balking at the 4th Step or is too busy dating the hottie from the 8pm meeting. That’s when I realize I was like that too and just because I want someone to want this – doesn’t mean they’ll want it! All I can do is move on, hope they come back and continue trying to be of service to the people who do.

easyI started working with a new sponsee two weeks ago and she has about 45 days of sobriety. We have been going to meetings together, talking on a daily basis, reading the big book together and fingers crossed, this weekend she’ll complete her Third Step. Last week (after we’d been working together for only one week) she happened to blurt out that she  really wanted to get started on her amends because there were people who were waiting for her to make things right. I asked her what had prompted this and she said her adult son knows someone who is a recovering alcoholic, they work in the same office and the man told her son that he had 90 days sobriety and he is already writing his amends letters. Her son went on to tell her that the man he works with said this is where his mom should be at too.

Needless to say, I was exasperated, because not only is she getting advice on working her program from someone who isn’t even in the program himself, she’s was also being told by a family member who was being told by another person who has 90 days sobriety. It doesn’t bug me that the person with 90 days is telling someone else where they should be in the steps (he doesn’t know any better and probably thinks he’s helping), it’s that my sponsee’s son is taking what this person says and running with it, putting pressure on his mother to make amends, way before she is spiritually fit to take that on. She is living in a sober housing facility, struggling to pay rent there, trying to get a job and all the while she is still in a fog from the booze and scared and apprehensive about the future. It’s a little frustrating when a sponsee who is already under a lot of pressure and anxiety because she is so new to recovery, feels pressure to rush things because she wants to make her family happy. 

All I could do was explain to her that she is right where she needs to be. We are not rushing through the big book or the steps; we are reading and concentrating on the step she is on until she has a full understanding of it. We had only briefly touched on the rest of the steps after Steps 1, 2 and 3 because there is no need to worry about those until we get there.  I tried to explain to her that by completing each step to the best of her ability, will better prepare her for the next step and so on.  

She really wants this, she wants a life without booze and she is doing the best she can, working the step she is on, listening to suggestions, developing an understanding of her Higher Power and taking it one day at a time – that’s all any of us can do. If she can concentrate on working her program and not have other people tell her how she should be working it, hopefully the rest will fall into place.

smileWhen I was new to recovery, I absolutely, without a doubt thought there was no way I could be sober and happy, in fact I thought it was an oxymoron.

My life was a mess and had been for a long time. I’d been trying to get sober for four years and every time I tried, it went the same way. At first I’d be committed because the memory of my last drinking debacle was very fresh and clear in my mind (as clear as it could be for a blackout drunk) and I felt physically weak and mentally beaten. Surely I couldn’t keep putting myself through this hell again? This time would be different, I was done for good and my willpower and the memory of how bad it was would get me through.

My resolve would usually last anything from one day to three months. Sometimes all it took was one day and I’d be right back at the bottle and sometimes I’d white knuckle it for three months until I broke. During this time, one thing stayed the same, I was miserable beyond belief. I was a dry drunk, angry, depressed and exhibiting all the signs of alcoholism without actually having the alcohol in my system. This was no way to live and if this was what being sober meant, then I didn’t want it, I’d rather drink and be miserable than be sober and just as miserable. Thank God, I was able to find another way or else I really think I’d be dead by now, either from the drink itself or from suicide, because every time I drank I wanted to kill myself and it was only a matter of time until I’d succeed.

I went to Alcoholics Anonymous, the last stop on the block, the end of the road and the place I’d been avoiding for years. Sure, I’d been to a few meetings during my many attempts at sobering up, but I’d decided that I hated it and that the people there were brainwashed and bible thumping weirdos. I’d heard other people say the same thing and read a bunch of stuff on the internet too, but I was at a point where I would try ANYTHING and if it meant sitting around with a group of cult members, then I’d at least try it for a while before I ran for the hills.

I didn’t get it at first, the people in the meetings seemed ‘too happy’ – it had to be fake, but I was scared enough and desperate enough to stick around. In the first few months, I drank a few times and relapsed some more, but I did the one thing they told me to do – I kept coming back. Each time, I’d get some more clarity, each time something else they said would sink in and before I knew it, I had a Sponsor and I was working through the steps. Somewhere along the line, I had a day where I didn’t think about alcohol at all and once in a while I’d have a day where I actually felt, dare I say it? Happy.

Don’t get me wrong, I wasn’t suddenly this glowing, gushing poster child for AA. I was still a scared, defensive drunk, but I had taken a leap of faith. I’d decided to listen to some of the suggestions of the people I’d met in recovery. I’d got a Sponsor and I’d started working on the Twelve Steps and somehow, I’d been given a daily reprieve from the hell of my alcoholism. This was something I’d never experienced previously, when I’d tried sobriety on my terms. So I stuck around and listened to what these people who were all alcoholics and addicts had to say. They’d live through the hell of addiction and knew firsthand what I was going through and here they were, willing to help me

In the beginning, I’m sorry to say that I had nothing but contempt for these people of AA and their way of life, but I tried it anyway because I was at a point where I had nothing to lose as I had already lost everything. I’d found myself in a position where I asked myself this question – does it really matter how I get sober as long as I get there? Can trying a recovery program be any worse than it is now? I’d been avoiding the Twelve-Step Program option for years because of my preconceived ideas and it got me nowhere and almost killed me.  Now I’m thankful to be in a place where I’m not only living sober, but on occasion, I’m actually happy and that’s a miracle for this drunk and I owe a great deal of that to the people I met in the rooms of recovery.  

More information on Twelve-Step Programs can be found here