Posts Tagged ‘suggestions for the newcomer’

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.



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.

shellI was at a recovery meeting today and the topic was isolating. Needless to say everyone could relate to this because as alcoholics and addicts we tend to do this a lot. For me, at the end of my drinking career, when I’d lost all my friends and no one in their right mind would drink with me, I was accustomed to being alone. In fact, all I wanted was to be left alone, I’d pretty much barricade myself in my apartment with a bottle of vodka and all would be right with the world. Except that it wasn’t.

Now that I’m sober I still struggle with wanting to be alone. My excuse is that I avoid being around people because they annoy me. I want my own space and God forbid someone should cross that line and get in my personal space because I basically (internally) lose my shit. It can be as simple as someone standing too close to me in a grocery store checkout line. I want to explain to them that standing within an inch or two from my back is not going to get them to the front of the line any quicker – I’m still in front of them, so back the f**k off!

I can be in a movie theatre, settled into my seat and I’ll see them, the family of four or the gaggle of teenage girls walk around the corner and invariably choose the seats directly behind me when there’s almost an empty theatre. All the while, I’m quietly repeating to myself, ‘don’t do it, don’t sit there, don’t’…until they do. The same with airplanes, I’ll sit in my seat, iPod securely in my ears, looking intently at the in-flight magazine, hoping that if I just don’t give them eye contact, they won’t sit next to me. Silently chanting, ‘not you, not you, not you!’ until the inevitable happens and the seat gets occupied. Why I think no one will sit there on a sold out flight is beyond me, but I still hold out hope that I’ll be the only one left sitting alone.

I tell myself, I can’t help the way I am. I’m no good at small talk; loud people bother me, I’d clip the wings of every social butterfly with a sharp pair of scissors if I could. Why? The truth is; I’m jealous of other people being comfortable in their own skin, people who can chat successfully to a total stranger bother me because I can’t. I feel inferior. In a room full of people I can feel completely alone – no one wants to hear what I have to say, they’ll laugh or criticize me and I can’t have that. I’m different and no one gets me. My disease fills me with these ideas and thoughts so it can keep me alone, so that I won’t seek help, so that I’ll drink again.

My disease will continue to tell me that I’m different until I share in a room full of recovering alcoholics as they sit nodding in agreement. They even come up to me after the meeting and say, “I do that too! Oh my God, the movie theatre is the worst and supermarkets piss me off so much that I go there at 11pm just to avoid the people! That’s when I know I’m in the right place and I’m not so different and unique after all.

If you are new to sobriety and find that you are isolating, try going to a meeting, share your irrational thoughts, fears and pet peeves and you might just be surprised at how many people there feel exactly the same way as you do.

imagesWhen I first sobered up, it was suggested that I start to practice rigorous honesty in all areas of my life.   No  problem, I figured I could manage that, how hard could that be? A few hours, later a friend called my  cell phone, I didn’t feel like talking so I let the call go to voicemail. Later, when my friend asked why I hadn’t picked up, I told her that I didn’t hear the phone.  Obviously this  was a lie. The thing was, when the words came out of my mouth and I lied to this person, I didn’t think twice about it. My lying didn’t stop with small ‘white lies’ though, I was accustomed to spinning yarns that were worthy of becoming short stories. Making up lies to cover myself was so ingrained in me that I actually did it without thinking about it; it just came naturally. That’s when I knew that getting honest was going to be harder than I thought because up until getting sober, I had definitely been practicing rigorous dishonesty. 

Why was being honest such a big deal anyway? Everyone tells fibs (lies that are told to be tactful or polite and seemingly cause no harm to another). Why should telling someone a white lie jeopardize my sobriety? I asked this question to my sponsor and naturally they replied that being honest is the right thing to do (who’d have thought that?) and it helps us become accountable and responsible – something I had been avoiding like the plague.

It didn’t come naturally to me to be honest because for years I had lied to everyone about everything to avoid the consequences of my drinking.   My sponsor told me that while I couldn’t change the past, I could do things differently from now on and if I kept ‘my side of the street clean’, I would keep my conscience clean too and therefore stop any feelings of guilt and shame that came from lying. My sponsor was right about all the guilt and shame. When I think back on all the lies I told, keeping track of them, thinking of ways to cover myself, making excuses, it was a horrible way to live and I was extremely anxious and guiltridden. When I became guilty anxious and uptight, I drank. If I wanted to keep from drinking, I had to find a way to keep from lying too.

So if getting honest is such an important part of sobriety, how does a liar like me stay sober? First of all in the very beginning of our recovery we need to admit to our innermost selves that we are an alcoholic or addict. When we start being honest with ourselves, we can start being honest in all our affairs. It took me a lot of practice and I still slip up and while I’m certainly not perfect, I’m told that this journey of recovery is all about progress not perfection. So when I start to tell a white lie, (such as I didn’t hear the phone ring or I was late because of traffic) the difference now is I catch myself doing it and tell the truth. There are times when I could have walked away with too much change from the grocery store or gotten something for free because the clerk still thought I had a warranty. On occasions like this I told the truth and in return I was thanked for my honesty. Now that’s a miracle!

Sobriety has given me many things, but one of the best things is the peace of mind that I get from telling the truth. Where lying seemed the easiest option for me, honesty has become the only option.  I guess you could say the truth really did set me free (but I have to keep on top of it!) 


young-lady-holding-head-from-binge-drinking As amateur night (New Year’s Eve) is fast approaching, I’m reminded  of some very sound advice that is given to people in early recovery:  Stay away from people, places and things that may  push our buttons  aka ‘triggers’.  That was easier said than done for me because when I  was a new in sobriety, it felt as though EVERYTHING was a trigger.  Waking up in the morning – trigger, Monday through  Sunday – trigger, ex-husband – trigger, having a good day – trigger,  having a bad day – trigger, well you get the idea…

I’ve since realized that everything seemed like it was a trigger to me  because in early sobriety, all of my feelings and life experiences reminded me of drinking – because up until then, that is all I had ever done. I drank when I was sad, glad, happy or mad, I drank in the mornings, in the evenings, alone and in bars – drinking was my life so everything reminded me of it and in my mind, steered me right back to it. All that being said, this time I was serious about my sobriety, so I decided that I would listen to the people who told me that I should avoid people, places and things that might be a trigger to me.  

People – It turns out that people are hard to stay away from (unless you live in a cave).  Like most people, I had an ex who had the knack of sending me into a tailspin by simply uttering the right (or wrong) words. These well placed comments had the effect of altering my mood from already precarious to ‘fuck you’ and before I know it I’m on the way to the liquor store. Avoiding speaking to my ex was not feasible because we have a son together. At the time, I had my son on the weekends and I called him on the phone every night when I didn’t have him so I had to talk to my ex on a daily basis. I handled this by keeping the conversation to a minimum and always directing it towards the arrangements with our son and his well being. If I got upset (which invariably happened) I would get off the phone, go to a recovery meeting and share about what was going on or call my Sponsor. What I tried to avoid was getting drawn into a fight that I knew my ex could easily walk away from but would leave me seething and looking for a drink to ‘calm me down’.

I also avoided talking to certain family members that had the tendency to wind me up. Like most people, I didn’t want to completely cut myself off from my family so when I did speak to them, I kept the conversation simple and direct and in the here and now. My life was all about what I was doing TODAY in my recovery– not how I had screwed up in the past or making more promises for the future.  Some of us still have friends and family that we drank with – at this stage in my drinking career, I had lost most of my friends and there was no one in my life that would actively participate in drinking with me; my reputation definitely preceded me, so I didn’t have this problem. If you do have drinking buddies and family that drinks, keep your distance as much as you can – you can’t afford to be in an environment where people are actively drinking around you – (more on this below.)

Places – In early sobriety I avoided bars, clubs, pool halls and some restaurants that I had drank in and also most parties. Sure, there might come a time where I could go to these places to eat or to a get-together with friends, but in early sobriety, I really had no business being in a place where I was so easily within reach of my fix. Staring at the liquor bottles lined up behind the bar, watching people sip on cocktails was akin to torture in my mind and I had no place being there. As the old timers in recovery say, ‘hanging out in bars is like hanging out in a barber shop – sooner or later you are going to get a haircut whether you went in there for one or not. ‘

Things – Some  ‘things’ that were triggers for me were things like concerts, certain movies that I may have seen while drinking, looking at old photos, reading old letters and cards and generally holding onto the past and my former life as a drinker.  I was no longer a drinker and with that came a sense of relief that I no longer had to wake up feeling deathly ill, unable to recall what I had done, unable to face family and friends and avoid looking at myself in the mirror. Sobriety is a new beginning, a time to forge new memories that are crystal clear, not fuzzy or fragmented and filled with self-loathing and when I looked at it that way, it definitely seemed more doable. And what helped me to stay on track in the beginning of sobriety was to stay away from people, places and things that had the ability to put my sobriety in jeopardy. 

Someone asked me the other day, if I could give just three suggestions to the newcomer, what would they be? I immediately responded that I could come up with more than three and started to name them until I was thankfully reigned in by my friend. My friend was kind enough to point out that I obviously hadn’t completely listened to the question and therefore my ego was answering for me (OK Yoda, I get it).
So just THREE things…

1. Go to one Twelve-Step meeting per day for the first 90 days of your sobriety.
2. Get a Sponsor to work with you.
3. Don’t become involved in a new intimate relationship in early sobriety -dating, sex, friends with privileges – whatever you want to call it – don’t do it! (at least for the first year)

Of course, I’m dying to say more than that, but there’s my three, if you’d like to read more suggestions for the first 30 days you can click here, otherwise I’d be interested to hear from other people with your three suggestions for the newcomer. (Yoda says “Do or do not… there is no try.”- which I took to mean that he’d like to hear from you too.)