Monday, December 5, 2011

Moving the Mountain is Kindled!

My second book of essays, Moving the Mountain, is now also available for Kindle. I'm waiting approval for iBookstore and NOOK, which will be a couple of weeks. As a note, Be the Butterfly is approved for NOOK but apparently isn't showing up on the B&N website yet, so keep checking back.


Sunday, December 4, 2011

Getting to Recovery - Episode Six Posted

Episode Six of my podcast series is now posted. It is available through iTunes as well. I hope you enjoy!

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Be the Butterfly - NOOK and iBookstore on Board

Be the Butterfly is now live in the Nook store and iBookstore. The price is $4.99. My next project is Moving the Mountain, so keep tuned! Thank you all for your support, it means a great deal to me.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Being Peace

This essay appears in my second book, Moving the Mountain

Peace. It does not mean to be in a place where there is no noise, trouble or hard work. It means to be in the midst of those things and still be calm in your heart.
We all seek peace. It is human nature to want to be comfortable within ourselves. When we make the decision to become sober, it is often peace that ranks high among the reasons. Our addictive behaviors prevent us from being at peace with ourselves or with others, and we yearn for it. The very act of putting down that which we are addicted to brings us the first taste of that inner calm; it becomes one of the things we strive for as we grow in our New Life.

But peace is a tricky thing. It is easy to see it as something external to be attained, and in viewing it this way we place a sturdy obstacle in the path of obtaining it. If something is external, it can never be truly achieved. We must make it a part of us for it to come within our reach. Peace exists within us all at this very moment. When we seek it elsewhere, we are merely reinforcing a mistaken belief that it is something we are lacking when in fact it is something waiting to be discovered already within us.

I am especially guilty of this outward-seeking view of peace. I do not feel at peace with myself now, so it is easy to assume that it does not exist within me and must be somewhere 'out there'. I have spent the last twenty years searching for an external set of circumstances that will allow me to be at peace with myself. What I have come to understand is that peace cannot be found outside of myself, only within my own being.

Look inside yourself; has there never been a moment when you felt truly at peace? We have all experienced it, but its transitory state has made it easy to believe that the external situation is what brought the feeling about. This is not completely true. A situation may allow us to glimpse the peace that is within us, but it is our own minds which created the sensations of calm and satisfaction, not the outside world. We create our reactions to life; it is our own energy which brings peace.

Knowing this, we can look at how to cultivate the sense of peace that already exists within us. Once we do this, we can be calm and peaceful in any situation. But how do we achieve this? The first step is accepting that we are capable of being in a state of true acceptance within ourselves no matter where we are externally. We must accept that we are worthy of being peaceful. We are enough, we have enough, and we do enough. It is easy, especially during the holidays, to try and take on too much. We fall into the trap of believing that being busy will distract us from the things going on in our lives that we do not like, and instead find that we have over-committed and have no time to breathe. We can't be peaceful when we are so overwhelmed.

The holiday season is supposed to be a time of peace. We can retake that peace even amidst the hustle and bustle if we make time for it. During meditation, focus on your inner peace; what puts you in that calm state? Practice bringing up those thoughts during your daily devotional. When you find yourself in a difficult situation, use that practice to allow you to draw upon the energy within you that brings a sense of calm. In the midst of crisis, think peace. It seems too simple, but it works; a deep breath and a mental image of calm can diffuse a great deal of negative energy. But it takes practice.

Here is a technique I learned for creating an inner sanctuary. Close your eyes and envision a place that brings you great calm. Now, while focusing on the detail of that place, begin tapping your shoulders lightly and rhythmically. Get into the fine descriptions of your peaceful location, the sights, smells, and sounds of it. Do this for a few minutes on a regular basis. Then, when you are under stress and feel the need to calm yourself, close your eyes and again tap your shoulders. You will be taken to your sanctuary, where you can breathe and experience the peace flowing through you.

Do not stop searching for ways to eliminate stress and negativity from your life, but do not confuse this with seeking peace; peace is yours already. In the midst of struggle, your thoughts and your energy can be calm and relaxed. You are worth the peaceful feelings you carry within you. Be the positive energy flowing through you. Be peace.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Getting to Recovery: Statement Six

Statement Six: Embracing a Life of Greatness

Women are sometimes confused by this statement. They think of greatness as meaning the sort of immortality gained through fame and fortune, and believe that they aren’t “getting” the statement because they are merely housewives, or office workers, or what have you. What they don’t see is that there can be greatness in the most normal of lives. Greatness in this sense comes from living each moment fully, no matter whether it involves taking out the trash or winning an Oscar.

Life can be ordinary

Let us first consider what this statement means by an ordinary life. Almost everyone has an “ordinary” life, a daily routine that doesn’t vary much and that they tend to move through on autopilot. Think of your morning ritual. How much of it do you actually remember by lunchtime? You know you got dressed, brushed your teeth, did your hair, and so forth, but you likely don’t have a clear memory of it. How often do you get to work and realize you don’t remember the drive? Those are the ordinary things Statement Six wants you to find the greatness in.

A clue can be gained here about what Statement Six is offering, when we realize that what one person considers ordinary another may find exotic: being served breakfast every day by a live-in cook may seem completely normal for an aristocrat, but to the average person it would be a fantasy. Likewise, the aristocrat may consider a rowdy family meal to be a delightful event because their meals are usually ruled by etiquette and “proper” behavior. Ordinary is all in how you look at something.

Or life can be great

As the examples above show, greatness has a lot to do with our perception of events. When something seems unique or unexpected we pay more attention to it, and it seems somehow “greater”. Think of how it feels when you see a shooting star; pretty awesome, right? The Earth’s atmosphere is hit by debris from space millions of times each day – it is, on a cosmic scale, an extremely ordinary event. It is your perception of the streak that you see in the night sky that makes it great, not the event itself.

In other words, life is what we think of it. I have said before that our internal talk creates our external reality. As long as we see our lives as ordinary, they will be. Statement Six tells us that we have a choice about how ordinary our existence is. We can continue to move through life half-awake, letting the days drone on monotonously and feeling somehow “gypped”, or we can open the windows and let in the breeze, wake up, and allow the inherent greatness of our daily existence to shine.

Greatness is mine by a conscious effort

In order to find the greatness in our lives, we have to change how we look at the world. This isn’t nearly as difficult s it may sound. All we have to really do is start looking for shooting stars. By this, I mean opening ourselves to the unexpected in what we consider ordinary situations. For example; if you have a window in your bathroom, what color is the light when you brush your teeth in the morning? Are there shadows? Can you hear birds, or a morning train, or car alarms? Those things are always changing from day to day. Their subtle variation can help you recognize that even something like brushing your teeth is a unique experience.

There is a common saying: “Any day above ground is a good day.” The fact that we are alive and sentient means that there are endless new experiences to be had each moment. It is our nature to tune things out; we should instead learn to tune in to our surroundings, and to approach the world with wonder. It is here that greatness is found, being in the present moment as much as possible.

I have an exercise I would like you to try. Take a ten minute walk through an area that is very familiar to you. Instead of putting on your earphones and staring ahead blindly, however, I want you to see how many new sensations you can find; new sights, sounds and smells that you have never paid any attention to. What are people wearing? What does the sky look like, how does the wind feel? Is it hot, cold, humid, or dry? Is there trash along the way? Look around you as though you had never been there before, and try not to zone out or daydream. Focus on being in the moment completely. Afterwards, how do you feel? My guess is that “ordinary” does not come to mind.

It takes practice to be in the present moment, to find the greatness in your ordinary life. The more you look for it, however, the more often you will find it. Remember that every moment exists but once; look to experience life with a sense of joy and wonder at the complexity of our world. Our lives in recovery are indeed new; allow yourself to view the ordinary through sober eyes and you will find that greatness is everywhere you look.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Be the Butterfly now available from Kindle

Great news! My first book of essays, Be the Butterfly, is now available from the Kindle store. This book of thirteen essays was first published in 2007. The print version is still available through lulu.com or online bookstores. I am waiting approval for the iBookstore and Nook stores, which I am told can take a while.



This is the link for the Kindle edition. It is priced at $4.99.



This is the link for the print edition from Amazon.

I am excited about moving into this new frontier of publishing. Next up, Moving the Mountain, followed hopefully by We Are All Sisters (yet unfinished). Thanks to all my readers for their continued support!

Friday, October 28, 2011

Getting to Recovery: Statement Five

Statement Five:4C-ing a Positive Outlook

Note: This is the fifth in a series of essays on the 13 Statements of the Women for Sobriety program. These statements are copyright to WFS and I encourage you to see their website for more information.

"I am What I Think."

Many of us enter sobriety as strangers to ourselves. We have used alcohol as a substitute for self-reflection and self-change, as well as the antidote to unpleasant emotions that arose from our inner negative self-talk. It was OK to call ourselves stupid, unworthy, or to let anger run through us, because pouring a drink would make it all better. At least, that’s what we convinced ourselves was true.

The results of this internal self-abuse outlast our drinking. We find ourselves sober, but still programmed to view our abilities through negative eyes, and lacking a sense of self-worth that would encourage us to change. I am going to focus on how Statement Five applies to this “negative stasis”, as interrupting and replacing the flow of negative thoughts must begin with the words we use on ourselves.

"I am a Capable,"

In the most basic sense, we are capable of thought. This capability extends to both negative and positive thinking. We often say to ourselves, “I can’t think positively”, which simply isn’t true. We have positive thoughts every day, we just don’t recognize them. Do you believe the sun will rise in the morning? That is a positive expectation, a positive thought. Most of our daily existence is based on positive beliefs; that the sun will rise, that we will continue to breathe, that the universe will continue to behave more or less as it did when we went to sleep, or left for work, or started dinner.

Once we recognize our basic positive beliefs, we begin to see how we can change our default thinking from that of negative (I can’t) to positive (I am capable). We are capable of positive thought, of creating a positive frame through which to process information. That frame is already there, in actuality, and all we have to do is accept it and decide to use it consciously. We can then begin to work on accepting our basic competence in using that frame to change our outlook.

"Competent,"

We are not merely capable of thinking about ourselves positively; we are competent in doing so. Of the four C’s in Statement Five, “competent” is often the most difficult for women to embrace. It suggests an ability that many of us don’t believe we possess. Whereas capable tends to describe a future event – we will be able to do something at some point – competent means we already have the power to complete the task. In fact, we are competent in positive self-talk. As I said before, we already do this in our basic daily routine.

When we focus down to the most minute of thoughts, as is done in some active Buddhist meditations, we see that we are constantly encouraging ourselves; I can lift my foot and put it down, I can breathe in and exhale, I can stand and sit. We are full of innate positive energy. All we have to do is practice that positive expectation when speaking to ourselves consciously to begin the transformation from a negative world view to the positive frame we seek.

"Caring,"

Another thing we often neglect to recognize is how caring we are toward ourselves. Looking again at the most basic of activities, we very rarely act in an uncaring way toward ourselves. We do not deny ourselves our basic needs – such as breathing and sleeping - and we usually act to avoid things which will hurt us. The decision to become sober is deeply self-caring, though we don’t always recognize it as such. It can be viewed as the first conscious application of our basic caring in our journey of recovery. When we approach our self-talk with this knowledge of our basic caring nature and the recognition that we have already made the move from unconscious to conscious application of that caring self, we will find our words towards ourselves to be kinder and more loving.

"Compassionate Woman"

Finally, when we speak to ourselves we need to do so with compassion. Being gentle with ourselves will help us view the world through calmer eyes. Practicing compassion toward ourselves opens the energy pathways and allows the universe to flow through us in a positive manner. Compassion doesn’t mean self-indulgence in the sense of excusing harmful behavior; rather, it means approaching ourselves with an acceptance of what we have experienced and a willingness to allow ourselves to express what we are feeling.

When we are compassionate towards our thoughts, we eliminate the need for defensiveness and open a dialog wherein we can work to change negative beliefs in a positive manner, without belittling or degrading our existing self. Women have an innate ability to be compassionate, but we have been conditioned that we cannot apply this compassion to ourselves. Breaking through this society-imposed prohibition can be difficult, but the rewards are vast.

Jean Kirkpatrick referred to Statement Five as “the keystone of the entire program,” and all the other statements build upon this one. We create our external reality based on the words we speak to ourselves, and by practicing the four C’s with our inner talk, we establish a foundation upon which our New Lives can flourish. When we remember that we are capable and competent in thinking positively about ourselves, when we are caring with our internal speech and compassionate when we approach existing beliefs and emotions, we will find the universe unfolding with limitless possibilities awaiting our exploration.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Getting to Recovery Episode 4 Posted

After much delay, episode four has been posted to podOmatic. With a new microphone and not being sick any longer, hopefully episode five won't be far behind!


Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Getting to Recovery: Statement Four

Note: This is the fourth in a series of essays on the 13 Statements of the Women for Sobriety program. These statements are copyright to WFS and I encourage you to see their website for more information.

Statement Four: Are You Bothered?

There is a British comedic actress, Catherine Tate, whose signature character’s favorite line is, “Are you bothered?” She asks this usually after she has riled someone up to the point that they are, in fact, quite bothered. During our active addiction, it usually didn’t take much for us to become ‘bothered’. Any problem, real or perceived, could send us into a frenzy of anger, frustration and worry. There seemed to be no volume control on our problems; they were all blasting at us on the highest level possible.

Once we become sober, we don’t automatically find the off button for our problems. It is a truth of life that difficulties will arise from time to time. What we do gain is the ability to change the volume on our problems, to choose how we react to them and how much power to give them over our lives and our recovery. Statement Four in the Women for Sobriety program is about dealing with those bumps in the road in a positive manner.

“Problems bother me only to the degree I permit them to”

Many times, a problem is only as major as we make it. When we were drinking, we tended to make everything into a top-level issue, something to keep us awake at night with worry. Whether it was a leaking faucet or the threat of losing a job, we treated everything as though it could mean the end of life as we knew it.

It doesn’t have to be this way. In the first place, not everything has to require a reaction from us. There is no law obligating us to spend the rest of the day in angry thought because someone was rude to us in the morning. We can learn to simply let it go, to recognize that we control how others' behavior affects us. Being cut off in traffic may be annoying, but it needn’t ruin our day.

One thing we tend to do is worry about things which are or may become problems. Worry can consume a great deal of time and energy, often without any real result other than lost sleep. I have said before that worry is action without direction. We spin our wheels worrying about what could happen, instead of applying our energy toward finding a solution.

The degree to which a problem bothers us is directly related to our sense of powerlessness over it. If we tackle an issue head-on there is no need for us to worry about it, as we are being proactive in our approach. It is when we allow ourselves to fall into the victim role, the “I can’t face this or fix this” mentality, that we find problems bothering us to a greater and greater extent.

“I now better understand my problems”

Only 8% of what we worry about actually happens, and we only have any control over half of that. Almost half of our worries will never happen, and a full third have already happened. In other words, for every 100 things we worry about, we are needlessly agonizing over 96 of them. One of the biggest steps we can take in applying Statement Four is to begin letting go of those 96 pointless worries. If we can do this, we eliminate a huge amount of negative energy and open ourselves to the positive joy that can replace it in our lives.

If you find yourself worrying, ask first; “Has what I am worried about already happened?” If it has, gently remind yourself that the past is gone forever, as Statement Nine tells us. Allow the worry to melt as you know that the future is yours to create. Next, you may ask; “What are the odds that this will actually happen, and if it does, do I have any control over it?” Be realistic in your answer. While there is a chance you will be struck by lightning tomorrow, the odds are so remote that you aren’t likely to stay inside out of fear. Use the same logic with what is worrying to you. If you decide that what you are worried about is both likely to happen AND is something you have some control over, then you need to take action, not sit and worry. Remember, worry is action without direction. If you take action, you won’t need to worry.

In sobriety we can see beyond the immediate and recognize what role we play in our problems. Often, we are not blameless in the issues that arise in our lives. Part of taking responsibility for ourselves, as Statement One says, is to acknowledge what part we play in how these situations affect our lives. Once we do this, we can see what changes can be made to solve problems before they grow beyond our control.

The addictive voice usually counsels us to run from problems, to hide from our responsibility in alcohol. Once we become sober, this same voice urges us to ignore things that discomfit us, to pretend they don’t exist instead of meeting them head on. If we listen to this whisper in our ear, we find that not only do our problems not go away, but the whisper grows ever louder until it may become a roaring demand that we return to drinking as the only solution to the things that go wrong.

“And do not permit problems to overwhelm me”

Often when a problem arises, we slip into a cycle of worry where we envision increasingly disastrous results which leads to even more worry, while not actually doing anything about the situation until we have allowed ourselves to become overwhelmed by “what ifs”. At this point, things often seem hopeless, and hopelessness can be a powerful trigger. It is when we become overwhelmed that drinking becomes so attractive. Statement Four gives us a powerful weapon against that feeling of overwhelmed hopelessness; self-empowerment.

Self-empowerment is the enemy of fear. Fear seeks to paralyze us with images of disaster. Once we acknowledge our ability to choose how problems affect us, and choose to face them with an “I can solve this” attitude, we often find that the fear associated with those problems fades dramatically. It is when we decide that we will face our problems squarely that we take control of our reactions and truly embrace the concept this statement represents. The truly wonderful thing about finding this inner power is that it feeds itself with each success; every time we face a problem head-on and solve it, we feel our sense of self-worth grow.

By putting an end to the cycle of worry and avoidance, we begin to allow our true selves to flourish. We start to see that we really are the capable and competent women the New Life program talks about, that Jean Kirkpatrick was referring to us when she said, “We can change our lives radically by believing that thoughts are everything. What we think happens … We must realize that our thoughts create our worlds for us.” By refusing to be ruled by our problems, by utilizing Statement Four – along with the other statements – when faced with difficulties, we create a new, sober world full of happiness and contentment. If we are asked, “Are you bothered?” we can hold our heads high and answer confidently, “No.”

Monday, September 12, 2011

Five Years Sobriety

Celebrating my fifth Soberversary today. It feels somehow anti-climactic, just another normal day in a normal life. But really, that's as it should be, no? Living life, experiencing all the dull moments, the irritations, and the simple joys ... without burying myself in a bottle. Accepting life on life's terms, changing what I can and letting the rest flow by.

I had thought to write a grand post, waxing poetic and philosophical on my New Life, but now that I'm arrived at this way station on the journey I find it doesn't seem necessary. My existence is my magnum opus on the simple beauty of living in recovery. That I live at all proves how powerful that first step can be, how powerful the Women for Sobriety program can be. I feel a sense of peace that I can't describe in words, except to say that it comes from a place I would never have known without sobriety. That I, for whom words are entire worlds, find it impossible to express my feelings on this day speaks loudly enough, I think.

I see behind me great teachers, great friends, and great challenges and triumphs. I see before me the colors and shades of the universe waiting for exploration and discovery. All of this because late one evening five years ago I looked with blurred vision at an empty bottle of champagne, picked up a marker, and wrote "No More" in big black letters.

Five years is but the drawing in of breath in a life without alcohol. I can't wait so see what happens next.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Statement Nine on 9/11

WFS Statement 9 reads, "The past is gone forever. No longer will I be victimized by the past. I am a new person." Today is the tenth anniversary of the terror attacks of September 11, 2001, when thousands of people died because of hatred and intolerance. The television is full of somber ceremonies in remembrance of those who were killed, social media abuzz with sad and sometimes angry comments and memories. Yet I look at Statement Nine and wonder, when is it too much? When do we pass from honoring an event into allowing ourselves to remain stuck in victimization?

I can detail my thoughts, movements and actions of that day almost as if it happened yesterday. I was awakened by my partner's phone call to tell me a light plane had crashed into the World Trade Center. Since the place she worked didn't have a television, she asked me to turn on the news and fill her in. I saw the second plane on the screen and knew right away that this was no small plane, nor even a cargo plane. My Air Force background allowed me to recognize a commercial passenger jet right away, even from a shaky distance. I remember the feeling of dread as understanding that someone was intentionally crashing airliners filtered through my still groggy brain.

A friend of ours had a sister working at the Pentagon. She drove to my house and we sat and stared at the TV as she tried frantically to reach her by phone. Finally, a call came in: Her sister said she was fine and going to the hospital to be checked out. Only later did we discover she was not fine, she had been only a couple of offices away from the crash center, and was seriously injured. That day became a blur; phone calls - is so and so flying today? Did Aunt M decide to drive instead? Thank God. The news non-stop in the background, the eerie silence that seemed to fall as all air traffic was grounded, as if we could hear the lack of jet engines in the sky.

I was still drinking then, but somehow I don't recall drinking that day. It seemed as though it would be too dangerous, that even in our tiny town on the Florida coast it was necessary to remain hyper-vigilant for some attack that could spring at any moment. The day wore into several, and into weeks, and finally the dull realization that life had forever changed became all too real.

Ten years later, I can't help but wonder how great a victory the terrorists won that day. It seems that we still live in fear, that we surrender our basic civil rights for the pretense of security. I see how people look at those who appear Middle Eastern even now, with fear and a glint of hatred in their eyes. It saddens me; it feels as if that day released all the pent-up bigotry and intolerance in us as Americans. I almost feel as though our country DID fall that day. We are divided, angry and tearing at each other with a viciousness that can only bode ill for the future of us all.

The past is gone forever. It is good to remember, to honor, even to reflect in sadness. It is not good, however, to remain stuck in a victim mentality. 9/11 was a crime against us all, but the vast majority of us were not directly affected by it. For us to continue to let the negativity churned up by the attacks to affect us only prolongs healing that must occur. We must move forward from fear and distrust, must not allow ourselves to be victimized over and over by events a decade old.

I choose to release the past. I will remember and honor, but not with tears or anger. I will instead embrace the future with laughter and joy, fighting terrorism by refusing to allow the acts of the hateful to change me. Love wins in the end over fear, if you just open yourself to it. Wallow in sadness and worry, remain stuck in a victim mentality, and evil triumphs.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Seven Days Sober: HALT!

HALT is an important acronym to remember

This acronym is one of the most important to learn in early sobriety. It's a way to remind ourselves of four major triggers to relapse: hunger, anger, loneliness and tiredness. If you find yourself having drinking thoughts or cravings, ask yourself, am I ...

Hungry?

Substance abusers often ignore their nutritional needs. How many of us would answer a hunger pang by pouring a drink? It is important to relearn how to eat properly. Being hungry can make people less able to control themselves and less likely to control cravings. Someone who isn't accustomed to eating regularly may feel anxious or upset without associating these feelings with hunger. Eating regularly increases emotional stability. A good snack in early recovery is peanut butter toast.

Angry?

Anger is probably the most common cause of relapse. We often drank to handle feelings of anger, and it is very important to learn healthy ways of handling this and other negative emotions. Talking about anger-producing situations and how to handle them is an important part of recovery.

Lonely?

If we weren't lonely before we became sober, we may very well feel lonely once we stop drinking. Part of recovery may involve giving up friendships with people who still drink, or relationships may have been lost due to substance use. Feelings of loneliness are real and painful, and make people more vulnerable to relapse. Developing a good recovery network is very important in maintaining sobriety.

Tired?

Poor sleep patterns are often a part of early recovery. Being tired is often a trigger for relapse. Feelings of exhaustion and low energy leave people unable to function normally, paving the way for substance use as a "pick-me-up". Getting sufficient, regular sleep is a vital part of the early recovery plan.

Journal Exercise:

Describe how often and at what times you find yourself in these emotional states. What could you do differently to avoid being vulnerable to relapse?

Monday, September 5, 2011

Seven Days Sober: Managing Downtime

Being in recovery means living responsibly. Always acting intelligently and constantly guarding against relapse can be exhausting. It is easy to run out of energy and become tired and bitter. Life can become a cycle of sameness: getting up, going to work, coming home, lying on the couch, going to bed, and then doing it again the next day. People in recovery who allow themselves to get to this state of boredom and exhaustion are very vulnerable to relapse. It is difficult to resist triggers and relapse justifications when your energy level is so low.

The Old Answer

Drugs and alcohol provided quick relief from boredom and listlessness. All the reasons for not using substances can be forgotten quickly when the body and mind desperately need refueling.

A New Answer

Each person needs to decide what can replace substance use and provide a refreshing, satisfying break from the daily grind. What works for you may not work for someone else. It doesn't matter what nonusing activities you pursue during your downtime, but it is necessary to find a way to relax and rejuvenate. The more tired and beaten down you become, the less energy you will have for staying smart and committed to recovery.

Notice how often you feel stressed, impatient, angry, or closed off emotionally. These are signs of needing more downtime.

Journal Exercise:

Make a list of activities which would help rejuvenate you. Here are some examples:

  • Walking
  • Reading
  • Meditation or doing yoga
  • Listening to music
  • Playing with a pet
  • Taking a class
  • Painting, drawing
  • Writing
  • Fishing
  • Knitting
  • Scrapbooking
On a day when you're stressed and you realize that in the past you would have said, "I really need a drink" or "I need to get high today," what will you do now? What will you do in your downtime?

Information from:

Center for Substance Abuse Treatment. Counselor's Treatment Manual: Matrix Intensive Outpatient Treatment for People With Stimulant Use Disorders. HHS Publication No. (SMA) 08-4152. Rockville, MD: Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, 2006; reprinted 2007, 2008, 2009, and 2010

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Seven Days Sober: Looking Forward

Structure, scheduling and balance are all important elements to a successful recovery. The hard work of early sobriety can sometimes seem stifling or overwhelming, however, and women sometimes feel they need to take a break from the routine and get excited about something.

Planning enjoyable things to look forward to is one way to put a sense of anticipation and excitement into your life. Some people think of this as building islands of rest, recreation, or fun. These are islands to look forward to so that the future doesn't seem so predictable and routine. The islands don't need to be extravagant things. They can be things like:


  • Going out of town for a 3-day weekend
  • Taking a day off work
  • Going to a play or concert
  • Attending a sporting event
  • Visiting relatives
  • Going out to eat
  • Visiting an old friend
  • Having a special date with your partner

Plan these little rewards often enough so that you don't get too stressed, tired, or bored in between them.

Journal Exercise:

List some things that you have used as a reward in the past
What are some possible islands for you now?

Information from:

Center for Substance Abuse Treatment. Counselor's Treatment Manual: Matrix Intensive Outpatient Treatment for People With Stimulant Use Disorders. HHS Publication No. (SMA) 08-4152. Rockville, MD: Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, 2006; reprinted 2007, 2008, 2009, and 2010

Friday, September 2, 2011

Fast Facts: Substance Abuse and Eating Disorders

Eating disorders have one of the highest mortality rates of all psychological disorders (Neumarker 1997; Steinhausen 2002).  Approximately 15 percent of women in substance abuse treatment have had an eating disorder diagnosis in their lifetimes (Hudson 1992).  Three eating disorders are currently included in the DSM-IV-TR: anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, and eating disorder not otherwise specified (APA 2000a).  Compulsive eating, referred to as binge-eating disorder, is not included as a diagnosis in the DSM.

Currently, it is theorized that substance abuse disorders and compulsive overeating are competing disorders, in that compulsive eating (binge-eating) is not as likely to appear at the same time as substance abuse disorders.  Consequently, disordered eating in the form of compulsive overeating is more likely to appear after a period of abstinence, thus enhancing the risk of relapse to drugs and alcohol to manage weight gain.

Bulimia nervosa, characterized by recurrent episodes of binge and purge eating behaviors, has the highest incidence rates in the general population for eating disorders (Hoek and van Hoeken 2003), and it is the most common eating disorder among women in substance abuse treatment (Corcos et al. 2001; Specker et al. 2000; APA 2000a).

Center for Substance Abuse Treatment. Substance Abuse Treatment: Addressing the Specific Needs of Women.  Treatment Improvement Protocol (TIP) Series 51.  HHS Publication No. (SMA) 09-4426.  Rockville, MD: Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, 2009.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Recovery: A Labor of Love

We are coming into the Labor Day weekend here in the U.S., the traditional end of summer holiday celebrated with parties, picnics and - usually - heavy drinking.  Labor Day was originally created as a recognition of the American worker, and it is in that spirit that I suggest we use this holiday weekend to honor the hard work that goes into our recovery.

It is especially fitting to do this in that September is National Recovery Month.  If you are still struggling with getting sober, take this weekend to rededicate yourself to that sobriety.  Here are some ways to jumpstart your sobriety or to fine tune your recovery.

Do you have a sobriety plan? This booklet will help you in setting one of up you don't.  If you do, pull it out and update it for your current situation.
Do you know the warning signs of relapse? Knowing the things to be wary of is the first step in maintaining recovery.  Staying Sober by Terence Gorski is an excellent book on relapse prevention.  The accompanying Workbook is also great.
Do you belong to a support program? If not, you should find one which meets your needs.  For women, I obviously recommend Women for Sobriety, especially for its strong online component.
Do you regularly attend f2f/online meetings &/or read recovery materials? Maintaining a connection to other sober people and reinforcing the importance of sobriety through reading are both important in preventing relapse.
Have you had a recent checkup? Physical well-being is important, especially during early sobriety.
Do you eat right and exercise? Both of these things contribute to your sense of wellness, both physically and emotionally.
Do you journal daily? Journaling, whether gratitude lists or stream-of-consciousness writing or something in-between allows us to keep track of the health of our lives and recovery, and can be invaluable in discovering the answers to questions that threaten our sobriety.
Do you meditate?  Meditation, prayer, or simply taking time each day to be silent and reflect are great ways to reduce stress, which in turn reduces drinking urges.

These are just a few suggestions, and I encourage you to spend some time this weekend looking at other ways to strengthen and support your recovery.  Recovery is truly a labor of love, so love yourself and watch the world unfold before you.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Summer Refreshment Part V

With Labor Day approaching, here are some more iced teas to wet your whistle.

Pineapple Iced Tea

  • 1 quart water
  • 7 tea bags
  • 1 cup unsweetened pineapple juice
  • 1/3 cup lemon juice
  • 2 tablespoons sugar

In a saucepan, bring water to a boil. Remove from the heat. Add tea bags; cover and steep for 3-5 minutes. Discard tea bags. Stir in the pineapple juice, lemon juice and sugar until sugar is dissolved. Refrigerate overnight for the flavors to blend. Serve over ice.

Mint Iced Tea (unsweetened)

  • 2 bags each of Darjeeling and English Breakfast tea
  • 1 bag of mint tea
  • 2 cups cold water

Heat water to boiling and pour over teabags in pitcher. Allow the tea to steep for 15-30 minutes. Remove the teabags, fill the pitcher with cold water and refrigerate to chill. If you wish to drink immediately, fill the pitcher halfway with ice cubes then add cold water to top.

Blackberry Swizzler
probably from the Lipton website

  • 6 blackberry flavored black tea bags
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 2 cups water
  • 1 can (6 oz) frozen lemonade concentrate, thawed and undiluted
  • 1 cup raspberries, blueberries or sliced strawberries
  • 1 cup chilled lemon soda

In saucepan, pour boiling water over teabags; cover and steep five minutes. Remove teabags, stir in sugar, and cool. In large pitcher, combine tea, lemonade concentrate, and fruit; chill. Just before serving, add soda. Serve with ice.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Getting to Recovery episode 3

The third episode of the Getting to Recovery podcast series, is now available. If You're Happy and You Know It discusses Statement Three and finding happiness in recovery.


Sunday, August 28, 2011

Seven Days Sober: Tackling Irrational Beliefs

I have previously discussed that thoughts become cravings, and how, unless we interrupt the process, a trigger will lead to relapse. For many, the process of getting sober starts with a long series of attempts, each failing when a trigger event cascades into drinking. During this period, we have a choice; we can give up – assuming we are simply incapable of sobriety – or we can do what is necessary to stop the cycle of quitting and relapsing. Finding a program is one major step in this process, but another is working to understand the reasons for our ongoing failures.

Albert Ellis developed a model for anger management that has great application in this area (Ellis, 1979, and Ellis and Harper, 1975). His A-B-C-D model, also called the Rational-Emotive Model, is based on the idea that it is not events themselves that produce feelings such as anger, but our interpretations and beliefs about these events. According, the Ellis, as people become angry, they engage in an internal dialog which feeds their anger. I like to think of this process as a “thinking spiral”, where we fuel an initial negativity with ever greater negative thoughts. In the Trigger > Drinking cycle, this is where we talk ourselves into the relapse.

The Rational-Emotive Model uses the approach of identifying irrational beliefs and disputing them (the “D” in the A-B-C-D Method) with more rational or realistic perspectives. A rational belief is one that is measurable, objective and rooted in reality. For example, an irrational thought might be that you MUST do something perfectly or you have failed at it. The dispute would be to ask, Why? The replacement rational thought might be, “Things don’t always go the way we want. I can only do the best I can with what I have.” This thought modification is then applied to the next situation where the original irrational belief might arise.

In the A-B-C-D Model, the process goes:

A – an Activating situation or event occurs
B – your Belief system feeds you self-talk based on your beliefs and expectations of others
C – the Consequence is how you feel about the event based on your-self talk, and your reaction
D – Disputing your self-talk, examining your beliefs and expectations, and determining whether they are realistic or irrational.
I have modified this model slightly (it is for all intents the same, with different words. I make no claims of ownership or originality) to what I call Recovery CARES. In this version, the activating situation is the trigger event which leads to a relapse.

The Recovery CARES approach:

C – the Cause of the trigger. The cause can be viewed from two angles, what you think happened, and what a camera would have seen. Identifying the Who, What, When, Where and Why is important in helping uncover the specific combination of things leading to the trigger firing.
  • WHO was there?
  • WHAT was going on?
  • WHEN was it?
  • WHERE were you?
  • WHY were you there?
A – your Auto-response to the cause. What did you tell yourself? Did those thoughts lead to other thoughts, in other words, did your initial reaction start a thinking spiral?
R – the Result of the auto-response. How did you feel? How did you act? What was the end result?
EExamine your responses. Were they rational or irrational? Dispute the irrational beliefs and replace them with rational responses.
SSum it up. After looking at the trigger event and your responses step by step, make a plan to prevent a similar event from resulting in a relapse. How can you react differently in the future? What people, places, things, thoughts, emotions and combinations thereof should you be careful of in the future? What irrational thoughts do you want to work on replacing in your mind? Importantly, what affirmation will you use to interrupt the thinking spiral the next time?

It may seem that this is a long process to go through, and it is. If you are serious about getting sober though, identifying and changing irrational beliefs is vital. Spending an hour now is far better than losing a day to a hangover. If you apply this process each time you face a trigger event, you will begin to see a picture emerging of the things in your life that need to change in order for you to achieve your goal of lasting sobriety. The very act of filling out the worksheet following a trigger event, especially if it led to a relapse, is a positive step. It reinforces your intention to beat your addiction and prevents the continuation of the thinking spiral after the fact by stopping the “I am a failure” self-talk.

You have it within you to become sober. By tackling the things which lead you to drink, you embrace Statement One: I have a life-threatening problem that once had me. I now take charge of my life and my disease. I accept the responsibility.

More information on Albert Ellis and Rational-Emotive Behavior Therapy
The Recovery CARES Worksheet (PDF)




Monday, August 22, 2011

Disaster Preparedness: Fail to Plan, Plan to Fail

There is a hurricane heading for the East Coast this week, expected to hit here in Florida on Friday with winds of around 115 mph. Time to pull out the old disaster preparedness plan and run through the checklist: water, prepared food, gas, sobriety ...

Sobriety? What is that doing in a disaster plan? So many people, when they think of a disaster, think only of the physical concerns they may encounter; food, water, shelter. The psychological needs that come with experiencing a natural disaster are too often ignored or unrecognized. Today, especially, it is vital to take your sobriety into consideration when making a disaster plan.

Think of the horrific scenes of destruction from the tornadoes of this past year, the stories of entire counties without power for weeks. How would your sobriety hold up under those kinds of stressors? If you do not have a specific plan for handling a natural emergency or disaster, you are planning to fail in the event a disaster strikes you.

What sorts of things should your emergency sobriety plan include? One of the biggest things you should prepare for is not having electricity and/or internet. You won't necessarily be able to log onto your support group site to post your frustrations and fears. Your phone may not work either; during the hurricanes of 2004 we were without phone service for almost ten days. Road blockages and damaged buildings may mean that support meetings will be cancelled. In other words, you may find yourself cut off from the majority of peer support you currently rely on to help you stay sober. It will be up to you to maintain your sobriety until services can be restored.

Here are a few tips for creating your emergency sobriety plan:

  • Have a written disaster plan - knowing what you will do before, during, and after a disaster ahead of time will alleviate a great deal of stress during an emergency. FEMA has good information on creating a plan and preparing an emergency kit.
  • Know your triggers - specifically, make a list of triggers that are likely to occur during an emergency; stress, anxiety, general or specific fears (such as a fear of the dark if you may be without power for a period of time), and possible injury to yourself or others are all major triggers for many women. Have a concrete plan for handling each trigger without drinking.
  • Include craving reducers in your kit - If chewing gum or hard candy help with cravings, make sure you have plenty in your emergency kit.
  • Plan to keep busy - Boredom can be a huge trigger in a disaster. A deck of playing cards or a board game can keep your mind occupied during daylight hours when there is no electricity.
  • Make a Sobriety Notebook - print out posts, emails, and websites that you would turn to if you had access to a computer and keep them in a notebook where you can refer to them as needed. Keep extra paper and pens so you can journal. Print out the statements and put them in the front of your notebook for easy access.
  • Keep a routine - Try to maintain your sobriety routine. Continue morning meditation, do daily reading and journaling, and practice gratitude thought at night.
The most important thing to remember in a disaster is this; drinking will only make your situation worse. Being prepared before an emergency happens, both physically and emotionally, will pay off in spades in the event a hurricane, tornado, earthquake, or other natural disaster strikes. WFS Statement 12 reads, I am a competent woman and have much to give life. This is what I am and I shall know it always. By planning to keep your sobriety intact during periods of emergency, you reinforce your competence and strengthen your recovery.

Friday, August 19, 2011

ASAM Releases New Definition of Addiction

The American Society of Addiction Medicine has released a new definition of addiction. The full text may be read here. This definition begins with: Addiction is a primary, chronic disease of brain reward, motivation, memory and related circuitry.

In part, the new description states:
Addiction is characterized by2:
  1. Inability to consistently Abstain;
  2. Impairment in Behavioral control;
  3. Craving; or increased “hunger” for drugs or rewarding experiences;
  4. Diminished recognition of significant problems with one’s behaviors and interpersonal relationships; and
  5. A dysfunctional Emotional response.

2. These five features are not intended to be used as “diagnostic criteria” for determining if addiction is present or not. Although these characteristic features are widely present in most cases of addiction, regardless of the pharmacology of the substance use seen in addiction or the reward that is pathologically pursued, each feature may not be equally prominent in every case. The diagnosis of addiction requires a comprehensive biological, psychological, social and spiritual assessment by a trained and certified professional.


Seven Days Sober: Thoughts Become Cravings

How many times in the past have you been trying to stay sober only to having your own thoughts sabotage you? Your sober mind and your drinking mind start arguing over what is best for your body. When we have drinking thoughts, we often feel put on the defensive by our own desires, as though we must justify remaining sober to ourselves. The brain only knows what has worked to maintain itself in the past; alcohol has been the way for it to remain balanced, and so it tries very hard to get us to turn to alcohol again when we start to feel unbalanced in early sobriety. Knowing the sequence that follows and how to disrupt it is vital in getting through those drinking thoughts.

Trigger => Thought => Craving => Use

The only way to prevent a trigger from leading to relapse is to interrupt the process at the thought, before the craving can arise. There are a variety of suggested techniques for stopping this drinking thinking (from the Matrix Intensive Outpatient Treatment for People With Stimulant Use Disorders manual).

Visualization: Create a scene in which you deny the power of the drinking thought. For example, picture turning off a light switch or slamming the door in the face of an ugly fuzzy creature. Have another picture ready to think about instead.

Snapping: Wear a rubber-band loosely on your wrist. Each time you become aware of a drinking thought, snap the rubber-band and say, "No!" to the thought. Have a subject ready to think about instead that is meaningful.

Relaxation: Feelings of hollowness, heaviness, and cramping in the stomach are cravings. These often can be relieved by breathing in deeply and breathing out slowly. Do this three times. You should be able to feel the tightness leaving your body. Repeat this whenever the feeling returns. You may wish to recite a short affirmation; statements 1,2,4,5,12 & 13 are all excellent here.

Call Someone: Talking to another person provides an outlet for your feelings and allows you to hear your thinking process. You could also journal, or post or chat on a support site if you belong to one (see the Women for Sobriety site at www.womenforsobriety.org for information on their online support site).

Allowing the thoughts to
develop into cravings is
making a choice to remain
dependent on substances.
Link

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Getting to Recovery podcast, episode two

The second episode of the Getting to Recovery podcast is now available. I hope you enjoy it as much as I enjoyed making it.


Monday, August 8, 2011

Seven Days Sober: Worry Journaling

"I am an old man and I have known a great many troubles, but most of them never happened." ~ Mark Twain

Read my post on Worry if you haven't already. Worrying is something that everyone does, and most of the time we don't need to. Too much worry can paralyze us, especially in early sobriety when we are still working on ways of dealing with stress without using alcohol. There are interesting statistics regarding the things we worry about:

  • 40% never happens – so in essence we are wasting our time by worrying.
  • 30% of what we worry about has already happened. Learn to “let go” and forgive yourself and others. You cannot change the past – no one can. Accept it for what it is and go on.
  • 12% are needless worries, such as what someone else thinks about us.
  • 10% are petty and unimportant such as we worry about what’s for dinner, we worry about being late, we worry about what to wear.
  • 8% of what we worry about actually happens. Of this percentage…
  • 4% of our worries that happen are beyond our control. We cannot change the outcome. These worries may include our health, the death of a loved one or an impending natural disaster. Often times the reality of these events are more bearable than the worry.
  • 4% of what we worry about we have some if not all control over the results. Basically I think this is the consequences of our actions or inaction on the problems and challenges we face.

(from http://www.pickthebrain.com)
Dale Carnegie in "How to Stop Worrying and Start Living" gives the advice that we should prepare for the worst and hope for the best. We must accept the worst possible outcome and then take action to improve upon it. For many of us, the worst possible outcome includes drinking. If we immediately remove that option from the table, we have already improved "the worst that could happen", and things will certainly look up from there!

Here is a suggestion for worry journaling. You may wish to create a separate section in your journal just for this.

  1. List your worry at the top of a clean page. Be as detailed as you can regarding the worst possible outcome.

  2. Pause and center yourself. Now is the time to recite an affirmation or Statement (#4, Problems bother me only to the degree I permit them to, is a perfect one for this). Open yourself to all solutions.

  3. Consider: Is this worry something I can control? How much of it is within my control?

  4. If the worry isn't within your control, list the ways you might let go. You could create an affirmation to say when you find yourself worrying about this again. Say to yourself, I release this worry to the Universe, it is not mine to bear.

  5. If there are parts of the worry you can control, make a list of those things you can and those you can't. Release the parts you can't control as in step 4.

  6. List possible solutions to the things you can control. Also list things (drinking should be at the top of this list!) that you should not do in response to this worry.

  7. Finally, make a plan that includes a successful resolution. Make your steps small and doable.

Do the first thing on your plan. Make notes, did it work? How do you feel about the worry now? Continue through your plan. If something doesn't work, go back and list other solutions. Don't be afraid to adjust, just keep trying until you reach the end of your plan successfully (and you will be successful!) . Once you have conquered your worry, you may wish to put a gold star on the top of the page to reward your diligence and effort.

Worry needn't paralyze you. Take charge of your life and conquer those worries and fears!

How to Stop Worrying and Start Living

Worry is Action Without Direction

"Worry is misuse of the imagination" — Mary Crowley

When we are faced with an obstacle, whether we fear failure for ourselves or that the worst will happen to others, we worry. We don’t know what action to take; we don’t realize that worry itself is an action. It’s action without direction. We have created the energy to attack the problem, but we don’t know where to direct it first. This energy churns inside us seeking an outlet, and that outlet becomes worry.

One of the most common forms of worry in sobriety is the fear of relapse. The newer we are to sobriety, the greater this fear is although it can be intensified in later sobriety through stress, temptation, or Post-Alcohol Withdrawal Syndrome . At one time or another, it is safe to say that every sober alcoholic worries that they will pick up a drink. The greater the temptation, or urge, the stronger the worry.

In this case, worry only adds to the problem. The energy charging through our bodies seeks, and will eventually find, release. When our minds are unsure of the outcome, it becomes much easier for that release to come in the form of a relapse. The worry itself increases the chances that what we are worried about will come to pass.

As Mary Crowley (founder of a multimillion dollar company in a time when women rarely worked outside the home) said, “worry is misuse of the imagination”. This is so true. In the simplest sense, when applied to worry about ourselves, our thoughts create our reality. If we worry that we will drink, we greatly increase the chances that we will.

So what do we do? The first and most important step is to decide what we can and cannot influence. If we are worried about relapse, that is entirely within our control. If we are worried about a sick relative, there is little we can do to directly influence the outcome.

Once we have made this division, we must put aside the parts that we cannot control. We must accept that some things are beyond our abilities and that we must redirect the energy we are spending in worry to positive action. Worrying about things over which we have no say only damages ourselves mentally, emotionally and physically. It is human to be afraid of the unknown, or to be afraid of something we know is coming that we cannot stop, but we must not allow that fear to overwhelm us.

Every situation has some part of it that we can control. Every situation. In the case of a sick friend, we can at least offer support. We can help in small ways to ease their burden. This we do have control over. This allows us to release the energy otherwise spent in worry in a positive way.

When the worry is about ourselves, we have greater control. If we fear relapse, we build up extreme amounts of energy within ourselves through worry. It is imperative that we find a positive outlet for that energy if we wish to avoid the thing we fear.

The second step in eliminating worry is to identify why we are worried. Why do we fear relapse? Is it a situation, time of year, reaction to other stressors in our lives, or something completely different? It may prove beneficial to write down the reasons we are being tempted or that we fear being tempted. This in itself releases some of the energy that worry has built up.

The third step is to identify the underlying causes of those reasons. If we fear drinking at a wedding, it could be because it is traditional in our circle to drink at these events. In early sobriety, it is usually because we have so recently stopped drinking and do not believe in ourselves enough to be certain we will never drink again. Again, writing these things down releases some of the energy we need to disperse.

The fourth step is to break these underlying issues into smaller, manageable parts that we can control. We can create a plan for attending the wedding; even if we have to come up with an excuse for not going, we can decide ahead of time what our strategy will be. Likewise, if we are early in our New Life, we can plan to attend chats, post on the boards, call sober friends, or engage in activities where drinking is not possible or has never been associated with. Write these down. Put them in order of the easiest to do to the hardest.

The fifth and final step is to implement our plan. Rehearse what we are going to say, get phone numbers and email addresses, laminate a copy of the statements, create a toolbox, locate where to participate in activities. Do these things before you need them. Each positive action that you take eliminates more of the energy that is being taken up with worry. Keep your list with you at all times.

Being prepared will eliminate most, if not all, of your worry. And eliminating the worry is more than half the battle. Worry is action without direction. Once you have given that action direction, there is no longer a need to worry.

This essay is from Moving the Mountain, available from lulu.com or Amazon