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.