Monday, May 23, 2011

Summer Refreshment Without Deprivation

The heat is on here in Florida, with highs reaching the mid-90's already and heat indexes over 100.  For many, summer and beer, wine coolers and tropical drinks go hand-in-hand.  When we remove alcohol from our lives, we often find a void to fill in terms of summer refreshment.

I am an iced tea fan, and have a collection of recipes for tasty teas that I will be sharing over the coming months.  This is a bit of a departure from the original intent of this blog, but I do love to shake things up!


Lemongrass Ginger Iced Tea

Lemongrass and ginger infuse this lightly sweetened, refreshing iced tea with subtle flavor.

Ingredients:
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1/2 cup, plus 4 cups, plus 3 cups water
  • 1 large stalk lemongrass, dry tops and tough outer leaves removed, stalk cut into small rounds (about 1/4 cup)
  • 1-inch x 2 inch knob of ginger, peeled and chopped (about 2 tablespoons)
  • 4 mild black teabags, such as Darjeeling or Assam
  • Ice for serving

Preparation:

In a small saucepan, combine the sugar, 1/2 cup water, lemongrass and ginger. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat, stirring to the dissolve sugar. Reduce heat to low and simmer for 2 minutes. Remove from the heat and allow the lemongrass and ginger to steep in the sugar syrup for at least half an hour. For more pronounced flavor, place in the refrigerator and allow to steep several hours or overnight.

Bring 4 cups of water to a boil. Add the teabags, turn off the heat, and allow the tea to steep for 5 minutes. Squeeze out the teabags and discard. Pour the brewed tea into a heat-proof pitcher. 

Strain the lemongrass ginger syrup through a small sieve, pressing on the solids to extract as much flavor as possible. Discard the solids, and add the syrup to the pitcher of tea. Add three cups of cold water to the tea, and stir well. Chill the tea, and serve over ice. Enjoy!

Sparkling Jasmine Iced Tea

A sparkling iced tea, flavored with jasmine and brown sugar syrup. A change from the ordinary, with a sweet and floral flavor.

Ingredients:
  • 4 cups water, boiling
  • 3 tbs loose jasmine tea
  • 1 cup brown sugar
  • 1 1/4 cups sparkling water

Preparation:

Dissolve sugar in 3/4 cup of water, and boil gently until a syrup has formed. Set aside and let cool. Steep the jasmine tea in the remaining 3 cups of hot water for around 6 minutes. Strain out tea, and let cool slightly. In a pitcher, combine syrup and tea. Stir or whisk until fully blended. Add sparkling water and cool thoroughly. Serve over ice. Can be served with cinnamon sticks, lemon slices or mint sprigs. 

Makes 1 quart of iced tea

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Getting to Recovery: Statement Three

Note: This is the third 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.

If You’re Happy and You Know It


To be happy is a universal desire. We all want to avoid sorrow, and to bask in the comfort of a happy heart. In early sobriety, this yearning often runs headlong into the disbelief born from our own doubts and the fear that positive emotion is something we cannot experience. We may grasp the concept of statement two, that negative thoughts destroy ourselves, but the idea that we can develop happiness remains foreign; how can we possibly develop happiness when we feel so emotionally confused?

“Happiness is a habit I will develop”

The moment we step into sobriety, we are a blank slate ready to fill with new thoughts and new experiences. As strange as it may seem, this is the perfect time for us to begin to develop the habit of happiness. The important thing is to recognize that happiness occurs in the smallest of moments as well as the greatest of triumphs. It is up to us to seize upon the minor joys and to build from them an attitude of grateful happiness.

The mere fact of our sobriety should bring us joy. We are overcoming the life-threatening problem that has haunted us, asserting our right to live healthy, sober lives. Every moment that we do not drink is a moment where we can feel happiness; but we must be aware of them. We must be in the present. To be in the now is to allow ourselves to experience emotions that otherwise might be too fleeting to recognize.

It is not practical in daily life to be aware of every single moment. We can however, take time each day to slow down and focus on the present as it rises and passes away. During this time, we can practice developing happiness as a habit. As we focus on the exact present, we can be grateful that we are sober, that we are alive, and that in that moment we require nothing more than to be aware of our own happiness. Even in the midst of crisis, we can still feel happiness in our dedication to our new lives. As we observe this joy and ourselves, we build the habit of recognizing it. We can then expand our knowledge to seeking out happiness in other situations.

What is happiness? In the simplest terms, happiness is an absence of sorrow. We can choose to see any situation through the filter of one of these emotions; it is up to us whether the glass is half full or half empty. Even if our first thought is that it is half empty, we can instantly remind ourselves that we have the power to fill the glass to the top. We can take the negative emotion and transform it into joy that we can implement what we have learned in our sobriety; the hard work that we have put in will now pay off as we overcome that which is troubling us.

There is a Chinese proverb, “One happiness scatters a thousand sorrows.” Finding joy in a single moment can interrupt the negativity that threatens to drown us and allow us to take a deep breath and prepare to tackle the problem at hand. Our daily practice of experiencing the happiness in a single moment comes to fruition as we take control of our thoughts and do not allow negativity to overwhelm us.

This is not to say that we can approach the world with a Pollyanna attitude, never feeling stress or anger. We should not do so. What we can do is to use our knowledge of momentary happiness to allow our negative emotions to move through us and not linger. We can prevent negative energy from taking over our thoughts, remaining after their cause has passed. The very fact of negative emotion can be a source of joy; we are experiencing our true emotions, unblurred by alcohol. We are truly alive. The recognition of momentary happiness can bring us this peace.

“Happiness is created, not waited for”

It may seem that this idea of momentary happiness, while making sense in theory, will be difficult to implement in our real lives. Nothing can be farther from the truth. We already create happiness; anytime we feel joy, it is an emotion that we have created in response to a situation that pleases us. We must accept therefore that we are capable, with practice, of creating happiness in any situation.

Aeschylus, the Greek playwright, said “Happiness is a choice that requires effort at times.” We must be willing to expend that effort in order to create the happiness that we deserve. When we first become sober, happiness most often seems a foreign concept. Drinking has caused such negativity in our lives; we have depended on it so much to create our emotions, that we find it hard to imagine feeling without it. We must do so, however, in order to move forward into recovery. Happiness is a natural state; we must simply seek within until we find it.

A gratitude journal can be very helpful in building the habit of finding happiness in daily life. By writing down the things that we are grateful for we give ourselves clues that we can use in finding momentary happiness in times of difficulty. For example: If in our journal we say that we are grateful for a job that allows us a place to live and food to eat, we can find happiness in a moment of job stress in knowing that we do in fact have these things. The stressful situation remains, but we have removed some of its power by reminding ourselves that at least in general, we are grateful for our job. We must do this in a positive way, not with the attitude that we must accept an unfair situation because we need the job. If we truly feel this way, we should feel happiness that we have recognized it and can therefore be proactive in dealing with it.

When I was in basic training many years ago, there was a girl who didn’t like me. She took every opportunity to belittle my abilities, especially where our drill was concerned. One day, she looked me square in the face and told me that we would most likely not get honor squad because of me. I could have responded with equal venom, but I saw the opportunity to take the high road – which would cause me great joy – and so I responded with a simple and non-sarcastic “You could be right. Thank you for pointing that out to me.” She was left open mouthed and looking like an idiot.

By focusing on the happiness to be found in the situation, I diffused it. I didn’t allow the negativity to drag me in. In the end, that girl wound up to be one of my best friends. I chose to see the glass as half full, and filled it the rest of the way with a new friendship. In doing so, I not only practiced happiness, but set a boundary. When we find happiness in a situation, we empower ourselves to face it with positive energy. Others can view this energy as boundary setting because it is not defensive or attacking, but peaceful and calm. It is determined.

In short, happiness can be found in any situation, if we are only open to it. We do not have to accept or enjoy what is happening to us, but by understanding that there is some joy, however small, to be found in it makes it easier to handle. It can allow us to take the high road when our negativity wants to be as mean and nasty as someone is being to us. It can open a dialog of understanding that might otherwise be lost. It can enable us to set boundaries.

In the end, finding the happiness within ourselves is never a wasted endeavor; as Jean says in the program booklet, “happiness is a feeling that comes from an inner contentment, comes from our feeling pleased with ourselves.” That is the clue. We can feel pleased with ourselves in any situation if we merely open ourselves to the truth of momentary happiness; find that which joy brings and find the treasure of contentment.

It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishment the scroll;
I am the master of my fate,
I am the captain of my soul.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Getting to Recovery: Statement Two

Note: This is the second 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 Two: Getting to Positive


“Negative thoughts destroy only myself.”

What do these words mean? How can we go through life without any negativity? In early sobriety, this may seem like a foreign concept. We are so accustomed to viewing things through a negative lens that we feel unable to see the positive in situations that are less than ideal. But see the positive we must, otherwise we risk drowning.

Avoid destructive thinking. Improper negative thoughts sink people. A ship can sail around the world many, many times, but just let enough water get into the ship and it will sink. Just so with the human mind. Let enough negative thoughts or improper thoughts get into the human mind and the person sinks just like a ship. – Alfred A. Montapert

There are two ways to view sobriety, as a positive force in our lives, or as a condition that we must struggle with in order to remain sane. It may be hard to grasp that the will to remain sober can be a negative thought, but it can be so. Think about how you came to realize that sobriety was necessary to your continued survival. Was it the desire for a better life, or fear of dying that led you to put the bottle down and seek something better? This is an important distinction to make in early sobriety, because it gives us a baseline from which to judge the degree that negative thoughts rule our lives.

Negativity is a hallmark of the active drinker. It is part of the vicious cycle that drags us down. Our mind instinctively views negative thoughts as harmful, and seeks to eliminate them on its own. When we are drinking, alcohol is our means of coping with unpleasant emotions; yet it is alcohol which perpetuates negative situations. This in turn disturbs the balance that our minds seek to create, causing psychic distress which leads to more drinking.

When we first decide to take action against alcohol, it is often out of fear. Fear in itself is a negative emotion, albeit one that can have positive results. The important thing is that once the positive result is attained we must replace the fear with positive reinforcement and eliminate the negative underpinning of our achievement. We must remind ourselves that we are sober therefore we can remain sober, that we’re taking a positive step that shows our inherent goodness toward ourselves. If we approach our first tentative steps with only the fear that we will fail, we perpetuate the cycle of negativity that can lead us back to drinking.

A healthy dose of fear in early sobriety is not necessarily a bad thing. Fear can be a strong positive motivator, but only when coupled with an acceptance of those positive results. Which do you think is more likely a thought that will encourage continued sobriety: “I am doing this. I am moving forward.” Or, “this is too good to last, what if I fail?” The second not only undermines our forward progress, it sets the stage for failure. Because in failing we have reinforced a negative self image—that we are not capable—we risk returning to drinking at a greater level than before.

Early sobriety is difficult because of the physical addiction. Research suggests that the third to fourth day of sobriety is when the symptoms of confusion and a disordered sense of perception peak. In practical terms, it is when we are the least able to consciously reinforce our sobriety. Many women find that the third or fourth day is when their sobriety fails. It is important to know that this is the time when we are least “ourselves” and can be viewed as the period when alcohol talks the loudest. This knowledge allows us to take positive action to overcome the mental confusion and to get through this difficult time. These mental symptoms abate rapidly after the fourth day and by the seventh day the majority of withdrawal symptoms have faded. It is important to remember this.

“My first conscious sober act must be to remove negativity from my life.”

This early period is our first chance to really apply statement two. External reminders can keep us on the right track; written affirmations, reinforcement from others who support us, journaling and reading about recovery can all help us through the period when our mind is functioning the least coherently.

One suggestion is to take a piece of paper and list all the negative thoughts that occur to you. Turn the paper over and don’t look at it again. On another sheet of paper, or in your journal, list positive affirmations to replace the negative thoughts. An example might be, “I am rising above my addiction every moment.”

You may wish to destroy the negative list in a symbolic way, such as by burning or tearing into little pieces. Whatever you do, don’t look at it again. Doing so only reinforces those thoughts. On the other hand, look at your positive list every chance you get. These affirmations will help you accept the statements more readily as they put you in a positive frame and allow you to see the wisdom in Jean’s words.

Adopting the right attitude can convert a negative stress into a positive one. (Dr. Hans Selve) Early sobriety is the time to begin training ourselves in replacing negative thoughts with positive ones. Something I often do when someone makes a disparaging comment about themselves is to say, “now say something nice about yourself.” When you find yourself thinking negative things, simply let your next thought be positive. In this way you are countering your old, or negative, way of thinking with a new, positive, thought process. As you practice this, you will find it easier to interrupt a negative thought and finally to replace it with a positive.

It is not possible to be positive all the time, and using this method can prevent a minor annoyance from turning into a major crisis that can lead to drinking. Even if our positive thought does not directly counter the negative one, it interrupts the flow of negativity and gives us a moment to breathe. This moment can make the difference between stepping away from a stress and internalizing it. It takes practice and gentleness with ourselves, but it is an important tool in preventing relapse in early sobriety.

Dwelling on negativity merely gives it power. We are capable of being positive in the face of what seems on the surface to be a negative situation. In the words of Thich Nhat Hanh, “People deal too much with the negative, with what is wrong. Why not try and see positive things, to just touch those things and make them bloom?”
In this moment we are sober. As this moment moves into the past, we create a new positive history that will not change. Nothing can take it away from us and as we’ve done in the past, so can we do in the future. We are sober in this moment, we were sober in the past, and there is no reason we cannot be sober in the future. When you feel a negative thought, touch this truth and make it bloom. You are the beautiful flower that deserves the right to grow in the full sun. Positive thought will make it so.