Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Drunken Monkeys and the Carpool Lane

I've been heading to a bad place lately, a really bad place. It seems like everything is going wrong and every solution is a failure. I find myself thinking, one more straw and I'm done for. And in the middle of this meltdown sneaks the idea of drowning it all, just for a while.

Sound familiar? We've all been there. The negativities keep piling up until the only chatter in our head is about how horrible and hopeless our situation is. We are teetering on the edge, and the idea of falling back on our old solutions starts to glimmer like a last hope.

The non-stop mental chatter which arises when we start to feel stressed and stuck has been called the monkey mind. Our thoughts bounce from one negative to another, growing more frenetic and confusing until we feel exhausted just trying to keep up. We'll do anything for a moments peace.

Although alcohol may seem to offer that distraction, it is important to realize the reality that drinking creates. When we try to drown the running dialog in our head, we don't end up with peace and quiet; we end up with a mind full of drunken monkeys.

So what do we do when it feels like the walls are closing in? It can help to change how we look at the thoughts running through our head. Instead of picturing monkeys running amok, imagine your thoughts as unruly children in a carpool.

If you have ever participated in the particular joy that is sharing the transportation of children, you know what it's like to have a car full of bouncing, jabbering kids. If not, tune into any show on Disney for ten minutes, and you'll get the idea.

How does this shift in our perception help? When we are at our wits end, all of our thoughts seem to jumble together in one big pile. We don't know where to start untangling the mish-mash and not knowing only adds to the frustration. By visualizing those same thoughts as individuals, we give ourselves the opening to gain control.

Which of your issues is the loudest, most obnoxious child in the carpool? That's the one to drop off first; do what you can to solve the problem and then let it go for a while. Turn to the second most irritating, and the third, and so on until your car is peacefully silent.

You may not have solved all the problems facing you, but you likely have taken care of a few of them. Giving yourself a respite from the noise allows you to breathe, regroup, and reenergize. Most importantly, you have remained sober.

Negative thoughts destroy only myself. Don't let the drunken monkeys back into your life; the carpool lane may be noisy, but with sobriety there is no doubt you are in control.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Are You Afraid of the 1%?

On my way to work this morning, the discussion on the radio was about texting and driving, and how organizations are asking people to pledge that they won't.  One of the hosts stated that he couldn't sign the pledge because, while he was 99% sure he could do it, he wouldn't agree to something he wasn't completely certain of.

The parallels between the danger posed by texting and drinking while driving had already been obvious to me, and this statement really stopped me in my tracks.  I had to wonder if this individual would feel the same way about a non-drinking and driving pledge.  He was obviously afraid of that tiny chance he might fail at his texting pledge, and so was refusing to make the commitment to try.

One thing I often hear from women who are struggling with the question of whether or not to stop drinking is that they are afraid to state they will stop, because there is a chance they might fail.  This fear of failure prevents them from trying, even if the odds of success are 99%.  They are afraid of the 1% that remains.

Fear is a constant companion when we are actively drinking: Fear that others will discover our addiction, fear that we wont be able to drink when and how much we want, and often a fear of losing our reliable friend and comforter.  This fear keeps us trapped in the cycle of addiction.  It is no surprise, then, that fear is at the forefront when we think about quitting.

One thing about fear is that it tends to magnify what we are afraid of.  If we are afraid of spiders, we will notice every tiny arachnid within eyesight.  In one way, fear serves a purpose, to keep us safe from real threats.  It's when our fear is misplaced that it becomes a problem.  It can keep us from changes that will actually improve our lives.  It is this kind of fear that keeps us from risking failure in any attempt to become sober, and can undermine our early recovery.

So how do we overcome this fear? Seeing others who are successful in their recovery can help bolster our own willingness to try.  Looking honestly at our drinking allows us to confront our fear and see how that fear of failure actually increases our chances of losing it all.  We may be so afraid of sobriety that we destroy our families, our relationships, and even our own survival.  Drinking can kill.

Are you afraid of the 1%? Spend time today exploring your fear; does it protect you from harm, or does it keep you in harms way? Determine within yourself that you will not allow your fear to rule you.  Focus on the positives of sobriety instead of the negatives that may or may not ever happen. Statement two of the Women for Sobriety program speaks clearly to this: Negative thoughts destroy only myself.

Statement two also provides us with an affirmation that we can use to overcome our fear: My first conscious sober act must be to remove negativity from my life.  This is key.  Once we commit ourselves to recovery, we can only fail if we give up. The act of choosing sobriety allows us to focus on the 99% , the happiness we find in controlling our own destiny.  Don't fear the 1%.  Embrace the joy that opens when we no longer allow fear to rule us.  Sobriety unlocks that door, all we have to do is walk through it.

Saturday, June 9, 2012

We Are Diamonds in the Rough

An interesting fact about diamonds is that they are formed under extreme pressure, deep within the Earth’s crust, and are only brought to the surface by volcanic eruptions.  We can think of ourselves in a similar way; who we are is formed by events and forces that included moments of extreme stress.  We hid our true selves deep within by our use of alcohol, and not until the life-changing moment that we decide to become sober could that true self start to surface.

Diamonds are not particularly remarkable when they first come from the ground.  They may have some sparkle, but often appear to be not much different from the rocks around them.  Women in the early stages of sobriety frequently feel the same; they may admit to having some shining qualities, but believe that they lack the ability to truly dazzle.

What changes a rough diamond into a beautiful gem is the faceting.  The manner in which the raw material is shaped determines how it catches the light and what reflections it casts.  Those who create the most brilliant stones put a great deal of effort into their work; they are attentive to every detail and consider the effect of each cut, selecting only those angles which will most set off the inner beauty of the diamond.

So it is with our sobriety.  The choices we make determine our long-term success, our ability to shine.  If we carefully consider our decisions and put effort into each step of recovery, the facets of our personality will begin to sparkle.  The decision to be kind to ourselves, to work through the things holding us back, and to seek the beauty within are all facets of the diamond we are becoming.  If we work carefully to make positive choices, we will grow ever more brilliant.  If our choices are made hastily and without thought to the consequences, we will never attain the true potential we hold within.  We will always feel half-finished, somehow lacking.
The difference between our recovery and a diamond is that while one slip may destroy the stone, we have the ability to try again until we succeed.  If we are dissatisfied with one facet of our lives, we have the opportunity to work on it, and keep working until we shine.  It is this aspect of recovery that is so exciting; we cannot fail unless we give up.

We are all diamonds in the rough.  It’s how we nurture our mind, body and spirit that determine how brilliantly we will shine.  Use the tools available through the WFS program, incorporate the statements into your daily life, and you will find yourself shining ever more brightly.  Sobriety brings your true self from the depths to the surface; recovery will allow you to show the world the brilliance you have within.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Sunday, May 27, 2012

New Relaxation Audios

I've been a busy girl lately, and have finally launched a pet project called Tye-Dye Butterfly, which will offer relaxation and meditation audio and video products featuring nature sounds, speech and music. There are currently three audios of nature sounds available, each an hour long and a mere 99 cents. You can follow new releases at or preview the currently available ones below.

Allow yourself to drift away to the sounds of forest birds and a gentle stream in this first offering in the Relaxing With Nature series. There is no music or speaking, just sixty soothing minutes of quality nature sounds certain to help you de-stress and relax.

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If you like the sound of thunder, you will love this album. Starting as the wind begins to pick up, follow the storm as it grows and passes overhead before fading into the distance. Perfect for falling asleep to.

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Escape from the daily routine with a full hour of gently breaking waves and the sounds of shore birds. An ideal background to meditation, or a calming way to drift off to sleep.

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Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Getting to Recovery: Embracing the Competence Within

I am a competent woman and have much to give life. This is what I am and I shall know it always.

When we first enter sobriety, we often feel as though we are surrounded by the wreckage of our drinking.  Everywhere we look, we can easily see things that we have damaged or destroyed through our alcohol use.  For this reason, it can be very difficult to accept Statement Twelve as having any meaning in our early recovery.  It is far too easy to shake our heads and say, "Maybe in a year I'll be competent, but I'm certainly not now."

This feeling may be reinforced by others who, either actively or passively, indicate that they have little confidence in our ability to remain sober.  When we were drinking, we frequently based our self-concept on how we thought others perceived us, and so in early sobriety we automatically turn to those same people for approval, regardless of whether they are trustworthy judges or not.  An important step in our recovery must therefore be to stop giving our power to others, and start accepting our own self-worth.

I am a competent woman

What does it mean to be competent?  It can be defined as having, "suitable or sufficient skill, knowledge, or experience for some purpose."  In other words, to be competent is to be properly qualified for a task; so to say "I am a competent woman" means at its core that we have the basic ability to exist.     For some, even this concept is difficult to accept.  We can confuse being competent with being perfect, and failing to be perfect equals being incompetent.  Nothing can be further from the truth.  Nowhere in the WFS literature does it say “you must be perfect or you are a failure.”  This perfectionism comes from within and often represents our internalization of perceived or real expectations during childhood.

Recognizing that our ideas about competence and perfection are often based in our childhood allows us to confront another problem we may encounter when accepting this statement; the tendency to look at the past as indicative of future behavior.  We think that if we have failed in the past, then we are likely to fail again.  And since we are likely to fail, we are not competent.  Look closely at this idea; do you see where the flaw lies?  Our belief in our present abilities is based on our past self.  That past self is one who drank.  We no longer drink, thus we are not the same woman and can't assume that our past behavior predicts our future success.

Accepting ourselves as competent women means living in the present, saying "I am able" instead of dwelling on the past and saying "I wasn't able, and so I must not be able now".  We must learn to live in the present if we want to move forward.  Think of your recovery as a road you are driving on; you won't get very far if you try to steer using only the rear view mirror.  Saying "I am a competent woman" is a strong affirmation of our intrinsic power as individuals.  It encompasses far more than our sobriety; it means that we accept ourselves as possessing the skills to live a successful life without reliance on alcohol.  It also helps ground us in the present, reminding us that the past is gone forever.  We are not saying "I wasn't competent before," and we are not saying "I might be competent in the future".  We are reminding ourselves that we are, at this very moment, competent.

And have much to give life

Everyone has something to give life.  We aren't all Mother Teresa, Joan of Arc, or Sally Ride.  We may not ever win a Nobel Prize, or become president, or speak to a stadium full of people.  That doesn't mean we have nothing to offer, nothing to share.  It is the little contributions that we make every day that keep the world moving, not the actions of the latest rock star or politician or religious figure.  The smile we offer a stranger on the train, the door we hold open for someone loaded down with packages, the "I love you" we tuck our children in with; these are the things that keep the world turning, and these are things we all have the ability to do.

Our sobriety is a gift to life as well; both our own and the lives of those around us.  Sobriety allows us to interact honestly with the world.  When we are sober, we can be fully present; we can give our full attention to the tasks we undertake and complete them to the best of our abilities.  Our recovery may inspire others in ways we never know of.  Even those who don't know of our struggles with addiction can be touched and changed by our recovery; others can see us grow even without knowing the reasons, and they may be inspired to grow as well.

The greatest gift we can give life is to be fully present in it.  When we live with a belief in our basic competence and a willingness to face each day sober, knowing that we have the ability to handle any challenge without drinking, we send out a positive energy that others can feel and often react to without knowing why.  This unspoken exchange improves the quality of everyone's lives, not just our own.  When others see us being truly present, it encourages them to be present as well.  It is this gift, often not even consciously given, that shows how much we have to give.

This is what I am

Competence is intrinsic to our existence.  We all have within us the suitable skill, knowledge and experience to sustain recovery.  Competence doesn't equal perfection; we will always learn and grow in recovery if we open ourselves to the experience.  Competence doesn't always equal success, either; we may slip and slide a bit along the way, but our belief in our competence allows us to continue moving forward. 

When we accept our competence, we are able to live in the present.  We can release the past and embrace our current sober lives.  Being in the present, we contribute our positive energy to the world, making it a better place for ourselves and for those around us.  We ARE competent.  We are sober at this moment, we are living at this moment, and we are open to life's lessons at this moment.  We needn't regret the past or fear the future when we recognize our competence; we are doing the best we can with what we have. 

And I shall know it always

As long as we recognize our basic ability to live without alcohol, we hold the key to preventing surrender back to a life of drinking.  We can strengthen our belief in this competence with affirmative thoughts and actions.  When we face a difficulty without drinking, we grow in our competence.  Knowing each moment that we are competent naturally leads to a future of competent, sober living.

Each moment we have a choice; we can focus on that which holds us back, or we can focus on that which moves us forward.  Accepting and embracing our competence allows us to focus on that which moves us forward.  We are competent and we do have much to give life.  We have the ability to maintain sobriety, to grow in our recovery, and to give back to life a positive energy which improves the world around us.

This is what we are.  I am a competent woman; you are a competent woman.  Embrace your power and ability to live fully without alcohol.  Be the woman you are capable of being, and know always that you have much to give life.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Book Review: The Riot Within - Rodney King

I sat down with Rodney King's new book, The Riot Within (written with Lawrence J. Spagnola and published by Harper One), half-expecting a drawn out explanation of the infamous beating that shook the US in 1991. I remember the media frenzy and the riots, the outrage and the confusion. The event shaped the views of many young people on race and the power of authority, including mine. 

King's beating by four white police officers, the trial and riots, and the Federal cases that followed is covered in detail. The tone of the writing seems almost neutral, though a hint of the rage and frustration that King must have felt during that time shows through. He treats those events with a fairness that surprised me, and made the reading even more interesting. 

I was pleasantly surprised to find that, although the beating and aftermath are discussed in detail, it is not the central theme; at least, it wasn't for me. Beginning with brief, well-written vignettes of his childhood and ending with the man he is now, The Riot Within is the more than the autobiography of Rodney King; it is also a biography of countless, faceless others who struggle with adversity and prejudice. 

While there is a great deal to recommend about this book, I want to focus on King's struggle with addiction. As a white woman from an upper class background, I questioned whether I would find a common ground with Mr. King's story. I got my answer in Chapter Two. 

"This was when I began a routine that seemed innocent enough at the time - but it quickly became my dance with the devil. It started with me picking up a couple forties of malt liquor on the way home. ... Being a drunk sneaks up on you, and pretty soon you don't even need that meal as much as another forty. "

Replace malt liquor with Miller Lite and it is a quote I could have written myself. What had begun as an interesting read of the life of someone almost diametrically opposite of me suddenly felt personal. King writes of his addiction very honestly and, by doing so, allows others with substance abuse issues to really connect with his story. While few - if any - of us have gone through the extreme experience that he did, we can all relate to his struggles in the years before and following. 

In Chapter Eight, King takes us through his time on the Celebrity Rehab show. When he discusses talking about the beating that happened so many years ago, his feelings and reactions ring so true with what I have heard time and again from women discussing abuse they have suffered that I found it hard not to cry. This chapter alone would be worth the price of the book; I reread it several times for no other reason than it resonated so strongly with me that I wanted to really grasp each word. 

There is another chapter after this, in which King wraps up his story and discusses the impact of that night in 1991 and how much further society needs to come in racial equality. For the general reader, this ending is quite satisfactory. As a person in recovery, while I understand and agree with his sentiments, this chapter was almost unnecessary. After Chapter Eight, I felt a kinship with this man, so diametrically opposite to myself, that I can't explain. I didn't need more. 

The Riot Within is a well-written, honest, and compelling story of one man's struggle with personal demons and his journey from the depths of hell to the heights of peace.  The subtitle, My Journey from Rebellion to Redemption, is completely accurate. I would recommend it to anyone in recovery for many reasons, the strongest being that it shows how addiction brings us all to the same level no matter where we came from, and how important it is to recognize and deal with our own demons if we want our recovery to succeed.

Note: In the interest of "fair journalism" I would like to note that I was provided an advance copy of the book  for this review. 

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Daily Inspirations

I have been posting daily inspirational pictures on Twitter and the main page of the Sober Musings website, but I'm going to start posting them here as well.  Clicking on one of these daily inspirations will take you to my new CafePress store, which has these images available on buttons, magnets, journals and so on.  Proceeds from the sale of these items will help me devote more time to the Sober Musings site and this blog, purchase new books on addiction and recovery, and improve the quality of my podcasts.


Saturday, April 28, 2012

I Don't Know What Happened ... SUDs and Relapse

Time and again I hear women say, "I don't know what happened, I just drank."  They are honestly baffled as to what caused them to slip, and as far as they can tell, it came out of nowhere. What they don't realize is that the signs were there, they most likely just didn't know how to recognize them.  This is because the events leading up to the slip didn't seem to relate to sobriety at all.

How can this be? you might ask.  Most of us assume that there are obvious red flags to warn us that our recovery is in danger.  This is true in many cases, but certainly not all.  The more insidious path to drinking winds through a series of seemingly unrelated decisions or SUDs.  It is these seemingly innocent actions that most often lead to a slip that "comes out of nowhere."

On the surface, it may seem illogical that an action totally unrelated to drinking could end in a slip. Once the chain of decisions is broken down, however, the pattern becomes much more apparent.  It is a combination of subtle painful feelings (such as boredom or loneliness) and cognitive distortions ("I can handle going to a bar") that lies at the heart of the SUDs chain.

Here is an example of how a series of apparently unrelated choices could result in a lapse.

Susan, who had been abstinent for several weeks, drove home from work on a night her husband was out of town.  She disliked being alone on the weekends he was away.  At one intersection, she turned right instead of left, deciding she needed to stop at the grocery store. Even though there was a store closer to her house than the one she decided to go to, she told herself that what she wanted to get wouldn't be available at the closer store.
The store she was headed to was on the same block as a bar she had frequented.  There were cars in the parking lot that belonged to friends of hers, and she decided to stop in quickly to say hello before going on to the store.  She was convinced that she could handle being in a bar for five or so minutes.  Once inside, her friends asked her to stay for a bit.  She did so, having a soda.

Some time later, another friend arrived and bought drinks for the group.  Susan, not wanting to be a spoil-sport, decided that one drink would be "ok" and not really a slip in her recovery. One drink led to two, then three, and eventually to a weekend of drinking.

Susan's first decision, to go to a store further from home, was triggered by a "need" for something.  Thoughts such as "I need to" or "I have to" do things which increase our exposure to alcohol can be a signal that we are actually craving a drink. Each following decision, though seemingly innocent, increased the likelihood of drinking.

The way to deal with Seemingly Unrelated Decisions is to apply the steps of recognizing, avoiding, and copingRecognizing SUDs and the thoughts that go with them, give us the chance to head off further temptation.  Avoiding risky decisions (such as stopping at a bar to say hello), and coping with high-risk situations (such as the offer of a drink) are further ways of interrupting the SUDs chain.

It takes practice, but becoming aware of potentially hazardous decisions will increase your ability to avoid high-risk situations, and protect your recovery.


When making any decision, whether large or small, do the following:

  •     Consider all the options you have.
  •     Think about all the consequences, both positive and negative, for each of the options.
  •     Select one of the options. Pick a safe decision that minimizes your risk of relapse.
  •     Watch for "red flag" thinking - thoughts like "I have to . . .", or "I can handle . . ." or "It really doesn't matter if . . ."

Practice monitoring decisions that you face in the course of a day, both large and small, and consider safe and risky alternatives for each.
Decision Safe alternative Risky alternative

Adapted from Monti et al. 1989.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Getting to Recovery: If Something Can Go Right, it Will

WFS Statement Eleven:
Enthusiasm is my daily exercise. 
I treasure all moments of my new life.

Enthusiasm.  What does that word mean? One dictionary defines it as an absorbing possession of the mind by any interest or pursuit.  For many of us, the only enthusiasm we have shown for a long time is an enthusiasm for drinking.  When we stop drinking, we often find that enthusiasm is a more difficult concept to grasp than we first thought.  We can’t see how we can be enthusiastic about life when we are struggling to remain sober; after all, we used alcohol to create enthusiasm, and without it we feel lost.

It is true in early recovery that we often feel “dead” emotionally.  Our brains are focused on adjusting to the absence of alcohol, leaving little time for enthusiasm, or any other strong feeling.  The negative attitudes many of us held in our drinking lives can spill over in these first weeks, when physical symptoms of withdrawal leave us feeling that sobriety, quite simply, sucks.  What we often don’t realize is that the decision to become and remain sober is in itself a display of enthusiasm.  The definition of enthusiasm also describes it as an occupation, activity, or pursuit in which such absorbing interest is shown.  Sobriety is most certainly an activity and a pursuit, and we are dedicated to succeeding in it.  This leads to a discussion of the first part of Statement Eleven:

Enthusiasm is my daily exercise

Being enthusiastic about recovery doesn’t always mean behaving like a cheerleader and proclaiming our new-found sobriety to be the entry to nirvana.  We can have quiet enthusiasm, an inner knowledge that life is worth living and sobriety will allow us to embrace that life.  For the first days of our new lives we can begin the process of shifting our idea of enthusiasm away from something we must drink to achieve.  We can remind ourselves that sobriety itself is an expression of enthusiasm for life, and use that thought to sustain us while our brains adapt to our new reality.  We needn’t feel as though we aren’t really committed to recovery just because we aren’t shouting from the rooftops; knowing within ourselves that we are changing is proof enough that we are approaching sobriety with enthusiasm.

As early as the first day of our recovery, we can begin redefining our idea of enthusiasm with a simple exercise; when we open our eyes in the morning, we can begin our day with the knowledge that we woke up at all.  For many of us, even if we didn’t consciously realize it, during our days of heavy drinking this was never a given.  So when we say, “I woke up”, we create an appreciation for the simplest of things: being alive.  We can follow this thought with recognition that we are not hung over.  We are alive, and we are not miserably ill.  We can practice enthusiasm by allowing this appreciation of such a mundane event to carry through the day, lifting the ordinary to treasured status.

Statement Six gives us a clue as to how enthusiasm can change our perspectives.  Life can be ordinary or it can be great.   Greatness is mine by a conscious effort.  How can we change our lives from drab ordinary to shining greatness?  In a word, enthusiasm.  When we approach life with enthusiasm, that is, when we don’t take anything for granted, our lives do indeed become great.  Opening ourselves to a life of enthusiasm can be as simple as changing one thought; instead of saying, “anything that can go wrong, will”, what would happen if we were to say, “anything that can go right, will?”  Isn’t it easier to show enthusiasm when you believe things will go right than it is when you expect them to go wrong? Expecting good things and living life enthusiastically is a first, important step to understanding – and accepting – the second part of Statement Eleven.

I treasure all moments of my New Life.

For some, this part of Statement Eleven is a daunting challenge.  The idea of treasuring every moment of life seems too hard.  “How can I possibly treasure every moment for the rest of my life?” is a common response to this statement among those in early recovery.  It is easy to become overwhelmed when trying to visualize forever.  The simplest way to reframe these thoughts is to forget about forever, and practice enthusiasm for this moment, this breath.  If we do this, life becomes a pleasure instead of something to be endured.  Forever will take care of itself.

Gratitude can help us become enthusiastic about our daily lives.  If we practice being grateful for the basic things, treasuring that which we now take for granted, we become more enthusiastic about day to day living.  Imagine that, for one day, you were to treasure every moment.  Instead of complaining about the work you must do, be grateful that you have dishes to wash, that you have a home to clean, a job to go to, even the ability to do the exercise you want to avoid.   Be glad for the things you have, because if you didn’t have a home, a job, or food to eat, those are the things you would wish for.

Nobody likes to do chores.  We can usually think of a dozen things we would rather be doing than dishes or laundry.  “You can’t expect me to be enthusiastic about the dishes,” you might say.  The interesting thing is: you can be.  If you focus on the result of your chores, they become less difficult to do.  Think of washing dishes in this way: You are not washing dishes just to wash dishes; you are washing them because you were capable of getting them dirty in the first place.  If you hate doing laundry, remember the feeling of fresh sheets on your bed.  Reminding yourself of the positive reasons that you have chores to do will go a long way toward being enthusiastic in doing them.

How do we treasure the parts of our lives that are painful?  Surely we can’t treasure losing a job, breaking up with a partner, or having someone dear to us pass away.  We may not treasure those events, but we can treasure those moments.  If we never had negative experiences, we would be unable to be grateful for the positive moments in our lives.  Some negative events allow us to learn about ourselves, bringing growth that we might not otherwise discover.  Some remind us that we must live each day with joy, for we don’t know if it will be our last.  It is these lessons that we can treasure, and in doing so we may find the event  itself becoming less painful.

Enthusiasm is my daily exercise.  When we start each morning with gratefulness for being alive, we open ourselves to experiencing life as though things will go right, not wrong.  When we allow ourselves to treasure even the most mundane of daily activities, focusing on each moment, each breath, without worry about the future, we find enthusiasm growing within us.   The more we embrace that enthusiasm, the more easily we will find it.

Recognize that sobriety has given you the ability to find the positive where before you may have seen only struggle.  Allow yourself to open to a world where anything is possible, and each moment is a blessing.  Embrace each day of your New Life with enthusiasm and treasure every experience.  Your recovery will blossom as you do.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

A New Layout for Spring

You may have noticed the new layout for the blog.  I'm trying to make it more peaceful and to tie in with the color scheme of my website.  Let me know what you think!

Monday, April 23, 2012

Seven Days Sober: I Feel Like I Slipped

What do drinking dreams mean?

Almost everyone who has become abstinent has had a drinking dream at some point or another.  In early sobriety, these dreams are often frighteningly vivid and recurrent, and can leave us feeling as though we have failed somehow in our recovery.  Particularly realistic dreams can trigger cravings and, if combined with the sense that we have already gone wrong, can lead to relapse.

The good news is that research has shown those who experience drinking dreams have a higher rate of successful abstinence after six months.  Why is this? No one knows for certain. It has been shown that analysis of these dreams can show us reasons we drank, such as to numb emotional pain, or bring emotions into focus, such as being happier since we became abstinent. Whatever the reason, we do not have to feel guilty for dreaming about drinking.

The important thing to remember is that drinking dreams are a normal part of the recovery process.  They are common in early sobriety and usually taper off until the sixth month of recovery, though they can continue to occur beyond this.  They do not have to end in relapse!

In early recovery (0-6 weeks), these dreams may be particularly vivid and frightening.  However, regardless of how realistic the dream is, it is just a dream.  As we have very little control, if any, on what we dream, we shouldn't feel guilty for drinking in them.  Exercise and avoiding eating, or drinking caffeine-containing beverages, before bed may help reduce the number of dreams we have.

In middle recovery (7-16 weeks), drinking dreams are less frequent for the majority of people, though they can still leave powerful feelings that may persist through the next day.  It is important to be wary of relapse on those days.  Often, dreams during this period are about choosing whether to drink or not, and can indicate your feelings about those choices.

By late recovery (17-24 weeks), dreaming about drinking becomes even more uncommon.  During this stage, and beyond, sudden dreams about drinking can be a message that there is a problem which could result in relapse. It is important to review your action plan and correct anything which seems to have slipped out of focus.

Some things you can do when your dreams become intense and troubling:

  • Exercise
  • Call for a chat
  • Call a counselor, if you have one
  • Talk to friends
  • Take a break from your normal routine
Adding this list to your action plan is a proactive way of preparing for those unpleasant dreams. Add any other ideas you can think of. Dreams cannot harm us; it is our reactions to our dreams that can lead us to relapse.  By being aware that we cannot control our dreams and that dreaming about drinking is in no way a failure or reason for guilt, we can remove the dream's power and face the next day with renewed dedication to our recovery.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Getting to Recovery Podcast Series - Episode Ten

Episode ten of my Getting to Recovery podcast series is now live.  Only three more episodes to go!

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Within Her Circle ~ a Novel

You may have noticed the link on the side of this blog for my 2010 NaNoWriMo novel, Within Her Circle.  I never finished it and it has languished for a long while untouched.  Recently, I was encouraged to finish it, and so I'm back to work on Kelly's story.  If you are a fan of recovery fiction, feel free to follow along!

Within Her Circle

Getting to Recovery: Statement Ten

Learning to Love the “I”

All love given returns.  I will learn to know that others love me.

Statement ten is another statement that many women in early recovery find hard to comprehend.  We often come into sobriety with a deep sense of self-hatred, and we can't imagine how others could possibly love us.  Drinking may have damaged or destroyed our relationships.  Others may view our sobriety as transient, expect us to revert to our old ways soon enough, and keep their distance.  If we have any idea at all of what it means to love and be loved, it is often a skewed perspective.   We simply can’t understand how these words could be true.

We frequently see this statement as being externally focused.   We place the emphasis on the love of others as necessary to make us complete, without realizing that we must be open to that love for it to matter.  This belief may be a remnant of our unwillingness to take responsibility when we were drinking.  We have become so accustomed to viewing our lives as being ruled by other people’s actions that our first instinct is to think that this, too, depends entirely on others.   Alcohol has been a silent third in our relationships for so long that we often can’t imagine how to love or be loved without it. We don’t stop to consider that the way we treat ourselves plays a large part in how others treat us.  Self-love is the key; we must love ourselves before we can truly accept the love of others.

All love given returns

I think the number one idea that we must let go of in order to understand this part of the statement is the idea that there is an immediate reciprocity to the love we give.  I have often heard women despair about "getting" the statement because of failed relationships; they have given love and it has not been returned by their partner.  They think the statement is false, or does not apply to them as a result.  We have a tendency to think of love in only the romantic sense;  we forget that it has a much broader definition.

In Buddhism, love is an expression of compassion and sincere respect for life.  It is this concept of love that helps us to understand not only the statement, but how we can make it a truth in our own lives.  The first step is to have compassion for ourselves, to have respect for our own lives.  In seeking sobriety we have already shown that we have these qualities within us; now we must nourish them and allow them to grow.

Ayn Rand wrote, "In order to say 'I love you', one first must be able to say the 'I'".  This statement suggests to me that before we can truly love someone else, we must first love ourselves.  This inner love can be hard to find when we are first sober; it is often a feeble flame hidden deep within.  When we treat ourselves with compassion, we find that flame strengthening.  The more we show respect for our sobriety and our lives, the more brightly the flame of inner love burns, until it becomes visible to others.

We have all had the experience of meeting someone who has an aura of warmth about them.  When we develop our sense of self-love, this is how others will come to see us.  It is this outward expression of our inner love that allows others to truly love us.  When we approach our lives with love for ourselves and, by extension, compassion for others, we draw that positive energy back to us.  We find ourselves with better health, a better emotional state, and more lightness in our approach to life.  When we love ourselves, we can connect with and feel the love of the entire world.

I will learn to know that others love me

Understanding the second part of the statement flows naturally from acceptance of the first.  When we dwell on self-hatred and negativity, we can't see how anyone else could love us.  This negative energy can be felt by others, and tends to discourage them from trying to get too close.  Those who truly do love us often do so with mixed emotions.  Our inner pain becomes their pain, especially when we act self-destructively through our addictions.

When we open ourselves to compassion and respect for ourselves, we find that it is easier to lower our shields and accept that others love us.  We believe ourselves to be lovable, and others can tune in to that joyful inner self.  It has been proven that people most often respond to a smile with a smile; when we approach life with love, we find others treating us with more kindness.  Loving ourselves allows them to love us as well.

This doesn't mean that finding our inner love will create a utopia around us.  Not everyone will respond to us with a positive attitude; sometimes, people will just be mean.  This is the reality of life.  What nurturing our compassion and respect for ourselves will do is allow us to pass by those individuals without taking on their negativity.  When we look for the positive, we will find the positive.

Zora Neale Hurston wrote that "love makes your soul crawl out from its hiding place."  Treating ourselves with compassion and respect allows light to shine into that hiding place.  When we bathe our souls with inner love, we allow ourselves to see that the love we give does indeed return; loving ourselves allows others to love us without reservation.  Recognizing our inner goodness allows us to accept their love without question. 

You are worthy of love, both giving and receiving.  Abandon your hiding place, have compassion and respect for your life.  Learn to love the "I" in I love you.  Your life will be richer and more positive for it.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Weird Issue With Blog, Don't Panic

There appears to be a problem with certain elements on my blog related to Facebook.  If you see two rectangular outlines on the left side, it's due to this bug.  I hear they're trying to fix it, but for now we just have to live with it.  Don't panic, it isn't a sign of impending alien takeover!

Seven Days Sober: Get Your Zzz's Please!

The Importance of Sleep in Early Recovery

Don’t you just hate it when you go to bed after a long day, only to toss and turn for an hour before you finally fall asleep?  Are you one of those people who keep waking up throughout the night and looking at the clock to find it’s been an hour or less since you last woke?  Have you been tempted to have a few drinks before bed, because it always helped you sleep before?  You aren’t alone.

Research has shown that a large number of people suffer insomnia during early sobriety, and that disrupted sleep can increase the chance of early relapse.   This difficulty sleeping can last for weeks after you take your last drink.  While it is frustrating, not to mention tiring, to spend the night wishing you could sleep, there are things you can do to help ease you into dreamland.

The first, and most important thing, is DO NOT DRINK.  Not only would you be endangering your future sobriety, but in the dependent individual, alcohol does not significantly improve the length or quality of sleep.  Insomnia is part of alcohol withdrawal, so learning to deal with it without drinking is an important step in your recovery.  Here are a few ideas to help you beat your insomnia without relapsing.

Your Bedroom is for Sleeping – Create a relaxing environment in your bedroom.  Having a TV or computer in your room sends the subconscious message that the room is for activity, not rest.  The exception, naturally, is intimate activity.  Avoid taking work to bed.  If you can’t avoid having a computer in your room, try to position it so that any lights are not directly across from you and make it a habit to turn off the monitors or shut it down an hour or more before bedtime.

Avoid Stimulants in the Evening – Caffeine, cigarettes, and even sweets can rev your system up, making sleep an elusive creature.  Try not to eat too close to bedtime, and choose relaxing beverages such as caffeine-free herbal teas or warm milk in place of a last cup of coffee.

Dim the Lights – Dimming the lights in your house 2-3 hours before bedtime signals your body to start producing melatonin (see further down for information on this hormone), which in turn makes you sleepy.

Meditation – Meditating or doing breathing exercises for fifteen minutes before bedtime can help calm your mind, reducing the stress you take with you to bed.  If you journal at night, do so before you meditate, and try to release any negative energy you may have stirred up with your writing.  A major factor in insomnia is the inability to “shut down” our minds.  Taking the time to relax and focus on the present before bed will help to put your body into sleep mode.

Hide Your Clock – Anyone who has had trouble sleeping knows what it’s like to wake up repeatedly to stare at the time.  Turn your clock so that you can’t see the numbers.  Watching the clock creates other mental activity which can keep you awake.

Don’t “Try” to Sleep – Believe it or not, attempting to will yourself to sleep can actually keep you awake.  If you are guilty of this, try listening to relaxing music or a recorded meditation while in bed.  If you don’t fall asleep within 10-15 minutes, get back up and go into another room (you want to associate your bedroom with falling asleep quickly!).  Read a book or meditate.  The same with waking in the middle of the night; if you don’t fall right back to sleep, get up and do something quiet for a few minutes.  Do not eat, smoke or exercise and don’t fall asleep on the couch.

Set Your Alarm – Wake up at the same time every day, regardless of the amount of sleep you have had.  This helps train your body to recognize a regular sleep-wake cycle.  Don’t nap during the day.  Try to go to bed at the same time as well, though you may be getting up frequently at first.  Again, training your body to get sleepy at a certain time will help you fall asleep.

A Word About Melatonin – Melatonin is a natural hormone produced by the pineal gland.  It is called the “Dracula of Hormones,”  because it will not be produced in bright light, including bright house lights.  Melatonin supplements are available, and may be used to assist in sleep.  There is no hard evidence that supplements will increase sleep, but it is not harmful.

These suggestions should help you overcome your insomnia without relapse.  If you still have trouble sleeping after 4-6 weeks of sobriety, you should check with your doctor about other treatments.  Remember, I am responsible for myself and for my actions.  Take control of your sleep and learn to rest easily.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Podcast Episode Nine now available

Episode Nine of the Getting to Recovery is now available.  It may take a few hours to be updated in iTunes for those subscribed through them.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Getting to Recovery: Letting Go of the Past

Statement Nine of the Women for Sobriety "New Life" program is often difficult for women in early sobriety to wrap their minds around.  It holds that the past is gone forever, which many women have a hard time accepting, especially if they are currently dealing with repercussions of past events, such as DUI cases or Child Services involvement. 

Indeed, we are often reminded by others of our past transgressions when we become sober; it is up to us to learn how to respond to these situations without becoming embroiled in self-doubt and self-hatred, as these are states which frequently lead to relapse.  Statement Nine provides us with a framework for this understanding.  The words are simple, but they resonate very deeply with the essence of what it means to be in recovery.

The past is gone forever.

In the literal sense, the past is indeed gone.  We cannot physically return to the past, no matter how much we may want to.  We can, however, remember the past, and it is here that we often find an initial problem accepting the statement.  We can remember our past, and others can too, and frequently we have to deal with the results of our past actions in the all-too-present world.  When I hear women say that they can't understand or accept this part of the statement, it is usually because of this reality.

We cannot change our actions in the past.  They have occurred and there is nothing we can do to erase them.  What we can do is change how we allow them to affect us in the present.  We have the power to control our responses now, and to control our reactions when others bring the past up.  Our actions are in the past, but our dysfunctional ways of dealing with things can be in the past as well.  When we choose to learn new, positive ways of handling situations, we break the link between our old behavior and our new life; we begin to recognize that the past is indeed gone forever.

No longer will I be victimized by the past.

The word victimized throws many women when they read this statement.  Victimized?  What does that mean?  When we are actively drinking, we have a tendency to dwell on past events in a negative way.  We replay embarrassing moments over and over in our heads, usually telling ourselves that this or that action proves we are incompetent, stupid, and that drinking is the only way to deal with our worthlessness.  In other words, we use the past to abuse ourselves in the present.

Rumination, or dwelling on negative memories without attempting to learn from them, is common in those with depression.  Rumination serves to reinforce the negative self-image that depression causes.  Many women in early sobriety suffer from some form of depression as a result of removing alcohol from their lives.  This negative mood state does not have to be clinical to be devastating to our sobriety.  If we focus on past mistakes and past failings in response to present difficulties - such as cravings - we undermine our sobriety by reinforcing a belief that we cannot change.

We shouldn't blame ourselves for these patterns of negativity.  They have been ingrained in us for a very long time.  Blame is just another way of telling ourselves that we cannot succeed.  What we can do is choose to learn new ways of talking to ourselves and learn to interrupt our negative thoughts with positive images.  When we recite a statement or an affirmation during a period of stress, this is what we are doing; we are retraining our brains to look for solutions instead of dwelling in the past.

I am a new woman.

In sobriety, we do indeed become new women.  The list of changes, both physical and emotional, that occur when an individual stops drinking is long.  What we should focus on in early sobriety is accepting that in every moment we have the power to rewrite our script.  Our past behaviors are tied unequivocally to our past drinking.  We now have a choice in our responses to problems.  Drinking is still among those choices, but it is a choice we are not forced to take.  It is up to us to change our thinking so that drinking becomes the least attractive option, not the most.

Accepting that we are a new woman is one key in this change of thought.  You may choose to think of yourself as having been born again, fully formed and with the intellectual capacity to make good decisions when faced with difficulty.  The way you deal with current issues related to your past self will speak loudly to others; the surest way to change the attitudes of those who are affected by your drinking is to demonstrate growth and commitment to recovery.  If you act as a new woman, people will begin to see you as such.

The past is gone forever.  You can choose to eliminate the negative thinking that kept you mired in self-doubt when you were drinking.   You can decide that you will no longer revictimize yourself by dwelling on negative memories.  You can recognize that you are a new woman and that your past actions do not dictate your current ones.  Using the tools of the New Life program will allow you to interrupt those brooding thoughts which seek to undermine your progress, replacing them with positive views of the present. You can refocus your energy on the now, on becoming the woman you are meant to be.  Accept the challenge that Statement Nine offers, embrace recovery, and start creating a new past through positive sober living today.

Friday, March 30, 2012

Getting to Recovery Episode Eight Available

The eighth episode of my Getting to Recovery podcast is now available.  Those with iTunes should be able to find it by tomorrow.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Getting to Recovery Episode Seven Now Up

For those who have been waiting patiently - or impatiently as the case might be - Episode Seven is now available in my Getting to Recovery podcast series.

Expectations: Honesty and Accountability

Statement 13: I am responsible for myself and for my actions

We all have expectations. Every day we expect things to happen, from the sun coming up to going down again. Usually our expectations are perfectly reasonable and things happen just as we think they should. Sometimes, however, our thoughts of what is to come turn negative. These expectations, too, can come to pass; often though, they don’t and we have spent needless time and energy in worry.

Expectations can become self-fulfilling prophecies. An example is the common expectation in pre-recovery that we will fail, that we “can’t do it”, can’t get sober. So convinced are we that we will be unsuccessful in changing our ways that we talk ourselves into failing, often again and again. This reinforces our inner belief and our expectation of failure.

To combat this, we need to change our expectations. We must expect to succeed, not to fail. We must believe that we have a life-threatening problem. We are no longer to be slaves to alcohol. Even if we are still drinking at this point, recognizing that we have a problem and making a plan to be able to say that it ONCE had us is to start moving from drinking to sobriety. With our plan we take that first vital step of not taking another drink.

It is difficult to make that change in belief when we are accustomed to failure. Here is where reciting the statements daily becomes important. We must take them to heart, especially Statement One. Once we believe that we have a problem that is life-threatening, we can say, ENOUGH. We can begin to expect to succeed.

On the flip side of this, if our expectations are unreasonably optimistic, we also set ourselves up for failure. If we ignore the realities of fighting our addictions, we can fail to make a plan that will allow us to succeed. We expect our path to be easy, and so don’t do the work needed to ensure success.

I am responsible for myself and for my actions. It is up to us to plan for our success. We can’t find a formula in any book or copy it from any other person. The statements provide a framework, but the details are up to us. We are all different, with different paths leading to sobriety and into recovery. Our plan must be as individual as we are; it is only then that we have provided the best opportunity for success.

The key is to create reasonable, positive expectations in our pre-sobriety that we can carry into early recovery. The first expectation that we can reasonably plan for is that our path is not going to be easy, though not by any stretch impossible. We can then plan to overcome the bumps in the road calmly and with compassion for ourselves.

This may seem like a major step and in fact it could be described as “THE” step between pre-sobriety and early recovery. That it is the foundation upon which our sobriety is fashioned underscores the importance of being reasonable about it in our expectations. Without being realistic in this area our sobriety and recovery become a house of cards which can tumble at the first stir of wind signaling trouble.

So how do we know if our expectations are reasonable? The first test to be passed is that of honesty. Are we being honest with ourselves about our abilities and commitment? It is easy to delude ourselves that becoming sober will be a simple process. We have been deluding ourselves for so long that it is second nature; we have to dig deep to find the honesty to face our strengths and weaknesses when it comes to getting sober.

The next test is that of accountability. We must be accountable for our actions in recovery. This is often difficult for us in pre-sobriety because we have used alcohol to keep us from being held accountable for ourselves. Do our expectations provide accountability? Even if we are accountable only to ourselves, we must accept responsibility for our own plan and sobriety.

If we expect to succeed without being accountable for our actions we set ourselves up for the situation of “cheating”. We can slip or relapse more easily because we don’t consider ourselves responsible. It is the “Imp” leading us; we are not in control. The intent was good but we just “slipped”.

We can also use our expectations as an excuse when we don’t have accountability for our actions. “Of course I failed, my expectations were too high.” If we take responsibility, and our expectations are reasonable, there is no excuse. We alone control our plan for our sobriety. Statement 13 - I am responsible for myself and for my actions - is a very powerful one. Making sure our expectations take this into account improves the likelihood of success; honesty and accountability are the base upon which our plan is made.

Expectations can be very helpful in our pre- and early sobriety, but they also offer pitfalls that should be avoided. Ensuring that our expectations meet the tests of honesty and accountability will help us in creating a plan that will assure our success.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Getting to Recovery: Statement Eight

Doing the Right Things

It is sometimes surprising how the fortunes we get inside those cookies at the Chinese restaurant can apply to our lives. I got one such slip of paper a few days ago. It read, "Instead of asking, 'Am I doing things right?', you should ask instead, 'Am I doing the right things?'" I was struck with how deep such a simple statement could be. Our choice of words so often dictates how we view things, and these two questions show how important it is that we choose the right words when thinking about our recovery.

There often comes a time in sobriety when we feel stuck, as though our forward progress has slowed and we have become mired in a sort of existential muck from which we can't seem to extricate ourselves. This is often a period during which we have been distracted by the minutiae of our everyday lives; children, work projects, car maintenance, yard work, perhaps a flare-up of our allergies or a winter cold. We find ourselves feeling like we are spinning our wheels, and invariably we look at our recovery and ask, "Am I doing things right?"

Statement Eight tells us that the fundamental object of life is emotional and spiritual growth. This growth never ends; we are constantly changing, learning and broadening our horizons. When we find ourselves with that feeling of being stuck, of the walls closing in on us, we must realize that this is a symptom of having outgrown our current recovery routine. We have taken a turn on the path which leads us outside our protective zone.

Perhaps we find ourselves having drinking thoughts, wondering if being sober is "worth it", or telling ourselves that after the day/week/month we have had, we "deserve" a drink. We recognize that these thoughts are dangerous, and we follow them with the question, "Am I doing things right?" If we were, we tell ourselves, we wouldn't be having these difficulties.

Getting caught up in worrying about doing things "right" can lead us further down the path we have set ourselves on. We are already in a danger zone, we are already beginning to justify drinking, and telling ourselves that we are doing things wrong only serves to reinforce the idea that we will fail in the end.

Emotional and spiritual growth do not end at a particular point. It isn't a matter of reaching a destination and being done with it; we must continue to grow or risk stagnating and becoming overwhelmed. It is when we are stuck, spinning our wheels in recovery that we are most at risk for relapse.

Statement Eight goes on to say: Daily, I put my life into a proper order, knowing which are the priorities. This means being aware of the ebb and flow of our lives and adjusting our recovery plan to ensure we are not caught off guard by situations which can threaten our sobriety. When we ask only if we are doing things right, we close ourselves to possible solutions outside our current realm of choices.

Instead of wondering whether we are doing things right, we should instead be asking ourselves, "Am I doing the right things?" Does our daily recovery routine include the things that are important in our current situation, or have we gotten into a rut where we do the same things over and over because that's how we've done it before? Recovery is an ever-evolving, ever-changing state of being. The things we did at two weeks, or three months, or a year sober are not necessarily the things which we should be doing now.

As we gain time in recovery, we discover different things about ourselves that we want to work on; not taking into account our current strengths and weaknesses can hold us back and even sabotage the work we have already done. Complacency is a dangerous thing. The moment we think, "I've got this," we invite disaster onto our doorstep. If we are more worried about doing things right than in doing the right things, by the time we realize we are in trouble, it is in our living room chewing up the furniture.

A relapse can be prevented or interrupted at any time, but the earlier you recognize the signs of danger the easier it will be to bring your recovery back to an even keel. By asking the right questions, you arm yourself with a powerful tool that will aid you in keeping your recovery a healthy one.

Spring is a time of renewal, a traditional period of cleaning house. I encourage you to do some recovery cleaning as well. Review your toolkit and your sobriety plan, spend some time examining where you are and where you would like to be. Are you doing the right things to get where you want to go?

Friday, March 16, 2012

The Myth of "Soon"

There is a common way that people on Internet forums describe something that is being promised, but is not likely to happen. They say that it will happen Soon™. This is a sarcastic way of expressing a well known fact; people who talk a great deal about doing something most often do not do it. Nowhere is the myth of soon more visible than in those with drinking problems.

Problem drinkers are often procrastinators extraordinaire; we prioritize through the lens of alcohol, putting off everything that doesn't positively impact our drinking time. This procrastination gives rise to soon-ism.

In Prochaska and DiClemente's Stages of Change model, recovery begins when an individual moves from being determined to become abstinent to taking action. There is a second path at the determination stage, one in which action is aborted and drinking is resumed. It is this fork in the road that we must overcome in order to move into recovery.

When we say, "I will quit drinking soon," we are telling ourselves - and others - a lie. We will not stop drinking until we stop drinking. Saying that we will stop "soon" is a statement designed to get others (or even our own better instincts) off our backs without tying ourselves to a specific point at which we will cease to be drinkers and become recovering women. We are weaving a tale, a myth in which we are doing our best and should be left alone.

Statement One is the great myth-buster. I have a life-threatening problem that once had me. I now take charge of my life and my disease. I accept the responsibility. It doesn't say, I have a life-threatening problem and I'll get around to dealing with it soon. We all know too well that soon never comes, and in many cases "soon" is too late. It's like SCUBA diving. If you ignore the gauge on your tank and keep saying you'll check it soon, you're very likely to find yourself out of air and too far from the surface to get there before you drown.

So how do we stop saying "soon"? How do we reach that fork in the road and pick the path of sobriety over returning to our addiction? It is a matter of deciding that the negatives of drinking outweigh the positives. We must honestly face our lives and acknowledge that alcohol does us no true good. For some, this requires facing the fork many times, shedding excuses each time until the choice is obvious. This is the key; when you are faced with the decision of becoming sober or remaining in your addiction, you must actively examine the reasons you feel there is any choice at all.

I encourage you to make a list of the positive results you achieve from drinking, and then follow each of those results to the end. How many of those "good" reasons for drinking end with very bad results? Now make a list of the positive results you can achieve by remaining abstinent. Keep these lists with you, and pull them out the next time you find yourself at the crossroads. Remind yourself that you cannot quit drinking "soon". Decide that you will quit drinking NOW. Embrace Statement One; take charge of your life and choose the path of sobriety.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Getting to Recovery: Statement Seven

Statement Seven: Love Yourself, Change Your World

Statement Seven is about love and caring. Love can change the course of my world. Caring becomes all important. This is a pretty wide-reaching idea. I think the way that Statement Seven applies to becoming sober and early recovery is when we look at love as self-love, and caring as caring for ourselves. Self-hatred and problem drinking go hand in hand. Even if we can remember loving ourselves, by the time we reach the point where our drinking is really affecting our lives we no longer feel the same way. I hear women describe how they detest themselves, how they hate waking up in the morning, how they don't understand how they've become the person they are. Not only do they not love themselves, they can't imagine how they ever could.

Becoming sober, as I have said in the past, is truly an act of self-love and deep inner caring. We are born with an inner sense of peace, an intrinsic sense of self-preservation that remains within even though we may act in destructive ways towards ourselves. Addictions are very destructive, and part of the addictive process is the stifling of our desire for self-preservation. We hide our self-love away deep in our subconscious because we cannot both actively love ourselves and continue to engage in addictive behaviors. We cannot care about our life while we are so addictively destroying it.

If we are to break the addictive cycle, if we are to survive our addictions, we must reconnect with the hidden part of ourselves, the part that expresses self-love and caring for our own well-being. Statement Seven can be applied to our interactions with others, certainly, but in early sobriety the most important application is toward ourselves. If we cannot relearn love and caring for ourselves, we will never be able to truly love and care for anyone or anything else.

Love can change the course of my world

Loving ourselves enough to stop being destructive in our lives does indeed change the course of our world. The decision to become sober rates as one of the single most important moments in our lives, and is a huge expression of our innate self-love. I think there is within each of us a self-love that never wavers. It may become obscured by the cloudiness of our actions, hidden away in the deeper recesses of our minds when we act in ways deleterious to our well-being. But it is always there, ready to blossom at the earliest signs of light.

In early sobriety, it is easy to become overwhelmed by the grandness implied in the statements. We see Statement Seven as encompassing everyone and everything, and think that for this statement to be true for us there must be some earth-shattering external moment where the love of another makes everything right. What is more earth-shattering, however, is what happens when we open to the self-love we already have within us. When we are gentle with ourselves, when we nurture the spark of self-loving, we begin to heal.

Much of recovery centers on relearning how we treat ourselves, emotionally, spiritually and physically. When we approach this with love towards ourselves, love of the person we are capable of being, instead of with hatred toward the person we think we are, we find that our progress becomes much smoother. It is not always easier, it doesn't remove the hard work that must be done, but acting with love allows us to confront the difficult issues that stand between us and lasting sobriety.

Caring becomes all important

In the most basic sense, caring is the key to it all. For us to achieve and maintain sobriety, we must CARE. It must matter to us whether we are sober or not. It is this quality of caring, of taking a position that it is important to change, that underlies the important movement from wanting to become sober to actively becoming a recovering woman.

How often in a day do you say, or think, "I don't care?" When deciding where to go for lunch, or what brand of detergent to buy, or a million other little details that crop up in daily life, we all-too-frequently respond with "I don't care." When we are actively drinking, we don't care, because nothing is important enough to devote the energy of making a choice to. If it doesn't involve our acquisition or consumption of alcohol, it doesn't matter to us. We just don't care.

At the end of what the Stages of Change model describes as "Precontemplation", that being the period during which we aren't interested in changing our behavior, of becoming sober, something happens within us. It is a major shift in attitude towards our lives. We realize that being sober does matter. We start to CARE. We wake up from the mental fog that shrouded our emotions and find that it is important to act in a different way.

If you don't care, you won't change. Caring is an action verb; you cannot passively care. If you care, you will act. This caring is one of the critical components of a successful recovery. At first, it is enough that we care how alcohol is affecting our lives. We should focus on and nurture the energy that caring about sobriety brings; that energy will grow with every successful step we take toward recovery. The more we embrace the sense of caring about becoming and remaining abstinent, the more likely we are to be successful in maintaining sobriety.

That you are trying to achieve sobriety at all shows that you have within you the self-love and caring necessary to succeed in long-term recovery. Recognize the powerful steps you have already taken in mastering your addiction and regaining control of your life. Remind yourself every day, every hour, that you love yourself enough to remain sober, that you already possess the ability to care about an alcohol-free life. Use that energy when things seem overwhelming, scary, or just impossible to overcome. You have within you the power to effect change in your life. You love yourself enough to try. You care enough to succeed.