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.