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.