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.