Thursday, October 16, 2014

My Overactive Chatter Brain


This is a noise in my room. 

But it is also a noise in my head.

Sometimes, my thoughts feel like static.

...perhaps that's the real reason I started this blog...I just needed to find a way to spew out everything that's running through my mind and plaguing me...

Drinking also used to silence my mind. In the right amounts, alcohol allowed me to experience a relaxed mind and body.

Apparently not everyone has an overactive chatter brain, although it seems like my fellow recovering alcoholics are the people most likely to commiserate with me on this. 

I have noticed a few things about my physical and mental state when my brain is noisy and restless:

  1. I'm having trouble staying "present" with my thoughts - I'm either living in the past or the future instead of the now.
  2. There is too much stimuli in my life at that time - whether it be computers, Netflix, smartphone apps, or caffeine, they all have the same effect on my brain. 
  3. I am stressed and I'm not using coping skills to deal with it. As a default, I turn to any source of stimuli (#2) I can find that will distract me from the REAL problems I'm facing. 
The more high-strung and worried  become, the more likely I am to give in to stimuli to cover-up and ignore my overactive brain. This, in turn, causes more problems. 

And so the cycle of addiction continues. 

In The Missing Piece of My Heart, I mentioned the downward spiral of addiction. The vicious cycle of drinking to forget the things you did the last time you were drunk. This mental obsession - over anything - CAN be broken. It's not easy, and the individual must be committed to a developing a new lifestyle. 

When caught up in my "overactive chatter brain", these are the tools that work best to stop the chaos:
  1. Take a walk in nature. Walk slowly, feel how the earth moves under your feet, listen to the gentle noise of leaves rustling... There is no better way to re-connect with your soul than to connect with Mother Earth.
  2. Exercise. Any form of physical exercise - whether strenuous or gentle - requires your focus and attention. Pay attention to your form and you'll get out of that crazy head of yours in NO time! 
  3. Paint. I love artistic expression. It is the ultimate form of respecting my higher self and creative thoughts. 
  4. Yoga. Part of the challenge of quieting the mind has to do with removing yourself from a distracting environment. Yoga studios are serene thus removing all unnecessary stimuli. 
  5. Put your phone in a different room. No money for a Yoga class? How about you put your phone on silent somewhere COMPLETELY out of reach from you? Only for a short while. See what you can accomplish in 20 minutes, and notice if you feel any different. 
  6. Eat a healthy meal with low-sodium. We consume FAR too much salt in our diets. Try cutting back. If your body feels better, your brain will too. 
  7. Drink water. Most people don't consume enough water on a daily basis. We require a lot (especially if you drink coffee) since our bodies are mostly made up of water! If I have a headache, chances are that I'm not well-hydrated. 
What tools do you use?

Thursday, October 2, 2014

A fish, a bird, and a monkeybar.

Walking down the street I sensed that my life was about to change...drastically. To an onlooker, I was just a young woman who seemed to be having a bad day. Tears rolled down my cheeks and my pale face was pink from fighting back tears. 

Sobriety had been forced upon me about 4 months prior, and my problems still had yet to go away. I had had a choice, of course, an addict has to want to get sober - they cannot truly be forced into anything... I didn't want to quit drinking, but I was desperate. And when desperation meets alcoholism, willingness and recovery peek their bright little eyes around a corner and ask to join the conversation.

After a few months of stumbling around, going to rehab, attending self-help meetings, and seeing four different therapists - I still felt lost and confused. I was learning about alcoholism, but was no closer to figuring out how to solve my problems.

I need an explanation for ABSOLUTELY EVERYTHING. I need a plan, a roadmap, and specific instructions. In early recovery, I wanted to know how ALL my problems would end, when, and with what results. 

"Trust the Universe and it will work itself out," my new friends said. if I was supposed to step forward into nothingness and believe that the road would magically appear under my feet! 

Yeah, right.

The reality was that my problems were a direct result of my drinking. They were conflicts that would take several people months to resolve. So even if I TRULY needed an answer, no one could give it to me. 

All I knew was that my life was going to change drastically, and it could happen at any moment. 

It wasn't until recently, when I stumbled across this quote from a Zen master that the advice from my new friends finally started to make sense. 

"A fish swims in the ocean, and no matter how far it swims, there is no end to the water. A bird flies in the sky, and no matter how far it flies, there is no end to the sky."

A fish never runs out of water. A bird never runs out of air. There is always somewhere for the fish or the bird to go.

Why would my life as a human be any different?

The fish doesn't need to cross the entire ocean to know that it can keep swimming. 
The bird doesn't need to see over the horizon to know there is more air. 
I don't need to see the ENTIRE road laid out before me.
I may have to change course or walk on unpaved ground, but even if I hit a pothole, I will always be able to continue moving forward. 

I don't have to know where I'm going because the destination doesn't matter.
I just have to move!  

Waiting for a specific explanation is like climbing onto the monkeybars but not moving a finger. You have to let go of one hand and reach for another rung. Fear of the unknown tells us, 
"Lack, trial, and suffering are inevitabilities of life. If you let go, you will fall, get hurt, and be unhappy. Don't let go."
NOT letting go of the rung is when your life is controlled by fear. 

Letting go is what happens when your life is inspired by hope. When you trust your own strength, you discover how far you can really go. 

Friday, September 19, 2014

Listen for the Similarities, not the Differences

Obviously, a guy who rode a tricycle to a detox is an addict.
Clearly, the chick whose daughter caught her passed out in a car from an overdose has a problem. 
And the veteran who downs a fifth every single day needs some help.

...but me? I'm just a lonely 20-something who drinks when she's bored, alone, angry, sad, scared, happy, or for absolutely no reason at all. 

I've never killed anyone in a drunk driving accident.
I've never experienced homelessness. 
I've never even been arrested. 

How could I possibly be an alcoholic? 

In my first week of rehab, I struggled with this issue. Heavily. 

One night a fellow came to the treatment center to run one of our sessions. He was about my age, somewhere in his 20s, although maybe still a few years older than me. At the beginning, he told us about his experiences and I was dumb-struck. This clean-cut, very UC Berkeley looking, guy had been a high-rolling drug dealer before I had even finished college, 

Then he said something that really resonated with me. 

"I realized that if I wasn't an alcoholic, quitting drinking wouldn't matter to me. If someone told me today I couldn't eat pretzels the rest of my life, I'd be disappointed but I'd be like, 'Ok-whatever.' and move on... But alcohol... No it's too important to me. And that right there, is the moment I realized I was an alcoholic."

Just the thought of never drinking again made my heart race, and I identified with that part of his story. 

After that session I was done for the evening and was free to do what I wanted (within house rules of course). So I retreated to my dorm room with my notebook and journal to do the only logical thing I do when weighing a decision: to make a list. 

I created a simple table with two columns in my composition notebook. I labelled the left side "Reasons I'm NOT an alcoholic" and the right side "Reasons I AM an alcoholic" 

Then I spent the next 15-20 minutes just writing things down on either side of the list. For the right side, I consulted my notes and handouts from the previous seven days of group therapy and one-on-one sessions. 

Very quickly I realized that my lists were completely imbalanced. The reasons I thought I was not an alcoholic were weak...
"So-and-so doesn't think I'm an alcoholic."
"There's that one time I only had one drink all night."
...and worthless when compared to the reasons I was an alcoholic.
"It takes more than three drinks to get me buzzed and I have no idea how many get me drunk."
"I kept drinking even though I didn't want to."
and most importantly...
"Once I start drinking I cannot reliably predict what will happen or what I will do."
Until that night, I had been listening to peoples' stories all wrong. I heard the WHO, WHAT, WHEN, and WHERE of their drinking and using stories - but I was not listening to WHY or the HOW... you know, the really good parts. 

I heard the differences in our stories - not the similarities. 

I don't know that guy's name, where he's from or even if he's still clean and sober - but he made a difference in my life that night. And for that, I'm eternally grateful. 

Thursday, August 28, 2014

What I was like

“How does someone like you become an alcoholic?”

Growing up I was warned about the dangers of alcohol, but I also believed the lies of addiction.  Alcoholics were supposedly weak, unintelligent, and lazy people. Those words didn’t describe me, so I thought it could never happen to me.

How Alcoholism Begins

The first time I drank, I did it to stop people from calling me a “goody-two-shoes”.  The drink was a Southern Comfort and Cola mix. I wasn’t impressed, but drank it anyway and didn’t get drunk.

After a few parties I realized how wonderful alcohol was. It relaxed me, making me feel socially invincible.  I relished the unfamiliar sensation of confidence and casually sought drinks at every opportunity.

From the beginning alcohol caused me to act out of character and I often had regrets. Yet it never occurred to me that I could just not drink. I always thought, “I’ll do better next time.” It would be years before someone would tell me that mindset is a trademark characteristic of alcoholics… “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”

What Alcoholism Feels Like

Have you ever gone on a roller coaster and instantly regretted it? You change your mind just as the ride begins and it cannot be stopped.

That’s what my drinking was like.

I drank to manage stress. I drank to manipulate others.  I drank to change my personality.  I drank to get drunk.  I drank to forget. I drank. I drank. I drank. My alcoholism was characteristic of my environment.  An officer in the U.S. Coast Guard, I embodied the stereotypical sailor: drunk in port, hung-over at sea, and cursing in between. Binge drinking and blackouts were my motto, and if you couldn’t keep pace with me, I didn’t want to hang with you.

Not all alcoholics are binge drinkers, just like not all musical instruments are made of brass. We have different habits, favorite watering holes, family baggage, and psychiatric conditions. But we do have one thing in common. We are powerless over our drinking once it starts… just like the terrified roller coaster passenger.

The Desperation to Get Sober

As any therapist or addiction specialist will tell you, and addict has to want to get sober in order for treatment to do them any immediate good. If they're not desperate for change, the information gets tucked away in the back of their mind - and saved for a truly desperate moment.

At the end of my drinking, I didn’t want to get sober but I didn’t want to keep living either. When I was awake I wanted to die, and when I was drunk I was out of control. The combination terrified me. I couldn’t understand my feelings because I knew deep down that I didn’t want to die.

My life was saved because I voiced these feelings. The Coast Guard placed me in psychiatric care. My mother and sisters flew 3,000 miles … Dad would check on me a few months later. 

While in the hospital being treated for depression, a therapist interviewed me. She asked if I was willing to do anything it took to change the way I felt. I said yes. She prober further adding, “Even if that means not taking another drink for the rest of your life?”

And I said, “Yes.”

Friday, August 22, 2014

15 Signs You MIGHT Be An Alcoholic

You might be an alcoholic if...

1. Your friends have ever had to close out your bar tab for you because you passed out in a bathroom stall. 

2. You are relieved after you puke because that means you can drink EVEN MORE.

3. You pre-game before the pre-game ... and maybe you top things off with a nightcap. Or two. 

4. While nursing one glass, you're thinking about the next drink you want to order. 

5. You've ever tried to hide a black-eye you can't explain from the night before.

6. Morning afters usually require your friends to fill you in on all the silly/dramatic/angry/crazy sh*t you did the night before. 

7. Embarrassment or shame from your drunken activities makes you want to drink.

8. You drink to wake up.

9. You drink to celebrate, and to mourn, and to forget, and because it's Tuesday, and because ... sunshine.

10. Social situations are AWFUL ... unless you have a drink. 

11. It's difficult, if not impossible, to keep track of exactly how many drinks you have in a night. Or how many it takes to get you drunk. 

12. A friend has ever said they don't like you when you're drunk. 

13. You've ever thought "I just want this feeling to stop" while drinking and you kept drinking anyway. 

14. You do things you would never EVER do while sober. 

15. Hangovers and being drunk have ever made you late for, or mess up at, work. 

Notice, none of these had anything to do with:
  • age
  • race
  • gender
  • job description/status
  • education level
  • financial security
  • hometown
So, while most Americans imagine alcoholics are homeless people wearing trenchcoats and carrying brown paper bags ... those are just the "Hollywood alcoholics".  

Alcoholism can affect anyone. 

Are you one of us? 

Take the test

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Are you lookin' at me?!

I once had a job where I felt like my boss was always talking down to me. He'd start all meetings with what felt like a grade-school  level summary about why we were there. Every facet was described in painstakingly explicit detail. 15 minutes later...or something like that... we'd actually get started.

One day, I complained about this to a co-worker. His response was, 
"Becky, did it ever occur to you that he does that for himself, and it has absolutely nothing to do with his opinion of you?"
No, of course it hadn't. 

It felt like such an obvious and egregious offense toward me, specifically.  He was treating me as a child for a reason. I was so caught up in these judgments that I failed to consider what other reasons he might have for speaking on such basic terms.'s not about me. Hmm. That's something new. 

This was not my first realization that I had a tendency to be selfish, although I've not ever been selfish in the same way most people generally think of that personality flaw. 

Remember, selfishness and self-pity are opposite sides of the same coin. 

I'm selfish because I naturally gravitate towards negative self-thinking. On a basic level, I think of myself as an annoying, awkward, unlikable person whom other people merely tolerate. As a result, I always assume that people's frowns, bad attitudes, or general disposition has something to do with me. In doing this, I allow my judgments about myself to influence my relationships with other people. 

Basically, I usually assume other people's thoughts, actions, and words revolve around me.
Which is totally self-centered and not true, btw. Most people are in fact thinking about themselves.  All the time.

So, to maintain my sanity, and adjunctly my sobriety, I have to find a way out of this selfish thought pattern. 

To do that, I have to establish a new thought pattern.
Today, I am choosing to not let that happen. 
Today, I choose to be happy with who I am. 
Today, I do not assume that other people are thinking about me. 
Today, I accept that other people's moods have nothing to do with me.
Today, I realize that other people's opinions of me are none of my business, OR my responsibility.  
Today, I am grateful for my sobriety. 
Today, I am overwhelmed with love from the community of sober friends surrounding me.
Today, I see beauty and synchronicity in all areas of my life.

There. That should do it! ... for today.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

What DOES depression feel like?

Imagine for a moment... are in complete darkness. There is no light, no sound, no wind, or smells. Holding your hand in front of your face, you see nothing. You speak but your voice fades away without echo.
Stepping forward to find a wall or a door, you trip over uneven ground.  But when you crawl back to find what made you trip, you feel only a surface as smooth as glass.
You try to stand to keep looking for an exit and somehow weights have been added to your body, pressing down on your shoulders. The added pressure throws you off balance and makes you feel weak. You try to knock them off, but your hands find only air. 
A long time passes as you struggle to walk, trip, and stand over and over again.  
You don't know how long you have been here. 
You don't know how long you will be here. 
You only know the quiet desperation ripping you apart from the inside...begging for it to end. 
You can only feel the utter loneliness in your soul created by the dark void around you. 

This is how depression felt to me. 

How do you explain that to someone? 

Struggles (like the invisible weights) create the sensation that our problems are unreal. We don't even know if we can trust what we felt because it's intangible with no obvious connection or cause. 

In a day and age where everything has to have evidence leading to a cause, how do we explain ourselves in a way that others will listen? 

Depression tells us we are totally alone and our situation is helpless. 

Not having evidence to the contrary, we believe it. And sometimes, we give up because there are only two ways out of the dark void:
  1. Death
  2. Asking for help

Why don't people ask for help?

When you're depressed, it's kind of like being on the reflective side of a one-way mirror... Other people can see and hear you, but you can't hear or see them. It's impossible to know if anyone can hear or see you...or if they even care. 

And what you don't know, you fear. So instead of imagining your friends and family hugging, loving, and supporting you - instead you imagine them as callous and indifferent towards your problems. You anticipate their judgment and critical gaze. 

Fear of the response of others, and not knowing how to verbalize and justify emotions are huge contributing factors which deter individuals from seeking help for depression. 

What can we do?

A lot, actually. 

First and foremost, stop judging people who seek mental health treatment. I mean, stop with both the negative and pitying statements. Pity implies that someone is weak and somehow less than you. That you see yourself as stronger or better than someone receiving mental health treatments. 

This could not be further from the truth. 

When you find out someone is getting help, congratulate them for taking that step. Acknowledge that it's challenging and takes a great amount of courage to ask for help. 

Give encouragement. Share your love. Empathize if you can. 
But do not be critical or pitying. 

Second, let's stop perpetuating this idea that success leads to happiness
Happiness comes from within. It's about accepting who you are, where you come from, how you live, and being grateful for it. 

Some days I feel completely inundated with distractions, advertisements, movies, music - all promoting this idea of:
"Do this! You'll have fun! You'll succeed at something and that will make you happy! Happiness is when you're the best, the smartest, the thinnest, the tannest..."
Blah blah blah... 


Robin Williams's death was tragic, but he has taught the world something important through his suicide. 
Happiness is not determined by your level of success. 
Mental health problems cannot be fixed with the same mind that is sick. 
While we may perceive successful people as someone who "has it all" and has a happy life, that doesn't mean it's true because we can never really know the inner workings of someone else's mind. 

Third, you can share this message to raise awareness of what depression really feels like

Shine a light into the void so people know their negative self-talk is a lie. Show them they are not alone.

Reach out your hand so they can hold on to something real, and trust what they are beginning to see. 

Speak up about the reality of depression so all can hear you, even those trapped in the void. Tell them you're listening. Tell them about the phone number in the picture below, and tell them that they will listen too. 

Basically, be a friend. 

Thursday, August 7, 2014

When you forget to wear pants to work...

Note: The comments posted to articles on this event are on the whole - appalling. While I expected to see criticism about what she did, I was completely unprepared for the judgments on her appearance. Please don't torture yourself by reading their narrow-minded and rude remarks. It will waste time you can never get back. 

I don't care who you are, if you screw up this badly, there's a much bigger issue at play than just lack of common sense. 

Clearly, she's hurting. Both before and after this incident. 
I think we'd be hard-pressed to find a person who could withstand this level of public humiliation without showing a shred of embarrassment or shame.

My heart aches for this woman. The mental picture I have of her sitting alone at her desk reminds me of how lonely and depressed I felt at my lowest moment when drinking. She needs our love, support, and encouragement - not snide remarks. I'm pretty sure it will be a long time before she can look back on this day and laugh about it. 

What is it about kicking someone when they are down that seems like a good idea?
Why do people get such a perverse enjoyment from saying negative things about people they don't know?

While I could be wrong, I suspect the same motivations behind this type of cyber-bullying is what motivates kids who pick on others at school:
If I pick on her, I will make people laugh, because they laugh at those kinds of things, and that will make me cool.
If I protect her, everyone will think that I am like her and they will pick on me too. 
I don't want to be like her, so I should pick on her to show that we are not the same.  

The other (more plausible) reason people are saying bad things about her, is because she screwed up in such a big way that they cannot imagine how/why/when they would ever screw up as badly. 
I cannot tell you how many people I have met in recovery, myself included, who did things we SWORE we would never do. We did not aspire to say and do these things, but often times we looked back on our lives and said, "how did I let that happen?"

We did so because we were drunk and addicted to alcohol. 

I am not a bad, unintelligent, or callous person because of what I said and did while drinking. 

I am a person who has said and done bad, unintelligent, or callous things under the influence of alcohol. 

None of us are perfect. We make bad choices all the time. That's what makes us human and unique in this imperfect world! Without bad choices and consequences, how would we learn and grow? 

It's what we do after our mistakes that defines our character. 

Taking charge of our lives and owning our mistakes is hard. Mainly because we have been taught that we needed to be ashamed for bad choices. My thought is that we are perpetuating the idea that it isn't okay to be imperfect. While we don't want to screw up, we should not think badly of ourselves when things don't go as planned. 

I am human. I am allowed to make mistakes. If I was perfect, I would be an angel or some shit. 

SO, if we expect to be forgiven for our faults, we should be generous with forgiving others. 

Forgiveness is not condoning or endorsing the bad behavior of others. It's simply a way to acknowledge other peoples' right to be flawed. 

If it's too hard to forgive someone right away, start by being caring to the person. Offer to help someone you need to forgive by mowing their lawn or going to the store for them when they are sick. When you extend kindness of any kind without intent for reciprocation or praise, you are practicing forgiveness because literally, the word "forgive" comes from the word "forgifan" which means: to give. 

I guess I need to find a way to forgive the twats who said mean things about Mrs. Lorie Hill.

Thursday, July 31, 2014

The Missing Piece of my Heart

For as long as I can remember, I have struggled with the notion of love.  

For reasons unbeknownst to me, I always thought that it had to be earned. So when my parents said, "We're so proud of you - you did a great job," or, "I love you, honey," I didn't believe them. More often than not, my response was "You have to say that, you're my parents."

It breaks my heart today to imagine how that must have hurt them. And in truth, it hurt me too.  I rejected their love and attention because I didn't feel that I deserved it and consequently reinforced my low self-esteem.

As a teenager, this lack of self-love manifested itself in many ways:

  1. social anxiety
  2. fear of flirting or dating
  3. self-deprecating thoughts and words
  4. depression
  5. suicidal ideations
  6. lack of genuine or heart-felt relationships
  7. fierce independence
  8. stubbornness
  9. determination
  10. judgement - of myself and others
  11. isolation
  12. diminished spirituality
  13. anger and hate
  14. impatience
  15. restlessness
I was missing a piece of my heart...the piece that showed showed me how to love, appreciate, and accept myself.

When I started drinking, I forgot about the piece of my heart that was missing. Suddenly, I was cool, funny, happy, and relaxed. I didn't care what other people thought of me and I felt liberated.

But it didn't last long.

After a short while, I began to binge drink. Drinking any amount lowers your inhibitions, and binge consumption lowers them even more. I started to say and do things I'd never do sober. First, it was just minor stuff like swearing or ranting angrily about various issues. Then, as my tolerance grew and I drank more, my actions became more unpredictable. I drove drunk. I physically attacked people. I slept around. I ignored rules left and right and gave myself excuses.  

Nights out were immediately and invariably followed by emotionally painful days. They were so painful that I often drank to forget the things I did. 

And so the vicious cycle began:

I drank to forget the hole in my heart.  

The more I drank, the bigger hole became.

The bigger the hole, the more I had to drink to fill it up.

By the time I got into rehab, the hole felt like a canyon...a seemingly endless crevice in my soul that could never be made whole again.

A counselor at the treatment center tasked me with journaling for 5 minutes a day on something that I loved about myself. After day 1, all of my topics came from the suggestions of other clients. It took a long time, but this exercise started to change the way I saw myself. 

What helped me the most was actually a process very similar to a Catholic confession. I was open and honest with another (sober) person about what happened while I was drinking. I told her specific stories and we looked for times when I was being selfish or self-seeking. 

You might think that this process would only make me hate myself more. Yes, I hated the things I had done. I was ashamed and embarrassed, but that was only a temporary pain. Talking with a trusted friend actually normalized my drunken and careless behavior. She reminded me that I was not the only person to have said or done that "horrible awful no-good very bad thing" that I was so afraid to admit. 

She helped me to accept my flaws and mistakes as part of life. 

She showed me acceptance and forgiveness. 

She taught me that my past shaped the person I was becoming, but it did not define my quality of character.

She showed me how to love myself.

And the hole filled up. My heart became whole.

Through this process I learned that love is an omnipresent energy; it is everywhere. 

Friday, July 25, 2014

Will I EVER be Happy Again?!

Early sobriety sucks. 

Memories of my first 90 days in sobriety are sufficient motivation for me to not pick up a drink. I don't know if I would be willing to walk through that torturous emotional hurricane again. 

In the first three weeks, I woke up with panic attacks every night between 2 and 4 am.
When I woke up, the first thing that crossed my mind was whether I could get drunk or kill myself that day.
I was terrified all the time. 
Nothing was funny.  
I tried to convince my mom I could have one glass of wine with dinner. Because-after all-it was Thanksgiving...and everyone drinks wine on Thanksgiving. 
I obsessively wrote the serenity prayer in my journal during meetings.
Everywhere I went, I was sure everyone hated me. 
I didn't know who to ask for help.
I often cried at work and ran into the bathroom hoping nobody would see me. 

Then literally, on the 90th day, a switch flipped. 

On that particular day, I was working on the Coast Guard ship I was assigned to. (There was a brief period of time where I returned to the ship between my Captain's Mast and the day my therapist recommended I be temporarily reassigned to a shore unit.) It was a Friday and it had been an exceptionally long day for me. 

I had a headache from doing my hair up in a bun that was too tight. 
I felt drained emotionally, mentally, and physically. 
I was desperately lonely, wishing I had my parents in town to hug and reassure me instead of at their home 3,000 miles away.
I desperately wanted a drink.

Then I remembered something I was taught in rehab: H.A.L.T. Hungry, Angry, Lonely, Tired.

If you've never heard this acronym before, it is a way to check if you're meeting your physical and emotional needs before you run to pick up a drink. When a craving hits you, stop and ask, "Am I Hungry, Angry, Lonely, or Tired?" If the answer is yes to ANY of the four, stop whatever you're doing and address that need immediately.

Since it was the end of the workday and all I had left to do was change out of my uniform and go home, I opted to roll over into my rack (military jargon for "bed") and take a nap. 

Four hours later, when I awoke, I felt physically different. The heaviness that had been resting so comfortably on my chest and shoulders for three months was GONE. I didn't feel anxious. I wasn't lonely or depressed.

And then, for the first time in many many months, I smiled.

In that moment of craving, I did the best possible thing for my sobriety:

I followed a suggestion that had been given to me.

People don't suggest you go to rehab or meetings for recovery programs (like AA, SMART, or LifeRing) because they want your money. Those programs are suggested so that you can learn ways to cope with your cravings without getting wasted. 

One of the most common concerns from people who are afraid to quit drinking is this: will I ever have fun again?

The answer is a resounding and assuring YES, although it may take a while. For me, it was 90 days before I had the first inkling that my life was about to improve. 

There are absolutely ways to be happy in sobriety. Just like it's absolutely possible to be miserable. Just because you get sober, your life isn't always filled with sunshine, puppies, sparkles, and unicorns. 

We learn how to keep sober through ALL the stuff that happens in life: break-ups, new relationships, death in the family, new baby, losing a job, getting a new job, and so on. And because life has many stages, and it just keeps changing, the learning process never ends

In the mornings, I choose to make a conscious effort to improve my life. For me, that starts with accepting that I'm an alcoholic. Then I have to accept that I have no control over the people, places, or things in my life EXCEPT for what happens in my own head. 

If I can remember these things, today might actually be a good day. 

Thursday, July 17, 2014

What To Do When God F*ks With You

Sometimes, when you don't give your life over to God*, he screws with you. 
*God, a term I use to describe the Universal Energy which is my Higher Power which is not affiliated with any one organization or religion.

But it's okay, right? Because it's in a loving way... the same way that your friends and family tease you incessantly about your character flaws. They wouldn't do it if they didn't love you. Or like when boys call you names and punch you in the arm because they like you. They're just trying to be friendly...

I really don't think that God is inherently mean-spirited, cruel, or unforgiving. My experiences have taught me that I can feel God's love, protection, and care at any time that I'm open to it"Open to it" are the key words here. If I cross my arms, how am I supposed to pick up the package left for me by the FedEx delivery guy? 

The same (simple) rule applies to good luck, a.k.a. "gifts from God" or blessings. 

So, when I'm being particularly obstinate or difficult and ignoring signs from our angels and gifts from God or The Universe, I should expect to get a curve ball thrown at my head. It forces me to yank back, releasing my arms and letting go of the bat. I look at where the ball came from and yell "WTF, dude?!" 

Cease Fighting

At this point, I usually realize just how bad that accident could have been - and just how lucky I am in so many ways. Today I am alive, healthy, and safe. I have access to everything I could possibly need and more. 

Why should I be angry? 

I have to relinquish the idea that I have a justifiable reason to be angry about anythingWhen my life is put into sharp perspective, it's impossible to see myself as a victim of circumstance.

Clear Negativity

There's no room in my life for negativity. None. 

Sometimes I forget this and under stress start "venting" about absolutely everything, which is just a socially acceptable way of saying that I "gossip" or "bitch" about my frustrations. In this state, all I can do is spread more negativity. As I bitch and complain, I am filling anyone listening or overhearing with their own negativity. Maybe they dislike hearing my complaints, or they feel personally affronted on my behalf. 

Whatever their reaction - it's not their problem. Now, don't get me wrong, I'm not saying to stuff your feelings without acknowledging them.

It's normal and healthy to express feelings when upset. Dissecting negative thoughts and feelings with the help of a trusted friend, spiritual leader, or therapist lessens their grip on me. As a recovering alcoholic, this is pretty key for me. Decreasing the negative thoughts has a direct correlation to relieving myself of the desire to drink. 

That is what I consider to be the constructive manner of dealing with negativity. NOT venting.

Absorb Good Energy

Finding positive alternatives to the negative behavior is what helps me to truly eradicate the latter from my life and move on. 

I have seen, heard, and read multiple suggestions for how to bring in good energy. It may be different for you, but I'll share here the things that I do:

  • Exercise
  • Read spiritual literature
  • Do a guided meditation
  • Listen to live or archived radio shows on 
  • Attend a religious service
  • Attend a 12-step / self-help meeting 
  • Call a friend or family member 
  • Play with my dogs
  • Walk in the park
  • Art: painting / drawing
  • Bake something to share or give away
  • Send flowers, a handwritten letter, or a gift to someone "just because"

Basically, good energy is anything that comes from a loving, heart-centered space, such as giving of one's self without expecting or hoping for a reciprocal act of generosity. 

And if all else fails and that stuff seems like too tall of an order, just focus on one thing: Find something to be grateful for in your life. 

Thursday, July 10, 2014

I'm perfectly imperfect, and that's perfectly okay.

My mind is split in two: me and my addict.  They both reside in that grey matter between my ears and they both give me advice.  It’s like the angel and demon over each shoulder, or the story about how you have to choose between feeding one of two wolves that live inside you.  Lately I’ve been seeing a lot more of the devilish, angry, addict side of my brain which is miserable and incorrigible.  I have been hungry, angry, lonely, and tired.  There is very little anyone can say or do to improve my mood when I am in that state of mind. 

On my way home from work this evening I thought about doing something to help myself fight the alcoholic mindset.  I thought about going to talk to other people suffering from the same condition.

"Oh, it's 5:28, I could make it to the 5:30."

"You'll be late."

"There's always that other place that starts at 5:45."

“No, don’t go. It’s time for dinner.”

“But I’m not really all that hungry. Plus I have a banana and a salad
 with me so I could eat those if I get hungry enough.”

"You don't have a fork."

"I can use my fingers."

“But you don’t want salad for dinner. You want steak. 
Go home and cook something substantial.”

“I really don’t want to cook tonight. Besides, 
the salad will go bad if I don’t eat it tonight.”

“You ought to go home and work on your book, 
or finish that TV episode you started watching during the carpool.”

“I can’t work my recovery in around my life. 
I have to work my life around my recovery.”

And with that last thought, I turned left instead of right and went to talk with a bunch of sober alcoholics about recovery for a little while.  During the discussion I flashed back to that internal debate in my car and realized that I was really glad I didn’t go home. It reminded me of all the “reasons” my addict mindset has used to lure me towards drinking again. 

So, for your entertainment value, welcome to the insane part of my mind which gives me…

10 (Not Really) Justifiable Reasons My Alcoholic Mind Wants Me to Drink

1) You should just try to have a glass of red wine. It’ll taste so good.

2) Some people think you’re not really an alcoholic. You should go out and relapse just to PROVE IT to them!

3) Since you never went to jail, had your stomach pumped, or got nabbed for a DUI, you really ought to go back out drinking.  No one is going to take your book seriously without those experiences.

4) You don’t want to write a book about alcoholism without having relapsed, do you?  I mean, what alcoholic hasn’t relapsed?

5) To really recover from being a perfectionist, you should intentionally screw up your sobriety.  For no reason.  Just go and have a drink.

6) You’ll feel better.  All this stress you’re carrying around will be lifted once you have a gin and tonic.

7) You’ve already been sober as long as you drank, surely you’ll be fine. 

8) You’re bound to screw this whole sobriety thing up eventually anyway…I mean, statistically how long can you possibly stay sober?  Why not just beat it to the punch?

9) The wine the priest serves during Holy Communion is totally okay because as soon as he blesses it, it transforms metaphorically into blood.  So… you’re not really drinking wine.  You should at least drink the wine at communion.  

10) The Coast Guard doesn’t control your life anymore.  You won’t lose your job if you go out drinking one night. 

I think my alcoholism might have a point on the last one. I might not lose my job today after one night...but I know myself and I have heard other peoples' stories of relapses. One night will become just the first of many many more.  It might take days, weeks, months, or even years to lose my job as a result of my drinking. Who knows? But it would only be a matter of time. 

Who knows if I would ever get sober again? 

I stand to gain nothing as a result of quitting "the sobriety thing" intentionally. 
I cannot overcome my fear of failure or obsession with perfectionism by giving up the very thing I'm afraid of failing.  
I have no power over whether other people will find credence in my self-proclamation of being an alcoholic. Therefore, I should certainly not try to prove it to them or "improve my credentials" by drinking more. 

Yeah, I may not do this sobriety thing perfectly, and I may not stay sober for the rest of my life, but that's no reason to stop trying.