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.  

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

I'm Not THAT Stupid

The primary message I received about alcohol during school health classes and military alcohol awareness trainings was to “make good choices”. These lessons taught me that alcohol and substance abuse problems stemmed from a lack of willpower. 

Despite being repeatedly warned about how alcohol affects a person's judgment, I quickly dismissed the warnings. I never thought I could develop a problem because I always had excellent self-control and plenty of willpower. 

That won’t happen to me, I thought, I’m not that stupid.   

What I didn't know was that neither intelligence nor super self-control guarantees a person immunity from alcoholism.

I didn't learn any of this (really useful) information until I was already an active alcoholic.  

No one really knows what causes alcoholism

Doctors and specialists all over the world have spent decades studying addiction in general and alcoholism specifically. And while they know that alcoholism's development and progression are definitely impacted by a combination of genetic, social, cultural, and biological factors (source), no one can pinpoint a singular root cause.

And that includes willpower:
"Critics aside, it is a recognized medical position that a lack of willpower is not the cause of an addiction."
Addiction As Lack of Willpower,

Alcoholism affects a wide variety of people 

Statistics show that alcoholism is not limited to any singular profession, socio-economic background, race, gender, religion, hair color, geographic location, or any other superficial attribute we typically use to identify ourselves. For evidence of this, Alcoholics Anonymous created a pamphlet with data collected during a voluntary survey to its' members in 2011.

Alcoholism manifests in people differently 

Not all alcoholics are homeless people who live under bridges. 
Not all alcoholics lose their home, spouse, children, or job. 
Not all alcoholics drink alone.

Hopefully, you get the picture.

Run a search for "questions to determine if I'm an alcoholic" and a few options will crop up. In many cases they will tell you that you don't have to answer every question with "yes" in order to be an alcoholic

For instance, I know a woman who consumed 2-drinks a day and never blacked out, whereas I drank sporadically and regularly experienced blackouts. Both scenarios will cause us to answer "yes" to different questions in this quiz by the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence

This 12-question quiz provided by Alcoholics Anonymous touts that you could have a problem with alcohol if you answer "yes" as few as four times.


More people need to learn about alcoholism and addiction in a way that tells them they are NOT a bad or immoral person if they struggle with drugs or alcohol. Like most mental health issues, it is more common than most people realize, afflicting 17.6 million people (1 in every 12 adults). (FAQs/Facts, National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence

Do the math. Look at the number of people you are connected to on Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, or just in your daily life. Chances are, you know someone battling alcoholism.