The initial ambivalence about becoming sober brings up many insecurities. Many of us use drinking as a social lubricant. Even “Normies” use alcohol as a stimulant in social situations. It’s not uncommon to feel as though you are losing an identity when you become sober, because essentially, you are.
The first year I went to social events as a sober person, I discovered myself much more subdued than my usual attention seeking persona. What I did not do in these situations, was judge myself for this. More than anything, I observed myself like I would normally observe other people, except it was less obvious and more internal. What emotional responses am I having? What insecurities are arising? Who am I feeling like I should impress at this party? Am I comfortable right now? These are the questions I asked myself, and I continue to do this. It’s a practice of self-awareness that keeps me present. If I merely observe my inner dialog, rather than react to it, I discover myself entirely in my body. I am able to be thoughtful in my interactions with other people, and I’m much more natural as a human being. The alcoholic is insecure as a human being, which is why becoming sober feels a lot like being the only one naked at a party. It can certainly feel this way, but don’t buy into it. You are much more acceptable being yourself, than you are when you are drunk. People knew you were drunk, they just didn’t say anything to you. If they did, then you were most likely hammered, and embarrassing yourself.
The thing should understand, is that everyone else at a party is thinking mostly about themselves. Their focus is not on you. It’s human nature to be self-absorbed. The other thing I observe is that people don’t really drink as much as I believed they did. Every party or social gathering I’ve been to thus far, has proven to be a very non-alcoholic event. I’ve even met several people who don’t drink at all. I believed other people drank as much as I did. Well, I was wrong. Most people drink very responsibly, and most people don’t really care if you aren’t drinking alcohol. If they are bothered by it, then you are probably with the wrong people. At parties now, I have just as much fun not drinking, as I did when I was drinking. This is because it is exciting to me that I am finally comfortable in my own skin, without the assistance of a drug to help me feel like I am fitting in. My experiences are much different now because they are organic. My perception is clearer and I am much more available to enjoy each moment, as opposed to worrying if my glass is empty.
Lastly, if I am not feeling a party, I have the confidence and self-respect to leave. In my recovery, I have learned to honor myself, so it doesn’t really matter to me who gets offended if I am taking care of my own needs at any given time. As long as I am not being selfish and hurting someone, it is okay to take care of myself. Integrity begins with respecting yourself, and honoring your lifestyle in recovery.
It’s okay to take moments away from the crowd if it becomes overwhelming. It’s perfectly natural to feel awkward and nervous. Allowing these feelings to be there with you, rather than running from them or avoiding them altogether, will allow them to breathe and dissipate. Having a sober friend or loved one with you in these situations is extremely helpful as well. Don’t judge yourself for your insecurities. Have some compassion for yourself, and allow yourself to feel everything you are feeling, without trying to change it. This is what it means to recover; acceptance of yourself under any given circumstance.
In time, you will discover a very alive and joyful person under all those insecurities. Others will see it too, and they will accept you exactly as you are.
Even before I arrived to the conclusion that I was an alcoholic, the answer to my own recovery was waiting for me in the rooms of AA along with the suggestion to get there as quickly as possible. Most of us resist these meetings because of preconceived notions that we will be joining some kind of cult. Others of us find ourselves reluctant, because going to meetings means we are doomed to eternal sobriety, which sounds terrible. I’ve been sober for a while now, through the help of a behavior modification program. I tried AA prior to getting into treatment, and I got a sponsor and everything, but my inner addict was ruthless, and I found ways to circumvent the program which lead me to my own drunken demise.
Treatment somehow worked for me, but not everyone can take this route. It’s a time commitment and many of us do not have the luxury of time. In treatment, the twelve steps are the crux of most programs, but what if some of us are tired of being overrun by “programs.” It sounds like “programming” to me. Isn’t there an easier way to become and remain sober? Also, what is all this powerlessness stuff about? I’m not willing to say I’m powerless over anything. For me, my powerlessness is another word for “acceptance” that I am someone who cannot drink like a normal person. It is also more about surrendering to my own self-will and tapping into something deeper within myself, rather than claiming that I must surrender the bottle. Our self-will is a monster, and it needs to be put in check, but this is something that we have the power to overcome, because we are created intelligently.
According to a former AA member, there is a much easier and shorter way to recovery. It’s really simple. It’s… (get this)… complete abstinence. The author and founder of this road to recovery is Jack Trimpey. His book is titled, ‘Rational Recovery’ and it teaches the addict to recognize his addictive voice, which is always causing problems. Jack Trimpey cuts to the chase in his new way of thinking about recovery, and does not believe that addiction is a disease. Rational Recovery is simple, and has a very high abstinence rate. People who can think for themselves, and want an alternative to a lifetime commitments of meetings and sponsors, should find out for themselves if Rational Recovery is right for them.
I’m still learning about Rational Recovery, but so far, it really makes a lot of sense to me. I feel like I should have been given the opportunity to chose which route to recovery I wanted to take, but AA is so ingrained in our society, as the only way to true recovery. I am all about taking responsibility for my life and for the future of my life. I think Rational Recovery is a responsible answer to an irresponsible problem.
Check it out for yourself, and any feedback is greatly welcome and appreciated!
This is one of the most common questions I’m asked when I speak to clients in the treatment center. The short answer is, “Yes. If I wasn’t having fun in my sobriety, I would not be sober today. What would be the point?” Enjoying life without drugs or alcohol boggles the addicts mind, but if you’re at the brink of becoming sober, I seriously doubt that your addiction has been a barrel of laughs lately. We don’t decide to get sober because life is so much fun in our addiction. It’s exactly the opposite.
The first few months of recovery, for many of us, are the most difficult, but mostly because your body is still recovering itself, and you are deficient of a natural chemical called, Dopamine. This is the “feel good” fluid that is produced naturally, but has been abused by your drug of choice. When you take your drugs or drink your alcohol, you are inducing the Dopamine effect, and you feel very high. When the high depreciates, your Dopamine levels drop. It takes time to recover physically from abusing your Dopamine release. Once the Dopamine replenishes, you will feel less foggy, and a more chipper. For alcoholics, this takes about a month. For opiate users, it can take three to six months. It is different for everyone, but once you stop using, be patient with your body and accept the consequences of your actions. It will get better, and you will feel “normal” before you know it. Exercising accelerates the process. For me, running helped immensely.
When your body has re-acclimated and the chemicals have rebalanced, you may feel a natural high. AA calls this the “pink cloud” effect. I have my own opinion on this. They say the pink cloud doesn’t last. It’s been two and a half years for me, and I’m still feeling pretty amazing. Don’t buy into a belief that the good feelings don’t last. If you have been high, drunk and hung over for several years, waking up feeling balanced everyday, is a frigging party, if you ask me. I’m human, and I have mood swings, but my lowest days sober are still better than any unpredictable feelings I had while abusing alcohol.
And what about FUN in daily activities? Yes… yes… I’m getting to that. We spend years using to enhance our experiences, but how many of those experiences have we forgotten? How many of them are foggy to remember? How many of them were black outs? My years of drinking are patchy, so when I think back to “having fun,” it’s just me believing that I must have had fun. I don’t remember much of anything, except for the times I embarrassed myself.
In sobriety, most of us learn to be very present in our lives. Being present is kind of a high in itself, like a toddler exploring the world. Do you remember when you were a child, and everything was cool, exciting and simple? You were an explorer of your universe. You used your imagination and created things. You weren’t using drugs or drinking then, but life was pretty easy going. This is the exciting part of getting sober… it’s a lot like becoming a child again. You get to experience life through new eyes, and with a whole new perception. You get to discover who you are, what you enjoy, and finally there is space in your life to do things you never made time for doing while you were using. Your addiction took up most of your time, so here you are now with tons of space to do whatever it is you neglected. Pick up a guitar, go on a bike ride, check out some caves, drive to the mountains, run several miles, join a gym, read classic novels, go back to school, get a degree, jump out of a plane (with a parachute of course), check out the planets through a telescope, play tennis, swim in a lake… THERE ARE NO LIMITS! You are finally in control of your life, and you get to create it however you’d like.
If you don’t feel like doing any of this stuff yet, maybe it’s time to get to know yourself again. Take life slow and dedicate yourself to a new relationship with YOU. Be kind, compassionate and patient with yourself. Buy yourself fresh flowers, or cook yourself a delicious meal. Begin treating yourself like you love YOU. Find out what you like and don’t like. Discover what makes you laugh, and take it really easy. In sobriety, there is so much space to take your time and explore the world; inside and outside. And the best part is, you will remember it!
We all experience life uniquely, so do not judge yourself for feelings of depression, or insecurities that come up the first year or two. Simply accept everything as it comes, and trust that you will discover enjoyment and fulfillment unlike anything you had in your addiction.
To take the road of recovery, is to take the Hero’s Journey. We all know this script very well. It is the script of most every motion picture. Creators like George Lucas of Star Wars, develop their scripts from the ancient theme, wherein each man has the opportunity to follow a quest in his or her life, bringing them first to mental death, and then into their transcendent spiritual awakening. In my own recovery, I have taken this Hero’s Journey. Where are you in regards to this journey?
Let’s take the diagram of the journey and see how it relates to recovery:
1. Ordinary World – This is the place that you are originally born into, without vision or destiny. It’s the place that takes the toll on the addict or alcoholic, which feels monotonous and callous. It is here where we decide that our life has become unmanageable, and that we are powerless over our drug of choice. Step 1, “We admitted that we are powerless over alcohol or drugs, and that our lives had become unmanageable.”
2. Call to Adventure – Step 2, “Came to believe that a power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.” Step 3, “Made a decision to turn our lives over to the care of God as we understood him…” Sound familiar?
3. Refusal of the Call – How many of us resist recovery in the beginning? Giving up our drug of choice is a terrific battle. For some of us (me), it takes several years to relinquish the bottle.
4. Meeting of the Mentor – Plain and simple: Sponsorship, or for some of us, a treatment counselor.
5. Crossing the Threshold – This is where we usually find ourselves breaking down emotionally. The fog has finally lifted and we begin realizing that we need to change our behaviors. At this point, we are humbled and we begin to fully surrender.
6. Tests, Allies, Enemies – Cravings, Fear and our addict self who wants no part of sobriety.
7. Approach – Remember when Luke Skywalker entered the dark cave and faced his father, who turned out to be himself? This is where we realize that our enemy is nothing outside of ourselves. We are our own worst enemy. This is where you face your addict self with a vengeance.
8. Ordeal, Death, Rebirth – At this crossroad, we are overcoming emotional traumas, pain, fears, and where we really begin waking up. Step 4, “Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.” Step 5, “Admitted to God, to ourselves, and another human being, the exact nature of our wrongs.” Step 6, “Were entirely ready to have God remove these defects of character.” Step 7, “Humbly asked God to remove our shortcomings.”
9. Reward, Seizing the Sword – Step 8, “Made a list of all the persons we had harmed, and became willing to make amends to them all.” Step 9, “Made direct amends to such people whenever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.” Step 10, “Continued taking personal inventory of ourselves, and when we were wrong, promptly admitted it.” In these steps, we are facing the wreckage, but we are stronger now, and we carry the sword of courage.
10. The Road Back – Step 11, “Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God as we understood him, praying for the knowledge of his will for us, and the power to carry that out.” This is when we leave our self-will behind and begin fully loving and accepting the person we left behind in our addiction.
11. Resurrection – We feel and experience incredible power in our lives. There is a freshness to the world. We have shed old skin and are on top of the world.
12. Return with Elixir – Step 12, “Having had a spiritual awakening as a result of these steps, we tried to carry the message to alcoholics/addicts, and to practice these principles in all our affairs.”
You see, in sobriety we are like the Phoenix rising through the ashes. It is through the 12 steps of recovery that we take The Hero’s incredible Journey!
Sinking down into a place of complete acceptance, wherein all judgment ceases, feels as if my life is resting upon a down comforter. I didn’t realize how judgmental I still am, until I intentionally observed it in myself. I was accepting of many things, but not of others. It all hit me as I felt judgment coming from people, which prodded me to look at my own self. Trying to clear myself completely of judgment doesn’t exactly seem plausible, so instead of looking at the judgment, perhaps I can begin with acceptance. We tend to unsuccessfully abandon the negative parts of ourselves, rather than opening up to our positive aspects. The acceptance I have in my life, outweighs the judgment, so this is where I have decided to place my energy this week, and hopefully thereafter.
Acceptance is an incredible tool to use throughout the day. To set an intention of acceptance, is to create yourself a path of laughter. I know this from experience. Imagine one of those Mondays where everything goes wrong, from the time you wake up and hit your toe against the dresser, to dropping the shampoo several times in the shower, and finally there is an accident on the way to work, when you were already running late. Coffee spills, high volumes of phone calls, chronic problem solving at the office, you forget your lunch and your wallet; it’s just one of those days. But what if on this particular day, you had made an intention of “acceptance.” At some point, maybe between the coffee spilling and forgetting your wallet, wouldn’t you have to throw your head back and laugh?
I imagine acceptance as an internal smile. No matter what is occurring, you have this secret super hero power where nothing affects you negatively, because before it happens, you decide to be ok with it. There is so much compassion in this, and it certainly feels better than being angry and cussing out the dresser for being in the way of your toe. It also feels amazing to smile at the antics of the person at work who usually bugs you. By accepting them today, you are able to take nothing personally. You are graciously allowing them the space to be who they are without being annoyed by them. I would rather walk through my life with an attitude of acceptance, than feeling annoyed, angry, or frustrated. It simply FEELS better.
Human beings tend to think that life is better when everything is in place, exactly how they want it to be. In actuality, how you feel, is what truly creates your experience. If you can change the way you feel, your experience changes. I used to drink to feel good. This didn’t always pan out for me. Now it’s simply a matter of me being open to my experiences and not placing expectations on anything, which creates a calm and joyful experience in everyday situations.
I love it how gifts like acceptance are absolutely free. It’s a gift that continues giving, and it makes life so much more palatable. I highly suggest a daily practice of absolute acceptance.
For addicts and alcoholics who begin coming to terms with the idea that their days of using are over, it can be a devastating, drawn out process of anger, followed by grief, confusion, irritability, etc., which boils down to fear. Think about the relationship you’ve had with your drug of choice, and imagine walking away from a very long term, intimate friendship. Humans do not acclimate to change easily, and addicts without their drug, is a toddler without its binky. There will be some inner temper tantrums. It’s another part of the recovery process. It’s emotional, overwhelming and for some of us, terrifying.
For me, the breakup with alcohol was a long, drawn out process, in which I slowly weaned myself, not off of the booze, but the idea of not having any booze. It weathered with me as futile. This was at the end of my using, and as I began coming to terms with my impending loss, fury rose within me. I was in such a rage, that I wanted to hurt somebody. I wanted to throw things. I wanted to attack. Sitting with it was overwhelming for me, so I went on a run instead, while listening to Lincoln Park on full blast; but the run was a full on sprint which lasted for about an hour. Adrenaline peaked for me that day, and the run helped with the anger, but then, what followed was intense bouts of grief. Instead of sitting with this, I drank liquor instead, but the repercussions at this point, were what brought my alcohol abuse to a end. The next thing I knew, I was sitting in a detox facility, withdrawing in the raw, without any source of medical relief. Two weeks passed without much sleep, while my head was full of confusion. I was able to keep busy doing laundry for the clients in the days where nervousness peaked, but my days with the bottle were over, and I had to face this war without any armor. It was just me and the mirror at this point, and the woman looking back at me wasn’t very attractive. She was a hot mess and she needed help.
I had a counselor in treatment who provoked some of us to anger. She did this knowing that it was a good start for us to deal with our emotions. I was one of the ones she often provoked. I think it’s because anger was the only emotion I was in touch with at the time. I couldn’t hide it for shit, and it allowed me to cry because it came up as rage, and when I rage, tears follow. This was the beginning of all that fear clearing for me. It was the tip of the iceberg in my overall healing.
I don’t miss alcohol today. It is an old, weathered relationship that took a bad turn, and needed to be severed. I am so comfortable and safe with the stability of my emotions now; I would be frightened to take a drink and feel high, followed by the intense low. I don’t know how I managed all that high and low stuff for so many years. It seems horrible to me now, knowing that I never could sustain a high for very long, yet I ruthlessly kept trying. What’s futile, is that stupid relationship I had with vodka. It was so unpredictable.
Yes, you will feel a lot of crazy, hellish feelings in the beginning of your sobriety. Let them arise and figure out a healthy way to release them. Get some boxing gloves and a bag if you need to. I’ve done this as well. It also helps to detox with others like yourself, where you can all vent and laugh at the idea of giving up your drug. Just please don’t give up – and remember, this is not eternal.