What Does it Take to Remain Eternally Sober?

Change your thinking

I recently heard someone say, “Hang out with people who have the same passions; not the people who harbor the same problems,” yet for those of us in recovery, it has been ingrained in us that we must go to meetings, or else our sobriety is on the line.  I don’t disagree that meetings are a great way to remind myself that I should never drink again, but I am certainly not convinced that without them, I’m inevitably going to drink.  If I’m that close to having a drink, I trust myself enough now, to do whatever it takes to get myself back on track.  There are several ways to do this, and most of the time, it means spending time with a friend who is also in recovery.  Going to a meeting is secondary; being aware that I am slipping, is primary.  Because meetings are so conveniently available, they are a great reprieve during a sudden moment of craving (which I haven’t had in quite some time, btw), but they are not a cure-all.  Meetings are also a wonderful crutch during early recovery, but like any crutch in life; once the wound has healed, it’s time to stand on your own two feet. Before going to treatment for six solid months, I desperately tried to become and remain sober, yet sometimes after a meeting, I was more thirsty for an alcoholic beverage than I was before I walked into the room.  Hitting a bar on the way out didn’t sound so awful… and the liquor stores are everywhere.

So what does it take to remain sober?

First off, I’ve stopped telling myself that I’m simply not going to drink “Just for today.”  What a load of crap – I know, and you know, that recovery means I am never going to have a goddamn drink, or pick up a drug, for the remainder of my entire life. Let’s make this abundantly clear.  Let’s allow it to sink in… and welcome the anger that floods your body with this realization.  Allow the grief to overcome you for a while.  Embrace the full experience of knowing that you cannot drink or use drugs, ever again. When all of this intense emotion eventually passes (or flows through you, and then departs for good)… you have just entered into the lovely place of ultimate acceptance.  This is where you’ll want to hang out for the remainder of your life.  It’s a liberating space to navigate in, and it works for just about everything (acceptance of being chubby, bald, weird, etc…).  It’s the key to long-term, eternal sobriety.  It’s like you are saying, “No matter what… I will not pick up a drink or use a drug…” PERIOD. 

It’s time we reconditioned our thinking.  This is not the 1930’s.  People are evolving.  Self-awareness is trending.  Institutions are becoming obsolete because people are waking up and discovering their own innate sovereignty.  Because I’m a person who was submerged in religious fear as a child, and then spent most of my adult life trying to break free from that fear, I’m thoroughly convinced that fear is not the answer to overcoming anything; addictions included.  If I buy into the belief that my sobriety rides on the thin line of making a meeting every other day (or whatever), then I’m pretty much thoroughly f*cked.  What if one unfortunate day, I become stranded on a deserted island and I’m inadvertently surrounded by fermenting fruit… Here I am completely caught off guard… yet NO MEETINGS?  I mean, come ON!  We’ve got to realize that we DO have the inner power to overcome our addictions, and all it takes is a few ingredients:  Willingness, Acceptance and Self-Awareness (knowing what I am thinking and feeling every moment, yet not buying into my thoughts, or acting out in my emotions).  Sprinkle on the continuous attitude of “learning-to-LOVE-life-because-it’s-flippin’-WONDERFUL,” and you’ve just created a successful concoction of ULTIMATE RECOVERY.

I recall going to a meeting with my grandfather, who was only there to support me, a few years ago (prior to treatment).  I stayed a few minutes afterward to talk to a woman who offered her sponsorship.  When I got back into the truck with my grandpa, I mentioned that the woman had twenty-eight year’s sober.  My grandfather’s eyes bugged out of his head, “AND SHE’S STILL GOING TO MEETINGS!?”  His comment floored me.  I couldn’t stop laughing during the ride home.  Back then, I thought that he was clueless about recovery, and that I knew a great deal more than him.  It’s funny… he always told me I make things too difficult for myself, and his answer to getting sober was simple.  “Stop drinking.”  What a concept!  Abstinence is the only cure for addiction.  Once you learn to accept your inability to drink or use drugs, you’ll need to recondition the way you think about life… THIS is where your journey begins.  How you think, directly influences your course of action, so it’s imperative to become the watcher of your mind, and to take control of your thoughts and behaviors. 

I am not an expert, but I am one of those alcoholic/drug addicts who attempted to get sober by going to meetings for several years to no avail.  It’s the same exact thing as going to church to find God.  God is not confined in a room built by the hands of man… Your sobriety doesn’t exist inside the institution of AA or NA.  It’s within YOU.  You have everything you need to become and to remain sober.  Know this, and own it.  And for goddsake, figure out what you are passionate about, and go hang out with people who are doing the same thing.  Surround yourself in an uplifting environment instead of places that remind you of the awful past.  Get moving forward in your recovery.  Life is a wonderful playground, filled with laughter and unlimited opportunity, when you aren’t stuffed inside a room getting high, or reminding yourself what it was like.

Please, comments are incredibly welcome… 

Fears of Quitting – Will I Have Fun in Recovery?

th

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.

Recovery is the Hero’s Journey

Hero's Journey
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!

Acceptance Creates a Path of Laughter

Image

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.

Grief and Anger Accompany Quitting Drinking and/or Using

imagesCA99BHUC

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. 

 

Enjoying the Festivities… or White Knuckling It? (Sobriety During the Holidays)

untitled (7)

The first year in recovery is often the most uncomfortable.  We are changing old, comfortable patterns and facing life in its rawness.  Many of us are completely identified with having a constant buzz, so the concept of being sober during the holidays is something like the idea of shaving your dog in the winter.  It doesn’t make much sense, and it really sucks for the dog.  If you come from a family who drinks, it can be even more difficult, and cumbersome watching the wine being passed around the table while you sit there stone cold sober, toasting with your glass of sparkling cider.  I dreaded the holidays in the beginning, but there are a few things that helped.

Halloween is one of those nights where things are supposed to get wild and crazy.  For me, I simply stay home now, watch a scary movie and pass out candy to the children.  There is no reason for me to put myself out in the middle of a costume party, where it’s too easy to snag a drink, or where I will feel completely out of place.  I tend to protect myself in my sobriety.  I’ve done the dance club thing, and been out in the middle of parties where everyone was getting freaky and drunk.  I remained sober, but it wasn’t easy.  Why would I even want that kind of temptation?  I’m not a partier anymore.  I have accepted this about myself, so staying home, or going to a meeting on Halloween, is more like a safe-haven for me.  It’s anything but boring.  I love myself enough to remain on safe turf.  There are also a lot of AA and NA festivities, and these can be a lot of fun.  I’ve done them in the past, and they helped immensely; giving me the feeling that I celebrated.  I am ok not celebrating like I used to, so I rarely go to these events any longer.

Thanksgiving and Christmas are just around the bend, and many of us drink or use drugs to maintain sanity around our weird families.  I love my family, but there is always tension between people, and since I decided to “get sober,” a lot of the family dynamic has changed.  It’s not the same as it used to be, so this year I asked myself, what is the most healthy Christmas I can have?  Where will I feel most comfortable?  I don’t have to jump in my car and head to dinner at my family’s if I don’t want to.  If I’m uncomfortable, or if I feel too emotional about it, why would I obligate myself?  My sobriety and well-being takes precedence over my family’s desire to see me.  It really does.  I couldn’t care less if people get their feelings hurt when I place my well-being first.  This is not out of selfishness at all.  I spent many years trying to please everyone, and failing immensely.  These days, I let people know that it is uncomfortable for me, and painful, to face our family during the holidays.  I offer to have them over my house prior to their engagement.  If they want to see me, my door is wide open.

Some of you may opt to spend the first year or two, doing something completely different for the holidays, than you are accustomed.  Some may face the holidays head-on, which can be beneficial, because it’s a practice of not drinking in places you used to drink the most.  The more you practice not using, the easier it becomes. 

I highly recommend taking a sober friend, or sponsor with you to engagements where you may need support.  Many times during the holidays, I have a sober friend on stand-by.  I also take my own car, in case I feel uncomfortable and need to leave.  Sometimes I’m ok being around alcohol, while other times, I’m not.  I never know how things are going to affect me, so I play it really safe.

Essentially, you need to take care of yourself, and do what’s best for the person in recovery.  Many family members can be supportive, while others are not, or don’t know how to be; so it’s really up to you.  Instead of dreading the holidays, begin new traditions.  Start your life over by taking initiative and inventing your holidays the way that supports who you are now.  It’s ok to step out of the box and to be a little more organic rather than conventional.  Recovery is about discovering who the person is, that you ran away from. This person may not like Santa Claus or turkey at all. Who cares? Honor yourself.  Take care of yourself during these months, and find out what is best for your well-being.  In time, you will discover that you enjoy the holidays more than ever, because for once, you’re creating your own experience. 

Is Relapse a Part of Recovery?

imagesCA9TTYZ7

I met with one of my treatment peers this weekend for lunch.  He recently relapsed after having two years’ sober.  He’s back on track now, and something has definitely shifted for him.  There is a difference in his perspective, and I observed a sort of leveling out of his entire demeanor.  This friend of mine struggles with depression, and has a way of self-sabotaging, like all of us, but it goes a little deeper with him.  He is comfortable in his depression, and it’s difficult for him to see that there is any good in store for his life. 

I was with my friend throughout our treatment together, and witnessed the ongoing ebb and flow of his shifty moods.  It’s difficult enough to live life as an addict/alcoholic without the curse of a mood disorder, yet sadly, this isn’t uncommon.  I regard my friend as a strong, courageous Seeker.  He doesn’t give up, man.  He is on the search for some serious truth and meaning.  I think we tend to look outside ourselves for this, but I believe this relapse brought my friend right into the corner of his own heart.  He’s face to face with himself, for real this time, and the clarity is coming in strong.  What if this relapse was just what he needed?

You know, this recovery thing, is simply part of a life journey that we choose to take when we realize that “our way” is not working out for us.  Recovery is not a separate institution of our life.  It synchronizes with the all encompassing spiritual path.  There is no separation from the path.  In our stubborn self-will, we deliciously take detours, but from the time we are born, until our death, we are all on a unique spiritual journey, regardless of the several roads we travel.  Recovery brings us out of the detour of suffering, onto the path of freedom.  There are no dead ends, not even in death. 

My point is, we build walls around our recovery and institutionalize it, like everything else.  Humans tend to be comfortable creating regulations, rules, and fixating on wrongs and rights.  In actuality, we need merely be guided by intuition, and honoring our boundaries.  My friend relapsed on a urge.  There was no pre-arranged method to his relapse.  He simply decided to use one day because the urge was there, and his guard was down.  He came to the conclusion, during this relapse, that he was tired of hiding behind his depression, and he was going to take the initiative to do the work surrounding his deep-seeded issues.  He felt something he had never felt before; like a sort of cleansing or clearing of his clarity.  He saw himself with new eyes. During the shock of his “failure,” he became willing to face himself.  For him, this took a couple of years in recovery, and perhaps it took a relapse.

There is a lot of judgment that accompanies a relapse.  Mostly, self-judgment.  On top of this, we go to meetings and announce that we are starting our program all over again.  It’s a humbling place to be, and I don’t necessarily believe we are taught the right attitude in the AA and NA tradition when it comes to addressing a relapse.  They say we need to start our program all over again.  Ok, sure, but what about the overall picture and the spiritual growth happening with my friend, and so many others who come out of a relapse stronger than they were prior to the relapse?  I just have a problem with “programs” all together.  I don’t have all the answers, and I certainly follow suggestions of people who have been in recovery longer than I have, but there is something deeper happening with me since I came into recovery.  I actually trust myself today, and I listen to my own intuition.  I follow the path of my heart rather than the self-destructive road of my self-will.  The steps that are listed on the walls of the rooms, unfold for me naturally.  Shouldn’t the AA and NA tradition be a tool we use, as opposed to yet another institution?  Many of us get addicted to the rooms, and the program, which is just another crutch in life.  There is no freedom in this.  I guess what I’m trying to say is, when we fall in our recovery, and dust ourselves off, it shouldn’t feel like a failure; yet it does when we have to announce the amount of days we have sober.  I suppose they do this to keep us accountable for ourselves, and I know it’s a program that has worked for thousands of people over the years, perhaps millions, yet my understanding of my friend’s relapse went beyond the limited perspective of the program.

I’m just really fed up with judgment.  I want to have a heart of compassion and see beyond the physical.  There is no right and wrong here; it’s all simply an experience.  My friend’s growth in all of this was intense, profound and beautiful.  I just want to cheer on his spirit and shout, “KEEP ON GOING!!!!  YES!!! KEEP ON GOING!!!” 

And to answer my own question, “Is relapse a part of recovery?”… Recovery is part of the spiritual journey; and relapse does not fall short of this all-encompassing spiritual journey.