I am not sure when it actually happened.It was this long process that revealed itself as slowly as a New England winter transforms into spring.It takes awhile and unfolds at its own pace.It cannot be rushed. A few steps forward and a couple of steps back.Slowly, progress is made. Chaos and Confusion
At some point, I realized “Ah. I. Can. Do. This.” I can live happily clean and sober. It occurred to me that the chaos and confusion I was once living in addiction transformed in to confidence and courage. And this is how.
Physical and Mental Transformation
Cravings for my drink and drug lasted long after detox.The physically cravings had subsided but the mental ones were screaming like megaphones in my ears.It was so loud that it drowned out every other thought and all other noise.In many moments, it seemed near impossible not to pick-up to once again experience the comfort that comes from having that drink or drug ride the jet stream of my blood flow.
I knew what I had to do though. Chaos and Confusion
This time I knew I just had to wait it out.The intensity of the cravings at times threatened to overwhelm me and win the battle.I learned to just simply wait.Sometimes with clinched fists and a tight jaw. But waiting always won.
Occasionally, I picked up the phone and called someone that I trusted just to say hello, to vent, or to distract my mind. I prayed too.Pleaded really.Going to an AA meeting helped most times.I had to find those meetings where the topic of conversation was more than just war stories about the trials and tribulations of addiction.I knew how to live addicted. The meetings that focused on living in the solution and provided tips on how to stay clean and sober were a lot more helpful.
Physically, I felt lousy, had no energy, and was awake when I should have been asleep and asleep when I should have been awake.This fed the chaos and confusion of my daily existence for many months in early sobriety.
I clearly saw that physically and mentally I needed to transform chaos and confusion into confidence and courage.
Emotional Mixed Bag
There was also a deep sadness that resided inside of me.For the longest time, I really could not figure out why I felt this way.Then I heard someone explain that she felt like she had lost her best friend when she stopped drinking.Me too!I was experiencing the grief of missing my companion of drugs and alcohol that had been with me since I was a teenager.We hung out together pretty much daily for literally decades.And now my friend and companion was suddenly gone.Knowing that this grief was real helped me to transform the emotional chaos and confusion I was experiencing into confidence and courage.
It seemed as though every little tip and piece of wisdom was another piece in the puzzle of sober living. I was gaining traction in putting the puzzle pieces together to create a unified whole.
Keep It Simple
I heard the slogan “Keep it simple” before and never really understood exactly what it meant. Actually, I never really gave it much thought.It was only in the rearview mirror that I realized that is exactly what was helping me to stay sober. I had to keep every thing very, very simple.In order to do that, I followed three rules that really helped in that first year:
1. Avoid Drama at all costs
2. Talk less and listen more (in other words stop having an opinion about everything)
3. Develop basic routines & rituals and be consistent
It seemed as though every relationship in my life had some level of drama to it.Both spoken and unspoken drama played at the edge of every conversation, silent glance, and the body language of those around me.So much havoc had been created by my addiction that I no longer knew what was real and what was imagined between others and myself.I was often caught up in the drama of friends too that really had nothing to do with me.I lacked boundaries and stayed silent when I should have spoken up and spoke up when I should have stayed silent.
It occurred to me that one effective drama-killing tool was practicing contentment.Just being with things as they are rather than trying to make them be what I thought they should be. This practice relieved a lot of suffering for myself and for others.
Getting through that first year of sobriety meant I had to take stock of what was causing me to be so upset all the time and redirect my attention and my efforts.
Learning to observe what I pay attention to and feed with my thoughts and actions became a very helpful skill.
Drama in my life got the boot.
Accepting things as they are takes a lot of practice.But slowly, over time, it became easier and “I stopped fighting everyone and everything “ (AA Big Book).
Talk Less & Listen More
It also helped for me to stop having an opinion about everything and everyone.It was as if I had to be the defender of all of my opinions in order to feel worthy.My serenity was the price I was paying and it was costing way too much.So I simply started to shut up.When tempted to speak up I would ask myself “What am I defending?”Usually it was so trivial it was not even worth the breath required to utter a word.I found staying quiet made people want to engage with me more.And it spared me lots of unnecessary physical and emotional energy.
This simple, but not always easy, practice was a huge benefit in transforming chaos and confusion into courage and confidence.
Routines & Rituals
The routines and rituals created by my active addiction were significant.The certainty of particular ways of preparing and using drugs, the habits involved in daily drinking, and the thought, preparation, and energy needed for these activities oddly enough brings satisfaction and comfort.Feeling in control and a sense of competency, even those it is injurious, provide a structure that brings familiarity and an odd sense of safety.
For those people that do not battle substance use disorder, it is likely astonishing to hear that there is comfort that comes from the routines and rituals of active addiction. But for those of us that have lived the hell of addiction, this makes total and complete sense.
I replaced those harmful routines and rituals with more healthy ones.I started walking daily. My phone counted and tracked my steps. I found it helped to create structure in my day and also was a boost for me mentally.
I also started with small things like making sure I was drinking enough water and trying to get to bed at the same time every night.Self-destruction was replaced with self-care.
The process of moving from chaos and confusion to confidence and courage takes commitment, attention, and patience.Letting go of the idea that I was doing things perfectly helped too. Eventually, living clean and sober became easier than living in addiction.
Early recovery was one of the most anxious times of my life. It took me awhile to figure out that self-care is necessary to maintain sobriety.I was missing this key ingredient to relapse prevention for quite sometime. And I paid the big ticket relapse price. Maintenance is necessary to remain sober.
In early sobriety, I was totally emotionally bankrupt. My inner state was full of chaos and confusion. I had never felt so unsure; a total lack of confidence.I had a lot of self-doubt that I wanted to cart off by the truckloads. It paralyzed me. There was a lack of trust too.Trusting myself and trusting others were nonexistent.Everyone was walking on eggshells around me. I was so uncomfortable in my own skin. This enormous sense of unworthiness took up all the space inside me.
Physically I felt lousy.My digestion system was always in turmoil and it was messing with my appetite.I was skipping meals and then eating too much because I was so hungry. Food became a total annoyance. I never made time for it. And I was not selective at all about what I put in my body.
I was constantly tired.Sluggishness clung to me like a cold winter wind. I just could not shake it.I would go to bed so exhausted and lie there not able to sleep.Days I could sleep-in I would be up at dawn wide-awake.I was sleepy when I needed to be awake and awake when I should have been asleep.
I knew that I was not meeting some of my own most basic physical needs and this was affecting me mentally and emotionally.Basic self-care habits regarding nutrition, water intake, and adequate sleep had been missing in my life for a quite some time. It was affecting me negatively both mentally and emotionally.
It occurred to me that I had to somehow get out of my own way and create a road map that would heal and sustain my internal environment.A sort of housecleaning had to take place for the way I was treating myself physically.I began to see that my lack of self-care was feeding my negative emotional state. One was connected to the other. A plan for self-care, which was never a strong point of mine, seemed necessary to maintaining my sobriety.
But I had no idea where to begin.My head was already spinning with all the recommendations and suggestions from the well-meaning people around me.Go to meetings. Get a sponsor.Go to the doctors. Find a therapist. Exercise.Eat three meals a day. Take vitamins. Go to bed early. Get up early. Do this. Do that.
Yikes!I was totally overwhelmed.It did not help that I had no motivation, felt totally defeated, and had nagging and reoccurring doubts and fears that sometimes made me wonder, “why bother?”
It was suggested to me to start simple and build from there. Some quick easy successes would help me to stay motivated and would build momentum.
Self- Care: A Road Map For The Basics
My eating patterns being totally off were working against me.This food thing had me totally perplexed. A good friend of mine had a very healthy diet and seemed to have this aspect of her life together so I asked her for some tips.She had excellent advice.She helped me to make small simple changes that were totally doable and not to difficult.
For example, I started drinking more water.It helped to track how much I drank on a daily basis.I did not start off with some lofty goal.Just drink a full glass of water in the morning, one in the afternoon, and one in the evening.I knew I was supposed to have more than this but I had to start small to feel successful and in order to stay motivated. It was a beginning.
Next I added in eating salad and fruit whenever I could.I just became conscious of trying to eat more raw veggies and fruits.No big deal.I was surprised at how easy it was to add these into my diet. I committed to eating one salad a day.It seemed to be helping my mental and emotional states as I began to feel good for taking care of myself.
It was easy to get caught up in thinking that I was not doing enough or doing it right.That is my default-mode thinking.So I gave myself permission to keep it simple and doable.And when I did not meet my own standards, I was ok with that.I let go of having to do it perfectly.This was a huge relief.To my surprise, this realization began to seep into other areas of my life too. These is what that slogan “let go” means.
I did not stop eating what some may consider junk food.I just added in more raw veggies and fruit.To my amazement, I began to crave more fresh fruits and salads then junk food.Over time, the balance tipped and I was consuming more healthy foods and less unhealthy ones. When I took the pressure off and held the goal lightly, it seemed to go much better.
I also stopped skipping meals.Even if I was not hungry at mealtimes I would have a little something. Slowly, my digestion system started to heal and I began to feel a lot better. maintenance
The Importance of Sleep
Regarding sleep, I had a habit of staying up too late and then getting up late and feeling rushed and stressed in the morning. This really started each day off with me feeling grouchy and unsatisfied. So I started going to bed at a set time.I tried 10:00pm but that was just too early for me.I would lie there awake and my anxiety would amp up.So I tried 10:30pm. Most nights I was asleep by 11:00pm.This was a huge improvement over 12:30am, 1:00am, or sometimes 1:30am that I was experiencing before. I tried to get eight hours of sleep whenever I could.My sleep plan did not go perfectly every night.Like with my eating, I held it lightly and overtime I started to wake up most days feeling rested and ready for the day.
In early sobriety the body and soul are still healing.I found out that my water intake, nutrition, and sleep patterns really matter.When I started to take better care of myself, I started to feel more confident and worthy.I actually started to like me!The momentum began to build and one twenty-four hours of sobriety became another twenty-four. Before I knew it, days turned into weeks which turned into months and I was putting some clean and sober time together.
One of the first shocking phrases I heard at my loved one’s detox center was “ You know? You need help as well. You can recover.” I needed help too.
I could not believe what the nurse was telling me. How could I need recovery, if the addict was my family member, who had been struggling with substance abuse for a long time and had just been admitted to the center? And what exactly did she mean by recovery for me? Was I supposed to be admitted there as well?
To tell you the truth, if being admitted to the hospital would have taken away all the pain and sorrow, all that worry, and all the fearful and sleepless nights I had been having for years, then I would have been packed and ready in a second. Unfortunately, my recovery looked like something else; it involved something new, something that included an understanding of life in different terms, and most of all, an understanding of love in a deeper way.
Having a loved one who struggles with addiction brings family members to a whole new way of living, and no one is ever prepared for it. We keep trying to convince ourselves that things will get better if only we made ourselves clearer, if only we tried harder; if only we said the right thing, at the right time; if only, if only …
We delude ourselves, in our despair, to believe that this situation is temporary, that our loved one could straighten things out if he or she wanted to. We are so eager to see this chaos end, that we might even allow abuse and neglect without knowing it. More so, we turn to believe the promises we are told over and over again, in the false hope that everything will be ok soon. But our desire cannot fool reality. The addictive behavior comes back again and again, and an overwhelming feeling of despair takes over one more time. Realizing this, I saw that I needed help too.
This cycle can go on for years and years. Little did we know that our actions had the power of interfering with our loved one’s sobriety because we were actually enabling. Our demanding or begging, cursing or threatening, offending and manipulating were just reactions to the fear we were we experiencing and in reality, we were only contributing to the chaos. Changing this pattern of action and reaction is what recovery looks like for me.
These automatic and well intended reactions are ultimately impeding our loved ones to accept what they are doing to themselves and others, to face the consequences for their actions, and to finally seek help. As much as we struggle to admit it, it is our wish to be helpful that is counterproductive, and at first, it’s very difficult to understand and to accept because we have the right intention and a lot of love to give. However, we will need to learn a new way of loving; a new way that will allow us to communicate with the person we love, without engaging in their chaotic needs.
We will need to learn to overcome the emotional loss, and begin slowly to understand and accept this new way of loving, (that seems so unnatural to us at first). This is what recovery looks like for me.
We Need Recovery
We need recovery, as family members, if we still believe that our love will be enough to overcome addictive behavior. We need recovery if we still believe we have the power of controlling what other people do and say. We need recovery if our thinking has become distorted as a consequence of having a loved one who struggles with an addiction we can neither understand nor cure. And we need recovery because we cannot do this to ourselves any longer. It doesn’t go away just like that.
Today, many years after that episode in the detox center, and many meetings, prayers, and self-reflections later, I can say that I deeply understand what my recovery means to me. It really saved my life and my sanity discovering that, to my own awe, I could still live a serene life in spite of what my loved one does or does not do. It allowed me to reconfigure my perceptions of what I thought my life would be, and be more accepting of what life has brought me. Not just as a punishment (the way I first thought of it), but as an opportunity to participate in life more fully.
My recovery showed me how to love in a deeper and more compassionate way, and to be less judgmental of others. It allowed me to build a whole new relationship with family members who struggle and to include those who don’t. Today, I know I can love more fully and have a sense of acceptance and compassion I never dreamed of having before. I am so grateful that I realized that I need help too.
I will always remember the time I heard someone say at an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting, “You can’t fix a broken mind with a broken mind.” I had never considered that my mind and my sobriety were entrenched.That the condition of one deeply depends on the condition of the other was new information to me.
Through a regular (and bumpy) meditation practice, I have learned that the state of my mind does impact my ability to stay sober and, conversely, the state of my sobriety deeply influences the condition of my mind.
When I began to notice the relationship between my mind and my sobriety I was surprised at how interconnected they really are.My thoughts affect my mood and my emotions, which in turn, impact my ability to stay clean and sober.
In the Chapter titled “There is a Solution,” the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous confirms that my mind and my sobriety are deeply connected. On page 23 it reads “Therefore, the main problem of the alcoholic centers in his mind, rather than in his body.”Many of the concepts in the Big Book are predicated on the fact that I cannot trust my own thinking.I have often said that my biggest problem is that I tell myself something and I believe me. Then I act in accordance to my own thoughts which are not reliable.
I became curious as to what it is exactly that my own mind thinks that has the power to put my sobriety in jeopardy.So I began to watch it.Learning to silently observe my own thinking was a bit awkward at first.It took some practice and getting used to; it is the practice of making mental notes on what I am thinking.
After some time, I noticed four distinct patterns that impacted my mind and my sobriety:
1. Reliving the past
2. Controlling the future
3. Playing the victim
Reliving the Past
One of the patterns I noticed when I was observing my thinking was that my thoughts were often focused on the past.I would relive and replay conversations, “if only” events, past injustices, and times when I was not who I wanted to be.
Things that happened decades ago were frequently visualized again and again.People from years ago were still taking up space in my head.It seemed as though every hurt I ever experienced never moved on.They just got stored in an archive in my mind for me to replay. And replay them I did!
This orientation toward the past absolutely had an impact on my mind and my sobriety.I noticed that while living in the past I was often sad, angry, hurt, or discouraged.I never replayed the joyful or loving moments, just the ugly ones.
I could see that living in the past was a recipe for consuming large doses of regret on a daily basis.This observation gave me tremendous motivation to change my thinking pattern.
Controlling the Future
Another repetitive mental habit I noticed was trying to control the future.I observed that my thinking was very addicted to trying to control what is going to happen, when it is going to happen, and who is going to do it.My thoughts constantly tried to plan for events and conversations in which there was absolutely no way to influence those outcomes.
This futuristic thinking kept me in a chronic state of worry and feeling overwhelmed.There was this low-grade anxiety that was created.I could quickly see that trying to control the future was having a negative effect on my mind and my sobriety.
This thinking pattern kept me in a constant state of fear.It was as if I was living life just waiting for the other shoe to drop.Once I was aware that my mind had this habitual pattern, I became willing to find a way out of this type of suffering.
Playing the Victim
This one hit me HARD.Realizing that I played the victim in most circumstances was a real wake-up call.By silently watching my thinking I saw thoughts that consistently made me play small, give over my power, and act and sound like a victim.
This habitual thinking pattern was so entrenched in my thinking that I needed a lot of support to begin to turn it around.Therapy helped.Doing the twelve steps as instructed in the first one hundred and three pages of the Big Book with a Big Book sponsor helped too.
I gradually saw that by playing the victim I avoided taking responsibility.As long as I was a helpless bystander then I did not have to see my part and take responsibility for my actions.
When I was able to clearly see that playing the victim only served to keep me stuck in thinking that jeopardized my sobriety, I became willing to change.
The fourth pattern of habitual thinking I observed that was that of negativity.This too was difficult to acknowledge yet very liberating when I become free from it.What I noticed was that my automatic reaction, the one that came out first, was almost always negative.The glass was always half empty.
When had I become so negative? mind over matter
mind over matter
Noticing these four habitual ways of thinking really helped me to become willing to overcome them.Some are deep-rooted conditioning that never really go away completely but merely lay dormant.I have an internal watcher that is on the look-out for these states of mind to reawaken and try to take center stage.
I have used many tools to work with the thinking mind in order to improve my sobriety (and increase my chances of not relapsing) including meditation practice, therapy, and the twelve steps.
Perhaps the greatest asset in combating old patterns of thinking has been being in the present moment and acceptance that moment as it is.
Being in the present moment means I am not in the past or in the future.This is the complete antidote for my first two habitual thinking patterns that threatens my sobriety.
For the third and fourth way of thinking, Playing the Victim and Negativity, acceptance has been my greatest asset.Accepting the current moment exactly as it is takes practice, perseverance, and patience.The pay off of being free from suffering is the reward.Totally worth it!
My mind and my sobriety are inherently intertwined in ways I can only work with if at first I observe my thinking. Being the silent watcher of my thoughts has proven to be a very helpful tool in working with my mind to benefit my sobriety.
When I first got clean and sober the twelve steps of Alcoholics Anonymous seemed like a huge scary thing to me.I had a lot of bias and confusion about the twelve steps of AA.Below are seven myths about the twelve step that I wish I had known in my first year of recovery.Perhaps then I would not have waited so long to find the healing path that the steps offer.
Seven Myths about Alcoholics Anonymous Twelve Steps
1. I have to wait a year to start the steps
Yet I could never quite make that one-year of sobriety. It was so elusive.I kept relapsing and could not figure out why.I was told not to begin the steps too soon. Too wait until I had more sober time.This is a total myth!
Start the steps as soon as possible to relieve yourself of the bondage of the past. Particularly if you experience chronic relapse like many of us do.How exactly do you start the steps?Find someone who has gone through the steps as they are outlined in the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous.The best place to find this person is at an AA meeting designated as a Big Book; 12 & 12; or Big Book Step Study meeting.
2. The fourth step is the most difficult and has to be repeated from time to time
This is a total twelve-step myth! Everyone thinks the fourth step is like the big bad boogey man.Yes it does take awhile to write out and it is true that what is revealed is not always comfortable.But it is a once and done step!If you use steps ten, eleven, and twelve on a regular basis then you never have to repeat a step four!
3. The third step is once and done
This could not be further from the truth and is a total twelve-step myth.The third step is where we turn our will and our lives over to the care of a higher power as we understand that higher power.If only this was a once and done deal!It actually has to be repeated several times each and everyday.Some people like to have a mantra that says “Your will not mine be done.”Others like to remind themselves to “just let go.”While still others repeat the Third Step Prayer found in the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous over and over again throughout the day.The third step is about realizing and accepting that things do not always go my way and I do not have to try to control everything. It is about giving up my will (read ego or selfishness and self-centeredness).
The best method I have found to realize that I have taken my will back is when I get frustrated, impatient, hurt, or feel any negative feeling.That means I am not accepting the current moment exactly as it is.Once I realize this then the next step is to go to the acceptance stage.Acceptance comes from again and again, several times a day, turning my will over to the way things actually are and finding contentment in the current moment.That is, being at peace with things exactly as they are rather than how I think they should be.This is a practice that takes time to develop.
4. The ninth step is about saying you are sorry
No the ninth step is not about saying you are sorry.The ninth step is about repairing the relationships that our addiction has damaged.It is a myth that it is a mere apology.My amends to my Dad was about how I had not been the kind of daughter I wanted to be to him.I asked him how I could make it up to him.As a result of starting the conversation off this way, my Dad and I had an amazing honest and heart-felt talk that repaired decades of damage – literally!
5. The steps are all about how I suck and about all the bad things I have done
This is a complete and total myth!The twelve-steps of Alcoholics Anonymous are a path to healing. There are many paths to recovery and this is just one.Doing the steps as they are outlined in the Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous with a Big Book sponsor helps to create a new relationship with yourself, those you love, and a higher power that you define.If this was only about looking at how much hurt I have done to others then I have missed the point.
Healing occurs when I see how to repair the damage my addiction has caused.It is a shift in perception, emotional healing, and a way to clean the slate so that I can start anew.This is true freedom from the wreckage of my past.
6. I have to believe in God in order to do the steps
Myth number six is perhaps the most misunderstood of all the Alcoholics Anonymous concepts.You do not have to believe in God!You only have to believe in a power greater than yourself.It helped me to articulate that I knew I was not holding together the universe, making stars, or changing the seasons.Yes there are natural laws that are in charge of all this.I do not need to make this complicated.I just need to know I do not have to understand it completely.
I am one hundred percent sure that love, kindness, empathy, and compassion come from the greatest of sources.Maybe that is in the human heart.Maybe it is an energy that we just have to tap in to.I am relieved to know that I do not have to know exactly what this higher power is.All I need to know is that I am not it!Keep it simple.
7. I have to have a lot of sobriety to work with another alcoholic or addict
The seventh myth is what we tell ourselves when we are too afraid to fail.It is a complete and total Alcoholics Anonymous twelve-step myth that you have to have a lot of clean time in order to help someone else. If you have one day of sobriety you can absolutely help that person who cannot put together twenty-four hours.It is in this spirit of service and a deep desire to help those who still suffer that you will find the greatest of healing!Giving away your own personal experience about what happened to you, how you came to truly surrender, and what you do on a daily basis to stay clean and sober is the greatest asset you have.This is one of those paradoxes: I have to give it away in order to keep it!