What path will you take?
I was totally confused. I did what they said and yet I still picked up. I still relapsed. What the heck was wrong with me? They told me to get a sponsor. Check. To get a job at a meeting so I became the coffeemaker. Check. To sit up front and listen more than I speak. Just suit up, show up, and shut up. So I did. And yet I still relapsed.
I did not know that there are many paths to recovery from addiction. No one challenged me to find my own authentic path.
How is it that with all of our scientific study, medical-assisted treatment, and a therapist on every corner that we have not figured out how to help people recovery from alcohol and drug addiction find their own authentic path to recovery?
I have learned through excruciating trail and error (relapse) that recovery is not a one size fits all effort. Even though I did exactly what everyone told me to do, I did not stay clean and sober. The discouragement that comes from chronic relapse sucks the hope and joy out of life. It is one of the most vicious cycles to be caught in.
Finding my own authentic path was something I stumbled upon rather than a planned and intentional choice. I happen to attend a yoga class because my back hurt and I was gaining weight. Someone suggested I try yoga for my back. I had no idea that this ancient healing system would seep into my relapse prevention toolbox and become my go to relapse prevention tool.
I realized yoga was having the most positive impact on my sobriety of any other activity. It became clear that there are many paths to recovery from addiction. My job became figuring out my own authentic path to recovery from addiction. Instead of doing what everyone else was telling me to do (their intentions were good!) I looked inward and began to assess what was working for me and what was not.
This does not mean I did only what I wanted to do. There were still times in which I had to dig deep and find the motivation to do the next right thing for my recovery event though I really didn’t want to.
Compliance vs. Engagement
One of the benchmarks of knowing what my authentic path actually is began with recognizing the difference between compliance and engagement. When I would engage in recovery activities to make someone else happy or because I thought I was “supposed to,” I was just complying. My heart was not into it at all. This was not helpful.
When I was engaged, I was curious, listening, and really wanted to be doing that activity. It wasn’t just seat time. I was there to learn, to change.
I gave myself permission to not go to those places and do those activities in which I was merely going because I thought I was supposed to. Instead, I found those activities and places that made me interested, excited, and curious. These were the times when I was all in: physically, mentally, and spiritually. This is when I started a transformation that took root and changed my addiction from a liability to an asset.
In early recovery I started to think about what actually made me interested, engaged and happy in recovery. An AA speaker meeting I was attending was all about war stories and the big suck factor of addiction. I left feeling worse than I went in. No one told me it was ok to not go back. It was clear I had to try a different type of meeting. Once I realized this meeting was not authentic to me, I stopped going and found a different one that was about living in the solution rather than living in the cycle of addiction.
I finally landed in the AA meeting that was to change my life for the better. The people, the steps, the message all spoke to me in a way that gave me conviction that I was in the right place.
I knew that one aspect of my authentic path to recovery was exercise. It was undeniable that I felt better after a cardio workout. My mood was elevated and I had a more positive outlook on life. And I had hope for the future that made each day without a drink or a drug a little better.
Even though I do not always feel like working out, I did it any way. Finding a friend to work out with and a gym where I felt connection helped too.
It was essential, in early recovery, to find at least one person that I could be 100% honest and real with. Someone who I could tell exactly what I was feeling without shame or fear of ridicule. I found that person in the halls of AA. I told her everything I was thinking and everything I was feeling. Even when I did not exactly know what I was feeling or even have the right words to describe what was going on with me, I talked with her. It felt like I was telling on myself and that was sometimes scary. I had never been this vulnerable with anyone. She understood my thinking and that helped me to realize I was ok.
It became clear that my mind was dragging me around and taking me places that I did not want to go. After yoga class one day, I stayed to hear a speaker talk about meditation. That speaker was Jon Kabat-Zinn.
He inspired me so much that I began a meditation practice that day. I have practiced almost every day since. I became a student of learning how to watch my mind and direct it so it could no longer drag me around.
Now I am watching me. I am gently guiding myself to be the woman I always knew I could be and always wanted to be. I watch my thoughts and behaviors. I have learned how to be comfortable being uncomfortable and to be ok with the fact that things often times do not go the way I think they should.
Meditation has become a powerful part of my authentic path to recovery because I have become skillful at training my ruminating mind to focus and stay in the present moment. I saw that the number one thing that was making me unhappy and taking me closer to that next relapse was my own thinking mind. My habit of mind was regretting the past and fearing the future. Meditation has been an enormous help in learning how to stay in the present and let go of the regret and fear. While they still visit, they do not dominate.
Finding my own authentic path in recovery has been a journey that I am so grateful to be on. I have learned, and practice, living happily clean and sober every day.
Photo by Justin Luebke on Unsplash
Maintenance is Self-Care & Necessary to Sobriety
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.
In early sobriety, I discovered out that self-care is necessary to maintain sobriety.
Photo by Anna Pelzer on Unsplash
What is Right or Wrong About Me?
In early sobriety I could not shake the chronic mindset that I was somehow deficient. The comments and suggestions from providers and family members as I perceived them seemed to imply that there was more wrong with me than there was right in early sobriety. I decided to change the view and focus on what was right with me rather than what was wrong with me. This proved to be an excellent support to long term sobriety.
This shift did not come easy. I was running around trying to chase sobriety in a way that someone else said I should rather than listening to my own internal cues. I quickly became frustrated and began to despair that I would ever be able to handle living free from drugs and alcohol for any length of time. Relapse seemed to be the only way of life for me and it was crushing my spirit.
Everyone said I had to go to AA or NA meetings. “Just do what we do” was a familiar refrain. So I did. I went to meetings. I learned some things about my addiction and met some really great people.
And I also got so sick of hearing peoples’ war stories. It seemed at times they were romanticizing their using days when I was trying to get as far away as I could from those memories. I once heard a guy say he had been arrested more times in sobriety than he had when he was actively drinking and drugging. And he was one angry dude.
I had a very clear thought: if this is sobriety, I don’t want it.
Then I heard a speaker at an AA meeting say that her goal was to live happily clean and sober. That made a lot of sense to me. I was miserable when I was actively using drugs and alcohol. At the end of my addiction I had so much anxiety and depression that I thought it would literally kill me. Some days I wished it would.
So being clean and sober and happy was something I was very interested in. But was that attainable? I did not want to be miserable in sobriety. Hell, I might as well use if that was the case. But how was I to find this happiness in sobriety?
It was evident that what stood in the way of my happiness was the negative and very challenging emotions I was feeling. For the first time in a very long time, I was aware of every single emotion I had and with great intensity. I was starting to discern the nuances of feeling good and bad. For example, I was starting to see the distinction between anger or jealousy and love or joy for the first time in my adult life.
Accepting All Emotions As Positive
A friend had suggested that listening to guided meditations might help me with the low- grade anxiety that typically comes with early sobriety. So I downloaded an app on my phone and gave it a try. One guided meditation in particular talked about accepting all emotions as simply a part of being human. Even the difficult ones that I had determined were somehow “bad” were to be explored, allowed and accepted.
What if these negative feelings were just a natural part of being human? It was suggested that the fact that difficult emotions do not feel good does not mean that I should do whatever possible to make them go away. I realized then that accepting these dark moments is as natural as accepting the happy and joyful feelings. This was a major shift for me.
The fact that I was feeling and not numbing became a positive not a negative!
People had implied, or at least I thought they implied, that when I was feeling anxious, fearful, insecure, sad, or any other negative or bad emotion than something was wrong with me. I felt like I wasn’t supposed to feel these things and somehow I was deficient. I thought it meant that I was doing sobriety wrong.
Shifting this perception and accepting the difficult emotions in the same way I accepted the positive ones was a huge shift. I realized that feeling the entire array of human feelings is simply part of my humanity. It did not mean that something was wrong with me.
Rather than something to be eradicated or simply tolerated, these difficult emotions were to be embraced. This was the beginning of focusing more on what was right with me rather than what was wrong with me.
The other area in my life in early sobriety that was constantly casting a dark shadow over everything I said and did was the lack of trust from my family members. I knew I did not deserve their trust. My addiction had brought me to a place where I lied and stole from those I cared the most about. It is a baffling feature of active addiction that I cannot explain.
I was questioned and felt second-guessed at every corner in early sobriety. My family would constantly ask me what I was doing, who I was with, and where I was spending what little money I had. It often felt like they did not believe my responses. Why should they? My head knew that their mistrust of me was warranted; yet, my heart would ache every time I felt like they did not trust me.
It was like this vicious circle. I knew I did not deserve to be trusted and I knew full well why they did not trust me yet I was upset and hurt that they questioned my every move. A no win situation for all involved.
Then I had a change of view. BY investigating my difficult emotions I realized it was on me to make this better somehow. I knew I could not change my loved ones and that I could only change me.
I saw this great quote one time and it really stuck with me.
“Change the way you look at things and the things you look at will change.” Wayne Dyer
So I decided to change this lack of trust from a negative to a positive. It really was as simple as going from seeing it as something that was wrong with me to something that was right with me. I begin to see that they were willing to trust me again. The fact that my family had not given up on me and were trying to trust me became the foundation from which I could rebuild.
I took it on as my personal mission to be incredibly transparent. Rather than wait for my Mom to ask me where I was going or my Dad to ask me who I was with I would offer the information. I kept them informed willingly and with a joyful spirit. I had a transformation of sorts that immediately began to have positive results. I had found the trust factor multiplier!
A Change of View
Accepting my difficult emotions as a normal part of being human helped me to see that they were an indication that I was not numbing and instead was feeling and coping appropriately. It meant there was something right with me rather than wrong with me.
This was also true of the distrust I felt from my parents and my other family members. I changed my view and saw that I could rebuild that trust more quickly by accepting it and working with it in a positive way rather than seeing it as a “problem” and evidence that I was somehow broken and bad.
Focusing on what is right with me rather than what is wrong with me has helped me so much in early sobriety. I have learned excellent coping skills and have increased my ability to accept what was once unacceptable. I have changed my views and in so doing I have been changed!
Photo by Deniz Altindas on Unsplash