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Returning to the Scene of the Crime

No matter which way you choose to recover, whether by 12-step fellowship, rehab, or a “DIY” program, it is a  universal truth that, early on, it is best to stay away from the people, places and things that the newly sober associates with their addiction.  So, for example, it is prudent for an alcoholic to steer clear of the local watering hole at which he used to have a regular bar stool.  Or for a drug addict to steer clear of dicey urban areas where she previously drove to “score.”

But what about the rest of us whose only “people, places and things” are areas that cannot be extricated from our lives?  Well, to a certain extent you can, at the very least, alter the landscape.  For example, if you were a home drinker, you can remove all alcohol in the house.  Or if you were a rabble-rouser at house parties, you can choose to avoid them in the short-term.  Both of the following examples apply to me personally, and, for various reasons, both are the solutions I used to solve the “people, places and things” dilemma for me in early sobriety.

Sooner or later, though, you have to face the music, and that opportunity came for me this holiday season.  I was faced with a number of events in which I chose to participate for the first time in recovery, and I wanted to write about that experience, because I would imagine I am not alone in dealing with this issue.

At the outset, the choice to join in the fun an festivities of the holiday season was a well-thought out one.  I have discussed the idea with my fellows in recovery, prayed about it, and was completely comfortable with the decision to participate.  So there was planning there.  I also had my toolkit at the ready, and my checklist of things to keep me safe and sober while in the moment (I wrote about this checklist here).  In fact, there was one party where I said six simple words to my husband:  “the party is starting to turn,” and we were out the door within 10 minutes.  So adequate preparation in that department.

If there was one element for which I had not prepared, it was the emotional angst associated with event.  Whether it was the location of the party, places where I have engaged in behavior that still shames me, whether it was the people themselves, and the reminder they bring of my past life, or the holiday itself, and the association with all the past misbehavior, I was uncomfortable in a way that surprised me.  The memories of the past came back so quickly, and with such strength, at times it was an actual effort to turn and move in a different direction.

These feelings of discomfort took me by surprise because all of the things I did worry about were for naught.  For example, I was concerned about awkwardness around family members who are seeing me in a social situation for the first time in recovery.  Not only did that awkwardness fail to materialize; family and friends were supportive in ways I could never have imagined.

So why did these memories come back to haunt me?  I’m not sure I will ever have a definitive answer to this question, and I have learned enough in my recovery not to over think it.  I did what I was taught to do:  move a muscle, change a thought.  Even though it took extra effort, I turned and walked in an opposite direction, and found someone “safe” to engage in conversation.  I participated in cooking and cleaning, which is helpful and distracting at the same time.  Most important, I considered the real reason I was present at the holiday, to gather with family and/or friends, and to re-connect with them, and I took advantage of that opportunity in a way I never would have if I was chemically altered.

So when I said my prayer the morning after each holiday function, I was able to say with extra sincerity:  “Thank you, God, for all my days of sobriety.”

Today’s Miracle:

I am so grateful to have 23 months and 1 day of sobriety!

Monday Meeting Miracles: 12/23

I wasn’t sure which way today’s meeting was going to go, attendance-wise, being that we are two days away from Christmas.  At the start, it was just me and two other gentleman, so I thought, “Well, I wasted some baking.”  But ten minutes after the start of the meeting, we were up to 10 attendees, so hooray!

Today’s reading selection was the second half of step 12 in the book Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions.   For those unfamiliar, Step 12 reads as follows:

Having had a spiritual awakening as a result of these steps, we tried to carry this message to alcoholics, and to practice these principles in all our affairs

Step 12 is a great one for sharing at meetings, because there is so much to discuss, and because it encapsulates the 12-step program so beautifully.  One person shared that what he took most from the reading is the importance of staying in good spiritual condition.  For him, that means regular meeting attendance, so that he can be reminded of what is important… and what is not.  A great thought for this time of year!

Another person found his focus on the part of the step that talks about carrying the message, and how much reaching his hand out to another in need enriches his life.

For me, what I took away from the reading selection today is the importance of maintaining the proper outlook.  In any given situation, I can choose to focus on what is going wrong, or I can choose to focus on what is going right, and my mental state will reflect that choice perfectly.

And what another great message this is for the season.  As I headed into the meeting, I was preoccupied with my ever-present holiday to do list:  will I have time to hit all the stores I need to hit?  What chores can I delegate (and be satisfied however they turn out)?  Will the kids manage not to kill each other while I am away from the house?  You get the idea.  And when my mind is going a mile a minute like that, guess where my serenity level is?

Just reading about the idea of changing my thought process was enough to stop the racing thoughts, and by the time I was finished sharing, I truly felt ready to leave the meeting and properly enjoy the holiday season, the school break, and even the shopping, wrapping and baking that still awaited me.

Which, when you think about it, is a miracle!

Today’s Miracle:

I am filled with excitement, not only because I got everything done I needed to today, not only because I am sitting down to write this post (which I never thought I would do), but because I vowed to myself that on December 26th my Christmas present to myself will be an uninterrupted morning, coffee ready and waiting, a comfortable chair, and my computer, and I am catching up on all the brilliant posts I have been missing by my wonderful friends in the blogosphere.  In the meantime, know that I miss you all so much, and I am praying that you are having a miraculous holiday season!

7 Sober Suggestions This Holiday Season

So here we are, in the final stretch of the holiday season, which brings with it, for most people, additional responsibilities, many opportunities to celebrate, and general chaos to the normal routine.  If you are in recovery, this is, without question, a trying time.  Although I am relatively new to sobriety (less than two years), I have had multiple opportunities to succeed in staying sober in the midst of alcohol-fueled merriment, so I thought I would write about the methods that have worked for me through holidays that not only allowed me to stay sober, but also provided me the means to enjoy the holidays in a way I had not previously done.  So without further ado, here are my top 7 tips for actually enjoying a sober holiday!

1.  Practice Self-Care

If you are like me, you are thinking, “Good idea, I’ll get to that after I bake some cookies, wrap some gifts, go shopping…”  Turn that thought process around!  The kind of self-care of which I am speaking must come before any of the holiday activities, and in practicing self-care all of those activities will become, if not enjoyable, then at the very least less stressful.  I am speaking of starting the day with a few minutes of getting centered.  For me, that means getting out of bed, getting down on my knees, and connecting with my Higher Power.  That’s what works for me, but a few minutes of any centering activity… meditation, simple deep breathing, thoughts of gratitude for all that is good in your life, and a commitment to yourself that you can make it through the day without picking up a drink or a drug, helps get the day off to a calm and peaceful start, and gives courage and confidence that the day can and will go well.  The last part of that process is so important, it becomes the next tip…

2.  Commit To Sobriety For One Day Only

And, of course, that one day must be the one you are in.  Remember, you don’t need to worry about staying sober for the next 30 years, just the current day.  So when your mind starts racing, ask yourself, “Can I stay sober, just for today?”  Chances are, the answer will be yes, so relax, and move on to…

3.  Organization

There are all types of helpful organizational tips for the holiday season, but the type of organization I refer to here is mental:  take some time to figure out all of the upcoming holiday drinking temptations, and then decide what you can and cannot do.  If you are early in sobriety, the less alcohol-filled social events you attend, the better off you are.  There were many events I simply turned down in my earliest days because I chose to put my sobriety first.  On the other hand, I have smaller children, and a large, Irish Catholic family, so there are always certain obligations that I feel I must attend, and I’m sure I’m not alone in this feeling.  So step 2 is all about narrowing down the situations where you will be tempted, and then move on to…

4.  Set Your Parameters Within the Celebration

There is a multitude of ways to do this; the point of step three is to determine which will work best for your particular scenario.  Some examples include, but are certainly not limited to:

  • arriving late
  • leaving early
  • steering clear of the location of the alcohol
  • bringing a delicious virgin cocktail with you so you are enjoying a beverage
  • having a sober companion with you
  • figuring out who at the party will be like-minded in enjoying the party, rather than the beverages consumed at the party
  • keeping your cell phone in your pocket with a list of sober supports to call
  • disclosing to a few or all of the guests your intention to be sober

And I’m sure there are many more options, so take some time before the start of the party to decide which ones will be most effective.  And of all the ideas on that list, one stands out…

5.  Stick With The Winners

This has been a particularly beneficial strategy for me personally.  Again, I come from a large Irish Catholic family (read:  heavy drinkers), so at first I believed I would never again enjoy a family gathering.  As I gained some sober clarity, I realized that while the majority of my family drinks, not everyone does, and of those that do, only a small handful over-indulge.  So I started looking more closely at the non-drinkers, and even the moderate ones, and guess what I realized?  They are having just as much fun, and, I would assume, feel a hell of a lot better in the morning.  Chances are, whatever drinking celebration you are attending, there are many such people… choose to spend time with them.  And, while you’re at it…

6.  Act As If

Find someone who is not drinking and is also having a good time.  What are they doing, and how can you be like them?  For me, I found that they are usually much more interested in conversation and people than they are in the beverage they are consuming, and when I emulated them, not only did it take my mind off alcohol, I was able to actually have fun!  Take a look around, find some sober (and if you really can’t find sober, then at least someone who is a moderate drinker) people, and do what they do.  Last, and most important…

7.  Stay In The Present

This can be the most challenging for me, but has the most benefit when I put it into practice.  Stop thinking about the last holiday when you got trashed and embarrassed yourself, stop worrying about 4 hours from now when everyone is slurring your words and how you are going to handle it, stay in the actual moment:  you are at a party with family and/or friends, celebrating a festive season.  I’m sure that wherever you are is beautifully decorated, there are probably loads of great food choices, and many opportunities for interesting discussion.  Perhaps there are children around, observe the fun and joy they are experiencing, engage with them and see if you their joy isn’t contagious.  Keep coming back to this every time your mind wanders to the bar, and I know it will help you have a joyous holiday.

So those are my “Best of”  for sober holiday success.  What’s on your sober checklist?

Today’s Miracle:

The realization that I have a sober checklist, and the hope that sharing mine helps someone else.

Happy New Year!

The chief beauty about time
is that you cannot waste it in advance.
The next year, the next day, the next hour are lying ready for you,
as perfect, as unspoiled,
as if you had never wasted or misapplied
a single moment in all your life.
You can turn over a new leaf every hour
if you choose. -Arnold Bennett

Happy 2013!  I have been slacking with writing, because life gets more hectic when school is on break.  Also, I don’t feel like I have a lot to share on the whole “new year, new outlook” mentality.  The only resolution I really care about is to remain as happy, as grateful, and as sober as I am today.  Of course there are a million things I could work on to improve my health, my physical appearance, the organization of my house, etc., but if the past year has taught me nothing, it has taught me to keep my priorities straight.  So, while it would be icing on the cake to lose a few pounds, to be able to run a few miles consecutively, or finally, once and for all, completely clean and organize my basement, my real resolution is to enjoy life, one day at a time, without the crutch of a drink or drug.

On a separate note, I’m going to add a new feature.  In keeping with the title of this blog, I am going to end each post with the miracle I experienced that day, because, as I have said many times, if I am alive to create a post, then several miracles have already taken place.  On most days I’m sure I will have a bunch of miracles from which to pick, on other days it may be miracle enough to say I am alive and sober.  Either way, writing it down reminds me how much there is in my life for which I am grateful.

Hope everyone had a safe and enjoyable holiday season, and here’s to a year full of blessings!

Today’s Miracle: 

I had an awesome morning doing fun, post-holiday things with my husband and kids… early morning swimming at the indoor pool,  checking in with under-the-weather family members, and, most entertaining of all, getting to watch the spectacle that is kids thoroughly enjoying a buffet.  Seriously, is it just my kids, or is every child in complete awe of the idea of trying every single thing at a buffet table? 

…It Ain’t Just a River in Egypt…

The thing about denial is that it doesn’t feel like denial when it’s going on. -Georgina Kleege

It seems to be the time of year for this subject, because I have been hearing a lot about it.  And who can blame someone?  Holiday parties, egg nog, champagne toasts, wine spritzers, cookie exchange invitations that also require a bottle of wine… it can be difficult to picture a Merry Christmas without the merriment of alcohol.  So, in honor of the holiday, here is the top 10 list of denials I have either used personally, or have heard about in meetings:

1.  I’m really not that bad, because I haven’t… (fill in the blank:  gotten a DUI, overdosed, gone to rehab, etc.)

2.  Yeah, I probably shouldn’t drink, but what’s wrong with smoking a little pot? (switch substances as needed)

3.  I’m a grown-ass man (or woman), I’ll do what I want!

4.  I will just cut back, and drink like normal people (or, I’ll just pace myself, or I’ll drink water in between drinks, this list could go on forever).

5.  I’ll stop AFTER the holidays, because, really, who would quit before?!?

6.  I will stop drinking (or using) if you will just get off my back.

7.  How can I not drink when all my friends (or family, or co-workers) drink?

8.  I would stop drinking if I could just eliminate the stress of… (fill in the blank:  job, spouse, kids, finances, almost anything could be inserted)

9.  If you had the (spouse, kids, family, job) I do, you would drink like me too.

10.  And my own personal favorite, one I used for months on end… I will absolutely stop this insanity TOMORROW…

The real problem with denial is why I used the quote at the top… the deeper you are in it, the less likely to see it for what it is… an excuse to avoid the pain of change.  People in denial truly believe the lies they are telling (believe me, I speak from experience).

Here’s what I’m grateful to know today:  there is no problem I have that a drink or drug won’t make worse.  Once I decide to use a substance to solve a problem, I’ve just increased my burden exponentially.  I thank God I don’t have to live like that anymore!

Handling Disappointment

Anytime you suffer a setback or a disappointment, put your head down and plow ahead. -Les Brown

Today I received some disappointing news.  I have mentioned in previous posts that I have some legal consequences as a result of my addiction.  Consequently I have opted to participate in a program that will have long-term positive benefits.  The short-term, however, is intensive, time-consuming, and requires following rules that seem to have no basis in logic.

One such rule is that I am not permitted, while enrolled in this program, to attend any establishment or function that serves alcohol.  Being in recovery, this rule for the most part is fairly easy to follow.  However, Christmas is approaching, and I traditionally celebrate with an extended, large family. and naturally alcohol will be present.  I have been a participant in this program for close to three months, and have had different thought processes along the way.  First, I thought I would wow them with my charm, wit, and ability to be the best participant they have ever seen, and they would therefore bend all sorts of rules for me.  Once I began the program, I realized quickly these dreams would never come to pass.

My next thought, once I had gotten the lay of the land, was to simply go to the family parties, because the supervision of these rules is mostly the honor system.  There are plenty of people bending the rules everywhere I look, so why not?  It’s a ridiculous rule anyway, and I am reasonably confident that I could get away with it.

The more I thought about that option, the more it unsettled me, because it smacked a little too close to my old way of thinking.  So the final option was the one I took:  if you don’t ask, you don’t get, so I made an official request, in writing, to have an exception to this rule for Christmas.  I explained the entire scenario (quite eloquently, if I do say so myself), and my sincere and altruistic reasons for wanting this (small children who look forward to this tradition, family unity during the holidays, and so on).

If you re-read the first line, you already know the end to this story… denied.  The reasons were as ridiculous as the rule itself, I won’t waste time on them.  I haven’t felt that crushingly disappointed in a really long time.  I try very hard to keep expectations low so that I can avoid the disappointment I felt today, but I have to admit it… I really, really thought this exception would be granted.

As I worked through all the different feelings, I think the part that hurts the most, and I am almost ashamed to admit this, but I am really disappointed because it feels like the “powers that be” simply don’t like me.  I don’t mean to pat myself on the back too much, but generally I am a pretty likable person.  Plus, once I commit to something, I try to do it to the best of my ability, which usually gets validation from the people around me.  I don’t feel like I am getting anything remotely like validation in this program, and it really stings my ego.

So what to do?  Short-term, absolutely nothing (with the exception of bitching about it to the people closest to me)… I am powerless in this situation.  Long-term, I guess I have to look at why it bothers me so much that I can’t win the approval of people who probably don’t think twice about me.  Sigh… more self-examination…

Sorry for the less-than-upbeat post.  I am ever hopeful that things will look up tomorrow!

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