A Shift in Thinking

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Written on Day 72 of Sobriety

I started this as a post for a forum.  Several people were coming back to sobriety after a relapse and were expressing shame and guilt, asking how others did it.  I am not an expert.  I do know what is working for me and that this time is unabashedly different (a review of old journals made it clear I had never fully committed). I’m sharing in hopes of helping one other person.

My last day 1.
After six years of attempting to get sobriety with sobriety runs of six to 12 months, I had a night that was the final straw, I behaved completely out of character.  What I did is not relevant, happy to tell anyone that really wants to know, but nobody ended up in jail, the hospital, or a grave, there will not be a made-for-TV movie, but feelings were hurt, credibility was damaged.  The important part is that I found my behavior egregious.  The next day I had a four-hour drive alone, my mind was spinning like a washing machine, how could I hurt and embarrass those who love me?

I also came to a very important realization, the only person I could blame for my drinking was the person who stares back at me from the mirror every morning.  Nobody “made” me drink, I didn’t “have” to drink because of some external stimulus.  All the people I was blaming had been removed from my life, I was in a good place surrounded by people that love me yet I was still drinking until I passed out, and I was so unhappy.  My life had become unmanageable and I was powerless over alcohol. 

I went to an AA meeting after I got home from my drive and my experience was nothing short of divine.  I was welcomed by three men, all of whom could be my dad (I actually thought I had accidentally crashed a men’s meeting).  They weren’t like the stereotype I had in my head, they were older successful men with decades of sobriety.  I cannot tell you how badly I wanted to leave that meeting.  Going to your first AA meeting alone is scary but at least you can blend in at a big meeting.  I was the only new person, the other three guys there were established.  I was not going to be able to hide.  When we shared after reading the book, these men told me their stories without shame or guilt by doing so they inspired me.  Collectively they had endured months of court-ordered in-patient treatment, jail time, psychiatric treatment, disownment from family and more.  Yet here they were happy, healthy and successful.  They were doing something right and I wanted it.

I changed my goal that day, rather than wanting to quit drinking, I wanted to become a person whose life was so great they didn’t want to drink.  And yes, that sounded impossible, but oh so desirable.

I CONNECTED with others.  I didn’t try to boil the ocean.  I realized I can’t do everything so I focused on me.  I ACCEPTED that I have a life-threatening condition and that I am powerless over alcohol, once I start I don’t stop until I pass out.  I ADMITTED to myself and others that I needed help and then did something really really hard and scary, I GAVE UP CONTROL.  I was the director of my own epic sh*t show.  So I found someone that I related to, looked up to, a woman with long-term sobriety and started doing what she told me to.  I asked for help from my higher power.

Not drinking has been easy, life has not.  Two weeks into sobriety I started a new job, four weeks in, my 76-year old father who is a quadruple-bypass survivor was hospitalized for stroke-like conditions, I had to euthanize my almost 15-year-old dog the same day my father fell and had a life-threatening brain-bleed (same day), two weeks later my dad would have brain surgery and I’d have to drop everything and fly across the country.  Drinking did not enter my mind this entire time because I knew that it would only mean waking up with the same problems and a hang-over.

Nine months ago my uncle (Dad’s younger brother by 4 years) was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer.  The doctors gave hope but somehow I knew…  While I was in Florida, I sat on my father’s bed as he said goodbye to his brother on speakerphone.  This was one of the most surreal and touching moments of my life.  There are only two people that are truly like me in this world (there were three, but my grandmother passed),  and they were on that phone call.  The magic in this call was the total honesty, clarity on what was going on but neither of them expressed regrets or anger.  They both had peace and knowledge they had lived a good life.  I WANT THAT.

I was very blessed on that trip.  I saw my dad go from unrecognizable back to himself in a few days thanks to a gifted brain surgeon.  I went home believing I’d see my dad again and looking forward to our next conversation.  I also went home knowing I’ll never see my uncle again.

Yesterday my aunt shared with the immediate family that he has stopped speaking and responding to pain.  My uncle is gone even though his body is still fighting.  I have been crying off and on without warning since getting that call. I spent the better part of the day and most of last night reflecting on his life.  He was not perfect, but he was an inspiration to me and many others.

The reality is that all of our days are numbered and we don’t know the number.  My uncle’s decreased appetite was a life-threatening condition, my dad nearly killed himself on the way to the bathroom. Mama Cass was killed by a ham sandwich.

Given these recent event’s the fact that my end has been on my mind is no surprise.  I don’t want to be in a hospital bed thinking about all the things I could have done.  I certainly don’t want to be thinking about the time I wasted drinking.  I just had a front-row seat to what someone feels in their last-days and I promise you neither my dad or my uncle said, “Man, I wish we’d gone out for drinks more!  Maybe driven drunk a few more times!”  I know with absolute certainty I won’t say those things when my time is coming, I’ll wish I’d done more, better used my gifts to help and inspire others, but I won’t wish I spent more time in active addiction.

Last night I cried, I could not fall asleep, I was in emotional pain but I was present.  The old me would have got dressed and gotten a six-pack because I needed to sleep so I could get up and work (no seriously I would have gotten drunk so I could get up! Stop laughing at me right now).  Last night I said a prayer of thanks that I had my uncle in my life as a role model and friend.  I vowed to honor him by living a life he’d be proud of, and that life doesn’t include drinking.

I could have told you all of this in one sentence, “I am staying sober, and this time is different because I’ve changed my thinking.”  But that’s too trite.  I’ve been doing deep soul searching to become the best version of myself and I’ve changed my routine.

Today’s routine dictates your future.  Things I do:

  1. I read, I post in my forums, I tweet, I spend an hour on my sobriety every morning.
  2. I make a daily gratitude list
  3. I have a list of things I’m looking forward to
  4. I write down my daily affirmation every single day (write not type) in my planner so I have to look at it all day.
  5. I call someone every day.  I live alone, this is important so I don’t feel isolated but I think even living with a family this is still important, creating a wide circle.
  6. I go to AA.  AA provides me needed hugs, the opportunity to hear others laugh and to laugh with them.  I don’t go every day but my Monday night meeting is non-negotiable.  I am there as if my life depends on it — because it does.
  7. I learned that there are physiological reasons for loss of control over drinking and accepted this as fact.  This helps remind me the first drink is life-threatening.  I’m only in the driver’s seat for the first sip after that biology is going to fight me tooth and nail.  Why enter that fight?  Even a Navy Seal only fights for his life when he has to, he doesn’t create situations to put his life or that of others on the line. Drinking is risking my life and that of others (because I have no idea what I’m going to do when I start drinking).
  8. I spend some time every day accepting and appreciating myself.  Beating myself up because I wasn’t Martha Stewart, Mother Teresa, Lee Iococa, Rachel Ray, the Dahli Lama, a Victoria’s Secret model, and Ceaser all rolled into one didn’t serve me.  It destroyed me.  I’m trying to love myself the same way I love others warts and all.
  9. I make time for fun — laughing is mission
  10. I get (and adhere to) professional treatment for my depression which is a medical condition just like high blood pressure

There are also a lot of things I don’t do anymore (or am working to break the cycle)

  1. Hold onto anger and resentment.  I hate hate hate doing this but if someone upsets me I address it immediately.  It’s extremely uncomfortable in the moment, but then all the sudden, it’s gone and I’m free to move about the earth unencumbered!
  2. Say yes to everyone – also super uncomfortable but saying no means I don’t have to feel guilty or spend energy coming up with a way to get out of a commitment I had no intention of keeping.
  3. Beat myself up, when that monster starts roaming in my head I stop the soundtrack.  I usually go to Twitter and find people that are down and need a little bump – that’s enough to put the monster back in his box.
  4. Isolate

I hope someone gets something from this.

Step 1: I Admit I am Powerless over Alcohol

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Written on days 4-5 of sobriety

About six months ago I picked up a “Big Book” (The blue book that is the foundation for Alcoholics Anonymous) and I read it cover to cover.  The steps made sense, but some of them just pissed me off.  I did not want to accept that they would help me.  I went to a couple of meetings and thought to myself, “I’m not like those people!”  So, I went back to drinking my face off.

My Abbreviated Back Story
For six years I’ve been working on getting sober.  My drinking hasn’t resulted in a criminal conviction, DUI, or permanent injuries to my or anyone else’s body.  Let me be very clear; that is only by the grace of God. Through her grace, I dodged a bullet. No, I dodged an Atom Bomb.  I’ve had extended periods of sobriety during that time, the longest was a year.  But I kept lying to myself that I’d be OK with one drink or two and I was for a bit, but it always always always evolved into blackout drinking.

The only reason I can think that I’m still here and relatively healthy is to help other people.  I can’t support anyone else’s sobriety one-on-one at the moment because I’m fighting for my life. I can share my journey in hopes someone might say “HOLY FUCK that’s me!” and heal with me.  (PS, I curse, it’s just me so if it will offend you, I’m terribly sorry. While I have about a million things I want to improve on or change, stopping swearing is not one of them.  If I’m not for you, I understand and I’m sure there’s someone out there who will be your cup of tea)

The Final Straw
To be honest, I’ve had lots of last straws.  But this seems to be the worst because it’s all on me, I have no lies to tell myself about who’s at fault.

Last week I was busy drinking my face off and hiding it.  I did some stunningly embarrassing and selfish things.  There was no catalyst for my drinking, I just wanted to check out.  I drunk dialed my boyfriend who is getting inpatient alcoholism treatment. I woke up with one of the worst emotional hangovers of my life.  I had a four-hour drive to contemplate what I was doing and how it was serving me.  When I arrived home, I read the 12-Steps.  That night I went to a meeting, I was alone and terrified but I went. I liked it, I made plans to go to another one.

At my second meeting, a woman shared, not how she came to AA, but about her day and struggles, she had long term sobriety.  I liked her, I saw some of myself in her.  After the meeting concluded she asked if I needed phone numbers, she is my sponsor now.  (She is a Saint, I was standing there quietly, feeling like a dolt. As one of the “cool kids” with long-term sobriety, she approached me. If she hadn’t I would not be making progress)

Getting to Step 1, Admitting I am Powerless Over Alcohol
Until yesterday, I thought I was on Step-4: Making a Searching and Fearless Inventory of Myself.  I was comfortable admitting I’m powerless, accepting I need a higher power and giving it to God.  I egotistically read steps one through three and mentally checked each box.  But I was still stuck in shame, guilt and self-loathing.

Yesterday my sponsor and I talked for an hour.  I cried, she let me.  She told me the shame would go away faster than I thought (I was not totally convinced).  Then she gave me homework.  She asked me to write a list of ways my life had become unmanageable due to alcohol.  I’m such a Naïve Nelly I didn’t know she was telling me to work on Step 1.  (Lesson 1, sponsors are tricky, they know you lie to yourself and will have none of it! God Bless them each and every one).

So far, I’ve spent at least eight-hours working on this list and thinking through the questions afterward. Guess what!  I feel like a weight is lifted.  I’m not exonerated of the wrongs I’ve done to myself and others by any means.  I’ll work on that later.  But I’m also not just sitting and hating myself.  I’m recognizing why I was doing what I was doing.  For me, that’s the only way to change.

I’ve shared this with my sponsor.  I’m not sure if I have more Step 1 work to do but this was valuable to me.  I hope it helps someone.

With love and support,
D 

What in my life is unmanageable? (it would have been faster to answer the question of what in my life IS manageable)

  • Finances – lost a car, nearly lost my apartment, emptied my retirement, spent $8k on bail because of our drinking, currently living on unemployment and selling his music equipment to pay rent
  • Eating – I either eat everything or nothing
  • Sleep – Too much or none
  • Housekeeping – getting better but not myself
  • Exercise – I can’t seem to do it even though I know I need to
  • Motivation – I have none
  • Positive Thinking – Feels like a lie to me, like I’m trying to trick myself instead of facing reality
  • Relationships – I go from one bad one to another looking for love when I don’t love me
  • Career – I’ve always been a model employee. Since 2015 I’ve lost or quit 5 jobs.
  • Boundaries – Basically I have none, I’m more worried about everyone else.
  • Being a victim – I’m actually gifted and smart and strong when not drinking, but due to the shame, lack of boundaries and lack of self-worth; I just go along for the ride and completely lack accountability
  • No sense of the future
  • No sense of self — I can’t answer the question “what do I want”
  • I’ve made two very serious attempts at suicide in the last two years. One area of my life I’m glad to be a failure.
  • My emotions are all over the map, I feel like every emotion needs to be acted on, but I know better so I stuff them, but things fester. When I drink the repressed resentment comes up and I can be a real bitch (no really, super bitch)
  • Not maintaining my appearance. I have been leaving the house in sweats, no make-up, hair up and often greasy – which is an absolute deal-breaker for “normal me”
  • I let my drinking convince me I was partially responsible for being abused. WTF?  I mean really, WTF.  My drinking made me act unreasonable, selfish, mean and more but we don’t hit each other unless our lives are in danger.

 

Other questions I posed to myself (with guidance from Jason Wahler’s Blog)

  • What does the disease of addiction mean to me?
    I always thought of an addict as someone that was on the street or belonged on “Intervention”.  It meant that your thoughts were constantly consumed with getting more of the thing you are addicted to.  I classified myself as an abuser but not addict, I can go periods of time and not drink.  But there’s no off button, one sip and the toddlers are running around in my head running the show screaming for more.  It’s hard for me to see someone else have a drink and know I can’t.  I feel broken, afflicted.  But let’s be honest, I drank to the point of peeing myself in a restaurant and being held for my own safety at jail (luckily not arrested), I’ve been banned from my favorite bar, sent home for being “weird”.  There’s more, so much more.  So today, I’d say addiction is when you keep repeating behavior that’s keeping you from having the life you want. When you are using something to fill the emptiness or numb the pain instead of healing yourself.
  • How has my disease affected me physically? Mentally? Spiritually? Emotionally? Financially?
    Physically – I gained weight, looked very old and stopped eating, I had physical fights with my boyfriend that I lost, busted up my face falling, always had unexplained bruises. Heartburn, OMG the heartburn.  Beyond what medication could control. I’m lucky, no liver damage, no ulcer, no hospital time.

    Mentally
    – For a while, I had memory issues that I glossed over chalking it up to old age.  I also suffered depression and worsened my already poor self-esteem.  I became a liar, a hider, I didn’t want anyone to know how bad I really was.  I didn’t want to admit it to myself either.

    Spiritually
    – Oddly in the last year of my drinking I’ve started talking to and believing in God again.  I’m sure that’s the only reason I am not dead or in jail.

    Emotionally
    – I lied to those I loved, I felt ashamed and embarrassed of myself all the time.  Full of regret for whatever dumb thing I had done the night before which I usually pieced together from my phone or people gleefully telling me what an ass I’d made of myself as if it was funny and to be celebrated.  I fucked up friendships, lost a marriage (though it needed losing) I’ve made the people who love me cry. I was consumed with self-righteousness and self-loathing all at once.  Every drop fed my insecurities until they began to rule me.

  • How does the self-centered part of my disease affect my life and the life of those around me?
    For a long time, I refused to see that when my drinking bitch came out, I was hurting others, or even that seeing me drunk hurt others. I wanted to escape, to numb out so I did.  In the times when A would drink and I stayed sober, I was so angry – I knew he was hurting and that’s why he was drinking. But he’d say he wasn’t going to, then go for broke and leave me to take care of him.  I hated that, I was really angry with him.  Yet I’ve done it to others and refused to see it.  I acted in a manner I abhor.

    Sunday night I called A in rehab while drunk.  I’m one of the most considerate people in the world under normal circumstances, but I called the floor phone in a rehab facility drunk because I wanted to talk, because I was sad and lonely.  I had not a single care that I was sending 30 men into a tailspin.  Maybe not fair to say I didn’t care, I was too drunk to process how my actions were going to affect them.

  • Have I blamed other people for my behavior?
    The better question is, have I ever accepted responsibility? It’s been someone else’s fault for years.

    First, it was my ex-husband. If #2 hadn’t started me on craft beer and wine, if #2 hadn’t moved his son in, if #2 had contributed financially, if #2 hadn’t had FOUR FUCKING affairs.
    Then it was my boss.  If “Opie” hadn’t destroyed my career confidence.  If “The Sociopath” hadn’t played my insecurities.I drank to pretend “POF” wasn’t there because he irritated the fuck out of me yet I was scared to be alone.A’s drinking was worse than mine, so I didn’t have the problem, he did.Other times, I was joining in, being social, participating.

    It’s only been this week that I’ve really realized all of this was an excuse to do whatever I wanted without accepting responsibility.  While staying at my life-long friend’s home, I had a liter of vodka hidden in the bedroom so she would not know how much I was drinking.  I was hurrying bottles out to the recycling bin, so nobody knew about the six-pack of beer I had during the day.  Who is this person???

     

  • Have I compared my addiction to other people’s addictions?
    Of course I have! I was a “high-functioning” alcoholic.  I haven’t been arrested, I was never homeless (Though I came frighteningly close), I *only* drank beer (until the end), I didn’t do drugs, I didn’t drink in the morning.  Yeah, I had a long list of justifications that I wasn’t so bad that I needed help.
  • What does unmanageability mean to me?
    I am acting outside of my personal expectations/normal behaviors, but I can’t stop. I know I want to do differently but cannot seem to change my actions even when sober.  I’ve lost my way.
  • What troubles have been caused because of my addiction?
    See above. Financial, destroyed relationships, poor work performance, shame
  • Have I used alcohol or drugs to change or suppress my feelings?
    Yes indeed, that’s the main reason I used alcohol. I could not get my brain to be quiet and stop attacking me, so I shut it off with alcohol.
  • What reservations am I still holding onto?
    I don’t like labeling myself as an alcoholic, but I’m beginning to understand why the program asks us to do it. The more often I say it, the word loses its judgemental hold on me and I become someone who’s not “bad” but a person working for a better life.
  • Do I accept that I’ll never regain “control” over drinking, even after a long period without use?
    Yes, there is no social drinking for me. I won’t lie, it’s been 4 days that I’m sober, thoughts pop in my head but I remind myself that I spent every night last week drunk and embarrassed myself repeatedly.  Nobody is responsible for that but me.  Nobody else was drinking.  And two drinks leads to stepping on the gas until I passed out. One drink is always followed by a second.
  • What could my life be like if I surrendered completely?
    I can’t imagine. I hope for the peace I see in others with long term sobriety.
  • Am I WILLING: to follow a sponsor’s direction, go to meetings regularly and give recovery my best effort?
    Yes, absolutely. I have hope that I can get rid of the crap that’s holding me back. I’ve tried to get sober by myself for six stubborn years.  I need help finding the way, I NEED a sponsor to guide me. Without this chance, I’m not going to be the person I want to be.
  • Have I made peace with the fact that I’m an alcoholic and that I’ll have to do things to stay clean?
    I have a lot of emotional work to do. That’s my only hope. 

If you want to share your journey, I’d love to hear it in the comments below.