The following post is based on a series of conversations that keep popping up lately. I use a masculine pronoun but this story is not gender specific. Perhaps this blog will hit home for some people new to recovery. To be clear, the situation I’m describing involves having a partner who’s a casual consumer of substances – not someone heavily dependent or in the grips of their own addiction.
You did it. You’re finally clean and sober. What an achievement! Maybe you’ve even been exercising, hitting some yoga classes, and spending as much time as you can with your new sober friends. In fact, the only thing that feels shitty is going home to your partner.
Driving home you find yourself praying his car won’t be in the driveway. Sometimes just the thought of him unleashes a flood of negative feelings you swallow down. You walk into the house and feel the hate rising when you see him. Oblivious, he smiles and asks how the meeting went. Then he gets up to give you a kiss and inwardly you collapse into confusion, wondering if you’re going to have to divorce him. You see, he isn’t tormented over his substance use and has no desire to stop. Because he suffered through your suffering, he was 100% behind your decision to get clean. Compared to what you’ve heard from other people in recovery, you have it easy. No complaints when you head out to a 12-step meeting after dinner, always willing to watch the kids, to leave parties early, and not force you to go anywhere you feel jeopardizes your recovery. Yet, you resent him so much for not offering to quit using for you that you’ve convinced yourself the clock’s ticking on this relationship. When you aren’t angry, you feel guilty or jealous. Sometimes you start wondering if being sober is worth it.
Do you remember what motivated you to enter into recovery? It was the solution to your pain and suffering. Try not to lose sight of this simple truth. After you’ve been sober for a short time and the pain diminishes, you may get amnesia and forget why you are sober. What’s really happening is that with the pain of using gone, you’re starting to experience an avalanche of feelings. This is the “roller-coaster” you hear people in recovery talking about. Usually it’s like being hit by waves of anxiety and depression. Your mind will try to search for something to blame it on. Fear of feelings always underlies our attempts at control. If we can figure out who or what is at the source of our emotional discomfort, we can get rid of it. Or in this case, get rid of him. The disease-mind will start laser focusing on the problem and convince you that you have two choices – leave him or drink. Black and white thinking. Divorce or drink.
While it’s normal to feel disappointed that you can’t always get what you want, you do have a choice about whether to see the glass half full or half empty. Loving support is valuable. Stay in conscious gratitude for anything that is making it easier for you to attend to your sober needs. At this time keep the focus on yourself and stay close to your support system. Continue to exercise, meditate, go to meetings and talk about your feelings with your sober friends and therapist (if you have one). Remember, no one responds well to the pressure of recruitment. Try to accept that for now he may not have the same relationship to drugs and alcohol that you have. If he isn’t suffering, he isn’t suffering – and without a private pain connected to his using, there’s nothing to motivate him into recovery. Very few people surrender in any kind of real way if it is forced upon them. No one knows what the future holds but one thing is true – the disease-mind uses words like “never” and “forever” in connection to all unpleasant feelings and difficult life situations. This is untrue. Our lives (and our inner-lives) are ever-changing. Keep the focus on yourself. Practice patience and tolerance, and apply the golden rule by treating him with the love compassion and respect that you want for yourself. Stay close to your support and allow time to pass. More will be revealed.
The emotional roller-coaster has very little to do with anything other than your brain chemistry responding to being cut off from drugs and alcohol. It will eventually come to an end and your emotions will stabilize. You’ll experience moments of equanimity and be able to assess your situation, your needs, and your relationship more clearly. This may be a time to consider couples’ therapy to work through any distress that may linger.
Applying “live and let live” isn’t always easy, especially when it involves your intimate romantic relationship or life partner. As a newcomer it’s better to trust in the process of recovery and allow some time to pass rather than take impulsive actions in response to chaotic feelings. Avoid causing irreparable damage you may regret.
When I was a little girl I would listen to Miss Peggy Lee singing, “Is that all there is? Is that all there is?” Even at seven years old I felt this song deep in my bones. Listening to it now, it so profoundly describes a feeling so familiar to addicts and alcoholics. In the song the solution is booze and dancing but in recovery how do we get through those days when we feel bored, lonely, unsatisfied and empty – days when our disease holds us hostage to these disproportionately magnified feelings?
I looked in the mirror and a blonde woman with a suntan stared back. I didn’t recognize myself. Was I really wearing pink gym shorts and sneakers? I ripped off my tortoise shell sunglasses and started looking for track marks, scars, something to prove it was really me. New Age music came over the speakers and two men began discussing their mutual enlightenment.
“John, when I first heard you lead a meditation, I found myself carried away by the melodic rhythm of your voice and suddenly I envisioned myself conducting and entire symphony around you.”
“Oh that’s beautiful” replied John as he droned on about his twenty-five years in Twelve-Step communities. That’s when it hit me. My track marks were gone. My punk rock youth was over. And all I seemed to care about was healing my inner child and shopping at the Beverly Center. My God – what happened to my personality?
I wrote the above story when I had just over two years clean. I’d been on a pink cloud most of that time, super-happy with the life I’d put together from scratch in recovery. There’d been no warning signs that everything would change with one glance into a mirror. Shortly after this experience, I shut my down my life in Los Angeles and spent six months alone in a car traveling the country, reflecting and writing a novel. Rather than allow my existential identity crisis to push me toward a relapse, it motivated me to pursue my dreams.
Fast-forward to six years later. I’m in a therapy session saying, “I go to meetings, I work out, I’m of service, I eat healthy, I have good friends, I’m in therapy – but really- big fucking deal. Is this it? Is this all there is? I feel so bored and crazy. Where’s the euphoria?” I knew I was going to leave her office and stir up the pot. The feeling of restlessness and urgency was familiar – it was what drove me out to buy drugs back in the day. I knew I didn’t want to get high but I craving something to make me feel more alive and, like with drugs, felt powerless to stop myself once the idea got into my head. Within days I’d seduced a dangerously attractive unavailable young active alcoholic and I’d started smoking. I have to admit I felt pretty badass and was charged with the electricity of that euphoric high I’d been craving.
Within weeks I was back in my therapist’s chair only now I was crying. I felt lost from myself – anchorless. All I wanted was to go back to the way I felt before I abandoned myself with escapist behaviors. And I was pissed. Why does everything that makes me feel more “alive” always have the price of self-abandonment attached to it?
I mention these two stories because in both cases I was hit by the same feeling – that life on life’s terms was not enough. At the time I didn’t know how to value peace of mind and I didn’t know how to find comfort in the grey areas of day to day life on its own terms. I was still grieving and romanticizing aspects of the unpredictability of my former drug-using life. I wanted drug-like excitement without picking up a substance.
While the first existential identity crisis lead me on a six-month odyssey of America rediscovering and challenging myself, it wasn’t an impulsive act. That road trip required patience and planning. The second story illustrates a pretty typical addict response to feelings of restlessness. It’s usually knee-jerk compulsive self-destructive behavior disguised as fun.
In recovery there will be days when life on life’s terms will not be enough to satisfy you; days when boredom will make you pace like a wild animal desperate to break out of the cage. The disease gets a lot of mileage from the language of denial. I considered myself “unstoppable” rather than compulsive. If I’d been able to recognize that the intense pull toward acting-out was a compulsion I was powerless over, I could have applied some recovery principles to it. Instead I saw surrender as a compromise of “my free spirit”. Besides, even in recovery I’ve often been willing to suffer the consequences to get what I want when I want it. Thing is – although the consequences are always the same, when I set out on a mission for thrills. I forget the price is always some version of feeling lost from myself, of being lost and anchorless at sea.
The ability to sit with my feelings – especially the ones that can be avoided by thrill-seeking behaviors – didn’t happen over night. First I had to become willing – which happened when I was no longer willing to pay the price that came with avoiding them and then I needed courage to have blind faith that if I sat with my feelings they would not destroy me. I quickly discovered that the emotional discomfort didn’t last long. Feelings pass – even cravings for excitement pass.
The key to gracefully getting through the existentially angsty days is to let go of the need to make shit happen as a solution to feelings. Sit with the feelings no matter how much the disease is screaming for you to not sit still. Trust me – this can save you ridiculous amounts of negative consequences and inner turmoil. Meditation and breathing can help with this. If you suspect that you’re meant to shift gears or make major changes, you will know it because the need to force change won’t be there. I am NOT saying that life in recovery can’t be exciting. Maybe it will be more exciting if you can stop imposing your old ideas of excitement onto it and see where you end up.
Spring has finally sprung. If this is your first season change clean and sober I’m here to discuss a new trigger that is probably creating some discomfort for you. Sometimes it’s just reassuring to know that the weird shit tripping up your mood, your mind, and maybe even your overall wellbeing is nothing unusual in the realm of recovery. I always find comfort in knowing that my twisted assessment of my own mental health isn’t unique. In terms of recovery, identification is a step toward dismantling the power of disease-thinking (the stuff that can lead us away from recovery and toward relapse).Disease-thinking (our addict-mind) has a way of taking an hour of emotional discomfort and convincing us that these bad feelings are NEVER going to go away EVER, that life is going to suck always, that pain is here to stay. It’s almost comical when years into the recovery process you catch yourself investing in this lie until a light bulb goes on and you remember that you’re temporarily lost in a hall of mirrors and that – yes – this too shall pass.
The number one heart-stopper for people in recovery seems to be the first sighting of outdoor cafés that serves liquor. I mean – the whole package will hit you and wax poetic nostalgia – those balmy evenings or lazy Sunday afternoons lounging around killing a few margaritas or sangria or wine or beer or whatever you ever drank outside. In the memory you are peacefully alone and buzzed or having an amazing time with friends. You are younger, better looking, happier, fitter, richer, more playful – basically your memory will go back to a time when getting loaded was without consequences and when you really had your game on. And during that moment of memory you will feel your heart breaking and a voice will pop into your head that will tell you that this is where you draw the line. “How can you give up the outdoor summer partying? You will never stay sober. You will never again feel that happy.” The whole of your Being will be filled with longing. (Mind you – what I’m describing happens within seconds of catching a glimpse of that place from the corner of your eye but it will hit you with such force that it will be impossible to comprehend that it is simply a feeling and that it’s going to pass).
This is a perfect example of how the disease works. Total amnesia of all the pain and suffering that came along as a result of substance abuse. The focus is narrowed down to specific body memory of relaxation, joy, and probably a time where there was far less responsibility and accountability in your life. This is the siren song the Viking heard before he jumped ship.
I don’t know anyone clean who hasn’t felt this pull especially after a long winter. In a way there is some genuine grieving of youth involved and if you’re newly sober you will still be grieving the loss of your long -term relationship to drugs and alcohol. It’s important to talk about these feelings with someone to take the power out of them. It is also important to believe that this feeling will pass. I would suggest you begin creating new memories of outdoor cafes with sober friends and not to park yourself alone at one of your old haunts because – what’s that saying? If you hang around the barbershop too long, you’ll probably end up getting a haircut? In a few weeks you’ll cease to notice anything particularly seductive about these establishments.Until then, the initial sightings will trigger you the same way that passing your old drug-buying block or neighborhood bar did when you first got clean.
To snap out of the obsession find some nature – whether it’s a garden, a tree, the beach, the sky, or a green lawn and spend ten minutes there. Notice the details of the beautiful planet we get to live on. Take deep inhalations through your nose and pay attention to how the air feels entering your nostrils and how warm it feels when you exhale through your mouth. Make a mental gratitude list. Then get on with your day.
My first four years in recovery were spent in Los Angeles and weather never triggered me but ever since I moved back to NYC, I experience nostalgia for long ago good times whenever there’s a radical change of weather. Outdoor patios, the cozy warmth of a moodily-lit bar during a snowstorm, and even the sound of the ice cream truck will remind me of how much I loved getting high. Luckily I can still access the much more detailed story of all the suffering that occurred on all the other days so I don’t get too seduced by my strolls down memory lane – but they do still hit me because I’m an addict and my disease is always looking for a way to invalidate my life in the present moment so that my fantasy life of this painless past can sing to me until it can get me to jump my Viking ship. I’ve gotta take my hat off to the determination of the disease of addiction. It might be weakened to a minimal heartbeat but that f**ker wants to get its power over me back. It’s not a quitter. This is how I know I am not cured.
Feelings are like our internal weather – the “nature” part of our human nature. Sun, clouds, rain, wind sun again. Let them move through you and do not fear them. It is wonderful to be clean and alive and human. We are fortunate to be able to have feelings! After all, we know the price of the alternative.
National Eating Disorder Awareness Week (Feb. 24-March 2, 2013)
In 1990, I saw the profoundly disturbing movie Eating by Henry Jaglom. Prior to this, I was oblivious to eating disorders. The film was about a group of women cooking for a celebration. Throughout the film, they individually act out in their respective eating disorders. Watching their secrecy, shame, self-loathing, and powerlessness triggered an overwhelming sense memory in me. What they were feeling was no different than how I felt shooting coke in a locked bathroom. It made me realize how similar eating disorders were to addiction. Seeing this film helped me to feel empathy and compassion for my women friends who continued to struggle with bulimia even after years in recovery.
Our society isn’t very compassionate toward people who have diseases that manifest in self-destruction. “How can I feel sorry for him? No one is putting a gun to his head forcing him to take heroin.” While society is finally becoming educated in substance abuse and depression, eating disorders make people uncomfortable. It is cruel when adjectives such as lazy, greedy, and glutinous are used to describe over-eaters and those suffering from obesity. It is just as cruel to pretend there isn’t a disease affecting the health of a friend. People in 12-Step meetings become uncomfortable, even angry, if a member shares about vomiting after meals even if they share that this behavior makes them want to get high. The whispering and dissing of the “skinny girl” is harmful and hateful. Eating disorders do not arise out of thin air. Childhood pain, violence, trauma, abuse, and sexual abuse are often at the core.
Recovering addicts and alcoholics with eating disorders are fortunate to already have a language to describe their experience. They have recovery tools and support. They know how to walk into a fellowship for their specific eating disorder and ask for help. Yet, even with this leg-up, the road to ED recovery is riddled with potholes. I know many women with decades clean and sober whose recovery from bulimia continues to be two steps forward one step back. Binge eating relapses keep them trapped in a cycle of shame, self-berating, hopelessness, and despair even while they are role models of recovery in their primary 12-Step group.
Sustainable recovery from eating disorders is very difficult and painful and we (society as a whole and those of us fortunate to be in recovery ourselves) should be extending kindness, support, and compassion to anyone who is suffering so that they do not have to isolate in secrecy and shame. We can help by encouraging them to be honest and courageous, and by guiding them to professionals who can give them the help they need. Our generosity and love does not have to be insular. We have enough that it can be shared beyond the confines of our particular substance abuse group.
A dear friend in recovery became anorexic this past year. At first, I tried helping by applying what works to cut through the denial and arrest the disease of addiction but this was different. I realized she needed professional help and we found a therapist willing to work within her budget. After several months, it was clear that she needed a higher level of care – inpatient. Unfortunately, unlike drug addiction, there is very little help available in America for anorexics without financial resources. Anorexia Nervosa is a disease that leads to death – if not from starvation, it can cause a heart attack, fainting behind the wheel, shattered bones, and major organs shutting down. Many anorexics commit suicide before their bodies fail. Yet even with the high suicide rate statistics, there is very little help offered to people without $30,000 to spare or comprehensive health insurance. In my friend’s case though, it’s going to take more than good insurance or extra cash in the bank. Even after being discharged from therapy and told she needs a higher level of care, the denial continues to convince my friend that this disease can be self-managed.
No one could force me to get clean and I can’t force her into inpatient treatment. I hope she becomes willing. I continue to encourage her to not give up, to pray to whatever she believes in or doesn’t believe in, to blindly ask the universe or her own heart to guide her to safety so she can live. She asked me to dedicate this week’s blog in honor of Eating Disorder Awareness Week.
You may have friends in recovery living in shame, guilt and secrecy, suffering from an eating disorder they have not made public. These friends are your opportunity to practice empathy, compassion, tolerance and patience. Help them to feel safe enough to bring their ED out of the darkness. Eating disorders are not gender specific. Men this is your opportunity to bring your ED out of the closet so other men will not feel so alone. Together, in loving kindness, we can all recover.
For anyone reading this blog who may be suffering from an eating disorder, there is plenty of information online for local helplines, resources, 12 step groups. Not everyone needs to go to a treatment facility. Most eating disorders can be arrested and a healthy recovery can occur using a combination of 12 step meetings, therapy, trauma work (such as EMDR or gestalt therapy), and Dialectic Behavioral Therapy (DBT) groups, mindfulness (such as meditation, yoga, breathing exercises). Your life is worth it.
The following is a guest blog written by my friend who has Anorexia Nervosa. I asked her to write about her inner experience living with this disease. Perhaps next year she will be able to share her recovery from this illness.
Anorexia? WTF Happened?
During the course of this vicious anorexia cycle, I have confided consistently with one person. This alone may have saved my life— so far.
I don’t exactly remember when the idea had surfaced that I had an eating disorder. At some point in late 2011 something started happening internally that resulted in an increase of anxiety, not sleeping, not eating, horrible leg cramps, night terrors, depression, anger, and hopelessness. By April 2012 I had been in therapy for five months and remember feeling completely disconnected from my body. My mind was constantly spinning and I had 3 years clean from drugs and alcohol. I wanted to escape the screaming in my head and the pressure I constantly felt. Using and suicide bounced in and out of my mind.
I had slowly stopped eating. Well- I wouldn’t eat a couple days, but then would eat a few days and be fine. I didn’t really obsess over it and it was just one of those habits I think I had always had- since childhood. The idea of eating never really mattered to me much and the thoughts of over eating (or watching others over eat) grossly disgusted me. My frame is naturally small and the most weight I had ever gained was through both my pregnancies which I absolutely hated. Even though I had lost all the weight I had gained through my practically back to back pregnancies, my body was left with deep stretch marks which leave me with a strange self-conscience feeling I still have to this day.
Eventually, my first therapist kicked me out after about 10 minutes of what ended up being our last session. She looked at my sick body and advised me to come back after I sought help for my eating disorder. I hadn’t really talked much to this therapist but felt extreme anxiety when I knew I had an appointment that day and felt like I had been hit by a bus when I left. I don’t remember talking to her too much about anorexia.
Over the last year, I’m not sure why I have constantly denied that I could have an eating disorder. Most of the last year and a half has consisted of not eating, weighing myself obsessively, checking my BMI to see if I’m actually underweight (thinking that as my BMI is normal than I must not have a problem), puking every 3-4 days when I do actually eat, migraines, performing google searches about eating disorders, crying, punching walls, throwing chairs, anger, hiding out…
My health has been questionable. My digestive system feels fucked up. My heart rate and cholesterol are high. I’m almost positive I am anemic. I’ve passed out, lost track of time, been in four car accidents, fallen asleep at the wheel. I have severe leg cramps every night which leave me falling down. I lost 30 lbs on my already somewhat small frame in the course of 4-5 month period and my weight was declining weekly. People were commenting on my body and it infuriated me when they questioned if I ate or if they told me that I’m getting too thin. I read articles and books about how to get help. I went to eating disorder meetings. I wrote letters to the fucking universe expressing my anger and pain and needing help.
Yet with all of the evidence pointing toward the clear fact that I do have an eating disorder problem, I continued to fight it (I still fight it).
I want help and I don’t want help. I want to fix my own problems and my own pain. I don’t want to let one more person close to me. I don’t want to become vulnerable.
I did eventually go to another therapist who specializes in eating disorders. I made as much of an effort as possible to kick this shit and feel better. I deactivated my gym membership, I gave up my scale, I wrote food logs. The terms were up front from the beginning with her. I had to stay honest. I had to do the work. If after a certain amount of time, no progress was made with my health, than she would recommend a higher level of treatment. This was and is one of my greatest fears. Needless to say, I was discharged in January of this year from my second therapist.
I actually made it to 4 years clean in January but feel like I am living my life in active addiction. I feel like I am in a downward spiral but not sure exactly what I am willing to do to get better. I still fantasize about all of this just disappearing on its own. I feel like my mind is playing tricks on me. I tell myself things like this: I haven’t thrown up in a while now, I ate twice every day for 5 days in a row (only skipping two days of meals), I haven’t weighed myself since being at Publix two weeks ago, I am sleeping more than I had been sleeping, and that I haven’t lost any weight since my last therapy session. All of these things I tell myself eventually convince me that I can fix this by myself because I am obviously doing better than I was when this ‘eating disorder’ surfaced.
I absolutely hate everything about anorexia. I hate what is happening and feel trapped. I hate feeling like there is something wrong with me and that I can’t control any of this. These are the same thoughts I have about addiction. I despise them both. I hate the internal fight of wanting to die and live all at once. And I hate feeling like I am being attacked by one or the other, if not both
Fuck addiction. Fuck anorexia.
Truth is- with all of my denial, anxiety, rage, depression, etc. – I do hope that I continue to hold on until I get better.
This week I’m taking the lead from my Facebook friends’ topic suggestions. Laurie CS wrote: How about respecting your recovery when others don’t (or just don’t have the understanding). I may have gone off-topic but it inspired me.
I was the only one in my crowd to get into recovery. Until then, I thought not shooting dope meant I was clean. Every now and then, a few of us would decide to get clean. We’d hurry off to a bar so that we could drink enough to make it through the day without using. Sometimes I’d go to Amsterdam to kick my habit. Drinking and smoking hash didn’t count. I’d arrive back in New York clean (as far as I was concerned). A few went on the methadone program to be clean. It’s not that we rejected complete abstinence. It simply never occurred to us.
I ended up in a treatment center outside of New Orleans and at 69 days clean boarded a Greyhound bus destined for Los Angeles. I arrived with $100 dollars and a desire to stay clean. In my heart I knew I couldn’t go back to New York – not yet. I started my life over from scratch, which included building relationships. I spent my first year clean surrounded by recovering addicts. We were young, crazy, clean and enthusiastic. Twelve-step meetings were our life. Together we learned how to expose our true selves to one another and the level of intimacy created a bond that I still have with those people. Our lives were about recovery – it’s all we talked about. I chuckle when I imagine what it would have been like to have been stuck in a restaurant booth behind us. One step short of Scientology is one way I’ve heard it put. I’m sure we were a bit fanatical and over the top but we were having a blast and the alternative – well, I probably wouldn’t be here to write about it.
At a year clean I flew back to New York City anxious to see my old friends. I knew it was a dangerous move but I loved these people and they were the only evidence that the stories I told had actually happened, that my past was real. Although I hadn’t really thought too much about it, I’d spent a year existing only in present time with people who only knew me clean. My old friends had lived through my relationships, my marriage, had known my dog, and met my family. I wanted that connection back. I hadn’t considered what they would think of the “new” me.
After a few drinks, they startled to dismantle my belief system. “All that happens is that they get you addicted to God” was a major point with them. I said that I wasn’t a believer but they didn’t want to hear this as they laid all their opinions of 12 step programs on me. And no – they had never been to one. “We’re worried about you Patty. They’re brainwashing you.” I was caught between wanting to cry and wanting to laugh. “You’re right. It probably is brain washing but I guess I needed my brain washed.” That sort of ended it for a while. I knew they loved me but I knew they did not want recovery. The funny thing is, I did not go to New York to get them clean. Truthfully, the lack of support was upsetting and my expectations on my homecoming had been shattered. I was experiencing so many feelings from heartbreak to disappointment to anger to shame that I knew in my gut that if I stayed in that apartment the entire week I could get loaded so I found somewhere else to stay for a few days. As soon as I was away from my old friends, I was able to get grounded again. When I called LA and rehashed the events, my friend Ron summed it up, “I guess you forgot you were powerless.”
Fast forward to four years clean. By now my life was full. Recovery was at the core of it but there was a lot of other stuff going on. I was writing again, performing, working. I had friends both in and not in recovery. I didn’t wear it on my sleeve anymore because the “inside job stuff” had happened. I’d matured and so had my recovery. I now had other things to talk about. I was married to a musician who’d had a long career in Europe so there was a never-ending stream of touring musicians coming through our house. These were his old “using” friends. I was enjoying the company of one in particular but after a few drinks he started spewing all of his opinions about the idiots who end up in recovery. “They are nothing but weak sheep who lack willpower”. Naturally, this led him to the God-addiction and brain washing argument. I laughed and asked if he was calling me a weak sheep. “Is that what you think of me and – “ I listed five of his closest, most respected friends who were now all in recovery. He was on his back staring at the ceiling, silently watching his cigarette smoke curling upward. “That is what I don’t understand. My friends are brilliant – yet everyone is doing this thing. It doesn’t make any sense to me.” The silence between us was filled with pain. He was surrounded by friends who were in recovery but it was not going to be for him. He drove his car at sixty miles an hour into a brick wall two months later.
Here’s some advice for anyone who is having a difficult time with friends not fully understanding or supporting their recovery:
Make sure you have a lot of other friends who do support your recovery.
You have to know why you are in recovery – what it means to you. Be unshakable. And you don’t have to defend it – just live it.
Check your side of the street. If you’ve been unintentionally trying to recruit them, lay off. If people want what you have they will ask you how you did it and if they don’t, they won’t.
Active addicts and alcoholics are uncomfortable with friends who have gotten clean. They are most likely the ones to start up these discussions. Avoid all conversations about recovery with people who are loaded. They will keep up the argument for days if you let them.
If you are too early in recovery to have boundaries, you shouldn’t be there. It is easy to change the subject or to cut out early. Save your recovery talk for people who want it.
Remember, if you are new, your foundation is still fragile. Don’t take unnecessary risks.
Recovery is YOUR path; every human being is entitled to choose their own path.
Expectations lead to disappointment.
Today I still get people telling me that after all these years I should be able to drink now if I want to. I used to have clever answers like “Well, if I have a drink now, I’ll probably rob you later.” Now my answer is, “I don’t want one”.
Oh – and my old friends that I mentioned – they’ve been back in my life for years. In fact, when I held a party for the premier of Relapse, they were the ones who stayed closing the bar, long after everyone had left, discussing how great the show was.
This week I’m going to continue the thread of my recent blog posts geared toward those people who got clean and sober on New Years Day, for anyone new to recovery, on a relapse, or those who are about to embark on this crazy voyage called life without drugs.
I love being stimulated and challenged and lose interest in anything that gets boring.. Having said this, I’ve yet to become bored with being in recovery. Life stays interesting and quirky enough to keep me engaged.
My first year clean was, by far, the most surreal. I had to experience everything: from learning how many pots of coffee a day were too many, to figuring out what my taste was now that I had money to buy clothes, to having sex without being loaded. Sure, I had to feel rejection, insecurity, and all the shit I’d rather avoid at all costs but I also got to forge bonds with people who are still my closest friends, act out scandalously in public, figure out who I was underneath my many personas and coats of armor – but really what turned me on the most was that for someone who’d experienced every aspect of life under the influence of something from 12-28, being off drugs was a lot like being on acid. It’s the equivalent to what an acid trip would be like for someone who’d never taken acid before. It made me laugh to realize that I, Patty Powers, was choosing not to use drugs over the option of using them. If anyone would have ever told me that this would be something I would choose, let alone want, I would have said they were crazy. Twenty-three years later, it still makes me chuckle. So, if you are just getting clean, enjoy the ride because life without drugs is often like a cross between a John Waters and a Fellini move. Our life is really the only thing real that we have – so why not experience all of it – the good, the bad and the ugly!
It’s the 21st as I write this. Hopefully you’re still here and celebrating 21 days clean and sober.
If you relapsed, don’t let guilt, shame, and remorse stop you from starting over. Although relapse is not a requirement, it is a big reality with addiction. Relapse rates are high for addicts regardless of what avenue of recovery they pursue (and I’m talking everything from harm reduction to 12 Step Programs and everything in between). I come from the school of “never give up” because I have watched people struggle for years, constantly relapsing, and then one day they start putting time together and end up with years clean. Everyone has their own path, the main thing is to never give up hope that you can recover and have freedom from active addiction and alcoholism.
What happens to addicts after they relapse is that they torment themselves in a way that no one in the world could ever torment them. All those thoughts – how you fucked up, how bad you are, how you disappointed the few people who helped you in the program – are created by and are fueling the disease. These thoughts are set up to make you feel so bad about yourself that you’ll believe that only drugs can bring relief. Eventually, the drugs are no longer quieting your head. Other negative thoughts start creeping in and they’re all shame-based, dark, and really personal. They’ll keep tearing you down (inside your own mind) until you start feeling like you don’t deserve anything good. Remember – none of this stuff in your head is real. It’s how the disease operates. No different from one addict to the next. Trust me – if you go to a meeting, put up your hand and say you relapsed the negative voices will quiet down. In fact, if you start counting days clean again, chances are most of those thoughts will start disappearing within a week. The noise they are making right now is a mind trick to keep you using. The antidote to relapse is to call someone in recovery and tell them the truth.
Go back and reread my last two posts and try to follow the suggestions 100% and see if you don’t get different results this time. It’s worth a shot, right? What have you got to lose?
For those who have 21 days clean and sober today, congratulations. You should be getting some sleep by now. Feeling physically better. Your complaint, if anything, is probably that you’re exhausted from being so busy. You’d really like to take the weekend off from all this recovery stuff and lay in front of the TV. Go ahead, add some down time into your routine this weekend but still maintain the basics – eat well, get some fresh air and a little exercise, go to a meeting (or two). Call up some of your new friends in recovery and see if anyone wants to come and watch a movie and order pizza (or get a movie and spring the idea when you see them at a meeting).
Alone-time is great and everyone needs some – but addicts REALLY like alone time. Its easy when you’re new to suddenly be in front of the TV with the phone off for a whole day but after an entire day alone with your mind you’re suddenly too comfortable to go to a meeting. “I’ll hit two tomorrow” is usually how the rationalizing goes. Then it gets easier to just take the whole weekend off meetings. I mean – you’re home and not hurting yourself or thinking about getting high, right? Beware: this is how a lot of relapses start.
I’ve been known to watch 9 hours of Breaking Bad in a day so I get that whole “I just want a day to myself “ thing but early recovery is a whole different story. You are sort of in “recovery training camp” right now. Sticking to a regiment now will pay off later – because clean and sober, you’ll be free to choose whatever kind of life you want. Recovery will be part of your life – you won’t be standing at the shallow end of the pool learning how to swim.
Let’s review the past week – what have you been slacking off on and what are you doing about it this week? It’s really important to be putting in time with people you’ve met in meetings. If you haven’t been meeting people then you need to raise your hand and say that you haven’t been reaching out and need phone numbers. Don’t rush out the door when the meeting’s over. Linger. Let people talk to you. This week you should be feeling people out to find a temporary sponsor. The suggestions I made in the earlier blog posts will help you to have balance in your life, to feel more grounded, to feel healthier faster, and to keep you from having too much time in a dark room alone. It’s going to be the 12 Step fellowship you attend, the people you meet, and a sponsor who’ll take you through the steps that will keep you clean.
Diet and exercise alone will not keep you clean year after year, nor will a new relationship – so this week grab your cell phone, your email, your face to face encounters and really make an effort to connect to others and start building up friendships with people you can hang out with outside of the meetings. Nothing’s worse than a day off when you’re feeling a little lonely and the only people you know are ones you got high with. It’s up to you to make sure this doesn’t happen because it’s a bad set-up for relapse.
Everybody looking back knows how hard they worked for that first 30 days. You’ve been earning every single day you’ve been clean and sober. The odds to succeed, they say, are stacked against us but we do recover. We are the proof.
I also have a blog of personal stories. They are updated less frequently. http://www.pattypowersnyc.blogspot.com
For anyone just checking into this blog for the first time, last week I wrote about what to expect for people who made Jan 1st their first day clean. (Go to pattypowersnyc.com/my-blog to open up all previous blog posts). Hopefully this continuing thread will be useful to anyone newly clean or thinking about getting clean.
Let’s talk about physical withdrawal. How quickly your body snaps back to feeling normal is dependent on your drug of choice, how big your habit was, and how long you were doing it. Most likely, if you were coming off legal drugs, you did it at a detox center or by gradually lowering your dose over time with a doctor. It takes longer to feel physically better when you get clean from legal drugs (alcohol, painkillers, benzos, ambien, methadone, suboxone). Illegal drugs are quicker. Heroin is a horrible kick but after 3-4 days the worst of the dope sickness is over. Meth, coke, crack and club drugs have no real physical withdrawal – other than feeling completely run down.
Getting clean is a lot more than getting the drugs out of the system – believe it or not, that’s the easy part. Most addicts have had to go without drugs for one reason or another so physical withdrawal is nothing new. The real hell is what happens in your head: the mental obsession. This is the inner torment and twisted logic which continually comes back around to the idea of giving up. You know – the voice that says you weren’t that bad, 12 step program’s aren’t for you, you can do it different this time and keep it under control, or just straight -up screams “Fuck this shit. I’m getting high and I’ll deal with this later.”
It’s the 15th today, and if you got clean on New Year’s Day you’ve come to the end of your second week. 15 days clean! You’ve probably noticed by now that you stopped late-night weeping over the time in 1999 when your parent’s sent you hard-earned birthday money that you spent on drugs, or the hospital visit or funeral you missed because you were too loaded, or any number of long-forgotten memories of things you fucked up or people you disappointed. These crept into your head whenever you tried sleeping those first 8 or 9 days clean. Haunting regret arrives the 2nd or 3rd day clean and creates so much inner noise and torment that it makes you want to get high just to escape it. I mean, seriously, if this is what it’s going to feel like to be clean, to have to live with all these horrible feelings and thoughts – why do it? But, as you see, they start to lose their power during the second week clean. Aren’t you glad you stuck it out? Oh, they’ll sneak back into your head from time to time but it won’t be as debilitating because now you have the experience to know that these things do pass. You’ll hear that expression a lot in meetings “This too shall pass.” Now you know what they mean.
I bet you probably still aren’t sleeping or not getting much, if any. I didn’t sleep either. I took little cat-naps for four or five months. It may have been withdrawal or maybe it was all the late night after-meeting espresso I was drinking. Who’s to say? I promise though, you will sleep again.
Did you follow the suggestions I left last week? They’ll help speed up your physical recovery and lift your spirits out of the darkness. If you didn’t and you still feel crazy and your body feels like shit, do it this week and see if you can feel a difference. It’s important to have a daily plan – an addict new to recovery with too much time alone, too much time alone with their mind, with an idle body and a lousy diet will not fare well. This doesn’t mean you won’t stay clean but you’re making a choice to make this process harder on yourself. Plus, if you don’t see things getting better, you’ll convince yourself that it sucks to be clean and lose the desire to keep trying. The most common bullshit addicts tell themselves when they decide to use again is “If it gets bad, I know what to do.” (meaning: get clean and go to meetings). There are two flaws in this logic. One, they are forgetting what “if it gets bad” really means. It means loss, suffering and more pain. Two, how long did they fantasize about getting clean before they ever got around to doing it this time? Months? Years? How long will it take before they are ready to try again, really? So if you didn’t follow the suggestions in last week’s post, maybe now is a good time to commit to them. Feel better physically and mentally, and start creating new habits to fill your time. Remember staying clean works by having the willingness to go to any lengths – which means doing things people suggest that worked for them even when you don’t want to.
“Nothing happens until something moves.” -Einstein
If you did follow the suggestions you’ve been eating 3 times a day and drinking a lot of water, you’ve been getting outside for a walk every day, you exercised at least 3 times, you’ve had some quiet time, you’ve been to at least one meeting a day and you’ve started building some friendships up with people who are clean and sober. So what’s going to change going into week three?
What you eat affects your energy and your mood. I‘m going to emphasize diet this week because you want to feel better – right?
If you’ve been piling on lumberjack-size portions at every meal, look out. Everyone starts to freak out at 30 days that they have gained a ton of weight. I believe that, in some respect, the body’s in shock and the metabolism isn’t up to par but I also know that 3 pieces of pie or potatoes at two meals a day is going to put on the pounds regardless of your metabolism. It’s fine to load yourself up on food the first couple of weeks. I always make large portions for my clients because I am trying to help them land back into their body and feel a little grounded but by week three it starts to change. This week I want you to have salad with 2 meals a day. I don’t care if it’s a small salad on the side of your plate or a large bowl. If you hate lettuce, slice some tomatoes and cucumbers or any fresh raw vegetable – I don’t care what it is – have a small portion of raw vegetables with lunch and dinner (or a larger salad sometime during your evening). I want you to also have cooked vegetables twice a day with your lunch and dinner. This doesn’t have to be huge. It can be a small portion – but not canned vegetables. I am not counting yams or potatoes as vegetables. In fact, whenever you have yams, potatoes, rice or pasta, make those portions smaller than you have been doing your first two weeks clean (if you were loading up on them). Don’t stuff yourself full of bread as a meal either. I am not putting you on a diet by the way. Just have regular sized meals that include salad and vegetables. Fresh fruit is good with breakfast, and as a snack. Be sure to eat fresh fruit at least twice a day – during or between meals. If you eat fruit daily, you’ll notice you’re less likely to grab for pastries or sweets. One of these days I will do a blog specifically about food since it can improve mental clarity, energy and it’s a fact that poor diet contributes to depression.
Fresh air and walking: did you get outside much last week? I don’t mean walking from the car to the door. Did you go for walks like I suggested? This week I want you to walk further. Add ten to fifteen minutes to last week’s walk. It’s Day 15 – you can do it.
What about exercise? If you skipped this one last week, this is the week to really give it your best shot. Whatever you decided to do – swim, jog, the gym – make sure you do it 30-45 minutes three to four times this week. It’s going to alleviate anxiety and help you sleep better. Remember your pleasure receptors have been messed up with drugs so you want to get them activated again. Hitting an endorphin high with exercise will not only feel good but it will start repairing the damage you’ve caused. Any age, but especially if you are over 30 – make sure you stretch before and after your work out. You can find stretching techniques online.
Meetings and fellowship: did you go every day? If you didn’t, what was your excuse for not going? Did you use every day? You should definitely go as much as you used. They suggest 90 meetings in 90 days for a reason. It takes 90 days to create or break a habit. Plus, the truth is, if you go every day, you’ll start to know people and they’ll notice if you stop coming around and call you – but no one will call you if they don’t know you. They’ll also notice when you feel like shit and ask what’s going on. It’s better to have people watching out for you than being self-reliant because as smart as you are, you couldn’t figure out how to control your using/drinking. In fact, your best thinking got you here. Learning how to live with the joys and disappointments in life without getting high over them takes time. Which brings me to:
Have you been calling any of the people you met in meetings? Have you gone out for coffee or a snack with anyone or with a group after a meeting yet? This is the hardest thing for many addicts/alcoholics who are newly clean and sober but it is the one thing that will help you to stay clean. I know – you don’t relate. You think half of them are assholes. You wouldn’t have gone to a bar with any of them. You’d have never gotten high with them. Well, this may be true but remember – you may know a lot of things about a lot of things but you don’t know how to stay clean and they do. Let them teach you how. This week make an effort to get to know a few people. Go out one or two times with people from your meetings. You don’t have to stay long. Just make the effort. It might make a difference between staying clean or getting loaded this week. (By the third week I’m with a client I make them go on “play dates” without me. It’s hell getting them to do it. Unlike them, you haven’t had me taking you out with a group of people every night after meetings so you probably aren’t at this stage yet. If you are, terrific – keep building up your support group. If you aren’t, make this week a week where you at least go out with the group one time. Definitely start calling some of the people on your list.
Yoga: Ha, I could actually see you cringe as I wrote that word. If you have an ounce of adventure in your spirit, go to one class somewhere this week. Everyone else, go to Youtube, the library, a yoga or book store and get a dvd of the easiest yoga they have out there and try it at home. Just give it one try and see how you feel afterward. If you spend a lot of time at the computer, you’ll feel your shoulders open up in a way they haven’t in years. You’ll feel all the tension you’ve been carrying around leave. Doesn’t that sound appealing? Tai Chi is another thing that works your core and reduces stress. Just try something this week. You can knock off one workout if you do it.
If you have the money, this week treat yourself to a massage. There are schools that charge a low fee. See what’s available where you are located. It’s a treat but you’ve worked hard to get here. Plus, it’s like having someone take the psychic sludge off your Being that you’ve been piling on while you were using. Ha – that sounds hippy-dippy but there’s something to it.
By staying busy with this schedule, you’ll have less time for mental torture. It will still come up but like I mentioned earlier, these thoughts will pass. Any real wreckage from your past will get taken care of once you find a sponsor and start working the steps. Rome wasn’t built in a day and you don’t have to clean up your entire life this week. Keep the focus on right now. This is a time where you are taking baby steps to learn how to live without drugs and alcohol. It is a HUGE positive thing you are doing. Don’t diminish it by telling yourself you’re a fuck up and things will never get better. They will. You’ll see.
And if you can’t sleep and feel crazy, go online. http://www.Intherooms.com has online meetings, groups, and members you can instant message with who can help you.
Have a great week.
A. The danger of any experience that triggers feelings of fear, shame, guilt, remorse, and negative thoughts about oneself is that they fuel the disease and can lead to
relapse. As active addicts, we used over uncomfortable feelings.
Everyone has different trigger times. For some people, a birthday can awaken inner criticism of having not achieved certain goals. Being without a date on a Saturday night can trigger feelings of loneliness, insecurity and escalate to fears of dying alone.
Holidays are a minefield for intense emotion and affect most recovering addicts and alcoholics. Anyone experiencing a first holiday season clean/sober is especially
vulnerable. The trigger for many is family – whether missing them from a distance or visiting them for the twentieth time, a lifetime of memories and feelings surface: joy, love, and excitement, anger, shame, guilt, old resentments, unfulfilled expectations, sadness and loss for those who have passed away.
The disease grabs onto any feeling of discomfort, magnifies it, and then judges us for having it. While caught up in this inner turmoil, it seems like people who are drinking are the only ones having a good time. This is why it is strongly recommended to stick close to your sober support group, plan ahead and map out meetings wherever you are going, have on hand alternative places to stay if the family environment is difficult and remember – it is OK to leave a party early.
Part of relapse prevention is to share whatever is making you uncomfortable – if it is fear of going home for the holidays, work parties, loneliness, or thoughts of drinking or using. Sharing on a group level takes the negative power away and lessens the fear. It also invites experienced members to take you aside and tell you how they handled similar situations in recovery.
When you hear people in meetings sharing their fears you are witnessing recovery in action. This is what works to keep people clean and sober.
Increase (not decrease) your meeting attendance.
Find out what is happening in your fellowship – marathon meetings, dances, social events. Whether you are seeing family or alone for the holidays, stopping by these events is an excuse to leave an uncomfortable situation early (if you have to be with family or in social situations where there is alcohol) and for newcomers it is an opportunity to meet members on a more social level and make new friends. Remember – volunteers are always needed and welcomed.
Ask around and you will hear about social gatherings and parties various members of your group will be having in their home. Usually someone is having a party or members are organizing group activities.
It is better to be tired from too much fellowshipping than rested and alone at home.
Pay attention to HALT (Don’t get too hungry, angry, lonely, or tired)
Don’t bottle up feelings. Tell people what is going on inside of you. (No one is sick of hearing it).
Be of service – Google volunteer organizations in your area. If you have free time, helping others will lighten your mood and energize you. Many places are happy to have one-time-only volunteers.
If you have to spend time with people who push your buttons or be in an active environment, prepare an exit strategy. Plan ahead to meet someone from your support group afterwards. Be accountable to someone.
If you are leaving town, get a meeting list for that area. Find an alternative place to stay so you have options if you need them – put the info in your phone (local taxi and hotel).
If you are newly clean/sober, stick close to your new friends in recovery. One holiday season away from your using and drinking friends won’t destroy the relationships that matter. Put yourself and your recovery first.
Keep phone numbers of your fellowship friends handy and use them to check in and stay connected.
Get fresh air and exercise daily to keep the blues away.
Don’t over-indulge in caffeine or sugar and drink plenty of water.
Set aside time to meditate or reflect on the positive changes you are making.
Gratitude is a mood changer.