This week I texted a few people asking for topic ideas for SEX TALK. It went out to people who are very different from one another: men and women, gay and straight, 23 – 60, various fellowships. I was amazed when they all sent back the same suggestion. Everyone wanted the topic to be “Getting sexually involved with someone you know you shouldn’t and once you do it’s impossible to stop no matter how much trouble you know is coming your way”. In other words: what’s the allure of forbidden fruit?
How often do you hear (or have you said) that sex is hotter when it’s taboo? For someone in recovery this can mean seducing the newcomer to having sex with someone who is loaded, someone who’s in a relationship, someone who normally has sex with a particular gender, someone who’s breaking celibacy.
I asked New York therapist Carole Gladstone Ramos to explain why some people are sexually turned on by situations that they know will inevitably cause pain. “We tend to go to what’s familiar even if we are aware of the chronic pitfalls because we have an unconscious need to correct what went wrong even though our rational mind knows better. The psychological term is called “Repetitive compulsion”. We keep going back as a way to hold hope (unconsciously) that this time it will be different.”
Wow – now that’s a loaded answer! Join me this Sunday for SEX TALK where we’ll explore our experiences crossing whatever line we’ve drawn in the sexual sand and how we’ve dealt with the emotional fallout using recovery tools to make our way back to sanity. How many times do we have to repeat old behavior expecting different results before we surrender it? When you surrendered, how did things change?
Last night I sat down to write this blog. With the election underway, my brain was hitting emotional overload. I needed a topic for this week’s SEX TALK but my mind wouldn’t cooperate. Sex and politics were not good bedfellows I lay awake ’til dawn rifling through mental flip cards of sex in recovery experiences (my own and stories that have been shared with me). Numb, exhausted and disconnected. It felt like a closing scene from Clockwork Orange.
It appears we’re living in a country where a large percentage of its people long to return to an idealized 1950s version of America. I’m proud to be part of a recovery community that pushes back against the very taboos and stigmas the 60s began liberating us from. If we want to heal from the ravages of active addiction we have to push back and eradicate societal shame. Ours is a quest for inner peace and self-acceptance and this is achievable by sharing our experience strength and hope, by participating in altruistic acts, and by expanding our capacity for empathy and compassion.
SEX TALK started out as an open-topic forum free for all discussion – a safe space for people in recovery to talk about their relationship to sex and to explore how their sexual behavior, desires, and feelings impact their recovery. A lot’s happened since SEX TALK came on the In-the-Rooms scene. Special interest discussions such as David Weiss’ Sex and Addiction and Rachel Levy’s Healthy Love are now part of the ITR offerings; SA (Sex Addicts) and SLA (Sex and Love) have been added to the 12-Step video meeting list; and Hazelden Books released ITR member Jennifer Matesa’s “Sex in Recovery: A Meeting Between the Covers,” an engaging and excellently researched recovery book. My point here is that once we began talking about sex in recovery a door opened and we walked through it. It starts with courage and willingness to share experience strength and hope. Conversations on ITR make their way into small local groups of recovering friends. Your contribution matters.
Join me for SEX TALK this Sunday at 9pm ET to talk about sex in recovery – our fears, desires, shame, behaviors, confusion, insecurities, our secrets, pleasure and our pain. This week’s topic is Truth or Consequences because once the drugs and alcohol are gone it’s impossible to side-step accountability – even if we’d like to. I want to extend a special welcome to anyone new to recovery because you’ll have your first drug and alcohol-free sexual experience and the people at SEX TALK have been there. You’ll find support and no topic is off limit so feel free to bring it.
In early recovery when I shared in 12-Step meetings I was filter-less. There wasn’t a topic off the table in my desperate attempt to stay clean. One night in 1989 I attended a late night meeting in Hollywood California when I probably had 8 months clean and was going through a new layer of painful feelings. I knew I needed to share some risky stuff but the room was filled with terminally hip rock and rollers I was dying to befriend and I didn’t want to be uncool. I went to the podium despite my ego and insecurities and shared that even though I owned my decision to be sexually active in casual relationships, I was questioning whether I was self-servingly open about my history with sex work and current employment as a nude dancer as a way to hide my real self behind the “sexual free spirit” image I put forth in recovery or if some part of me believed I was valueless and sex was all I had to offer. The second my mouth closed I felt the horror of vulnerability and shame. I wanted to evaporate into thin air. When the meeting ended there was a line of people waiting to speak with me. Every single one identified with what I’d shared and they started to tell me things about themselves they’d never told a soul. I realized that night how important honest discussions about sex are to our recovery and also how rare they are. Twenty years later I asked the founders of IntheRooms if I could host an open discussion video event about sex in recovery in the hope that members will bring this conversation to their face-to-face sober communities.
Well the conversation has begun and I’m THRILLED to announce that Jennifer Matesa is my guest for this week’s SEX TALK. We’ll discuss her latest book “SEX IN RECOVERY: A Meeting between the Covers” which will be released on October 4th. I do not say this lightly – this book is a must-read for anyone in the recovery community. It is a well-researched exploration of sexuality through the lens of recovery and is filled with personal stories and questions to contemplate individually, with your recovery community, or “book club” style.
Jen has done a masterful job combining the intimacy of her own story and interviews with a diverse demographic of recovering individuals while exploring big questions about sex, shame, privacy, trauma, sexual health, sexual stigma, and our right to sexual pleasure. I’m dying to quote long sections of the book here – especially the section on the lack of scientific research on the long-term psychological and physical consequences of sexual dysfunction that occurs on replacement drugs such as Suboxone and Methadone – but I think it will be more fun to discuss some of the content on SEX TALK. In the meantime, listen to her I LOVE RECOVERY CAFE interview with Nicola O’Hanlon at http://ow.ly/jiXa304EGVR
Jen’s been a longtime member of IntheRooms who I’ve had the pleasure of getting to know outside of the cyber world. Her award winning blog, Guinevere Gets Sober chronicles her early years and personal experiences in sobriety and has gone onto to explore and comment on current trends in addiction treatment and the politics behind the drug war as it re-brands itself as a war against addiction. Her first recovery book, “The Recovery Body: Physical and Spiritual Fitness for Living Clean and Sober” (Hazelden 2014) provides readers with a fact-based roadmap toward health and spiritual wholeness.
SEX TALK is a free live video event on www.intherooms.com . The website is free but you must join to participate. You can also attend the event from your iPad of cell by using the InTheRooms app. It is open to everyone in recovery. The group provides the momentum and steers the content. We keep the focus on the feelings experienced around sex and intimacy. Attendees can come into the main video box with a question or share their experience. Anyone who’s uncomfortable being seen can step off camera. If anonymity is of utmost importance shoot me an instant message with a question to relay to the group.
Some readers may remember seeing the flyer “Let’s Talk About Sex” turning up on my website and social media intermittently between 2011-2014. This was the original Sex in Recovery event I co-hosted with Dan Griffin. Add another two years of hosting SEX TALK and one thing’s clear – I’ve been instigating dialogue about sex in recovery for a while. Throughout the years we’ve laughed, cried, and shared many intimate moments together on www.intherooms.com. This familiarity creates a place of safety for new arrivals to speak honestly about their sexual experiences and desires in the context of their recovery. Because let’s face it – without drugs and alcohol we feel the impact of our actions. The joy, the emotional fallout, and the self-created drama.
My biggest takeaway from hosting Sex Talk is that one topic’s always a deal-breaker: communicating sexual needs. It seems no one wants to discuss the trepidation, discomfort, and outright fear one experiences when it comes to having an honest conversation with their partner about their sexual needs. I believe this topic is affects the recovery process most profoundly because it ties into self-esteem and codependence.
I’ve never had an issue admitting I’m an addict but if someone points out any behaviors leaning toward codependence my impulse is to throw up my armor and explain myself. I’ve been in recovery long enough to know that whenever I get on the defense I start to justify or explain away codependent behaviors because I feel exposed. The knee-jerk (and pointless) response is to judge myself for not being further along in my process. I also know I’m not alone with this. One of the most profound things said to me by a therapist with many years in sobriety is that if you peel away the layers of an addict you will come to the codependent. Recovery in codependence cannot be addressed by anyone actively engaged in addictive or compulsive behaviors. This is why once we put down our substance or behavior of choice many of us experience difficulties with intimacy.
A high percentage of substance abusers, both men and women, enter recovery with untreated trauma. Our history accompanies us into the recovery process. It’s no wonder talking to our partner about sex and our sexual needs can be a terrifying experience – so much so that we do whatever we can to avoid it. I suspect this is why when I introduced it as a topic last year, not one person came into the main video box to share – though the room was packed.
If we want healthy sex lives, authenticity, and greater intimacy in our relationships we have to learn how to engage in honest dialogue with our partners and express our sexual needs without fear of alienating or harming the object of our affection. I’ve enlisted the help of Dan Griffin, my former co-host of Sex in Recovery to bring his wealth of knowledge and experience to this topic. Dan has spent years lecturing on men and trauma and has written numerous books including: A Man’s Way through the Twelve Steps, A Man’s Way through Relationships: Learning to Love and Be Loved, and Helping Men Recover.
I look forward to your questions, your input, and your shared experiences this week on SEX TALK, a free live video event on www.intherooms.com . The website is free but you must join to participate. You can also attend the event from your iPad of cell by using the InTheRooms app.
Last month I posted this blog on sexting which was to be the topic for July’s SEX TALK. Unfortunately ten minutes into my intro, right as I was disclosing some very uncensored personal stories (the kind that fire up an inner voice saying to “reel it in”), dozens of instant messages popped up on my screen saying that no one could hear me. Collectively we began troubleshooting without success. Our back and forth instant messaging continued after the website’s tech person took over. I was amazed at how many people stuck around through this mayhem. Eventually I got back into the main video box to say good-bye and pantomime “We’ll talk about “sexting” next month” (Try to pantomime that one!). A final message appeared on my screen as I was signing off. “I was really looking forward to this meeting but it’s kind of perfect that we spent the hour texting about sexting.”
Due to technical difficulties in July we’ll be revisiting “Sexting to Fill the Void” this Sunday August 7th at 9pm on SEX TALK.
Readers of a certain age may be asking themselves “What’s Sexting?”. It’s the 21st century version of spin the bottle or strip poker but with higher stakes. By sending sexually provocative text messages or sexually explicit self-images, sexual intrigue moves to the forefront of a conversation with immediacy. In most cases it’s replaced flirting as a seduction technique. The main difference between sexting and strip poker is that you don’t even have to be part of the game to experience it. More than once I’ve gotten dick pics mistakenly sent out as a group text and I’ve seen numerous pornographic images of men and women who obviously never questioned what would become of these photos when they hit “send” on their phone.
This past year numerous articles have been written about teenagers (young women mostly) who’ve committed suicide after nude photos they’d sexted someone were shared on social media. It got me thinking about how often impulsive behavior overrides weighing out big-picture consequences. This impulsiveness is a common characteristic of addiction. The conversations we’ve had on SEX TALK have taught me that it’s much harder for people in recovery to discuss negative consequences connected to their sexual behavior than it is to admit emotional pain from almost all other sources. Not to be glib but sexting seems too easy and seductive for addicts in recovery to resist – it’s impulsive; there’s excitement, daring and some risk; it’s accessible 24/7; it’s void of emotional intimacy; it’s a way for someone looking for sex to weed out non-contenders; it’s a way to get off without having to participate in real sex; and it’s a way to hide behind a mask that feels empowering.
I began wondering how people in recovery dealt with the emotional consequences or negative fallout from sexting – since as a subject it’s stayed off the radar. Obviously where there’s opportunity for pain there’s also often opportunity for pleasure so – to be clear – I’m not judging sexting in a moral context. From a recovery standpoint bringing this conversation into the light serves as relapse prevention since undisclosed pain is usually coupled with shame.
A few weeks ago a friend told me about a guy she met at the gym. After being stuck for months in the unrelenting feelings of grief from a recent break-up, this chance meeting filled her with the hope of possibility. She forwarded me a face photo shortly after their initial meeting. I asked how things were going with the new guy a few weeks later when we met for lunch. She said they’d gotten into the habit of nightly texting because their schedules hadn’t aligned yet for a first date. Almost immediately their texts became playful and sexy – which she was down for because it re-awakened her mojo. When dick pics started turning up on her phone she was surprised but didn’t discourage him. My friend then reached across the table, placed her cell next to my plate and began scrolling through all the photos he’d sent – each photo more explicit than the last until we came to the money shot. It was like a male ejaculation flip book. I was stuck for an appropriate response so I stared at her phone nodding, my mouth full of pasta. She explained that the playfulness of their sexy banter was exciting but somehow she failed to notice that sexting had replaced their “getting to know you” texts. At this point in our conversation tears began welling up in her eyes. She added that when they finally met up in person the space between them was filled with awkward silence and sexual tension. She’d been interested in getting to know this man but because of their sexting this date turned out to be nothing more than a hook up. She was devastated but not surprised when she didn’t hear from him again – devastated not because she’d an emotional investment in the new guy (because she didn’t) but because his texts had been filling a void which now felt even bigger.
As a woman in her 40s, she didn’t consider sexting as anything more than sexy playful banter and assumed if they had a connection in real life emotional intimacy would follow. Naively when she impulsively sexted back she had no idea she was signing off on the emotional intimacy she craved nor was she aware of how dependent she’d become on evenings of texting as a way to avoid experiencing the grief of heartbreak and her fear of change. Fixed by fantasy and distraction, she also failed to recognize the need for self-care when she was in HALT.
This story is just one person’s sexting experience. Please join me this Sunday at 9pm for SEX TALK and let’s get this conversation started by sharing your experiences with sexting – the pros and cons.
SEX TALK is an open forum where we talk about sex in recovery. If sexting isn’t your experience feel free to steer the conversation toward issues that do concern you.
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.
I began 2014 with a commitment to spend the year blogging more about how to enrich an already clean and sober lifestyle – how to have more fun and increase feelings of wellbeing. For 2015 I want to get back to basics and address early recovery – creating coping skills, what to expect, and how to ride out the tough spots without relapsing.
There is a misconception that the majority of people who get clean do it as part of a New Year’s resolution. If that were the case, every January there would be ridiculous amounts of people celebrating anniversaries in 12-Step programs. I’m talking out of the ballpark numbers. The truth is, attendance at most 12-Step meetings doesn’t go up noticeably in January. My guess is that many addicts spend January and February deep in self-loathing for not being able to comprehend why their countless attempts to control or abstain keep failing. Maybe January is a month for New Year Resolutionists to hit bottom. This year my blog is geared to helping people create lifestyle changes to support sustainable recovery, ease stress, and put an end to isolation.
Whenever I begin working with new clients one of my goals is to create new healthy lifestyle habits, create a weekly routine and to guide them through their resistance to all of it. There’s a predictable pattern. They start out willing to do whatever I suggest because they want to stay clean and sober and are motivated by fear of failure. A couple weeks into this routine and they’re complaining that they’re exhausted, that they can’t keep going at this pace without everything in their life falling apart, and that I can’t possibly understand how serious this is. I call this the “whiney phase’. This is when we fine-tune the routine to make sure there’s enough balance so they’re not in a genuine prolonged state of HALT (hungry angry lonely tired). This crankiness (which usually occurs between 14-30 days) passes and the benefits of implementing these new activities begin kicking in to bring on good feelings and a noticeable lessening of stress.
Anyone’s who been to rehab remembers the intense daily schedules – moving from one activity to the next. God knows I never was happy to be doing jumping jacks in a rainy yard early in the morning. Every day the addicts would get together and complain that the seemingly pointless daily routine business was because they needed to justify keeping us for 30 plus days.
Here is why it is important to create a weekly schedule in early recovery:
1. The worst-case scenario is for a newly sober addict to have hours pass with nothing to do except think. The disease is still very strong and loud in the weeks following that last drug or drink. The “feed me feed me feed me” mantra is the basis of restlessness, anxiety, depression, insomnia, mood swings, even physical symptoms of extended withdrawal. It can make us believe a headache is surely evidence of the need for a future lobotomy. And the worst part of all of this inner chatter is that left alone, our humor about ourselves dwindles rapidly. Taking the “edge off” becomes appealing and less frightening.
2. Exercise, yoga, meditation, healthy eating, time with friends, leisure time for activities (sports/movies/live music/dancing/comedy), 12-step meetings (or whatever recovery support groups you attend) added onto your daily routine will promote energy, mental clarity, reduce stress, improve sleep and leave you less time to think about yourself in negative ways. Regardless of what hopeless negative chatter your mind may want to kick up, you will have evidence that each day you are staying on point and are willing to go to ANY LENGTH to stay clean and move toward goals of happiness, inner peace, and freedom from fear of feelings. Your daily life is recovery in action.
How does all of this begin – especially for people who are new to recovery doing this on their own?
Create a hard copy (pen and paper) weekly calendar and a copy into your cell calendar with notifications. Each morning set alarm reminders on your phone for activities, appointments, meetings etc. Find a system that works for you. The main thing is that you plan your week ahead of time so you don’t spontaneously over-commit yourself at the expense of screwing up your day.
Here is an example of a weekly recovery plan.
Make a list of 12-Step (or alternative) meetings you will attend for one week. This way you won’t agree to working overtime or driving the kids without knowing what is at stake and having time to find an alternative meeting you can put into your schedule rather than believing you’ve screwed up and now have to miss the meeting. Remember – sustainable recovery is something you build through effort. By sticking to this early recovery lifestyle to-do list you have daily evidence that recovery IS your priority no matter what negative crap goes on in your head.
In your weekly planner include 30-60 minutes a day outside (walking, exercising, relaxing). Include 3-5 hour slots for fitness (whatever that looks like for you).
Make time to spend with other recovering addicts/alcoholics and a checklist of new people to contact via email, on www.intherooms.com chat, phone calls. Reach out and try to build a support group.
Always plan so that you have food and time to eat. Skipping meals or waiting too long to eat tends to make people cranky, outright angry, or weepy.
If you feel like you have been running non-stop to get everything done from the minute your alarm went off until you are about to turn in – take an extra 20 minutes to unwind with some music, YouTube a calming guided meditation, take a relaxing bath, or create your own end of day chill out space to reflect and unwind.
In the coming weeks I will elaborate on every activity that helps strengthen recovery and explain not only how to do it without it costing any money but also what the short and long-term payoffs are.
Remember – within the first couple weeks of following a daily recovery routine it’s normal to feel exhausted and overwhelmed and want to crawl back in bed and say fuck it. Power through this phase. Remember the agony of creating healthy habits is temporary and nothing compared to the agony of wanting to get clean and being unable to surrender again.
I wonder how many people reading this pre-Christmas blog are thinking about giving up their clean time to “enjoy” a few drinks over the holidays?
I wrote, “enjoy” in quotes because when the disease speaks to us it tends to create advertising strategies that would rival the Mad Men of Madison Avenue. For example, a couple years ago I was passing a park in New York City when the smell of weed hit me and a voice in my head responded with, “That smells RELAXING”. It was such an absurd adjective to describe weed that I recognized it as an impulsive ploy by the disease to try to get me to relapse. In fact, immediately following the word “relaxing” came “All you have to do is walk into that park and take a hit off that joint and you won’t have to write a recovery book and you can walk away from all the pressures that come with being self-employed“. Of course there is more to the story – it was the 4th of July and I hadn’t made plans so I was feeling sorry for myself and a little lonely. I was exhausted and hadn’t had a day off in ages and I did have a lot of writing deadline pressure – in a sense, it was a perfect storm of ongoing stress and HALT for the disease to gain a bit of a voice again (after 23 years clean). This is what is meant when we tell newcomers to respect the power of the disease – it’s always looking for a way to regain control. I loved heroin but if it takes weed to get me back to heroin, then the relapse-strategy of the disease will use weed. If you were a meth addict, a glass of wine will appear harmless by comparison (in the strategy of the disease mind). Pay attention to the way you think about drugs and alcohol this holiday season. The subtle use of language in your head is a trick the disease will try to use to gain traction. It’s part of the disease’s seduction.
It might use the color of wine or the rarely used holiday cocktail glasses you see at a party to get your attention or the jolly bar scene that appears through the window as you pass by on a snowy night. Rarely will the disease let you equate Christmas “cheer” with a syringe or a crack pipe. Instead, it will suggest partaking in the midnight champagne toast on New Years, or spiked eggnog on Christmas. Maybe it will start by tricking you into eating a dessert that you already know is dosed with rum. Recovering addicts and alcoholics can’t afford to get amnesia over the holidays. We must be alert to our actions and tell on the bargaining voice that assures us that we “are not in danger”.
Amnesia is how relapse begins.
I am currently with someone who is in withdrawal from Suboxone. When she started to use pills after several years clean, she’d convinced herself that the emotional pain and discomfort she was experiencing (over romantic disappointment) was greater than the pain of opiate withdrawal. Another way amnesia plays into relapse is that it distorts the hellish process we went through before we were ever able to summon the courage to get through detox. You know – the voice that says “It’s okay to drink throughout the holidays because you can get sober again in the New Year”. We forget all the times we tried to get clean but couldn’t make it 48 hours before giving up.
This holiday blog is meant as a reality check for anyone who is bargaining with himself or herself over whether or not to drink or get high this holiday season.
Yesterday was my friend’s first day off of 2 mgs of Suboxone (which, by the way, she got down to through an outpatient detox of 6 weeks. This involved a weekly taper which was equal to low level withdrawal misery). Last night she continually shifted from the bed to the floor, to the tub, to blankets, to no blankets while she went from sweating to freezing. It brought it back home to me – that horrible sensation of being so uncomfortable in your bones that no position allows for sleep. I could hear her moan, whimper, and weep all night long. There’s no way through it except through it – and by late tonight the worst will be over. Hopefully by Christmas she is through the physical withdrawal because we’ll be able to address the anxiety and depression that always follows detox by going to meetings and using stress reduction tools. A year ago when she relapsed, she really believed her emotional pain was so great that the only thing that could relieve it was a narcotic. Watching her pay the price for this error of judgment last night was heartbreaking. Alone with our mind, our disease will always suggest that life is more painful than active addiction. This is the amnesia I speak of. This is the lie.
Cravings always come about as a result of feelings and lack of self-care. When I talk about holidays being trigger times, I don’t mean that they will come in obvious ways. Instead, they’ll appear as an advertising campaign equating joy and community, intimacy and alcohol OR they will be in response to feelings of insecurity around specific people we have a history with, or in response to the void we feel around the grief of people who are no longer here. Cravings will kick up around loneliness, grief, disappointment, insecurity, hopelessness, and future fears. It will appear as nostalgia for a time when drugs and alcohol worked to bring relief and intensify good times, nostalgia for youth and innocence. The cravings will not be obvious connect-the-dots stuff. It might be a certain smell, or a body memory, or self pity that gets a voice in your head rationalizing how you can control it this time, stop when you want, use one drug and avoid others.
You do not have to be the victim of addict amnesia. There are tools to address every feeling, a fellowship and a community of people in your support network to share your deepest fears with, preventative actions and exit strategies you can put into place before stepping into environments where there are people drinking and using this holiday season. And most of all – minimize your time alone no matter how long you have been sober. Even if you insist that holidays have no power of you, the disease knows where you are vulnerable. It will manufacture a pro-alcohol advertising campaign in your thoughts while creating amnesia so that it’s impossible to get a reality check on what is truly at stake if you relapse.
Have a safe and happy holiday. Reach out. Volunteer. Don’t be alone.
World Suicide Prevention Day is coming up on Sept 10th. If you have been in recovery for a while chances are you’ve known someone who has committed suicide while on a relapse. In fact, it’s not unusual to have been touched by suicide even before coming into recovery. A life spent in both active addiction and recovery carries within it a lot of tragedy and grief. There’s usually a body count.
We know that drugs kill yet I have seen many people protect their own recovery by avoiding friends who have relapsed. They may reach out once or twice but when the friend doesn’t get clean right away, they get cut off. I’m not suggesting that people in recovery need to open their lives up to the level of drama an active addict can bring into it but I do think it’s important to open up a discussion around what we can do for our suffering friends. The loneliness, hopelessness and self-hate may be what bring them back into recovery but it may also be a level of pain (especially after having lost substantial clean time) that makes the idea of suicide an option to them.
I’ve had several friends commit suicide while they were on relapses. One had tried getting clean repeatedly and had burned out most of his friends by the time he killed himself. He’d been a popular well-liked guy and the funeral was attended by at least a hundred recovering addicts. His closest friends were racked with guilt for having cut him off but believed it was the only way they could maintain personal sanity. The question on everyone’s lips was “What could we have done?”
It’s important to have boundaries, especially with people who are in active addiction. No one wants someone showing up at the door unannounced, constantly being asked for money, or having to live in fear of break-ins and theft. But we can’t forget the loneliness and hopelessness of active addiction. Small acts of kindness go a long way – and it can be done without surrendering your safety or sanity. A regular phone call, dropping by with some sandwiches, offering to accompany them to detox or a 12-step meeting can be done with support from other recovering addicts. By showing unconditional love they’ll know they can come to you when they’re ready to get clean. It requires a level of commitment to be consistent with contact – whether daily, once a week, or you divide it up among friends. It’s important that the person on a relapse knows they can call you to talk about anything without being judged. But remember, when it comes to thoughts of suicide, many addicts hold them secret. They may never confide these thoughts to you because their experience has taught them they will be judged for having suicidal feelings. Look online or contact a local suicide prevention center and ask if they have an information card that you can give to someone you are worried about. It’s okay to hand this to your friend and say “I don’t know if you would ever tell me if you feel like killing yourself but keep this card if these thoughts ever come up”. Also tell them you will always take them to the hospital if they ever feel like they are a danger to themselves. Check the laws in your area to see if they have a 72-hour psychiatric watch in place for people suspected of being a danger to themselves or others and get information on it. Some states call this the Baker Act. If your friend refuses to re-enter recovery, suggest seeing a therapist to treat depression. If you can get them to do this, it is one step closer to helping them move toward recovery.
Handling a friend who’s on a relapse requires unconditional love, patience, and compassion with boundaries. A group effort is less emotionally taxing. Do not neglect your own self-care. Share your feelings with others. While ultimately we are powerless over what another person does, we are not powerless to provide them with information and options. Relapse is reversible but suicide is not.
How do YOU get your laugh on?
I’m not talking about a few chuckles. I’m talking about the spontaneous kind of laughter that comes from deep inside – when the release your body experiences is so overwhelming it feels like you might start crying. And during that split second of emotion it’s almost scary to lose control. But we don’t cry. In fact we feel so alive that we keep waiting and hoping it will happen again. It’s such a transformative experience we can’t wait to share it with people. “You’ve got to see____ you will pee yourself.” “I laughed so hard it hurts.” Laughter always makes us feel better.
Let’s face it – being a grown-up is a lot of work and it can get pretty serious keeping it all together, so much responsibility, people depending on you, jobs to be done, errands to be run – we all have so much to do. Even the good stuff gets added onto the never-ending to-do list. Worked out – check. Yoga – check. Manicure – check. Paid bills – check. Returned calls – check. The list never ends. While it’s satisfying to complete tasks, sometimes you just have to bust out of the “life-is-a job” routine and laugh until it hurts.
At 7 years clean the novelty of self-care and even working a program seemed to have fallen into the “to-do list” category. It was a cold dark winter. I was sick of healing myself 24 hours a day. Winter depression was sneaking in and because I was afraid it would kick my butt I went to the video store (yes it was that long ago) and began renting old comedies and my entre attitude began to change. These days I get my laugh on by Youtubing stand-up comedians, going to comedy clubs, and listening to podcast interviews with comedians (who are often in recovery). I want to use this week’s blog to bring some laughter into your life to help release the stress you’ve been carrying around. Spend an hour with a stand-up comedian and enjoy an hour not spent thinking about you. It pays off.
Comedy is subjective. What makes one person laugh their ass off may not get a chuckle out of the next person. So find what works for you and indulge yourself. Really great comedians are the philosophers of our time. Not only will they entertain you, they’ll plant seeds for new ways of seeing the world. You may not agree with them but they will get you thinking and exploring your own ideas. This makes comedy a personal creative experience.
One of my favorite comedians – well I have many – is Bill Hicks. A long time addict and alcoholic, Bill eventually got clean only to discover he was dying of cancer. His last major tour produced his greatest work. I have included a snippet of it at the end of this blog. His message is very spiritual. And his drug stories will have you shout out “Oh my God – he’s nailed it!”
Comedians are like us – a great number of them are active addicts and alcoholics and almost as many are in recovery. Comedians are relatable. Marc Maron is one of the best interviewers on the Internet today. His podcast http://www.wtfpod.com/ is fantastic. Many of his interviews are with people in recovery and he holds back nothing. You’ll be surprised by how emotionally raw these interviews are while still being wildly entertaining. Another great podcast is http://afterpartychat.com/category/podcast/. Anna David’s guests are all in recovery and many are comedians.
Two years ago I was going through a very dark time. It was over 100 degrees in New York City and my building was being re-wired so there was not only no air conditioning but the workers damaged so many pipes that my bathroom ceiling collapsed and my apartment was filled with mold. Add to this six friends died in a three-month period – all of them had been in 12-Step programs at one time or another. My oldest and dearest friend managed to get 6 days clean and then overdosed on methadone. During this time I experienced a level of grief I didn’t know existed. I leaned hard on stand-up comedy – I went to comedy clubs alone, watched comedy specials on cable, and YouTube’d stand-up until dawn. I swear between my recovery support group and comedy I made it through this very sad time. Laughter helped to heal me. Comedy has the power to transport us away from the prison of self-obsession and return us a little lighter and more capable of dealing with whatever is at hand.
Get your laugh on. It matters and it heals.