Congratulations – if you are reading this it means you made it through the winter without killing yourself. Believe me I’m not trying to be glib. While seasonal depression hits addicts and non-addicts alike, taking lifestyle and recovery actions to ward it off during winter months can be a matter of life and death for us. Here’s a spooky fact – I wrote the opening sentence this morning then left my computer. By the time I returned this evening I’d been told of two suicides, both women with substantial clean time. While I am not certain of their situations and it’s possible other mental health issues or clinical depression may have played a part, Seasonal Affective Disorder is no joke.
For most people living in winter weather zones, this year was a doozy. If you follow this blog you’ve seen how almost every week I am writing about actions to take to arm yourself against winter depression. Some of you may have followed my suggestions and others may have felt okay at the time and didn’t see any point in it. The fact is, adapting seasonal lifestyle changes pay off later. They are preventative actions no different than when people go to meetings regularly so they have a built in habit of reaching out for help when cravings to use hit them. Here is the SAD’s risk for people in recovery – when we slip off into the emotional darkness, winter depression can inspire fantasies of suicide but thats not all – after a while our head will come up with some crazy ideas that sound sane to us such as, “Getting high is not as bad as killing yourself.” Our disease will use depression as a way to isolate us from our support group, from 12 step meetings, and from joyful activities until the darkness feeds off itself. Our addict-mind will utilize the strength our disease gains from our isolation to suggest that getting high is almost a kind of harm reduction when weighed against the threat of suicidal thoughts. Remember – the disease is subtle and patient. You must always have strategies to weaken its grip on you. This is why ongoing recovery requires vigilance. Lifestyle changes and taking affirmative actions (even when you don’t want to) are as vital to long term recovery as connecting to whatever sober support system you attend.
In 1995 I experienced my heaviest case of winter blues. Throughout the long winter I didn’t feel depressed at all, which was pretty amazing considering I probably saw daylight for less than ninety minutes per day. However, as soon as the weather cracked, the birds started chirping, and the temperatures started hitting 50, it felt like I was trapped inside a bubble, like a force was preventing me from connecting to other people or feel the joy of spring everyone else was experiencing. By the fifth week of telling myself that “this too shall pass” I wondered if maybe I was becoming a danger to myself in a real sense. Should I write down suicide hotline numbers or admit myself to Bellevue? I also blamed myself for hitting this emotional low at 7 years clean and I felt a lot of shame over not being able to pull myself out of what I mistakenly thought was self-pity. Then one day I woke up and it was gone. Joy, optimism and energy returned. I believed there was a wealth of information out there to prevent this from happening again and I have adapted it to my winter health and wellness recovery routine. This doesn’t mean there aren’t some days I feel like crying or don’t want to go outside but I’ve experienced such a great payoff for the small price walking for an hour in the cold every day that I push myself out the door no matter how much I might not want to go.
If you slacked off on self-care all winter chances are you’re feeling pretty lousy. Free-floating depression, lack of motivation, a desire to hide out from people, and a lot of beating yourself up for not trying to take better care of yourself … Am I close? It’s time to put the hammer down and stop hating on yourself. That was then and this is NOW. This is a new moment.
Close your eyes and take a few slow deep breathes. Let your breath, your pulse, your heartbeat pull you into this moment – be here now. Whenever you catch your internal dialogue starting to engage in negative self-talk inhale deeply and blow all that crappy carbon monoxide and soul sickness out of your mouth forcefully. Don’t worry – this isn’t a “let’s ignore the reality of all our unresolved issues and pretend that we are happy” exercise. It is an exercise in taking the opposite action to what you feel inclined to do. Addicts tend to invest so much into their emotional suffering that if they put it on hold for ten minutes to do something positive they feel almost like they have betrayed their dark side. hahaha. Trust me – I am speaking from personal experience. Taking positive actions does not mean that your suffering was not real. It simply means that you can occupy all spaces at all times and all are equally authentic. So CHOOSE JOY. Dress appropriately for the weather and take a good forty-five minute walk. Stay mindful and pay close attention. Look for signs of spring. Are there buds on the trees, new flower stalks sprouting from the ground, does the bark have richer color? What about the birds? Can you hear them? Can you smell spring in the air?
Today in NYC it was still pretty chilly but I got on my bike and rode until tears and snot ran down my face from pollen allergies. Ha – fuck it – I’m happy to take any sign of spring even one invisible to the eye. Today my sign was pollen and I was filled with gratitude and there was excitement in my heart.
You can give yourself an emotional overhaul. Start by making a decision to let go of yesterday’s mood and breathe your way into some optimism. Get fresh air. Buy some really colorful fruit and vegetables. When you are in the store think COLORS and pick food that is yellow, red, orange, purple, light green, dark green and blue. Throw it all together in a salad bowl – combine fruit and vegetables. Colorful, tasty and alive – like you want to feel. Now eat it while you watch a comedy you know makes you laugh super hard.
In no time we’ll be complaining about the heat so make it your mission to stay mindful and pay close attention to every detail of spring as it unfolds. A lot of restless energy and emotions will be thawing out – including your libido – so prioritize connecting to your recovery support people and share whatever craziness is making you feel unhinged. There is comfort in discovering that all the addicts in recovery you talk to will be be relating to your feelings. You aren’t alone.
In the next blog (Part 2) I will talk about the seasonal roller coaster of emotions specific to this time of year and how to find acceptance and do damage control. Remember, as long as we have war games strategies against the disease of addiction, we will not lose the battle.
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.
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.