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?
December is always a time-traveling month for me. I not only look back over the year (to make sense of where the time went) but December’s also my anniversary month so I get to look back over the 28 years I’ve spent in recovery. You can’t have perspective without time passing. I couldn’t tell you what was on the wish list I wrote during my first year clean. Probably a lot of things I wanted or wanted to achieve. Nowadays when I travel backward over the years what I see are not the outside changes but the inside ones. It’s funny how that happens. The concept of a relationship with myself and personal growth wasn’t even on my radar back then. Why would it have been – I’d felt lost from myself my entire life. I didn’t know this then of course. All I knew was that drugs made me feel right.
SEX TALK is another place I time travel to support each month’s topic. I always remember speaking at a meeting in Hollywood California when I had around 9 months clean. In my filter-less way I started questioning if I’d been presenting a public persona built around my sex life to hide my true self in. It was a weird and embarrassing share to say the least and I was horrified when I finally stopped talking. Ugh – vulnerability! Afterward many people took me aside to thank me and share about their own confusion around their relationship to sex and secrets they feared would get them loaded. I learned that day – unintentionally – the strength in vulnerability and how we heal one another when we expose our own truths.
This brings me to our final topic for 2016: Has Recovery Changed How You Talk About Sex.
When I was thirteen my mom came into my room to have what she called “a talk about the birds and the bees”. Yes – I am quoting her. You can only imagine how uncomfortable she was and how awkward it felt for me to have her in my personal space this way. I put a quick end to her misery by telling her I already knew everything. I said my friends told me and they told us at school. She looked relieved but I don’t have any decades’ old memory footage from that moment on. The memory triggers sadness because by cutting her off like that I cheated us both out of a conversation that may have set the stage for deeper bonding and honest communication into adulthood. It wasn’t until I had several years in recovery that we began learning how to communicate with one another.
Despite what I told mom that day, I didn’t know anything about sex other than that a few of my girlfriends in the drug fueled crowd I hung with were sexually active. Two of them would give birth before their 8th grade graduation. I had boyfriends but no one ever tried to get further than first base. I’m thankful now but at the time I remember thinking “Why doesn’t anyone want me the way they want my girlfriends? What’s wrong with me?” When I finally did have sex at 14 I couldn’t wait for it to be over so I could get home to phone my friends. I hated that virginity had become a thing that separated us and I just wanted to get it over with. My younger brother lost his virginity at 17 to his long-term girlfriend. He told me they planned the evening and he and wanted it to be very special for both of them. It never occurred to me people did this. It seemed so sweet and thoughtful and intimate. Very unlike me seeing virginity as a cross to bear.
Friends in recovery are starting to talk to their kids about sex. I’ve witnessed two things – either they go into the same denial like their parents had and can’t accept the possibility that their kid is sexually active or else they’re determined not to make the same mistakes their parents made. Allowing for privacy while creating a safe judgment-free environment for their kids to talk to them about sex seems to be the winning formula. But even this is not without hitches because kids often hear what they want to hear. I’ll go into more detail on Sunday at Sex Talk.
In recovery we learn from one another how to talk about sex – with our parents, our friends, our kids, and our partners. I look forward to seeing and hearing you this Sunday at 9pm. The flyer will appear on the home page of In-the-Rooms all day Sunday with a link to the meeting.
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.
People in recovery like to overthink things. It’s probably a holdover from active addiction. I realize not everyone in recovery is a member of a 12-step fellowship but there are definitely perks for those in them. The collective wisdom passed down from one recovering addict to another is of immeasurable value. All over the world, recovering addicts share similar eye-opening revelations they’ve experienced and these shared insights turn into the often-repeated sayings we hear in meetings.
“We can’t think our way into new feelings but we can act our way into new thinking.” (Or some variation of this). We hear this solution – that action changes feelings – yet we continue to overthink, ruminate, and obsess in a vain attempt to control how we feel. Overthinking is never a solution. Usually all it does is increase stress and keep us trapped in our discomfort and confusion. We long for change yet we fear it – unless, of course, we are in control of it. There’s no comfort in familiar misery but in early recovery the concept of “letting go” is confusing and difficult to grasp. We usually let go when the pain is great enough. Until then, we hang onto our old belief in self-reliance that’s hardwired by fear. Without solutions we stay trapped in our heads with emotional discomfort.
For anyone new to recovery the greatest suffering happens when we are left alone with our mind for stretches of time. Once the substance or compulsive behavior is gone, our brain experiences a dopamine deficit and this creates anxiety until it finds homeostasis. Our mind’s racing and it feels like we’re going crazy. Even the air stings our raw nerve endings. What’s a newcomer to do?
You can reduce the intensity of withdrawal and early recovery anxiety by taking actions but this requires a conscious daily commitment on your part. Trust me, the addict-mind will try to hold you hostage in prolonged isolation. It’s easy to lose hours sitting at the kitchen table thinking your way into a level of anxiety that’s paralyzing. This makes it hard to get the day started or find motivation to create new habits of self-care.
Here are actions to take:
Call people and make plans so you aren’t spending too much time alone. (Maybe this means going to a meeting or getting together with other people in recovery).
Get outside – take a long walk, look at whatever nature is around you. Fresh air lowers stress.
Do something physical – go to the gym, take an exercise class, yoga, a bike ride, jogging, jump rope, swim or play a sport. Get your body moving for at least 30-60 minutes. (Make an effort – baby steps if you haven’t been active in years).
Eat healthy food and don’t skip meals. Newly clean and sober people have a tendency to go for sugar, bread, and caffeine – mood-changing foods. What they don’t realize is that the mood this diet may lead to is depression and lethargy. Be mindful to get in enough healthy food to balance this out.
If you do all of the above on a regular basis, your body will respond positively. You will sleep better and have more energy. You will also experience less mood-swings.
Cravings always come from feelings. Stress is where they begin. You have the power to control this – the choice is yours. Action not thinking is the way out.
Whenever you start to feel anxious – if you talk to someone who triggers you, if you have to go somewhere or deal with a situation that’s stressful – have quick stress-deactivator tools on hand. Here is what to do: before entering a situation that’s triggering take ten slow deep breaths. Inhale through your nostrils until you feel completely full of air and then blow this air slowly out of your open mouth until you feel like an empty balloon. This will relax you. Anytime you feel any level of stress, breathe like this. Whenever you feel your stomach or chest tighten, excuse yourself from the person or situation and get some fresh air or go to the restroom for some deep breathing. This only takes a few minutes. YOU HAVE THE POWER TO STOP STRESS FROM BUILDING UP BY ADDRESSING IT AS IT HAPPENS.
Allow yourself several minutes throughout the day to deactivate stress. This is damage control. This way day to day stress won’t pile up until thoughts of using pop into your head as a solution. This will leave you more room for joy.
There’s a saying that’s so familiar yet one most addicts and alcoholics in recovery continually forget. “Pain is optional”.
How many times do we have to hit the same wall before we start doing things differently? The answer varies from one recovering addict to the next. In early recovery, we blindly make choices that lead us toward pain. Often it ‘s because we haven’t yet acquired a deeper personal insight into how the disease of addiction manifests. Pain still masquerades as a familiar friend, a constant gnawing, a sense that all is not well or that the other shoe is about to drop. It’s fighting for territory against the threat that recovery might actually take hold. That’s why in early recovery we stick super close to our support group. We hang onto, “This too shall pass” (which it does) and we start to taste freedom. We gain tools for living and for coping with our emotions. This is recovery. Life gets better and we start to feel good.
Then something interesting seems to happen to everyone once we put together some clean time: we make choices that lead us back to emotional pain. Sometimes we can look back and pinpoint our choice and see that is happened when difficult feelings surfaced around fearful situations or insecurities. Other times, we can’t explain what the hell we were thinking. There are even times when we knew there’d be a price for acting out and we simply didn’t care and headed toward our desires with complete abandon. We may have even claimed that we were willing to pay the price for it.
The first time I consciously chose to act out was around the six or seven year clean mark. I wasn’t completely satisfied with where my life was at. Though I could easily say it was better than it had ever been, it wasn’t aligning to where I wanted it to be. A lifestyle of healthy activities and self-care had become the fabric of my routine and no longer felt like individual achievements that excited me. I was bored. That was the crime – boredom. I remember telling my therapist that I just wanted to feel euphoria. It was springtime and I was restless. For me, that meant I wanted to make love, romance, or a sexual adventure happen. I even said to her that I knew there’d be a price and I was willing to pay it. Several weeks later I was back in her office crying that I felt empty. I may have even said “godless”. It was a familiar existential yearning and despair that reminded me of how I felt coming off a coke run. I didn’t like it. Her response stuck with me. She said that when I was telling her I was willing to pay the price, she knew that I had absolutely no recollection of what the price felt like. When I was feeling it though, it was all too familiar. A time travel of sorts to an emotional place I’d worked hard to get away from.
The disease of addiction is like that. Call it denial or call it amnesia, the disease is always going to resurface and lead us toward pain if we allow it. In recovery we have a choice most of the time. It’s found in the pause and patience we practice before acting.
Yesterday I was talking to a friend who’s been in recovery for over thirty years. For 16 of them she worked vigilantly to find peace, unaware that she was also being undermined by an undiagnosed bi-polar disorder. Later she experienced the long slow death of her mother and several years after that her life was upended by one of her kids becoming addicted to meth. She navigated these minefields by staying deeply engaged in her recovery process. Yesterday she was telling me how fantastic she felt and how happy she was with her life. For a steady period of time now it’s been blossoming. The fruits of her labors include a successful business, drug-free children, a reinvigorated sex life with her husband, and an upcoming dream vacation. Next she admitted to sending several emails to someone who’d caused her years of emotional turmoil and her disappointment that he hadn’t responded and how she was now thinking of inviting another former relationship back into her life. Of course as she casually mentioned both of these people, she wasn’t remembering the turmoil or emotional abuse that comes with them. Until she spoke her plans out loud to someone, she had been unable to see what these tentative actions could bring. We wondered why sometimes it’s so hard to allow ourselves to be happy. After philosophizing for several minutes we remembered the disease. Of yes, it may be decades later, but it’s still there trying to orchestrate pain back into our lives IF we allow it.
It can be argued that this experience isn’t exclusive to addicts and alcoholics but for us the consequences are greater. If we feel bad long enough our brains are wired to remind us that there is a solution – if only temporary – to our pain, The long game is for that solution to be found in drugs and alcohol. This is why we learn to pause, to share our secrets, and to recognize that we always have a choice. The road does get narrower. We learn that when we act out in certain ways, we volunteer for the inevitable soul-emptiness we experience when we surrender our serenity. The trick is to be able to remember this truth.
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.
Join me Sunday April 5th at 9pm ET on www.intherooms.com for another live video open discussion about Sex in Recovery. April’s topic is Sex (and love) in the Age of Technology.
Last month close to two hundred members came together to share their experiences with infidelity – how it impacted their lives and affected their recovery. When invited to suggest a topic for this month, many members felt there was a need to continue our conversation on cheating. Because I’ve known many people who have either lost (or live in fear of losing) their relationship over discovered texts and emails, this week our focus will be on sex/love in the age of technology. This opens our discussion up to the role romantic fantasy may play in our lives, how the price for an emotional affair with a stranger we’ve never met in person may be as severe as a casual sexual encounter, and how the internet may bring out behaviors in us that we would never risk in real life. Has Internet dating been helpful or harmful? Have apps like Tinder created unmanageability in your life? Is one too many and a thousand never enough.
We’ve all watched politicians’ careers destroyed by sexting and tweeting but how many recovering addicts and alcoholics relapse over this same behavior? If you are unhappy in your relationship, do you troll the Internet in search of someone new? How much of your behavior is engaging in harmless fantasy and how much of it is compulsive self-destructive behavior that feels no different than going on a coke run? Is your secretive behavior creating a spiritual void in your life? This week’s Sex talk hopes to take on some of these questions and also hear about any positive sexual or romantic experiences found in the cyber world.
How does this online discussion work?
Sex Talk is for everyone in recovery. Whether you attend 12-step meetings or not you are welcome to participate. If you are uncomfortable being onscreen you can turn your camera. If your anonymity is of utmost importance in this area, you can attend as a guest. Often people will shoot me an instant message with a question which I can relay onscreen and whoever has direct experience is free to respond. The only rule for sex talk is that the participants do not eroticize their share. This is a safe place and not a XXX experience. We also do not use our personal morality to criticize other members. This is where we can share our experience strength and hope so that we can learn from one another.
The group provides the momentum and steers the content. We keep the focus on the feelings experienced around sex and intimacy and share our own experiences with one another in this area. It is call and response. Members can come into the main box with a question and others can share their direct experience relating to it. Sex is a natural healthy part of our lives and sober sex is often an entirely new experience with new feelings for many of us yet it is often left out of the conversation. Relapse happens over feelings so what happens to the recovering addict/alcoholic who is carrying a heavy load of feelings around either their sexual behavior, shame, self-criticism, feelings of inadequacy, denial, self-deception? Can things like unsafe sex, deception, infidelity or secretive behaviors be the pain precursor to avoiding meetings and friends or to kick up cravings? We need a safe place to let these feelings out and to know that we are not alone.
SEX TALK happens the first Sunday of every month on www.intherooms.com.
Does anyone remember the Scorsese film “After Hours”? At the start of the film Griffin Dunne watches his last $20 bill float out a cab window and it is a catalyst for a night of chaos in downtown 1980s New York City. Every scene builds with chaos and insanity and a colorful cast of menacing weirdos. To the average audience it probably seemed like a high-stress falling down a rabbit hole Alice in Wonderland but to people who’ve lived with addiction it’s more like watching “chaos-lite”.
In case you ever forget what life was really like in active addiction, listen to the stories being recounted by people who are newly sober. The events taking place and the cast of characters usually falls somewhere between the epic Dante’s Inferno and Monty Python – and this is recounting twenty four hours or less. They’re recounting only one story from one of many hundred days spent living on the edge. The stories that come out of these experiences are riveting. They easily rival the big screen. They have it all – drama, action, comedy. In the telling (and the spirit-saving grace of irony) hilarity helps to make the pain bearable. For anyone who has lived it through this lens, it is like living life at a distance. To survive, we learn to detach.
I call this “my life as a movie” storytelling. Almost all emotional context is missing from these stories. Although they are personal, they sound like re-telling a movie recently viewed. It is common among addicts. The unreality life takes on under the influence. The more unbelievable things get, the better the story.
I have to admit that I was pretty entertained by the craziness of my life when I was getting high. Drugs exposed me to people and situations that kept me amused and curious. For a while, the unfolding story brought me as much pleasure as the high. Life felt epic. Managing crisis after crisis was a challenge and I was good at living by my wits.
The progression, like addiction, is that the pain usurps the pleasure and the entertainment value is lost. Instead of hilarious characters, you discover yourself surrounded by people you don’t care about and who definitely don’t care about you. It’s more evidence of being trapped by the lonely prison of addiction.
When you get clean and start attracting attention for your storytelling it can kick up bizarre feelings. On one hand, what you lived through and laugh at was really painful but you will start to miss it. Life clean may feel uncreative and uninspiring. The transition can be painful for people who found twisted pleasure and ridiculousness in pain. Getting clean may feel like going from Technicolor to black and white.
What is happening is that your current story is becoming more complex. Now there is an emotional life that accompanies you throughout each day. It may feel difficult at first and your head will romanticize the past as being more “care-free”. Find some humor in this – maybe you’re confusing “care-free” with “pain-free” which was not the case. Our distorted perceptions can amuse us while we land back into reality if we let them. Adjusting to new circumstances takes time. Find people in recovery to seek out new experiences.
I think it’s important for people who relish chaos and living by their wits to discover activities or hobbies they can become passionate about. You can have big experiences and be clean and sober. Trust me, there will be plenty to laugh at.
Maybe what you need is to challenge yourself physically or intellectually. Facing yourself and your fears clean is a challenge that should not be under-estimated. You can’t go from living a completely external existence to living a completely internal one. Stay engaged because you can’t afford to lose interest in your own life. Get involved in your fellowship, do service in your community, create friendships, find out what floats your boat and dive into the stream of things. The worst thing you can do if you are an adventure seeker is to dial your life down to a low frequency. Community is where you will find the laughter.
Not everyone found personal thrills from living on the edge during active addiction. They may not relate to this blog however the recovery advice stands alone. Passion, fulfillment and a sense of purpose will enrich everyone’s personal recovery.
Eventually traveling the road of recovery you’ll discover that the thrill of drama and chaos becomes less attractive. You’ll make choices that enhance inner peace without losing your personal edge. There will be no need to push the envelop all the time. This process happens naturally so don’t bother trying to rush it. Stay in the recovery game and change happens.
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.