There are going to be times in recovery where you’ll feel like you’re flat lining. And it might happen when there is nothing particularly devastating or even mildly upsetting going on in your life. The signs might go something like this:
You picked up a bunch of produce at the supermarket but just found yourself throwing it out because it was starting to look like something for the compost. Peanut butter and jelly sandwiches have just felt easier to make when you’ve been hungry, or a slab of cheese straight out of the package in front of the fridge even though you bought it to put in omelets. The eggs have been sitting there for almost two weeks and you’ve eaten two. Just not in the mood to cook anything. You suspect something is off especially since you’ve made such an effort to become a healthier eater this year. Skipping breakfast, consuming more bread, maybe eating a box of cookies – what’s up with that? You looked at the box of arugula all week knowing it would go bad if you didn’t take five minutes to make a salad but instead you grabbed a slice of pizza on the way home and killed your appetite. Now the arugula is in the trash. Besides, you haven’t even been really feeling hungry. You just throw something into your mouth because you know you have to eat.
The list you keep next to the computer of stuff you need to take care of hasn’t changed much the past two weeks. A few more things have been added on but only one item was scratched off. Nothing is really pressing so there’s been no harm recopying the errands onto next week’s list. You know one or two have to get dealt with this week though.
There’s a pile of bills that needs to be opened. You’re surprised that there’s a turn-off notice and that something else is due in two days. Have they really been sitting there that long? Crazy, especially since you have the money to pay them.
Thank God you’ve still managed to get to the gym even if you do skip part of your workout. You just don’t have the energy for it. Even the post-workout vitality is short-lived. By the time you get home, you feel like taking a nap. Every day lately you feel like napping. Then you sleep like shit, either wake up after only a few hours or re-set the alarm and sleep as long as you can get away with.
You know you need to get outside and walk for a while to get some fresh air – but its too cold, too rainy, too grey. Maybe you’ll do it later instead.
It takes everything to get to a meeting. You thought you wanted to see people but now that you’re there, you don’t feel like talking to anyone. Maybe someone has noticed how quiet you are and asked how you’re doing. “Okay,” you say, “Just tired”. You wonder to yourself why you’re always tired lately. In fact, you haven’t felt like masturbating or having sex either. You’ve done it but afterward wondered why you’d bothered.
Most likely, if you are reading this and recognizing yourself, you’re experiencing Seasonal Affective Disorder (the SADs). It’s not just a winter thing – they’ve found depression like this can set in when weather goes from cold to hot as well. Of course, the best prevention is to be aware, vigilant, and stay the course of a balanced healthy routine from October thru April. Personally, I have an anti-SADS routine I try to maintain every winter but I can still identify with everything I listed. Lethargy sneaks up on you. Two days of crap weather and the next thing I’ll notice I haven’t been outside for more than a few hours in five days. The combo of indoor heating and cold drafts zap my vitality. But there is a way out of this flat-lining sensation.
Begin taking the opposite action to what you feel like doing. At first it will feel exhausting and you’ll want to cut yourself a break and slack off – don’t. Begin today. Take a shower and wash your hair, shave your legs/face/whatever you shave. Make an effort. Tweeze the eyebrows you’ve been neglecting, put on powder, cologne, perfume whatever you’d normally do if you had a date. Make that level of effort with self-grooming before you leave the house. Eat breakfast and do the dishes right away. Make your bed and tidy up all your piles that are starting to make you look like a hoarder. Look at your list of things to do and figure out what you can do today – don’t try to do it all. This is about recreating balance and participating in your life. Open mail and organize your bills. Hit the supermarket and put enough fresh fruit and vegetables in your fridge to last four days and purchase them with a plan in mind so you know what you will use them for. When you return from the market, wash, dry, and cut them up. Now place them in containers so you can access them easily for cooking, salads, and a fruit cup.
Go outside for an hour a day. If that means enlisting the company of a friend, get on the phone. While you’re at it, make a couple dates for coffee or a movie, for a game of pool, or whatever you enjoy doing with a few friends. Now you have something fun to look forward to later this week.
Exercise 3-4 times this week – swim, workout, take yoga, a dance class, play hockey – whatever physical activity will get your blood pumping. If you don’t have money for a gym, jog or power walk.
If you have to nap, set an alarm for 15 minutes or a half hour. Better yet, use that time to focus on your breathing or meditate. If you haven’t taken up meditation yet, go on YouTube and search guided meditations and find one that interests you and give it a try.
Before you go to a meeting, ask a friend to meet you there who wants to hang out for a while afterward. Stay connected to people.
It will be hard to do all of the above but if you use this as a guide-map and follow it for a few days, you’ll start to pick up your old natural rhythm. Your energy will start to return and so will your appetite for nutritious food. Drink lots of water. Relax at the end of the day with a movie, a book, or a bath. If you treat each day like it matters it will. I guarantee that within a couple weeks, you’ll feel a lot better. It won’t happen by magic though – you have to force yourself to get started. Soon the days will be longer, the smell of spring will be in the air, your libido will kick in and you will feel the joy again.
I’ve had food on my mind lately so it’s going to be the subject of this week’s blog. If you’ve just discovered this page and were hoping to read about recovery, don’t be discouraged. Food is an important component of the recovery process. How, what, and when we eat says a lot about where we’re at with self-care.
For example, when I notice I‘ve been leaning more toward sweets, carbs, white flour or extra caffeine and eating less protein, fresh fruits and vegetables, it’s usually an indication that something’s affecting me emotionally. Maybe I’m feeling depressed, lonely, frustrated, or angry. When I catch my diet moving in this direction, I can take stock of my life and my feelings and address them. I’m able to do this is because typically my daily eating habits are healthy and balanced.
Eating habits aren’t always dictated by emotional states. When the seasons change, my diet often changes with it. Winter it’s more soups, yams, winter vegetables and carbs and summer is lighter Mediterranean-style fare. One thing is certain – a healthy balanced diet helps me to deal with emotional turmoil better than if I ate poorly.
This blog Health Food and Heroin (part one and two) will take you back to the roots of my becoming a vegetarian in the early 80’s and my interest in nouveau cuisine when it hit the culinary scene during my 20s. Keep in mind that even with this information my last year getting high I existed mainly on vanilla cake mix with milk, chocolate chip cookie dough, and tortillas with sugar. Seriously, when I gave up on my life I gave up every bit of self-care I’d ever known. My bottom was complete abandonment of self.
When I got clean in the late 80s, one of the first things I did was join a gym and start eating better – but change didn’t happen overnight. Late night espressos or ordering four or five Thai ice coffees while fellowshipping probably had a lot to do with the fact that I didn’t get a solid night’s sleep for my first six months clean (though I assumed it was some hold-over effect of drug addiction). The day my 1969 Dodge Dart was stolen I ate all the icing off a large sheet cake until I was so sugared-up I passed out. This seemed a better alternative to getting loaded (which was what I wanted to do). For fun, my recovering friends and I would come up with bizarre food combinations to create speedball effects such as high sugar/caffeine followed by heavy dairy and carbs. That would be our wild Friday night entertainment. Basically during my first year clean, we were taking as much pleasure as we could acting out with whatever was at hand without the use of drugs.
In spite of the insanity we encouraged in one another, we were still going to the gym, eating healthy food, and spending days off at the beach. Once I began experiencing the positive effects of the healthy side of my lifestyle, I lost my tolerance for sugar hangovers and junk food sluggishness. A healthy lifestyle in recovery became a natural preference for one reason – I like feeling good. When my body felt good my emotions were also in balance.
I started this blog wanting to write tips for eating well in hot weather. If you are new to recovery you may walk away wondering how to create a food speedball. Hopefully you also are thinking “If I eat better maybe I won’t feel like shit”. It’s true – you won’t.
Here are some tips for your hot weather diet and grocery list:
Greek yogurt or cottage cheese with fresh or frozen fruit and nuts make a great breakfast. Until you eat protein you will stay hungry. This is why people who start the day with a couple donuts keep going back to the box until they are horrified to see they have eaten a half-dozen donuts before noon. Start the morning with a breakfast high in protein to maximize your energy and mental clarity.
Other protein you can keep around the house to throw into other meals on hot summer days – canned tuna/salmon/sardines, boiled eggs. Cook a chicken or turkey. The meat will stretch across numerous meals. If you are on a budget, split the cost of a turkey with a friend.
Meal-sized salads are perfect during a heat wave. It’s great to keep pre-cut vegetables in containers in the fridge. Stock up on cans of beans, nuts, feta or goat cheese, sun-dried tomatoes, a variety of dressings and anything else you want to add to create a meal salad.
Fresh fruit is delicious but buying frozen fruit is often cheaper and on hot days is a much healthier alternative to popsicles or ice cream.
Always throw a few apples, peaches, pears or your favorite fruit into a bag to bring with you when you leave the house. Midway through morning and afternoon or during the long stretch between meals on busy days, a piece of fruit will help you maintain energy. The same goes for unsalted nuts. I am not anti-salt but choose wisely. Without adding extra salt, most people get the amount they need in the course of a day through regular eating.
Stay hydrated. Drink water. If you think 8 glasses of cola is the same as 8 glasses of water, think again. Water is water – don’t include the water used to make coffee or tea. Pure water helps flush toxins throughout your body. Cola doesn’t. If water seems too bland, add a slice or lemon or lime. Once you start drinking water, you will begin to thirst for water.
This blog is not a diet plan by any means. When I work with clients, I insist on lots of water, fresh fruit and vegetables with every meal, and clean protein (meaning protein that isn’t hidden under mounds of melted cheese or deep fried). Changing a diet will happen naturally over time if you continue to lean toward healthy choices. Go online to educate yourself on the basics of nutrition. It’s possible to eat healthy and still eat cheaply.What about pizza, fast food, or dessert? Go for it but remember -it’s going to be the healthy fresh food giving you energy, better skin, mental clarity, alleviating depression, and aiding in sleep so don’t neglect one in favor of the other.
What you eat affects how you feel. Recovery gives us choices. Choose wisely.
When I was a kid I remember thinking the year 2000 sounded futuristic so I did the math to see if I would still be alive. (I’d be 40 – which is like saying 80 to an 8 year old). Little did I know that in my teens I’d adopt the belief system of “live fast, die young, leave a pretty corpse” basically accepting I’d be dead before 30 – which was a real possibility given the way I was living. Glad I got clean at 28 and not only lived to see 2000 but am still here in 2012.
I love the phrase “Welcoming in the New Year”. It sounds so cheerful and optimistic. I’ve never been big on New Years’ resolutions but I know people make them. In fact, if you decided to make January 1st your first day clean and sober, I applaud you. I bet when you made that decision you were feeling pretty optimistic. It’s the 6th as I write this so by now you probably have had 6 days of inner dialogue that sounds something like this:
“Maybe I should have waited and done this______ (1,when my vacation time comes up, 2 when I don’t have so many things to do, 3. When I get a job/apartment/car, 4. Some other time).”
“I feel like shit. I didn’t feel this bad when I was getting high/drunk.”
“I haven’t slept all week. I have too much to do. Maybe these other people can go without sleep – but I need it. I should call my doctor and get something to help me sleep.”
“If another person tells me to join a gym or meditate or go to yoga I am going to start screaming. These people don’t have any idea how I am feeling. Are they crazy? Half of them don’t look like they’ve been to a gym in their life. I hate everyone.”
“What I need is a drink. I bet if I have one drink I will be able to sleep tonight.”
“It feels like I have no skin and my nerve endings are exposed. Everything makes me feel so intense. I cried during a commercial yesterday. I’m going crazy.”
“If I don’t take something soon I’m going to end up hitting someone – then I’ll wind up in jail. Seriously – why am I even doing this? I feel so angry that I’m probably a danger to society.”
“I feel so lonely – like “I’m so lonely I’m gonna die” lonely. How the hell am I ever going to meet anyone if I can’t go to bars? This makes no sense. I can go to a bar and order a coke. Yeah, right – and then what? Sit with a coke and feel crazy. I won’t be able to talk to anyone. Great – I will be clean and sober and in the end I will die alone.’
“What the hell is wrong with me? I have been masturbating like a teenager. I’m pathetic. I feel crazy. I bet if I got laid, it would straighten my head out. At least maybe it would help me sleep.”
“I don’t even remember why I decided to get clean Jan 1st. I never make resolutions. This is ridiculous. I have been useless and crazy for 6 days and it’s affecting my life. I don’t have time for this.”
“I just talked to ____ and told them I’m clean and they told me I wasn’t an addict. Maybe they’re right. I wasn’t that bad.”
Does any of this sound familiar to you? The crazy part is that this dialogue is probably occurring even when you’re having an okay time.
HERE’S THE TRICK: don’t use or drink NO MATTER WHAT and this noise and discomfort will lessen and eventually stop – guaranteed. If you stay completely abstinent, these feelings will pass. If you cheat – if you have that one beer or an ambien or anything to make your feelings more manageable – you will remain in the obsession and it will get worse not better.
Getting clean and sticking it out those first few weeks isn’t easy. The worst thing you can do is spend too much time alone with your mind. Television, Netflix, and gaming will not keep you clean – whatever bullshit your head is telling you about how these things are calming you down more than meetings do.
What you need is a plan for each day. Include this in your 24 hours:
1. Drink lots of water (move those toxins out of your system).
2. Eat healthy food. Don’t skip meals. Healthy food means incorporate fresh fruit and vegetables into your daily routine. Make that a start anyway. I’m not saying stop with the pizza and fried chicken but don’t have it every day and balance it out with salads and apples and food that is not processed.
3. Get fresh air for an hour. WALK! Even if you feel too weak, walk as far as you can, sit, and walk back. Aim every day for a little further.
4. Exercise. Not every day but try to do something at least 3-4 times a week. If you belong to a gym, great. If you can afford yoga, perfect. If you have access to a pool, swimming is the best starting point for someone who never exercises. If you have no financial resources, you can go to the library and take out a home workout video, find something online or on YouTube, you can jog, bike ride, power walk, you can do sit-ups. There is no reason you can’t move your body. It will reduce a lot of the anxiety you are experiencing. That alone makes it worthwhile.
5. Take some quiet time somewhere peaceful – not on your sofa or bed. Look at the clouds, whatever nature you can find. I mean REALLY look at the details – the way a child can be fascinated by a spider. (Most likely, this is one suggestion you are most likely to want to skip but it really is an important one. It will feed you in a way that will bring a sense of wellbeing and – really – at this point in the game you need whatever you can get).
6. Write a list of everything you are grateful for – even if it turns out to be the same as the list you wrote yesterday.
7. Call, email, or text a few people you met at meetings – whether you know them or not. If you have nothing to say, simply ask them to recommend a meeting that day. Who knows – maybe they will meet you there and go for a bite to eat afterward. Its funny how after you talk to someone on the phone once, they pay more attention to you when they see you. You go from feeling invisible to feeling visible. (BTW this is the hardest thing for people to do. When I work with clients they will wrap their legs around their head in a yoga class they don’t want to go to before they will take any action to try to make new friends. I always tell them that without friends who are also in recovery, they really are not going to ANY LENGTHS to stay clean and sober. It works by going to any lengths – which means doing things people suggest that worked for them even when you don’t want to).
8. GO TO AT LEAST ONE MEETING. (If you aren’t working and it’s possible to go to more, do it). If you are like me, it was never too hot, never too cold, never rainy too hard, I was never too busy or too tired to get high so there should be no excuse to not be able to get to a meeting. Even if you hear nothing and sit looking at the floor counting the minutes until it’s over, the act of going to a meeting sends a signal that you are serious about staying clean and sober to that part of you wanting to give up. It will help weaken it. And like I said before – by weakening it, the obsession to drink and use, the compulsive thinking about it will go away.
Look at this list. I didn’t even give you 10 things to do each day. That means there is time for a movie, family, an outing, or a social activity with friends.
End each day with a hot bath (or shower if you don’t have a tub). In fact, whenever you feel your body uncomfortably tense and your legs are cramping, a hot bath will make you feel better.
And if you can’t sleep and feel crazy, go online. Intherooms.com as online meetings, groups, and members you can instant message with who can help you.
Check back. I will be posting here every week now.
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.