I love to watch football, go camping and make slow smoky BBQ. These are also three things that I associate pretty strongly with cold beer, and 3 things that I now have to consider triggers, and avoid. The sacrifices of sobriety.
That first month can be a tough one. While using, Friday night's (everynight's) entertainment was as easy as opening a bottle. Now, we actually have to do things.
How to have fun, not feel ridiculous and stay sober in that tough first month.
For men it's the threat of losing a job, and for women it's being married and living with a spouse; surprisingly, men and women seem to have dramatically different motivations for successfully completing an aftercare program.
Although the benefits of yoga deny quantification, and are even elusive to describe, clinical studies and many anecdotal reports indicate that yoga may well have earned a place in addictions recove
Common and normal, drinking dreams nevertheless leave me quite shaken; and I always awake with guilt and fear…and have a few moments of panic over my subconscious relapse.
Most people well into sobriety will know what I'm talking about, and although commonplace and seemingly normal, these drinking dreams still scare the heck out of me; and I wake up after each vivid drinking dream filled with this overpowering guilt and fear, and it takes me good moment before I realize that it was all a dream.
Drinking or drugging dreams are reoccurring experiences for many people in recovery, and they are almost universally scary and unsettling experiences. My dream is usually the same; and it's pretty mundane sounding…just me sitting on the couch with a few quarts of beer watching TV. Doesn’t sound too scary, but I can always taste the slightly bitter cool of the beer as if it were real, and that dream buzz feels pretty close to the real thing too. These dreams haunt me throughout the day, and leave me unsettled and pensive.
Intellectually, I don’t believe that these dreams signify anything particularly disturbing; but emotionally they always get to me; and one thing that I can be sure of is that any day that begins with a dream drunk hangover will find me in a meeting before the sun goes down. I don’t think that these dreams will ever make me take that first sip, but a meeting feels like the right antidote to a subconscious relapse, and sharing my with my knowing friends in AA always puts my mind at ease.
I've been sober for years, and I'm now resigned to the fact that I will live with periodic drunk dreams forever. Any addiction will come back to haunt you, and there's not much you can do about the directions your mind takes as you sleep.
I think that all you can do is use each and every drinking or drugging dream as a subconscious reaffirmation of your need to remain vigilant, and remain active in whatever keeps you sober throughout the day.
When I consider how many shameful things I did while I was abusing alcohol, it's sometimes hard to sleep at night. But I take some solace in the fact that although I am responsible for all that I did, it's as if I wasn't even a fully conscious participant in my own life at that time. I was there, but the booze was definitely leading the way, and I followed meekly behind, never consciously questioning those actions that always left me able to drink as much as I needed to.
I'm not a scientist, but I have to say that my personal experiences seem to correlate with research which indicates that there can be a cognitive perceptual shift during addiction, and this shift allows the addict to do many things that most of us would consider crazy.
Looking back at my period of heavy drinking, I can see now how many of the things that I did were not appropriate, and were often even harmful, but at the time they all seemed like quite logical and normal things to do.
I remember inviting some friends over for my daughter's fourth birthday party and consuming with 2 others 3 cases of beer during and after the party. I feel ashamed when I think about it, but at the time this seemed like a normal thing to do.
I remember driving drunk…often, but I would only drive during about the first 8 or 9 beers, because I didn’t think I was actually intoxicated yet!
I often said I had a sales meeting, and ended up meeting my friend the local bartender instead. I can't believe I never got fired, and I can see now how transparent my excuses must have been.
I stole a bottle of whiskey from my sister's liquor cabinet as I was heading out the door after a visit. I don't even know why I did it, but I didn't think too hard about it either. I'm sure it didn't take them too long to figure out where the whiskey had gone!
I could go on with an endless list of shame, but the point I'm trying to make is that none of these behaviors even seemed unusual or wrong to me while I was drinking. I can’t really explain it, but it's like I sort of turned down that little voice in my head that would otherwise have let me know how stupid, irresponsible and mean I was being. I wish I could explain myself better…but I think that anyone who has experience with a drug or alcohol dependency may understand what I'm talking about.
I don't offer this post to excuse myself for my actions, and neither do I want to absolve addicts from their own responsibilities, but I would like to try to explain a little bit of what happened to me, and what I think happens to a lot of us during a period of addiction.
We are in control, but we also aren’t quite thinking clearly. We're there but we aren’t. We are ultimately responsible for the pain we cause, but while using, we're not even completely aware why everyone seems so angry with us all the time.
It's not an excuse for my past behaviors, but it is a partial explanation.
Although addictions professionals agree that group therapy works best when participants share a common history and background, it can be difficult to find drug treatment where you need it, when you need it, and that you can afford...that also perfectly reflects your needs. Any immediate treatment is far preferable than waiting for elusive perfection, and since all people struggling with abuse and dependency share if nothing else a history of addiction and drug seeking behaviors, our similarities may be greater than they might at first glance appear.
People tend to benefit most from peer group therapies when involved with a group of people with whom they identify and sympathize; thus the closer in age, sexual orientation, gender and experience, the better. Peer support and peer cognitive learning groups are a hallmark of drug treatment, and thus it makes some sense to search out treatment groups displaying as similar a cross section of members as is possible. Ultimately though, although we may differ in many ways, all of us entering into drug treatment share at least one major thing in common.
In some situations shared and common experiences are of utmost importance, and an adolescent user is unlikely to benefit much from a group of older and experienced people, with very distinct issues and with a very different set of experiences and world views. Likewise, very elderly seniors often feel more comfortable within a group of like peers; and some gays, lesbians and bisexuals do not feel comfortable discussing their sexuality and how it factors into substance abuse in a heterogeneous group. But for most people, the realities of available drug treatment facilities mean that the likelihood of encountering a group of people sharing greatly similar life experiences is slim.
Thankfully, although we may differ greatly in our upbringings, our socio economic status' and our sexual orientations, we all share something far greater than these, and that is our shared history of addiction and substance abuse; and that I think makes us all far more similar than we might otherwise appear. Additionally, while some people may greatly prefer a group of more similar people to share testimonies and support, the efficacy of the therapy as offered may not vary much, and preferences may have more to do with a comfort level at entry. While clinical studies show that the elderly benefit about equally from age specific therapy or general adult treatment, they prefer greatly to recover with a group of like peers.
I went through two rehabs, and very surprisingly to me, I identified and bonded most closely to one person in each group with whom I shared almost nothing superficially in common, and with whom I would have been very unlikely to ever meet within my social circle. What we shared in our addictive histories proved to be far greater than how our lives had superficially differed up to that point, and these two remain friends and confidants of mine to this day.
So when choosing a rehab facility or drug treatment support group, try to find the one that seems to offer as close a group of peers as you can find; but if all you have access to is a completely disparate and very different group of addicts in recovery…give it a try, and you might find that what you share is greater than what seemingly separates.
Don’t choose a facility because its patients look, act and think like you do…choose
one that fits your needs, and that offers quality and comprehensive care.
You too may find a retired bayou shrimper and a lesbian lawyer (my two now great rehab born friendships) of your own, that give you support and inspiration, and help you stay sober day by day.
Ultimately, although we all search for perfect drug treatment, perfection can be hard to find; and any drug treatment is better than no drug treatment.
The 12th step of the 12 steps of AA, "Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these steps, we tried to carry this message to alcoholics and to practice these principles in all our affairs" is narrowly defined as helping other alcoholics to see the light, and helping them using the knowledge you have gained to better their own lives, and their own addictions.
But even if you do not subscribe to the AA methodology of recovery, the essential meaning behind the principle assists anyone in a battle with sobriety. Essentially, once you have achieved a goal of sobriety, you have a duty to help others achieve their goals of a better life.
All of us who have spent time as alcoholics or drug addicts have acted in ways that created harm to the people and the communities around us, and all of us have some responsibility to take steps to erase some of the harms we have done by giving back.
You need not necessarily give only through helping other addicts to overcome addictions, although that is a very worthy task, but in any way that benefits the community as a whole. You also need to act altruistically, without thought of personal gain, and only motivated through assistance to others.
Of course although you need to act out of a concern and motivation for others, as you give, you also get, and those people who take the time after sobriety to ensure that they give generously back to the community are far more likely to remain sober.
Volunteer your time 3 ways it helps keep you sober
1) Volunteering to help those in need always gives meaning to our lives, and by extension to our sobriety. Knowing that others rely on our wisdom and assistance can give incentive against temptations, and strengthen us in our personal battles with an addiction.
Time away from temptation
2) When you're helping, you're not drinking. One of the greatest threats to initial sobriety is free time. Most of us entering into sobriety after a long history of addiction have forgotten how to have fun, and how to fill the hours without getting drunk or getting high.
And although most people come to love the clarity and bodily health of sobriety, there are always moments of boredom that threaten our will and our commitment, and enough boredom is a significant predictor of relapse.
Keep busy by getting involved in a charity or organization meaningful to you, and feel better as you fill your time with worthwhile activities…activities that keep you too busy to think too much about getting back to use and abuse.
3) Benefit from a sober friendship support network. In addition to not knowing how to fill free time without using, a lot of us come out of rehab knowing we can no longer spend time with abusing friends, but not really having any other replacement friends for companionship. Loneliness does influence relapse, and a great way to get out and meet sober living people is through the act of volunteering your time.
The people volunteering in the community are a source of sober and supportive friendships, and these people are ready and wanting to meet and work with you for the common good. Never let loneliness trigger despair, your next sober friend is as close as the local good cause.
Do good, stay sober…what more can you ask for?
A great many lingering myths about addiction pervade our perceptions of the disease, and these myths are universally unhelpful to those struggling with disease, and in some case propagate the negative stigma too often attached to those that do successfully beat their disease.
Addicts do not have to hit rock bottom before initiating a treatment, and waiting until that terrible time comes almost invariably makes the ultimate task of recovery that much harder. Alcoholics and addicts also do not need to initiate treatment of their own accord, and those mandated to treatment through the courts, through the workplace or out of familial pressure do just as well as those who seek help on their own.
But perhaps most damaging is the myth of addiction as an illness related to willpower.
It's easy to understand the roots of the perception, and for those people not addicted to any form of drugs or alcohol, the use of these substances is a matter of conscious control, and although these substances may sometimes tempt, we can control our impulses out of an exercise of willpower.
But once use and abuse progresses to addiction, there are physical changes in the brain and these changes remove willpower or any form of conscious awareness from the cravings and impulses that lead to use. Addiction occurs within the mesolimbic dopaminergic systems of the brain, and the cravings that emerge from this area of the brain are not at all under conscious control.
Addiction has a mind of its own
Addiction truly has a mind of its own, and the actions and impulses on a preconscious level prompt much of the seemingly decisive behaviors of the addict or alcoholic, and because these impulses exist preconsciously, it can be very difficult for recovering alcoholics or addicts to exert any form of control over their drug seeking behaviors.
It is for this reason why abuse is so much easier to treat than addiction and why addiction entrenches so firmly even in the face of persistent therapeutic attempts to better it.
For the best chance of bettering addiction, recovering addicts need pharmacological intervention…drugs that operate on this preconscious level and reduce the impulses and cravings to use. They also need to learn behavioral strategies that influence the frequency of the occurrence of these pre conscious impulses, and learn to recognize more consciously when these impulses emerge, and learn strategies to control and manage these impulses.
Will, not willpower
Labeling an addict or alcoholic as weak or lacking in willpower is misleading and inaccurate, and does not accurately reflect the challenges inherent in a battle with recovery. There is an element of determination and will that comes into play throughout recovery, but this is not be confused with willpower over use.
Will to recover means having the determination and commitment to participate fully in the therapies, education and difficult life changes that have proven effective at managing these pre conscious impulses, and maintaining a vigilant awareness over the mental processes learned to influence these cravings to abuse.
It takes a lot of will to recover but it doesn’t take willpower; willpower is irrelevant. We should be celebrating those people who have the courage and strength to change their lives for the better, instead of chastising them for their weakness and lack of willpower.
Sober Living Environments
An often overlooked form of residential care is the sober living residence. Most often used as a transitional phase after detox or after rehab, some people find benefit and sobriety through a direct entry into such a facility. Sober living environments are almost universally very low cost, and a majority do not ask for any money upon admission, although within a reasonable length of time you are expected to find employment and contribute a small monthly rental payment.
These facilities work therapeutically through peer support, very structured rules of living and of conduct, enforced sobriety and a temptation free area of residence and through compulsory and intensive participation in AA or another form of 12 steps programming.
These homes generally only ask that you abide by the rules, attend meetings and don’t use drugs or drink; and you can basically stay as long as you'd like. There are many thousands of sober living homes throughout the nation, and unlike low cost rehabs, these often do not maintain a waiting list.
Lord help me be the kind of person my dog thinks I am
Overconfidence has been the end of too many happy recoveries. Don't let it kill yours - remember what those drinking and drugging days were really like.
There is truth to the AA mantra "One day at a time" but sometimes one day, one whole day without drinking or using, feels far too long.
One minute at a time? Sounds silly, but it can work.
Most of get help, not because we are feeling particlarily philosophiocal about our place in the universe, but because we are at the end of our ropes. We are down, and all we know for sure is that the road we're walking isn't leading us past much happiness anymore.
And then - sometimes, we get lucky. We stumble into that program or that meeting, and if we listen hard, we are taught some of the most important truths of all. The truths that will keep us sober, and more importantly, teach us happiness.