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Monthly Archives: January 2012

Get SMART: What’s Working for Me

No one knows the stats on how many people just quietly quit drinking on their own, but some readings suggest that that it a very common occurrence.  This shocked me a little.  I guess I thought the only reason to quit drinking was because you’d hit the bottom, and the only way to quit was through AA.  I didn’t consider so many people quit on their own, or know that other methods and programs abound.

Like a lot of folks, I shied away from AA because I just don’t see myself as an alcoholic.  Drinking too much, yes.  Wanted to quit, yes.  Additive behaviour, yes.  Alcoholic, no.

I know AA to be a wonderful program, and I have been helped enormously by many people involved in AA who have shared their wisdom and insights through comments on this blog, emails, and other connections.  In fact, my own father went to AA as a young man, before he was married.  He was only 24 when he quit drinking, and although he quit attending meetings after he was married, he has always been proud of his sobriety.  I’ve always known my dad to be an abstainer, and he’s open with the fact that he was in AA as a young man.  I’ve always considered it to be a positive force, and I have had the best example of the results lived out right in front of me.

I felt I still had a choice, and I wanted to change my life while I held the power to do so.  I could see it was only a matter of time before my drinking patterns swallowed me whole and recovery would be out of my control.

I’ve discovered a recovery support program called “SMART Recovery” (SMART being an acronym for Self-Management and Recovery Training).  It is a program for recovery from various types of addiction through learning tools and techniques to support four main points:

  • Building and Maintaining Motivation
  • Coping with Urges
  • Managing Thoughts, Feelings, and Behaviours
  • Living a Balanced Life

I am benefitting from the program through its literature but have so far not opted to take part in any meetings.  There are online meetings as well as local ones, and podcasts of meetings are available as well (I’ve downloaded several).  There are free newsletters on the website: www.smartrecovery.org and a bookstore to order literature and support materials.

What most appeals to me about this program is the notion that the recovery process is not eternal.  Hold on, hold on – some of you are getting upset just reading that and are mentally preparing a scathing comment.  AA teaches that alcoholism is for life, that you are always a recovering alcoholic, never a recovered one.

I don’t dispute that point.  I don’t know anything about being a recovered/ing alcoholic.  I only know what it’s like to be me, and as I said earlier, I don’t believe myself to be an alcoholic.  In an addicted pattern, yes.  Hating my life and wanting to change this stupid, horrible, self-destructive pattern I’d engraved, yes.

To say, “The change is complete – I am now a non-drinker and I will continue to be” seems entirely achievable to me.  In fact, I feel I am almost there.  9 months and 2 weeks into recovery, and it is starting to feel normal.  I feel I have shaken the addiction itself, but there is still other work to be done.

There is so much more to recovery than just the simple (albeit difficult) act of keeping booze from your lips!  You really have to do a lot of soul searching and come clean with yourself about what you do and why you do it.

This past year, I have worked hard to understand why I am such a pleaser.  Why do I work so hard for approval from everyone including the grocery clerk, cousins I never see, and total strangers on the street?  Isn’t it interesting that I found my way into the performing arts, where approval is granted at the end of each song with a round of applause and maybe even a standing ovation at the end of the show?  And more ironic that I also have myself on a hamster wheel running a business where sales, profits, and awards motivate my every move?

Who am I if I’m not on centre stage?  Who am I if I’m not a top competitor in business?  What would it be like to just lay low for a while? To just tow the line and only do things because I either need to or want to, not because I feel obligated to in order to make others like me?

So back to the 4 points of SMART, I built my motivation to quit and now, having quit, I have to work on staying motivated.  (Going back and reading my earlier blogs sure helps!  I never want to be in that place again.)

I have learned to cope with urges and have adapted some great strategies.  I have found other ways to comfort myself and have good support in place.

Managing thoughts, feelings and behaviours is a work in progress and thank goodness!  I feel I am a better person because I am spared the humiliation of pulling the wine bladder out of the box and squeezing out every precious drop.  That alone is reason enough to have quit.  Beyond the obvious benefits of abstinence and sobriety, there is the fact that I am becoming a calmer, gentler version of myself.  I am finally being kind to myself.  I am getting better but have a long way to go.

Finally, living a balanced life.  This is the goal, really.  To balance out your comforts and pleasures short term and long term.  To be surrounded with good people, engage in positive activities. Be your best you.

I don’t want to get into a debate about which program is right or better.  Different programs work for different people.  The more options the better, as far as I am concerned!  The goal is to get everyone back to sane town, so let’s illuminate as many paths as possible.

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Hitting My Stride

In an effort to keep this blog meaningful I have tried to only post when I have some new insight to offer.  Some of you have noticed that my posts are coming slower and slower – please take this as a positive sign.  Sobriety is become a normal part of my life.  I am adapting and honestly, there is little to report.

The new year has just begun, and it’s safe to assume some folks will stumble upon this blog as they try to navigate a January resolution to quit drinking.  If I am right about this, someone reading this is mucking through the first terrifying, shaky days of sobriety.  Is this you? You are not alone!  You are not a freak! You are not strange or even all that unique.  You got yourself into something very normal and there is a normal, tried and true process to get you out.  My friend, hang on.  Stay the course.  Keep the carbs and the water and the tissues handy and you will make it through.

You are doing something very, very good for yourself and you will not regret it.  Your life will be better, your body will be healthier, and your spirit will be stronger.  You will get yourself back.

I’ve spent the holidays at our ski cabin in the mountains, where happy hour starts as soon as the lifts shut down.  We gather to eat and drink, visit and drink, play board games and drink, listen to music and drink.  Drink in the hot tub then have a nightcap before bed.  This year, though, I am drinking pop or tea or sometimes even nothing at all.

I began my journey last year just as ski season ended and I truly wondered how on earth I would survive the season ahead.  By the time the hill opened again, I had 9 months of sobriety under my belt and everything has gone smoothly.  Everyone around me now knows I don’t drink, though few know all the details.  They all respect my decision, but no one seemed to think I had a big problem to begin with.  That’s okay, though.  They don’t need to know everything.  I know, and that’s enough.

I keep equating the experience to running.  I am not a serious runner by any means.  After I turned 40 I realized it was going to take more effort to stay in decent shape.  Running is quick exercise and doesn’t require me to drive anywhere special or face other people.  I prefer my elliptical because it’s gentler on the old bones, truth be told, but if the sun is shining I’ll head outside.  So let’s establish that I am a runner who would rather not run.

For me, the very hardest part of the run is getting off the couch in the first place.  “Just put down the latte and get outside,” I’ll tell myself.  The mental bargaining begins – talking myself in and out of going out for the run, all the while knowing I’ll be glad once I do it but still resisting the effort.  That’s a lot like it was talking myself in and out of quitting drinking.  Half of the battle was just working up to the realization that I needed to change things.

I was very confused and conflicted for a long time over whether I needed to quit drinking because I had mistakenly thought I had to be an alcoholic or hit “rock bottom” in order to quit.  I was definitely experiencing addictive behaviour towards alcohol but there was no “rock bottom” in sight and I didn’t truly fit the alcoholic profile.  I could see, however, I was drinking more and more and it seemed just a matter of time before things got worse. Everything I read seemed geared towards people who’d hit the bottom.  Did I need to wait until I was there in order to quit?  That made no sense but then came 4 o’clock and I’d shrug my shoulders and pour a drink.

Eventually I decided not to wait any longer.  If I wanted to change my life I could start where I was at, just as someone who wants to weigh 150 lbs can start working on that any time – they don’t have to wait until they are 300 lbs. to start the diet.  Once you know where you want to be, you can get up and start heading there.  Waiting and falling further behind makes no sense.

When I do finally get out there to run, the first bit is the worst.  I constantly check my watch and gulp for air.  My body seems determined to convince me it’s a mistake to exercise.  I notice every pain and gasp, and time seems to pass so slowly.  The first few months of recovery were just like that – I felt every discomfort and the hours crept by.  I wondered what I the hell I had gotten myself into.  I could not imagine ever enjoying myself again. Marathon runners and sober people all seemed a mysterious lot – were they faking their supposed joy in a miserable existence?  Or had they actually found pleasure in the struggle?

A ways into the run, it gets easier.  You hit your stride and get lost in thought.  Your legs take over and it almost feels like you’re along for the ride.  There’s noting hard about it.

That’s where I feel I am at right now – I’m off the couch, I’m through the worst of it.  I’m cruising along and now all I have to do is make sure I keep going.

A few months ago, living day after day without the comforts of wine seemed impossible.  I never dreamed I could be happy at all, that it would be effortless.  It is, though.  It’s just who I am, what I do.  I am right handed, I wear blue jeans, I drive a Subaru, part my hair off-centre, take cream in my coffee, have crooked toes, speak English (with a Canadian accent, apparently) and I don’t drink alcohol anymore.  That’s me, and I am great with who I am.

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