Category Archives: Early Recovery
“I’m not sure I really need to quit, I’m not that bad. I can’t stop drinking but I’m not that bad.”
I hear it all the time. I used to say the same about myself.
Today I got a new splint for my hand. This is the third splint in as many weeks, ordered by the specialist after multiple referrals and appointments. The ligaments are torn and I’ll have to wear this custom, hard-shell cast-like splint to bed, in the shower, 24/7 for at least another month. Longer than the cast on my broken leg!
Most people would agree that Skiiers Thumb is *not as bad* as a broken leg, yet the treatment for both is immobilization and protection.
I think we can say the same for addiction. You might not bad as bad as someone else, but never mind that.
Just do what you need to do to get better.
This is for anyone who is struggling today….
These are the stairs in my house:
We can do hard things.
Whatever you’re up against, be patient. Be in the moment and do what needs to get done. Every day is a little different. Nothing stays the same, so step by step just keep doing the next right thing until you’ve moved past it.
You’ve got this.
(Written from my bed…at the top of the stairs.)
When the idea to quit drinking started sprouting in my pickled brain, I kept thinking What else IS there? What did I even DO every night before I became a daily drinker? What will I ever look forward to if I can’t drink? How will I relax, celebrate, or pass the time?
I understood that one purpose of recovery meetings is to fill the time previously spent drinking with other activity so, borrowing that concept, when I took the plunge into sobriety I knew I had to shake up my routine. Considering the extent of obsession with alcohol in addiction, it is not surprising that new behaviours took on an addictive-like pattern as well. That’s okay though, because they were easing me out of old ways and replacing them with better alternatives.
Here are some of the most helpful ones that seem to have stuck throughout this journey and continue to have positive effects:
- Blogging – On that precious first day, I decided I’d chronicle my experience in a blog (even though I had never read a blog before and wasn’t entirely sure how it worked). Setting it up was time consuming (good distraction), choosing the layout was creative and fun (hurray for creative fun!), and then finally hitting “post” was a leap of faith. Getting that first comment notification might as well have been fireworks, because my joy was that big. I told the truth and someone responded “me, too!” I started searching other sober bloggers – how exciting that lots of people out there are telling their truth! – and our comments became exchanges of encouragement, knowledge, and hope. Here we are more than years years later and this process continues to be a great tool for recovery. Consider giving it a whirl!
- Sugar – There are two benefits of using sugar as a tool in early recovery. One is that sugar can negate alcohol cravings by triggering the same pleasure/reward circuitry of the brain, so having a few sweets can help get you through the witching hour. (I kept a bucket of “Dibs” in the freezer, and popped one in my mouth whenever the cravings felt overwhelming.) The other thing sugar can help with is to shift your taste buds away from thoughts of alcohol. Since most alcoholic beverages pair better with savouries, it is more likely that eating cheese or nuts will make you long for a companion beverage than if you eat something sugary (even fruit – I sucked on orange slices constantly for the first few weeks). I now try to limit sugar, but in early recovery it was an enormous help. It is still helpful in some situations, for example if we go out to dinner and I feel surrounded by temptation to drink, I will allow myself cappuccino and dessert at the end of the meal as both a reward and an exercise in delayed gratification.
- Walking and Podcasts – When I think of the first year of recovery, my strongest memory is of walking while listening to recovery podcasts. I walked before work. I walked after work. I walked after dinner. And I listened constantly to the voices of other people in recovery who were just like me, or not at all like me but still somehow telling my story. It soothes my soul and opened my heart and mind to new ways of thinking. It cleared my head and then filled it back up with better thoughts and new ideas. It made me challenge the things I considered “normal” and gave me pause. When I get this cast off my leg, going for a walk in the sunshine is the first order of business!
- Coffee and Tea – One thing I missed about drinking was all of the ritual – the choosing, opening, pouring, holding, yadayadayada. So I channelled some of that energy into coffee and tea. For me, it was evenings at home where I did my problematic drinking, so after dinner I would choose a lovely mug and a fragrant herbal tea (preferable one that promised to promote sleep) and suck back three or four mugs of the stuff through gritted teeth. Eventually I came to like it and now I can’t imagine an evening without my Sleepy Time tea. As a final “nightcap” I would set up the coffeemaker for morning, synchronising the timer with my morning alarm so that I would awake to the smell of a freshly brewed pot – the reward for making it to one more day alcohol free.
- Online Recovery Groups – (see my Resources page) – My online groups were my lifeline for a long time and continue to play an important role in my recovery. It gave me a place to share small victories with people who understood, ask questions, vent, help others (one of the best things you can do to stay sober is help someone else do it, too!), and post pictures of the my kooky habits like matching my travel mug to my outfit.
- Cleaning – With too much time on my (wineglass-free) hands in the evenings, I busied myself with housework. I had a cleaning company come to our house weekly until then, but with all that energy to burn I found that I no longer needed to have extra help with my chores. It felt good to look after things myself and putting my home in order was therapeutic. I listened to podcasts while I buzzed around the house, feeling productive and positive. (Sadly, this broken foot means I will be hiring a cleaner again for a few months. I am sure I will love the luxury of it once I have it back in my life again.)
- Beads – Some women from my online support group were getting together for meetup and I decided to bring a big bucket of beads so we could all make bracelets while we visited through the weekend. It was a hit and we all took home treasures that will forever remind us of a special gathering. I was left with the remaining supplies and an obsession with using them up. I couldn’t stop – it was so fun! I had forgotten the simple pleasure of making something to give away. If this is too girlie for you, stop by the craft store to see if something sparks your interest – paints, metals, or those intricate colouring books that cause you to accidentally meditate.
- Sudoku – Speaking of accidental meditation, that’s what seems to happen when I do Sudoku puzzles. I started doing these at bedtime (with my tea) to shush the voices in my head and force me to focus on something meaningless. It quiets my mind and shifts me into sleepiness quicker than any alcohol ever could. I have advanced to a pretty fierce puzzler (if there can be such a thing), so much so that my husband bought me a thick book of strategies as a Christmas gift and I didn’t hit him with it.
- Essential Oil – Er ma gerd! Oils are crazily addictive in a good way. I think there is a part of me that will always look for that “fix” to change how I feel, and oils are full of promises. I diffuse orange and grapefruit in my office while I work and clarey sage by my bed (while I drink tea and do puzzles before konking out), make custom rollerball blends for everything from skin irritations to immune boosters to headaches. Just fussing with them relaxes me and look at the fun rainbow of little bottles. Who could resist?
- Yoga – For a long time I rather prided myself on my disdain for yoga because it reflected my busy-ness, which reflected my importance, which validated my worth. Nothing sounded more agonising to me than slowing down and being alone with my thoughts. I worked hard to avoid that very situation and when I couldn’t avoid it I drank it away. I stumbled into yoga by attending a retreat for women in recovery and was surprised by how soothing and enjoyable it was to be led through every breath and movement by someone else’s voice. It was the opposite of agony – it was deeply calming and safe. It was also surprising challenging and I do so like a challenge. Now I go to yoga several times a week (and will return as soon as my broken foot is healed!) and I can’t imagine my life without this regular treat. I used to run to help burn my energy and keep me in shape, but yoga has improved my body in ways that running never could (more arm definition, a stronger core and more flexibility). The studio I go to has people of all ages, sizes, and abilities – there is no push to perfection – just progress. Sound familiar?
Have you tried any of these things and were they effective for you? What helpful habits helped you break up with booze? Can you feel your tendencies for addictive behaviour spark with these things, and do you find that to be a good thing? I look forward to your insights!
If you vowed to give up drinking as your New Year’s resolution, you are not alone. It is a great decision, wherever you find yourself in relation to alcohol. There is no magic level of “bad enough” required to choose sobriety, it is more a matter of being “ready” for a better way of life.
I felt conflicted when I gave up alcohol. I was scared by the strain of daily cravings, yet my drinking did not seem to interfere with my work or family responsibilities. I assumed (wrongly) that giving up alcohol was something people only did as a result of some dire consequence; if I could hide an addiction maybe it wasn’t so bad. Still, I was drinking more despite resolving regularly to drink less; the pattern was swiftly gaining momentum. I didn’t want to lose my license, wet the bed or pull my skirt over my head at a family wedding. The idea to quit while I was ahead was an epiphany.
Looking back now, I can’t believe I carried such a burden. Booze was a total nag, always demanding my attention and distracting me from everything. It took constant calculation to watch the clock, balance my intake, pace things just right, have enough on hand, and make excuses for the daily disappointment in myself.
If you are contemplating a change, I say this: Decide right now that you want things to be different, and then go after the life you want. Nothing bad will come of living without booze – you will be happier, healthier and free. Part of your brain – the addicted part – will freak out a bit and try to convince you to drink. It will invent all kinds of reasons why you should: you weren’t not that bad, you are more fun when you’re drunk, you are missing out, you just needed a break to reset, your friends will be disappointed, that wedding is coming up…….Don’t be fooled. Stick with it.
Thousands and thousands of people are searching the web for answers to their drinking fears right now. You might feel like the only one in the whole world, but you are not. And tens of millions have walked this path before you – there is lots of help along the way.
A question for readers: how many of you vowed to quit on New Years’ past and how did that work out? What suggestions do you have for others in the same position today?
If you’re new, please post your questions or comments below to receive encouragement from myself and other readers. Those of you who have been here a while, please help out by taking a moment to respond with a kind words for the many people who find themselves here today looking for insights.
Happy New Year!
For me, this meant stopping my “perfectionist hustle” – the insatiable appetite for approval, the endless busy-ness of trying (dying) to *earn* my place on this earth through achievements and accolades. It’s meant tinkering under my own hood and challenging some of my long-held beliefs that were not so much truths but misinterpreted lessons from childhood.
What have you changed about yourself and your life to make numbing unnecessary?
Please share, and then stop back to see what others have written as well.
Thank you, Lotta, for all you to do encourage and inspire happiness in life after alcohol!
Raise your hand if you’ve taken an online drinking assessment.
Raise your other hand if you took the same assessment more than once, trying different variations of answers in order to get a better result. (Jazz hands if you switched to a different country’s website to see if they had looser guidelines.)
Nod your head if you then took those results and tried to work them backwards, in order to figure out how much you should cut back in order to drop into a lower risk category.
Rub your belly and pat your head if you then tried to moderate to those levels, failed, took the test again, and got an even higher score.
Yah, me too. You are not alone.
The one phrase that really stuck in my mind was, “No more than 10 drinks per week, no more than 2 drinks most days, and no more than 3 drinks on any single occasion.” (Canada’s Low Risk Drinking Guidelines) The gears in my head began to whir as I read those numbers, trying to comprehend what living within those guidelines might entail. My mental computations resulted in one-word: IMPOSSIBLE.
Impossible is exactly what moderating proved to be for me – I was well past the point of drinking within the guidelines. Living alcohol-free has not always been easy but it is certainly simpler than that hellish cycle of calculations, bargains, failure and regret.
What’s worse, the guidelines are based on a 5 oz serving of wine, something I considered to be a half-glass. I expect my average was an 8 oz pour, meaning what I called 3 drinks was closer to 5.
When I take that assessment now with complete honesty, my end habits were in the “Severe Risk” category – and no one even knew I had a problem!
I am grateful for these guidelines and assessments because they were an important wake-up call for me. There is a lot of rhetoric and nonsense out there that implies no one can tell if someone else needs to quit drinking. I feel that’s a misinterpretation of that fact that the will to change must come from within. But the numbers don’t lie and high-risk drinking is self-evident based on patterns and numbers alone.
So if you’re struggling with alcohol, pay attention to those assessments and guidelines. Share them. Talk about them.
Remember that many of us seemed to be functioning just fine but still fell into the “High Risk” and “Severe Risk” zones. Forget the stereotype of what we all think addiction looks like and trust the evidence.
Yesterday I spoke to a reader who has been struggling to hang onto her sobriety. She is able to go alcohol-free for weeks at a time but then drinks for reasons she doesn’t understand. Each time it happens she can feel herself make the decision to drink again, but doesn’t know why she does it.
“I am a strong person,” she said. “I have always been strong and can handle anything. Why can’t I get this?”
Here is what I have learned about being a strong person: it’s easy to fool ourselves. We mistakenly think we are being strong when we don’t get upset, don’t let things bother us, and then press on despite discomfort. “Suck it up” we tell ourselves, and then somehow we find a way to keep going.That looks like strength on the outside, but in truth it is denial. True strength is dealing with these things, not stuffing them down and refusing to acknowledge how we really feel.
When we deny reality for the sake of appearing strong, we are destroying ourselves from within. We live with some niggling discomfort we can’t name (refusing to address the real cause), and so look for relief in some acceptable form. This is how it started for me – a glass of wine before bed worked so well at first. It relaxed me, comforted, and brought on sleep. I kicked ass in the world all day, then came home and kicked off my heels and enjoyed a lovely glass of wine – a perfectly reasonable strategy. A glass of wine a day is even said to be healthy so no need for concern.
But over the years….
One glass a night became two or three or more and the wine glasses got larger and the bottles became boxes. I couldn’t quit, or even cut back. Each morning I vowed to quit, but by mid day I’d found a reason why it was important to still drink that day: if something good happened I needed to celebrate, if something bad happened I needed comforting, and if nothing at all happened I drank out of boredom.
I felt the same bewilderment as my friend: I am so strong. Why can’t I stop drinking?
Two reasons: because the illusion of strength I’d cultivated depended on a release valve, and because the addictive nature of alcohol caused it to become the one and only release I wanted. I was caught in a vicious cycle that was camouflaged (and perpetuated) by the outward appearance of achievement and strength.
It is easy to think that life is perfect except for the black mark of the addictive element, and if we can just get rid of the wine (or drugs or roulette or shopping or Chigaco-style popcorn – whatever is being stuffed into the void) then everything will be finally, fully perfect. That’s it, that’s all.
So we quit drinking, or try to quit drinking, but then things go sideways because we no longer have any release valve – the wine goggles destroyed the ability to recognize other pleasures. “What was I thinking? Things aren’t better without alcohol! They’re WORSE! I might as well drink because this sobriety nonsense is screwing up everything.”
First, it helps to recognize that our old ways of doing things were probably not as effective as we thought, or else they wouldn’t have led us to seek ongoing relief. The idea of what strength really is must be revisited and revised. Strength is grounded in honesty, in saying “no” to the things that aren’t serving us well and dealing with painful issues instead of sweeping them under a rug. This is the work of recovery (changing for the better), which takes us past mere sobriety (abstinence from the addictive substance or behaviour). It is possible to get through life without constant discomfort.
The crucial role of self-care then, is to not only nurture ourselves through these changes but most importantly to teach ourselves how to enjoy all of the pleasures that our addiction overshadowed. A walk in the sunshine, a massage or pedicure, a cup of coffee. It is important to plan activities or pleasant actions throughout the day and especially during the “witching hour”, so when cravings for alcohol come we can recognize them as a longing for comfort and offer an alternative. The most difficult part is that in early recovery, we don’t necessarily feel like doing much and little else is appealing. Do it anyway. Try lots of different things and little by little those discoveries will come. The herbal tea I once sneered at has become an indispensable part of my evening routine. The yoga I assumed was stupid is now my favourite way to unwind. Connecting with friends is about conversation, tears or laughter, and not just an excuse to drink. I can even sit still and do nothing, which I avoided before because that’s when all the hurts I had buried in the name of strength would surface and pester.
Be open to approaching things differently and you’ll learn to avoid unnecessary discomfort. Practice self-care and you’ll find new ways to console yourself when needed (and to celebrate the good things, too).
Undo, redo. Unlearn, retrain. Understand, rethink.
Un Un Un. Re Re Re.
This is what recovery is all about.
What are your favourite means of comfort and self-care? How has that changed throughout the course of your recovery?