Where are Your 20 Minutes of Perfect?

A couple of weeks ago while running a recovery support group at The Foundation Clinic, the topic moved onto how sometimes doing the right things doesn’t always get us the immediate results that we are looking for. That we we do what’s difficult and “right” we don’t experience the instant gratification that those of us with substance abuse disorders are so partial to.

Brené Brown says that,”Integrity is choosing courage over comfort; choosing what is right over what is fun, fast, or easy; and choosing to practice our values rather than simply professing them.” And for those of us that have experienced the spiritual disconnection of substance abuse, pushing against our personal values and principles is often what causes the most emotional and mental pain and anguish in addiction. So regaining integrity, rebuilding trust, practicing self-love, and overcoming guilt and shame are all part of the personal work that is required for a sustainable recovery and a life of meaning and purpose.

Of course everyone is completely different and these might sound like sweeping statements, but the longer I do the work the more I see this thread running through my life and the lives of the people I work with. Most common is the need to show up honestly and authentically in life, to be courageous and compassionate, and to move forward rather than recycling the snafus of the past over and over again.

Like anyone engaging in transformative work, getting well in recovery is challenging. Yet getting clean and sober, and becoming a wholehearted member of our tribe, probably ranks up their among the more raw and painful A huge part of the work is to learn to be accountable and responsible in life, not just around what’s come before, but also what follows from here. Learning to communicate effectively, problem solve, manage conflict, deal with emotions and not want to run screaming for the nearest line of coke or bottle of Jack, is in itself a masterful balance act of responsive thinking, adult learning and behaviour modification.

I have said it many times that the work is hard, but it’s worth it; especially if we find ourselves in the space of having to make choices. Really massive, scary choices when you gripped by substance dependence. Because there comes a point for most of us as to whether we want to choose drugs and alcohol and dysfunctional behaviour over pretty much everything else. Values are completely displaced when the individual moves into dependency, overtaking and replacing anything else we think is important; family, partnerships, children, health, spirituality, success, certainty honesty, integrity, courage…

Just like any type of change, the move to recovery and wellness does not happen overnight. There are often years of dysfunctional behaviour to address. Plenty of amends to be made. Past traumas to be overcome. Self-worth that needs special attention. The expectation that everything is going to change in a New York minute because we’ve stopped using is insane, and I mean that with love. Most individuals who are abusing or dependent on substances have used to cope with difficult situations, to escape from emotions, to reward “good” behaviour, to just check out, relax and disappear; to find some sort of oblivion in an attempt to fill the hole in their soul. The work takes time, patience, commitment and above all consistency.

And then one morning you wake up and realise that even though it’s fucking difficult to show up in life on a daily basis, we start to notice those 20-minute glimpses of perfect. In the group I mentioned at the beginning of this post, one of my clients shared a story of his morning when his young daughter, toddler son, his wife and himself simply lie in bed together before the chaos of the morning routine begins. What he was challenged to see initially was that although his life has not yet settled into the rhythm and flow of recovery, this is 20 minutes he just can’t have when he is using.

That although everything hasn’t done a 180 and miraculously fallen into place, this 20 minutes of perfect is where he gets to build from. Changing our behaviour as adults is not any easy task. We don’t learn at the rate that we did when we were kids. But if we can start small, start in 20 minute pieces of perfection, then surely there is capacity for creating these moments throughout the day. Life isn’t just difficult for those of us recovering from addiction, and we need to be conscious of that. Sure we have to learn to do things differently, but what a gift.

There is so much written these days about the mind-shifting power of gratitude, and if we just learn to slow down a bit and notice where there is change and connection, we have a very real place to restart from. When we can learn to link those moments together and spend more time in the present, rather than beating ourselves up over our tumultuous parts, and freaking ourselves out with the anxiety of the future, I believe that there is untold hope and possibility in moving forward.

I know for myself that if I just slow down and remember to be grateful for where I am in my life, there is always peace in those spaces. I’ve been very mindful of these moments in my life since that day in the group. Once of the joys of what I do is getting the opportunity to learn from the people I work with. Your days might not be perfect, you may still be grappling with the early work of abstinence and finding your feet in recovery, but if you slow down just a bit, I’m pretty sure that you’ll notice that you do have 20 minutes of perfect somewhere in your life. And I truly believe that that can be the soil in which you can start to sow the seeds of your new life.

This post is dedicated to “J” and his 20 minutes of perfect.

This is a repost of the original on my website Be the Change Coaching.

Take My Breath Away

I haven’t been able to catch my breath, literally, for more than a week!  And to be honest it’s been really scary!  The doctors have run a bunch of tests and there really seems to be nothing wrong…and then there’s everything emotional that’s going on in my life that have been causing a fair amount of stress.  And suddenly there might be an answer.  There are coaches who might try and tell you that they have all the answers and that their lives are a blissful series of self-actualised moments, without stress or worry, but I am definitely not one of those coaches.  My life is complicated and sometimes I get so caught up in trying to empower and help others, that I forget about my well-being a little.  I am not trying to portray myself as any sort of philanthropic martyr, I am just saying sometimes my life lacks the balance that I am so passionate about helping others find.  Being a self-employed coach comes with it’s own set of challenges and I’m self-aware enough to admit that I don’t have all the answers on any given day.

What I do admit is that I try and be fully present and conscious of what is going on in my life, and through this awareness I find that life is far more manageable.  But I guess this breathing problem, whatever the cause, has thrown me a little.  There could b e any number of reasons that I am more stressed than normal…because as much as recovery coaching is my passion, at the moment it is not proving financially viable as a full-time income.  So I have been in the SA job market since July and that has proved nothing short of humbling, tending towards soul destroying.  I am educated, intelligent, motivated and very good in a number of areas ranging from training and facilitating, to managing people and being an organised and efficient administrator.  But after sending dozens of job applications, maybe in the hundreds, I am still living off my savings.  I always knew that it would take time to build a practice and I am not even in the give-up ballpark, but a gal’s gotta pay the bills!  Especially an independent and proud one like me.

And it’s not so much about the jobs that I am not even considered for, the “if you haven’t heard from us in 14 days, please consider your application unsuccessful” variety.  It’s the ones where there is communication and interviews, promises of follow-up and possibilities, only to materialise into nothing, not even a final call or email, that are difficult to deal with.  It’s been a tough lesson in self-worth, because there are have been days when my professional confidence has hit an all-time low.  I’ve coached myself through the really rough days and talked the situation through with my incredible personal support network, but I can’t help feeling a little defeated.  Recruitment consultants promise the world face-to-face, only to disappear into the abyss of unanswered emails and phone calls.  I get it, it’s a tough market, but surely a little consideration for the job seekers fighting it out in the proverbial trenches would go a long way.  I think it smacks of bad manners and a lack of consideration, especially since I place such a high value on communication at all levels.

So I’m starting to think that this has a lot to do with me not being able to catch my breath.  And then over the last few days while co-facilitating my Recovery Wellness Group I realised that there was another, much deeper element of stress.  And this one has to do with my personal recovery and wellness.  A conversation in the group made me question my own recovery and whether taking addictive, prescription medications at points over the past seven years were in fact relapse episodes!!  Did the use of Xanax or Diazepam during particularly difficult times in my life constitute a break in my recovery!?  And I inadvertently spent 10 days subconsciously obsessing about it…  Because if this was to be considered as such, I wasn’t living or working authentically.  It meant I was being dishonest with myself and my clients and that really shook up my entire value system.  Through personal reflection and honest evaluation, I decided that it hasn’t affected my recovery as I personally understand and believe it to be.  I was very conscious of my use, was upfront with my doctors about my substance abuse disorder and closely monitored my use, following medical advice on decreased dosages over time.  But it was so fundamentally upsetting to me it seems to have manifested itself physically.


So although since I started to explore these possible causes the issue has become a little better, there is still personal work to be done.  Of course my doctor is not prepared to rule out that it might be something physical, but as I mentioned the tests so far have shown nothing!  My less medically-inclined friends have suggested that breathing exercises, acupuncture or Reiki might be helpful.  As for me, I’m exploring all the options, doing a boatload of self-coaching and just trying to keep all the pressures and challenges of daily life in perspective.  After all life is better with a clear head and an honest heart.

Til next time

Sober Something

A Cookie-Cutter Cure…

There’s something that I really want to talk about today, and I fear that isn’t going to win me a popularity contest in the world of recovery.  But sometimes it’s important to speak up on issues that have such an impact on our lives and those of the people that we care about and love.  Over the past few months I have been working at SHARP Recovery Centre in Johannesburg, co-facilitating a Recovery Wellness Group.  It’s a new approach to recovery in South Africa, working with people in a place of wellness rather than treating them as ill and destined to a life of misery because they are afflicted with a disease, but I talked about this at length in my last post “What if I fall!?”  Today what I would like to talk about is the general lack of concern that recovery professionals seem to have for their clients.

Of course I am not throwing a net over every single recovery worker or treatment centre in the country, this post is about my personal experience, the people I have been working with and what I have seen in my time in the industry.  What strikes me most is that people in recovery who I talk to, tell me about how they are made to feel like just another bed filler in the treatment centres they have been, with seemingly little concern as to their true mental, emotional and spiritual well-being.  And if they relapse and return to for another round of treatment all the better, because there is no discount for returning customers.  It’s almost as though it’s lucrative for the clients to stay “sick” because what organisation doesn’t like loyal, repeat customers.  Rather than supporting clients through treatment and developing effective, individualised aftercare plans, clients are returned to the “real world” in a highly vulnerable state, normally told to attend 90 meetings in 90 days, and then left to their own devices until the “pink bubble” they are living in pops and they are faced with difficult situations, triggers and urges…and no real coping strategies to deal with them.

Following their time in treatment facilities clients bemoan that they are subjected to the same ideas, theories and programs over and over again.  The fact that this recovery regimen didn’t work for them the last time is often put down to the fact that they didn’t do the work, because if they had they wouldn’t be back in treatment.  The client is viewed as flawed and broken, but what I am saying is perhaps it’s the system that needs to be re-evaluated.  Because if making someone do weeks and weeks of step work and search for their Higher Power was really that effective, surely people wouldn’t be constantly walking through the “revolving day of recovery“.  What people in recovery need during and after treatment is not someone judging them and waiting for them to slip up, but people who support and honour their recovery work and the path to recovery that they choose to take.  I want to see the people that I work with grow, develop and succeed in their lives, not be a long-term source of income for me.  After completing a series of coaching sessions, I want to see them take the tools, strategies and techniques they have learned and apply them to their lives.  And though a set of plans, goals and life strategies may work for one client doesn’t mean that they will work for another.

Where one person may choose to put a heavy emphasis on personal development, another may choose to attend a mutual-help group.  A sponsor may resonate with one client while rebuilding a spousal relationship may be more important to someone else.  Dictating what someone has to do to achieve long-term sobriety seems laughable to me, especially since I failed miserably in the traditional recovery arena.  Chastising me for being unable to find my Higher Power simply pushed me to find a different approach to my recovery and in doing so I began to question how one approach can be seen as applicable to every person with a substance (or behaviour) abuse disorder.  The people I meet in recovery couldn’t be more different and so we as recovery professionals need to be prepared to tailor-make systems and plans that are as diverse as the clients that we serve.  Clients shouldn’t be viewed as a payday who can be treated with a one-size-fits-all recovery plan, because that’s the easiest option for us!

The field of recovery should be client-centred and driven by the individual needs of the people that we are assisting.  Dictating recovery policy to someone who has a substance abuse disorder (SAD) and more likely than not a very strong adapted child in their egoic makeup, will most likely lead to rebelliousness and disobedience (even in adults).  I believe that it is our responsibility, since we have chosen to assist people with SADs, to take the time to really get to know our clients, to explore their options together and then to give the client the support that they need to live their recovery in a practical, forward-focused, solutions-driven way.  Surely our aim should be to empower individuals so that they go out into the world and live a purposeful, fulfilling life, not replace one dependency for another (no matter how much healthier we believe it to be).  Rather than becoming reliant on a program or a person, my focus is to assist a client to get to a place of growing personal power, so that they become equipped with the life skills to move confidently forward in their recovery.  I have no desire to see anyone fail, but should they trip occasionally I see my purpose as being to give them a hand up and then set them on their way again, not rub my hands together as they generate another income stream for me.

I think that we need to consider that a “cookie-cutter cure” for substance abuse disorders doesn’t work.  And like so many other industries we need to put the client at the top of the planning model and develop strategies that are uniquely designed to consider their requirements, not simply “enforce” a top-down system on them that may not address their specific character, culture, socio-economic situation, personal desires and professional aspirations.  We need to listen to the clients and find out what they want, even if you consider addiction to be a disease.  Even a cancer patient is given options when it comes to their treatment.  Treatment and care at any stage of  substance misuse and recovery needs to be a place where people feel heard and supported, not disregarded and stigmatised.  Of course these are my opinions formed over my years in recovery and now recovery coaching, but for me the client is the centre of the model and everything after that is decided in an accountable, collaborative relationship where trust, honesty and many other spiritual principles govern the direction that their personal recovery plan takes, which should be as unique and special as they are.


‘Til next time

Sober Something

You (don’t) complete me!?

While I was drinking I was incapable of having anything that resembled a mature,fulfilling relationship…  I simply didn’t have the faith in myself to get involved with anyone for anything more than a few weeks, and nothing that could be considered a relationship.  Let’s be honest here in that our choices in active addiction are hardly what would be considered reasonable and well thought out.  I’m sure that I am not the only one who’s made some pretty dubious decisions late at night…  But that being said, I am not the kind of person who likes to air their (long-past) dirty laundry in public.  Actually I have been thinking about writing a book about my journey for many years and as much as I know a little “dirty laundry” could possibly be good for sales and readership, that is not the kind of message I want to put out into the world.  Yes, I have my share of scandalous little tales, but besides taking ownership of my past indiscretions, it’s not something I believe needs to be rehashed for public consumption.

What I do want to talk about today is relationships in long-term sobriety.  So often in early recovery we hear that it’s not a good idea to get into (or leave) a relationship in the first year.  As for me, it took more than six years before I was ready to take that step.  The main reason was that I wanted to become someone that I would want to be with…and clearly that took some time!!  I didn’t want to go into an intimate relationship hauling the cargo that I had accumulated over the years, and have to deal with that while I was finding myself as part of a couple.  When we’re vulnerable and scared, often the natural thing seems to be to find someone to share our unease and pain.  And when we are not alone, perhaps it doesn’t seem quite as frightening.  But I decided for myself that bringing my insecurities and pain into a relationship, wasn’t going to bode well for anything lasting.

Now let me be completely honest, I am not saying that I am some sort of emotionally superior being, who has no insecurities, vulnerabilities or moments of personal discontent.  That’d be incredibly inauthentic and arrogant of me!  I am not close to being an Eckhart Tolle who has mastered the spiritual art of living in the now, free of the pain of the past or the anxiety of the future.  What I am trying to say is that I worked incredibly hard for a long time to be honest about where I am in my life and learn to accept myself.  I looked around at the people I know and paid careful attention to those who were in happy, healthy relationships and those that were toxic and destructive.  I made conscious choices about the type of partner I wanted to be and decided on the things I wanted to take into a partnership.  It might sound clinical and unromantic, but I was not prepared to be an emotionally-driven, reactionary player in this game of hearts.

Of course we have little or no control over who we choose to love, but I knew who I wanted to be when Cupid took the shot!! And all those years of personal development, self-evaluation and hard emotional work finally paid off.  After spending long, lonely nights putting my demons to rest, I met an incredible man.  The truth is that there were lots of emotions, insecurities and anxieties in the early stages of being together, but I didn’t bring my recovery into our relationship.  I wasn’t trying to learn about who I am at the same time as getting to know him.  Of course it’s challenging to find your true place in a couple, but it wasn’t about finding myself as well.  It was just the normal stuff that most of us go through in the beginning of being with someone!

Yes, I checked my phone a dozen times an hour (our first year was spent in a long-distance relationship) and went through the roller coaster of feelings that my friends explained are completely normal.  I wasn’t finding it hard because I was in recovery, I was just going through the spectrum of emotions that get thrown in our paths when we are in the initial stages of being together.  I did attend a lecture a couple of weeks ago about relationships and the stages thereof.  It was based on the Imago Theory, which was a little too Freudian for my tastes, but the psychologist talked about how in the early stages of romance we feel like we have always known this person we find ourselves with (based on our familial experiences).  Following this romantic period, we’re bound to enter into a power struggle and if couples do the necessary work, perhaps 5% will be lucky enough to be part of a conscious relationship.

lets agree to be honestBut listening to the lecture I began to understand that if we know ourselves well enough before we find someone to be with, we are far more likely to be successful in our choice.  Communication is key from the very very beginning, and although I do not have a man who showers me with romance and we don’t feel like we’ve always known each other, I consider myself beyond blessed to be in a partnership that is authentic and honest.  Instead of sweet nothings, we talk about real situations and for me that is far more important than platitudes.  We both know what we want from each other, we are not living in some fantasy land believing that everything is perfect, but we are incredibly happy.  Sometimes the conversations can be a little scary, but we’ve discussed a range of topics that are very real possibilities in any couple’s life.

But the point of the entire post is that instead of rushing in (or out) of a relationship in early recovery, I can recommend doing yourself a big favour and learning who you are and what you truly want.  Then based on this you can start to make decisions that involve the heart and emotions of another person.  I cannot comment too much on the getting out, since this is my first serious relationship since forever, but I can say that there is nothing more empowering than knowing yourself really well before trying to look for someone else to complete you.  Being complete before you look outwards for something means that that other person only makes life more exciting, fulfilling and fun.  Don’t look outside for love and happiness, find it first in yourself and then look for someone to share it with.  If there is a void that needs filling, find ways to fill it by yourself, because expecting someone else to vanquish the emptiness is not necessarily going to lead to long-term emotional stability.

The man I am with doesn’t make me happy, because I am already happy in myself.  He is an incredibly wonderful addition to my world and most definitely brings joy to my life, but he is not the fountain of my personal fulfillment.  Of course I speak only for myself, when I say that by getting over my past and not rushing into any sort of intimate relationship until I was someone I wanted to be with, has been well worth the wait.  Because after all I really do believe that life is better with a clear head and an honest heart.

Til next time

Sober Something

You can’t recover until you’ve hit rock bottom!?

I have been studying Addiction and the Brain.  Interesting to be able to see my own cycle of abuse and recovery in the material, and have a better personal (and professional) insight into what happens in our heads during the progression of addiction.  It’s really fascinating to be able to see what actually occurs as we progress through the various stages of addiction, and why we even get to that point to begin with!  The more I study and understand addiction, the more I realise that it’s almost a “Damned if I do.  Damned if I don’t.” crap shoot as to whether we end up in active addiction.  Sure, living in an environment of any type where someone with the predisposition to develop a substance abuse disorder, does place us at a higher risk.  However, there are also people who fall way out of the parameters of these risky surrounds and lifestyles that are introduced and sensitised to substances through medical procedures.  They are just as likely to develop a disorder if they are exposed to substances through completely legitimate avenues.

Of course living in an environment wherein one is exposed to substances is going to increase the chances that we try (and like) these things, especially since we feel less due to lower levels of neurotransmitters and off kilter receptor cells.  Basically meaning that our drug or behaviour of choice makes us feel better and more normal than where we start out because of of brain chemical make-up.  There are various factors that attribute to this including genetics, stress and chronic use.  So it’s a complicated combination of elements that ultimately lead to whether we are likely to develop an addiction.  And it’s an equally tricky balance that allows us to overcome addiction and work through the recovery process.  This is another mine field, depending on our point of progression in the disease when we finally ask for help.

We experience physical, mental, emotional and spiritual deterioration as addiction progresses and we are often faced with crisis before we start looking for help.  It’s normally not the physical side of the illness that leads to us seeking assistance in overcoming our disease, but rather the emotional and mental breakdowns in our state of being, our close relationships or our inability to cope in these areas that leads to us reaching out.  I don’t believe that anyone has to “hit rock bottom” as I have mentioned before, because we all have different breaking points and these are necessarily reached when we are lying in a gutter, with a broken moral compass in one hand and a brown paper bag in the other.  I definitely don’t subscribe to the idea that you cannot get well until you have no further to fall, and there is a stark realisation that you are dying physically and spiritually.

I do believe that some level of understanding of our condition is necessary, that we come to the realisation that we need help and that we seek out this help.  But telling someone that they cannot get well because they still have to experience the deepest depths of their disease does not work for me personally.  Yes, we do have to come to terms with the idea that we can NEVER partake in our substance or behaviour of choice EVER again.  That we cannot control our use and life a happy, healthy life.  These two factors are essential for recovery, but I believe that the “Road to Recovery” can be stepped onto any time we believe that our disease is out (or getting out) of control.  I feel that there is too much one-up-manship going on in recovery programs.  I remember being told in a mutual-help group that I wasn’t a real alcoholic, because I didn’t fit the traditional pattern of what an alcoholic was at the time (or perhaps in that particular group).

But I had decided that my addiction needed to be addressed and I was going to do it!  I attended other meetings and was met with disdain more than once by people who said that you had to drink every day, hide your habits (and empty bottles) and be a non-functioning member of society & family to be looking for help.  There have been changes in this way of thinking, but at the time it made me reconsider my alcoholism and led me to the point that I believed maybe I wasn’t an alcoholic as much as I just needed to curb my drinking and drink a little less on the evenings that I chose to partake.  I wan’t drinking every day, I wasn’t hiding anything from anyone and although some of my relationships were on shaky ground and I’d done some dumb things when I was drunk, according to the feedback I was getting at meetings and the people I was talking to, I certainly wasn’t a full-blown alcoholic yet, I merely had a little drinking problem.

And so I arrogantly thought I could drink and control my use!!  I was wrong!  They were wrong!  And just because I didn’t fit neatly into what people thought an alcoholic should be, I lied to myself.  Ideas and thinking have changed considerably about addiction over the last ten years or so.  Approaches to recovery are constantly being reevaluated because of the phenomenally high relapse rates once people leave treatment.  It has become more and more evident that this disease of addiction presents differently in different people and that that there is no cookie-cutter approach to recovery.  And that just because you haven’t hit the very lowest point that you can hit, doesn’t mean that you can’t and won’t be able to move through the  stages of a recovery process and live a fulfilled, healthy & holistic life, free of your addictive substance or behaviour.

I’ve got lots more thoughts and ideas on this subject, as well as thoughts on the recovery process, but I’ll leave those for another day.

‘Til next time

Sober Something

Your journey has molded you