Are You Living the Life You Imagined!?

life-and-inspiration-10Sometimes there is a question during a coaching session that really resonates with me.  Powerful questions that leave you with a strange sense of discomfort, mulling over them for ages…looking into the deep recesses of your conscious and unconscious mind to find the answer!  My colleague, David Collins, asked just such a question last week and the affect on me was profound.  Even though the answer came to me almost immediately, it made me realise the depth of my growth and development recently and how much my work means to me.  Having spent years drifting along, feeling a little rudderless in the stormy sea of life, I was instantly aware of where I am right now, both personally and professionally.

As someone in long-term recovery I have spent many years on my personal growth and the development of recovery capital.  I have made a huge effort to teach myself tools and techniques for living a forward-focused and solutions-driven life, being part of my personal solution rather than part of my problem.  Because merely stopping the bad behaviour or removing the addictive substance may be part of recovery, it definitely only constitutes a small part thereof (in my humble opinion).  Recovery needs to be about rediscovering events, people, pursuits and interests that bring us purpose and fulfillment.  About moving forward with our lives and becoming the people we want to be!

It took me a long time to find the perfect combination for me, to honestly evaluate my personal resources, and develop a personal plan on how to proceed towards the life that I wanted to live.  It wasn’t about just stopping my desrtuctive substance abuse, but rather about retraining my brain to respond in “trigger” situations, rather than simply react and fall back into my what I knew how to do in challenging situations – namely drink, fight, avoid…nothing particularly positive or constructive.  And it took time and effort!  Learning healthy coping skills in my mid-thirties was no easy feat, but when I heard that powerful question, my response was immediate.  In a flash I was appreciative and grateful for how my work has paid off.  How making the effort to identify where my skills (personal, professional or other) might be lacking and then go out and explore options that are the start to decisive steps being taken to reach my goals, has helped me become the person I am today.  The person that I always felt I was supposed to be, a person who lives in their integrity.

So when the question “What would your twenty-year old self say to you if they met you in the street today?” was asked, my immediate response was “What took you so freaking long?”  The truth is it did take me a long time to become the person I envisioned being when I was starting out in my twenties.  A person who lived a life of purpose, being of service to others, living with passion, courage and self-love.  And even though I am proud and grateful of who I am today, it wasn’t until that very moment that I became clear on the distance I have traveled, the growth I have achieved and how until I got really, really clear on who I wanted to be and where I wanted to go, I was just dawdling along letting life happen to me, rather than being in charge of my own destiny.

So ask yourself the  question “What would my twenty-year old self say to me if he/she met me in the street today?”  And then practising the principles of honesty, willingness, openness and courage (to mention but a few), decide if you are going in the direction you want to be going, living the life that you want to be living as the person you aspire to be, or whether it is time for directed, planned change.

Til next time,

Sober Something

For more information about Recovery Coaching, pesonal development and goal setting please contact Leigh-Anne (082)-442-5710 | leighanne@recoverycoachingsa.com

Inspiring Challenges and Disguised Opportunities!?

I am not afraid of Mondays!  I start the week excited by new opportunities, focusing on the infinite possibilities that could come my way.  I’m not going to sugarcoat it by saying that everything is perfect, because that would be self-denial of the highest order.  Building a business is no walk in the park and I’ve been exploring alternative income paths over the last few months until I am more financially stable.  But as I was working through “The Values Factor” by John Demartini I came across this wonderful quote that he had used to begin a chapter, which resonated deeply with me on this Monday afternoon.

we are all faced with a great series of oportunities

Too often when we are faced by impossible situations in our lives, we simply throw up our hands and complain that it’s just too difficult to carry on.  And as someone with a substance abuse disorder and shockingly developed coping skills before I started my journey, I would have had the white flag up before I had so much as looked for the opportunity in the challenge.  In his book, Dr Demartini talks about “inspiring challenges” and as I was reading through the chapter I was struck as to how our addictions could be seen as just that.  Overcoming an addiction to anything could be seen as an impossible situation, but when you scratch the surface just a little and start to take those first steps into recovery you start to see the enormous opportunity that lies within.  I haven’t completed the book and I haven’t done all the work, but for a long time now I have seen my addiction as an incredible opportunity for personal growth and development.  Choosing recovery was the first step to turning the adversity of addiction into the opportunity of recovery.

Addiction in ourselves or a lived one might seem like an impossible situation, but if you just look at it from a slightly different perspective, you may just find that there is enormous potential for self growth and personal empowerment.  If I look back to  my life seven years ago it was a patchwork of mildly fulfilling relationships, halfhearted commitment to a job that was not particularly purposeful and a shocking sense of personal depth and assurance.  But I took the necessary first (very tentative) step towards an ever so faint glimmer of distant hope and life has never been the same.  At the time I didn’t know whether I had what it took to live a sober life or whether I had the necessary skills and tools to take me through the recovery process.  The fact is that at the time I didn’t, but instead of letting the challenge of recovery overwhelm me I chose to look at it as a the beginning of a wonderful adventure.  And even though I didn’t know it at the time, my shifting values took me in the direction that I needed to go.  Because when I was drinking my values were to go out, drink, have a great time and to hell with the consequences.  I wasn’t interested in personal development, training or further education which I am now.  I was certainly not interested in nurturing my personal and professional relationships, which are a core value in my life at present.

When I started to do value work recently it became very clear to me that even though I thought I had certain values, I wasn’t living my life by them.  And many of the values that I believed were mine are simply societal norms and ideas that I’d adopted as my own.  It’s not easy to admit that “getting drunk” was a value, but it must have been since I spent all my time, money and energy pursuing it!  And over the last seven years my values have continued to change as I grow and develop through my personal and professional pursuits.  These days when confronted with a challenging situation I look at it completely differently as to how I would have in the drinking years.  Fear and flight are not my go-to reactions, because I have developed far healthier coping skills.  Instead of simply avoiding potentially difficult situations with a drink or two, I have learned to evaluate and assess the situation and choose a way of dealing with it, rather than running away.

And I ran for years, to all sorts of interesting and exotic locations, where human interactions were kept to a minimum through tings like small expatriate populations, language barriers and distance from home.  It’s an honest revelation when I look at it now, and can see the reasons that I did what I did and chose the paths that I chose.  By having fewer relationships meant that there were less potential situations where I would have to rely on my interpersonal skills and coping mechanisms.  I spent years avoiding conflict and confrontation, seeing it as harmful and destructive.  I never understood how anything emotionally tough could be a chance to grow and develop emotionally. But now I see the potential that lies in previously terrifying close and personal exchanges.  I no longer shy away from difficult conversations, and have begun to be more conscious of how any situation can be a source of learning and growth.  These courageous conversations bring emotional depth and intimacy unlike anything I could have imagined before I started to change the way that I looked at life.

I’m not saying that I go out of my way to find difficult situations, but now when one comes my way I don’t collapse into a pile on the floor or run screaming to the nearest bar.  Instead I use the skills I have learned and developed to address it head on, which means being completely conscious and present in the situation.  It means keeping judgment out of the equation and not instantly trying to defend or protect myself (more accurately my ego).  It means respecting, listening and acknowledging different perspectives and points of view, and then maturely and openly taking part in the discussion.  And instead of letting myself slip into the victim space, I express my opinions and feelings honestly and clearly, so that I don’t walk away feeling unheard and carrying repressed anger.  And the more I practice these techniques that I have learned, the more these brilliantly disguised impossible situations become less and less emotionally and mentally challenging.  And this doesn’t just apply to my personal life, but also to things that happen in my professional life.

So no matter what challenges present themselves, take a step back and try and look at the situation from another angle.  The  opportunities that could be hidden beneath the surface might not be evident at first, but dig a little deeper and you might be pleasantly surprised at the little gems of opportunity that lie beneath.

Til next time

Sober Something

Don’t judge my path if you haven’t walked my journey.

It’s not often that I have the time (or the inspiration) to post more than once a week, but the devastating passing of Robin Williams gave me much cause to pause and think over the last few days.  Something that seems prevalent in the glitz and glamour of Hollywood is how many truly unhappy people there seem to be in what can only be described as a fish bowl.  But the more I thought about it, the more I started to wonder why should celebrity pain and suffering be any more tragic than the garden-variety kind.  I’m not for one moment trying to marginalise the grief that many people must be feeling around the death of such a beloved star, but every day there are people living lives of quiet desperation and I only wish that the public’s attention wouldn’t shift quite so quickly from the issues that these people’s deaths raise.

Whenever someone famous meets a tragic end there is a short-lived focus on the issue that was the root of their demise.  Whether that be drug addiction, like Philip Seymour Hoffman and Heath Ledger, or alcoholism which took Amy Winehouse or those suffering from a co-occuring disorder such as seems to be the case in so many of these untimely deaths.  Pills washed down with vodka to overcome sleeplessness is probably not the most holistic way to rest.  But whether the disorder is in the realm of substance abuse, mental challenges or a combination thereof, attention on the subject is ever so short!  Outpourings of sympathy, righteous indignation over the epidemic of addiction and then a silent retreat until the next person falls prey to something unnatural.  I understand that it sounds like I am advocating capitalising on death, but if the celebrities of the world have so much influence in life, then surely their battles  can help others find answers and paths to mental, emotional and physical recovery.

It also made me wonder why people in the limelight are celebrated so much for their attempts at recovery while the average man on the street is not given quite as much support.  Actually there is still some sort of lingering stigma attached to treatment (in a variety of forms) when it comes to us normal lot.  While celebrities are applauded for their efforts to get clean and sober a lot of us are trying to side-step the truth about our addiction and recovery.  And I’m not talking about shouting it from the rooftops, just being able to comfortably state in certain situations that you are in recovery.  However, I do think more influential people should start talking out about their addictions and lead the charge in throwing off the cloak of anonymity.  I’m not saying we should all go around declaring our challenges in inappropriate places.  I definitely don’t go around introducing myself as an alcoholic, but if the subject comes up as to why I don’t drink, I am don’t make a big fuss of it and simply state that I am in recovery.  Subject closed and moving onto those yummy little mini quiches at the cocktail party.  But I do believe that it is time for people to stop feeling so ashamed.

Maybe you did bad things in active addiction, but there are politicians and business people who ruin the lives of hundreds and thousands of people on any given day and sleep just fine at night.  Again, I’m not condoning their behaviour, but what I am trying to say is that there are more shameful things in life than having tried a substance at some point, and for whatever reason, become a chronic user of it.  No one wants to be an addict!  No one aspires to suffering from a mental disorder!  I don’t think the same can be said of people that actively exploit and harm others.  Your recovery is as important and significant as any world renowned star!  You’re as valuable to the people who love you as the multitude of fans that still weep at certain rock stars gravesides.

So even though you may feel a little sad when someone like Robin Williams takes his life, spare a thought for the millions of people that are in similar situations.  The man on the street corner begging for change to fuel his habit might just have taken a slightly different course in life to the mega star drying on at an exclusive five-star treatment centre.  Addiction and mental disorders are not picky, they’ll take whatever they can get, so take a moment and honour yourself and your recovery journey (even if it’s been a bit of a stop-start process).  You’re as much of a star in someone close to you’s eyes as those fallen stars are to their fans, and possibly more because they have the privilege of knowing and loving you.  And in closing today remember, “Don’t judge my path if you haven’t walked my journey.”

Don't judge  my path

‘Til next time

Sober Something

 

 

What is Recovery Coaching?

Since returning to South Africa a couple of months ago I have made my focus the development of my Recovery & Life Coaching business (Recovery Coaching SA).  It’s an exciting adventure to build a dream and be able to start a vision from scratch.  I’m constantly being presented with new and amazing opportunities as I continue along this road of personal and professional discovery.  A couple of days ago I completed my first magazine article which will be appearing in a new South African publication, “Addict”, in August.  I’m constantly meeting new people who are passionately dedicated to aiding the recovery of those battling with the disease of addiction.  It’s a wonderful experience to see how many people are truly dedicated to trying to assist people and work with them to empower individuals.

I am a passionate advocate of the Recovery Coaching model as a path towards sustained sobriety.  It’s about working in an accountable partnership with the person in recovery to develop a personalised recovery plan.  By focusing on long-term goals and developing short-term action plans to get there, they are encouraged to follow their own truth on the road to recovery.  Recovery coaching is not about telling, advising or leading.  It’s about creating a safe space where we can find the answers to our questions and then follow our own authentic road map to recovery.

And each plan will vary according to who it is developed by.  As a Recovery Coach it is my job to support the choices that a client makes for their own recovery, after all we are the experts on ourselves.  By helping identify and overcome internal and external obstacles blocking their path, challenging faulty thinking and assisting the development of new and productive thought and behaviour patterns, the client is supported in their recovery process.  It’s not an easy process, but if it is addressed in a forward-focused, solution-orientated way, we are personally empowered to strive for long-term wellness and balance.  By building recovery capital in various areas of life, those in recovery strive for a richer, more balanced and holistic life.  It’s an ever-changing, unmapped adventure, shifting and developing as we progress through the various stages of recovery.

What may only seem like a distant possibility in early recovery may seem evermore achievable when one moves into middle-stage recovery.  And when in late- or maintenance-stage this ideal may be assimilated into the person’s daily life, with focus having shifted to new goals or aspirations.  The aim of Recovery Coaching is long-term, sustained sobriety, but it does take into account that relapse is a reality in the process.  Being aware that this can happen, clients are asked to identify personal triggers, internal and external obstacles and bring these elements into their conscious awareness, as a means to being more prepared and better-equipped to deal with them, and thereby minimise the effects that they will have on a potential relapse situation. Hunger, anger, loneliness and tiredness (H.A.L.T) are also important issues that should be addressed through the coaching process, because they too are potential relapse triggers that should be avoided (or minimised) as mush as possible.

But if relapse does occur, and let’s face it the stats are not at good, then there is a plan in place to deal with this as effectively as possible.  One that can help us move on, refocus on our long-term goals and get back on the road!  It doesn’t advocate any fundamental weakness on the part of the person for relapsing, it doesn’t mean that the person isn’t committed to their recovery, it simply accepts that addiction is an ongoing battle and that compounding on the guilt and shame that already exists does not help get over the relapse event.  We are human and if we stumble in every day life there is every chance that we are going to trip a couple of times in recovery, but rather than plummeting back into active addiction, choose to move forward from this point and not spend endless hours lamenting the mistake.

Recovery coaching is all about moving forward, focusing on what we want to achieve and where we are going. Rather than spending time rehashing the past over and over again, caught up in the stories of our active addiction, it’s about taking strides to where we want to be.  In my mind it’s far more productive and empowering to look towards the outcome we are trying to achieve than constantly talking about where we went wrong and how terrible life was.  Having made the decision to take control of our lives, there is far more to be gained by putting one foot in front of the other, with our eyes fixed on the horizon.  The past cannot be undone, we cannot shake off this disease we have, but we can own our truth and become the navigators of our lives.

Because progress in recovery, no matter how slow and small, is still far better than any form of addiction.  There may be times when the going is tough and you are filled with self-doubt, but learning to deal with our inner obstacles and build on our personal visions, will take us ever closer to where we want to be.  And life is better with a clear head and an honest heart.

Nobody can go back and start a new beginning, but anyone can start today and make a new ending. ~ Maria Robinson

Keep focused on your ending and what you want the story of you life to be.

‘Til next time

Sober Something

The one you feed…

I am in love with my life!  I cannot ever remember a time when I felt so truly alive…unencumbered by the murky depths of the past and personal nonsense.  I think that all the coaching, training, personal development and gratitude are finally paying off and things could not be better than they are at the moment.  But life wasn’t always peachy and as someone in long-term recovery I am ever vigilant of becoming complacent about my sobriety.  Arrogance is a sure fire way to let down one’s guard and then suddenly before someone knows it they’ve somehow fallen back into active addiction.  Rehab facilities and mutual-help groups are full of people who were living the dream, only to find themselves back in the clutches of their disease.

And yes, the more I study and research, the more I think that addiction is a disease.  I know that there are differing schools of thought on this, but I cannot for an instance see how this affliction we bear can be due to some kind of moral failing on our parts!  Certainly, before we become clean and sober through whatever means we choose, our moral compasses my have been temporarily on the fritz due to our illness, but this does not mean that addicts are without a set of personal norms, values and principles.  Okay, so we might slip off our personal path in this respect while we are feeding the beast, but this isn’t to say that we are devoid of moral fibre.  The degree to which we veer from our personal code may differ, depending on which substance we are abusing, but this doesn’t make addicts bad people.  I think that it’s a case of (generally) good people, doing bad things.

In my years spent in bars I saw even the most principled people do questionable things after a few too many.  It happens!  It is certainly not a true reflection of who they are when they are going about their daily lives.  Yet there seems to be this antiquated idea that addicts have somehow failed in this area and hence their dependence.  God, there have been times in the past when I was so ashamed of my behaviour that I could hardly face people for weeks following a particularly boozy night out…which became cumulative over time.  And yes guilt (I have done bad things) does inevitably lead to shame (I am a bad person), but this is only exacerbated by the collective stigma that addiction carries.  We don’t choose to be crippled by dependence because we are modern-day social pariahs!  It’s definitely (Not) what every little girl wants to be.

I was at a coaching boot camp recently when the facilitator was telling a particularly personal story about the deterioration of his marriage and his slide into debilitating depression.  It was about how a psychologist had taken a leap of faith regarding the payment of sessions because he was in such dire need of help, and this coach put it down to the fact that it was because his therapist could see he “wasn’t an alkie or anything”!  I was a little stunned by his insensitivity towards addiction, especially being someone who works in the field of coaching, but it just drove home how important it is to try and educate and inform people about addiction.  And the reality is that everyone is touched by it in some form.  I don’t know anyone who doesn’t have a loved one who is grappling with dependence, be it drugs, alcohol, gambling, sex, gaming…to name the more common ones!

According to certain experts in the field of addiction there are multiple factors to consider as to why someone might become an two_wolves_saying_by_irvinggfm-d5h0563addict, including genetics, stress and chronic use of synthetic chemicals, as well as identity issues and family stressors.  And along with the physical, and emotional and mental deterioration, there is spiritual degeneration which encompasses the area of morality.  But it is certainly not a lack of any sort of values, principles and morals, albeit they be different for different people, that leads to a person with a predisposition to become an habitual user and more often than not, someone who finds themselves suffering from a substance abuse disorder.  But as to which comes first, the chicken-and-egg theory has no place in this debate.  Yes, addicts do bad things under the influence and in order to support their habits, but I speak from personal experience when I say that doesn’t make us bad people.

‘Til next time

Sober Something

Don’t look back in anger…

It’s been eleven fabulous years of wild adventures, wonderful people and whimsical endeavours.  But nothing has even come close to the feelings I had when the plane landed last week at Johannesburg International Airport.  I was overcome with emotion, shedding more than a couple of tears as the customs official stamped my passport.  The preceding two weeks had been beyond stressful, with me digging deep to not completely lose my composure at every turn and read someone the riot act.    It’s what I wanted to do since my employers changed the terms of my contract in the final week of work, which came as a complete surprise and quite honestly meant that my final week in Saudi Arabia was nothing short of devastating.  To be honest I did not stay calm and centred at every encounter, with frustration levels off the charts.

It really wasn’t about the money, rather about the fact that I had worked the entire academic year under the premise that I was going topoison be remunerated in a certain way and that didn’t materialise.  Integrity is a core value for me and I felt like I’d been misled and exploited.  Be that as it may, I decided that when

I arrived home I would not dwell on the situation, because as Buddha says “holding onto anger is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die”!  There is really no point in letting the events in our past (near or far) taint the endless promise of a new day.  The truth is that if we choose to do this then there is no one else to blame for the malignancy of hate that grows within us than ourselves.  I answered a couple of questions about the situation, expressed that I was unhappy about the events and have let it go so that I can move into the next chapter of my life unhindered by the events of the past.

As someone in long-term recovery I have learned that it’s essential to not harbour grudges, to let go of misfortune and look unencumbered by heartbreak towards the horizon.  I don’t necessarily subscribe to the idea that there is a lesson in every disappointment that befalls us, but I do believe that these occurrences make us stronger and more determined, even if it feels like we are gargling scorpions at the time.  After this “little incident” I am more determined than ever to work for myself and make a success of my own business, so that I am not beholden to anyone for my professional setbacks.  I’d rather be independently accountable for my successes and failures than relying on someone else to determine where my work takes me.  It’s liberating to think that my gains and losses will be relative to the amount of effort and heart I put into my enterprise and that when success does come it will be due to what I have done.

So as I sit here with the Highveld sun warming my winter fingers, enveloped by sound and colour, I am drawn back to Eckhart Tolle’s teachings that everything that we have done in our past has brought us to this exact point in life.  This particular one is like the soft glow of a slow-burning fire and for that I am extremely grateful.  However, I’m enough of a realist to appreciate that there will be times in the coming months that I may not feel quite so nurtured by The Universe, but I will continue to practice the “Habit of Gratitude”, strive to remain present-focused and remember that I was given this life because I am strong enough to live it.

‘Til next time

Sober Something

One way ticket to Relapse City?

Man I wishThere are so many people and things that have helped me along the road to recovery.  The people I have to thank for their love and support are numerous and they know who they are, because I’ve made it my business to keep them close and show my gratitude to them often.  But today I thought I’d write about some of the things that have helped me stay sober.  Of course there are times when we all falter and days that we feel like giving up, but when these days sneak up on us or pounce unexpectedly from the shadows, what do we do?  It’s wildly idealistic as a recovering addict or even a person in long-term recovery to believe that nothing is ever going to throw us off course.  Actually, it’s downright arrogant and this along with complacency about our addictions can be our downfall, not matter how many hours, days, weeks and years we’ve been clean.

I’m ever mindful of the fact that I have an addiction.  It might be dormant at the moment, sleeping quietly in a corner, but given half a chance I know that it would be front and centre of my life again and that is never something that I want to happen.  So over the last years I’ve spent plenty of time learning about my disorder so that I am aware and educated about the different elements of being an addict.  I’ve said it before, and I’ll mention it here again, I am not my disease.  There is so much more to me than the unfortunate fact that I am an alcoholic, but I cannot simply ignore that this is part of me, because then I start to slip into the realms of denial and that’s a one way ticket to “Relapse City”.

One of the practices I have adopted over the past years is to focus on my personal development.  There are a myriad of ways of doing this, and there is no right or wrong answer to what works and what doesn’t.  In that respect it’s a lot like choosing how to approach your recovery, there is definitely not a one-size-fits-all solution.  And research, although not definitive in this area, is giving more heed to the idea that it is possibly a combination of recovery ideas that may work best for each individual.

The way I have chosen to develop myself personally is to focus on how to deepen my esoteric understanding of the world and myself.  As I am not a religious person, I grappled horribly with the ideas of having a higher power and being powerless over my recovery.  But as I progressed through the early part of my recovery I began to understand that I needed to find peace within myself and in relation to the outside world if I was going to get my life under control.  Being an avid reader and a person who is constantly in search of knowledge I turned to one of my greatest loves, the written word.  And where I’d found pleasure in thousands of pages of fiction over the years, I began to find peace and understanding as I delved into the works of the modern-day spiritual masters.

There really is no other name for them, and I am not trying to upset anyone’s religious sensibilities.   “The Power of Now” by Eckart Tolle was a philosophical awakening for me.  The ideas and practices on the pages have brought me great comfort over the years since I opened the book for the first time in the very early days of my sobriety.  I am by no means an expert on living in the present moment, but I definitely try and embrace it on a daily basis.  The truth is that living in the now, letting go of the past and not fretting about the future is a place of immense stillness and calm.  I have read this book more than a couple of times and it is always next to my bed, so that I can pick it up and use it to bring myself into the present moment.

This is by not only book I have read on the subject, and Deepak Chopra, Wayne Dyer & Brene Browns’ books are all stored on my Kindle so that they are always within easy access.  I also have some of their works in audio format, so that I can listen to them when I am traveling or just need to detach from what’s going on in the world around me and take some time to focus on me.  I’ve never managed to embrace the art of meditation personally, but listening to them discuss their ideas or read from the pages of their books is exceptionally soothing and meditative in its own way.  I personally think that spending time focusing on our self-development is an essential part of sustained sobriety and long-term recovery.

In the early stages of the journey we begin to mend physically.  Then we begin to heal emotionally.  But is is also hugely important to rejuvenate our inner selves.  For me this is where we begin to rebuild our feelings of self-worth and personal poise.  Where we reestablish our place in the world and begin to determine our purpose once again.  It’s a slow, focused process to bolster our spirit back to a place where we feel that we are once again a worthy, contributory member of society.  I honestly believe that if I hadn’t concentrated on this element my life wouldn’t be nearly as fulfilling as it is right now.  I’m not saying I have all the answers, that I live in constant balance and harmony, or that I am always blissfully happy.

I have confessed in my posts more than once that there are times that I wander through the day in a haze of confused emotions, but I am self-actualised enough through  my reading and intellectual discoveries to appreciate what I am going through.  To use the practices I have learned to bring myself back to the present moment, if only briefly sometimes.  To embrace the fact that it is okay to be vulnerable and scared at times, and not panic because I don’t feel like I am completely in control every minute of the day.  I am after all just a regular woman, not a spiritual master.  I have flaws, imperfections and fears, but I’ve come to realise and appreciate that that’s okay and the more I bring these parts of self towards me rather than trying to evict them from my life,  the more balance, peace and present-moment focus there is on a daily basis.  After all life is better with a clear head and an honest heart.

‘Til next time

Sober Something

I don’t get drunk!

the empowered womanSometimes I wonder what would have become of me if I hadn’t fallen into that hole on the sidewalk on 31 December 2006?  Would I still be spending my Friday nights drinking and partying, wasting my Saturdays recovering and living in the pits of depression from Sunday until at least Tuesday.  Only to start to feel human towards the middle of the week and then to repeat the cycle all over again.  There were changes in the general pattern, but that pretty much covers my drinking habits.  There were weeks where I might have included a second night of drinking if there was a special occasion, but generally the last couple of years of drinking followed this routine.  Substance abuse comes in all shapes and forms, and just because I wasn’t drinking every day, doesn’t mean I wasn’t suffering from what is now termed Alcohol Use Disorder (AUD).

The truth is that my life was either taken up by the direct effects of drinking such as a good solid binge night or a nauseating hangover, or indirectly by the depression, lack of motivation and general feeling of unwell that followed my epic nights of drinking.  No matter how many online questionnaires I did, the outcome was always the same, I was in the final stages of alcoholism and probably heading for the worst possible outcome.

So, no, I would probably not be following that exact pattern and it scares me still to think that I’d probably be either suffering from chronic health problems (take your pick of those that are brought on by heavy alcohol use) or god forbid, dead!  I drank to excess when I drank and this often ended with me being incredibly sick!  Great for the liver and stomach…  But the thing that would probably ended up killing me was the ridiculous judgement I displayed when I was inebriated. No matter what anyone tells you, nobody functions at their optimum mental capacity when they are “boozed up”!

How many times have you heard yourself and your drinking buddies say, “I don’t get drunk!”?  It’s the most ridiculous statement of all, because now as a sober observer, I realise that even those people who believe that alcohol has a minor effect on them are delusional.  And when people’s faculties are marred by their drink of choice, they make irrational decisions.  I hate to admit this, but I  shudder to think how many times I got behind the wheel of a car after a few too many.  And I am beyond grateful that I never got into an accident and hurt an innocent person in my stupidity.  Now I would rather stay out way past the fun has stopped to ensure that my loved ones get home safely with me as their designated driver.  I will go out in the middle of the night to collect my people if I know that it means they are not taking a chance with their lives or anyone else’s.

Please don’t get me wrong, I am not playing the saint here, but it in some way makes me feel like I am re-balancing my karma for the years when I paid no heed to friends trying to convince me not to drive.  There are other lapses in judgement that could well have seen my ultimate demise, but I imagine that chances are I would have ended up totaling my car.  Death would have been a sweet escape compared to the idea that I might have ended or destroyed others’ lives…  I know that this sounds morbid, but the ultimate truth is that unless untreated, substance abuse in any forms’ ultimate outcome is death.  It might take years of slow decay or in some cases mere months, but it’s going to happen sooner or later, and the effects are devastating for those around us to observe.

Imagine watching someone slowly killing themselves and being powerless to do anything about it?  Devastating!  Not giving a crap what you are putting the people around you through?  Well, to be honest about addiction, it’s the last thing you are really thinking about!  Arriving at that point in recovery when you start to understand the pain and suffering you’ve caused?  Incredibly tough!  Moving through that and moving forward?  Liberating!

The truth is that you have to let go of the guilt that you find yourself in when you do get to that point, because you cannot move forward if you are caught in the past.  So when I do think what might have happened if I was still drinking, it’s more of an observation these days then a good old-fashioned wallow.  I feel as though I’ve got to the point where I can be objective about the things I did in the past, rather than mortified when I think about them.  It’s taken an incredible amount of personal truth and hard work to get to that point, but it’s been worth it.

This is not the first time I’ve posted along these lines, but I feel that it’s a point that needs to be made.  Once you’ve made the decision to let the past go and really start living your life in the present, the results are truly incredible.  I do believe that the past remains an excellent point of reference to measure our progress and development, but that’s all it should be.  It shouldn’t be a place we revisit to beat ourselves up about things we have done, practice any sort of self reprisal or go to to feed our addict thoughts. So today I am grateful that I can look back to the point before my sobriety and use it as a measure of how far I have come and how much I have achieved in the last 2,320 days.  And when I do that it astounds how much more incredible my life is than it had been for at least the 6,000 days preceding that, and those were just the legal drinking years.  Because life is better with a clear head and an honest heart.

‘Til next time

Sober Something

Addiction will end your life…Recovery will change your story.

1398282210437The literature on addiction is honestly overwhelming.  And never more so than when you set out on your recovery and decide to start learning about your disease.  The internet has opened up a new world of resources, but it has also led to the availability of every opinion ever written on the subject!  Is addiction genetic?  Is addiction curable?  Is addiction caused by internal or external factors?  Am I an addict or just a heavy user?  Is abstinence the only choice?  The list of questions you find yourself asking goes on and on.  But the way I see it, is if you are asking these questions at any point you are in some respect worried about your substance consumption.

So many times I’d promise myself that “this was the last time!”  I honestly don’t believe that someone who is in control of their using (of whatever that may be), tells themselves this kind of thing.  And of course there is always the effect that substance use starts to have on professional and personal relationships.  Over the years of my journey I’ve come to understand that no matter how “in control” of the situation I thought I was, it was ever so clear to those around me that I wasn’t.  If I’d been a little more authentic with myself a little more often I would have come to the same conclusions sooner.

The big thing, all those questions aside, for me was that I just didn’t associate myself with what I understood an addict (in my case alcoholic) to be.  I didn’t drink alone, I didn’t have bottles (empty or full) stashed away in my house, I was holding down a job, I had a group of close friends.  I certainly didn’t drink every night of the week and definitely never consumed anything before or during the work day.  So how could I possibly be an alcoholic!?  But there were cracks in my story…  I was holding down a job or more to the point running a failing business.  My close friends and I often ended up fighting after a night of heavy “partying”.  And my finances were abysmal even though my trash cans were empty of the offending empties.

Even when I went to rehab and sat in group with people who were trying to turn their lives around,  I still felt vaguely superior as they talked of being separated from their families, fired from their jobs and basically living in the bones of their ass.  I was arrogant, thinking that unlike them I was not nearly as far down the addiction road and that it was simply a case of choosing to stop.  What I realise now, that I was too hot-headed to see then, was addiction is not a one-size fits all disease.  Sure it may be an equal opportunist, for who doesn’t know someone who has been affected by this epidemic, but it certainly doesn’t present itself in the same way every time.  What might be a genetic predisposition in one person could be a collection of environmental circumstances in another, both leading to substance abuse.  And there are dozens of other thoughts on the causes for addiction.

When a lot of people think “addict” they immediately jump to all sorts of preconceived notions.  Yet in my case, I never slept rough, I never stole to support my habit, I never crossed paths with the law because of my alcohol abuse and I never ever hid my drinking from those around me.  So when people hear that I am in long-term recovery I can often see that knowing look cross their faces.  Sure I did plenty of stupid stuff when I was drunk, including dabble in chemical substances, but I am not the stereo-type of what people immediately assume when they hear why I don’t drink.  I am in no way trying to elevate myself above anyone else who is struggling or has fought addiction, I’m simply reiterating that addiction can strike anyone, anywhere and it never wears the same hat!

And the reason for peoples’ attitudes is simply a lack of awareness and education on the matter of addiction and substance abuse, especially in my country.  I cannot speak for anywhere else, but I truly believe it is time to help people understand this disease and thereby lift that shame and guilt that so many addicts and their families suffer, especially in the early stages of recovery.  Nobody chooses to be an addict…I wrote about this in my post “(Not) What Every Little Girl Wants to Be

I’m not advocating taking no responsibility for what we have done while we were struggling with addiction, but I do believe that it is imperative that for an illness that touches such huge percentages of most of the world’s population, there should be even more awareness, more education, more treatment, more after-care and more support.  Addiction is not something sufferers and their families should be ashamed of!   It is something that they should be given the knowledge and tools to fight and overcome!  I don’t want anyone in my life to be embarrassed (including myself) because I am an addict in long-term recovery.  I want them to be proud of me for overcoming this life-threatening disease.  And I want to make it my life’s work to aid and facilitate the recovery of those who choose to set out on this journey of sustained sobriety.  I want to empower people to take control of their present situation and start living the lives they only ever imagined!  Because addiction will end your life and recovery will change your story.

‘Til next time

Sober Something

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Which way to recovery?

street-signs-recovery-300x168Recovery is scary, there is no doubt about that!  It takes time, perseverance and lots of work to stay sober, especially in those first couple of months (and years) and there are moments when relapse seems like the easy option!  But with more than 2,200 days of sobriety behind me I can honestly say that it is worth the battles, the moments of self-doubt and the sheer determination it takes.  And there are people who want to help us stay sober!  And whether that is your local mutual-help group, your therapist or counselor, your sober companion or your recovery coach there are options.  Social media has an incredible network of people in various stages of recovery, groups that are advocating a myriad of recovery options and recovery professionals that are there to hold our hands through the dark times and share in our successes during the good times.

So often in the past people thought that recovery could only begin once a person had reached “rock bottom”, but this is not the case.  Anyone who feels that they are struggling with a deep-seated addiction or just moving towards one, can reach out and use the internet which has become an invaluable source of information and education.  This may be as simple as taking on online test if one is concerned about their substance use, becoming a member of an online support group or doing a Skype session with a recovery professional.  It’s not a one-size fits all fix when it comes to confronting our substance abuse and making the decision to enter recovery anymore.  For some people it may start with a stay in a rehabilitation centre, for others it might be court-mandated and for others it may just be a case of enough’s enough!  Whatever the reasons are for people choosing to start their recovery journey, the options are becoming more varied than they have ever been.

I’ve blogged about this before, but as I study more about substance abuse, it is becoming clearer to me that just because one approach doesn’t “fit” doesn’t mean that a person should give up and go back to the source of their pain and misery, in whichever form they choose that to be.  I can speak from experience when I say that I spent a little time in voluntary rehab and it’s all good and well when one is within a protected environment, attending group and individual therapy and education sessions on a daily basis, but the hard work really starts when you leave and have to make recovery work in the real world! Sadly, it didn’t for me!  I tried, I honestly did, but at the time in my city the only options were therapy sessions I couldn’t afford and AA which just didn’t resonate with me.  I relapsed and spent another 4 years battling my alcoholism.

One of the resources that helped me through my first year in my third attempt at recovery was an online support group.  It wasn’t a 12-step program and that was a revelation to me.  I didn’t have to give myself over to a higher power and I was the person in control of my recovery choices.  I am taking absolutely nothing away from 12-step programs, they just don’t work for everyone and that is my point here.  Just because you don’t want to attend a group meeting, where you work steps and share your addiction in an open forum, doesn’t mean that there aren’t other alternatives.  There are other mutual-help groups that are not based on 12-steps, there are online support groups and discussion forums and there is an ever-increasing workforce involved in the area of substance abuse recovery.  But the most important thing is that if you do go through a rehabilitation program, you need to find what works for you after that.

Don’t give up if one of the options doesn’t excite or drive you into the next phase of your recovery!  Get on the internet and find a way that does…and there will be one.  Whether that means typing your fingers to the bone in online chat groups from the comfort of your living room or finding a recovery coach that will help you create a recovery plan.  For some it means doing work with a therapist to understand why they fell into addiction and laying these past issues to rest.  Because if you expend the same amount of time and energy on your recovery as you did on your addiction the results will be unprecedented.  I have read so many stories recently of people who are opening up and are not afraid to share their stories without the curtain of anonymity to protect them.  Because it is time to shake the shame and the stigma of substance abuse and do everything that we can to create awareness, educate, assist and overcome this disease that ruins too many lives across all sectors of the world population.

So reach out, ask questions, find the your way forward and make the internet and social media an intrinsic part of your recovery.  Of course these are just suggestions, things that have worked for me, but I find daily strength in blogs, tweets, posts and articles that I read that I believe make me stronger, wiser and more passionate about my own and others’ recovery journeys.  We are part of a community of people that care deeply about each other and our sustained sobriety and for that I am exceedingly grateful.

‘Til next time

Sober Something

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