What Does Recovery Mean to Me?

hardshipsoften600There is so much debate about recovery these days…is it abstinence or can it be moderation management?  Does these use of medications such as methadone and suboxone mean that you are or aren’t in recovery?  Does using prescription or over-the-counter medication containing “banned” substances count as a relapse?

I think about this often as a person in long-term recovery and I have come to the conclusion that I don’t have an answer for anyone else but myself.  I spent my first three or four years in recovery mainly not drinking…I don’t really think I was growing though.  If I  look back on that period of my recovery I don’t really think there was much of a change in my behaviour.  I continued to react to the world and the people in it in a largely  unhealthy way; I avoided difficult emotional situations and I think I spent a lot of time hiding from myself.

And then one day I started to really explore what recovery meant to me… I started reading, learning and expanding my knowledge.  I began to question my beliefs around addiction and what it meant to me to be in recovery.  I reevaluated my value system and what was important to me in my life…and then I started to see real change.  I begun to understand (for myself) that recovery wasn’t about whether I was checking the label of each and everything I put in my mouth as to whether or not it contained any alcohol or potentially addictive substance, but rather how I was growing and developing in my life.

What I began to realise was that hiding in dark corners at parties and get togethers in fear that someone may offer me a drink and then question my refusal, wasn’t me getting well…  I needed to take personal responsibility for my life and start doing some work.  It was the stage where I started to formulate what recovery means to me…  It wasn’t solely about whether I used drugs and alcohol in ANY form, but rather how I saw myself.  And suddenly the haze started to lift for me and it wasn’t about saying no to my addiction towards alcohol (and one or two risky associated behaviours), but rather saying yes towards my life.  And it was at that point in my recovery that it all started to make sense to me.

There was NO point sitting around and feeling that I had been dealt a dud hand, but rather that I needed to make the most of the hand that I had been dealt.  Everyone in active addiction and recovery has a story as to what brought them there, and none is less or more tragic than the next, just relevant to the teller.  So I actively began working o my recovery and stopped focusing on my substance abuse.  I started to look towards a bright, exciting future where so many things suddenly became possible, rather than lamenting the fact that I was “unable” to take part in a round of tequilas, a champagne toast or a seat at the wine tasting.  My vision started to broaden, my horizons started to look clear and inviting, and I stopped feeling like the awkward kid at the party who was desperate to fit in.

I started celebrating my clarity, exploring my possibilities and being grateful for the little successes in my life that I had long taken for granted.  I cherished early mornings, long lazy weekend afternoons free of hangovers, and I looked forward to guilt-free Monday mornings.  I stopped screening my calls, started practising gratitude and embraced the idea of personal, emotional, mental and spiritual development in a myriad of forms.

And then I knew what recovery meant to me…and I have known ever since.  To me it doesn’t mean passing on the delicious home-made tiramisu, but it does mean being honest with myself.  It means spending time on the things that are important to me, but also remembering the importance of others in my life.  It means owning my part in any situation (good or bad) and remembering that I don’t always get it right.  It means spending time with myself, constantly evaluating what I did well and what I can do better, and then using those learnings to improve on how I did things yesterday.  It means listening, watching, reading, exploring and investigating and it means NEVER getting complacent.

But these are my learnings and they have taken years to evolve and develop.  I don’t have the same beliefs around recovery as even some of my colleagues in the field of addiction, but as a Recovery Coach it is my quest to hold the space while others come to their own conclusions about what their recovery means to them and then walk beside them as they figure it all out…just like I did for myself.

Til next time,

Sober Something

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

If You’re Not Growing You’re Dying…

If you're not growingLife has been extremely hectic and I realised that I haven’t posted for an exceptionally long time, so I have made time this morning to sit down and catch up a little and do a little self reflection at the same time.  And the idea that has kept coming to me over the last few days is the idea that “If you’re not growing, you’re dying”.  It keeps coming back to me in my personal and professional life, and has made me think deeply about my own growth as well as the growth of my Recovery Coaching clients.  You may believe the statement to be true or may refute it wholeheartedly, but it’s definitely worth thinking about.  Because would you rather be living a life of stagnation and mediocrity, or do you want a life of purpose and fulfillment.  I can honestly say that the more I do to push myself and grow, the more satisfaction I get from my life.  And as a coach in the field of recovery (from addiction and substance abuse) I see incredible development in the individuals who dig deep to discover what they want and how they plan to achieve it.

So ask yourself the questions, “Who am I?” and “Where do I want my life to be in [three] months?”  The truth is that a lot of us don’t really know who we are or what we want.  We get so caught up in just getting by and staying on top of things that we forget to dream and aspire!  Sadly we also tend to lose touch with who we are and the things that feed our souls.  This is especially true for people in early recovery!  Through the compulsive cycle of using or doing, people have forgotten what makes their heart sing, what values drive them and what principles guide them.  It’s ever so easy to sit around and pay lip service to principles like honesty, integrity and tolerance that are identified as an essential part of the recovery journey, but it’s completely different (and often pretty challenging) to actually incorporate them into our lives and use them to aspire us towards our goals.

Understanding and determining our values is also difficult, but essential.  Especially since during active addiction our one true value is often our substance of choice.  It’s what gets us out of bed in the morning and determines the course of our day!  And that may sound uncomfortable and even irritate you, but the truth is that in active addiction we are driven by our behaviour patterns and habits.  The challenge in recovery is to develop new ways of doing things, and retraining our brain to respond differently to life events that would of sent us into the arms of our addictive substance or behaviour.  So the way I see it recovery is about growth!  It’s about deciding where you want yourself and your life to be in the future and then developing action steps to achieve this.

Recovery capital is essential in the journey.  Whether this be in the physical, emotional, mental, social or spiritual sphere it’s important to determine where you have resources to support you in your recovery and where you may need to build your capital.  And everyone’s recovery capital is different!  Where one person might choose to attend NA/AA meetings as part of the spiritual/emotional capital, another will identify that team sport serves and supports them in the same way.  And this is illustrative of the idea that every individual needs to determine their own recovery plan, that is as unique as they are.  Because my dreams and aspirations are ever so different to the next person, so to will be my recovery.  So in Recovery Coaching we share tools to support individuals’ recovery, but it is up to every person to determine what they need and want moving forward in their lives.  As a recovery coach my role is to challenge my clients to understand where they are, and support them in their journey to where they want to be, whether this is personally or professionally.  And during this process to take personal responsibility and accountability for their actions.

So recovery is about growth for me!  It’s about solutions-driven, forward-focused movement that is driven by principle and guided by spiritual principles.  It’s about creating a life that is determined by purpose and feeding one’s soul with activities that bring joy and fulfillment.  Every step that we take towards the life we dream of is growth…and is exciting and stimulating.  I use these practices in my own life and the more I do, the richer and more incredible my life becomes.  I continue to learn and develop personally and professionally as I strive to incorporate principles into my life, live by my values, excavate my dreams and build plans to achieve what my heart desires.  And at the centre of all this is continuing to build my recovery capital so that I have the resources and support to move towards my aspirations.  Because I honestly believe that “if you are not growing you are dying.”

For more information on Recovery Coaching please visit http://www.recoverycoachingsa.com or email me on leighanne@recoverycoachingsa.com

Til next time

Sober Something

Why is early recovery so difficult?

I was  asked to do a guest post for Addictionology earlier this year on why people find early recovery so difficult!?  It really didn’t take me too long to think of a multitude of reasons, myself having white-knuckled my early recovery some years ago.  In my opinion, being clean and sober is not the same as being in recovery.  Simply abstaining without changing one’s behaviour patterns, developing effective coping mechanisms and growing mentally, emotionally, socially and spiritually means we are not growing as a person in recovery.  Because I think that this is an incredibly important issue, I have decided to re-post the article here in an attempt to highlight how finding purpose and fulfillment is essential to long-term recovery and wellness.

Moving from the culture of addiction to the culture of recovery is a challenging journey that requires physical, mental, emotional, social and spiritual recovery capital to ensure that we have the resources to support us in our recovery.  In order to fill the void that is left by abstaining from harmful substances and behaviour, it is important that we start to develop tools and techniques that aid our recovery.  By giving us the objectivity of “mind sight” to be able to observe our feelings, thoughts and behaviour in a potentially harmful situation, we are better equipped to develop new thought patterns, so that we are able to overcome early-stage cravings and urges.

By understanding the importance of spiritual principles and determining what our personal values are, we can start to feed our souls.  Instead of pursuing destructive behaviour patterns that are prevalent in substance abuse, we should try and develop healthy pursuits, explore new interests and identify which elements of our lives need to cultivated.  People in early recovery often experience difficulties because they are not prepared for the feelings of loneliness and emptiness they experience because of they have lost their “best friend”.  According to psychiatrist, Elizabeth Kübler-Ross, people in recovery go through the stages of grief, like those experienced when losing a close friend or family member.  People will most likely experience denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance during the process and may be unaware that we are actually grieving.  Again, by understanding and acknowledging our situation, we are able to more effectively deal with obstacles we may confront in the early stages of our recovery journey.

Personal learning and self-development will ensure that we are more empowered, moving towards a life of purpose and fulfilment in the later stages of recovery.  Goal setting and action planning are skills that can be consciously developed to aid forward movement in recovery.  By joining a Recovery Wellness Program clients are encouraged to design their own recovery plan and identify and capitalise on their personal strengths, while be aware of areas of weakness and possible obstacles that might jeopardise their early recovery.  By engaging in adult education in an environment of positive psychology, solutions-driven coaching and peer support, one is given a safe environment to explore recovery in an honest, empowering program.

Til Next Time

Sober Something


The Foundation Recovery Wellness Program is a 21-day program that aids recovery, by developing the survivor in each client, exposing clients to information about recovery (rather than focusing on addiction), and giving each client the opportunity to grow and move forward in a supportive, caring space.  For more information on The Foundation Recovery Wellness Program, please visit www.thefoundationclinic.com or contact Leigh-Anne (082)442-5710 discuss your options.

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

What if I fall!?

As you may have noticed from my posts, I truly believe that I am living my purpose by “paying it forward” and aiding others on their journey through recovery.  And it’s incredibly rewarding work walking with someone as they grow and develop, and begin (re)finding their personal power.  Coaching in the realm of recovery is truly remarkable and over the last few months I have seen incredible transformations in a few of the people I have been blessed to work with.  But of course there are also tough cases that don’t always end up the way I hope, but that cannot detract from the forward-focused, solutions-driven nature of the work I am doing.  Yet, the mainstream approach to treatment and aftercare in South Africa is based on the 12-step program and the idea that addiction is a disease.  And there are parts of that theory that I can relate to, especially the fact that genetics can play a large part in whether or not someone has a tendency towards substance abuse.

What I cannot buy into is that we are “sick” forever, never free of the malady of addiction.  I have met brilliant people in my life who are afflicted by substance abuse, but are smart, funny, educated, wonderful people that do not deserve to be simply labeled with the term addict.  And lets face it, it’s a stigma!  But substance abuse disorders are not all the same and even the DSM-5 (The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders) places them on a continuum from mild to severe.  So throwing everyone into the addict pot does nothing to aid the healing process, but simply labels people based on an outdated and destructive stereo-type.  And in this model sits the traditional treatment and recovery approaches, wherein people are made to believe that sick they are and sick they will stay.  But each person I meet in recovery is so much more than their disorder and when participating in coaching within the paradigm of wellness and positive psychology, it is amazing to see how people embrace their recovery when they are internally motivated by the knowledge that they are in a place of wellness.

By focusing on what is right, rather than what is wrong, people make enormous, visible progress.  By visible I mean going from hopeless to optimistic, unemployed to actively seeking employment or back in the work place, healing mentally and physically, being present and conscious in their personal relationships and not living in constant fear of relapse!  It’s an incredible process to be part of because the decisions are made by the client and the short-term strategies and long-term objectives are developed by the individual.  The coach simply holds a safe space and uses powerful questions to guide the client towards their truth.  So instead of living under the cloak of addiction, clients are encouraged to embrace their wellness and recovery and move forward.  Dwelling in the past is not encouraged and neither is wallowing in the hopelessness of the disease model.  Because in my opinion if you focus on the negative aspects and the constant possibility of relapse, well you probably know where I’m going with this thought…  I’m not saying that relapses don’t occur, but by giving clients practical skills, tools and techniques to walk the road to recovery with confidence and self belief, relapse isn’t the focus of recovery, rather something that might happen.  And like any challenge in life, if it does happen it is not because the client is weak and sick, but rather there is a need to refocus, reevaluate and redefine what is required to overcome this setback.

We all stumble on life’s journey, but living in a place of guilt and shame is not productive or fulfilling.  Determining practical steps based firmly in the mature emotions of joy, fear, anger and sadness and not letting the childlike emotions of guilt and shame attach themselves to our experiences,  is a primary focus of recovery coaching.  By learning to acknowledge how we feel by checking in with ourselves and others and expressing our feelings, is an adult approach to life.  Feeling sad or angry does not need to be negative when the reasons behind these emotions are addressed and understood.  Fear is a protective emotion and joy cannot be sustained indefinitely without the other emotions being part of the balance.

By being present, conscious and adult in our feelings and determining actions and plans that work for us, we can live in a place of wellness and choose how we wish to be seen.  I sure as hell don’t think that we need to be stigmatised but the term “addict”, because we are much more than that and can never be defined by a single word.  So in closing I’d like you to take a few minutes and decide who you want to be, free of the addict label.  What are your desires, dreams and passions?  What drives, motivates and inspires you?  Who are you?

what if i fallAs for me, I’m Leigh-Anne.  Coach, educator, dreamer, partner, lover, friend, sister, daughter.  I am an empowered woman who is passionate about the work I do and aiding others through helping them to discover their own purpose, values, dreams and aspirations.  And I am filled with gratitude that I have got to a place in my life where I truly understand my own value and purpose.

Til next time,

Sober Something

How you do anything, is how you do everything!

This weekend I attended a seminar on Financial Freedom and Wealth Creation…and it was profoundly life-changing for me!  It wasn’t just about how I can make money or what I need to do to become wealthy, it was about the mindset of money.  What struck me the most over the three days was the amount of emotion that we connect to money and wealth.  The methodology is based around coaching and active learning, and the processes that were used were extremely empowering both financially and emotionally.  After many years of personal development I believed that I had broken free of much the emotional baggage that had been holding me back during my active addiction, but this weekend it became glaringly obvious that I have been carrying around a boatload of anger and resentment that are stopping me from moving forward in my life.

In my efforts to not be like certain people in my life, I have chosen to be everything that they are not, including professionally and financially successful.  It made sense to me at some subconscious level that if I was to be true to who I wanted to be this included struggling financially, because it was the antithesis to what I didn’t want to be!!  And yes, I have blogged about letting go of anger in the past, and I truly thought that I had managed to do a damn good job of that.  I might well have let go of my anger in certain spheres of my life, but I will be honest and say that there was a great big wad of it sitting inside me still.  So through the exercises and activities over the very intense three-day event, I was given the opportunity to really let a lot of the destructive emotions and feelings (about more than wealth and money) go!!  To watch them shrivel and die, because they are holding me back from the person that I know I can be was an incredibly liberating experience.

It’s always difficult to take a long, hard, honest look at ourselves and admit that there are parts of ourselves that we are not satisfied with.  Perhaps it’s our relationships, our jobs, our money situation, even ourselves, but it is tough to admit that we are not happy with where we are.  At points over the weekend, I was so far outside my comfort zone that I felt completely uncomfortable, charged with anxiety.  But I put my trust in the processes that were taking place and in myself.  Since I am a huge advocate of the coaching system, I went into everything with an open mind and was profoundly and positively affected by doing so.

More than once during the course of the weekend I was in a very emotionally vulnerable position, as I was slammed with numerous epiphanies.  And the people around me, who were complete strangers, were kind and supportive of my state and held a safe space for me while I explored by feelings of fear, anger, shame and guilt.  The activities are designed to focus on money, but the discoveries went so much deeper than that.  After digging really deep and stepping into my discomfort and fear, I left the event with a completely new outlook, feeling inspired and motivated.  Since one of my most important personal values is education and training, taking a weekend to develop myself is a privilege for me and I loved every minute.

The developer of the course, T. Harv Eker‘s quote was used more than once over the weekend and I truly believe that he is completely correct when he says “How you do anything, is how you do everything!”  And I am certain that this goes for our approach to our recovery.  I thought about how far I’ve come more than once over the three days, and even though the focus of the seminar was financial freedom, I had plenty of opportunities to relate it to my personal journey.  There was more than one moment when I realised that even though I have come a very long way in my recovery, there are other areas of my life I may have neglected because of pent-up feelings I have around certain people, places and this.  So this morning as I sit here writing this blog entry, I feel like my personal development reached a new level this weekend and many of the ideas I was introduced to will serve me well in many other areas of my life too.  After all life is always better with a clear head and an honest heart.

How you do anything

‘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

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

Easy come…easy go…

The longer I am in recovery, the more control I want to have over my life and this includes my financial future.  I’ve always been abominable with money!  There have been times in my life when I was living on the bones of my ass and there have been times when I would have considered myself fairly flush, but it’s always been “easy come, easy go” when it come to money and me.  No matter how much I made, I’d always be broke at the end of the month and as a woman in her early 40s I have virtually nothing to show for my years and years of hard work.  And I’ve always been somewhat flippant about my lack of investments, any sort of retirement plan and the non-existence of any real assets.  I have a couple of things here and there, but if push came to shove, I’d be in a world of economic pain.  I did recently buy a car in preparation for my return to South Africa next month and although I wouldn’t wanted to have admitted it in my carefree, unencumbered addict days, it felt really grown up and satisfying to use my hard-earned money to buy something real.

I’ve worked extremely hard over the past 13 months in a place I abhor, separated from my loved ones, so that I could save some money to jump start my future back home.  It’s been really tough and there have been days when I wanted to throw in the proverbial towel and jump on the next available plane, but I’ve stuck it out and only have another five weeks to go.  It’s been a real test on my patience, and sometimes sanity, but us recovering addicts are tough!  And I’ve managed to put a good amount of money away this year so that I can really start to build my dreams, and believe me they do come at an emotional, mental and financial price.  In fact, yesterday was the first time in over four weeks that I shared so much as a cup of coffee with someone.  My position in the university where I work leaves me in something of a personal limbo, so I spend a good deal of my time away from work alone.  However, the upside is that I have saved my money and learned an incredible personal lesson along the way.

The truth is that we take so much in our lives for granted.  Whether it’s sharing a meal with friends and family, taking a walk along the beach with a loved one or attending an event like a wedding or graduation.  Being so isolated over this time has made me appreciate how priceless time with our loved ones is.  I’ve always known that, but talking to those back home home who say things like, “Oh, I just went up the road to have tea,” or “I’m really not doing anything this weekend.  All I have on is a dinner with friends,” makes me see that we need to be more appreciative of those moments that we do get to share.  But I digress…

So one of the steps I am taking towards my financial freedom is learning to trade.  It’s a little daunting, but it’s exciting to learn something new that is stretching me intellectually.  And sometimes when I look at the charts I am studying it reminds me of the path of recovery.  Highs and lows, sometimes sideways’ moves, but never unchanging.  It’s the nature of things to be dynamic and inconsistent, and it is in that we find life’s exhilaration.  It’s exciting to feel inspired and motivated to take ever-increasing control of all the elements of my life, rather than being a passive participant in the unfolding adventure.  And the more of the story that’s written, they more motivated I am to continue along this road of recovery that is lined with promise, potential and beauty in all myriad of forms.

‘Til next time

Sober Something

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