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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

‘Til next time

Sober Something

Your journey has molded you

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

It’s not my cup of tea…but it is my journey.

The more I learn about addiction, the more confusing it becomes!?  There are so many ideas about the cause of addiction and the reasons that some people become addicts and others don’t.  At the moment I am doing a course on “Addiction & The Brain” and I have to admit that it’s stretching me intellectually.  But it’s also fascinating.  I’m learning about things that I had no idea about and the great thing about being in long-term recovery is that there are so many more hours in the day than there were when I was drinking.  We all know that a lot of our time when we are in the grips of addiction is taken up with our disease…  And that’s another element of addiction that is constantly under debate.

But whatever you have chosen as the cause of your addiction, whether it be physiology, environment, stress or being hit with the unlucky gene stick (to name a few) I think it’s important to be clear in this for yourself, so you can choose a course of action to map out your recovery.  And with the luxury of hangover-free weekends and luxuriant evenings unclouded by your drug of choice, there is oodles of time to spend deciding the best approach for yourself.  I’ve also been spending a lot of time on the recovery discussion boards recently and the one thing that has struck me is this almost warlike rivalry between those who follow the 12-step programs and those who choose not to.

I’ve been open about the fact that 12-step just never resonated with me, but I don’t think people in recovery should waste one second of their new found time verbally bashing alternative approaches to recovery.  If AA works for you then that’s brilliant!  If you have chosen to go another route such as therapy, then more power to you.  Or perhaps you’re working with a Recovery Coach to plot your individual path through the initial stages of sobriety.  Again I say, there’s not a one-size-fits-all answer to getting and staying clean and sober.  But I’m confounded by the rather vicious debate between people who have chosen recovery, to try and argue that the route that they’ve chosen is the right one (and the other ways are wrong)!

The one thing I know for certain about my recovery is that there is no point in trying to make your recovery into someone else’s.  Especially in the early stages of sobriety we are so amazed at how wonderful it feels that I suppose it’s inevitable that we want to share this with others.  If I can use the analogy of looking at your friends’ endless pictures of their last overseas trip…it’s far less inspiring and exciting to be subjected to endless views of famous landmarks and pics of new travel mates, than to be the person who is reliving the journey.  A funny anecdote here and there and maybe a snapshot of the little bistro they stumbled across in Florence is one thing, but hundreds of photos of the works of the Italian Masters quite another.

I feel the same way about how we choose to pursue our recovery.  When asked by someone I am happy to give them a brief objective outline of how I chose to get well.  Of course I am always asked if I tried AA, and I’m truthful about the fact that it didn’t work for me, but I do not spend the next 20 minutes AA-bashing!  I talked about a couple of different choices in my post “Which Way to Recovery“, the idea here was to encourage people to concentrate on what works for you!  Don’t take away from anyone that they may be happy with the structure of working the steps, or that they may seek something more tailor-made.  That where some may be willing and able to rely on their own willpower and tenacity others may find solace and support in a group setting.  I really haven’t set out to upset or offend anyone with this post today, I just think that all this time spent vilifying a road to recovery that might not be your cup of tea, is a senseless waste of time. And quite honestly, a rather negative thing to be focusing on.

Your journeyOf course there is room for healthy debate, but prejudicial argument has no place here because the point of any approach is to create a healthy fulfilling life for ourselves and others.  By all means share the strengths of your program, but let’s all agree that there is little benefit to be found in spending any time being negative about an alternative approach that might hold the answer for someone else.  My point is it really doesn’t matter how you get to and through recovery, as long as it doesn’t include the harm of others than there is merit it it for you and there may be for others too.  So focus on the positives and forget about the negatives, because life is better with a clear head and an open heart.

‘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

Today I want to thank…my addict.

i-have-seen-the-sea-when-it-is-stormy-and-wild-when-it-is-quiet-and-serene-when-it-is-dark-and-moody-and-in-all-its-moods-i-see-myselfSometimes I wonder whether I’ll ever find the balance I so strive for in my life!?  The balance that I believe will bring me personal calm and emotional tranquility…  There are some days when I feel like a tiny dingy being tossed around on a stormy sea, secured only by a fraying rope to its yacht, slowly breaking up as the waves pound onto it.  Then there are days like today, when I feel like the sleek, beautifully crafted boat that I was tethered to the day before.  Gliding effortlessly through the azure waters of some light-kissed sea.  Yet what I strive for most is to be the rope that is holding the two together.  I am still tending to extremes, either motivated and inspired, or avoiding anything that resembles real life.  There are some days when I feel the strength of the rope, reassuring and flexible, as the two sides of me move across the metaphorical ocean, but it’s never for the length of time that I want it to be…

I had a power session with a wonderful coach on Thursday evening and one of the things I wanted to address was my erratic motivation.  I have so much going on at the moment and I feel that rather than breaking it down into bite-size manageable chunks (as the 7-step formula for guaranteed success which is stuck to my study mirror recommends) I am looking at it all as one great, big daunting task and really not getting anywhere!  So my coach and I looked at all the things I have to do and my need to be able to measure my progress, so that I can see what I have achieved, rather than trying to measure it internally.  It was nothing new, it was nothing revolutionary, but suddenly as a said that I needed a movable, vision system that I could use to literally mark off my progress on, things started to become clearer.

A cork board with pinned items, became a chessboard with movable tasks and goals and then a menu choice struck the perfect cord!  A set of water vessels, each representing a project and to be filled with coloured water as actions were taken towards completion.  Suddenly I was feeling incredibly inspired because instead of a jumble of projects, tasks and ideas within my head, I was thinking about something that I could use to gauge my achievements and mark off my steps!  It was visual, flexible and incredibly simple…  All I had to do was decide on the most important projects that I want to complete over the next eight weeks and get to work on my “Power Tower”.  I pondered, imagined, rushed out and bought the ingredients to get started and then woke up yesterday morning in a funk!  I hate the fact that there is no consistency in my moods…

Sometimes I can go for weeks without feeling down, but then something throws me off course and I am in that dingy again!  Well, yesterday was spent weathering the most atrocious emotional tempest.  I know that I am supposed to be mastering the tools I’ve studied over the past months and have been successfully using to empower the clients I work with, but sometimes I feel those addict behaviours wrap themselves around my psyche in an iron-clad grip.   It’s a terrible feeling of helplessness and vulnerability, being trapped in a very negative state of mind for no particular reason.  It takes me back to the weekend mornings when I would wake up on after a night of binge drinking, feeling morose and miserable.  Those mornings when I’d wrack my brain to try and remember if there was anything I’d done that I needed to feel remorseful about…  That lurking feeling of unease that something horrible had happened, but I couldn’t quite put my finger on it.

The thing is that my life now is actually so incredible!  I am moving back to my home country in less than two months, I have a wonderful man in my life, and the most incredible friends and family.  There are exciting professional prospects ahead and I have made some very promising connections to move closer to my dreams.  Yet I can feel the addict in me looking for something negative and destructive to grab onto!!  And on those days I do feel powerless in the face of my addiction.  I don’t believe that my alcoholism was only about substance abuse, but also personal abuse, where I allowed my behaviour to be governed by destructive thought patterns and negative interactions.  It wasn’t only about the misuse of alcohol, but also the misuse of self.  And sometimes even after more than six years of recovery, that is the part of the addiction that I find the hardest to keep at bay!  It’s not the drinking, but the freedom that drinking allowed me to be less than myself.

Nobody really expects too much of someone who is battling in the midst of addiction, and no more so than the addict themselves.  I didn’t feel the need to achieve, to develop, to succeed.  After all wasn’t I dealing with enough trying to get over my substance abuse and live through the physical and mental anguish.  And now my life is good, really good, and all those expectations I ignored are here, right in front of me and the only way I can avoid them is to tend towards my addict thinking.  I have to say that as I type this it’s coming out like a personal epiphany!  It’s not really what I was going to blog about today, but as I write these words I realise exactly what has been going on the last couple of months.  The truth is that the weaker the addict within me is getting, the more fiercely it is fighting to stay alive…  It is frantically engaging in guerrilla tactics to ensure it’s survival and not be banished.  It’s amazing how I’ve suddenly realised this in the last few minutes…

And as I sit here, I want to honour the addict in me…thank it for everything it has brought to my life…express the utmost gratitude for the lessons it has taught me…and give it the respect that any element of ourselves deserves.  I also want my addict to understand that I am not trying to cast it out, as it is very much a part of who I am, but rather give it the space to exist within me emotionally & spiritually, as part, but not all, of who I am.  Rather than trying to omit the addict from my life completely I need to acknowledge the good things that it brings to my life and how I can use these elements to develop, prosper and succeed.  I totally understand the obstacle work I have done in my coaching studies and sessions as of this moment, as though a switch has been flicked and as I sit here, there is a strange sense of peace and acceptance moving through my body, because everything is easier with an clear head and an honest heart.

‘Til next time

Sober Something

Your current conditions are echoes of your past choices…

your current situationI have honestly not had a moment to sit down and write in more than two weeks, and what an incredible two weeks it has been.  It honestly feels as though the Universe has been preparing me for the incredible opportunities that she is presently showering me with and I am beyond grateful.  Yesterday I qualified as a Life Coach and I could not even have imagined that this was possible when I was caught in the grips of my addiction.  There were some times over the last seven months while I was doing my training when I really had to push through, because it required that I take a long, hard look at my “inner obstacles” and that’s never an easy thing to do.  But I persevered through the tears and the uncertainty, and have emerged from the experience more centred, empowered and focused than ever.  I simply cannot wait to start my new journey in aiding others in their journeys to personal empowerment.  I feel more liberated than I can ever remember and am overcome with gratitude for my present set of circumstances.

Last weekend was a weekend of firsts as I mentioned in my last post, and even though there were a couple of emotional- and alcohol-charged instances, as I always knew there would be, it was an incredible weekend.  The wonderful man in my life handled meeting my family and friends with a grace and calmness that only made me adore him even more, and it was so amazing to spend an entire three days together.  I believe that we have a far stronger emotional and spiritual connection than we did a week ago and I am more excited than ever about us.  There were plenty of tears of joy shed as we watched my brother and his bride tie the knot and we welcomed a new member into our family.  It was a long overdue family reunion too and there were more of us together than there have been for about twenty years, which was exceptionally special.

We danced, we loved, we laughed and we celebrated, and not once did I feel the need for a drink.  The bridal party ensured that there was non-alcoholic champagne for the non-drinkers and the bubbles were enough!  Being there, holding the hand of the man I am truly besotted with made the weekend more beautiful than I could ever have imagined.  The time flew by, but at the end of the trip I never had those feelings that I’d experienced when special occasions were over in the past, and I was feeling hungover and miserable.  I felt happy, together and exited about what the future holds, rather than nauseated, depressed and just blue…

And then there is my unfolding new professional path…  In a couple of months I will be permanently home in South Africa and completing my specialised training as a Recovery Coach.  Over the last few months, some proactive networking has paid off and I’ve established a connection with a few really incredible people involved in the field of Recovery Coaching.  One of them is an American coach & trainer who will be visiting SA later in the year to run a couple of  Recovery Coach training seminars that I am helping to organise.  Through this I have also been blessed to meet a wonderful coach who is not only assisting in the organisation of the events, bringing her established networks and experience to the planning, but has also graciously offered to be my mentor as I start my “calling” as a Recovery Coach.

I truly feel like the Universe is smiling at me and that everything is truly coming together.  There have been times gone by when I wrangled with the idea of how our past actions create our present situation, but I embraced the idea and now it feels as though my patience and acceptance of this ideal has started to bear fruit.  Maybe I just needed to power through the negative residue from my drinking years to move into this period of personal and professional abundance.  The feeling of having true purpose is something I’ve never truly experienced, but it feels as though there was indeed a plan for me and I just needed to get to the point where I was ready to pursue my true life ambition.

I know that there will be challenges ahead as I leave the security of paid employment to begin a private coaching practice, but I know that facilitating the recovery of others through their personal empowerment will be filled with rewards and opportunities for further self-development.  And I always maintain that anything is possible with a clear head and an honest heart.

‘Til next time

Sober Something

When was the last time you did something for the first time?

when was the last timeI’ve been wanting to sit down and write for over a week, but life in the desert has been manic, hectic and non-stop for weeks!  I completed the theory assessment for my coaching certification, have been practising for my final coaching exam, planning the visit of a Recovery Coach to South Africa for a training seminar and working towards building the brand for my Recovery Coaching practice, and of course there’s been my 50-hour-plus job at the university.  Needless to say there has not been too much time for anything else.  But I am feeling invigorated and excited about life at the moment, especially because in 11 days I am flying home to South Africa for my “baby” brother’s wedding!  And of course that is a wonderful reason to cross continents.

 

It’s my first wedding in South Africa for over a decade.  Living and working abroad may have its rewards, but these often come at the expense of other things.  And for me the big one has always been the weddings I have missed.  Of course there have been other events like the births of my best friends’ children, but for me nothing quite compares to a wedding.  Don’t get me wrong, I’m not the kind of woman who has been planning her wedding since she heard her first bedtime account of Cinderella, but I am a complete sucker for romance and well, a wedding day is about as romantic as it gets in my book.  And needless to say, I cry at weddings, no matter how well I know the couple, and I do so unashamedly.  The celebration of a couples’ love in front of their friends and families is a wonderfully joyous occasion, even the ones where the best man’s speech makes everyone want to crawl under the nearest table and the photographer starts to become annoying arranging everyone for hours into poses for group photos.

But the truth be told this will be the first wedding I have attended since I entered long-term recovery.  Many years ago during one of my failed attempts I went to a dear friend’s wedding and spent the evening refusing offers of drinks from people I didn’t know.  I don’t remember the evening being too difficult and at that stage I was in very early recovery, which sadly did not last.  I always said when I stopped drinking that one of the things that I would miss the most would be champagne at a wedding!  So the weekend after next will be my first wedding in this six-year recovery period of sobriety.  It’s also going to be my first weekend away with the amazing man that I am dating, and the first time he’ll meet my family…and I mean almost the entire family.  To be fair it’s not a very big family, but what we lack in numbers we make up for in rather loud, demonstrative behaviour.  Most of the family talk loudly, drink heavily and don’t sugar coat much of anything.  Luckily for him he does enjoy a good red, so I’m sure that’ll “ease the pain”.  It’s also the first time in seventeen years I’ve introduced anyone to my family which is something of a recovery milestone for me too and although I am feeling a little nervous about how everything could go (mainly because my family can be a little unplayable at times) I am very incredibly excited about the weekend.

I do know that I am going to have to keep my wits about me though and remain together and level headed as the weekend rijks-480-gen1progresses towards the wedding on the Saturday afternoon.  There’s a kind of rehearsal dinner on the Friday evening, and since the celebrations are taking place in the heart of South Africa’s Winelands and the family and friends are all rather partial to a bottle or two of good wine, I just need to remind myself that I need to stay vigilant about my anxiety and try and try and stay relaxed and calm.  In fact I think I’m going to be using every present moment trick and deep breathing technique I know…  I know it’ll be an emotional weekend with lots of old friends coming together to see my brother and his fiancee tie the knot, on what I imagine is going to be a very special day.  So the weekend is going to be full of recovery firsts for me, which is something to look forward to in its own right.  Not only will I be celebrating with my loved ones, but I will also be having a quiet moment or two to celebrate with myself and how far I have come over the last six years.  It’ll be wonderful to be there with a partner next to me, rather than the wild child who would inevitably end up leading many poor friends and relatives astray with my tequila drinking.

Being able to be there and remember this special time in all its detail is something that fills me with happiness and knowing that at the end of the evening my beautiful dress, bought specially for the evening, will not be stained or torn is also a very grown up thought.  So I’m literally counting the days until I get on that plane and head home for what is going to be a weekend of wonderful firsts, including having a lovely, new sister, being asked to read a poem at someone’s wedding and not being the one to dance on a table!

Til next time

Sober Something

Relax!? Don’t do it!?

I’m sitting here and staring at the keyboard, feeling like I want to post something today, but not quite sure what it is…  And the more I think about it the less I am coming up with.  I’m feeling a little distracted and in one of those moods when I cannot fully focus on one task in particular.  I find that sometimes the idea of buckling down and completing a job that requires any level of thought and concentration are way beyond me.  The idea of grinding away at something that will only bring gratification in the long term, rather than being instantaneous, is more than I want to deal with.  I have a long list of things I need to do even though it’s Saturday.  From tasks as menial and mindless as attacking the big basket of ironing that is glaring at me from the corner of my bedroom to spending a good chunk of time working through my coaching notes for my final assessment in a couple of weeks.

What I’d really like to do is lounge next to a crystal clear ocean, preferably in a hammock, quietly whiling away the hours with a good book and languorous conversation with my guy.  It’s not going to happen today, especially considering that I am surrounded by thousands of kilometres of desert, being scantily clad is completely forbidden and the man I mention is on another continent.  And then I start to feel a little guilty about the fact that there are so many things on my to-do list and I really just don’t feel like doing any of them.  But I need to stop now and remember my own advice and look for the positive intention that the lack of concentration is bringing me and there it is…  My brain is tired!  I work a normal(ish) 5-day work week, but my weekends and evenings are taking up coaching and studying.  And by sitting here and looking at what I should be doing and making myself feel bad about it, I should rather just accept that maybe I need an afternoon (or at least a few hours) to mentally recuperate.

This is something I never learned to do while I was drinking.  If I hit any sort of resistance to the things I was trying to do, I’d simply push through and then get to the stage where I was utterly exhausted.  Generally what would follow would be a good binge session to reward myself for all my hard work, to be tailed by at least one day of feeling high levels of physical and emotional remorse, only to complete the cycle by pushing myself extra hard to make up for the days I’d lost drinking and recovering.  A vicious, unhealthy pattern of overwork and complete avoidance thereof.  So if I have to be honest with myself I guess that there are still times I begin to enter into that negative cycle.  Except now instead of getting to the point where I throw up my hands and grab a strong drink (or ten), I am learning to identify that I am in need of some downtime and do just that.  Because sitting at my desk and not getting anything done is just fooling myself that I am actually working.

It’s taken me years of personal development and introspection to understand these elements of self, and sometimes I am still incredibly hard on myself.  But truthfully I have my coaching work and personal coach of the past six months to thank for these insights.  I may think I am being lazy or unproductive, but now I’ve started to see that I need to listen to these “negative” feelings and see what they are trying to bring me.  What’s wrong with being lazy once in a while?  What’s the harm in taking a Saturday afternoon off to enjoy a good book?  It’s a whole lot better than dashing off to the bar with the first person you can find to accompany you, and then spending the night getting steadily inebriated.  And we all have a version of how that story ends…

relaxIt’s so easy to get caught in insane patterns as a recovering alcoholic, replacing previously destructive behaviours with new “healthy” ones.  But addiction comes in all shapes and forms.  It’s a case of being constantly vigilant with myself and picking up the early signs that I might just be tending towards getting into a dark vortex of extremes.  Working too much, studying too hard, being too needy in my relationship or any other kind of extreme behaviour.  I guess I have to accept that this is part of who I am and be aware that replacing one addiction with another (even if it’s not the kind that’s tied to a toxic substance) is something I need to keep in check.  I’ve even gone through stages where I’ve become obsessed with exercising or healthy eating at the expense of everything else.  What I’m constantly striving for is sustainable balance and I feel like I am getting closer all the time, but I cannot ignore the “Little Professor” inside me who is constantly trying to remind me what I need to do to maintain this long-term equilibrium.

Writing this post has made me realise that I need to switch off from my work, grab a cup of tea and find a sunny spot to enjoy a few hours of reading.  That perhaps the best time to relax is when you don’t have time for it.  Then I will be able to come back to the things I need to do refreshed and mentally relaxed, feeling good that I honoured my need to just be.

‘Til next time

Sober Something

She’s making a list…!?

I realised today that through all the personal and professional work I am doing I have started thinking about my recovery a lot more recently.  As I’ve written about before I do not believe that we should let this disease define who we are!  If you had a life-threatening illness such as cancer, you wouldn’t lead with that in a conversation with a new acquaintance would you!?  You might get to it at some stage in the proceedings, but  it’s hardly what you open with…  I don’t want to be defined by my inability to control my drinking, not being able to stop once I’ve started.  Six years of sobriety have shown me that I am not lacking in willpower and strength, and that it’s just something that I honestly have no mental control over.

I can avoid bad food, I can skirt potentially hostile dinner conversation topics, I can commit myself to personal and professional endeavours, yet when it comes to saying no to another drink I am powerless in the face of its magnetism.  I find it odd that something that is actually potentially deadly for some of us has such a strong pull on us!  Temptation is not an overriding problem for me in general and I do watch myself around alcohol, but I’ve got the facts  and awful memories so clearly mapped out that I can access the reasons I don’t drink instantaneously.  I can run down the list of “why not to have a drink” without breaking my stride.  And “the list” is always close at hand for easy referral should I ever think that I would be able to have just one drink.

I’m not under any illusion when it comes to this…  It might be a couple of drinks the first time, but this number inevitably ends up growing and before long it’s back to the “Friday Night Binge and Blackout Special”.  I’ve been down that road a couple of times.  One drink is too many and 20 isn’t enough!?  So in my mind I carry around my list of “Why I don’t drink…”.  There are plenty of points on that list and different situations may call for me to tap into different reasons, but at the end of the day they all boil down to the same thing.  If I had one drink my life would start to unravel…slowly at first, but then with increasing speed as I drank more and was sucked back into the destructive vortex of my drinking habits.  So when I have a day that I think it would be nice to have a little glass of wine to take off the edge, I need to go to my list and find a reason not to.  It might seem strange to some people that I need to remind myself why I don’t drink at times, but there it is.  There are nights when I’d love to nestle down on the couch and sip steadily on a bottle of wine, while the strains and stresses of the week washed away.  But as  a recovering alcoholic this is not even a remote possibility.

Sometimes I get annoyed that I had to stop drinking, because then I’d be able to alter my mental state when things are not going well.  I do get upset that I was hit with the genetic alcoholic stick!  Why can’t I have a drink or two to relax my frayed nerves?  Get out of my head and not worry about the things that are going on around me?  But the truth is that there is no escape from reality when you make the decision to give up drinking.  Of course there ways of learning to be more present, comfortable and centred, but they are a lot more challenging to master than lifting the proverbial elbow.  And then when I start to think like that it’s time to go to the list and remind myself how awful it feels to be miserable and hungover after a night of binge drinking.  That one normally does it, but then there’s also the increased disposable income, the health benefits, the clear conscience, the time for things I love and of course happy personal relationships.  And that’s a lot to give up for a couple of hours of mental respite.

inspiring-messageSo even though I have to admit that I wouldn’t mind slipping into a fuzzy head space every now and again, it’s not worth the price I’d end up paying.  There are the occasional cravings when I’m having a bad day or there’s a special celebration going on that I’d like to feel more relaxed at.  But then I think about why and refilling my water-glass or having a cup of coffee doesn’t seem so bad.  I love being sober and I love my life without hangovers, hazy memories, a depleted bank account and personal misunderstandings.  And I’m learning to balance my life better each day so that the wonderful elements of my life are the ones that take precedence. And when the less savoury parts pop their heads up, I am always quick to honour and acknowledge them, because they are a reminder of a time past when things were not as good as they are now and how long it’s taken me to get here.

And once the moments of craving pass I lovingly fold “the list” and slip it back into its own space so that I know where to find it when I will need to look at it sometime in the future.  I’m never sure when I’m going to have to take it out, but it’s always there when I do.

‘Til next time

Sober Something