Feeling Fearful in Sobriety

As I sit here right now, in this moment, I am feeling secure in my sobriety.  11 days.  11 days feels good.  I feel good.  However, at the same time there is an uncomfortable feeling of fear gnawing at me.  A fear that I will not be able to maintain my sobriety long term. ….or short term for that matter.  This disease of addiction is so hard to overcome, or even get a handle on sometimes.

I have tried so many times to live my life abstaining from alcohol.  I know this is the best choice for me.  It is my only choice if I want to live my life as my best self.  But I have tried so many times, I am wondering if I will ever be able to live my life without feeling the need to drink alcohol.  This thought scares me.  My addiction has me mentally chained with fear.  ‘Will I ever figure out what will keep me from returning to the drink?…and if not, what will become of me?’

I entered into my last recovery attempt strong.  I was trying different things.  I approached it with a new spirituality practice that I did not have in previous attempts.  I was reaching out to others in recovery and attending 12 step meetings.  I was reading recovery books.  I was keeping a journal.  I was listening to recovery podcasts.  I was doing things to help manage my anxiety and being actively aware of how my anxiety can feed my addiction.  I was engaging in physical exercise.  I was switching up my daily routine and trying to keep myself busy during typical craving times.  I started drinking warm tea to replace alcohol…and I was really enjoying this treat!

I was doing so much….trying so hard to overcome this addiction to alcohol I know I have living in my brain.  I was trying SO VERY HARD.

And then the exhaustion came.   Slowly, over time, I found myself sputtering out, like a marathon runner who starts off the race in a strong sprint, and half way through runs out of steam.  So, after a few weeks, when the cravings came, I was feeling mentally exhausted and was having a hard time managing them.  I slowly started to feel overwhelmed by my addiction, as I had felt many times in the past.  The cravings and desire to drink would not seem to go away.  I was using all the recovery tools I had, but I was still struggling.

Then, on Christmas Day, about 1.5 months without a drink, I saw my husband (who is not in recovery, but was supporting me by not drinking), have a glass of wine at dinner. Well, in a split second decision…I did too.  And then I had another, and then another, and when the wine was gone I started sneaking hard alcohol and got drunk.

Fear…. now I am afraid that no matter how many tools I have in my recovery tool box, no matter what I do, or how hard I try, or how aware I try to be of all my triggers, I will not be able to overcome this addiction I have to alcohol.

I have tried, this go around, to figure out what went wrong last time, and what I can do different this time.  You know, at this point I don’t think I am even going to try to problem solve it.  What I think I am going to do however, is attempt to be kind to myself, be gentle.  Maybe not put so much pressure on myself.  Maybe not do too much recovery stuff at once. Reach out to others in recovery when I am struggling.  Maybe take some quiet time and slow my breathing when I start to get overwhelmed by cravings.

It is clear in my mind that this journey is not going to be a short one.  Living in fear during this journey will not help my quest.  Learning how to live without that fear is still a lesson I have yet to learn.  I am hopeful it will come.

 

Anxiety

Anxiety —  A feeling that can range from an almost undetectable sensation of unsettlement, to a full blown out of control and distressing emotion.

I have lived w/ anxiety for as long as I can remember.  Even as a child I remember feeling chronically unsettled, nervous, and unable to fully relax, but, because ‘having anxiety’, or any other uncomfortable feelings, were never discussed w/ me growing up, I never knew there was any other way to feel.  Anxiety was my ‘normal’.

My primary caregiver, my mother, has been, and is, to this day, the most chronically anxious person I know.  To sum it up, one of her famous sayings is:  ‘I’m not happy if I don’t have anything to worry about’.  She seems to pride herself on this thought process. This is the woman who raised me.  The woman who I got so many of my mannerisms and habits from.  She was my primary role model from childhood right through to adult hood.  So it makes sense that anxiety has been ingrained in me.

As a young adult I eventually came to recognize that my constant feelings of worry and unsettlement was not the normal for everyone.  I had a chronic health condition.  It was called ‘anxiety’.  And oh yay… by the way mom, you have anxiety too…. really really bad anxiety.  Too bad you are unwilling to see that.

Until very recently I always viewed my anxiety as comparable to an asthma exacerbation… sometimes I had it, and sometimes I didn’t.  It wasn’t until just a few months ago that, during a new thing I was trying, meditation, I came to understand that I lived with anxiety 24 hours a day 7 days a week.  Yes…even when I felt happy or life was going good, I came to realize, sitting on my meditation cushion one morning, that I have lived every moment of my life with some degree of anxiousness.  …WOW.  A light bulb went on in that moment and I knew I had uncovered a very big truth about myself.

So, how does my anxiety relate to my addiction to alcohol?   Well, let me give an example: Best case scenario – even if I am in a relaxed environment, having good times with friends or family, I still have an anxious feeling inside of me.  When I drink alcohol, I feel a release of that anxiousness that is a core part of who I am.  I recognize that now. When I drink alcohol I find my mind is able to have a break from my anxiety for a bit, or at least lessen it.  No wonder I like to drink.

The way I understand addiction is that the more you do something that feels good to you, the more you want to feel this way…. no matter what the consequences.  ‘In the moment I feel better when I drink alcohol.  It doesn’t matter that I feel bad after…. I just need to feel good right now.’  This is how addiction starts…  So I drink….innocently, trying to help myself feel better.  Self-medicating my anxiety.  Next thing you know, I have anxiety and now I have an alcohol addiction.

It has been one week and one day since my last drink of alcohol.  One day at a time is a good motto to live by.

 

Perspective and Growth

I have been abusing alcohol for about 15 years now.  I first recognized I had a problem with alcohol about 10 years ago, and have been chasing the brass ring of successful recovery from my alcohol addiction for the past 7 years or so.

It has been a long road, and I have learned much along the way.  There is still so much more I need to learn though, as I still struggle not only with figuring out how to live happily in sobriety, but just to live in sobriety in general.  (Baby steps : )

I am a determined soul however,  and over these past 7 years I’ve recognized time and time again how sick and tired I was of the downward spiral alcohol was creating in my life.  I knew I wanted to stop this madness and chaos that alcohol added to my life.  I decided I wanted to start living my life as my best self.  My best self does not drink, because alcohol does me much more harm than good.  The risks clearly outweigh the benefits.

So what have I learned so far???  The following are not original ideas…. they are valuable pieces of information I picked up through books, pod casts, blogs, face to face addiction recovery meetings, and all the other sources I have sought out to help me overcome this terrible addiction to alcohol I have.  So…..here it goes:

  1.  you have to want to stop drinking for yourself.  Someone else can call attention to your problematic drinking and plant a seed, but at the end of the day you are the one who needs to water the seed and figure out your own reasons to stop drinking.
  2. It’s hard.  For me, quitting drinking has been the most difficult and challenging action I have ever taken on.  Harder than grad school, harder than natural child birth, harder than training for and running a 1/2 marathon…all big goals I set for myself and succeeded in…  Looking back now, these big goals have taken no where near the amount of endurance, perseverance and energy I’ve put in to my goal to free myself from this alcohol addiction.  I will continue, because I know it will be worth it for myself in the end.
  3. You can’t do it alone.  …not if you want to have success long term.  This is something I learned in October of 2015, when, after years of brief and exhausting attempts of trying to quit drinking alcohol, and getting ‘sick and tired of being sick and tired’, I came to understand what people living in successful long term recovery were saying all along…. you really can’t do it alone.  Although it is 2 1/2 years later and I am still figuring out how to successfully remove alcohol from my life, understanding this key concept created a huge forward movement shift in how I approach achieving my goal of long term recovery.
  4. It takes more than just your will power to not drink.  Will power can get the ball rolling for you, but it only lasts so long.  It is the shift in your views and mindset about alcohol, and finding how abstinence benefits you, (instead of all that you will miss from not drinking), that will be key to carry you into successful long term recovery.
  5. Be kind to yourself.  Don’t beat yourself up if you drink day after day even though you say you won’t.  If you want to give up alcohol because you think it is in your best interest, keep that intention.  If you stay true to your intention than events will follow to give you strength and help.  Even if it seems slow going, you will reap small victories along the way.  Celebrate and focus on the victories.
  6. Don’t give up on yourself or your goals.   (psst… goals can shift and change…stay true to yourself and be flexible too!)
  7. Seek out information.  For me it all started with the famous google of ‘How do I know if I’m an alcoholic?’ …. Knowledge is power.  The more you know the more you will understand what works for you, what doesn’t work for you, what you want to learn more about.  You will discover things about addiction you didn’t know before.  This will help you.  (For instance, I learned that people who pick their skin  (me), had a much higher tendency for substance abuse than people who don’t.  WOW… I had no idea!!!  I’m not saying that little tidbit of information pushed me through the door of recovery, but it did help me feel like there were other people out there like me, and I felt less alone and isolated in my addiction.  –It was also reassuring and comforting to know I wasn’t the only one who picks their chicken arm skin when they are anxious, board, or upset!)
  8. Focus on the similarities, not the differences. This is one of the most important lessons I’ve learned that is applicable in all aspects of my life.  I remember going to some AA meetings in the beginning , reading some recovery book, reading stories on line, and thinking, ‘these people are nothing like me, how can they help me?’  But then, over time, I did see similarities.  I saw similar struggles, similar thoughts.  I realized that, for the most part, all living beings want the same things, to feel peace and happiness.  We all come from unique upbringings and life situations, but at the end of the day our goals are not that different, and we all really can teach and learn from each other.

So this is an off the cuff list of some valuable concepts that I’ve learned thus far on this journey to my best self.  I’m sure there are many more, but this is enough for now.  Day 5 now my friends.