Extinguishing Triggers

When I quit smoking for the first time I was absolutely astonished by the process. I learned a lot about addiction and why people smoke, and was able to kick that ugly habit to the curb for five years. Of course, when my life got hard after five years I began smoking again, every once in awhile, until I gradually became just as addicted as I was in the first place.  And oh boy, was it ever hard to quit the second time. It took me two years, a bazillion tries, and finally becoming pregnant to give it up. And then I started again after the baby was born! Once again it was a little at a time, with long quits for weeks in between, but by early summer last year I was smoking every day and hating it. I quit again in July and haven’t looked back. I am SO happy that I do not have to deal with that addiction anymore. It totally contributed to my overall feeling of being OUT OF CONTROL.

There are a lot of similarities in the addictions to cigarettes and alcohol that I have observed so far in the quitting process. With smoking, I learned that the more times I met a trigger head-on the faster my brain would rewire itself. Not smoking would become the new normal in the same situation…where at one time not smoking would have been unheard of. It is the same with drinking! Once you encounter those tough situations a few times it becomes normal not to drink. The witching hour comes to mind. Or on a Friday evening. Those were my biggest triggers when I first became sober.

Now my triggers for drinking are sneakier. Holidays! Come! Out! Of! The! Blue! Since holidays only happen a few times per year it takes time to extinguish those triggers and make being sober the new normal. No wonder it is hard at first! Plus add all of the pressure from society and the world and family and the Internet to have FUN FUN FUN and CELEBRATE. No wonder it is hard for many of us not to drink!

I felt some cravings this Thanksgiving. I felt flat. Bored. I wanted alcohol to liven up my day.

Then I realized…I NEED TO LIVEN UP MY DAY! It is my responsibility to make it more fun. Alcohol would have numbed and masked reality, but it wouldn’t have changed any important parts of the day. In the end, it just would have made me drunk and full of regrets. I isolated myself this year because I was scared of what might happen if I didn’t, and because it is my first year sober and I wanted to meet my triggers head-on in a safe environment. I had a nice time with my little family, but it was a tad boring (sorry husband, if you are reading this) because I didn’t leave my comfort zone.

Next year, it is my responsibility to create the holiday that I want. To make it more exciting without booze. I am up for the challenge.

I learned things this year. I learned that A) the upcoming holidays are not going to be super easy, but they will be okay as long as I stay sober. They will pass. B) I have a lot of support and am doing exactly what I need to do. If I need to stay home this year it is perfectly fine. C) It might take a few years for holidays to become easy sober because they don’t happen very often and they are more charged with emotion than normal days. They WILL get easier one day. D) I love being sober and I love not smoking anymore. I feel free a lot of the time, and it is really wonderful.

I loved reading all of the holiday posts from sober bloggers. Thanks for all the tips, strategies and personal anecdotes. That info helped a lot and will continue to help over the next month. xxxx

**I used the website whyquit.com to help quit smoking. It has a lot of good info.

Fighting Evil Like a Boss

“In each of us, two natures are at war – the good and the evil. All our lives the fight goes on between them, and one of them must conquer. But in our own hands lies the power to choose – what we want most to be we are.” -Robert Louis Stevenson

Sometimes I pretend that I am in a science fiction or fantasy novel where good is battling evil. Drinking is obviously evil in this scenario. It seems so fitting…I get out my flame thrower or light saber or (insert weapon of choice) and battle it to the death. Because for me, this truly is a life or death battle.

(That sounds so melodramatic when I say it… like, really? Life or death? But yeah. I think if I drink alcohol will contribute to my untimely demise one way or another.)

I can feel myself moving towards the good side the longer I stay sober. I do things that nourish my soul, and there is already more goodness in my life than there was a few short months ago. I don’t want to go back into the dark world I was living. My life is worth this battle. Alcohol is a sneaky, evil asshole who infiltrates my thoughts sometimes, especially when things are hard. When I am weak. When there is less light.

The answer is simple, though. The better I get at loving myself the more good there is in my life, and the easier it is to defeat my enemy.

Once again, it all comes down to love.

Be Here Now

“Be present in all things and thankful for all things.” – Maya Angelou

I am starting to find peace in the present moment. It is a constant struggle to be here now. When I get it, even for a short period of time, it helps me relieve tension. It lessens anger and sadness from things I cannot change, that happened so long ago or yesterday. It keeps me from traveling down those well-worn paths in my mind…thought patterns that don’t go anywhere good. That keep me stuck.

Reminding myself to be here now helps me remember that I am safe, and that I create my safety in this world by staying sober and taking care of myself and those around me. I was not safe when I was drinking. I was vulnerable to things happening to me…an accident, drinking too much and poisoning myself, being hurt by someone because I couldn’t take care of myself, falling down. I also wasn’t safe on the inside because I was letting fear rule my life. Fear of feeling. Fear of failure. Fear of being hurt. Fear of doing something I couldn’t take back or apologize for. So much fear it was causing me to have massive amounts of anxiety, which led to the desire to drink it all away. I was hurting myself from the inside. How can you feel safe when you are hurting yourself? Who will protect you from YOU?

I feel safe here in the present moment. I don’t have to travel down those well-worn paths anymore. I can choose new places to take my mind. So…I remind myself to be here now. I also like stay here, though I am not brave enough for a tattoo just yet. Maybe a bracelet. They are simple, but very powerful, mantras that help me feel more balanced and centered, even if just for a few moments.

This is usually how it goes: Remind myself to be here now. Breathe…take a deep breath…take another…pay attention to my breathing…look at my hands…touch something nearby…stop and look around me…really look…is everything okay in my immediate vicinity? Yes? Then I am safe. I am okay. And it is okay to relax. I can think about these other things tomorrow if I need to. Really, though, I probably don’t need to.

If I really can’t let it go I can write about it or talk about it or pray about it. Letting my mind spin in circles just makes me feel helpless and hopeless….more likely to seek comfort in my favorite mind-numbing substance. Why make life harder than it has to be?

Living in the moment takes practice. It is funny/sad that I used to think I was practicing when I was drinking, but really I was taking myself completely out of the moment. I read all sorts of meditation and mindfulness books, but didn’t realize that my alcohol use made it virtually impossible to be in the mental space I was seeking. I think I am finally starting to learn how to do this for the first time ever.

Random Thoughts From 100 Days Sober

100 days sober. Bring on the unicorn glitter parade! 🙂

unicorn-glitter-fight

I have never purposefully quit for this long before (in 20 years of drinking), aside from during my pregnancy, and that didn’t really count cause I was counting down the days until I could booze again. I was sober but not learning or growing as a result of it. In honor of 100 days I decided to put together a list of some of the thoughts I am having about this journey so far. It ended up being kind of random…my apologies.

  • I have been feeling pretty bumbling lately in a lot of my interpersonal relationships. I have been saying the wrong thing a lot, mainly in a good-hearted attempt to speak my truth. I am trying to be honest, but I think I need to take some lessons in sensitivity… or just stop talking. Being sober is a huge learning experience. I dunno, I think when you get sober you have to do a lot of introspection, and it’s pretty deep, and it’s hard to talk about it without sounding like an asshole sometimes. I guess I feel like I am in an awkward stage of my sobriety where I want to help others, but don’t have the tools to do so. I am hoping that I get better at communicating my thoughts on sobriety without sounding so weird about it. In the meantime I am going to stop talking about being sober so much and try to just BE for awhile.
  • I am getting tired of focusing so much time on being sober. Like … I just want to get to the down and dirty of living my sober and totally kick-ass life. I know I need to continue to focus a good amount of time reading about sobriety, writing about my experiences, and processing daily events, but I think it is okay to stop obsessing about getting sober all the time. I am officially doing it. I give myself permission to think about other stuff sometimes.
  • I am choosing to approach sobriety believing that I will never drink again, but when it gets hard I take it one day at a time. I think taking the option to drink totally off the table has helped me. I had to make a big commitment in order to get this far, and it is a lot easier to tell myself a big fat NO when I want to drink rather than letting those sneaky thoughts slip in that I can have just one, or that I really don’t have a problem. No waffling allowed. I can’t drink … it is an absolute. But some days I talk myself through cravings by going one day at a time. I mean, I can always drink tomorrow, you know? It works.
  • Certain things worried the heck out of me when I stopped drinking, and now they are no big deal. I don’t miss bars like I thought I would. At first I was so sad … where would I go for fun? I have to say it is such a relief that I don’t really miss that lifestyle. I hope that one day I can go anywhere without wanting to drink, even a bar, but not yet. I am not ready. Some of my friends have stopped inviting me places, and that is okay. Some of my friends have been really great. My point is that it has been different than I expected. Better. The universe has provided me with ENOUGH, and it is a good feeling. The scariest part is just DOING it in the first place.
  • I love feeling good every day. I feel healthy, free of hangovers, guilt-free, shame-free. I have a clear conscience, more motivation, and more lettuce in my pockets. My life has less drama. Overall, it is groovy to feel so good on a daily basis. A vast improvement from 100 days ago when my anxiety was absolutely through the roof.
  • There are some things that will not change just because I am sober. Quite a few members of my family still have problems with alcohol, and they aren’t going to stop because of me. It hurts and I hate it, but I can deal with it. I am no longer a powerless child like I was when I first started drinking. I am not a victim. I am working on forgiveness with good boundaries intact. I am learning that I control my feelings to an extent, and that I do not control the world around me. This is a work in progress. I think this will ALWAYS be a work in progress. 🙂

I am so freaking glad that I decided to get sober. My life is SO much better already. I can’t wait to see what happens in the next 100 days. There are some tough times ahead with the holidays and stuff, but I am picturing how AMAZING it will be to get through them sober. I can’t wait.

Boiling Over

I think my off switch is missing. I have had a few upsetting events occur in the past few days, and I have found that I am really bad at getting over them. I keep getting more and more upset. I don’t yell or get mad. I sometimes cry. I definitely obsess about whatever it is that made me upset.  I find that my shoulders are up to my ears and my upper back hurts, and I know that I am STRESSED. Relieving this stress is not natural for me without drinking. Doesn’t that seem crazy? I used drinking as a way to deal with negative emotions for so long that now they just build and build and build with no stopping point … well, it is time to work on improving my life skills.

I can think of 10 things, off the top of my head, that would be SO MUCH better than drinking to deal.

  1. Talk to the person who upset me directly if possible
  2. Go for a walk or run
  3. Talk to a friend/family member/therapist about it**
  4. Watch something funny and laugh
  5. Write about it
  6. Yell into a pillow
  7. Punch a punching bag (I need one. I used to take boxing and I loved punching the bag! It made me laugh. I am weird.)
  8. Take a hot bath
  9. Read a helpful book (Something by Pema Chödrön or Don Miguel Ruiz, perhaps)
  10. Sit and meditate and visualize letting go
  11. Do yoga

So, I listed 11 things I can do (10 + bonus!), aside from drinking to stop being stressed, mad, hurt or whatever negative emotion I am experiencing. That is a good start. I haven’t been close to drinking lately, even though I have felt discouraged about it (mainly from talking to a family member).

**Be careful who you choose for support! Make sure that they are capable of giving you what you need, otherwise they can make you feel worse. (I learned this the hard way this week). Actually, I learned a lot about boundaries and what makes me comfortable this week. I am going to be more careful about who I talk to about delicate things in my life. I have a tendency to overshare, and I need to stop because it causes me anxiety. Baby steps.

The Small Things

My baby celebrated his first birthday this weekend, and it made me reflect on how my life would be different if I had not quit the booze. First of all, I probably would have thrown him a party this weekend. I would have felt obligated in some silly way, because I was less secure when I was drinking and I worried more about what people thought about me. You’re SUPPOSED to throw a party for your child EVERY YEAR, right? Or else you’re a bad parent? Um, no.

So … my one year-old would have had a party, filled with mainly grown-ups, hanging out. In most social circles one year-olds don’t have a bunch of friends to invite to parties yet. His party probably would have been a good time, but it wouldn’t have been as much about HIM. His wants and needs … not ours.

In addition, there likely would have been some drinking involved at this shindig. We would have justified it to ourselves by saying that we ‘deserved’ to celebrate. Heck, we have been parents for a whole year! That IS cause to celebrate! Why do we need to drink alcohol to celebrate, though? Especially when the MAIN event … the person we are really celebrating … has no use for alcohol, parties, and large groups of people at this point in his life. He just wants to hang with the P’s, play with his toys, go for walks, take baths, chase the cats, jump on the bed … you get the idea.

Instead, we spent the whole weekend doing things that he likes to do. We saw a few friends, but we didn’t overwhelm him with a large party. We took a couple of nice walks, opened a present every few hours, made banana cupcakes that he smashed and ate, sang songs, read books, played with toys, took naps, etc. It was practically the same as a normal day except BETTER! He was so happy to be with his parents the whole weekend, and we were able to give him 100% of our attention. I didn’t think about drinking hardly at all, except that I was SO happy to be sober. It was perfect. A good introduction to birthdays for him, and no stress for me.

I can’t say FOR SURE how things would have gone down had I still been drinking, but I don’t think it would have been quite as nice. Once again, I feel that being sober is a gift you give to yourself and to the important people in your life. It’s always a good reminder.

My Hula Hoop

I had a really nice talk with one of my younger brothers today. I worry about his drinking a lot … it is easy for me to see how much BETTER his life would be if he were to stop. It is really easy to judge someone else’s situation from an outsider’s perspective, though. The hard part is actually doing it for yourself. But … it seems like he might be heading in the direction of quitting one day. I hope so more than anything. If I had my way my entire family would be in recovery. Ha! I laugh because it is both ridiculous and true.

This conversation, and my desire to influence my brother’s path, got me thinking about a saying that I heard recently. I actually think I read it somewhere … I have NO IDEA where because I read during, like, 50% of my free time or something crazy. Anyway, this saying was something about the fact that you only need to worry about what is inside your hula hoop.

What is in your hula hoop at any given time?  Hula hoops are pretty small. Right now, it is just me. Sitting here typing in the present moment. I don’t need to worry about my brother, my parents, my husband, or even my little boy (he is napping). I don’t need to worry about the future or the past because you definitely can’t fit THE FUTURE or THE PAST into a hula hoop. I like this because I can visualize my hula hoop and what I can fit in it, and it helps to stop my thoughts from spiraling out of control. Oops … sorry! Can’t fit that problem in my hula hoop. Moving on!

I am sure many of you, especially AA people, have heard this expression. It can work for a lot of different things.

Happy Friday, everyone!