I can’t vs. I don’t

party

One of the things that used to rope me back into drinking is the fear of social occasions never being the same again. I was also terrified of the reaction of my friends and acquaintances when I quit. What would they think? I thought that by not drinking I would be the dry drip putting a dampener on the party.

I was scared to let everyone down. I was also scared that they would find out how addicted I had become so my excuses were always flimsy at best.

‘No thanks I’m driving’, ‘I’m on medication’, ‘I have Benign paroxysmal positional vertigo’ (This outlandish one I used to get out of a hen weekend where there was going to be lots of boozing) One of my personal favourites I used very often is ‘I’m on a detox/cleanse’.

Looking back now, I know that I was keeping that back door wide open in case I couldn’t cut it sober. I couldn’t possibly be on a detox or cleanse forever. I tried many times so I was tired of failing and perhaps in my heart of hearts I was hoping that an extended break from alcohol would re-set my software and allow me to drink like a normal person. Of course, no matter how long the break of sobriety was I always eventually returned to my usual level and with each lapse, the consumption revved up a gear.

I was ashamed of being the one that couldn’t drink, the one that wasn’t allowed because ‘she can’t handle it’. Why was I the chosen one that turned into the incredible hulk with an insatiable thirst while everyone else has a fabulous sparkly tipsy time? It wasn’t fair, dammit!

I guess if you have an AA coin and you are ‘out’ this shuts people up much more quickly.

Would you like a drink? No thanks I’m, an alcoholic.

—-Insert crickets chirping, tumbleweeds blowing and a look of panic/sympathy/social awkwardness across the hosts face.—-

Perhaps I will get to that point one day where I can say those words in front of anyone. I am just not ready for that yet.

I also used the words ‘I can’t drink’ in my internal dialogue. When I looked at alcohol I would look at it like an old sexy boyfriend that was bad for me, I would still lust after it.

These days something has shifted massively for me. I know I’ve tried before but there is a knowing in me that wasn’t there previously.

‘I don’t drink’ versus ‘I can’t drink’ are two very different statements. ‘I can’t drink’ implies that I am not allowed; I am being deprived of my choice. ‘I don’t drink’ is a powerful affirmation. It reinforces in my mind that I am not making any sacrifices, that I am making the most positive choice for myself, for my mental and physical health.

You may enjoy this article that explores this in more detail:

https://www.forbes.com/sites/heidigranthalvorson/2013/03/14/the-amazing-power-of-i-dont-vs-i-cant/#476f57cbd037

When I’m offered a drink these days I just say ‘I don’t drink’. I say it with conviction as if I’ve always been a non-drinker (this takes practice and sometimes you have to fake it till you make it)

By starting off in that frame of mind I can answer the following questions from a powerful place of positive choice instead of being rooted in shame.

This is the way the conversation has gone.

Friend: Would you like a drink?

Me: No thanks I don’t drink anymore.

Me: Like forever? Yes forever.

Friend: Why, we used to have so much fun drinking wine together?

Me: I just don’t like the way it makes me feel anymore. I don’t enjoy it at all.

This is met by a quizzical stare and a rapid change of topic.

Of course, my nearest and dearest know that I am addicted and they know the hell it has caused me. It’s important for the people closest to you to know so that they can support you.

Brene Brown talks about people having to earn the right to your hear your shame story. I don’t feel its necessary to go into so much detail with people I hardly know or people that are fair weather friends I used to party with.

The other point I wanted to make is that not drinking isn’t weird. We weren’t born ‘two drinks below par’. We are perfect and complete. We don’t need to pour alcohol down our throats to fit in.

People aren’t walking around asking a recovering heroin addict if they just want one ‘little bit of smack to take the edge off’ Or asking them why they cant just have the one. (Forgive me, I don’t know the heroin lingo, so I don’t know if you even call it smack.)

The fact is that I am addicted to a highly addictive, socially acceptable legal drug. That doesn’t make me weak or strange or unique even. It’s just the way it is, and I choose not to drink anymore because life is so much better and easier without it.

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The dopamine lie

drinks
(poto credit addisonmagazine.com)

I’m sure you’ve heard the quote “One drink is too many and a thousand is never enough”

When I was drinking I never left a party early. I was always the last one at the bar, scared to miss out because I believed there was something wonderful and amazing around the corner, I just had no ‘off switch’.

I was listening to the willpower instinct written by Written by: Kelly McGonigal. In the book, he talks about dopamine and the role it plays in addiction.

Dopamine is the brain’s major reward neurotransmitter pathway. It’s basically the sex, drugs and rock and roll chemical of the brain.

In the past it has been thought of as the brains ‘reward chemical’ however new research has now proved that this isn’t completely accurate.

The firing of dopamine neurons occurs when a pleasurable activity is expected, regardless of whether pleasure actually happens or not.

Dopamine’s role in pleasure and reward is that it’s like a little red flag to your brain, saying “hey, pay attention, this is about to feel good, and you want to remember this so you can do it again.”

By jacking up dopamine levels in your brain, alcohol tricks you into thinking that it’s actually making you feel great (or maybe just better, if you are drinking to get over something emotionally difficult). The effect is that you keep drinking to get more dopamine release, but at the same time you’re altering other brain chemicals that are enhancing feelings of depression.

When you are stuck in this chemical loop there is no way out.  I just need to reiterate this, the dopamine doesn’t make you feel good it is telling your brain something great is on the way…this is why when you are drinking you never quite ‘get there’ This is why a thousand will never be enough!

This was a revelation to me in so many ways. It explained so much about why I had the compulsion to keep drinking.

A couple of videos by Annie Grace I’ve found that are related and that you may find interesting:

does alcohol make you happy?
https://youtu.be/oYW9V1EVP5U

Is drinking a habit?
https://youtu.be/2d2SZdGiY38

High from drinking?
https://youtu.be/01g8mYXVQQY

Have a lovely sober Sunday! xxx

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How to deal with stress without alcohol

appendix

OK so my major trigger when comes to booze is stress and overwhelm. Had another incident this weekend where I needed relief from a really stressful situation and my brain was screaming wine! I feel like I need a list to refer to in these moments because when the stress hits, my brain short circuits and my prefrontal cortex (the part of my brain that wants the best for me) basically does a runner.

So here is my handy list of things you could do when you feel like the world is caving in AND are going to explode and all you want is a drink to prevent yourself from spontaneous combustion:

(Kindly note that this list is for me and may not be everyone’s cup of tea, also if a similar list exists I apologise in advance. I promise this came straight out of my head but I don’t live in a vacuum so may have inadvertently picked some ideas up elsewhere. )

  1. Go back to bed and hide under the duvet. I know, this sounds like so grown up! Don’t knock it till you’ve tried it. I’ve used this one a couple of times with great success, it does get tricky if you have kids because they eventually find you and then think you are playing hide and seek.
  2. Go to your room and scream into a pillow, this one also works well but our walls are quite thin so I think the neighbours have heard me a couple if times. Who cares right?
  3. Go for a run or fast-paced walk. This is excellent to burn off all the stress and bad energy. This also has the added bonus of putting some space between you and whatever is causing the upset. Before you get your running shoes on you have to make sure someone is at home to look after the kids (this is probably why I don’t use this one very much;)
  4. Have a dance party. If you are feeling really angry then play Rage against the machine or something similar really loudly and sing along. “Fuck you I won’t do what you tell me, fuck you I won’t do what you tell me, Motherfuckkkkkeeeerrrr!” I love this one, but I have scared our postman away on one occasion. He still can’t look me in the eye. Also if you have children best to only use this one when they are in school;)
  5. Get your Eckhart Tolle on. Put on your headphones on and put an audiobook or youtube clip of Tolle on full volume. You can’t stay stressed of angry when you listen to the soothing tones of Eckhart’s voice.
  6. Sniff something. Nope nothing illegal over here, just take a big whiff or diffuse some lavender oil. When you stimulate your other senses you can jolt yourself out of the stress response by bringing yourself back to your sense perceptions.
  7. Write it down. Journal the fuck out of your journal, if you rip the paper and break the pen in the process then so be it. Just get all the negativity out on paper. You will feel so much better and lighter afterwards.
  8. Kickboxing, go do a kickboxing class or dvd. Amazing amount of stress relief in that.
  9. Do the work. (Byron Katie) This one may need to wait till you are calm. Do a worksheet on the person or situation that is causing the upset and set yourself free.
  10. Talk to someone. Your sponsor, a sober friend or family member. Sometimes we need connection in those moments (This is a very difficult one for me to do)

Please add any other suggestions you may have to the list. Bear in mind this needs to be accessible for someone to do when they are VERY REVVED UP and HIGHLY STRESSED.

Blackout drunk

I had one of those vivid dreams where you wake up in a cold sweat.

In the dream I was driving my car on the highway in a blackout, when I regained consciousness my car was in a ditch and police had surrounded the car. I was very drunk and disoriented and the police kept shouting at me to wake the “f” up!

I got a DUI and they took my licence away. The worst part of the whole dream was the embarrassment of everyone in my neighbourhood and children’s school knowing that I’m an alcoholic.

I woke up drenched in sweat and panic, I checked my breath (in case I’d forgotten that I drank or something) and double-checked my surroundings. It was just a dream thank God! I cannot begin to explain the relief I felt.

I had so many blackouts when I was active in my addiction. I would black out and then be out partying for hours, walking talking doing crazy shit. I looked like I was there but ‘I’ wasn’t there at all. My husband could spot the sign of a blackout after a while, he said my eyes would get this vacant look and he just knew.

Initially, the blackouts were reserved for hectic drinking sessions when a lot of booze was consumed.

The last year of my drinking, ‘the scary year’ I call it, I started blacking way more regularly.

Generally, a blackout is described as a period of unconsciousness or lack of awareness when you are unable to recall what happened or what you did.

It’s the most harrowing thing waking up with no recollection of what you did. It’s like some shadowy creature of the night took possession of you. This imposter who would say and do really dangerous things, left in charge of the only vehicle you have to navigate your life with. It’s just ludicrous!

Those nights are consigned to the void, it’s time lost that I will never get back. What an utterly miserable pastime drinking is…half-consciousness, inebriation and blurry memories with big black holes in them.

I won’t go into all of the things I did or said when I was in blackouts; that would be a very long list indeed.

I will say that alcohol renders the drinker entirely vulnerable. Your faculties are all impaired so if you are out in that state you are a target.

One of the most amazing gifts of sobriety is those two minutes before you are completely awake…those two minutes used to be spent piecing the last night’s events together, desperately trying to remember what I did, said or how I got to bed.

These days I say thank you, thank you for not having drunk the night before, thank you for waking up sober, thank you, thank you, thank you…

Spending the first two minutes of my day in gratitude instead of regret and confusion is absolutely everything to me.

Why should you quit drinking for good? High-bottom girls make the world go round!

bottom

Generally speaking, people are motivated to cut down on their alcohol consumption when drinking has become problematic or when they have suffered some negative consequences from drinking.

Cutting down could include trying to re-set the clock with the 100-day promise or one year no beer and then after having abstained for said amount of time hopefully you can drink again moderately.

This might work for some but it definitely didn’t work for me. Every time I started drinking again I picked up right where I left off. It might have taken me a couple of weeks or even months to return to the volume I was drinking but return I most certainly did.

This got me thinking about drinkers with a high bottom… (not the pert posterior variety I’m referring to, although that would be great to have!)

So what motivates a high bottom drinker to stop and STAY stopped? And does everyone have to reach rock bottom? Also, one person’s rock bottom can look wildly different to the next.

My bottom wasn’t that high, I looked great in hot pants when I was 18, not so much these days. (That’s the last bottom joke, promise)

I had experienced some pretty bad consequences, I was arrested for being drunk and disorderly when I was 20 (spent 2 nights in a holding cell) and suffered severely embarrassing and dangerous/violent moments throughout my drinking career.

On the other hand, I suppose you could consider me a high-bottom drinker because I was successfully freelancing from home, looking after my family, I paid rent and taxes and my marriage was intact. I worked very hard to keep this Norman Rockwell facade going for as long as I could.

Does the decision to quit drinking alcohol have to be motivated by such dire warnings as STOP DRINKING OR YOU WILL DIE?

Does that help or hinder the cause? I’m not disputing the fact that alcohol addiction can most certainly kill you. My last rock bottom moment when I fell and knocked my head on that koi pond I could very well have either died or sustained a life altering injury.

What I’m wondering is if we are framing it in the right way? You see, for me stopping drinking saved my life in 2 ways. The first most obvious are the health aspects, I have less of a worry about diseases and accidents that kill drinkers.

The second most important way it saved my life is that I am actually experiencing life. I have time and my consciousness back! I’m here! I’ve been absent from life for so fucking long.

This is how stopping drinking really saves your life – It gives you the most precious gift that anyone can have and that is time to be alive on earth! To savour each human experience, each nuance and detail, to really experience all of it, the agony and ecstasy. That is why I will never go back. Not the fear of the dire consequences that await me if I do (and I know they are real) it’s the absolute insistence of my soul to be ‘conscious’ for the rest of my life. We have such a short time on the earth why would I want to be dulled/numbed for it? We can’t numb selectively so when we numb, we numb all the beautiful splendour of life as well.

I’m not saying that when life is shit I won’t want to forget or numb the pain, I most probably will but I know that choosing to do that with booze means that I resign myself to a homogenous life in black in white when it could be in technicolour.

To be clear is a gift. Life’s downs are easier to handle sober and life’s ups are spectacular when you are awake to experience them.

So instead of the STOP OR YOU’LL DIE, we could also say: I CHOOSE NOT TO DRINK BECAUSE ALCOHOL STEALS MY TIME, ENERGY AND DULLS MY NATURAL WONDER.That sounds truer for me. Because dying from alcohol addiction can take many years, it really is a slow suicide. Also, that may never happen and you could die from something else…this is exactly the point…Do you want to spend the years you have on this planet dazed and confused or do you want to be free and clear?

(PAWS) is it a real thing?

I’ve been feeling very ‘Pawsy’ lately. Been reading my blogging friends that are on a roughly the same day count as I am (91 days today). They all seem to be experiencing similar symptoms. Feeling generally down and anxious (not all the time) but sort of starting to wonder what the point is of being sober if you are going to feel shitty.

This got me thinking about PAWS. Is it a real thing? According to Wikipedia there have been few scientific studies supporting its existence. Because of this, the disorder is not recognized by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders or major medical associations.

This isn’t enough to persuade me that it doesn’t exist. Alcohol research that is truly impartial and will expose the true extent of harm the drug does and how addictive it is is sparse to say the least. Remember, research needs to be funded by someone and alcohol companies do fund research that will publish studies that are skewed or that tell half truths.

A recent survey by a US website called postacutewithdrawal.org found that ninety per cent of respondents to their online survey reported post-acute withdrawal symptoms (PAWS). These results come as a bit of a surprise because it was assumed that only a minority of people who break away from addiction experience symptoms beyond the first few weeks.

Doctors and medical professionals that specialise and deal with drug addiction and withdrawal all know about and have direct experience with patients going through PAWS.

The length of time and severity of PAWS is linked to the amount of years and the volume you drank.

Post-acute withdrawal occurs because your brain chemistry is gradually returning to normal. As your brain improves the levels of your brain chemicals fluctuate as they approach the new equilibrium causing post-acute withdrawal symptoms.

The Symptoms of Post-Acute Withdrawal

The most common post-acute withdrawal symptoms are:

  • Mood swings
  • Anxiety
  • Irritability
  • Tiredness
  • Variable energy
  • Low enthusiasm
  • Variable concentration
  • Disturbed sleep

“The brain has tremendous capacity to heal, but it doesn’t heal quickly,” says Dr. David Sack, CEO of Promises Treatment Centers and Elements Behavioral Health.
As the body moves toward homeostasis, says Dr. Joseph Lee, Medical Director of the Hazelden Youth Continuum, it has to reach a “new kind of normal” in the process. Some people experience a more prolonged withdrawal, he says, “and it takes a long time to recalibrate.” In fact, instead of feeling better, many addicts in recovery feel worse.

The biggest thing Sack’s seen in his patients is increased anxiety. People are “more nervous, more anxious, less resilient; and that anxiety is experienced as fear, as uncertainty, a greater sensitivity to rejection.” Some of this excessive reactivity is linked to the glutamate neurotransmitter system, as many drugs of abuse block glutamate. In response, the body ups its production of this chemical, even after the drug is taken away. 

“The advice I would give is to be patient with the time it takes to heal and feel better,” Parrish says. “These tough issues weren’t created overnight, and they won’t disappear overnight. I have learned that when I feel particularly “PAWS-y,” that means I’m subconsciously working something out—this makes dealing with the symptoms of feeling a little crazy and not sleeping less exhausting. It won’t last forever.” 

extract from https://www.thefix.com/content/paws

I found this video from Annie Grace and Doctor Dr. Jaffe Ph.D from the Alternatives Addiction Treatment in Los Angeles that explains why it takes a while to feel better.

 

Groundlessness – Hide the whiskey, mama needs to breathe through this shit.

So you know that 12 steppers advise not to make any major changes in the first year of sobriety?

This is sensible advice because getting sober is a full time job without having additional stress going on. Sometimes life just doesn’t work like that and we are forced to make these changes before we are ‘strictly speaking’ ready or strong enough to deal.

My husband recently quit his job and is planning to freelance. I am a freelancer. The thing about freelancing is that there is no guarantee about a paycheck at the end of the month and income varies greatly from month to month.

I was and still am very sure that it’s a good thing he quit BUT the reality of not having the steady income each month is freaking me out. I am getting really bad anxiety and feel generally ON EDGE.

I am future tripping into my bag lady future on an almost hourly basis.

I am feeling very exposed and utterly unsure about everything. Not just the money, just life in general. I can be diagnosed with an awful disease tomorrow one of my kids can get sick. My husband can keel over from a heart attach at any time. The world is such an uncertain place, nothing seems solid to me anymore.

All of these things can happen at any time and how will I cope? This is the groundlessness Pema talks about. This is scaring the shit out of me. This is where we are faced with reality in all its fucking uncertain glory!

There is no escape from the groundlessness of being. This is the nature of life.

We want to cling to something to give us security and hate it when things change but change is the only constant and ultimately the resistance to change creates the suffering.

I want to drown myself in a bottle of whiskey and just curl up and hide from all of this. I don’t have that option anymore. I have to face this, sit with this groundlessness, this exposed insecurity and breathe through it.

Like all explorers, we are drawn to discover what’s waiting out there without knowing yet if we have the courage to face it.Pema Chödrön

Being my own Mark Darcy

markdarcy

In the society we live in we are constantly being fed subliminal messages that there is something wrong with us, that there is something missing. We need to be thinner, smarter, richer, better at everything. If we can only attain those things THEN we’ll be happy and content.

In Pema Chodron’s book ‘The wisdom of no escape’ she talks about accepting yourself exactly as you are now.

(If you are getting bored of my excitement with this book then don’t read any further.)

She says that the compulsion we have to constantly ‘improve’ ourselves can be seen as a subtle (sometimes not so subtle) act of aggression towards ourselves. What? An act of aggression? That’s a bit strong, surely wanting to improve myself is an act of kindness? This is a radical concept for me to wrap my head around.

There is so much about myself that I want to improve. I want be thinner, smarter, richer and better at everything!

How can I look at myself in the mirror and say the words “you are enough – JUST AS YOU ARE” and really mean it. Just as I am, with my flabby bits, my short attention span, my short temper, my bank account going into overdraft often. Just the way I am? It seems impossible! She’s basically saying that I need to be my own Mark Darcy who likes Bridget just the way she is… aaaaand I don’t know if I can do it.

It feels wrong to like myself just the way I am. As if my liking and accepting myself just the way I am will somehow mean that I won’t ever improve myself. As if I am accepting my lot in life and nothing will ever get better.

It’s counter intuitive because I was taught to push, and drive myself further. Striving for perfection…ahhh hang on a minute….striving and never arriving!

There is something to this…this is where the self care and compassion thing is going to come from, from a deep love and acceptance of myself just the way I am with all my flaws and rubbish. Enough with the self-punishment already, it hasn’t worked in the 38 (almost39 years) I’ve been on this planet. Maybe it’s time to try something different, something radical?

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The tigers and the strawberry

tiger

I’m feeling weird these days. OK, but weird.

The whirlwind and pink glow of early sobriety is fading and the over excitement is settling. I’m looking around my life and realising how much of it is about escaping the present moment. TV, eating, working, podcasts, busy work, (blogging even) all designed to keep me from being quiet with myself. What the hell am I so afraid of? I’ve had weird moments of insane joy (don’t know if I’m losing my mind here people). Small flashes of intense joy, just being with my children looking at their faces really BEING THERE with them. I’m oscillating between these small flashes of joy and flatness. I also have these thoughts of how I had a narrow escape from death. I feel as though I’ve dodged a massive bullet by being able to get sober again and it’s making me really emotional.

I’ve been reading Pema Chödrön’s book ‘The wisdom of no escape’, I highly recommend her book, the teachings can very happily sit next to any religion you practice.

In the book she tells a Zen story about some tigers and a strawberry. I’m changing the monk to a woman because that’s the way the author told it and because I can…

There was once a woman who was being chased by a ferocious tiger across a field. At the edge of the field there was a cliff. In order to escape the tiger, the woman caught hold of a vine and swung herself over the edge of the cliff. Dangling down, she saw, to her dismay, there was another tiger on the ground below her! And, furthermore, two little mice one black one white were gnawing on the vine to which she clung. She knew that at any moment she would fall to certain death. That’s when she noticed a wild strawberry growing on the cliff wall. Clutching the vine with one hand, she plucked the strawberry with the other and put it in her mouth.

She never before realized how sweet a strawberry could taste.

One could simply interpret this as “when your life was in danger or you have a near death experience life becomes really clear and you appreciate the present moment so much more.”

Another interpretation is that the tiger below represent the anxiety of the future (and also our inevitable death) and tiger above represent the pain of the past.

The vine is the material world and the mice the passage of time. They are black and white because they symbolise day and night. This represents how each cycle of day and night brings us a little closer to death.

The strawberry symbolises the energy, beauty and vitality of the present moment. It is always there, available for those who are willing to bring awareness to it.

We are all born with one foot in the abyss, it’s the human condition. I once heard a talk where the speaker suggested you set an alarm on your phone each hour to remind yourself of the pure miracle of your existence! It’s a bloody miracle that you are alive and that you are breathing, each moment is a miracle. How quickly we forget this and take it all for granted.

Denial & the power of acceptance

I’ve been thinking about denial and how it keeps us hooked. How does it work? How can a seemingly intelligent articulate human being be duped into this weird shame/denial spiral for years and years and years. Why does it take some people several rock bottom moments and why are some people still completely hopelessly in denial even in the face of liver disease and social services taking their children away?

Factors that contributed to keeping me in denial about my problem:

  1. My peers and husband were mostly heavy drinkers.
  2. Misinformation about how addictive alcohol is and what an ‘alcoholic’ looks like.
  3. The fact that I was highly functioning, working, raising children, running a household and doing it very well (untill the end where it all came apart)
  4. The social Stigma attached to addiction and being labelled an ‘alcoholic’
  5. The mistaken belief that this is a habit  and that you only need willpower to control it. (This one is rife especially among people who love to drink!)
  6. I hadn’t suffered major consequences around my drinking, I hadn’t lost my licence/job/car/house or family.
  7. The idea that once I’ve done therapy and faced my teenage traumas and angst I would somehow be cured and be able to drink like a normal person.

Type A denial is when a person sees, understands, and knows that they have a definite problem. When confronted about the problem they flat-out deny it, knowing that it is true. This type of denial is outright dishonesty or lying.

Type B denial is when a person is either partially or totally blind to a problem that they have. Through a hundred forms of self-deception, rationalization, justification and excuse making, a person can actually believe that they do not have a problem, when everyone around them sees this it is obvious. This type of denial comes from being honestly dishonest or by blindness.

I think most of us know deep down that something is wrong with the way we drink but it looks like alcohol first has to do some real damage before we will even consider that we might have a problem. Isn’t it tragic that we protect the ‘precious substance’ and not ourselves?

Once we accept that this is drug addiction and that there is no going back to ‘normal drinking’ the healing can start and the struggle can cease. I am so glad to be at this point because I have done my share of struggling. It’s a relief to accept reality the way it is. Accept the drug for what it is and accept that your relationship with the drug is what it is. There is so much freedom in that! So much peace.