Tag Archives: neuroscience

I had a beer, it didn’t work, life goes on

27 Jun

9:30 am

I just wanted to check in to say that I am well.

I had a beer. It didn’t work. Life goes on.

Yeah. And, I really want to explore this idea of getting sober–or, a long period of sobriety–as actually changing your brain. I mean, I had a beer because…I guess my obsessing over “what will it be like?” was just getting out of control. I just wanted to see what it was like. AND, I really couldn’t do this thing, and be in this place, without having the local beer (it’s like, a thing here, a very memorable part of the experience of this place, is having the local beer).

You know what? Just like with the “non-alcoholic” beer I accidentally drank (it was a while ago, maybe last December?), it just did not feel good. I felt cloudy-headed, more or less. It was hard to make conversation. I felt somewhat dizzy, and like I just wanted to go to sleep. No high, no buzz. In essence, it just didn’t work.

So, while this is a good thing, right…I also felt a little disappointed. WHAT? It’s really, really not an option anymore? I had the same effect with caffeine after I had a series of panic attacks back in 2005. I used to be a coffee FIEND, but, after a couple panic attacks brought on by coffee (after a night of binge drinking), I simply could NOT drink it anymore. I went from feeling awesome on coffee to feeling…static-brained. I just don’t drink it anymore because it doesn’t work–it makes me feel bad instead of good.

On the other hand, my little experiment was a GREAT thing. In the past several days or so, I’ve basically let go of the idea of what this place WAS to me–of “enjoying” it more while drunk on the local beer. I don’t need it. It’s a new day. It’s time to move on. And, because alcohol doesn’t seem to even work anymore–it makes me feel bad instead of good–I truly have to move on.

And, it makes me wonder: why are we drilling into people this “fear” of drinking again? I mean, I’m not saying don’t gather a ton of sober days under your belt first (like, years). What I’m saying is, we don’t have to live in fear of relapse. Maybe, just maybe, it won’t “work” for us the way it used to? Maybe we truly do have to move on, and embrace another way of coping and living? I haven’t had a cup of regular coffee since 2005. Sure, it sucked, and sure, I miss it every time I smell a pot brewing, but…I simply cannot drink it! It doesn’t work. Life goes on.

It feels good to know. I can somewhat let go of the obsession, this idea that drinking–no matter how far away I get from my last drink–is the fix I want and need.

(All is well here. Communal living is teaching me to open up again, and I’m being reminded of all that I do have–and, how far I’ve come in how comfortable I am with myself. It’s been a great week, and I’ve got three left. I’ll write more soon!)

It’s not you, it’s the alcohol

18 May

10:55 pm

Lately, I’ve been feeling better than ever. Very clear-headed. Confident. At peace. No cravings–none when I get up, none when I go to sleep. The winds of crazy in my head have died down: no thought circles, no ruminations on what could have and should have been done.

The alcohol has left my brain, and my brain has finally healed.

All I can say is, if you’re still struggling with mood swings, emotional ups and downs, and in general, a sense of anxiety and paranoia–it IS all in your head, in a sense. It’s the lingering effects on your brain chemistry of the alcohol; it’s not “you.”

I have been working a lot (both keepin’ on keepin’ on with the freelancing as well as my part-time real estate job), researching and prepping for a volun-tour trip (or, “volunteer vacation,” which term I actually despise as it’s a bit of a generalization) this summer, and mentally and emotionally preparing myself for the wedding/”confrontation” with The Girlfriend–which is to say, I’m over it. SO OVER IT. I’ve made the effort, and they have refused; nothing more I can do. In fact, I have nothing left to give when it comes to them–and not in a negative way, just in a better-things-to-do way. The wedding seems simple now: Just be myself, and enjoy the company of everyone else! I don’t have to engage with them at all, and frankly, I don’t plan to. I’ve let them go.

Actually, I’ve been doing a lot of letting go the past few weeks, and it’s been liberating. Finally. It’s taken a long time, but I really do see that as your brain heals, your mind heals, and your heart heals. In that order. It’s not you, it’s the alcohol. (Mostly!)

I’ll keep you all posted on what goes down this week (we leave on Wed., and the ceremony is Fri. – Sun.). Thanks to all for the insightful and helpful comments–hope to post more in the next few weeks.

No black-and-white thinking allowed

19 Jan

1:47 pm

Hi, friends! It’s been a week and that seems too long. And, I’ve had such a BUSY week–labor-intensive, I should say– that it’s been rough keeping my head in the sobriety game.

I must admit, I’ve been having the “fuck it’s” a little too often for my own comfort lately.

I just feel pulled. I mean, for one thing, I don’t have a secure income. Hello, that would drive anyone a bit mad. Second, I don’t have this burning desire to do, as I once had. It’s persistent. I thought it would be gone by now, almost a year since I had my last drink, but “the blahs” are hanging on.

I mean, it’s been almost a year, but I’ll admit, I still go through most of my day just doing things because I have to. Maybe I did that before, maybe we all do it to survive. I don’t know, I’m confused and having a hard time figuring out where “sober me” ends and “me me” begins. Like, the other day, I did a shit-ton of stuff–a job interview, wrote a piece for publication, and went to a party and chatted everyone up while sober. And I came home with barely a memory of any of it. It was like I was in a mini-blackout. Now, with all my science-y reading, I’ve come to understand that forming memories that stick requires feeling–like, you form much stronger memories if your emotional brain is involved, which is why, heya, our emotions are so wrapped up in our addictions, and vice versa. I don’t know if I’m burnt out (freelancing takes so many things out of your control) or simply dealing with a lack of dopamine due to getting sober. I feel like I could take or leave most everything–work, eating, play. It’s all the same to me. It’s weird to try to explain it, but it’s like, I feel very little/numb/nothing, so I have to rationally engage my brain to make me want to do things. And I do them, and I like it, but… It’s weird. It’s sort of scaring me a bit, because I do realize that I’m operating on will and I know how testy will can be.

All that aside, I feel OK, fine, whatever, I’m not complaining about having sun, and water, and work, and basically, a lot of free time to construct any kind of life I want (as long as I make my rent, that is). I’ve realized that taking breaks–like, totally shutting down the information flow–is absolutely essential to me being able to breathe and say, OK, drinking would NOT help here. That means, no email, no Facebook, no news, no music, and most certainly, minimizing other people because other people means me having to take in their stories, and their feelings, and their problems–and it’s not that I don’t want to, I just can’t right now. I feel like I might implode. And, this all makes me feel desperate inside, and like I want/need to drink to shut it off. As Jen so well put it in a blog post:

Drinking is a way of controlling reality when everything else feels out of control. That’s where the ‘fuck it’s’ come in. Fuck it, everything is hard, might as well drink. Fuck it, I can’t change anything, might as well drink. Fuck it, I am not happy, might as well drink.

This past week, it’s hit home again: I use a LOT of black-and-white thinking. Black-and-white thinking is so tricky, and you don’t realize you’re doing it, but it raises your anxiety to the point where you want to say, Fuck it, and let yourself drink, whether it’s at your problem or because of your problem. For instance: I find a story idea, I pitch it, and an editor rejects it. I could either think, Well, that publication didn’t want it so the story’s dead…and, also, I suck at this and I should probably find another line of work; and then, Shit, how am I going to pay my bills if I suck; and while I’m at it, I also seem to suck at x, y, and z, too, and so, Why am I even here, why bother being alive? You see how it goes. Alternately, I could think (like “normal” people do?), Well, that publication didn’t want it, so, let’s see if another one does. I think the story idea is good, I’m sticking to my guns, and I just have to have patience, dampen the anxiety over money with simple trust in my own talents, and ramp up the aggressive side that says, Go get ’em, tiger.

This all leads me to the second big “thing” I’ve realized this week: I am performing all the time, mainly because I don’t think what I have is what people want. In work, in play, at parties, in relationships, I can see now that the common theme throughout my life has been trying hard to be something for others that I thought they wanted. I never once considered that it didn’t matter what they were thinking or wanting. Now, I’m trying to undo that, and getting sober has allowed me to see, for the first time in some cases, that it Just Doesn’t Matter. And, that I Just Don’t Care. And, that this is essential to staying sober, to healing, for me anyway. Going to parties sober is so much easier now because I can see how drinking is, for many people, a way to please others. It shows me that other people are struggling with this desire to please, which is a desire to hide your “real” self, I guess. It’s a way to perform your way out of being authentic; and being authentic requires something along the lines of not giving a rat’s ass–in a good way. I’m working on that, and it’s supremely liberating, even more than the absence of craving, which for the most part I have these days.

However, I have been having the “fuck it’s” lately, and sometimes I want to smoke a cigarette. I don’t like smoking, but lately, I’ve almost lit up a few times out of desperation! To cast order, to soothe, to activate my mind–I don’t even know what I’m looking for in these moments. I wonder if an SSRI might be good for me; I often feel a palpable absence of motivation. But, where does “sober me” end and “me me” begin? Should I just keep waiting to recalibrate? I’ve always felt a fire in my head, and now I wonder, was it fueled by wine this whole time, and a continuing surge of dopamine? I’d have to say no, because I do remember how passionate and driven I was in my teens and college years, before I started drinking. Yet, that was 20 years ago–could it be an age-driven sense of “meh, been there, done that”?

So, I wait. I’m waiting. Which I can do. And, this is sobriety. I can tell you this, though: I have ZERO desire to go back there, to be those drinking people at the party, some beholden to the bottle, others pulled by it, a few enslaved to it. But all–ALL–trapped into performing their lives, their selves, instead of simply being and doing. I might be feeling flat, but I definitely am feeling FREEer than ever when it comes to not having to perform in my own life anymore. Sure, I might come across as disinterested or even bitchy or uncaring, but you know what, maybe I am. I’ve come to accept that YES, it’s OK to displease others; it’s OK if other people don’t like or get or get off on you–it’s not your responsibility. And isn’t that great? In the sense that, if I am disinterested and I don’t hide that from myself–or from you–I’m on the fast track to finding what really interests me, what I’m really passionate about, what I feel safe expressing my excitement for. I’m being me, and that’s a gift, to you. Getting sober has taught me that this is a good thing, and I am using this as a kind of mini-life raft right now, until a solid shoreline comes into focus.

I hope everyone is doing well, and taking breaks, and having treats. And turning it off when you must, and not giving a rat’s ass! 🙂

Into every life a little PAWS will fall

5 Jan

12:29 pm

I was going to post on something that I mentioned to Lilly the other day–how we have to remember that we’re addicted not just to booze, but to the “idea” of what booze gives us, does for us, makes us; and how we have to grieve the person we “lost”–but instead, I’d just like to keep it simple: PAWS sucks.

According to the “illustrious” Wikipedia, the symptoms of PAWS–post-acute-withdrawal syndrome–include mood swings resembling an affective disorder, anhedonia (the inability to feel pleasure from anything beyond use of the drug), insomnia, extreme drug craving and obsession, anxiety and panic attacks, depression, suicidal ideation and suicide and general cognitive impairment. These can last from a year to several decades, or indefinitely. YIKES.

I highlighted the ones that have affected me the most, and I think we can all agree: once we stop drinking, it doesn’t necessarily do jack shit for us. In fact, for me it meant seeing myself succumb to a lack of motivation that I blamed on my inherent nature, when really, it was just me coming off booze. That goes for my ongoing mood swings and depression, too.

I felt frustrated A LOT. Up until about a few months ago, actually. I mean, we stop drinking, and we’re supposed to feel great and happy and lovely, right? And yet…we feel WORSE sometimes (most of the time). We not only feel the depression or anxiety that we’ve been self-medicating away, but PAWS brings its own special form of hell. And, until we have medications to help us out with PAWS symptoms, we simply have to go through it in order to be able to look back and say, Ahh, so that’s what they were talking about. FUCK.

My main symptom has been lack of motivation. A feeling of “meh,” or “blah,” or “why bother?” surrounding basically everything–eating, reading, watching movies; working, hiking; going to bars and picnics and barbeques. It wasn’t that I didn’t have fun doing these things, or that they were so bad to do sober; it’s just that I totally noticed how much I MISSED wine and how most things just didn’t offer much reward for doing them without it. Wine was a serious motivating factor; it was also my main reward.

In learning more about how our reward circuitry gets fucked up when we come to depend on booze, it’s not hard to see how nothing but wine would motivate me. Our brains become sensitized to alcohol. What does this mean? It means that, other rewards–incentives, like eating good food or having an orgasm; or higher-level rewards, like a future job done well, or a big professional goal accomplished–other rewards lose meaning. They hold no weight, in fact. It’s like, the ONLY thing that’s going to do it for me, and by that I mean, instill in my brain a DESIRE to do something, is wine. Forget that it may or may not give me pleasure. What’s happened is that your dopamine circuits (among others that make wine the “high” that it is) have become attuned to this one stimulus–your only motivating factor becomes wine. Otherwise, there literally is no reason, in your mind, to do it.

Now, I’ve blogged about this before, but I’ve seen a lot of people on here lately complaining that they’re feeling depressed, or unmotivated, that they’re just going through the motions and really, wasn’t quitting drinking supposed to have the opposite effect? And, all I can say is, it takes time. YOU HAVE TO GIVE IT TIME. You have to live through the “blah” period. For me, that lasted for a good 1.5 years. I’m sorry, but it’s the truth. My innate motivation–you know, how I used to “get pumped” to work out, to job search, to plan a trip to Greece…because these things are inherently worthy of doing–took some time to return.

I journaled a lot. I felt sorry for myself a lot. But, I also just went through the motions, and there’s a LOT to be said for just doing what needs to be done. I made a lot of to-do lists, and then, finally stopped berating myself for not getting to much of what was on my list. I just didn’t drink. Sometimes I’d go to bed early; a lot of times I did only what needed to be done in terms of work (I didn’t make very much money last year–haha); I bitched to my boyfriend; I took long walks with my dogs (they are my “higher power,” I swear); I ate a lot of sweets; I drank a shit-ton of Diet Coke. There were treats in the form of trips and hikes and lazy days on the beach–which were sometimes (often) clouded by me feeling bad or guilty about taking time off to heal, or not being capable of enjoying the moment. It just takes time, and constant effort. But, mostly, it just takes doing it, and going through the motions. Believe me, you will NOT be going through the motions forever, even though you’re convinced that things will never feel good again and you might as well drink because there is NO WAY you’re not drinking and putting up with this shit forever.

It’s like a really bad breakup: one day, you’ll just move on. One day, you’ll wake up and the gut-ache will have dissipated, poof, gone. One day, you’ll be like, Oh, well, he was a fucking asshole anyway. One day, you’ll say, Huh, I think I’m gonna wear some lipstick today, and maybe even some short shorts. HA.

Your motivation–spark, enthusiasm, desire to do, and to go, and to achieve–will come back. But it’s going to take time, healing time. It wasn’t until I gave myself a SOLID 7, 8, 9 months (and this was AFTER a solid 2, and then, 6 months first-tries at getting sober) that I started to see my thinking change. To feel butterflies again. YES, I’d actually feel butterflies once in a while (when was the last time I felt butterflies, in the ’90s?) thinking about the trip I was going to take, the book I was going to write, the new job I was going to apply for and work.

I’m still just starting to come back, but I am coming back. I have found myself having more random man-on-street conversations, being open to socializing; applying for jobs and not feeling like I can’t do them (that was scary, having so little self-confidence when it came to work, which was always “my thing”); in general, feeling at ease in my own skin again. Thinking back, I wonder, why did I make it so hard? Why was I just so…weird all the time? Not “myself?” Literally beside myself? Because getting sober–and PAWS–sucks, that’s why. But, it’s not going to suck all the time, and it’s definitely not going to suck forever. And, you will get through this. You have to. If you keep not drinking!

Consider this: what IF you healed your mind, and you could drink again? What IF you healed your mind and you simply did not WANT to drink again? These are very real possibilities. And, you can even use them as motivation to not drink–IT’S OK. Don’t let other people’s personal experiences in getting sober bog you down: your path is your own, and what you CHOOSE to do after a period of abstinence WHICH ALLOWS YOU TO FULLY HEAL, MENTALLY AND EMOTIONALLY, is up to you. But first you have to heal. And you have to see how this might work, the longer you go without your “go-to” (wine, in my case).

I’ve got a story/essay to outline, and job to apply to, and then, “me” time! And that always involves trees, sun, water, and exercise! Happy Sunday, all. (And, I’m inching toward 300 days come next Sunday–woo hoo, I guess.)

I got drunk last night…on .5% “non-alcoholic” beer!

10 Dec

11:32 am

And I learned SO much! Mainly that, everything I’ve been telling myself about relapse is off-base…when I consider MY physiology. No, drinking again will not necessarily trigger a physical craving, or even a mental one, like before. No, drinking again is not necessarily something I want to do, or will do, anymore to ease my pain or numb my fear. HOLY FUCK. All these stories I’ve assumed and acquired about “this disease” are not necessarily true–for me.

I’m going to be brief, but basically, I accidentally drank what I thought was a non-alcoholic beer last night, and it turned out that it actually had .5% alcohol. And, boy, did I feel it!

After the first half, I felt bad–decidedly unpleasant. Slightly anxious–what’s this unfamiliar feeling going to do to me?–and like my brain was coming unglued–imagine clasping your hands together and pulling them apart. By the end of the beer, I felt fuzzy-headed and a little careless (numb), but that was about it. No real buzz.

The best part? I had ZERO desire for more. I mean, I neither wanted a stronger buzz nor wanted it to go on. I was waiting to come down, if you can believe it! I could liken it to having just taken a shower; I felt clean and cool, why would I take another one? Or, just having eaten a nice dessert; I felt sated, why would I eat more? I had no compulsion–no obsessing, no real feeling at all besides, oh, this is an interesting feeling and it will be over soon, and I’m OK with that. Next?

I have no regrets. No, I didn’t “fall off the wagon;” no, I didn’t “slip.” I MADE PROGRESS. I mean, I feel like this was my own version of harm reduction–and while I’ve wondered about harm reduction techniques as being possibly painful, the overriding feeling I had after this experience was that of freedom. I felt free. I got my fix, I satisfied my curiosity, which, I’ll admit, had been eating away at me for the past 265 days.

Yeah, I felt free. But then, I was like, Oh, FUCK, now what? If I don’t have alcohol, what will be my fix NOW? All this time, I’ve been sort of harboring romantic visions of me drinking wine in moderation “when I’m fully healed.” I never in a million years imagined that I wouldn’t want to!

I can work without wine!

17 Nov

1:04 pm

I’ve had a lot of thoughts lately, but I’m just checking in today. Still here, still plugging away. I had two big weeks the past few, and today will be a big day, and then five more big days–all work, no wine. And, I am doing it.

It’s been tiring, and I still have to figure out the work-life (I have none to speak of yet) balance, but I’m actually really proud to say that I have three pieces coming out, have made my bills for October and November, and am *hopefully* going to make my bills for December (working up some pitches now, and waiting on some editing work to come through). This freelance life is pretty stressful, I must admit, and the day I go back to a 9-to-5 will be the last day I ever complain about working a 9-to-5; but, yeah, I’m proud to say that I’m not only doing it–I am doing it sober.

Honestly, it’s taken me over a year–almost a year and a half–to get my motivation and concentration levels back to where I can work. Well, to where I can work without the “reward” that was so wired into my brain. I can work without the reward of wine, and I can rest and get ready to work again without the reward of wine. There were a few times this week when I was so nervous anticipating not only my first interviews in a while, but my first interviews about things like cloud computing and SSRIs, and my first editorial feedback from a major magazine (ouch); so nervous that I couldn’t eat and all I could think about was, Why can’t I have my wine? I NEED IT. But, they were just thoughts, and as I tossed them around, I realized that I have SO been down that road: all wine will do is take away everything I’ve worked the past 18 months to get back, including my motivation and focus. I can’t imagine having to go through that getting-back process again, it was so tedious and hard-won. Plus, um, waking up hung over is something I cannot imagine doing right now, with deadlines to meet and a schedule to maintain–I’m my own boss, no one is hounding me here. In fact, it’s like I’m walking down a straight path now, and I simply cannot veer off. I’m not sure if I’d be able to handle keeping up, mentally, with my pieces and such if I distracted myself even for a few hours with wine.

So, it’s been stressful, but the important thing is that I’m managing it, and that I’m doing it without the crutch of wine. I can always drink after these stories are done, right? Right. But, then there’ll be something else, like another pitch, the personal writing, the long-term commitment that involves staying focused on a book’s breadth of research. In fact, it seems to me that there will always be a good reason NOT to drink. Or, there will never be a good time to waste being drunk or hung over.

And, honestly, after years of drinking precisely because I didn’t have projects, or the courage to start OR follow through on these writing dreams of mine–those two ideas are relief, cool water, opening clouds, a big wide sky. God-send-type stuff. I get it. I really do. No, there will never be a good time to waste being drunk in my life again. Who knew that would be a comfort to me, rather than a sentence, or a diagnosis?

So, on to my work (yes, I took on a bit too much and now have to punch in this afternoon), and a renewed resolve to make it AT LEAST another few weeks (300 days, my next goal, is right around the corner, and then there’s 365…and, it goes on, and on, and on).

Anger, Buddhism, and the 12 steps, oh my!

6 Jul

1:11 pm

As I posted yesterday, The Fix published a piece I wrote about blogging myself sober. Obviously, it’s not the ONLY thing I’ve done to “get and stay sober,” but that’s beside the point. I think connecting with others who share your problem, and who can help you DEFINE its gray areas, is the key. So, thanks to all of you out there who continue to help me stay the course.

There were some negative comments posted in response to the piece, which I found, for the most part, to be instructive (thankfully!).

Why are some people so angry about a seemingly-successful recovery that either does not involve meetings or the 12 steps, or does not involve “as much work as someone else” or “the way that they did the work?”

What can I glean from the 12 steps, and why do I keep coming back to them, feeling like I’ve got some unfinished business? Maybe I AM a dry drunk?

If it wasn’t the personalities in AA, or the sharing, or the group therapy aspect that bothered me all that much, it must have been the steps, right? What am I afraid of? What about the steps hangs me up?

It’s those words: powerlessness, God, higher power. To me, the 12 steps are not rocket science; in fact, in order to get sober, EVERYONE has to do some version of these “steps,” I’ve come to believe. You might not KNOW you’re doing the steps, but you are. We admit we can’t drink anymore; we accept this fact. We feel remorse and say we’re sorry. We work on our relationships, we question our sense of purpose–why are we using booze to avoid or hide from what we know, deep down, we should and could be doing? I used wine for YEARS to avoid writing; yet, it’s the one thing I knew that if I just fucking DID it, I’d be free. Free of both the urge to drink away my fear and sensitivities surrounding “putting it out there” and possibly failing, and free from the self-loathing brought on by not doing it!

I wondered, how do atheists approach the steps? Do Muslims go to AA? What do people who come from non-Judeo-Christian backgrounds and worldviews think of AA? I mean, people all over the world have drinking problems–how do they approach the steps if they don’t, actually, believe in “God,” per se? What–or who–IS God? A quick Google search made me realize that the concept of God is extremely broad, and can range from an overlord or all-knowing being to, well, “being” or “existence” itself. Huh. As a scientist, I am not a theist, but neither am I convinced that “being” or “existence” does not hold a higher order. The whole is, most of the time in the biological sciences anyway, greater than the sum of its parts. Systems biology takes advantage of the FACT that studying systems of genes, or proteins, or cells can lead to surprising insights into how things actually work when we’re not reducing them to their parts.

At the beach yesterday, I felt the need (and this is usually accompanied by a lot of gesturing and loud talking to myself, so my apologies to the boyfriend–LOL) to tease out my “official” definition of these words. And, here’s what I came up with:

Powerlessness: To me, this is simply my desire (key word) to drink more than just one. I can never drink one. Why? Because I don’t WANT to. And this, I think, is where the neurochemistry of addiction comes in: my brain is wired–at the moment, at least, because I’ve abused wine for so long–to want more than one. It’s an urge that is VERY strong. And, already after one, my “rational brain” is starting to become overpowered by my “irrational brain.”

This is actually the opposite of the general idea that most people, including myself, have of powerlessness. I have a choice, yes I do; and that choice is to drink a second. Whether or not that choice is a good choice, well, morals aside, the powerlessness lies in my reward system being fucked up.

God: Well, since I do not believe in a deity or any sort of omniscient creator being, I would say that “God” is the order of the universe, being, life itself.

Higher power: I’ve always thought that this is simply my higher self, a literal higher consciousness. In fact, I now believe that when we “bottom out,” or hit our lows, we’re actually becoming our most self-aware. Our wake-up calls are just that: we snap out of it, we awaken, we’re fully conscious of just how bad it is. We’re at the top of our game then, not the bottom. This higher consciousness is our most aware selves–the self that knows better, wants the best for us, sees our potential, follows that “order” of the universe, or at least, of being human, which is to protect our bodies and minds from harm, to sleep when it’s dark, to wake when it’s light.

Defects of character: This was a hard one, but I figured it out on the ride home, with the help of my boyfriend. My biggest problem in this whole nightmare has been learning how to forgive myself. I realized that IF, in fact, I viewed my higher power as myself–the best version of myself, the mindful, awakened version–then, couldn’t asking myself for forgiveness be the same thing as asking “God” to remove my “defects of character?” YES, it really could.

In my research last in night, I came across Kevin Griffin, who founded the Buddhist Recovery Network, who has written some excellent pieces for HuffPo on the Buddhist approach to recovery, and whose work I can’t wait to read more of. It sort of helped to confirm some of my new ideas, which, apparently, I’m not the first person to have. 😉

I guess maybe a step meeting could’ve helped me wade through the murky semantics of the steps, or a Google search earlier in my recovery, but so it goes. If I look at the steps with my new definitions in mind, they might read as such:

1. We admitted we were powerless over alcohol—that our lives had become unmanageable.
(I am powerless to not want that second drink…and then, it’s all downhill because my rational brain turns off the warning and my irrational brain turns on the “It’ll be different this time, it won’t hurt you, you can drink as much as you want, forget about last time, there is no last time…”)

2. Came to believe that a power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.
(That power is myself–my aware, awakened, mindful self; the one who’s looking at me when I’m jogging in the hot sun thinking, Good job, and, You deserve to be awesome.)

3. Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him.
(Wonderfully explained by Kevin here.)

4. Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.
(Among a lot of other things, this would include shit I did that I still haven’t forgiven myself for…because I have offended others and hurt myself.)

5. Admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.
(Admitting to ourselves, really, the things that we haven’t forgiven ourselves for having done. I have a few select people who know EVERYTHING, and I’m grateful that it’s been easy, in a way, to “unburden” myself to these friends.)

6. Were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character.
(Ready to forgive ourselves, to stop caring if others have or will forgive us, to really let it all go, and to start moving forward in our emotional lives. Self-actualizing?)

7. Humbly asked Him to remove our shortcomings.
(Asked ourselves for forgiveness, and the power to let it go.)

8. Made a list of all persons we had harmed, and became willing to make amends to them all.

9. Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.

10. Continued to take personal inventory, and when we were wrong, promptly admitted it.
(Being aware of our thoughts and feelings, of our actions and especially, REACTIONS, to these thoughts and feelings. To live in the world without taking anything personally.)

11. Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God as we understood Him, praying only for knowledge of His will for us and the power to carry that out.
(Staying aware, practicing mindfulness.)

12. Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these steps, we tried to carry this message to alcoholics, and to practice these principles in all our affairs.
(This one, I’m not sure about. Maybe just helping others see their problem is not necessarily about moral flaws, it’s about fear of living and fear of self-discovery–and, the truth (your personal truth) will set you free…?)

What do you think?

I have power over my cravings…

29 Jun

12:07 pm

And, that power is the power to forget about them! Or, to laugh in my own face and say to myself, Drunky Drunk Girl, this IDEA that you have that drinking will “fix” things? You’re cute.

My cravings, to reassure you, have DEFINITELY subsided. I still have thoughts of drinking, but the thoughts are much less distracting and come much less frequently (like, once a week, or twice a month, instead of every day). Smaller. They take up less space in my head, and when they do invade–or worse, start needling their way in–I know how to stomp them out. And then, I move on with my day.

I used to have to brace myself against the disappointment that followed me “out-thinking” my cravings–WHAT? No buzz?–but now, that disappointment has subsided, it, too, having been tempered by the rational FACT that wine is just not that great (compared to real treats!). And, well, I have better things to use my brain for, like, figuring out what caused me to start drinking in the first place; why I drank the way I did; and what I can continue to do, in my life, to make sure I stay full so that I don’t “need” wine to fill me up.

The thing is, you have POWER over your cravings.

Cravings are thoughts. Thoughts make feelings. Thoughts and feelings go away. You can wait and watch them leave. You can force them out of your mind. You can distract yourself and sneak them out the back door. But, they go away! Brilliant.

You have the power to let them go. And that is your biggest, bestest tool! Cravings are tied up in the neurochemistry of your addicted brain. I had pretty significant cravings up until about, oh, three or so months ago (nine months after my quit date)–they didn’t just go away. They turned much less severe, though, over those nine months, and it became more or less a psychological battle: me versus thoughts that drinking would be a good idea.

But, thoughts create feelings, which might actually be the more “real” of the two. However, like the power to let go of your thoughts, you have the power to transmute your feelings. Into? Well, into a big pile of poop (which is OK, too) or something new, like understanding. Understanding. Sitting through those thoughts, feeling that anxiety and tension in your gut–after it all goes, you might be able to say, ‘So, this is what I’m actually thinking about. THIS is what I’m actually feeling. I can deal with this!’

These days, I have exhausting dreams. And, these dreams are like, really obvious. Like, big block letters-obvious. I mean, they’re not even representative of what I’m actually going through; they’re like, the same things that happen to me in real life. For instance, this morning, I had one in which my boyfriend and I couldn’t agree on what to do, so we sat around getting frustrated (with each other) trying to figure it out. (There were scary cliffs, and riding a bus at night, and flirty “other women,” all of which meant something, too, I’m sure.) I mean, that’s what we do in real life! In my dream, however, I experienced all these clear, cathartic, and HEAVY emotions related to this experience. I never would have been able to feel that in my real life (I’m not that “enlightened”), and it really hit home, as in, Ahh, so THIS is how that makes me feel. I get it. I kind of think that’s what sitting through and then, discarding, those thoughts of drinking does for me: it allows me to transmute the blunt thoughts of “I want wine” into “Oh, THIS. Ahhhh, THAT.”

Saturday morning. Well afternoon, thanks to the heat and my dream and going to bed at 3 am last night. Did I mention it was hot? Wow, some days, it makes it hard to even breathe. Guess I’ll HAVE to hit the beach instead of working…

Happy day, friends!

100 days…and business as usual!

26 Jun

4:34 pm

That’s sort of how I feel. YES, I made it, but eh, I’m still sober and I’ve got work to do. Which is good. I NEED goals, otherwise I tailspin into the bottom of a bottle.

First up, thanks to ALL for the continued support–especially Belle for the shout-out today, and for the brilliant 100 Day Challenge. As you may know, this is not my first time at the 100-day mark, but I have to say, it IS the easiest. There’s an acceptance that drinking will *probably* (haha) offer me nothing; even my reward circuits have re-learned this, and they finally seem to be settling–albeit grudgingly–back into what used to be a natural resting state.

What’s different this time? Well, let me remind you that I first got sober last June and went for 60 days before falling off the wagon twice in one week. Both times involved me blacking out and, once, going swimming (always safe to attempt to swim while blacked out), once, texting an ex and babble-yelling at my boyfriend with two house guests in the next room (marvelous host, I am). Then, I went for five weeks, fell off again for about three weeks, and finally got back on after a horrendous last drunk where I ended up locking someone out of my apartment and having to repair the damage, move out of my place, and get my ass to the airport before 9–all while still flaming drunk and operating on three hours of blacked out sleep. I moved here, and I went for ALMOST SIX MONTHS, which I believe I had something close to 160 days.

Now, the last time I circled around 100 days, ALL I WANTED WAS TO DRINK. The urge had not disappeared, there was no fairy dust falling from the sky and blotting out all the bad memories, overwhelming loose ends and things I hadn’t yet done (which I still have yet to do, btw). My pulsating neuronal circuits still resembled a neon sign that read “Wine ALL Night” and kept throbbing to the beat of my heart.

And, I had no idea that the next oh, two months, would be so hard.

From about day 90 (13 weeks?) to about 20 weeks–that’s almost two whole months–all I wanted was to drink. To stop this nonsense and just go back to normal, which to me was drinking. I wanted my LIFE back. The cravings were worse than ever! I had no idea how difficult it would be–everyone in AA told me that once I hit 90, I’d be OK. Well, it wasn’t like that for me. I felt angry, and bitter, like I had been cheated; here I was, TWICE past 90 days, and all I wanted–STILL–was wine! It’s just never going to get better, I kept thinking. I am permanently brain damaged.

So, I drank. That was one night, back in March, and guess what? Same Old Shit. Blacked out and said way more than I should have, passed out sitting up (I think I threw up on myself a little, too), and felt like ass for the next THREE days. It would not–could not–do. With literally no other option, I got back on the horse, (well, in my case, the unicorn), and let the slip pass.

This time around, it’s been much easier. I mean, getting back on the wagon wasn’t hard, though at the time it felt like three weeks was WAY too long to convince myself that I shouldn’t drink again. I think my sober muscles, which I had been building up over the past year, just PUSHED; and there I was, going on four weeks, then eight, and now…100 days.

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the neurochemistry involved in disorders of the brain, and how it might work for alcoholism. I wonder what our drinking circuits look like: are these circuits so rigid, so inflexible, that they’ve almost solidified into place? I think so. I think it takes a lot of mental work to loosen these configurations and to dissociate them from anticipating a drink, yes. But, I think simply Not Drinking When You Really Really Want To goes a long way toward dissolving these bonds, let’s just call them. These configurations settle into a specific shape; and, that shape is kept in place by drinking when you WANT to, not necessarily because it feels good to drink. Think of it like this: add booze at any point in the early stages of recovery, and BAM, those circuits snap back into place and start throbbing again. Less and less so, the longer you are sober. But…maybe not. Everyone’s drinking problem is unique.

In any case, I’m OK not drinking, and I’ve come a long way toward replacing not drinking with like, real life, including work, friends, and future plans. I’m not so self-absorbed; I feel a lot more like myself again, able to be out in the world and not feel like my skin is as fine as butterfly wings.

I want to be excited about today, like uber-excited, but really, it’s just another day! I continue to appreciate every moment that I’m sober, but I whine a LOT less about wanting to drink. It’s been easier in that–and I think I’ve already said how incredulous I am about this development–I don’t have many cravings anymore. Like, yes, sure, OK, I GUESS it’d be nice to have a glass of wine, but, really, would it?

And, to be honest, a lot of the stuff I used to worry about, I just gave up on. Haha. I’m not going to be perfect, I may never publish a book, I probably won’t have kids of my own, I probably definitely won’t own a brownstone in Brooklyn. I probably won’t speak to my brother again. BLAH BLAH BLAH. Shut up, cousin of wolfie, who is the voice of pointless rumination!

The only thing that seems to really matter anymore is that I’ve got my foundation, my new sober house. And it is hurricane-proof. Can withstand the strongest flood. It’s like, when life starts to seem to real–when all that out there actually starts to look real–I just go inside my sober house and close the door. See ya, wolfie! See ya, cousin of wolfie! See ya, people who don’t matter and things that I’m making up about you!

MY HOUSE: cool cement floors covered in exquisite blue tiles; a tall ceiling; a breeze from the most glorious sea you could envision, twisting the sheer linen curtains ever so slightly. Oh, what? Is there a storm? Oh, wait, you said a hurricane? Nope, it’s like the dead of night inside my house, it’s that quiet. Oh, is someone coming over to knock on my door, breathe in my face, scream in my ear? OK; whatever. Tell them to go around the back, I’ll be a while. My house. Hurricane-proof. Avalanche-ready. Typhoon-resistant!

What’s next? Well, ending this long-winded blog post, for one. And then…working. Not drinking. Going to bed looking forward to tomorrow. The usual. 😉

So much to post, but I’ll start with…Day 35 tomorrow

21 Apr

11:18 pm

But, it hasn’t been easy, or as easy as I thought it would be, I have to admit.

It’s been a few days since my last post–I’m sorry for getting lazy about acknowledging all of your amazing and supportive comments–and as seems to be the case with this “getting sober” business, I’ve gone up, down, and side to side. Some days I’m like, Aww, YES, this sober stuff is awesome! I feel good, I don’t want to drink, I’m getting shit done, I can’t wait to get more shit done. No wolfie-boy on my back, howling for a sip of red wine. Easy.

Other days–and there have been several–I’m like, FUCK THIS NONSENSE. My life isn’t that much better sober, and well, is it me, or do people just annoy me more? People–you know, I have a hard time with people, as an introvert; I just don’t get them. Choosing (being forced?) to interact with and witness other people while constantly sober? Well, let’s just say, it’s not the same without my merlot-colored glasses; I find myself wondering why so many people seem so fucked up and thinking how no one is as funny or kind or interesting as they once were. (Confession: I am REALLY FUCKING TIRED of the mainstream media blowing this Boston mess up, and I am PMSing. So, getting around me with a knife is a definite no-no at the moment, as might be taking any of my angry words to heart.)

Tonight, though, after a few days of simply biting down and letting the feelings/thoughts pass–for once, it feels, I am truly happy to have not given in. Over some bridge. At the clearing. (This has happened before, if I remember correctly back to a post I wrote last summer, but not nearly the same sense of conclusion: I don’t miss drinking once the urge to drink actually passes.)

I’d say that prior to today, not giving in was up to about 95 percent awesome; the remaining 5 percent was, Aww, man, I still missed out on getting buzzed, though! Not today. I’m relieved to have sat through the cravings, knowing full well–and trusting more and more in this experiential knowledge–that they will. Go. Away. And that, nothing–not one thing–is worth drinking over. (Yesterday I tripped while running and sprained my ankle; I cursed and cried and hated on my life, and was like, Why is this shit SO hard? All of this? My reaction was to want to drink; not that I wanted to be drunk, but I wanted to drink. Pretty soon, I was home, icing the ankle and realizing that no, I didn’t want to drink, and no, it really wouldn’t make me feel better, and no, it SO wasn’t worth breaking my 35-day streak over.) In fact, I don’t (really?) miss having been high, and I definitely don’t miss the memory loss, the confusion, the fake emotional roller coaster, the hangover, the disappointment and frustration…

Honk, honk! Sober mack truck, coming through!

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