Craving Alcohol

The Moderation Contemplation

mona-davis-winds-of-freedom

Winds of Freedom – Mona Davis

Are you trying to decide whether or not moderating your alcohol intake is the preferable option to giving it up entirely? Hugs and love to you. I know this is hard.

If I may, I’d like to ask you two questions:

1. Do you believe that being able to drink moderately makes you better or more whole as a person?
2. Do you know the reasons why you want the escape that drinking “promises”?

If you’re struggling to answer these two questions honestly, perhaps abstinence is the way to go. Of course the decision is yours but I’ll share my story:

I was a binge drinker which means that I could go days or weeks without drinking but when I did drink, anything could happen. Back then, if I was upset or angry the first couple of drinks felt good because all the pleasure centers in my brain were tickled, tricking me into believing that the high meant I was happy. But the warning bells would already be going off by the end of glass two. I would choose to ignore them and the switch would be flipped. Deep down I knew I had a problem with limits and believing it was a question of willpower, I had tried quitting or at least moderating my drinking many times. Especially after particularly embarrassing episodes or near misses. I tried “not drinking during the week” or limiting my consumption, you know, with the “three drinks minimum”. I changed what I drank and who I hung out with. I “had it under control.”

But the truth was, I didn’t want to give it up, or to be more honest, I didn’t want to be the girl who had to give it up. So no amount of rules or agendas would’ve worked. Years later, when I finally got fed up enough with myself and all the blackouts, and with hurting people I loved, knew I had no choice. I knew that this time, I didn’t want to be the girl who couldn’t give it up. In my heart I believe that perspective made all the difference.

Early on in my sobriety I was afraid that I’d always feel broken, and inadequate, defective or abnormal because I couldn’t drink the way other people did. As time went on, I came to realize that choosing to figure out why I wanted to drink in the first place, and understanding that it was not about will power but instead about goodwill toward myself, made me proud not be a drinker. It became a source of strength and confidence.

Today, I know for a fact that alcohol never made anything better.  In terms of moderation, if you are already at the point where you are telling yourself that you should be moderating your alcohol intake, it usually means that alcohol simply isn’t for you. You are either safely unaffected by it or a stronger, better you without it.

Advertisements

The Girl In The Mirror

smokingmirrors

I love the madness that is the April A to Z Blogging Challenge. The creativity, the fast-paced induced adrenaline rush of posting every 24 hours, the community spirit, and at times, the frustrating but glorious intensity.

This year I chose to write poems inspired by movies about addiction and absolution. I write often about the importance of honouring our emotions, about allowing ourselves to sit with the darkness, kicking at it until it bleeds light, but every now and then I resist the complete vulnerability and surrender that any sort of healing needs. So as April approached I took stock of my progress so far: two years of sobriety; an understanding and acceptance of my triggers; the warmth and affection that had grown in key relationships with loved ones; and the knowledge of what I felt I still needed to work on.

It was my intention to reach deep down to the dark, murky, frightening depths with both hands and pull hard against what needed to be uprooted, clearing away the weeds and plastic debris that were stunting my growth. I hoped to reveal, better understand, and become more accepting and appreciative of the dark emotions I keep at bay. I was ready, or so I thought.

Don’t get me wrong, all in all, this year’s challenge exceeded all expectations. For one, I reached the depths I wanted to and spent more time there than I cared to in the end. Even though I’ve come away with several poems that are worth shaping and rewriting, my plan to use movies about addiction as triggers worked better that I’d anticipated.

The shift was gradual and I did not notice it at first. But by the time I’d reached the middle of the alphabet I was staying in bed longer on mornings, wide-eyed with the covers to my chin, unsure and a little afraid of what the day would bring. My meditative morning habit – a cup of ginger tea on my front porch with an inspiring book – had been replaced with reviewing the difficult poem I’d written the night before, and I was no longer jumping out of bed looking forward to my day. I had underestimated my vulnerabilities. The writing challenge theme I’d set for myself, together with two unexpected life events, affected me adversely. I won’t be doing something like this again. At least not without setting some boundaries and safe zones first.

There were breakthroughs as well, which I am grateful for, with poems like The Quiet, which makes me so uncomfortable to read even though I wrote it, and Thirteen, which I wrote when I came to an understanding about my relationship with my mother. I think if there is anything I am truly happy about is turning that corner with my Mom. It was my last important relationship to heal and I believe that now I can begin doing just that.

In the end, and today I am grateful for the opportunity to learn. I am not invincible. I cannot, ever, underestimate my triggers nor the importance of boundaries. I am grateful for loved ones (online and IRL) who supported me through this “mad experiment” and never judged me for it. It has helped me to be gentler with myself and keep my own Judge in check. I even have to send a nod to the Universe for crashing my laptop two weeks into the challenge. I chuckle to myself now when I think about it. Perhaps the Universe was sending me a message after all.

Love and light,

Phoenix

Self-Destruction or Self-Preservation?

beauty-22

“You don’t have a drinking problem you know. You just have to stop letting the bad stuff get to you. It’s only when you drink that you bring up all that old stuff and then you end up drinking more and crying.”

Worst advice I’ve ever been given. But in his defense, the person who said that had been a drinking buddy for a long time. In his defense I was still determinedly running from my darkside, hand in hand with Johnnie, Jack, and Jager.

But in my buddy’s “advice” lay two main truths. I was letting the ‘bad stuff’ (old demons, any perceived slights, rejections and unfair treatment) get to me. When new bad stuff happened and I dealt with it by drinking, all I would talk about would be the old bad stuff. And then the inevitable alcohol soaked outpouring would drench my world and any ready ear, friend or stranger.

It is astonishing (and a bit disturbing), the number of people I told about the bad stuff: about the stuff that bothered me to my core.  Okay, yes, they still bother me but I am learning how to deal with them in a healthier way, with self preservation in mind instead of self destruction. Self destruction only ever told me that my fears of being unworthy, unlovable or undeserving were warranted. I thought myself ‘bad’ and treated myself as such.

Anyway, to get back on topic. Alcohol never made anything better. Sure, the first couple of drinks felt good because all the pleasure centers in my brain were tickled, tricking me into believing that this high meant I was happy. But the warning bells would already be going off by the end of glass two. I would choose to ignore them and the switch would be flipped.

Now that the alcohol induced fog has lifted and I’m allowing myself time to see, recognize and sit with the ‘bad stuff’, slowly but surely I am creating new ways of dealing with them. Bit by bit I am forming new habits. Instead of paying attention to the “I am feeling (insert difficult emotion here), so I want / need / deserve a drink” thoughts, I’m shifting my focus because I know drinking never really made anything better.

Yes, sometimes I don’t want to sit with my feelings or understand my triggers. Yes, sometimes I get tired of the over-thinking, and the mantras, and the pep talks to myself. But you know what? I’ll take being ‘frustrated with myself for brooding too much’ over ‘frustrated with myself for drinking’ any day. I know the brooding won’t last. I know that it’s all part of the process. I know it’s part of developing new habits, which instead of harming me, are actually helping me this time.

Love and light!

Phoenix

Photo Credit: Beyond The Mirror

Dr. Maté Talks About Addiction

I came across this video on Films for Action and found it particularly helpful in understanding the root causes of addiction and how to deal with them. Dr. Maté is a renowned author known for his knowledge about attention deficit disorder, stress, addiction, chronic illness and parental relations.

Of course after this short video I had to view more. This second video is brilliant. It is a clip from Dr. Maté’s talks at TEDxRio. His theme was addiction: from drugs to power.

“From the lack of love to the desire to escape oneself, from susceptibility of the being to interior power — nothing escapes.”

The Beast

“The beast in me is caged by frail and fragile bars.” Johnny Cash

I gripped the steering wheel tightly as the tires screeched around the corner. My heart was racing and I giggled at the thrill.

“Do you fear death?” I asked my girl friend in the passenger seat. She was silent, her mouth set in a straight line. She’d seen me that way before. She knew talking to me would be useless.

When I think back to the times I fed that side of me and what I allowed myself to do I still shake my head in disbelief:

Yelling at my sister or my mom, scaring them and pushing them to the point of tears; Lashing out and saying terrible things to friends; Hurting and harming myself in more ways than one. I’d always end up crying uncontrollably at the end of the worst episodes. When I’d pushed people as far away as possible just to see who loved me enough to stay and hug me tight despite my claws and bared teeth. But who would (or could) stay when that beast was out? So inevitably I’d be in that place alone – scared and ultimately ashamed and full of remorse. That’s when the crying would come. Tears of frustration, anger, shame, fear, loneliness and guilt. If it was a really bad night I’d howl for all the ways that I’d hurt myself.

I used to ask myself over and over why I behaved so dreadfully. Why was I so awful? Where did that horrible side of me come from? I had my suspicions of course but did not know how to deal with that knowledge. It was easier to turn away, hell it was easier to pretend I did not know where that beast came from.

But I know now that she came from a place of fear. Any experience which triggered subconscious memories of times when I’d felt insecure, unloved, taken advantage of, unworthy, broken, hurt, ashamed, unseen, or unheard were enough to stimulate strong emotional reactions. Most of the time my rebellious nature and a sense of daring would take over, determined to let fun override any negativity. It worked most of the time. Every now and then it didn’t. My fear of facing those emotions brought out the beast in me.

I hated myself when I was like that. I was ashamed and I’d lash out at everyone else for not understanding. But how could they? They never knew. I’d never given anyone a chance to really understand. I’d built myself a little cage around me to keep others at a safe distance. To keep anyone from really connecting with me.

But that carefully constructed cage had frail and fragile bars. They were never really solid though, fashioned as they were out of the unexplained remains of a broken heart, so of course with the right (de)vices they were easy to break apart. Unfortunately, instead of letting others in, that broken cage  let the beast out. You see, I never really believed that I was worthy of love. I had trouble believing that love, kindness and understanding offered to me could be sustainable, so instead of gently accepting what was offered, I’d snarl and bite and demand proof that was offered was of substance.

I think differently now of course, at least I hope I do.

Phoenix

 

28 and Curious

Today is my twenty-eighth day of sobriety. It has been a pretty interesting four weeks filled with curiousities, insight and their fair share of annoyances too.

Mind Matters:

The foggy daytime mind present in the first two weeks is clearing rapidly while at the same time, that galloping horse of a nightime mind is moving faster than ever pulling a cartload of dreams behind her. I wake up at all hours of the night to scribble images and words into the little notebook on my bedside table. One day I’ll make sense of these tales.

Sleeping to heal:

That being said, I’m sleeping a helluva lot more which I’m taking as a sign that my body is working overtime, healing my liver, heart, lungs, tummy, brain, sanity.

Eating to heal:

As we’re onto the topic of healing i have noticed myself sheepishly admitting to organic store owners that I’ve quit drinking. Why sheepishly? I think it has something to do with a ‘should’ve known better all along’ type of thing. The owners I’ve known for a while have been very encouraging and are happy for me. We have long discussions about which fruits vegetables, herbs and spices have anti-oxidant, detoxifying and healing properties. It feels good to have such support from the right places.

The early bird catches a different worm:

Waking up earlier is also an added plus. It helps me to develop a productive morning routine the discipline of which stays with me for the day. I’ve been more creative, focused and positive, and the clarity of thought is pretty cool. Teeny downside: the over-thinking is too much sometimes, and the lists! OMG the lists! I was a list maker to begin with. The upside to all this clarity is actually setting get-able goals. I’m excited. I actually find myself planning for the future and saving money toward something instead of saving money because I ‘should’.

First cravings and a ‘first’ date:

I had my first craving last weekend, but it was not for alcohol – it was for the familiar. For the ease and ‘natural’ flow of a date. I didn’t know what to do with my hands at first and felt unsettled because I thought I looked uncomfortable which made me think I was making my host uncomfortable. He was pretty awesome about everything though: a tiny smile and a nod when I arrived at his house and handed him a box of green tea and a large bottle of water instead of a bottle of wine; allowing me to select music which would make me feel comfortable; kissing my pout away and pulling me to dance when I said I was feeling a little lost. The truth was I felt like I lost a way to connect. Our love of food and shared interest in food pairings, (usually with wine or beer), we had in common. This time I had tea instead of chardonnay with my sushi and thankfully the food critic in me was more interested in the difference in taste than the absence of wine. I guess this will take some adjusting to, but thankfully we have lots more in common and I’m game.

Judgment calls:

People keep asking me if i’m alright and I fly off the handle about it. This is typically how the conversation goes:

People: How are you?

Phoenix: I’m good. Doing fine actually: writing, de-cluttering and redecorating the apt, exercising, going to class.

People: That’s good but how are you doing with the…um… with everything?

Phoenix: Why does everyone keep asking me that? I’m fine!

I know. I’m sensitive. Yes, *pat pat* Phoenix , it is genuine concern on their part and not judgment and I shouldn’t take it as such. But whenever I hear that ‘concerned, not sure what to say’ tone, my inner Judge rears her ugly head. I am also aware that in the past I’ve been ‘superwoman strong’ and reluctant to turn to others for help,

screen-shot-2013-05-20-at-11-36-10-am

so it’s understandable that others might assume that I won’t ask for help this time too. But while I have made this necessary change in my life and going through the process in the best way I can, I’m the same person. I’m not fragile. Not broken. Not irreparably damaged. I’ve always been a good listener and a shoulder for others, which I love being. I’m highly empathetic and I like being there for others. But I get the feeling that people are seeing me differently now. My sister confided in me about something important to her and then said she didn’t want ME to take it on and worry. As if stress and worry will make me start drinking again.

I find myself reminding people that I never craved that first drink. Sometimes I had trouble stopping once I started but I never pined for a glass of wine. It’s been over a year of sticking to that rule: Don’t drink when worried, stressed or angry. So it’s been quite a while since I wanted to drink when the going got tough. But all that aside I’m working to understanding that people are genuinely concerned and cutting them some slack. There are a lot of preconceived notions about the nature of alcoholism and most people just don’t understand what the nature of my relationship with alcohol is.

It really is like an abusive ex-boyfriend: Once you finally see who you are, what you deserve and find the strength to walk away, it is for good. I’m never going back to that place.

Meetings

I’m still going to the Robert Paulson meetings and checking in at least once a day with you folks in my Sober Blogging Network.

On being around the Stuff.

I still have my boyfriend’s bottles of wine and my sister’s beers in the fridge for when they come over and I still hang out with my friends who drink. Little by little it’s becoming less noticeable to them when I order my soda water with mint and lemon and them noticing is becoming less important to me.

I’m awesome in the grocery store and while I do feel a little daring walking down the alcohol aisle and shaking my head at the little hairs standing up at the back of my neck, (not unlike seeing a dangerous ex), there are no feelings of loss, no FOMO, no urge to hide a bottle of wine in my basket and run for the hills. I like having more money and treating myself to US$30 worth of strawberries and blueberries instead of a US$30 bottle of wine, or calling up my favourite sushi restaurant on my way home from work and ordering sashimi to go. The same money I would’ve spent at the watering hole after work I use to treat myself with stuff I love. I gotta tell yah, the little rewards make this so worth it.

The Other Side

All that being said, I am not and will never underestimate alcohol again. It is and never will be something I can have a relationship with. Understanding acknowledging this fact was the first thing I had to do. Making the choice to stop drinking was the second. Understanding this ongoing process is what I’m doing now and I must say, it’s a good thing that psychology, philosophy, sociology and human development are some of my favourite subjects. I am understanding so much more about myself by acknowledging my triggers and coming to terms with their source. As Lisa Neumann says: I don’t choose to try drinking anymore. I tried it for a long time. It didn’t work. There is no secret to sobriety. Those that choose it, have it. So here I am at my Day 28 and very happy to be exactly where I am.

Phoenix

Elementary, my dear Watson.

One Way To Get Off “Part of recovery is about addressing painful things. If you ignore them, they become triggers.” ~ Joan Watson, Elementary (CBS TV Series)

I heard this last night while watching season one of Elementary again. I haven’t watched this season in a while so it’s interesting to me now from another angle: watching Sherlock Holmes handle sobriety. Joan Watson’s statement made me think, and take notes of course. When I think back on the times I really lost it and behaved badly while drinking there is an underlying common theme or emotional trigger.

There are topics that strike an emotional cord with me and more often than not, the nights when I ended up out of control were nights when those topics came up in conversation or were nagging thoughts at the back of my mind. Of course, there are several contributing factors to any volatile situation but I can see a common thread running through these incidents. I think I already knew this a year ago but while I was aware of how much of an effect these emotional triggers had on me, I ignored the self-destructive way I dealt with them.

Anyone who drinks the way alcoholics or abusers do has issues with self confidence, self care, and self respect and we tend to bury or deny painful or difficult memories. Instead we turn to alcohol for the rush, the adrenaline, or the numbness it offers. I understand how alcohol affects my body. I understand and accept that I will probably never drink again. But if I’m going to commit to this I have to come to terms with those painful and difficult memories that have become emotional triggers in my life. The memories which make me feel insecure, unloved, taken advantage of, unworthy, broken, hurt, ashamed, unseen, unheard and unsure are the ones I have to learn how to deal with.

In one of my yoga classes we examined the way our brains are wired to react to situations and experiences. When we are very young, infancy to age five, we observe, absorb and learn more than we will ever learn at any other point in our lives. We also learn how to react and respond to stimuli, including emotional situations. As we grow, most of the time, we react and respond to similar stimuli in the same way we did when we first encountered it.

Strong emotions like fear, sadness etc., beliefs and habits etc., create neural pathways in the brain (or wire the brain in a particular way) forming habits and fixed responses. From childhood the brain learns to connect certain responses to certain stimuli. This does not mean that your brain is hardwired and nothing can be done about it. You could learn to block these neural paths, obstruct the programmed behaviour and teach your brain to respond in ways that are different from its learned patterns of behaviour. ~ Sofs

So that’s my plan. I’m going back to the basics. I am going to come to terms with those difficult memories. I understand the chain reaction:

  • A current situation reminds me of a negative situation from my past.
  •  I have a strong emotional reaction to that memory which usually brings up feelings of unworthiness, unacknowledgment, alienation, fear.

After that two things happen next:

  • One: I stop taking care of myself and decide to have a couple of drinks. Years ago I realized I had a problem with alcohol but I did not care about myself enough to do something about it. Now it seems like common sense to me. Why I’ve taken so long to explore this is beyond my understanding, other than to suggest ‘everything happens in its own time’.
  • Two: This is where it gets scary. Some time after a few drinks, after the initial high has worn off, I realize that I’m not really feeling any better on an emotional level. So I drink more to get back to that first high. At this point I’m usually fighting a battle within myself to drink or not to drink. And the rebel in me always wins. She damns it all to hell. Good intentions and myself included.

Carl Jung says: “There is no coming to consciousness without pain. People will do anything, no matter how absurd, to avoid facing their own soul. One does not become enlightened by imagining figures of light, but by making the darkness conscious.”

Awareness gives me a choice in how I react to situations. When I am aware of how I feel or the feelings I am experiencing, rather than allowing them to overcome me, I can now choose the way I react to them. It is time for me to find a healthier way to deal with the painful or difficult memories. While I know that this will take  a lot of soul searching and will not happen overnight, I have acknowledged that the urge to drink is a reaction I have allowed to become a habit. When I see that reaction for what it truly is: Just a habit, (albeit a dangerous one), I can choose not to give in to that urge. It has NEVER served me in the past so why should it serve me in my future. I have to rewire my brain and form a new habit. I’ve been googling and visiting forums talking about this. There are some good tips here. While it’s not possible to block internal triggers, it is good to develop a range of strategies to handle the urge to drink. Here are some options:

  • Remind yourself of your reasons for making a change. Carry your top reasons on a wallet card or in an electronic message that you can access easily, such as a mobile phone notepad entry or a saved email.
  • Talk it through with someone you trust. Have a trusted friend on standby for a phone call, or bring one along to high-risk situations.
  • Distract yourself with a healthy, alternative activity. For different situations, come up with engaging short, mid-range, and longer options, like texting or calling someone, watching short online videos, lifting weights to music, showering, meditating, taking a walk or doing a hobby.
  • Challenge the thought that drives the urge. Stop it, analyze the error in it, and replace it. Example: “It couldn’t hurt to have one little drink. WAIT a minute—what am I thinking? One could hurt, as I’ve seen ‘just one’ lead to lots more. I am sticking with my choice not to drink.”
  • Ride it out without giving in. Instead of fighting an urge, accept it as normal and temporary. As you ride it out, keep in mind that it will soon crest like an ocean wave and pass.
  • Leave high-risk situations quickly and gracefully. It helps to plan your escape in advance.

I would add one more important note: Be gentle with yourself and leave the Judge behind. Those of us in recovery tend to be overly critical and judgmental of ourselves. We berate ourselves to a degree that is unheard of. This does not serve us in any way. It is OK to feel hurt, unsure, afraid, worried or stressed. It is OK to get that urge to drink. We are probably always going to feel that from time to time. How we handle the urge is what matters. We have to remind ourselves that we are stronger than we think and that we CAN do this. By the way, I know Doyle’s Sherlock never really said: “Elementary, dear Watson.” but it suited my post anyway. 🙂

Phoenix

Love Letters

Quill-and-Ink

I’m still learning to understand the difference between an alcoholic and an abuser of alcohol. Apparently there is a difference.

An alcoholic is someone who no longer has control of his/her life as every activity and thought revolves around the next drink. They get sick when they go a day or two without alcohol and their lives deteriorate rapidly on a professional, emotional, social and spiritual level.

An abuser of alcohol is one who binge drinks – more than 8 drinks at a sitting, (8 for men, 6 for women), or has difficulty stopping once he/she has started. An abuser also suffers blackouts just like an alcoholic would. This is me, as far as I see it. But nevertheless, drinking is no longer an option for me.

To those of you I drank with, please know that because I will no longer partake it does not mean that I won’t hang out with you. We’re friends and I would like us to remain as such. Nor will I judge you if you drink. We all know ourselves best and you can probably handle your alcohol. I can’t. It affects my body differently and we all know that I have been a right proper arse at times. (see here for The Truth about my drinking) I’m sorry for that. I did not understand the effect alcohol had on me.

1656299_650483071676716_906499960_n

To my loved ones: I apologize  to all of you for not understanding and realizing the seriousness of my situation. This is not who I am meant to be.

I guess this is the point where promises and grand declarations are made but this letter is not about that. No promises or grand declarations can be made. This is just something I have to do, for me.

I’ll see you on the other side.

Love always,

Phoenix

The Woman with Two Brains

Well no wonder!

Note to Self:

Ask Brain One (ruled by Gaba) to research Glutamate.  Ask Brain Two (ruled by Glutamate) to research Gaba.

You Want The Truth? You Can’t Handle The Truth.

People don’t talk about Alcoholism. At least most people I know. Like them, I did not understand what it really is.

Being an “alcoholic” was long (and for some still is) thought to be a moral failing — a character flaw or lack of willpower. Joseph Nowinski, Ph.D

Alcoholism is a substance-use disorder in which the sufferer has problems managing how much alcohol they drink and their lives as a result. While there is always room for moral decisions, an alcoholic’s body reacts to alcoholic much like it would to a substance or chemical it is allergic to. It is a definitive and progressive chain of reactions which occur.

The Truth about my drinking:

I never drank every day. I drank as frequently as several days per week and as infrequently as once per month. Usually when I hung out with friends: after work at our regular watering holes, at clubs, at parties, at barbecues, at exhibitions, family events. Sometimes I would have one or two drinks and other times I’d have several. Sometimes I’d have only wine or I would consume different types of alcohol if I felt like it. Usually I’d go home tipsy, or a little more than tipsy. I’d say that once a month I’d drive home drunk enough to not remember driving home. Once every few months I’d binge drink and not remember hours of the night before. Every year or so I’d have a major episode where I would become a holy terror: Lashing out at friends, crying, screaming, rebelling, embarrassing loved ones and making a grand nuisance of myself. It is a wonder that so many people still love me.

What happens to me when I drink:

That feeling of euphoria I get when the first drink enters my blood stream is one that I cannot explain. I love it. I love the numbness, the high, the rush. My mind knows that that feeling will never be matched but my body says I need one more anyway. My body begins to crave another and another. Depending on my emotional and spiritual state either my mind or my body will win that night.

The Truth about Me:

I am always going to be one drink away from being drunk. I have to accept that this is my reality. I can make as many deals with myself to just have one drink when I go out, or stop all alcohol by a designated time that night, but the truth will always be that I am one drink away from being drunk.

Phoenix