Sherlock Holmes

How Did I Get This Far?

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Two days ago my sister sent me an early Happy One Year message to say congratulations. I’ve been silent on this blog for a couple of months because my mind and heart were filled with unanswerable questions every time I tried to write a new post. As my anniversary approached I really had no idea how I would feel on the day itself.

Would I feel a sense of accomplishment? Or would I feel strange and a bit directionless as I usually do after a very rewarding experience? A tiny part of me even speculated that I’d feel sorrow or a sense of loss as I would no longer be a ‘newbie’ with all the gentleness, kindness and kid-glove handling that usually comes with being at the beginning of any journey that is deemed difficult. And then of course, there was the part of me that was a little freaked out by the big “So What Now” question. I even felt a bit guilty because, while my first year has been an intense emotional journey, for me it has not been particularly challenging physically or mentally (aside from the over-thinking). I know of so many others who are really struggling and I wish I could help. I’m not certain of what is different about my journey so far that has allowed me to reach this milestone, but I can tell you what has helped me:

CRAWL AROUND IN YOUR WOUNDS, SO YOU CAN HOPE AGAIN

In the first few months learning to recognize and understand what my triggers were helped me a lot.  Learning to accept and gently face my own personal issues has become invaluable to my growth. It’s not easy and sometimes I want to damn it all to hell. Believe me, I miss the abandon that can come from giving in to the madness. Sometimes I miss not caring so much. But, the trade-off is worth so much more to me than giving in. I have embraced walking around in my wounds, hand in hand with my dark side, and facing the shadows together, and I have to say, some days I actually enjoy exploring this new territory because I know that I’m wiser, tougher, and more whole because of it.

“As frightening as it can be, that pain will make you stronger. If you allow yourself to feel it, embrace it, it will make you more powerful than you ever imagined. It’s the greatest gift we have, and it comes from the most human part of us: Hope.”  Professor X, X-men: Tales of Future Past

UNDERSTAND THAT YOU ARE NOT BROKEN

In the beginning I worried a lot about what people would say. I was ashamed and felt dirty, broken, unattractive. I thought that having a problem meant that I was a problem. Of course, I was wrong and even now, I still have to remind myself often. It’s takes a lot of work to change self-defeating habits into self-appreciating ones but it IS possible. You are not broken. You have nothing to be ashamed of. Making the decision to give up drinking is a big step in itself, one you should be proud of. Trying every day is also another.

“I stand firm in my belief that anyone who has repeatedly demonstrated that they do not posses an off switch would be far happier if they stopped trying to locate one. Stopping drinking for such people equates to the beginning of self-love, contentment and living a full life. Freeing the mind by calling it a day on the fight with alcohol is a true gift.” Soberistas

FIND A COMMUNITY

In the beginning I went to a few AA meetings because that was what was expected. I found a greater sense of community and healing here however, on the Sober Blogging Network. I could relate better to fellow writers and bloggers. No matter what “our drug of choice” is, or the level of our addiction, the struggles we face are the same. We all endeavour to value ourselves enough to take care of ourselves. We all face demons and dark sides of our past in the first few months of sobriety, and we all have to find the tools to deal with them and heal. We all have to come to an understanding about our triggers. We all want to feel better and be proud of our accomplishments. We all want compassion. We all want to be understood and to believe that we are not alone. Whether that sense of community comes from the Sober Blogging Network or from AA Meetings, it is invaluable to have. Find a community that feels comfortable for you and say Hi. You’ll find that there is always someone willing to smile back at you.

IT’S OKAY TO ASK FOR HELP

Trust me when I say that it is okay to ask for help. Whether you ask members of your AA group, the Sober Blogging Network, your friends, the higher power you believe in, or even me, you will find peace in asking. This is not a journey you have to undertake alone.

BE OF SERVICE

On the days when I feel at my lowest and the most disconnected from myself are the days when I feel purposeless. Those are the days when I stay under the blanket and binge watch TV series like Vikings or Games of Thrones, or Harry Potter movies, just to disappear into a another world. But, once I get tired of hiding, (and feeling sorry for myself), I get to work. I look for ways to be of service. Trust me, helping others, helps you in so many ways too. I have found so much of myself by being compassionate and caring when I can. The big and the little things do make a difference.

STRUCTURE

I figured out what worked for me and what brought me dangerously close to the edge. I changed my socializing habits and my diet. I made lists of what was important to me, pinned them to the fridge and stashed them in my wallet. I made a commitment to this blog. I focused on making the creative pursuits I enjoy a greater part of my life. I made a commitment to healing myself, physically, emotionally, mentally and spiritually. What worked, I kept. What didn’t, I tossed (without looking at myself as a failure). Different methods suit different people. Figure out what suits you and makes YOU happy.

“Part of recovery is structure: Recognizing what is working and sticking with it.” Sherlock, Elementary

NOW, TODAY IS THE DAY

I have officially been sober for 365 days. Yay me! I was pleasantly surprised by the warmth of emotion I felt when I received my sister’s message that day. For the rest of that day, I was one of those people you see walking around with little smiles tugging at the corners of their lips. I was happy with ME. I was proud of myself, finally. And I still am.

Love and light to you all,

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