Winter is here…and so is depression

I’m desperate for some sunny warm days. They lift my spirits, give me energy, and make me feel more like getting out and doing things. Today is miraculously sunny albeit fricking freezing, but these rainy, dark days in Seattle are depressing the hell out of me – if only I could sleep for a solid week. It’s so hard to get out of bed in the morning, to shower, or to even make a phone call sometimes. It doesn’t help that I was laid off from my job and am stuck at home with my 4-year-old who is on a brief hiatus from school. Don’t get me wrong, hanging out with my kid is priceless, but I love going to work, being productive, and having adult conversations. The uncertainty and stress of my situation is only deepening my seasonal depression.

This pattern of mood changes has a dramatic effect on my life and it’s called Seasonal Affective Disorder, or SAD. Best acronym ever. Depression associated with SAD has physical symptoms too, including fatigue, increased sleeping, increased appetite, and social withdrawal. These symptoms tend to occur through the months of November until March. Let’s not forget about that fabulous routine 10-15 pound weight gain, too.

I’ve started a healthy diet, don’t oversleep, and manage my stress to the best of my ability. But you can throw all the drugs, lights, and herbal tea you want at me and I am still barely keeping my head above water. I am so tired of feeling like five months a year are lost to fatigue and depression. It totally blows and makes me wonder if I’m living in the right place. I feel like a terrible Washingtonian bad-mouthing the only place I’ve ever called home, but hot damn. I used to tell myself the amazing summers here were worth the wait, but living through almost half the year like this feels like such a waste sometimes.

I’m looking forward to taking a cruise to the Caribbean in January. That is helping me carry on. You can bet your sweet ass I’ll be posting tropical paradise pics on Facebook like all the other lucky assholes.

I went to an AA meeting the other night – brought a newbie with me. I couldn’t help but imagine how she was feeling throughout the meeting and it brought me back to the beginning of my sober days. Man, am I glad I’ve worked through my anger – anger and depression don’t mix well. Being there also reminded me that I’m not the only one who is having a hard time. It’s good to have those reminders. It helps by making me feel not so alone and scared.

If you have SAD, misery sure does love company – I’d love to hear from you. It’s disgusting how debilitating and isolating it feels. Knowing that I’m not alone in this makes me feel connected and hopeful. I’ll be going to more meetings for sure. And Spring will be here soon, but I’m finding those small moments of joy in these dark days and holding onto them with all my might. My cute little family reminds me of how good life really is. I am hell-bent on becoming more present during these shitty months because they deserve the best of me. Letting it fly also helps, so thank you for reading my blog. May it find you healthy and hopeful this season.

If you’re feeling hopeless, believe me I have been there, too. Please reach out to someone, anyone, even me. We are all in this together and together we can help lift each other up. You are worth it.

-Chrystal

7 reasons to get excited about Spring – and tips for enduring the transition

In the wise words of Samuel L. Jackson, “Enough is enough!” I don’t know about you, but it’s the first day of Spring and I could squirt some tears of joy now! The winter doldrums have long overstayed their welcome and I’m done. Although it’s the first day of Spring and gloriously beautiful outside, this is Seattle, so the gray days aren’t just going to peace out right away. I figured I could use a little pep talk, so here are 7 reasons to get excited about Spring and 7 ways to endure the transition.SpringIsHere

7 reasons to get excited about Spring

  1. More daylight – emerging from the dungeon of winter is pure bliss! Going to work and coming home, both in the daylight, is magical.
  2. Warmer weather – the warm embrace of a Spring breeze is just so darn pleasant.
  3. Color – whether in your wardrobe, blooming nearby, or on your toenails, color is back!
  4. Birds singing – as long as they stay the hell away from me, I love their beautiful songs!
  5. Grilling – simply an American favorite that’s morphed into a fine art! Bring on the beef, chicken skewers, pizza, corn on the cob, peaches – you name it, we grill it!
  6. New motivation – the new season puts a little spring in our step and rebirth to our goals, prompting us to de-clutter our homes, hit the gym, and start planning vacations.
  7. We’re one step closer to summer!!!

Enduring the transition…

  1. Make sure you are meeting your basic needs. Sleep, eat healthy, exercise, and drink lots of water, which is imperative for our brain health and functioning, and can help us tolerate the effects of stress and those lingering winter blues.
  2. Use a “happy” light. I don’t know if they work, but I think mine helps me, therefore it does, ya know?
  3. Stay connected. We tend to hibernate throughout the winter months and this isolation contributes to feelings of depression and anxiety. Reach out to the people in your life whom you feel your best around. Stay away from the assholes.
  4. Be patient with yourself. When you beat yourself up for feeling out of sorts, it adds a whole new level of distress. Easier said than done, but take some deep breaths and visualize the things you want.
  5. Talk about it. If you give yourself permission to talk about the effect seasonal change is having on you, you will most likely find that others understand and validate how you feel.
  6. Be aware. Now that we are out of the cold-weather drinking season, we arrive upon the most challenging and tempting period for me – with beer gardens and wine tastings at every turn. Being aware of your weaknesses and surroundings is critical to your sobriety. Always be ready.
  7. Buy some Kleenex, eye drops, and Claritin! Get ready for the scratchy-eyed sneeze fest…it’ll totally be worth it!

Seasonal Depression – 7 ways to help yourself through

FuckWinter

Winter has always been like a big black hole for me, but this year is far worse than any I can remember. Having struggled with year-round depression and anxiety for most of my life, I’ve navigated through some dark shit. But, this recent spiral into seasonal depression has got me by the throat. I hope to help someone else to not feel so alone and to send a message of hope and inspiration because it will get better.

Waking up

An uncomfortable discussion with my husband (I’m being polite, don’t get used to it) is what woke me up – “THAT’S why I’m feeling and acting like THIS!” Something similar occurs almost every month when I finally realize that PMS is responsible for my current misery, but THIS was way more intense. I was a deer-in-the-headlights for a few days, stunned at the realization that depression had taken hold of me in this way. I was shocked that I hadn’t consciously seen it coming. I knew I had no energy and felt like an irritable, negative piece of shit, but that cloud of doom held me tight in its shadow, forcing me into straight-up survival mode. It’s called seasonal depression, seasonal affective disorder (SAD), or what I like to call the winter blues. It sounds a little lighter to me that way and isn’t technically accurate for my situation, but I don’t give a fiery deuce. Whatever you call it, it’s emotionally defeating and negatively impacting my life in a very real and frustrating way.

Maybe this current episode is due to the added stresses of the recent holidays or having the huge responsibility of molding my kids into highly functioning, well-adjusted, self-reliant adults. Maybe it’s because the only exercise I get is putting the dishes away, making vacuum marks, and sneezing on occasion. Maybe it’s caused by the lack of sunshine (I still love you, Seattle), a chemical shift in my noggin, or maybe it just IS. Sometimes I get caught up in the “why” and that’s not where I need to be.  All I know is that if there were an award up for grabs for Most Miserable Negative Wretch, I’d probably win 3rd runner-up (because I suck that much) and then insist on a digital copy, so I wouldn’t have to go pick it up.

Being depressed

Prepare yourself, this section is pretty depressing. I want to paint a picture of what depression looks like. It’s different for everyone, of course, but the theme is there. It doesn’t ever go away, but there are times when it’s much worse. This is a bad time for me, as you’ll clearly see. If you could hear some of my thoughts, you’d probably have tears in your eyes, but I won’t go into many of those.DrowninginDepression

I look around and see gray skies, barren tree limbs, bare streets, and death. Yes, death. Everywhere. People, animals, garden flowers, dry skin, my will to shave or get out of bed – all dead. I’m reminded of those I’ve lost along the way. I think of our pup who left us almost 2 years ago…it was so traumatic, I don’t know if I’ll ever get past the horror of losing him the way that we did. I miss his loving heart, protective nature, and his big fuzzy ears. Then there’s my grandma. I long to be in my happy place – in her green, 70’s-inspired kitchen eating a peanut butter and butter sandwich on Wonder bread, having her tell me I have a “cute shape” and how talented and special I am. It makes me so sad to think of these things that I’ll never have again, these bonds that have been broken. That’s a never-ending road if I let those memories drive. Of course I’m grateful for those memories – but being grateful doesn’t take away the pain. Depression feeds on the dark stuff and sucks out the light.

Depression is feeling like you’ve been ironed out by a steamroller, like when you get the flu, only there’s no phlegm and the zap just doesn’t go away. I feel weak, tired, emotionally detached, tense, and heavy. I visualize myself wearing flannel, drowning in a murky, cold, stagnant pond of goo. Occasionally I manage to break free from the darkness and gasp for air, but my limbs are too weak and I slip back under. This time of year it’s dark when I leave the house and dark when I get home. All I want to do is sleep. I know extra sleep won’t help, but I desperately fantasize about sleeping for a month. Just a month to check out, and then maybe I’d wake up feeling refreshed. Just want to check out.

My worries tend to haunt me – futuristic crap like having to go find my next job, having to talk to someone when I’m not ready, my loved ones dying, getting into a car wreck, or the Seahawks not making it to the Super Bowl. I’m extremely irritable, indifferent, foggy-brained, and self-critical to the point that I’d classify as my own relentless bully.

JustTiredDepression

I don’t want to do anything or see anyone and would rather spend all day locked up in my bedroom with chocolate cake and booze (don’t worry, I’m not going there). My instinct is to isolate for a few reasons; I’m too busy spending time in my head, I don’t want to depress anyone, I don’t want anyone to see how miserable I feel, and most people either irritate me or stress me out for some reason. Often times I’m a raging, ball-breaking hag because I just can’t handle how I feel. My husband gets the brunt of it, the sorry sack.

If I could have a superpower, I’d either want the ability to fly (fly away FAST) or become invisible. I want to be invisible more often than I want to admit. Depression is an overwhelming experience and frankly, when I’m in the throes of it, it makes me not want to be me. This is a big problem because I’m actually happy, I’m pretty cool, and I have an amazing life!!! I have it all – in fact, I think that makes me even more depressed about being depressed. As a recovering alcoholic, it’s especially important that I fight through. Hopelessness and desperation is a recipe for relapse or worse.

“The most powerful words you can say to someone with an invisible illness is…I believe you.”

 

Finding the light

Depression is dark, so we must seek the light, whatever that means to you. There are things we can do to help make it through. Here’s how I find light:

1. Be with people

  • Supportive people. Luckily, I have people who lift me up. My husband steps up continuously and I depend on his optimism, strength, persistence, and mind-blowing amount of energy, even though it annoys the shit out of me. My kids help me appreciate the simple, most valuable parts of life, pulling me back into the moment. My mom has always been my key to staying grounded and my dad relates with me because we experience a lot of the same struggles AND we can laugh about them. My brother and sister-in-law inspire me and love me for who I am. I even have a close friend or two. A girl couldn’t really ask for more.
  • Set boundaries. I set internal boundaries with everyone. One might call them walls – whatever works. I don’t hang out with assholes and I limit my time with people who trigger negative emotions in me. I don’t care about the reasons why at this point, I just keep my distance as much as possible.
  • Spend time with an animal. Animals are far better than most people. Pets offer unconditional, uncomplicated love and acceptance. They distract us, bring us into the moment, promote touch, get us outside, ease anxiety…need I say more?

2. Be aware of moments

  • Be grateful. You know that feeling when you go on vacation and the stresses of your everyday life disappear and your partner doesn’t annoy the holy living hell out of you? I know that a similar state of being is achievable. It’s probably called peace. I experience peace every night when I kiss my 5-year-old before bed (I love the other kid just the same, but I can’t risk waking the beautiful little freak up at this point) – he’s sleeping so soundly and he’s so damn amazing, I take a big whiff of his neck, give him a few pecks and walk out of his room with a pure, whole, glowing white heart. That’s peace. Sometimes that’s the only peace I get all day and I’m grateful for it.
  • Slow down. Take a deep breath. One deep breath does wonders, you just have to actually remember to do it.
  • Set small goals. I found some pro-longed peace the other day (better than I’ve felt in months) – I’d completed all 3 tasks on my to-do list, sat in front of my “happy light” for a few hours, AND did yoga! While I still felt like a constipated asshole, I felt much lighter, accomplished, and optimistic. Optimistic?! Yes, optimistic! Now that I’m awake to this current depressive episode, I am able to do more about it bit by bit. Some days brushing your damn teeth is an accomplishment…celebrate the fact that your teeth are no longer wearing wool sweaters.

3. Go outside

  • Get some sun. I’ve always been a sun worshipper, probably because I’ve always been depressed. The benefits I get from the sun far outweigh any potential risk of skin cancer. My husband doesn’t get that. He sings a melanoma song sometimes when he finds me sitting in the sun, but I’m not a pasty white English boy with a history of bad sunburns. Now that I’ve entered mid-life (WTF?!), I can only handle 10-20 minutes in sun before I’m spent anyway. But that’s all I need. The feeling I get when I’m sitting in the warm sun is amazing. Drink it up with your eye balls and soak in the warmth on your skin. (I don’t want to get sued, so I’ll just say, please don’t look directly AT the sun. Sun rays can enter your eye balls if you’re simply looking in its direction. If you look directly at the sun, you’re an idiot and you need more help than I can lend.)
  • Try light therapy. I’ve used my new “happy light” 5 or 6 times within the past few weeks or so and I do believe it is helping my mood. It gives me a bit of a headache at first, but then I’m good.
  • Remember that Spring is coming. It helps to be reminded that winter won’t last forever. If we could remove January, February, and March from our calendars, I’d be stoked. Living in Seattle during wintertime is a real pisser.

4. Eat OK

  • Make better choices. I’m not asking you to change it all and emulate Dr. Oz. You don’t have to get all freaky about it and go organic or vegan, just make small improvements. Instead of a candy bar, choose a juicy sweet apple. Instead of white bread, try a loaf of wheat or sourdough. Have 2 scoops of ice cream instead of 5.
  • Give yourself a break. I have the tendency to eat my emotions or attempt to fill voids with food. Rather than fight that urge to binge, I just let it be and make sure it’s food that isn’t completely useless. I take down a seriously large bowl of popcorn with coconut oil regularly. Popcorn = whole grain, fiber, antioxidants. Coconut oil = saturated fat (it’s good, y’all), vitamins and minerals, digestive benefits.
  • Drink water. Water is important for so many reasons. Flush those toxins out. If you’re like me, dealing with constipation, water is essential. Having a large, compacted piece of shit crammed in your intestines doesn’t feel good and certainly adds to irritability, at least for me.
  • Eat less sugar. Sugar is evil.
  • Don’t eat fast food. The only thing you score with a $4 lunch combo is fake shit full of chemicals, sugar, and fat. McDonald’s is a twisted joke. Fast food is an energy suck. Please don’t put that shit into your body!

5. Get into a routine

  • Get up early. I started getting up at the same time everyday about 2 weeks ago. When I hear my alarm go off I want to scream and thrash about like a 2 year-old, maybe even poke my husband in the eye, but I do feel more prepared for the day, once I’m ready to go.
  • Get enough sleep. This isn’t news. It’s hard to feel human, let alone like a good one when you’re tired.
  • Challenge your negative self-talk. This shit is exhausting. But, if you just try to be more aware of it and do what you can to redirect your thoughts or tell yourself to shut the hell up, it will help. Every little effort counts.
  • Take meds if you need to. This here a controversial one, but I’m going to set it right. First of all, see a mental health professional, not your regular doctor. Regular doctors aren’t trained in mental health and don’t know shit. If you’re anti-meds, just hear this – no one is going to give you a medal for toughing it out on your own. If you’re miserable and can’t break free on your own, get some god damned help. Give it a whirl. If you’re afraid of becoming dependent on it, you should probably let that shit go – if it makes life easier, so be it. Life is too short to feel like shit all the time. I’ll pop a pill till the day I’m dead if it helps. Educate yourself.

6. Move more

Exercise is a tough one for me. It used to come naturally, but not anymore. I see people running on the street and I want to open my car door and clip ’em. I’m jealous as hell that I don’t have that drive or will to be able to commit to something so challenging and rewarding. I don’t like committing to things like gyms or workout routines now because I end up losing money and feeling like a worthless dumbass. I am careful not to set myself up for failure. “Well, just DO it then” you say? How about that doesn’t work for me and we’ll just leave it at that.

  • Make small changes. Instead of organized fitness, I’ve been making small efforts throughout my day. Parking farther away from the grocery store is a good one (no, I’m not 80 years old, but all it takes is a little shift of intention sometimes). I’ve taken a few flights of stairs at work for the hell of it (or maybe it was to get away from some idiot crop dusting my area). No matter how I get there, I am making an effort to move more. I’ve taken a few yoga classes and managed to hold my fart in, so those were HUGE encouraging wins. None of this is routine and certainly won’t get me bathing suit ready, but now this is all I can handle. At least it’s something. Plus, I don’t know if I even care if I’m bathing suit ready anymore…I just want to FEEL good.

7. Laugh

LaughterHelpsDepressionLaughing makes us feel better instantly. It is a natural pain reducer, lowers your blood pressure, and lowers stress hormone levels. It relaxes our bodies and gives us an overall feeling of well-being.

  • Find something that makes you laugh every day. Sitcoms are great. Check out some YouTube videos of people falling down or look at pictures of animals cuddling or being cute. Find a goofy morning radio show that makes you chuckle. Whatever makes you laugh, find more of it. And don’t forget about the power of farts. Thinking about, talking about, and ripping farts is funny. And not just to me…you know you can’t help but laugh when someone in the stall next to you rips a long, raspy toilet bow fart. Those echo chambers are there for your entertainment! Smelling someone else’s fart is highly offensive and instantly turns me violent, but everything else about farts is hilarious. Enjoy them!

I’m still pretty deep in that pond of goo, but I can see a ladder to grab and my legs are kicking. This too shall pass and life will go on. I’ll take my moments of peace and keep trying for more, by taking small mindful steps.

If you’re really struggling, this list looks like a piece of shit. I know. It’s so hard to imagine feeling better sometimes. In that case I’ll tell you to do this: put your hand on your heart. Do it. I’m not going to move on until you do it…….OK….Do you feel your heart beating? I couldn’t either and it almost freaked me out…try your pulse. Feel that? That’s your heart pumping blood. That’s love in there. That’s your strength to get you through another day. If I can do it, you can do it. Please don’t give up. Every effort counts, no matter how small it seems to you or others. Your story doesn’t end here and neither does mine.

Thanks for reading,

Chrystal

“Depression is like a bruise that never goes away. A bruise on your brain. You just got to be careful not to touch it where it hurts. It’s always there, though.”

10 tips for staying sober through the holidays (and enjoying it)

Staying Sober throught the HolidaysThe holidays are hard. Sobriety is harder. Throw ’em together and get ready for a potential shit show.

Whether you’re anticipating a family gathering at the nut house, experiencing feelings of loss, dealing with holiday pressures, or all the above, you’ve got this. I am navigating my way through these emotions with my sobriety intact and am even enjoying myself. Sometimes I’m not sure how I’m doing this, but here’s what I think I know…

If I succumb to these feelings for too long – stress, darkness, temptation, isolation, pressure, loss – I’m lurking in the danger zone. If I push them away, I slowly dig myself a hole.  So, it’s a balancing act.

Consider the following advice to help keep your hard-earned sobriety unscathed, and actually enjoy the season.

 

 

10 tips for staying sober through the holidays (and enjoying it)

  1. Pay attention to your health.

    Get enough sleep, don’t eat like shit, move your body, and relax your mind. Instead of sitting on the couch to watch TV, lay on the floor and stretch. Park your car further away. Write in a journal. If you don’t like to journal, write FUCK 20 times. Helps me, but I’m a little twisted. Stay away from too much sugar. Sugar is the devil. Be nice to yourself. Be nice to others. Do shit that makes you feel more alive. Every bit of intention helps you take care of you, physically and mentally, and it all adds up.

  2. Don’t isolate.

    Loneliness sucks and is a HUGE trigger. Remember, you don’t have to feel alone. Reach out if you need some help. It doesn’t have to be intense, either – simply ask your checker at the grocery store how their day is going, or smile at a stranger – they might need it and in turn you’ll feel a bit more connected. If you must go into a cave, be productive with it – read, do a hobby, take a bath, put on an inspirational flick like 28 days with Sandra Bullock – she’s hot AND sober. Reach out to sober friends, trusted family members, or me (soberchrystal@gmail.com). Resist the urge to pull away and shut down.

  3. Let the pressure go.

    Do what you can and do what you want. Don’t worry if you’re broke. Screw the crowds – Amazon rocks. It’s ok if you aren’t feeling creative. Don’t give what you don’t have. All anyone, who matters, really wants is your time. And if you don’t have that, write them an I Owe You! Happy holidays! Deep breath.

  4. Keep your distance from triggering relatives.

    If you can’t keep your distance, just be grateful you won’t get wasted and cause trouble this year. Be thankful that you are you. Take deep breaths. Take a time out. Because, YOU are most important and you need to do whatever it takes to protect your sobriety. Your sobriety is everything. No apologies.

  5. Realize – no one cares what’s in your cup.

    If someone DOES care what’s in your cup, they’re obviously an idiot and quite possibly a drunk. There are grown adults who act like peer-pressuring knuckleheads, therefore making life a little more interesting for us. But, screw what people think about you – you get to decide who and what matters. If you’re around people who are drinking, stay away from opened containers and make your own secret game out of it. Experiment with an exciting new non-alcoholic concoction. It’s not what’s in the glass that’s important. But, you already knew that.

  6. Plan ahead.

    Don’t get into situations you can avoid. But, if you have to go to an office party, for instance, have an escape route. Go late and leave early. Take a sober friend. Or skip it altogether. A party will not make or break you. If your family is the type that begins their Xmas with mimosas, either make your own bubbly goodness (San Pellegrino and pomegranate juice is bomb), put a “magic” coin or rock in your pocket and stroke the hell out of that shit, or get the hell out of there. Do whatever it takes, but have a few scenarios planned out and ready to roll. Have some inspirational quotes saved on your phone for reference.

  7. Keep your head held high .

    During those “in-genuine” moments – when drunks, with glowing auras and booze breath, tell you how impressive you are with that sobriety you’ve got going on. When you find yourself chatting with people who are lit up like old Vegas. I tend to lose my grounding and sense of security, perpetuating my isolation. I struggle with remaining true, honest, and transparent, while protecting myself from a potential threat. This remains one of my largest challenges. But, I hold my head high because I know who I am and I don’t compromise myself. I used to approach those conversations as a waste of time, but they’re actually quite liberating.

  8. Hold your memories close.

    The holidays always remind me more of the people I’ve lost along the way. A wrinkly old woman with dangly earrings looking for presents to buy her loved ones in Fred Meyer equals breakdown material. I’m flooded with memories of Grandma at almost every turn. Grandma loved  watching me decorate her house for Christmas and singing along while I played music on the piano. She loved making sure EVERYONE had presents to open. My grandma was my biggest source of self-esteem as a child – she embodied the spirit of the season of giving, hope, and love all year. So, I allow myself a few good tears and then I move on. She’s not here and there’s nothing I can do about it. I’m lucky to have had those precious moments with her. As a result, I feel that glowing warmth in my heart that she left with me.

  9. Harness that good ‘ol holiday spirit.

    Find gratitude in every moment that you can, even the crazy ones. Keep a list of your blessings in your pocket to read in those tough situations. Spread the love spending time with people who inspire, encourage, and support you. Go through your closet and give the homeless some new duds. Send $20 to your local animal shelter. Whatever it is that makes you feel like you’re giving back, do it.

  10. See how far you’ve come.

    If you need to write this on the inside of your wrist, do it – I am worth it. Your sobriety is everything. You are incredibly brave, strong, and inspirational. Protect all that you’ve achieved. You are kind of a big deal. You continue to make the choice to be a better you every second of every hour of every damn day. And while it may seem like others might not get it, I sure as hell do. We are fucking amazing.

Happy holidays my sober friends. May you stay strong and sober this holiday season and be reminded of just how amazing and special you truly are. The new year with its abundance of opportunities and challenges is quickly approaching!

Wishing all of my non-sober friends happy holidays, too! Please please PLEASE don’t drink and drive.

With love,

Chrystal

You are not alone

DamagedPeopleAreDangerousIf you’ve ever felt alone, misunderstood, insignificant, scared, weak, furious, guilty, or just plain baffled about your addiction or someone else’s, you’re in the right place. YOU are not alone.

We all have a story to tell. We all need inspiration in our lives. Whether you decide to reach out and tell your story or choose to keep that shit locked up, it helps to hear about others’ struggles. There’s a new book out there, Hearts and Scars – 10 Human Stories of Addiction (FREE on Amazon), that I’m slap-my-ass-and-call-me-Sally thrilled about! It’s a collection of non-anonymous, open and honest stories from real people in recovery. A super bonus – my story is in the book! You know what this means, right? I have arrived, people. Yes. I’m totally legit. But enough about me. This book is a project working toward awareness and healing. Here’s a bit of what the mastermind/dude in recovery (Jake D. Parent) has to say about it…

We lose more than 350 people every day in the United States to addiction. This collection of stories shows how the deadly disease is a conflicted struggle, not simply of broken people, but one that encompasses the human condition that affects us all.

For those directly affected by this horrible affliction, these stories will help you make sense of your journey, both where you came from as well as where you are going.

For advocates, policy makers, and others with the power to help, this collection will help humanize the issue. Because, while addiction may be a cunning, baffling disease, it is ultimately one that affects real people.

Only by understanding the humanity within those who suffer from it – as buried as it may sometimes seem to be – can we as a society find the courage and will to finally do what needs to be done to end the suffering.

– Jake D. Parent

Did I mention it’s FREE forever on Amazon? That means you have no excuse not to read it. If you’re reading THIS, you’ll want to read THAT. We all need awareness and a little inspiration once in a while – this book is it – do yourself a favor.

That is all for now, my friends. Stay tuned though…the release of this book has lit a fire under my ass…

Never give up on anybody. Miracles happen everyday.

-Chrystal

Sleeping with the “normie” – recovery with a spouse who drinks

My husband still drinks. I haven’t asked him to stop drinking because of my situation – that wouldn’t seem fair – he doesn’t have a drinking problem. We have a shit load of alcohol in the house, but I don’t freak out about it because we keep it out of sight. Our lifestyle has changed tremendously since I quit drinking and, for the most part, we are both happy with how we compromise in that respect. I do struggle when he’s having a drink or two at home, though. I don’t know what the hell he gets out of just a few drinks, but that’s a mystery I’ll never solve. On these evenings when he drinks, I often have to remind myself that he doesn’t have the same kind of relationship as I do with alcohol. A few seconds of reflection are tolerable, but some nights aren’t as smooth.

DISCLAIMER: YOU ARE ABOUT TO READ SOME OF MY PRIVATE, NOT-SO-PRIVATE-ANYMORE THOUGHTS. I’M NOT RESPONSIBLE FOR HOW YOU FEEL ABOUT THEM. IF YOU HAVE SOMETHING SUPPORTIVE TO SAY, I’M GAME. ALSO, I’M TERRIFIED TO CLICK “PUBLISH”, BUT WHATEVER.

Sitting at the counter, rests a water-stained stem-less wine glass, ravenously filling with rich, grapey, smooth perfection. Hints of oak and mild tobacco pillage my fluttering nostrils – and it all smells like home. As the vino gurgles through the aerator, it taunts me, “Neener, neener, neener! I’m sophisticated and delicious and you can’t have me!” My internal dialog gets a wild hair up its ass and goes to town. Come along on the crazy train for a minute and sample my secret, not-so-secret-anymore hell:

God damn wine. Screw him. Why the hell can’t I drink it? I’m a grown woman, I can make my own choices. Who does he think he is, giving me an ultimatum and then flaunting it in front of me?! That gurgling makes me want to shove that aerator up his ass. Why does he have to invite the booze, can’t it just be me and him? Hmm…Maybe this is just my perspective and not reality – if I had one or two drinks, that’s all I’d be focused on. He probably doesn’t focus on it one bit, he just has a drink and lives his life – he’s so weird. This isn’t fair. I bet I could have just one glass now. It’s been so long. Maybe I’m cured! Maybe I’m not actually an alcoholic – I was never THAT bad, anyway. I functioned well in all aspects of my life still. Well, except for verbally abusing the shit out of him – yeah, I guess that was pretty bad. Glad I don’t remember any of it. Would it hurt anything to try again though? I miss wine tasting with him. I miss our happy hours and funny adventures. I miss the relaxation. I miss the buzz. I miss getting wasted. I miss feeling normal. But I’m not normal, am I? I’m such a loser. I could never stop at just one or two, all I’d want to do is get shitty drunk. But what would that really accomplish? A glowing buzz, a moment to just let go and be wasted. Shit…I’m totally obsessed! The next day I’d be hung over AND be required to be a good mom, no thanks. I’d regret the shit out of losing my 8 years’ status and have to start back at day one…hour one…that’d be enough of a disappointment and reason to drink myself into oblivion. I don’t want to lose my life. I will not disappoint my family or myself. Plus, I have two kids I am responsible for! I want them to look up to me and know that because Mommy can do anything, they can too. Shit. Once again, I’ve talked myself out of this shit. Good. Like it was ever really touch-and-go. This is still annoying, though. Why can’t he just not drink? Would that be a fair ask? What if I did ask him to not drink? Would he be willing to? That’s a scary thought…I wouldn’t want him resenting me anyway, so it’s not an option. I’m the one who is strong enough to overcome resentment, I’ll take this on. I’m so much stronger than anyone knows. I’m actually the shit. He’s so lucky to have me. OK, now I feel a little better and actually hope he enjoys his wine…but not too much. If he gets a buzz on, I’m going to go through this all over again and want nothing to do with him. Maybe I should get out of here and head for the hills. Ok, ok. Simmer down, cray cray. All is good in my world. And both worlds can still meet for now. He’s totally fine. Stop watching him. Don’t count his drinks…STOP! Deep breath. Everything’s ok. I’m ok. One day at a time and I’m still sober. Damn, I think too much. I’m so strong, though. Look how I just worked through that shit. I really AM the shit…

Yep. Pretty intense for a gal on any given evening, huh? Sometimes I honestly wonder if I could be considered clinically insane in these moments. Why is it so hard to remember that I choose sobriety for myself?

Face it and conquer it!Why does it take a few grueling minutes of inner torture to bring myself back to a place of peace? Sometimes I envy those who have significant others who are also in recovery, versus being with a “normie”. What a huge and instant support system, plus, they’d understand you on that level that only addicts could. But the grass is only greener where you water it. And I love my man. If I didn’t have challenges, I wouldn’t be human. And I’ve learned how strong I am. I’m not willing to give that up for anything.

So, here’s my takeaway: Boundaries are essential. In early sobriety, I had a rule that I wouldn’t open or pour drinks for anyone. I don’t know what happened, but somewhere along the way I started to slack. I think I wanted more normalcy and to be useful and less of a burden. My husband and I recently discovered that this boundary must be reset. Holding or pouring a drink is too dangerous for me. It’s death in a cup and could easily slide down my throat, poisoning everything beautiful in my life. This telling conversation sparked after I’d snapped at him – he was innocently pouring wine and I heard gurgling – “Go into the friggin’ pantry and shut the door when you’re pouring that gurgling shit, mother fucker!” For now, I am going to keep being real with myself about what sets me up for success. I’m grateful to have a partner who wants me happy and will agree to pour his wine in the pantry, so I can’t hear it. He’s pretty incredible and boy, has he learned more than he ever wanted to about alcoholism! I’m not a big fan of “rules”, but they are necessary in my life, at least right now. I’m hoping someone out there knows what it’s like to go through this. I always come out on the bright side, sure, but why does it feel so traumatic every damn time?! It’s draining and infuriating, but in the end I’m grateful that I can coach myself back to my peace. I always reach my peace, and that’s what matters most.

Thanks for reading,

Chrystal

3,000 Days Sober! No more stigma…

No more shame!On this 3,000th day of my sobriety, I sit here amazed. I’m amazed at myself, of the life I’ve created, and at how damn difficult this journey has been. I’m even more amazed that so many people out there are still suffering in silence. My heart is troubled lately, as I’ve realized how big of an epidemic this really is. Alcoholism isn’t what I’m referring to – it’s the stigma. This stigma is a salivating beast and a force to be reckoned with. I’ve joined the mission to kick its dirty little ass.

Off the top of my head, I can think of about 20 people who I know personally, struggling with alcoholism and problem-drinking. A handful is in the closet, dealing with their spouse’s drinking, some are getting divorced, and the others live in their own private drinking hells. People have confided in me – it’s awesome and a little scary – but mostly it’s a kick in my ass to get louder. So many are miserable, but very few are talking about it. Shame is all around us. I hate shame. This silence feeds the stigma, which, in turn, enables denial. Maybe more of us would have turned our lives around sooner, had we known more about this shit and the real people going through it. Alcoholism doesn’t discriminate like stigma does – it takes idiots and scholars, assholes and saints, wealthy and poor, good-looking and fugly, strong and weak, and everything in-between. We are no more flawed than anyone, we are not a disgrace. It’s addiction, not a plague. We, in recovery, are not victims, we are warriors. Sometimes we fall – we get right back up. We are brave and amazing sons of bitches. And we must help others get out of the dark.

Knowledge nugget: You don’t have to join AA or get anywhere near the 12 steps to recover. I am proof of that with 3,000 days, dude! This misconception is driven by AA, and has ultimately fed fear and stigma. There’s no right or wrong way to recover. Recovery is yours. You don’t have to have a plan – the only plan I’ve had is: don’t drink. You don’t have to claim powerlessness. You don’t have to be anonymous! You don’t have to go to meetings. I’ve done just fine without meetings and some would even argue that I’m better off. Support is essential, whatever that means for you. I started off with a few close family members’ support. My greatest source of support these days has been from social media. More about that later. For now, as I revel in the last hour of my 3,000th day in recovery, I leave you with this…To my friends in recovery – you are never alone and I’m so proud of you. I’m here if you need anything. To those who are struggling, afraid to reach out for help – you can find your strength, it’s there, and we can help you. To all the sorry sacks out there that support this stigma – suck it and stay tuned.

Thanks for reading,

Chrystal

Debunking the Dry Drunk

Somebody called me a “dry drunk” behind my back. That was over a year ago, but I’ve carried it with me ever since. It’s probably time to let this shit out because I’m getting pissed about still being pissed. I had to do some research, as I’d never heard of a dry drunk before. Turns out, I have a BIG problem with this label, so I want to raise awareness of its absurdity and potential for damage. It’s not helpful to anyone and needs to go away.

You can Google the shit out of “dry drunk” – it’s everywhere. It might seem like a simple term, but it’s riddled with bullshit. As I understand it, a dry drunk is someone who is abstaining from alcohol or drugs, but still hasn’t found inner-peace or happiness in life because they’re stuck in their old ways of thinking. The original term referred to a rare condition that can occur during the first few months of recovery — you stumble around like a sloppy drunk, even though you’re stone-cold sober. In reality, it’s an imaginary disease invented by A.A. and has evolved into a condescending slur, suggesting that the sober person is angry, resentful, and emotionally stagnant – surely on the verge of relapse. If you don’t do the twelve steps, you will likely suffer from this “condition”, according to many members of A.A. Legitimate recovery sites play into this fear and nonsense. They advise about “how to avoid dry drunk syndrome”, “signs you’re a dry drunk”, and “treatment for dry drunk syndrome”.

soberchrystal.comI take my sobriety seriously and no one is going to scoff at it on my watch.

Labeling someone in recovery as a “dry drunk” only feeds the stigma we are all trying so desperately to annihilate. It’s insulting and shameful, and sows the seeds of fear. Everyone judges; it’s human nature. But this is taking it too far. It’s a display of ignorance and makes my name-caller look like an evil piece of shit.

Hell yes, I call people names. But it’s usually contained within my vehicle, aimed at other drivers, and more than likely true. I never said I was perfect. If you’re on my ass, slowing down to merge, honking at a traffic light (wtf?!), not waving after I let you in, or performing a 10-point parking job at Costco, you’re a “dumb ass” (totally censored) and I would like you to eat shit. I get that I should probably tone it down, especially with kids in tow, but I consider my road rage a survival tool. This way my head doesn’t explode and we don’t have a parking lot derby on our hands. And let’s be real – there are a lot of stupid and rude people. You can't fix stupid. But, you can beat the shit out of it.When someone else’s lack of awareness slows me down, I release my fury in a Tourette-like fashion – quick, loud, and vulgar. After that, it’s out and I’m done. When assholes dare to speculate about MY sobriety, it simply isn’t overcome with an epic tongue lashing. We need change.

I am privileged to be part of an amazing, brave, remarkable community of recovering addicts. We must support and celebrate each other on all paths, whether we understand.

I’ve compiled the following list of “symptoms” that dry drunks tend to portray. NOTE: I’m over 8 years into my recovery and still experience most of this stuff regularly. I don’t believe we should focus on trying to avoid it; we need to live it and learn. It’s absurd to assume that any sort of combination of these “symptoms” will inevitably lead to relapse.

“Symptom” Logic
Old patterns remain. This shit takes time. And some things never change. Patterns are hard to break and recovery requires patience. This does not mean you are on the verge of relapse.
Struggling in sobriety. If you’re struggling, it doesn’t necessarily mean that you are doing anything wrong. If it’s not a struggle, you’re probably a robot. I struggle often, which is the purpose of this blog and my Twitter account. For those in recovery there are endless resources, such as treatment centers, websites, books, and counselors – proving that everyone struggles in recovery.
Romancing the drink. This is when we remember all the good things about our drinking past. We push the pains we experienced as a result of our booze binges aside and daydreams dance through our heads like happily drunken rainbows and booze-soaked cotton candy. Who the hell doesn’t reminisce?! It’s totally normal to get caught up in these “enhanced” memories. They are moments that we all must work through and I don’t expect them to ever go away completely. Plus, I had some damn good times. I always get back around to embracing the reasons for and benefits of my sobriety.
Anxiety. If you don’t have anxiety about shit, how do you know if it’s important to you? I think anxiety is a necessary natural force that has alerted me of potential dangers, especially in early recovery. NOTE: There are a ton of alcoholics that have other shit going on, like other mental health issues they struggle with, as well as their addiction. Describing these people as dry drunks is stupid and makes me want to punch someone in the face.
Angry and resentful. Clearly, this is me. Often. Sometimes when my husband is drinking, talking about drinking or spending money on drinking, I want to chop his egg-shaped head off. Sure, anger and resentment blow, but they’re a work in progress and are stepping-stones. I’m not on the verge of relapse because I have domestic fits of rage. I may drive my husband to drink, but that’s a different story!
Jealousy. You can bet your sweet ass I’m jealous of the “normies”. It’s ugly, but it’s part of the deal. In some ways, I think jealousy has helped push me in the direction I want to move toward my own goals. In other ways, it makes me want to shove a half-drunken beer bottle up someone’s ass.
Being impatient or pursuing whims. I tend to exaggerate the importance and urgency of things to the point that I’m hostile. If I miss out on something because of someone else’s stupidity, it pisses me off. It’s not going to make me polish off a fifth of vodka, though. And I consider the ability to pursue a whim a beautiful thing.
Inability to make decisions. The only things I truly know are how I like my coffee and that I’m always hungry. I couldn’t decide on whether or not to comment further on this.
Detachment and self-absorption. These are survival skills! I think self-absorption is necessary while we’re relearning how to approach just about every single thought and feeling in our lives. Sobriety is an intense personal journey. I have to detach at times to keep my sanity.
Mood swings, trouble with expressing emotions, feeling unsatisfied. I’ve been a moody son of a bitch all my life – it is part of my charming personality. I have trouble expressing my emotions to others because I am socially retarded. And any time I feel unsatisfied, I see it as a kick in the ass to change something, no matter how long it takes me to realize. None of these are going to send me crawling into a liquor store.
Less participation in a 12-step program, or withdrawal from it completely. Suck it! Suck it right now!

We have the right to judge and say whatever we want, but I expect a healthy heart and mind in recovery to be a little more accepting and a little less spiteful. Maybe this name-calling is a coping mechanism because she (my name-caller) is scared to consider another path. The freedom of my 12-step-free journey requires self-awareness, self-empowerment, and accountability that she may not have the balls to explore. It’s natural to try to make sense of things that we don’t understand. She has been sober for over a year and still goes to two A.A. meetings per day. That shit boggles my damn mind. I’d be whacked to keep that up – my knuckles would probably glow in the dark! But I don’t know what it’s like to live in her world and I don’t need to understand. I am still proud as hell of her for staying sober all this time and support her journey moving forward. I expect more compassion and flexibility of my recovering peers. I expect more accountability.No one understands and that's ok

We all work really hard in sobriety. One more day sober is another amazing feat. We don’t know what anyone goes through every day. We don’t know how anyone feels. We don’t see the work people are doing on the inside. And we are not psychics or mind readers. Sometimes just staying sober is ok. It has to be – we’ve all been there. Recovery is likely the hardest thing we will ever have to live through. Can we please be a little gentler with each other and lose this label? There are lots of mysteries in recovery – focus on your own. If you don’t have something nice or supportive to say about someone else’s recovery, please keep your mouth shut. And maybe I’ll work on my road rage.

Thanks for reading,

Chrystal

8 Years Sober!

infinity

As of today, I’ve been sober for 8 years. That’s 2,922 days!

These yearly milestones have become increasingly exciting and significant to me, but number 8 is extra special. The symbolism and theme I’m going with here is my limitless potential and commitment to continuous personal growth. Yeah, that’s right. I’m motivated and it’s awesome. So, “what’s new this year?” you ask…

I’ve been practicing an attitude of gratitude. This frame of mind hasn’t come naturally to me, but it has begun to pay off. It IS possible to change our thoughts! It’s also exhausting. I’m not insinuating that I was a negative Nancy and an ungrateful Ursula, but it has taken an obscene amount of conscious effort to get this process kicked off and into a rhythm. gratitudeThis attitude of gratitude makes me more awake. It also slows me down and puts me into the moment more often. “One day at a time” no longer seems like a coping strategy – it’s a result of being grounded. Every day I am thankful for the love in my life and goals that I’ve reached. I’m making even more goals and feeling optimistic about them. That’s huge for me. I am so grateful for my life and for the people I hold dear. I’m aware of this abundance daily.

These great strides I’m making would all be squashed like road kill if I weren’t also focused on shutting up this bully that lives in my head. bullyThis is where my internal bullshit gets scary. I call it bullshit because it is self-inflicted and ridiculous. It’s embarrassing to admit that I pick myself apart all day long. I’m never good enough and these thoughts feel real. If some bitch walked up to me and told me that I was a loser, ugly, fat, hairy, a shitty dresser, a shitty mom, a shitty wife, a lame daughter, terrible at my job, or a worthless steaming pile of cow dung, I’d beat the shit out of her. I’d even throw in my signature drunk move and pull her hair while poking her eyes. I was proud of that move. Constantly judging me like this hurts. It hurts a lot. Realistically, I know how special and unique I am and that I’m a good person. So, why do I need to remind myself of it? Whatever the reasons, I’m locking it down. It feels so unnatural to be confident, but I’m practicing. And during these fleeting moments of confidence, I almost feel guilty. It’s weird and I don’t totally get it, but I will. This is the biggest and most important challenge of my life and I have no choice but to go for it. My kids WILL have self-esteem and they’ll learn how to nurture their own souls with my example. I don’t feel like a good person when I judge anyone else either, and I do it all the time, so that is changing. When I judge them, I judge me. Let’s stay real though; I’m not going to turn into a hippy, sport some rose-colored glasses, and try to love everyone. There are a lot of idiots out there. But I can appreciate how different we all are and learn from others’ stupidity.

So, the gist of it is, I’m feeling pretty raw. But I am happier, healthier, and empowered because of it. With 8 years of sobriety, I can confidently rely on my unclouded intuition and proudly declare that my relationships are whole. I have a lot more work to do and I’m going to be amazing. Today I make another choice to live sober and some days that’s all I need. Life is incredible.

For all of you out there who need a shoulder, an ear, a virtual hug, or a heart to tell you you’re worth it, here I am. If I’m worth it, you’re worth it. And we can do this together.

the wound is where light enters

Thanks for reading,
SoberChrystal

Anonymous Walls Crumblin’ Down – full disclosure in recovery

The other day, I was so thrilled to see an article about me and my husband in the Bleacher Report (GO SEAHAWKS!!!); I tweeted about my 15 minutes of fame from my anonymous Sober Chrystal account. Until then, I’d been so careful to make sure Sober Chrystal couldn’t be tied to the real me. Shedding my last name increased my chances of remaining anonymous to the public and lifted the weight of reality, just a bit, so I could pursue this social sober outlet via my blog and Twitter. I realize now that if anyone had given half of a shit, they could have easily figured out who I was (as if my half-faced profile pic is the epitome of anonymous). I’ve been a big, fat hypocrite. Is it such a bad thing if my cover’s blown, anyway? I’m about to find out.

No need to be anonymousNEWS FLASH: My sobriety is the best thing about me! So, let’s just be ALL out with it.

Anonymity

One of the biggest challenges going against all of us in sobriety is dealing with the social stigma. Nothing feeds that beast like anonymity. It’s part of my beef with Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) and is the reason it’s so damn hard to connect with people in real life who are on a similar path. No matter the intention, anonymity is a concept that is self-defeating.

As alcoholics, we are part of a community that’s riddled in self-doubt. Being anonymous makes it easier to share our stories and to connect with others online, resulting in motivation and hope. But, what if there’s more to the healing than swapping confessions and inspiration from behind those walls? I certainly don’t have this thing “licked”, but I believe that connecting with others in recovery is what sets me free. I’ve had a number of readers tell me that I’ve inspired them to get and/or stay sober. How amazing is that?! It is the highest honor I could imagine and it has given me purpose, drive, and accountability to keep my shit together. My actions are my only true belongings, so if I can do my part to chisel away at this wall of stigma and increase awareness, I’m going to do it. Owning up to who I am is a good start. Done.

There is no halfway.Anonymous is half-assed

I live my life and portray myself as a “go big or go home” kind of gal. There really is no halfway. I don’t halfway get angry at idiot drivers that don’t know how to merge (speed UP, don’t slow down!) and I don’t halfway eat a double double animal style In-N-Out burger. Hell NO! No more hiding behind a social media identity. I’m not just Sober Chrystal. I’m not a half-faced half-ass. This is intense because I know people will judge me. I’m paranoid that if people know I’m in recovery, it may limit any future job opportunities or friendships. I’ve already been dinged by my life insurance underwriters because somewhere along the way I mentioned my self-diagnosed alcoholism and that I’d gotten sober to a doctor. This increased my premium. Yep. Things need to change.

I’ve always been a fan of simplicity. What you see is what you get and if you don’t like it, I suggest you quit looking. I’m on this journey to love and accept myself. Fear of rejection can suck it. I’m not morally corrupt or weak and I’m not ashamed of who I am. I should be just as loud and proud as someone who has beaten heart disease! Do you remember who you were before everyone else started telling you who you should be? Well, I’m getting there. I’m a badass, for one. 7 years of sobriety in a world that still celebrates binge drinking and frequently recites that hideous phrase, “it’s 5 o’clock somewhere”, is not for the faint of heart. It’s for badasses. I’m Chrystal Comley. I’m Sober Chrystal. I’m a sober badass. Hear me roar!

Self-love

Recovery Runs in My Family

familyinrecovery

How many people can say that recovery runs in their family? Better yet, how many people can say it and be proud of it? I can! Let me introduce the three of us who are keeping it real every damn day: Me, my dad and my brother. We have a bond that is quite unique.

No matter how long we’ve each been sober, we make conscious decisions to not drink EVERY DAY. And just as many others in recovery have learned, it doesn’t get any easier, we just get a little bit better. What helps me be better is the connection I have with my dad and bro. I used to think I was a badass when I was wasted, but nothing compares to how powerful and awesome I feel having these two on my side and in my little “club.” Recovery posse up!

Today we celebrate my dad’s second year in recovery! Two years of sobriety is his longest stretch in over 40 years! That’s pretty amazing. I’ve never been more proud to be his daughter.

As I reflect upon my family in recovery, today especially, I bask in that powerful light that we’ve created together – healing ourselves, healing our family, and making our moments real. One day at a time, one panic attack at a time, and sometimes one minute at a time – we rock!

Happy SOBER New Year

Happy 2014!

My wish for all of my friends out there is for more peaceful and joyful moments in 2014. Only in sobriety can we genuinely experience these moments. Be proud of YOU and remember that with each sober breath you take, you are giving yourself the most precious gift.

An added bonus: remembering last night and starting the new year without a hangover!!!

My intentions are to judge less, look at the positive, take more deep breaths, trust my gut and STAY SOBER! Yeah baby!

Cheers to you with my grape raspberry spritzer!

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SEVEN YEARS OF SOBRIETY!

Seven Years – Still Sober!

7 years sober

Today I bask in the shock, awe and glory of having lived SEVEN years in sobriety. SEVEN??? Yes, I said SEVEN!!!

I don’t have much time (Newborn alert! Shit kid, give me a friggin minute!!!), but I will say this – I’m damn proud of myself for continuing to learn, heal, inspire and nurture the girl in me that deserves universal love. I will go forward with renewed dedication and focus, always aware that I’m just a drink away from losing it all. Shitty perspective, but it’s the truth and I feel even more powerful with every day that I chose not to have that drink.

Thanks to all who have supported and encouraged me. I’ve never been more convinced that I really CAN do ANYTHING.

I can do anything

Passing it on – will I have alcoholic children?

My biggest fear in life is that my kids will become alcoholics. This potential strikes me to the core and nags at me constantly. I recall a “talk” my dad had with me and my brother one day in the backyard – I was in high school. He was crying, telling us how he didn’t want us to end up like him. It was a pretty intense moment that left a huge gouge on my heart. I remember thinking how bad I felt for him, that he was so worried, but was impervious to his degree of fear. I was pretty damn sure we could handle ourselves and weren’t going to follow in his footsteps.

I can now relate to him in a fierce way and it scares the hell out of me. I’m desperate to control this outcome, however I realize I have NO CONTROL over much of anything in this world – except for one thing for sure – my sobriety. What I must focus on is staying sober, and then positively influencing my kids without being a freak about it. I have to somehow let go of this paralyzing fear and change gears. Having a plan certainly won’t erode my fears, but maybe it’ll decrease some of my anxiety about it all and better prepare us as parents for the road ahead. How depressing is it that I have to do this? It’s also infuriating, but a reality I just have to accept.

Alcoholic Genes

Are my kids destined to become alcoholics? Not necessarily, but their genetic risk is increased considerably, according to research. I have some close friends and family who have somehow managed to break that chain, even though it’s “in their blood” and has been a part of their lives since childhood. Research hasn’t given us solid answers, but alcoholism “experts” are agreeing that genes are responsible for about half of the potential alcoholic equation*. So, as I understand it, genes influence how a person metabolizes alcohol, as well as their temperament – which can make them more vulnerable toward alcoholism. How one’s brain reacts to alcohol and their personality traits aren’t really things we can change, anyway. Alcoholism has been known to run in families and children of alcoholics could very well be genetically pre-disposed, more vulnerable. BUT all of this genetic talk is about RISK, not impending doom. (I must repeat this over and over and over…)

Environment

In my opinion, at least half of the RISK equation of addiction exists because of poor coping skills and learned behavior – and is where I can make a difference as a parent.

Role Models

My alcoholic family

Typical family gathering at my Grandma’s house

Kids subconsciously model their parents’ and adults’ behavior. If their parents or close adults are frequent drinkers/partiers, they learn to model that lifestyle. Simple as that. It’s what they know. My parents and their family and friends were always drinking at every occasion, so it was the norm to me.

My little brother sampling some red beer...

My little brother sampling some red beer…

I got to taste my dad’s beer a lot when I was little. I really liked it. Some say that the age alcoholics get exposed to booze is a cause. I don’t know if that’s true, but either way I am uncomfortable with my kids tasting it at this point. My son has no business trying Daddy’s beer at 2 ½ (the other kid is a bun in the oven). When I’m faced with that possibility, the alcohol takes on even more of a personality and taunts me like a poison. I don’t know what age would seem right to let them try a sip. I certainly don’t want to forbid it forever, that doesn’t seem like a healthy approach. Plus, if I take my emotion out of it, realistically a taste won’t kill them. But that’s impossible to take the emotion away when my relationship with alcohol has altered my world in such a way. Obviously my husband and I need to further discuss this and figure out our approach, since he does have a few beers or a glass of wine regularly at home. Currently, it’s off limits to the kid and my husband completely supports my wishes. See – I’m already protecting my children with a different environment to grow up in…

The relationship between my mom and dad growing up was not always loving and harmonious. At times our home life presented us with underlying tension, anger and sadness – you can bet we picked up on it. Don’t get me wrong, we were pretty happy kids – it wasn’t THAT bad and we knew our parents loved us to the moon and back. But for many years my dad hid his alcohol, which was even worse because we all knew about it, but didn’t say anything – the shit that goes on with an alcoholic isn’t easily hidden – it’s like a silent scream. I know I’ll screw my kids up in some way, but I rest easier at night knowing they won’t be at greater risk for emotional and coping problems because I am no longer a “practicing” alcoholic. Our home environment is positive, supportive and nurturing (most of the time, we ARE real people!). Self-esteem, self-reliance, communication and trust are what we practice. We are providing a secure and stable home where our kids will hopefully be more selective about the choices they make and who they invite into their lives as they grow. They will know that their opinions and decisions matter to us all.

Everybody Else

At some point, all kids get exposed to drinking – as pre-teens or even earlier. If not at home, they’ll see it in commercials, movies, Web sites, phone apps, Facebook (half the shit on there is about partying) and hear about it in songs and at school, etc. – social media and entertainment are clearly targeting young people and doing a great job at it. So, how does one figure what’s real and what isn‘t – especially a kid? Is everyone really doing it? In elementary school, I somehow was under the impression that D.A.R.E wasn’t “cool” – WTF? This is where parenting steps in with consistent, positive, open communication. I don’t want to bad mouth alcohol, but I do want my kids to know their risks and to grow up knowing that what you see isn’t always what you get or what you should want.

PLEASE NOTE: I want to make it clear that my parents did the best with what they knew back then and I am grateful every day for my mom and dad. I don’t carry resentment toward either one of them for a damn thing – I have learned from some of their mistakes and will surely make my own.

The Hype

Is drinking fun? Hell yeah, it is! Why do you think so many people do it? Alcohol is amazing – it’s so easy to instantly bond with people, like you’re part of a cool club. It helps you relax and it takes you to a silly, warm place where inhibitions are low and the fun factor is high. What I wouldn’t give for a day of mental shut-down, sitting in a lawn chair in a river with the heat of the sun, a case of ice-cold beer and a bottle of my grandpa’s home-made “apple pie” (Everclear – like liquid apple pie – dangerous and oh, so delish). I get why it’s such a focal point, but I think that needs to change a bit – somehow. Along with the fun alcohol brings, there’s an even bigger dark side. The darkest of which is alcoholism, the number one drug problem in America with more than 20 million alcoholics**. It’s a HUGE issue in our society. We need more awareness and education out there so we can change the stigma and shame associated with it and be better able to recognize whether we are on that path – to make changes before things get a lot worse.

Bitter…party of one…

Whenever I hear people reminiscing together about their drunken moments or hangovers from hell, I become enraged inside. It no longer entertains or makes me laugh. There’s nothing funny about passing out on a germ-infested, pube-ridden bathroom floor after you’ve heaved for hours. There’s nothing funny about getting goofy, slurring, saying stupid shit or falling down in public, nor do I want to hear people brag about blacking out. Also, those Facebook and Instagram pictures showing friends taking shots, playing their 100th game of beer pong and getting shit-faced in general are really getting old – get over it and get back to freaking life, you idiots. I’m justified to feel that way now because I was one of them – my goal sometimes would actually be to blackout – and I thought I was cool because of it! My, how I’ve grown – still bitter, but I’ve grown. The general population of America is ignorant about the dangers of alcohol and alcoholism. I think a lot of it is because recovering alcoholics aren’t living out loud. By living out loud, I’m not necessarily telling people they can’t be “anonymous,” I’m just meaning to highlight that anyone can reach out, connect, learn, get sober and/or be effective on any level. And that’s my mission. I’m not claiming to know everything, but I’m dedicated to challenging the stigma, increasing awareness, and as always, connecting with people so I don’t feel so isolated all the time.

american-flag-drunkAmerican society

This country’s legislation approaches alcohol with fear, and the most destructive law in my opinion, seems to be the age requirement of 21. A man can defend and potentially die for his country, but we’ll go right ahead and arrest him for an MIP?! Woo! ‘merica! Something isn’t quite matching up there. Forbidding it isn’t the answer. I don’t know anyone that drinks, who didn’t drink before they turned 21. In fact, most of them drank well before I did around 13 or so! Yet, the 21-run is a major coming-of-age celebration. I remember the beginning of my 21-run…I spilled a shot on the table and sucked it up with a straw. Made it to 21 drinks, too. Only 3 were beers. That shit just isn’t necessary – where did we get the idea that it is? I know so many “problem drinkers” who are likely on alcoholism’s path and all I can do is watch. I think. They are as I was, programmed to believe that they don’t have a problem because they still have their jobs, family, friends – life is “normal.” Plus, everybody else is doing the same thing. This is where awareness about early stages of alcoholism needs to happen. And realistically, every person has the chance to become an alcoholic.

My husband insists that our kids partake in his “English heritage” and go to a pub for dinner, where they can have a beer when they’re 16 or so if they want. English pubs do feel completely different from American bars – families with kids and the general attitude give it a much more relaxed vibe. We went to the Matador (in America) the other night for some decent food and a beer for my husband, but they wouldn’t let our toddler in because technically the entire place was a bar. I don’t get it. Are we not trusted? Maybe we should pass a few more laws to control our people since they obviously can’t make decisions for themselves. Anyway, I get where my husband is coming from. I’m more concerned about my kids seeing either of our families drinking in excess and celebrating it – but I think we’ll be ok. I don’t think his family really “focusses” on drinking when they let loose, nor does mine (although I’ve had to decrease my exposure to much of my extended family to make that a possibility). We just can’t escape that societal push toward drinking to have fun. And it’s a myth that starting younger encourages moderation with alcohol. That said, a young person in a pub is exposed to that comfortable type of environment with a positive and healthy approach, I suppose. I’m curious about the “place” I’ll be in by the time that opportunity rolls around.

make better mistakes tomorrowMy Plan

My plan is to continuously communicate with my husband and come up with some rules for early childhood that we both feel comfortable with. We can graze over the pre-teen and teen years, but who knows how much that will change within the next 10-15 years within society, as well as research. The point is that we are both on the same page and focused on being better parents every day.

In the future I do intend to connect with my children’s friends and their friends’ parents and decide who I “trust,” never allow them to go to an unsupervised home or party and get them involved in extracurricular stuff – sports/music/whatever they want to do. It’s amazingly fulfilling being a parent, but it’s hard and I can bet it won’t get any easier.

I guess for now I’m ok. This cloud still follows me around, but I’ve got some great tools, a fab husband and a bright future in store for all of us. Day by day we shall go.

Thanks for your support, friends. I’m grateful to have this outlet and your ears.

* http://www.niaaa.nih.gov/alcohol-health/overview-alcohol-consumption/alcohol-use-disorders/genetics-alcohol-use-disorders

** http://alcoholism.about.com/od/problem/a/blnih040802.htm (from 2004…I’m betting the # is much higher, as there are so many in denial)

Sober Again in Margaritaville – managing summertime sobriety

beachSummertime and sobriety may never sound like a glamorous combo to me. It’s always been my favorite time of the year. Ever since I’ve been sober though, it has become a season of pure torture for me. The days are long, the air is warm and more time is spent outdoors. It’s full of vacations, beaches, poolside action, boating trips, parties, and barbeques – these things present a series of triggers, making day-to-day happenings quite excruciating. I’m not trying to sound like a victim here – just being real.

Romancing the drink

I continuously slip into remembering the “good old drinking days,” especially when I watch others enjoying drinks or even feel the heat of the sun on my shoulders. People call it “romancing the drink,” and coupled with the “romance” of summer, as far as I’m concerned, it’s a hot mess of intense cravings and powerful self-sabotaging mind games.

I wonder if I will always miss those warm, carefree days where I could go wine tasting or sample new summer ales at a brewery – emerging with that powerful glow that rivaled the sun. Those day-long binges where I passed out in the sun and woke up with a raging headache, cotton mouth and sunburn – just in time to start over for the evening. Will I always long for an ice-cold beer or a smoky grapey glass of wine when I get home from a long day at work? Will a pitcher of sangria or a mojito always sound more refreshing to me than a glass of pure, mountain spring water? What about that warm feeling in my belly after a shot, the fuzzy brain, ease of social situations, instant courage and supreme relaxation?

Watch out

Who was I really hurting anyway? I had good jobs, paid my bills, took care of my responsibilities and spent time with my family and friends – and thoughts like these are what bring even more danger into my world. The negative aspects resulting from my past drinking start to slip away and seem more and more insignificant. Besides, my life and circumstances are different this time, right? I’m stronger and wiser now. Why is it so easy for us alcoholics to believe in our own bullshit?! Our twisted little brains get crafty on us and if we’re not on top of it at all times, relapse is just one thought away…Feelings

I’ve accepted the fact that I will never stop thinking like an addict. I’ll always have to deal with this. It’s exhausting going to war with myself everyday. When I start to ponder why I’m still doing this, I have to remember the pain I’ve caused the people I love – and more importantly the shit I put myself through. It has gotten a little easier with time, though. These thoughts still occur, just a bit less often and with less intensity. Although as I write this, it doesn’t feel any less intense, so maybe I just lied to myself. We’ll call it willful thinking.

Booze is here to stay

Alcohol is so out in the open, it’s difficult to avoid. There is seldom any event, private or public, that doesn’t offer alcohol. An alcoholic like me could manage to make anything into a booze-fest, though. Living sober in the real world means, at least for me, regularly coming into contact with alcohol and people who drink it. Some of these people need to hop right on that wagon with me, but it’s the others that piss me off even more – the ones that can get a nice buzz on if they want to and they still don’t have a problem. Freaks. When I start to feel bitter and left out, I also remind myself that I’ve completely changed my life and I’ve broken up with alcohol on my terms. It works, for the most part, but the frequency of this self-talk is almost mind-numbing.

feetBe where your feet are

Of course, I’m a grown up and I’m allowed to do whatever the hell I want, right? Damn right. But here’s the thing: authentic Chrystal made this terrifying and earth-shattering choice for me. To get sober. And then to stay sober. If I’m true and honest to myself, I must support what I know deep-down is the best for me. Getting out of my head is a near impossible feat, but I actively shut that manipulative boozer in me up. I love myself and I love my life more than any drink – it isn’t worth it. The idea of having limits of where I can and can’t go is kind of anti the point of being sober. The idea is to have a bigger, fuller life. That’s what it’s all about, really. Living sober is a very special process. A process that you can easily let yourself get tired of, or one that can lift you higher than any beverage could.

just breatheSo I go everywhere – armed with wisdom and love. I feel the ground beneath me, take a deep breath, look up at the summer sky and am grateful for this reality. I’m sober and that’s absolutely amazing. I don’t want to go back. I want to keep making myself proud and prove to the world that I am incredible. My head is clear (clearer, anyway), my priorities are straight, my choices are clean and time is on my side – it’s right now.

We are not alone

Millions of people are in recovery and they are going through similar experiences, I know they must be. When we are feeling weak or frustrated, we have to reach out. Whatever works, we need to do it. Writing works for me, sort of. A pill would be most convenient, though. I’ve decided that the best thing for me this summer is to plan. I have an exit plan in mind for just about every situation and I’m not going to push myself. Staying hydrated and well-rested are also top priorities, as a tired and thirsty Chrystal doesn’t always think straight, plus she’s not very pleasant. Sometimes I just need to go to that vulnerable and tender place, where I recognize just how strong I have been every day, let go, wrap myself up in ME and take a nap.

The things that make me me

As I enjoy this summertime with my friends and family, this psychotic mental circle will surely spin on. But to this moment I’ve always come out on top and I intend on continuing this trend. I’m strong. I’m real. I’m unique. I’m absolutely amazing! I’m also grateful to have a voice and be heard – it’s what I depend on these days. I will continue on this messed-up, excruciating, wonderful journey and I will live another day sober. Thank you for reading, friends.

 

‘Tis the season to get shit-faced – staying sober through the holidays

‘Tis the season to get shit-faced! The holidays – between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Eve in the US – can be one of the most dangerous times of the year for those of us who are trying to maintain sobriety. It can be a time of happiness and celebration, a time of pain and desperation or a little bit of both – all of which are equally good reasons to get drunk. This is also a time where drinking is not only more accepted, it almost seems to be expected. It’s hardly surprising that so many people indulge in seasonal binge-drinking. Throw us sober folks into the mix and it’s a perfect storm.

The good stuff

This time of year makes me feel warm and fuzzy for so many reasons – the warmth I feel from within, the twinkling lights that surround me, the gratefulness I feel toward the people who touch my heart and the giving-ness I feel toward complete strangers – that’s powerful stuff! Every time I hear the song, O holy night, I get serious goose bumps and a feeling I can’t quite explain – and I’m a “non-believer!” My point is, for many reasons this season tends to make the world around us seem a bit brighter, warmer, more magical, giving, and hopeful.

The other stuff

For many of us, this isn’t necessarily a happy-go-lucky time of year. It’s a time to reflect on our lives and what’s missing from them – lost loves, lost money, lost dreams.

If you’re anything like me though, you may tend to get depressed no matter how wonderful life may be. I do believe that you can’t truly know one extreme without the other; stars can’t shine without the darkness. I’ve been low. I’ve experienced devastating losses. I’ve been lonely, scared, dark and broken. I’m grateful for those experiences now because I’d never known joy could be so peaceful, passionate, warm, uplifting and all-encompassing. Having said that, often when I’m in those moments of joy, I’m suddenly reminded of the people I’ve lost, with whom I’d love to share those moments. The awareness of those losses is the ickiest part for me.

Also at the tip of our minds may be money, or lack thereof – this is the time of giving. There’s so much pressure on us to buy shit, it’s ridiculous.

It’s easy to lose hope without a supportive family and/or environment. A bad attitude will bring you down, too. Isolation is a common theme for many of us sober folks and this time of year it seems to have a magnetic effect. I am so happy to report that MY ENTIRE FAMILY IS SOBER! How awesome is that?! (My husband and mom don’t count, as they can have just one or two drinks and call it a day – non-alcoholic freaks!) I feel such a tight bond with my dad and my brother, especially this year. Even my sister-in-law is sober! We are not only family, but it feels like we are part of an elite club. A club so many won’t ever understand and that so many could only imagine having the balls to join. If you’re in our club, you know what I mean and you should be damn proud of yourself.

Just don’t do it

Succumb to these seasonal feelings of darkness – isolation, pressure, loss – and you’re lurking in the danger zone. But would the world really end if you had just one? Sometimes I entertain the idea of having just one White Russian to honor my grandma’s memory. She too, was a boozer after all. And we sure do have good memories from our drinking days, don’t we? That general feeling of togetherness is what I miss the most. But we must remember where it ultimately led us – one drink and we’d be there, only worse this time. It’d be the end of life as we know it. At least that’s how I see it.

Please consider the following advice to help keep your hard-earned sobriety intact throughout the remainder of this season:

  1. Focus on your health. Get enough sleep, eat well and relax.
  2. Remember, you’re not alone. Don’t isolate yourself with the hopes of staying sober – loneliness is a HUGE trigger. Reach out if you need the help. If you’re worried about your pride or looking like a pussy, it’s too late – you’re already an alcoholic, so just get over it. Must. Stay. Sober.
  3. Let the pressure go. Do what you can and want to do. Set aside an evening to shop online instead of venturing out into the madness; Amazon rocks. Leave the cookie making to someone else this year. Don’t make that grueling 5 hour drive just to see people you’d rather see on Skype. Making others happy is certainly one thing, but when you’re compromising your own happiness, it’s just not worth it. Do something different. Or don’t do anything at all. Just let it go and do your own thing this year.
  4. Keep your distance from any annoying relatives, if you can. If you can’t, just be grateful there’s no chance you’ll get wasted and try to beat their face in or tell them how you really feel. Don’t let their idiocy ruin your cool, sober vibe.
  5. Plan ahead. Don’t get into those situations that you can avoid, but if you have to go to an office party, for instance, have an escape route. Or go late and leave early, no one notices or cares how long you’re there.
  6. Make it count. If you’re like me, a bit of an anxious introvert, and you’re feeling nervous or awkward about attending an event, just don’t go. It’s better to be sober and at home, than to be uncomfortable, on-edge and potentially tempted. Only you can protect your sobriety.
  7. Remember – No one cares if you’re drinking or not. If they DO care, they’re obviously retarded and you can feel free to junk punch them. Screw what people think about you – you get to decide who matters.
  8. Believe – It’s not what’s in the glass that’s important; it’s what’s in your heart.
  9. Realize – Taking one drink is like jumping out of a plane without a parachute. It will cost you everything, my friend.
  10. Remind yourself and be very proud of just how far you’ve come. Your sobriety is everything! You are worth it.

Happy holidays my sober friends. May you stay strong and sober this holiday season and be reminded of just how amazing and special you truly are. 2013 and its abundance of opportunities and challenges is quickly approaching!

A special note to my friends who DO drink, please Please PLEASE remember the following:

  • Plan ahead – designate a sober driver THAT YOU CAN TRUST
  • Buzzed driving is drunk driving and you know I’m right, so just nutt up and leave your stupid car while you take a cab home. Choose inconvenience over jail or death. You started it anyway, by either being unprepared or by being a lush, you jackass.
  • Don’t EVER tell me how proud of me you are when you’ve been drinking…it makes me want to poke your eyes out and dropkick your head…just had to throw that one out there…

Dangerously Close to Relapse

Last week it presented itself. That moment you look back on and think, “What the hell just happened? How could I let myself even THINK of going down that road? Who AM I?” It was the closest I’ve ever been to relapse. But I’m still sober.

The Moment

It seems surreal to me as I replay the scenario backward and forward in my head. I wasn’t in any particular mood and I hadn’t had a bad day. I have been living a joyful structured life with a fairly simple routine. I was getting ready for dinner on a work night at home with my husband, kid and two dogs. As I poured a glass of wine for my husband I had a light-bulb-moment – “Wait a tick, I think I could handle a glass of wine,” said my suddenly inspired and disillusioned mind. I was so very hopeful and optimistic that this revelation could work; I actually started trying to convince my husband of it OUTLOUD! I had freaking butterflies of nervousness and excitement as I tried to exploit his perceived ignorance, to get him to buy-in. Did I truly believe I could do it in that moment? Well, I had a heaping bag of hope that I could “handle” it, so it was worth a shot, wasn’t it?

“You know you would regret it,” is all he had to say. BAM! Reality quickly took hold and there I was; my bubble burst and ego bruised. Having experienced and exposed such an irrational and crazy train of thoughts made me feel so foolish and unsteady – oddly, like I hadn’t been the one in the driver’s seat for those fleeting moments.

I’ve since realized that ridiculous and scary moment is now just a story. It’s SO last week! It has absolutely no power over me, as long as I don’t let it. I’m still shaking my head in shock and bewilderment however, so in the interest of transparency and further understanding I write this blog today.

What I Think I Know

We recovering alcoholics most certainly are not doomed; we have the power to make healthy choices for ourselves. I do think it’s important to be aware of the forces we’re up against however, so we can proactively arm ourselves for any future episodes that may slap us in the face.

Stress

Science has taught us that stress is a common trigger for relapse. I thought I had managed my “bad” stress well, until I wrote down a list of a few of my current stressors. Duh! I think managing stress is somewhat of an illusion, anyway. Life will always be stressful. I don’t care who you are, attempting to achieve balance 100% of the time is almost impossible and unrealistic if you ask me. Stress isn’t all bad; it helps us to meet goals and alerts us of when it’s necessary to make changes in our lives. Relaxation is just another tool we can throw into our ammunition belts! We’re never “too busy”, it’s all about priorities. Put this at the top of your list. Just slow down and breathe.

The Brain

Science also tells us that alcoholism is not a psychological disorder, a spiritual illness, weak will or character defect. Even though it affects seemingly all areas of your life, it is a brain disease. Over time, continuous use has changed my brain structure and function. Essentially, alcohol will always be on the “good list” inside of the “rewards center” in my brain; it has saved a permanent spot for my dear friend, Alcohol. I can do the hard work to reprioritize and fill this rewards center with healthy, rewarding acts and things, but as far as science has proven, the memory of the pleasurable effects of alcohol is engrained in my brain and will attempt to trick me. No matter how intelligent I think I am, or how life-or-death the decision to drink is for me, I’m always going to have to work against this tricky shit. I dumbed this down to the point that I’ve amazed myself; if you’d like to know more about the alcoholic brain you should look it up. There’s fascinating information out there and they’re learning more and more every day.

Keep Moving Forward

Don’t assume you’re ever “safe,” no matter how focused you are. It’s also one thing STAYING sober, but only through personal growth, will you be successful in LIVING sober. You want to LIVE, don’t you? Be loving. Be patient. Be tough. Be you. Be kind. Be thankful. There is always something to be thankful for. Happiness is living every moment with love and gratitude; it cannot be traveled to, owned, worn, consumed or earned. It just is. Be prepared to protect your happiness and sobriety. Keep moving forward, be in this moment and take it one day at a time. Living sober is just living.

Grow Up

In order to be all we can be we need to join the army. Just kidding, we need to start by growing up a bit. Most of us alcoholics feel some degree of shame – it’s damn near unavoidable – especially in our society where there is still so much stigma attached to alcoholism. We can’t control what anyone thinks about a given situation and we’re not ever going to be aware of the half of it, so we just have to let it go; not learn to let it go, just let the shit go. Life is too precious to let such an icky emotion fester when the shame affects nothing but our own beating hearts. In addition to the shame we often torture ourselves with are a number of psychological immaturities we must recognize and work through. Most of us started drinking in our teens or early twenties, when the frontal lobes of our brains were still maturing – responsible for our reasoning and problem solving capabilities. This is a huge one, people…I don’t know that many people realize this. Be accountable and apply the principles of logic to given situations.

Self-talk

If I had a friend who spoke to me the way that I speak to myself, I would have said, “good bye forever, you evil bitch” in an instant. I may have even pulled her hair out and poked her eyeballs a few times, but that’s just the angry drunk in me. It’s really ridiculous how vicious I am to my self when I consider how truly amazing I am. It has been a lot of work, but very rewarding as I am learning to recognize the bullshit things I say to myself about my worth on a damn near moment to moment basis, replacing every destructive thought or emotion with an opposing, positive one that’s more powerful. Start listening to your thoughts.

If you take a few steps back and dissect your reactions to things, they’ll most likely come back to a few key “truths” we subconsciously tell ourselves. My resonating theme seems to be that I’m not good enough. It breaks my heart to admit this to the world, but I have to to work it out. It can be a moment as simple as catching someone’s eye at the grocery store. I instantly get irritated. What’s behind the irritation is insecurity – I assume they are thinking that I look tired, or my hair is freakishly long, or I’m just plain ugly; I’m not good enough. Once I walk through this in my head I replace the thought with, “I AM good enough. I am beautiful in my way,” or whatever makes sense for the instance. I don’t believe it a lot of the time, but practice makes perfect, right? It’s really disappointing when my husband has to tell me how immature I’m being sometimes. Not everything is about me, but I sure do react that way more often than I’d like to. The person I made eye contact with could have thought about a joke they heard, wondering what to make for dinner, or trying to decide whether they should fart or go to the bathroom. No matter what, feeling defensive is certainly in my control. I’ve learned to recognize that when I’m defensive or angry, it’s usually because I’m being irrational. Slow down and walk through it, however exhausting it is! This will also help me to think before I speak, which is SO important – Is it necessary? Is it kind? Is it true? Will it hurt anyone? I sometimes try to accept that I’m one of those people who just sticks their foot in their mouth on a regular basis, but it doesn’t have to be that way. My self-talk controls the way I feel and act.

Attitude

A bad attitude is like a flat tire, you can’t get very far until you change it. My mom used to always say, “Bite yourself and get it over with.” If you’re feeling icky, just suck it up and stop. Realize the positive in every situation, everything and every person. The power of your thoughts can open any door.

Be You

With all the social conditioning out there, it’s easy to forget that this is MY life and I don’t need to do what everyone else is doing. I will never fully believe in myself if I compare myself to everyone else. Instead, I’ll compare myself to who I was yesterday.

It may be easier for most recovering alcoholics to NOT be around alcohol, have it in the house or pour it for someone, but avoiding it like the plague won’t work for me. This “all or nothing” girl now has shades of gray! Woo hoo! There’s no rule book when it comes to recovery and my decisions are just that, mine. I want to function on my own in the society we live in now, without trying to change anyone or anything. I’m certainly strong enough to do so. You may think I’m silly for wanting to be able to pour someone’s drink, but I don’t really give a shit what you think. How do you like them apples?! I’m excited to report that my husband has recently come to understand that all I really wanted was for him to acknowledge how inappropriate it was to assume I’d be okay to serve alcohol. Now that he’s validated my feelings, I feel respected and better understood and free to make my own decisions about it. Now it doesn’t feel like a compromise to pour him a glass of wine. To be clear, I AM still hot or cold about putting my hands on an alcoholic beverage at any given moment – one moment I can’t stand being near it and the next I’m enjoying a good sniff. It’s the respect and understanding I now have that gives me this freedom to choose, though. Naturally, my hubby thinks I’ve lost my marbles, but I don’t care! I reserve the right to be bat-shit crazy; I think I’ve earned it.

Remember that no matter how much progress you make, some people will insist that whatever you’re trying to do is impossible – and these people are a waste of your time. Do what you want to do because other peoples’ boundaries are not your own. No matter how much work I put into this on a daily basis, nor how proud I am that I’m different, there may always be a part of me that comes from deep inside that just wants to fit in and be “normal.” I think that’s a human instinct, but I believe that the more I accept me for me this urge will dwindle. The more proud I become of my choices, the less others’ opinions about them will matter. Don’t ever judge yourself through someone else’s eyes.

Be Nice

I’ve always been under the impression, if you’re nice to me I’ll be nice to you, but that’s kind of lame; there have been a few times lately that people have come off a little rude to me, but I’ve given them the benefit of the doubt and have actually responded MATURELY by STILL being nice. I do believe I helped to turn their days around because of it! Smile at people. Say hello to strangers, ask how they are doing. Listen, help, be courteous, be humble and be sincere. Forget about the mean people, it doesn’t matter why they’re mean, they have a long way to go and they’ll only bring you down.

Be Present

For me, being present means letting the past and future be. Some forces are simply out of our control but our attitude is what affects our overall potential. Anticipating or stressing over something that could happen is such a waste of the present. My scenario driven anxiety sets me back on a regular basis still, but when I concentrate, stop, breathe and let go, it’s really a powerful and uplifting feeling.

I’m not proud of many things I’ve said and done, but that’s okay. The past can’t be erased or changed; only my attitude about it can be. I am not my mistakes and I have learned from them all. I might eventually apologize to a few people, but for the rest of it all, I’m now banking on the past is never where I left it, so move on!

Be Prepared

It all comes down to being prepared. No matter where you are on your journey always be ready for the unexpected. I wasn’t ready to ever be in the place where I’d consider taking another drink, because I thought I was better than that. I’ve considered myself pretty savvy having saved a collection of inspiring quotes in my phone, but in the midst of that impulse was I really going to have the gumption to go searching for some positive affirmations? Negative, Ghost rider. To be prepared, we must be proactive. I might be special, but I’m not invincible or superior on any level. I’m just as susceptible to relapse as anyone else out there. I can’t tell you how huge of a revelation this has been for me. Relapse can happen to anyone. Anyone.

Aside from the growing up I have to do, I have determined that to be better prepared for something like this in the future, I must carry something meaningful to me on my person, at all times; something that supports and celebrates my sobriety. A symbol representing my life, why I want to be here, where I want to be and the struggles I’ve overcome will “hold the power” for me. I have an AA coin in mind – I endured an AA meeting just so I could get my 9 month coin. I will make it into a necklace or bracelet. A tattoo would be easier, but that’s not my style – would you put a bumper sticker on a Ferrari?! 😉 Now that I’ve determined how I will best be prepared for a future slap in the face like this, I’m not afraid, like I was a few days ago. I strongly suggest having something like this for all of my friends who are in recovery out there, if you don’t already. This challenge will likely always exist for us – carry a physical reminder with you everywhere.

Everyone is Susceptible to Relapse

It used to just blow me away that my dad would relapse, especially after going through treatment and basically having everything to lose. Now I get it. This is monumental, people. I wasn’t even going down a slippery slope; I was high on the mountaintop, enjoying the view when this unexpectedness occurred. I was lucky to have my husband right there as my voice of reason, but what if I had been alone? Now I get it.

It’s not about weakness. It’s not about willpower. It’s not about focus. It’s not about support. It’s not about intelligence. It’s not about love. It’s about YOU having the right tools to help you make the right decisions. It’s about taking care of you, being a good person and continuously growing. It’s about having that physical reminder handy to ward off those demons! The difference between who you are and who you want to be is what you do. Be prepared and be amazing.

What’s it like to drop your dad off at rehab? – I shall divulge…

I dropped my dad off at rehab this weekend, hopefully marking the end of his 42 yearlong rollercoaster ride with alcohol. This is his fourth time going into treatment and will most likely be his last. No, I’m not over-optimistic or delusional. I say this because he’ll either remain sober, or relapse and die. Those are the two options we are all faced with at this point with the progression of his disease. The health of his body has been one of the most important factors in his seeking sobriety, which is why this time around things are different – his motives to get sober are much more meaningful and essential.

As a sober alcoholic and the child of an alcoholic, I’ve gained a wealth of experience and knowledge on alcoholism. No matter the known facts or what I tell myself, I still feel things deep inside that I know are not true. I admit that the following story is an everyday element of my life: If he really loved me, he’d stay sober.

So, with THAT nagging at the core of my existence, it was an interesting drive toward his house to pick him up. The following cycle of emotions seemed to play in my head on repeat:

  • Fear – What if he decides to quit rehab halfway through? What if he dies in detox? What if he gets out and loses his job? What if they find out he has cirrhosis of the liver? What if he has a mental breakdown? Is he going to bullshit another recovery plan, or actually make some realistic goals? What if he doesn’t follow through with his recovery plan? What if he falls off the wagon?
  • Hurt – He’s ruined his life up until now. What a waste of such a unique and special human being. He must be in so much pain and so broken inside, so isolated and alone. He’s lost so much; so have I, for that matter. I sure have missed out on having a dad who has been present and involved in my life. I have experienced how awesome he is when he’s living sober and I want my dad back. I want my son to know his wonderful Grandpa. Aren’t we important enough? Why hasn’t he made more of an effort to see us? We’ve lost so much time.
  • Shame – I’m sure he has enough of this for the both of us, but I still feel pangs of shame here and there. This is the emotion I could really go without and in fact, I hate it. As fleeting as these feelings may be, they’re just absurd enough to bother me. My husband doesn’t “get it” (he’s learning!), so I’m certain his family isn’t educated about alcoholism either, so naturally I assume they a bit judgmental as a result. They all tend to lead with their hearts, so I really don’t think they would react negatively toward me or him, but who knows? What about my mom’s friends? They are real shit-talkers, I wonder what they think? The realization that I have no control over how someone else views me or my family and that it actually doesn’t need to have any effect on my life in the slightest, is what keeps these shameful thoughts at bay, or quickly launches them back there. Then I feel guilty for feeling the shame…
  • Anger – children should NEVER have to escort their parents to rehab. Children certainly shouldn’t have to PAY for part of it, nor should they have to clean up shit hole apartments (for a fresh start) that are better off ablaze. Because of how withdrawn my dad has been at times growing up, I ended up dating a bunch of losers (bad boys) who were also withdrawn – ultimately breaking down my self-worth by my feeling like I had to fight for attention and love. Say what?! He has absolutely no idea how much he’s affected me, or anyone else. My husband has been around for almost 8 years and has had little interaction with him, so they really don’t have a relationship to speak of and that pisses me right off. Nutt up, Dad! It’s time to kick some ass, laugh and enjoy life! What’s the point, otherwise?! I want to slap the sad right out of him.
  • Hope– he’ll instantly have more self-esteem once he’s been sobered up for a few weeks. His desire to talk to a counselor is a great sign. With his unresolved issues no longer covered up with alcohol, dulling the pain, he needs to learn how to overcome them. I can’t wait to have neat conversations with him again about nature and animals; he knows so much and is so passionate about that stuff. Maybe he’ll find a hot little number in an AA meeting, gaining a sober partner to offer support and love. Maybe his social phobia will dwindle away and his confidence and dreams will soar high above with the eagles.

It was a tearful goodbye as we parted ways, but as I drove away I noticed only one resounding emotion. It was a new one and it was GOOD:

  • Relief – There’s nothing but positive stuff going on now. He’s safe, he’s detoxing, he’s in a supportive environment and he chose to go. I no longer have to fear that phone call telling me he’s either in jail or dead. I’m actually glad I had the opportunity and could help him one last time, as it symbolizes the end of this chapter of this co-dependent reality for me. I can now be at peace with the fact that I have done everything I could do to help him.

I fully expect my dad to work his ass off to recreate a life for himself in sobriety. I’ll do my part to learn what I can about how best to support him – by going to some of the lectures and family meetings – but the rest is up to him. If I can do it, I know he can do it. There’s a little gift sobriety has brought me and it’s a strong sense of PRIDE. It’s an amazing feeling and even more amazing to welcome others into this circle. Go Dad!

 

What threatens my sobriety – getting sober is one thing, staying sober is another.

Triggers threaten my sobriety.
There will always be moments in my life where I will just want to get shit-faced drunk. I fantasize about it more often than I’d like to officially admit. I’m pretty sure I won’t ever actually do it, but in my wise old age of 34 I’ve learned that you can’t ever be too sure about anything and besides, cockiness is dangerous. My intention and mission in life is to stay sober, but if I want to maintain this I know I can’t just sit around and wish on it, I have to work hard at it.

Triggers

Triggers are threats to anyone’s sobriety; they are whatever makes you think about and/or crave alcohol. Triggers ultimately lead to relapse if you’re not careful and paying attention. Every day I experience a number of triggers, even at 5 1/2 years of sobriety. I am happy to say that it has gotten a bit easier, though. In early sobriety the triggers were much more frequent and difficult to deal with, as almost anything posed a potential threat:

 

 

  • a commercial
  • a song
  • a sunny day
  • a rainy day
  • getting off of work
  • feeling happy
  • feeling sad
  • watching football
  • going out in public
  • feeling uninteresting
  • holidays
  • stress
  • eating a steak
  • …you name it.

There’s a good reason that most AA meetings celebrate short increments of sobriety like 30, 60, and 90 days with coins; the first stretch of abstinence is often the hardest. You’ve finally given up the booze, but you haven’t had the time to replace it with healthy tools and habits. Learning to approach life in new ways with a sober mind takes a shift in perspective and approach on just about everything, which takes a lot of time, energy and persistence.

Repression is a normal human defense mechanism that softens the bad stuff in our lives so we can handle it. Traumatic events from a few years ago don’t seem as big of deals anymore. There is also something called euphoric recall, which exaggerates the good times. Lots of people in sobriety say things like, “I messed up, got a few DUIs and lost the love of my life, but I had tons of fun when I was drinking and I think I’ve learned my lesson. I think I can enjoy the good times again and control my drinking. If it gets like it was before, I’ll get some help, but I think I can do it again.” This “disease” is insane and I wish the medical profession could get more of a handle on it, as there are just too many unknowns. So, if you’re experiencing triggers similar to those above, relapse is almost inevitable unless you are consciously at work, in my humble opinion.

Handling My Worst Triggers

I am finding that being further into sobriety the triggers are quite tricky. The most troubling triggers I am experiencing lately are my vivid day dreams about boozing, hearing certain songs or the temptation I feel when I am less than an arm’s length away from an open container. I’ve very recently realized (today, actually) just how dangerous my thoughts have become. They’ve snuck up behind me and have completely wrapped around my world. I’m so aware of it at this very moment, my heart is heavy and the pain of this is almost overwhelming. How could I not recognize this happening? If sobriety is my mission in life, why did it feel okay to consistently daydream about getting wasted? Why did it feel right to be so sneaky, transporting my mind back to that secret world? Why didn’t the strong part of me stop it? Why didn’t I stop myself from listening to those songs that instantly transport me back to that place?

I’m just really glad I’m aware now, so I’ve made a plan:

  1. Redirect my drunken day dreams – I’ll start with visualizing replacing every drink with water and feeling it flow through my body, making me feel fresh and alive. I’ll have to ponder this one some more, though.
  2. Turn off the music – The songs are easy, I can just turn them off. There’s only one type of music that is “trigger free” for me, so I’ll be listening to a lot more Tchaikovsky and Beethoven. Get ready, hubby.
  3. Redirect my thoughts around open containers – this is the one I’m worried about, but if I focus on the steps above, maybe it’ll be easier. I have already cut back on my exposure to alcohol substantially, but it’s still everywhere. More often than not, I think about how close it is to me and how easily I could just put my lips on it and chug it down. I never tell anyone when I think these thoughts because they are all too often, and what’s the point, really? Plus, it scares the hell out of me. With one swift movement all of my hard work could go to the shitter along with my amazing life as I now know it. I do believe I’ll be making a counseling appointment a.s.a.p.

In my twisted little alcoholic brain, I’m now imagining the thoughts of my readers, as I had similar thoughts about my dad when I was younger:

  • “Why can’t she just stop and be done with it?”
  • “Doesn’t she have enough willpower?”
  • “Is she really that weak?”
  • “Why would she doubt herself? Is she looking for an excuse?”
  • “Does she not love her son enough?”
  • “Isn’t her husband’s threat to leave her enough?”

Here’s a shocking revelation: what you or anyone else thinks of me is NONE of my business, but I am aware that what I’m actually afraid of is what I think of me. I will say this, my husband DID help to spark my initial sobriety, but willpower and ultimatums certainly won’t keep me that way. I’m not weak or pessimistic, I’m honest and realistic. That’s what I’m counting on to get me through this. The only thing that will keep me sober is to continuously focus on how I can get better. How I can better think, act, react and love.

Prevention and Growth

Until I can see a counselor, I’m also putting the following plan into action:

  1. Put ME first – this is not selfish, it’s absolutely necessary to be a loving, caring, productive person, friend, wife, mom and daughter. The quality of my relationships are directly related to my relationship with me. I must do what’s right for ME more often. I’ve been practicing lately, but I’m really going to kick it up a notch now.
  2. Simplify – My closet (among other closets and drawers) is a pit, overflowing with clothes I don’t wear and it has been at the back of my mind for some time now – not a source of stress I need, no matter how small. Quite frankly, I don’t need to see or talk to anyone for my happiness either (except for my husband, son, brother and mom). I am perfectly content with just BEING at home most of the time. A happy marriage requires compromise however, so I do take part in many things to appease my husband and his relentless socialite craziness. He has been good for me in that respect, as I would likely be a fairly lazy gal, with a tendency to get a little depressed. We’ve actually slowed down lately, which has nurtured the homebody in me, so I’ll just keep it up.
  3. Connect with other sober alcoholics – this may seem like a contradiction to my earlier plan to simplify my social calendar, but it’s not. I need to do this on my own terms. It’s really important to me that I feel like I belong in some sense and learn to distinguish between healthy boundaries and emotional walls; I can’t think of a better way to practice and learn than with new people going through similar experiences. This step will probably the toughest one, due to my social anxiety. This is where my dad gets hung up…it has led to his relapse time and time again.
  4. Get rid of toxic people – Right now there isn’t anyone I necessarily need to break-up with, but there are people who are in unhealthy relationships or unhealthy lifestyles that I don’t want to spend time with. There will be instances where I must, however because that’s just how life is, but I am going to more diligently keep them out of my home (my safe place) and limiting my exposure to them.
  5. Relax – I don’t consider this a luxury, nor does it fall into the “put ME first” category. Regular relaxation is essential for a healthy life. Why the hell is it so hard to do, then? If I could get a weekly massage, I would. If I ever have disposable income I will do exactly that. So, in the meantime I’ll take more naps whether or not the house falls apart, or my husband bitches at me. Yes dear, I just said that.

How you can help me, the sober alcoholic


Please do not change who you are around me. Don’t act differently, don’t talk differently and don’t drink differently. Don’t worry about little ‘ol me, I won’t break. Don’t try to shield or coddle me, that’ll just piss me off. Just keep your home stocked with my new fav, Diet Hansen’s, and then that’s where I’ll draw the line.

My seemingly endless internal turmoil is MY problem and I’ll own that, thank you very much. It was my choice to get sober.

Oh, but in my perfect world, I’d never again have to:

  • Set foot in another bar
  • Have alcohol in my home
  • Witness other people drinking on MY time
  • Deal with the masses thinking it’s so cool
  • Deal with the social stigma associated with problem drinkers
  • Think about all of this shit
  • Feel like it’s in my face every second of every freaking day!

Do I wish alcohol never existed? No. Because there are freaks of nature out there who can actually drink responsibly and don’t have “relationships” with alcohol. This is why I must endure all of the shit above.

I’m not against alcohol; I’m just sick of dealing with the clashing of my sober life and the rest of the world day in and day out. And herein lies the purpose for this blog; an outlet for self-discovery and unloading! So, you be you and I’ll be me and you can read about my journey if you want to.

If I make you uncomfortable – I know I do for some – suck it up, go have a little chat with yourself and figure out what the hell is wrong with you. I am not responsible for how you feel, just as you are not responsible for how I feel. Stop being such a sensitive sally.

What you CAN do:

  • Ask me questions. I love to talk about my sobriety and I find I learn a lot from doing so.
  • Sign up to receive email notifications for new blog entries I post. The more ears I have, the stronger and louder my voice will get. It’s so freeing to feel like someone is actually listening.