10 things you should know about people with anxiety

Anxiety makes daily life a real pain in the ass for everyone involved. We all feel anxious from time to time, but people with anxiety disorders have a hard time controlling it. There are at least 40 million American adults living with an anxiety disorder (source: National Institute of Mental Health). It might be helpful to know a few things about us anxious folks, since we are everywhere. My assumption is that you want to help someone you love if you are reading this – if you’ve never experienced it, you will probably never understand anxiety and that’s okay. You can still be helpful through the unfolding of it. Keep in mind that no experience is the same. I’m not speaking for everyone with anxiety, just doing my part to increase awareness. If I scare the shit out of you, you’re welcome.

1. It has nothing to do with you

Our anxiety has nothing to do with you, however directed at you it may seem. Anxiety is a constant mental battle that manifests physically, or does it start in our bodies? Either way, being miserable in our own skin makes it hard to be pleasant sometimes – and we might not even realize what’s happening. Irritability is a near constant in my world, so while it’s possible I’m annoyed with YOU, don’t take it too personally. Hopefully I don’t seem like a complete asshole, but if I do, just be happy you’re not me.

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2. We know we’re irrational

The epitome of anxiety is this: Knowing, as you’re freaking out, that there’s no reason to be freaked out, but you can’t shut it down. Some of the emotions we entertain are like the fruit flies currently invading my kitchen – they’re tiny, annoying, and useless, yet we can’t seem to take our focus off of them until they’re all dead and gone. Sometimes a worry can start being legit, but we take it to an epic and destructive level.

3. Anxiety hurts

Physically

The physical toll anxiety takes on my body is the most frustrating aspect of anxiety for me. Anxiety is really physically uncomfortable – it doesn’t hurt the same way for everyone.

  • Hot and cold flashes – When I was working in customer service, I ran into my favorite teacher from 3rd grade! Rather than act like a normal person, my body flushed over in a cold wave of terror and then I was instantly a hot mess of dripping, beastly sweat, a stuttering fool with horrific red blotches on my chest. Awkward. That was bullshit – I experience similar moments regularly.
  • Racing heartbeat, palpitations – Heart palpitations feel like having a goldfish flopping around in my chest. I even visualize the scaly thing in there and start to wig out even more. There have been several times when I’ve been close to dialing 911, but instead I sit in paranoid silence, waiting it out, realizing I’m not ready to die.
  • Feeling restless or on edge – If you see me in the same spot for more than 20 minutes and I don’t look like I’m in agony, consider it a small miracle.
  • Easily tired – I’m always spent. There are multiple reasons for this, but anxiety is one of them. Fighting anxiety is like being in a constant state of fight or flight and takes its toll daily. I rarely get to take naps with two small kids all up in my grill, but when the opportunity knocks, I indulge and it feels so luxurious.
  • Muscle tension and pain – My jaw is so buff from clenching my teeth, I’d put a pit bull to shame. My chest, shoulders, and neck are always tense. Massages can be helpful, but I’m so paranoid about letting one fly, I don’t get very relaxed.
  • Intestinal shit – Speaking of letting one fly, I can be  a gassy gal. 1 part genes, 1 part anxiety. I probably have IBS. This is a overshare, but my husband can tell when I am constipated. Isn’t that nice? Sometimes, if I’m a bit unruly, he’ll ask, “Have you pooped lately?” At least he pays attention.
  • Knots and stomach butterflies – I eat to cover them up and then I don’t shit them out. Good stuff.
  • Dizzy, light-headed – Makes me feel incapable at times.
  • Numb or tingly – Usually my arms or legs get pins and needles and that’s when I recognize I need to sit down for a few minutes and chill.

Mental

Many thoughts, emotions, and behaviors revolve around anxiety. I’m too exhausted from listing the physical symptoms to delve into these much, but here are some common symptoms:

  • Obsessive thinking
  • Compulsive behavior
  • Difficulty concentrating – I don’t play cards or board games because I just can’t focus.
  • Memory problems – Sometimes I have a hard time forming thoughts because my brain and body are so concentrated on the sustained anxiety. This is why I can’t tell a story to save my life, turn into an inarticulate moron during job interviews, and repeatedly ask if anyone has seen my phone. I go blank during any type of confrontation and could never EVER be in a debate club, no matter how passionate I am.
  • Irritable

4. Social situations can be torture

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Although avoidance can lessen anxiety in the short-term, it doesn’t work for actually living life.  I’d probably be a hermit most of the time if I could. I’d just sit in my house, back out of plans, and be happy as a clam doing so. Back in my drinking days I’d “pre-funk” before every type of social event so I was loose, less self-conscious, and more outgoing. Now that I’m sober, my pre-funks consist of mostly internal freak-out sessions over shit that will never happen. I secretly hope shit gets cancelled all the time and would even welcome a hearty cold if it meant I could stay home.

Because interacting with people can be so anxiety-inducing, we are picky about who we let close. We put up walls for those who don’t make the cut to keep ourselves safe.

5. Don’t try to talk us out of it

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The worst feeling in the world is when someone tells me to “get over it” or “just relax.” These statements make me feel like I’m broken and alone, and show a blatant misunderstanding of the nature of anxiety. Believe me, if it was that simple, I would have done it already. More often than not, there is no logical reason for my anxiety, it just is. There’s a fine line between talking me out of it and helping me. “Let’s get down to the bottom of this, why are you anxious?” That’s what my well-intentioned husband says, trying to get me to put it into words so he can help. It has helped a few times, but most often my mind goes blank, my body gets tighter, and I feel even more like a freak, especially since I was trying to hide my anxiety in the first place and got called out on it.

6. Panic attacks are real

I remember when I thought that people who had panic attacks were legitimately crazy. How can you be so whacked-out that you lose bodily control in a terrorized panic over nothing?! This is where there’s a huge disconnect – it can make sufferers and their loved ones really frustrated. It’s really hard to understand and even harder to describe. A panic attack can come out of nowhere or it can be fear-induced. You can maybe feel it coming or suddenly it’s happening, taking your breath away. Either way, once you’ve experienced one of these bad boys, it’s like a mission in life to never ever have another. Panic attacks are so scary! To me, it feels like my body is completely out of control – sweating, fuzzy headed, pounding heart, blurred vision, shaking, gonna shit myself – sheer terror. I had my first panic attack at a grocery store in my early 20s and it was so unexpected and terrifying, I felt like I’d lost a bit of my sanity, never to be found again.

7. We have moments of brilliance

When we are aware of our anxiety and working on it, we experience glowing moments of perfection. These moments come and go and sometimes we shock the hell out of ourselves with our amazingness. I’m not always a total freak. Especially since I’m getting older and caring a little less about what people think of me. I’ve managed to reduce the frequency of some of my more useless agonies, like the torture of walking through the cafeteria at work to get some damn food. Sometimes I can actually get in and out of there without feeling a thousand eyes upon me, waiting for me to trip or shoot a boogie out of my nose… I consider these moments huge successes for me. Don’t always assume we are having anxiety. The last thing we want is for you to approach us like wigged-out weaklings, plus it could totally deter a brilliant moment or just piss us off. If we have shared some triggers with you, then it’s cool to be mindful of them, otherwise, let us be. And don’t push us to get better. We are handling it and always trying to be better.

8. We are grateful people

We are grateful for our moments of brilliance  – for every time we overcome a situation – we experience intense relief and these moments accumulate. We are also grateful for those people in our lives who try to understand and work with us. I never take for granted those who are there for me and are genuinely interested in my well-being and happiness. My circle may be tiny, but it’s solid. I’m most grateful for my mom’s unwavering support and for my husband’s patience and commitment to me.

9. We know living with us is hard

My anxiety is our anxiety, sorry

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As long as you know that we know, and we’re working on it constantly, you need to allow the process. We know how much of a burden our anxiety is, and we do not need a reminder. I know the consequences of my anxiety are annoying, frustrating, and sometimes hurtful. Try being me. There may never come a day when I’m fully composed or uninhibited – that ship sunk when I got sober. I consider myself a positive person, but anxiety breeds negativity – it just does. Again, take a step back and be grateful you aren’t me. Your patience and compassion are appreciated. Remember we are always working on it and we are worth it.

10. We want you to learn more

Whatever you can do to learn more about what anxiety looks and feels like in someone’s everyday life, the better. You don’t have to be able to relate to us, in fact I’d rather not subject you to that – a general understanding will do. Compassion goes a long way.

 

 

Here are some ways you could potentially help someone with anxiety:

  • Be mindful – Knowing some of their triggers may be helpful. When we’re dining at a restaurant, my husband takes the seat that’s facing the crowd, so I can either look at a wall or fewer people. It makes me nervous seeing people and eating in front of them, so he shuts it down every time. I appreciate it every time.
  • Be proactive – Take steps to help mitigate the anxiety or lighten the load. My husband does a lot of the talking in social situations and helps me out when I’m fumbling for words (except for when Roger Goodell asked me how I liked the NFL and I froze like a fool, LIKE A FOOL! – I’ll agonize about that until the day I die!). Actually, he talks more than anyone I’ve ever known and rarely shuts up – I’m almost always grateful for it.
  • Find compassion – If you can’t find compassion, keep your thoughts to yourself. I don’t like to hear negative shit about people who struggle with this shit like I do. When people like us hear you judging so-and-so for not wanting to hang out or for being weird or socially retarded, we’re subconsciously understanding that it’s not okay that we’re that way. So, no matter how whacked someone may seem, maybe if you just let it go and move on with your life, we’ll all be a little lighter. It’s sometimes second nature to make fun of shit we don’t understand, just consider your audience. If we do it, it’s okay though. 😉
  • Compromise – We aren’t as social as my husband would like to be and he doesn’t complain about it – having said that, he’s a social freak and that shit needs to get locked down anyway. I need my down time and he knows that’s important to me. I can’t always be “up”. It’s not in my nature and doesn’t serve me.
  • Touch us – My husband often rubs my hand while we are driving around in the car, knowing the extreme effect it has on my well-being. Ahhhh. It can change who I am in a moment. Touch is powerful. Touch is survival. I need more of it.
  • Remind us to breathe – “Take a deep breath” – My mom is so good at reminding me to do this. One deep breath can completely turn a moment around. I need this reminder more often.
  • Laughter is the best medicine –  We are always winning when we’re laughing! I find it soothing to watch mindless comedy on TV. Being gassy comes in handy, too. Sometimes I act a fool, like a giggling, immature school girl…you might not get it, but I do, so let me have it! Sit down with your anxious friend and watch some good ‘ol Tommy Boy or I Now Pronounce You Chuck and Larry. Light moments are fun.

There are no cures for anxiety disorders, but there are many ways to find some relief. No one disorder or management of it looks the same as another. I hope you learned something new about people with anxiety, I know I did by putting it into words for the first time. If you struggle, I hope you find the help you’re looking for. If you suffer from knowing one of us, don’t be a dick and try harder to understand. If you question something, ask me. I’ll tell you what I know after I’ve obsessed about it and rehearsed my answer for a few months, then spell-checked it and re-rehearsed and then contemplated if it was too late to answer. 😉

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

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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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 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.