A Plug for Women for Sobriety

I’m home for a visit and I get to see my kids and some friends. I’m also going to drop in on the lone Women for Sobriety group in my home city. I decided this post should be a commercial for WFS because I am surprised that WFS groups have never achieved the kind of traction they should. I got this idea from my daughter’s girlfriend. I was telling her all the things I liked about WFS and she suggested a blog. So here it is!

I am not going to diss AA, but I will respond here to some common criticisms of AA and talk about why WFS might be an alternative. (This is directed at women, of course, but I’ll point out that WFS does have a Men for Sobriety branch.) I’ll also offer the very important caveat that I have not attended AA meetings. So, I’m just going from what some other people have told me has been a “put off” for them in AA. I’m agnostic on AA; I really can’t offer a personal opinion.

BUT well hey, the point is that if you are not into AA for whatever reason(s) here some reasons to think about WFS as an alternative. Because I do believe we need, need, need sober communities to stay sober, and it is great that there are alternatives.

AA Objection: I Don’t Like Dwelling on the Past

I know, I know. AA folks will immediately object that they do not encourage stuck-ed navel-gazing once you’ve done the grown-up work of accepting responsibility for dumb shit you’ve done in the past, and/or forgiven those you need to forgive. Nonetheless I expect that some AA meetings and members have trouble getting out of stuck, and that this may contribute to the perceptions (fair or unfounded) that AA is too much about remorse and regret.

In WFS, twelve steps are replaced with Thirteen Affirmations. The affirmations are written specifically to encourage women to think forward about building a new, positive life and self-image. In fact, the ninth statement explicitly stated: “The past is gone forever. No longer will I be victimized by the past. I am a new person.

In my experience, this statement doesn’t preclude the work of reconciling past actions and relationships; it’s not like you’re chastised for talking about the past. Instead the statement is a reminder that we only have control over how we direct our lives in the future. Which kind of leads to the next objection:

AA Objection: I Don’t Do/Get/Like the “Higher Power” Thing

I have consistently stumbled over the idea that I am powerless over alcohol and have to give my power over to…yada yada. I get why you have to admit defeat in the sense that you quit the futile effort to “control your drinking,” but I’ve had some unease around the way that AA frames agency, or one’s personal power to act and change.

WFS affirmations address this by focusing on taking control over one’s life in positive ways. This is captured in the first statement, “I have a life-threatening problem that once had me.
I now take charge of my life and my disease. I accept the responsibility.
” I think this focus on assertive self-care may be especially important for women, who generally tend to give away a lot of their personal power in their focus on caring for others.

AA Objection: Guys

I have nothing against guys. I like guys, and I have no trouble attending my mixed-gender Buddhist recovery group. But, for some women, substance abuse issues are tied in to past or present traumas that may include sexual or domestic abuse or violence. Someone or something (I can’t remember) made the very valid point that as a women-only space, WFS may provide greater safety for women who have had traumatic experiences with men in their lives. I’ve also heard that some AA groups have difficult managing those members who think the meetings are a great place to meet women.

Positivity

Something I really like about Women for Sobriety is its focus on the positive. I tend toward cynicism (I think its an occupational hazard), but its hard to stay cynical when a meeting discussion turns on something like the tenth affirmation, “All love given returns.
I will learn to know that others love me.
” It’s possible that these affirmations can be interpreted as “Pollyanish.” However, meetings are, like AA, focused on a given statement/affirmation, so they are places you can explore any feelings they might prompt in you – even cynical ones.

I think it is also helpful that these affirmations are stated aloud among a community of other women. It’s more powerful than trying to say things to yourself in the bathroom mirror. If you’re someone like me who has a default loathing of affirmations saying these things out loud can be challenging, but… well it’s a good challenge.

If for whatever reason you’re not feeling AA, Women for Sobriety may be an option for you. If I still lived in my home town I’d be back at my group in a heartbeat. At the end of the day, though, you really do have to find the group that’s right for you. Some of the folks I’ve met at my Buddhist group have told me that the “culture” of AA varies considerably from one group to the next, so if you’ve been put off by a past experience with any group, don’t give up!

 

 

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Me and My Drunk Family

Sometimes I have wanted to drink to enter forbidden territory: to do things I normally wouldn’t do, and say things I normally wouldn’t say. This is a weird way of planning for your own chaos. “I wouldn’t actually, but if I got drunk I might and then it would be ‘cause I was drunk.”

Have you ever thought this way?

I can’t say I did this routinely when I drank, because I have never actually liked the feeling of being out of control. Sometimes I intentionally drank too much with my stepdaughters. It seemed the only way to connect without fear of their rejection, and the only way to make myself relatable to them across our very different family histories.

Lot of other times I fantasized about drinking to connect with others. Drinking is a “social lubricant” to be sure, but that’s not always just to get through hanging out with strangers or quasi-friends or co-workers. Honestly, those more distant relationships never troubled me too much.

But close relationships: that’s been another matter. Drinking just might, just might be the way to get feelings out that you have trouble expressing, or are scared to express, or even know you shouldn’t express but want to anyway. Parents, partners, friends, kids, siblings:

Could we drink and laugh and fight and hug and cry?

 Could we bond? Could we connect? Could we heal?

I know this is bullshit. Drinking to wrap a fuzzy glow around your relationships looks so great in the movies but in real life it is what I previously classified as “drama” and it is something you should run, not walk away from.

This doesn’t mean, however, that you can’t think about what it is you’re trying to accomplish with the “drinking-so-we-can-talk” thing. Maybe it’s a way to express your deep need for connection with others without accepting all the risks that come with this. After all, if things go sideways, or you make yourself too vulnerable, you can laugh it off the next day. “Ha ha! We were sooo drunk, eh?” Or, “Sorry I said that, man. I was sooo drunk.”

But part of you meant it. Or meant some of it. If you can remember what you said anyway.

A lot of the particulars of Freudian psychology have always struck me as (again) bullshit, but as a “movement” it very successfully communicates the importance of taking your unconscious and subconscious impulses seriously. There’s an awful lot rolling around under our surfaces, isn’t there? And alcohol (or your drug of choice) is appealing in part, I think, because it appears to offer direct connections to the deepest parts of ourselves and others – places where we normally (and sometimes rightly) fear to tread.

For me all of those complex feelings are bound up in my family – my complex, blended family of ex-partners, new partners, broken friendships, and the insanity of five girls who ranged in age from nine to seventeen when we met. My family has (as I’m sure been the case for most of us) the greatest source of both joy and pain in my life.

When I think about my family I want to get drunk. Sometimes that is because I’m all empty-nest now and I miss the craziness, even though it was far from all good. Sometimes I want to get drunk because when it worked for bonding, it worked great. I want to get drunk with my kids. I want to get drunk with my husband. I want another Christmas with twenty people in the house and we had a blast and yes, we were all drunk.

Mostly being sober is pretty manageable but when I think about my family: Yeah. Liquor store. When I try to understand this, I think it is just reflex to want alcohol to cope with the sheer emotional investment I made in my family, and the pain of not always having that reciprocated, or even recognized.

And when things went sideways (which they did often) I felt like a failure. Not the perfect mum. Not the perfect step-mum. Not the person who could dispense wisdom, stay calm, and shepherd everyone in the right direction. I couldn’t control the outcomes. I couldn’t get it right. Those failures run deep. Like Freudian deep. And a little irrational part of still craves both alcohol, and its partner in crime: namely, the fantasy that I could create the Perfect Family.

Managing my family relationships without drinking is still something about the future that scares me. We are going to see my husband’s kids soon, and his first granddaughter. I’m anxious about that. Drinking would help. On the other hand, my kids are super proud of me for quitting, and my oldest daughter, also in recovery, is a great inspiration and motivation for me to stay sober.

In so many ways, my Drunk Family has been the devil I know, and it is still the greatest pull I feel back to wanting to drink. But part of this sobriety thing is having the faith that you can make those relationships over in new, more authentic ways, right? And honestly, so far it is going fine. I just need to have courage: the courage to be myself and let everyone in my family be themselves too, without trying to control the outcomes.

Recovery is Messy

I have learned a lot about recovery over the past few months. One thing that never ceases to fascinate me is that it’s a process, not an epiphany. I mean its fascinating because even though I get it, I kind of marvel at how deeply entrenched the epiphany thing is — like for me personally, but also as a cultural thing. The pervasive “rock bottom” trope tells you that you have to come as close as possible to killing yourself as you can before the light bulb moment. Then you change.

I have a couple of thoughts on this. First: it’s bullshit. In an odd way, I think it can actually fuel nihilistic drinking. “I”m not there yet. I can keep going. I should keep going.” The (twisted) logic here is that the more effectively you propel yourself to the “bottom,” the sooner you can get better. Or something like that? But we drinkers are all about twisted logic right?

Second and more deeply, I think the “rock bottom” myth plays in to the hope that “if I’m fed up enough, willpower will come.” Rock bottom becomes “the event” that will magically infuse you with the mojo you need to quit for good. In other words, we think, somehow, that rock bottom will make quitting easier.

I think this is one of the reasons why we love redemption stories. They turn change in to a mysterious force from the outside that descends upon you, and smooths the path. But if there is one thing I’ve learned — be it quitting smoking, trying like hell to stay on top of  my to-do list, or shit-canning 90% of what I write before anything is published — it is that change comes out of getting up the next day and trying again.

It takes courage and fortitude just to ignore set aside the self-loathing you feel after you’ve bolloxed it up, and just start over. I don’t always have this courage and fortitude, for the record. But I try to remind myself that starting over is always good. Even if you feel like you are completely full of shit. Even if you don’t feel you deserve to try again. Even if you have failed fifty times before.

This is why recovery isn’t a tidy epiphany, or an “event.” It’s a process. Some of us who learn the hard way have to get realllly good at failing before we succeed. Trying to change and failing is normal. It’s really normal. So if I am talking to someone who is trying to moderate, or quitting for a few days or weeks at a time and always finding themselves back at the starting line, I don’t know what else to do but validate “trying again.” My kid and I talked about this once a while back. No matter how much wallowing you’re doing, and no matter how much you’ve botched up in the past, you can be sober today. Hard to argue with that logic, isn’t it?

Playing the Tape Through

tapeI guess this is an AA thing: a recovery tool you can use when you are experiencing a craving is to “play the tape through.” That is, instead of rationalizing your way into a drink, you “play the tape through” by imagining what happens after that initial, satisfying “Ahhh! Fabulous.” It goes like this: “Fuck it. Might as well have another one! And another.” And… hangover. Shame.

I recently spoke to a lady who had fallen off the wagon and quickly regrouped — how fortunate! — and this was precisely her experience. A drink with dinner turned in to an all-nighter, just like that.

The thing is, I wouldn’t do that. The first 24 hours of my tape, even the first few weeks, would be pretty tame. But you really do have to play the tape all the way through, whatever that looks like for you.

I was thinking about this a little bit last night when wine was calling out to me: “Drink me! Wouldn’t I be lovely with that big steak you’re about to tie in to? Steak is a special occasion! You can do it just this once!”

But I know, I know I know what this would lead to. My tape plays out something like this:

“Well. A glass of wine with dinner. That wasn’t so bad. Maybe I really can have a drink once in a while.”

One or two weeks later: “I think it is probably safe to have a glass of wine. I’ve waited a while.”

One month(ish): “Well so long as I’m having wine with this nice dinner a beer while I’m cooking wouldn’t kill me.”

Then the caution starts to dissipate, and false confidence kicks in: “Hey, I’m a responsible drinker now! I’ve totally got this. I will only drink if we are having a nice meal on the weekend, or if we are going out for dinner.”

Going out for dinner: “It’s a going out night so I’ll have a beer or two before we go out.” *Ends up hammered that night.*

“Oops that wasn’t good. I’d better be careful. I’ll do better next time.”

At this point I’m well on my way to getting back to daily drinking. “Being careful” is vague and means nothing, so this is about the time you start making rules for yourself, and you’re back in to the hell of moderating. Then you get tired of trying to moderate, and you just give up.

So, if you are a “high bottom” kind of girl like me and prefer the slow dull daily drinking to the more dramatic binge/bender pattern, your particular challenge might be like mine. Your “tape” might play out longer and more slowly than that of someone who cannonballs in to the deep end and gets smashed the first time they pick up the next drink.

This is a little bit sneaky. Well no actually its a lot sneaky because your ability to moderate in the early days of being off the wagon makes for a longer slower descent. So I find I’ve had to really think hard about all the stages of my rationalizing, because my tape plays out over a much longer time period.

I know this because I have had one experience with it already.  I’ve mentioned I quit for about 40 days three years ago. The first few times I brought a beer home — just one! Not keeping it in the house! — I was delighted that I’d achieved normal drinking. I think it took about two months before I’d fallen back in regular drinking, and maybe a couple more months before I was drinking daily again. But I was drinking daily again. This is the inevitable consequence of that first drink, months earlier.

In this sense, past efforts to quit or moderate are really useful sources of information. This means that any effort to quite for any period of time is a good thing. It might not stick this time, but it’s one more opportunity to learn about what your “tape” looks like.

“The Drinking Quiz”

If you’ve ever wondered about your drinking, you have probably taken a drinking quiz or two to figure out if you have a problem. I first did this a few years ago. Can’t remember the exact deal, but it would ask things like whether you blacked out, or missed work, or binged. In my case, quizzes would return something tepid like “you may have a problem with alcohol.”

In my head: “Okay this says I’m not an alcoholic per se but I may have a problem with alcohol? What does that mean? I’m not that bad right? I don’t black out. I don’t miss work. I feel bad about drinking sometimes but I like drinking. Do I have to quit? I don’t think I have to quit because I’m only a 7 out of 12. I’m okay. I’m mostly okay. I only may have a problem. That’s not the same as a problem, right? Now if I was a 10 out of 12…”

Etcetera. Etcetera. Etcetera. How. Exhausting.

Probably about six years ago, my doctor casually asked me about my drinking:

Her: Ever feel like you should cut down?

Me: Yeah. Sometimes…

Her: Do other people criticize you about your drinking or tell you to cut down?

Me: Not so much. Not really.

Her: Do you ever feel guilty about drinking?

Me: Yeah… yeah I guess I do. It does bother me a bit.

Her: Do you ever drink in the morning or anything? To calm down or nip a hangover?

Me: (I totally got this one). Nope.

Her: If you’ve answered yes to one of these questions, you have a problem, you know.

Damn. I was so busted. First I didn’t realize she had been administering a very short, and very effective drunky quiz. Usually I’m smart enough to know when I’m being cornered by a shrink or doctor. Not this time. The four questions she asked me are part of the CAGE diagnostic, which has been found to be highly accurate for identifying problem drinkers. Second, my vague “yes” responses didn’t deliver a comfortingly vague diagnosis with a middling score that might help me to keep downplaying my drinking.

I’ll say I responded with that typical mix of denial and recognition that messes with your head when you are asking yourself “Am I an alcoholic?” But this quiz caught me off guard because aside from the reference to morning drinking, it didn’t include any of those extreme behaviours (DUIs, criminal convictions, job losses) that many take to be the markers of “real” alcoholism. I kind of had no wiggle room on this one. Obviously it didn’t change my behaviour right away. But it sure as hell didn’t let me off the hook as “not a real drunk” like some of the other quizzes had.

I was thinking about this because I’m extra-reflecting on the occasion of my 100 Day Thingie yesterday. I was thinking about all the exhausting years of trying to decide if I was an alcoholic. If someone asked me if they were an alcoholic today, I would ask them these questions:

  • Does drinking make you feel shitty about yourself?
  • Do you expend a bunch of energy trying to manage your drinking?
  • Do you expend a bunch of energy trying to figure out if you’re an alcoholic or not?
  • Does the idea of living without alcohol completely freak you out?

For me, these have proven to be the core questions to answer. There are many variations on this of course. Nothing here will be a surprise to anyone who’s been in recovery for a while. But if you just happen to trip on this blog as one who is “sober curious,” maybe you can mull these questions in addition to others you might be asking yourself. I think if I’ve got a big point here it is this: whether you use the label “alcoholic” or not doesn’t matter. In fact it just interferes with the process of honestly answering questions like those in the CAGE, or the similar ones I just asked.

PS: I am no longer nearly as freaked out by the prospect of living alcohol-free. Still a little freaked out, but not terrified like I was when I started. There is hope.

#selfcare WTF? (Oh yeah. And 100 Days)

I was listening to a recovery podcast the other day and found myself quite frustrated. Guests and host had been going on a bit about being able to tell the difference between taking care of yourself and being self-indulgent – the latter being that frantic trying-to-fill-a-hole-you-can’t-fill business that seems to underpin a lot of addictions and addictive behaviour.

All very interesting and worth thinking about. Until, no shit, they try to sell us something! Uggggghhhhh! Carefully selected wellness products, that somehow – in their minds anyway and bless their hearts – are distinctive in being offered being cognizant the aforementioned distinction between wellness and frantic hole-filling.

But isn’t buying shit pretty much hole-filling no matter what? Maybe they’re just confused? Maybe we’re all confused. I certainly don’t always know when I’m practicing “self-care” versus “self indulgence” either. I don’t always know when I’m working on my self-esteem versus just being a self-absorbed navel gazer.

The challenge is to figure out what healthy self-care looks like, I suppose. I’m not denying we need it. I go off my nut if I don’t keep up with exercise. I love my nice bubble bath, and writing, and new socks, and cooking something gorgeous, and clean sheets. But just as often I am self-indulgent, especially when it comes to buying shit. I’ll get some… thing. A new lipstick. Another shirt I don’t need. And realize I wasn’t self-caring, I was indulging a pity party/sense of entitlement of the variety that has in the past, preceded drinking.

That’s why its so confusing when self-care and consumption get mixed together. I read a couple of articles about surging use of the #selfcare hashtag, both of which pointed to the relationships between wellness and consumerism. Examples were pointed to where our collective fascination with #selfcare is happily being exploited by advertisers on Twitter. We get conditioned to think that wellness is something to be found not in our relationships, but in our personal individual consumption of weekend retreats, or vegan facial treatments, or heirloom vegetables.

There’s this weird political angle too, where self-care is some kind of political act to validate your identity group. Justify it as activism if you will. To me, obsessively documenting your lifestyle on social media feeds the kind of focus on the self that, ironically seems to keep us unhappy instead of making us happy.

Here’s the thing: for me anyway, self-absorption is the enemy of sobriety. Much of my “sober journey” thus far has been trying to get my head out of my own ass, and challenge my tendency to self-isolate. It’s required doing something that’s scary for me, which is being more open to other people’s stories, more empathetic, and less selfish with my time. There is a deep paradox here that I don’t get but know to be true for me: self-love will come out of a deep regard and compassion for others. I have heard others in the sober community with whom this resonates. Maybe what I’m getting at is that “self-care” is a complement to, but not a replacement for the kind of care that is exchanged in community with others.

I hope this doesn’t come off too harshly. I don’t mean to begrudge anyone their lavender scented eye masks or Sunday lattes, or acupuncture treatments . I just think we have to be careful to keep our perspectives and priorities clear in a media saturated world that constantly tells us that we can’t be happy or well unless we are buying shit. We also have to work hard to strike that good balance between caring for ourselves, and caring for others. It’s not easy, is it?

P.S. Today is my 100th day of sobriety. I only committed to 100 days. In theory I could jump off the wagon again tomorrow. But I don’t want to. I will keep going. I like being sober.

 

 

 

 

New Head, New Habits

happy coffeeLast week I was working on a couple of projects I really wanted to finish up before bed. I’d been cooped up in the house pretty much all day except for my morning run. My husband got home, and he likes to just crash in front of the TV after a long day. I was still pretty wired to work though, so I zipped over to a coffee place on my bike.

Holy shit! Its five o’clock and I’m sitting in a coffee shop! I was delighted.

You’re probably already thinking: “Delighted? What’s the big deal? It’s a coffee shop.”

But I’m telling you, I was deee-lighted. Like a kid in an ice-cream shop. Five pm coffee never would have happened “before sober” because even when I kind of wanted to go for coffee later in the day Cap’n Mo would remind me that I had to go home and drink beer.

“But,” I said, “it would be relaxing to go for coffee and I could get some work done before supper!”

“No! You must go home and drink beer. It’s five. That’s what we do at five. We drink beer.”

Even at the time I knew this reasoning was absolutely bizarre. But I followed orders. Beer 3; Coffee 0.

So I was delighted last week because I am free to choose something besides drinking at night. Going for coffee was hardly an epic life change, but then a lot of the sobriety stuff is incremental, and the rewards insert themselves in to your life mostly quietly. You realize you feel better when you wake up in the morning. You find yourself investing in activities that you neglected before because you didn’t have time and energy for them when you were drinking. And maybe, just maybe, you try some new things.

At first you try new things and shake up your old habits because you desperately need to distract yourself from cravings. But for me, this is giving way to maybe trying new things for their own sake. I’ve been thinking about this for the past couple of weeks because I’m finding myself not wanting to go to Tim Horton’s.[1] I’ve always been a Tim’s girl. Like always. I still love the coffee, but I’m finding it less pleasant to sit there and work. It’s noisy and stressful. And their bagels suck. And their staff always look unhappy and tired.

Thing is, even when I wasn’t enjoying going to Tim’s anymore, I kept at it. I kept going. It was a habit.

Even when I wasn’t enjoying going to Tim’s drinking anymore, I kept at it. I kept going. It was a habit.

Holy shit (again). It’s a metaphor. Sort of. Anyway, I am not an adventurous person. I don’t generally seek out changing anything in my life without a lot of navel-gazing preceding it. I’ve always considered this a bit of a character flaw — well flaw is probably too harsh — but I do think that a lot of my rigidity around certain habits is rooted in a fear of change.

I might never know this for sure, but I suspect that the overall feeling of being “stuck” in my drinking may have something to do with that fear of change. This is something I need to find out, so I need to keep staying sober. It’s Day 98 today. I had originally committed myself to 100 days of sobriety. It’s gone by much faster than I thought it would! According to the deal I made with myself, I could “celebrate” on Thursday with a glass of wine. I’ve even pictured this event. But then I’m kind of… “Nah. Meh.” I don’t want to quit quitting. I’m already eyeing that “four month” virtual chip!

[1] For my friends outside of Canada who don’t know the big deal with Tim Horton’s coffee/doughnut shops in Canada, here it is: http://www.cbc.ca/news/business/tim-hortons-why-the-coffee-giant-is-genuinely-beloved-by-canadians-1.2748530

Sometimes You Just Suck It Up

Out for dinner a couple of nights ago, and boy was it EVER one of those nights. Wine on the table at the cottage has settled in to a mild distraction/annoyance that quickly passes. I did most of the cooking the nights we were there with family, so this is always a great distraction for me. Being physically busy really helps me to stay grounded in all kinds of ways, including staying sober.

This time, though, we were in a restaurant. It was a beautiful summery night, and everyone at the table (except my ten year old niece) was drinking beer or wine. I was so agitated, and missing my best defense: the ability to move around. It was really tough. I suppose  I could have gone for a little walk, but this was a last resort. I just pretty much decided I’d have to suck it up. It was not fun. But it passed, as I kept reminding myself it would.

Meditation has helped a lot. When you’re meditating and cultivating mindfulness, one of the aims of it is to observe and accept your feelings as things that your mind comes up with. But Your feelings aren’t “you.” They are things you can acknowledge without letting them define you. You get the gist of this in meditation, and then in a very weird and wonderful way, it starts to pop up on other areas of your life where you aren’t thinking at all about meditation. How cool is that?

So let’s say your craving is like an annoying office colleague. You have to work with this person and you don’t like her very much, but hey — she’s there and you have to cooperate with her to get shit done. So when you have to meet, you acknowledge her politely, and have necessary conversations. You don’t get all pissy, or aggressive, or passive aggressive. You just stick with business, and think about something pleasant you’ll get to do later. In other words, you have to have the interaction, but you don’t get all emotionally invested in it because you don’t want a few difficult moments to wreck the rest of your day.

So I had an annoying, unpleasant, annoying interaction with craving. Sometimes it is just like that. Some days suck. Some moods suck. Intense cravings really suck. But you really can just sit with those things and not invest a pile of emotional energy in to them. You don’t have to dwell. You can acknowledge the suckyness is there, but still stick with business. This is a really hard thing to learn if you are someone like me who has spent a lifetime reacting sharply to every feeling that’s ever entered your body or head. I’m a work in progress for sure. But the little victories feel good.

 

 

Kinds of Chocolate and the “Addictive Personality”

This morning I was eating yogurt-covered pretzels. I buy them sometimes at Bulk Barn, but with the understanding that whatever I buy must be consumed within 24 hours. ChocolateThis is not because there is someone with a gun to my head telling me eat the pretzels. It is because I will not be able to resist eating them. In this sense they “must” be consumed immediately. There is no other way.

So I ate the last of them this morning. I had a familiar moment of something like panic and disappointment when I looked for more and the bag was empty. I also have this reaction and feeling when I have a milk-chocolate bar in the house, or god forbid, white chocolate. I devour it mindlessly, and then realize its gone, and I STILL WANT MORE.

You probably know where I’m going with this. Chocolate. Booze. Same thing. 1) There is never enough. I always want MORE. 2) I feel shocked and unsatisfied when the treat/drink is already gone. Why did it go so fast? Now I must have MORE. But I don’t want more. But I want more.

Quit Drinking Lore has it that lots of us pick up new addictions and obsessions as substitutes for our alcohol addiction. Picture that popular-if-inaccurate trope of AA members with death grips on their coffees and cigarettes. Sometimes quitting a substance can lead to religiosity: an addiction to a real live church, or a zealous anti-substance-of-choice stance.

Okay. There’s a line to walk here. Another other big idea I’ve gotten out of reading recovery literature is that it is okay to make peace with some of those substitute addictions when you are battling the Big One. So I’ve now pretty much swapped alcohol for too much sugar and OCD-like consumption of ginger-ale with a splash of OJ and lemon. (Delish.) And vaping. I’m vaping more.

These new obsessions and “addictions” are arguably a form of a catharsis — much lesser forms of evil/suffering because you’ve chosen to make a priority of getting the main-stage evil/suffering the fuck out of your life. The lesser evils may have to be contended with in their own right at some point, but a girl can only handle so much self-discipline at once.

The Addictive Personality

So yesterday I was talking to a guy who professed he probably has an “addictive personality.” That’s probably what got me looking at my empty pretzel bag this morning thinking “Jesus. Holy Yogurt Pretzel Addiction. I WANT MORE!” It was discouraging in the moment. “It’s always something,” I thought to myself. I have the “I want more” reaction to: chocolate bars for breakfast; clothes; alcohol; sociological theory; exercise. So do I have an addictive personality? Am I sentenced to a life of fighting the “I want more” war on two or more fronts?

I can see how this could lead one to despair. Fuck it. There’s always something. I will never be at ease. I will always be fighting, fighting, fighting. Fuck. It. (Chugs bottle of wine.)

Kinds of Chocolate

Maybe there is an alternative to the fatalism of declaring yourself to have an “addictive personality” though. For me anyway, here’s the thing. My best strategy in the morning is to eat a square of dark chocolate with my morning coffee. (I know this whole chocolate thing is very idiosyncratic, but bear with me.) I love doing this. It’s a great way to start my day. It’s not that much chocolate, and when I eat my little square, I AM SATISFIED. I do not need more. I have the same response when I drink a near-beer. This never stops being a revelation. “Weird! I can drink this ONE beer and be good!”

What these picadillos suggest to me is that there are probably other ways to substitute habits and behaviours that satisfy, once you are attuned to your I WANT MORE response. These healthy and satisfying changes may not present themselves to me — I’m going to have to experiment and work at it, I figure. But I see possibilities that I did not see before because I was not intimate with my cravings in a mindful way.

One of the gifts of going through the process of getting sober is that you learn a *lot* about the physical and psychological characteristics of  your “I want more.” You come to know your enemy in the cold light of day. Now that I have some grip on the difference between “satisfied” and “I want more” in a couple of areas, I think it’s going to become easier to head “I want more” off at the pass. So do I have an “addictive personality?” Maybe. But it doesn’t have to be a metaphorical death sentence either.

 

Reprogramming My Brain

I realized this week that there have been a couple of points of progress. First, I have stopped having that feeling like I should be stopping at the liquor store on my way home from work. That was happening every day, and now I am not thinking about it much at all! Second, it’s not feeling so weird to not drink beer at night. It felt really odd at first, and now it is starting to feel normal.

I do wish it wasn’t patio season though! I suppose I could have waited until patio/cottage season was over, but there’s always a good reason to wait, right? There is never an easy time to quit. Anyway I do have these little twinges out riding my bike when I see people sitting on patios with pints, or glasses of wine. The thought that always, immediately pops in to my head is this half-wistful, half-pissed off “Well. So much for that then. No more patios for me.”

patio

Ahhhh, patio season!

The thing is, that is really very silly. Last I checked, they haven’t outlawed non-alcoholic beverages on patios. It’s not like there are bouncers who won’t let you in unless you promise to drink. In other words, there is no reason in the slightest I can’t still enjoy sitting on a patio on a nice summer evening. It is just so hard-wired in my brain that patio+alcohol=fun, that it’s really difficult to rework the equation. I think that part of quitting drinking is to reprogram your brain. You have to have some experiences that help you to break the automatic associations of alcohol with events you have enjoyed.

For some people, strong associations can can be triggering. I was talking to my daughter, and she still doesn’t feel like she’s in a place where she can go out to a pub and hang out with other people who are drinking. So I expect it is different for everyone. You have to be secure that you can safely navigate a social outing that you would have boozed at before. I’ve read lots of good advice about that: making sure you’ve got your own transportation home, going with sober peeps, having a sponsor or sober buddy on speed-dial, and bringing your own non-alcoholic drinks if need be. But even with all these safeguards in place, you have to feel ready.

I have gotten through a couple of drinking occasions now with success, and it does build your confidence and hope a bit. It doesn’t mean I’m ready to run out to the pub every Friday night now or anything. Why hurl yourself in to temptation when you don’t have to? But, I do think I should hang out on a patio soon, perhaps with a big cold soda, cranberry and lime, and give my brain some further hard evidence that my life isn’t over as a sober person!