Counselling

Still here, still sober. Halfway through month eleven now. I haven’t posted in a while because any “self-reflection” energy I’ve had has been going into counselling.

When I signed up for counselling I explained that I wanted to talk about my drinking problem and mentioned that I might need to speak to an addiction counsellor specifically. But the counsellor I was matched with doesn’t have any background in dealing with addiction whatsoever so she basically just listens and can’t make any comment when I ask questions because she doesn’t know the answer. She’s really lovely, but it’s a bit frustrating seeing as I wanted some actual academic answers to stuff.

Instead we’ve been getting into the social anxiety/shyness issues I have, and talking about my “overactive inner critic”. I know I have quite a few traits that are typical of people with drinking problems – an all-or-nothing personality, a streak of perfectionism and an out of proportion fear of failure – so it’s good to dig into that stuff a bit. It was nice to hear that she reckons it’s all very fixable stuff, but after a few sessions I was none the wiser as to how I am meant to fix this stuff. “Getting conscious” of being self-critical was the first step, but I don’t really know what’s meant to happen after that…

After the first four sessions I decided not to continue because it seemed really expensive for what I was getting out of it, but she suggested a group counselling option, which my work would cover the cost of. So far I’ve been to one session and it was about as bad as you could expect a group counselling session to be. Here are a bunch of reasons it sucks:

  1. Sitting in a room full of strangers talking about all the embarrassing aspects of your personality, explaining that I could barely breathe due to anxiety and just feeling extremely vulnerable. Pure hell.
  2. As people in the room share their issues, the counsellors who are running the session try to involve other people by saying things like “Bob, how do you feel about what John has shared?” And poor Bob has to tell John that he empathises with him because he doesn’t get on with his in-laws (or whatever the issue is). It couldn’t be any clearer that Bob doesn’t feel any way in particular about John’s life problems and it’s equally clear that John feels incredibly awkward about forcing an opinion out Bob. Poor Bob, poor John, poor me.
  3. No one knows I don’t drink. My counsellor didn’t think I should bring it up because it’s a ‘side issue’. People keep mentioning how difficult the sessions are and joking that we all need to go to the pub. I predict that by session three everyone will be hitting the pub afterwards. That’ll be a fun one to navigate.
  4. The sessions run for two and a half hours. They feel like they go on for six and a half.
  5. I’ve already cried in front of a room of people. Dead embarrassing, but I may as well get used to it because my face leaks tears the entire duration of every counselling session I’ve been to. Now that I’m doing group counselling, it means I get to cry in front of 15 strangers instead of just one.
  6. I wasn’t told that the sessions would also include “psycho-drama”. Apparently this is where you get up in front of the group and act out your issues and then explore ways to deal with the issue by acting out different solutions and seeing how they make you feel. Acting. In front of people. Need I say more?
  7. There are EIGHT weekly sessions plus a weekend workshop. This hell isn’t going to end anytime soon.
  8. I can’t just stop going because my work have paid and the counsellors will surely tell my work that I’ve stopped showing up and I’ll get in trouble for wasting a lot of money.

I know this list makes it sound like I’m not really trying to be open to what group counselling has to offer. I did go in with a really open mind for the first session and after finding the experience seriously un-enjoyable I think I’ve made up my mind that it’s just going to be torture from here on in.

In drinking news, absolutely no desire or cravings to drink except a lot of anxiety in social settings when I’m around other people drinking, which I’m mainly avoiding at the moment. Still completely undecided about whether I want to attempt moderating at some stage, but I think having it there as an option makes me feel a lot more chilled out and happy to not be drinking today/this week/this month. I really wanted to discuss this stuff with a counsellor who knows what they’re talking about, but as I mentioned she hasn’t really been able to help me out there, so I might have to keep shopping around.

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Cringing

Today I had a job interview for a job I’m really keen on. The interview didn’t go as well as it could have, and all afternoon feelings of shame have just been washing over me as I re-live each appallingly bad answer I gave over and over in my mind. My face involuntarily scrunches up every time I remember how badly I ballsed up my responses and I just want to slither under my desk and the ground to eat me up.

I wish there was a switch that would turn off these feelings. I don’t know how to get rid of the feelings without drinking, so I’m just sitting here – sitting in the feeling, physically feeling like my guts have turned to jelly and there’s a pool of acid collecting in my stomach. It’s probably just an accumulation of adrenaline, but it’s making me feel horrific.

Anyone know how to get rid of these feelings of nerves and shame? I’ve tried talking through how things went with a couple of friends from work, but it hasn’t helped. I assumed the nerves would disappear and I’d feel relief after it was over, but instead I just feel doubly worse re-living the shame of making a fool of myself. Maybe it’s just a matter of time until the adrenaline drains out of my body…? Will running help? I’m clearly desperate to rid myself of this feeling if I’m considering running! 🙂

Forever?

Month six was a good one. I was really beginning to relax into sobriety, cravings had pretty much died off completely and socialising was becoming easier. I felt strong. There were a bunch of times I was grateful to be sober (especially when I had to drive!) and the prospect of this new sober life stretching out ahead of me didn’t fill me with dread as it did in the beginning.

Roll on month seven and I feel like it’s two steps forward, one step back. My resolve over the past few days has weakened and I keep picturing myself going back to drinking at some stage down the track. I know I only have to focus on the here and now, and it’s not so important to be okay with not drinking forever, but I still get a bit stressed over thoughts of the future.

I want to move cities (if not countries) at some stage in the next couple of years and the thought of settling in to a new place without the ease of getting to know new friends over drinks is really daunting. I’m now a pro at staying sober during the day to day grind of work and home life. Routines make things easy, but turning my life upside down is really going to throw a spanner in the works.

I guess that’s the challenge though right? The possible always seems impossible until it’s done. I’ve always relied on alcohol to make boring evenings fun, to make socialising less stressful, to ‘give me dutch courage’, and so on. It’s not until you take away the alcohol and learn to live without it that you realise you don’t need it. Boring evenings aren’t less fun without wine anymore, I’ve had enough practice to know I can go without and not miss it. It’s a matter of doing it and proving to yourself that it’s okay. I just haven’t had the chance to prove to myself that I don’t need alcohol in my future, because I haven’t got there yet…  Am I making sense? Probably not.

In other news, I am about to commence operation ‘I quit sugar’. I’ve bought the book and I’m doing the eight week detox with a couple of friends. Week one involves cutting out obvious sugars, so no sugar in my morning coffee or bowls of icecream in the evenings. I’m on the soda and limes instead of ginger beer. My diet is dull and cardboardy now that I’m not washing everything down with fructose, but it’s only for eight weeks. Doing a sugar detox feels like such a luxury when I compare it to being sober because I know there is an end to this if I want it. If, after eight weeks, I want to go back to a sugar laden diet, I can. Which is funny because that’s how I started out with sobriety – it was just an experiment really. But I liked parts of it, and I was curious to see what would happen if I kept going, so I did.

When did I start worrying about whether it was forever or not? It’s a hell of a lot less stressful when I think of sobriety as ‘just for the foreseeable future’. Simply as a means to getting healthy again. Not bothering with alcohol for a while because it wreaks havoc with my anxiety. Sometimes thinking in the short term just has to be enough. I don’t know how Mrs D and others can be so confident in proclaiming that they’ll never have another drink again in their lives – it must take a lot of sober practice to have that confidence and I hope I get to that point too! #sobergoals

Talking to strangers (plus a bonus Q)

Plenty of advice I’ve received on socialising in early sobriety has been simply ‘don’t go’. I took that advice as much as I could in my first couple of months, but have been trying to re-introduce a bit of socialising back into my life recently for fear of turning into a hermit. As I mentioned in a couple of previous posts, it really sucks the energy out of me and I haven’t had the best time, so perhaps that’s a sign I’m destined for hermithood. Or maybe I’m just trying to do too much too fast.

This weekend we have a couple staying with us from the UK. They’re friends of my partner’s and I haven’t met them before. I feel terrible about it, but I’ve been putting myself first over the last couple of nights and staying in while they go out for dinner and drinks each night. I realise how crazy it is to feel so much guilt simply for doing what’s best for me, but I can’t help but feel bad for not ‘making an effort’ and ‘being a good host’.

I think a huge part of it is because I assume they’ll just think I’m rude, which is frustrating, but I just don’t feel comfortable communicating my situation with strangers – “Hello, nice to meet you. I’m going to be avoiding you all weekend because I’m in early sobriety and having a tough time of it of late and all your holiday boozing around me will fray my nerves to bits. Sorry about that. Here’s your room, let me know if you need fresh towels”. If  I had, say, the flu, that would be a different story entirely “Hello, nice to meet you. I’m going to be avoiding you all weekend because I’ve got a horrific cold and a pounding headache. Sorry about that. Here’s your room, let me know if you need fresh towels”.

To be honest I even feel uncomfortable talking to close friends about sobriety some of the time. Today as I skyped a friend I watched her eyes glaze over after she asked how my sobriety was going. I’m so conscious that it’s not a fun topic of conversation for them that I’ll change the subject to save them the pain of having to listen to me whinge on about it for more than 30 seconds. Which is why it is so lovely to have all you fine folk to whinge away to 😉 It really does make a profound difference to know that there are other people out there that get it. Obviously there’s a lot of variation between everyone’s sober journeys, but I think we all get each other on some level or another and being propped up by a fellow sober blogger when you’re feeling fragile is a helluva lot more powerful than by a glazy eyed friend! 🙂

While I do think there is a massive support network to be found through blogging, I do wonder whether I need to extend my support networks in other ways. Ken asked whether I had looked into SMART recovery groups, which unfortunately it doesn’t look like we have here in NZ, so what I’d love to know from other sober bloggers is…

What other support networks are out there that you’ve used? And why were they right for you?

Edit: I’d also be interested to hear if blogging has been your only support network too! And whether you think you need more or that’s enough in itself.

Thanks! xx

Being okay with not being okay

I’m beginning to rack up a good long list of ‘realisations I must come to’ in order to feel like I’m making any sort of progress towards sober happiness. Realisations like “I don’t need alcohol to relax” and “I don’t need alcohol to socialise.” The problem is there’s a gaping wide disconnect between knowing that I need to reach these realisations and actually coming around to them. I still don’t really believe them and it’s frustrating the hell out of me that I can’t bridge that gap, and bridge it now.

Sometimes I find myself berating myself “Come on you stupid, dopey brain! Catch up with what you know is true. Start believing you can’t drink like other people.” I’m pushing myself to get through this stupid denial(?) phase and trying to force realisations on myself, trying to force progress to happen.

I’ve always been the type to maintain a pretty drama free life. When drama appears I’m quick to whip out the fire extinguisher and put an end to the madness. Fast. Break-ups with guys are dealt with efficiently (you can blub about it later) and I don’t enjoy cattiness or bitchiness; I’d rather be upfront than let resentment seethe under the surface. Basically, I don’t like a messy life. I like it tidy and simple and drama free, and messiness is dealt with swiftly.

I’ve also always loathed the learning process. As a two year old I refused to be toilet trained. My mum despaired over me and beat herself up over it thinking she was doing something wrong, until one day I just plonked myself down on the potty. Learning has always been done in short bursts: school exams were crammed for on the day, I learnt to drive in an intense couple of months, I put off learning new systems at work until I have to, etc. Generally I just like my learning to be over and done as quickly as possible, like ripping off a bandage. I’m not sure what this comes down to… maybe I dislike the feeling of my brain being stretched?

So I’ve been thinking a bit about this today. Thinking about how I’m struggling to fast track my acceptance of this new sober state. With magical timing, The Sober Soul Searcher brought my attention to this amazingly relevant post. Laura talks about wanting to be at step C when she was currently at step A. That resonates with me massively, because I am just so uncomfortable with where I’m at currently. It’s messy and dramatic and untidy and all I want to do is clean the mess up and get to where I’m going.

But I’m beginning to realise that sobriety doesn’t fit into tidy little boxes, there’s no quick fix to my drinking problem and I can’t hit the books hard for a month or two in order to cram as many realisations in as possible. Instead I have to sit with the discomfort. I have to let emotions I don’t like (and beliefs I know aren’t true) swill around inside me until my brain is done stretching. I have to take the advice: “Give yourself permission to not be okay, but know that you are also fine.” It’s bloody uncomfortable.

The List: Where to from here?

Now that I’ve managed to string a bunch of sober weeks together, I have to say my momentum is slowing down. That’s not to say I’m anywhere near contemplating drinking again, but I am worried I’m not doing enough (aside from refraining from drinking).

It’s really important to me that I reach a point where I’m not thinking about sobriety sixty-four-thousand times a day. I want to reach a stage where I don’t crave wine with food, I don’t feel left out when others are drinking, a point where a simple “no thanks, I don’t drink” trips off the tongue and I don’t think twice about the fact that I live without alcohol in my life. I want my sober status to eventually be comfortable (perhaps even bring happiness) and for it to become normal to me. That’s the ultimate goal and from what I’ve read it’s entirely possible. The last thing I’d want is for my progress to come to a standstill and to be left wallowing in discomfort (because I’d say discomfort is an accurate description of where I’m at currently).

The problem is, I’m not sure how I make that leap from where I’m at now to where I want to get to. I’ve read that it’s important to keep on moving, keep making progress, keep making changes, keep trying new things and those actions (plus a looooong string of sober days) will eventually land me where I want to be. So I’ve put together a loose list of action points for 2016:

  • Bust some illusions – I still have terrible habits of romanticising wine. A common trend I’ve noticed among long term ex-drinkers is that they did a lot of work on busting the illusion that alcohol adds anything to their lives, which I imagine contributes greatly to cutting down on fomo. Books to read include: Allan Carr, Jason Vale, Annie Grace.
  • Fix my broken self – This is a biggy and I have no idea where to start. There must be some underlying reason that I chose to drink – to numb the pain of life? – how dramatic! As I’ve read many times, you can’t just take the coping mechanism away and not do any work on the real root cause of the problem. But I’m a bit stuck as to what the cause of the problem is… I may need professional help on this one. That and Brené Brown.
  • Learn to relax – luckily I haven’t had any big dramas blow up in my face so far, but it’s only a matter of time until life throws a curve ball, so I need to start building new (healthy) coping mechanisms. People rave about yoga, so why not start there? I may as well throw in some meditation and go the whole hippy-hog.
  • Fill my time – The amount of time I spent quaffing wine in front of the telly was endless. Yet it doesn’t feel like I’ve ended up with hours of free time after quitting drinking. Most nights are still spent in front of the telly, but with a glass of sugary soda in hand instead. I’ve always been a bit of a ‘hobbyless’ person (always dreading the question “sooo what are your hobbies?”… “errr, I’m a wine connoisseur?”), so I want to find some constructive and productive uses for my time. So far, I have coloured some pages of an adult colouring book… Hobby suggestions welcome.
  • Get healthy – The vast quantities of sugar I’ve been subjecting my body to (see soda point above) cannot be healthy. I’ve also been noticing a bit of a blue feeling creeping up over the last few days of the Christmas break. Probably just a bit of cabin fever seeing as it was raining and I’ve been pretty unproductive. Normally I’d blast these blue feelings with a dose of alcohol, but I need to find new ways to fix my mood. The blaringly obvious solution is exercise. Bleh. I might start with something small like buying a fitbit and getting 10,000 steps in a day. Let’s not go crazy here.

Now I just need to drag my lazy arse into gear and start making this list a reality 🙂

The List: Taking Stock

Now that I’ve washed up on the other side of a taxing festive season and the rush and busyness of Christmas has died away, I’ve been plonked into 2016 with no grand plans, no immediate obstacles, just a vast expanse of sober time stretching out ahead of me and a bit of a sense of what now? I read some advice recently that said when you’re feeling at a bit of a loose end and a bit directionless, it’s a good time to write down what you’ve achieved so far and what your future goals are.

I’ve never been one to set resolutions at New Years – I think I’ve always been too much of a realist and knew I’d never stick to them, so didn’t bother. But the start of a fresh year seems to time perfectly with where I’m at and my need to take stock of what I’ve achieved so far and have a think about what I need to do next. (Plus, I have an obsession with list writing, so any excuse!)

Here’s what I consider my achievements so far:

  • I stopped drinking! (Obviously had to be number one.) I actually managed to stop the daily cycle – drinking to feel good/to help me sleep/to take away anxiety, waking up feeling guilty and ashamed, promising myself I wouldn’t drink again that night, doing a half-arsed job of getting myself ready for work, feeling sick, eating crap, feeling miserable. Then, the afternoon spent feeling better, the internal argument cranking to life again ‘wine with dinner?’ – I still can’t believe that I pulled myself out of that cycle and gave myself enough distance to get any kind of grip or perspective on the situation.
  • I won battles. The first few weeks were spent still so tightly wound up in the grip of alcohol. This was a very wobbly time. There were points where I even decided I was going to drink again. But there was still a tiny little voice inside me, saying “win this battle, win this battle, win this battle.” The voice was so little, I can hardly believe I listened, but I’m grateful I did.
  • I worked through cravings. Meh, cravings are easy to deal with in comparison to doubt. But they are still a pain in the backside.
  • I resisted peer pressure. Surprisingly minimal amounts, but I’ve still dealt with a wee bit of it.
  • I started telling people that I’ve stopped drinking. I count this as an achievement because it’s been awkward as hell (so I want some credit for it haha), but I haven’t really managed to do a good job of it. I find myself wanting to compensate for their awkwardness when I tell them. I haven’t got my lines down-pat (I wish I’d worked more on exactly what I planned to say like all the advice told me to!)

    NYE Cheese & Mocktails
    NY Eve : avoided human interaction in favour of cheese & mocktails
  • I got through testing times. I stayed sober through big work parties, boozy dinners, Christmas and New Years. All achieved through a combination of planning, support (thanks to everyone that has given me advice and propped me up), dogged determination, avoidance, and a fuck load of sugar and cheese.
  • I maintained optimism. I’m not really seeing any of the expected positive side effects (weight loss, glowing skin, better sleep, more free time), but I don’t really care because there have been unexpected positive side effects instead. Mainly, the restoration of some self respect. But I’m also less anxious, my nails are better (random), I don’t have to worry about drunk driving and I can buy sober treats.

I did not expect that list to be so long, so I might draw a line under this post and have a good think about where to from here for 2016. After writing this list of achievements, I think the first point on my next one will be ‘don’t get too cocky!’ 🙂

 

Pangs

The last couple of days have been frustrating. I’ve been having little niggly pangs popping up all day long. Each time they pop up, I pounce on the feelings and remind myself that one glass of wine equals two glasses the next day (and six the day after). I remind myself that I can’t drink like a normal drinker and that, while I have been doing well with cutting it out completely, that doesn’t translate to being able to have one and stop. One equals a slippery slope back into miserable old habits.

I’ve also been patiently taking each pang and dissecting it to try and work out whether there’s rhyme or reason to them cropping up. I run a mental checklist that goes something like this:

  • Am I thirsty?
  • Am I stressy?
  • Am I jealous?
  • Am I anxious?
  • Am I tired?

Which is usually answered like this: Nope, nope, nope, nope and nope… Oh just another inexplicable pang then. Great.

I’m actually surprised by my patience with these pangs. Generally I’m a pretty impatient lass, but these pangs are testing me and I’m rising to their challenge each time, despite my frustrations with my mini analysis not drawing any conclusions. I’ve been coming around to the realisation that brain re-wiring is a marathon, not a sprint.

Because of all these fecking pain-in-the-arse pangs lately, I decided to give our all company Christmas do a miss tonight. The thought of a room heaving with free drinks freaked me out a bit and I was worried that if a pang were to strike just as a glass of wine was waved under my nose I might cave.

So instead I’ve come home (buying myself an array of NA drinks on the way), parked up in front of the telly and have grand plans to make a new hot chocolate recipe later too. Let’s get this (couch) party started 🙂

 

 

 

Pink clouds, is that you?

I’ve heard a lot of talk of these legendary ‘pink clouds’ and have been waiting patiently for them to pay me a visit for a while now. I’m not sure what I was expecting, but it was something along the lines of maniacal laughter, bouncing off the walls and having a sense of being able to conquer the world. It’s starting to dawn on me though that I may actually be in the midst of these fabled pink clouds right now… and there’s no manic laughter, I feel quite calm.

For the last 10 days or so I’ve just been coasting along without too much trouble. I’ve had a few cravings, but the doubt and questioning have evaporated and I don’t want to drink. The desire just isn’t there. In fact, I haven’t really been blogging much because I just feel like I’m being a bit of a show-off raving on about how this sobriety lark is child’s play. But yes, I’m realising now that this must be that feeling of easy breezy pink cloud tranquility that lures you in to a false sense of security.

Because I’ve been pre-warned that this is a risky frame of mind to be in, I don’t think I’m in danger of being over-confident and going back to my old boozy ways. I am however, totally gutted that this probably a temporary state of mind. I’m so, so gutted that I can’t expect it to be this easy for much longer and that I can expect a crash landing back down to reality at anytime. It’s a relief to have some peace and just be contented with my decision and truck along ticking off the days, and so I really really don’t want that to end.

I’m scared of the doubt and the questioning and the intense cravings kicking back in. I’m scared of it getting harder and having to battle away every day and losing sight of the reasons behind this lifestyle change and struggling away all day long to keep my mind focussed. I’m not a fan of that sub-par sobriety. I wholeheartedly approve of my current state of mind and just want to stick with that thank you very much!

The problem is, I have no idea what I’m doing right (if anything) that’s contributing to this mind frame. So all I can really do is cross all my fingers and toes that I get a good long run of these calm and contented feelings.

Some valuable advice

After getting fed up with the tug of war going on inside my brain on Friday, I decided to get some advice from the lovely ladies (and lads) over at the Living Sober community. I asked whether I’d ever get to the point where the constant internal questioning/bargaining goes away, or whether long term ex-drinkers just learn to live with it.

And I’m SO glad I bothered to ask. Everyone answered with a resounding “yes, it does get easier and it is worth it, so stick with it” which is all I needed to hear really.

It can feel quite pointless in these early days being sober. I know I wasn’t happy while drinking and yet being sober hasn’t felt amazing yet either. I haven’t experienced the legendary pink clouds (well I haven’t been bouncing off the walls with happiness, which is what I imagine the feeling to be like) and I haven’t been reaping any massive benefits so far. So far, it feels like a bit of a lose lose situation – I want to stop drinking because it’s getting out of hand and yet now I’ve stopped it constantly feels like I’m denying myself something, so I’m not happy either way.

But the Living Sober folks assured me that it will get better and easier, that benefits would start to show themselves and that it was worth the wait. As a suspected, the time frames for everyone were different. For some people they came to peace with their decision really early on and others took about 200 days before the internal questioning and bargaining died down. When I look at my measly 20 days in comparison it makes me realise that I just need to chill the fuck out a bit and stop expecting everything to click into place so quickly.

The other thing they mentioned was that it’s not only a matter of retraining our brains to begin new habits and routines, but retraining our brains around the way we see alcohol as a whole. Instead of it being a glittering seductive luxury that adds something to life, I need to retrain my brain to see alcohol as a poison that is destructive and holds no value.

For me, alcohol still holds value, so this is the point that I’m stuck at right now.

The ‘value’ of alcohol is woven so tightly into who I am as a person that I suspect it’s going to take a lot of work to unravel. It’s a big part of my family’s lifestyle – right now my parents are away on a holiday with the sole purpose of going wine tasting. It’s also a big part of my friend’s lives – we socialise with BBQs, BYO dinners, brunches – all of which usually contain copious amounts of alcohol. It’s even a big part of my worklife – Friday night drinks every week, alcohol given out as rewards and huge work do’s that centre entirely around everyone getting shitfaced.

And most of all, it’s a massive part of my day to day lifestyle. Everytime I plan dinner, my brain automatically matches wine with whatever I’m having. Cosy night in on the couch = wine (red), fireworks at the beach = wine (white), celebrations = wine (bubbly), shit day = wine (any), fancy restaurant = wine (posh), camping holiday = wine (lots of)… the list is endless. The point being, I still hold alcohol in high regard. It’s up there on its shiny pedestal, happily absorbing all of my worship. So if I want to move on and grow and learn and recover and find peace being sober, then I’m going to have to find a way to knock it off its perch.