Holiday Parties in Sobriety

IMG_0059Year two of holiday parties in sobriety, and a perfect opportunity to put some knowledge into practice.  A few tips I learned from trial and error last year but many were learned right here from my fellow sober bloggers.  Each and every one of you are deeply appreciated.   Hurrah for collective wisdom!

December 2014 saw quite a few holiday celebrations right here at home including a staff party, book club dinner party, Christmas  Eve dinner with extended family, and a three family Christmas dinner fete.  Home was a good place to be.  For one, hostessing kept me busy taking care of others.  The other key to celebrating at home is that it allows me to envision and carry out a plan without many curve balls thrown in.

The 3 keys to hosting parties and having great fun while sober this year turned out to be:

1.  Have a plan.  In early sobriety we spend a whole lot of time making plans.  What time will people arrive and leave? What will I drink?  What will others drink? Where can I get away for ten minutes from time to time to read recovery literature and refocus? Who is my support team at the event? Have I clarified their roles with them? Which AA meeting will I attend the day of the event?

2. Have another person handle the alcohol.  Don’t play the part of the suffering hero.  Just have someone else be the bartender.  At the end of the event, have the bartender pack up the bar and toss out the half finished drinks laying around. That person will be glad to help.

3.  Have fun.  Taking the time, making the time, to celebrate with friends is a new concept in my life.  Focusing on others helps me get out of my head which would normally be focused on the alcohol with laser vision, and opens up the world to the people in my life. Turns out my world was so small when drinking and I missed out on the amazingness around me.  Its time to enjoy friendship again.

Coming soon: the backstory of these keys. Because we all know, there’s always a backstory!

Outpatient Treatment Lessons

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Part 4 of a 4 part story wherein our heroin realizes she no longer needs to suffer alone.

The Chemical Dependency Recovery Program 14 day outpatient treatment program is the most intensive program offered by my health insurance. An offer of spending 3 weeks there was offered but I agreed to give it a try with the understanding that 12 days was all I could fit into my schedule. I had important things to do you know, and this whole idea of intensive treatment was clearly overblown. Did nobody notice how well I functioned while drinking?  How could anyone have missed the masterful skills I had developed in order to keep my friend alcohol in my life?

On day 12 of white knuckled sobriety, the serious treatment began. The round trip drive would be almost 3 hours a day. iTunes U became my go to driving time filler. (Learning about Washington quickly lead to Adams which naturally lead to Madison. If the three I’d easily choose Madison as a dinner guest ) in the mornings I still worked out which was a good call because treatment involved way more sitting than usual. I learned to eat breakfast in the car and find fairly healthy options at take out restaurants.

The facility was across from a hospital. This was no accident. When a body comes to depend on alcohol, seizures can happen during the detox process. This is different than detox from drugs which just feels like you’re dying but actually aren’t. There were quite a few days where people in treatment ended up in the hospital and conversely when people hospitalized for detox came right across the street to begin treatment. And there were drug tests. Often. Turns out that even though we self reported our number if sobriety days each morning, addicts still have a propensity to lie. Hence the tests. Whoever got pulled out of morning check in was totally busted due to a positive drug test the day before.

What are we going to do all day? Sit around and listen to lectures? Play ping pong? Talk about how it really really sucks not to be drinking? Turns out we had a full schedule: morning check in, addiction education class, relapse prevention class, group sessions, meditation, acupuncture, and an AA meeting in town every day at lunch. Then in the evenings we had to call at least 3 people in the program to check in. On top of that were four homework assignments that required time and reflection.

Head still in a fog I came in and learned to navigate the daily routine and ever changing social groups. While each of us took different roads of various addictions to get here, we were in the same boat. In the rooms no one had anything to hide. Simply spending the day with people sharing this painful journey provided hope.

Homework assignment #1, my history with alcohol, was due on day 5. In group, whoever had an assignment due would read it to the group and receive feedback. Now, after so many years of hiding, isolating and manipulating, it was time to tell the truth. Having convinced myself of so many of my takes and excuses, just sorting out that truth was challenging. What were the pivotal points? The shame and embarrassment overwhelmed me and my nature would be to sugar coat it. To convince you that my presence here was all a big misunderstanding. You see, I’m really an amazing person if only you knew. But my gut told me to bring that act to an end and take the hand of those offering help. Offering hope. So I wrote my story. Wrote the hidden things I had done that no one else would have even imagined. Wrote about my husband’s reaction. His attempts to help I had completely refused. The embarrassment I endured in order to keep drinking. I took away the power by writing it all down. And then I had to read it.

Hands sweaty, voice trembling, nerves on fire, I took out my writing and began to read aloud. As the most personal, embarrassing pieces were revealed, I noticed that heads started to nod. Smiles started to appear. Giggles were heard. As soon as my story was finished, they chimed in with how they did the exact same thing.  Same motivations. Same actions. Some even more extreme than mine.

It was a miracle – I wasn’t the only person in the entire world going through this private hell. No longer was I unique and special in this addiction. I wasn’t alone. At that moment I was ready and willing to clean out the years of gunk and start anew.

Part 1 of a 4 part story wherein our heroin makes the call that will change her life.

Part 2 of a 4 part story wherein our heroin is introduced to the chart.

Part 3 of a 4 part story wherein our heroin bumbles through a dark tunnel.

It is my hope that by sharing my story, others can find strength and hope to find a way to overcome their obstacles, alcohol or otherwise.

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The Time Warp, aka Recovery Week

Part 3 of a 4 part story wherein our heroin bumbles through a dark tunnel.

The intake meeting ended with these take aways:clock

  • 3 nights a week at the medical health center plus 12 step meetings meant that my social life was pretty much wiped out for 1/4 of a year.  During the holidays.
  • This was better than the possibility that seemed to be considered to just send me straight to the hospital for detox.
  • The counselor got all show offy with the office staff and had them rearrange the schedule of the medical doctor on staff so she could see me tomorrow. (bad judgment call on my end it turns out, my health was honestly at risk)
  • Paperwork and specific directions to get to the hospital immediately if the shaking intensified.  The fear of seizures was real.  Alcohol detox is the one type of detox that can actually result in death.  Great, as if not drinking wasn’t awful enough.  Now the risk of death enters the picture.

At home, I finally had the talk with my husband. Told him about needing to quit, about the recovery plan, about the schedule, about the possibility of seizures.  Cried over being so lost, hurting the family. Cried out of fear. Lots and lots of fear. Looked at the paperwork and what to watch out for regarding seizures. His mom went through recovery when he was a young teen and he had a much better idea than I did about what was to come. In my mind, this whole thing was still completely overblown. Alcohol was just that tiny, itty bitty splinter. Once removed, life would be glorious because I had set it all up that way.

Woke up at 2am shaking. Withdrawals. Woke up again at 5am shaking.Withdrawals.  Went to work shaking. Couldn’t think. Didn’t know what to do with myself.  Withdrawals. 90% of my brain is trying to figure out how to hold it together leaving not nearly enough to breathe, walk, and work.  Went home and didn’t know what to do. Hour by hour I told myself.  Hour?!  10 minutes by 10 minutes was still too long. Went to the appointment with the medical doctor. Put my hands out so she could judge how much they were shaking.  It was crazy. She smiled but couldn’t find anything polite to say like “its not too bad,” because the shaking was ridiculous. More plans, some type of prescriptions. Drove home and ten-minuted it through about 40 minutes. No way I could figure out what to do with myself all evening. So, I jumped in the car and drove back to the medical center to join the recovery group 4 days early.

Now we’re entering totally new territory.  Group therapy, heck any type of therapy, was completely new to me. A nice group of people sat in a circle and talked about stuff, more stuff, making plans for attending events sober, and other stuff. What in the world? No one was talking about surviving the craziness in my head. How to get through the next 10 minutes. How to fill that time spent drinking. All of it. As it crept by. Slowly. But group filled time so it was useful.

Attending a 12 step meeting was the next order of business. I got a list of places and times for the next town over and staked them out. Visiting a meeting of AA with all of those pathetic alcoholics was going to be the most shameful part of this whole thing. I mean, really. Sitting for an hour with people who were losers of the greatest magnitude was a miserable idea. But I went. Turns out, they were everyday people you’d meet at the store or business venture. They were well spoken, thoughtful, and funny. Funny! Listening to them talk, an “aha” moment occurred – we spoke the same language. We had the same story. It was my first glimpse of what was possible.

Next: part 4 of 4 wherein our heroin shares her cleverest, most hidden secrets and finds an unexpected reaction.

It is my hope that by sharing my story, others can find strength and hope to find a way to overcome their obstacles, alcohol or otherwise.

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The Early Recovery Plan

Part 2 of a 4 part story wherein our heroin is introduced to the chart.

My life was just grand, except for this little problem: I couldn’t stop drinking. As my need for alcohol increased, it was carefully balanced out with good deeds to provide balance. This was essential to my very survival, and with hard work and deep determination I kept that balance in tact. With so much goodness present, once the alcohol was removed, just like a splinter, the goodness would fill that small hole and I’d be as good as new. That was my plan.

The counselor I met with had a different plan. After hearing my story, my very clever story, my totally unique story about how I managed to live an enviable life while hiding alcohol and drinking every day to maintain normalcy, after doing whatever basic calculations counsellors do to apply a multiplier to the amount of alcohol I self reported ingesting each day, he pulled out The Chart. A three month plan. Three days a week at the medical center for group sessions, family education, and relapse prevention PLUS at least one 12 step meeting a week.

Clearly he had missed all of the good parts. You know, the community volunteer work cooking for families with cancer, the exercise regimen including daily workouts, races, and the 39 mile Avon Walk for Breast Cancer, the respect at work, the calm family life. He had me mistaken for a lesser person. Someone whose life was a mess. Someone who needed some serious guidance and support.

I just needed help removing that little sliver.

Next: the time warp