My (Part 2): Journey into Recovery from Addiction
The first post in this two-part story, was my journey to rock bottom. This post is the second part of that journey; finding recovery, AA, and my recovery strategy. I’ve found it a challenge to incorporate everything that I’ve learned in nearly four years – its more than I have in the last twenty – so I have sought to include all of the important elements.
One week sober
This is me in my first few weeks in recovery. Masking my overwhelming fear with a veil of makeup and a forced smile.
Read on to see how I was able to pick myself up, attend AA meetings and re-learn everything!
My first meeting, a monumental first step toward my recovery.
I vividly recall my first AA meeting. I was 32 and my life had come to this, I told myself.
[And i’ll say this now, whilst there is a general anonymity about meetings – and I respect the privacy of what is shared in those meetings – I believe that we need to speak openly about our experience of recovery. I believe that anyone truly wanting recovery will find it, but perhaps there is an increased chance that by sharing about my experience, it may encourage more people struggling into recovery. This is not a means of promotion, its purely the open sharing of my experience. I strongly believe that by the sharing of our experiences, we diminish the unfounded shame around addiction – because addicts are certainly not alone. There is hope].
I digress… so, there I was, ‘numb’. I walked in to my first meeting and am told that I mustered up my name, declared that I was new, and plonked myself down with a sigh of utter defeat. That was a defining moment for me. I knew that I had exhausted all options and this was my last hope. Whilst I struggled to think straight, due to immense brain fog, and extreme fatigue, there was some deep level of my being that knew this is where I needed to be, despite my strong and unrelenting urge to run. I now know that was surrender.
Below is a recovery strategy that was suggested, of which I undertook wholeheartedly. It was a radical self-care programme which was required to tackle a radical disease. Here is what I did, and what I recommend:
1. Write. I bought a journal and wrote twice a day, more if I wanted. I had to have an outlet. It was foreign to me initially. I asked what I should write, as I was so far removed from connecting with my body and feelings, I had no idea how to communicate with myself. It was suggested I have a routine: in the morning I could write about how I slept and try and identify my thoughts, write a plan for the day. In the evening, write about how my day had gone, my feelings and what I have done right – a credit list. This ‘credit’ list practise is invaluable. I still do it now, nearly four years later. For someone who’s self-esteem was in the sewer, this was a great tool to help me to realise that I am worthy and I’m doing ok.
This is the journal that I bought, I used it to record everything about my recovery journal (pic below).
2. Work the 12 steps. I worked through the steps with a sponsor. This is the most loving action you can undertake for yourself. All for you and completely life changing. I’ve heard many, many times that the rooms can get you clean/sober, but the steps will get you well and I’ve found that to be true. I’ve lost count of the amount of times people say that they’re hard – particularly in NA, which has a working guide, asking over 60 questions on step 1 – but I disagree. What is hard, is making a decision to invest in yourself and realising that not to do so, is likely to kill you – because you are not changing your thinking, and this is fundamental to recover. What I reaslised in working the steps was that the problem was never alcohol, it was me. It was my thinking. Fear is the centre of my disease. Fear I’m not good enough, fear people will discover the real me, fear that I’m an imposter, fear that I cannot cope with my feelings and fear of just about everything and anything. Whilst a lot of what happened to me in my childhood wasn’t my fault, it was understandable that I used drugs as a coping mechanism. It was also explained to me that physiologically, I am different to people who can drink normally. They say its the first one that does the damage, because it sets off a mental and bodily craving for more. All bets are off.
I was also able to develop accountability for my actions and get a firm understanding of how my mind works. It was time to grow up. And I did.
I am pro-12 steps. I am undertaking them for a third time. Each time I reveal more about myself and more about the disease I suffer with. However, you may have heard, as I have, time and time again that it is a god based programme. It is not. It is a programme founded upon spiritual principles, which require the development of a relationship with a higher power – a power that could be the collective power of the group, nature, or a formal religion. It can truly be anything. It was once explained to me that the tide going in and out is a power greater than me. And that it is.
3. Meetings. I attended a meeting every day for about a year. It was suggested that if I drank every day, I needed a daily commitment to recovery. I was fortunate in that I was able to take off the first couple of months and was able to just about attend a meetings, establish a routine, meet for coffee and write my step work. It was a full-time job. I would strongly encourage anyone to take this time out. Having said that, I know women who are single mothers and worked, they still attended five meetings a week. At meetings you get chips or keyrings, these were really incentivising to me. If you can’t get to a meeting, listen to a share online, try this link.
4. Service. Obtain a position of service at a meeting; a brew postion is ideal, or literature or meeter/greater. This will ground you. It will teach you reliability, accountability, develop your humility and get you thinking of others rather than yourself. What’s particularly valuable, is that it gets you to meetings, regularly.
5. Coffee & Friendship. Seriously. Take up the offers to go for coffee. Take a risk and ask other women/men. There is great power in collective empathy of the group, but its easy to isolate yourself in a meeting – you can arrive late and leave early without connecting with anyone – the coffee gives you the opportunity to talk and connect with other like minded people and seek advice, talk about what is going on for you. I spent my first two years in coffee shops. Develop a network. I have a group of three women who I keep in regular contact with, and its a vital part of my recovery.
6. Read. I read many, many books about alcoholism. I found NA and AA books fascinating. I read about co-dependency, which all addicts suffer from – but I was horrified when someone suggested that. They explained my disease. I also read Hazelden’s collection of three books on your first three years in recovery. I plan to publish a blog of a list of resources, including a reading list, but here are a few that I found particularly useful: Year one, When All that changes is everything. Year two, Getting comfortable now that everything is different; and Year 3 Finding out who you really are.
7. Exercise – this is really important! I cannot emphasize enough the importance of daily exercise. Try and do just 30 minutes a day. In the early days, it serves to provide a number of benefits: it occupy your mind, eases feelings of anxiety and depression, releases endorphins and improves self-confidence. I actually found that it energised me, and helped me to make healthier choices. I also slept much better.
8. Eating nutritious food. Again, this is instrumental in a solid foundation of recovery AND forming a manageable life. I incorporated a weekly meal planning routine, whereby I picked healthy recipes from my cook books or online (follow pages such as mind body green, Matthew Lovitt, OhSheGlows on facebook, oh and Livslocomotion of course!), and formulate a meal plan for the week. I’d then pull together a shopping list based on that plan and order it online (I didn’t have a car), or I would visit the food markets, which took up a few hours and provided some exercise. The shopping list, therefore, didn’t require chocolate, cheese, bread and other foods I can eat to excess. Stick the plan on the fridge. Some great meal planners are here: tip junkie
9. Sleep and lots of rest. I was exhausted early days, and for about 18 months. I still suffer quite badly with tiredness when I’m emotionally drained. Keeping an eye on my tiredness is a really important factor to monitor. Sleep hygiene is vital to feeling rested; I go to bed early, turn off all electronic devices at least half an hour before bed, put on a deep sleep meditation on YouTube, removed my TV from my bedroom and I ensure that I get a minimum of eight hours a night. I stripped back all activities to these listed here for the first few months. My body needed rest to recover. Do it. Don’t feel, or let others tell you not to rest. Yes, recovery and meetings come first, but rest and sleep are integral parts of that recovery. As long as you’re getting out to a meeting and connecting with others, rest away.
10. Change your environment. If you want to change, you not only have to change internally, but you have to change your external environment. This means your using buddies, where you hang out and possibly where you work. They say ‘if you keep going to the barbers, you’ll eventually get your hair cut.’ True story. I’d left my job and had very few friends left. The ones who cared are still here today, and are so very supportive. I’m very lucky.
11. Yoga & meditation. I cannot tell you how much this has been an integral part of my journey. It is so wonderful, when I convince myself to go! Its a connecting-the-dots experience; like your mind, heart and soul connects to your body. I practise yin or restorative yoga, which is great for tight hips and restoration – they say that you store a lot of emotions in your hips. You cant quite quantify how amazing it is, it just is. It works. I highly recommend you find a class and make it a part of your recovery practise.
12. Have fun and get a hobby! Recovery is serious stuff. It requires a lot of hard work and is far from easy. It is not for the faint hearted, which is why many people aren’t able to stick with it. I believe that if you really want it, continuously, it happens when you put in the action. Having said that, it can’t all be work, you need laughter. We didn’t get clean/sober to be navel gazing all day, every day. We need to enjoy life. So I tried new things, to discover what I liked – who knew that there were things to do other than using? I tried bowling, going for afternoon tea, having a facial, bumper cars (this was awesome!), going to the cinema, comedy nights, TEDX talks, art galleries, jewellery making, reading, dancing, art classes, pottery making, cookery schools and so so much more is out there. Check out your local gallery. Look at meetup. There are truly loads of fun things to do. Get out there!