Saturday, July 21, 2018

7/21/28 10th Group Mtg, 3rd Ind Mtg, Relapse Drift and ACT

Yesterday, I was at Kaiser for 4 hours! Geez!  The group part went pretty well.  I felt better than I had on Wednesday, shared more and was less irritable. 

We talked about Relapse Drift which is so relevant to me.  I quit for weeks and then slowly drift back into my drinking. They compared this to a boat that is only held to the shore with an anchor slowly being pulled out to sea.  The drifting can be so slow that you don't even noticing it happening.

Relapse does not happen suddenly. It does not happen without warning.  This is a new concept for me as I, as I have said earlier, have taken a passive approach to recovery in the past. Just kind of giving myself permission to be lazy, not work out, eat poorly...at least I wasn't drinking and I deserved it. 

The difference with this approach is that I need to have "mooring lines" that keep me firmly connected to the shore (sobriety) and keep me from drifting.  These things need to be specific and measurable behaviors (not attitudes such as staying positive as they are hard to measure) that help keep me sober. My mooring lines would be working out 4 times a week, doing yoga 3 times per week, meditating 4 times per week, blogging at least once a week, going to a meeting once a week, going to bed on time 6 times per week, reading before bed 5 times per week (instead of internet browsing), watching no more than 2 hours of tv per day, walking my dogs 3 times per week, eating healthy 6 days per week, drinking enough water 7 days per week. These activities keep me mentally strong so that if I do get a craving or are triggered I am better equipped to deal with it. Again, I need to be actively working on my sobriety.

Not only do they keep me strong but they are measurable. Once a week complete a checklist. How many of these did I do? Am I starting to slip? Am I starting to watch too much tv again, not working out, eating junk food, not blogging, etc? If so, it could predict a possible relapse - that my addictive brain is starting to (may subconsciously) work on weakening my strength. Then the relapse justification voice starts whispering in my ear for a while until finally I am triggered by something and have a full on panic attack craving. In my mentally weakened state (from not taking care of myself) I give in. I don;t have to be perfect about every mooring line throughout the week, but need to try to do the things I need to do and regularly take stock to see if I am slipping.

It is a new concept for me to think that relapses are predictable based on observable behaviors.  In the past I just haven't looked at that way.  I just plug along, being passive, only feeling like I need to fight for my sobriety when I am triggered or have a craving. I now know there are things I can do before to keep me strong and ways to recognize my addiction starting to get stronger.

In my individual apt, we talked about two things. I asked if my obsession (blogging, reading, researching) could be keeping me from getting mentally stronger-keeping me in the swamp so to speak. We talked for a while until she got out of me that when I am actively drinking, I do not blog very much bc I just don't want to think about it or look at it. She suggested I keep blogging, then, but try to change the tone. Instead of it being a self deprecating, analyzation of the past, struggling posts, I write about goals, new learning and the positives of forward progress.  I think that is good advice.

We also talked about ACT (Acceptance and Commitment Therapy) which is a version of CBT (Cognitive Behavioral Therapy). I need to do a lot more research on this as I hadn't heard of it before, but it is something about - instead of inherently looking at your thoughts as "wrong" and trying to change them - accepting the way your brain works and working within it to be more positive. I may be totally off, but she said it seems to be a more accepting, compassionate, loving way to deal with yourself. This will be my next research topic lol!  It sounds pretty interesting.

From Wikipedia:

The objective of ACT is not elimination of difficult feelings; rather, it is to be present with what life brings us and to "move toward valued behavior".[6] Acceptance and commitment therapy invites people to open up to unpleasant feelings, and learn not to overreact to them, and not avoid situations where they are invoked. Its therapeutic effect is a positive spiral where feeling better leads to a better understanding of the truth.[7] In ACT, 'truth' is measured through the concept of 'workability', or what works to take another step toward what matters (e.g. values, meaning).

Thursday, July 19, 2018

7/19/18 9th Group Meeting and Boredom

Yesterday's topic was boredom which is HUGE for me.  The boredom really only hits me on Friday nights, Saturday and sometimes Sunday - my normal drinking times. I can get pretty down and feel sorry for myself bc I can't go out with all my friends and have "fun" like I used to.  Nothing even seems fun without alcohol. I learned a couple of things about boredom and how to alleviate it.

Boredom is caused by

1. A structured routine weekend feels differently than an actively drinking weekend.
2. Brain chemical changes during recovery can make people feel flat or bored.
3. Alcohol causes huge emotional swings (high to low and then low to high). Normal emotions can feel flat by comparison.

I am going to try to explain this as well as I understand it. When I drink, it spikes dopamine (the reward/pleasure hormone) in my brain. Then, for me, there is a huge drop the next day (hangover, shame, regret, anger). My dopamine levels looked like a roller coaster - huge spikes Fri-Sat caused by alcohol (probably also Wed-Thurs because of the anticipation of drinking) followed by huge drops Sun-Tues (hangover , shame, anger). I have a hedonic set point of happiness. This the is best image I could find showing this, although it is related to stress instead of addiction.
Image result for hedonic set point and dopamine and addiction

By spiking the dopamine levels with alcohol every weekend I was resetting my hedonic set point - my threshold for happiness - which also explains tolerance and the need to have more drug to get the same level of pleasure

Image result for hedonic set point and dopamine and addiction

So when I stop drinking, my dopamine levels aren't ever getting anywhere near the hedonic set point which explains the feeling down, depressed, sad, not finding enjoyment in anything. It takes time for the hedonic set point to come back down and for the normal dopamine spikes that come from everyday activities (instead of being artificially spiked way above normal with the use of a drug) to be able to get above that level.

Related image


I really like that there is a scientific, biological reason for how I am feeling and proof that it will get better. It helps be realize that I am not just making all of it up.

Ways to fight this boredom until your brain resets:

Keep a recreational activity list I can go to when "bored". Try to do things that I "kind of" like - things that fill me back up such as hiking, yoga, working out, going out to dinner, hanging out with friends, walking my dogs - even if I don;t feel like it. If when finished, I say it was "just ok" - keep doing it. Things may not be "fun or great" yet - don't expect them to be. But, don't stop doing the "ok" things just bc they aren't giving you the same rush of dopamine that alcohol did. Get off the couch, go out and do things and just keep at it. It will get better. I will enjoy things again, it just takes time and sitting around depressed and sad and bored doesn't help.

Give myself things to look forward to. For 30 years I have looked forward to drinking on the weekends after working really hard during the week. I REALLY enjoyed that dopamine rush that alcohol gave me - it was my reward for being such a responsible, hardworking mother, wife, teacher, friend, sister, daughter, etc. I need to replace that with something - a hike, a massage, a trip to the mountains - instead of just doing chores and sitting around being bored all weekend. I need to find a different reward. Not sure what that is yet, but need to keep trying. Being honest, it is hard to replace the dopamine high that I got from alcohol - nothing else seems as "fun" or enjoyable.

Keep a scheduled weekend with interesting activities included. This keeps my "higher thinking brain" in control of my behaviors.

Do something challenging that furthers your personal growth. I am the happiest when being mentally challenged so I'll need to give this one some thought. What new thing could I focus my mental energy on that helps me grow as a person?

In the past I have used my thinking to change my behavior which obviously has not been successful. I think I need to shift to changing my behavior and how I spend my time (even if I don't feel like it ) to change my thinking. Instead of thinking my way out of my addiction I need to behave my way out.

Balance is the opposite of addiction.



Tuesday, July 17, 2018

7/17/18 8th Group Meeting and Signs of Relapse

I was very disenchanted over the weekend. Sooo tired and unmotivated. No pink cloud. Not sleeping very well. Not getting anything done. Watching way too much tv. Super lazy. Eating junk food. Wondering why I am spending all this time at group and individual therapy. Kind of over the whole group think - listening to everyone else's stories. Was I really bad enough to be spending my whole July doing this again? This is the third summer I have wasted obsessing about alcohol. Questioning if I should stop taking the Zoloft bc it is making me feel weird. Maybe I never needed it in the first place. Nervous about my upcoming sober vacation. Nervous about my new job...elementary teacher for 20 years - moving to a middle school math position. Just kind of being down in the dumps about everything.

I did force myself to go to the meeting yesterday. I was not in a good place for the first half - just getting irritated and impatient with all of the other people there and all of their "needing to be heard". It was being facilitated by my least favorite therapist of the three.  After break, however, we talked about signs of relapse and I did learn something new.

In the past I have just tried to ignore any kind of triggers or thoughts about drinking. Just tried to push them out of my head. I tried to ignore them but they would always lead to an irresistible craving that many times I would give in to. The cycle of addiction is "trigger....thoughts .....craving.....relapse". I have always waited to jump in and fight at the craving stage which is ridiculously difficult. When I am having a full on anxiety attack, sweating, heart racing and brain saying "hurry up - just go get a beer - hurry up before you change your mind - hurry - you will be fine", it is so very hard to resist. It isn't even rational thinking at that point. It is the survival mid section of my brain (we learned this in group) overriding my frontal cortex (the rational part) telling me drinking is a survival skill. That is an addicted brain.

I learned that I need to be more proactive during the trigger and thought stage so that it never comes to the craving stage. There are behaviors (not going to group, not blogging, being lazy, not working out, eating poorly, getting irritable, shopping too much, letting my house get dirty, not getting chores done, isolating, not communicating) that start leading to the thought stage (relapse justification - was I ever that bad?, this is stupid, I feel bad anyway so what's the point,  I am sure I could moderate if I just tried harder, I don't want to never drink again, I want to hang out with my friends and fit in, one more hangover and I will be done forever, what am I going to do on vacation or with this new job and all these new people who go out on Fridays after work, maybe now isn't a good time to quit).

Right now I absolutely do not want to drink but I am possibly finding myself in the behavior part of relapse...maybe or maybe not...but I need to address it so it doesn't lead me further down the road to relapse. I need to be proactive.  I need to go to group, blog, work out, eat healthy, get off the couch and get something done, take my medication, feel productive and get out of my own head. If I do get to the thought stage of relapse, I need to use techniques such as visualization, meditation, the "angel on my shoulder" voice, read my letter to myself about all the reason I don't want to drink. If I ever get to the craving stage, I need to learn techniques like distraction and deep breathing to just be able to wait them out. They do pass.

My dh husband asked me last night if I will always need to go to group. He is not addicted so thinks I can just be cured. I told him that I am learning that I need to fight for my sobriety. I can't be passive about it and then be reactive when I get a craving. I need to learn all I can and keep getting support from like minded people. I can't just stop working at it bc I have been sober for a month or 6 months or a year. The addiction never goes away. It's always there...waiting silently...ready to pounce at any sign of weakness...waiting for me to let it get to the craving stage bc that is when it is strongest and I am weakest.  If sobriety is important to me, I need to be proactive and not passive in my recovery. This is a new approach for me and I am ready to work for it.

Sunday, July 15, 2018

7/15/18 7th Group Meeting and No Pink Cloud

Friday was a group meeting and I didn't get a whole lot out of it. It was about regaining trust again in relationships that have been destroyed bc of drinking. That doesn't really apply to me and we have a new member who also really likes to share his stories. He isn't arrogant or in denial like the 5 dui guy but he definitely monopolizes the conversation and now him and the dui guy (who are the same age) start talking about music and AA and when they were young.....it gets a little boring.

My struggle to today is my lack of a pink cloud. The first couple of times I stayed sober for a month, I was riding high with such good feelings and strong motivation. The more times I have stayed sober for a month (what is this like the 10th time), the less of a pink cloud I have. I am tried, lazy, unmotivated, uninspired, a bit depressed and for the first time since I started, don't feel like going tomorrow....just getting a little burned out. Oh well...hopefully it will pass.

Thursday, July 12, 2018

7/12/18 6th Group Meeting and Relapse Prevention

Yesterday was my 6th group meeting. I am learning that there are "addictive behaviors" that everyone has and that those behaviors will start to show up before the relapse. If I learn what those are, pay attention to them and reach out for help when they start happening, it can help me to break the cycle.

We talked about the relapse voice. What do we hear in our head before we actually choose to drink again. I know my relapse voice will say. "You aren't that bad. You never were really that bad. You never had a DUI, lost a job, ruined a relationship, drank in the morning, got the shakes, etc. You just thought you were that bad. It was your latest obsession. Now that you are doing all of this mental health work and getting better in that area, you could probably moderate. It was never really about the alcohol. It was more about not being mentally strong enough to control it. You are now much more mentally strong and could control your alcohol intake, drink with everyone else again and be happy." Man, that give me anxiety even to type it, but I know that is how I would rationalize drinking.

We talked about imagining the angel and devil on your shoulders. That is the devil, my addiction, speaking to me and it will win unless I have an alternate dialogue to shut it down. My "angel" needs to respond with, "You are right. You never did get a DUI, lost a job, ruined a relationship, drank in the morning, got the shakes, etc. and who knows if those things would have ever happened. Chances are you would end up with one of those but who knows. The reality is that you were not happy when drinking. Sure in the moment, while drinking, you felt less inhibition, more social, fun and had lower stress and anxiety. But what you give up is not worth it. You give up your ability to feel true happiness and joy in everyday things. You will be right back to obsessing with when, with whom and how much you are drinking. You have proof that you can't control it - 7 years of blogging proof. 7 years of agony and self hatred and disappointment and mental obsession and fighting and trying and anxiety and exhaustion and heart palpitations and insomnia. You are so much more patient, kind, tolerant, calm, accommodating, self confident and able to take care of yourself when not on the hamster wheel.  What you gain by drinking for those 4-6 hours, is not worth everything else you mentally give up for the other 162 hours of the week. You can do this! You can be strong and say no to this addicted voice that doesn't care about your long term happiness, only the in the moment gratification. You can be a light in this alcohol soaked world that shows people there is a different way to live - that you can be sober and happy - that you don't need a drug to be happy. You can make your family proud! You can make yourself proud! You are a strong woman who can beat this - just don't drink today. Love yourself enough to deny yourself the things that you may want but know are bad for you. You feel so much better and are a better version of yourself when you are sober."

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

7/11/18 - 3rd Individual Appt and Codependency

Yesterday I met with my therapist. We talked a lot about my childhood and how I kind of felt like I never really mattered. My dad was an alcoholic so I always felt like alcohol mattered more to him. My mom was so consumed with my father's alcoholism, her divorce and then her own life once she got remarried that I never felt that I really mattered to her. Even as adults I always felt that my youngest sister mattered more as my mom seemed to always take her side to try to get me to make things better bc she knew my sister wouldn't. I went to 9 different schools in 12 years so I never really mattered to friends except for one when I was in 6th grade, but then we moved.

Maybe that is why I need to feel valued in a conversation. I hate it when I don't think someone is listening to me or all they want to talk about is themselves.  I have been guilty of this as well, but am aware of it and am working on it. The more I work on being a good listener, the more I notice how everyone else is not. Most of the time, I really don't feel like what I say matters. People are really only half listening and are more interested in talking about themselves. It is annoying. It causes me to get impatient and bored in conversations which makes it difficult to socialize which leads to isolation which might lead back to drinking. Alcohol makes me not care about that. When drinking with a friend, I don't notice that they aren't really listening. I don't think either one of us is really listening...just mindless chatter for hours fueled by alcohol. It does, however, make it easier to communicate and be social.

So what am I going to do about that? I asked the therapist and she had two suggestions. First, she suggested I need to expand my bubble of friends. Maybe find some volunteer activities or attend some recovery meetings. Just put myself out there and be open to making some new connections with new people. I think that is a great idea, so I am searching around for some different opportunities.  Instead of quasi-connecting with everyone while drinking, find some friends that I have a lot in common with and enjoy talking to - relationships where I do feel valued.

Second she suggest I read this book: 

Facing Codependence: What It Is, Where It Comes from, How It Sabotages Our Lives

by Pia Mellody.  I thought, "Codependent? What? I don't even think I really know what that means?" I thought it had to do with enabling others in their additions and problems.  Last night I watched this video:  https://youtu.be/xJ2O-r6yfBM . I was fascinated by what she was saying. The part that I identified with the most is being very egocentric in terms of self validation and thinking that everyone needs to think the way I do and understand me. If they don't, it is my job to make them see it my way bc obviously my way is right and they have a problem with the way they see things. The idea is that I shouldn't be trying to change other people and that what their opinion is of me shouldn't have an effect on me. That the neglect I felt in childhood, has caused me to feel undervalued which then causes the secondary symptoms of needing to be liked by everyone and understood at all times....or something like that. I am going to order that book today.

So instead of using alcohol to make me feel liked and valued (bc I don't notice while intoxicated if I'm not being listened to), I need to find new connections with new people and I need to basically live and let live. Be the best person and friend I can be, not let other people's judgement effect me and let other people be who they are without judging them.  

Kind of that whole thing of - "What your opinion is of me is none of my business as long as I am happy with my opinion of myself."

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

7/10/18 - 5th Group Meeting and Isolation

Lots of new people at the meeting yesterday - two of which just got out of inpatient. We were talking about the varying degrees of the people in the group. I shared that although I have only had minor physical withdrawals (heart palpitations, anxiety, sweating) I had mentally gotten so bad that I had wished I would have a withdrawal seizure so I would know for certain I was "bad enough" to stop. The girl who just got out of inpatient said she had gone to medical detox twice in May. She said that you do not want to go through that. It is horrible. Again, I am just using the experiences of all of the people in the group to reinforce my reasons for quitting.  The 5 DUI guy said yesterday that he isn't physically addicted because he doesn't get the shakes.  I want to say to him - "that is bc you admitted you have drank everyday for the past 30 years". He also talks about cracking open his beers in the car on the way home from work bc "why not - they are cold." His level of denial is astonishing and I am tired of listening to his using stories like they are a badge of honor. I am going to ask my therapists today at my individual appointment how to deal with it.

I did learn yesterday that there are certain behaviors that can signal a relapse. For example, I think sometimes I drink bc I am lonely and/or bored. I miss connecting with other people when I isolate. I don't mind watching Netflix on a Saturday night and have given myself permission to do so but I think after a while it starts to depress me a bit. When I really start isolating, maybe that is a sign that a relapse could be coming and I need to do something about it.  I need to find some sober groups to meet with, go out with my friends without drinking, volunteer, accept offers to go out to dinner, just force myself to be around people so that I am not constantly isolating and then have a need to drink to connect.  I am a very social person and I need to find a way to connect with people without drinking or I will end up drinking again bc I am lonely.