Honestly, it's really great to have some project or to create some project for yourself in early sobriety. Work off your early days creatively.
I've had the fortune of a painting commission. I've been working at it for about four or five days interrupted by two teaching days. I think that it's complete now but I'm going to sleep on it.
I'm happy with it and grateful for the project. If you're in early sobriety and biting your nails or something, make a list of everything you could do. Draw, sing, make up a song, make up a dance, knit, leaf through a Martha Stewart Living magazine if your imagination is not in gear. Cook some great meal just for fun. Practice an instrument.
Get involved with a creative project for the sake of doing the thing not to be great at it. This is definitely not the time to be saying that you're no good at anything. Who cares? It takes a gazillion hours of practice to get good at something. Just start for the fun of it.
Pick up a pencil or pen and start making marks on a piece of paper. The marks don't have to look like anything at all. Start a doodle diary. There's an idea.
Watch your crazy thinking evaporate and your energy flow into making something. It's a good thing.
After the first few days of adjustment, you may notice that time becomes more available.
Sure, it is now possible to do more because you are no longer knocking yourself unconscious but even better,
you become more available.
When you start regaining consciousness, life opens up. You will be reminded of anxious thoughts that may have once made you want to knock yourself out. You will also notice more details in your environment. You may experience fatigue but you will also find a drive to do, to take little actions. Do take little actions. Don't try to conquer anything major.
About those anxious thoughts that arise... I encourage you to allow them to be. No, it's not always going to be easy.
Sit with those thoughts. Notice their images, texture, words, placement (if they're in the past or future). Notice how familiar they feel. Feel what is happening in your body. Where are they making you tense? How are they making you want to react?
You are going to be uncomfortable. Be uncomfortable. The discomfort will pass. It'll come back again. Then it will pass again.
In fact, you've gotten into a habit of being uncomfortably sick from alcohol. The discomfort you notice now is the weirdness of not knocking yourself unconscious when habits of thought arise.
Is that too convoluted? Basically, you're trading one way of dealing with discomfort with a different (better) way of being uncomfortable.
So what are you supposed to do about it?
Breathe. Just breathe. Then notice where you are. What's in your room? If you're outside or in the car, notice the trees or buildings. Feel your hands on the steering wheel. Connect to your immediate environment. Get into your body (and out of your mind).
See what that does for you.
Here's what you're doing. You are starting a practice of putting your higher mind (as in your pre-frontal cortex) in charge. Much, much more on that later. But for now, every time you have a thought that makes you want to react by reaching for a drink:
Notice where you are
Get into your physical body
Sit with the thought until it passes
It's a practice. Practice doing this.
Time will open up.
After a binge, it's going to take a few days to set yourself straight.
My last binge involved four nips of Jameson's, three glasses of red wine and a large pizza. By my third day sober, my body was still begging for good digestion.
But did I sip ginger tea, lemon water and eat cucumbers? No (although that would have been a very good idea.) I ate more bad carbs, drank coffee and ! smoked cigarettes. Now, I can only tolerate 3 cigarettes at the most without feeling like I've been hit by a truck in the morning but I am revealing my less than wise choices in the first few days of releasing myself from alcohol because I want to make a point.
AA rooms are often set with coffee and cookies and smokers outside. Common recommendations are often to allow yourself sweets and any sort of substitute of something, anything!, to put in your mouth instead of alcohol. So, okay. If you have to go with it, do whatever it takes to not let alcohol pass your lips. For just a little while.
On my third day sober, I ate a huge chocolate chip cookie. It took me all day to work my way through it because my stomach (which was still digesting pizza) was like, uh-uh. Don't do it. But I did. And I suffered a bit.
If you have to stuff something in your mouth instead of alcohol for the first few days, go for it. But do it with awareness.
Become aware of how easy it is to substitute one habit for another. Do you want to substitute over-eating for over-drinking? Probably not. You do not have to.
If you are newly sober, you may crave sugar and highly processed "foods". Just be aware that drinking alcohol causes your blood sugar levels to drop and when your body is adjusting to being alive without alcohol, it'll probably take a little while for your blood sugar levels to adjust. That's an educated guess. I'm not a doctor.
And there's probably no question about developing an addiction to nicotine just because you've quit drinking. Right?
In your first few days, your first week or so, your body is like, whoa! What is happening? The body is a magnificent instrument. It will learn to readjust and heal itself. With your common sense.
While this is happening, what your mind can do is notice your knee jerk reactions to the process of your body trying to right itself.
Give yourself a break. Do not beat yourself up. If you feel ugghish, sluggish, if your tummy is distressed and you want to stuff your pie hole with anything that fits, well, just become aware of what you are doing and how it makes you feel.
Awareness is half the battle. You became aware that alcohol was a problem for you. Now, you're going to expand that awareness. Get into how your body feels.
And, by the way, give yourself a happy pat on the back for not putting any alcohol into your mouth. And a huge round of applause.
You are righting your mighty ship! That is the ship of your soul.
It's a pledge. When you make a commitment, you obligate yourself. The use or embodiment of the act of commitment is one of the first concepts I learned in my training as a life coach.
If you struggle with sobriety, if you struggle with relapse, if you've ever woken up after a hangover and sworn that you will never touch a drop again, and yet... you did, this post is for you.
Have you sworn a pledge to yourself? Have you obligated yourself to your own best life (because that's what an alcohol-free life will bring you)? Have you untangled your promise to never pick up a drink again from your feelings of regret, self-loathing, hopelessness, powerlessness, lack of self worth?
Whatever you may have been taught to think of power and powerlessness when it comes to the use and abuse of alcohol, one thing is for sure...
You have the power to commit to yourself!
Now I'm going to tell you a bit about W. H. Murray.
Murray was a Scottish mountaineer who was captured and held in several Nazi prisoner-of-war camps for three years. During that time, in poor health and without proper nutrition, Murray wrote the draft of a book called Mountaineering in Scotland on rough toilet paper. The Gestapo found the first draft and destroyed it. Murray then re-wrote the book, again on toilet paper. After the war, he published the book and then wrote another.
I share that bit about Murray with you as an example of determined commitment. But the real reason I bring him up is to share his quote with you. One of my most favorite quotes ever because it's true, because it's helped me in the past, I am using it today to help myself and, I hope, to help you.
"Until one is committed, there is hesitancy, the chance to draw back, always ineffectiveness. Concerning all acts of initiative (and creation), there is one elementary truth the ignorance of which kills countless ideas and splendid plans: that the moment one definitely commits oneself, then providence moves too. A whole stream of events issues from the decision, raising in one's favor all manner of unforeseen incidents, meetings and material assistance, which no man could have dreamt would have come his way. I learned a deep respect for one of Goethe's couplets:
'Whatever you can do or dream you can, begin it.
Boldness has genius, power and magic in it!' "
—W. H. Murray
Take the first step now. Even if you've taken first steps before. Do it again.
Commit to yourself. Put one foot in front of the other. Begin.
The best thing to do is nothing.
You're natural tendency is to act. Distract. Do something! Say something.
But honestly, when you don't know what to do next...
Sit tight. Stay in bed if you have to. Stop. Sit. Breathe.
Whatever it takes when you don't know what to do next, don't do anything.
That's the ruling, experienced wisdom. Take heed. Follow it.
Tomorrow is another day.
The time is always right to do what's right.
— Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
There's a funny thing about doing the right thing.
Doing implies action.
Sometimes, oftentimes really, doing the right thing requires that we refrain from doing.
Especially when it comes to recovering from addiction.
Whether we are addicted to alcohol, food, anger, negative thoughts, and so on and so forth... the right action is refraining from action.
There's still the same impulse for action happening up front. Act! Speak! Do!
But before action or refraining comes envisioning, clarity, intention, decision, commitment.
Refraining from action is more difficult, more challenging than action. You need space. You need space and time for all the aforesaid considerations. Just a second but definitely at least a second.
That's where some sort of meditation or mindfulness or breathing practice comes in. That's where ongoing sobriety really helps. A lot.
It's a matter of time. And if you can't get into anything else. Get into the present moment. Whatever you may be feeling or wanting to do. If you can snap yourself into the present moment long enough to check in with another person about what (destructive) action you may have the impulse to take, you may buy yourself enough time to snap yourself out of taking action you would be better off refraining from.
Learn to enjoy every minute of your life. Be happy now. Don't wait for something outside of yourself to make you happy in the future. Think how really precious is the time you have to spend, whether it's at work or with your family. Every minute should be enjoyed and savored.
I am an expert at changing my life. Since the age of 21, from time to time, I've picked up and moved myself lock, stock and barrel across the country and back again and up and down the coasts and through Europe and the American South. I've changed career course on several occasions.
Way back when I was eighteen or so and at a loss and in between and without guidance, I sat myself down at a giant desk that was parked at the bay windows inside my rented room across from Haverford College. There I made a decision that, having no idea how to plan my life or what steps to take next, I would go out and experience life fully, madly, deeply and then settle down and write about it.
Now would be about that time I'd planned to settle down and write.
In my mid-30's, I was out rowing on the Charles in Cambridge one morning. I was miserable and at a loss and confused. I made a decision that, by the end of two years I would be earning my living as a singer and fulfill my duty to the beautiful voice I was born with and realize my true identity as a musical artist. I knew that if I did not start taking action at that moment, I'd be filled with regret by the age of 65.
I did it. By the end of two years I was performing at my first CD release concert. I became a professional performing songwriter, produced five recording projects and toured solo all over the US and Europe. Early on, I discovered that the touring life was not healthy for me so turned to teaching music, drawing and watercolor and freelanced as a visual artist, writer and teacher. I’ve been teaching drawing and watercolor (amongst other things), and coaching private clients and groups for the past 21 years.
About six years ago, I went through a situational depression, was prescribed a psychotropic drug which I took against my better judgement and, as a result, started drinking after many, many years sober. I made some less than wise decisions, experienced a series of losses, exceptional stress, problematic eye surgery and other blows. All the sturm und drang of course was colored dark by drinking alcohol too regularly as a self-medication tactic in response to stress which, of course, created more stress and mess.
It also has not helped that I’ve recently been teaching drawing and watercolor live in an environment that has challenged me. I have bent over backwards trying to make it work but at the end of every set of weekly classes, I have felt like I’ve just returned from the front. Emotionally slain.
On the other hand, as challenging situations do, I have learned a lot about myself and relied heavily on healing practices new and old.
Of course, there have been high points and successful creative projects throughout these years but overall, I aged, gained weight and felt less and less like my optimistic, healthy self. I felt as though I'd lost my joie de vivre. I victimized myself with habits of self-criticism, regret, and negative thinking in general. As the world turned in such ways that it became almost unrecognizable, I was turning, too.
Time for a change.
A dear friend once told me about a visit to her shrink during which she unloaded a ton of problems. When she finished, her shrink looked at her and said, "That's great! Now what are you going to do about it?"
This is what I am doing about it. I have started up a school for self-healing. Because I am not only an expert in changing my life but an expert in self-healing.
Over the past five years, I've been teaching live (and one long online) healing courses and always leave these classes and courses feeling elevated, good, and thrilled that people have been truly helped.
I am changing my life again.
Here are some ground rules.
Those are ground rules that I refer to and practice on a daily basis. There are more but those are a few highlights.
I am making other changes, too. It's confusing and scary because the path forward is not clear and I have to make slightly public course corrections here and there. But that's normal. And change is literally vital.
The temptation is to build this project around sobriety and, certainly, it goes without saying that that is absolutely required. However, there is more (much more) to this game of self-healing than alcohol.
One common thread is chronic stress. Chronic stress, the causes, triggers, responses and solutions will be addressed. The common solution is learning to heal ourselves. And that's a process, a journey and a multi-layered experience.
So... I'm building this project around healing, evolving and becoming fully conscious. It's going to be great fun and fascinating.
Game on. Come along if you'd like to join me, heal and change your life, too.
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