Women for Sobriety statement 2

Negative thoughts destroy only myself.

My first conscious sober act must be to remove negativity from my life.

This is something I really struggled with for a long time.   At heart I lean towards pessimism, and I can usually give you the absolute worst case, for any scenario you consider.

But it turns out I’m not alone in having a negative bias.   I recently watched a youtube presentation by psychologist Dr. Rick Hanson.   In it he said that based on how we evolved we’re hard wired to focus on the negative, and quickly perceive threats.   He calls it “Having Velcro for negativity, and Teflon for positivity.”

But since beginning my recovery journey, I’ve done a lot of work in Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT), Compassion Focussed Therapy (CFT), and Mindfulness.

CBT taught me that my emotions and my thoughts are interlinked, and that by changing my thoughts I could change how I feel. It took a lot of thought records, and practice, by slowly it helped me shift some pretty fundamental core beliefs and let me go from believing that I am unlovable to believing that I am likeable.

Mindfulness taught me to pay attention to my thoughts neutrally without judging them.   This was an important first step, because you can’t apply CBT to a negative thought without being aware of what the thought is.   Mindfulness also taught me to stay in the present, rather than being sucked into looking at my horrible past, or feeling terrified about my future.   I won’t say I’m capable of doing this 100% of the time, but the more I practice it, the easier it becomes.

CFT has been an incredibly powerful therapy for me.   It’s main message is that wherever you ended up in life, “It’s not your fault” and that depending on what happened in our childhood and brains can become more hardwired to perceive threats, and that we need to work on learning healthy ways of self-soothing and calming the threat circuits in our brain.

In addition to addiction, I’ve also struggled with recurrent depression through most of my adult life.   I can generally count on at least one major depressive episode a year.   It’s taken a lot work, both in therapy, and in finding the right combination of meds, to get me to place where I can experience happiness, and even joy occasionally.

I’ll never be a Pollyanna, but at least my outlook on life is much more positive now.   And that feels good.


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Getting into my new “Normal”

I’m taking a brief break from the WFS series to write a happy yet slightly uncomfortable post.    I think I’m adjusting to my life in my new “Normal”

Now generally I’ll tell you that normal is a setting on a washing machine but in my head my life has phases – pre-2006, 2007-Now, and lets call it Jan. 2015 to now.

Pre-2006 was my old normal.   It involved being a sad, lonely, alcoholic, workaholic, who was materially and outwardly successful but self-destructing inside.   I don’t want to go there.

Then came the great 2006 implosion where I went to rehab, relapsed, lost my job, went on a very dangerous drinking binge, and landed in the hospital on Christmas day for a really bad detox, where I thought I was going to die.

They hooked me up with my current rehab in early 2007 and since then my life has been an adventure in recovery, relapse, and some decidedly mental weirdness.

Since 2007, I’ve been in a psych hospital 3 times, gone through rehab 8 times, relapsed more times than I can count, learned about mindfulness, declared bankruptcy, lost my apartment and moved into a long term shelter.    On the plus side, I’ve had more great therapy than most people have in a life time, I’ve continued my harp lessons, I went back to school to retrain, and I finally graduated this spring.   I moved out of the shelter, and into a 2 bedroom that I’m sharing with a friend.   And looking at it objectively, I’ve been sober much more often than I’ve been drunk which is progress.

So I finished my retraining this spring and graduated with a 3.5 gpa which I’m pretty happy with.    I’m now job hunting.   I’m sober and happy with it.   I haven’t self harmed in over 4 years.   I like my apartment and my roommate.   I have friends. And my life is strangely drama free.    I’m stable on my meds, although I harbor a wish to get off them someday.

But the real measurement of how much my life has changed for the better, is this past week I started my training to become a volunteer at the distress centre.    Why is this a big deal?   Because I first applied to volunteer with them in 2013, and was turned down because I was just out of the psych hospital, and they have a policy that you can’t volunteer if you’ve been in the psych hospital within the preceding 2 years.    So I’ve been patiently waiting out the 2 years while I sorted out the rest of my life.   I reapplied this spring, was interviewed and accepted and started my training.

It was so great to be at the training.   All the other trainees seem nice, and the woman running the training oozes empathy and competence.    And I was just there with everyone else – a normal person who wanted to volunteer, with previous experience on another distress line.    I wasn’t an alcoholic.  I wasn’t an accountant.   I wasn’t homeless.   I wasn’t a psych patient.   I was just me, a person who wants to help.   Oh and I did disclose that I’m a harpist, because that’s cool.

I’m still broke and stressed about money.   I still have to job hunt, and that’s stressful, but as I sat in that training session I reflected on how far my life has come, and I felt happy.

I think I’m growing into my new normal, and I like it.


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Women for Sobriey Statement 2

Negative thoughts destroy only myself.

My first conscious sober act must be to remove negativity from my life.

This is a tough one for me, but at least it’s one I can say I’ve been working on for some time.     I can be the Queen of Negativity at times.   If you want the worst case scenario, just ask me.   Give me 100 compliments, and one put down, and I’ll latch onto the putdown with an iron grip.   Compliments are hard to hear, and I have trouble accepting them.   I sometimes feel like I’m always waiting for the other shoe to drop.

A few years ago, I read Seligman’s “Learned Optimism”, since I felt I could use some help in that department.   At the end of the book there’s a quiz, which rates your optimism vs pessimism beliefs on a number of axis.   I don’t remember the exact scoring, but if you scored between zero and something you were on the far end of the pessimist spectrum.   I scored -17.   This made me think that maybe I had a problem.

I drank for a lot of reasons, excuses really, but fundamentally it was because I didn’t like myself.   I thought I was broken, damaged, and if you ever got to know the “real” me, you’d run screaming into the night.   I thought I was completely unlovable.

And so I threw myself into a number of roles: star student, successful business person, accountant.   I chased degrees, certifications, and promotions.   But all the time I was growing more miserable, and my drinking was getting worse, until I was trapped in a hellish cycle of workaholism/alcoholism, and the more I drank, the worse I felt, and the more I hated myself, so I had to drink more to numb out those feelings until it became a vicious cycle of 24/7 drinking until I realized that I had to stop or I’d be dead in 6 months and I asked for help.

What I didn’t expect that was by asking for help, the way I did, led to the complete implosion of my life, and my failure to remain sober after my first treatment, led to job loss, multiple trips through rehab, bankruptcy, loosing my housing and winding up in transitional housing, and mostly unemployment.

The last 7.5 years has been the weirdest, scariest, depressing, frustrating, exhausting, yet strangely ok thing I’ve experienced in my life.

I’ve had long sober periods, punctuated with violent relapses.   I also stopped a lifetime of cutting in this period.   I dabbled briefly with codeine and discovered the joys of deliberate overdosing.

I also slowly started working on learning to like myself, and to move the switch from automatically negative, to at least consider the positive.

I can say today that I honestly believe that I am likeable.   There was simply too much evidence for me to ignore it.   Still working on lovable. Got a ways to go there.

Learning mindfulness has helped, learning CBT has helped, doing positive affirmations has helped, all the amazing therapy I’ve gotten has helped.   Meds have helped to an extent although I still struggle with low grade dysthymia most of the time.   My emotional default tends towards sad rather than happy.

But recently, like in the last 6 months or so, I’ve begun to experience happiness and even joy, although it is fleeting.   I sometimes spontaneously have songs come into my head.   I’m doing stuff I like: going to my harp lesson; playing with Maureen’s dogs; knitting; reading; writing; listening to music; seeing friends; going to social stuff because I usually have a fun time, once I get there, even if I dread going.

Part of letting go of negativity for me, also means letting go of my past. It’s history, it sucked for a long time, it defined most of my adult life, and in some ways it still drives my fears and instincts.   But I can’t live there anymore.   I need to focus on the now, and on the future.   When I stay in the now, I’m ok.   When I get too far into the future I panic, catastrophize, and then have to do a reality check that it won’t be that bad.   I need to treat myself the way I treat my friends.   I need to act like I like myself, which I still only partially believe.

I’ve learned to notice negative thoughts, and use thought records to challenge them, and hopefully change them.

My drinking was fueled by negative thoughts and in turn fueled more negative thoughts.   In my sober life, I am trying to fill it with positive activities, as well as trying to change my thought patterns.   I try mostly to do stuff that makes me feel good.

I will never be a Pollyanna, but I do feel like I’ve come a long way, even though I know that fighting negative automatic thoughts will probably always be a struggle.

But I’m up for the fight.


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Women for Sobriety Statement One.

1) I have a life-threatening problem that once had me.

I now take charge of my life and my disease.  I accept the responsibility.

Out of all the statements, this one is the most important to me personally, since until I fully understood and embraced it, I couldn’t sustain sobriety.

So let’s break it down.

“I have a life-threatening problem”

Yes, I do.    I have a chemical dependence on alcohol, that is abated. only by staying away from it.    And it is life-threatening.    I should have died any number of times. towards the end of my drinking days, due to the situations that I let alcohol put me in, from falling and hurting myself in black outs, or from overdose, given the amount I was drinking.    When I first went into rehab, my liver function tests were off the charts, and I have a fatty liver.   For a long time though, I couldn’t accept that my problem was life threatening – so I got hurt when I blacked out, big deal – it was a funny story to share, except I was the only one laughing.     And I will have it all my life.   There is no cure for addiction, except total abstinence which can put it into remission.   But every time I get the thought, “a drink would be nice”, “I’d like a beer”, or “I’d like to numb out for awhile” I have to remind myself, that those would be very bad choices and would start me down a road I might not come back from.


“That once had me.”

But there’s hope.    As long as I stay sober, the active part of my disease is in my past.   It doesn’t define me.    I was in a day hospital program, for depression a few year ago, and since I was also dealing with addiction, I had a daily appointment with the hospital’s addiction’s specialist, who was an amazing nurse.    I’d relapsed upon entering the program, since I didn’t want to be there, and continued to drink for the first week, I was in the program.    Then I finally realized that was stupid, and sobered up.     On my 5th day sober, the nurse said to me.    “Good news, now that you’ve been sober 5 days, the alcohol is out of your system, and you have a choice.   You can choose never to drink again.”     When I’m actively drinking I lose the power of choice – all bets are off, and the addiction takes over.    When I’m sober, I can choose to stay that way.


“I now take charge of my life and my disease.”

To me this means, I own my recovery.    Nobody else is going to keep me sober.    What does that look like for me?    Well it means daily writing and meditation, participating in on-line recovery communities, reading about recovery, taking antabuse, and staying involved in groups at my rehab, and seeing a psychologist, once a week.    It also means being aware of HALT (hungry, angry, lonely, tired) and making sure that I don’t ever become too much one of those things.   It means eating a healthy diet as much as possible.   And, it means taking care of my mental health, by seeing my psychiatrist regularly and taking my meds as prescribed.


“I accept the responsibility.”

No one is going to do it for me.   Staying sober is 100% on me.   It means learning to live with the hard feelings, and finding new ways to celebrate.   It means making the choice to not pick up, and doing whatever I have to do to remain sober.    And I’m going to give it my best shot, because the alternative isn’t pretty.



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New 13 Week Series on the Women for Sobriety Statements

Women for sobriety encourages women to journal about their feelings on the 13 affirmation statements that make up the program.    We are also encourage to pick one or two to really focus on incorporating into our lives for whatever period feels comfortable for you, be that a day or a week.

So for the next 13 weeks I’m going to be sharing my thoughts on what each statement means to me, and how it plays out in my life.  S0 watch for my thoughts on Statement 1 next weekend.

Here are the statements:

Women for Sobriety “New Life” Acceptance Program

 1) I have a life-threatening problem that once had me.
I now take charge of my life and my disease.  I accept the responsibility.
 2) Negative thoughts destroy only myself.
My first conscious sober act must be to remove negativity from my life.
3) Happiness is a habit I will develop.
Happiness is created, not waited for.
4) Problems bother me only to the degree I permit them to.
I now better understand my problems and do not permit problems to overwhelm me.
5) I am what I think.
I am a capable, competent, caring, compassionate woman.
6) Life can be ordinary or it can be great.
Greatness is mine by a conscious effort.
7) Love can change the course of my world.
Caring becomes all important.
8) The fundamental object of life is emotional and spiritual growth.
Daily I put my life into a proper order, knowing which are the priorities.
9) The past is gone forever.
No longer will I be victimized by the past. I am a new person.
10) All love given returns.
I will learn to know that others love me.
11) Enthusiasm is my daily exercise.
I treasure all moments of my new life.
12) I am a competent woman and have much to give life.
This is what I am and I shall know it always.
13) I am responsible for myself and for my actions.
I am in charge of my mind, my thoughts, and my life.

© [copyright] Women for Sobriety, Inc., PO Box 618, Quakertown PA 18951 (www.womenforsobriety.org).  One time permission granted to post at http://backfromthesidelines.com/ and http://hazeldensocial.org/community/.


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Letting go of shame

I had something of a breakthrough, about 6 weeks ago, when I was being interviewed for a volunteer position on their phone lines.

I’d applied 2 years ag0, and had gone through all the steps and was in the final interview stage when I revealed that I’d been hospitalized 3 months prior.    That was a problem because they have policy that you can’t volunteer if you’ve had a psych hospital admission in the preceding 2 years.    I can understand that – they want to make sure you can handle emotionally, difficult calls.   So I’ve been waiting out the 2 year period, and as soon as I hit that milestone reapplied.

My interview this time, was with the same woman I’d interviewed with 2 years ago, so she dispensed with a lot of the preliminary stuff.

And then she asked the question: “Can you tell me about an emotionally distressing time in the past 2 years and tell me how you handled it”    I almost laughed, I had so many experiences to call upon.

But I decided to talk about the bankruptcy, and my drinking and shopping problems, and not being able to keep my apartment and having to move into transitional housing.

I told her I’d coped by getting professional help re the bankruptcy,  writing a lot, my on-line support groups and calling on friends.   I then told her I was in a much better place now – sharing an apartment and finishing school.

Her reaction was to say that was a really good example of resilience and recovery.

But the big deal reaction that I had was I’d felt no shame when I was telling my story. I was a tad embarrassed, since I really should know better than to ring up 44,000 in credit card debt.    And not feeling shame was the worst.

I think I’ve carried shame around with me, most of my life, and certainly it’s been one of the major themes for me, since starting this recovery journey in 2006.

And ever since that interview, I haven’t felt ashamed.   I’ve finally reached the point in my addiction that I was already there with mental health.   It’s just part of my story.  It doesn’t define me.    And if someone wants to judge me on my past, that’s out of my control, so I’m not going to sweat it.

It’s so nice to finally be able to just say that I’m ok with being me.


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I think I’m becoming ok, with who I am.

In my last post, I wrote about how my psychologist said she wished I could get to the point where I accepted who and where I am, and just be ok with it.

I think I got my first taste of that this week.

A couple of  weeks ago I had an interview to volunteer with the Distress Centre.   I’d interviewed with them 2 years ago and had been told at that time, that I’d be a great fit, but I couldn’t be accepted because I’d been in a psych hospital in the preceding 2 years.     Since then, I’ve been volunteering elsewhere and I’ve been waiting out the 2 year period until I reapplied a few weeks ago.

The woman doing the interview, didn’t have that many questions for me, as I’d been thoroughly interviewed 2 years ago.    What she really wanted to know is what I’d been doing in the past 2 years, and how I’d handled any intense emotional experiences.    In the context of a job interview, this would have been completely illegal, but they need to know that volunteers are stable and able to handle the intensity of calls, so I was ok with it.

And surprisingly I really was ok.   I told her about my bankruptcy, losing my apartment and having to move into transitional housing, my struggles with staying sober, dropping out of school in 2013, and 2014 and my struggles with finishing school now.

And I was ok.   I didn’t turn red.   I didn’t stammer.   I didn’t minimize.   I didn’t try to excuse things.    I just gave the facts, in all their ugly glory.

And she didn’t treat me like a social pariah.   She said it told a story of real resiliency.   I’m not sure what reaction I was looking for but that wasn’t it.   The main thing is I didn’t feel bad.

I guess I’m becoming ok, with being me.


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Just “Be”

I was in my session with my psychologist earlier this week, and we were talking about the expectations I put on myself around work and school, and where I should be with my life at my age.     I tend to put pretty heavy expectations on myself, and so feel tense and frustrated a lot, which then leads me to thoughts of drinking or abusing my meds to numb out.

My psychologist, who has heard this before, kind of sighed, and simply said, “I really wish you could put your expectations aside, and just be, be happy with who you are, right now.

I agree with her, but easier said than done.  But I am trying.

This is where mindfulness comes in.    I’m getting better at the practice so that there are periods in the day, where I can just shut off the worry and the anxiety and just be 100% in the present, and it does help me.    I just need to do more of it.

So one of my goals for the year, is to just be.   And to be ok with that.


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When your Dr. tells you it’s the end of the road

I had a very discomforting conversation with my addictions Dr. on Fri.    I was telling her how much I wanted to drink, and that the desire was being fulled by anxiety around returning to school to finish a post graduate diploma, and pressure from my roommate to get through the course and get a good job, since I’m carrying the bulk of the expenses – I’m ok with that by the way.

We were talking about how whenever I go back to school, or start a new job, I almost always relapse and she said I needed to get to the bottom of whatever the fear was, so that I could stop self-sabotaging myself.    I agree with that, and do think my drinking has a large element of self sabotage to it.

And then she dropped the bomdbshell.    She said “you can not afford another relapse.”   I guess I looked a little taken aback and she said that one thing she took away from AA when she was attending it, was the idea that I might have another relapse in me, but may not have another recovery.    She doesn’t think I have another recovery in me.

My last relapse was pretty bad, even by my standards.   I had a partial seizure, and stopped breathing at one point.   I’m still not sure how I got out of it.   But I did.

I have I guess what you’d call a somewhat cavalier attitude towards relapse and drinking.   I figure if I choose to drink, and I do believe it’s a choice it’s mine to make and if I die, I die.   I’m not afraid of death.

However she said the next time you relapse, odds are your going to walk in here with yellow skin, heart problems, or a cognitively impaired brain to the point where you’ll have to be parked in a long term care facility.    Those things all scare me.  Because that’s not how i want to die.   I’m better than that.

So today is another day in choosing not to drink.



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Happy New Year 2015 – My motto, “No Quitting”

Gosh, I can’t believe it’s been over a month since I last posted.    It’s been a weird time with lots of ups and downs.       But, as I said to my addictions Dr., and psychiatrist in my post Christmas meetings, I didn’t drink, I didn’t OD, and I didn’t try to kill myself, so on balance it was good.

Now you might think, that’s setting the bar kind of low, but for me, it’s actually pretty good, since those are all things I have done in the past, with some regularity around holidays.

So now it’s 2015, and I have some big and scary goals.

#1 is going back to school, and finishing my forensic accounting program, so that I can write my Certified Fraud Examiner exams.     I had to do a psych withdrawal last year, my profs all know that, and I’m afraid of being judged when I go back.     I’m also afraid that they won’t be willing to act as references because of that, and that I won’t be able to find a job on graduation.    But I can’t let my fear get in the way of being successful, I just have to make it to class 3 days a week, and do the work, an odds are I’ll do well.   I just have to keep saying no to fear.

My #2 project is writing my book.   That’s really big and scary because it means looking back and sharing honestly my struggles with alcoholism and mental health and a lot of it isn’t pretty.    Some of it is a story or receiving great help, but it also has a lot of my screw-ups including a few that landed me in the hospital.     I still haven’t decided if I’m going to publish it under my real name or a pseudonym.     Will have to see how the fear factor is at publication date.

But my most important goal, is not engaging in self destructive behaviour.    I can’t afford to relapse.    I don’t want to OD, well I do, but I don’t at the same time.     I really want to avoid trying to kill myself.   These are all hard because they’re my go to behaviours.   I have to think through them, before I get to healthy coping mechanisms, because healthy just doesn’t come easily to me.

So I’m going to keep up with my rehab activities that are useful to me, continue knitting and playing my harp, and continue writing.

And most importantly, I’m going to keep telling myself “Don’t give up.”


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