At the start of my recovery years of people pleasing had had dulled down who I really was. I had developed an ability to respond to any situation in the way I thought I should rather than the way I actually felt.
Put on top of that years of drinking to dull out the pain and of living a life of lies and I was a great big emotional wreck.
My fellows advised me to build up my tool kit that would help me get through, I never really understood what that meant. How could a set of tools help me, all I had to do what stop drinking? In the early days that was very true, all I did have to do was stop drinking, but then it became about getting through life in a way that meant I wouldn’t ever consider a drink to cope.
Year one was my practical time, I had to learn to recognise my triggers and cravings. I had to manage the addiction and to not pick up. At the time this seemed so hard but I had the support in place for me to tackle demon, alcohol.
Meetings, phone numbers and distractions all helped me get through each day. I would wake each morning and follow my routine thoroughly.
- I’d be thankful for waking up without a hangover.
- I would also read my readings and have a plan for my day.
- If it all got too much or I felt the need for a drink I would call someone, go to a meeting, or find a different distraction.
There were so many ways of overcoming the cravings with food, going for a walk, cleaning, calling another alcoholic in recovery – anything that I could do to not pick up that drink.
As long as I followed that routine daily it kept me sober a day at a time.
One day led to two and on and on until I did my first year. A whole year without alcohol felt incredible and something I never thought I could achieve. During this time I cried A LOT, I got angry, I got sad. Some days I was totally pathetic and others euphoric but none of that mattered – all I had to do was stay sober THAT DAY and I was a success.
I learned to not project – i.e. assume to know how any given situation would make me feel. This was very different to planning and now see planning as a date I put in my diary, projection is an assumption based on little or no knowledge of the outcome.
I learned it was ok to be me – as emotional as I was that was ok and it was all feelings I had supressed for years and years. Alcohol helped me wear a mask of happiness and being part of, until it became destructive and then I used to hide. All of this quashed who I really was and stopped me learning from emotional experiences or mistakes. I never quite worked out who was good or bad for me as the pain (and sometimes the joy) was too overwhelming so instead of sitting it out, I would get drunk. If I was tired, I would get drunk. If I was sad, I would get drunk. If I was uncomfortable or nervous, I would get drunk.
By drinking on all of these feelings I would push then down to the bottom of my subconscious and never understood that these were all normal responses to life and that I had a choice. I just didn’t allow myself the ability to make that choice. I was scared of the consequences, scared of getting things wrong so it was better to do nothing, or so I thought.
Move forward to my rock bottom and my brain was full, it was like living with a giant bag of cotton wool in my head. My thoughts, my feelings and all my emotional responses had nowhere to go and were rattling around unable to get out. I wouldn’t talk about them so couldn’t free them from my mind. All led to an explosion of emotion and then a whole sense that I was done.
This emotional capacity in my brain was at overload so year 1 of sobriety was overwhelming but I got through.
Fast forward now to my 5th year of sobriety, and my sea is calming. The waves of emotion are settling and a sense of knowing who I am is really starting to take shape. At the start of my journey emotionally I was about 5 years old, now I think I am about 20. This is good and is progress and my tool kit, I was advised about in the early days, is well stocked.
Meetings allow me to be honest, own my feelings and share them with my fellows. Most recognise and have been through similar and therefore offer me acceptance of who I am and that it is all OK.
Friends are now ones who know who I am and chose to be in my life, not drinking buddies or the super mums who I thought I needed to befriend. I don’t base my friendships on looks but more a sense of who they are and that they are accepting of me and who I am. Anyone outside of that is an acquaintance. This is my hula hoop and I keep this around me as much as possible and recognise when it slips a little, I bring it right back up around my waist where is should be.
Actions are now slower, more thought out and choices are based on my gut sense of what I want. I feel my feelings and let them pass and flow through me. Sometimes that is deeply painful, even joy can be painful. I have learned now that sitting with them for a period of time and not blurting them out at anyone who is around, even if they are not listening, they balance and become healthier.
Words are now more considered and appropriate. If I am not sure of a response I will pause and maybe say , ”I don’t know what to say, can I please think about that.” I don’t need to just blurt out the first thing that comes to mind to fill a silence or just offer an answer. I try to keep hurtful words inside as they never make me feel better but come out like poison which then creates a real unease in me. I try to allow others to voice their own opinion and consider it is just an opinion and not necessarily my truth.
Even the times where I feel like I want a drink are totally normal, I am a recovering alcoholic after all. It is then what I do with this thought of feeling that is key. More often than not I will share this with a likeminded fellow, this normally takes the power away and then the craving is gone. If not then I will revert to my tool kit of the early days and get to a meeting, talk to a fellow, eat something, drink something (non-alcoholic of course) or carry out an action to take my mind away from that thought.
All of this makes up my toolbox and is crucial to maintain as all the thoughts, feelings, and actions I have ever had in the past have always led me to alcohol. If I keep this up one day at a time, I am another day away from that last drink.