Practicing Recovery


By: Aspen Stoddard/staff writer

After more than a decade of using substances to avoid my “self,” one of the hardest parts of transitioning into sobriety was learning new tactics for dealing with the cycle of anxious thoughts spinning constantly in my mind.

Sure, I understood the idea of living one day at a time, but the fear of having to sustain this thought-battle in my mind permanently taunted me. How would I ever get through? It was right around this time period that my therapist suggested meditation.

“Have you ever tried?” she asked. I had not. I started to get a little angry: I needed real help. Being inside my mind was part of the problem.

“It works for me,” she said. “I find I have more energy afterward.”

I tried not to laugh. I imagined myself sitting cross-legged on some maroon rug trying to keep my eyes shut. I wouldn’t last ten seconds. My thoughts churned inside my head like hurricanes. There was no way I would be able to quiet my mind. In fact, I believed trying to sit still would only make the thoughts worse. I also thought that meditation was a practice that one needed to grow up with in order to efficiently perform. I’m a small-town girl who has experience in self-destruction. What did I know about meditating?

So instead of taking my friend’s advice, I returned to the chaos of my mind and continued struggling within the way I had grown used to.

After a few weeks, and at a point where I was feeling worn out and on the verge of running back toward drugs to ease my mind, the idea of meditation returned to me. I decided to give it a shot. I began with guided meditations, which allowed me to listen to someone tell a story.

If you have ever listened to a guided meditation, then you can probably imagine the soothing voice suggesting: find a place to sit down. You can choose a soft pillow or a cushioned-chair. Just find a place to sit down and be comfortable and then close your eyes. Concentrate on the cool air streaming through your nose. Just stay right there. Breathe. Think only of the flow of oxygen moving in and out. Allow thoughts to enter and exit your mind without attempting to interpret them. In other words, relax. Allow yourself to be.

I sat with my eyes pinched closed, my body taut with tension, and a voice in my head telling me that it was time to relax (not telling—more on the verge of panicking). I could only think about how I didn’t know what I was doing.

But then slowly something strange happened. After about five minutes into the session, I was suddenly only aware of the muscles in my body and the woman’s voice who was guiding me. I felt the circuit of energy moving in waves through me. When I finally opened my eyes, tears streamed down my cheeks. Not so much because I had an out-of-this-world spiritual experience (though, that would come later after more practice) but because of the relief my brain felt. I had, if only for that short moment, escaped from my anxious thoughts.

I escaped without poisoning my body.

One of the common misconceptions about meditation is that you must force your mind to empty. The reality is quite the opposite. Rather than forcing the mind to be silent, meditation asks that you allow thoughts to freely flow without judging them. For the addict in recovery, I think this is one of the most essential terms-—judgement. As addicts in recovery, we are professionals at judging ourselves. We are not so expert at acceptance. Meditation allowed me to begin to forgive myself for hurting myself and others. Through a steady practice of meditation, I could allow those thoughts to enter my mind and let them pass.

It has been a few years now since I started practicing meditation. I find that I am more stable when I am practicing. When I get off track and start skipping sessions, I feel myself spiraling. Meditation forces me to sit with myself, to be aware of my awareness, to allow a maelstrom of thoughts to appear and disappear without trying to over-analyze them.

But don’t just take my word for it; in a recent study by Harvard in 2011, researchers found that an eight-week program of meditative practice changes the gray matter in the brain, the region that controls stress, memory, empathy, and our sense of self.

Again, keep in mind that meditation works best as a daily practice. It’s best to find a way to incorporate meditation as part of your lifestyle than to see it as time-absorbing exercise. You don’t need a lot of time. In fact, I started with just ten minutes a day.

Check out these websites for a variety of specified guided meditations:

 

To learn more about our programs or for a campus tour  of St. Joseph Institute, please visit our website. You can also call us directly at 877-727-4465. 

holidaysFor people in recovery, New Year’s Eve can present a minefield of obstacles to staying sober that aren’t present on other holidays. There is the idea that celebrating the change from one year to the next is linked with popping corks and consuming alcohol. Anyone who plans a quiet evening or who doesn’t join a party may feel as though they are “missing out” on the festivities.

To keep your goal of staying sober on New Year’s Eve intact, you need to start with a plan. The strategies listed here will help you stay aware of the pitfalls at New Year’s Eve parties while giving you suggestions about avoiding the temptation to drink.

Tips for Staying Sober When Celebrating New Year’s Eve

Plan new traditions for your new lifestyle
You’re no longer the same person you were when you were drinking. Your New Year’s Eve celebration doesn’t have to be the same, either. Let go of any pressure to keep doing things the same way, “…because this is the way we’ve always done it.”

Look for family-friendly activities as an alternative parties
Instead of going to a party where you know alcohol will be served, consider going to a family-friendly activity in your community. Many of these are available for free or at low cost. Your local library, community news channel, and chamber of commerce website are all good sources of information for what’s going on in your community.

Attend parties where drinking is not the focus of the evening
Choose the types of parties you attend carefully. Dinner and dancing is a much better option than a cocktail party. If the evening’s festivities include some type of event or activity, as opposed to simply consuming alcohol, it’s a much better option.

Bring someone to the party with you
A good friend can keep you engaged in conversation so you don’t get bored while making sure you leave the party before you start to get tired. Both of these are red flags that you might be vulnerable to having a drink. The person you bring could be a friend, relative or your sponsor. Make sure the person you choose will support you in maintaining your sobriety throughout the evening.

Rehearse saying “no” to alcoholic drinks in advance
If you decide to attend a New Year’s Eve party and you know that alcohol will be served, go over how you will turn down an invitation to have an alcoholic drink. Keep in mind that you don’t have to explain your reasons for not wanting to drink alcohol.

There are plenty of people who don’t drink because they are taking medication, they are driving home after the party and don’t want their judgment to be impaired, or for religious reasons. A simple, “No, thank you, I’ll just stick to Diet Coke” will suffice. If anyone questions you about your choice, simply repeat your response. Then stop addressing the question.

Very few people will be rude enough to push the issue. If they do, you can always walk away from the conversation. Or leave the party entirely.

Limit the time you spend at a New Year’s Eve party
You don’t have to stay at a New Year’s Eve party until midnight and you don’t have to arrive early in the evening, either. Limiting the amount of time you spend around people who are drinking will make you less likely to be tempted to join them.

Plan something fun for New Year’s Day
The fun of New Year’s celebrations doesn’t have to be wrapped up into one evening. Plan an activity for New Year’s Day that you can look forward to. Friends and family can get together to see a movie, visit a museum, go ice skating or tobogganing (with hot chocolate afterward) or play cards board games together.

If the fun will continue into the next day (or beyond), there is less pressure to make one party or celebration the one time that attendees have to pull out all the stops. Without that pressure, you may feel less tempted to have a drink. It’s New Year’s Eve and it’s a party, but you have other times when you can have fun as well.

If you slip on New Year’s Eve…

Despite your best efforts, you may slip at a New Year’s Eve party and have a drink. Some people think that one drink means their entire sobriety is ruined and that there is nothing they can do but continue the slide into a full-blown relapse. This is not true.

If you slip on New Year’s Eve (or any other day of the year), recognize it for what it is. Call your sponsor. Go to a meeting. Do what you need to do to get your recovery back on track, including seeking professional addiction treatment.

holidays

The holidays can be a difficult time for those who are in the early stages of recovery. If you’re used to a holiday season that involves using alcohol or drugs to socialize and celebrate, navigating a sober Christmas may feel a little intimidating. Prepare yourself for the challenge with this 7-step game plan.

1. Organize Your Support System
Experts agree that having a strong support system in place is the single most important thing you can do to help yourself stay sober over the holidays. Here are some simple ways to prepare your support system for the holidays:

  • Make a list of 5 to 10 people you can call if you’re struggling and feel tempted to relapse. Carry the list with you in your wallet or purse.
  • If you’re traveling, look up addresses of meetings in the area you plan to visit. Keep this information with your list of emergency contacts.
  • When you’re attending social events, try to go with a friend or family member who is supportive of your recovery and willing to help you navigate tricky situations, like politely refusing alcoholic drinks.
  • Ask someone you trust to check in on you regularly during the holiday season.

2. Give Yourself Permission to Let Go
The best gift you can give yourself this holiday season is permission to let go of the toxic people in your life. People who are ill mannered, mean spirited, unsupportive, and manipulative drain your emotional energy and jeopardize your recovery. You deserve better.

Giving yourself permission to let go may mean not returning phone calls or skipping a few holiday parties where these toxic individuals are likely to be in attendance. This isn’t rude; you’re simply giving yourself the space you need to move forward with the next chapter of your life.

3. Keep Your Expectations in Check
The media hype surrounding the holidays makes it seem like everyone has a picture-perfect Christmas celebration. However, the reality is often that children squabble amongst themselves, dinner gets burnt, the dog breaks your favorite tree ornament, and bad weather cancels your favorite cousin’s flight.

These unexpected setbacks are bound to be frustrating, but they’ll be less bothersome if you try to keep realistic expectations for the holidays. Accept that the best parts of life are often messy and imperfect. When you’re frustrated, take a deep breath and try to find humor in the situation.

4. Make New Holiday Traditions
If you’re worried about being tempted to relapse due to holiday rituals that center around alcohol or drug use, now is the time to create new traditions. Make positive memories that fit into your new sober lifestyle.

Ideas for new holiday traditions you might want to incorporate into your Christmas celebration include:

  • Bake and decorate cookies for friends and family.
  • Pick a Pinterest DIY décor project to try.
  • Go caroling.
  • Pop a bowl of fresh popcorn and watch classic Christmas movies with your loved ones.
  • Purchase a special ornament for your tree to commemorate the year.
  • Organize a small Secret Santa gift exchange.
  • Send Christmas cards to family and friends.

5. Take Time to Help Others
Helping others during the holiday season lets you make a positive change in the world while providing a welcome distraction from your own struggles. Once you see how wonderful it can be to do something kind for people in need, volunteering might become a regular part of your routine.

Some ideas to consider include:

  • Volunteer at a local soup kitchen.
  • Spend some time helping care for pets waiting to be adopted at an animal shelter.
  • Make a donation of food or toiletries to a nearby homeless shelter.
  • Visit nursing home residents who don’t have any family nearby to keep them company during the holidays.
  • Deliver puzzles, coloring books, or other inexpensive gifts to a children’s hospital to provide joy to kids who won’t be home for Christmas.
  • Bring homemade treats and a handwritten note of appreciation to firefighters, law enforcement officers, or others who work to help keep your community safe.

6. Make Time for Self-Care
Self-care is a vital part of your recovery, even during the holidays. Don’t get so caught up in the hustle and bustle of the season that you forget these vital self-care principles:

  • Aim to get at least 30 minutes of exercise per day. Regular physical activity strengthens your body, boosts your immune system, and releases endorphins that help balance your mood.
  • Strive to eat a balanced diet that includes plenty of lean protein, whole grains, fruits, and vegetables. A healthy diet helps repair some of the damage to your body caused by drug and alcohol abuse, while giving you the energy you need to get through your daily routine. It’s fine to indulge in a few Christmas sweets, but make sure you’re still getting the fuel your body needs.
  • Make sure you’re getting enough sleep, even if it means turning in earlier at night or making time for a short 20-minute nap during the day.

7. Monitor Your Triggers
The most common triggers for relapse can be remembered with the acronym HALT: hungry, angry, lonely, and tired. These triggers can all be successfully managed, but only if you’re making a conscious effort to think about how your mood affects your urge to drink or use drugs. Writing in a journal each day can be a helpful way to identify patterns in your mood and behavior so you can proactively manage your recovery.

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