Friday, March 28, 2014

Sober Day #150: Alcohol and smartphone apps- A-CHESS

This is really awesome-  A smart-phone app to help with continued sobriety after acute treatment.  This is not for most of us, as few of us have been through a formal treatment program.  Nevertheless, I think it is well worth knowing about.

I first heard about it on a CBS news feed, and then tracked down the actual article reporting this in the medical journal JAMA psychiatry.  And I found this online video vignette most helpful in seeing how the app could actually work in real time.  In a way, it's a formalized version of what Belle offers, a real-time response to help with those moments of searing temptation.  Belle's is a gentler, more personal version that works better for me, I think, than this app would.  But think of all the hundreds of people who could be helped by something like this!!

I find this in line with what I posted about yesterday, the effectiveness of a kinder, more personalized approach to helping people with alcohol and drug cessation.

I think that knowing what it feels like to be a semi-willing prisoner of a non-helpful chemical, whether alcohol or other mind-altering substances, makes me very driven to extend a hand to others, in the way such kind hands and friendships have been extended to me.  That's one of the reasons I love Lucy's posts.  She is such a great translator of the big picture, the cultural and policy mindsets that lead so many astray by insinuating that excessive drinking is normal and harmless.

May those of us who know what it is like not to have an alcohol OFF switch be always kind and encouraging to those who are still trapped in that daily drama!

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Sober Day #149- Alcohol and Kindness

I was in a bookstore yesterday, doing one of my favorite things- taking my time, browsing through all the different sections, looking for new sparks of interest or things to think about.  I bought one really fabulous book Why Olga Runs: about an amateur track and field runner, etc,-  which might seem less than fascinating until you realize she is 91 YEARS OLD-  a new hero for me.

I always look through the alcohol/addiction section.  What struck me yesterday was seeing several books on using kindness to help those trapped in unhealthy relationships with alcohol.    This flies in the face of the typical staged interventions with ultimatums, and the tough love concepts.  But it makes much more sense to me!

When I was drinking, nagging me about it would only make me put up more and thicker defensive walls:  Don't bother me.  Go away.  Leave me alone.  After a number of abortive attempts to moderate my drinking (techniques we are all familiar with:  only two drinks tomorrow night!  No more than one bottle of wine!  Drink only on weekends!)  I was finally again in a mood to change how I drank

This might have ended as all previous moderations had ended- resuming where I left off- had I not found Belle's blog.  And then Mrs. D.'s.  Belle's emphasis on treats (yes, imagine that, treating myself kindly rather than repeatedly bashing myself for being an inadequate person!) and Mrs. D.'s matter-of-fact pleasures of socializing without the protection/stimulus of booze-  these were eye-openers!

Suddenly, I could switch to seeing myself as a good person with an addiction problem to solve, rather than a low-life stupid slacker.  And what a huge difference this makes!!

And so here I am at nearly 5 months without any alcohol, observing, noticing and pondering how my life is changing and shifting, always focusing on today, leaving the big question of 'forever?', out there in the future.  And for today, that is fine.


Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Sober Day #148 - How to Count, Revisited

All the way back on Day #87, I was thinking forward about how I would count days after making it to the magical goal of 100 days sober.  I was toying with counting by months, and working on how I would count after figuring in a day or two here and there of sampling wine again.

By Day #96,  I had spent some time agonizing over the benefits and risks of trialing wine again, and made the difficult but satisfying decision that 2014 would be an entirely alcohol-free year for me.  And so it is proceeding as I near the 5 month mark (counting from my last drink, on 28 October).

I have been surprised at the great satisfaction I find every day writing in my spread sheet (yeah, I know, it's a bit much, lol) another number, one day higher, one day more of being true and authentic with myself and others.  It is such a pleasure that I think I'll continue counting by days at least for the rest of 2014!

I walked into the gym this morning and glanced at a magazine lying nearby.  The back cover said YOU WON THE LOTTERY in huge print- and had pictures of a pink and a green margarita in classic margarita glasses.  I was so surprised at the wisp of a thought that flitted through my mind before I had a chance to consciously consider it.  Gosh, I thought, who would want to win a lottery that involved that yucky feeling of having consumed alcohol.  What?  The rest of me said to that voice.  What?  You love drinking, remember?  (me being the one who never really had an hangovers, so very little negative feedback).

The strong memory of an aroma flooded my mind- the smell of lilies-  which I have hated ever since being in hospital after major surgery about 20 years ago, loving the relief of physical pain that the narcotic pain medication provided, but loathing that fuzzy-minded feeling that came with it.  Ever since, that scent of lilies has been associated in my mind with that awful mental feeling.  (When it's my funeral, please do not send lilies, lol-  although hopefully it will be a number of decades before I have to worry about that).

It is moments like this, when I know for certain that my neural circuits and my entire being are continuing to change (for the better) after stopping alcohol- that fuel my determination to continue this journey for at least quite a bit longer, possibly forever.

Friday, March 21, 2014

Sober Day #143- Saying No to Cravings

Smartphone games are a supreme waste of time.  Except when they aren't!

All of us have had the experience of craving something.  And most of us currently experience or vividly remember that craving for wine or some other mind-altering substance.  For myself, I remember the sight of a lovely crystal wineglass, with tiny sedate beads of moisture on the outside from the delicious chilled white wine I'd just poured into it.  And I can imagine that first taste, a little tart, cold, slightly bubbly, ricocheting around my mouth.  I can almost taste and feel it.

And that would be how another evening of drinking too much wine would begin- when I could no longer resist the call of that vision, that craving. 

There've been some studies of food craving showing that interrupting that visual image with a different one, especially one that requires concentration and physical movements, can decrease cravings.   Ta-Dah!  Enter the smartphone or computer game.  

A recent study** actually used the videogame Tetris to study naturally-occurring cravings in male undergrad students.  After the students clarified what they were craving, they were divided into two groups.  Group 1 played Tetris on computer for 3 minutes, and Group 2 got the same start, but their computers 'stalled' while loading the computer game.  There was significantly more decrease in craving in the game-playing group.  The theory is that the new visual images from engaging in the game partially supplant the craving images, and markedly decrease their intensity and thus their allure.  

The authors conclude: "In conclusion, we have shown that playing Tetris for a brief period is sufficient to reduce naturally occurring cravings that participants were already experiencing when they entered the laboratory. "

It seems to me that most smartphone games that require even a bit of strategy thinking could fulfill the same purpose.  (Hello, Candy Crush!).   Maybe this is another reliable tool to add to our Sober Toolboxes?

**Skorka-Brown J, Andrade J, May J.  Playing 'Tetris' reduces the strength, frequency and vividness of naturally occurring cravings.  Appetite.  2014; 76:161-165

Friday, March 14, 2014

Sober Day #136- Alcohol and Fear of Flying

Apparently this is another myth about alcohol I constructed for myself:  I am a nervous flier who MUST have at least 2 glasses of wine prior to boarding a plane.  Since October, I have been NOT drinking before flying.  I guess this must be, oh, about 2 dozen flights since then.

Amazingly, it's OK.  I have my magazines or work to do, and read or work.  I still hope for nobody in the middle seat.  I still get impatient with how slow people are disembarking.  But even the turbulence that used to send me into a frenzy of What-Ifs is no longer bothersome.  I really think this is a myth I made to justify drinking, rather than a genuine deeply-embedded anxiety.

I also had the convenient back-story of "Everybody gets nervous flying so almost everyone drinks on a plane".  Actual observation:  Few people drink alcoholic beverages on a plane.  Who knew?  (not me, apparently!).

It feels so freeing to populate my world with stories based on actual observations, rather than 'observations' through that contorting lens of the bottom of a wine bottle!!

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Sober Day #135- Sober in New Orleans

My mister is at a meeting in New Orleans, and I have joined him here.  I love this city!!  There is so much to do and see here.  For some, however, the impression of New Orleans is all about Mardi Gras, Krewes, and lots of booze!

There is definitely a component of heavy drinking here (for some, at least).  The epicenter of excessive drinking is Bourbon Street, in the Vieux Carre, or French Quarter.  This is also where there is some very good music!

Mister loves jazz, so we went wandering down Bourbon Street again last night.  This was about 9 PM, and we were sort of looking for some late dinner too, hoping to find a jazz bar with some great live music.  

On prior visits, I'd use the 'everyone is drinking' reasoning to drink myself.  This time, observing the scene through clear sober eyes was educational.  I was interested to notice the glazed, sort of surprised eyes of those who had been drinking, the slightly wobbly gait.  There were a couple of cigar stores and, unfortunately, a number of men who were wandering along the street smoking their cigars.  That is one smell that really bothers me, actually makes me nauseated.  

After about the 3rd Cigar Man passed us, my tummy started feeling a bit wobbly.  It was amazing how quickly my brain associated this feeling with drinking too much.  All of a sudden, I was so put off by the excesses around us, and so very glad I wasn't drinking.  I said to Mister, "I don't feel too well, let's head back to the hotel".  I probably said something about the environment bothering me.

Back in the room, he said sympathetically, "That was hard on you, wasn't it".  After a few minutes conversation, we discovered that he thought it was hard on me because around all that alcohol, it must have made me really really want to drink too.  He was astounded to realize that the combo of the cigar smoke and all the people drinking made me so relieved and happy that I wasn't drinking.  

An education for both of us!

Monday, March 10, 2014

Sober Day #132: Loving My Feet

I am realizing that for many years I have resented my feet.  Sure, they function well, carrying me where-ever I need to go.  But they aren't naturally beautiful.  They require buffing and filing and cuticle-tending etc to look great in sandals.  I felt they were so trying, so difficult, that I couldn't manage them myself.  And so, I've out-sourced my feet.

Yup, I've been convinced that without a pedicure at least every other week, not only was I not beach-ready, I was really socially unacceptable.  This is not that much of an exaggeration.

Lately, I've been rethinking this.  Or, perhaps I mean, re-feeling this.  I've been paying more attention to my feet.  Spreading a little cuticle oil on daily.  Using foot lotion before bed.  A little gentle buffing in the shower.  And I am beginning to really like my feet.  OK, even love them.  Here are the sweet little unadorned piggies, which don't look all that horrendous after all!

Sounds trivial, this?  Talking about my feet and pedicures?  Think again!  This is a vital part of the process of a person who formerly used alcohol to hide from herself now re-discovering and re-owning herself and her truth!!

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Sober Day #131: Sunshine Thanks!

A huge hug and thanks to Lucy for nominating me for the Sunshine Award!!  I am soooo honored by this nomination that I can't tell you how much it means to me.  On the flip side, I don't want to burden another 10 bloggers (no matter how much I admire them and how meaningful and life- (OK, sobriety-) saving their posts have been for me) with naming yet another 10 bloggers to nominate!

The part of this award that I particularly love is the requirement that all acceptees (hmmm, not really a word, I guess, but seems to fit the purpose here) list 10 previously unknown (as in un-blogged) facts about themselves.  Taking a cue from Sharon at Sober at Sixty, I'm going to list 5!

1.  Color drives my creative life!  I've never met a color that I can't enjoy once I find the right color-environment for it!!

2.  I lived for many years on the Texas Gulf Coast.  We boarded up and left for many a threatened hurricane!

3.  I do most of my blogging at my treadmill desk, logging 2 to 2.5 miles an hour.

4.  I adore dogs!  Here are my 3:

5.  (Probably no real surprise to anyone but me!) I am finding that I loooove being sober!!

Saturday, March 8, 2014

Sober Day #130

One hundred and thirty days.  How much I am learning.  What I notice today- probably since Saturday is my long workout day- is how my feelings about fitness are shifting.

I've had a major commitment to fitness for about 10 years now.  I work out with a trainer 3 times weekly, and do changing group pursuits the other days-  pilates, TRX, barre, yoga, gyrotonics-  you name it, and I will try it!  Averaging at least an hour a day of vigorous activity.

Here's how I feel (or felt) at the beginning of a class/session:  I have made the commitment to this, so I will do it.  It's not very fun, but it IS important.  I will zone out when possible, and take shortcuts as needed to get through it.

Today I noticed a shift.  It's as though another layer of victim-hood is dropping away (for what I described above, if you reread it, is really being a victim of my own commitment).  Today I noticed that when the work gets hard, I am leaning into it.  When I just-about-can't do something, I push even harder.  And I am reveling in the hardness, and how it moves me toward a greater level of fitness.

It still looks just the same from the outside- but it feels very different from the inside.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Sober Day #126: Making My Bed

With sobriety, I began again to notice the world around me.  To see, observe, think about it.  And to let my thinking about other people change, evolve.

I notice that nobody but me cares about whether our bed is made in the morning.  Oh, I think, nobody cares.  I don't have to make the bed.  And then I notice that I like it when the bed is made.  I like walking into our bedroom and seeing it look so tidy, so welcoming.  Gosh, I think, this looks as good as a hotel or a magazine ad.

And I decide to make the bed most mornings, for ME.  This task, this one minute or so of making the bed, shifts.  It is no longer something I do because I should or because it is what one does.  Or because my man wants this, expects this, or so I think.  He really doesn't care much.  Making my bed becomes something I do for me, and enjoy for me- and is no longer a burden in my mind, ripe for my resentment at All I Have To Do.

What freedom!

Monday, March 3, 2014

Sober Day #125: Marriage/Partnerships and Sobriety

I have been married a long time.  My husband has known me since I was a college freshman, not even considering medical school, not intending to get married for a long long time, planning on never having children.  We got married about 6 months after we met, I've been a surgeon for many years, and our three children are 16 (F), 20 (M) and 21 (F).

This was also before I'd ever had more than a sip or 2 or wine or beer from someone else's glass.  Gradually, over time, he's seen me spiral deeper and deeper into a bit more, then another glass, well, maybe another, heck, yeah, I'll have one more.  And our relationship has changed to accommodate this.  He's remained a two glasses of red wine most evenings drinker.

The fact that he works about 5 hours away, and stays there a lot of the time brings a sharper focus to the changes in our relationship.  The recent very snowy/icy weather has meant difficult roads for this 5 hour drive, so this was the first weekend he's been home in a month.

Just before he got home, I had dreams 2 nights in a row about marrying him.  All with a twist- like in one, I was wearing a wedding dress I'd designed, with multiple very bright graphic green and yellow prints!  I think this was all about, almost literally, entering into a new marriage.

When he called to surprise me that he'd be home on Friday, rather than Saturday as planned, my first reaction?  Disappointment.  What?  Well, I had my Friday evening planned, they've sort of become routine.  A food treat (I eat very low carb most of the time), some new magazines or a new novel, and very early to bed before a 3-hour workout (I know, I know, but it's a one hour pilates class, a one hour barre class and an hour of weight-lifting with my trainer, so it's not really over-achieving, lol) on Saturday mornings.  And now I'd have to change that.

Hmmm, I said to myself. Really?  I mean, really?  Why, just why, do you think you have to change what you plan to do because he is home? Um, because.  Because, because,  Well, I'm not really sure why.  I decided to stick to my plan for the evening and proceed, with a strong commitment to being authentic.  And it turned out, he was wondering if I'd mind him going to meet up with some old friends/colleagues for a beer.  I had my treats, and when he returned home about 9 PM, I said, wanna go to bed early with me?  And so that worked out fine!

And the weekend proceeded like that, me initially thinking I'd have to modify the works-for-me-sober weekend activities I've developed, and then finding they meshed quite well with his plans-  and also finding that both of us could be quite flexible to accommodate what the other was wanting.

Our relationship has always been good, but this is a whole new level, a whole new marriage, and I am liking it very much!