It Takes Two to Tango

Hello Anxiety! Hello Addiction! Let’s Dance! If you are anything like me, which I am guessing most of you are, then you have spent a large portion of your life being controlled by your disease/disorder. I let anxiety control my life, instead of me taking control of my anxiety. As a result, I was less productive in school, did not always perform at the level I expected of myself at work, and last but certainly the worst – I self medicated with alcohol to the point of becoming an alcoholic. As I move along in my recovery from anxiety and alcohol, I am finally starting to realize that it “Takes Two to Tango”. I can let my disease/disorders rule the day, or I can confront them each day (or maybe many times throughout the day), and slowly but surely regain control over my life.

For those of you who are familiar with 12-step programs, you know the first step is admitting you are powerless over (insert alcohol/drugs/mental health issue), and that with it, your life is unmanageable. These 12-step programs are not just for addictions, but also they are a great way to live your life regardless of any mental health diagnosis or disease. Father Martin, who was an alcoholic priest that founded the rehab to which I attended, summed up the 12 steps in six very simple words: Steps 1-3: Trust God, Steps 4-11: Clean House; Step 12: Help Others. Now I am not going to go into detail on the steps here- I do not represent any group – these are merely my thoughts on life, and more specifically MY thoughts on MY life. However, I cannot help but notice these simple words are essentially the basis of all religious and moral teachings. By realizing that it takes two to tango, that is, my disease/disorder and myself, then I can use these simple concepts to combat my anxiety/addict-riddled brain.

I heard a psychiatrist speak recently who said that each day she wakes up with anxiety, and each day she says good morning to her anxiety and asks it how it’s doing. This may seem crazy, but to me it’s crazier to ignore our diseases and disorders. I know that regardless of what is going on in my life, anxiety and addiction are sitting around somewhere waiting for their next chance to strike. So why wait for them to strike first? By acknowledging our shortcomings and facing them head on, then we have the opportunity to regain control of our lives and begin to make them manageable. I may be powerless over the fact that I have an anxiety disorder and the disease of addiction, but I am not powerless over how I handle it.

How often are you willing to give yourself a break? My guess is very rarely, I am the first to focus on all of the negatives and quickly dismiss any positives. I could have the most productive day at work in years, run my fastest 5k since high school, and forget to mail a letter, and the only thing I will remember when I am lying in bed that night is the letter sitting on the counter. I won’t give myself a break. Every day should be the most productive day of the year. I should always be running faster – that is what I expect of myself – that is not a positive. I also expect myself to remember to mail a letter. So, obviously I should dwell on that when rehashing my day!

Each day I have a choice – I can choose to be a slave to my addiction and anxiety, or I can acknowledge its presence and go about “Trusting God”, “Cleaning House (taking care of my shortcomings)”, and “Helping Others”. If I do those things, then regardless of whether I suffer from depression, anxiety, loss of a loved one, addiction, etc. I will be putting my best foot forward. I must learn to give myself a break. I am not perfect, but if I remember that it “Takes Two to Tango,” then I have the chance of regaining control over my life, one day at a time.

“It takes two to tango, and if you dance too long, implosion is inevitable.” – Allie Burke

-A.S.

Doing the Next Right Thing

The last year of my life has been a roller coaster ride of anxiety, addiction, rehab, and recovery. I have detoxed in two hospitals, been in two intensive outpatient programs, been to a 28-day inpatient program, and dabbled in AA all along the way. Today I am 30 days sober and actively participating in my own recovery from both alcohol and anxiety. So why is this time different? Why will I be able to handle my anxiety without abusing alcohol? I think it can be summed up by the title of this post; I am finally “Doing the Next Right Thing.” I have finally sought help with my anxiety through psychiatry, therapy, and medicine. I am finally actively involved in AA, and most importantly I am not trying to figure out why “I” can do this on my own, and instead listening to others who are in recovery and dealing with similar issues to my own.

As a part of my recovery, I started reading some online recovery blogs, and then decided it might be therapeutic to begin blogging myself.   Luckily it has been one of the many blessings of the last 30 days. Last night, I was reading a blog that I have begun to read in recovery, www.beautybeyondbones.com, when I began thinking about the process of recovery. I really enjoy this author’s writing.   She is recovering from anorexia, and has selflessly gone home to be with her parents to help her mother recover from a stroke. Last night she wrote a beautiful post titled “Better Tomorrow” (https://beautybeyondbones.com/2017/02/06/night-owl/ ). If you read it, which you should, her mother says, “I will be better tomorrow,” to which the author gives the perfect response “I love you know matter what. You don’t have to be better tomorrow.” The truth is that I will never be “better tomorrow”, I will always have anxiety and addiction, but I can work to be a better person today and hope for a better tomorrow. Her response got me thinking about the process of recovery. Recovery is just another word for healing, whether it is mental, physical, or both. If we get just a little better each day, then each tomorrow will be a little better.

For me, recovery has been a process of healing my body from the abuse it took from alcohol, and my mind from anxiety and alcoholic thinking. I realize this recovery and healing will be a life long process. I have an anxiety disorder and the disease of addiction, both of which I have to address each day. The truth is that it’s not a matter of just dealing with it, but how I deal with it. The answer is by doing the next right thing. Humans are inherently flawed. We are not perfect, but it is how we deal with these imperfections that can define who we are. I believe that the human mind and body are always trying to make themselves whole (whatever that means). Whether or not you are diagnosed with anxiety, depression, an eating disorder, addiction, or a physical malady like a stroke, we are all trying to find peace of mind and body. This is probably why 1 in 4 people have a mental health issue!

Recovery is a beautiful thing because it allows us to be fully present for people we care about, to participate in events we wish to remember and cherish, and to help others who need us. Today in my AA meeting I shared some of these thoughts. I talked about how stories of recovery from any downturn can provide insight into our own recovery process.

The harsh reality is we are all broken, whether it be a mental health diagnosis, a disease, a physical injury, or anything else. It doesn’t really matter – if you are alive and breathing you have something bothering you. Inevitably, we will all fall short of our own expectations at some point. For me, it could be snapping at someone I care about, failing to pick up the phone and speak to a friend in need, leaving my coffee cup in the sink, etc. All of these things are guaranteed to happen; the only thing that is not guaranteed is what I will do next. When I slip, my goal is to get back up and do the next right thing. We cannot go back and fix what has already been done, but we can make amends for it and continue on our journey by making sure the next thing we do is positive. The alternative is to continue down our flawed paths and end up anxious, depressed, drunk, high, broken and alone. While we may never make it to the top of the mountain, I can promise you that you will never make it if you don’t start climbing.

“Courage is not living without fear, Courage is being scared to death and doing the right thing anyway.” – Chae Richardson

-A.S.

 

Three Simple Words That Are Not So Simple…

“I Need Help.” “Can You Help?” “Please Help Me.”  These phrases are not complicated, and contain some of the most basic words in the English language. Yet we struggle daily to string them together and to utter them out loud to another person. For people struggling with a mental health disorder and/or the disease of addiction, we can find it increasingly difficult to ask others for help with our issues. Shit, I am so arrogant and stubborn, that I could be lying bloodied in a ditch, unable to walk, and I would tell a passerby that I am fine; I got this. Some people say it’s a male thing that I refuse to stop and ask for directions, that I won’t read the instruction pamphlet on furniture I have to assemble, and that I certainly never would directly ask for help with my anxiety or alcoholism. It could be a male thing, but really it’s just an ego thing. I don’t want anyone to know I have a weakness; I want everyone to think I have this thing called “life” under control!

The truth is that I am not weak, but I also am far from having this thing called “life” under anything even resembling control. Being vulnerable and asking someone for help is not a sign of weakness. In fact, it is the very opposite. Socrates figured this out ages ago, “The only true wisdom is in knowing that you know nothing.” This should not be a scary thought, but instead an empowering thought. As someone suffering from alcoholism and a general anxiety disorder, I take a great deal of comfort in realizing that it is OK to know nothing. I have no idea why I am an alcoholic, or why I have general anxiety disorder, but by asking for help from others who suffer the same illnesses and diseases, then I can start to learn more about combating them. I certainly don’t think I know nothing. Come on; I am an arrogant, alcoholic, male – I obviously believe I know something. Hell, just by having the audacity to write this blog, and assume people will read it, means that I think I have something worth saying.

However, when it comes to dealing with my issues of anxiety and alcoholism the truth is that I really don’t know anything. More importantly, I was too stubborn, arrogant, and unwilling to admit this and to ask for help. Thus I have put myself in the position I am in. If I had asked for help with my anxiety issues 10 years ago, maybe I never would have self-medicated with alcohol and maybe I wouldn’t be an alcoholic. Then again, maybe I would be – either way I don’t care and it doesn’t matter. I am whom I am, and I should really start to get used to it. After all, I have to be me for the rest of my life! When I finally admitted defeat, and surrendered to the fact that I cannot deal with everything on my own, I felt a huge burden lifted off of my shoulders. Anyone who is in therapy, taking medicine, going to AA or NA or any other support group, has taken the first step in asking for help.

It is OK not to be able to handle everything on our own, and we need to do a better job of recognizing that. Doesn’t it seem silly that I would be able to ask my wife to fold a load of laundry because I have to run out to the store, but that I wouldn’t call my sponsor when I was craving a beer or shot of vodka? Well if it does seem crazy, that’s because it is. Everyone has a gift to share, and when we ask for help then we give that person the opportunity to share these gifts.

Sports have always been a major part of my life, so I will leave you with a basketball analogy that many coaches have imparted on their teams: When you hold your fingers apart and smack someone on the arm it makes a lot less of an impression that when you bring the five fingers together in a fist and punch. Seems a bit brutal, but the analogy is there. We can accomplish a lot more together than we ever can alone.

Ask someone for help today. You will be helping them as much as they are helping you.

-A.S.

Sane and Sober Super Bowl Sunday

Tomorrow is Super Bowl Sunday and for many Americans that is just another excuse to consume too much alcohol and eat way too many chicken wings. If you are like me and in early recovery, this might be the first Super Bowl you have celebrated sober in a long time! Events like the Super Bowl, open bar weddings, and holidays with family are most likely events that you are struggling to deal with in sobriety. Just the idea of going to a Super Bowl party might be triggering a great deal of anxiety in you, or maybe the thought of being around a bunch of people drinking and carrying on is a cause for depression. I don’t even care about the Falcons or the Patriots, but yet I am still bummed about this year’s Super Bowl, because it is just another reminder that I cannot go to the bar and behave like “normal” people.

“Bummed” is a good word to sum up how I have been feeling the last few days, and it is in large part because I have not yet completely transitioned my thinking from “alcoholic thinking” to “sober thinking”. If you read any passages from the Twenty Four Hours a Day book you will notice that this is a common theme in the daily thoughts. I realize that this will not happen overnight and as an addict, and as an anxiety sufferer, this realization is not easy to accept. Not only do I want satisfaction, but also I want it NOW! Weekends are especially tough in early recovery because our minds associate Friday and Saturday nights with being able to drink excessively without dealing with the repercussions at work the next morning. Events like the Super Bowl, weddings, and parties are also tough in the early days, because we are so used to using alcohol as either a social lubricant or a way to make something mundane seem a bit more exciting.

However, those of us that suffer from the diseases of addiction/anxiety/depression/etc., must change the way we think… Going to a Super Bowl party should not be a cause for anxiety or feeling depressed; we just need to find new ways to make it fun and get over our fear. If you are still early in recovery and feel it is too much to be around alcohol and others consuming it, then by all means throw your own sober party at home, but don’t do it alone and definitely do not us it as an excuse to isolate.

My plans for the big day are to make some great game day snacks; Onion Dip, Pigs in a Blanket, Buffalo Chicken Dip, and some mini wedge salads. You know, to make sure it is healthy and add something green! Mix up some of my favorite Mocktails (see below) and enjoy the commercials and hope for another scandalous half time show! If you are invited to a Super Bowl party, there is no reason you cannot take a Mocktail to the party, or if you are heading out to a bar or restaurant, then ask the bartender for a creative non-alcoholic drink. Being sober doesn’t have to be an excuse to be boring or to shy away from friends and events. We must learn how to think soberly and in turn figure out how to make it fun. Trust me you will be much happier on Monday morning than most people, and you will only have to burn off the calories from the fried food, and not the fried food AND alcohol!

***Apologies for my terrible names!***

For the Patriot’s fans try this Red and Blue mocktail, I’ll call it a “Patriotic Smash”.

Ingredients (1 serving):

7-8 Blueberries

1 Rosemary Sprig, stripped

1oz Honey

1oz fresh lemon juice

4oz sparkling water

Gently muddle blueberries, rosemary leaves and honey in a cocktail strainer. Add lemon juice and water and shake. Strain into a glass of ice and garnish with blueberries!

For the Falcon’s fans give this deep red black cherry mocktail a try, lets call it a “Fiery Falcon”.

Ingredients I4 Servings):

1 cup of Pitted Cherries

¼ cup of fresh mint leaves – plus sprigs for garnish

8 tsp sugar

¾ cups of coke or diet coke

¼ cup lime juice

3 cups of cherry or black cherry flavored seltzer

Divide cherries, mint, lime juice, and sugar into 4 cups and muddle together. Add ice then top with coke and seltzer and stir. Garnish with a mint sprig and lime.

Please feel free to leave other mocktails and food ideas in the comments section.

Here’s to a Sane and Sober Super Bowl Sunday.

Cheers!

-A.S.

Mad Libs!

I have a (Disorder/Disease), my (Disorder/Disease) makes me (Adjective) and I can tell this is happening because (Symptoms). When I start to feel this way I usually cope by (Destructive Behavior). However, when I use this destructive coping mechanism, it usually makes me (Adjective). Today I am going to (Productive Behavior), when I begin to feel (Adjective). 

For those of you reading this, you probably recognize this mad lib as a basic cognitive therapy or schema therapy technique, but I think Mad Libs are more fun than therapy!

Here is an example of this filled in:

I have an anxiety disorder, my anxiety disorder makes me more anxious, and I can tell this is happening because I experience tremors, begin to sweat, experience cognitive impairment. When I start to feel this way I usually cope by self-medicating through alcohol, isolating. However, when I use this destructive coping mechanism it usually makes me feel better temporarily but my anxiety is worse in the long term. Today I am going to workout, or go for a walk, or color, when I begin to feel anxious.  

The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result. Diseases and disorders like addiction, anxiety, depression, etc. can be so powerful over our minds that we often forget that the quickest solution often leaves us feeling worse than before. As someone who suffers from general anxiety disorder and the disease of addiction, I am constantly fighting with my own mind to avoid drinking to solve for my short-term anxiety. I easily forget that drinking only increases my anxiety and leaves me unable to deal with the real issue that triggered it (unfortunately I don’t always know the real issue!). I cannot always control my anxiety, but by changing the way I think, and by testing my cognitive distortions, I can at least begin to challenge it.

More importantly though, why do I even care that I have anxiety? Why do I care if you notice my hand is shaking a little bit, or I am sweating when maybe I shouldn’t be? Why am I embarrassed by these physiological manifestations of my anxiety? Well for one, I am worried about how I will be perceived by others, especially those I do not know.   Two, my symptoms of anxiety are similar to those of alcohol withdrawal, so what if someone thinks I have been drinking? Why can’t I just say, “Sorry about the shaking?” And then, “I have a genetic anxiety disorder and it happens every once and awhile. “ The answer is simple… FEAR!

Fear is what drives our diseases/disorders – anxiety, substance abuse, and depression. If we really look closely, then we realize it is all driven by fear. I am anxious about a job interview.   Why? Because I am afraid I might not get hired, or I might make a fool of myself. I keep drinking even though I know it is killing me. Why? Because my fear of never drinking again is greater than my fear of dying. I isolate because I am depressed.   Why?   Because I am afraid that my mood will bring others down, or that God forbid someone will notice I am unhappy, and I will have to talk about it! I am sure many of you have heard FEAR: Face Everything And Respond, but how many of us have actually done that? I know I haven’t been great at it, but I am working on it each day and getting better at it. The mind is an amazing thing.   By confronting our thoughts and feelings, and reality testing them, we begin to realize the irrationality of our thoughts. Our thinking will begin to change.

I plan to post a lot more on this topic, but for now I will leave you with two thoughts:

  • NO ONE and I mean NO ONE is paying that much attention to you! People are so caught up in their own issues (insert self here!) that yours are hardly noticed.
  • “Those who matter don’t mind, and those who mind don’t matter!” – Dr. Suess

– A.S.