Sober Wedding Success

I spent many hours in my head thinking about my lifelong friendship with the bride, transitions, and my own failed marriages and relationships. A lot of emotions bubbled to the surface and not a lot of time to think them through realistically or pause to hold them compassionately.

Unlike an addiction to heroin or amphetamines, alcohol will appear on a weekly, if not daily basis. Grocery store aisles, TV commercials, restaurants…these are basically unavoidable circumstances. Learning to live with the trigger of alcohol is essential in sobriety.

Other well known craving-heavy settings are birthdays, holidays, and weddings.

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On Saturday, I attended my first wedding since being in active recovery, and I’ll spoil the ending: I stayed sober.

I won’t lie though. It wasn’t a piece of (wedding) cake.

In everyday life, alcohol doesn’t usually get to me.  The aforementioned grocery aisles don’t make me twitchy like they did in the early days. I’m also not immune. It’s not the appearance of alcohol on it’s own; it’s a combination of factors – emotional stress, nostalgia, feeling left out or wanting to fit in – these culminate to create a “trigger” (the situation) and an urge – an intense physical and/or psychological craving.

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This wedding was special to me. My best friend was getting married and I had the joy of helping, including curling the hair of her two beautiful daughters. Arriving early in the morning at her hotel, I stopped to get breakfast and coffee, but realized I hadn’t brought any water for an 8 hour day.

Grabbing a glass off the counter in my friend’s room, I filled from the tap, took a sip, and spit it out making a face. “The water here’s disgusting!” I said. My friend’s eyes went wide. “Yep there was lemonade in there last night.” I clarified…”Not JUST lemonade, was it?” No… It was definitely spiked.

Figures. I’d started my sober wedding by using a glass with remnants of alcohol in it.

The wedding went beautifully, despite a few bumps in the road. One minor cake disaster that happened on my delivery (but not my fault I swear!), and due to rain we had moved the wedding from outside to inside. Otherwise, it went gorgeously smooth, and I was honored to help the bridal party prepare.

Throughout the day though, I spent many hours in my head thinking about my lifelong friendship with the bride, transitions, and my own failed marriages and relationships. A lot of emotions bubbled to the surface and not a lot of time to think them through realistically or pause to hold them compassionately.

Weddings can be hard for this exact reason. Single guests, including myself, may start to think they’ve missed out on something. Jealousy may rise up along with sadness, regret, and worry about the future.

It didn’t help that I scrolled through my emails and staring in my face was a note from someone I haven’t heard from in a long time. Someone who at one point I thought would stand at an altar with me. One made of snow, to be fair, but an altar nonetheless. The timing of the message couldn’t have been more distressing.

Regardless, even if the sober person in question is partnered up perfectly, there are still challenges. Time consuming, or difficult family members/guests to attend to can make one long for escape in a glass. Celebrating can be just as tough to withstand sober. Wine and champagne advertisements exclaiming “Elevate the moment with every drop” perpetuate the idea that a happy moment is made even happier by a poisonous, addictive substance.

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Elevate the Moment Commercial – Kim Crawford Wines

The wedding turned into a cocktail hour, then a reunion. Open bar. Flowing pints of beer and glasses of wine. I stood near the door, partly to avoid the bar, although it wasn’t a conscious thought. I didn’t know many people, didn’t have a date, and was there sort of helping, so I didn’t cozy up to a table right away.

“Not the easiest day to be a non-drinker” I said casually, to the person next to me. Turns out it was the exact right person – brother of the bride. He smiled enthusiastically “I’ve got a six pack of La Croix in my car, want one??”

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I could have kissed him. Which would be weird because he’s married, and might as well be my brother. He’s the guy I called an “atrocious butthole” when I was 9, trying to get a reaction using big words and ended up grounded for a week.

26 years late, he’s also the guy who was totally there for me in my moment of need. (I hope you read this and feel my gratitude)

La Croix gripped in one hand, I sent out a couple SOS texts. One was to a dear friend who’s not an alcoholic, but is a teetotalling, single, badass woman who somehow sees right to my heart.

“I delivered a smushed wedding cake, drank from a tainted glass, got an email from you-know-who, and am hanging out at an open bar reunion.”

“I need a drink. Or a cigarette. Or a brownie. Any of them will do.”

She’s a genius, and texted back:

“None of it’s going to fix it. No hot guy. Or drink. Or brownie. Or whatever. It’s just heartbreak. It’s awful and ugly and no one is prepared for it. So you just have to feel it. And know that it’ll pass. In a way. Just breathe through it.”

That could have been hard to hear – that NOTHING is going to fix it. But it wasn’t. With all the mindfulness I’ve been reading and practicing it made sense to me; it was reassuring. She was saying: ‘this is suffering. This is part of life. We all experience some of this, and we all survive in our way. You can meet it with compassion and acceptance, or you can continue to feel resistance and aversion and make yourself freaking crazy.’ I chose not to be crazier than I’d already been.

All the tools I’ve learned about surviving events sober were utilized that afternoon:

  1. “Keep a drink in your hand” I had LaCroix, coffee, and water in front of me.
  2. “Reach out to a friend” – Yep. Did it and felt better.
  3. “Eat something sweet” – Wedding Cake. Times two. Check. (I don’t always buy into this one, because I was out of control for a long time with dessert. But it was prudent this time.)
  4. “Breathe”- This is essential. It brought me back in to the present, and allowed me to let go of disturbing thought patterns.

I enjoyed myself, smiled, chatted, had pictures taken, then I hightailed my ass to a meeting.

(It also doesn’t hurt that I remember in the back of my mind the random tests done to ensure my sobriety. Accountability is a crucial part of my success.)

An additional suggestion would be bring a sober buddy. In fact, that could have eradicated most complications.

My friend was right. Nothing would have “fixed” my feelings, and I’m grateful I had the opportunity to realize this. Learning how to be clean and sober has been an education in learning how to tolerate emotional and physical pain.  Running away, numbing with substances, controlling with restrictive eating disorders – none of this has ever solved a problem. Self compassion, gentle awareness, and connection with others goes a long way towards easing them though. And I have an abundance of that these days.

I’m not invited to any upcoming weddings, I don’t think. But I won’t be avoiding them either (Please don’t throw out my RSVP!). My goal is to LIVE, to participate in all aspects of life, and to learn how ride the waves with grace. Weddings are stellar grounds for this lesson.

(P.S. Congratulations to the Bride and Groom. My dear bride friend apologized on my way out for the drinking that was happening around me. I’ll write on this another time, but the bystanders are never at fault. And there was absolutely no drunken debauchery – you would have hardly known anyone was drinking. I’m simply hyper-aware. The reason the wedding was triggering has NOTHING to do with the wedding itself – it’s all about my relationship to my emotions, my current circumstances, and my process. And frankly, it made for a great sober blog subject matter and hopefully will help another who may be heading to a summer wedding themselves. So THANK YOU. And may you live happily ever after. I love you.)

Cheers and Gratitude,

Tiffany

Trigger Warning: Suicide Awareness My Story: A Love Letter to Anyone Who’s Suffered

Alcohol and opiates are strong depressants, and were adding to the problem at the same time they were helping me stay oblivious. I played around with how much I could take and still maintain some function. Slowly, passively, I was still trying to end my life. 

Suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in America. It’s #2 for 10-14 year olds and #3 for 15-34 year olds.

90% of people who attempt suicide have depression and/or have substance abuse issues.

(www.addictioncenter.com)

Trigger Warning: Suicide and Suicide Attempts discussed in light of bringing an end to the shame and stigma surrounding Mental Health Needs and Substance Abuse. 

If you need help NOW, call 9-1-1.

I was 14 years old when I intentionally overdosed on Tylenol. This was my first and only serious planned attempt at showing the world – my family at least – that I was sad enough to try and end my life.

In the days leading up to it, I pictured how it would happen, and it came to fruition exactly that way. Out of compassion and sensitivity to my family and those that may be grieving losses of their own, I’m going to leave out details.

Despite the amount of pills I took, I was fairly sure I would not actually die. I knew my mom would take me to the hospital and she did. The first nurse in the ER that I encountered (or ER tech? I’m not sure) said “Seems like a pretty stupid choice. You knew what you were doing right kid? Looking for some attention.” He was right – I needed attention and felt there was no other way to show what it felt like inside of myself. A physician assessed me and said “This is really the worst way to try to die. You wouldn’t die right away – but you’ll hurt your liver so bad you’ll die slowly anyway.” He didn’t offer any quicker solutions however.

The next 4 days were very confusing. I was able to rest, which felt like a small break from the unrelenting anguish I’d experienced. The doctor prescribed a tylenol antidote which they mixed in Diet Coke. After drinking it, I’d throw up,  which infuriated a particular elderly night nurse. It was so disgusting that I couldn’t drink, or even smell Diet Coke, for the next 10 years.  (Many nurses I know have a story about themselves or a loved one being cared for by amazing nurses. This hospitalization was my first, and nothing about my caregivers made me want to follow in their footsteps. That career choice came later.)

A psychiatrist or psychologist came in and asked weary, uninterested questions. He sat very far away from my bed. His final statement was “I don’t really see what we are going to do for you.” That was the only conversation anyonehad with me regarding my emotional and mental state. As soon as my liver enzymes came back to normal I was sent home.

I began seeing a counselor (not a psychiatrist or psychologist) and was prescribed an anti-depressive by my family doctor that caused terrible panic attacks, so I quickly went off of it. My diagnosis changed frequently – Bipolar, then not. Bipolar 2. Then not. (It was 1995 and seemed everyone was suddenly Bipolar). “Take a pill, see a counselor once a week, and don’t do anything dangerous.” The one time I told a counselor I was considering going to a party with my friends, she said “That’s against your treatment plan. I’m either telling your mom or I can’t see you anymore.” The choice was obvious to me. It also reinforced that I couldn’t be honest with ANYONE.

My treatment was sporadic for a few reasons. I was resistant. There was chaos and divorce in my family home. Then I had a daughter myself at 16 and for years my emotional turmoil sank far under the surface – deeply ingrained but with no outward warning signs for others.

When depression and anxiety resurfaced as an adult, I didn’t fully recognize it. I’d been a mom and nurse for many years. I believed that extreme stress was normal, and that I “should” be more capable. With a perfectionist, overachieving attitude, I added more stress to my life believing that if I accomplished more, I would feel better. Maybe I felt so nervous and dissatisfied because I wasn’t doing enough to feel happy. I went back to school, I got married again, and I took on a supervisor role at work.

And then I began to crash.

I had suffered migraines for years, and when I was prescribed Vicodin, it took away a lot more than headaches. It removed the constant fear of the future; the regrets and dismay of my past. Add alcohol to it and I had found the magic elixir – for awhile. I didn’t know it, but by numbing out everything “bad” in my life I was also numbing out everything good. Alcohol and opiates are strong depressants, and were adding to the problem at the same time they were helping me stay oblivious. I played around with how much I could take while maintaining daily functions. Slowly, passively, I was still trying to end my life.

Sitting across from my counselor about 6 years ago, I admitted “My thoughts are so dark. I constantly picture putting a knife through my chest. I’ll be walking through a grocery store and picture holding a gun to myself. I don’t really want to do this – and I don’t have a gun. But I also don’t want to go on.”

It didn’t occur to me that even as a strong, capable nurse, it would be OK to walk myself into an ER or call a crisis hotline. I couldn’t imagine that I needed – or deserved – that kind of help. I couldn’t “afford the time off” or “show my weakness”. The years went on and the substance abuse – my own personal treatment plan for the emotional and mental pain I was feeling – increased.

I briefly mentioned the anxiety to my physician, but kept the conversation short and light. I knew from past experience that I “shouldn’t” be completely honest with anyone, so I left out any mention of my drug and alcohol use. She recommended a low dose anti-depressant, but I was doubtful. MY depression and anxiety was “situational” I convinced myself. Life was tough! I was going through a divorce. And my doctor agreed. If I could just get a handle on the stress in my life, I wouldn’t feel so bad.

Nobody suggested that it was the opposite – that if I could find a way to stop feeling so bad – learn to accept and cope with painful experiences with self-compassion, learn to love myself and tolerate discomfort – that I would not only be able to handle the stress in my life, I would stop adding to my suffering.

My happy ending is that I did eventually find that formula. In active recovery for substance abuse I’ve learned to change my relationship to my thoughts. Once I was free from the substances, I could begin accepting myself and my life circumstances with love. I began making small daily choices that set me free from internal and external stress: Mindfulness meditation. Self Affirmations. Noticing my inner “saboteur” and working to not believe that voice. Lots of self care. Reducing my hours at work.

I dove headfirst into trusted self-improvement such as Byron Katie’s “The Work”. I found Brene Brown’s research on shame and vulnerability and began to believe that by saying ‘I need help’, I’m actually being my most brave, strong, courageous self. I took Mindfulness Based Relapse Prevention and learned that my thoughts are NOT me, and that I have a choice to let them go and can work towards choosing joy.

And I never, ever feel too proud or afraid to ask for help anymore. 

When I took 3 months off work to go to outpatient substance treatment, I learned that a mom with a full time job and a mortgage can in fact still find ways and means to pause everything and take care of herself.

I learned that no matter how “shameful” it is to be a nurse in state probation program, I can still show up at my job feeling proud that I’m doing the hard work of healing the wounds in my life, and that I still deserve to be here.

When I read the news this morning about Anthony Bourdain I was sobbing before even leaving my bed. For him and his family. (My father loved him – we watched him together many nights). For Kate Spade. For the desperation and hopelessness they must have felt. I imagine they felt like they couldn’t reach out to anyone. Perhaps they couldn’t admit what felt like weakness; that they didn’t want to be a burden. And no doubt they felt like they couldn’t go one more minute with their anguish filled minds.

I cried for myself, at 14. And at 30, for all the days spent visualizing harming myself. For all of the patients whose bedsides I have sat next to in the dark, knowing that they suffered so deeply and could see no other way out.

There are degrees of mental health/illness, degrees of depression and anxiety, and we should all receive individual based treatment. Mine stemmed from childhood trauma, years of self loathing, and a lack of healthy coping mechanisms, along with a strong lineage of depression and suicide in my immediate family. I feel lucky to have found light through my darkness, and hope that if I enter into darkness again I can speak up early knowing that there is hope.

There’s nothing more important to me right now than ending the shame and stigma of mental health disparities and substance abuse. No one should be afraid to say “I need help.” “I want my life to end.” “I’m angry or sad and afraid all the time.” No one should feel shame for “seeking attention” with this desperate act.

Luckily, healthcare is changing, and so is our culture. But it can do better for all of us. Depression and anxiety need to be treated holistically  – not “just” with a pill. Or “just” talking to a counselor. I don’t know the answer, but I want to be a part of finding it.

If you are feeling scared, depressed, anxious or hopeless, know that you are LOVED right now. I am sending you all the compassion in my heart. I have been there – maybe not exactly where you are. But in a similar place. And I have found a new way to live. There is NOTHING wrong with asking for help. NOTHING wrong with saying you’re spiraling out of control and you need someone to help you take of care of yourself. You deserve help. You deserve to love yourself. You are needed and wanted, and if you’re not finding the answers you need, don’t give up. It might be scary to pick up the phone and call the suicide hotline, or you may feel shame about showing up in your local hospital and saying that you’re considering hurting yourself. I promise you, the scary part is temporary. Life on the other side of real help and healing can be worth every scary minute of that first phone call.

Life is very hard, and very beautiful. It’s always changing. Don’t choose a permanent solution for temporary pain. Give yourself every chance to find the beauty.

IF YOU NEED HELP NOW, CALL 9-1-1 OR Call 1-800-273-8255 (SUICIDE PREVENTION HOTLINE).

Make an appointment with your doctor and a licensed therapist. Talk to a trusted family member or friend. Tell someone. And don’t hold back – tell them everything. You’re worth it.

My favorite resources for learning Self Love: 

Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (find your local classes online)

She Recovers (www.sherecovers.co)

The Work of Byron Katie

With all my Love,

Tiffany

 

 

 

4 Lessons I Learned From My Online Dating Relapse

My loneliness isn’t the absence of another person in my presence. It’s the fear that I’m completely unanchored to a consistent, stable support system. Unattached, Uncertain, Unstable. As though life’s waves could sweep me away at any time.

I have a small confession to make. A relapse of sorts.

I signed back in to a dating app and I swiped.

I swear it was only one time!

Ok, I mean it was only for the one weekend and that’s ALL I did! Only swiping. We didn’t meet in person, there were no dates, we didn’t talk on the phone. You have to believe me!

Feels good to admit it actually…..and that IS the first step, ….right???img_1201

Relapse humor aside, swiping is a major RED FLAG for me, something I’ve used to numb myself from real life. So when I realized I was backsliding into this addictive behavior pattern, I knew I couldn’t let it escalate. I had to dig deep to figure out why. Why wasn’t I content with my own company? What was missing? What was I avoiding?

When I got to the core of it, I was surprised to find that I’m actually kind of lonely right now.

I didn’t think this was possible for me – I’ve been a mom since I was 16, so there’s always been at least one other human around me. I tend to keep my days very busy…multiple jobs, volunteer work, and a decently full social roster. Or maybe I’ve just been oblivious. Being an expert at chemically numbing discomfort, I’ve probably been totally unaware.

Now that I’m sober and giving myself permission to feel all the raw feelings. It’s one thing to feel them; harder to accept them.

Like any good relapse, my tinder-lapse started weeks before I participated in the behavior. The environment around me had become particularly stressful. In a short period of time, I bailed someone out of jail, helped another into a detox center, and handled a series of drunk-texts – both from friends and a potential client. 

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My phone felt like a ticking time bomb; I was nervous that every call or text was another negative or triggering notification, and I started taking it personally. “Did I cause this? Am I helping too much? Not helping enough? Is my sobriety doomed? Don’t they love me enough to stay sober?”

As my safety net of sober friends dwindled, emotions that I’ve made a lot of progress coping with– like doubt and fear – compounded. Before I knew it I was deep in a pile of self pity.

“My friends are all relapsing. My friends are not OK. Sobriety isn’t guaranteed. My future is unclear. I don’t have any friends. I don’t have any security. I’m not OK.”

The “I’M NOT OK” neighborhood is a scary place to hang out, and seems like it’s never ending. It’s a strong trigger for all kinds of addictions, because it makes us feel lonely. “LONELY” is one of the key 4 emotions that recovery specialists encourage us to avoid or immediately remedy before they spiral out of control.

H.A.L.T. Hungry, Angry, Lonely, Tired. img_1203

Hungry Angry and Tired? Those I can relate to. Anger in particular triggers me. But I’d ignored “lonely” because “it doesn’t pertain to me.” When it snuck up, I was taken by surprise without a plan of action.

My experience of loneliness has little to do with being physically “Alone”. I love time to myself, and boredom is hardly in my vocabulary. I don’t lay in bed at night wishing someone was there with me, it doesn’t depress me to travel with just my dog.

My loneliness isn’t the absence of another person in my presence. It’s the fear that I’m completely unanchored to a consistent, stable support system. Unattached, Uncertain, Unstable. As though life’s waves could sweep me away at any time. I notice it when I fill out a form at the doctor, and there’s no name for me to write in the spot “emergency contact”. My heart sinks. I begin to think that maybe I’ll never have an emergency contact. I picture myself a little old lady, puttering in the house, losing her keys, and having no one there to remind me where I put them. I know… I’m totally aware that I’m ‘catastrophizing’. But these are the kinds of thoughts that convince us to “settle” for a partner that’s totally wrong for us. The kind of thoughts that feel so uncomfortable, we might just do anything to avoid them. Like drink. Or go on an unadvisable date.

Two years ago, I had 3 men in my life/family that I felt I could call on at any time to be there and save the day if I needed. Today, for different reasons, I don’t. One of them is my father, who passed in 2017 – there’s no doubt this is a major factor in why I feel so unhinged.

This isn’t to say I DON’T have a support system. I do! A wonderful tribe of women (and some great guy friends) that love and encourage and empower me. Depressed and anxious thoughts aren’t generally based in reality though. Gone unchecked, they’ll swarm through my psyche and before I know it, they’re in the drivers seat of my behavior.

In the midst of this loneliness tempest, feeling like there was nothing solid to grasp onto, I reached for the next best thing – a virtual connection. Any port in a storm right? Ten swipes later and bingo – a selection of potential  “shelters” displayed in front of me. Substitute sanctuaries for a floundering female.

You know where this is going though….there’s no romantic fairy tale ending. No knight in shining armor arrived on horseback to rescue this princess.

A few vapid conversations and a boatload of disappointment later, I realized I’d made a major detour that wasn’t leading where I wanted.

I LIKE being single. And I LOVE the forward progress my life is taking since become sober and focusing on self love and self actualization. But conditions got rough, and I got scared. I went right back to needing to “get high” off the little ego strokes my phone offered. “You have a match” “Jeff sent you a message!” It increased my dopamine, and soothed my fears –  in a superficial, temporary way. img_1202

So what can I do differently, to prevent going down this rabbit hole of seeking out external validation? Because trust me – it WILL happen again. Triggering events are not going to go away. Life will continue to be difficult sometimes. And online dating apps will always be there, even if I delete them time and time again.

Here are the 4 lessons I learned to prevent future relapse and cope with the loneliness in a healthier way:

1. Make Boundaries 

Relapse happens in the recovery community. I can’t control external events, but I can create safe, compassionate boundaries. Example: I called my friend and told him that I won’t respond to his drunk texts, even if he’s being nice or funny. My boundary: creating space for genuine communication. This was really empowering, and he responded by thanking me for my honesty and willingness to forgive

2. Know the Emotions.

Until now, I didn’t even know I felt lonely. Noticing the triggering emotion and naming it helps us deal with it. “I feel scared.” “I don’t feel safe.” “This feels like loneliness.” Pinpoint where you feel it in your body. My lonely feeling is heaviness in my shoulders and tightness in my chest. Knowing where it is helps me notice it early, so I can tackle it early.

3. Question Your thoughts. 

“I’m not safe” – Is this true? No, I’m perfectly safe. I’m alive, breathing and well. “I don’t have anybody”. I have lots of somebodies! I have friends I can call right now. “Dating will fix everything. I just need someone to like me.” I know this isn’t true. I’m seeking immediate gratification.

4. Increase positive energy.

Where do you spend your time? What’s the usual content of your thoughts? Get involved with a program that has members with long term recovery who offer solid support. Listen to or read solution-based self-improvement materials. Begin a routine of daily meditations and self-affirmations.

Dating apps themselves are not overtly “bad”. My use of them is a behavior that I’ve identified as risky and potentially self-harmful. Dating can easily escalate into a drinking relapse for me, and is a co-dependent behavior that reinforces “I am not good enough alone”. Seeking male attention, and feeling insecure being alone, is generally because I’ve let self care lapse and I’ve not adhered to my boundaries. Someday, this won’t be the case. I’ll have made strides in my health, and will be ready. I trust myself completely to know when I’m there (and I likely won’t be swiping for a significant other.)

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Participating in life according to my values means focusing on mindful, honest, compassion towards others and myself. I can do this by setting boundaries, exploring emotions, and responding with care, not out of habit or fear. This season in my life is one of Radical Self Love, and that means some things are going to have to shift. It’s not easy, but that’s ok. And I’m ok. I’m perfectly safe, supported and totally OK.

Have you ever created a destructive distraction in your life out of fear or loneliness?
What would it feel like if you could STOP yourself from making a choice that will haunt you tomorrow?
I would LOVE to support you.  I would love to share all of the valuable tools I have learned that support me in making healthier choices, one day at a time.
Everyone deserves to live a sober life FREE from the fear of relapse – whatever your current vice may be.

If you want to discuss how working together could offer you support and accountability in this area, please schedule a FREE discovery call by emailing me at tiffany@recoverandrise.com or go to this link https://calendly.com/tiffany-59/30min