Relapse during recovery doesn’t happen overnight. It happens over a period of time and can be as sneaky and insidious as the disease of codependency itself. It requires an awareness and a dedication to WANTING to stay well.
It ain’t easy. I came close the past week myself.
Tools to help aid in relapse prevention include all but are not limited to the following:
Meetings: This I can’t stress strongly enough. One of the first signs of relapse, for me, is wanting to isolate. I missed several of my regular meetings this past week, and I’m feeling it. I feel blah, stressed, “out of it”, not connected (oh really?), alone, lonely, and resentful. I know exactly why I started isolating, but that doesn’t make it any better. The only solution is to GET MY BUTT to a meeting, which I did yesterday, and am doing again tonight.
Meetings provide a much needed connection so we know we are not alone. They provide structure for us to share our stories, and get strength and hope to carry on. We can fellowship with other members before the meeting or after for coffee.
When I DON’T want to go to a meeting, that’s usually mostly when I know I NEED to get there. The urge to isolate is strong within me, and I have to fight it tooth and nail. Once I get there, I know I’ll feel better. It’s like – like an umbrella in the pouring rain, or that first cup of java in the morning. Nothing compares.
Sponsorship: It’s important to find the right fit in a sponsor, and there’s nothing wrong with having a temporary one, or even firing your first sponsor when you feel s/he is not right for you. “Fire” is such a strong word. When I ASK someone to be a sponsor, I don’t feel I have the right to FIRE them. But that’s the terminology.
Keeping in touch with my sponsor, whether it’s by phone or email, is crucial. I usually see her at meetings during the week, and we get together on Wednesday, except I begged off this past week (again, ISOLATING).
Literature: There is so much recovery literature to keep a person connected in between meetings. Between the Big Book of Al-Anon, Hope for Today, One Day At a Time in Al-Anon, and Courage to Change (just to name a few), there is absolutely no reason to fall into a funk of old ways and old thinking.
Telephone: Self-explanatory. Pick it up. Use it. Use the phone lists you have from meetings. I don’t use this when I isolate, and that’s a big mistake.
One day at a time. Right?
And now for something totally different! Please forgive me for straying from me theme of the month today, but I couldn’t resist a chance to speak about this.
The quintessential MAN is a television CHARACTER, Robert Goren, from a Law and Order spin off, Criminal Intent. This picture is taken from the scene where his partner, Alex Eames, is forced to fire Goren (because he is a “liability”) just before she might be promoted to Chief of Detectives. The last scene of the episode shows her placing her badge and firearm on the desk and placing a call, saying the job wasn’t for her.
Okay, okay. I admit it. Robert Goren is easy on the eyes. At least, to ME he is. He could knock on my door any day now. REALLY. . . . wouldn’t know what to say, but! It’s a good thing my imagination stays in the character of Robert Goren, because he’s single, very complicated and VERY unattached. He has issues galore. Vincent D’Onofrio, the actor who plays him however, is quite happily married. Sort of ruins MY happy-ever-after.
Besides being easy on the eyes, Goren is brilliant. No, seriously, he’s a mind-numbing genius. He knows things the NORMAL person has no business knowing, and even would make Alex Eames hair curl, which would be a feat for the petite blond. Goren is frequently able to recall pieces of information that may seem obscure but prove to be incredibly relevant to the case. He can speak different languages, particularly German, and the episode “Silencer”, implies that he is proficient in American sign language. Additionally, he has an acute sense of smell that discloses details even a forensics investigator might miss.
Robert O. Goren was born on August 20, 1961 (one year older than ME!), and grew up in the Canarsie neighborhood of Brooklyn, near The Rockaways. A phenomenally bright young man, he took the MMPI in his senior year of high school and was sent to speak with the school counselor and school psychiatrist as a result. He played basketball as a youth and was the power forward on his junior varsity basketball team, but quit when he “lost his love for the game.”
Goren’s mother Frances first started showing symptoms of schizophrenia when Goren was seven years old. Frances’ husband, whom Goren had believed to be his father (see “Mark Ford Brady” section below), gambled frequently on horse races and was a serial adulterer. He left Goren’s mother when Goren was eleven, making little effort to stay close to the family. In season 2, a personal friend of Goren’s mentions a funeral, implying that Goren’s stepfather had passed away before the series began.
There’s a LOT more to this incredible character, but you have to watch the repeats to really get to know Robert Goren. And if a picture doesn’t say a thousand words, and pull you into his baby blues… you’re invincible!!
Today’s Q post will be late due to a very busy day and oversleeping! Please tune in tomorrow for Q and R.
In Al-Anon, which is based very closely on AA, we learn to trust in a higher power fairly quickly, or we are lost. In fact, Step Two says Came to believe that a power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity. Step Three says Turned our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him.
Twelve-step programs are spiritual, rather than religious. In fact, the traditions and concepts specifically point that out, that we do not promote nor discriminate against any religion, denomination, etc. It is not only my opinion that many people in Al-Anon would be scared off and not come if they were forced to believe in the God I believe in (for I choose to call my higher power God).
Some people choose to the other tables, nature, or the Big Book of Al-Anon or Alcoholics Anonymous as their higher power. All of this is fine and good, and no one would dare to dispute them, for who can say what works for another human being? Some individuals have been the targets of religious abuse before they enter the doors of a 12-step program. The last thing they need is someone telling them what to believe in.
For myself, it’s an evolving process. Though I believed in the triune God (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit) before I entered Al-Anon), I did not have a close relationship with God as Father. I’m still working on it. It’s a trust issue, and it’s because I compare Him too much to the father of my growing up years. Even though I know in my head and heart it doesn’t make sense, when I’m hurt and needing to run to Him, I run away instead. When I know I should obey, when everything in my body screams to me that I’ve got to do it, my stubborn will still gets in the way, and it takes me a while before I get there.
My sponsor and I talked about what it meant, action-wise, to turn our will and our lives, on a daily basis. She said for her this meant flossing her teeth. It’s the made a decision part of the 3rd step. She decided that if she does something like that, takes care of a part of her body daily that she really doesn’t want to, but she knows that God cares about, she’s turning over her will to Him – even if just a little part – on a daily basis. She’s meeting Him a little way, and He will take care of the rest.
So I thought of something I can do. I’m a notorious slob. Truly. And I have a great car. Tweety-bird. Yeah. A screaming yellow Ford Focus. I begged my brother Greg to find it for me used and I swore I’d never smoke in it or get it messy. About three months later I was smoking in it, a month later it was trashed. I think obedience and turning over my will to God would look like . . . cleaning my car and keeping it clean on a daily basis. To start out I can just clean the front seat – yeah, it’s that bad.
Do you have a higher power? What does obedience to your higher power look like for you? Is it a daily thing?
One of my favorite movies of all-time is Cool Hand Luke, as well as the novel by the same title. I used to quote lines from the movie during an argument, especially Strother Martin’s famous “What we have here is a failure to communicate.”
But one of the haunting memories I can’t shake is the count at the end of the day. The second boss, or whatever he’s called, calls out the count, and at the conclusion, he says, ” . . .and one in ‘the box.’” The box was short for icebox, or a form of isolation, a punishment. It sat away from the the prison barracks, and was barely large enough to fit the prisoner standing and sitting, along with a bucket for him to relieve himself.
The sun beat down during the day, heating up the box so that it would have been much hotter even than it was outside.
Alcatraz, the famous prison now closed in California, had prisoners sent to “the hole”, a sensory-deprivation chamber located on D-Block. In psychiatric hospitals, when a patient is considered out of control, unsafe to himself or others, she is taken to a “quiet room.” It usually includes: a bed, padded walls, and absolutely nothing with which to harm oneself.
Why did I start the post this way? As a contrast I suppose. Some people practice self-imposed isolation. As a child, I practiced isolation as a matter of surviving a chaotic and unpredictable time. I hid in my closet, or made myself scarce in other ways. Books, writing, and TV became my very best friends.
But as I grew up and got into high school and then college, this pull (and it’s . . . like a muscle memory, I really fight against it) toward isolation came at me again and again. It wouldn’t work if I wanted to make friends, even less if I wanted to keep them.
Just recently I read The Introverts Bill of Rights, and realized that’s TOTALLY me. So it makes sense that I’m wiped out after a social event. It’s OKAY that I need down time after I visit with a friend or after something particularly intense. There’s even a right in there about parking near the get-away, which I’ve always done, and I thought I was the only person who did that!!
So what about you? Have you discovered something about yourself that surprised you? Do you isolate, or are you a closet introvert?
Go, seize the day.
Like the picture here implies, it can be as simple as having a conversation.
Being engaged means being INVOLVED in our lives. Having a hobby opened a door for me because it allowed me to join a knitting group, and meet others who enjoy the same things I do. If you have a pet it’s another way to meet people, especially if it’s a dog you have to walk, because you’ll no doubt see other dog walkers along the way.
Volunteering is a GREAT way to get engaged. I resisted this for a long time because I’m an introvert by nature, and would rather help someone over the internet. But this afternoon for the first time I’m doing a two-hour rotation at the Book Nook in our local library. I’m as nervous as a cat with its tail under a rocking chair, but I’m sure I’ll be fine. What can go wrong in two hours?? At least I don’t have to open or close this time.
Going to the gym is another way to get engaged, and if you can’t do that, just exercising on your own. Runners and walkers often meet like-minded people on their way from here to there.
Book clubs, movie nights . . . the list is endless.
What’s your favorite way to get engaged?
If you have a sister or brother struggling with the disease of alcoholism, and need help, look no further. Sober Siblings, by Patricia Olsen and Petros Levounis, M.D., M.A., provides some of the best help out there on the subject. In fact, it is the only book I have encountered so far in my search on alcoholism that addresses the difficulty of the sibling relationship.
Through Patricia Olsen’s own personal experience, along with personal stories throughout the book of other siblings of alcoholics, as well as supplemented by the experience of Dr. Levounis, Sober Siblings offers practical tips and advice on several topics.
From the Introduction, “To love an alcoholic is to watch in despair as that person sinks to a level he would never willingly choose.” (p. 1) To me it’s like Patricia Olsen really gets it, and I sensed that more from her personal knowledge than anything else. I mean, no one wakes up and thinks, “Gee, I think I’d like to be an alcoholic when I grow up.” But some people still believe it’s within one’s control and willpower to choose. In this book, Olsen and Levounis make it clearer than ever that alcoholism is a disease that robs one of willpower, self-respect and many other things before it’s through.
But what’s also clear is it’s important to take care of ourselves if we are a sibling of an alcoholic. It’s important to know what is our responsibility and what is theirs; to decide what sort of relationship we would like to have; creating and maintaining appropriate boundaries (even to know what a proper boundary looks like); to honor our feelings; and find help and support for ourselves.
There are wonderful examples of how to communicate effectively with our alcoholic sibling. Real examples, with actual scripts to practice. I found this very useful.
Family interventions are no longer thought of as a useful tool, as they are too confrontational to the alcoholic. It’s considered more helpful to confront the alcoholic on a one-to-one basis, one family member at a time.
It’s not an easy read. There’s even a section which discusses cutting off all ties with the alcoholic if it’s too difficult to maintain a relationship. This is as a last resort sort of effort. The authors are not at all judgmental, and provide stories of people in the book who had to do just that. It’s all very individual, as all alcoholics are different and all sibling relationships are unique.
All-in-all, I highly recommend this book. Professional expertise interwoven with personal experience and stories from other siblings make for a very well done work.
My family physician – also board-certified in psychiatry – and I go back a ways. I checked with the receptionist, and their computer only goes back as far as 1995, but it was a return appointment, so we’re figuring at least 1994.
That’s a long time to know someone. It hasn’t been all smooth sailing, because I used to be a lot sicker than I am now. As I sit here, and I know I’m in for a wait, sometimes as long as three hours, I think of the progress that’s been made. Today, I come to Dr. Sack’s office with a bag of tricks to engage me. There’s a knitting project, two books I need to finish reading for possible review, and of course an old-fashioned notebook and pen to write this blog post for later transfer to computer when I get home. Plus my smart phone so I can stay in touch with FB friends and all of that. God forbid I should lose touch with the world for a minute.
When I first began coming here, through the wayback machine, I was much angrier and impatient. I was in the throes of borderline personality disorder”, which – if you click on the term it will take you to a great website that describes and explains the symptoms and characteristics.
I remember feeling rage and paranoia that other patients had been called back into rooms before I had. Numerous times I’d storm the poor receptionist’s desk. “Do you have any idea how long I’ve been waiting? My appointment was at such-and-so, and here it is two hours later! I demand to be seen!” Like it had never occurred to me the other patients waiting in the room had been waiting just as long if not longer. Bless their hearts, they took that vitriol, and gave back nothing but calm, clear, kindness.
Part of the problem, I realized much too late, was my panicky feelings at being jam-packed in a waiting room filled with sick people. I wasn’t physically ill, I was mentally ill, and didn’t want to add strep throat to the mix if I could help it. Also, I did not know then that I was dealing with claustrophobia, which has still not left me today.
There is a theory bandied about that people can “age out” of borderline personality disorder, and I think that is what has happened with me. Then too, with the advent of cell phones, when the waiting room is packed, the receptionist is kind enough to take down my cell number and call me when it’s time for me to come back into a patient room. And, like I said at the outset, I bring things to engage myself and to keep myself busy.
It’s nowhere near perfect, but I’m a work in progress.
5The apostles came up and said to the Master, “Give us more faith.”
6But the Master said, “You don’t need more faith. There is no ‘more’ or ‘less’ in faith. If you have a bare kernel of faith, say the size of a poppy seed, you could say to this sycamore tree, ‘Go jump in the lake,’ and it would do it.
–Luke 17:5,6 Message
Doesn’t that sound just like us? I mean, there were the apostles, they had Jesus, the LORD Himself, in the flesh, and they wanted more. It wasn’t enough.
I’m learning, slowly but surely, that faith is one of those I was given just enough of, and it’s up to me to do with it what I wish. Like concrete here in Michigan, it can expand and contract, but it’s still the same. The measure of it hasn’t changed. Maybe it’s shape, it’s edges, the form it can take – but it’s the same amount I was given at the beginning. Sometimes it might feel smaller because the ground is shifting, and sometimes it feels huge because everything is smooth sailing.
The last 48 hours have not been smooth sailing, but I had to make a decision – last night – to be “all in” no matter how I was feeling, and keep moving with the understanding that God knew what He was doing.
God always knows what He’s doing. I can’t always see it because I can sometimes only see as far as the nose on my face, and I can only see that if look through the corner of my eye.
When I made that decision, when I pushed “all in,” something shifted . . . in me.
There’s still some work to be done. I still can’t see very far, but I don’t think I need to. I think I’m exactly where I’m supposed to be.
I want to introduce you to a few friends of mine from my knitting group. Our group is very large, and many of them were shy, and some claimed they were not quite photogenic (which I so beg to differ). They are each lovely in their own special ways. Below each picture here I have explained who the person is and a little about them.
This is the incredibly talented Bev, who works a lot with complicated lace patterns, and this day she was wearing a cute and fun sweater hat. The “arms” can be worn down, as shown here, or tied together on top of the head. Bev is a wonderful, generous person who always has time to help others of us in the group who are not quite as far along as she is with our talents. For some reason I couldn’t get these two pictures to separate, so the top one is Bev holding the hat that Linda, another group member, made for me.
In the top of these two photos is Brenda caught in profile. Brenda is very kind and compassionate, and she sat next to me the day I decided to try and stay the whole two hours. There she is working on another cowl for her Dad, who has Alzheimer’s. He likes the cowls, she says, because “they feel like hugs.”
Helene is our eldest and funnest member of the group. When I asked if I could take her picture, she said, “Well, sure, all right, but it might break your camera!” Boy, did we get on her for that remark. Helene Is a continental knitter, which seems very fast to me, and I would love to learn that method. I’m a plodder.
So there you have it. There are many others, too many to mention. There are very few rules to knitting but there are some that ought to be mentioned. 1. Never take yourself too seriously. 2. Always have more than one knitting project going so that you don’t get bored. 3. Have a complicated and an easy project going at the same time to give yourself a break when you need to. 4. You can never have too big a stash. 5. Mistakes can always be fixed.
Who do you think about first thing in the morning or last thing at night before you fall asleep? Who do you feed first in the morning? Remember the airplane instructions about putting the oxygen mask on yourself first before you put it on your child or even the hurt person next to you? There are reasons for those.
When I was a kid coming up in the world, the last thing I thought about was myself. Sure, there were a few times that were carefree, like I remember playing Red light, Green light; Red Rover; Hide-and-Seek; Say-say-oh-playmate; Mother May I; all those games that kids play in their neighborhoods or towns growing up. But underlying it all was that elephant of drunkenness, anger, and violence. Towering over the elephant stood the giraffe of secrecy.
On the outside we had to look the part of perfect normalcy. Very proper, well-cared for, every hair in place, not a bruise showing, no tears no tears, mustn’t let the world think you are anything but absolutely ordinary. No, more than that: extraordinary. After all, my father was an officer of the law. If his children couldn’t be expected to behave in public, whose could? Our outsides, of course, terribly mismatched our insides. We hurt, we ached, we carried bruises (some physical, some emotional) . . . we carried secrets about drunkenness and violence, secrets in the words only our childlike voices could tell.
In Al-Anon and in therapy I’m learning to take care of myself – not better care – but to actually take care of myself for the first time. Dori (my sponsor) helps me to see my limitations and what I can and cannot do, before I actually hit the wall of exhaustion (as I’ve done). There is a whole chapter in the Al-Anon Big Book, How Al-Anon Works: For Families and Friends of Alcoholics called -oddly enough- Taking Care of Ourselves. Hey, is there some plagiarism going on here? How did they know I was going to write this blog?
What’s best about the Al-Anon Big Book, for me, is it’s simple enough that I can understand it when I’m distressed. Because when I’m in a situation and I need it, if the language were too complicated or flowery, I wouldn’t be able to absorb, intelligence not withstanding. Intelligence goes straight out the window when one is panicked and in distress.
There is a strong connection, in many ways, between the techniques taught in the Al-Anon and in the AA Big Book. For instance, I was pleasantly surprised to read under the SETTING PRIORITIES AND LIMITS section of this chapter, the acronym for H.A.L.T., which is usually often discussed in the AA Big Book.
This reminds me of my doctor’s appt yesterday for a re-evaluation of my chronic fatigue syndrome. I’ve been feeling much worse, dragging all the time, and lots of “brain fog”, which is upsetting. Well, the nurse took at least 20 vials of blood and I have to go back in a week to get more blood for a cortisol draw, since that needs to be done in the morning, and to go over the results of the lab tests thus far.
Here’s hoping they’ll have some answers for me. Even the slightest hormone mishap can cause a lot of fatigue, and if that can be corrected, I’m all over it. Taking care of myself is one of my number one priorities right now!
How about you? Are you taking care of yourself?
The first time I started in the Al-Anon program, which is several years ago now, my sponsor instructed me to keep a gratitude list. I was told to write down at least three things each day I was grateful for. At first, since I was in a pretty rocky spot, they were fairly simple things: 1. Have two arms. 2. Have two legs. 3. They work. My sponsor at the time didn’t get in my face about it. She was patient, and pretty soon the lists changed. They grew as I grew in the program and let go of some of my baggage. Lori is no longer in my life for reasons beyond my control, but her memory still lingers now and then. I’m grateful. I left the program when I lost her as a sponsor and did not return until about a year and a half ago and now have an even better sponsor. God is good.
“For each new morning with its light, For rest and shelter of the night, For health and food, for love and friends, For everything Thy goodness sends.”-Ralph Waldo Emerson– That just about says it all, doesn’t it? You know, I read somewhere that even when it’s cloudy the sun is still out. That’s why if you are going to the beach or you are highly sensitive to the sun, you still have to put on SPF in case of a burn.
You have to understand and grasp at the outset that I am an optimist by nature. I will always see the glass half full, even if it’s cyanide. On my darkest days, I have hope for the future. It’s the only thing that keeps my going. I wasn’t born with it; God gave it to me, just like He gave me my faith, and for that I will always be indebted.
My family brings me great joy, and we almost lost one of ours to lymphoma not long ago. Our dear Jimmy, my older brother who taught me all the lyrics to every Beatles song ever written had to have two series of chemo and radiation. He still has to go back every six months for check-ups, because cancer can be persevering. He was over to the house yesterday, and he made me laugh, as usual. His sense of humor and mine are sometimes exactly in sync, and when that happens it’s magical.
Laughter is something else that always belongs here when speaking of gratitude. The other day I borrowed a CD of The Best of Bill Cosby: he had Old Weird Harold, Fat Albert, and all the antics he got up to in Philadelphia. I listened to it in my car on a long ride. I was laughing so hard, that for a minute I worried people might stare at me. Then I didn’t care, and howled anyway.
My mother, 85 this year, continues to amaze me. My only hope is that I will look like her, but mostly that I will have her wisdom and self-assurance when I am her age. She is teaching me that what everyone else thinks of me is none of my business.
Lucy, the early-to-rise schnorkie, has been my first in-the-flesh experience in unconditional love. All I can do is care for her the best I know how. Feed her, play with her, take her out, make sure she has a warm place to sleep. It doesn’t seem enough for all that she gives me.
My friends on FaceBook, too many to mention here, get me through great and difficult times. They know who they are. My knitting group, whom I shall see tomorrow, is fun and funny and wise beyond words. Last but not least, Dori, my Al-Anon sponsor, who listens to my messes and tries to help me make sense of them. She, too, is wise beyond her years, and someone I would like to be when/if I grow up.
It’s a great day, people! Don’t just sit inside all day. What one thing can you do for someone you’re grateful for? (Preferably still alive) It can be as simple as a hug. Hugs are wonderful, touching things.
Okay. I know for a fact that how we say things is just as important if not more important than what we say. I’ve been attending these lectures on alcoholism and have been learning better ways of communicating, how to express “I Statements.”
(Stay with me for a minute, here, I know this is technical but it’s important for later on.) There are three steps to an I Statement:
1. State very specifically what behavior led to your feeling.
2. State what you are feeling.
3. Explain the consequences of the behavior for you.
In correct usage, it might look something like this:
1. I feel “I feel scared . . .
2. When when you stay out all night
3. Because because I don’t know where you are.”
Simple, right? Well, Saturday afternoon, I forgot all about these I statements when my sister called and said she had just gotten through a therapy session and her therapist told her she needed to work on anger. Mind you, I knew she had already been through one crisis that day. She’s an alcoholic, and I try to be careful about putting too much on her at once. I save my verbal “vomit” for my sponsor because I figure it does no good for my sister to know all the irritations and frustrations that go through my mind regarding her.
But when she said that, all my good intentions flew out the window. Everything I had learned just kind of took a back seat and my mind went on autopilot. Verbal vomit flew out before I could stop it.
“Well, you do have problems with anger,” I said.
“What do you mean?”
“Do you know that every time you get drunk – or even when you’re sober – you complain to Mom that I got sent away to college to live in a dorm and you had to go to a local college?”
“Yeah, I do know that,” she replied.
And the verbal diarrhea continued, unchecked.
“Do you know why Mom sent me two hours away to college?” I asked, and I knew there was some sarcasm in my voice.
“Because I had become a permanent babysitter for your three kids who were all living with us at the time. She wanted me to get away.”
“There you go, coming up first again. Mom always thought of you first.”
“Oh, and taking you and your whole family into her house to support didn’t count.”
“You babysat my kids? Well guess what? I babysat all you kids from the time I could walk.”
I laughed at that point. I couldn’t help it.
Eventually we talked it out. We can never stay mad at each other very long. In a family of seven siblings, we are the only two sisters. But – she’s the reason I’m writing a book about alcoholism, because I truly believe her drinking changed my whole life and a lot of the choices that might have been available to me. I wish I could say I’m better, but I’m still such a sick codependent. I don’t ask her anymore if she’s going to meetings, or if she’s working her program.
I have a smaller hoola hoop now, and I’m only concerned with my own program. It’s enough for me. It’s enough for a lifetime.