Monday, April 18, 2011

Irrational Recovery

Rational Recovery is an abstinence-based addiction program developed in the 1980s by Jack Trimpey, a California-based social worker who not only has worked with addicts over the years, but was an alcoholic himself. So he developed RR as a way of dealing with the dichotomy the addict faces: they want to quit - but they don't want to quit. Followers learn to recognize the "voice" of their addiction and tools to bring themselves back to an awareness of the rationality behind their desire to quit and, hopefully, the ability to say no to that drink. Or whatever the offending substance is. But all without the spiritual overtones of A.A. and other 12-step programs.

It sounds like a marvelous system. If I ever end up in a ditch with a laptop in my hands, "Ms. Functional" on the screen, and a blood alcohol content of 20.0 - who knows, I might have to take advantage of it myself.

But for now, my system is pretty good, too. Because, well, I still get to drink. But cleansing is as much about learning to get in touch with the "voice" inside of you as RR is. And as you continue to cleanse, you will start to recognize this voice and your entire being will begin to know how to take the steps to heal itself.

Take Friday. I had a very busy week and got a lot of great work done on a book I've been wanting to write since I was 15 years old. Finally, after years of false starts, I seem to have downloaded the first 20,000 words in four days. I worked feverishly, like I haven't in years.

I was probably clinically exhausted when I decided to keep a lunch date with a friend on Friday afternoon, partly because she has a lot of insight into one of the characters (as it turns out, she's a Forensic Social Worker, not unlike Mr. Trimpey from RR). At lunch we usually share a bottle of wine, but for some reason she wasn't drinking much (I learned she had some errands to do afterwards) so I polished off most of the bottle myself. When the waiter brought grappa with the bill, I polished off that shot as well.

Shots are really a weak spot for me. They've gotten me into trouble before and they did that day, too. Really - NO SHOTS should become one of my wild card rules. Because afterwards I went shopping for a housewarming gift for a friend we were going to visit that night. I was tipsy from lunch and buzzing with excitement about my book ideas. I went to Pottery Barn and picked out what I thought was a gorgeous white and silver lantern for their deck. I traipsed home feeling in a great mood.

The hubs and I didn't leave for our friends' until after 9pm and just as we were heading out the door, I picked up the lantern and noticed ... THERE WAS A BIG DING ON THE VERY FRONT PANEL OF IT. Something I didn't notice when I bought it because I was, well ... because I was toasted.

So carrying the thing into their house, the first thing out of my mouth was: "I'm so sorry, there's a ding in this lantern that I didn't see this afternoon!" and then "Oh what a great house!"

They're a new couple and it was late, so there was no dinner or snacks. We'd brought wine and the white was opened for me and I started drinking that - after a day of heavier than usual drinking.

The woman had just learned she's expecting, so she wasn't drinking and without food, and with listening to the details of the house and/or pregnancy news, I started to feel my exhaustion. I had done too much that week (especially getting over a cold) to have had such a busy social day with so much drinking. Maybe that's why my inner-warning system was off.

When I got up the next morning - I FELT IT! I really did. I felt the effects of being "irrational" the day before. I'm usually very good at listening to my voice and ignoring the irrational drinker inside of me. But there can sometimes be a set of circumstances that overrides my best intentions and ... there you go. You end up with a damaged housewarming gift and a hangover.

But a damaged gift is better than a damaged marriage and psyche - which is what my drinking used to cause me. I mention it because although it was not my finest hour, I know it was important to me because it helped to underline why I set certain limits for myself - and why I should follow them.

In some ways I don't even want to share it because it shows that I'm not "perfect." That my system has not brought me to a place where I can go for lunch with a friend, then go shopping and not buy a dinged-up housewarming gift. And everything that represents. It was a "mistake."

You might make mistakes. I might make mistakes. But you will learn from them. Because as you cleanse, your whole system is re-learning. It's learning how to emotionally and physically improve while still being able to enjoy drinking.

On Saturday when I woke up and realized I had pushed my own limit, my whole system went into a very special mode. It didn't respond by saying: "I want another drink - NOW, FAST, IMMEDIATELY THANK YOU!" because that used to be the only way to deal with a night of over-drinking. Every problem drinker knows that. Even people who don't have a "serious problem" know that a hair of the dog feels good.

But my body was in self-preservation mode and I can say that for the rest of the weekend, I probably drank 1/2 what I normally would on Saturday and Sunday. My body just didn't want it. It was protecting itself. It knows HOW to protect itself properly now. I felt on such a bone deep level that the best thing for me to do would be to take it easy and that's what I naturally did. It was not a conscious decision - it was a physical, intuitive decision.

Every cleansing cycle shows me some new tool my body and brain have to fight the negative effects of drinking. And I can guarantee you that the odds of making that particular mistake again - wine and grappa and shopping and exhaustion and more wine - have decreased by about 99%.

But it was a mistake.

I have made them in the past and I will (probably) continue to make them. But there's a really important aspect to this plan that goes hand in hand with the actual rules - and that is to learn to love and forgive yourself.

It wasn't a big mistake. I didn't hurt anyone. I didn't even get in a fight with the hubby. In fact, he knew I was tipsy after lunch, but didn't have a problem with it. He hasn't had a problem with my getting drunk (and as I've said from the beginning - yes, I do get drunk sometimes!) in years.

I may have shared this story before, but it's an important one when it comes to learning to forgive yourself. Several years ago, when I was in the earlier stages of this plan - before I had perfected the components of it, the annual cleanses, the weekly cleanses, the wild card rules, etc. - I was much more likely to make these kinds of mistakes where I drank too much. I remember I woke up one morning after one of those nights and I felt a shriek of panic rush through me. I was so angry with myself! I felt so guilty, so stupid, so wrong. I waited for my husband to wake up and then I crawled over to him in bed and the first thing I said was how sorry I was for last night.

He looked over at me and gave me a kiss and said "Good morning, sunshine," as he does every morning. I could tell he wasn't mad. "Don't worry," he said. "It's not the same as it used to be. You're not the same as you used to be."

Cleansing has helped me to the point where even when I drink too much, I don't turn into that crazy, angry, vindictive person I used to become. I'm so happy about that. So thrilled, so proud. And it makes it a lot easier to forgive myself now. But back then, I was just learning. What really helped that particular day was this: we went out for a drive and as we pulled into traffic behind a truck I looked at the license plate and it read: FORGIVN.

I've never been able to forget that. FORGIVN on the license plate ahead of me the day I needed it most. We followed that truck for blocks and I'm pretty sure tears ran down my cheeks.

Even now, it never lets me forget the importance of self-forgiveness on my continued journey.

So don't be TOOOOO hard on yourself if you trip up a bit. I probably would've bought that damaged lantern even if I had been sober. Besides, it's not the biggest mistake I've ever made. So .... it's forgivn.


Friday, April 15, 2011

Picture Perfect

The other night the hubby and I went out for dinner with some friends of ours. After meeting the super-glam restaurant owner, we went over to another super-glam event: a gallery opening of a close friend of this couple we were with.

I've admired this artist's paintings on the walls of their home many times. I was excited to go. So I sweated the outfit. Spent a little more time on the hair. At dinner, I had a kir royale and shared a bottle of nice northern Cali Chardonnay my friend. At the gallery - which was packed with scenesters - I had another bit of champagne and another glass of wine.

In other words ... quite a bit. :) And I had a glamtastic blast.

But it was so incredible the next day to hear from the hubs how 'fabulous' I was. That I didn't get too drunk. That he didn't have to worry about me. In the old days, that was just the kind of event that would see me drinking waaaaay too much (and in the throes of the dopamine/depression cycle that's easy as pie ... no easier! Cuz wine is easier 'n pie!). I would've stumbled and stammered and made an ass of myself. I (probably) would've bought a painting I couldn't afford. And I probably would've started a blackout fight with my husband when we got home because I would've been getting attitude from him about my drinking.

It is SUCH a damn relief to be able to go out, have fun, enjoy my wine, but not have to worry about it becoming an ordeal. It's just a blast - before, during and after. And that, my friend, is what cleansing is all about.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Off Days

It's Wednesday today. Pasta night again, which will be fun. But last night was Tuesday, my first real "off" day since the cleanse ended because I've been so sick and indulging myself in my hell-if-don't-cure-ya-at-least-it'll-make-ya-feel-better self-medication of wine and sleep.

When my husband got home and we were ready to settle in, he opened the liquor cupboard and asked "What're you having?" (Or something maybe not quite so "Madmen" sounding, but you get the point.)

"Well, it's Tuesday," I said. "Should be an off-night." I felt a little pang in my heart as I said it because truly all day long I was telling myself "I still have this cold, it's hanging on like a bastard and I didn't have any medicinal wine today. (As I said, I cut that off at two afternoons.) What cruel punishment is it to take a night off AND suffer a cold at the same time? I'll have no energy. I'll have no fun." Wah-waaaaah. Poor me.

So I really wanted to be let off the hook and make it an "on" night. I know if I had even remotely pushed it, the hubby would've been on board and dragged out his scotch bottle. But I didn't push it (maybe instinctively) and he said, "Oh, yeah. I forgot" and closed the liquor cabinet and reached in the fridge for his purple-red Vitamin Water.

The pang of not having a drink turned into a drawn-out ache as I walked into the living room with my glass of water. I suppose I should've made sure to have something "fun" to drink - even some spiced tea - for my first off night in a week. Especially instead of water, which for some reason this cold has made seem like the least palatable thing on the planet, a shock for me since I've been drinking 8-10 glasses a day most of my life, even before they told us that imbibing half the Great Lakes on a daily basis was actually good for us.

So there I was with my - wah-waaaaah - water and a long sober night.

I hate having to crave alcohol. But that's what I was doing. I was "craving" a drink and resenting not being able to have one. Of course, the cravings that I have now are not as earth-shattering as they were, but they're there sometimes, especially if I'm feeling vulnerable or have not had an off-night in a while.

Don't be surprised or saddened if you continue to face little ripple (or waves) of cravings that you don't satisfy every hour of the day. It won't be at its worst once you start cleansing - certainly mine aren't anything more than a feeling of childish loss for a moment. That sensation would be hard to live with for years and years (which I'm sure is what I'd have to deal with if I joined A.A. - one day at a time, after all), but it'll become very short-lived once you start cleansing. Seriously, the idea that I wanted a drink passed within minutes and didn't return for the whole evening. In fact, I was feeling wonderful before the end of the night and really appreciating the wisdom behind 50% of that 2+2 rule: 2 days off a week.

There's a reason I've incorporated that rule for myself. I know this plan is workable and flexible - I've shown it many times already - and that's why it's so effective. But the rules that are there are there for a reason: not only will regular off-nights help to break up any kind of escalation in the dopamine-depression connection. But JUST AS IMPORTANT - YOU WILL FEEL BETTER FOR HAVING TAKEN THEM.

You will see time and again, many times a week - even many times a day - that sober life isn't just healthy and tolerable, it's wonderful. And that a sober life and sober reality is the foundation of everything else that is important to you. It is healthy. It is natural. It is necessary for problem drinkers. And it is right.

I remember that shrink I saw years ago used to tell me something that a rabbi told him if he complained about having to study the Torah or something every day when he was a boy. "Why do I have to do it?" my young-someday-shrink would say. And the rabbi would look at him, gray haired of course, black hat, maybe even a silver beard, and say: "Because it's good for you."

Because it's good for you.

That was all. Read the Torah because it's good for you (if you're a young Jewish person wanting to be a shrink when you grow up). And take your off-days if you're a former problem drinker finally getting control.

Do it because it's good for you.

But not good for you in that sense that you should eat oatmeal/kale hash every morning because it'll help your arteries. Because sometimes that's not a good enough reason for people - especially when it comes to the instant gratification of a drink. Because you can't really SEE your arteries. You can't really FEEL that oatmeal/kale hash you eat every morning actually helping you. All you will really experience is the ... yuck ... thick swallowing sensation and the vague desire to go back to bed - or puke. You'll get the resentment and sacrifice part, but no immediate payback, none that you can measure anyway, until your next blood pressure check (which is why it's so hard to stick to healthy diets!).

Of course, you might be a really positive person and feel proud of yourself for eating your oatmeal/kale hash, and that's good. But you'll feel pride for taking your off-nights too. And as nice as that is, "pride" is way down the list compared to the actual physical well-being and emotional joy off-nights will actually bring you (and by off-nights I mean the whole day and night). Especially when you wake up in the morning clear-headed, happy - and looking forward to pasta night. :)

It's part of the miraculousness of this system. It's part of why the whole plan works. Off nights are NOT AT ALL like oatmeal-kale hash. Yes, you get the long term internal benefits that you can't actually see (i.e. better cholesterol levels vs. better dopamine levels), but more importantly YOU WILL ACTUALLY FEEL HAPPIER IN THE MOMENT. At least after that little ripple of resentment that you're not a "normal drinker" has passed. It will be replaced by actual emotional and spiritual warmth. And that warmth will grow and grow and grow and grow, hour by hour, until the next day when you wake up really joyful and full of anticipation. Thrilled with yourself, with your life, with the state of your dopamine production ... and with the prospect of a fun evening.

Do it because it's good for you. But do it also because it will make you a happier person every moment of your day.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Sick Days

One of my Wild Card Rules is that I CAN drink alone at home when I'm coming down with a cold.

In the old days, I had a surefire cure for colds. The minute I felt one coming on, I drank a couple big glasses of wine, I took two Tylenol Cold tablets, I wrapped my neck in a scarf and my body in some blankets and I passed out for a couple of hours and usually woke up sweaty and disoriented ... but without my cold. It worked every time. Plus it made the prospect of getting a cold a lot more appealing.

But then I read how damaging it was to your liver to take analgesics and other medication like this, while drinking alcohol at the same time. So ... I gave up the Tylenol. But I kept the wine.

Nowadays, when I feel a cold coming on, I can happily and guiltlessly pour myself a couple of glasses of wine while watching whatever comfort television is on. Then I bundle up and pass out for a couple of hours.

It often works. Often! Though not always. And either way ... it still makes the idea of getting a sick a whole lot more fun. ;)

By the way, sick days shouldn't go on for months! Keep it down to two in a row. If getting slowly toasted by yourself doesn't work in two days, then it's back to the chicken soup and O.J. for you. But at least it was fun while it lasted.