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.


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