How I Got Here
Stories from members on how they found MM
Hi, everyone…and especially, Hello and Welcome to those who don't know me.
I'm what you might call an "oldbie." I signed on to this list in November 1998 after finding it on a web search for "alternative recovery."
I had been drinking to excess since my 21st birthday, back in 1986. I didn't consider myself "addicted." I could stop easily if I ran out of money, or if I were sick, or to prove a point to a doctor/therapist--but I was drinking enough to make me wonder what more I could be doing with my life if I weren't numbing out every night, drinking myself to sleep. There had to be a better, healthier way to live. And I was very concerned that if I didn't do something soon, I might well become addicted and lose the control I still retained, over whether to drink or not.
So, here I was on the list. Dozens of posts per day, sometimes over a hundred. All from people who bore a remarkable similarity to me…concerned about their drinking, knowing they had to make a change but refusing to accept the disempowering label "alcoholic" for themselves. The first order of business: Stop for thirty days.
What?! OMG, what will I do? How will I sleep at night? How will I handle stress?
This was the point at which I realized I had grown psychologically dependent on alcohol. Well, I reasoned, if it must be, then it must be. I had the flu anyway, so didn't feel much like drinking. I started a 30 then and there.
Lo and behold, what immediately came up for me was everything I had been pushing away with alcohol:
1. I had no mechanism to deal with stress.
2. I had insomnia, and had since childhood.
3. I was depressed.
4. I had allowed myself to be ill-treated in the past and was still
very, very angry about it…and had no clue how to prevent it in future.
5. I was a perfectionist, forever focusing on the negative and beating
6. I had very low self-worth.
These are core issues. I had spent two rotten, miserable years in AA, dry as a bone but wondering why I never felt any better. Now I knew. AA had no mechanism short of religious conversion to treat some of these problems.
Triggers: Not surprisingly, through years of over-drinking I seemed to have a hundred triggers.
Any time I was cooking dinner
Any time I was feeling a strong feeling
Any time I wanted sex
Any time I wanted to relax
Any time I wanted to celebrate
Any time I wanted a release from pressure
Any time I wanted a reward
Any time I was around people who were drinking
These were just a few. I didn't ALWAYS drink each time a trigger was tripped, but I would *want* to. And because I didn't have any other choices to get what I wanted in the trigger situations, not-drinking became a will power thing, a choice to suffer. I have terrific will power where booze is concerned, so I had no worries about "breaking" my 30. But I suffered and struggled emotionally, day after day, grappling with my depression, perfectionism and self-hatred.
After the first 30 was over, I started dealing with the core issues that had, LITERALLY, driven me to drink in the first place! And here is where the work actually began…for me. I had dried out for a month, but if I didn't install some new choices quickly the over-drinking would surely return. I knew this from stopping drinking before. I would moderate well for a month or two, but the first time I experienced a critical mass of stress I would be right back to daily blotto-land.
I did another 30 in January '99 to check out some of my new choices:
"Sleepytime" tea at night
Daily meditation to reduce stress level
Exercise (although I got the flu AGAIN during this 30, can you believe it?)
This one was a bit easier. I began re-discovering some of my REAL personality traits, the ones I had been suppressing for years with booze. I can be sweet, slightly shy with total strangers, an incurable romantic, and incredibly supportive of those I care about; but also:
I'm extremely assertive, even downright aggressive at times.
I'm quick to anger, especially on behalf of those I see as in need of my help.
I won't let *anyone* order me around.
I'm a control fiend.
I go directly after what I desire and will brook NO interference.
(Those of you who are familiar with Enneagram personality types may recognize this as a typical "8" profile.) :^)
I have always felt bad about my temperament. It was not how little girls were supposed to feel and act in the 70s, when I was growing up. I learned to shut down that aggressive part with booze; partly to please others and make myself more socially acceptable…but mostly to make myself acceptable to MYSELF. I had internalized my parents' opinion that my natural temperament was "bad" and should be changed. So instead of working *with* it and becoming the best "me" I could be, I tried to work *against* it by shutting down. And of course, like any natural temperament, mine would come out anyway, whenever I felt "safe" to be myself. In practice, this usually meant suppressing the anger in public and exploding like Krakatoa at home. It did not endear me to my lovers, you can imagine.
Since January, I have been doing the following:
1. Increasing the number of new behaviors available to me that are AS EFFECTIVE as drinking (this is an important point, I'll cover it in another email later).
2. Monitoring my alcohol intake without judgment. Invariably, when it goes up significantly, I am under some kind of pressure. Since alcohol is the symptom rather than the problem (a basic tenet of MM, if alcohol IS the problem for you this is NOT the program for you), I am focusing on developing a more effective response to stress.
3. Learning how to accept myself for who and what I am. This has been the single most effective tool in reducing my desire to drink excessively.
4. Working very hard on the causes of stress and depression in my life--financial problems, career dissatisfaction, difficult relationships.
Has everything been perfect? No. Have I gotten drunk since joining this list, had trouble saying "no," had more than I intended, woken up with a bad hangover? Yes, yes, yes and yes. July was a particularly bad month, as I was financially overcommitted with no way to pay and no way to get out of it. I didn't deal with that very well.
Is my TOTAL consumption down?
Do I consider myself a "problem drinker" any longer?
And that is the CRUCIAL change which, over time, will get me where I intend to go.
This list has been an invaluable help to me over the last year, even though I haven't always been very visible.
I starting drinking in college (30 years ago!!). I would have to describe myself as drinking heavily since that time…probably averaging 8-10 glasses of wine every night (and I'm little!!). I drank when socializing, but also when alone. I drank to relieve stress or pain, to help me sleep, as a reward for finishing any work I was doing, etc. And of course to help get through bad times & to enhance good times! Hm…that just about covers any possible situation, doesn't it?? And yes, the hangovers got worse. (And worse yet, as I got older!!!)
I'd known for a long time that this was a PROBLEM!! (Duh!) Unfortunately, there wasn't much help available. Tried AA…I felt as though I'd landed on another planet!! (Who ARE these people??? Could not relate to them at all!!) So I would periodically try to stop altogether on my own. This did not work! I have since learned why. (More about that later.) About 4 years ago, I found Audrey's book, MODERATE DRINKING. I abstained for the 30 days, but as I didn't have a plan for moderating afterward, I soon reverted to my old habits. Then, in September of 1997, I came across the book CHANGING FOR GOOD by Prochaska, Norcross, & DiClemente. It provided the turning point for me.They describe the stages of change & what must be done at each stage before moving on to the next. The stages are:
1. Precontemplation (resisting change & consciousness raising)
2. Contemplation (emotional arousal & self-reevalutation)
3. Preparation (continuing self-reevalution & commitment)
4. Action (countering, environment control & reward)
5. Maintenance (strategies, self efficacy)
6. Recycling (learning from "relapse")
7. Termination (exiting the cycle of change)
I finally saw where I had "gone wrong." I hadn't understood that I had been jumping ahead to a stage for which I had not yet prepared, skipping the work that needed to be done in the prior stages. (And, of course, thinking I had utterly failed when I drank again, thereby sapping my self confidence that I could change.)
So I spent 3 months preparing, thinking, & planning. Finally, in mid December of 1997, I pulled Audrey's book out again & reread it. On a whim, I thought I'd see if I could find anything about MM on the web. Surprise!!! I found this decided there would never be a better time for me to do it too!
Well, a lot has happened in the last year. I've refined my moderation plan, tweaking it where necessary. Today, I rarely drink at all…mainly on special occasions. I've broken the habit of responding to all the "cues" that I had associated with drinking. But I've done this by focusing on improving my life in all areas. The following is something I posted a few months ago:
Until I started doing something about my drinking, I never really had goals. I just lived day to day, getting done what I could or had to do. By breaking down the goals I have clearly defined things to do in order to reach them. And by keeping focused on the ultimate goal, I'm motivated to do these (sometimes boring or difficult) things.
Some of the small positive things I've added to my life are exercise, a healthy diet (less fat, more fruits & vegetables), getting up earlier in the morning (I still have the insomnia problem, but I make myself get up even if I'm still sleepy), working on starting a business, having a morning "routine," watching less TV (CNN, MSNBC, C-Span…the news can be a very "addictive" habit!), making time to write, spending time training my puppy Clementine, etc.
The morning "routine" has been one of the best changes I've made. It includes my exercise, eating a light, but healthy breakfast, taking my vitamins, making the bed, flossing, showering & dressing, feeding the dogs & giving them their meds, having my coffee while I read my e-mail, etc. The whole thing takes> about 2 hours. In the past, I would get up "whenever" & get most of this done over the course of the day (well, not the exercise…that's new!!). A lot of time wasted doing it like that. By having the routine, I know exactly what I need to do without thinking about it (even if I'm still half asleep) & now do these things whether or not I feel like it. I.e., exercise, eating breakfast instead of just coffee or a coke. In the beginning, I wrote down EVERY detail. (Of course, I didn't start by doing all these things at once…I've gradually added them.) Now I don't have to refer to the list…it's all of a piece. It also doesn't give me the luxury of telling myself that I don't feel like doing it…I just do it without thinking. I think that's what's known as HABIT!!!
I don't spend much time thinking about how much or often I used to drink…it's really immaterial. I'm only concerned with working towards what I want my life to be, NOT what I DON'T want! Looking back serves no particular purpose for me.
If you want to change & BELIEVE that you can, are willing to work hard & persevere, begin to change all or most other aspects of your life (some areas may only need small changes), then with the support of this list you CAN & WILL change your drinking habits!! (And don't underestimate the power of humor!!!)