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Sharing My Stigma- The Stigma From Addiction

I often worry that people will have negative thoughts about me being in recovery. I believe people will judge me and not give me a chance to open up to them before they make automatic assumptions.

An article on This Naked Mind does a good job explaining a little more about stigmas and ways to reduce stigma (see article below). One way to mitigate stigma according to this article is by educating ourselves. For example, for me it is important to educate myself more around the opposing arguments and views that people have around addiction and alcoholism. For others, this may look slightly different.

Stigma around alcoholics and addicts include things like assumptions that we are low in social class, do not have an education, do not care about other people, will steal from others for fun, cannot be trusted, are dirty, are losers, and are self inflicting. The worst assumption I have heard in my past is “you can chose to stop so why don’t you?” and “Alcoholism is not a disease.” In my heart I know these two statements are wrong, so why can’t everyone else see that too?

One way that helps me feel comfortable when meeting new people, is telling them a little about my sobriety, if it is appropriate. I know when going into new relationships, whether it is new friends, classmates, or a new boyfriend, that some people may have stigmatized thoughts around people in recovery. Although, I find that once I share more about myself, people are more open to my recovery and more understanding.

It is realistic that people have different views of addiction than I do because they have not lived my life. My life and my past have shaped my views just as this is true for other people’s views. It is important to remember that although some stigmas may be hurtful, if we slowly educate and let others in to our world, maybe these stigmas can change.

An article from This Naked Mind.
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Sober Socializing

As the stay-at-home orders are lifted and restrictions lessen, I think about what it will be like going back to a “normal” social life. For people in recovery it can be extremely confusing knowing what is right in terms of who to hangout with (does it need to be only other sober people?), and what to do that can be fun while sober.

In my recovery journey, I admit, I have gained a lot friends in the recovery community and outside of the recovery community… Being sober does not mean I should just limit myself to only other sober people. I have learned through having friends outside of the recovery community the practice of healthy boundaries. This includes what I am comfortable being around, where I am comfortable going, and what type of conversations I deem beneficial to my life.

While I do not drink, I do not shame others for their drinking, whether it is healthy or unhealthy (in which case I just drop slight hints now and then about recovery). I know that just because I “lost” the right to drink, it does not mean other people have too. I like to keep an open mind when meeting and hanging out with new people while also maintaining the strict boundaries I need to in order to feel safe.

Being in recovery and “recovered” from the disease of alcoholism makes me a free woman… This means that I am free to go where ever my heart desires as long as I have the right reasons to.

As the big book of Alcoholics Anonymous (1939) states “But this man still lives, and is a free man. He does not need a bodyguard nor is he confined. He can go anywhere on this earth where other free men may go without disaster, provided he remains willing to maintain a certain simple attitude.”

I am free.. I no longer have the obsession or cravings to drink. With this being true, I often go out with my friends. I am always the designated driver, and I do not mind. I hangout with friends at concerts and music halls to see musicians and I always feel safe doing this. AND if I do not, I have the tools I need to talk to someone about it and to take myself out of the situation.

I am by no means recommending that newly sober people should go out to bars and night clubs on the regular.. I am merely showing one of the many miracles of this program that came from lots of hard work and a continuance of maintenance in my step work. AND I still HAVE FUN despite not drinking. I have even more fun than I would if I was drinking because I have full control of myself and mind. I feel safe this way and I get to be in the moment with my pals.

During my four+ years in sobriety, I have discovered many fun activities. I have gone to concerts, skiing, hiking, camping, boating, and many other outdoor/indoor ventures. I love being able to wake up in the morning and spontaneously drive two hours to a mountain and hike/ski it. Being sober does not mean that I cannot have fun! I have plenty of good times without alcohol and drugs. The best part is being confident in myself to be able to let myself have fun… And in the end, my happiness is the most important.

#COVID-19 #Recovery #NoAlcohol #FUN

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Dealing With Anxiety Without Drugs or Alcohol

During the current world situation it is safe to say that many people are going through times of anxiety and stress. In recovery it is good to know that you can reduce your stress and anxiety without needing the help of drugs and alcohol. While looking around at sober blogs (here is a list of some good ones), I found a post on the Sober Girls Guide by Jessica about relaxing without the need for alcohol. This sparked my idea to write this post about dealing with anxiety without alcohol or drugs.

Photo from A Sober Girl’s Guide.

Jessica talks in her post about different ways to relax without alcohol such as talking on the phone with a friend, physical exercise, self-care, creating things, making mocktails (alcohol-free cocktails), and taking a bath. I personally believe all of these things are also important in reducing stress and anxiety.

Is there better way to de-stress than putting on a nice face mask and sitting in a bubble bath? No! All of the things that Jessica talks about are also ways I lessen my stress and my anxiety. As soon as I sit down, and take my mind off of everything going on, I can lessen my stress and anxiety.

Anxiety and Stress Reducing Activities

1. Physical Exercise

Physical exercise is not only a good way to keep healthy and fit physically but also a good way to lessen stress and anxiety. I often use physical activities such as dance or yoga to take my mind off of the things that are giving me anxiety. It is important to keep moving because when we sit in our stress (sometimes literally by just sitting on the couch and ruminating about life), we can potentially just make things worse.

2. Self-Care

Self-care is another go to that I use to get my mind of my anxiety. Doing my nails, washing and styling my hair, taking a bath, putting on a face mask and even just washing my face. These things all help me to feel more calm and present in the moment.

3. Arts and Crafts

Some crafts I like to do are knitting and crocheting, scrapbooking, and painting. I also like to look up different activities on Pinterest in order to find some new creative ideas. Being creative and taking part in crafts is also time consuming and super relaxing. The other day I broke a flower pot with a hammer and glued it back together! And it actually was SO FUN!

4. Connect With Others

One of the most important parts of recovery is connection with others. Learning how to connect with family and friends in a healthy manner is the basis to a new healthy lifestyle. During low times and times of anxiety talking to friends and family can be the most comforting.

Is That It?!

YES! Well, maybe not… there are many ways we can work to reduce our stress and anxiety without the use of drugs and alcohol. The best part of being in recovery is that I have the tools I need to get through ups and downs in life without needing drugs and alcohol. I can use my strategies to better myself and to improve any emotional discomfort that arises such as stress and anxiety. Come back next time for more tools and tips on how to maintain a life of sobriety one day at a time!

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Relapse Justifications

Many people think that in times where life gets hard, people in recovery from addiction and alcoholism are likely to relapse. This leads some people in recovery to hold certain events as excuses to be able to drink or use again. People think to themselves “If a family member dies” or “If I get into a bad car accident” “I will be able to use then.” They come up with certain reservations to justify a relapse. Even implicit reasons that are held in our brains are NOT okay for us. The only reason people relapse is because they are not doing what they need to do to stay sober one day at a time.

Magz, the author of a blog called Sober Courage, discussed how she kept a list of reasons she will be able to justify a relapse if it happens again. She explains how she has relapsed although it was not because of any of her all ready planned list but because of a divorce. To me, I DO NOT think that this sort of excuse making is healthy. I also believe that putting labels on “reasons” that one relapsed is running away from taking responsibility for one’s own actions.

As I look back at the multiple failed attempts I have had in the past to get sober, I can see the many mistakes I made in not fully committing to recovery and Alcoholics Anonymous. I used AA as an excuse for negative behavior by twisting the words of fellows. I never gave my full will up to my higher power and I never changed my actions and took responsibility for my actions.

The ONLY reason I can say took part in my relapses is the lack of commitment to the program of Alcoholics Anonymous and the 12 steps. When I hear people not taking responsibility for losing touch with their program and placing blame on outside issues for their relapse, I get frustrated. Relapse rarely has anything to do with outside issues. As a recovering alcoholic and addict I know that I can face anything in my life that is good or bad and be OKAY! I do not have to be scared about relapsing because of certain events possibly arising in my life.

DO NOT let anyone fool you. Everyone in recovery can work through everything that goes on in life with the help of the tools given to us in AA. We do not have to be scared of alcohol or drugs.

“And we have ceased fighting anything or anyone- even alcohol. For by this time sanity will have returned. We will seldom be interested in liquor. If tempted, we recoil from it as from a hot flame. We react sanely and normally, and will find that this has happened automatically. We see that our new attitude toward liquor has been given us without any thought or effort on our part. It just comes! That is the miracle of it. We are not fighting it, neither are we avoiding temptation. We feel as though we had been placed in a position of neutrality- safe and protected. We are have not even sworn off. Instead, the problem has been removed. It does not exist for us.” – Alcoholics Anonymous, Works Publishing Company, New York City, 1939.

#sobercommunity #livesober

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Recovery Outdoors

As the restrictions on social gatherings start to loosen up, outdoor AA meetings are starting to popularize. One meeting in Old Orchard Beach, along with others across the US, is opening it’s doors again as the outdoor gatherings are now allowed. Along with the sober house residents, and local treatment center residents, all recovering alcoholics and addicts are allowed to attend. This new setting for meetings could be a good way for people in recovery to get back into a more normal schedule.

Sober homes and treatment centers can now start taking their residents to meetings again for the first time since mid March. This means more exposure to the 12-steps and possibly longer sobriety outcomes for all residents. In light of Coronavirus, many treatment centers and sober houses decided to stop letting their residents go to outside meetings, and many meetings decided to close their doors. As residents continued to be admitted into these type of programs, many have not had experiences with AA meetings because of the world wide pandemic. With the opening of outdoor meetings, this now can change. The outdoor meetings can improve the treatment of addiction and alcoholism as AA has been shown to increase chances of longterm sobriety. In my own life, I have seen AA help hundreds of people, including myself.

Personally, I have experienced a new outlook on life thanks to the help of the 12 steps and the fellowship of Alcoholics Anonymous. It has been hard to watch many residents come into the treatment center that I work at and new AA members on zoom formatted meetings not be able to have the full experience of an AA meeting. With the added stress of the current world situations, AA is an even more necessary resource for people in recovery to be using. Denise Royal adds to this in her article discussing how AA members have expressed that there is so much more to a meeting than just the meeting itself. This includes the socializing and connecting you can have before and after AA meetings.

When I go to AA meetings, I often arrive early, fill my cup of coffee, and chat with fellow members about how things are going. This connection is SO important for my sobriety and for the part I play in the fellowship. I get to talk to newcomers about the hope that they will see, the help they can receive, and how they can help others too! I also get to talk to the “old timers” about how I can be of more service to the community. Connection is at the core of AA, and these seemingly small, “unimportant” aspects of meetings, are actually what adds to the healing that occurs in AA.

Now that new AA members have the chance to experience this, we can expect to see larger amounts of people staying in longterm sobriety. These outdoor meetings will be of extreme help to the community. Many more exciting resources are starting to become more available as Coronavirus gets tackled by our STRONG nation!

Search here for outdoor meetings in your area!

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Talk Through It

When all else fails, talk it out.

I have found that talk therapy, and group talk therapy have been useful tools for me to stay focused in my recovery. Talk therapy helps me to see other sides to things that I usually would just pass off as “annoying” or “unfair”. I have found during this pandemic, that I tend to get more irritable than usual. Talking about things, whether it is something I am frustrated with, or sad about, is beneficial for growth as human beings, not only just for humans in recovery.

For everyone during the Coronavirus Pandemic, it is important to maintain a good mental health. An NPR article posted by Shereen Marisol Meraji and Lauren Hodges, would agree that social distancing measures has effected many adults mental health. All the stressors that came along with COVID-19 have made stress levels even higher for many adults across the nation.

Even though businesses are closed and we are limited in traveling, therapy options are still available and many options are accessible from home. Telehealth has increasingly become available through many providers. This means that therapy sessions can be completed over the phone, on Google Hangouts, Skype, or even Zoom.

It may seem more uncomfortable spilling your guts to someone who is not actually with you but from my experience, it can feel a lot safer. Talking about personal issues through the phone, or on a video call makes things less confrontational and scary because it is more comfortable when you are in your own safe space. In the comfort of your own home, it is easier to be confident when talking about difficult matters because the environment that you are in is one that you are in control of. You can just sit on your couch with your cat or dog next to you and tell your therapist anything you want.

If privacy is an issue for you, if you have kids or roommates, a good option is to sit in your car. Your car is the ultimate private get away! Another option is to find a quiet place in your home and put on some headphones.

As Meraji and Hodges mention in their NPR segment, if you do not have insurance, many providers will offer a sliding scale rate. Also Medicare does cover Telehealth.

Group therapy is also a good option. In group therapy, you can share your stress, and worries with a group of people who are also going through the pandemic too. They may not be in the exact situation as you, but most likely one person will be able to relate to the emotions you are going through. Group therapy is an important part of my self care because I get to share with a group of women what I am going through and they often have stories similar to mine and suggestions on how to help with any problems.

Two places that can help you find a therapist and start online sessions are TalkSpace, and Psychology Today. Never feel like you have to hide behind your stress. There is always someone who will be able to help.

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Caring For Yourself- Spiritually and Physically

Some of my first steps to feeling better during the Coronavirus quarantine was doing a virtual yoga class, guided meditation, and simply getting out of bed and getting ready for my day. Keeping these things in my routine, helped me to stay on track with my recovery. Simply having a routine everyday was beneficial to the continuance of my 12-step practices. Continuing to reach out to my friends and family, writing my 10th step inventory, and keeping a spiritual practice are all part of my daily schedule.

As Timmen L. Cermak puts it, only we have the choice to continue our recovery. As a recovering alcoholic, I am the only one who can decide to call my sponsor weekly and continue my daily practices. During the Coronavirus Pandemic, people in recovery have to realize that just because the world has stopped the majority of “normal” life, it does not give us the right to stop our recovery practices. This is the time to be stronger in our recovery, to maintain our spiritual fitness, and to grow with our step work.

A good way to keep our minds calm and present is to keep up with meditation. Meditation helps to slow our breathing, relieve anxiety, and bring us back to the present. One meditation application, Insight Timer, has made all their playlists and meditations free to be of service during these times.

I was able to keep practicing yoga through zoom yoga classes. There is a multitude of yoga studios who are currently teaching online. Another great source for good yoga is youtube. One of my favorite yoga classes was from a video on youtube called “Yoga with Adriene“. Yoga can be a great way to keep exercising while staying home. It is important to stay exercising and keep your body moving because when we spend to much time laying down, negativity can overcome us. It is so easy to just sit on the couch and watch television all day. Instead of this, take part in a quick guided yoga lesson and feel the energy being released from your body.

Here is a quick Yoga class with Adriene!

Keeping up with our normal lives while staying home will be the best way to stay on track with our recovery.

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Zooming In Recovery

Since the present restrictions on social gatherings, 12 step meetings such as Alcoholics Anonymous have moved to online formatting such as Zoom. In an effort to keep the message of hope alive, I have taken part in joining these meetings and have shared my message to others.

On April 22, 2020, I received my 4 year medallion in the mail from my AA sponsor. Through the help of some friends, I was able to be the main speaker at a zoom AA meeting that had almost one hundred attendees. The best part of it was that my entire family was able to join from all across the country. My two sisters in California, my parents, aunts and uncle in New York, and my fellow friends here in Maine were all able to attend my special evening.

Through the help of Zoom, recovering alcoholics and addicts are now able to attend meetings all across the world. At first it seemed uncomfortable letting everyone “in my home”, but after the first meeting I attended, I saw that it was possibly to still connect with others even though we could not be together in person. After trying the AA zoom meetings, I realized that it is a great opportunity to learn and connect with people in different AA communities.

Pippa Raga mentions how recovering alcoholics and addicts can still find support through the online Zoom platform. There is no reason people in recovery should be staying stagnant. As Raga explains, AA is built in helping others and this was the perfect opportunity for it’s members to reach out and support those in need.

A list of online meetings can be found at the AA intergroup website. Here, recovering addicts can chose from thousands of meetings. There are meetings in different languages, different times of day, different days of the week, and different style of meeting. Style of meeting can be big book step study, speaker, discussion, beginners, open meetings (anyone is welcome), closed meetings (those who refer to themselves as alcoholics only), and various other styles.

Recovery is always a journey. Do not let being stuck at home let you fall behind. There are many ways we can work on ourselves and so many resources to better our self care during these hard times.

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Tested Into Recovery

In 2016, I signed myself into a drug and alcohol treatment facility. My first few days were filled with meeting new people, filling out paperwork, going to different meetings and groups, and connecting with staff members. Unfortunately, and fortunately, this is no longer the case for new admissions who wish to enter drug and alcohol treatment centers during the Coronavirus Pandemic.

Admissions into alcohol and drug addiction treatment centers has drastically changed since the start of the Coronavirus Pandemic. Many treatment facilities are testing new admissions prior to or during the first few days after admissions. Facilities have done further measures such as sanitizing all surfaces each hour, not allowing visitors, taking the temperatures of each employee at the start of their shifts, and having employees wear the appropriate PPE in order to keep their residents safe and healthy.

Haley Hudson speaks out about how drug and alcohol treatment centers are using the proper precautions while admitting new patients. These precautions include looking for symptoms of COVID-19 during intake, testing for COVID-19 prior to intake, and keeping patients in quarantine until their results from the COVID-19 test come back.

All of these precautions help patients long term and will keep current patients’ health protected. Instead of refusing new admissions, when treatment programs add these precautions it makes it possible for people struggling with drug and alcohol addiction to get proper treatment. While it is important for treatment programs to add new policies in regard to the safety of patients’ health, some of these policies add more difficulties in the treatment of alcoholism and drug addiction.

3 Difficulties Arising From Restrictive Policies

1. Refusal to Treat Patients with Symptoms or Positive Test Results.

In order to maintain safety for current residents and staff members in treatment facilities, some facilities are turning away new intakes who are testing positive for COVID-19. In addition to positive test results leading to discharge, a high fever can be an immediate turn away for a new admission.

For these people, this refusal of admissions can lead them to a relapse that can kill them. It only takes one time for someone to overdose on Opioids. I know that when people are turned away from treatment, they often go right back to drinking or using drugs. Drinking alcohol or using drugs for an alcoholic or drug addict can be extremely dangerous.

2. Disconnect because of isolation policies.

On top of possibly being turned down the opportunity for treatment because of a fever, or positive COVID-19 test result, having to be isolated for up to 48 hours while awaiting results from testing makes it harder for patients to adjust to their new setting.

Ordinarily, new patients in drug and alcohol treatment centers are surrounded by the care and support of staff members and other clients, and can start their journey into therapeutic treatments. Now, everything is pushed back by a few days. To a NON ALCOHOLIC this may seem like NO…. BIG….. DEAL…. HOWEVER, the first few days of recovery can be determinate of whether one stays in a treatment program or goes back out to drink and use drugs.

In my first attempts at achieving sobriety, I went in and out of rehabs and hospitals. My first few days in rehabs often determined whether I wanted to stay or leave. I often would enter a rehab with all the will in the world to stay for good and get sober. Within a few days, I would be off running and drinking again. This last time, the connection I made with my staff members and fellow residents helped me get through the urge to leave treatment which helped me stay sober long term.

3. Lack of 12 Step Recovery Meetings.

In addition to connection with others, 12 step meetings helped me recover from the obsession to drink and use drugs. I gained tools that I could use when I have any cravings, and tools to use in my daily life that help me be a better person. In reality, 12 step meetings changed my life. Without them, I would not have become who am I today.

Because of my experience, I worry that current residents in drug and alcohol treatment centers will struggle gaining the proper tools that come from 12 step meetings. Since COVID-19, patients in drug and alcohol treatment centers are no longer able to go to outside 12 step meetings. In some cases, 12 step meetings are being held inside the treatment facilities so that clients are able to see the format of meetings and learn about the 12 steps.

These meetings may seem great although many patients may feel fear of going to a public meeting and without exposure to them, they may never try to go after they leave treatment.

For many people, the society we currently live in makes it a little more scary to get sober. But despite the overwhelming changes to recovery, there can still be hope….

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The Consequences of COVID-19 on the Recovery Community

Since the stay at home orders have been put in place, recovering addicts and alcoholics have faced MAJOR changes in their journeys. Before the Coronavirus Pandemic, recovery from alcoholism and drug addiction relied heavily on in-person Alcoholics Anonymous and other 12-step recovery meetings.

A main focus of recovery in the 12-step community is connection with both a higher power and other alcoholics and addicts. Lots of meetings are now using tools such as Zoom to spread the message of hope.

An article by Nicole Sganga points out how not only have meetings moved online, but many residential programs treating alcoholism and addiction have closed their doors to new patients. Moreover, the programs that have stayed open are seeing a new high in intakes and are scrambling to meet the safety guidelines recommended by the CDC.

Liberty Bay Recovery Center in Portland, ME is one of the drug and alcohol treatment centers that is staying open and currently accepting new admissions.

Despite more people searching for treatment, concern HAS to be raised about the people who rely on medically assisted treatments for drug addiction. Many centers that offer medically assisted treatment, such as methadone clinics, have closed leaving recovering addicts who usually go to them at high risk of relapsing, and possibly overdosing.

With new social distancing measures, isolation can be another cause for relapse amongst alcoholics and addicts.

A blog posted by Timmen L. Cermak discusses how isolation can be a tempting proponent in someone’s active addiction. Often, alcoholics and drug addicts try to hide their addictions. When exposed, they isolate from family and friends in order to get away from criticism. For someone in early recovery or active addiction, isolation can look like a great time to drink and use without the judgement of others.

In addition, it is no help that all around the world, addicts and alcoholics are losing easy access the places they can go to for help and support. Many meetings have moved to different online formats. Instead of people being able to walk into recovery centers at various times of the day to find a meeting, now people must search for web formats. Although the online meetings consist of the same message that was told at an in person meeting, many people are having difficulties with them.

On top of not being able to stay present because of the distraction of being in your own home, and following meeting guidelines has also become harder. At in-person meetings you are held accountable by the people around you and it is much easier to stay present.

Although these times are hard, it is important for those in recovery to know that help is still there. Online formatting may prove difficult at times, but the positives outweigh the negatives.

As a recovering alcoholic myself, I know that I can always reach out to a fellow 12-stepper. Moreover, I schedule my days, implement different self care routines, and stay in contact with my support system. Even though we may be separate right now, know that connection is still there.