Monday, August 24, 2009

Pigs bite or dont poke a babys brain through the soft spot.

I really didn’t write too much last week, and its mostly because I was really tired. I am not sure if its because I have had such a busy couple of months and its catching up to me or if I messed up my sleeping schedule when I went on weekend pass a couple weeks ago and still haven’t really gotten it back on schedule. I thought that by being here I would be missing out on my life, but I would venture to say that I have done more in the past few months than I did the past three summers combined….

Looking back on my life, I really can’t remember a time when I wasn’t at least a little bit tired, and this is compounded by the fact that its daylight savings time and I am always an hour tired from Spring until October. I think there were a couple days somewhere back in February 2001 when I was on a three day train ride to Atlanta and all I had to do was sleep, and I think I beat fatigue for just a little bit during that trip. But other than that, my whole life has been marked by degrees of tiredness, not the lack of it.

The other option is that I have begun the PAWS stage in recovery, which you may recall from a few weeks back, stands for Post Acute Withdrawal Syndrome. The key word here is acute, as in not chronic – so even if it is that, it won’t last for long. I have been having more dreams that I am drunk and have woken up relieved to notice that I am here, and sober, and not drunk. That’s a weird feeling. I am not irritable, but I have been having messed up sleep and, so, I am tired.
I have to tell you, I am a little bit glad about this, however. I hadn’t had any real cravings or anything here and I was worried that I would make it through the program avoiding cravings and not dealing with them, and that would suck. It doesn’t do me any good to have all these skills at avoiding relapse if I never get to try them out in a safe setting like the ranch.

This past week, we have lost another round of guys. Guys drop out of the program for many reasons, and I mentioned a couple of weeks ago that it is always hard to see this because we become friends with these guys. Treatment can be sabotaged if you’re not careful, but we are being given tools to avoid sabotaging treatment – but like everything, you gotta be aware of the kinds of things that are going to mess you up from attaining your goal – whether it is to finish rehab, or to quit smoking, or to lose 10 lbs, these sabotages can occur, and you should be aware of them. Which brings me to addictions lesson number 12 – sabotages to treatment and recovery.

I will tell you, when it comes to life, rehab ranch is a great test run on how to behave. It’s a microcosm of situations that you can apply to real life. In fact, I think everyone should do a stint at rehab. No, I am kidding. But seriously, the first thing that may sabotage you from reaching a good goal is to jump ship too soon, to leave early, to stop before you’ve gotten there. This is pretty freakin obvious, but it needs to be noted. Making commitments and following through is the foundation of self control. This is not only committing to finish a program like this, but, even something as small as being on time when you agree on a time to do something. Chemically, your brain does not tell the difference between a small break in commitment or a large one, and each one stimulates the reward centers that lead to other ‘lack of self control’ type habits.

Not having a plan to maintain your goal. This is where you map out your life and see how the achievement of this goal must be maintained. So, when you do the metaphoric mapquest of your life, make sure you click on ‘avoid relapse’ as your routing option. You just have to have a plan.

Most of the time, no, ALL of the time, you can’t really maintain your goals without other people involved. You can’t do this on your own – whether it is maintaining sobriety or it is keeping those last 5 lbs off – it requires that you have safe people to go to when you start to feel a little bit weak – and as pack animals, human beings are meant to be with and support other people. Its one of the benchmarks of our species. I think this is probably why God invented fitted sheets. I mean, think about a fitted sheet, it’s a real pain to try to use it alone. You certainly can’t fold a fitted sheet alone, and it’s a real bitch to try to put on one a bed alone, and if you think of your life like a good Egyptian cotton fitted sheet, you’re gonna find that it just makes things a whole hell of a lot easier when you submit to the fact that we need each other.

You have got to release the idea that you can do anything or maintain anything on will power alone. Its great and I am sure theres a million dollars made every year from every single “will power is the key” poster designed, but it’s a lie. Its lower than a lie, it’s the lie that comes from the pit of lies where lies are made. You MUST have some safeguards. Many of these are practical. Distraction with activity is a good one, a plan is a good one, other people are good ones, priorities are good ones, carrying around a photo of me on a fat drunk day is one I keep with me. I pull it out and look at it often when I think about having a drink. I have a really good perspective on this photo because I can fully understand what that guy was thinking at the time that photo was taken. But the point is, it’s not will power alone that is gonna prevent me from relapse.

You can not fool yourself into thinking that, after some time, you are ’normal’ and you no longer need to think about maintaining your goal. You are NOT ‘normal’, and being an addict is NOT ‘normal’. Normal people do not end relationships or jobs or opportunities because of alcohol or drugs. Normal 30 something men do not spend a year of their lives in rehab. This is not normal. It doesn’t mean its wrong, but it sure as hell isn’t normal. Don’t kid yourself. This goes for any goal. Think about what you had to do to achieve it. What you did probably isn’t normal. This is hard to hear and harder to comprehend, but apply it to your life. My sister is about to get a chemistry degree after a decade in college – after having two kids. That is not normal. Her route isn’t normal. The degree may be normal, but how she got it isn’t.

I mentioned earlier that forgetting priorities is also a way to sabotage your goals – you need to keep reminding yourself of them. Whether its to keep a job, live a long life, make your kids or spouse happy, whatever…. Keep the priority in your mind every single day. Hell, write it down and put it on your bathroom mirror and glance at it every morning.

If you make plans and do not follow through or you follow through half assed, you’re beginning to sabotage your goal. I don’t know when its going to strike, or how, or for how long, but every single one of us has had a day where we have just decided, “I am done working for the day,” and you kind of mess around until its time to go home. It feels good, doesn’t it. But its not a good way to maintain your goals.

One thing many people do is substitute their addictions with other addictions. ‘I can’t drink, but hell yea, I’m gonna smoke some pot,’ ‘I cant gamble, but I can shop,’ this is just transference of the behaviors that got you here. Like Obama said “You can put lipstick on a pig, but its still a pig”…. OK not quite the best example, perhaps, “You can put lipstick on a pig OR a cow, but they’re still a pig OR a cow”…. Or more accurately, “You can’t put lipstick on a pig, they will bite you.”

But I digress. The point is, no matter what you put the lipstick on, its still lipstick…. Oh, wait, that’s what I was going for. Yes, addictive behavior is like lipstick, no matter what its on, its still lipstick.

And you can not expect other people to ‘fix you’. You also can’t expect to be able to hang on to old resentments and old wounds and make it through. These things will always rise to the surface. You just have to deal with them. Remember I said procrastination is the root of all addiction. Here’s what I mean. Stop putting it off – deal with it and put it away. No matter how painful. If you think its just goes away, you’re sabotaging your maintenance of your goal.

But, the thing is – and here’s the most important thing I am going to tell you, so slow down your eye balls and read super slowly- RESULTS TAKE TIME TO MEASURE. Good or bad, don’t expect to have evidence that you are doing the right thing right off the bat- You must have patience and FAITH. Its like parenting I’d imagine – you just can’t be sure you’re doing the right thing immediately because results take time to measure. So, really, all you can do is hope that every day you don’t somehow drop your baby or accidentally poke your finger through the soft spot or cause any really irreparable damage emotionally and hope for the best, that these babies will turn out to be fairly decent people. You gotta have some faith that you’re doing it right.

And, for me, I also think that it’s possible to maintain the achievement of your goal just because it feels good. It’s like waking up, having a good hair day, wearing good clothes, and feeling confident and secure and not running in to a single person of any importance the whole day. Its still cool…. Just to feel that way even though no one in particular except yourself really knows how exceptional you look and feel that day. But it sure as hell is awesome when you see your reflection in the mirrored glass outside the Wal-Mart and think, ‘Damn, I look SHARP!”

And all this seems like a bunch of limits, but you need to have limits. An addict often has a lifetime of no limits or the avoidance of limits, but we all must understand that limits give us freedom. The lack of limits provided by addiction really prevented us from doing much of anything, we had no freedom from the confines and chains of our addiction.

I need to clearly map out what I can and can’t do in all of my life. Marriage or a romantic relationship are full of limits, but a partnership affords you freedoms that being alone and single doesn’t, freedoms to grow, express, and safety of security – and maintaining sobriety has limits. Certain behaviors are OK and certain ones are not because of limits, but your life is opened up to the freedoms you’ve earned and continue to earn once you work within those limits. Sundays used to be a good limit because liquor stores were closed, so I had the freedom to get tore up on Saturday because I couldn’t drink on Sunday. But I always made it to work on Monday. A red light is a limit, but damn, it’s a good limit when I am trying to finish a text message!

And as far as goals go, I can’t express it enough, we all have to be clear about what we want. Write it down. A goal is just a wish, but a written goal or one that’s been clearly spelled out is a dream with a deadline. You’re accountable to it. I believe there is power in our words, and when we make them tangible, they become real. Maybe thats why I maintain this blog.

About achieving a goal, Grenville Kleiser wrote: “Deep down, in every human heart is a hidden longing impulse, an ambition to DO something fine and enduring.”

The trick, I think, is to make it last.

Peace all


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