Big Baby II

I am thrilled so many people found my post yesterday on the RAIN technique for learning to sit with difficult (or any) strong feelings. I have used it I don’t know how many times, and still do. I do hope you will read Tara Brach’s explanation (linked in yesterday’s post). She covers it more eloquently and in more detail than I could or did.

I’m following up today to make one point, which may sound obvious, but isn’t to many, and wasn’t to me when I first thought about getting sober. RAIN and other awesome sobriety tools work only if…you’re sober. That’s right, there are many, many paths to the sober life, but they all, without exception, have one thing in common: You have to stop drinking.

I know many of us follow the brave and heartbreaking UKAnnie over at Dappled Path. And I don’t want to pick on her — her complete honesty in talking online about her struggles to get sober have done a huge service in letting newbies see how hard it is — worth it, but really, really hard. When I was in my first thirty days of sobriety, Annie’s blog was the first I ever followed. Because of her, I didn’t feel alone. She expresses the fears and doubts so many of us had and still have. Hers was the first blog I ever commented on. Because she had helped me get sober, I wanted her to get on over to the bright side too. She deserves it! As do all the others who comment “me too!” on her blog.

So in thinking what to say to Annie recently — in trying to make sure I had shared everything that helped me get clean, every tip and technique — I remembered what a good (now sober)  AA friend told me. My friend was at a meeting, complaining that he really wanted to get sober, but just couldn’t. He was drunk at the meeting, by the way, and had a bottle in his coat pocket. An old timer turned to him and said, “Well, at some point, if you really want to get sober, you’re going to have to stop drinking.”

My friend is a smart guy. But he said, that hadn’t really hit him before. If he wanted sobriety, he had to give up drinking. He couldn’t have both.

Which brings me to my present to all of those who are struggling with this — the desire to life a sober life and the equally strong, sometimes stronger, desire to keep drinking. Though this film was made in the 80s (and stars some famous folk who are looking a lot younger than they do today, obviously), the message is almost perfect (there are a couple moments that suggest relapse as an option — but in general the message is clear). Basically Ernie learns that he can’t hold onto his beloved rubber duck AND learn to play the saxophone (You gotta put down the duckie…). And we have to accept that we gotta put down the bottle, if we’re gonna live the sober life (I sing along with those words). You can do one or the other, but not both.

Oh, just watch it: Sesame Street, Put Down the Duckie

 

 

 

 

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Big Baby

Most alcoholics, and I suppose most addicts,  are pretty self-centered. I certainly was (and probably still am — but I’m working on it). We spend so much time figuring out when we’re getting our next drink, organizing all social events so we can drink, and eventually, when things start to go off the rails, hiding our drinks and making all sorts of excuses about how we MUST drink in order to be the happy, friendly (wife, friend, mother, coworker) we always thought we were (ha). Everything is about ME and my next drink.

And worse than that is what one of my AA friends calls the Big Baby Syndrome. We meet every set-back, fear, social awkwardness, discomfort of any sort with, you got it, a drink We also drink when we are happy or celebrating. Basically, any emotion is met with a drink. We never learn to feel, we just learn to drink to — and over –our feelings. Like a big baby, when we are at all off balance, we start crying for our bottle.

So when we quit drinking, suddenly our go-to response to any feeling is taken away. We have to sit with our big-baby selves, and feel. I truly think dealing with all these feelings, which for me manifest as crazy-making anxiety, is why it is so damn hard in the first few months of sobriety.

I was greatly helped in those first day by a great technique from the Buddhist tradition for this called RAIN (See Tara Brach’s explanation here). I won’t explain this in the detail the article goes into, but the idea is to sit, for me in meditation, and experience the emotion as a physical sensation, not identified with you — a physical sensation which, like absolutely every other phenomena in life, will move on (notice I just snuck the Buddhist notion of impermanence in there?).

So for me, here’s how it would work. Lets say I was hit by a massive craving. I would try to go sit someplace peaceful (eg., not a bar). Then:

Recognize (R) it (“Oh, that’s a craving alright).

Accept (A) it. One monk I love says, welcome it with open arms. Give it a hug, and say, oh, your poor dear, this craving really hurts. Let me rock it and soothe it like a baby (you would not, I hope, give a baby gin)).

Investigate (I) it — what does it feel like physically (is it a burning in your chest? Your throat? Is your head pounding? To what beat?) DO NOT try to figure it out (this is because I am a worthless drunk with low self-esteem) and DO NOT think of solutions (If I drank, it would go away. One drink wouldn’t be so bad). Pretend it is a feeling that floated over from your next door neighbor — it is HIS craving, and you are just trying to describe it so you can report it as lost.

Then, in most cases, as I scrunched up my eyes and tried to locate the exact place in my chest the flaming ball of fire that is craving was located, the craving would start to pass. I would realize, it is something that I observed, and it is NOT ME (N, non-identification).

This helped me so much in my first months. And here’s the great part for the budding Buddhists out there. This ability to observe and detach from our feelings — without trying to get rid of them is or smother them in alcohol or some other distraction — is the beginning of a serious practice, one in which we open our eyes to what is real versus the smoke screen thrown up by our over-active, ego-driven minds. But that is another post…

 

Meditation

I could not be more thrilled with the response my last post on lying, and Buddhism, and how the two don’t jibe even if you mix them with vodka. A real great discussion of the role of spirituality in recovery broke out in the comments. And one of my sober heroes, Sober Mummy at Mummy was a Secret Drinker (a wonderful, relevant, helpful blog, if you haven’t read it), did her own clever post on Buddhism (read it here).

This is a conversation I hope all of us keep having. Because being able to nourish the spirit is one of the wonderful benefits we reap when we stop trying to nourish ourselves with the spirits(see what I did there?). In AA meetings and on sober blogs, I heard lots of people’s stories about what they did to get through early sobriety. Some of their experiences resonated with me, some didn’t, but I always appreciated hearing from those who had trudged that path before me. I think the same goes for building a sober soul to go with one’s new sober life. Everyone’s experience is valuable, even if I don’t find it relevant to me in its particulars.

So keep it up, y’all.

I want to add a little to the Buddhism talk, because the practice has come to mean so much to me, but I think, had I dove in too quickly, I could have missed this particular spiritual boat.

When I first stopped drinking, I loaded an app from Meditation Oasis called “Learn to Meditate.” It is a multi-week course which includes some very basic instructions on meditating, which I needed (stuff like “what to do if you keep falling asleep — answer, go ahead and nap. You probably need it), and 25 minute guided meditations. The voice is so calming and the guidance was just what I needed to bring me gently into the present moment. I made myself do them everyday and was hooked by the end.

I did this initially because I was desperate for something to shut down my nattering brain — so full of anxiety and self-loathing, and regrets. I had used alcohol to do this for so many years, I don’t think I ever learned how to sit quietly with my feelings (Why should I, when there is a nice crisp Sauvignon Blanc in the fridge??). Though sometimes I struggled mightily to stay with the meditation, I always ended up feeling more grounded and rested after. I even would meditate at the time I used to pour my first glass of wine, a substitute cocktail hour.

I got a couple more of Meditation Oasis’s apps (the rest and sleep ones are awesome!) and then picked up another app called Insight Timer. This app has a section that allows you to search for guided meditations (which are rated and sorted by teacher or subject or time). Through it, I discovered Tara Brach, a buddhist teacher, who helped me take my meditation practice to the next level. I also started listening to her talks (she has a podcast) and learning some of the basics of Buddhism, in a very user-friendly, this-is-how-this-applies-to-real-life sort of way.

Her teachings brought me to many others (I’m skipping a bunch of steps here), and I did all sorts of reading and continued to meditate without fail every single day. Today. I practice Zen Buddhism, which involves silent meditation and a mix of more challenging and Tara Brach-like texts. It is just what I need right now…BUT, had I started with Zen, I think I would have never continued, with Buddhism or meditation, and what a loss that would have been.

Silent meditation would have been impossible for me in those early days. My addicted brain was wailing way to loudly for me to know how to be able to hear through it to the real sober world. And some of the Buddhist texts can sound quite abstract (they are really quite the opposite) if you come to them with no experience in mindfulness and no guidance (and I am talking about online here — you don’t need to climb a mountain top and look for a monk) from teachers who can make Buddhist principles relatable.

This is a very long way of saying, I hope that all of you who have expressed interest in Buddhism do pursue it. And if you do, I would (did) start with gentle mindfulness meditation and see where that takes you.

Oh, and one more recommendation: James Salazar’s book (also and audio tape, also an online class) called Awakening Joy. I have the book, which I have read through and done the exercises, I’ve listened to it on Audible in the car two times, the last just recently. And I’m taking the online class right now. Really great stuff, based on Buddhist mindfulness principles. This is one you can start right away, even if you never meditated a moment in your life.