Forming healthy relationships in early recovery from alcoholism is tricky. If you go the route of inpatient treatment or Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), you'll soon learn the phrase "people, places, and things." Much of that boils down to avoiding people from your active addiction to help you stay sober. So, how does someone new to recovery approach forming healthy relationships and avoid ones that may lead back to alcoholism and addiction?
Foreboding joy is a concept I discovered recently. In her latest book, "Atlas of the Heart," Brene Brown describes 87 emotions that humans experience. While I could recognize and identify times when I felt most of the feelings she listed, foreboding joy was difficult to understand. Why do I run away and catastrophize when things are going well?
Have you ever wondered about repeat offenders? It is not uncommon to hear about folks who get in legal trouble for using drugs or alcohol, and instead of remaining sober, they go back out and use again. It is difficult to understand how someone can keep engaging in the same behavior after losing everything. Repeat offenders are often called selfish and ungrateful. But what if the opposite is true? What if repeat offenders need compassion just like everyone else?
I'm coping with grief in sobriety. Years before I got sober, I sat in church basements and listened to folks talk about the pink cloud. They claimed that by removing alcohol and other substances from their lives, they suddenly viewed the world through rose-colored glasses. The pink cloud of sobriety is supposed to feel euphoric and sparkly. But for me, the opposite was true. If anything, sobriety has been a grief journey accompanied by a rollercoaster of intense emotions.
Recovery from addiction includes fear of the unknown, which creates skewed internal messaging. Challenging these feelings for validity is the best way to uncover their reason. After the haze of alcohol disappears, we face many complicated emotions, and our pesky brain will try to regress into old thinking. This skews whether these assumptions are valid -- all it takes is some self-evaluation to sort out which fears in recovery are false.
I left the UK to undergo alcohol treatment in South Africa, so it was inevitable that this would alter my perspective somewhat. However, after spending more time in this new environment, several striking realizations about the UK's negative relationship were crystal clear. After talking to numerous people from the same country and background, there was a common thread of early exposure to alcohol having long-lasting consequences. In short, I learned that teenage drinking can lead to addiction.
According to Dr. Gabor Mate, underneath all addictive behaviors lies a deep, unresolved trauma wound. One thing that helped me start releasing the shame I carry for struggling with addiction was learning about the two types of trauma: "big T" and "little t" trauma. Big T trauma is related to an acute, severe event like sexual assault or going to war. While little t trauma accumulates over time in response to things like active shooter drills or a childhood steeped in diet culture. These two types of trauma are important to understand.
One of the most harmful myths surrounding alcohol addiction recovery is the idea of relapse and day one. Mainstream recovery modalities and the criminal justice system use fear to ignite abstinence, preaching that perfection is the only acceptable path forward. It is normal and expected to relapse and return to day one after a slip.
The media's portrayal of alcohol addiction hurts people. Last week there was an article on the front page of my local newspaper about a man who was publicly intoxicated. The paper printed his name, hometown, and mugshot for everyone to see. This story was the talk of the tiny, touristy town where I live. Everyone thought it was acceptable to mock this man who struggles with alcohol. After this media portrayal of alcohol addiction and the ensuing jokes, I found myself in a triggered tailspin.
A few weeks ago, I told my therapist that I would not have been able to get sober without using cannabis. She chuckled, gave me a funny look, and asked if I thought cannabis use equaled sobriety. Caught off guard, I couldn't help but wonder if she had a point. Were my years of sobriety erased? Did I need to go back to day one? Can I use cannabis and still call myself sober?