5 Years and 5 Suggestions for Battling Booze
By JT James
April 27th, 2019
I’ve been incorporating the number 5 into my recent posts, at first because I just happened to have 5 songs that I thought were dope and worth checking out. Hey, I enjoy a good top 5 just like everybody else, so why not? Curating these selections into bite-size, easily-digestible lists probably doesn’t hurt the old SEO, either. It then occurred to me that I was approaching a bit of a milestone in my story: 5 years since my last drink.
That’s quite the feat considering what an outstanding booze hound I had grown into and the fact I’ve performed in about a thousand events at various booze-filled venues around the GVRD. I’m not going to bore you (while attempting to entertain you) with tales of my outrageous exploits, or depress you with a woe is me epic of how far I dug myself into (if this interests you, you can find my origin story here). Everyone’s rock-bottom can be a little different. While at the same time is eerily similar; it’s when you stop digging. I didn’t write that fun little saying, and if you set yourself on a viable road to recovery, you’ll probably hear it again.
I spent the last 5 or so of my drinking years digging away. I’ve spent the last 5 years climbing out of the hole.
Recently, I was asked by a struggling friend if I had any specific suggestions on how to stay off the sauce. It was a funny thing for them to say only because I had just mapped out what I wanted this piece to be about and it was pretty much on point to what they were asking. So, that is exactly where I’m going with this. These are just some suggestions from my experience and should obviously be taken with a grain of salt. If you think you have a serious problem then please utilize the support of your friends and family, as well as the professionals in your community, starting with your family doctor. That’s coming from the heart.
These five pillars of behaviours and attitudes that helped me personally, may not work for everybody, but chances are if you put just a few of them into action you will net some positive results. The first and foremost suggestion is seeking help, whether through a friend or family member, community program, support group or your doctor. You need to tackle this thing with as many allies as possible. There is strength in numbers. Secondly, I will touch on the importance of exercise and an active lifestyle. Third is the “air” component; how mindfulness, meditation and taking a step back to unplug are keys to a program of recovery. Next up we have the two R’s: Routine and Responsibility. It’s common for alcoholics to turn into workaholics, and there is nothing wrong with that within reason. Finally, I will wrap things up by speaking on the concept of time within your recovery.
If you have ever suffered from any type of ailment that has significantly reduced your quality of life, no doubt you have enlisted the help of a trained professional, like a doctor, therapist or ended up with a visit to the emergency ward to make sure you know, you weren’t gonna die and shit. This same holds true for what you may be suffering from if you have been trying to rid drugs or alcohol from your life and have been failing miserably. Seriously, you need to start talking to the people and professionals that have produced results. This can also be a friend who perhaps has experience in this arena or is educated enough to know the type of support you need.
Make this crucial first step and go into things with an absolute sense of willingness. Nothing short of this seems to net positive results very often. If you’re not there yet understand that this is the deadliest facet of the disease, it’s your ego wrapping you up in sweet little blanket of delusion. It’s doing this so you’ll continue to feed the beast. This voice is not your friend. It’s a liar and it wants to kill you.
You need to grab some backup.
Other than the ear of a close friend or family member, the first obvious suggestion is to talk to your doctor. See what they say, and maybe get some additional specific counselling from somebody familiar with the many aspects of addiction recovery. Often these people have suffered in the past, themselves. Having that history and being educated in the specifics of the disease can be an incredible asset.
The social implications of addiction are well documented and are why so many health care professionals recommend group strategies. The Community Reinforcement Approach is a relatively new strategy that is worth considering. The idea behind this intervention is basic: to overcome alcohol issues people need to rearrange their lives so being sober is more rewarding than drinking. Network Support Treatment is another therapy of the same ilk that netted a 20% reduction in drinking compared to a control group in a recent study. Group therapy through SMART, 12-Step, and other modes can net you some really positive results, so don’t go and discount this pathway from the start. I hear this way too much from people that are living through some unneeded suffering. Honestly, it’s like a broken record you guys. “I’m not into sharing my feelings with a bunch of people I hardly know” or “Ya, but I can’t do the God thing.” Welcome to the club. Nobody likes it at first.
News flash for you: nothing good in life comes easy. You’ve got to do the work.
You think cancer patients like going through chemotherapy? Consider yourself lucky. Now harden the hell up and tell me about your feelings! You need to think of these things as tools to make your success more likely and so you can start rebuilding your social networks with positive people moving in the same direction as you. Programs like SMART don’t even have that component. Poof! There goes that excuse.
2. EXERCISE AND SELF-CARE
One of the best natural remedies for the ongoing unease that can happen in recovery is working up a good sweat. For me, hot yoga provided the needed rinse-out and detoxification that improved many different facets of my life. This eventually led me to developing a daily meditation practice, which once you let build up some momentum, can make a really positive improvement to your well-being. Preclinical studies are extremely promising in this field and point to exercise as being an effective treatment for substance abuse. Many of us in recovery and those who are not, are saddled with the challenging effects of anxiety and depression. You can keep your pharmaceuticals, when I want to get rid of that gross feeling nothing is better than a trek up the mountain (or riding down it in the winter), a good run or some weights. Now, I understand that these medications are sometimes necessary, especially early in recovery. I am no stranger to that world. And I’m not a doctor, so please listen to yours and follow their instructions to a tee, but I think we all can agree that if we can alleviate these debilitating symptoms in a natural and healthy way, then we should, and in the process save a couple bucks on meds.
If things like hot yoga or snowboarding feel a little out of your zone (or budget), don’t you worry. There are many different activities you can employ to get things started. The trick is to find something active you enjoy doing and making a routine out of it. Heck, even former Professional Wrestler Diamond Dallas Page has a program that will get you exercising in your bed to start and moves to exercises in a chair. For most people I recommend starting with this:
1) Set a timer for 20 minutes
2) Leave your home and walk briskly towards your nearest park or trail
3) When your timer goes off turn around and go home
Boom. You’ve just rocked out a healthy little 40 walk which has been proven to help people in this early phase. You should do this 5-times a week, if you can. After years of “givin’ er”, venturing down a new path into clean living can often be a shock to our systems and some people suffer from what is called Post-Acute Withdrawal Syndrome (PAWS). This syndrome manifests itself with the following symptoms.
• Anxiety, panic or fear
• Inability to sleep
• Hostility or aggression
• Irritability and mood swings
• Trouble with memory
• Sensitivity to stressful situations
• Trouble concentrating or thinking
It’s a fun, little party (not really) and where my hiking and yoga practice helped me get over the hump. Those early months can be extremely challenging, so you need to hit this thing from all angles. I started with the 40-minute walks and worked my way up. After getting my baseline fitness up I was able to endure the hot yoga classes I grew to love, but I spent a good deal of time in those first few classes just lying down and breathing (baby steps people). The vibe I get after leaving a class is one of the best feelings I have ever experienced in my life. And that is saying a lot considering the vast amount of experimenting I did looking to find an answer my condition. Great thing about this is that there is no hangover (other than maybe some sore muscles) or feeling of being out of control, and the benefits are numerous.
Lately, I’ve been ending my workouts at the gym with 20 to 30-minute sessions (5 minutes in / 2 minutes out) in the steam room. It’s a great way to keep your heart in that calorie crushing zone – free cardio! There are several studies indicating the health benefits of this type of heat therapy from stress reduction, improved circulation, detoxification, and muscle recovery. Why not meditate in there, as well, and get a double whammy. I leave feeling like I’m walking on air. I think that this extreme sweating protocol really flushes out the toxins from your system. Also, there is something else going on that recent scientific studies have suggested relates to the endocannabinoid system. Originally, scientists though it was an increase in dopamine that lead to that post-workout or “runner’s high”, but data gathered from a recent study on mice suggests it might also be a substance in the endocannabinoid system called anandamide that contributes to that amazing feeling. Level up your anandamide levels people and get moving.
While I can’t emphasize incorporating physical activity into your program enough, you can’t be going full-tilt every day of the week. Taking time to recover from your workouts and unplug from the world are vitally important. Meditation is an avenue that everybody should venture down and give a shot considering the hectic and constantly plugged in nature of our everyday lives. Countless studies can attest to the benefits that people in general and those in recovery can reap from a consistent practice.
I’m going to attempt to do my best Bill Perkins impression here and drop a little science on you. According to a study published in The American Journal of Psychiatry in 2002, the prefrontal cortex of the brain is where we find a heightened level of activity when people are intoxicated and a substantial decrease in the same area when those intoxicants are removed, hence the withdrawal and come-down that many of us have experienced. This area of the prefrontal cortex needs its stimulation and meditation has a long history suggesting that this is exactly what it does.
When I was still going at it like a double-fisted maniac, I remember hearing from someone who had overcome a serious heroin addiction tell me that part of his maintenance program was daily meditation. This was almost a decade ago and the first time I had heard about this as a specific therapy for addiction. Since then, this theme has popped up again and again in the countless stories of recovery I have heard. Initial studies have shown a great deal of promise for this therapy and the research continues: so far so good.
The thing about meditation is that its perceived benefits are something that build over time. At least in my experience. Don’t expect it to be all puppy dogs and ice cream after one 5-minute session. However, over time if you are consistent you should notice a decrease in your overall anxiety and negative states. It provides a certain level of clarity and calmness that I liken to cleaning up the hard drive or removing mal-ware from your computer. I bet that bad boy is running a lot faster and smoother now. You will be too.
A game changer for me has been using my Fitbit fitness tracker to keep me accountable. Most of these devices now have a meditation or relaxation setting that guides your breathing with vibrations. This is what took my meditation from an occasional thing to something I have been doing every day for the past six months. I cannot recommend leveraging one of these devices to your advantage enough, but you don’t need one of those to get in the groove. Just put your phone into airplane mode and set a timer; start small (2 min.) and work your way up over time.
4. RESPONSIBILITY & ROUTINE
The two R’s importance can be summed up with the age-old expression, “Idle hands are the devil’s playground.” It’s easy to kill an hour or a day (or much longer) drinking to our hearts’ content. Those first few drinks can be downright delightful as that quick sense of ease wraps around you like a welcome, warm blanket. Once you start moving down a path to recovery you will realize you need to fill those once-wasted extra hours of free time with something (gasp!) productive. Or at least something interesting, healthy or fulfilling.
You may not realize it but taking on responsibility may be the key to your recovery and overall happiness. When caught in the grips of addiction, more responsibility may seem like the last thing you need.
The great thing about alcohol is that it really can turn your brain off in a most delightful way. A lot of us suffer from a negative inner voice that won’t seem to let up. That’s nothing a few pints won’t take care of. For most people, this can be a temporary oasis before eventually dealing with the issue and moving on. For others, this is a temporary island of relief before a hurricane of allergy and addiction reaches the coastline and wreaks havoc.
Your first step should be taking personal responsibility for your own shit. That involves crazy little concepts like admitting when you’re wrong, apologizing to people when you treat them poorly, and realizing your recovery is completely up to you and no one else. Take responsibility for all those mistakes past and present. You may have some things you’ve done in the past that you’re not proud of. If you’ve wronged someone and it has been eating at you then you really owe it to both of you to try and make it right and apologize. It might not always go great, but knowing you made the effort will take it off your plate, and you’d be surprised how much of a difference it can make to someone when their pain finally gets properly acknowledged.
With your new found strength, time and energy you will be equipped to take on some new responsibilities. Don’t go overboard and burden yourself with some unneeded stress, but don’t be afraid to take on some new responsibilities at work, at home or in one of your new activities. Trusting that your new responsibilities are healthy and rewarding, being busy early in sobriety really is a good thing.
Having a routine around various aspects of your life is a good thing. Mom and Dad were right (except about liver, I think), so shut up and figure out how to incorporate more into your life. In my experience, over time this will alleviate some anxiety from your life. It boils down to having one less decision to make or thing to mull over. This concept is adopted by successful people such as Barrack Obama and Mark Zuckerberg, to guard against decision fatigue, so it’s worth considering. This is my routine, this is what I do, end of story. I started this with something as simple as making my bed every morning and now it’s slowly creeping its way into other facets of my life.
This I’m going to break down into two components: Clean Time and Time Out. Two very important facets to your ongoing efforts.
“How much time ya got?”
The time you have between now and your last drink is a powerful buffer against your addiction. Depending on your story, for most people that first 6 months is extremely hard. Adjusting to a life substance-free can take some getting used to, especially if you’ve been coping in this way since a young age. You are now forced to deal with all the shit that life is gonna fling at you without your handy little numbing agent. And life it will fling!
That’s why you really have to throw everything at this thing for those first few years. You need to jump in with both feet and leverage the knowledge and experience your helpers will provide for you. If you’re still reading, chances are you might have a problem. Your thinking got you here and trust me, it is really shitty with directions: It has no idea how to get you back.
You need that navigator to help nudge you in the right direction when you go off course. I used to count the days religiously, adding a triumphant checkmark on my calendar as I crossed off the dates and began building up momentum. Then one day I realized it had been a week since I did that. I was too busy actually enjoying life and my new levels of clarity and energy which was somewhere in month 7 or 8. Once you have enough time under your belt and reach this mental state, don’t let your guard down. In fact, double up your efforts. I’ve seen a lot of people slip back around this point. Why? Alcohol dependence has a two-pronged attack that affects those that suffer from it.
1. The Physical: Once alcohol enters your system it unlocks an allergy: an intense craving that makes it almost impossible for you to say no to the next drink.
2. The Mental: Even after numerous times of kicking the physical withdrawals from alcohol and beginning to build that buffer between you and the sauce, your brain convinces you that this time it will be different. This is the subtle form of insanity that usually precedes a relapse.
While you may be able to go back and just have one or two the first time after a break, it won’t be long before you fall back into your old patterns. I did this dozens of times. I was painfully aware of the work it would take to get back on track again. My last relapse lasted 6 months before I could knuckle down, weather the storm and do the work again. Earlier in my life they lasted years. Don’t gamble away your buffer for the fleeting insane thought that the results will be different this time. Rewind the tape.
This coincides with the meditation practice suggested earlier but taken a bit further. Sometimes when put in situations where the temptation is high, it is best to remove yourself from the situation all together. Don’t be afraid to put your health first. Put it before hurting someone’s feelings because you can’t attend their wedding. Put if before staying in an environment that you know you shouldn’t be in. Put it before someone else’s opinion of what is best for you. Put it before that girl. Put it before that guy. Nobody worth it would ever let you do that. When that anxiety escalates or the cravings return, just walk.
Power down your phone from time to time and turn off the TV. Stay away from the people and places that don’t align with your current goals regarding your health. Trust me, if they really love and want what’s best for you, they will be there when you’ve built up your defences and return. If they aren’t, then you got your answer loud and clear.
Another very important factor in your road to recovery is the social aspect of addiction. Adding this category will take Jim’s Acronyms here from a singular to a plural, and tie things up nicely.
An observation made over the years is the important social component to an effective and long-lasting road to recovery. This key factor is so important that it is a part of practically every other category I’ve mentioned. When looking for some help or support to tackle your addiction you are engaging in a social behaviour. While exercising can most definitely be a solitary affair, it can also be a very social one, through team sports, group fitness classes and the various other fitness-related communities you can weave yourself into. While meditation is probably the least social of the group, it can be if you did it in a group setting. And besides, meditating on the regular will no doubt make you an easier human to be around. Engaging in your new activities will introduce you to new people that align more with the direction your life is now moving in.
According to author Emma Seppala of the 2016 book ‘The Happiness Track’, “People who feel more connected to others have lower levels of anxiety and depression. Moreover, studies show they also have higher self-esteem, great empathy for others, are more trusting and cooperative, and as a consequence, others are more open to trusting and cooperating with them.” Jane E. Brody of the New York Times wrote about this in more detail in 2017 and it’s a good resource for taking a closer look.
Something as simple as a brief phone call once a day/week or the odd text can do wonders to both the caller and receiver. I call this checking-in. Humans are built on connection and often times when these connections are lost, then the grips of addiction make their move. Checking in when things are going well for you is a great way to build a relationship. It builds a foundation for when shit really hits the fan and you might need someone to lean on. A word of advice to go with this is something that took me awhile to figure out, and that is that you shouldn’t be only calling when you’re in crisis or your life is upside-down. A good friend will help you through that, but you have to share the wealth when your world is going great, too. That’s how healthy long-lasting relationships work.
If you have any thoughts related to this post, please leave them in the comments below, and if you have come out on the other side of your own battles with addiction in a similar or unique way, we would love to hear about it. Link with me on my other socials if you would like to have a direct conversation regarding this or anything else world of music, lifestyle and DJ culture.