The last five and a half years have been trying for me. I have faced great periods of isolation due to not just by health issues but because of continued emotional and psychological abuse by long term abusers. Despite this, though, and having to leave AA for personal and safety reasons, I’ve managed to stay sober. Because so many people are facing isolation these days, even if it is for different reasons, and are having a hard time staying sober/clean/abstinent, I’ve decided to dedicate today’s blog post to how I have stayed sober during all of this.
I will say that is has been brutal to be as isolated as I have been. I have had to adapt to it. When the pandemic hit, for me, unfortunately, it didn’t change my already isolated lifestyle that much. In fact, we got a puppy just before the pandemic hit, and because of having her, I actually have gotten outside more during this pandemic than I did before it. Still, I can empathize and tell you that isolation is difficult. And, it’s especially difficult if you are dealing with mental health issues and substance abuse, particularly if you have come to rely on a group such as Alcoholics Anonymous.
I first started to break with AA about four years ago. I didn’t do it by choice, though. I went through a lot of abuse by AA members and going to AA simply triggered my PTSD too much. Plus, whenever I talked about the abuse I went through there at meetings, I got shunned and ostracized. It was really hard for me because I had come to rely on AA to stay sober.
But at some point I just couldn’t do that anymore because going to AA was too much of a detriment to my health. So I had to find others ways to stay out of isolation as much as I could, despite people trying to interfere with that, and to stay away from substances.
One thing that really helped me early on with my own recovery was that a psychiatrist that I was going to told me that substance abuse was not my primary problem. He told me that my primary problem was PTSD and trauma and that this was driving my substance abuse problems. So, what I did was to shift my perspective. You see, I’d been clinging onto the idea that “alcoholism” was my primary issue, and that I needed to put all of my focus onto staying sober. But, this psychiatrist told me that much of the time addiction is actually secondary to things like PTSD and social anxiety, especially for women, and that the best thing that I can do to stay sober is to work through the trauma and to have healthy people in my life.
So I started doing that. I came to see substance abuse as an unhealthy coping mechanism rather than the primary issue of addiction. That made it much easier for me to stay sober because all I had to do was replace it with healthier coping mechanisms. I started doing yoga, writing in this blog, writing fiction stories, playing video games as a coping mechanism, among other things. I decided that I wouldn’t drink not because I am an addict/alcoholic but because it wasn’t healthy for me to do so. I started to put myself first and to make healthy decisions in life, one of those being to stay abstinent, particularly from alcohol.
I will admit that this was definitely hard to do without AA. I had become very dependent on AA and the people in it, and when that stopped working, I was devastated. What I’ve had to learn, though, is that it isn’t healthy for me to be entirely dependent on anyone else, whether it be AA, a sponsor, a counselor, a partner, a friend, for anything. I have to be able to rely on and believe in myself. Of course, social support goes a long way, and it is important to have people in your life to believe in you. But, I’ve learned that putting 100% into any one organization or person is not healthy for me.
I’ve also learned to see my substance abuse issues as just that. An issue that I have. It doesn’t have to define me, and I have no need to label myself as an alcoholic anymore. It’s just another life situation/series of events that I’ve endured. And, given what I’ve gone through in terms of trauma, it makes sense that I would turn to something like alcohol and drugs to cope with it. So, I need to be compassionate towards myself in understanding that I have been doing the best that I can do given my life circumstances, and that many people who struggle with substance abuse are similar.
The other thing that has happened for me in my recovery is that I’ve had to be open to taking psychoactive medication as needed for my health conditions. A year and a half ago I got diagnosed with severe ADHD. I really did not want to take stimulants because of my substance abuse history. But, my doctor told me that unmedicated ADHD is more likely to lead to a relapse than is taking prescribed ADHD medication. So, I tried it. And I can say that my life is much better, and I have a much easier time staying sober, now that I’m taking medication for ADHD and other health conditions.
Same goes for my experimentation with micro-dosing with THC for chronic pain. Again, the chronic pain is bad enough and affects me enough that when it gets bad, it is the kind of thing that can destabilize me and potentially affect my sobriety. So when the pain gets really bad, I take a prescribed low dose of THC that is too low to be psychoactive. This has been hard for me to come to terms with, taking this while sober, but I’ve also just had to do it for my well being. The thing is that pain from chronic Lyme can be debilitating, and I need to put my health and myself first. So I’ve had to change my views on abstinence only sobriety and adopt more of a harm reduction/moderation management approach just so that I can still feel good about my own sobriety, and so that I can understand where others are coming from. Not everyone benefits from an abstinence only approach, and that’s okay. We need to meet people where they are in their own path to recovery.
Well I think I’ve talked enough about this subject for now. There’s plenty more to say, but I’ll start here. If you have any questions or need support regarding this issue, feel free to reach out to me. I’ll do what I can to help.