Image courtesy of Baitong333 /

Image courtesy of Baitong333 /

When we look back over our drinking careers some of us are often surprised to discover that we weren’t simply alcoholics.
We believed the ‘problem’ was just alcohol and if we stop drinking, then everything else will be fine.
Unfortunately, if you are an alcoholic that’s unlikely to be the case.
Because alcohol isn’t the problem, it’s just a symptom of the problem.
The actual problem is the ‘hole in the soul,’ the emptiness inside of the alcoholic that is so uncomfortable, they seek out booze to ease the discomfort of being in their own skins.
This is the real problem and unless treated, that core emotional pain inside of us, will always demand something to numb it.
To achieve successful sobriety, we have to address the core emotional and spiritual issues, otherwise our brains will seek out other substances or behaviors to numb the pain.

The reason for this is the part of the brain that’s called the ‘pleasure center.’ It is stimulated by pleasurable activities such as eating, sex or gambling as well as by drugs and alcohol. The chemical responsible for this is dopamine. When we use substances we increase the release of dopamine into this area.
Very simply, we know what makes us feels good and when we know what that is; we just want to do more of it.
This chemical reward reinforces these behaviors.

If we just stop using our drug of choice, our brains will look for another substance (or behavior) that make us feel the same way.
Permanent abstinence from mood and mind altering substances is the only way to change this brain chemistry. To maintain this permanent abstinence, we have to come up with a new way of living and dealing with the world; otherwise we will eventually seek the same solution for our problems.
If we are not doing the work necessary to maintain our abstinence, then we are at risk of relapse. Because addiction is sneaky, sometimes we won’t pick up our drug of choice but will pick up another substance instead. Because we had a problem with alcohol, we try and fool ourselves into thinking we didn’t have a problem with marijuana or Xanax, so can safely use these instead.

The concept of cross-addiction is simply this;
If we deprive our addictive nature of its chosen drug, then it will, for a time, settle for a substitute. This substitute doesn’t have to be another substance. It can be a behavior or set of behaviors (e.g., gambling, exercise, shopping, sex etc.).
This is because bizarrely addiction and alcoholism are not about wanting to use drugs or alcohol. It is about numbing pain of the burning hole within us.
If the engine that drives addiction isn’t stopped, then the addict has no choice, than to find something to take the pain of their existence away.

Sometimes people recognize they have a real problem with alcohol and manage to stop drinking. Figuring they’ve cracked the problem, they decided that a little pot smoking would be a good way to relax at the weekends. A little pot turns into a couple of lines of cocaine, which turns into a binge, which brings them back to where they started.

The most important thing to remember, is that addiction and alcoholism don’t stop when the substances are taken away.
The monster still needs feeding and anything will do.

Image courtesy of Victor Habbick /

Image courtesy of Victor Habbick /

Recovery takes work, focus and dedication. Just like heart disease, diabetes and cancer, full recovery from these diseases takes a lifetime of daily measures, to ensure the disease stays manageable or in remission.
A diabetic can’t just stop managing their diet or injecting insulin, and an addict can’t just stop maintaining their emotional wellbeing.
This sounds like hard work, but really isn’t.
We have forgotten what it’s like to be a kid and learn what it’s like to brush our teeth, wash our face and have a bath. It’s hard work when we are little, but we learn and then these things become second nature. We do these things because it prevents tooth decay and other illnesses, we also feel better physically, in fact we would feel awful if we went about our day without doing any of these things! Daily emotional and spiritual work is exactly the same, just little daily habits that ensure our inner world is ok.
A small price to pay to ensure that we live in the light, rather than the darkness of addiction.

Recovery Rocks – Brian McCollom

Brian McCollom is only 24 years old but has already lived several lives. A chronic heroin addict in Detroit he came from a family that loved him and gave him everything. But when puberty hit he quickly fell into a spiral of addiction. Estranged from his family, his addiction led to him shooting up heroin in a trailer. His recovery has lead to him going back to school and writing a book about his experience. His website ‘Your Inner Addict’ has more information about his book and what he’s up to.
He is an extrodinary young man.

Brian McCollom

Brian McCollom

1) Describe your ‘rock bottom.
It was Christmas time, and my grandmother was very sick and frail. She was one of my best and closest friends. At the time, I had been living in a trailer park near the projects of, Detroit.
I was back into my last relapse with intravenous heroin and was using more than ever. It was a long relapse waiting to happen.
Every one was aware of what the situation. I was taking a concoction of drugs, and medications.
I was 19 months sober and had relapsed while in Detroit and was living with my best friends drugs dealer. My ‘rock bottom’ came when I was confronted by loved ones. It was the emotion in my mother’s expressions that was my rock bottom.

I spent my first 24 hours on the couch in the trailer, then panicky; I ran out, in negative degree weather in my underwear and a coat and stormed to my parent’s house. My dad knew from that moment I walked in to their home. My mom was still in shock, trying not to believe in the actuality of it all.
They had seen me four weeks before, and could not believe the state I was in. It was horrifying.
The first words out of my mouth were “I relapsed, again. I need help.”
My mother immediately fell to the floor, barely being able to utter the words out of her mouth (as she quivers and cries), “Get, out, of, my, house…. now.” The look in her eyes was my rock bottom, as I could barely make through any other expressions other than sadness, and disgust.
My dad reinforced the point, “Son, you must leave, but I will help.”
My dad and me resorted to a halfway house program (for the second time in my life). I was 20 years old at the time.
This was also, the last Christmas we would ever have with my Grandma; she died of lung cancer the next fall (as I sat next to her while she took her last breath)
I knew it was my last chance.

2) What were your first 30 days of recovery like?
My first thirty days of recovery were the roughest days I had to go through (even though the recovery doesn’t stop there) I was very sick, and the detox lasted longer than normal. The first time I detoxed I used suboxone and medical intervention. The last time I got clean I stayed dedicated to come off all substances 100% clean. I was in a fog, having random times of sleep with spurts of nodding out, still.
I would have to walk to jobs, while attending many different forms of self-help related activities throughout my stay at the halfway home.
It was A LOT of hard work, but… it is 100% worth it to get and STAY clean/sober! Because, RECOVERY ROCKS, truly!

3) What are the best things that have happened to you since you got clean/sober?

1. I’m in my senior year for my undergraduate studies at a D1 school, while maintaining 4 honor’s programs.
2. I’ve accomplished training, and job experience in tutoring, at the collegiate level.
3. I’ve been able to cross out #1 on my bucket list. Number one is help people in and out of addiction, either through a self help blog, website, or book. Now I have done all three!
4. My family not only trusts me, but we have never been closer!
5. I can connect and create meaningful, and impactful relationships.
6. My communication skills have gone through the roof! I can think clearly!
7. I have not had a panic attack, anxiety, or excruciating pain in a year, after long hard work through meditation, mindfulness, and recovery.
8. I have gained awareness about important subjects that help me and other people!
9. Spreading love, care, and generosity!
10. And being in recovery rocks!

4) If you could go back in time to you when you were drinking/using what would you tell yourself?
If I could go back and tell myself anything while in active addiction, I would tell myself nothing, because I wouldn’t be a vibrant, positive, helpful, happy soul that I am today without going through all the hardship. I feel like recovery is more than a way of life it is a reward for my hard work and dedication to it.

5) What have been the most useful things you have learnt about yourself since getting sober/clean?

One of the greatest things I have learned about myself, throughout my recovery is, I have the ultimate power in choosing how I feel. I can sense when I am starting to feel moody, or different.
I am aware of things that would set me back, and now know how to catch them and change them. I choose not to stay stagnant.

6) Tell me about something wonderful that happened to you recently that never would have happened if you had been drinking.
I have been able to concentrate and work harder than ever. If I’d been drinking I’d be out and about, at parties throughout my college career.
Opportunity are always there and will be glaring me down, but I choose to take myself out of the situation all together.

7) What are your favorite recovery slogans?
Two of my favorite sayings:
• “No matter how many steps you need to take back, you must keep moving forward. Put the right foot forth and good thing will come whatever may.”
• “One of my favorite sayings is that the world is set up to succeed for people who do the right thing, so always put the right foot forth.”

8) And lastly, why does ‘recovery rock?’
Recovery rocks because without it I would not be here today. It is my life, and there is no turning back. It rocks my world because it is my world, and it has saved my world. With recovery the possibilities are endless.

Confessions of a binge drinker

In my book I publish an extract on binge drinking a friend of mine wrote a few years ago. She wrote it after a drinking incident that really scared her. I think it’s one of the most powerful pieces of writing I’ve ever read. Sadly, what Clare experienced is incredibly common; a drunken woman incapable of defending herself is coerced into having sex. She wrote the first segment in 2006 and when I approached her for permission to publish it in full, she asked to write an update, which I have included. Clare is a brilliant writer and I think she eloquently portrays an experience that many women have. This is a story everyone should read.

My name is Clare, and I am a binge drinker. I wouldn’t call myself an alcoholic; I’ve never craved a drink, never felt a compelling urge to drink on my own. But I do, and have, used alcohol to fuel my social life, take away shyness, and it has, at times, led me into trouble; there have been a few evenings over the years that I couldn’t remember properly, where I was embarrassed about what I’d said, when- and if – I could remember it. In this regard, I’m a lot like many British women; women who escape their busy working weeks through drink at weekends, who sometimes drink many times more the recommended limit for an evening’s drinking. I never really gave it much thought, until recently; because it was only recently, that my innocent pastime, my shyness releaser, my relaxant after a hard week, led me into trouble.

As I’ve got older, my alcohol tolerance has dropped. It takes less than it used to, to make me cross the line between being tipsy and being drunk. Between feeling slightly uninhibited and having my judgement completely destroyed. And sometimes, I forget that I can’t drink like I used to. Like the evening six months ago that is going to prey on my mind for a long time to come.

I started the evening at a party. It wasn’t very lively, a small gathering, and I was listening to some dull story someone was telling me. I tend to drink more when I’m listening, especially if the listening isn’t interesting. I had a few glasses of wine I guess; I can’t really remember. At about 11 pm two of my friends announced they were going on to another party. They invited me to join them. I declined.

Just one more drink….

At 11.30 I headed home. As I was walking, I thought, on the way back, that I might just look in to the other party. One of the friends who’d gone had texted me, urging me to come along; he seemed keen for me to join them. When I arrived, I was glad I had. It was a packed party, full of a wide mix of people, young, trendy, laughing, dancing. I remember someone filling up my glass with champagne. I remember someone else giving me a cocktail.

It’s after that that things become hazy. My memories are a series of interconnected chunks, not a continuum, but a jigsaw that doesn’t quite fit together. What I do remember is coming out of an upstairs bathroom, and my ‘friend’ was waiting for me. He put his arms round me and kissed me. I kissed him back. And then I stopped, and asked him what he was doing. He was married, and was coming up to his first wedding anniversary. He and I had dated briefly a few years previously, shortly before he met his wife. But nothing came of it, and we’d never slept together. I’d all but forgotten about it.

It seemed he hadn’t though. He suggested I came home with him. I reminded him he was married. He said that he and I had ‘unfinished business’- that we had never finished what we started all those years ago, so it wouldn’t count. I told him he was married – that it wasn’t on. Just unfinished business, he said. No, I said. Quite definitely, no. I kissed him again, and felt bad enough at doing that. I told him it wasn’t a good idea. I went back to the party, talked to some other people, and had another drink.

As the party was breaking up- and this must have been at about 4am- I realised I needed to get home. My friend came to find me, said I could take a taxi from his place. It seemed reasonable enough as an idea so I went back with him to his house. Quite what happened next I don’t know. My next memory is lying on his sofa, kissing him. Him undoing my bra. And at that time, I didn’t care. I’d forgotten my earlier objections and was only aware of being kissed by an attractive man. But I did raise my objections again, when he suggested we had sex. I remember saying no, saying again, ‘but you’re married’. And I can’t remember what he said, but it was something persuasive. He carried on kissing me. He took off the rest of my clothes. And somewhere, around about six am, he fucked me over one of his sofas.

Was it rape?
Does that sound coarse? But I can’t call it making love; no emotion was there. And I can’t call it sex, either, because it was hardly an interactive experience; a few seconds worth of him satisfying his ego. Now don’t get me wrong. It definitely wasn’t rape. At some point I had agreed to it, at some point, when he had argued away my protestations about him being married, I stopped protesting; but I was thinking with my body not my brain.
(Veronica’s note: What happened to Clare is rape and is recognised as such in law. The victim offered countless protestations, but was not in charge of her faculties and was worn down by the perpetrator – her intoxication had rendered her incapable of making a choice. The reason that Clare herself says she doesn’t think she can call this rape is because, as you will see, she believes she should take responsibility for the intoxication which made her incapable of following through on her original decision to say ‘no’ firmly.)

I woke up the next day, covered in bruises and feeling sick. It took me a few minutes to remember what I’d done. I felt a pulsating pain in some of the bruises. I felt sore. And above all I felt dirty and disgusted with my self. My brain that had somehow felt disengaged from my body the night before, kicked into life, and I realised exactly what I’d done.

It took months for me to stop feeling that I was personally responsible for intruding into someone else’s marriage. It was only a few months later, when he tried all the same moves again – putting his arms around me as I left a bathroom at a party, would you believe- that I realised it was nothing to do with me. He told me he’d slept with another ex since me. He suggested to me that we make ‘the guilt worthwhile’ by having a better night than the one we’d had before.

But this time I wasn’t drunk. This time I said no, and I wasn’t open to persuasion, and I went home, saddened that what I thought was a friendship will never really be, and what I thought was a happy marriage, is heading for inevitable ruin.

But the relief that I’m not going to be ultimately responsible for the downfall of that marriage won’t take away the knowledge that I helped nudge it part of the way down that slope.

Saying ‘No’
The question that still preys on my mind is why I did it. Whether or not I can really blame the drink. Whether or not my being so drunk means that I can blame him? I’ve read that in America that they’re sending out promos to students- in an anti-date-rape campaign- saying ‘if she’s drunk or she says no, don’t touch her’. In America, extreme drunkenness is taken as a sign that she can’t consent. In England, even women who were unconscious have failed to argue in court that they were sure they hadn’t consented to sex, and the cases have been thrown out.
For my part, I have to take responsibility for what I did. For whatever state I was in at 6 am that morning, I knew what I was doing when I kissed him. When I kissed my friend’s husband. When I let myself kiss him and enjoy it and convinced myself it was OK. I do blame him for the bruises he left me with, which took two months to heal. I do blame him for the lies he has told his wife- and continues to tell her. But it was me who got so drunk, me failed to follow my own limits, me who engaged in a drug that I know can change one’s state of mind and corrupt a person’s powers to decide, and therefore, that pointless, degrading moment of drunken intercourse is something for which I can only, in all fairness, blame myself.

I was in my thirties when that happened and I had only ever slept with four people prior to that point. Three relationships, one-night stand- but even he was an old friend. Casual sex wasn’t me.

So what happened next? I so, so, wish I could tell you I gave up drinking. But what actually happened was that for a long time it changed my view of sex. I viewed my body as rather seperate and sex as something rather more detached and less precious and something I should, could, ought to do to make people like me. I also felt incredibly guilty and a lot of self disgust. I wanted love and absolution from my guilt but I found men could – and did – bully me into bed. I drank on dates and this made it possible; it also led to some unsatisfying encounters and didn’t give me much by way of sexual or spiritual pleasure. Sober me is very reserved; drunk me learnt to view her body as a separate thing.

‘Not an alcoholic’ was a fair description of me in the original article. But ‘problem drinker’ was, and probably still is an accurate way to describe me.

Alcohol and dating
I’m still single, and to be honest I blame alcohol for a lot of that. There have been at least three occasions where I got dumped after the guy saw me drunk- which usually went hand in hand with my making myself sexually available in a way that went against my core instincts. My new resolution is now not to drink on a date. Not so very long ago – more recently than I’d like to admit- I found myself making a move on a truly lovely man when I was drunk. He pushed me away; in retrospect I was deeply thankful to that man and it taught me and – rather late – it taught me an important lesson.

So, if I could talk to my 25 year old – or even 30 year old – self, I would say this:
A man worthy of sharing your body with won’t want you drunk. He’ll want you awake and alert and sensuous and responsive. He will be repulsed by the idea of shagging a drunk woman and will turn down an offer from a woman who is too drunk to be sure of what she is doing. He will want you to be able to feel every touch and caress. He won’t have a ‘3-date’ rule that you have to get drunk to adhere to.

Image courtesy of imagerymajestic /

Image courtesy of imagerymajestic /

I’m now looking for a man who cherishes reserved me, and also cherishes the passionate me – and who thinks that sex should be a joyous, special, intimate thing. To anyone reading this – especially a young girl – please value sex so much that you keep alcohol out of it.

Recovery Rocks – Danielle Stewart

I am trying to think of a really witty introduction to this week’s Recovery Rocks interview with Danielle Stewart. But I’m not going to be able to think of anything better than what she’s written herself:

Photo by: Magnus Hastings

Photo by: Magnus Hastings

I am a stand-up comedian, writer, and ex-girlfriend to countless unemployed “men.” I enjoy isolating, binge watching Law & Order SVU, and eating popcorn. I host a weekly podcast called #TheDaniStew Experience and have a blog that I update regularly called Prayers and Medication. After hitting a gnarly bottom in sobriety back in 2009, I have become quite passionate about recovery and have become a contributing writer for

See what I mean?
I obsessively stalk Danielle on Twitter because she is ‘piss your pants’ funny and I think you should too.

1) Describe your ‘rock bottom.’

I like to say that I hit bottom and then skidded there for a few years. But the catalyst for my first outreach call, which led to my first 12-step meeting, was in November of 2003. After a series of lower companions, I began dating a guy who was very promising. I didn’t want to make the same mistakes with him that I had made in previous relationships. After 2 months of cautious dating, seeing him about once a week for dinner, I drunk dialed him. And I don’t mean I called him at 10 pm with a buzz on, I mean I called him shitfaced at 3 in the morning looking for answers as to why we hadn’t had sex yet. To his credit, he handled it extremely well, kind of laughed it off, but when I woke up the next morning I was mortified. It was not a side of myself I wanted him to see, in fact, it wasn’t a side of myself I was particularly interested in seeing. And even though this non-event wasn’t in the ballpark of a deal breaker, I saw the signs that I was beginning to lose control. I knew it was only a matter of time before I was in his passenger’s seat, with urine soaked tights, trying to make my vomit go out the window. So I called an old friend who suggested I join them at a meeting. The rest is history.

2) What were your first 30 days of recovery like?

Not bad, kind of pink cloud-ish. I am a task-oriented person so once I made the decision to not drink for 30 days, which was my initial commitment, it became a task-at-hand I was determined to accomplish. I remember I had this calendar, one of those 8 ½ x 11 ones that go month by month, and I began marking each day I didn’t drink with a big, black “X”. This made me feel like it was some kind of a game and I enjoyed tracking my progress. However, at 90 days I had full-on breakdown. That pink cloud turned dark and stormy pretty quickly.

3) What are the best things that have happened to you since you got clean/sober?

There are three amazing things that have happened to me as a result of sobriety.
The first is that I was finally able to get up the courage to try stand-up comedy, which I ended up pursuing as a career. My whole life people told me I should be a comedian, and deep down inside I knew that was my calling, but I was completely controlled by my addictions and my fear. The grandest of esteem-able acts, getting sober, gave me the strength to walk through the experience of getting on stage for the first time, and then one night at a time after that. Which brings me to the second best thing; I found myself through the pursuit of stand-up comedy. For that, I will be always be grateful. Up until that point I had been mediocre at everything –school, sports, work, relationships, family—but with stand-up I had found something I was good at. It gave me self-esteem, something I had never had before—ever. It was life changing for me. The third best thing that has happened is the gift of serenity. That sounds a lot hokier than I am comfortable with but it’s just the honest to God truth. I have had my ass kicked in sobriety—life on life’s terms has pulverized my ego into a shit pate. There have been so many tears, so many days spent in debilitating fear and countless nights spent in fetal position, but the end result has been a complete surrender. This is what it took for me but I am grateful that I stuck it out because I now know what serenity feels like. Not that I feel that way all the time, but it’s safe to say I feel that way half the time, and from where I came from, that is more than good enough for me.

4) If you could go back in time to you when you were drinking/using what would you tell yourself?

For the love of God, smoke opium! Because one day you will get sober and forget you never tried it. Also, have more threesomes and sleep with at least one black man.

5) What have been the most useful things you have learnt about yourself since getting sober/clean?

That I am an alcoholic and that is the reason I made so many of the choices I have. I am not an evil person, I am not stupid and I am not a total pussy, I am just an alcoholic who gets sick if I don’t stay on top of my disease. That has made life make so much more sense.

6) Tell me about something wonderful that happened to you recently that never would have happened if you had been drinking.

Over the past year, I have written for two television shows and shot a comedy special with a few other fantastic comedians. When I was drinking I couldn’t accomplish flossing on a regular basis. Ok fine, I still can’t, but I can safely say I would not have had the privilege of experiencing much beyond the invention of Heineken light if I was still using.

7) What are your favorite recovery slogans?

“My ego is not my amigo” and “two sickies don’t make a wellie.”

8) And lastly, why does ‘recovery rock?’

At the risk of sounding brainwashed by some new age cult, being in a 12-step recovery program has not only blessed me the gift of choice but it has given me a much-needed structure and design for living. I was relieved of the craving to drink alcohol years ago but my lack of coping skills and inability to live life on life’s terms would be completely unmanageable if it weren’t for tools like 12-step meetings, step work, therapy, other alcoholics to talk to, and the ability to be sober and show up when I need to. Life freaking terrifies me but thanks to the recovery community I have been able to walk through most of it with grace and dignity.
And that totally rocks.

Toxic people

Kristen Johnston wrote an excellent blog on her attraction to toxic people and the lessons she learnt from having to extract herself from damaging relationships. You can read the post in full here.
I totally related to what she was saying as I did exactly the same thing.
Dealing with toxic people is just one of those things you have to learn to do in recovery. As Kristen points out, slaying the dragons of drugs and drink are relatively easy, compared to the life stuff we have to learn Like: having boundaries; recognizing your feelings; behaving appropriately and all that good crap that comes with being a healthy functioning human being.
But ending relationships with toxic people is a pretty big task for an alcoholic/addict.
We have spent years running from unpleasant feelings and have a particular aversion to any kind of confrontation, we also tend to be chronic people pleasers. It took me a while to learn how to deal with toxic people and I made plenty of mistakes along the way.

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles /

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles /

When I trained to become a therapist and was given all these big words to describe people’s issues, I of course, began to secretly diagnose everyone I met. Let me tell you, this got really fun when I was dating. I would meet a guy and within thirty minutes, sum him up in my head with all these issues, and then dismiss him as possible romantic material.
I was, after all, clean and sober and was finally going to demonstrate healthy choices with healthy people.
Can you guess how many men that left me available to date?
A big fat zero.
In my opinion they all had issues!
I had created this rigid worldview which led me to have ridiculous expectations of people.
It began to dawn on me, that I was excluding the entire human race from my experience. I had swung so far the other way, that I pretty much dismissed everyone as a potential date or friend.
Which is a pretty lonely place to be.
I had to learn that there is a difference between toxic people and people who are just working through their crap. I also realized no one was perfect, including me.

Toxic people tend to be resistant to changing or any kind of self-reflection, they are adamant that others have the problem and need to change instead. They generate drama and misery wherever they go and are incapable of seeing themselves as the cause of it.
In contrast, people who are just working on their crap will sometimes behave badly but with time will realize this, own it, make amends and change.
It’s really kind of simple: Everybody has crap. Some people are working on it, others are not. Pay attention and you will be able to spot the difference.

There is a big difference between being toxic and behaving in a toxic way. As an addict I went from one extreme to the other; I went from surrounding myself with sick and toxic people, to pushing away anyone who I perceived to have a flaw.

I wholeheartedly agree with Kristen, that the healthiest thing to do is to remove toxic people from our lives as soon as possible*. This can be challenging, but with practice, it can get easier. I also think the more we work on ourselves, the less toxic people we attract into our experience, so this also helps. Maybe some of these people will change and we can invite them back into our lives and sometimes they don’t. But when we take responsibility and make this space in our lives, the universe will often bring in someone incredible for us to connect with, someone we never would have met otherwise.
What hit home about Kristen’s piece for me, is that she kept her heart open and was always willing to help and trust. Ok, it got her into to trouble but it also enabled wonderful people to come into her experience. Whereas I did the opposite, I excluded just about everyone and didn’t give anyone a chance.
If you read to the end of her post she includes an extract from psychotherapist Nancy Colier, who emphasizes that we are not obliged to open our hearts to everyone. Even when people hurt us desperately and then apologize, we don’t have to invite them back into our lives.
I completely agree.
I passionately believe that we are responsible for the experience we wish to have, and we have to take responsibility for whom we invite into our experience.
When we can balance that with keeping our hearts open, then we are well on our way to becoming healthy functioning human beings.

*check out Kristen’s check list for spotting a toxic person. Spot on – in my opinion.

What is a ‘Geographical?’

The word ‘geographical’ comes from the recovery community. It refers to one of the actions that an alcoholic mistakenly takes in order to ‘fix’ their problems. It means you are changing your ‘outsides’ in order to fix your ‘insides’. So an active alcoholic may physically move cities or jobs in the faulty belief that it is their environment that is causing the problems.
Here is the part that the loved ones of alcoholics find so hard to understand. It’s easy to look at someone with a drink or drug problem and see the chaos and consequences it causes. It is therefore unbelievable to them that the alcoholic can’t see it too. And that’s the truth, the alcoholic can’t see what is going on, they can’t see the destruction or the impact alcohol is having. This is the insanity.
This is because the predominant thing in their lives is this constant, internal, emotional pain and dissatisfaction; this influences their choices and decisions. The constant driver is ‘Will this change how I feel?’ Not ‘Is this going to harm me or anyone else?’.

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles /

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles /

Unfortunately, this never works, because ‘wherever you go, there you are’.
This behaviour can be manifest long before the drinking becomes a serious problem, because at this point the sufferer is exploring behaviours as a method of managing their internal state, rather than just exploring substances.
The following is a common, but not exhaustive list of things an alcoholic or potential alcoholic will change in order to try and manage their internal state:

• Moving house, city or country.
• Changing jobs frequently.
• Obsessing over their appearance.
• Buying things they don’t need or can’t afford.
• Changing courses or studies abruptly.
• Enthusiastically starting new things but never finishing them.
• Ending relationships/marriages.
• Remarrying/getting into new relationships hastily.
• Obsessive new hobbies that peter out.
• Regularly changing groups of friends/always ‘falling out’ with people
• Always looking for a ‘fresh start’.

To friends and family these changes can seem bizarre and not thought through, but not necessarily a symptom of anything deeper. For the potential alcoholic the behaviour is merely an outward demonstration of how they are feeling inside. They are trying to ‘fix their insides by changing their outsides’ through constant activity. When eventually all these methods fail to make them happy or content, they turn to alcohol or substances to do the job.

This is an exclusive extract from my book ‘Why you drink and How to stop: journey to freedom.’
2013 How to Stop thumbnail 130x160
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Recovery Rocks – Sober Lawyer

Hands up those of you have had a humiliating experience due to your drinking?
Yep, each and every one of us.
The Sober Lawyer had his when he was arraigned in a court with a judge who knew him professionally.
It takes whatever it takes, and now he is sober he runs a great blog where he discusses his experience in recovery and his views on sobriety. You can read it here.
I really enjoy hearing the perspective of someone who works in the legals system but is also in recovery and I think you will too.

Image courtesy of suphakit73 /

Image courtesy of suphakit73 /

1) Describe your ‘rock bottom.’

I would have to say getting arrested for my second DUI and having to be arraigned in the local courthouse where I practice regularly and before a judge who knew me personally. Although I was ultimately acquitted (because as a lawyer I knew to refuse the sobriety tests and keep my mouth shut), my driver’s license was suspended for a little over a year, and I often had to have my mother drive me around to meetings and court appearances. Having to have your “mommy” drive you around as a 40 year old lawyer tends to humble oneself!

2) What were your first 30 days of recovery like?

Which one? I’ve had three different first 30 days because I’ve had three relapses. Each one was more difficult than the last, but I refused to give up and quit on my recovery.

The first 30 days for me are always very difficult. There’s never been a “pink cloud” for me. More like a nasty, cold grey New England day with some thunder-snow. At Hazelden where I went for treatment, they call this “post-acute withdrawal syndrome.” I always get really nasty drinking cravings which I have to manage. I try to get to a meeting just about every day. I also do private therapy once a week. I try to get as much exercise as possible to keep the post acute withdrawal syndrome at bay. Once the cobwebs start to dissipate from my brain, I start to feel better, but it’s definitely a one day at a time thing. I graduated top of my law school class, passed the bar and won several jury trials, but getting sober is by far the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do in my life. I’d rather sit for the bar exam ten times over.

3) What are the best things that have happened to you since you got clean/sober?

Best thing? I would say just feeling like my old self again, before the addiction started running my life. Feeling healthy again. I didn’t lose any material things other than my driving privileges for the year. I guess my reputation took a hit, but everyone has been very supportive of my recovery. I thankfully kept my career, family and marriage intact. I’m grateful that I got into the program before I lost everything which is what would have happened if I kept on drinking.

4) If you could go back in time to you when you were drinking/using what would you tell yourself?

Geez, that’s a tough one. I don’t think I telling my old self would have done any bit of good because honestly I would not have listened back then. Because I was and remain a high-functioning, successful, smart attorney, I had great difficulty accepting that I was an alcoholic. I have no family history whatsoever, and I drank socially for all my life up until my mid-30’s when some personal trauma triggered my addiction. I really had to learn the hard way through the DUI’s and other jackpots that I had a problem. I’m not into regrets and looking back as it causes shame which is a trigger for me. I prefer to live in the present and move forward.

5) What have been the most useful things you have learnt about yourself since getting sober/clean?

That being an alcoholic is not a personal or moral failing of any kind, that it’s a disease which I didn’t cause and cannot control. On a personal level, I know that my first reaction is to internalize my problems and try to out-think them – the way I’ve been trained as an attorney. That doesn’t work in recovery. Asking for help is a huge challenge, but I do it now. I went from someone who hated complainers to someone who complains quite a bit (in the proper forum, of course). I also know that ego and humility are aspects I need to work on. They are masks for my inferiority/superiority complex and being raised in a very competitive childhood where the motto was “we don’t play to win, we play for blood.” My professional strengths as an attorney can be my greatest weaknesses in recovery, and I have to be cognizant of that.

6) Tell me about something wonderful that happened to you recently that never would have happened if you had been drinking.

I went to a professional hockey game without getting sloshed and enjoyed every minute of it!

7) What are your favorite recovery slogans?

Keep coming. One day at a time. This too shall pass.

8) And lastly, why does ‘recovery rock?’

Recovery rocks because you get your life back. The life you were supposed to have before the disease took over your life. You get a “do-over” which a lot of folks don’t get in life. As they said in Dead Poet’s Society, Carpe Diem. Seize the day.

You can follow the Sober Lawyer on Twitter here.

The Relationship Myth – Part 4

The Holy Grail of the human experience.

Every song, every movie, every commercial is selling us the myth of romantic love as the ultimate goal in life. Women are particularly sold on the myth that there is no greater achievement than a relationship with a significant other.

We are sold the lie that romantic love is the solution to any problem. We know it’s a fairy tale, but we can’t help but want it to be true.

Image courtesy of Idea go /

Image courtesy of Idea go /

Yet, so many of us fail so spectacularly at them. They make us miserable, devastated and heartbroken. How are we getting relationships so wrong?

In the depths of my drinking I truly believed a romantic relationship would save me.
In sobriety, relationships nearly killed me.
At three years sober I was suicidal again. I didn’t want to drink; I didn’t want to drug, I was just making the conscious decision not to commit suicide today.

The collapse of a relationship brought me to my knees.
My insides were burning with the pain of rejection.
My soul was broken.
I didn’t know if I could go on. I was 30 years old and I seriously believed I was destined to spend the rest of my days alone, because I knew I couldn’t go through this amount of pain again.
The thing I thought I wanted the most, I always destroyed, and I couldn’t seem to stop doing it.

It had always been that way with me. Since I was about 13 years old, boys, then men were my Holy Grail. The way a relationship, no matter how brief, made me feel, was like nothing I had ever experienced on earth. It was an intoxicating mix of lust, euphoria, excitement and pain.
It was my cocktail of choice.

Pick up, indulge, drown, and repeat.

I wasted so much of my life on the search for the Holy Grail. It consumed me. It was my reason for being. Because I truly, truly believed it would save me, that those feelings would last forever and I would be home.

The reason I believed this so whole-heartedly is because I’d bought into ‘The Relationship Myth.’
The myth that when you find true love, with that special person who is just right for you, only then, will your life be complete. Everything will be solved; there will be no more pain or loneliness, because your romantic relationship will have fixed everything that is wrong.
Because that’s what happened for Cinderella right?

The reason the myth is so powerful is it sells you the lie that a relationship will be your salvation.

Reinforced by our popular culture, the relationship myth remains powerful because so many of us are lost. Empty on the inside and born without the instruction manual, we stumble around looking for our anchor and the person that will make us ‘whole.’
The most dangerous part of the relationship myth is the belief that another person will ‘save’ us. If only we can meet the right ‘one.’ All will be well.

I would enter into relationships with men under the delusion that they were my salvation. Dazzled by my sexiness and personality all was wonderful for a few weeks, I knew I had finally found what I was looking for. Those feelings of anticipation and hope were my heroin. Inevitably, I would see terror revealed in the eyes of my beloved when they realized the full weight of my expectations.
Unable to fulfill my impossible request they would flee as quickly as they could.
Whilst I stood aghast, watching my hope of salvation crumble.
A few short weeks ago they were dazzled by me, they were obsessed, they thought I was wonderful? Where did that go? I didn’t even see it slip away.
My story of abandonment played over and over.
The day after a breakup I would wake up and see little pieces of my soul crushed upon the floor with no idea of how I was going to keep on living.
Does that sound extreme? Because it was, the search for true love nearly broke me.

When this happened again in my sobriety I knew I was in trouble. Things were meant to be better now I was sober, not worse.
I was more frightened than I had ever been drinking.

But this is what the gift of desperation looks like.
When there is nowhere left to run too, the only place left to go is deep within yourself.
This is where all the answers lie and where salvation truly lives.
It took a shift of perception to see that I wasn’t abandoned and I could save myself.
The solution I had been desperately searching for in other people had actually been within me all the time.
I had to find a way to see things differently. I understood that my faulty belief systems were ensuring I kept repeating my story of abandonment.
But I could change that.
I was left with no choice; continue this painful pattern that had driven me to the brink of suicide or, finally learn the lessons my pain had been trying to teach me all along.

Image courtesy of Theeradech Sanin /

Image courtesy of Theeradech Sanin /

Only then could I break the spell of the relationship myth and know that I could save myself. Self-love saved me not romantic love.
Romantic love is a blessing in my life but it is no longer my reason for living.
Love thrives when we set it free.

You can read the other parts in this series here:
Part 1
Part 2
Part 3

Depression is not Destiny – Campaign

Today my friend Danny Baker launches his campaign to show 100,000 people that Depression is not Destiny campaign.
Danny is only 25 years old and is dedicating his life to help other people climb out of the hole of depression, that he experienced as a teenager.

Danny suffered from clinical depression and came very close to killing himself. Fortunately, he was one on the lucky ones, he got help and managed to turn his life around. Danny was studying at a top University in Australia and was on track to go become a management consultant. He gave up all of this to try and build a career as a writer and advocate for depression. He wrote a book about his experiences called ‘The Danny Baker Story – How I came to write “I will not kill myself, Olivia’ and founded the Depression is not Destiny campaign.’ Danny gives this book away for free.
The response to the book has been overwhelming for Danny, he has people contacting him from all over the world, who tell him how less alone they feel now.
Isolation and loneliness are what depression feeds off and Danny is passionate about removing the stigma around depression so more people can get help.
He is working with a consultancy company to launch a ‘Depression is Not Destiny’ International day.

Depression is not Destiny

Depression is not Destiny

Danny is seeking to crowdfund $20,000 (Australian dollars)in order to get his book out to anyone suffering from depression via Facebook ads. His book will always be free, he just needs to pay for the advertising to reach as many people as possible. If you have been affected by depression and would like to support Danny’s campaign you can read more about it here.

Recovery Rocks – Lisa Neumann

Lisa Neumann refuses to be an anonymous alcoholic. Her rock bottom was hard and painful and her recovery too hard won for her to keep it secret. As a mother, her rock-bottom was as scary as it gets, she needed 3 days in a hospital detox just to safely come off of alcohol. Fast forward 10 years and Lisa is now a recovery coach who works helping other women, she has published a book Sober Identity:Tools for Reprogramming the Addictive Mind
She also runs a her Sober Identity blog.
Lisa’s life is a testament to how someone can turn their life around. If you are a parent who is struggling to get sober, her story will inspire you.

Lisa Neumann

Lisa Neumann

1) Describe your ‘rock bottom.’
My rock bottom was the moment I realized I had turned into my dad. I was never, ever going to be like him and I realized I was exactly like him. The day of my bottom, my daughter got hurt. I had been drinking and not paying attention. I will never forget the sound of her scream. All I wanted was to turn back the hands of time by just a few seconds … and I couldn’t. Just four seconds to turn my head and look. I couldn’t fix this one with a lie. What was done was done. I never wanted to feel that feeling again. Ever.

2) What were your first 30 days of recovery like?
Day one to three I spent in a hospital detox. I knew I’d never make it on my own. I needed a jump start. Day four to thirty were sheer hell. I kept waiting for the ‘miracle to happen’. I kept waiting for the relief. All I saw and felt was how utterly uncomfortable I was in my own skin. It was unbearable. On about day 16 I almost gave in but didn’t, but it was really, really a close call. I got to sleeping a lot because it was the only way to escape. (In hindsight it’s probably what I needed anyway.) I was thrashed from drinking. A bottle (plus) of wine a night will do that to you. Overall I was scared. Scared of who lived inside me. Scared because I felt moody. Scared because I felt out of control. Scared because I felt depressed. In a way alcohol helped me control my emotions by shutting them down. Having them awakened was unpleasant (and that’s the nicest word I could use).

3) What are the best things that have happened to you since you got clean/sober?
Best thing that happened, that’s a hard one, to pick the best. I think for me being okay in my own skin is the best thing. I don’t need a fix of any kind to go anywhere. I can be a me that I actually like and I can do it naturally. Included in this, is the fact that I am present for my kids. My spiritual growth has had a profound effect on them. Then there is the going back to school and starting my business and writing my book and meeting a ton of incredible sober friends. Yeah, the list is fairly long, but that’s a good start. ☺

4) If you could go back in time to you when you were drinking/using what would you tell yourself?
Learn to Love yourself and drinking will lose its grip. BTW: Those are the same words I say to this day. Lisa, love yourself. Make choices that are loving. There is really nothing else for me to say. I get things when I get them. I try not and buy into my own bs. And for that I need resources outside of myself.

5) What have been the most useful things you have learnt about yourself since getting sober/clean?

I always find what I’m looking for. Be careful what I look for. But never stop looking.

6) Tell me about something wonderful that happened to you recently that never would have happened if you had been drinking?
This really wonderful woman asked me to do an interview for her website. Me, a girl who could barely function at night, or care for her children, or get the dinner cooked, or go to bed without passing out, or drive at night—sober. Someone meaningful asked me to share my story. That’s pretty wonderful for this ex-drinker.

7) What are your favorite recovery slogans?
I have two: “Time takes time” (I used to hate that one too.) And, “No one treated me worse than I ultimately treated myself.”

8) And lastly, why does ‘recovery rock?’
Recovery rocks because unaltered me is sheer possibility. The Universe is actually there to greet me and help me. My job is to push toward that which I seek. The Universe always pulls. I’m so glad I learned to push and get out of my comfort zone in life. And that I learned from recovery.

You can follow Lisa on Twitter here.