Tag Archives: Alcoholics Anonymous

The 13th step and abuse in 12-step fellowships.

There is a movie in production called ‘The 13th step’ that documents the abuse that can occur in 12th step fellowships. It’s made by a woman who was a member of a 12th step program. She experienced and witnessed so much sexual harassment, financial exploitation and abuse that she wanted to document what she witnessed. Alcoholics Anonymous and other 12-step programs are not regulated in any way, they are open to anyone who feels they would like to attend. Watch the trailer and let me know what you think.

What to expect in early recovery

The following is meant as a guide to support you in your early weeks of recovery from alcoholism. The first few days and weeks without alcohol can be frightening and confusing; you have, of course, put down your security blanket, your crutch, your way of coping with the world. It can be very challenging initially to go about your daily life without it.

Image courtesy of Keerati / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of Keerati / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

The following are simple suggestions that when applied will greatly enhance your chances of a successful recovery; it’s the small things that can sometimes make the biggest difference.
Be good to yourself. Making the decision to ask for help is an act of courage and self-love. Don’t beat yourself up about the past. This will get sorted out in time. Instead, try to take each day one at a time, or just a few hours at a time and acknowledge to yourself that things can be different now and the person who drank and used drugs wasn’t the real you. You only have to deal with the 24 hours in front of you. Nothing else matters right now.
Stay away from the first drink. If you don’t have the first one you won’t have the rest. Accept that you do not have control over alcohol and that now is the time to do things differently. If you have a craving think it through:
• What usually happens when you pick up a drink? What are the consequences?
• How do you end up feeling?
• What happens the next morning?

Make a decision that ‘just for today’ you won’t pick up a drink. Plan your day around this thought, with actions that will support and strengthen it.
Only deal with what is right in front of you, with what is absolutely necessary. It’s very easy to get sidetracked and start panicking about all the things or people that need your attention. Allow yourself the time and space you need in order to get well. Ask yourself ‘Will the world end?’ if I don’t do this task, or see that person now? In most cases the world will keep turning just fine without you. Part of our problem is that we believe we need to be in control at all times, that things won’t be OK if we don’t have an input. This just isn’t the case. If you have friends or family offering their help and assistance, take it.

Try to rest as much as possible. You may have difficulty sleeping. This is very common at first, and with time people’s sleeping patterns generally return to normal. There are lots of things you can do to help this, besides taking medication. Investigate meditation, yoga, herbal remedies, relaxation CDs, changing your diet, exercising more and so on. You may feel drained emotionally; you might experience new feelings bubbling to the surface. Rest whenever you need to. Remember, you are healing.
Diet and exercise are key to our wellbeing. Up to now, you may have neglected yourself and will no doubt be feeling the effects of this. What we put in our bodies is our lifeblood; if you have been feeding it takeaways and booze, your body won’t be running as well as it can. Start by making small changes that you can cope with. Don’t expect to turn into Mr or Ms Fitness overnight! You may notice a craving for sweet things. Again, this is very common due to the amount of sugar your body has been consuming in alcoholic drinks. Sugar also releases a chemical high that your body has been used to getting from alcohol. At first it may be necessary to allow yourself sweet things when you have a craving, as your body needs time to adjust, but where possible try to reach for fruit rather than chocolate. Look at your diet and try to include fruit and vegetables, and have regular meals instead of picking at food or bingeing. Try moderate exercise every other day; walking for fifteen minutes a day is a good place to start. The key now is everything in moderation – except alcohol, of course! There are numerous studies that show how beneficial exercise is for our state of mind. Just do what you’re capable of at the moment.

Keeping yourself safe
Change your routines – our brain works as a trigger. You may not think you are craving a drink or drug, but walking past your local pub or even just getting cash out of a machine can trigger automatic thoughts of drinking or using drugs, so we end up following through before we even realise it. It is probably a very good idea to get rid of any alcohol you have in your house right now. There is no need to have temptation right under your nose. Don’t go down the alcohol aisle in the supermarket and, in the short-term, there is really no need to go into pubs. Don’t kid yourself that you can go and have a couple of soft drinks – you may be able to at first, but if you put yourself in the same situations as when you used to drink, you will inevitably find that you will. If there are celebrations or events coming up that you have to attend, where there will be a lot of drinking, arrive late and leave early. Prepare an excuse in advance, so that if you feel unsteady you can leave quickly. Don’t worry about offending people. Take responsibility for your sobriety by putting down boundaries that protect you.
Deal with your emotions. These might well be all over the place to begin with and can often feel overwhelming. You may feel angry and resentful, frustrated or full of self-pity, guilt and loneliness, or you may just feel numb. This is to be expected as you have been suffocating and hiding these feelings for a long time. Your feelings may be the reasons you drank or used drugs in the first place. These feelings can’t be avoided and need to be felt and processed, but you don’t have to do this alone. First of all, recognise what you’re feeling and develop different ways of dealing with feelings. It may help to write these feelings down and talk about them to a friend who’ll listen, but not judge you. Often, intense negative emotions can be triggered if you feel:
• Hungry
• Angry
• Lonely
• Tired
• Stressed

Feeling one or more of the above is enough to put you on the edge. Don’t underestimate how powerful these emotions are and how quickly they can weaken your defences. Begin recognising how you are feeling.
Loneliness can sometimes creep up on us, especially if we used alcohol to socialize. It’s very important that you meet people who don’t drink, with whom you can socialize. One of the myths of sobriety is that it’s boring and there is nothing to do. This couldn’t be further from the truth. Everyone I know who doesn’t drink has a jam packed social life, full of exciting things they never would have dreamed of doing before. However, it will take time to build this up, and you need to take responsibility for this. If you have decided to join Alcoholic Anonymous you will find this happens very easily, as AA is a good place to meet lots of sober people! If not, then look at other avenues where you can meet people who don’t drink.
Lastly, take it easy! You didn’t create your problems overnight and you won’t get rid of them overnight either. Accept that you are at the starting point and change will happen slowly, but it will happen. Congratulate yourself that you have decided to take drastic action for your problem and things will get better from this point onwards. There may be some bumps in the road ahead, but you are on the path to recovery now; life will begin to get better, you will begin to feel better about yourself.
Living sober is infinitely easier than struggling with alcoholism.

This is an exclusive extract from my book ‘Why you drink and How to stop: journey to freedom.’
Available on Amazon, iTunes and Barnes & Noble.

Educating Rita by Ryder Ziebarth

One of my goals of this blog is to also tell some of the stories from the hidden victims of alcoholism and addiction. Particularly from the families effected by a loved ones drinking.

Ryder Ziebarth

Ryder Ziebarth

I met Ryder Ziebarth online and asked if she would guest post about her experiences as a mentor in the Alateen program. Ryder is also a 13 year alumni of the Al-anon program. As a freelance non-fiction writer she regularly contributes to the N magazine in Nantucket, the Nantucket Chronicle and has recently been published in The New York Time Metro Diary.
This is an incredibly moving piece and I’m honoured to share it with you…

One cold and black winter night, in a granite alcove of St. Elizabeth’s church, one of the youngest kids I mentor in an Alateen group seated around our big, round table said, “ I will never, ever, drink. Not one drop. It’s really, really bad for you. That’s what my dad and I know.”

This little girl’s mother, a graduate of six rehab centers, is still addicted to alcohol and cocaine, and her father is in an AA recovery program, just steps away from our door. Her new stepmother attends the Alanon program upstairs, and all three groups, the one I mentor being Alateen, meet at this church in north central New Jersey, every Sunday night, fifty two weeks of the year, even if Sunday falls on Christmas day, New Year’s Eve or Memorial Day weekend. Entire families attend separate meetings, and the majority of kids in my group have one or both parents or a sibling with them on most Sunday nights.

When I first met Rita, the little girl with the big proclamation that cold Sunday night three winters ago, she looked like she weighed no more than a breath of frosty air, with a head full of Shirley Temple, ginger colored curls drawn up with an unruly cockade of pink and purple ribbons. The heels of her pink sneakers lite up with blinking red lights as she walked, and her purple jeans had sprays of flowers across each pocket. That night, I think there were about twelve kids at the meeting– I remember squeezing around our big, 72”round table scattered with Alanon literature and program approved books.

“This is my stepdaughter,” a woman said, pushing Rita gently into the room, just before our meeting began.
“It’s her first time here. Her father and I thought this meeting might help her cope when she has to be with her mother—her alcoholic. She’s not too young is she?” she asked, scanning the tables of other, older kids.
“ No, she’s fine,” I said. But at barely age seven, she was the youngest child I’d ever had in the group. The stepmother said she’d be right upstairs if I needed her, and her father would be downstairs in AA.

“Sit next to me,” I said to this wisp of a child.
She replied that she would rather sit between two of the other kids, so I pushed the chair back in and started the meeting. We pass out our Alateen books and turned to page four. As we went around the table taking turns reading the twelve steps, sharing our first names, where we are from, and our age. Then we share stories about our previous week. We talk about school and upcoming tests, football scores and once in a while, a really bad situation currently happening in their alcoholic household.
It was Rita’s turn, and she introduced herself without hesitation.

Image courtesy of George Stojkovic at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of George Stojkovic at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

“ I am new. My name is Rita. I was just seven, two weeks ago. My mother is an alcoholic- druggie and she snorts coke up her nose and I used to see her every other weekend with a social worker, but now I am not allowed to stay there again,’ and she flopped back into her chair, sighing dramatically while rolling her eyes. A few of the other kids nodded in solidarity.

“My mother’s boyfriend? I hate him. He is so gross and disgusting and mean? Last week? I was so mad at him, that I dropped the F-Bomb to get him away from me and my Mom’s dog,” she said pounding the table with both of her fists. All of us started, then laughed, and Rita laughed too. Feeling a sense power, she jumped out of her seat and laid both hands flat in front of her, leaning in toward the group. The back of her sneakers began to blink.

“I did!” she continued, “ I really did! He was beating my dog that was on the end of my bed with me and my yelling made him stop hitting her. But she was hurt bad and I ran out of my room and called 911 and the police came over and took her to the vet,” she said. “I was so glad I ratted him out, but boy was he mad. But my mother was madder for once, so he shut up,” she said, sitting down again into her chair.
“The dog’s O.K. now,” she added as a kind of happy ending.

Some of the kids looked a little stunned. Some of them laughed. Most of them could relate.
In addition to stints in rehab, Rita’s mother had been in and out of jail for drug possession. The divorce from Rita’s father had been contentious. The mother, in a coke fueled haze, fought for custody of Rita, which a wise judge denied her, instead granting once a month Saturday sleepovers with a social worker in tow for most of the visit. The mother’s current boyfriend had beaten Rita’s mother’s dog almost to death at the end of Rita’s bed on that visit, after the social worker went home. Rita’s mother, passed out on the sofa downstairs, hadn’t even heard him enter the house. The mother’s privileges of Saturday night sleepovers were promptly revoked.

“Are you staying with your Dad and stepmom now?” I asked her.
She shook her head empathically and her curls bobbed around her face.
“A social worker and me go see my mom every other Saturday. But I’m not talkin’ to her right now. I will, though next time. Now? I just sit there and watch her cry and yell at me, and then we leave. She needs a lesson taught to her.”
“ I hate my father, plain and simple. I haven’t talked to him in a month,” Savanna, a teen who travels an hour each way to make it to this meeting, says to Rita.
“ I don’t care if I ever speak to him again. He hates me, I hate him. It’s easy. And after the divorce is final, I never have to talk to him again because I am 16.”
“Oh I’ll talk to my mother again,” said Rita.
“ But when I do, she’ll be listening, or else.”
“Or else what?” Savanna asked her.
“Or else, she’ll lose me. I will never go back, and I know she would hate that.”

The Alateen kids bring an endless supply of anger and sadness, but also a remarkable abundance of acceptance of their situations, week after week. They feel safe in this room, a place where they can share the story of their lives with others who struggle with like issues. At every age, they reach out to each other with understanding and it never ceases to amaze me just how incredibly resilient and insightful they are.
“Who can share a slogan or step with Rita that might help her to understand what her mother might be going through right now? Or how to help herself get through the rough times?” I asked.
All twelve hands shot into the air.

Image courtesy of Vlado at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of Vlado at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Rita has been in our Alateen group, most Sunday evenings. She comes, clutching her book Courage to be me — Growing Up in an Alcoholic Home, the pages dog -eared, and paper clipped for reference.
“ I’m working the program, Mrs. Z.,” she said proudly one night, showing me the new book mark she made inscribed with the closing refrain we recite at the end of each meeting: Keep coming back, ‘cause it works when you work it. You’re worth it, so work it.

She laughs more often now then she cries; she volunteers and loves to lead meetings, and her strength and tenacity has been a source of awe and inspiration for those in the program, least of all me. Although her mother’s recovery is still on -going, Rita’s recovery is right on track. As she said in one of the meetings not long ago, this time on a bright and warm summer night,
“ I matter, too.”

How to deal with a loved one’s drinking – part 4

Entering treatment
This is the last instalment on how to help someone who drinks. If you are in the fortunate position that your loved one is about to enter a treatment facility then the following might be helpful:

"Psychiatrist Examining A Male Patient" by Ambro courtesy of www.Freedigitalphotos.net

“Psychiatrist Examining A Male Patient” by Ambro courtesy of www.Freedigitalphotos.net

Don’t send him/her money, gifts; cigarettes directly; always refer these via the clinical team.

Don’t accept phone calls during the first week, however much you or the children miss him/her. This is
a life and death illness and the focus needs to be on treatment, not what’s happening at home.

Don’t arrange visits until you are sure that the clinic has authorised them. Don’t take his/her word for it.

Don’t take everything he/she says at face value; always verify facts with the clinical team. Alcoholics often tell their families they are being treated badly and that they want to come home. Usually, all they want to do is get away so they can drink/use again. Sometimes they will engineer conflicts to justify leaving.

Don’t take any drastic action without first talking to his/her counsellor: never arrange to collect them from treatment without speaking to their counsellor first.

Don’t be taken in by allegations that the treatment centre are forcing religion on them. This is a common excuse for getting out of treatment, though it’s unjustified. If they are in a 12-step treatment programme this involves simple spiritual principles, not religious dogma. If in doubt, speak to a counsellor who can explain things further.

If your loved one tells you that treatment is not suitable for them but they still want to get clean or sober just not in treatment, don’t be hoodwinked. Ask why and speak to a counsellor. Alcoholics are brilliant liars and manipulators; they have had to be to survive.

Don’t allow yourself to be bullied by your loved one, either physically, emotionally or verbally; its time for things to start changing.

If this all sounds harsh, as if treatment treats your loved ones like naughty children, please be assured that anyone who enters treatment is always afforded the respect they deserve for taking such a courageous step. Practically all staff in 12-step treatment centres are in recovery themselves. They know from personal experience how to manipulate and get their own way, no-body could be better equipped to deal with them!

The Do’s
Do get on with your everyday life as much as possible. Try to carry on as normal.

Do read the chapters ‘To Wives’ and ‘The Family Afterward’ in the Alcoholics Anonymous Big Book. A counsellor will tell you how to get hold of a copy (it’s available on Amazon.com)

Do attend Al-anon or Families Anonymous meetings. You will find people in exactly the same situation as yourself at these meetings; search the web for meetings in your area.

Do stand up for yourself. Your loved one may have become accustomed to having things their own way. You matter too, be assertive.

Do make sure that there is someone you can talk to about how you are feeling. If there is no one suitable, speak to one of the counsellors at the clinic.

This is not meant to be a comprehensive guide to all the problems you may encounter as a family getting into recovery it is meant as a starting point to enable you to gain a wider understanding of the problem you are dealing with.

You can read last week’s instalment here.