Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Loneliness vs Solitude

Most people experience feelings of loneliness from time to time, but for the addict/alcoholic, isolation is a defense mechanism and a chronic symptom. Addiction is characterized by a sense of loneliness and a state of isolation. Often alcoholic/addicts describe feeling alone even when in a crowd. Solitude/aloneness and isolation/loneliness are often used interchangeably, but these terms imply different emotional states and subjective experiences. Isolation for the alcoholic/addict is a negative symptom of their disease. Guilt and shame keep the alcoholic/addict alone in society and shut off from themselves. Solitude is feeling safe and content while enjoying your own company. It is the experience of being alone without being lonely.

The pain of loneliness and isolation creates a significant obstacle to achieving a relationship with oneself. Avoiding healthy social interaction prevents us from seeing ourselves through the eyes of others and experiencing our humanness. The emotional pain from loneliness and/or isolation may also cause people to seek out the company of anyone who is willing to spend time with them. Often the alcoholic/addict will enter into a toxic relationship to avoid spending time by themselves. Both isolation and seeking toxic relationships enable the addict/alcoholic to avoid the person they fear and dislike the most - themselves.

One of the conditions for a satisfactory life is to be of use and to belong. Addicts/alcoholics need to find ways to cope with their tendency to isolate. Developing a safe, sober social network and participating in social activities are two ways to start. For many people, participation in a twelve-step program, a therapy group or individual counseling can be helpful. Joining a volunteer group, book club or a sports team are other ways to practice being social.

Solitude or aloneness, on the other hand, can be a rewarding experience that can help one to gain self knowledge and self acceptance. It can give an individual an opportunity to explore who they are and discover their positive qualities, gifts and talents.

Alcoholics/addicts need to learn how to experience solitude/aloneness without isolating. They need to spend time alone discovering their likes and dislikes. Solitude enables the alcoholic/addict to develop an appreciation of their strengths and their limitations. It is an opportunity to discover and accept their humanness and to not be afraid of who they are. Learning to spend time alone takes time and probably should be done in increments. A few minutes a day spent in meditation, listening to music, reading or just staring at the ocean or the stars are all ways to begin a journey of self discovery.

For the alcoholic/addict, isolation and the resulting loneliness is an undeserved, self imposed prison. Solitude/aloneness is an opportunity to be liberated from ourselves and to continue the journey to a sober mind.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Gratitude in Recovery Often Equals Guilt

Thanksgiving day got me thinking about gratitude lists. Often when we are feeling sorry for ourselves it can be helpful to inventory all the things we have to be grateful for. For the alcoholic/addict however, the more they have to be grateful for, the more guilty they feel. Often the belief that they are unworthy of all that is good keeps them from the Sober Mind they seek.

I once saw a sign in a drug rehab that said, "Guilt Kills". At the time I didn't understand what that meant. Today I know that guilt is dangerous for the alcoholic/addict to indulge in because for them, guilt feelings are not limited to the negative things they have done. Along with the feeling of worthlessness, they often believe they have no right to even the air they breath. The disease of addition/alcoholism distorts their thinking and makes it difficult to appreciate the gifts life has given them. This might lead them to drink or act out in some way.

Awareness and honesty are critical to putting our guilt feelings in perspective. Sometimes we agree to do things we don't want to do out of some real or perceived guilt. The result is resentment. It is important first to be aware of the distorted thinking and then not to minimize or exaggerate our past and/or present behaviors. One way to do that is make a guilt list and a review it honestly. Own the things you have done and find a way to make amends. Then make a gratitude list and appreciate all that is good about yourself.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Carol Gotbaum's death could have been prevented

I know this entry is a diversion from my original theme of achieving a sober mind, but the issue I'd like to address is very important to raising awareness for both those of us who suffer from addiction, and those who do not.

After reading an online editorial in “The Arizona Republic” regarding Carol Gotbaum, the woman who died while in custody at the Phoenix airport, I was outraged. Since the news broke there has been a glut of negative reactions and comments about her and her family’s behavior, and it seems there are some trying to justify the actions of the airport police. They have raised issues such as why she was traveling alone if she was ill, and whether alcohol and/or drugs played a role in her death. The most recent article I read states police followed procedures and she died in spite of their efforts. The Arizona Republic editorial stated that police had saved a life the day before and the day after the Carol Gotbaum incident. The editorial did not supply the details of the two heroic rescues. Unfortunately in the case of Carol Gotbaum it resulted in her death.

What the editorial did not say was whether the procedure they followed in order to save those other two lives included taking them into custody and then leaving them alone, shackled in a cell, instead of calling for emergency medical assistance. I am confident that if they had, the rescued would have been three for three and Carol Gotbaum would still be alive.

If you want to read more about my thoughts on how this incident was mishandled, I wrote the following op ed which was published in the Long Island Newsday on 11/19/07: 'Sick' mom's death shows alcoholics' need for aid

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Building a relationship with ourselves

You may be asking yourself, how do I follow Rule #1: “DO WHAT IS RIGHT FOR ME”?

The first step is to develop a relationship with yourself. You may think you know you, but do you really? Do you know what you really like, and don't like? Or do you usually go with what your parents, spouse, friends or children choose for you? One definition of co-dependence is a failure to have a relationship with oneself, and that's what happens when we place other people's needs before our own. For many alcoholic/addicts, or those who are affected by them, answering the question "who am I?" is scary. Not only will it mean they can no longer please others, but there's also the fear that deep down they're no good.

So we start slowly, day by day, tuning in to that little voice inside us that holds the key to our true nature. We practice being gentle with ourselves, forgiving our setbacks, and remembering that it's all about "progress, not perfection." The goal is to, over time, build a new relationship with ourselves and those around us that is non-judgmental, loving and patient. Honesty is critical; there are many things about us that are positive and some that are negative, and we must take stock of that regularly. It is very important that we accept our humanness, our "perfect imperfection" and our inability to control anything but ourselves. Most importantly we need to trust our right to be, to exist.

"...You are a child of the universe, no less than the trees and the stars. And whether or not it is clear to you, no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should." --Desiderata


In the coming weeks I will be posting my rules for mental sobriety, and some tips as to how to apply them in your life. I would be very interested in any questions or comments you care to make and I will try to respond if not individually, to the general theme.

Rule # 1: Do what is right for you.

The most important thing to remember is your needs are as important as everyone else’s. Putting yourself first is not selfish - it is absolutely necessary in order to be a loving, caring, productive human being. It is impossible for a person to care for or love anyone else if they don’t love and care for themselves. The quality of our relationships with others is directly related to the quality of our relationship with ourselves. No one can give what they haven’t got. In order to do what is right for you it is necessary to find out who you are and be able to identify your needs.

Rule # 2: Keep you head where your feet are.

When a crisis happens the first impulse is to try to control the situation, fix it or change it. In many cases the best thing to do is to realize that for that moment nothing has changed and there is no immediate need to change things. For example, if there's gossip at work about people being laid off at the end of the year, when we're surrounded by the possibility of this happening on a we'll experience anxiety and fear. The need to act is very intense, to do something to make those painful feelings go away. It's important to remember that for today nothing has changed, and there are tools that can help us manage our emotions. Making a phone call to a trusted person, writing about the feelings that we experience, or getting up and taking a short walk can all help us regain our composure. Allowing time to experience the feelings and not reacting to them makes it possible for us to step back from the impending crisis and formulate our own plan of action.

Rule # 3: Avoid anyone who does not make you feel good about yourself.

Personal boundaries are very important to mental sobriety. There are people in this world who may be very good and kind, but the chemistry between you and them may be tense and hostile. Many times they're the ones closest to us, the people that love us. It is possible in many instances to teach people how to treat us. In some cases it is necessary to be direct and tell them that their behavior is unacceptable. If we are unable to be direct sometimes we can deliver a message by just not engaging. When a person’s behavior makes us uncomfortable we can just remove ourselves. There are instances when it may be necessary to cut off contact completely, but that kind of drastic action should only be used as a last resort.

Monday, November 5, 2007

Welcome to A Sober Mind

This is the first entry for my blog and I’m not sure what it “should” look like but here goes...

Since I’ve titled it “A Sober Mind”, I thought it fitting to begin with some definition of what I believe is a sober mind, and how one can achieve and maintain it. Sobriety is often thought of as abstinence, or not being intoxicated. But a sober mind goes far beyond not drinking. A sober mind is one that strives for clarity, awareness and acceptance. It’s having a willingness to modify temperament and behavior so that we are respectful to ourselves and to those around us. A sober mind forgives its mistakes and celebrates its accomplishments. It combats negative thinking by making gratitude lists and giving service to others. Asking for help and practicing humility are also traits of a sober mind. A sober mind takes practice, and its’ about “progress not perfection.”

In this space I will share the things that I find important to living a sober life, both emotionally and physically. My goal is to help you find out who you are and what your needs are. To help you become your own best friend, someone you trust, who will keep you safe. My hope is that you will be able to use my thoughts and philosophy on your journey to... a sober mind.