The long-awaited second installment to the original post... just kidding. I have like 60 followers and maybe 10 of them actually read and care about these. To those 10 people, I love you.
Anyways, here we are again. I wanted to start this off with a public service announcement, where I stand on my little soapbox and say: I DO NOT CARE IF YOU DRINK ALCOHOL. Could. Not. Care. Less. I, myself, will likely relapse; whether that is because I choose to bring alcohol back into my life, and then disrespect my own boundaries, or extend my sobriety goal and fuck that up, too. The idea of me being judgmental is preposterous. If anything, I envy those who have healthy relationships with alcohol, despite everything I know now about how it affects our body, mind, and soul. I long for the days when my relationship would have been considered healthy, but alas, those days are long gone.
This is a good place to start my blog discussion today though - because relapse within the spiral change model is something that is important to understand, so we can address making behavioral changes with more grace.
Firstly, what makes it so hard to give up our addictions? I loosely explored how the brain creates these pathways a couple of weeks ago. It was not just applicable to alcohol. Maybe it looks like smoking for you? Food? Maybe even Mucinex D or Sudafed - my second favorite - and even more alarming, vice. I am never allowed to try meth, folks!
The point is, we do choose our favorite vice. We, as human beings, love a good escape from our every day problems, no matter how small or how large those problems may be. Our vices are our battle buddies; and some of us have unhealthy vices while others have healthy ones. And no matter the vice - the coping mechanism - you have chosen, there are billions of people on this planet and therefore, there are people out there who use the same one as you. Legal or illegal. Healthy or unhealthy. And guess what? We find each other. Once we find each other, we create a community. And once we're in our community... well, it's really fucking hard to get out.
Why? Because we don't want out! These are our friends... They support our habits and reinforce our decisions that we already want to make. We don't want to change! We're happy in here. We have a shared hobby, common interests. We smoke. We drink. We eat. We use. OR, on the flipside with healthier addictions: We exercise. We play video games. We read! Whatever it is, we relate to each other in this way. And by natural human instinct, we find belongingness there that we innately crave. This is a large part of why it can be so hard to quit an addiction - you are almost never alone in it.
It's hard to create a new pathway in the brain and make a different choice in response to distress; it's even harder when your community isn't doing it with you. Maybe they are supporting you verbally, but they're not actually in the thick of it with you. This can make us feel isolated, and misunderstood. This is when we get anxious about the change, feel like we cannot do it, and turn back. Especially because the feeling of isolation in itself is a good enough reason for us to want self-medicate and escape. If you've been here, you know the feeling I'm talking about.
These are your relapses.
Relapse doesn't make anyone weak.
Relapse is the process of reaching sustained changes.
Knowing relapse is a part of the change model doesn't give any of us the permission to use it as a crutch or use it as an excuse. Understanding the stages of change and how relapse is a part of it, is meant to help us practice grace with ourselves, and continue to push forward even after dealing with setbacks and failures. Take a look at the model below for reference:
To put this model into a relatable context, I am going to look at my decision to quit alcohol in each of the stages of change:
Pre-Contemplation: Last July I did not see any issues with my drinking. I made no connections to how drinking negatively affected many different aspects of my life and my relationships. I saw no problem with how much or how often I drank. I had no intentions of making any changes. If anyone had approached me about quitting alcohol I would have listened to what they had to say (because I'm not fucking rude), but after coming home would have said it was bullshit. This is pre-contemplation. I sat in this mindset for years, but for the context of this model - it was about 5-6 months (which is the average amount of time people spend in this stage before reaching the next).
Contemplation: When I reached the end of November, I became aware of how alcohol was negatively impacting my relationships, and my mental/physical health. I still had no intentions of making any changes. I was under the impression that as long as I was self-aware, I would be able to control these aspects. Classic me - thinking I can control shit.
Preparation: January. Right before NYE while we were in NYC is when I openly addressed how alcohol was negatively impacting me, and I wanted to cleanse for the month. Just for the month. I did not want to start that cleanse until we returned from NYC.
Action: January 2nd. That was the last day I consumed alcohol. I put a plan into action and started making modifications to my behaviors. I started replacing alcohol with alternatives (peep my last blog post for those). I started attempting to work in healthier coping mechanisms that have worked for me in the past, as well as creating new ones. This is a 90-day action plan for me.
Maintenance: I am not here yet. I am still in my action plan. I will hit my 90-day goal on April 3rd. Maintenance stage for me either looks like alcohol on weekends only, with a 2 drink maximum per day, OR it looks like no alcohol at all. Which brings us to...
Relapse: Falling back into my old behavior.
Relapse can happen for me and for you at any stage in the change model. The importance of working it into the model, is because each time it happens, we learn something from it. For example, here I am today doing generally well. I am trying to be mindful of how I physically feel without alcohol in my system, and mindful of the differences to my life that I noted in my previous post. This is because if and when I relapse, what I am experiencing in this moment is going to change. At that point, my brain should note, "hey... we were experiencing something good, and after we had alcohol this time... it went away." That's my brain creating a new pathway. That's the learning piece of our relapse stage. Rather than being harsh on ourselves, and throwing in the towel here, we pick ourselves up and try it again.
Tying two and two together here - it's hard to recognize that there is something in your life that is preventing you from thriving physically, mentally, and/or emotionally. Once you do, it's even harder to pursue a change when you are alone, feeling like you are leaving a community behind to do so. This is where health and wellness coaches come in. We are here to be the accountability partner and the encouragement you need to continue your pursuit, because most likely, we have had to make a change and go it alone already; we know how hard that can be.
I feel the need to make a disclosure at this point in my blog in general - everything I write about is typically something I have learned through my own experience, and then supported by my own reading, my own therapy, and my coursework for Health and Wellness Coaching. I don't think anyone who has been keeping up with my blog needed to hear that, but JUST IN CASE.
I wanted to kind of round out this blog post with some healthier coping mechanisms that have worked for me in lieu of alcohol. I gave a list of alternatives to alcohol specifically, that have helped me around the house in my previous post, but as most who struggle with alcohol know, that doesn't actually provide the "relief" you are searching for. Here are some actual activities and products that have worked for me in place of alcohol in those times I really want to reach for it:
Exercise: Whether it's at HOTWORX or just taking a walk down our road, this is a perfect outlet for me to get my endorphins booster - which helps reduce stress and improve your overall well-being.
CBD: My Full Spectrum CBD helps to promote healthy stress response throughout the day, and has worked very well for me. I layer a gummy with a tincture each morning - both products are linked below:
Writing: Shocker... Yes, I discovered that writing this blog is a great outlet for when I am feeling panicky, stressed, or isolated in my thought processes and feelings. Additionally, I keep a journal where I also write letters to Serenity when large waves of grief hit me, rather than drinking away my misery.
Recreational Sports: I joined a rec volleyball team at the beginning of January, which helps with the physical endorphins from the exercise, but also boosts my energy and mood levels through socialization and creating a sense of belonging (a new community).
Video Games: Sometimes people who think they know me are shocked to find out that I regularly play video games and I find that amusing. I've done this since I was a child. This is an excellent distraction because it promotes mental stimulation, and helps people to relax. I always create time for this hobby.
Eating: At first I felt silly adding this to the list, because eating can actually be addictive in itself; BUT a bag of popcorn with a sparkling water can really keep my mind and hands occupied for a good chunk of time when I am craving that escape. Popcorn is also just one the best kinds of low calorie snacks you can reach for.
Creating Instagram Content: My how the tides have turned... just three posts ago I was complaining and here I am telling the world I enjoy it. It's FUN. I still don't know what I am doing, and I don't care if I have zero followers. I finally get to live out my dream of film scoring, where I get to choose what music is playing in each scene. I'll never be as good as whoever chose the playlists for The Vampire Diaries... but hey, no one really can be.
If you're reading this and able to comment on my site, I would love to hear what some of your own stress-relief based hobbies are! Until next time... thanks for reading!