How I Have Fun, Sober And Quarantined

I assumed that within my first 60 days sober, I would become a girlfriend. I thought I would lose weight, become not depressed for starters, and of course, fall into an extraordinary amount of money.

Unsurprisingly, those things didn’t happen in the first 60 days and sure, a few still haven’t come true, now three years later. I will say, however, that my life has gotten exponentially better, and yes, stay with me here…fun.

Managing your drinking through quarantine

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Pre-COVID, having fun felt fairly easy. I enjoy dancing, eating. Obviously, going dancing and Friday night restaurant-hopping date-nights with my girlfriend aren’t pandemic friendly.

But! Here’s the but — I am still having fun. So, I’m sharing the activities that are keeping me in good spirits. Peppy, even. Let me preface this with, I still get sad and lonely and confused and furious like anyone else. Take one look around. But, I promise, one of these will scratch the itch. Even if it’s a half-fake smile or a single laugh — that’s enough for me. You’ve officially had fun and I’ve done my job.

Ok, so first, cook something new

I hate chopping things. That’s probably my least favorite part of cooking (In the event that I do cook). And what requires little chopping? Yep. You guessed it: Sour cream and onion biscuits.

Biscuits are great; I love biscuits. But, I also wanted to prove myself to myself. Like I, Daisy Gumin, can make biscuits and if I don’t have fun making them, I will undoubtedly have fun eating them.

Back home in New York City, I fell into the humdrum of egg, oatmeal, toast, smoothie (but no shade to Daily Harvest. Excellent smoothies.). A silver lining of quarantine is that wherever you are, you can make the time for things. The days of I don’t have time to make sour cream and onion biscuits are canceled.

In other words, make the biscuits — whatever your biscuit thing is.

Play Jackbox

I am not proud to say that I am occasionally a nay-sayer when it comes to traditional games. Ask me to play Monopoly? No. Uno? Eh. Scrabble? Have to be in the mood to be creamed by my family.

Now, Enter Jackbox.

Ah, Jackbox. The king of all games. The ultimate unifier. The games that don’t care if you’re young or old or funny or not. Jackbox games are the G.O.A.T (greatest of all time).

And no, I am not an ambassador.

Jackbox is a series of games that you can play with anyone (together or not) at any time, as long as everyone has the “room code.” These are drawing games, fill-in-the-blank games, laugh out loud competition games, trivia games. Believe me when I say, if all else fails, Jackbox will be your lifeline. And, if you don’t know where to start, try Jackbox’s “Quiplash” and “Drawful.”

Make an AF drink (Hold your horses, it means alcohol-free)

One of my favorite rituals of Friday night restaurant-hopping date-nights was asking the bartender, I’d like a cocktail without alcohol. Whatever you want to make, just no alcohol. Go Crazy.

I’ve had tons of success with that opener. I’ve had muddled tomato and lavender in elderflower tonic. Pineapple, Thai tea, and coconut milk in a Moscow mule gauntlet. Citrus on citrus on citrus adorned with boysenberries.

It’s safe to say I was devastated when shelter-in-place went into-place and I could no longer do my proud, I want a delicious bev and hold the alcohol introduction. The good news is, the AF beverage industry is booming. Spirits, wines, beers, all AF.

Alas, in quarantine, I had to become my own bartender. But let me tell you, there’s nothing better than passing your drink around a table of alcoholic cocktails and getting the, “yours is the best” remark.

Like, yes. Thanks. I know.

Looking for inspiration? Download Delicious AF for FREE for 11 beautiful recipes you can bring to life at home.

Date (but very, very, for the love of god VERY, safely)

I love dates, whether with my partner or a friend. Pre-COVID, dates were my highlight of the week. Dates bring that sweet anticipation, the opportunity for spontaneity, and joy.

Spontaneity is somewhat impossible in the time of Coronavirus. *Safety is wildly more important than a last-minute plan for the sake of adventure.

So, my partner and I adapted (with the advice of some other couples-in-quarantine) and started putting together COVID friendly date-nights. Here’s my advice.

  1. Get dressed (dressed, dressed. Like, changing from the clothes you slept in, dressed)
  2. Order take-out
  3. Put the phones away
  4. Make your AF drinks

…and date.

Workout to Youtube

Before shelter in place, I wasn’t working out. Sue me.

I was doing triple overnight shifts at a sober living home and thought if anyone is busy, it’s me. Upon reflection, I think everyone believes they’re the only busy New Yorker.

But, if you want to flex that muscle (no pun intended), Youtube is a great place to start. You might surprise yourself. The 20-minute MadFit video could turn into two. Maybe you end up mixing and matching with Chloe TingPOPSUGAR Fitness, and a full-body 5-minute boost to “Lose Yourself” by Eminem, as the finale.

Lastly, serve up some nostalgia

Do something that brings you back. A flashback Friday kind of thing.

For me, I’ve started rollerblading again. I think the last time I rollerbladed I was 11-years-old and had just officially gotten over my unicycle phase, for better or for worse.

Anyway, get back in touch with that childlike you, before well, this pandemic. Or long before this pandemic. Let yourself look dorky. Don’t take yourself too seriously. Some lighthearted goofery never hurt anyone.

I promise, there’s fun out there (especially sober). Because who are we kidding, booze is so un-fun.

How To Set Boundaries While Living With People Who Drink

We respond to the conditions of our home environment. If it’s cozy and clean, we wake up feeling less stressed. If it’s out of order, we’re more likely to feel imbalanced and disconnected.

During recovery, living with roommates or loved ones who drink at home may cause you to isolate or feel out of control. That’s what slowly happened to me. In this situation, after the overwhelm became too great, I decided to address these concerns with my roommates.

I experienced a rush of anxiety before and during this conversation. In retrospect, a long talk with myself would have helped me initiate this discussion with a greater sense of ease and confidence.

Navigating sobriety or moderation is a great time to embrace what might feel uncomfortable. Whether the scenario has already created instability, or if you’re confronting the issue early-on, I created the following exercises to help clear your head, establish your needs, and have a firmer conversation than the one that I experienced. Here’s how you can set boundaries with yourself and with others in order to stay healthy and alcohol-free in the long-term.

 

Create your personal boundaries

When facing a potentially difficult conversation, your mind may start to focus on what could go wrong, or what words could be misunderstood. Suddenly, the problem feels larger, and the anxiety settles in — all before the conversation even takes place.

Before discussing any adjustments you’d like to see at home, it’s important to clarify your needs to yourself. This will help guide the conversation, and you’ll have a clearer sense of what compromises may or may not work for you.

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Jennifer Chesak, a Healthline writer, explains, “The word ‘boundary’ can be a bit misleading. It conveys the idea of keeping yourself separate. But boundaries are actually connecting points since they provide healthy rules for navigating relationships, intimate or professional.”

Here’s a list of fill-in statements to help you visualize your ideal home environment. The goal of this exercise is to encourage a solution-oriented approach to advocating for yourself, and set yourself up to clearly communicate your needs.

  1. I would feel _________ if there was less alcohol in our home.
  2. When I see alcohol at home, I feel like _________.
  3. When there’s less or no alcohol at home, I feel _________.
  4. I need more _________ in order to feel supported and comfortable in our home.
  5. What if we created a system where _________ if alcohol is entering the space?
  6. When alcohol is in our space, I’d like it if _________.
  7. I need _________ days/hours/minutes to self-regulate before alcohol enters the home.
  8. When feeling triggered to drink, I need _________ days/hours/minutes to regain control.
  9. When feeling triggered by alcohol, I positively/negatively respond by _________.
  10. I value a home that feels more _________ and less _________.

Communicate those boundaries

Now it’s time to have the conversation. When you practice having difficult conversations ahead of time, you can help reduce anxiety in the moment. With repetition, you’ll memorize what needs to be said before walking away.

When practicing, it’s often effective to come up with questions you can ask in real-time. If you need some assistance, I’ve included 10 samples for you below. Edit for context and to suit your voice!

  1. Have you ever lived with someone who doesn’t drink ?
  2. If you have, what systems, if any, were created to make sure everyone felt comfortable?
  3. If not, have you had any personal relationships with someone who doesn’t drink ?
  4. After hearing me out — and thanks for listening — what’s a compromise that might work well for everyone right now?
  5. When alcohol will be brought home, what system can we create to communicate that in advance?
  6. Going forward, how often do you think alcohol might be brought home?
  7. In general, what influences you to want alcohol in the home?
  8. How might everyone be affected by having less or no alcohol at home?
  9. Would you like to know anything specific about how alcohol affects me?
  10. How do you feel about communicating more often about alcohol use in the home?

With a little practice, you will approach this conversation with less tension, which means you’re more likely to reach the desired result without conflict. 

Disclaimer: Our articles and resources do not constitute clinical or licensed therapy or other health care services. If you need counseling or therapy services please contact a licensed provider. If this is a medical emergency, call 911.

How I Confront Alcohol Cravings In Recovery

I’m sitting about twenty feet from some beer. What might be inconsequential to the average person is, for someone who has struggled with alcohol abuse like me, like being in the lion’s den. Drinking poses a serious risk to my wellbeing, and being around alcohol ignites one of the most unpleasant psychological states someone like me can endure: craving. When cravings to drink flare up, it can feel like my mind has been covered with metaphorical poison ivy. It burns interminably, but it’s essential that I don’t give in. And I won’t. But how?

Sometimes there’s an overt cause for craving, like the smell of whiskey and beer wafting out of a bar, or a character in a movie unwinding with a glass of wine. Often, though, there isn’t a tangible trigger other than my own inner world and its host of usual suspects — restlessness, anxiety, boredom, and loneliness, to name a few. It’s emotional pain, and I want that pain gone as swiftly as possible. One brief thought of drinking quickly multiplies. Every cell in my body anticipates how a drink will extinguish the inner torment with exceptionally swift efficacy. That is, of course, until it inevitably makes things worse. So, here’s how I crush the craving.

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I remember why I don’t drink

Acknowledging the likelihood that I will regret drinking can be a strong deterrent. If you have made a conscious decision to change your relationship with alcohol, then surely your drinking leads to unwanted consequences. How many more times do I want to have a talk with my parents about why I drove drunk, or review a slew of ill-advised text messages from the night before? How many more exorbitant bar receipts do I want to find crumpled and buried in coat pockets? Can I remember that alcohol always (always) exacerbates my depression and leaves me feeling worse than I did before I picked up the bottle?

Someone with longer sobriety than I put it best when he told me that he never woke up after a night of drinking and felt glad that he had done it. Though it can be painful, remembering those regrets is a powerful tool in my ‘I won’t drink today’ toolkit.

Crossing The Street

I stay busy

Distraction is also crucial. I like to write, and always have a journal within reach. When the cravings descend, I write about my experience, how discontented I feel, and how badly I want to drink. I don’t sugarcoat my feelings or try to run from them. Often I just write the same word over and over again (like “Wait,” or “Don’t”). It doesn’t really matter what I write; the pages fill, and I don’t drink.

Going for a walk, a run, or bike ride works well; a change of scenery is often enough to recontextualize your desire. You could attend an online alcohol support group, or call a friend who understands what you’re going through. Take a class, or take up a hobby. Play a game. Volunteer and listen to music. Nap. Watch a movie, clean your apartment, and read. If you’re able to and interested, attend therapy. Drink some tea and chug water. Lots of water. Journal about your cravings, write out how you feel. Cook yourself a healthy meal, or indulge in some sweets. Search the internet for tips on how to manage cravings (and wind up here!); I always find a sense of catharsis and camaraderie in knowing how many other people are on this journey with me.

Chew gum and hug a loved one. Hug a stranger. Hug yourself. I imagine you get the point: when in the throes of a craving, there is a near-infinite array of activities and exercises you can dive into instead of drinking. Plan these for your “witching hour” when cravings usually sink in. Get ahead of the cravings. You are more powerful than them.

I give myself a important reminder

While a full schedule can be incredibly helpful in warding off cravings, it doesn’t always do the trick. And the reality of managing cravings is that there’s no silver bullet. Cravings can feel like moving targets or viruses that evolve and adapt in step with your growth, with no permanent vaccine.

Here’s the important reminder: this too shall pass.

Ocean Waves

When it comes to cravings, the common denominator to all of this advice is the experience of passing time, of waiting. Cravings come in waves and in the end, they are just feelings like any others. Start by waiting for one second, just one, and then give yourself another. Count if you have to, like you’re counting sheep. No matter what you’re doing instead of drinking, even if you’re lying on the floor staring at the ceiling, that second will become minutes, and minutes will become an hour. Sooner than you think, the waves will subside. Time suffocates cravings.

I was craving alcohol when I started writing this article. I took my own advice, for sure, but when push came to shove, I simply had to wait and weather the storm’s waves. I wrote, did something that turned me away from the craving long enough for it to pass. And when the waves went flat, as they always do, I was left standing alone with the most beautiful view. I’d describe it for you, but words wouldn’t really do it justice. If you’re struggling with a craving, give it some time. You’ll see for yourself.

Disclaimer: Our articles and resources do not constitute clinical or licensed therapy or other health care services. If you need counseling or therapy services please contact a licensed provider. If this is a medical emergency, call 911.

What is Alcohol Use Disorder? Everything You Need To Know About ‘Alcohol Use Disorder’ And Its Signs

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We don’t use the word “alcoholic” at Monument because your drinking does not define you. And what many people don’t know is that alcohol use disorder is a medical condition that can be diagnosed by a doctor and treated with evidence-based tools. We know how scary the “do I have a drinking problem?” Google search can be, and are here to help you navigate this question without the infinite scrolling and misinformation.

The bottom line is: this is a medical condition, like any other health condition. Recognizing AUD as a medical issue and treating it that way is necessary to get the support you deserve, without any of the shame or stigma.

What is alcohol use disorder? Let’s start with a helpful analogy

Here’s an analogy from Monument advisor Dr. Mark Willenbring, who has treated thousands of patients with alcohol use disorder: Think of a water slide. What would happen if you set a marker about 15 feet down from the top? You’ve told yourself, I won’t go past that line. On your first go, you pass the mark. Okay, now the second time, you again pass the mark. See a pattern here? How often can you stop before the 15-foot line? What if that line marks three drinks?

Continuously passing that line of the drink limit you set for yourself is a sign of alcohol use disorder, or AUD. In addition to excessive drinking, another key sign of AUD is anticipation. Are you exhilarated before going down the water slide? Do you consistently look forward to it? Is the anticipation often even better than the ride itself?

Alcohol use disorder (AUD) is characterized by drinking more than you want and for longer than you want, despite wanting to cut down.

It’s also characterized by having strong urges related to drinking alcohol during certain times of the day.

Alcohol use disorder is also more common than you think. Closer to 40 million people drink too much per the CDC, including binge drinking and other alcohol misuse. The bottom line is: You are not alone. AUD is a medical condition, like any other health condition. Recognizing AUD as a medical issue and treating it that way is necessary to get the support you deserve, without any of the shame or stigma.

Making progress together: For family, friends, and those in recovery

One of the most effective strategies for achieving sobriety or moderation is engaging with friends and family. This group is for those looking to cut back on drinking and those supporting them. Join the discussion about how to better understand one another and support each other throughout this journey.
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‘Wait, how is this a medical condition?’ Let’s break it down.

Alcohol use disorder limits your ability to control or quit alcohol consumption, despite the consequences experienced from excessive drinking and alcohol dependence.

Statistically speaking, AUD is 50–60% genetically determined. Gene interactions are complex, so there are hundreds of genes that shape how someone ends up developing Alcohol use disorder, and to what degree. The range of severity comes down to how these genes are expressed.

The American Psychiatric Association put together a manual called the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual, Fifth Edition (DSM-5) to help define and diagnose the severity of conditions like AUD. Per the DSM-5, AUD is broken down into 11 points of criteria. The severity of AUD depends on the number of symptoms present. A mild AUD diagnosis means 2–3 symptoms are present, a moderate condition means 4–5 symptoms are present, and a severe condition means 6+ symptoms are present. Understanding where you fall on the AUD spectrum can be a helpful indicator of the level of care that makes sense for you, and if you’ll be able to moderate your alcohol intake, or if you should stop drinking entirely.

what is alcohol use disorder

To take the DSM-5 and learn about your treatment options, you can sign up for Monument for free.

‘Can I moderate my drinking, or should I aim for sobriety?’

The choice to moderate or quit drinking altogether is a very personal decision, and one that might evolve over time. Some people prefer to start moderating their alcohol intake with an end goal of sobriety, others quit drinking with aspirations for reintroducing controlled drinking down the road, others decide sobriety is their only option, and everything in between. So, what’s right for you?

At Monument, we connect you to a specialized physician and therapist to set attainable goals based on your medical history, lifestyle, and preferences. Goal setting is an important step in defining what success looks like, and putting together an action plan to get there. To start reflecting on if moderation or sobriety is best for you, check out these questions from a licensed therapist.

‘How does alcohol use disorder vary by age & severity?’

AUD displays itself to varying degrees and during different stages of life. No one’s diagnosis looks identical to another. For example, some develop symptoms of AUD earlier in life, and others much later. Oftentimes, those who develop symptoms at a younger age aim to quit drinking alcohol in their twenties, and for those whose symptoms develop in their thirties and forties, AUD can easily go undetected. Stress hormones, which are common while navigating parenting, marriage, work, finances, and more, can be catalysts for the AUD genes to express themselves more strongly. Someone who falls in this category may be asking themselves, Do you see what I have going on? Who wouldn’t develop a drinking habit! And that’s fair! But that doesn’t mean it’s not a problem and one that deserves attention. Partaking in heavy drinking can lead to an increased risk of alcohol poisoning, liver disease, and other health complications. There is no shame in acknowledging when your alcohol consumption has become unhealthy and getting support to make a change.

If you’re feeling like your drinking habits have gotten out of control, it’s always good to check in with yourself and a physician and therapist specialized in treating AUD. At Monument, you can do that completely anonymously, and entirely online.

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‘How does alcohol use disorder coexist with other medical conditions?’

It is incredibly common that people who are diagnosed with AUD experience other mental health conditions. According to Monument Advisor Laura Diamond, LMHC, EdM, MA:

Alcohol use disorder is complex and is often accompanied by co-occurring mental health disorders, such as anxiety or depression, and is intensified by trauma, stressors and societal impact. Each of these aspects cannot be treated solely by one treatment method, but the right combination of treatment tailored to your specific needs can alleviate and resolve multiple issues simultaneously.

Learning to manage negative or uncomfortable emotions is one of the fundamental components of this journey, and you don’t have to do it alone. One of the most useful steps to take during your recovery process is committing to a therapy program that is specifically tailored to you and your needs. In addition to addressing excessive alcohol use, therapy can also treat co-occurring mental health conditions. Understanding the connection between alcohol and depression, and alcohol and anxiety is a crucial part of many people’s treatment journeys. That’s why personalized therapy that addresses all components of mental health is a core component of Monument treatment plans.

If you’re interested in accessible and affordable alcohol therapy, that’s what we’re here for.

person on computer

‘What if I’m not on the spectrum for alcohol use disorder?’

It’s important to note that while the above criteria can serve as a helpful tool to evaluate your drinking behaviors, you do not have to check any boxes or identify with any labels to make a healthier choice for yourself and start online alcohol treatment.If your drinking feels out of control, you deserve support to make a change. At Monument, our goal is to get you from where you are to wherever you want to be, no matter the starting point.

‘What does medical treatment for a medical issue mean?’

Making the choice to change your drinking habits is a courageous decision, and you deserve to get results. That’s why we use evidence-based treatment methods, and connect you to expert clinical care.

After signing up for a Monument plan, you’ll work with a Care Team to build a treatment program tailored to your needs and goals. Depending on your plan, you’ll meet with either a licensed physician or a licensed physician and licensed therapist who are specialized in helping people change their relationship with alcohol, whether that means cutting back on drinking or stopping drinking altogether. They use tools like cognitive behavioral therapy and FDA-approved medication options to empower you to reach your goals. Medication is always optional. Read more about medication to stop drinking, with information on physician-prescribed options like disulfiram and naltrexone. (Wondering, “what is naltrexone and disulfiram?” We have resources for how disulfiram works and what drinking on naltrexone is like, too.)

You can also sign up for free to access additional resources like this one, free virtual therapist-moderated support groups, and an anonymous community forum.

Regardless of your path forward, know that:

  1. You are not defined by your drinking habits
  2. You can change your drinking habits
  3. You don’t have to change your drinking alone (it’s hard!)
  4. Making the choice to change your drinking is something to be proud of. And we’re proud of you.

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Disclaimer: Our articles and resources do not constitute clinical or licensed therapy or other health care services. If you need counseling or therapy services please contact a licensed provider. If this is a medical emergency, call 911.

Sources:

  • https://www.niaaa.nih.gov/publications/brochures-and-fact-sheets/understanding-alcohol-use-disorder
  • https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/alcohol-use-disorder/symptoms-causes/syc-20369243

Important Safety Information

Naltrexone has the capacity to cause hepatocellular injury (liver injury) when given in excessive doses. Naltrexone is contraindicated in acute hepatitis or liver failure, and its use in patients with active liver disease must be carefully considered in light of its hepatotoxic effects. In the treatment of alcohol dependence, adverse reactions include difficulty sleeping, anxiety, nervousness, abdominal pain/cramps, nausea and/or vomiting, low energy, joint and muscle pain, headache, dizziness and somnolence. This is not a complete list of potential adverse events associated with naltrexone hydrochloride. Please see Full Prescribing Information for a complete list

The most common side effects of Disulfiram may include drowsiness, tiredness, headache, acne, and metallic-like taste in the mouth. Call your doctor if you have signs of serious side effects such as decreased sexual ability, vision changes, numbness of arms or legs, muscle weakness, mood changes, seizures, or confusion. Do not take Disulfiram if you are allergic to any of the ingredients. If you begin to have signs of an allergic reaction, then seek immediate medical attention. Avoid consumption of alcohol while taking this medication, as it may lead to adverse side effects. Talk to your doctor about the history of your medical conditions including if you have or have had diabetes, underactive thyroid, brain disorders, liver or kidney disease, personal or family history of regular use/abuse of drugs. Certain drug interactions may lead to serious adverse side effects. Let your doctor know about any other medications you are taking. This is not a complete list of potential adverse events associated with Disulfiram. Please see Full Prescribing Information for a complete list.

How My Sobriety Changed My Perspective On Fear

I began abusing alcohol when I was barely a teenager. I didn’t drink because I wanted to be cool, or because I liked the taste of the decades-old brandy I stole from the dusty corner of my parents’ liquor cabinet. I drank to dull the fear: the fear of failure, of the bullies at school, of my sexual identity, and of God’s retribution. I didn’t have an alcohol problem; I thought, alcohol was my solution.

Like allergy medicine becomes ineffective after years of use, in my late teens alcohol stopped working the way it used to. No matter how much I drank, the fear would find a way to break through. It began to permeate every facet of my life, every waking moment until finally it broke me and I required hospitalization. Without alcohol for the first time since puberty, the demons of my past — the traumas and the failures and the unrelenting shame — descended upon me like a band of flying monkeys. I had a choice: I could either surrender to them once and for all or fight back against the fear.

To this day, I’m not sure where the inner resolve came from — from what hidden cavity of my heart I managed to extract the willingness to seek healing and recovery. Now sober for over fourteen years, with the help of peer support and consistent mental healthcare, I can recognize the courage it took to put down the drink. I honor the brave, tortured soul I used to be, and by doing so I honor the person I am today, one whose heart, a day at a time, remains willing to do the work.

The fear still visits me today. It can suck me up suddenly into a cyclone of irrationality, hopelessness, and shame. But I have the spiritual and mental tools to weather the storm. This might sound odd, but often I can find peace by mentally wandering down the trail into my past, stopping periodically to crouch down and examine the shattered fragments of past fears, the ones I was so sure at the time would destroy me, but in the end were merely phantoms. One now-shattered fear may have arisen as recently as last week, like the morning I spent ruminating over what I feared was an unsolvable problem in my marriage, one I felt certain would result in abandonment. But after a heart-to-heart with my husband, instead of an acrimonious divorce came a deeper intimacy than either of us had thought was possible. Or it could have been a fear that visited me last year, on the afternoon I traveled to Virginia to visit my dying father, afraid I would fail to properly be there for the man from whom I had been for years mostly estranged. I soon found I was able to console him during his darkest hour and make his last conscious day a happy one.

I wander this trail of shattered fears to remind myself of one very important truth: everything passes. Whether it’s fear, loneliness, grief, shame, or a desire to pick up a drink — it always, always passes. When I take the time to reflect on the big, bad fears that failed to cut short my journey on this long and winding path of recovery, I remind myself that I’ve made it through 100% of my bad days, and will continue to do so.

I can handle what the future holds.

And so can you.

Disclaimer: Our articles and resources do not constitute clinical or licensed therapy or other health care services. If you need counseling or therapy services please contact a licensed provider. If this is a medical emergency, call 911.

4 Tips To Manage Anxiety You Can Start Using Right Now

With over 20 years of experience in the mental health field, 14 of those specific to addressing substance use, I am often working with patients with anxiety. I also moderate the Addressing anxiety while managing your drinking virtual support group for Monument. Anxiety is incredibly common for people who struggle with unhealthy drinking behaviors and is a challenge that many people face at one point or another. In fact, 40-million American adults, nearly 18% of the population, have been diagnosed with some variation of anxiety. So, if you’re experiencing anxious feelings, you are not alone.

And with some direction, you can make significant progress in coping with those feelings. Here are tools for you to sharpen so that you’re prepared to intercept and manage signs of anxiety when they begin to creep in. The more we practice anxiety management, the easier it gets.

Let’s start by defining anxiety.

By the American Psychological Association’s definition, anxiety is an emotion characterized by feelings of tension, worried thoughts, and physical changes like increased blood pressure. However, anxiety can manifest in all sorts of ways. There is no single definition. If you’re looking to understand if you’re experiencing anxiety, a safe place to start is by asking yourself these questions:

  • Does my mind frequently race?
  • Is it challenging for me to sit still? Do I often feel like I have to do something?
  • Am I a people pleaser? Is it difficult for me to say no?
  • Do I frequently put myself down to boost others up?
  • I am regularly asking myself, what if____?

If you’ve answered yes to any or all of these questions, you’re in the right place. Even if none of those questions ring true, cultivating tools to recenter and maintain groundedness can be useful for anyone, no matter what you’re working with.

For someone taking a close look at their unhealthy relationships, including their unhealthy relationship with alcohol, it’s crucial to build coping skills to have in your back pocket.

The first tool I’ll talk about is breath-work.

Yes, we’re breathing every second of every day. We don’t tend to notice it. When we’re anxious, however, our breathing can feel short, or our chest might feel tight. This is a common symptom of anxiety that you can tackle in the moment with some preparation and practice. Enter: breath-work.

What would happen if we paused and listened to our breath? Let’s find out. Think about slowing it down with as much patience and control as feels tolerable. Naturally, we’re not accustomed to this. But we can practice it, and add it to our toolbox.

Here’s a simple breathing technique to try out:

Inhale… 4 seconds

Hold…4 seconds

Exhale…8 seconds

Notice if your anxiety levels have decreased — even a little bit. Breath-work is a deeply personal practice, and however it looks, or however long you go, is exactly as it should.

My second tool is ‘being here now’.

Anxiety is often fueled by worry. We worry about all kinds of future what-if scenarios. We wrack our brains for every single possible outcome (primarily negative ones!). Perhaps you worry about your relationships, your family, your career, health. I assure you you are not alone. This is an incredibly common symptom of anxiety.

When you’re starting to feel that overwhelming worry about the future, flag it. Taking a moment to allow yourself to step away from those thoughts is an act of self-love. Instead of focusing on the future, ground yourself in your present situation. Here’s a simple yet effective technique to do that: seek out immediate comfort via the five sense (and one bonus):

  1. Taste: Is there one that’s comforting to you? Have a bite.
  2. Sight: Is there an image that’s reminiscent of joy? Peace? Take a look.
  3. Touch: Is there a fabric that’s soft to the touch? A blanket? Feel it.
  4. Smell: Do you have a favorite scent? A candle or an essential oil? Smell it.
  5. Sound: Can you play an upbeat song or sounds of the ocean on loop? Hear it.
  6. Movement: Yoga? A run? Dancing around your living room? Get active.

If we work on grounding ourselves in the present, we can break the cycle of spiraling negative thoughts about future what-ifs. Instead of allowing our thoughts to take over, we can build new, healthy coping mechanisms that will ultimately become habitual.

Next up: more on self-care

In the throws of anxiety, we often neglect our needs. Tending to others before tending to ourselves becomes second nature. But it doesn’t have to.

Try this: Imagine yourself giving yourself a big, tight, warm embrace. This probably feels good and safe. This embrace can take many different forms. Think of those moments when you feel comforted. Is that when you’re taking a warm bath? Baking? Watching reality TV re-runs? Going on a walk with your pet or with a friend? Maybe it even looks like an actual, big, tight, bearhug. Giving yourself unconditional love in those moments of restlessness, fear, and worry decreases the intensity of anxiety. You deserve some compassion, and it may surprise you how relieving it feels.

And last but not least, the importance of ‘no.’

It is easy to fall into the pattern of compromising yourself to prioritize others.

It’s easier to say yes than no, even when that means self-sacrifice. However, the positive impacts of saying ‘no’ can span well beyond any immediate feeling of relief when saying ‘yes.’ Setting boundaries with confidence, compassion, and assertiveness can cultivate a more empowered you. When our decisions are aligned with self-love and self-care, we can show up for both ourselves, and for others better than we would have before — free of anger, fear, shame, and anxiety.

Think about your decisions, and how they align with your goals, values, and desires. Say yes to things that get you closer to your authentic self, and ‘no’ to those that do not serve you.

Anxiety is absolutely and completely normal. It’s to be expected. You are making some major changes for yourself, potentially for your family or community, and you are not alone in feeling overwhelmed. I understand that there will be moments when anxiety feels bigger than you, and I also know that it is absolutely possible to find balance — even in those moments where it feels unimaginable. My hope is that these tactics can provide relief. Each skill is a practice and takes practice itself. Nothing comes easy if it’s worth having. But you can do it.

If you want to stay in touch (please do!), join us in the Monument Community, and come check out our Support Groups. I moderate a couple, including Addressing anxiety while managing your drinking.

Disclaimer: Our articles and resources do not constitute clinical or licensed therapy or other health care services. If you need counseling or therapy services please contact a licensed provider. If this is a medical emergency, call 911.

How I Got Through ‘Day One’ (And You Can Too)

I’ve had so many Day Ones that I’ve lost count. They’ve followed inconsequential wine tastings and compromised career opportunities, fights with friends, and even times spent meandering my way through near-death experiences like an intoxicated Mr. Magoo.

I’ve always been terrified of confronting that first day sober. It doesn’t matter what happened to finally initiate the desire to change. Navigating Day One is essential to achieving success in your new relationship (or lack thereof) with alcohol. After all, in order to make it to Month One and Year One, you’re going to have to make it through Day One, and that’s a lot of pressure to put on twenty-four hours.

There’s always a sense of reckoning: Why do you drink, and why can you not continue to drink in the ways that you do? Questions like these can create cracks in the identity you’ve maintained. The void caused by the sudden absence of a chemical placeholder may overwhelm you with spurts of anxiety and waves of depression. It might feel like you’re reliving not just the previous day’s regret, but also that of every moment that ever led you to question your drinking. Trust me, I’ve been there.

But then there’s elation, too, and motivation and newfound confidence. A change is on the horizon, and it’s exciting. Perhaps doing the dishes unexpectedly transports you to a childhood memory you didn’t know you had, or a glance in the window’s reflection encourages you to see your face in a new way. And you have the clarity to recognize it.

Yeah, there are feelings on Day One. Lots of feelings.

I could tell you about accepting your emotions without judgment and forgiving yourself unconditionally, but that might feel like a tall order. Even practical advice (“Exercise!”) can fall flat. It often seems that on Day One, all your mind can really do is think about how much time there is left in eternity.

But here’s my secret to Day One: the only way to really get through the day is to not think about the future and what it might be like to never drink again. You must actively try to stop counting what day it is. Here applies the old adage, “One day at a time.” Avoid grand declarations of sobriety and visions of the future, and focus only on getting through this one day without alcohol, on a moment-to-moment basis. Hold on however you can, just to get through today, and you’ll see. You will.

One exercise to help get through Day One is giving yourself a sort of existential free pass. Take whatever unpleasant thoughts happen to be inundating your mind, and consciously tune them out until tomorrow. Take a break, and consider it a sort of vacation day. If you can literally take a vacation day, even better. I once took a day off work to go to the movies, and something about that experience was enough to soften the day. This little break isn’t really an act of avoidance or denial inasmuch as it is an act of recalibration. Doing something seemingly unconventional, like going against the instinct to be hard on yourself, is a wonderful symbolic gesture for the inner shift you’re initiating. It’s a conscious effort to tell yourself that you’re about to take on life from a new angle.

Here’s another secret: every day is Day One.

Every day spent deliberately choosing to not drink is a day I choose to live a healthier, fuller life. In that sense, I’ve learned to redefine just what the big, bad “Day One” really means. When you’re committed to recovering from alcohol abuse, every day is Day One. Every day has the potential for ups and downs and unexpected feelings, and every day will be an adventure.

If you’re here with me on this journey, too, I’ll say Welcome to Day One. It doesn’t matter if it’s been twelve hours or twelve years since you last drank. This day has the capacity for immense beauty and discovery. “Welcome to Day One” should be exciting and inspiring. It’s another way of welcoming you to the rest of your life.

Disclaimer: Our articles and resources do not constitute clinical or licensed therapy or other health care services. If you need counseling or therapy services please contact a licensed provider. If this is a medical emergency, call 911.