How do I stay sober?
May 10, 2012 9:44 PM   Subscribe

How do you stay sober through difficult times?

I was doing ok, I have been sober from booze since 2005, from everything else since 2008. Now my mom is dying of cancer, my dad of heart disease and my grandma has dementia and is in a nursing home. I am disgusted with my pity party...I was doing ok up until now but have reached a place where I feel like I don't see the point of being hyper aware of everything. I feel like giving up. Really, what is the point of everything? Any advice? It's always really good here so thank you in advance.
posted by thelastgirl to Society & Culture (25 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
Are you going to AA meetings? And are you seeing a therapist?

If not, both of these may be good coping mechanisms for you.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 9:49 PM on May 10, 2012 [2 favorites]

Do you have support systems? Use them. And if you don't have strong support systems, do what you can to make them. Therapy is a good idea. AA meetings can be really helpful, and can help you build a support network. Now is the time to lean on your friends and family.
posted by insectosaurus at 9:51 PM on May 10, 2012

Drinking isn't going help your family and it's not really going to make you feel better. You can distract yourself from the everyday pain by exercising, staying busy, helping others, and with a tiny bit of luck, tire you out so that you can get a decent night's sleep and then, get up and do it again. i'd bet that everyone of your relatives would change places with you, so you might as well honor them by prevailing.
posted by Ideefixe at 9:54 PM on May 10, 2012 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: I was in AA for years, grew up in it and grew out of it.
posted by thelastgirl at 9:55 PM on May 10, 2012

Family aging and leaving isn't suprising, it happens. Would they want you to remain sober after death? You owe if they wished.
posted by Mblue at 9:58 PM on May 10, 2012

Okay, so maybe you haven't really grown out of AA. Maybe you need to be back in it now more than ever. Surround yourself with sober friends. Hook up with a sponsor. Hanging out with sober people is a good way to keep yourself on the path of sobriety.
posted by BlahLaLa at 9:59 PM on May 10, 2012 [2 favorites]

If you're asking random people on the internet what they think about sobriety in difficult times, maybe going to a meeting and sharing isn't a bad idea. It would be hard to imagine how you grew out of one thing but are okay doing the other. I'm really sorry you're going through such difficult times.
posted by phaedon at 10:24 PM on May 10, 2012 [10 favorites]

Response by poster: Lovely reply Phaedon. Thanks so much.
posted by thelastgirl at 10:26 PM on May 10, 2012

thelastgirl - It sounds like you might be reading an edge into replies that isn't really there. If I may...

I'm 42. Long ago I grew out of the need for the comfort provided by my parents while I was sick or hurting. But there are times when life has me down and I'm choking on the dirt that I wish more than anything that I could visit with them.

You might have grown out of AA at one time, but much like my example above, circumstances change and you might find some comfort in AA now while things are so difficult.

Or you may not. If that's so I recommend, as others have, to call on friends and other support systems to help you make it through. As much as reality sucks right now, getting drunk/high won't really help in the long run. All it will mean is that you're likely to have to go through all of this in an altered state and THEN get sober again. Why do all the extra work if you don't have to?
posted by FlamingBore at 10:43 PM on May 10, 2012

Response by poster: I am not needing their comfort. I am sick from watching my mother in excruciating pain dying in front of my eyes.
posted by thelastgirl at 10:47 PM on May 10, 2012

I am disgusted with my pity party

don't be - you are going though a hell of a lot of awful right now, don't feel bad about asking for help. You are considerig drinking because you want to escape, and not think about stuff. There are other ways to get a break from your problems that don't involve creating new ones. Go to your friends and say "everything sucks right now can we do something nice so I can escape that for a little bit?" Or start reading a nice long series of books; watch movies; take up drawing. Give yourself permission to escape to somewhere nice mentally, and hopefully you won't feel such a need to bow out chemically.

good luck, I really hope things get better for you soon
posted by 5_13_23_42_69_666 at 10:59 PM on May 10, 2012 [3 favorites]

I am sick from watching my mother

I am so sorry, I wish I had better advice for you. Maybe there are support groups fro people dealing with family sickness that your doctor could point you to?
posted by 5_13_23_42_69_666 at 11:03 PM on May 10, 2012 [1 favorite]

Is either of your parents on hospice services, or in a hospital? If so, a social worker should be at your disposal, and he or she might be a good person to reach out to right now.
posted by incessant at 11:15 PM on May 10, 2012

Well, I can't tell if you were being sarcastic about liking my previous comment, so I'll tread carefully. I've given certain things up for long periods of time and I've found that, when the reason I stopped doing something changes dramatically, the urge to relapse is really high.

Like to give you an example, I stopped smoking after this mean girl broke broke up with me, almost like to get back at her or something. When she got married a few years later, all of a sudden I wanted to start smoking again. It was as if my original reason for quitting had been exposed.

Maybe doing something like staying sober forever is being affected by this experience of witnessing your mother's mortality. Maybe you got sober in part to be more like her, or to make her happy, and now she's not around. Maybe her suffering seems meaningless and that's unbearable and that makes your sobriety meaningless and unbearable.

Letting these feelings pass and not acting on them might be a good thing. They say alcoholism is a progressive disease, so if the last time you stopped, you were smashing things, or your life was falling apart, or the desired effect of numbness escaped you, you're probably going to end up in the same place again, this time faster than before. Maybe there's something better for you, if you push through this experience the other way.

To me a warning sign is looking at a bottle as a tool to fix my feelings. I tell myself normal people don't think that way.
posted by phaedon at 11:17 PM on May 10, 2012 [3 favorites]

I would suggest consulting a physician about dealing with these feelings you are having.

It sounds like you may have clinical depression which can be treated to help you feel better.

As I hope you know, self medicating with alcohol is not a good idea.
posted by quanti at 11:33 PM on May 10, 2012

Mod note: thelastgirl, moderator here. I understand you are under tremendous pressure now, but try not to snap at people here. Nobody is being uncaring, though it's not always easy to read the empathy in brief text statements. Ask Me often presents a wide range of advice, and it's totally fine to pick and choose what might work best for you, and skip over suggestions you feel won't be helpful.
posted by taz (staff) at 12:15 AM on May 11, 2012

Pain medication worked for my father while he was dying, so I'm not sure my experience is comparable. What I did was sit by him while I could, providing very small things. He was able to ask for cranberry juice, and I got it for him. That's what matters at a time like that--that's the only point there is.

I went home every night and absorbed myself in video games to make the world go away, so I understand that need. There are probably a lot of ways to stop thinking for a while though. Visual media work for me: not just games, but comic books, movies, TV / Netflix marathons, etc. Maybe exercising or cleaning or something that exhausts you physically would help you just sleep.

You'll get through this. And coming out sober on the other side will be worth it--your future self deserves that.
posted by Monsieur Caution at 1:37 AM on May 11, 2012 [1 favorite]

I'm sorry to hear you've got such a rough time of it right now, and doubly so given as the timing sounds especially bad for you.

I would look into articles/suggestions/therapy regarding coping with stress as a way to deal with negative emotions. Because in the past I presume you would have used alcohol to cope with stress/escape and numb the pain, and you have done very well to quit that, but now I think you need a new coping mechansim. So where you would have turned to alcohol, you now turn to something like joining a sports group, taking up craft or knitting, watching marathons of your favourite DVD, doing meditation,talking to a therapist. It could be absolutely anything as long as it helps you to feel better.

Good luck for getting through this and well done for being sober for as long as you have been - don't forget to be proud of that achievement!
posted by EatMyHat at 3:46 AM on May 11, 2012

How do you stay sober through difficult times?

First and foremost, being sober is not a belief, a goal, or anything other concept in itself. Those are attitudes one holds about alcohol, however to stay sober, all that one needs to do is not drink alcohol. That is the best -- and indeed -- the only way to stay sober.

I was doing ok, I have been sober from booze since 2005, from everything else since 2008.

You are still doing okay. You will always be okay, in most regards. Being drunk is not something that "happens to you", rather it's something you choose. You are okay because you have made a choice, every day, to be okay. And the journey has not been easy. You have resisted temptation. You have been weak. You have struggled. Yet, you have also been strong. You have refused. You have cut ties, I imagine, and you have a life today that is better than it was, and that life is of your choosing.

You must believe that you possess immense strength and power, for you do. You have already proven to yourself that you can have this better life you enjoy. The hard part is building momentum. Once things are in motion, it's much easier to keep it. Thus, keep your momentum. Protect it, like the flame of a candle in a strong wind. Cup your hands around it, and when you are feeling weak, let your sole focus be to keep that candle burning. It was hard to get it lit, and now, all you have to do is keep it lit.

It will be easier if you remember that your victories were not in the past. You victories still occur every day.

Now my mom is dying of cancer, my dad of heart disease and my grandma has dementia and is in a nursing home.

I am sorry, for it is a lot to deal with simultaneously. Any one of those situations would be difficult. Taken together, it is no wonder why you feel crushed and are almost to the point of breaking.

Normally, I would say things about buddha, and non-attachment, and finding centre. Those are all things that will help -- easily accessible via The Google. For you, I would say that you need to be sad right now. These things are hard. You must section out a part of your life -- time in your day -- that is time for you to be sad and grieve. Much of your life is or may become about putting on the strong face in front of your family. About not crying when they cry. About holding them and being the rock. That will not be the entirety of your life, that will be a part of your life.

The other part will be when you sit at home, alone or with someone, and break down. When you release. When you let yourself be sad, and overwhelmed. When you release the pain you previously absorbed. Nobody has to know about this time but you, or you and your confidant. There is no output from this time, there is no goal. The only thing that is necessary is to be in the place of sadness, and relieve it, so that tomorrow, you can go fight another day.

Perhaps think of your emotional capacity like a bucket. The pain and sadness pour in, like a rain shower. The bucket slowly fills. At some point, the bucket is full. It must be emptied, else the sadness will begin to spill over. How do you empty the bucket? You toss it out. In the moment you are tossing the water out, the bucket cannot receive additional water. Thus, either the bucket is collecting, or you are tossing.

You seem to be doing quite well with collecting. Now you must take time to toss it out. I would say this time is not optional for you. If you do not toss it out, you may begin drinking. Drinking is the leakage over the sides of the bucket. The water is going to ruin the carpet and everything else in the room. For you, if you do not want to drink, which I think you do not, you must empty the bucket.

Or stop filling it. But that is a different conversation. For now, empty your bucket in anyway you have to that does not involve a bottle of booze.

I am disgusted with my pity party...I was doing ok up until now but have reached a place where I feel like I don't see the point of being hyper aware of everything.

You were doing okay when your bucket was not full. Now your bucket is full. You are disgusted perhaps because you don't see the sense in being sad and upset. It's not doing anything to improve the situation. All the sadness in the world does not change the state of health. You are fatigued, and you are tired. You want to give up. Perhaps you are even quite angry. There's a lot of emotions there.

First thing is that you are still doing okay. Nobody can have such an impact to those they love and charge on with their lives. Everyone who makes it through will use a coping mechanism of some kind. Religion, exercise, meditation. Drinking, drugs, sex, escapism. Thus, you are saying here that 1) you need a coping mechanism, and 2) you have a go-to coping mechanism that results in a negative impact on your life.

Thus, how you stay sober through difficult times is to have healthy coping mechanisms. Take drinking off the table. That is not an option for you anymore. You will not drink. Now you need a new go-to.

I feel like giving up. Really, what is the point of everything? Any advice? It's always really good here so thank you in advance.

If you are going through hell, keep going – Winston Churchill. You're not alone in this. Lots of us are dealing with parents getting older and the difficulties that come with that. Many have had problems with unhealthy coping mechanisms. Often, intense experiences in the former can driver the latter. But they don't have to. You've already beaten this for yourself. The candle is already lit. Now you have to figure out something that will relieve the pressure, and give you a bit of a lift, because drinking is no longer an option for you.

Good luck and stay strong.
posted by nickrussell at 5:01 AM on May 11, 2012 [9 favorites]

When I was going through the darkest time in my life I refused to drink. It was hard, because I really wanted to just not feel the pain anymore. But I knew that if I started down that path I may never come out of it. One thing that helped me was "A Bit of Fry and Laurie." I don't know your sense of humor but no matter how down I was feeling, those two gents always made me laugh. Take a little time for yourself and find something that makes you laugh. It may only be a brief respite, but it helped me.
posted by Apoch at 6:07 AM on May 11, 2012 [1 favorite]

Your response to want to go back to drinking is totally normal, understandable, and to be expected given the massive amount of strain you're under. You're not weak; you're under stress. Even someone who didn't identify as alcoholic would have a hell of a time not wanting to ease their pain by drinking right now.

My only advice is to 1.) feel your agony and 2.) pull on some shorts and go running. I'm serious. Feel your agony. Really feel it. Get a therapist and dive head long into your own pain. Really give over to how shitty all of this is, how angry you are, how massively despondent you feel over your mother's pain and your dad's pain and your grandma's pain. Get pissed, cry it out, vent, vent, vent. Take the money you'd spend at the bar or the liquor store and pay a therapist to sit with you while you grieve. Because that's what you're trying not to do when you drink, as you undoubtedly know.

Then, get outside. You have to get your body moving so that you can breathe. When you breathe, you can process. When you can process, you can slowly start to cope. You'll release within your brain the drugs necessary to calm you while you go through this shitty time. You'll physically exhaust and then rejuvenate yourself. You'll get stronger. On a personal note, I credit getting physically active in combination with therapy with salvaging my own sanity and giving me a life outside of the bar. AA wasn't for me.

What you also undoubtedly know is that drinking depresses you further, makes you a non-functional zombie in every essential area of your life - work, friendships, hobbies - and makes you wallow in your own self-loathing at a time where you could be experiencing fully whatever time you have left with the people you're petrified of losing. You are necessary to these people. You are not a disposable person to them. Your presence is necessary and wanted, even though you aren't a magician and can't magically heal them with your genuine wish that they be spared this terrible suffering. Simply by being present you're a comfort and help to your mother, your dad and your grandma. No, you can't take away their pain entirely. But you can ease and soothe them, and allow them to ease and soothe, you. That is the very best you or anyone can hope for in these circumstances.

Good luck and peace to you and your family.
posted by TryTheTilapia at 6:19 AM on May 11, 2012 [3 favorites]

I was in AA for years, grew up in it and grew out of it.

Sorry, it doesn't work that way. You probably will find some relief at an AA meeting. At a minimum try hanging out with some other sober folk, not just people who don't drink, people who have become sober and understand your struggle.
posted by caddis at 6:36 AM on May 11, 2012 [1 favorite]

Do you remember why you stopping drinking and using other mood-altering substances? I remember why I did. It gets harder as time goes by, but I forced myself to remember some concrete examples of how dark things were for me just before I quit. And I still look for those memories if I feel myself grabbing for a drink in a response to an emotion. I remind myself that's where I go if/when I decide to drink as a coping mechanism. Perhaps retracing your steps would be helpful. All the best, and I'm so sorry for the troubling times you're experiencing.
posted by jph at 7:12 AM on May 11, 2012

This topic is addressed in The Power of Habit, which I'm finding a really intriguing read. Hope it helps!
posted by kimota at 7:16 AM on May 11, 2012

i was wondering if maybe you could try a couple different AA meetings. My understanding is that while the meetings may all be structured similarily, different vibes/crowds of people, etc. are at different regular meetings so you may feel energized (or comfortable, understood, etc.) at one, but not at another - may be worth doing a little meeting shopping around. it takes time and energy so i understand the resistance to the idea. good luck to you.
posted by BlueMartini7 at 12:33 PM on May 11, 2012

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