“Doing the DON’TS.” (05/15/17)

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Addiction counselors, rehab centers and various recovery programs have a list of things that you are NOT supposed to DO when you first quit drinking, and this list begins with: DON’T make any major changes or decisions for the first year. (Well isn’t quitting drinking a major decision and a major change?) This list also includes things like: Don’t get divorced, don’t get married, don’t find a new boyfriend or girlfriend, don’t change careers, don’t move, don’t buy a house, and don’t make any large purchases.

This is great advice, but life and especially learning to live sober are not neat and orderly. Life comes at you at unexpected speeds from unforeseen directions. Life doesn’t ask you what you want—nor do things always happen at convenient times—and some major changes are going to be an inevitable part of living sober. Some changes are completely out of your control and out of your hands. Some of these don’ts will HAVE to be done for you to get sober. You might have to move because of your financial situation. You might want to move because your roommate or neighbors are all a bunch of drunks. You might be part of some mass layoff or have gotten fired and you have to go find a new job somewhere, or you might be transferred to a new department or a different city. Your work situation may require you to go back to school. And the biggest don’t of all is that you might find that divorce, separation or breaking up with your current partner is necessary if they’re abusive, unsupportive or they’re a harmful influence towards starting and maintaining your sobriety.

I’m not suggesting that you go crazy and start making dramatic changes in your life. If you don’t have to do these things, then don’t. The distraction of finding a new partner, new job, moving to a new neighborhood, city or planet will not guarantee that you’ll be able to stay sober; it’ll just be a temporary distraction. Living sober is a way of life, and if you’re serious about it, you’ll have to maintain your sobriety under any conditions.

I concur that the suggestion of not making any major changes or decisions for the first year is a good one. Your body and your brain will be going through enough changes and your mind won’t be all that clear or rational. You’ll be emotionally unsteady and you might make some irrational or foolish decisions. And it probably will take 6 months to a year for your body and mind to start functioning in sober unison. However, you don’t know what’s going to happen in life and some of these “don’ts” are going to be inevitable or a necessary part of your sober living process.

Whether you want to or not, you might be faced with making some major decisions, like getting a new job, moving, getting divorced or getting married. What if you got somebody pregnant or you’re pregnant, what, are you going to do, tell the baby, “Okay Mr. Baby, you can’t be born for one year until I’m done sobering up.” It doesn’t work that way. Sometimes you’re just going to have to do what you have to do.

So when you are faced with these challenges or faced with major decisions, you’ll have to accept that your brain, your mind and your emotions will be all fucked up, and your thinking won’t be the clearest—which means you may not make the wisest decisions. Go slow and then make what you feel is the right and best decision, based on the knowledge and information that you have at the time. But go slow. If you can, try to defer making big decisions. Deferring from making a decision is a decision in itself and sometimes it’s better to put something off than make the wrong decision.

Going slow or deferring decisions doesn’t mean you’re ignoring or hiding from things.  When you’re faced with a problem or a big dilemma, acknowledge it to yourself and to the other people who might be involved. This is when you might want to say to the other person or even yourself, “Give me some time to make this decision, this is too important and I don’t want to do the wrong thing or fuck this up.” That might be your best maneuver. Nature very often takes care of its own shit.

It might sound like I’m not giving you any straight answers or solid suggestions here or that I’m waffling on whether you should make major decisions or not. Every person is different and every major dilemma is different, with different consequences that will have to be paid. I have found, from my own experiences, and mistakes, that when you first sober up it’s better to defer some of the big, major decisions in life if you can, but like I said, sometimes you just gotta do what you gotta do at the time.

So right now I’d like to bore you with my own experiences of how I had to DO so many of the DON’TS. Not to brag or boast, but to show that sometimes you gotta do what ya gotta do, and that you can make it through it. I also want you to know that I was pretty mentally fucked when I first sobered up,,, I’m still fucked up. Anyway, I was 30 days into my sobriety when I was basically forced into a situation where I had to change careers. That was the first DON’T that I did. I went into a very high pressure and demanding career field. My schedule required me to work 55 to 60 hours a week. Twelve hours a day is a long time to be at work, but it kept my mind off drinking. I worked that schedule for one year straight, no vacations or sick days. At the end of one year, I left that job.

Going after a new career wasn’t the only major change that took place during my first year. My marriage had become a volatile mess. I quit drinking and my wife didn’t. She started disliking me and didn’t want me around her anymore. Hey, I don’t blame her, I was goofy, emotional, depressed, I’m sure I was a drag to be around. We began our divorce process and I had to move out of our marital home. So during my first year of sobriety I took on a new career, got divorced and moved. In hindsight, I can see how all of those major changes and working all of those hours, actually saved my life. It helped me stay sober and set the foundation for me to learn how to live with change as a non-drinker. I’m not telling you these things trying to impress you, get you to feel sorry for me, or to make myself sound like I’m super powerful—I’m not. I’m just like you, major changes and problems occur in our lives, and we just have to make the best out of what happens.

You might not encounter major changes like this and that would be great. But just in case you do, let’s figure out the best way for you to prepare yourself for these changes. The first thing is to go slow. Slow your thinking and slow down your responses. Listen intently to what is being said to you and look closely at all the conditions. This doesn’t just apply to major decisions; this also applies to your daily interactions with other people. When you first sober up, you’re going to be extra hyper-sensitive and your reactions may be completely out of whack for the situation. Somebody can walk up to while you’re working and say, “Hi, how’s it going?” And you snap back with, “What the fuck is that supposed to mean? You’re always bothering me…it’s going, okay! Just leave me alone.”

For instance, your spouse, partner or your kids say something to you, and you start recriminating all of their faults and flaws in your head while they’re talking and you’re not listening to them. You need to slow down and listen, hear and digest what people are saying. They are not just noise generators—listen to their words. It’s tough, it requires patience, but by slowing down, this will calm you. So go slow and listen to people. If you have questions about the meaning of what the person said, then ask them. (And if you really want to drive someone crazy, just maintain calm while they’re all upset.)

So if you’re faced with a major dilemma or decision slow your mind down. See if you can defer making the decision, even if it’s just for a few minutes so you can think it out. And think it through clearly, even spend the time to make some notes. Write out the pros and cons to the decision. Write out the answer to this question: “If I make this decision, what’s the worst that can happen?”  By answering this question, you might discover that the outcome may not be all that terrible, and if things do turn out terrible, at least you’ll be able to ready yourself and have ideas and actions prepared in the event the worst does happen.

When it comes to major decisions, you may also want to seek the opinions of other people that you respect. Notice that I didn’t say “get their advice?” There’s a difference here. Taking advice is letting someone else tell you what to do; seeking an opinion is just getting someone else’s perspective. Let me clarify. When I’m asking someone for their opinion, I will say it this way, “Jim, I’m thinking that I should move out of my apartment. I just quit drinking and my roommate isn’t very helpful. What would YOU do if you were in my situation?” Notice that I didn’t ask J to tell me what I should do? I asked Jim what HE would do. Asking for opinions gives you different perspectives and you might uncover some ideas that you hadn’t even thought of.

So let me repeat this. Ask the person, “What would YOU do, if you were in my situation?” Don’t ask them, “What should I do?” Don’t give people the power to tell you what to do. Seek opinions, but come to your own decisions. You will have to be responsible and accountable for your decisions, but they will be YOUR decisions and you’ll be practicing making good, sober decisions.

I can’t stress this enough. When you first start to live sober, a lot of changes will take place with your body and your mind. You’ll be extra sensitive and the smallest, dumbest things may set you off. You’ll be emotionally confused and things that appear to be problems and dilemmas may feel bigger than they actually are. Your weakened mind will allow your imagination to run wild and you’ll think that the world is conspiring against you and everybody’s out to get you and the worst of every situation is happening.

When you don’t have all the facts, and you feel like a victim or a martyr, you will always think that the worst is happening. When you don’t know the facts and you don’t know what’s going on, it’s easy to imagine the worst. But when you slow down and try to get as many facts as possible, you will typically discover that the worst is NOT occurring.

So slow your mind down, think slowly, don’t jump to false conclusions, respond slowly. I don’t mean talk slowly or just sit there like a neutered cat. I mean think about things before you react or say something. Be patient with yourself. Be patient with other people. And accept the fact that you may have to DO some of the DON’TS. But go slow, things will get better.

These are my own opinions and observations. Please, think for yourself and come to your own conclusions. If you enjoy this stuff or get something out of it please tell your friends about my blog, podcasts and website. I invite you to pick up one of my books: You can find my books in paperback, eBook or if you prefer, you can get my Audiobooks. My books and audiobooks are available through Amazon, Apple, all sorts of places. I put my blog, podcasts and website out for people to access FREE of charge. I pay for all of this with my own personal funds. If you like what I do and what I write about, you can show your support by making a donation to my site, it’s done securely through PayPal: http://www.livingsobersucks.com/donate_to_this_site I post a truthful report on my website of how much is donated and what this all costs me. I am very appreciative that a few people have signed up to make a $5 a month donation. Thank you for spending some of your very valuable time with me. Mark Tuschel.

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