Heading into Year 3 Sober produced one of the best and yet craziest summers I can remember. And by crazy, I don’t mean swinging-from-the-chandeliers, whooping-it-up fun, but more the anxiety-riddled claustrophobia played so well by Jimmy Stewart in Rear Window.
I say it was one of the best summers I can remember because I truly felt alive and blessed. My family enjoyed two week-long vacations at the beach and weekends at the pool, plus trips into the city for museums or into town for ice cream. We cooked out and camped out and caught lightning bugs and did all the things that scream summer. If summer were a meal, I ate the whole thing and feel satisfied.
And still I suffered and continue to suffer my share of Rear Window crazy.
But while Jimmy Stewart’s character was immobilized by an itchy full-leg cast during a heat wave, I rambled out for longish runs in the quiet cool of early morning in an effort to stay sane. And while Jimmy witnesses what he’s pretty sure is cold-blooded murder in an apartment across the way, all my battles happened in my own head.
In retrospect, Year 1 Sober was about learning to live life without alcohol. Year 2 Sober was about figuring out who I was without alcohol. Year 3 Sober seems to be – so far – about how to learn to live with myself without wanting to drink or otherwise give up.
And because I find myself blowing small things out of proportion and manufacturing drama out of everyday stressors, I think of the 11 signs of relapse. And I worry about where I’m headed and wonder what I can do to reverse the process if I am heading down the wrong road.
A paper on Relapse and Recovery published by the Caron Foundation says how we cope with stress matters.
The influence of stress as a relapse trigger appears to be lessened by the individual’s method of coping with it …It appears that problem-solving coping styles are more beneficial than emotionally focused coping styles.
Emotion focused coping strategies seem to be more about damage control and include:
- Keeping yourself busy to take your mind off the issue
- Letting off steam to other people
- Praying for guidance and strength
- Ignoring the problem in the hope that it will go away
- Distracting yourself (e.g. TV, eating)
- Building yourself up to expect the worse
Oh boy, do these sound familiar. Especially the last three!
Problem focused coping strategies, on the other hand, serve to get at the root of an issue and include:
- Taking Control – this response involves changing the relationship between yourself and the source of stress. Examples: escaping from the stress or removing the stress.
- Information Seeking – the most rational action. This involves the individual trying to understand the situation (e.g. using the internet) and putting into place cognitive strategies to avoid it in future. Information seeking is a cognitive response to stress.
- Evaluating the pros and cons of different options for dealing with the stressor.
Hm, the “taking control” one fills me with a kind of terror, though I can gather information and evaluate the pros and cons like a pro.
It is important to note some stressful situations are beyond our control, such as illness or the death of a loved one or actions of others. In these cases, emotion based coping skills are our best hope at relief. But problems we do hold some control over benefit more from problem focused coping skills because these might actually help eliminate them.
Right now I’m applying both kinds of coping skills for a few stressful issues. I’ve even used emotion based strategies when my problem solving strategies fail. And these are not even serious issues, which again makes me wonder why I seem to be falling apart at times lately.
I think I’m feeling the cumulative effect of a dozen tiny stressors, mixed with one or two bigger ones. Some of the things I do to cope normally, like eating well and sleeping enough and reaching out to others, have fallen away and I’ve forced myself to get back on track, but not as often as I was doing before.
All I had to do was look through my blog posts from this time last year to notice a pattern. Apparently I struggle more this time of year. Don’t really know why and maybe it’s beyond my control, but it does help to be aware of it.
In writing all of this, I’m tempted to delete and start over with something more polished and positive. I don’t want the newly sober to think it doesn’t get easier over time (it DOES). I don’t want others to see me as weak and whiny or not where I should be at this point in my sobriety. Still, time has given me another voice that tells me perfection is not only overrated but impossible. The only way out is through the messy stuff and this sure feels like one messy post!
If you care to comment, I’d love to know if you feel triggered by stress at random or predictable times of the year and how you cope with it.