By Patricia V. Pavkovich
My addiction to alcohol was the best thing that ever happened to me. Ultimately, it was a gift that gave me peace, joy and a new life that I never thought possible when I was drinking every day. It allowed me to become the best version of myself. Today, being in recovery from addiction gives me unlimited opportunities to grow and to love who I am. I had no idea these blessings were there waiting for me.
It took a while to get there. The reality was that I had no idea how I was going to stay sober. My mind was filled with doubt, fear and misgivings. Could I even do this sober thing? I doubted myself. My entire life had revolved around alcohol. Every family get-together, throughout my teenage years and four years of never-ending college parties, alcohol was my constant companion. It stayed by my side as I entered adulthood, and it didn’t matter whether or not I was happy, sad, had a rough day or the sun was brightly shining, I drank. Sometimes I drank more than other times, but I always drank.
As my life progressed, so did my disease. The amount of alcohol and the frequency of my drinking escalated. I had promised myself repeatedly that I would stop drinking tomorrow. I was unsuccessful. I knew I would die if I continued on this path. I had lost four family members to this disease. I made the choice to live.
In the beginning of my recovery, I had no idea how I was going to stay sober. I knew I could not continue on the path of destruction that was my life. It had become unmanageable. I needed to address it, and I was desperate and determined to find out how, but living without alcohol seemed overwhelming, and I didn’t know if I could do it.
I knew I had some resistance to life. I was my own worst enemy. I was getting in the way of my happiness. I was not responding well to the stress and resistance I was experiencing every day. Prior to recovery, my way of dealing with any stressful situation was to numb myself with alcohol. I told myself during a challenging day, “I just need to get through this, and when it’s 5 p.m., I can get home and pour myself a big glass of wine and relax.” And that is exactly what I would do. If I was numb enough, I could stop the procession of thoughts, my nervous system would slow down, I could eventually sleep and any disturbing situation felt far removed. The next day I would get up and do it all over again. One of the most important tools I learned to help me stay sober was to start going with the flow of life. For this alcoholic, I also made sure I attended an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting at 5 p.m.
Going with the flow is sometimes easier said than done. We all wish we could have reacted more positively in a situation or regretted something said in the heat of the moment. Stress can affect our bodies in a myriad of ways. Our breathing and heart rate can change. The stress hormone cortisol is released and can adversely affect us, causing weight gain, altering glucose levels and depressing our immune systems. Our minds can be filled with ruminating thoughts leading to sleepless nights.
Holding on to things, numbing ourselves and having too much resistance to life can be consequential in recovery. Below are some healthy choices I have included in my recovery plan:
- Find a mantra: I repeat “It’s all good” and “Be still” until I can feel my body relax. I need to avoid reactive or explosive situations. Choose a mantra that has some significance to you.
- Be aware of your breathing: I practice deep, slow abdominal breaths. Throughout my day, I remind myself to take deep breaths to relax and reduce the tension in my body.
- Change your perception: When I chose to believe that life is not happening to me but life is happening for me, it changed my life. When I decided problems were opportunities for me to grow, it rocked my world. Change your perception, and it will change your life.
- Set goals: I had to set new standards for myself and utilize the many recovery tools available. I knew the following: I wanted to become the best version of me. I needed to be honest and congruent with my thoughts, words and actions. I needed to identify my needs and set boundaries to provide for them. I set specific goals and scheduled my life around my recovery, not the other way around. I took small steps at first, and I strive to do my best every day.
Aside from being addicting, alcohol has a psychological effect that adversely impacts and changes our thinking and reasoning. A healthy plan in recovery is needed. Being in recovery does not protect us from stress. Life is going to go on, with all its beautiful peaks and sometimes not-so-beautiful valleys. Healthy coping skills can mean the difference between long-term sobriety and relapse. Our choices move us closer to, or further away from, addiction. In the beginning of my recovery, I thought that living sober meant I was going to give up all the fun in my life. Little did I know my sober life would be so much more joyful, fun and fulfilling. I am grateful for my sober life. Your sober life is waiting there for you too!
Patricia V. Pavkovich works for MAP Health Management as a program coordinator for Origins Hanley in South Padre Island, Texas. Pavkovich has a bachelor of science in secondary health education and a doctor of chiropractic degree. She ran the Marine Corp Marathon, is a yoga instructor and enjoys riding her Harley in her spare time.