Monday, November 26, 2007

Getting Started Stopping

How to get started you can start staying stopped!
About SMART Recovery.

Every "system" for achieving sobriety focuses at first on tools to reduce cravings. SMART especially focuses on disputing the beliefs you may have that increase your urges, and on recognizing the triggers that start drinking behavior.

People often are already taken medicine for specific problems, and wonder how that fits in here. Medication that helps with the physiological part of drinking (e.g., Naltrexone) may be useful in conjunction with the behavioral changes, and prescriptions for anxiety, etc., may reduce the symptoms of suddenly quitting. Prolonged heavy drinkers should discuss quitting with a doctor.

In discussing 'reasons' for drinking people usually mention situational and self-esteem issues. The tools to deal with them are right here. Situational issues are practical--planning for urges, and figuring out ways to dispute them, or planning for events or social situations where drinking is likely and having a strategy in hand. It can be as simple as rehearsing your answers, role-playing, or getting a little deeper into why you're so anxious about what you think other people are going to think or say. That anxiety is often based on irrational beliefs which you can dispute.

You may be discussing self-esteem issues with a counselor (hopefully one familiar with REBT principles). The only thing I'd add from a SMART perspective is to read about the concept of Unconditional Self Acceptance (USA) and to avoid framing your drinking behavior in terms of morality or strength of character. You don't drink because you're weak, or lacking in virtue. It is a compulsive behavior. We act based on our beliefs, and beliefs that lead to unhealthy behavior can be changed.

If you make a commitment to sobriety, plan for urges and practice ways to deal with them, and make the simple changes in your life that help you avoid alcohol--you are likely to succeed. For most people the first step is to do a cost-benefit analysis (CBA) about their drinking and the associated behavior.

Most people can get a pretty long list of costs (and we can help you with that!). But there must be some perceived benefits as well, and those are what are worth exploring to start finding the underlying beliefs that can be disputed. "Alcohol makes me more fun at parties." Really? Follow the belief through to its logical conclusion: "I can't have fun unless I drink." Then think of ways that you CAN have fun, and you're on your way to disputing that belief, and dealing with the next social event where you might feel the urge to drink.

Take some time on this, because these beliefs really get to the core of your drinking behavior. Don't get side-tracked and use this to put off the act of quitting! That may take a separate plan and some reinforcement from friends, family, meetings, or folks here at the forum board.

Once you've identified some of the beliefs that you use to give yourself permission to drink, you can start fitting them into specific situations by doing ABC's. A stressful event at work makes you really want to have a glass of wine as soon as you get home.

For many of us, that glass of wine gradually became an automatic part of getting home, so it's become engrained behavior--this is a good way of looking at why it did. Many parts of your day now revolve around that behavior, from how and where you shop to the haste with which you do errands and travel. You may have been drinking for so long that you no longer are reacting to a specific event, so you can generalize instead: "I drink because it helps me relax after dealing with my stressful job."

That event is the A, or activating event. C is the condition in which you find yourself: anxious, upset, angry. It is hard to talk yourself out of emotional conditions, but they often lead us to drink--episodically for some, daily for others. There is a belief (B) that leads from the activating event to the condition. If you can dispute that (D), you can avoid the trigger, defeat the urge, and get to an effective (E) new condition.

Not every situation lends itself to an elegant ABC. The point is to recognize the beliefs, and dispute them specifically, repeatedly, and out loud if necessary! SMART meetings focus on recognizing those beliefs and disputing them. If your problem is frequent anger, for example, recognize the underlying causes of anger, explain to yourself why the frustration is based, for example, on unrealistic assumptions or a misplaced sense of unfairness. "Don't think poisonous thoughts," is one of my mantras to head off anger.

Developing simple sayings or techniques can help when you feel the start of a mood that, from your experience, is likely to lead to one of those conditions. Nip it in the bud. If it is "self-downing" and feeling inadequate to the many tasks at hand, learn to recognize "awfulizing"--adding up everything that is going wrong and telling yourself how awful everything is. "Oh, stop awfulizing," has worked for me.

Changing your daily pattern of behavior is often the key to starting sobriety. You've spent many years developing a set of actions, from when and where you put the bottle into your shopping cart right up to the little rituals that go along with drinking. Going on a diet, starting exercise, taking up a hobby you'd put aside years ago...whatever works to change the routine and fill the time you spent drinking.

Avoiding lapses involves daily reinforcement of your commitment to abstinence. Just coming to this board each day is an example of a simple thing you can do to keep your new belief fresh. Recognizing the weekly and monthly cycles that you have followed, perhaps unconsciously, in the past can help you avoid triggers. These may be work-related, hormonal (yours or those of someone around you...), or even seasonal.

Keeping your CBA handy and updating it periodically, or having a journal in which you record where you've been, where you are, and where you want to be in the near and mid-range future--these written records of your progress can be very helpful in times of stress. And if you post them here, they benefit untold numbers of others, each at a different place in their sobriety, for a long time to come.
So...thanks for posting!

Don S

Copied with permission from Don S at the The Sober Village

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