12-step

Guest Blogger Olivia Ramos of Mental Rhythms

 

Really excited to bring Ms. Olivia Ramos of Mental Rhythms to a computer screen/mobile device near you! Her idea is fascinating and I believe the app she's created will get BIG. Frankly, I can't wait to use it myself!  You heard it here first, ladies and gents!  -Laura

 

Life was so unmanageable that I began to map it.

My name is Olivia and I am the cartographer behind Mental Rhythms.

I was powerless over the self-imposed distortions and complexities in all aspects of my life and mapping my feelings towards it all became a necessary tool. Back then, before recovery, I had ongoing maps of my relationships, my businesses, and even my conspiracy theories. At times, reviewing the maps helped me understand why I was feeling so insane and how I had a part in my own state of discontent.

 

Toxic behavior: mapped.

In one map, for example, I graphed my feelings towards ten relationships over a period of seven months. At some point all the relationship trajectories began to show negative slopes. When I reviewed the map, it became obvious that everyone in my life was not wrong at the same time and my behavior was toxic in general. At the time, during my bottom, I did not understand exactly what was wrong.

When I got sober I began to map the correlations between my desire to use and the willingness to work my 12-step program. It became obvious that whenever I kept a steady practice of prayer and meditation, I was also less angry and had much lower levels of anxiety, and most importantly little desire to use. The visualization of my recent past proved informative and encouraging towards working the program.

In the rooms I kept hearing people’s relapse stories and how they never saw it coming. Only in hindsight did they realize they stopped working the program, became spiritually bankrupt, angry and resentful, and picked up. I set out to develop a phone application that would allow users to map their emotional trajectories as I had been doing. Mental Rhythms App will be available this August.

The Mental Rhythms App at work.

I have to let go and simply be present.
— Olivia Ramos, Mental Rhythms Cartographer

This past May I began to test the App using my daily inventory. Asking myself if I was Fearful (red), Dishonest (purple), Selfish (yellow), and Resentful (blue), and how I would rate these on a scale from 0-9. The App reminds me to rate my inventory and depending on my day, these components of my character have different values. After two weeks I thought my trajectory was stabilizing, after two months and I realized I was consistently all over the place.

Pretty nifty: the author's inventory, mapped.

I sent pictures of the map to my sponsor, completely alarmed at what seemed like instability. He told me to be a witness of the map instead of expecting anything from it. I loved this, because I cannot control my character defects just like I couldn’t control my using. These maps are an interface between my progress and my consciousness of the same. Not too unlike meditation, in which I am aware of my thoughts without trying to engage in them.  I have to let go and simply be present.


Olivia Ramos is a cartographer of resources within the realms of (1) urban infrastructure, (2) data architecture, and (3) spiritualism. With a Masters in Architecture from Columbia University and a Masters in Real Estate Development & Urbanism from the University of Miami, Olivia explores resilient solutions for the built environment. 

 

Guest Blogger: Jon Gerler (aka DJ FM) on Anxiety, Pt. 2

Learning where my anxiety originated from was one matter. Overcoming it has been a challenge unto itself.

When I first got clean and sober in 2009, I was facing a mountain of legal and financial difficulties that I’d created for myself in active addiction. I was also having to face those difficulties without the aid of any of my “crutches,” and with very little support from anyone save for close family, a few good friends from my using days and my new friends in the 12-step fellowships I was attending. If there was a real danger of me relapsing, the first few weeks and months of my recovery were it.

When most people in recovery talk about overcoming their difficulties, they tend to get metaphysical and vague. My intent here is to be practical, and tell you exactly what I did. Again, this is just my experience, but hopefully you’ll be able to use some of these practices in your own life.

The first and most important step I took was this: *kick alcohol and drugs*.

Nothing else I describe here would be possible or even useful without that. In the beginning, alcohol really worked for me as a way of self-medicating my anxiety. After a number of years, as I developed a tolerance to it and became physically dependent on it, it evolved into an additional problem in its own right. When I say physically dependent, I mean I had to be *weaned* from it. Alcohol is one of the only drugs you can take where, if you’re too far along in your addiction (as I was), simply trying to quit “cold turkey” can result in heart attacks, coma, even death. I was given a 3 week Ativan taper by my doctor in rehab to survive these awful consequences.

Once you’ve passed that milestone, you must find some kind of regular support. I found mine in the various 12-step fellowships that exist. They are free, and they’re everywhere. They’re also not perfect (as people themselves are not perfect), and probably won’t work for everyone. But you won’t know until you try. The fact of the matter is for most people suffering from addiction, going it alone simply isn’t possible. For me, I also had to be in a sober living environment - a “group home” with other people who were struggling with the same things I was.

I also had to develop coping strategies that were healthy. If I was going to be DJ-ing in nightclubs again, I had to completely re-learn how to exist in a nightclub without alcohol. I learned that diet soda, besides having caffeine which would allow me to stay up, was also carbonated, and the carbonation helped settle my stomach when I would get nervous. I also drank the diet coke out of a pint glass. So I had the comforting effect of the bubbles, as well as the glass in my hand which I had previously associated with beer. These small changes in day-to-day behavior are essential to rebuilding your life. Today, I drink sparkling water instead of soda, but the effect is the same. People think I drink sparkling water because I’m a snob, but in fact the carbonation keeps any lingering anxiety at bay. I’d rather be viewed as a snob than as a *relapsed* snob. Or a dead one.

Once these are in place, however - you are left with the original problems that got you started in the first place. The anxiety. The trauma. The bad memories and hurts. Some of these can be dealt with, again, in 12-step fellowships. But I needed more.

As I began to describe my formative years to my various outpatient counselors, they soon realized that my anxiety probably originated when I was very young. I was always painfully shy as a kid, always had a slight tremor in my hands (which I now know to be “nerves”), and would frequently bite my fingernails and wring my hands, certainly before 2nd or 3rd grade. These are all signs of generalized anxiety disorder.

Add to that the divorce, my mom’s alcoholism, my acting out during my early teen years and almost failing 8th grade, and suddenly the problems became magnified. I was now the adult child of an alcoholic, characteristics of which were described by Dr. Janet Woititz in her 1983 landmark book Adult Children of Alcoholics.

I was all of these. I was asked over and over by the various therapists and doctors I had seen why, having had two well-educated parents (one of who was a professor of counselor education), I wasn’t put in some kind of therapy early on. Over and over again I heard that same question, and a resentment began to form. “All of this could’ve been avoided if my parents had just done their job!,” I kept thinking to myself. I was angry…it took me a few additional years of therapy and 12-step work to be able to resolve that anger, or at least come to terms with it. I’m not fully over it, but I’m certainly better than I was.

Still, 2+ months into my recovery, my hands hadn’t stopped trembling. I still had terrible stage fright and shakiness. I was having trouble sleeping. I still had the butterflies in the pit of my stomach that had plagued me since childhood. So one of my therapists recommended a medication to me called Effexor, an SNRI (Serotonin–norepinephrine reuptake inhibitor).

We’ve all heard about anti-depressants in the news, how this particular workplace shooter was prescribed this-or-that SSRI, how doctors overprescribe this-or-that drug. We live in a society where all we’re hearing is the bad news about these substances, so our reaction is black & white. “Get rid of all the drugs!” And in many 12-step fellowships, I’ve heard people talking of taking medication for their illnesses as though they’d relapsed! I’m here to tell you that Effexor was the “magic bullet” I’d been searching for my entire life. In my case - and probably in the case of many other people - it has been essential in overcoming and managing my anxiety.

One of the reasons it worked so well for me is described in the name itself - *norepinephrine*. We all know that serotonin is a brain chemical responsible for regulating our mood and appetite. Norepinephrine, on the other hand, is the brain chemical that governs, among other things, our “fight-or-flight” response. My “fight-or-flight” response had always been hyperactive. For instance, I would go to interview for a job, and where most people would simply get a case of “nerves” but then be able to manage it, the feeling I felt was more akin to terror. As though I were running from some life-threatening situation. I felt this same thing any time I had to get up in front of a group of people, play any kind of sport, even walk into a crowded room or hallway. Absolute, paralyzing terror, and very real physical manifestations like trembling (to the point where I couldn’t hold a cup or glass), the inability to speak. Visible signs which were embarrassing and prevented me from developing any kind of self-confidence.

Within a month after taking Effexor, the shift in me was nothing short of miraculous. I could read and speak in meetings without fear, I could stand in front of groups holding papers in my hands and they’d be steady as a rock. Finally, in my 30+ years of life, I knew what it was to be like “everyone else.” I had confidence I’d never had. As a musician and DJ, I was able to perform in front of crowds as large as 500+ without fear - no weed or Jagermeister required. Effexor, plus my work with therapists, 12-step meetings and new coping strategies began reshaping me into a new person.

An additional step I’d recommend: exercise. And by exercise, I don’t mean 2-3 hour marathon sessions at the gym. I mean something as simple as walking, daily. Most cities have greenways and parks that are free to the public where you can be outside, breathe fresh air, and be active. Our smartphones today have built-in pedometers or downloadable apps that will allow you to see how far you’ve walked, and how many calories you’ve burned. You’ll be able to track your progress and feel a sense of accomplishment.

There’s one thing, however, that has been unique to me in my recovery. That has been re-discovering my love for music. I have always loved music. Fortunately, I loved music long before I ever picked up a drink or a drug. I started playing instruments and learned to write songs long before picking up a drink or drug. I can tell you that without music, I’d have died (at least inside) long ago. In fact, I wrote and produced an entire album while living in that sober house I mentioned earlier. 

I guarantee I’m probably the only person who’s ever had a Mac Pro tower in their bedroom at one of these houses - but it doesn’t matter where you are, where you come from, what you own or what obstacles you face. With the right encouragement, the right help, and a little bit of compassion, we’re all capable or remarkable things.

We’re all capable of conquering our demons.

**

Jon Gerler first began his journey in recovery from substance use in November of 2009.  Under his musician alias “DJ FM,” he’s been a part of the southeast US EDM scene for over 15 years. Not only has he DJ-ed from Baltimore to Burning Man, as a musician he's performed his original electronic music with a live band, produced over 90 songs, instrumentals and remixes, and even had his original tracks used on MTVs Real World, Road Rules, The Hills
and Making The Band. In 2015 he helped found the non-profit organization RaveClean.org, which throws alcohol-and drug-free rave-style dance parties with donations of time, money and equipment. He also maintains his own recovery blog, mylaststand.org.

The Sober Señorita

I am beyond elated to bring you Kelly Fitzgerald, known to the recovery/blogging community as The Sober Señorita.  This gal is on fire and I'm so happy we've not only connected, but become friends.  Without further adieu...

**

Hi, my name is Kelly, also known as the Sober Señorita, and I am an alcoholic.  It’s crazy how I ended up where I am today. Every time I tell my story it’s kind of like an out-of-body experience. I just can’t believe it’s mine and that I am where I am. It was a long time coming – my sobriety. To help you understand how I got where I am today I’ve outlined what my life was like before, what it’s like now and how I pass on my message of recovery to the world.

What It Was Like Before

I was always known as the social butterfly growing up. I wanted to be in the action, go where the party was, and hang with the popular kids. Drinking made me a part of the in-crowd and I took to it quite easily. I like how it made me feel. I craved the attention got when I drank and was outgoing. I couldn’t wait to go off to college, live on my own and party, and I did just that. College is where the binge drinking and blackouts began and became my new normal. I was at every party and hosted some of the biggest ones. Once college ended I had no clue what to do with my life and I didn’t want the party to end. I applied for a job working Spring Break in some of the biggest party cities in the world. I was hired and went off to Cancun in the spring of 2008. Cancun was a continuous party and I reveled in it. I met a lot of people who liked to party and drink in the same ways I did. It was the perfect place for me. Returning back to the US after Spring Break I was lost again. Having the geographical solution, I moved again, this time to a summer beach town: Ocean City, Maryland. I continued the party there. It was a period of 4 months where I drank every single day. After the summer and jobs ended and everyone left, I was looking for my next escape. I made a plan to work Spring Break again in Cancun and I was off to the races. I worked Spring Break in Cancun in 2009 and it was crazier than the first year. I decided while I was there that I wanted to live in Cancun full time and after traveling home after Spring Break I returned for good in May 2009. For the next 4 years my drinking and drugging got completely out of control. I was blacking out, suffering from nasty hangovers, making emotionally and physically risky decisions when it came to men, and missing work. Deep down I was avoiding any real world that was going on outside around me. I was filled with shame, disgust, guilt, and self hate. I never tried to commit suicide, but I did not care what happened to me when I drank, and if death was in the plans – so be it.  My life was a vicious cycle of regret and shame.  I drank to forget and the drinking caused more pain.

What It’s Like Now

On May 7 I celebrated 2 years clean and sober and I can’t even believe that this is my life. I wake up every day feeling relieved that I am not hungover, wondering what happened the night before, or with those old feelings of guilt and self-loathing. I am living a life beyond my wildest dreams, taking each day as it comes, and being present in the moment. I finally have the skills I need to deal with life on life’s terms. I am more aware, grateful, and humbled than I have ever been in my life. Being sober does not stop bad things from happening, but it allows me to deal with them in a healthy and constructive way. Alcohol is no longer my solution to feeling mad, sad, happy, angry, stressed, or overwhelmed. Today I understand life is about balance, self-care, and finding the happiness in every moment. Leaving drugs and alcohol behind for a life in recovery was the best decision I’ve ever made. It has positively impacted my life in every way possible. I am finally becoming the person I was destined to be. I am finally able to be a good sister, daughter, girlfriend, and friend.  My program of recovery includes several areas. I try and address the mind, body, and spirit, and have explored several types of recovery paths. I attend 12 step meetings, meditate, exercise daily, and make sure I receive 7 to 8 hours of sleep every night. I’ve read the SMART recovery book. I’ve attended Buddhism classes and I write my blog to keep me sane. Recovery is a process and I enjoy the ups and downs of watching myself and others grow. 

Here's the gorgeous girl herself, being all fabulous!

My Message to the World

Eight months into my sobriety I started my blog, The Adventures of a Sober Señorita.  It started out as a blog designed to detail my life as an American girl living abroad in Mexico, but I knew I wanted to include sober in the name to denote my new lifestyle. It wasn’t until May of 2014 that I wrote an entire post about living sober, my One Year Without Alcohol blog. It went viral and that was my sign from the universe that I had a gift for sharing my story. I continued to write about sobriety and that continues to be the main topic of my blog today. A silly project I started just for fun has now become my message to the world. I firmly believe I was given a voice to spread the messages of self-love and sobriety. My goal is to share my story, what has worked and what hasn’t for me in terms of recovery, and to let others who may still be suffering know that there is life after booze, and a way out. I want everyone to know that addiction does not discriminate and affects people regardless of race, age, gender, or socioeconomic status. Through my blog I hope to break the stigma of alcoholism and addiction and pass on the message of hope, strength, and love. I will continue to live my truth and encourage others to do the same. We only get one life and we should all be out there living it, regardless of the hands we’ve been dealt.

**

Follow Kelly!
Twitter: @Kellyfitz11
Facebook: www.facebook.com/thesobersenorita



Sobriety *is* everywhere!

When I first started TSC (

the sobriety collective

[lowercase, i know--artfully done a la e.e. cummings) oh so many days ago

, I was coming from a place of wanting and NEEDING to connect with other sober people.  Especially folks who have different perspectives on what it takes to get and stay sober.  In all honesty, I felt like the only person who just didn't get the 12-step mentality.  And trust me, I will *always* be grateful for the responsibility statement because it's there for people who need it, and I may be one of those people down the road (and *have* been before).  But I wasn't seeing voices and perspectives like mine....UNTIL NOW.

I'm overwhelmed by the amazing, individual, rock solid voices

I'm encountering on the Sobriety Internets, if you will.  And people with stories from 12-step communities are are part of that collection of voices because everyone's recovery is their own.  Our shared experience as sober folk navigating a world of booze booze drugs booze booze [insert vice of choice here] is unified--but every single one of you *does* have something unique to offer, because no one in the world is you, other than YOU.  Yes, dammit, we *are* SPECIAL SNOWFLAKES.

Hip Sobriety

Klen & Sober

Dan the Story Man

Adventures of a Sober Senorita

I Fly at Night

Just a few examples of who/what I've found...just this week alone.

I'm overwhelmed by gratitude and positivity and love and sobriety and life and love and all that new age-y stuff because it effing rocks. 

The [Inevitable] Question.

I did it myyyyyyy way.

Thanks, Frankie Boy.  That's the story of my sobriety.  Yeah, sure, I've been in the rooms.  And at times, they were helpful.  I met some amazing people.  But I never felt right or at peace or at home--and why did I always have panic attacks in AA meetings?

Maybe there was something *not* resonating with dear old me.  And when I'd show up to my "home" group at the time, a few weeks or a months since my last meeting and always, I mean, always asked by some good-hearted and well-intended soul if I was still sober--I wondered why do these people need daily meetings to stay sober?  I sure as hell don't.  I mean, I can go years without meetings. 

Whenever I found myself in conversations with sober folk, the inevitable question was always did I go meetings or had I worked the steps. It didn't matter who it was or why they were asking, I always found myself shrinking at this question. Like I was less than for not. Like there was something wrong with me because it didn't work for me.

Holly of Hip Sobriety nailed it.  Just nailed it.  And I'm immensely grateful to find a kindred soul in her story and her writing because while her experiences are her own and her recovery is her own, I felt--for the longest time--that something had to be wrong with me because *I* wasn't getting it. 

And then I realized, I'm sober--I have a good thing going.

Almost 8 years in recovery.  I'm in therapy.  I have good relationships with my family and friends.  I cut toxic people and habits from my life.  I experience.  Mud runs, karaoke, travel, dancing at bars (yes, even that!), nature hikes, pinup modeling, getting tattoos--all sober.  And I have no apologies for this kind of sobriety because it works.

  It works for me, and that's all that should matter.

Pardon the redness!  This was taken the day I got my tat.  I may have left AA, but AA left me--with a couple of great 'isms."  This one reminds me to stay present, not catastrophize, and not think about things in a FOREVER way. 

Just what's in front of me.  I may be powerless over alcohol--this I do believe--I'm not powerless over my own recovery. 

My sobriety is in MY hands. 

Tattoo by Misty Kilgore.

What are YOUR thoughts? Do you feel out of place at AA? Do you go to meetings, take what you want and leave the rest? What makes up YOUR sobriety?