Today’s blog entry is from Bobbie Malatesta. Bobbie has been a member of Café RE since February 2020. Bobbie just celebrated 4 years alcohol free and is a big source of support to her Café RE UP group!
How I Cured My Atheism
By: Bobbie Malatesta (Café RE UP)
Recently, someone shared a beautiful acronym that I wish I had earlier in my spirituality journey. Before I get into that, please allow me to explain a little of my history in this department.
In my family, we had the Italian and Polish grandparents that were traditionally Catholic. My parents didn’t make us be Catholic except for when we went to weddings and funerals of course. I was given the option to choose what religion I wanted to be.
At age 10, I decided to get baptized a Baptist. I was to stand in a sunken tub in the church and get dunked by the clergy and that would be that, right? Well, not exactly. I begged the man baptizing me to hold my nose when he dunked me. Guess what? He didn’t!!
And so began my atheism. How could I trust this God if his person couldn’t even help me with my minor little request? Staying true to my disbelief and anger was easy as my life unfolded. Trauma, tragedy, death after death, abandonment, and all the other bull-oney that life has to offer seemed to start and never stop in my life. How could there possibly be a “”God” if all these bad things kept happening to me?
And so my life went.
Once I joined 12 Step and had to memorize the Serenity Prayer, it got a bit more challenging. Any time my GA crew wanted me to kick off the prayer, they expected me to say that “G” word but I didn’t want to talk to him. I still didn’t believe in him. On account of my big mouth and the fact that one of the principles in the program is that you don’t have to believe in the G word per seh, we found a compromise. Whenever I started the prayer, I addressed the Universe. Eventually, some of my fellows would start with Universe too, in support of me.
Things were going along just great until I got to Step 11. “ Sought through prayer and mediation…. conscious contact with GOD….” Oh Sugar! It was time to revisit this whole God concept for me. Long story short, I started going to church, meditating and doing the work so I could “graduate” Step 11.
One of my favorite parts of doing this “work” was being in recovery communities like Café RE. Working on Recovery Dharma, Sober travel trips with beautiful peers, learning from Patrick and appreciating the landscape of Bozeman all contributed to what is defined as spirituality to me now. I can see God now in the essence of people, sunsets and sunrises and music. The key is it doesn’t have to be labeled as god, universe or any other word in particular.
The end result was that for me, I now believed in a God, and I still choose to call her or him, Universe.
Now, I have embraced and want to share GUS!
GUS was there all along and I heard about him when I was supposed to, recently at a conference.
GUS stands for:
I am believer that there is no one right way for anything, including our own spirituality. This is not meant an insult to anyone’s faith or choices, but to offer a solution to anyone who might be stuck on this premise like I was.
Either way, GUS got us, no matter what you call her/ him/ it.
Thanks for letting me share!
With Love & gratitude,
A special holiday bonus blog from one of our Café RE members!
Holiday Survival Guide: Tips and Tricks
By: Adrienne (Café RE GO)
The holidays are coming and everyone is drinking….Sending out an SMS (Save My Sobriety)!!
We’ve all been there. The annual holidays set in and the only non-drinkers are you and the kids!
The question you may be asking yourself is…
How do I stay strong when the holiday vibe is booming and everyone is in party mode celebrating all that we have to be grateful for?”
To reframe this question I would ask…
How do I honor myself and my goals of sobriety in this time of annual appreciation for myself and my loved ones?”
How do I want to celebrate in a way that is relaxing, Fun (Rule 22 here from Café RE), and supports me feeling great in the moment and the following day?
Play the tape forward and then imagine yourself remembering the gathering; how do you want that to look or feel?
What tools will I bring with me to keep me accountable to the life I want to live? (The tools are different for everyone.)
For me, I bring my smartphone so I can stay close to my supports (Café RE peeps). I bring AF drinks (Athletic Brewing Co., Run Wild NA beer is a favorite). I bring an open mind. I’ve even brought my list of my why’s before tucked in a back pocket. And I bring an exit plan. The exit plan is my trap door and it’s a must. This could include me just leaving the party without saying I’m doing so, I may tell someone close to me that I’m out, or I may do the long goodbye; you know the one with all the hugging :).
What do I say if they offer me a drink or ask why I’m not drinking? There are several ways to come at this.
You can bring your own drinks, if it’s an AF beer odds are they won’t even notice that you aren’t actually drinking the poison (I’ve tested this one out). If offered a drink; “sure I’ll have a water”.
If further probing into why you aren’t drinking stick to the facts. You could say your not drinking anymore, you could say you are driving, you could say you aren’t drinking tonight. The secret to this scenario is you are more invested in what’s going on with your path than they are. Most people don’t really want the laundry list of your alcohol history. They want to know, are you in or are you out. Odds are they won’t even care what your ingesting once they are in the haze.
If things get awkward change the subject, use the bathroom to regroup, put your needs first, and if all else fails…trap door my friend.
Buuuuut….What if they think I’m boring?. First, who are they specifically? Is there really a they or is it just your inner dialogue trying to sabotage you with old thought patterns?
Listen….YOU ARE NOT BORING! You are your beautiful, authentic, one and only self! Sober life is anything but boring.
Buuuuut…What if they think I’m judging them or they are bummed I won’t drink with them?
Oh that’s right, the people pleasing!
I know it well friends. If I do the thing they want then they will like me, think I’m cool, and/or want to hang out with me.
Maybe that’s all true, but is it worth compromising your own comfort for theirs?
In the moment this may be uncomfortable but I’m asking you to stay with it. Exposure to our fears/triggers and staying the course is important field work to success. Every time you overcome a situation with your own tools for change and growth you get stronger! Each time you succeed you are gaining experience to draw from that proves that you can navigate life and socialize sober! You learn who is an ally in your life, who to put your energy toward, and who you want to develop relationships with.
On this holiday season my wish for you is that you put your needs first, protect your sobriety, be gentle with yourself, and please listen and honor yourself. I hope you find all the joy that exists with your family and friends
Today’s blog entry is from Dustin Wade, who has been a member of Café RE since March 2021. Dustin has been alcohol free since January 30, 2020. He is very active within his Café RE UP group and on our community chats.
Towards the end my drinking progressed to the point that I started drinking as soon as I woke up. I knew this was taking me down a dark path.
This behavior started when I was newly divorced, single and could do whatever I wanted. Why not start drinking first thing in the morning? Fast forward, now in a relationship (with my now new bride!) I would have an hour or two to sneak some in before she woke up, and the sneaky behavior began!
My drinking continued at work, filling various water bottles with wine, beer, and vodka to drink in my office. Going out to lunch, and sitting at the bar to drink more. I would keep the buzz going until I went home. Then I would try and hide the fact that I had been drinking all day. Oh, then there were days I would lie about working late and hit the bar again on the way home.
My car got towed one time and I lied about having to ‘work even later’ so I could get it out of the impound lot. With the drinking all day, that meant I did a lot drinking while driving, and never thought twice about it! While at the same time judging others who did it too.
Day after day, the shame ran deep.
Shame kept me drinking for far too long, and my drinking routine caused some significant weight gain. It embarrassed me. I was always the skinny kid growing up, so I felt like everyone was judging me. Growing up my family didn’t open up and talk about our struggles. This contributed to me letting the shame of drinking build up inside. Eventually, all the lying and drinking all day caught up with me and I had to face the music. When my fiancé found some hidden alcohol I had to share what had been building up inside for so long. Unable to hide behind a lie, I had to tell her how much I was drinking. Finally talking about this big secret I’d kept for so long I felt some burden being lifted. It was the scariest thing I’ve ever had to do!
I had always known that day was going to come. Part of me wanted it to happen this way, and part of me wanted to go out with a big rock bottom. A few days later, I stepped into an IOP (intensive outpatient program) and shared my shame of abusing alcohol with total strangers. Once I did it was like something reached into me and lifted this huge burden buried deep inside. I wept. It was so emotional hearing the words that I had a problem with alcohol come out of my mouth.
I quickly learned how powerful sharing shame could be.
Sharing shame can come in many forms, and you may want to know who your audience is before sharing. It might be with loved ones, close friends, AA meetings, your sponsor, therapists, rehab programs or publicly, like on the RE Podcast. It might be a post in a private Café RE group or a share on a Café RE chat.
A big share for me was doing the Café RE member spotlight, where I shared my story with the group.
Along the way, I was listening to other shares, and with everyone, there was something that resonated with me, and comforting to know I wasn’t alone. For this reason, I continue to share, because you never know who may need to hear what you have to say. What I realize now, is that I have shared shame is safe places, and I knew the audience. I think this is important to note.
There is a lot out there on sharing shame. Here is an excerpt from psyche.co website about sharing shame: ‘Sharing about our shame can help us realize that others will accept us despite self-perceived flaws. Further, sharing often provides a space where others open up and actually relate to our experiences, which decreases the sense of aloneness and can increase our trust in opening up to others.’
This last part of the quote really hits home, the decrease in a sense of aloneness has been huge for me, and bright spot in my recovery. Likewise, my increased trust in opening up to others has allowed me grow and learn. There was certainly no growth when I just bottled things up inside, with no outlet other than drinking.
I will leave you with this quote by author Ann Voskamp, ‘Shame dies when stories are told in safe places.’
Have you shared your shame?
Today’s blog entry is from Amanda McLean, who has been a member of Café RE since November 2019. Amanda has been alcohol free since March 26, 2019 and is very active within her Café RE GO community.
“Another day one, I’m such a loser.”
“I’ve ruined everything.”
“I’ll never get sobriety to stick.”
In my journey with alcohol abuse and recovery, these are just a few common mantras that run through my mind. I am someone who chronically struggles with self-judgment and negative self-talk. I know that my inner critic can be harsh and unforgiving. Since our thoughts drive our emotions, this unrelenting internal talk leads to painful feelings including anxiety, sadness, and low self-esteem. For many people, this self-hatred inner monologue and the associated feelings can lead to relapse or other forms of damaging behaviors. In my personal recovery journey, I have learned that being kind and supportive to myself during times of suffering is critical in maintaining my sobriety in recovery.
Avoidance is the Enemy
As Paul states in Recovery Elevator Episode 274 – I Feel Your Pain “In order to shift stagnant energy inside of us, we have to talk about our emotions.” Avoiding our thoughts and feelings never ends the way that we hope it will. And experts agree that one of the contributing factors to addiction is avoidance. As a person in recovery, I am guilty of minimizing, invalidating, and negating my feelings. But the more we avoid distress or attempt to suppress it, the worse it becomes. The more energy we use to push emotions like anxiety or anger away, the more powerfully those emotions come back toward us.
Another disadvantage of avoidance is that our bodies interpret avoidance as proof of danger, and this signals our internal alarm system. When my internal alarm system is activated, I often crave something to soothe my nervous system. Historically, I used and abused alcohol to calm my painful emotions. Although this solution proved to be immediate, it came with long term undesirable consequences including more painful emotions and negative self-talk. And thus, the cycle continued.
Start with Validation
Rather than avoiding negative self-talk and painful feelings that we would rather not face, we need to make a shift. We need to remember that the thought and the feeling are not the enemy. We need to remind ourselves that our thoughts and feelings are allowed to be here. We can tolerate discomfort. This starts with noticing the thought and/or the feeling and then providing validation.
Validation is useful for addressing any uncomfortable thought or feeling. It starts with acknowledging or labeling the feeling. For example, “I feel like I fail at everything, and this feels rough” or “I feel like I can’t do anything right and my entire body is tense” or “My chest feels tight and I feel so anxious”.
Once we acknowledge what we are feeling, we can then tell ourselves why it makes sense that we feel this way. In other words, tell yourself the story about why it makes sense that you feel the way that you feel. For example, “It makes sense that this feels rough because I worked a long day and now I am cooking dinner for my family while my kids argue”, or “It makes sense that I feel like I can’t do anything right and I am tense because my boss just snapped at me”, or “It makes sense that I am feeling anxious because this is my daughter’s first day at her new school and I am scared she won’t make friends”.
I know that feeling. That feeling of shame. When I was abusing alcohol, I didn’t want anyone else to know the things I had done. This is exactly when we need self-compassion. Self-compassion reminds me that I made a mistake but that does not mean that I am fundamentally a bad person. I can separate my worth as a person from my behavior.
When I fail to validate and hold my feelings, when I shame myself, I cannot learn from my mistakes. Shaming myself through self-judgement and self-criticism shuts down the learning receptors in the brain. Shame freezes a person. Self-compassion allows me to acknowledge and validate my thoughts and feelings, commit to not making the mistake again, and then forgive myself.
Dr. Kristin Neff, a pioneer in the field of self-compassion research, states that self-compassion is acting toward yourself the way you would act toward a cherished friend when you are having a difficult time, when you fail, or when you notice something that you don’t like about yourself. When something goes wrong or we have a difficult moment, avoiding or fighting against the suffering in that moment will only increase our anxiety, distress, and self-criticism. Self-compassion is a method for soothing or comforting our nervous system.
The 3 steps of Self-Compassion
When I was at the height of my alcohol abuse, waking up each morning feeling like a failure, the most common self-criticism that I heard in my head was, “I am such a loser”. More often than not, self-criticism caused me significant distress which led me to soothe my system with alcohol. In recovery, I have learned the value of self-compassion: giving myself kindness, care, and support.
Self-compassion involves three steps. First, I must hold the pain of my mistakes. This takes a lot of courage because I must acknowledge the pain I have caused myself and others. Second, I remember that pain and suffering are a part of being human and therefore other people have felt this way as well. I am not alone. Third, I must be kind to myself. Self-kindness means that I treat myself with sympathy, warmth, and patience.
Practicing these three steps may sound like, “I drank again and I was not present for my children and my husband. Other people struggle with repeated mistakes, and I am not the only person who has felt and experienced this pain. I have been through a lot this year and quitting alcohol is hard. AND I can do hard things.” From that space of openheartedness, I can do everything I can to commit to doing it differently in the future. This allows me to soothe my nervous system without using or abusing a harmful substance.
***By Amanda McLean; Café RE Go Group
In our Dry January course, REstore, Paul teaches a class covering the different recovery modalities. The good news is that In 2023, there are more ways to ditch the booze than ever before. Even just 10 years ago recovery took place in church basements with bad coffee and shitty donuts, but today the landscape is much different.
**Side note, Paul still goes to an AA meeting, in a church basement with bad coffee. He’s not dawging that way of recovery, he loves his Tuesday night AA meeting, but there are so many more methods, programs, techniques…you name it…available today.
So which pathway is right for you?
A couple caveats before we begin.
Caveat 1. If you are READY then ANY pathway is going to work for you. If you’re truly sick and tired of being sick and tired, then any of these programs will work. In addition, you HAVE to give them a solid try.
Caveat 2 – There is no right or wrong way to quit drinking. We’re going to give some recommendations, but it’s up to you to figure out what works best for you.
When building your recovery portfolio you want this work to be 50% external – 50% internal. At first, the internal work may be too big of an ask, but as your nervous system settles down, you want to aim for a balanced split.
Here are some quick examples of what external vs internal is:
- Driving to an AA meeting, or hopping on a Café RE zoom chat
- Phoning a sober friend
- Working with a sponsor
- Reading quit lit
When building out your recovery pathway Paul recommends this 5 tiered approach. .
5 Tiered Approach
- Inner Peace
- Community – Let’s talk programs that are community focused.
A.A., Smart Recovery, Dharma Recovery, Life Ring, Women for Recovery, Café RE, The Lucky Club, Meetup.com, online sober communities, Reddit, talkingsober.com, our sober Ukulele Course, Dry January and Photo courses, phoning a sober friend, 1:1 Interaction within another person in recovery. Meeting with a counselor or therapist falls under this community approach.
All of these tiers are important but this one is a BIG ONE. In order for you to get the most out of this, you have to first burn the ships, with yourself, then with your community. Burning the ships = Accountability which then = Community.
Yoga, dance, music, ecstatic dance, hiking, stretching, running, swimming, drumming on your desk. Your body is meant to move. Chemicals of wellbeing, endorphins, dopamine, and serotonin are released when we move. 3x a week, for 20 min is a good starting point.
- Inner Peace/Creation
Meditation, breathwork, sunrises, sunsets, time spent in nature, time spent with animals, float tank, relaxing, chanting, journaling, inner child work, singing, playing music, painting, writing poetry. This is where you create your new life that no longer requires alcohol. One reason why pen to paper is so effective is you can’t write as fast as the mind can think, so it slows down the thinking mind.
About animals – their nervous systems are much more intact, or less frenzied than ours. Animals live life from the hearts opposed to their human counterparts who live mostly in thought. A recent study shows that similar amount of oxytocin is released when we hug a dog compared to when we hug a human. And flip side to that, oxytocin, or the love molecule is released in dogs, when we pet them. If you’re feeling fraught, visit a petting zoo or kick it with a pet. Human nervous systems can attune themselves to more stable nervous systems, even those of animals.
This is learning. This is empowering yourself with information. Podcasts, quit lit books, audiobooks, learn about healthy diets, learn about how the mind works. No you cannot read or listen yourself out of an addiction, but this is an important tier. Under this umbrella includes medicines both from the east and west. Perhaps Naltrexone, or the Sinclair method is something you may want to try. Naltrexone is a medication that blocks the euphoria response when we drink alcohol. Perhaps more shamanic approaches with medicines such as ayahuasca, psilocybin, San Pedro or Ibogaine may be right for you.
- The Universe
Lets get clear, this is not religion, but it is the spirituality component of recovery. One of the beautiful purposes of an addiction is it can flex the layers of the ego so much that they eventually snap…letting in what some will call their higher power.
When you say lines to yourself like, “I can’t live like this anymore.” The Universe is right there with you saying, “no problem, let me show you the way.”
Now go slow with the universe. This was the last of the five tiers to implement itself in Paul’s sobriety journey. This one most likely is on the universe’s clock and not yours. But be open, pay attention to the breadcrumbs of life and don’t be afraid to ask for assistance or guidance from the universe at any time.
There’s a well remixed line that has been floating around for several thousand years. Ask and you shall receive.
To recap, 50% internal, 50% external and hit a couple things from the five tiers ,and you’ll be just fine.
Remember, your recovery is always changing, because you are. It should change. What you’re doing now should look different than what you were doing a month or year ago.
***Taken from Recovery Elevator Podcast, Episode 425, host Paul Churchill***
Recovery Elevator is excited to offer a new type of blog experience to our readers! We are reaching out to our Café RE members and giving those that are interested the opportunity to be guest bloggers for our site. Think of it as a podcast interview in written form. You will get parts of their story along with tips and tools that they have found beneficial in their own recovery journey. Please let us know what you think, or perhaps topics you would like to see covered, in the comments.
I’m excited to bring our first guest blog submission to you today! Stephanie McCarroll has been a member of Café RE since August 2020, has been alcohol free since January 12, 2020 and is very active within the community. You can often find her on one of our daily ZOOM chats, if not hosting it, offering support and accountability to our members. Thank you Steph!!
Benefits of Service in Recovery
By Stephanie McCarroll
One of the most important aspects of long term recovery is being of service to others. At the early stages of sobriety, my focus was to get through the day sober. While sobriety continues to be my most valuable thing I have, my life moved past just getting through the day without a drink. A greater need arose in myself to heal and thrive in all areas of my life: physically, mentally, emotionally, socially and spiritually.
Like the disease we have, recovery is also progressive.
True recovery is a path beyond simple abstinence. Rather, it is a journey by which we build strength to face the wounds that may have led to addiction and create a flourishing sober life. Being a helpful and valuable part of my recovery community is an integral part of such a life, and it is deeply nourishing to our social and spiritual wellbeing.
Alcohol isolated us.
It demanded we put our substance abuse above all others in our lives. Some of us feel a great deal of guilt for the time lost to our addiction. Although we cannot go back and erase our mistakes, our addiction gave us insight of what slavery to alcohol looked like. Hearing that other alcoholics could stop and recover was something that inspired us to keep fighting. We were no longer alone. We had evidence we could recover.
For those who have shared their stories, they chose to be of service, giving powerful testimony of the benefits of living an alcohol free life. In recovery, the idea of service could be a new, daunting thought. Yet, giving back to our communities provides us with so many benefits.
Science has proven that being of service positively affects your brain and mental health. According to research, when you give your time and resources to people in need, your brain activates pleasure sensors, giving you a feeling of wellbeing. In this way, being of service in recovery is a form of self-care and lifts our spirits. It also helps us to manage stress.
It also helps us rediscover our self-worth. It means being part of something bigger. At Cafe RE, members are encouraged to find ways to be of service wherever possible. Because Cafe RE is an intimate community, members volunteer to host chats and participate in community service projects.
In recovery, my art of writing has been rediscovered. Like those who had a fondness for music and photography, I wanted to reach out to the writers. This prompted me to inquire about the possibility of forming a members-driven Guest Blog for Recovery Elevator. Paul said YES!
In finding the right service opportunity for you, it can be helpful to tune into your passions and what makes you come alive. Being in recovery is a beautiful gift that gives you the chance to pursue the things you love most about life, things that may have been robbed from you during your addiction.
If you would like to give back to the recovery community and guest blog, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org. We know our members have a lot to say and want to be of service. We are excited for this new endeavor and know it will help a lot of people.