Tag Archives: lack of motivation

No black-and-white thinking allowed

19 Jan

1:47 pm

Hi, friends! It’s been a week and that seems too long. And, I’ve had such a BUSY week–labor-intensive, I should say– that it’s been rough keeping my head in the sobriety game.

I must admit, I’ve been having the “fuck it’s” a little too often for my own comfort lately.

I just feel pulled. I mean, for one thing, I don’t have a secure income. Hello, that would drive anyone a bit mad. Second, I don’t have this burning desire to do, as I once had. It’s persistent. I thought it would be gone by now, almost a year since I had my last drink, but “the blahs” are hanging on.

I mean, it’s been almost a year, but I’ll admit, I still go through most of my day just doing things because I have to. Maybe I did that before, maybe we all do it to survive. I don’t know, I’m confused and having a hard time figuring out where “sober me” ends and “me me” begins. Like, the other day, I did a shit-ton of stuff–a job interview, wrote a piece for publication, and went to a party and chatted everyone up while sober. And I came home with barely a memory of any of it. It was like I was in a mini-blackout. Now, with all my science-y reading, I’ve come to understand that forming memories that stick requires feeling–like, you form much stronger memories if your emotional brain is involved, which is why, heya, our emotions are so wrapped up in our addictions, and vice versa. I don’t know if I’m burnt out (freelancing takes so many things out of your control) or simply dealing with a lack of dopamine due to getting sober. I feel like I could take or leave most everything–work, eating, play. It’s all the same to me. It’s weird to try to explain it, but it’s like, I feel very little/numb/nothing, so I have to rationally engage my brain to make me want to do things. And I do them, and I like it, but… It’s weird. It’s sort of scaring me a bit, because I do realize that I’m operating on will and I know how testy will can be.

All that aside, I feel OK, fine, whatever, I’m not complaining about having sun, and water, and work, and basically, a lot of free time to construct any kind of life I want (as long as I make my rent, that is). I’ve realized that taking breaks–like, totally shutting down the information flow–is absolutely essential to me being able to breathe and say, OK, drinking would NOT help here. That means, no email, no Facebook, no news, no music, and most certainly, minimizing other people because other people means me having to take in their stories, and their feelings, and their problems–and it’s not that I don’t want to, I just can’t right now. I feel like I might implode. And, this all makes me feel desperate inside, and like I want/need to drink to shut it off. As Jen so well put it in a blog post:

Drinking is a way of controlling reality when everything else feels out of control. That’s where the ‘fuck it’s’ come in. Fuck it, everything is hard, might as well drink. Fuck it, I can’t change anything, might as well drink. Fuck it, I am not happy, might as well drink.

This past week, it’s hit home again: I use a LOT of black-and-white thinking. Black-and-white thinking is so tricky, and you don’t realize you’re doing it, but it raises your anxiety to the point where you want to say, Fuck it, and let yourself drink, whether it’s at your problem or because of your problem. For instance: I find a story idea, I pitch it, and an editor rejects it. I could either think, Well, that publication didn’t want it so the story’s dead…and, also, I suck at this and I should probably find another line of work; and then, Shit, how am I going to pay my bills if I suck; and while I’m at it, I also seem to suck at x, y, and z, too, and so, Why am I even here, why bother being alive? You see how it goes. Alternately, I could think (like “normal” people do?), Well, that publication didn’t want it, so, let’s see if another one does. I think the story idea is good, I’m sticking to my guns, and I just have to have patience, dampen the anxiety over money with simple trust in my own talents, and ramp up the aggressive side that says, Go get ’em, tiger.

This all leads me to the second big “thing” I’ve realized this week: I am performing all the time, mainly because I don’t think what I have is what people want. In work, in play, at parties, in relationships, I can see now that the common theme throughout my life has been trying hard to be something for others that I thought they wanted. I never once considered that it didn’t matter what they were thinking or wanting. Now, I’m trying to undo that, and getting sober has allowed me to see, for the first time in some cases, that it Just Doesn’t Matter. And, that I Just Don’t Care. And, that this is essential to staying sober, to healing, for me anyway. Going to parties sober is so much easier now because I can see how drinking is, for many people, a way to please others. It shows me that other people are struggling with this desire to please, which is a desire to hide your “real” self, I guess. It’s a way to perform your way out of being authentic; and being authentic requires something along the lines of not giving a rat’s ass–in a good way. I’m working on that, and it’s supremely liberating, even more than the absence of craving, which for the most part I have these days.

However, I have been having the “fuck it’s” lately, and sometimes I want to smoke a cigarette. I don’t like smoking, but lately, I’ve almost lit up a few times out of desperation! To cast order, to soothe, to activate my mind–I don’t even know what I’m looking for in these moments. I wonder if an SSRI might be good for me; I often feel a palpable absence of motivation. But, where does “sober me” end and “me me” begin? Should I just keep waiting to recalibrate? I’ve always felt a fire in my head, and now I wonder, was it fueled by wine this whole time, and a continuing surge of dopamine? I’d have to say no, because I do remember how passionate and driven I was in my teens and college years, before I started drinking. Yet, that was 20 years ago–could it be an age-driven sense of “meh, been there, done that”?

So, I wait. I’m waiting. Which I can do. And, this is sobriety. I can tell you this, though: I have ZERO desire to go back there, to be those drinking people at the party, some beholden to the bottle, others pulled by it, a few enslaved to it. But all–ALL–trapped into performing their lives, their selves, instead of simply being and doing. I might be feeling flat, but I definitely am feeling FREEer than ever when it comes to not having to perform in my own life anymore. Sure, I might come across as disinterested or even bitchy or uncaring, but you know what, maybe I am. I’ve come to accept that YES, it’s OK to displease others; it’s OK if other people don’t like or get or get off on you–it’s not your responsibility. And isn’t that great? In the sense that, if I am disinterested and I don’t hide that from myself–or from you–I’m on the fast track to finding what really interests me, what I’m really passionate about, what I feel safe expressing my excitement for. I’m being me, and that’s a gift, to you. Getting sober has taught me that this is a good thing, and I am using this as a kind of mini-life raft right now, until a solid shoreline comes into focus.

I hope everyone is doing well, and taking breaks, and having treats. And turning it off when you must, and not giving a rat’s ass! 🙂

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Into every life a little PAWS will fall

5 Jan

12:29 pm

I was going to post on something that I mentioned to Lilly the other day–how we have to remember that we’re addicted not just to booze, but to the “idea” of what booze gives us, does for us, makes us; and how we have to grieve the person we “lost”–but instead, I’d just like to keep it simple: PAWS sucks.

According to the “illustrious” Wikipedia, the symptoms of PAWS–post-acute-withdrawal syndrome–include mood swings resembling an affective disorder, anhedonia (the inability to feel pleasure from anything beyond use of the drug), insomnia, extreme drug craving and obsession, anxiety and panic attacks, depression, suicidal ideation and suicide and general cognitive impairment. These can last from a year to several decades, or indefinitely. YIKES.

I highlighted the ones that have affected me the most, and I think we can all agree: once we stop drinking, it doesn’t necessarily do jack shit for us. In fact, for me it meant seeing myself succumb to a lack of motivation that I blamed on my inherent nature, when really, it was just me coming off booze. That goes for my ongoing mood swings and depression, too.

I felt frustrated A LOT. Up until about a few months ago, actually. I mean, we stop drinking, and we’re supposed to feel great and happy and lovely, right? And yet…we feel WORSE sometimes (most of the time). We not only feel the depression or anxiety that we’ve been self-medicating away, but PAWS brings its own special form of hell. And, until we have medications to help us out with PAWS symptoms, we simply have to go through it in order to be able to look back and say, Ahh, so that’s what they were talking about. FUCK.

My main symptom has been lack of motivation. A feeling of “meh,” or “blah,” or “why bother?” surrounding basically everything–eating, reading, watching movies; working, hiking; going to bars and picnics and barbeques. It wasn’t that I didn’t have fun doing these things, or that they were so bad to do sober; it’s just that I totally noticed how much I MISSED wine and how most things just didn’t offer much reward for doing them without it. Wine was a serious motivating factor; it was also my main reward.

In learning more about how our reward circuitry gets fucked up when we come to depend on booze, it’s not hard to see how nothing but wine would motivate me. Our brains become sensitized to alcohol. What does this mean? It means that, other rewards–incentives, like eating good food or having an orgasm; or higher-level rewards, like a future job done well, or a big professional goal accomplished–other rewards lose meaning. They hold no weight, in fact. It’s like, the ONLY thing that’s going to do it for me, and by that I mean, instill in my brain a DESIRE to do something, is wine. Forget that it may or may not give me pleasure. What’s happened is that your dopamine circuits (among others that make wine the “high” that it is) have become attuned to this one stimulus–your only motivating factor becomes wine. Otherwise, there literally is no reason, in your mind, to do it.

Now, I’ve blogged about this before, but I’ve seen a lot of people on here lately complaining that they’re feeling depressed, or unmotivated, that they’re just going through the motions and really, wasn’t quitting drinking supposed to have the opposite effect? And, all I can say is, it takes time. YOU HAVE TO GIVE IT TIME. You have to live through the “blah” period. For me, that lasted for a good 1.5 years. I’m sorry, but it’s the truth. My innate motivation–you know, how I used to “get pumped” to work out, to job search, to plan a trip to Greece…because these things are inherently worthy of doing–took some time to return.

I journaled a lot. I felt sorry for myself a lot. But, I also just went through the motions, and there’s a LOT to be said for just doing what needs to be done. I made a lot of to-do lists, and then, finally stopped berating myself for not getting to much of what was on my list. I just didn’t drink. Sometimes I’d go to bed early; a lot of times I did only what needed to be done in terms of work (I didn’t make very much money last year–haha); I bitched to my boyfriend; I took long walks with my dogs (they are my “higher power,” I swear); I ate a lot of sweets; I drank a shit-ton of Diet Coke. There were treats in the form of trips and hikes and lazy days on the beach–which were sometimes (often) clouded by me feeling bad or guilty about taking time off to heal, or not being capable of enjoying the moment. It just takes time, and constant effort. But, mostly, it just takes doing it, and going through the motions. Believe me, you will NOT be going through the motions forever, even though you’re convinced that things will never feel good again and you might as well drink because there is NO WAY you’re not drinking and putting up with this shit forever.

It’s like a really bad breakup: one day, you’ll just move on. One day, you’ll wake up and the gut-ache will have dissipated, poof, gone. One day, you’ll be like, Oh, well, he was a fucking asshole anyway. One day, you’ll say, Huh, I think I’m gonna wear some lipstick today, and maybe even some short shorts. HA.

Your motivation–spark, enthusiasm, desire to do, and to go, and to achieve–will come back. But it’s going to take time, healing time. It wasn’t until I gave myself a SOLID 7, 8, 9 months (and this was AFTER a solid 2, and then, 6 months first-tries at getting sober) that I started to see my thinking change. To feel butterflies again. YES, I’d actually feel butterflies once in a while (when was the last time I felt butterflies, in the ’90s?) thinking about the trip I was going to take, the book I was going to write, the new job I was going to apply for and work.

I’m still just starting to come back, but I am coming back. I have found myself having more random man-on-street conversations, being open to socializing; applying for jobs and not feeling like I can’t do them (that was scary, having so little self-confidence when it came to work, which was always “my thing”); in general, feeling at ease in my own skin again. Thinking back, I wonder, why did I make it so hard? Why was I just so…weird all the time? Not “myself?” Literally beside myself? Because getting sober–and PAWS–sucks, that’s why. But, it’s not going to suck all the time, and it’s definitely not going to suck forever. And, you will get through this. You have to. If you keep not drinking!

Consider this: what IF you healed your mind, and you could drink again? What IF you healed your mind and you simply did not WANT to drink again? These are very real possibilities. And, you can even use them as motivation to not drink–IT’S OK. Don’t let other people’s personal experiences in getting sober bog you down: your path is your own, and what you CHOOSE to do after a period of abstinence WHICH ALLOWS YOU TO FULLY HEAL, MENTALLY AND EMOTIONALLY, is up to you. But first you have to heal. And you have to see how this might work, the longer you go without your “go-to” (wine, in my case).

I’ve got a story/essay to outline, and job to apply to, and then, “me” time! And that always involves trees, sun, water, and exercise! Happy Sunday, all. (And, I’m inching toward 300 days come next Sunday–woo hoo, I guess.)

Sitting and zoning out, or, this too shall pass

5 Oct

4:49 pm

Just sitting.

And zoning.

And eating cheese quesadillas and vanilla chocolate chip ice cream.

And not doing a whole lot of anything.

I’m baffled as to why my motivation can go from 10 to 1 in a matter of 24 hours, and does this every other 24 hours? I cycle in and out, in and out. Two steps forward, one step back. It is almost 5 pm and I’ve done a total of jack shit. (Part of my frustration is the fact that I remain in search of work, and others are searching, too, and we’re all facing the same, bigger-than-ourselves social problems that just Can’t Be Fixed by four (white) folks who aren’t from here. Sigh. I let it get to me; they seemingly don’t. And, it’s probably frustrating me a LOT more than I’m consciously aware of–which, essentially, is contributing to my feeling helpless, which always makes me want to escape with wine. I am impatient, I guess, and don’t like sitting with frustration=How’s about a glass of wine to “solve” that problem, hmmmmmmm?)

I wonder, is it that I simply don’t have a deep well to draw from anymore, when it comes to motivation, perseverance, and joie de vivre? I mean, staying sober takes a lot of that out of you, and keeps on wringing and wringing. In fact, I’ve read about studies showing that your willpower to resist temptation (drink, food) decreases the more tired out you are from other, mentally-exhausting tasks (think, you’re more apt to chow down on that Snickers if you’ve spent the day doing something mentally exhausting versus if you spent it chilling by the pool). Maybe this is part of getting older? Or, is it that I actually NEED more time off? Maybe I am (and have been, for a while) utterly burnt out, after all these years of overachieving, such that I can find neither interest nor rationale for anything whose main reward is “accomplishment” or “success?” The words ring hollow now, and I can only imagine the actual concepts banging around inside my soul like two empty milk cartons. They hold no weight.

I know I need to stop going against the grain, rest if I need to rest, sleep if I need to sleep, etc. BUT…when do I need to give myself a kick in the rear?

And, I’ve talked about this before, but sometimes I have so little energy/motivation (compared to how I used to feel, before I got sober) that I can’t even be bothered to drink! Sometimes (often?) drinking served as a way to not simply make myself feel better, or happier, or less depressed; but as a way to make myself see that I was trying to make it better. If I was drinking, at least I hadn’t totally given up, right? I was at least TRYING to make things better. I was trying to motivate myself to feel good, and that made me feel like I hadn’t completely given in to the lethargy and depression. Today, even if I wanted to drink, I really can not be bothered to pick up a bottle or even pour the glass. I know it won’t work, and I know, deep down (on day 201 today) that I can’t go back. I can’t go home again when it comes to wine.

I’ve figured out a few things lately, though, that help. One is physical activity. I’m not talking about a run, or a swim, or a walk, but all three, over a 4- or 8-hour period! I’ve often thought that if I could ONLY JUST STAY IN CONSTANT MOTION, then the urge to drink wouldn’t be so strong. This helped early on, and it’s helping me now when it comes to freelance writing: a solid bout of activity, 4 hours let’s say, helps to calm my mind, clears out all the raging thoughts, and allows me to actually sit down and work in a concentrated fashion.

Sooner or later, though, we all have to just sit with it (literally, in my case.) Sit with it when it sucks. I can do that, right? Yes, I can do that. I can have it suck and just sit with it. I have learned how to do that, and that it is much less painful than going out and drinking to avoid the sitting. What makes it easier, by far, is having someone else–a community, as it were–to sit with me! That’s where you guys come in.

For instance, I’ve realized that even IF I don’t get shit done, and I feel bad about it–like my world is crumbling, like it’s the worst thing ever–when I come here, I am reminded that it SO isn’t that bad. There was something so horrible about being hungover alone; it was better to share the burden once in a while with someone else, not that I did that a lot after my college days. Same is true of this sphere: when I come here with my problems and you sit, we sit, through them; I see that they might not be as bad as I thought. None of you are worrying, or freaking out, or telling me that my thoughts justify drinking, so…maybe they actually don’t? It’s an amazing sounding board.

So, now I feel sick. And, my sports bra is too tight. And my sciatica is acting up. And, obviously, my “illness,” which I would consider the extreme mess of thoughts that race through my head on a constant basis, is in full swing. But, I’m sitting here. With you. And we’re not reacting because there is nothing worth reacting to. Nothing to do but wait. And breathe. And know that this too shall pass. And I am still whole. And something got done, actually–I am stronger. For this, I thank you guys.

The problem with achievement

30 Aug

7:18 pm

I know I should (want to) be posting more often, but with titles like “Sigh” (yes, there’s a draft post in my list titled “Sigh”) I haven’t been able to hit send on any of my drafts, as it were.

Lately, I have to admit, I’m starting to feel like the only one who’s not really having fun at the (sober) party. I’ve also been thinking about drinking again. You know, when I get to 180 days. I’m not jones’ing for a drink, but I can’t help but wonder, Would I feel more like myself again if I inserted that habit back into my life? Would it help to orient me? More importantly, could it help boost my motivation back to some level of normalcy?

I don’t want to say that life sucks right now. For the most part, all is well, and I’m glad for all the things that I get to have by being sober: a clear head, no hangovers, never doing or saying anything destructive. OK, I got it. Good. Thank you.

What isn’t good is my lingering lack of…oomph. I just don’t feel excited about anything. Not the way I used to. The fire feels out, and I don’t know how to re-light it!

It’s hard to explain. It’s not that I don’t have work or hobbies, it’s just that I don’t really *feel* like doing any of them. The way I used to. I don’t feel any sense of achievement after doing almost everything, honestly. Yeah, yeah, it’s done. Can I go back to staring out at the water now? Maybe I don’t have the “huge” sense of accomplishment I once had because I was always hung over, and doing anything with a hangover seems like a Herculean feat. Back then, brushing my teeth felt like I climbed a mountain. And, getting through my work day? Well, I might as well have flown (with my own wings) to the moon. Now, everything I used to do just makes me feel sort of impatient and empty–is this it?

I realize that I used drinking to fill the void of not knowing how to spend my free time. I became reliant on using it when I’d feel that pull I just mentioned, feeling burnt out and “been there-done that.” However, as I was thinking about what to write for today’s post (which included a lot of procrastinating), I realized something: my addiction goes beyond the using of wine. My “core” addiction centers around not knowing how to spend my my time, period, without having something to achieve or accomplish. Which stems from an addiction to achievement.

Whenever I think and believe I haven’t accomplished much, I feel depressed. I feel sad. I feel frustrated. And, I want to drink. Wanted. Want. I want to make those feelings go away, to escape from those thoughts. I can’t just “be.” I need–and that’s the key word–to always be doing something “exciting” or “new.” I need–key word–to always be having something, or acquiring something, and in this scenario, that something is experience. I am, in essence, addicted to getting new things–knowledge, experiences, and maybe sometimes even things, but I’m much less addicted to consuming things as I am experiences. So, I drink to both ease the pain of not getting what I want, what I have come to need; and I drink to get an artificial version of that high.

This is both enlightening and saddening. While it’s good to know that wine is not the be-all, end-all of my addiction, it’s not so good to know that now, I honestly don’t know what’s healthy and what’s not. How much do I don’t do? If I was living my “old” life right now, I’d still be at work. I’d be just as unhappy there, “doing shit,” as I am now, “not doing shit.” And there, my friends, is the essence of the conundrum: there is no solution, at least no fast one, to this so-called problem. I know plenty of people who simply solve this and other existential conundrums with a drink–give it a rest, they’d say. Don’t think too hard on it. Others work harder, have more kids, get involved in others’ lives–you know, live life. My stumbling block is that these thoughts are in my head 98 percent of the time instead of the what I maybe erroneously believe is the “normal” 2 percent.

On that note, I’m not drowning and I still have (a little) hope that I’ll start to feel more excited about doing shit soon. I have found that just continuing to set daily goals and complete them helps. Ignoring the bad thoughts and feelings helps. Going for walks, doing yoga, and running or swimming helps. I have to smirk, in an ironic, God damn it, sort of way, when I think about drinking again. Even if I DID start drinking again, I know that it would not at all help me solve this problem. Other things might, like taking a trip, getting a different job, or moving (at least temporarily). But not drinking. I know too much now. DAMN IT.

Two more weeks until my 6-month mark. Woot woot. (insert sarcastic-wink emoticon here)

Lack of motivation, or, My attempt at neuroscience

20 Aug

5:25 pm

Lack of motivation. Bored to tears is not just an expression. Maybe some days you’re simply not meant to get much done? Except, ahem, eating and drinking everything in the house. (Why is it that after quitting drinking, we turn to food and substitute drink? Is there something so hardwired about equating “food substance” or “something that is going into my alimentary canal” with “reward” that we can’t shake it no matter how long and hard we try?)

Today is OK–meh, actually–and I can deal with that. However, I’m having the usual brain fart: I find it difficult to hold my thoughts in form; like food that wants to be vomited up, my thoughts want to come out in fragments that don’t resemble much of anything that makes sense.

Is this writer’s block, or simply something I have to contend with from now on? PAWS gone wild? I’m hoping the latter, but most of the time, my patience wears thin. I don’t have time for this shit.

Once every few days, I take note of my motivation level, which seems to me to be pretty damn low. And, I think I’ve figured it out: maybe for so long I associated EVERYTHING–work and play, life in general–with drinking, now my dopamine circuits can’t (won’t?) fire for anything without the attached reward (wine). It goes almost without saying that that sort of freaks me out, considering that I need to like, eat and work and laugh, whether or not (not) there is wine involved.

I’ve come to the conclusion that “normal” people–and even a lot of drinkers who did not fall as far as I must have–simply cannot understand this. Their dopamine circuits still allow them to desire to do many things, whether or not booze is in the picture. Like, eating, or going to the gym, or working. I was actually vaguely aware of how much I relied on the “reward” of wine in order to motivate myself to do any of these things toward the last few years of my drinking. And then it got worse: I skipped eating altogether; I only worked out in order to both be able to drink more and maintain a modicum of health such that my body could continue to drink more; in the end, the only thing that got me through my often painfully intellectual day was the reward of wine after having gotten through it and, later–it got even worse–the reward of wine DURING said day.

It was a neverending cycle, and I’m not sure how I ended up in its claws OR how I managed to extricate myself. Maybe throwing up a bottle of red wine at 3:30 am and then drinking an entire OTHER bottle before getting up, showering, and getting on the commuter rail by 7:20 am became one of those few-and-far-between memories that could override the need for wine? Uh, maybe.

Dopamine is involved not only in giving you pleasure, but in making you want to seek out pleasure. Motivation to do, or in science speak, to perform behaviors that are associated with pleasure. Now, if EVERYTHING you do–for me it ranged from running to writing to travel to talking on the phone with friends and family–you associate with the reward of drinking, and you place a high level of importance on this reward, eventually your dopamine circuit is only going to fire to motivate you toward these associated things as long as there is the reward of wine. If there is no reward of wine, there is no dopamine, and therefore, no motivation. (I’d like to do some interviews on this, but I think this is the gist of it.)

When the associated behavior/triggers are going out to bars, or hanging out with friends, ditching the wine isn’t the end of the world. But I associated everything with drinking.

Now, I feel no strong urge to do anything. I work because I NEED to, and I run and eat and read and hang out and go swimming and take care of the dogs and plant shit because…I know it’ll make me feel better, eventually. I do love certain things, of course, and living sober is amazing, don’t get me wrong. I just have to think my way into wanting it all, more often than not. Some days, though, all that future focus cannot cover up the present lack of reward. And, what’s worse, I’m afraid (worried) that this new normal might not right itself anytime soon.

With all that in mind, I continue to do and strive, and get about 25 percent of what I want to get done actually done every day. And I’m learning to accept this, and not judge myself. This is the only way, I somewhat resignedly tell myself. You got yourself into this, now you have to (and can) get yourself out. Is there another way, though? Does it have to be this hard? I honestly don’t know…

Anyway, I don’t mind waiting, and right here and now is a pretty good place to take a seat. Happy Week 22 plus 1 day to me! By Saturday, I will have passed my longest record of 158 (almost) days sans booze. Wowie. Thanks to ALL OF YOU, for listening and cheering and empathizing.

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