Nutrition Supports Sobriety

A guest post by Laurel Sindewald

When we’re early in recovery from alcohol addiction, it’s important to remember to be kind to our bodies. We’re used to getting half of our daily calories from alcohol. Alcohol turns to sugar in the body. Processed sugars make our blood sugar levels spike and drop, and when our blood sugar drops, the craving comes stronger than ever. To use nutrition to help ourselves stay sober, sugar is the first food we need to stay away from.

Nutrition can support sobrietyRather than eating a few large meals a day, we can keep ourselves stable with multiple smaller meals and snacks in between. Nuts and granola can make good snacks, with plenty of protein and carbs to keep us fueled through the day.

A diet rich in complex carbohydrates will help stabilize our blood sugar so that we can focus on building our new lives. These are whole grains, beans, and vegetables, many of which also have protein and vitamins. When we go to the store, these are some helpful complex carbohydrates we can look for:

  • Quinoa is a grain high in protein and good carbs, and can be found at grocery stores with pre-mixed spices for excellent flavor. It only takes about 15 minutes to cook and most boxes have various recipes to try. Consider making quinoa with fish, like salmon or tilapia, and a hearty pot of southern greens.
  • Lentils, of whatever color, are another fantastic carb. Lentil soup with carrots, garlic, and celery is heartwarming on a cold day, and helps keep one feeling stable and strong.
  • Split Peas also make a wonderful soup with a robust flavor. Home-made split pea soup only takes about thirty minutes to prepare. Add ham or cooked bacon to this winter favorite.
  • Barley and Rice are great in soups, cooked with spices as a side, or even cooked and cooled for a salad.
  • Black Beans, Kidney Beans, Black Eyed Peas, or any bean is your best friend for quick and sustaining meals. Whether it be a delicious chili or black bean soup, beans are full of the kind of carbs and protein you need. Stay away from baked beans, which have sugar in them, but pinto beans combine well with fish and Mexican dishes.
  • Collard, Mustard, Turnip Greens, Spinach, and Kale are full of vitamins in addition to those complex carbohydrates.
  • Other Vegetables: Carrots, Brussel Sprouts, Asparagus, Broccoli
  • Whole Wheat Pastas and Bread

Sometimes it can be hard to find time to cook, but fast food is full of processed sugars and carbs which can bring on cravings. The additives in processed foods can tax the liver further. Try some of these simple dinners:

  • Baked or fried salmon or tilapia, a side of quinoa or couscous, and steamed broccoli. (Mix and match different vegetables or grains as sides.)
  • Lentil soup with slices of buttered whole grain bread.
  • Black bean, kidney bean, and ground beef chili with a side salad of baby spinach with walnuts and cranberries.
  • Split pea soup, containing ham or bacon, potatoes, carrots, and celery.
  • Spaghetti or ravioli with sautéed onions, mushrooms, and ground turkey, beef, or sausage.
  • Baked chicken and asparagus, steamed Brussels sprouts, and a side of wild rice.
  • Bell peppers, onions, chicken, and garlic sautéed with fajita spices and served in tortillas.
  • Tacos with ground beef, lettuce, tomatoes, sour cream, and salsa.

Researched and written by Laurel Sindewald

Two Cats, Second Person

“My young friend,”I said, “if you want to be a psychological novelist and write about human beings, the best thing you can do is to keep a pair of cats.”
Aldous Huxley

So how this writing thing is going is that I get up, I take care of my two cats, I make tea, I look at the 46-item outline, I scan the list, feel the calling, and write about that one.

Cat waves on an ocean bed

It feels very strange to write from my year-two person to my day-one person in second person. “You felt this. You thought that.” So very odd.

But it’s giving me a way in that I’m not sure I would have if I were writing in first person. Something about, “I felt,” snarls me with tangled grief and uncertainty.

So far, every morning I have a book-writing session, I cry. I had no idea of the sorrow I felt, the anguish I was in when I quit. From two years out, I feel very sorry for myself and in the very best way. I feel such compassion for my suffering self. My words to her are so clear, so kind, so understanding. I see nothing to judge her on, scold her about, reprimand her for. Nothing. She was a mess. And there were and are reasons.

I am mindful of Dr. H.’s caution that I do not re-traumatize myself by writing this story. After two hard mornings in a row, I took the next morning off. When I feel I’ve done all I can, I look at the word count. If it’s over 600, I quit. No rereading, no editing.

I have thought I was writing from deep within for my blog, more deeply in personal emails. This writing is deeper still, more intimate, with no eyes upon it but mine. Although I feel deep in earth as I remember and cry, I find myself feeling paradoxically refreshed afterwards, as if I am standing upright, breathing in curlicues of air. So far, I am okay.

. . . . .

To share my process: I’m attempting to write a memoir of the past seven years, my first two years of abstinence from alcohol and the preceding five years of drinking. I’ve written a draft of the preface here.

I’m shooting for 75,000 words, a pretty standard length for a memoir. I’m giving myself 6 months, no more, no less. I figure if I write 5 days per week, 25 weeks, about 600 words each of those days, about 3000 words per week, I’ll have it. My outline currently has 46 sections, so that would be a limit of an average of 1630 words for each section. However, I see some sections being 100 words long and others being 5000.

I started the above regimen on Monday, January 5, 2015. So far, I’m behind on 5 days per week, but ahead of 3000 words per week.

I’m finding I can’t write a book and a blog and emails, so if you don’t hear from my via blog or email, my words are in the book.

I am so grateful for the wonderful support I am receiving for this effort from family, friends and those who share comments, and particularly from Sarah Beth Jones, Dan Smith, Laurel Sindewald, Alex Edelman, and my father, Robert Giles.

Microsoft Word reports I wrote 1047 words this morning. I am done writing for the day.

Letter to Myself at Two Years Sober

Two years ago today, I did not take a drink. The night before, I drank all the wine left in my house.

Today I begin to write the book I most needed to read today, two years ago, on day one of my abstinence from alcohol. I have found the first two years of recovery from addiction to alcohol so, so difficult.

I do not think these two years had to be that hard.

View from my office of the sun rising

View from my office of the sun rising on December 28, 2014

At about twenty months without a drink, I began to feel a bit of a turn for the better. In the past four months, I’ve gotten some of my mind back and have been able to remember and reflect upon the past two years. The observations, conclusions and insights I am having, I think, could have been so useful and valuable to me at the start.

In the preface to the book I would write:

If you are reading this, I’m hoping you are thinking about quitting, or early or newly in recovery from addiction to alcohol or other drugs, or perhaps even from a process – gambling, sex, shopping, eating, porn – whatever has been plaguing you. I’m hoping you might be a professional in the addictions treatment field looking to understand, again or for the first time, what the first two years can be like.

If you’re on medication-assisted treatment (MAT) – Suboxone, methadone, naltrexone, something else – or practicing another form of harm reduction, say marijuana instead of meth, this book could be for you, too. Maintaining abstinence, using or doing less, doing a so-so substance, or just plain doing things that feel like less – it’s just plain hard.

While I offer this book to you, I am writing it addressed to me. I had trouble with first person – “I couldn’t stop drinking” – because I couldn’t find a structure to it. It just went on and on with trouble and hardship. I was drawn to second person, “you,” but I loathe unsolicited advice in the “you should” form. Somehow, I started writing a letter to myself:

Dear Anne,

Here is the book I would have given to you if I had met you on day one. Oh, the pain you were in! I’m so, so sorry. If I had only known! There’s no way to go back. But if I could have been there for you from day one, this is what I would have said.

And I started crying and knew I was expressing some kind of truth from deep within so that’s the form this book takes: a letter of understanding, compassion and kindness to myself. Because that’s what I needed from day one: very, very specific knowledge, insights, understanding, compassion and kindness.

Very few have the ability to be specific and knowledgeable about recovery from addiction on days one through 730, the first two years of abstinence or harm reduction. Reasons for that exist which I will explain in the book. Simply put, what I most needed wasn’t available. So I am writing it now. Two years too late, I am still finding it healing and redemptive and restorative to express it now. If one single person finds the comfort and solace I needed at the time I became abstinent, then two years of abstinence and this soul-probing writing would be worth it.

Because I wouldn’t wish this on anyone.

If I relapse while writing this, ah, well. I don’t know what it’s like to relapse yet, but the odds are so in favor that I will. (According to this source, I had an 80% chance of relapsing in year one, now have a 40% chance of relapsing, and have to keep up this intensity of effort at least through year five. Exhausting. Heart-breaking.) I’ll hope I haven’t irreparably harmed myself or others. I expect my time drinking – or using other substances (I hope not, but I have felt the pull) – will be short-lived and I’ll be back doing what I need to do to stay in recovery from addiction to alcohol.

I’m sticking to doing my very best to write only what I think would have helped me in the first two years. I don’t feel confident writing a recovery self-help book. I’m so new to this. I don’t know what works long-term. And the addictions treatment field doesn’t know either, which astounds, flabbergasts and enrages me.

Ah, Anne, it’s okay. Deep breath. You’re not wrong or bad to feel angry. It’s just not helping you at this time. Let’s let that go for now.

See how a kind, reassuring voice appears when I’m distressed? It’s a little weird. But I haven’t had a drink in two years and that’s the voice that “wants” to speak in the book so I’m going with it.

So the book is written in second person, to “you,” but please know that it’s not advisory or directive. It’s a letter to me. I’m thinking that you reading the letter to me as “you” might be of help to you. We shall see.

Here’s my plan for the book: Part 1 is the letter to me. Part 2 is my story, my first person narrative, with parts chosen that help explain the letter. Separating my thinking this way has helped me not go on and on with my story but to excerpt it.

Part 3 is my story as a case study. I’m a teacher and a counselor. I am trained to take a clinical, scientific, research-informed look at people. I do so with myself in Part 3 and offer a brief clinical case study with myself as the subject and myself as the clinician. Self-diagnosis and self-treatment are considered professionally unethical in the counseling field, but I make a case in my story why it was imperative for me to do so. Autodidactic addicts and addictions professionals may or may not buy my reasoning but I offer it in case it may be of value.

I also write this book for the people who love and loved me and were confounded by the development in me of an addiction to alcohol. Anguish is the only word I can use to describe the reason for, and the resultant, separation that occurred between us. This is my attempt at explanation and grief-stricken apology.

I have made a list of the things I would have told myself on day one and it’s currently 46 items (not 12). I’m going to cut myself off from adding to the list at the end of today, December 28, 2014, my two-year sobriety date, and let this book truly be about the first two years and no more. If I get a burning desire after that date, I’ll let it go or publish it on my blog, annegiles.com.

I need to hustle and write it now while I can still feel and think and remember what it was like. Because I am starting to feel better.

Anne Giles
December 28, 2014
Blacksburg, Virginia

Why I Have a Coach

Coach Sarah Beth Jones and I had an email correspondence which I am sharing with her permission, a few words edited for clarity.

Anne to Sarah Beth:

[Thoughts about outline for memoir mentioned in this post.]

Sarah Beth to Anne:

Absolutely chilling, Anne! There is power absolutely radiating from this outline. So raw, so real, so useful.

What’s your next step?

Anne to Sarah Beth:

May I have your permission to share our correspondence?

Brewing a Cup of Identity CollageI have been asked why I have a coach for writing this book. I’m an excellent writer, I’m a counselor, I could coach myself. I’m organized, driven, can both envision projects and execute them. Why a coach?

Because I go in, and I come out, and I look around and feel sort of vacant. What did I just do? What did it say, where did it go? Did it *work* on some level? And given that I don’t know what I just did or where I am, where do I go next?

During the time we’ve worked together, I’ve kept waiting for the proverbial other shoe to drop – for you to be judgmental and directive like so many people to whom I have turned over my direction for guidance. I keep waiting for the reason to flee, to get out.

Not once have you judged me. Not once have you directed me. You have told me what you felt and what you thought and then asked me a question. That is a perfect fit for what I need. There is nothing wrong with me or weak about me. It’s not me that needs shoring up. It’s me and my creative process that need non-judgmental, accepting, conscious guidance and assistance. Help me see what I cannot see! Help me discern what I cannot discern! It’s so difficult for me to go in and in and in and get out what’s there and also see what’s collecting around the edges on the outside of the in.

Something like that. Anyway, it feels both imperative and organic to have you as a coach.

I am so so so grateful to you.

Back to writing!

With inspired gratitude,
Anne

P.S.

I would want to share what you wrote to me personally once and no more. I need the synergy to be between us. I just want to show an example of what the deal is. Then I want to go back in with just us. No witnesses, no critical doubters. Just us doing the thing.

Image: “Brewing a Cup of Identity” made during collage party workshop with Sarah Beth Jones, displayed in Anne’s refrigerator gallery.

If I Wanted to Quit Smoking

Things I did the day I quit alcohol that I would never, ever do again: keep it secret, not tell my doctor, not tell my friends, just decide one day to quit, and do it on my own.

I’ve been without alcohol for almost two years. If I were also addicted to the nicotine in cigarettes, I think I’d be ready to try to become abstinent from smoking. Given my terribly difficult experience with abstinence from alcohol during these past 23 months, and given my research and experience with treating addiction, I would start my quit date completely differently.

I would:

  1. Make a plan.
  2. Create a team.

More specifically, I would:

Study the latest research on smoking cessation. A compilation for us is here and Wikipedia has a nice entry on smoking cessation.

Study the symptoms of nicotine withdrawal and determine which I think would be most problematic for me.

If I wanted to stop smoking Make an appointment with my primary care physician. I would tell her I wanted to stop, run my research and anticipation of challenges by her, and ask her if I had her support. (She’s seen thousands of people quit or try to quit. I’ve seen one person quit – my mother.)

If my doctor said yes, I’d listen to her suggestions based on her expertise and experience. Given I have an ingestion addiction – mine is to alcohol – and I ingest a prescribed benzo each night for another condition, I doubt she would suggest medication-assisted cessation. I would be hesitant to ingest another strong substance given I seem to have a Princess and the Pea inner chemistry.

If I didn’t have those conditions, I’d take the meds. It’s the equivalent of detox from nicotine just like detox from alcohol and other drugs. I think the statement “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger” is cruel and shaming. What’s hard enough to kill you damages you, often beyond repair. I didn’t know meds were available for me when I was quitting alcohol. I would have taken the meds.

Ask my doctor to take my calls for 6 weeks from my quit date. I’ll promise to only call her in emergencies. And it’s only for a short time. By 6 weeks, my nicotinic receptors should be beginning to return to normal. But anxiety for me can manifest as thoughts that something is wrong physically. What it feels like is that my emotional brain takes over and I am unable to access my rational brain. If I could call her and say, “My hands are shaking. I Googled and I think I have Parkinson’s,” she could say, “Hand tremors are normal during nicotine withdrawal.” Her voice of authority and reason would calm and reassure my emotional brain so it would be less overwhelming to my rational brain. That would be a 60-second phone call that would probably keep me from picking up a cigarette.

Ask my friends for help. When I look at the list of nicotine withdrawal symptoms, the two I think would challenge me most would be anxiety and irritability. Anxiety threatens my relationship with myself and irritability threatens my relationship with others. I would ask a friend to serve as my “anxiety coach” and another friend to serve as my “irritability coach.” I would check in with them once per day and call additionally as needed.

Tell my partner, friends, family members, boss and co-workers. While I am going through withdrawal and when I am with others, I anticipate that I will be too absent or too present, either preoccupied with my inner state or taking my inner state out on others. I’m not going to be that great to be with. But there’s absolutely no one who wants me to keep smoking. If I let them know beforehand that I’m going to feel tragically hurt and sob uncontrollably and, in the next moment, feel unjustly treated and shout uncontrollably – and think I’m absolutely right to do so – they’re less likely to take my words personally and will probably voluntarily help me manage my strong emotions.

Ask someone to quit with me. I tried to quit drinking by myself. Only in the company of others was I able to quit and stay quit. I assume the same would be true of smoking.

If I were going to go “cold turkey” and quit out right, I would write an hour-by-hour schedule for myself for an entire week. I’d share it with my team – doctor, friends, etc. I probably would set up a Doodle and ask them to call me hour-by-hour. It’s the all-day, every-day nature of addiction that does us in. I would do everything I could to protect myself from getting worn down and weak from wrestling with my addiction on my own.

If I were going to taper, I would follow this brilliant strategy of a friend who quit successfully: count how many cigarettes I smoke in a day. Let’s say that’s 30. Tomorrow, I smoke 29. The next day, I smoke 28. I cut a cigarette a day. That eases the withdrawal symptoms and eases me into what to do during the day instead of smoke. She didn’t smoke the 1 cigarette on the last day but kept it as psychological protection to have in case she “needed” it. My mother did a similar tapering process, didn’t smoke again, but kept that last cigarette for years.

Know that I’ll experience abstinence from nicotine as pain.   I thought I would feel better once I quit alcohol. Ha.

Knowing better now, I’d plan for pain. If I were having dental surgery, before the surgery I’d help myself out. I’d empty and refill my ice trays and stock up on Jello, pudding, and chicken broth. Maybe some ice cream. Why in the world wouldn’t I plan in the same way to ease and comfort myself through quitting smoking? What helps give me immediate relief from emotional pain is calling someone, plugging myself into an audiobook, and coloring. So I would put the names of people on my refrigerator (knowing that under the duress of withdrawal my mind won’t be able to remember that I have their names and numbers in my phone), download audiobooks onto the iPod, and put coloring books and crayons front and center on the dining room table. I don’t care if it looks messy. I’m quitting smoking here.

And I’d know I’d need to take care of myself for awhile. Anhedonia, the inability to feel pleasure, is associated with alcohol and drug withdrawal, including nicotine withdrawal. Knowing going in that I’ll try to feel better and not be able to will help me hang in there long enough for the anhedonia effect to pass.

Know that what smoking stopped for me will be started again. If I started smoking to feel like I fit in, when I stop, I’ll feel like I don’t fit in anymore. If I started smoking to ease anxiety or anger, the anxiety or anger will be back. Before I got addicted to alcohol, I had reasons why I drank those first glasses of wine. The same would be true for those first cigarettes. The reasons will be back. I would make appointments now to get weekly or twice weekly counseling during the first six weeks, and continue for awhile until I felt really sound.

According to The Fix’s list of The 10 Hardest Drugs to Kick, I’ve been abstinent from alcohol, a measly #6 in the queue. Nicotine is #3, just below heroin and crack. I might or might not be able to kick smoking. But having learned bittersweet lessons from becoming abstinent from alcohol – it’s a hell that can be managed and the people are lovely – with a plan and a team, I think I could give myself a good chance at it.