Open Letter to People Thinking About, or Mandated to, Long-Term Abstinence from Substances

Dear You,

The reality of recovery from addiction is that one has to walk side-by-side with ever-present, unmet, unmeetable longing. Some people experience this more intensely than others; sometimes an individual experiences this more intensely than at other times. For some people, the longing fades like the details of a bad dream. But the mysterious “turn” that happens in the brain from addiction can make that longing elemental, experienced in the heart, mind, body, and spirit.

Hug yourself again and againAnd a person has to do this walk, sometimes limping, without direct help. Other than a few medications for some substance use disorders, no one knows how to make the longing that underpins those “impairments in…voluntary control over substance use”* go away.

When someone is asked to consider abstaining, or is mandated to abstain, that’s the inhumane reality they face. Abstaining risks the anguish, with one’s whole being, of, to quoth Poe’s raven, “Nevermore.”

If you are someone who is thinking about, or mandated to, abstain long-term, here are my simplest, most direct suggestions. They are based on my reviews of the research on addiction, my professional training and experience, and my personal experience developing alcohol use disorder in association with a school shooting occurring in my small, rural, college town.)

(This advice is based on the assumption you are medically stable, have detoxed through medical monitoring, and/or have been medically cleared as having successfully detoxed on your own, and/or are stable on medication treatment. You either have received, or have appointments to receive, medical care for the medical conditions that can accompany addiction.)

Give yourself a big hug. This is sad and hard.

With hope that knowing possibilities may offer you calm and resolve – and with hope that those who love you may understand a little better – these may be true:

  1. How you currently feel, what you feel, and what you think without alcohol and other drugs may last.
  2. The improvement in feeling, thinking, and physical condition – even bliss – that you experienced with substances may not be possible without the substances.
  3. You may always have to hold opposing truths in your mind: “I want” AND “I don’t want.”
  4. Spontaneity may be endangering.
  5. Mandating perfect standards for imperfect humans is cruel, especially when they are ill. Inability to abstain is the primary symptom of the illness of substance use disorder. Abstinence is a cruel standard.

The possibility of these challenges does not preclude the presence of other meaningful and satisfying alternatives. For now, the task is not to try to make these realities go away, but to figure out how to live with them without using or drinking. To abstain, then, we must help ourselves not use or drink.

Ways that might help you not use or drink:

1a. Figure out what alcohol and/or drugs, themselves, did for you originally. Focus on then, not now, on before, not during. (This may be challenging, but try. Use may be essentially automatic now. Given a perfect storm – addiction is actually rare, i.e. only 1 in 10 Americans has it – of pre-existing conditions, and enough use for long enough, if the “turn” happens, it’s a brain thing that no one can figure out.)

1b. Find ways to do manually what alcohol and drugs did automatically. (In vastly oversimplified, general terms, substances help people “Feel better,” “Feel good,” or “Do better,” by adjusting the volume on emotions, focusing or distracting attention, prioritizing thoughts, and/or providing physical stimulation or comfort.) The new ways have to work no matter what happens – however shocking, painful, joyous, or boring.

2a. Figure out what the process, itself, of drinking alcohol and doing drugs did for you.

2b. Accept that nothing will probably ever duplicate what substances did, and anything may only ever be “good enough.” Still, find enough “good enough” replacements, enough of the time, with enough safe people, meaningful enough to you, that meet your needs, that sorta, kinda do what substances did. It will take a bunch of them. One thing might be necessary, but no one thing is likely to be sufficient over the long-term, although, initially, it might feel that way (falling in love, for example, or feeling embraced by a support group).

3. Think hard, ponder, and muse about the research on addiction that says the way the brain functions with love, bonding, and attachment may be the same as the way the brain functions after addiction has developed. Did our ability to connect, bond, attach, and love get shifted to substances? How do I use this information to help myself not use or drink? Is the ever-present ache and longing I feel since the death of _______ or the loss of _______ related to how I feel while abstaining? Is how I keep putting one foot in front of the other after that loss how I can help myself keep going without substances? Might finding other people, things, and ways to connect – even love – help me not use or drink?

4. Be self-kind. If it’s possible – again, stated in grossly oversimplified terms – that love may directly treat the brain for addiction, then it’s practical for me to have empathy, compassion, and love for myself. It also helps me “Feel better,” “Feel good,” and “Do better,” especially when compared with the excruciating experience of self-judgment and self-reprimand.

Give yourself a hug again. And again. I know this is starting out sad and hard for you. But it’s possible that basic humanity and applying the research on addiction may actually help things end up being pretty okay, maybe even pretty soon. Wouldn’t it be something that, after medical care, simply being thoughtful, kind, and caring towards ourselves might help us recover from addiction?

Wishing you the very best,
Anne Giles
Blacksburg, Virginia
January 10, 2018

* “A substance use disorder is a medical illness characterized by clinically significant impairments in health, social function, and voluntary control over substance use.” Facing Addiction in America: The Surgeon General’s Report on Alcohol, Drugs and Health, 2016, Page 4-1

This post is part of a series. The table of contents, with links, is here.

Photo: “Self-hug” of Casey Sapienza by Mia Sapienza

The views expressed are mine alone and do not necessarily reflect the positions of my employers, co-workers, clients, family members or friends. This content is for informational purposes only and is not a substitute for medical or professional advice. Consult a qualified health care professional for personalized medical and professional advice.

How to Help Yourself Not Use or Drink: A Kind, Evidence-Informed Guide

How to Help Yourself Not Use or Drink: A Kind, Straightforward, Evidence-Informed,  Do-It-Yourself, Insider’s Guide to Early Recovery from Addiction
by Anne Giles, M.A., M.S.

Dedicated to my clients: You helped write this. For confidentiality reasons, I can’t use your names, but as you read along, you’ll recognize your own – and each other’s – wisdom. Thank you beyond words for sharing the extraordinary beauty of who you are with me.

Self-hug

This guide is intended for people who have already received medical care for the medical condition of addiction. This guide assumes you are medically stable, have detoxed through medical monitoring, and/or have been medically cleared as having successfully detoxed on your own, and/or are stable on medication treatment. You either have received, or have appointments to receive, medical care for the medical conditions that can accompany addiction.

“Use” refers to use of any substance that has caused problems for you, brought into the body in any way.

How to Help Yourself Not Use or Drink Right Now

  1. Don’t be anywhere near it.
  2. Sort your thoughts into “helpful” and “unhelpful” categories. Focus your attention on the helpful thoughts.
  3. Without judging your feelings, or trying to control or change them, simply turn down the “volume” on the intense feelings.
  4. Do what you can to make yourself more physically comfortable.
  5. When thoughts of using or feelings of craving arise – which they will – without judgment, simply shift your attention to a specific item that engages one of your senses. Become curious about your preferences, focusing on what sensory experiences might be helpful to you. Focus your attention on something you see, a sound you hear, the texture of an object you can touch, a scent in the room, a motion you can observe, or the taste of something available.
  6. When a thought arises that begins with, “Yes, but…”, say, “I am trying to help myself not use,” and shift your attention to what is helpful to you.
  7. When a memory from the past emerges, or a worried thought about the future occurs, say, “I am focusing on this right now,” and shift your attention to what is helpful to you.
  8. If nothing else is working, splash cold water on your face. If cold water is not available, place a cool object safely and gently against your face.
  9. Even if you have to do it 100 times a day, even 100 times a minute, kindly, gently, but determinedly return your attention over and over again to what you think would be helpful for you. Not to what someone else might think is “right” or “good.” To what would be helpful. For you.

How to Help Yourself Not Use or Drink Today

  1. Do the items on the “Right Now” list.
  2. Make two lists of all the people in your life under the headings “safe” and “unsafe.”
  3. Find a way to physically be in the presence of the “safe” people.
  4. Stay away from the people on the “unsafe” list. Do not have contact in person, by text, by messaging, or by any means of any kind. Do not listen to, or seek information about them by word-of-mouth, gossip, rumor, Crime Times, or any way of any kind.

How to Help Yourself Not Use or Drink This Week

  1. Keep doing the “Right Now” items. Stay with safe people.
  2. Make a list of all the problems present in your life that substance use solved.
  3. Rank order the problems.
  4. Make a list of everything that’s missing in your life that substances provided.
  5. Rank order what’s missing.
  6. Think strategically.
  7. Ask yourself, “What is one small thing I could do today to help make a small improvement in my top ranked problem?”
  8. Ask yourself, “What is one small thing I could do today to help provide a little bit of the top-ranked thing that’s missing from my life?
  9. Do those small things.
  10. Think about how you have handled the loss of beloved people and beings in the past. You can never be with them again. How have you handled longing and not having? How have you coped with the loss of your loves? The brain circuitry of love and addiction are interrelated. Answering these questions may provide important information about what might help you cope with the loss of substances.

How to Help Yourself Not Use or Drink This Year

The only way to not use substances long-term is to find enough things to do, enough of the time, that meet enough of your needs, connected to enough people, in ways that touch your heart enough, make enough meaning for your mind – all of this stable enough but with room for change and growth – that, together, are “good enough” replacements for substances.

Nothing is likely to ever do for you what substances did. Their chemical nature gives them an other-worldly ability to offer extreme comfort, excitement, joy and relief. Managing attention, feelings, thoughts, physical sensations, and behavior during the days ahead will only work so long while holding still. The insights you gain from learning what substances did for you are necessary, but likely are not sufficient, to prevent yourself from returning to use.

Hopelessness and despair are considered to be among the root causes of addiction. You need to develop a way of thinking that helps you feel hopeful and confident. This is where religious and spiritual beliefs, and philosophical and scientific understandings might be helpful. Figuring out the values that drive your decisions can inspire a sense of strength as well. Finding even a few people with whom you feel a sense of belonging, and continuing to add people to that circle as time passes, will be crucial.

If in doubt, Google it. Knowledge and information offer power and freedom. Before drawing conclusions from the results of Internet searches, check the authority of the source. Reliable sources link to primary sources, secondary sources that report on multiple primary sources, and informed commentary.

And then there’s the money.

If you’ve had substance use issues for awhile, you probably have financial challenges. More money would increase stability. But people with substance use disorders usually can’t work more hours to make more money. Working more hours increases stress. Stress is a top predictor of return to use. Stress comes from the usual suspects – finances, relationships, and health issues among them. But boredom is a stressor. Lack of purpose is a stressor. Frustration is a stressor. So people with substance use disorder have to figure out how to make more money per hour in ways that are meaningful to them. That usually requires education and training. You may need to learn to read, to get a GED, learn a trade, or take entrance exams to go to college or grad school.

You need an it’s-who-you-know network of people to help guide you to the right information, mentor you as you go, and introduce you to people who might be able to help you. You’ll soon be a member of the “it’s-who-you-know” network. You’ll be able to help someone else who started just where you’re starting.

  1. Acknowledge realities. Note what’s unlikely to be possible in the future based on physical or other limits. For example, if you want to move to a place with more jobs but have a suspended license, you’ll need to find a city with public transportation.
  2. Inventory your strengths. What do you have going for you, in spite of everything that’s gone down?
  3. Make a list of possibilities. Given current realities, but also given your strengths, what might be possible for you to do, that you might like to do, that would give you a sense of being meaningfully engaged with your life?
  4. Rank order the list of possibilities. Which of the possibilities do you think would sustain your interest the longest and be most likely to make the most money, or result in the most satisfying volunteer work?
  5. Find someone who has made things happen in his or her own life to talk with about your top three possibilities.
  6. Think strategically.
  7. What small, first steps could you take to move yourself a tiny bit closer to setting yourself up to have meaningful things going in your life – even if they’re only ever “good enough” – to help you not use?
  8. What people in your it’s-who-you-know-network can you contact to help you with these first steps?

. . . . .

I wish I could write a guide that anticipates all the problems that might arise for you and offers solutions to them! But you are a unique, complex individual, and addiction is a complex condition. You are the guide to you.

If you would like to read more about evidence-informed, self-care for recovery from addiction, this guide’s current table of contents, with links, is here.

If you like handouts and worksheets, here is my current list of printable, evidence-informed addiction recovery worksheets.

An earlier version of this post is here.

This guide is a work-in-progress.

These words, just over 1,500 in number, are a summary of what research on addiction suggests helps most people, most of the time, better than other ways, and better than nothing, to help themselves not use substances that have become problematic for them. As you know, I use these ways, too. I am hoping with all my heart and mind that they will be helpful to you.

With the sincerest of best wishes,
Anne

Blacksburg, Virginia
January 4, 2018

“Love, evidence & respect.”
Maia Szalavitz, in response to the question, “What treats addiction?”

Photo: “Self-hug” of Casey Sapienza by Mia Sapienza

The views expressed are mine alone and do not necessarily reflect the positions of my employers, co-workers, clients, family members or friends. This content is for informational purposes only and is not a substitute for medical or professional advice. Consult a qualified health care professional for personalized medical and professional advice.

Guide to Requesting Medical Treatment for Addiction

For the medical condition of addiction, medical treatment is the first order of care. Following is a brief guide, informed by research on what helps people manage the symptoms of addiction, for requesting care from a medical professional.

This guide anticipates a 10-minute appointment with a primary care physician, nurse practitioner, or physician’s assistant. Given the likelihood of a short appointment, directness and brevity are essential. People with substance use disorders are encouraged to not use the appointment to explain their situations, but to ask directly for the medical help they specifically need.

“A substance use disorder is a medical illness characterized by clinically significant impairments in health, social function, and voluntary control over substance use.”
– Facing Addiction in America: The Surgeon General’s Report on Alcohol, Drugs and Health, November, 2016, Page 4-1

. . . . .

Greetings, Medical Care Provider.

I have symptoms of, or have been diagnosed with, substance use disorder.

This is an outline of the treatment plan I am following.

In addition, I may be following this treatment plan for alcohol use disorder.

I ask:

  1. to be assessed for suitability for medications for my individual case of substance use disorder, and
  2. for help with feeling as physically and mentally stable as possible.

I would like to request:

_____ Physical exam

_____ Diagnostic lab work

_____ Other: ____________________

From the list below, I have placed checks by the subjects for which I request help. I have provided a brief description of my concerns.

Diagnosis and treatment, including assessment for medications for:

_____ Substance use disorder*

Primary substance(s) of concern:
___________________________________________
Secondary substance(s) of concern:
___________________________________________

_____ Physical illnesses:
___________________________________________

_____ Physical pain:
___________________________________________

_____ Sleep disturbances:
___________________________________________

_____ Nutrition, diet, weight:
___________________________________________

_____ Co-occurring mental illnesses, including trauma symptoms:
___________________________________________

_____ Assessment for neuroatypicality: atypical sensory sensitivity or under-sensitivity; attention challenges; autism spectrum:
___________________________________________

_____ Appointments and referrals for follow-up care and additional treatment

Thank you for your help.

Name: ___________________________
Date of birth: ___________________________
Date: ___________________________
Phone: ___________________________

*If you would like a history, I have a copy of a timeline listing: 1) first use of cigarettes, alcohol, marijuana, and/or other substances; 2) substance use history: substances used, when, how much, and for how long; 3) any traumas: deaths in the family, losses, moves, neglect, abuse, witnessing or experiencing an occurrence as memorably shocking or alarming, witnessing emotional, physical, or sexual violence, community violence or natural disaster; 4) onset of any significant physical illnesses or occurrence of any physical injuries; 5) onset of any mental illnesses; 6) substance use and mental health treatment received.

. . . . .

Notes for readers:

  • Prior to the appointment, make a personal timeline that includes the information listed by the asterisk (*) above.
  • Take a copy of the timeline, not the original, to the appointment.
  • Some medical professionals are unfamiliar with medications for substance use disorder. You can find more information about medical treatment for substance use disorder in the Surgeon General’s Report, Chapter 4, and for alcohol use disorder here.
  • Whether or not to present articles about addiction will require a judgment call on your part. Some medical professionals might feel insulted by the articles, and some might feel appreciative. Since medical care for addiction is hard to come by, this creates a real conundrum.

. . . . .

This post is part of a series on evidence-informed, self-care for addiction. Self-care is NOT an evidence-based treatment for the medical condition of addiction. With evidence-based treatment scarce or denied, however, people with addiction must take treatment matters into their own hands.

The table of contents is here and posts are published in the category entitled Guide.

The views expressed are mine alone and do not necessarily reflect the positions of my employers, co-workers, clients, family members or friends. This content is for informational purposes only and is not a substitute for medical or professional advice. Consult a qualified health care professional for personalized medical and professional advice.

Adjusting My Inner Volume Helps Me Not Use or Drink

When I feel something, I really feel it. When I think thoughts, they’re decorated. My sensitivity, intensity, and creativity are the primary traits that create a rich and wondrous life for me.

Emotion regulation with the help of paper platesSensitivity, intensity, and creativity are associated with the development of substance use disorder, not because the traits are liabilities in themselves, but lack of ability to regulate them is. Intense feelings that stay intense for a long time can be experienced as discomfort, even pain. Creative, untamed thoughts can generate alarming, worst case scenarios. If I didn’t get help, starting in infancy, with learning how to ease my highs and lift my lows, regardless of what I’m thinking or what’s happening, then normal, human life can cause me on-going distress. Shocks can leave me writhing. If I don’t have skills to help myself, substances, mercifully, help me.

Maia Szalavitz introduced the metaphor of a “volume knob” to represent one’s inner experience in Unbroken Brain: A Revolutionary New Way of Understanding Addiction. It’s a hugely useful way to convey the problems and problematic behaviors associated with emotional dysregulation, including trauma symptoms, and the power of emotional self-regulation to help create a sense of stability and well-being. Emotion dysregulation is predictive of addictive behaviors.

In my community, we imagine our inner emotional states, take two paper plates and a paper clip, do a little snipping and coloring, and create representations of our own inner volume control knobs.

Decorated inner volume control knobFirst, each of us imagines a range of emotion that is individually stable for us. My range of stability, for example, is closer to “max” than “min.” I’m naturally curious and energetic, so I need a higher level of intensity to feel normal than others may. Another person with the same traits may feel more stable with a lower level of intensity that balances these traits. Each individual is unique and complex, and each case of substance use disorder is unique and complex. What will be meaningful to each individual will be one-of-a-kind.

After we envision a stable range of emotion for us, we use the large paper plate to serve as our scale, and we draw in our stable range at the top. Then we locate our own maximum and minimum points (by convention, max is clockwise but individuals are urged to depict what works for them), snip the other paper plate in a shape to serve as a pointer, then color as we wish. We poke a hole in the center of the “scale” plate, then poke a hole in the pointer, slip a large paperclip through both, and start adjusting our volumes!

Then we, together, practice the basics of emotion regulation. We walk through situations that create intense feelings for us, dial the pointer really high or really low in reaction, pause to identify and name the feelings, then talk through what might help shift the volume to a stable range. We use the best of our hearts and minds to help ourselves.

We then take turns offering each other surprise situations. This helps us practice pausing – even when caught off guard – to become aware of feelings. We don’t judge the feelings as good or bad, right or wrong, just name them and assess their magnitude. We don’t try to avoid or change our feelings, nor do we dwell on them, since these processes can actually intensify feelings. If our reactions or responses to the hypothetical situations keep us in a stable range, we keep going. If not, we pause, identify and name feelings, and start brainstorming ways that might shift the volume to a more stable range.

High highs and low lows are human. The birth of a child creates a normal high, and the death of a loved creates a normal low. But if I have substance use disorder, I can’t risk staying out of my stable range for too long. I can visit these places, but I need to live at home in a stable range.

Imagining a decorated inner volume control knob – whimsically and delightfully unique to me – helps me simply adjust the magnitude of my experience to a state that is helpful to me. My own traits strengthen me.

. . . . .

This exercise is an attempt to distill and apply the principles of emotion regulation derived by Marsha Linehan as a component of dialectical behavior therapy.

“People may not have caused all their own problems, but they have to solve them anyway.”
Marsha Linehan

Emotion dysregulation is predictive of addictive behaviors.

This post is part of a series on evidence-informed, self-care for addiction. Self-care is NOT an evidence-based treatment for the medical condition of addiction. With evidence-based treatment scarce or denied, however, people with addiction must take treatment matters into their own hands.

The table of contents is here and posts are published in the category entitled Guide.

The views expressed are mine alone and do not necessarily reflect the positions of my employers, co-workers, clients, family members or friends. This content is for informational purposes only and is not a substitute for medical or professional advice. Consult a qualified health care professional for personalized medical and professional advice.

Some Thoughts on Wine After 5 Years Without It

I get a rush when I see a woman lift a glass of red wine, part her lips, tilt her glass and head at just the right angle, and let the liquid pour into her mouth. Not because I like to watch, but because, vicariously, I’m drinking it myself.

I find these experiences tedious. The predictable swell of emotion, the anguish of longing and not having, then weepy stability regained, similar to the shaky relief after a bout of stomach flu. Since I now understand the instinctual automaticity created by the neurobiology of addiction, I note these episodes without judging myself or others. Still, I try to put myself through this as rarely as possible. When people say, “Come on over! Just don’t drink!”, I think, “Right. Be around air, but not breathe, except in little gasps? No, thanks.”

Kittens Ted and Ken

This Medscape article has been updated, but the line I read several years ago is still the same: “Patients who have been sober for 5 years are likely to remain sober, but they are still at risk for relapse.” I thought if I could just hold out for 5 years, I’d be done with this.

I’ve been asked, “How do you abstain?” Since the primary symptom of addiction is an inability to abstain, I don’t. I can’t directly command myself to abstain. Instead, I help myself not drink. I do hundreds of things every day, choosing from among the myriad ways research suggests help people not drink or use.

When people congratulate me for five years of abstinence from alcohol, I’m not appropriately or humbly grateful. Since addiction is a medical condition, not a moral one, abstinence is not a moral achievement. While some people recover from addiction on their own, a whole lot don’t because being without is so very difficult. And knowing ethyl alcohol is a neurotoxin doesn’t help.  Reasons don’t change minds. I help myself the best I can, but I’ve mainly just been lucky with this illness.

I have wondered if, given a choice between opioid use disorder and alcohol use disorder, I should choose opioid use disorder. Although opioid addiction is much more rare than alcoholism – 2 million vs. 16 million – at least there’s medicine for it.

I get in trouble with people in recovery when I say I think my life would be better if I could drink wine again. I feel as much desire to have a bottle of wine tonight as I did five years ago. Personally, everything wine did for me would be done again. Socially, oh my gosh. My town, Blacksburg, Virginia, and its environs, were rated the drunkest locale in the state of Virginia by USA Today. Now, where I am to go, or with whom am I to be, in a town where beer and wine are served at the movies, even church? We have recovery support groups, but talking about not drinking often elicits the automaticity thing in me. Let’s have a drink while we’re talking about not drinking, shall we?

Alcoholism has stripped me of my life with others.  I get that a sense of social connection and possession of social capital – even the existence of love – are considered essential to human thriving, as well as to recovery from addiction. But they’ve been hard to come by in my town. Stigma certainly hasn’t been a pal, either. Inability to be around alcohol in a drinking town puts defeating constraints on prescriptions for happiness that I, or others, might derive.

I hear the “you-shoulds” starting. You should be happier, Anne. You should think differently, Anne. You should want more for yourself, Anne. You should do something about this, Anne. And for heaven’s sake, you should write an uplifting recovery story at 5 years sober, Anne!

It’s un-American to not try to manufacture good times, to not set things up to make better things happen, to not toil now for future reward.

My peak experiences were chemically created in a brain not built to be overwhelmed by chemicals. Nothing in life since – no sunrise, no kitten licking my nose, no lover’s touch, no work achievement – has done for me what wine did. Why would it?

How I have found a modicum of contentment is decidedly un-American. I don’t wish things were different. I practice extreme, intense, relentless, radical acceptance of reality. I laugh at the appalling absurdity of giving work-loving Anne something that work won’t fix.

Then I become available to take delight in what’s available.

The first person I ever saw do this was my father. He usually takes his coffee black but once, when I was a little girl  standing by his chair at the dinner table,  he poured cream into his coffee.

“Look at that swirl,” he said. He pointed for me to look. I peered into his mug. I can still see the star of white cream, black coffee, and caramel.

A few moments like that each day, day after day, make a sweet, little life. Not a grand, famous, or accomplished one.

When my thoughts turn to tragedies in the past or worries about the future, I become aware of this, and I just shift.

I have a friend who nearly daily cooks an astonishingly exotic meal for himself in a studio apartment’s tiny kitchen, plates it, and sends me a photo. The colors and textures are gorgeous, the imagined scents heavenly. I chortle over what he has wrought today.

A friend fosters cats who need special care before they can be adopted. She blocks off the entry way and hall to her house to make them a safe haven and invites friends over to help socialize them. We sit on pillows on the floor, and pat the cats. She describes every nuance of each cat’s morphology, gastroenterology, and kinesiology as if uttering lyric poems.

My former owner of my house and I share joint custody of her garden, and she and our gardener coach me on the wonders in our yard. Who knew breathing in the scent of lavender could bring such a sense of tenderness?

I have adopted two of my friend’s foster kittens. I have named them Ken and Ted for the boy dolls my sister and I had as little girls. My elder cat and I rub chins when we meet, but she would bolt when she smelled wine on my breath. She hasn’t run from that odor in five years, my middle cat has never needed to, and maybe these kittens never will, either. I can’t say one way or the other. Protecting them is neither an incentive nor a disincentive. Addiction persists despite the fear of negative consequences or the promise of positive ones.

Substance use disorders occur on a spectrum, and so does recovery from them. Some people claim gratitude for having developed addiction because of new gains. I do not. I had a quarter century as a respected teacher, and a lovely new marriage, when alcoholism delivered its sucker punch when I was 50. Alcoholism cost me everything I valued. I am okay with this good-enough, workaround life. But, gee.

To my friends, family members, and to anyone who thinks they might even have the hint of a problem with alcohol, maybe wine like I did, perhaps my tale can serve as a cautionary one. Limit yourself while you can. Once you can’t? You do not want this.

Ah, wine, my lost love. I miss you so.

Shift.

Looky! The markings on Ken’s and Ted’s fur swirl like cream newly poured into black coffee.