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Archive for the ‘Alcoholism’ Category

Recently I did an interview with the wonderful Kenneth Anderson of HAMS on blogtalkradio:

 

I’m embarrassed to say that before Kenneth reached out to me about doing the interview, I had not heard of the Harm Reduction Network. But now that I’ve delved into it a bit I realize how aligned it is with my own beliefs and experiences in drinking and in recovery. Kenneth is very passionate and devoted to helping people find what works for them and to reduce the harm to themselves. From their website:

WHAT IS HAMS?

HAMS is a peer-led and free-of-charge support and informational group for anyone who wants to change their drinking habits for the better. The acronym HAMS stands for Harm reduction, Abstinence, and Moderation Support. HAMS Harm Reduction strategies are defined in the 17 elements of HAMS. HAMS offers information and support via a chat room, an email group, and live meetings–as well as in the HAMS Book and the articles on this web site. All information on this site may be reproduced free of charge as long as the HAMS copyright is included.

HAMS supports every positive change. Choose your own goal–safe drinking, reduced drinking, or quitting. For more information please visit our page How HAMS Works. Please also check out the HAMS Podcast and the HAMS Psychology Today Blog.

 

 

And on harm reduction:

WHAT IS HARM REDUCTION?

Harm reduction is a set of practical strategies intended to reduce the negative consequences of high risk behaviors such as overdrinking or drug use. Harm reduction is a nonjudgmental approach that attempts to meet people “where they are at” with their drinking or drug use. Instead of demanding perfect abstinence, this pragmatic approach is supportive of anyone who wishes to minimize the harm associated with a high risk behavior such as drinking or drug use. Harm reduction accepts that high risk behaviors such as recreational alcohol intoxication are part of our world and works to minimize their harmful effects rather than simply ignore or condemn them. Harm reduction does not attempt to force people to change in ways which they do not choose for themselves. Harm reduction is a compassionate approach whose primary concern is the increased well-being of its constituency. Moreover an overwhelming body of scientific evidence shows that harm reduction works!!

 

What strikes me about this approach to recovery — even if ‘recovery’ is not about abstinence but about finding a moderation or alternative approach that works for you wherever you happen to be — is the potential for helping so many more people than if there were just one road to recovery.

Recently I went through a very difficult period and found myself searching desperately for some relief. As I’ve always mentioned, I never closed the door on “the rooms” and vowed to be honest with myself if my current approach to staying sober stopped working. As a result, I found myself attending some local AA meetings.

While I continue to identify with the people and the themes that I find in the rooms, it’s just not me. I’ve talked about my initial experiences in recovery and realize that I very well could have used my rejection by other alcoholics as a rationale to continue drinking as I had been. Had I known about opportunities such as those offered by HAMS, my somewhat rocky road to recovery might have followed a different route.

Definitely check out HAMS, have a listen to the interview, and let me know your thoughts!

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April was a bitch, and so was I. For much of it I felt as if I was in a communication black hole and this was intensely distressing. A glimpse into the last few weeks:

  • Text messages and emails from friends were never received
  • Posts on professional and personal Facebook pages vanished without a trace
  • I received some surprisingly harsh criticism of my book – was called cruel and inhumane – and could honestly not understand why
  • I anticipated giving a much-dreaded talk to an audience of my peers, for which there were many unknowns
  • We had house guests for 3 weeks, all of whom spoke a language I’m studying but in which I am not fluent, meaning it was never 100% clear if we were understanding one another
  • A friend with whom I was developing a workshop severed our relationship with nary an explanation, just a pseudo-spiritual quip

At the same time, wonderful things happened:

  • Those same house guests were people I love deeply and felt lucky to spend time with; I enjoyed sharing many quintessential New York and American experiences with them
  • I began working with a wonderful business coach and started to take the next steps in building my business, one of which is getting comfortable with public speaking (oh, and the talk went fine)
  • Several clients experienced important breakthroughs in their work with me
  • I received an email from someone who had read Drinking to Distraction and was helped by it
  • A woman I met at another nutrition talk I gave decided to stop drinking as the result of a conversation we had (and now has several weeks sober!)
  • My parents spent an enviable 10 days in Paris and had the time of their lives
  • I spent a weekend with my beautiful sister and nieces, who just adopted a 10-year-old miniature poodle
  • I made a wonderful new friend of the no-BS variety
  • A friend with whom I was developing a workshop severed our relationship with nary an explanation, just a pseudo-spiritual quip (think I dodged a bullet here)

Though my formal meditation practice waned during the month of April – all of the “not knowing” drove me away from my practice rather than toward it – I was intensely aware of the ups and downs as they occurred. But I felt a greater allegiance to the stressful aspects of that time – the ways in which I, ME, MYSELF was suffering. I experienced a form of anxiety that was deeply physical – feet feeling as if they weren’t touching the ground, stomach in knots, zero appetite (beyond rare for me), a light-headedness that at times felt as if I might just lose it altogether.

Uncertainty is something I continue to grapple with. Intellectually, I get the concept – I might even be able to speak on the topic with an air of confidence and comprehension. But the actual experience of uncertainty – not being sure if someone has understood me, not knowing whether I did something to bring about a negative outcome, not having exclusive access to the cocoon in which I hide – can be distressing to the degree of questioning my sanity.

I heard myself say more times than I’d like to admit (using both my inside voice and my outside voice), “I could really go for a drink right now.” The degree of discomfort uncertainty provoked created a deep desire to obliterate myself and completely disconnect. One morning I even found myself chugging a kombucha (something I already had mixed feelings about due to it’s 0.5% alcohol content) wishing it were a fizzy cocktail.

I went to a handful of AA meetings and couldn’t stop crying. I felt drawn in by the copious one-liners and promises of peace. I have always left the door to “the rooms” open. Though it has not been part of my recovery so far, as I approach 7 years, I am more than willing to incorporate the fellowship if that is what I need to maintain my sobriety.

But while I feel desperate for that level of certainty, I’m also suspicious. I wonder if the solution is finding more certainty or becoming better at tolerating the uncertainty. This is a question for anyone who regularly attends meetings, particularly those who have also used meditation to support their recovery.

As I have settled back into my practice, I have also been rereading some of my favorite dharma books. Not surprisingly Pema Chodron’s Comfortable with Uncertainty was my first stop. On turning arrows into flowers, she writes:

Devaputra mara involves seeking pleasure. Any obstacle we encounter has the power to pop the bubble of reality that we have come to regard as secure and certain. When we’re threatened that way, we can’t stand to feel the edginess, the anxiety, the heat of anger rising, the bitter taste of resentment. Therefore, we reach for whatever we think will blot it out. We try to grasp something pleasant. The way to turn this arrow into a flower is to open our hearts and look at how we try to escape. We can use the pleasure-seeking as an opportunity to observe what we do in the face of pain.

Where I go from here I don’t know yet…cue the uncertainty-related anxiety. Do I begin to incorporate the AA fellowship into my sobriety? To try to find like-minded others on that ill-defined path of recovery, meditation, and meetings? Trust that there is so much more to the program than the catchy phrases and free coffee?

Will the pain of not knowing drive me to wake up or go to sleep?

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“To Be or Not To Be”

At some point, perhaps years before the night of my book party, alcohol and drinking began to occupy an increasing amount of my mental real estate. During the workday I eagerly anticipated cocktail hour. Or I perseverated over where to purchase a bottle of wine on my way home from work. Among my shopping criteria were selection, price range, and distance from my condo. But most importantly, how frequently or recently I had purchased from a certain place. I feared becoming recognized as a “regular” so I rotated my patronage accordingly.

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Very happy to have been reviewed by Kirkus Indie:

 

“Hollenstein (Understanding Dietary Supplements, 2007) makes it clear from the start that her book has none of the drama of typical addiction memoirs. She has no harrowing, cinematic rock-bottom moment to report, for example; instead, she focuses on her slow realization that “[a]lcohol numbed both [her] pain and [her] joy.” This quiet process of introspection, however, proves to be just as engaging as any tale of alcohol-induced havoc. Hollenstein writes eloquently of the complex role that alcohol once played in her life, and her insights into drinking’s cultural currency are especially sharp. Of alcohol’s transformative power, for example, she writes: “Champagne with oysters transported me to Paris….I drank whiskey to express my saltier side.””

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Drinking to Distraction: This Review Is Late Because I Have Been Drinking {Book Review}

My name is Jennifer Moore and I am not an alcoholic.

Three weeks ago I received a copy of Drinking to Distraction by Jenna Hollenstein from the publisher. It is a short book, only 82 pages, and I read it quickly. I have been sitting on the review because it made me think.

I have gone through periods without alcohol; I didn’t drink when I was pregnant or during the almost three years I nursed. Yes… there were a couple pump-and-dump evenings out, but I abstained—mostly.

As a child, my parents and their friends drank beer; I prefer red wine or scotch. Over the years, I have spent many nights out at bars drinking with friends. This happens rarely now that I have a child. I often have a glass of red wine with dinner—sometimes I drink a few glasses at home alone.

I used to believe that I could drink mindfully; that having a glass of wine (or three) every once in a while could be done consciously—mindfully. But this book has made me question these beliefs.

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I first saw you in the movie Happiness. Your raw-ugly-beautiful performance cut through to my heart in a way I had never experienced before. “This guy isn’t afraid of anything,” I thought. “He’s fearless.” And you did it again and again: in Magnolia, Boogie Nights, Capote, Synecdoche, Jack Goes Boating, A Late Quartet. Balls out, I would call it now, with great admiration.

More recently I saw you at one of the Happy Talks at the Rubin Museum of Art. You sat with philosopher Simon Critchley and were as real and thoughtful and imperfect as I imagined you. The way you dropped your head into your hand to fully consider whatever probing question your co-host had posed. As if you needed to remove yourself from the presence of all our eager eyes in order to touch something deep inside, to find an uncompromising truth.

At one point he asked you “How do you know when you feel happy?” And after a long, silent pause, you shared that watching your kids enjoying one another – how they allowed you to enjoy them – that was the definition of happiness for you. I wished my boyfriend was with me to hear that. To hear a father’s description of the unexpected joys of children, the sheer gorgeousness of life’s messy spontaneous moments.

But then you questioned your own answer. You wondered whether this sort of experience felt like happiness because it spurred reflection on your own past and sort of filled in the holes you imagined existed as a child, or if it was a feeling of true unconditional love for your children. “What is real happiness?” we were all left wondering.

I also wondered about those holes. I have them too. I often feel like a problem that’s impossible to solve. Simultaneously too much and not enough. And like there’s something rotten inside me, something that I might be able to exorcise if I could just find its exact location. I usually feel that no one else can see or understand it. I walk around the city feeling like everyone has figured out something that continues to elude me.

Drinking helped. It numbed me to my experience and allowed me to get away from myself and my pain, if only temporarily. But after a while I realized it didn’t really help. And worse than that, it added to my pain by convincing me that I was weak, incapable of dealing with reality, altering my experience in a way that was wasting my life. Eventually even the slightest discomfort led me to the bottle, creating a vicious cycle. When I stopped drinking 6 years ago, those feelings got worse. Without my predictable anesthesia, I felt overwhelmed by suffering, my own and that of others. When I found the practice of meditation, though, I started to build up my tolerance to such discomfort. Like exercising a muscle that had wasted away, I am gradually becoming more resilient, more loving and gentle to myself.

When I learned that you left rehab a few months ago, I wanted to reach out to you. I started writing a letter, telling you that even though we have never met, in a very real way I know you and feel your pain. I wanted to remind you how strong and beautiful you are, that you are deeply loved and appreciated for your imperfect self. Even if you didn’t believe it at first, I wanted you to take my word for it and eventually you’d see. I wanted to invite you to meditate, to have the experience of sitting with that seemingly solid and immovable discomfort without reacting with drinking or shooting up or even going down the rabbit hole of habitual thoughts. To watch how the pain changes, even if only minutely, from moment to moment. I wanted to tell you that it doesn’t get easier, but it does get better.

But I put the letter away. I lost my nerve when I realized you might think my lightweight addiction couldn’t measure up to yours, that my suffering was nothing in comparison. I couldn’t see past my own insecurities, couldn’t be fearless like you were in Happiness, and chose not to put those thoughts of love and support out there, even if you never read them. Now I wish I had.

You will be missed.

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So, let go, so let go

Jump in

Oh well, what you waiting for?

It’s alright

‘Cause there’s beauty in the breakdown

So, let go, yeah let go

Just get in

Oh, it’s so amazing here

It’s all right

‘Cause there’s beauty in the breakdown

~ Let Go, Frou Frou

 

It’s been more than three years since I began the Drinking to Distraction blog. I remember setting it up the morning after Thanksgiving, my boyfriend asleep in the other room. I was still in Boston then. “Hello world” was the automated first post. I’ve written more than 100 since then.

What I have shared on Drinking to Distraction has always been first-person narrative. “Here’s what happened to me, maybe you can relate?” I never did get over the nausea of hitting the publish button after I had revealed some very embarrassing or personal aspect of my life: my obsession with alcohol; my cowardice; my fears, selfishness, and small-mindedness.

At times I attempted to write in the voice of someone else: quirky Jezebel-variety snark or a more philosophical tone. But whenever I did that, the posts fell flat and went nowhere. My friends might have read them; my mom probably printed them out and added them to her binder. But they didn’t really touch people’s hearts.

On the other hand, when I wrote ‘Why bother?’ gets a firm answer, Have I told you lately that I love booze?, Meditation, medication, and where I’ve been lately, Practicing imperfection, or the most popular one ever, Can we break free of the perfection prison?, something different happened.

These posts were unilaterally preceded by what I would call a total breakdown. As I was writing them, I cried, I thrashed, I felt desperate. I felt physically weak, as if I had hit bottom and just couldn’t fight the truth anymore. I typed them as I might scrawl an S.O.S. message in a bottle: PLEASE SEND HELP! And somehow, after clearing away all of the bullshit, by cutting through to the purest of emotions and struggles, I helped both myself and a few others.

You might imagine that once I noticed the potential beauty in such a breakdown, I would attempt to stay there. But you would be wrong. While I might dwell in it for a short while, my defenses soon take over. I try to distance myself from that vulnerability. I resist it, try to outsmart it, mistakenly thinking I can access such truth and harness that power without feeling the freefall. But I can’t.

I have yet to embody the bravery necessary to stay in this brokenhearted and open state with any regularity. In general, I know what I need to do: to practice meditation every day and to stay deeply in touch with the genuine heart of sadness, to build compassion for myself and for others by observing without judgment, by noticing how I feel and remaining curious. But sometimes I’m just too terrified.

Since I launched Eat to Love about two months ago, I have struggled to find my voice. Rather than the recovering alcoholic (quack?) who supports her non-AA recovery through meditation and writing, I feel compelled to sound authoritative, to portray myself as the registered dietitian who has her healthful shit together, who practices what she preaches, and has something to say that hasn’t already been said 8000 times before. I try to resist the regrettable trend of putting a number in my blog post titles – “Do these 10 things in the next 60 seconds to make your life 100 times better” [GAG!] – but then I give in.

I know that the things I fear revealing about myself are exactly the things that uniquely position me to be of real help to people: My experience with quitting drinking, my own dieting history, my day-to-day struggle to stay in the moment, to become more comfortable with discomfort, and to deal with my anxiety without medicating with food, Bravo TV, or neurotic thoughts. To share these things in a meaningful way, I know I have to go to that fearsome place of vulnerability, openness, and heartbreak. While I haven’t yet figured out how to stay with what Pema Chodron calls the soft spot of bodhichitta, if history is any indication (and if I can manage to keep getting my butt on that cushion), I suspect I am heading for another breakdown of sorts where I can’t help but face the beautiful truth.

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