The Best Revenge Is Letting Go

We’ve heard it over and over – the best revenge is living well. But how can you live well when you can’t let go of the pain of the past? You can’t. I couldn’t.

In entering recovery, it’s easy to expect that life will be all kittens and ice cream and rainbows. But sobriety does not promise that. What it does promise is that life will not be devoid of those things. Beyond that, recovery promises that when unwanted events, emotions, and trespasses occur, that we will be able to meet them with a clear heart, and not make them worse.

When I originally pitched this article it was because I had just been through a week of reliving a traumatic series of events, triggered by one of the recent waves of #MeToo. Although I, like many women in recovery, have a significant sexual trauma history, this wasn’t about that. It was about a time three years ago when someone who had assaulted me, that I confronted via text when drunk, spread rumors that I was an abuser in order to silence me and discredit my claims before I made them. That’s who I am when I drink. A person who thinks demanding an apology from a rapist will work out.

I wore that story like a pair of Spanx. I told it on the street, and I told it in Bali, and I told it in 12 step meetings, sure that no one could possibly get me without knowing that people were out to get me. Sure that if I didn’t tell you first, someone else would beat me to it. Thinking that others are always thinking about you in a bad way is the most useless form of narcissism. It took a year before I stopped telling it, years before I stopped thinking about it on a daily basis.

So last month I relived it.  And I relived it so hard that when I shared about it in a weekly Zoom with my most trusted sober friends, one of them suggested I call a lawyer to get a cease and desist letter.

“Oh, no,” I responded. “This is all happening in my head.”  Perhaps the lawyer could write a cease and desist letter to my brain.

 I thought about how I cling to these victim stories. Before that event, which, as harmful as it was, started me on a path of healing that resulted in complete and continuous sobriety, I clung to stories of bad boyfriends and breakups. Prior to that I identified with my abusive marriage, my identity as a coked out housewife in South Beach. And if you did cocaine with me in my twenties, you probably heard about my parents divorce. And definitely my mother.

The pattern revealed itself. It was never about the event. It was about holding on to the past as an excuse for the illusion of not enough-ness in the present. It was about the delusion that my pain is what makes me unique. But our pain is not what makes us unique. Our pain is what connects us all.

For a long time people told me I needed to let go. I would get anonymous messages to my Tumblr – “I hope you find lasting, internal peace.” What an insult I took that as. I clung to the idea that I didn’t know how to let go. I couldn’t let go of not knowing how to let go. But I don’t need to know how. I just need to intend to move forward. To let go is to stop resisting the present moment.

In Melody Beattie’s The Language of Letting Go, she writes, “Many of us have learned, as part of our survival behaviors, that the way to get the attention and approval we want is to be victims. If life is awful, too difficult, unmanageable, too hard, unfair, then others will accept, like, and approve of us, we think.”

 When I was drinking I often only had what I thought of as bad-weather friends. People that would only listen to me if I had a sad tale to tell.

Just this past weekend, August 2, something bad happened. The kind of thing that I thought could not happen in sobriety. The kind of thing that left me feeling paralyzed for several days, jumpy, and afraid. Actual danger. I am lucky that I have trusted allies to whom I could talk about it. Each shared a comforting perspective I hadn’t thought of along with empathy, love, and validation.

But after talking to several people and a therapy appointment, I caught myself wanting to tell the story again. That’s the holding on. I decided to treat it like an intrusive thought. I have investigated, and discussed, and processed. I am no longer in danger. It is done.

It helps me let go when I depersonalize things. As addicts and alcoholics, the tendency is to take things personally. But they are rarely truly about us. The person that harmed me moves on to their next con. They are not still thinking about me. And they con the next person because that is just what they do, and they will keep doing it until it no longer serves them. And it is okay if I am not there to see poetic justice. I can know it in my heart.

Things fall apart. And then things balance out. There is nothing that I have been through that hasn’t eventually shown me a meaning and a lesson and even strange gifts. We may not always know the meaning when things are happening, but that does not mean it will never be revealed.

In the meantime, we process, and we let go. And then we can exact true revenge. The business of living well.

Dopamine Detox: Level 3

After spending nearly 24 hours sitting with myself I can confirm that my old therapist was right — I am exhausting.

It took three weeks from my last fast to carve out this time. After the whole experiment was concluded, I looked up the science. What I found was pertinent to addiction. “The turbulence of dopamine swings related to addiction effectively drowns out signals from all other realms of life,” writes Walter Piper, Neuroscience Researcher at NYU.

Yet, as I continue studying the thoughts on the dopamine detox from people a bit more educated than the 16 y/o’s in Minnesota on Reddit, I find that it’s only one part of a strategy to improve focus, motivation, and time management.

It is neither snake oil nor panacea.

Just like we use a cornucopia of strategies to get and stay sober, so must we to connect with ourselves and away from other forms of pleasure seeking that deplete us.

Spiritual teachers since the beginning of time have advocated the value of sitting with yourself. As addicts, it’s what we run from most.

While clearing our mind will allow us to enjoy pleasures more, it’s about more than dopamine. What matters most is what you do with what you learn. In the week between my first two fasts I didn’t turn my phone on until I accomplished several tasks that are important to me.  And then I backslid, just as it was starting to feel really good.

The third fast was Draconian, but it got me back on my bullshit. Like Mark Twain once said, “I’m glad I did it, partly because it was well worth it, but mostly because I shall never ever have to do it again.”

In level three, dubbed the “Time Theorist” by Youtuber Andrew Kirby, there is no reading, writing, exercise, caffeine, music, or food.

I found myself busier than expected in level one and two, mostly out of fear, but at this level I had no choice but to surrender to the void.

I woke up as I always do, at 7, to the terrible opera of my pets announcing their morning needs, but this time went back to sleep after tending them. Waking finally at nine, I sat on the couch for a while and thought and stared at the wall. I’m grateful I went back on Keto three weeks ago in a bid to lose the quarantine fifteen. The diminished hunger as a result of being in ketosis would help me later.

All morning, minutes passed as slow as high school detention.

I did breath work, which gave the wall a break while I stared at the ceiling, took a bath with Epsom salts after turning up the AC, and played bird on a stick with my cat for a solid hour.

The first hunger came on in the afternoon and arrived and departed like waves breaking on the shore of my consciousness. I drank more water.

Tara Brach, meditation expert, author, and my favorite spiritual teachers distinguishes between below the line (of consciousness) and above the line activities. It is only above the line things such as quiet contemplation or meditation that truly rest us, versus below the line activities such as true crime programs or Candy Crush that are simply an escape that doesn’t benefit us in any real way.

Typically on a day where I say I am doing nothing my brain doesn’t know that – looking at a screen is looking at a screen whether it be for work or a game, and I return to life after not feeling excited to tackle my tasks, but duty bound to make up for the time I wasted.

By mid-afternoon memories I thought I lost come flooding back and I walk through scenes of the past while struggling to hold onto the memory of a dream from the night before that I can’t write down until night falls. It is almost my birthday, and as I sort through what life was like 7, 6, 15 years ago. 5 years ago on this day I moved to NYC and began my life as a big city dweller. With nothing else to do, I am able to go deeper into the scenes and construct a narrative. I have come further than I have given myself credit for. It’s been less than two years since I got sober and I dedicated the entire first year just to achieving lasting sobriety, and was ready to really jump into life when Covid hit. And that, it seems now, was just another thing that was meant to be. This collective pause. As I look back and back I see that nothing that happened was without it’s rewards, although often it didn’t feel like it. Meaning reveals itself when it is ready to, and never before.

I do an entire hour of meditation at my altar on my cushion, timing myself with the kitchen timer and burning an entire candle down as I stared into the flame, sticking another in the melted wax left behind.

With less than four hours left till my fast is concluded the hunger comes back and does not abate. I am done, I decide. I get it. I got it. I’m good.

I eat, and go to the store, avoiding talking to people by using self-checkout, and realize I don’t have to fully break the fast. I don’t have to turn my phone on.

I take a sip of Coke Zero and the caffeine hits my brain exactly the way it did in rehab when they gave us real coffee Christmas morning, a month in.

I lament after the fact of my cauliflower crust pizza that I’ve never practiced fasting. As a Jew we have a fast day, Yom Kippur, the day of atonement, but I’ve only fasted on Yom Kippur once, by accident, because I was on cocaine.

I crack open Cheryl Strayed’s Wild with two hours left to go, a book, ironically, about not giving up.

But I make it a full 24 without screens or masturbation. These are a few of my favorite things.

After, I feel more centered, more excited to do the big picture things that further my goals, creative and otherwise. The biggest shift in all these fasts is turning me back from an “I have to” to an “I get to” mindset. I do not have to write this piece. I get to write this piece.

I stay up until 4 am reading Wild. The detox I incorporate going forward will be strictly of the digital variety. It’s just not a reset day without books.

Dopamine Detox Diary: Intermediate Level

I learnt a lot from my level one detox last week.

The benefits did, as hoped, bleed into daily life. On Sunday I was watching the episode of the new Zac Efron show where he visits a self sustaining intentional community of ex pats in Costa Rica. A man said “sometimes the problem is the solution,” and I thought about my writing and my phone. He was talking about human waste and fertilizing crops, but, it translates. If my problem is that I get sucked into my phone draining my time and focus to write (and here you can substitute anything in your life that is your true purpose that is thwarted by excess screen usage) then I can easily not turn the phone on every morning until I write the industry daily standard of one thousand words.

I add journaling and meditation to the before I turn on phone list so that I can make sure I also do those things every day. It works. I am making my brain work in my favor. I am so motivated to turn that phone on that it becomes motivation to do the other things first.

In the week that includes the detoxes, I write over seven thousand words of essays and two thousand words of articles (this one and the previous) by hand in a notebook. I start to turn the phone off by ten pm at night because it helps me relax. Even if I’m still watching television, with the phone off, I actually watch the television.

I sleep better. Once I complete these goals for the day, the rest of the day feels like it truly belongs to me. I feel like I can really enjoy it.

I know this detox is more restrictive, which I deal with by not looking at the list of added restrictions until Friday night. I know music will be out, so I listen to the new Taylor Swift while cooking on Friday afternoon. I recall that talking to people is out too, so, no errands. It’s going to be tricky to avoid talking to my neighbors. We’ve all grown friendly quarantining together.

During the week in between I find myself more tuned in to the angst that comes from the digital world, often throwing my phone in a drawer when I’m doing something I want to focus on. That is a big result of detox one: I am much more aware of how screens make me feel, and when they are beginning to usurp my time and focus. I start to write designated phone checking times into my daily schedule.

Because I refuse to look at the list for level two all week, I am surprised and upset to see two of my favorite things in life – coffee and books – on the no list.

I deluded myself. I didn’t spend as much time reading during level one as I thought I would but the idea that it isn’t an option is freaking me out. Just like last week, I convince myself that I am going to have to spend Saturday staring at the wall. Friday night I have a friend over for dinner. We originally planned to order in but I cook instead, leaving two full sinks of dishes to give myself something to do the next day. A spice rack I ordered arrives as well, and I leave that project too.

The morning comes. I walk the dog, meditate, and eat oatmeal but I can’t wake up and have a low grade headache. Caffeine. I climb back into bed and sleep until noon. I decide I hate detoxing off chemicals I’m not trying to quit. It reminds me of the dozens of times I quit drinking or adderall or weed only to return with a vengeance the next time I relapsed.

I cave and make coffee. I feel a little guilty but also so much better. I don’t time my schedule today, which makes it easier to stick to and allow things to arise naturally.

Here’s what it looks like:

Breakfast

Meditate

Nap

Coffee

10th Step

Journal / plan day

Write 500-1000 words, finish essay

Swim

Shower

Lunch

Food prep

Photo project

Spice project

Laundry

Article 1

Dinner

Art

Article 2

Breathwork/meditate

Okay, so it looks like I won’t be staring at the wall this time either. I don’t feel nearly as content or spiritual today as last week. I have discounted how big an impact human connection has on my well being. When I’m back online I’m going to look up the rules of Shabbat and come up with a plan that works for me. It turns out that I am not that interested in depriving my brain of dopamine in the hopes of resetting it. I just need a day to recharge without screens.

 I am somehow busier than on a normal day. I get to all my chores and projects I’ve been putting off and get a prodigious amount of writing done. I still have a bit of a headache just from attempting to not have caffeine.

Next weekend I am in Arizona performing all weekend with the last of my antibodies. I have shows at eight and ten both Friday and Saturday nights so I won’t be able to do the third level of the detox, also known as the time theorist.

It will have to wait until the following week, but next week I will find a middle path and spend most of the day Saturday offline. When I do the time theorist level, I’ll have to wean myself down off caffeine for a few days prior so I can follow the rules for that level to the best of my ability.

Another day down, it’s time to go to bed. Right before I do, I stare at the walls a bit. I love it. My brain is a safer place to be as a sober for a while person than I’ve been giving it credit for.

How To Come Back From A Relapse During A Pandemic and Civil Rights Movement

Coming back from a relapse is tricky. The shame of having done the thing you swore you would not do again combined with the physical compulsion to do more and the desire to numb rather than face whatever damage you have now caused your life is a wretched trifecta.

Coming back from relapse during a pandemic where we were forced to sit in our homes, many of us unemployed, some making more money on unemployment than we were before, with alcohol and drugs one of the few things still available to do is even trickier.

Coming back from a relapse during a pandemic where we were isolated, during a time of tragedy, as people of color are murdered by the cops weekly, watching people we thought we knew to express horrifying opinions on basic human rights, while an exciting but intense civil rights movement includes police using excessive force at protests against the use of excessive force by police?

That’s enough to make a person say, “I’m not even going to try to get sober until they arrest the cops that killed Breonna Taylor.”

But it can be done. I know this because I know people that have done it. Thanks to the internet, I know a lot of people that have done it. And they are glad they did. So, with their help, I have compiled a list of tips to help you get your sober glow back. Even now.

  1. Forgive Yourself

I have never been able to change anything until I stopped hating myself for doing it in the first place. It is more understandable to have relapsed during the past four months than to not have relapsed during the past few months. It’s been pretty scary out there. It is okay that this happened. You are still alive, so you get another chance. That’s good news. By indulging your urge to use, you got a fresh reminder of why that doesn’t work out for you. It happened. Relapse happens during the best of times, and we are currently dealing with a world unlike any other we have ever known. There’s a saying that “an addict alone is in bad company” and we have all been mandated to be pretty alone. Drinking or using may have felt like an old friend, one you didn’t have to wear a mask around or stay six feet away from.

  1. Get Honest With People

Get in touch with the people who have supported your sobriety in the past and tell them the truth. This is an act of commitment to getting sober again. It will help you release some of the shame you are carrying around to talk to someone who accepts you and your current reality. It will also help you stay accountable. Do not call them when you are high or drunk. My sponsee, someone I am guiding through the 12 steps, went to rehab before the pandemic lockdowns began. He ended up leaving and drinking, not fully comprehending what he was leaving to go towards – a changing world.  And also, no matter how much the world was on fire, he wanted to drink. He called me drunk and angry and I told him to call me back when he wanted to get sober again. He called the very next day. And he has been sober over 45 days now. He didn’t just call me, he called the friends he made in rehab and the people in his life that support his recovery and got honest with them too. Without that, it would have been too easy to continue thinking nobody would know. You know they know. Because you told them. A relapse is a burden that nobody has to carry alone.

  1. Befriend The Mute Button

In the past three months, there has been a significant uptick in normal people drinking and using more heavily. Add to that the lack (until recently) of other things to post about and that resulted, at least in my feeds, of a disproportionate amount of posts and pictures depicting or glorifying drug and alcohol use. I completely understand that everyone is coping their best and that many people are able to set limits for themselves and follow them, however, it’s not what I need to be bombarded with, and, had I recently relapsed, it would be even more triggering. Feel free to mute, unfollow, and unfriend people posting things that trigger you. The more of a safe environment you can create for yourself now that you are back in the early days, the better chance you have of getting sober again.

  1. Consider Online Support Programs

If you have health insurance, you may want to consider taking a refresher course – and having a structure that will help you stay accountable – by signing up for an outpatient program that is being held on Zoom. If 12 Step is not your thing or you are having a hard time finding a sponsor, there are sober coaches available – I like the program She Recovers for this for female-identifying people. She Recovers also holds free daily Zoom check-in meetings, links to which are posted in their Facebook Group. You may even want to go to sober living for a month, as a friend of mine did after drinking on Memorial Day and crashing her car. She doesn’t love it but sees it as a necessary consequence of her drinking.

  1. Set Yourself Up Financially

Money is a huge trigger. Too much of it, and it feels like using will have little consequence, too little of it, and it feels like everything is ruined anyway might as well use our last $100 to get messed up. So much of what we are seeking in our addictions is a sense of security. To enhance my sense of security during very uncertain times I have diverted much of the money that comes into my checking account into enhancing my sense of security. I paid off my car insurance in full, my rent is paid several months in advance, I rebuilt my savings account, and have begun to refill the investment account I drained back in March. With my money spread out like that in ways that enhance my future, I am less likely to look at a lump sum in my checking account and think it should equal drugs. I am also less likely to work myself into such a state over the idea of paying rent in September that I need to quiet that fear by drinking today if rent is actually already paid for September. Although I have not relapsed during the pandemic, I believe in treating myself like I am in early sobriety during uncertain times.

You know that you can do this because you have done it before. And although it may be tempting to keep going because nothing bad has happened, it will be so much worse if you keep going before something bad happens. You are worth it. You can do this. I am with you.

Dopamine Detox Diary: Beginner Level

As we’ve collectively experienced the trauma of the crisis that is 2020, all of us have needed extra help to cope.

Normal people, i.e. non-addicts, have the luxury of drinking a bit more in the evening, sparking a joint earlier in the day, and also the occasional pill to relax or fall asleep.

Addicts do not have that luxury. As nearly every human interaction moved online, and even getting out in nature felt scary, and, at times, forbidden, our screens and overeating feel like all we have.

“I wake up in a panic every morning at 3 am, and scroll Instagram and the news until the birds start chirping,” confessed my friend Alex, a fellow alcoholic.

Sometimes I do that too. I begin to notice that the days I took “off” simultaneously half watching TV, playing Candy Crush, and cruising my socials weren’t making me feel relaxed or recharged at all. It feels like all the bad parts of cocaine. That feeling of the next hit of whatever is going to feel good even though the previous three thousand haven’t.

Entire days pass which starts with a reasonable to-do list and end with me running out of time and steam with not much accomplished other than an increasingly heavy presence on social media and an impressive dent made in the catalog of every streaming service.

Could my problem, and therefore my solution, be the screens?

When I read Amy Dresner’s article about shopping, smoking, and eating, it dawns on me that my brain’s reward system is being hijacked.

Dopamine. That’s what my brain is chasing. With this revelation, it feels less personal and shameful and more like a challenge I can work to overcome. I pivot into solution mode and find a group on Reddit called Dopamine Detoxing.

There are three levels, each increasingly restrictive, so I decide to do all three on Saturdays and report my findings.

The group does it every Sunday, but for me, it feels right to choose Shabbat, my people’s traditional day of rest.

Level one is no screens, no stimulating foods, and no masturbation. I can still have coffee, read books, listen to music, talk to people, exercise, walk, and eat.

I wake up excited. It feels like a relief to not have to moderate my screen time, similar to the relief of no longer having to moderate my drinking. I am just not doing it.

I make a tight schedule for the day and plan to hit every task. Without the phone, my planner is my touchstone.

Here’s what that schedule looks like:

9 – 9:45 Coffee, play with the cat, scoop litter box
9:45 – 10:15 Meditate
10:15 – 10:45 Journal
10:45 – 11 Change sheets, clean up
11 – 12 Walk to bank & grocery store
12 – 12:30 Lunch
12:30 – 1:30 Pool, read

I stay on track, mostly, until after swimming. I don’t count on being hungry by 9:45, or wanting to shower and nap after the pool. Usually, my pool time is brief. I float, read, and hop out to the siren call of my phone. This day isn’t like that. I suddenly remember that swimming is also for exercise. I was on the swim team for most of my school years. As I swim lap after lap, I recall how some of my best thinking happens this way. I plan on working on my book after the pool. Working on my book, or lack thereof is my main motivation for doing this. I get to it after my nap. It takes me all day to get there, which is much better than the previous two weeks in which I kept telling myself I would write ‘later’ and then find the day ending without it having happened. With less instant gratification options available, it is easier to get to the things I truly want to do in a larger picture sense.

Here’s what my afternoon schedule ends up looking like, about an hour behind due to eating and napping and things just generally taking longer than I expect even after all these years on this planet living in this same time construct.

2 – 2:15 Walk dog
2:15 – 4 Shower, nap
4 – 5:30 Write book

After breaking my non-writing streak I feel really good, and throughout the day I notice that I feel more centered in my body, less rushed, and more deeply relaxed than I have been since I went to Costa Rica three years ago.

My focus has shifted from in my phone to in myself and it feels luxurious.

After that, I eat an early dinner. I don’t recall what I ate for lunch or dinner, so I know I did a good job of eating non-stimulating foods.

It was hard to find a definitive answer to what non-stimulating food is, so I went with no processed sugar, no white flour, no cheese, and nothing with a lot of fat. Basically, nothing that feels exciting to think of.

After dinner, it occurs to me that I can walk over to my close friend and AA sponsor’s house who lives less than a mile away. If she is home and unoccupied I can hang out – talking with people is on the list of things I can do at beginner level detox, which is how I was able to run errands earlier. The rules said nothing about driving, but I decide not to drive today as a nod to the little I know of observing Shabbat.

I leash the dog and we set out. As much as I enjoy listening to music or podcasts or books on tape when I walk, which is a normal part of my quarantine routine, I feel more in the world without it, and though I’ve walked this exact route dozens of times, I notice buildings and plants I’ve never seen before.

I get to her house, and not only is she home, but she also has a sober friend over whom I very much like. I stay for almost two hours. She knew of my plan and kindly paused the movie they were watching. We hang out in a very present way. It is such a relief not to have the nagging feeling that I should be checking in on whatever is happening in my phone. It is also a relief not to feel the guilt of not being present while I was checking it.

I walk home, meditate another half hour, then just sit on the couch for a bit, thinking.

I get in bed with a book and fall asleep by ten pm, deeply relaxed.

This is definitely something I can do, and need to do, on a regular basis, though I am already nervous about the stricter rules of the next level. I am excited to see how this experiment carries over into the following week.

When Idols Fall: How to Cope When Someone You Look Up to Relapses

For the first decade since I was introduced to the idea of sobriety, giving up marijuana was something I never wanted to or thought I would do.

Until I met my favorite comedian, whom I didn’t even know was sober. He told me that marijuana was actually his drug of choice, that he’d been clean from it over a decade, and how much better life was now. “Marijuana dampens the dreaming mechanism,” he said, and I saw how that applied to both dreaming and waking life.

This was the genesis of my achieving complete and continuous sobriety – as of this writing, I have over 14 months since I last smoked pot, and several more since I have drank or done any other type of drug. A few months ago, I invited him to celebrate my year of continuous sobriety midday on a Sunday. He said yes, then didn’t show up. “Mornings are hard for me,” he texted.

A week later, when I went to see him perform, he confessed that he had been smoking weed again.

Once I got over my shock, I realized that I cannot be the only person that has experienced, or will experience this. Sobriety is perfect, but sober people are human – and we make mistakes.

I’ve come to think of sobriety like money in the bank. In a perfect world, it continues to grow and grow and grow. But in reality, sometimes we don’t feel like working, and the money stops going in. Sometimes we spend it faster than we make it. Sometimes our balance hits zero, below zero. That is when we relapse.

It would be understandable if, at this point, the point where someone you credit for your sobriety, or, if you aren’t sober, someone that makes you think maybe someday you could be, that has a life you want so badly that you were willing to do what it takes or contemplate doing what it takes to get and stay sober, relapses, that you relapse too, or give up on the idea forever. But you do not have to! Just because it’s understandable, doesn’t mean it’s worth it. Here are five ways I found helpful to cope and move forward when someone you look up to relapses.

  1. Let yourself feel it all

Shock, disappointment, anger? Let it flow through you. This is an important stage of dealing. Sit in a room with no distractions and identify and feel all the feelings you have around this. This is how you will know what to do next. This is how you will process. It’s okay to feel. It’s okay to cry. Keep telling yourself this, and eventually, you will believe it.

  1. Go talk about it

Talk about it to the right people, to people that are also sober. You don’t have to name names, you don’t have to talk trash. You can talk about how scared, disappointed, affected you are. You may find that you aren’t the only person who has experienced this. The realization that you are not alone with any problem in sobriety is money in the bank.

  1. Expand your sober network

Use this as an opportunity to meet more sober people. There are so many ways! Facebook has many sober groups, you can make friends through sober hashtags on Instagram, and there are non-12-step related groups like Bridge Club (women & non-gender-conforming individuals only) that meet regularly for sober gatherings. Breathwork for recovery is another great way to connect to sober friends. A quick google search will reveal more options in your area. The more people you connect with in sobriety, the more connected you will be to sobriety, even if you aren’t sober. And they can’t ALL relapse at once.  Remember this platitude: I get drunk. We get sober.

  1. Examine what they were doing/not doing, and also yourself

If the person is someone you have access to, and they’ve returned from their relapse, you may want to ask them about the months leading up to their relapse. Did they start to spend more time around people who drink and use? Stop meditating? Let resentments build up? It may seem like it comes out of nowhere, but looking backward from there, there are always warning signs. Use that as an opportunity to recommit to your sobriety, or the idea of sobriety and not do those things. I’ve found time and time again that the things I did to get sober always work to help me get back on track when I feel myself sliding toward relapse.

  1. If you are sober, reach out to help them

I saved this for last because it is by far the most powerful. Perhaps now it is you with the abundance of sobriety in the bank, and more flowing in. Reach out and offer some to this human.  Care about them enough to accept them as human beings with flaws and along the way, you will find that you deepen your self-acceptance. Ask how you can support them, be there to listen. Hold space for them, the art of unconditional presence. 

Our handle on sobriety in any given moment is like this quote from Goodfellas,

“Sometimes you’re flush and sometimes you’re bust, and when you’re up, it’s never as good as it seems, and when you’re down, you never think you’ll be up again, but life goes on.”

It’s okay to feel let down or any combination of emotions when someone you idolized falls. It is your responsibility to process those emotions and to utilize them to strengthen your own recovery. And then, the greatest thing you can possibly do in life – help them back up. 

We all fall down. And if your person isn’t so lucky to have another chance to get back up again, if the relapse takes their life, or if they don’t have the strength or desire to return to recovery, you can help someone else in their honor. There is always someone who does want to get sober.  And you are now, or presently may be, a person uniquely qualified to help those who haven’t gotten to where you have yet. To maybe become a person someone else looks up to. To become a person that your past self would have looked up to, that your current self will.

This quote says it best,

“I love when people that have been through hell walk out of the flames carrying buckets of water  for those still consumed by the fire.” – Stephanie Sparkles

I believe in you.

Why It’s The Worst Time Ever to Online Date

I hit a year sober in December, and one of my goals for this spring was to put myself out there again in the dating world.

One of the ways I was going to do that was online. But then COVID came.

That goal went out the window along with my plan for a bikini body for summer. I hadn’t dated in a really long time, because you aren’t supposed to in your first year, and I was in my first year for eleven years. I figured nobody in sobriety would bother online dating during this time.

A few weeks ago I gave a psychic reading to someone in early sobriety who had agreed to watch my kitten while I was out of town for a few days. During the reading, it came up that she needed to spend some time focusing on herself.

“It’s true,” she confessed. “I have gone from a toxic relationship to toxic relationships my entire life. Now is the perfect time to get to know myself, and I know if I don’t I will continue to repeat the pattern.”

The next week, the day before I left town, she texted me, “Hey so I am going to be in Long Beach all day with a friend but I will still sleep at your place.” She then revealed that he was not really a friend, but a man she had met the day before while swiping on Tinder. Cats are pretty independent, but my cat is a kitten that I got during quarantine that’s never been alone for more than a few hours. Which she knew. Forget about the fact that she had just made a vow to herself to stop online dating temporarily.

I found another cat sitter, knowing that I can’t trust someone who can’t keep their commitments to themselves, but kept thinking about that guy she went to meet. Did he know that he was breaking quarantine for someone who had only ever been in an unbroken string of toxic relationships, that would shirk a two-day commitment to breaking quarantine for him just a few days after admitting they needed to work on themselves so they wouldn’t repeat their maladaptive pattern?

Online dating is like digging through a clearance bin in the best of times, but now? It’s worse than ever. Here are five reasons to hit the pause button on your quest for love.

  1. Safety Risks

We know the obvious risk of getting, giving, or spreading COVID. You might tell yourself that you’re just going to date virtually, but if you do form a connection, simple biology will make it difficult to stick to your boundaries. Once the oxytocin starts flowing and blood flow increases to your nether regions you may not be able to hold yourself to the safety standard you originally set out with.  And sure, maybe you’ve been careful but you don’t know where this other person has been. It is so easy to lie to strangers. It is so hard to tell when a stranger is lying, especially when you cannot read their body language. And just because you may be young and healthy doesn’t mean you can’t spread it to someone who isn’t.

  1. Desperation Seeks Desperately

Consider that people willing to take these risks have other factors driving that behavior. They can’t sit with themselves. They can’t be alone. They do not like themself. They are seeking romance as a method of coping. The healthiest reason to look for love is that your life is perfect other than having someone to share it with. Nobody’s life is going great right now. As soon as we adjust to societal upheaval, a new one breaks on the horizon.  

  1. A Straight Up Waste Of Time

Say that you do keep the boundaries and only date virtually. Do you really think that you will meet this person or people once the world is safe again? Studies show that once a certain number of messages have been sent online the probability that you will ever meet in person goes down to nearly nothing. If you need someone to chat with, I get it, but I bet you already have people in your life with whom you could become closer. I have spent more time talking with my sisters during quarantine than in the past five years combined, and now we are closer than ever. I’ve deepened my relationships with colleagues I always thought were cool but never had time to connect with. Consider spending that energy on people that already matter to you.

  1. You’d Be Depriving Yourself Of The Gifts Of This Moment

As Lisa Bonos wrote in this Washington Post article, “A life where you’re thriving while solo will serve you well once life speeds up again.” The gifts of this moment are to spend time falling in love with yourself, learning to comfort yourself, entertain yourself, deepen your relationship to all the parts of yourself, look in the shadows of your soul, and grow. We are in a collective dark night of the soul, and those who use this opportunity can transform themselves forever, and come out on the other side a person that can attract the kind of relationship they have always dreamt of, because of who they have become.

  1. Rejection Leads To Relapse

As I stated in the introduction, it’s common advice not to date in the first year of sobriety. And as I have previously written, we are all in a similar emotional space to early sobriety right now.  Besides the need to focus on oneself, romantic rejection often leads to relapse in a normal world. In an isolated world where the hits keep coming and everything is more uncertain than it has ever been that probability skyrockets. Getting dumped sucks – but imagine getting dumped over Zoom, and not even being able to get a hug from a friend to comfort you? People are getting dumped via Zoom so often right now there’s even a term for it – Zumped. How are you gonna stay sober during quarantine during a time with no leadership during a financial crisis during a new civil rights movement sparked by police brutality during a new me too movement with a focus on pedophilia after getting ZUMPED? And even if you can, why put yourself in that position. It’s not worth it.

There will be life and love after COVID. It’s worth waiting for. For now, the best thing to do is focus on falling in love with yourself.

Confronting Everyday Racism As A Sober White Person

Our eyes have been open wider than ever after the recent events in the news. Rebecca Rush is here to share her experience with everyday racism as a sober white person.

Easter, 2004. I was on my way to NYC to meet my new boyfriend’s family when he turned to me and said, “You can tell my family any of your crazy stories, but don’t tell them you ever dated an n-word.” And of course, he didn’t say n-word. I went on to marry him. 

This is what being complicit in racism looks like.

It is past time to show up for the black community in every way that we can, and do our part to fight systemic racism. And one way that we can is by speaking up when we see someone we know say or post something that is racist.

What’s tricky about doing this as a sober person is that once I was an active drug and alcohol user. I felt like I had to put up with anyone and any behavior from anyone that would put up with me, like my ex-husband. I feel terrified to say anything that contradicts what others, especially family, say because of the past.  I am used to being the problem.  I am used to being told what was wrong with my perception of things. At times I didn’t feel safe or secure in myself or my relationships enough to openly disagree about anything. But disagree I must.

Just as friends and family had a greater impact on you than a stranger when they expressed their concern about your drinking and using, you will have a greater chance of impacting them when you speak to them about racially driven comments.

A few of my family members posted a meme last week that claimed “most people are colorblind” and “99.99999 percent of cops would lay down their life to save yours.” It went on to state that “I only want to look at what’s good in the world.” Another family member claimed that “they would get a lot more support for their cause if they didn’t shut down the highways.” Still, another disparaged the looting, and another didn’t understand all the fuss over the death of “just one guy.”

It is the very definition of white privilege to choose to only look at what makes us feel better or to disparage what inconveniences us. None of us should feel comfortable right now. It’s not comfortable to wonder if you will be murdered every time you leave your home. The talk that black families must have with their children about how they must be extra careful around police is not comfortable.  

If you are feeling the call to end your complicit behavior regarding racism and fear losing relationships you worked so hard to repair and also fear that bad outcomes could put your sobriety at risk, then please make use of these tips I have compiled to have these conversations in a way that is healthy for your sobriety. You overcame addiction. You can do this too.

1. Honest Self Appraisal

Before I could call anyone out I had to look at my own behavior. Where in the past had I had racist thoughts? How did they serve me? How have I grown and challenged myself to not think like this since? There is no need to self-flagellate. Just sit quietly with yourself and confront the parts of yourself that you are ashamed of.

2. Education

There is so much out there with which you can become an informed ally. Right now the Netflix documentary 13th feels particularly pertinent. John Oliver just did a fantastic Last Week Tonight episode on the police which is available on YouTube. There are also many books – White Fragility by Robin DiPaolo, and How to Be an Antiracist by Ibram X. Kendi are just a few. There are helpful responses to ignorant things you may see or hear on Instagram and Twitter. When I saw that meme I knew it was wrong beyond the made-up statistics, but I didn’t know enough to make a compelling argument that may help someone see things differently.

3. Ask Your More Woke White Friends For Help

Leave your black friends alone right now unless you’re offering them an opportunity, an ear, or a fun distraction. They are and have always been, dealing with enough. I guarantee there are plenty of white people you know who can help guide you. I reached out to someone 15 years younger than me who lives in Brooklyn, and yup! They are far more woke than I and were able to put into words that the meme in question was a conscious choice not to have empathy for people who are affected.

4. Bookend Difficult Conversations With Sober Support

This is the same advice that someone once gave me about doing comedy in early sobriety because being around all that booze is triggering. If disagreeing with people you care or cared about and standing up for what is right is triggering, call a sober person before and after the conversation.  

5. Use Media To Support Your Argument, Not Replace It

Your conversation will be most effective coming from you. You are the person who this other person has a relationship with, not John Oliver or Angela Davis (if you don’t know about Angela Davis, you need to go back to step 2 and learn about Angela Davis).  They may, as one of my cousins did claim the police brutality videos were taken out of context. So you think there is a context in which shoving an elderly man to the ground and stepping over him as he bleeds from his head is okay? I asked. I never said that he responded.  Send evidence after the conversation and accept that they may willfully misinterpret it or even choose not to look at it.

6. Run Through Every Possible Outcome & Accept It

Be ready to lose the relationship. Be ready to unfollow/unfriend on social media. Prepare to be gaslit.  Plan for all the possibilities and begin to emotionally process them before you initiate the conversation. You will feel much more grounded and less reactive at the moment, and ultimately be of greater service to the cause.

7. Know When To Walk Away

You will learn that not everyone is interested in knowing better and doing better. Some will be. Some will say, “Wow, I never thought of it that way, racism IS a huge problem,” which happened with the “I don’t get all the fuss” person. Save your energy for them. When you have said all you can say, challenged each statement and underlying belief with facts, and attempted to provide a more compassionate viewpoint and the person is still not having it, it is time to know that you did your part and let it go. Just like nobody could force you to get sober, you can’t force anyone to let go of racist and ignorant viewpoints. Not everyone is willing to look at themselves, and many would rather cling to what makes them feel superior than be empathetic and compassionate.

If I can do this, so can you. You’ve fought the demons inside of yourself and won. Now you are ready to do battle outside. If you have no more woke than yourself friends to call on for support, my DM’s are open. Also, if I am the most woke person you know, get better friends. I am not woke. But I am committed to knowing better and doing better in every area of life. And this is the one we need to focus on right now. Be well, and raise hell.

Helping Others as a Path to Wellbeing

Often times we get so caught up in our own lives we forget to embrace others around us. Rebecca Rush is here to talk about helping others as a path to wellbeing.

Yesterday there was a knock on my door. My initial thought was, am I in trouble? When I opened the door, it was a neighbor I scarcely know outside of exchanging pleasantries about my dog (a very good boy). She offered a small bag to me, which held two banana muffins. “I’ve been baking,” she said. “Thank you so much!” I accepted. They were delicious, and I still feel the warm glow of that gesture 24 hours later. 

However, I know that her happiness was increased even more in the giving. Last week, in a morning 12 step meeting, a man posted in the chat that he was desperate to find a dog to walk, out of groceries, money, and cigarettes, and unsure when his unemployment would come through. “Inappropriate!” One fellow shot back. “This is not the time!” said another. The man left the meeting before I could privately message him. He had, however, left his number in the initial message. I texted him offering to Venmo him a few bucks. He declined, stating he was not looking for handouts but for work. I convinced him to allow me to help him, even though part of my brain was shouting that I did not have the money to give. I quieted that part by enlisting another friend to split the cost. 

In the end, we gave him a grocery gift card and a pack of cigarettes. I quieted my fear further by realizing I could make the cost up to myself by forgoing my weekly takeout meal.  That was a week ago, and I still feel good every time I think of it. And not because I have gotten accolades for it – you are the first person I have told. Helping others carries intrinsic benefits that improve our wellbeing in every area. 

Elizabeth Dunn and Michael Norton, authors of the book, Happy Money: The Science of Happier Spending, conducted experiments in various parts of the world studying the difference in wellbeing after giving some subjects money to spend on themselves, and some money to spend on others. Those who spent the money on themselves reported no difference in happiness. Those who spent the money on others reported a spike in happiness. Even more curious, they found that the amount of money did not affect the outcome – the increase in happiness was the same whether the subjects were given a small amount of money or a larger amount. 

Once I had a boyfriend who was terrible with managing his finances. When he found himself down to his last few dollars as he so often did he would go give that money to a homeless man. He knew there was magic in it.

Helping does not have to be financial to be of psychological benefit. Research shows that any prosocial behavior has a myriad of benefits that add up to a happier you. Helping is perhaps the ultimate win-win. Prosocial behavior helps us meet our most basic psychological needs. It increases our sense of meaning and purpose. It lowers depression. It improves our sense of interconnectedness. In short, helping others regulate their emotions helps us regulate ours. And unlike when we do kind things for ourselves, the good feelings associated with service last a long time. 

In Happy Money, Dunn and Norton also found that spending on experiences gave more lasting happiness than spending on things, despite our perception that the things were a better use of money. Helping is the greatest experience of all. 

A few months back, as the world plunged into darkness, my aunt, like many others, pulled out her sewing machine and began making masks. “I just felt so helpless,” she said. Helping allows us to be part of the solution. 

I don’t know that I would still be sober after over ten weeks inside my apartment if I didn’t have sponsees, people new to sobriety who count on me to guide their recovery and journey through the 12 steps. A huge factor in my quitting marijuana maintenance was the fact I am a much sharper comedian without it, and completely unable to moderate, I was often on stage stoned forgetting my point. And then there was no stage. If I wasn’t in service to others, if there weren’t people counting on me to help them get and stay sober, I might have given in to the voice in my head that claimed that my sobriety was now irrelevant.

We’ve all, at this point, heard things we can do to help right now – like making masks, contributing to GoFundMes, offering to grocery shop for the vulnerable. There are so many more ways to help. And while much of that rhetoric tells you to help because you should, I am telling you to help for a very different reason. Because it will make you feel good, and that good feeling will last and go on to bring more positivity into your life. 

I challenge you to give a little rather than nothing at all to the next GoFundMe you come across – it will make you feel just as good. Can’t sew? Foster a pet. It’s kitten season, the process is easier than ever, and many rescues will provide all the supplies necessary. I guarantee there is a Facebook group in your area dedicated to rescuing animals. In mid-March, I took in a terrified Flame Point Siamese gentleman who had been found in a field next to a Denny’s. While he mostly hid while he lived in my apartment, he came further out of his shell when he moved to my friend’s house the day I brought the kitten home I had planned to get since February, and from there he was adopted into a loving forever home. I opened a few cans of food and scooped a few poops, and now I get to be a part of his success story forever. 

Can’t do that? Did you know that soup kitchens are still open, operating under strict social distancing and hygiene protocols, and in need of volunteers? Not a risk you can take, okay, you can bake something and share it with your friends and neighbors. A lot of people are using this time to work on their artistic projects – offer to be a reader for a budding author. Worried you don’t qualify to give good notes? Of course, you do. You’re a consumer. 

If you don’t have much time, space, or money to share you can try this compliment exercise from Barbara Sher’s book Wishcraft – spend three minutes writing very specific compliments about a friend or loved one and give it to them. If they do the same for you, you will have a very accurate picture of your strengths to look at when fear and doubt creep in. 

Helping others is the absolute best thing you can do. For yourself. 

More resources about the benefits of prosocial behavior:

TedTalk: How To Buy Happiness

Happy Money: The Science of Happier Spending

Happy People Become Happier Through Kindness