Worth Living Ambassador Ann Ottaway continues to share her journey.
Ann is a 30 year old former legal assistant, animal lover, and a believer in new beginnings. Ann shares her recovery journey with the hope that her story allows others to realize they are not alone.
My sobriety journey has been one of the most difficult challenges I have ever faced. This is mainly due to the fact that it is a challenge that I have to face every day.
My substance abuse started as a means of managing my social anxiety. I felt relaxed, more outgoing and far less shy than my standard self- conscious state of being. One hit or one drink would be good, so I figured another would be better. If two were good, three must be better and so on. With the highs came the lows, groups became isolation and what started as something seemingly harmless became dangerous. I began to use substances as a means of coping with any and all unpleasant emotions.
I figured if I felt better using when I felt socially anxious, then it would help me feel better in other situations. For example, if I was sad, angry or stressed. Sure, I felt better in the moment but later I was filled with regret, guilt, shame and depression.
The extent of my issues with substance abuse were a surprise to many. It was not something that I was proud of, it was something that I kept hidden and it was something about which I was in denial. It took my being open to my own feelings and listening to the stories of others for me to realise that I had a problem. I had to first admit this problem to myself and then to my family and friends. I had to be honest with doctors and counsellors and with the support and encouragement of those around me. I participated in group and individual addictions counselling.
Since making the decision to abstain completely from substances, especially alcohol, I have safely participated in a number of triggering events such as sports games, concerts, and birthday celebrations. I have developed a number of coping skills such as having a plan with respect to dealing with cravings and urges but I continue to face challenges.
One of the most difficult challenges I continue to face is adapting to social situations now that my go to social anxiety defence mechanism is no longer a part of my life. Those same unpleasant feelings still occur and continue to be amplified as I often find myself in social situations where alcohol is involved. I often feel like I am missing out on the fun as if like I am no longer included. I find myself feeling awkward and uncomfortable when I am the only person not drinking, I feel guilty when I have to ask others to help me not drink and when others ask if it is okay for them to drink in my presence.
It is when I am overwhelmed with these feelings that I have to remind myself of an important lesson I learned in my addictions counselling. I don’t ask myself what am I losing out on by not engaging in substance use, but what am I gaining?
Yes, I feel like I am losing out many things but I have to weigh the losses with the gains. What do I feel like I am losing by maintaining my sobriety? I feel like I am losing out on events to which I don’t get invited. I feel like I am missing out on the party when I am too shy to get up and dance when everyone else is. I feel like I am losing opportunities to get to know others when I am too shy to mingle. I feel like I no longer have fun now that I have chosen to let go it of my former habits.
What am I gaining by maintaining my sobriety? I am gaining control over my body by not inhibiting my decision making. I am gaining pride in myself through self- control and discipline. I am gaining a better state of physical and mental well- being by not ingesting substances that compromise my health. I am gaining a greater sense of security by not compromising my safety. I am gaining pure and honest friendships based on openness, honesty and heartfelt and pure conversations. I am gaining a stronger sense of true friendship through my support system.
Being four months sober and only now discovering who I am as a person, I know that I can discover new hobbies, healthier habits, and strong supports with those who want me in their lives because they like me for who am I am as a person. When I feel overwhelmed by the losses, I remind myself of the gains and I know deep down that the gains will always outweigh the losses.