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Life Lessons from My Summer Recovery Bucket List

When I was drinking, I often claimed I wanted a more adventurous life. Yet there I was, sitting on the couch watching TV and downing glass after glass of wine. One of the driving forces that led me to finally ditch alcohol was a desire to climb out of my monotonous, gridlocked existence.

I entered the summer of 2018 with a year of sobriety under my belt and a list of challenging new things I wanted to try. I was eager to find out which activities would become essential parts of my life and what I might discover about myself in the process.

My summer exploits were infinitely more fun than nursing a hangover in the blazing heat. In addition to expanding my horizons, I made a conscious effort to learn an important lesson from each experience that I could apply to my recovery and life in general. In a perfect circle, quitting drinking gave me the time and energy to explore these interests, and the activities themselves gifted back tools that I am using to stay sober, awake, and present.

Aerial Yoga & Persistence

Practicing yoga at home played a huge role in my early recovery—it helped refocus my chattering mind on my breath and my body. Once I got past feeling creaky and unstable, I decided to give public classes a try, and first up was a gentle aerial class.

Aerial yoga involves a “silk”—a large piece of material that hangs from the ceiling in a long U shape. You can use it as support to get into positions that might otherwise be difficult to maintain, swing in it, hang upside down from it, and lie down in it like a cocoon. The practice is safe and welcoming to people of various body types.

In keeping with my tendency toward wild expectations, I immediately pictured myself flying through the air like singer P!nk. To avoid growing frustrated with not being an instant superhero, I scaled back my ambitions considerably.

I started taking the same class weekly, and I accepted that progress would only come with persistence. Pushing past your body’s resistance is both intimidating and invigorating—you must apply just the right amount of pressure. I plan to stick with aerial yoga for the long haul, seeking steady growth at a realistic pace.

Bodyflight & Boldness

Indoor skydiving, or bodyflight, as the sport is known, is not particularly scary. You wait around for long periods just to hover about five feet off the ground for two minutes at a time. When it’s your turn, an upward force of air suspends you in a Superman-like position while an instructor tweaks your body position.

Families with tiny kids were doing it the day I went, and watching those kids helped drive out any fear I was feeling. The biggest challenge, in fact, was the sense of being on display. The skydiving takes place inside a clear cylinder, and people sit around the tube, both those waiting to fly plus an outer circle of civilian onlookers.

For those of us who don’t like being watched, especially when we’re doing something new, this can be anxiety-provoking. I had to coach myself into getting past my emotional discomfort to locate the bold adventurer inside.

At the end, our instructor went into the tube alone and performed some fancy tricks. If I could learn those moves without an audience, I might give bodyflight another try. But for now, I’ll remain content with learning that I can overcome my self-consciousness.

Zip Lining & Courage

For years I wanted to go zip lining, but I never made it a priority until I stopped drinking. Now, I want to travel all over the world, so I can zip line everywhere.

In addition to zooming along on multiple lines, the treetop adventure course I completed involves climbing up rope ladders to platforms in the trees and maneuvering through obstacles. Much of the course is high above the ground, and I spent a lot of time hanging on for dear life to anything grab-worthy.

Tackling the Tarzan Swing was the scariest part of the course. Instead of gliding along in a semi-seated position like on the zip lines, you sort of throw yourself forward and swing like a pendulum toward a large vertical cargo net. You can choose a less frightening alternative route, but I had already taken the easy way out earlier in the course.

As I stood there terrified, I told myself that if I wanted the payoff of truly conquering my fears, I would have to jump off that darn platform. And I’m so glad I did. Being brave gives you access to feelings and experiences you might not otherwise encounter, especially on the couch.

Flotation Therapy & Patience

When I arrived for my first flotation therapy appointment, I was pleased to see that it was nothing like the sensory deprivation tanks I had seen in the movies.

You have a small suite to yourself; there is an area to change and shower, and the large tub is in a connected room with a high ceiling. The water is loaded with Epsom salt so that you float effortlessly, and the temperature is the same as your body, helping you lose track of where your body ends and the water begins.

For the first three-quarters of my session I tried to get situated and quiet my mind. Did I want the short pool noodle that they provided under my knees or not? Should I use the foam halo under my head? Was this really any better than soaking in the bathtub at home?

I withstood the instinct to write off floating before finishing even one session, and my patience paid off. During the final minutes I let go and entered a uniquely peaceful state of mind. Next time, I will book a longer session. And outside of floating, I will remember how patience is so often rewarded.

Rock Climbing & Faith

I dragged my husband with me to the introductory class at an indoor climbing center, and boy was I relieved that he came. Every climber needs someone on the ground who can “belay” for them—manage the slack on the rope, put on the brake when necessary, and help lower the climber down.

We learned to tie knots, do safety checks, and call out set commands, so I felt pretty confident that nothing major could go wrong. But on just my third climb, the instructor called out to me to “fall.” Say what?! He wanted us to see how easy it was to stop a climber from falling very far.

The instructor did have to ask me to fall three times before I finally took a deep breath and pulled my hands and feet away from the wall. Having this kind of trust in your partner and the equipment is not easy for some of us. In the end, I was so proud that I took this literal leap of faith.

Aerial yoga and zip lining may be the only two of these activities that I’ll return to regularly. But I can use persistence, boldness, courage, patience, and faith to guide me every day.

We Want You! (To Write For Us.)

September is National Recovery Month and we want to celebrate by featuring and rewarding you. After all, if you didn’t exist, we would just be writing this for ourselves.

How do we want to feature and reward you, you ask?

We want to welcome you into the Genius Recovery family. This could mean featuring you as an expert we interview. It could mean bringing you in as a paid contributor. We’re not entirely sure yet. What we are sure of is that we want to start by asking you to share your recovery story with us.

Here’s how it works…

Many of us are used to sharing our “experience, strength and hope.”

Well, to celebrate Recovery Month, we’d love to hear less about your addiction and more about your recovery. In fact, we’d specifically like to know—in stories that are 500 words or less or videos that are two minutes or under—about the impact community, nutrition or environment has had on your life since you put down substances and picked up life.

Once you’ve written your essay or created your video, please message us on Facebook and add the video or story as an attachment. Please also include your mailing address.

Why do we want your address? Well, we will read through all the entries and select some to publish both on our site and on our social media. IF your story is selected, we will send you a copy of our book, The Miracle Morning for Addiction Recovery.

YES, we want to both feature you on a site that has contributors like Dr. Gabor Mate and Tommy Rosen AND send you a copy of our #1 bestselling book.

Need help getting started? Think about the friends you’ve made in recovery, the way your diet has changed (trading vodka for smoothies, anyone?), the woo woo activities you’ve embraced or anything else that might have horrified the old you (but thrills the new one).

We are so excited to celebrate your genius in recovery.

How Do You Heal Core Trauma? An Exclusive Interview with Dr. Jamie Marich on EMDR

Dr. Jamie Marich is an EMDR bad-ass. Sure, that’s a kind of crazy way to identify someone but it’s true.

Here are her stats: she travels internationally teaching on EMDR therapy, trauma, addiction, expressive arts, yoga and mindfulness while maintaining a private practice in her home base of Warren, Ohio. She is the founder and director of The Institute for Creative Mindfulness, developer of the Dancing Mindfulness practice and co-developer of the Yoga Unchained approach to trauma-informed yoga. She is also the author of five books on trauma recovery, most recently EMDR Therapy and Mindfulness for Trauma Focused Care (with Dr. Stephen Dansiger). Oh and she’s over 16 years sober.

While I’d dabbled in EMDR before (I went to a therapist in the 90s and asked her if we could figure out if I had any repressed memories and she waved a pencil back and forth in my face and nothing happened), I knew a time would come when I’d have to dig in and really do it. But who wakes up in the morning and says, “Today I’d love to go pay someone to make me cry about all the things I’d rather forget”? I waited until I was, as they say, going through it and decided, since I was already sad, I might as well capitalize on that and try breaking down the thought patterns that were causing me to suffer more than I needed to.

I’m about 25 appointments in and I can say without hyperbole that it has been one of the most significant experiences of my life. While I love my regular therapist, EMDR has a way of making you go, “Why in God’s name have we been talking about all these issues all these years without ever SOLVING them?!!” Through EMDR, I have dismantled destructive thoughts in ways I never thought possible and been able to shed those labels my family gave me so that I can step into my greatness.

We all deserve to step into our greatness, as Dr. Jamie Marich knows better than anyone. Below are snippets from the conversation I had with her when I interviewed her over Facebook Live,

ANNA DAVID: Let’s start with the basics. What is EMDR?

JAMIE MARICH: EMDR stands for Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing and, as you and I were sharing in our chat before the interview, it is a terrible name. It really is reflective of the historical context of which the therapy was founded.

There’s this story which is almost the stuff of legend now that Dr. Francine Shapiro, who came up with EMDR, was taking a walk the park and was contemplating some terrible things that had happened to her. She is a cancer survivor and had recently gone through some issues around that. Because was a very devoted student of mind body medicine, she was used to experimenting with her body to see “If I do this with my body, how will it affect my mental processes and vice versa…”

So she was taking this walk and discovered that her eyes started doing this bizarre back and forth thing as she was processing her thoughts and feelings, and so from there she started trialing and erroring with her friends saying, “Follow my fingers. As you reflect on these thoughts, feelings, emotions, notice what happens.”

It’s not as simple as “Just think of the trauma—follow my fingers and it’s going to go away.”

ANNA DAVID: How is it more complicated?

JAMIE MARICH: There is a method and a protocol that therapists need to be trained in so they can do EMDR safely and properly. But the reason it’s a horrible name and a clinical misnomer is that it was eventually discovered that you didn’t need the eye movement component to have a lot of the effect. You could do it by having earphones and hearing alternating beeps or by being tapped or by holding pulsers.

The mechanism at play really is this back and forth stimulation. We sometimes call it bilateral stimulation or dual attention stimulus…that oscillating motion back and forth.

ANNA DAVID: What does the bilateral stimulation do?

JAMIE MARICH: The easiest way I can explain EMDR is that it really helps us go deeper into the brain than talk therapy alone. A lot of people who’ve had experiences with EMDR will say things like, “I’ve mulled over this issue in talk therapy for years and years and years, and it just never quite shifted. I have good cognitive understanding, but at the heart and the body level, I still feel stuck.”

EMDR is one of the approaches that can help us go deeper than talk alone. It’s probably the most effective method I have seen for allowing me to access the holistic person and allow these shifts to happen more effectively and more quickly.

ANNA DAVID: What exactly is happening to the brain?

JAMIE MARICH: The limbic brain, which is the middle part of our brain that we cannot easily get to by words—our fight or flight brain—can say stuck in trauma repetitions. So we can’t easily get to it through words. This sort of stimulation opens up neurotransmitters that connect the limbic brain—the neocortex, which is the more rational brain.

It’s like this: We can have that talk over and over again where we say, “I should know better” but it’s not linking up in the heart and the body. So what the dual attention stimulus is doing is it’s literally widening the bridge between those two brains in ourselves…we can call them parts of the brain, but they’re technically different brains.

But when you’re getting into reprocessing trauma, the speed is usually set up a little higher because we want to move information more efficiently over that neuro fiber bridge between the feeling brain and the neocortex. The way that I’ve heard one of my mentors explained it is that when we help a person process trauma in this way, we move memories to the neocortex. It’s not that we’re eliminating memories. It shifts how memories are stored in the brain.

ANNA DAVID: What percentage of your clients are you doing EMDR with and what percentage are you doing just talk therapy?

JAMIE MARICH: I do EMDR with all my clients. Because once you get known in an area as doing it, a lot of people end up finding you. Of course I do other things—I do 12 step facilitation and expressive arts therapy, there are other things I bring into the mix. But EMDR is my primary method.

ANNA DAVID: While I know how it works, how can you explain it to someone who’s never done it?

JAMIE MARICH: The client and therapist talk about something and the therapist asks the client the level of distress around the issue, from 0 to 10. After doing some of the stimulation, the therapist asks, “What are you noticing now?” as opposed to “What are you thinking about now?” We want to be open to the full range of your experience. Some people will give us the thought that’s on their mind. But if what you’re noticing is that your chest is on fire, tell us that because that means your body is giving you that information. The magic EMDR phrase is “Go with that” because we want you to be able to be with that but then keep allowing more to be revealed. At the end of the session, we ask the level of stress again, with the idea that the number goes down.

ANNA DAVID: I know it’s for reprocessing memories but is it also so people can access repressed memories?

JAMIE MARICH: EMDR may take you by surprise; you may think, “I forgot that happened, or I never connected those two things together.” But one thing Dr. Shapiro always said is that EMDR does not bring up memories just for the sake of bringing them up. The point is not to torture you with your past, but if something is going to come up in the reprocessing, it’s because it’s connected to the issue that you’re working on. EMDR reveals what needs to be revealed.

ANNA DAVID: Why do people think EMDR is sort of woo woo when in fact it’s medically supported?

JAMIE MARICH: It used to be considered very fringe, very alternative. Like, “Oh, move your eyes back and forth while you sense into memory experiences in your body.” But one of the things I do credit Dr .Shapiro for is she really did soldier very strongly in those early days, in the 90s and 2000s, saying. “We have to research this.” And so she developed a very technical protocol.

One of the reasons you’re asked those questions about your level of distress is so that we can measure how it’s working. EMDR is one of the three most researched therapies for PTSD. There are other things out there that can treat PTSD but none of them has the research support quite like EMDR.

On EMDRia.org, which is our big international organization, there’s an up to date listing of all of the research reviews, literature reviews, and clinical randomized controls on EMDR. It’s really quite exquisite and it’s something I’m just proud to be a part of.

ANNA DAVID: So the research is just based on what the client reports?

JAMIE MARICH: There are some really highly randomized controlled studies where those ratings around distress are taken into effect but we also have seen symptoms eradicated. A measure of success is if you go in as a client and have this clinical threshold that meets PTSD symptoms and then by the end of a certain course of EMDR treatment, those symptoms are eliminated.

ANNA DAVID: What sort of symptoms?

JAMIE MARICH: The major symptoms of PTSD are things like flashbacks, nightmares, intrusive thoughts and body level distress memories. You can have what we call the heightened arousal symptoms like the increased startle response, hypervigilance, outbursts of anger and problems concentrating. Also feeling intense, negative effect or having negative experiences of emotion all the time—anger or terror, shame, sadness—or just an intense negative self-image where you’re thinking thoughts like “I’m bad. No one can be trusted. I am defective.” A lot of these symptoms may sound like other diagnoses you heard of, like ADD and depression, so it really does become important to work with a clinician who can weigh out what things are affecting you. But the more we learn about trauma, the more we see that a lot of the behaviors and issues that cause human beings distress are explained by unhealed trauma.

ANNA DAVID: Is there a typical number of sessions of EMDR that people do?

JAMIE MARICH: Some of us have long-term clients for one issue or another because the nature of an individual’s disability may require that they have some type of check in on a more permanent basis. But we’re not trying to get people into therapy long-term with this. I do find that EMDR can work a lot more effectively and quicker than other forms of therapy. But I don’t ever want to sell it as a quick fix; that’s one of my pet peeves around some of the marketing around EMDR. You’ll read things online where someone says three sessions wiped out what years of therapy could never do. Now, I think in three sessions you can go very far and if you have a person with a pretty good life who has been through one single incident trauma, you may be able to eradicate most of the symptoms. But even our international guidelines say EMDR is not done in any certain number of sessions and it really is up to the clinician and the client together to devise the best treatment plan possible.

ANNA DAVID: What actually “counts” as trauma?

JAMIE MARICH: PTSD is typically understood to be single incident…like one bad thing happens to you and so you have all of these symptoms. But then there’s complex trauma and honestly, most of us who would meet PTSD criteria, it is of the more complex variety typically—meaning it’s one thing after another that has made the trauma symptomology a little more volatile or the trauma happened at a very developmentally vulnerable point in your life…typically before the age of eight and often by a primary caregiver.

ANNA DAVID: What do you say to people who think EMDR is not going to “work” on them or they’re scared to do it?

JAMIE MARICH: It’s a very good question. I mean two things. Let’s start with the fear first. I usually approach that by validating the fear because any change process is scary. The first thing I try to understand is what the fear is about. For a lot of people, it really is a fear of getting better. What would my life look like if I made these changes and shifts?

A lot of people are also scared that they couldn’t handle what may come up. EMDR can be pretty emotionally intense and so one thing I tell folks who work with me is “I’m willing to help you get ready for that process.”

And when people say, “I don’t think this will work for me,” often it’s because they’ve been jaded by other forms of therapy. So I will often explore what some of those experiences have been. Sometimes the core idea is “Nothing will work for me because nothing has worked for me so far.” And sometimes I explore that by asking the question, “Well, what does it mean to you for something to work? Well, let’s start there.” And um, then usually from there we can develop a plan.

I think it has the potential to work for everybody but I also know that not every therapy is the best fit for everybody so I usually try to invite people to give it three to six sessions. And if it’s not a good fit for you, then I’ll help you try to find a therapy that is a good fit. But I have honestly seen this work for about every type of client out there, if they’re willing to do some of the work required.

ANNA DAVID: Amen. Well, this has been fantastic. Where can people go to find out more information about you and EMDR?

JAMIE MARICH: Everything I’ve written for free online is on my website. I also have a big YouTube presence with mindfulness videos and EMDR demos that you can watch. Just go to YouTube, type my name, EMDR or ”trauma made simple” and you’ll see.

September Recovery Reading Round-Up

Decades ago, I used to marvel at my Corporate America middle-managers and supervisors and executive directors who’d all stacked their office shelves with more books than they’d ever get to in a year, let alone a career. Still, I recall being blown away by the knowledge they’d must have amassed from reading everything on display, until I realized those books were mostly wallpaper and props and set dressing. One manager confided that he’d never read anything on the shelf behind him, which amounted to about 40 or 50 titles like Good to Great and True North and Competing for the Future, not to mention an endless assortment of books about leadership principles, usually written by retired soldiers. This is the kind of nonsense I’d pull in active alcoholism: everything was for show. I’d buy three Thomas Pynchon behemoths and prominently put them on my shelf—never to read them. I just wanted them there.

Anyway, in sobriety, I told myself that I wasn’t going to create a library of works I’d never read; I didn’t want my shelves filled with spines I’d never crack open. Every month here at Genius Recovery, I’ll share titles here that I’ve come across that say something meaningful about recovery. That said, these aren’t just books I’m collecting for the sake of collecting them—these are books that will likely travel with me for the journey of my sobriety. They’ve not only kept my interest but they’ve reminded me that sometimes when I’m lost in my recovery, I can often find myself again while reading pages like these.

Sonata: A Memoir of Pain and the Piano, Andrea Avery (Pegasus Books, 2017): Andrea Avery, an already ambitious and talented pianist by the age of 12, becomes diagnosed with severe rheumatoid arthritis (RA)—a diagnosis that’s nothing short of a death knell for her aspirations in both music and life. Staring down a bleak life Avery never imagined for herself, she instead turned her creativity to crafting the gorgeously delicate Sonata: a memoir that’s as powerful and affecting as any musical composition within her. The book has been described as “breathtaking” and “dazzling” (among other adjectives), but these words aren’t standard editorial-review hyperbole. Avery’s memoir is a poetic masterwork in how to translate darkness into light. She charts a course for readers to discover the nature of pain, the fallacy of fate, the struggle for motivation, what “success” truly means, and finding one’s place in a life that’s seemingly abandoned you.

Two Towns Over, Darren C. Demaree (Trio House Press, 2018): Don’t let its slight size fool you: this award-winning collection of delicate yet sharp poems is bursting with observations about the blighted streets and neighborhoods of Demaree’s opioid-ravaged Ohio. He doesn’t understand the addiction that’s taken hold of everything he’s always known, but that’s the point: it’s a series of poems constantly trying to make sense of something that’s almost infinitely out of reach. You don’t have to appreciate poetry to understand the gorgeous rot and ugly accuracy at the center of Two Towns Over.

Bottoms Up: A Recovery, Paul C. (Hotchkiss Publishing, 2016): While the chapter structure of Bottoms Up should be familiar to anyone who’s been to a 12-step meeting (“What it Was Like,” “What Happened” and “What it’s Like Now”), the memoir is anything but some color-by-numbers triptych about sobriety. It’s a unique, lively and (at its best) adventurous plunge into alcoholism—and the long, torturous road back. The writer paints such a vivid, detailed portrait of his disease that it’s hard not to breathe a little easier, feeling the white-knuckle release when he sits down in AA for the first time.

The vignettes are as brief as they are affecting: one- to two-page glimpses into a beautifully chaotic world, one glimpse colliding headlong into the next. A whirlwind that takes the reader from 1950s New York City, on booze-soaked vacations to Cape Cod, following a dizzying trail of months-old apologies and—finally—gussying up his alcoholism by actually becoming a respected sommelier…all before he arrives in AA. The impetus? He writes, “My wife presented me with a three-page handwritten list (by no means a complete one) highlighting some of the things I had done and failed to do in my drinking career and how she felt about them.” It’s that sort of stark black-and-white reality check that undercuts an otherwise crazy-colorful, sometimes queasy kaleidoscope of full-blown alcoholism.

Bottoms Up doesn’t romanticize AA so much as it spins dark poetry out of the writer’s experiences in the rooms. He’s not quick to pick up all the lingo or bumper-sticker logic, nor does he willingly embrace everything that’s thrown his way. And in many ways, it’s his initial skepticism about AA, especially the fact that he wrestles with whether he’s even an alcoholic to begin with, that’s the most endearing part. Paul C. simply sticks to what’s worked for him and, thanks to the sharpness of his truths, when the words cut, they bleed. For all its self-deprecation and humor, Bottoms Up is also at times jarring and terrifying. It’s a messy portrait of first sponsors, first struggles and first steps, though by the time Paul C. finds left himself unsupervised in an art gallery, trusted to be alone with priceless paintings by the likes of Degas and Picasso, it isn’t just an important emotional milestone for his sobriety—he’s also reached a highwater mark with recovery writing.

Just in Time, Joan Jackson (She Writes Press, 2017): Jackson’s novel is a deeply affecting chronicle of mental illness that’s both inexplicably funny and heartbreakingly true. Jackson’s writing is all at once delicate, barbed and beautiful—a style that lends itself perfectly to the story of Steve, a former college track star struggling with schizophrenia in adulthood. And while it’s a work of fiction, Jackson has clearly tapped into the first-hand experience of growing up with her similarly afflicted brother. Interestingly, while the novel doesn’t particularly set out to be a meditation on parenthood and addiction, Just in Time unflinchingly captures the difficulty of raising a child struggling with substance abuse. Even Jackson seems surprised by including her son’s real-life struggles, let alone just how effective their inclusion ends up being. “I didn’t plan on putting it in this book,” she admits, noting that her mother felt the same “despair” toward Steve as Jackson did with her own son. “[Dealing with addiction] is a learning curve and many people don’t know what it’s like to live with it,” she says. “My son has been clean and sober for 18 years, which is a miracle.” Still, she’s comfortable plunging the reader right in the center of the struggle. As she calls it in the novel, the book details “a series of yets,” wherein there’s a calm before the inevitable insanity of detox. Also, that Jackson’s son is only a subplot is remarkable, given how indelible his problems are. It also shows just how effortlessly commanding her writing is.

When It All Stopped Working: An Excerpt from Bottleneck

When you’re a recovering alcoholic and everyone around you knows it, you’re suddenly exposed. People know what to expect. You don’t have to hide much. But when you’re an alcoholic who’s suddenly a recovering alcoholic who’s trumpeting it on Facebook and showing off your 30-day sober coin while you’re secretly drinking again, it becomes ten times harder to achieve the escape velocity your brain so desperately needs from reality. You can’t just make quick, random trips to the store without getting asked a dozen questions. You can’t excuse all your stumbling, mumbling, stuttering, and confusion and sweating and puffy-faced mood swings. (Well, you can, but it’s not easy.)

Because I’m an alcoholic, I cut every corner imaginable. If there was a shortcut, you could sure as shit find me taking it. If I could make people think I was sober and still reach alcoholic bliss, that wasn’t cheating. That just meant I was smarter than everyone else around me. Of course, you can’t sustain that sort of charade for long—especially when you’re dealing with booze. Drunks aren’t the most meticulous people on the planet. Details get fuzzy and things get overlooked. Very often, I’d forget where I’d hidden my half-drunk pints of vodka, which simply turned my house into the world’s saddest version of The Hunt for Red October: my wife and I silently circling the house, not speaking, but both keenly aware that there was something lurking in the dark. In the end, it was just a matter of who’d find the bottle first.

Carrie found three empty Smirnoff bottles tucked under a pillow in the spare bedroom, a particularly lazy hiding spot. I didn’t even know what to say other than, “Oh well. You got me.” Her face was pinched with disappointment. She was more upset that I was talking about sobriety with other people who were actively trying to find it. I’d scored the cartoon version of sobriety—the one that gets played in late-night syndication.

At the height of my secret drinking, I apparently texted my sister at 2:30 am. All it said was “Help me” or something to that effect. I heard about this much later from my mom, when I’d finally gotten sober. I don’t remember sending the message, but it sounded like something I’d do—especially after putting away a pint of cheap, bright-smelling vodka. But it was a far cry from the messages I normally sent out into the world at two in the morning: garbled Facebook status updates, random messages to long-out-of-touch friends, the occasional phone call and slurred voicemail. Near the end of my drinking career, I dimly knew I was in trouble, but it was only in my darkest, blurriest moments that I tapped into truth. Turns out, drunk text messages were some of my first, most important steps into recovery.

When my alcoholism was finally clear to me after seeing some of what I wrote, I no longer had just a drinking problem—I’d hurtled way past the point of no return. My texts and Facebook messages pointed to my troubles. No one needed the Rosetta Stone to translate those; it was pretty clear. But the nature of my messages started to change. They started to get more precise, like smart bombs surgically finding a house instead of flattening an entire city block. Some part of me knew I needed help, and it started to reach out even when the rest of me didn’t want to get sober yet.

With my wife and kids asleep, I zoned out and started aggressively posting music videos, movie clips, and funny cat videos on people’s Facebook walls. But something that night was different. I was lying there on my couch, wondering why alcoholism had happened to me. Bad news is always supposed to happen to other people, not you. So I searched my phone, closing one eye as I scrolled through my contacts, and found the number for Mike from Parkside. I sent him a quick hello.

I was horrified to see, immediately, the ellipsis appear on my iPhone. Those three dots told me this guy was texting me back in the middle of the night.

“How are you?” it asked.

The question stabbed back at me there in the dark. It was just too real. More than that, I didn’t know the answer to his question. So I did what I always did when I was drinking—I hid. I didn’t reply. I went back to Facebook and eventually passed out. The next morning, I went through my normal routine of surveying what public damage I’d caused just hours before. I assessed the nonsense I’d put out into the universe. When I saw the text to “AAMike,” I winced. His reply just sort of hung there against a white space, orphaned. I ignored it for a couple of days. Then, when I drank myself into watching old Twilight Zone episodes online, I summoned up the courage to text him back. It was well after midnight and right around the time William Shatner thought he saw a creature on the wing of that 747.

“Sorry, man,” I wrote back. “Got busy.”

This was a bald-faced lie, since I was unemployed and both of us knew it. There was no excuse. Either way, once again, the three dots popped up almost immediately.

“Hey, no worries,” he replied. “How are you?”

Again, I had no idea how to reply, so I went for broke: “Will you be my sponsor?”

It was like asking a stranger if I could accompany him on his Caribbean cruise.

There was a pause, then the dots came.

“No.”

I was taken aback.

I watched as that sky-monster lumbered across the 747’s wing in black-and-white, with Shatner not believing his eyes. I felt the exact same way. Then again, it’s not like I even knew what the hell a sponsor was. It just sounded like something I needed to ask, and I’d been rejected. I had to face the Twilight Zone monster that was my alcoholism, which still lurked just beyond the window.

The above is an excerpt from Bottleneck: A Drinking Memoir, available now on Amazon. East Shoreway Recovery Services (July 31, 2018). All rights reserved. Purchase the book by clicking here.

25 Recovery Hashtags You Need to Know

I apparently just celebrated 10 years of being on Facebook. For six of those years, I was an active alcoholic. And it showed. That’s the thing about social media and addiction: you can try to manicure your life and make it pretty-perfect, but the more you try to make it look good, all you do is draw attention to your issues. I wrote countless paragraphs on friends’ walls. I crafted non-sensical messages to people I hadn’t seen since middle school. I shared random music videos for no reason and fired off movie quotes out into the ether, tagging anyone and everyone in the process. I was sending pings into the universe, hoping for a response. Despite all the noise of social media, there was a sad silence to everything.

I’m in my early forties. My social media skills are limited at best. Uploading cat photos on Instagram? Got it. Connecting with professional strangers on LinkedIn? Sure, why not? Getting overwhelmed by my Twitter feed? Every single day. But back in early recovery, I found myself gravitating toward one thing: the hashtag. Yep. The simple, stupid, silly pound sign—and all the letters after it. (If you want to go Full Nerd, here’s a ridiculously comprehensive oral history of it.) Being online when you’re newly sober—at least for me—was a lot like being shell-shocked from war. At first, I couldn’t stomach Facebook on my MacBook but I could, however, deal with hashtags on my iPhone. Hashtags became as important to me as, back when I was drunk, getting three Likes on a 3 a.m. post about Toad the Wet Sprocket. In fact, they’re still important to me. (Hashtags. Not posts about Toad.)

By searching for recovery-based hashtags, I very quickly discovered that I wasn’t alone. I had zero idea just how vast and interconnected the online recovery community is. I’ve since used hashtags to find podcasts, books, websites, off-the-books AA meetings, wisdom and everything in between—not to mention building true bonds with other sober people thousands of miles away from where I live in Central Ohio. A hashtag can orient me when I’m lost in all the same ways it can reduce something down to nothing. Whether you’re facing your first few days of sobriety or staring down several decades of living clean, a hashtag can be shockingly powerful.

Here’s a list of 25 recovery hashtags (in no particular order) that you can use wherever you’re at in your journey. You might be surprised by where they take you.

  1. #sober
  2. #soberissexy
  3. #sobriety
  4. #soberliving
  5. #soberlife
  6. #today
  7. #addiction
  8. #alcoholism
  9. #onedayatatime
  10. #odat
  11. #sobermovement
  12. #iamnotashamed
  13. #hellosundaymorning
  14. #gohelpsomeone
  15. #justfortoday
  16. #aa
  17. #na
  18. #alcoholicsanonymous
  19. #narcoticsanonymous
  20. #addictionrecovery
  21. #recovery
  22. #recoveryispossible
  23. #waitforthemiracle
  24. #nohangover
  25. #12steps