extremes

In all my obsessive thinking about sobriety lately, one of the most pervasive thought (and I know I’m not totally alone here) is that my life, from here until eternity, if I keep this sober bit up, is going to be boring.  I will be one of “those” people, who are uptight prudes who don’t like to have any fun.  Those people who you secretly feel are living richer lives than you, but all you can consciously feel about them is disdain.  Those people who I dismissed from my mind as potential friends because I couldn’t imagine what we would do for “fun” if I got to know them better.  I realized I have a deep fear of being regarded this way and that I have been going around assuming that everyone thought like this.  

Well, guess what?  It was gently pointed out to me yesterday by a friend/coach, that, (wait for it…) everyone doesn’t feel this way about people who don’t drink!!  Am I alone here in feeling slightly shocked by this revelation?  I mean, I guess I knew that there were people out there, somewhere, certainly not in my world, who didn’t think like I did.  But something about the way it was said to me really sunk in.  I felt it, down in my gut, this heavy realization that I’ve been living with a belief system so deep and ingrained that I created to protect my own behavior and avoid facing my own issues.  It was not a comfortable feeling, suddenly becoming aware that I wasn’t right.  (I really like to be right.  Like, all the time.)  

Also, though, this revelation seeped under my skin like a soft warmth of reassurance.  Because, if I was wrong, then this new way of living didn’t have to be as scary or boring as I feared.  Maybe, just maybe, people would like me for me.  Maybe I could like myself for me.  Maybe I didn’t have to see life as two extremes:  drinking, or sober.  Fun, spontaneous, exciting, and adventurous, or heavy, stressful, irritating and dull.  Maybe it’s not as black and white as I’m making it out to be.  

In my household as a teenager, my dad was an alcoholic.  But he wasn’t abusive or mean to us.  Maybe a bit irrational at times, but at that age I wasn’t even aware that had anything to do with alcohol.  What I do remember is that my family used to have fun together.  We would play games, we would laugh, I remember my dad telling jokes and staying up late with us as we grew into young adults.  When he got sober nine years ago, just as my brother sank deep into an addiction that he will likely never come out of, the fun disappeared from our family dynamic.  In fact, I can’t really think of a single time that I’ve truly relaxed, laughed and had fun with my family since then.  We’ve talked a lot.  About my dad’s recovery, about my brother’s latest emergency, about the sadness and helplessness my parents feel, and more recently, about my nephew who they are raising because my brother is too incapable to have custody of him.  But we have not relaxed.  When I see my family now, I have a tightness in my chest and skin.  I feel a great weight on my shoulders.  I love them, but I feel drained just thinking about spending time with them because of the seriousness, the grief, the constant co-dependent talk about my brother.  When my dad got sober, as proud of him as I am, the fun disappeared.  

I had never made this connection that maybe that’s part of the reason I can’t envision a life without alcohol ever being fun or relaxing.  This was a light bulb moment for me.  I’ve been seeing sobriety as this awful place where no one laughs, no one relaxes, and everyone feels bad all the time.  As my coach said:  Why the hell would I want to go to that place?  But here I am, on day 27.  I’m not miserable, I’ve relaxed a good deal in the past 27 days.  I feel healthy.  The next question is, what about “fun?”  

What was fun, in my mind, about drinking was the sense of complete abandonment of responsibility for a short while.  In a life lived under extreme pressure to perform, to serve others, and appear in court every day, while dealing with my family shit thrumming in the back of my head all the time, meeting friends for happy hour was an opportunity to go somewhere else entirely.  Hours of blocked off time where worrying was not an option.  A place where I went from feeling frazzled to calm, from too pudgy/old/awkward looking to sexy and attractive.  A place where my sense of humor flowed, where people were drawn to me, where I was the smart and powerful career woman who could handle her booze.  Where I could embrace my sense of rebellion from the tight constructs I put on myself in my day-to-day, over-achiever lifestyle.  Where I could live without self-imposed rules.  

This is why moderation has failed for me recently.  The reason drinking is fun for me, is that while I am enjoying my wine, there are no rules.  I don’t have to get an “A.”  I don’t have to win my case.  I don’t have to be the “good child” for my parents.  I don’t have to lose 5 more pounds, go for a run, count my calories, organize my closet, finish the laundry, and end world hunger before I can be okay with myself.  In that first glass of wine, all of those cares melt away.  I instantly give myself permission to be in the space of relaxation and to let all those worries go.  To impose a two-drink limit on my “fun” time would completely interfere with the whole purpose of letting go in those moments.  I might only have two, but it won’t be because of a limit I put on myself.  The minute that limit is in my mind, the minute I will break it.  

Living a life of extremes (extreme work, extreme play) has been my norm for as long as I can remember.  I’m hoping as I move away from this lifestyle that the craving for total, alcohol fueled abandon will subside in favor of a more balanced enjoyment of life.  Fun doesn’t have to be destructive.  For all the fun of abandoning my rules and responsibilities in those drinking hours, I would only find triple that in anxiety for having woken up with a hangover and feeling even less capable of coping with them.  

“Not everyone thinks this way.”  This simple and gentle statement pretty much rocked my world.  Time to find the relaxation, laughter and fun that swim in all that soft gray area and quit jumping from black to white while ignoring all the beauty in the middle.  

p.s.  thanks, coach. 

xo

Self-worth

All these feelings coming up in the past couple days about my self worth or lack thereof. I always thought I had just fine self esteem when I was drinking, but I’ve noticed little things that make me so very uncomfortable in the past few days and it’s hard to sit with them.
For one, my parents gave me DVDs they made of old footage from our family back in 1991. When I was 13 and my brother was 10. It was bittersweet to watch my brother as a happy child, since he is hopelessly lost in his addiction to meth and alcohol at the moment. But watching myself brought up some crazy feelings of self judgment… I was a bit chubby, with braces and a perm, I was a bit obnoxious and, well, awkward in the truest sense of the word, but also so innocent. But I realized, watching myself from that age, that it was around that time I began to devalue myself because I didn’t feel pretty enough, likable enough, or cool enough. It was a weird feeling that stuck with me all day. I just kept finding myself feeling more disappointed in myself. In yoga class I saw myself in the mirror and was mortified by how thick I looked. I felt sure everyone was thinking that I didn’t look like a yogi (I know how ridiculous that sounds but it was a visceral feeling I couldn’t shake!). Later in an argument with my husband (a rare occurrence), he said something about my decision to leave my job that sounded like disgust or disappointment, or like I had no plan even though we’ve gone over the plan several times and he’s expressed support the whole time. I took this as a big slap in the face, like he has no faith in my ability or willingness to follow through with the plan and do even more by helping him with his business. Immediately I went to deep feelings of worthlessness and realized that I only feel worthy if I’m the one achieving the most, in charge of the house, the finances, etc. I already struggle with these feelings and it hurts like hell to hear them coming from my husband.
But I have to also realize that my feelings of worthlessness are mine, they did not come from him, if anything he wants me to be happy and he’s just worried about how he’ll cover everything. My work right now has to be recovering my own self worth so that I can make sure and follow through with the goals I’ve set for myself. If I stay sober, I will be able to follow through, and if I don’t stay sober, there is a real chance I could screw up this opportunity I’ve carved out for myself. So! That is some serious motivation to take sobriety seriously. For now, I’m just glad I got through an ugly argument without drinking and that I can sleep, and wake up sober to tomorrow, which will be day 25. Maybe things will look brighter in the morning… That’s how it seems to go here in sober land anyway…

tiny glimpses of grace…

Today is my 20th day sober.  (mental applause!)  I was really struggling last night.  Yesterday I kept myself insanely busy, working out, organizing, writing, etc.  By the time my husband came home from work the last thing I wanted to do was cook and mess up the three day extravaganza of organizing the kitchen.  It was in spotless order!  All I wanted to do was go out to a nice dinner, which I could NOT picture doing without a glass of wine.  The husband was exhausted and hungry and wanted to just go somewhere.  For him, it’s easy peasy to go out and not drink.  I was conflicted between wanting so badly to go out, but knowing it would be hard for me, and wanting to please him by just toughing it out.  So we went.  

We went to a place where I used to go after work and have wine and sometimes food by myself.  The bar is super cozy and the food is awesome.  At the time, I was living in an adorable little duplex on my own, during a period of time where I was new in my career, newly single and nursing a broken heart.  My cousin and best friend was the bartender there, so it was a perfect way to grab dinner and drinks while socializing with her.  I love this restaurant and rarely go there anymore because she doesn’t work there now, and I don’t live in that little duplex anymore.  It holds fond memories, but I also associate it with the soothing comfort of an expensive glass or three or four of red wine.  However, they have a gluten-free menu, and the husband is trying out the gluten-free thing to see if it is the cause of some symptoms he’s been having.  So we went.  

I was totally anxiety ridden about ordering, without ordering wine.  I was imagining the awkward moment where the server would ask, “can I get you a glass of wine?”  and having to say no and order something “lame” (my mind’s adjective) like tea or mineral water.  White knuckles were in full effect.  When we arrived we were told it would be a half hour wait and I had that panicky feeling like, what the hell would we do for a half hour if we couldn’t get a drink at the bar while we wait!!!??  But then a spot opened up and we sat down.  Whew.  

When our server came over, turns out it was a girl who I’ve known since childhood.  I don’t know her well, but our dads worked together for years when we were kids.  I see her once in a while around town and our families give us news about each other.  I happen to know that she is in recovery.  She actually managed a sober living house years ago that my brother went to, and in fact she had to kick him out at one point for testing dirty.  Since that time, she asks about him when I see her.  She has, as far as I know, stayed sober since going to treatment almost ten years ago and has totally turned her life around.  I immediately felt a sense of relief that she was serving us.  When she asked if I cared for a glass of wine, and I ordered an elderflower spritzer, (delicious by the way), I still felt mildly awkward but so much less than I otherwise would have.  

This is a small thing, but it felt huge.  It felt like grace.  It helped me get through the witching hour and come out sober this morning.  And for that I’m so grateful.  

antsy…

Knew if I slowed down today I’d be struggling… I was struggling but staying busy helped me push through.  There is no better indicator of just how antsy I felt today than this:  not only did I run, do all the laundry, study, work, and organize the kitchen, I alphabetized my spices.  Yep.  If you knew me you would not be able to imagine me doing this in a million years.  I myself would never have imagined it. So either I’m going crazy, or I’m bringing to life some long-dormant organizing queen by being sober.  I prefer to envision the latter, and it may be true.  I found a totally unfamiliar but amazing feeling of satisfaction tonight in installing shelves into my cupboards, organizing the food in the pantry into categories, and aligned the glassware.  

Now my dreams are going to be all like, “anise, bay leaves, coriander, curry, fennel, ginger…”

Not so bad, actually.  A hell of a lot better than chaos and angst, so I’ll take it.  Anyone else go crazy on organizing during the first 30 days?  Or any time?

Day 14 on 2/14

Last night was my 14th day and also V-day… a day that my husband hates, but that he reluctantly participates in so as not to hurt my feelings.  Truth be told, I could not care less about valentine’s day either, especially since it’s one week before our first wedding anniversary which feels like the real special day.  But there’s still like this pressure to do something, you know???  

Normally, my hubs and I would make reservations at some fine dining place, where I would get the pleasure of ordering a fancy bottle of wine to pair perfectly with our food.  How I love to choose a special bottle of wine.  It is a ritual that calls upon my artistic side, my knowledge of different varietals, how they complement various dishes, what brings out the flavors in what.  I adore this process, the server pouring me a taste, to get my approval before pouring a delicate amount into both of our fancy glasses, the warmth in our eyes as we share a toast to whatever feels meaningful to us in that moment.  But this year, that was not to be.  So I set out to find us something different to do.  All a fancy restaurant would do for me now would be to cause distress at this perceived loss. 

Instead, I signed us up for a yoga workshop.  An evening workshop for partner stretching and massage.  When I proposed this idea to my husband, I was sure he was going to roll his eyes and say something to the effect of, “over my dead body.”  Rather, as he so often does, he surprised me by simply saying, “sure, I’ll do that with you babes.”  Swoon.  

I was under no delusions that we would take it completely seriously, and was pretty sure that we’d have a few good laughs about the experience and I was right.  Quite the cast of characters in that studio, as perhaps only those of you who live in a fairly (ahem) liberal area can imagine.  But overall, what was really cool was that we were together, sharing a few giggles, learning some easy and fun stretches and massage techniques.  We were connecting in a way that we normally never would be.  My husband got to meet the teacher who is instructing me to become a yoga teacher.  We had a genuinely good time.  

The studio owners, afterward, offered a wine tasting for all of us.  I felt mild regret about not participating, but I noticed that it wasn’t so much that I wanted the wine as it was that I felt a bit left out, or rude, for declining.  We thanked the teacher and told him we were both on a “drinking hiatus,” he hugged us and gave me a rose, and we left.  Stopped and had sushi for dinner on the way home, which was less tempting.  (For some reason, eating Asian food of any kind, sushi, vietnamese, chinese, or whatever, does not trigger my wine-drinking impulse the way other fancy restaurants do… I associate it more with tea!)  We got home and curled up with books in bed with our great Dane in between us.  (So romantic!!)  And it was just fine.  

This morning when I woke up, I was greeted with the amazing feeling of having had genuine sleep and saw in the mirror my bright, white eyes.  Any feeling of loss for not having had wine I might have been hanging onto melted completely away.  In the end, I know we had a better valentines day than we would have if we had followed our normal routine of fancy dinner + cocktails, bottle of wine, nightcap.  No arguments.  No drama.  No worrying about who drove.  Just togetherness.  And a toast with a big glass of cucumber water.  I felt more loved than ever.

 

“You become what you repeat…”

I mentioned a few posts ago that I was going to begin training to become a yoga teacher this month.  Now I’m a couple of weekends in, and it is helping immeasurably with the urge to drink.  In fact, this time around I’ve had almost zero cravings.  I think a lot of this has to do with the fact that I left my job and my routine is different, that I’m actively trying to care for myself, and that I’m being more honest with others about what I’m going through.  But there’s also this idea our yoga teacher introduced us to on our first day of training (also my day 1, and first day of teacher training!) that is simple, yet has stuck in my mind since then as a kind of mantra:  

“You become what you repeat.”  He referenced the yogic spiritual practice called Abhyassa when talking about this idea, and also called it “brain plasticity.”  Isn’t that so much of what we’re talking about here, with our attachments around alcohol consumption?  We practice consuming alcohol with dinner (wine), in social situations, to celebrate, to mourn, to relax, after work, etc.  We repeat this behavior because it’s the norm, and then that behavior sinks into our private lives as well, and the more we repeat it the more we become it.  

The opposite is also true.  This time around is markedly easier because of the things I’m doing to support myself, but also because I got some sober time under my belt on my previous rounds.  Each time I abstained, even if only for a week or so at a time, I added days that are like extra muscle fibers helping carry me now.  It is easier to divert myself to something else when I feel my urge to have a glass of wine coming on.  I’m getting better at rewarding myself with other things.  I’m practicing repeating positive behaviors and trusting that the more I repeat them, the more they will become my life.  Maybe it really is that simple.  It helps when I’m having a tough moment to pause, breathe, and remind myself that I’m practicing right now, and practicing can be hard.  But that with enough practice, this will become natural.  I will make it look easy.  It will be my life.  

And today, I rewarded myself with tulips and dark chocolate with almonds and sea salt.  :):)

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There’s something about day 10…

So now I’ve been here a few times, on my tenth day sober.  I like day ten.  It feels long enough to have detoxified, to feel healthy and clean, and like an accomplishment.  It feels like I can be sure that I’ve recommitted myself after several shorter stops and starts.  I haven’t been blogging as much, I think because I wanted to prove to myself that I was really doing it this time, the full 100 days, and I wasn’t sure I trusted myself to keep going.  But I’m feeling confident today.  Here’s what’s helping me this time around:

First, I made the very difficult decision to leave my job.  I love my career and find it very fulfilling in many ways.  I’m talented at what I do, people respect me in my profession, and I have lots of room to grow.  I’m sure that most people did not see my departure coming and expected me to continue to rise through the ranks.  However, I am positive, after reflecting a lot about myself and what is healthy for me over the past couple of years and especially the last couple months, that it was not good for my health to stay there.  I know that for me, the amount of stress I was dealing with at a job that is notorious for causing “compassion fatigue” and severe burnout was simply not good for me and not good for my ability to stop downing a bottle of wine every night.  So I resigned.  Life is too short to sacrifice your health and happiness to stay in a job just because you feel it’s the “right” thing to do, people expect it of you, or any other reason.  Ultimately, you only have today.  And today I choose to make decisions that take care of me.  I’m stepping out in faith that I will figure out my next path.  I have savings, and a plan, but it’s still a little scary.  However, I am also finding that just shaking up the routine of coming home stressed out of my mind and popping a bottle of wine to cope has already helped.  I’m doing different things with my time this past week and it feels pretty amazing to have the pressure relieved.  

Second, my husband is taking a break from drinking for a month or two with me.  He’s not a drinker of the same variety as I am (he drinks beer, I drink wine.  He drinks mostly on weekends and can easily go all week without, I drink daily.  He can open a beer, drink half, and leave the rest, I cannot.), but it still helps to have us be doing the same thing for now, especially while I get some time under my belt.  I’ve opened up to him more about what’s been going on for me and he is always there to listen and have my back.  Pretty awesome.  

Third, I opened up to one of my best friends about my struggle today, and she’s the first person I’ve talked to about this whole thing aside from you fine people in the sober blogosphere, my husband, and lovely the Belle (who inspired me to go for 100 days in the first place and who keeps patiently resetting my start date for me without judgment…).  This friend is one of my main drinking buddies, but also a true best friend, who I’ve been close to since we were 18 year old babies.  We’ve worked at a deli together, been roommates, gone to school together, and had countless partying times together.  Lots of fun, but also a large number of the craziest times I’ve had, and a lot of the things I regret, have involved her.  She is one of my favorite people on this planet and I love her to death… I was scared to tell her about my issues but felt like in a way, she would understand because she has seen me at my worst.  I was still afraid though, that my decision would somehow damage our friendship; that she would think I’m boring now, or wouldn’t want to hang out with me.  I was so happy to find out that I was wrong.  She totally understood and even related stories of a couple other friends of hers who are doing the same thing.  She’s been traveling a lot, and seems to have grown immeasurably herself.  

In short, I underestimated her and it hit me that I’m probably projecting my own shit onto her.  Just because my drinking self used to find sober people exhausting, boring, overanalytical, and irritating doesn’t mean that’s how she feels.  True friends will just be happy to hear that you’re taking care of yourself, and that’s what she did.  We went to yoga, had lunch, and I dyed her hair, and it was great.  No thing.  I’m not going to go around telling all my friends, but I did realize something today:  It’s okay for me to go ahead and make decisions that feel right for me.  I don’t have to have anyone’s permission or approval to choose what I know is the right choice for me.  I struggle with allowing myself to just do what I need to do out of fear of how those choices might inconvenience others.  I feel guilty for being vegetarian when invited to someone else’s house, for example, because I don’t want them to have to change their cooking plans for me.  Similarly, I was scared to be sober because I don’t want any of my drinking friends to be uncomfortable around me.  Does that sounds crazy?  Enough of that!!  Only we know what it’s like to live in our own bodies, and what our own intuition is telling us about what to put in them.  I’m learning that I need to give people more credit… most people who love you really don’t care about what you eat or drink as long as you are healthy and happy.  

It really comes down to support.  I’m supporting myself by leaving an unhealthy situation no matter how scary that change is, my husband is giving me some kick ass support, and so is my best friend.  And so are all of you.  So maybe there’s something to this asking for help business.  🙂  

That, and I am allowing myself a supportive cupcake as the need arises.