Clarity

sunrise cloverdaleToday is day 12 of sobriety. This time around, it’s not so hard. I’ve been pregnant, and breastfeeding, so I’ve become used to not drinking. This time, my drinking was relatively minimal compared to what it was a couple of years ago. Most people around me never suspected I had difficulty with alcohol before, let alone recently. My one to two glasses of wine a night were, if anything, encouraged because I should just let myself “relax.” What people didn’t see was that it wasn’t relaxing me at all outside that one hour of false relief. That I spent way too much time wracked with guilt over whether I should be having wine every night, that I hated the way I had started to look forward to my daughter’s bedtime so I could have my glass or two, or the way I would pray for her not to wake up within a window of time that I would need to feed her with alcohol in my system. That every evening when I went to bed I felt stupid for drinking wine when I knew I was facing a night of waking up to care for my baby and I was doing something that only made me more tired.

This time I’m choosing to stop NOW, before I regress back down the road I was on before. I realize I’ve been on a slippery slope and that my thinking had started to rationalize a little more wine each night. I started to recognize the cycle of each day returning, even though I wasn’t consuming too much at a time. The cycle of waking up feeling guilty and promising myself to take a night off, then going through the day feeling good, then evening hitting and being exhausted and stressed and craving time to just unwind and throwing my promise out the window because “I deserve this relaxation,” and “It’s not a big deal,” then having as much wine as I feel I can get away with depending on how long I expect my daughter to sleep before her next feeding, then feeling guilty and stressed about it as soon as I drink. How EXHAUSTING. How insane that my brain tells me it’s relaxing at all!

As my awareness kicked in and my interest in living a dry, sober life returned, I stumbled upon Laura McKowen’s blog and read this post that said something that sealed the deal for me. She describes so beautifully realizing that she would never reach her potential as a drinker, and I know the same is true for me. She states,

“For my entire life, I had this ache in my heart to write, to teach, but most of what I wanted was unnameable—I just knew I wasn’t doing it. And I didn’t know how to get there. It was only after I stopped drinking that a path started to form—both because I had more time, space, energy—but also, and more importantly, because my soul could finally breathe. Without the blunting effect of alcohol, I could finally tap into the energy I’d been dimming out for two decades. I could feel God, my creativity, faith, guidance, intuition, my highest and wisest self—drinking cut off my access to all that….

It’s not that you don’t have the clarity in you, you just can’t access it and you never will be able to, so long as you’re employed by an addiction.

Woah. That’s a truth-bomb right there if I’ve ever heard one. Drinking, for me, regardless of whether I was in a heavy phase, (often in the past twenty-plus years) or a moderate phase (recently), has stunted my ability to see with clarity what it is I really want to be doing. I have the same ache in my heart that Laura describes. I have a vague idea that I want to be writing, but I can never seem to pin down what it is I want to write about. What I want feels unnameable. I can see now that I haven’t given it the space or clarity it needs to emerge.

My tendency is to rush things. To need the answer NOW. To push things through. This time, as I gain more and more sober momentum, my plan is to relax into it. To give myself time. To trust that the clarity I’m seeking will emerge when I’ve had enough time without numbing out and dulling my senses. So many sober women I admire talk about the resurgence of their creativity once they stop drinking and gain time without alcohol.

When I think about what kind of mother I want to be, I think of the me that isn’t stifled or dulled. I think of the me that is confident and creative, reliable and loving, present and aware. I’m so grateful I read those words and made this choice now, while my daughter will never have to know me as the mom who drinks wine every night. We waited too long for the miracle of her birth for me to miss even a moment of her precious life.

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Speechless?

That’s how I’ve felt the past few days.  I want to write, but I feel a sense of exhaustion about trying to record the events of the past few days.  I’ve been keeping my head down, trudging forward and keeping my eye on my first big goal, which will be accomplished tomorrow:  30 days!!  I haven’t seen that number since sometime last year when I made it to 32.  32 is my all-time record, from age 17 to now, at 37.  20 years of never stringing together more than one month… it seems impossible that this is true, and yet I can’t remember a time when I would have.  I never thought there was a real problem until age 27.  Actually now that I think of it, though, I may have compiled a month or two or three at that age.  I did have a phase of really trying to cut way back/clean up.  But I don’t remember counting days or taking note of how long it had been… it simply wasn’t a part of my life for a little while, as I had been making an effort to live a bit healthier and I was dating someone who was into fitness and didn’t drink.

Because, I was always a master chameleon.  Not really knowing who I was, I was pretty good at adopting whatever characteristics whoever I was dating found attractive.  I lived for that approval.  Most relationships, drinking made this morphing process feel totally natural.  One thing that makes this sobriety thing easier for me now, is that I finally AM in a relationship where I feel authentic, loved, and whole.  It makes a huge difference to my ability to not feel so exposed and raw… I’m quite sure I couldn’t have done this in previous relationships where I was so desperately trying to make things work that were never meant to be.

The past few days have been rough but also have shown a big, bright spotlight on my emotional stability.  I am shocked at how healthily I’ve been able to process things that normally would have me hysterical.  Now, being sober, it’s so much easier to take a few breaths, assess the situation, go for a walk, think rationally about how to handle it.  Who knew?  For example, I had an incident the other day, after driving home through stressful traffic, where my dog (she’s a Great Dane) jumped out of my car without her leash when we got home — normally okay, but she for some reason has a thing about my neighbor and she charged right toward her, running and barking and then jumping around her and growling… it was awful!!  Our neighbor is like the cutest, classiest, nicest elderly woman who has been quite patient with our dog in the past, trying to befriend her on several occasions.  And our dog is such a big baby, not aggressive at all except with this woman she gets weird!  I don’t think she would actually hurt her, but at the same time I know she’s still a dog and anything can happen.  So I’m watching in horror and holding our other dog back, yelling for the dog to come back and she’s not, and it seemed to go on forever but it was probably in reality just a few seconds.

I got the dogs in the house and yelled out how sorry I was.  I reprimanded the dog and then had to steady myself for a few minutes; I was totally shook up, my heart was racing, and I felt like such a jerk for having let her off the leash even though she is normally trustworthy.  I debated for a few minutes what to do; this neighbor is overly gracious about the situation but she certainly could have called and reported it or just generally made some sort of a scene.  Me being normally terrified of confrontation, I was sure that in my drinking life, I would have just let it lie and not done anything else.  But I calmed myself down and did the right thing by going next door and checking on her to make sure she was alright.  She was shook up and I assured her I would be more careful.  We ended up having a nice chat and I felt so much better having apologized and being able to assure her that I would take it seriously and prevent further incidents.

I don’t know why this felt so significant except that I noticed this:  Although I feel I’m hiding a bit in sobriety, I’m not actually hiding from the things that matter.  This mattered.  And this, I would have hid from had I been nursing a hangover and feeling all paranoid and shaky.  Instead, I did the right thing.  I’m not hiding from real life.  I’m only hiding from my previous drinking life and that’s okay.  That life isn’t serving me.  This is, because I left a bad situation feeling good about my ability to rectify it.

30 days tomorrow!!!

This is not how my story will end.

As usual after a setback, I’ve procrastinated returning here to the blogging world to report another defeat. It’s hard not to feel like this story is getting old, the endless attempts I’ve made to stay sober only to disappear after a couple of weeks (sometimes not even making it that far!), then return and start over with the same, tired intentions. Part of me almost feels like it’s irresponsible to keep writing, to readers who are obviously so much better at staying sober than I am and who are apparently taking it more seriously. What could I possibly say that is helpful to anyone, when I keep failing?

That’s one way to feel. The other way to feel is that I have the power to say, “This is not how my story will end.” Yes, I have let myself down countless times since I started this journey back in November. I have changed my mind about a billion times about whether or not alcohol is a problem for me. (Which is pretty indicative of a problem, all this excruciating thinking.) Yes, after 11 days sober, I had two glasses of wine at dinner with my husband on the way to the airport to New York, and proceeded to drink every day for the past 11 days. But this doesn’t have to be the end. I can pick myself up and try again.

Every time this happens I’m learning about whether I have “a problem.” Every time I pick up drinking again, it’s because I become convinced that I’m simply being dramatic and that alcohol is not a problem for me. That I’m strong enough to prevent it from becoming a problem. That I just want to be normal and that I in fact AM normal, because most of my friends drink like I do. But every time, there are more and more hints that maybe that’s not true. When I’m not drinking, I have a front row seat to actually see people’s lack of drinking. That it’s not as big a deal as I make it out to be.

When I am drinking, I’ve started to notice how fast I drink compared to other people, and that I have to concentrate to get myself to slow down to their pace. I notice that I feel irritated when I have to pace myself in this way, and that I can’t believe how slow people drink and that sometimes their glass of wine just SITS there, untouched, for what feels like hours. I’ve noticed that each time I pick up drinking again, I drink more and more in secret. That the urge to drink secretly is more and more present and seems more and more acceptable in my own head. I’ve noticed that when I am drinking, more and more often I cannot totally remember the night and I have to piece it back together the next day. This morning, it took me about a half hour to remember what happened when we got home from dinner. When I did remember, my stomach turned a bit; I had called my mom and talked to her for at least a half an hour. I’m sure she couldn’t tell I was drunk… right?

One of the things that makes it the hardest for me to embrace that I have a problem is that no one else sees it. My husband will listen to me swear off alcohol, and he’ll promise to help me, but when I decide to have a drink he doesn’t try to stop me. He’ll ask me if I’m sure, and then let me decide. I don’t know what else I’d have him do. And this last time, it was great. We had an awesome date at a beautiful wine bar and enjoyed every minute of it. I am terrified of losing the ability to enjoy wine in that way. Especially when he doesn’t see the problem for me… but he doesn’t live inside my head and feel the inevitable pull towards the daily obsession that happens after even one casual light drinking evening. Once the “I’m drinking now” switch is flipped, it’s like I’m scared to take a day off because I’d be missing out on my drinking days that will have to come to an end again soon. How crazy is that?? So I drank each day, never too much or too crazy, but a little more each day. Until yesterday, when I was happy that my husband took the dog out for a walk around the block, so that I would have time to drink from an open wine bottle I had concealed in the wine cellar, under the guise of doing laundry downstairs. Even though we were going to dinner shortly where I could order wine, and I had already had two drinks at the pool a bit earlier.

images

So yeah. I have a problem. But this is not how my story will end. So here I am again, on day one. Someday I will look back on this and think, “Remember how many times it took me of trying before I quit for good??” And someone out there will be having the same struggle. And I will understand. And I will say to them, “Your story is not over. I get you. Keep trying.”

xo

Fluctuations expected?

So yeah, the other day I was on cloud nine as you could tell from my happy post.  Things were feeling just right with the world.  As I suppose is to be expected, yesterday was a whole different story.  

I’m heading out of town next weekend for a conference, and had booked my flight for Thursday since that was a cheaper option than flying out on Friday and I wanted a day to explore the city anyway.  All good.  Except that I had somehow completely forgotten that I have an important court hearing on Thursday, with witnesses who are expected to testify, that I can’t reschedule, and that’s been on the calendar for well over a month!  Hello??  How could I have forgotten about this?  I mean, I hadn’t forgotten about the hearing, but somehow my brain failed to compute that it was that day, when I was purchasing my plane ticket.  I’m telling you, this brain fog I’m experiencing is no joke.  A couple days ago my dad asked, “Hey, did you guys get a workout in yesterday?”  And my mind was suddenly completely and totally blank as to what I’d done the day before.  I couldn’t even call up a reference point from my previous day with which to unravel whether I’d worked out or not.  It was only hours later that it came to me that I had gone to yoga.  WTH??  

So I got up in a BAD mood, because I knew I’d have to pay to change the ticket.  I also knew that this meant if I wanted to arrive in time to play around on Friday that I’d probably have to take a redeye.  Which I do.  (Insert tiny violin playing here.)  All in all the mistake cost me $377.  Ouch.  The cost of brain fog.  I think what’s bothering me more though, is that this hearing I have to do is something I am Dreading.  (See the capital D?)  I’m stuck between a rock and a hard place with a difficult judge who is not super willing to hear my arguments, and calling a witness who is angry and uncooperative, all the while knowing that even though we are in the right, we are likely going to lose anyway.  And whichever strategy I employ I am not doing it right in someone’s eyes, because the law in unclear in this area.

The amount of stress I’m feeling because of this is off the charts.  Figure in the fact that I’m currently in a career change away from the legal field (this case is my last, but it has proven to be difficult and lasting), that I’m trying to stay sober and feel like I need space and less stress not more, and the upcoming procedure to fix my fallopian tube and all the infertility stress that goes along with that, and I felt like a total wreck yesterday.  Stomach ache, lethargic, cranky, headache, you name it.  Tata, cloud nine from yesterday!  

So here’s what I did.  We put our great dane in the car and drove out to the coast where we can let her off the leash.  I laughed a lot watching her play in the sand even though there were gale force winds out there and we had to retreat after a half hour or so!  The drive back was beautiful and I tried to soak it all up.  I noticed and consciously thanked God that I was hangover free, because I knew that my anxiety level, as bad as it was, would be a million times worse with a hangover!!  Went to one of our favorite Mexican places and had yummy veggie tacos and a root beer (I never allow myself to have soda but for some reason, root beer was calling me and hey, it’s not a real beer, so it’s still a win right?), came home and let myself just lay on the couch and watch TV in the day.  (Also something I never allow myself.)  It felt good just to give in to my fatigue and wallow for a bit.  Later I picked myself up and made myself head out for a jog with my Dane.  By the time that was over I felt so much better.  Exercise really is amazing for lifting spirits!!  Even when my internal voices were complaining the whole first half of the run, by the end I felt rebalanced.  Ate some leftovers and got back on the couch until I went to bed.  

So what’s the moral of the story here, you ask?  I guess what I learned from this is that I can’t expect that I’m going to feel amazing every single day (which is kinda what I was thinking there, on that last post of mine.)  I can’t let myself get mad that things don’t seem rosy every day just because I’m sober.  I still have to take the ups and downs.  I have to breathe.  Breathe, breathe, breathe.  Every time I thought about drinking yesterday (which wasn’t much actually, but the thoughts were sneaky, typical Sheila thoughts like, “what about next weekend?” and “forever!!!???!!?!?” and “you are fine, you are overreacting with this sober thing, now what have you done, you’ll never have fun again, this is so unnecessary,” and on and on), I just breathed and turned my attention to something else.  

I still felt crappy all day.  But I woke up today hangover free so that’s something.  Something big.  As Belle said the other day in an email (quoting another 100 Day Challenger), “Time marches on.  Life goes on.  With me sober, or with me drinking.”  This is so simple but really spoke to me.  Do I want to miss the passing of time in a drunken haze or with a hangover, even a mild one?  Nope.  No room for that anxious paranoia that hangovers give me these days.  No room for the unpredictable mood swings that come with drinking.  So even if I’m not the kind of drinker who does embarrassing things (I mean, there’ve been my fair share, but it’s not that often), or drinks all day, or blacks out, the effects I feel are negative enough that I want to live a life without them.  Because as crappy as I felt yesterday, I know it would have been worse with a hangover.  And for that, I’m grateful.  

Still on the learn over here.

xo

GOTL

 

Ready to start again.

Okay.  I have thought about writing this for a while now.  It’s been eight weeks since my last (confession) post.  For those of you who reached out to ask how I’ve been, thank you and I’m sorry I took so long to respond.  After receiving the disappointing news about my fertility issues, I decided to drink again.  That wasn’t the only reason, but looking back it seems to have been the catalyst.  

Much of my concern about my drinking came to a head when we started trying to conceive and I found myself having trouble cutting back on my intake, especially during the “2-week wait” where conception might have happened but before you can take a test.  I found myself really freaked out that I was unable to abstain during that time despite the possibility of bringing a new life into the world, which led me down a path of self-exploration and landed me here in sober blogosphere.  For several months (since November of last year) I’ve been on and off sobriety, with my longest stint my most recent, a whopping 32 days.  I honestly can’t say exactly what it was that caused me to throw in the towel on this most recent attempt, but I’m going to do my best to articulate my thinking because I’m so hoping I can avoid this pitfall in the future.  

The first thing that happened was that I was told I will not become pregnant without intervention.  I suffered a lot of sadness over this news and I think I have come to terms with it.  But what happened mentally in regards to my not drinking, was that I thought, “green light!”  No chance of getting pregnant, so what am I doing this for?  Totally ignoring the plethora of other reasons why taking some time off of booze was beneficial for my health, emotional wellness, productivity, fitness, and self-confidence.  Hmmm.  

The second thing that happened was that I simply got bored.  The truth about my drinking is that I am harming no one but myself.  So far.  Despite the fact that I will happily drink on a daily basis, usually three glasses (generous glasses) of wine but often four or five (especially on weekends, you can add a couple cocktails in there, maybe a couple beers depending on the weather), no one seems to notice when I’m intoxicated.  Apparently, I almost always carry myself quite well in company.  Additionally, I am surrounded by people who are drinking exactly as much as I am, usually.  So my drinking does not seem out of the ordinary.  (That is, because they drink that much when we’re together, I assume they also drink at home alone like I do…?)  My point is, I started to ask myself why I was putting such restrictions on myself when I seemed to be the only one who found my drinking problematic.  That can be an exhausting place to find oneself, I’m realizing.  It seems like every story I hear about people who are getting sober includes friends or family who express concern over the drinking… no one is expressing concern to me.  In fact, when I have talked to people about the issue (only a very select few), they have emphatically insisted that I do not have a problem.  That they know people with problems, and I am clearly not one of those people.  

That’s a hard position to argue with, when your inner voice is telling you that you do have a problem.  Am I right?  Who wants to sit there and convince a friend that you have this problem that they don’t see?  And why would I not believe my friends/husband, who know me better than anyone?  I must be overreacting and clearly this thing will stay under my control.  They believe in me.  Why am I not believing in me (and my ability to keep my drinking reasonable)?  Conversely, I felt super frustrated by this response.  I know my loved ones were just trying to reassure me, but I couldn’t help but wonder why, when I was honest about my intake, no one else found it concerning.  After all, it is a lot of wine, is it not?  Maybe not the worst, but certainly something to take a look at?

So, back to the issue at hand:  I am harming no one but myself.  Which means, that no one but me can feel the damage.  I can choose to stop inflicting this damage on myself, but I have to rely on my own self-knowledge in order to do so.  Furthermore, I should stop this damaging behavior now, rather than waiting until my drinking does start to damage someone else, which it inevitably will at some point.  Which it has in the past and just because I have improved some things does not mean that I won’t find myself in a bad situation again.  But I started to find it extremely difficult to keep believing that I have an issue with alcohol after getting through 32 days, and being told by so many that I didn’t have a problem, and remembering plenty of times where I drank and everything was fine.  

During the last eight weeks I’ve had a drink nearly every day.  But not every single day (I think there have been at least three or four alcohol free days!), and I haven’t gotten drunk more than a couple of times (a few days I only literally had one glass!… because I was with my mother and she doesn’t really drink, but still!).  Most days, it’s the same amount:  between two and four glasses of wine (i.e., half to a full bottle).  When I compare this to others, it’s easy to say to myself that this is really not that bad.  I’m certainly not cracking open a second bottle, unless I’m with friends and it’s the weekend!  However, this is what I know to be true:  I find it nearly impossible to not have those glasses of wine, once I’ve had them for one day.  Once I drink one day, I drink every day.  I rarely go overboard and get drunk.  Even when I do get drunk, I rarely do anything awful.  I am a nice drunk.  I can hold my liquor.  When I’ve had too much, I tend to just get myself to bed, no drama, no craziness.  So the issue is not that I’m that out-of-control woman, that sloppy, rude, blacked-out chick.  I’m not.  I (almost always) remember my nights.  I (usually) don’t say anything I regret.  

I find myself caught in a cycle of worry about how much I’m drinking followed by all the above justifications about why it’s perfectly fine and normal, back to the worry and anxiety, and then the justifications.  This cycle follows a predictable 24 hour rhythm:  waking at 2:30 or 3 a.m. feeling sweaty, anxious, dry-mouthed, unable to get back to sleep, followed by promising to take a day off to detox, followed by a morning where I don’t fulfill promises I made to myself (to work out, to accomplish certain tasks at work, etc.), followed by feeling okay in the afternoon when the fog lifts, followed by wine-o-clock which makes me very happy (or at least it seems) and which is filled with me ridiculing my earlier worrying self by listing off all above justifications.  How fucking exhausting and crazy does that sound??  

So, nothing terrible happened during the past eight weeks, except that slowly but surely the anxiety has crept back in.  I have missed this community of clear-headed, supportive and inspirational bloggers.  I have missed my sober self and all she has to offer me:  fulfilled promises of yoga class, runs, gym workouts, tasks accomplished, creativity, and clear eyes.  I have missed the wonderful mornings full of motivation.  Having recently left my job in pursuit of starting my own business has left me with only myself to rely on.  I need myself.  I need to wake up motivated to write, to move things forward.  I can feel myself slipping into laziness and I know it’s booze’s fault.  Sigh.  For a while, I was unsure I’d be back here, I was unsure if I needed this.  I will probably continue to question it.  But for now, I know that I miss it, that I’m experiencing all the gross, demotivating effects of drinking again and not liking it, and that I’ve been unable to take a day off despite promising myself that I would.  So that must mean there’s an issue, right?  Right.  

Having attempted Belle’s 100 day challenge five times now, I think for now I’m going to take one day at a time.  For me, I think 100 days is too daunting.  Even 30 days sounds daunting, but I’ve done that before and it sounds more manageable.  I was considering thinking about it in five or ten day increments.  I know I can stay sober for ten days.  And hopefully then another ten.  Like that.  I’m always motivated in the beginning… it’s after I get a little time under my belt that I have a hard time sticking to it.  If anyone has tips on this particular challenge, I’d welcome them!  I do plan to be here writing every day, because just getting my thoughts down is a huge help.  

I’m happy to be back.  Day one here I come.  

 

 

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…

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?