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.

The longest 4 days…

So normally when I slip up, my brain switches to this voice that says, “Yes!! We get a break from all this sober nonsense, let’s live it up for a few days! We’re in ‘not caring’ mode!” And then I proceed to drink for several days, weeks, in a row before I feel so utterly horrific that I have to face up to the quitting again.

This time, I drank one evening. Five days ago. And the next morning, I wanted to kill myself. I was gripped with anxiety so severe I was sweating, had trouble breathing, was paranoid, couldn’t move off the couch, was literally gripping the blanket with white knuckles. All day, all I could think was that just one beer would take the edge off and I’d feel better. But I DIDN’T DO IT!!! I’m so relieved. Here’s the crazy thing. My alcohol-infused brain likes to refer to this approach (the one where I drink beer to take the edge off a bad hangover) as the “taper method.” And to be honest, it sometimes kinda works. The lie is that I usually don’t really taper, I mean I’ll have less for a few days, maybe even only two glasses of wine on one or two nights, but I usually carry on through and end up with a few more big nights in there. This time I had the one night, and it ended so bad that I stuck to my resolve and made it through day one. And two, three, and four. Today is day four and it is close enough to bedtime that I’m in the clear. I think.

But you know what’s crazy?? I STILL feel hungover. Not like a headache, not nauseated or anything. But I feel this lingering anxiety and self-doubt. It doesn’t feel like me. I think the “taper-method,” when it does work effectively, masks the reality of how long it takes me to get back to feeling 100% normal after a binge. (For clarification as to Friday night’s events, I intended to have one or two glasses of wine… I drank my first one twice as fast as my friend, so refilled first, that’s two within the first 30 minutes… then had two more of the other bottle, then finished the bottle while everyone else had maybe a glass or two I had four or five. This is before dinner. Then with dinner, had two HUGE glasses of red wine, this bartender seriously pours me like 12 ounce glasses, so I suppose that would actually be 4 glasses.) So the conclusion I’m drawing here is, if you drink 8 or 9 glasses of red wine in a night, 4 or 5 of which were consumed prior to eating, you are going to feel like a massive piece of cat shit for several days afterward.

Hoping tomorrow feels a little better. Each day is a little better. But it sure is starting to seem less and less worth it to throw away three perfectly great days to work on my business. It is startling to see how long it actually takes me to get back on track with life… with exercise, sleep, feeling like a human, having energy, feeling clear-headed. I feel like the more I continue to slip and drink, the more severe the consequences feel. Is this a real phenomena? Does it mean my alcoholism is progressing? It’s a scary thought.

This time I’m doing something different and WAY out of my comfort zone by seeing a therapist who specializes in alcohol dependence. I actually had a consultation this morning and my first real session will be on the 10th. So… that’s pretty good motivation to stay sober until then. To be honest, and this sounds backward, I would love to be honest with a professional and have them just tell me flat out: You MUST quit drinking, you have a serious problem. Most people would probably want to hear that they DON’T have a problem, but here’s the thing. No one in my life thinks I have a problem. My husband is starting to believe me, but the thing is that a lot of the “problem” is how freaking crazy I feel in my own head. How my biochemistry feels off after drinking and I suffer extreme depression and anxiety. But at the same time I feel like, I’m stronger than this, I can’t say I have a problem because I wouldn’t be being genuine. For some reason I think I’d be “faking it” if I said I had a problem, or that my problem is not as serious as other’s, because my life is together, I’m driven, I have a house and a good marriage, and a career, etc. But the crazy feelings are still there, and the insane, child-like grief I feel at the thought of giving up is there… so that’s something. Something that I’ve finally decided has to be addressed in a professional’s office. And I can’t help it, I want her to say to me, “I hear you, and in my professional opinion you should quit drinking.” Because then I feel like I would KNOW. You know? I would be able to tell my whacked-out, whining for wine self that this is serious, and drinking is not an option.

Writing this is making me want to run screaming to the wine cellar and grab a bottle of pinot, so I’m going to sign off, go make some peanut butter toast for dinner, and some tea. And then do a little night time yoga and get into bed and hide.

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

 

Wine release party in the sun? Nope.

Not today. I was planning to go and thinking I would be fine. Then I thought, why do that to myself especially when I am so obviously fragile right now? When my thinking flip flops from moment to moment? Why set myself up for failure? So instead, I’m getting a pedicure and having lunch with a safe friend who gets my issues and who I don’t feel pressured to drink with. Then I’m going to the gym. Then I’m going home to snuggle with my dog and watch movies. It feels good to have a plan in place for the day… Safe. I need to be in a safe cocoon right now. Slowly realizing that I have to think of this as a thing, a thing I have to prioritize. If I leave it last on the list (after things like attending this party when I don’t feel up to it) it simply won’t happen. So yeah. That’s all for now, just me reporting from the cocoon of safety over here.

p.s., news flash: having several “day ones” back to back sucks. Like really sucks. Something to remember at 5pm today.

Day 1. Stop the madness.

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.

 

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.  

 

The 100 Day Challenge (Day 14)

Where to begin.

I could start at the beginning, but that would be a very long story.  I could go into the years of drinking and partying, of how my relationship with alcohol has ebbed and flowed, how it’s been positive and negative, how I’ve vacillated between party-girl and being worried about my health and my self-esteem.  But instead I’m just going to talk about now.  The rest will come in time.

I suspect a lot of people feel the way I do about alcohol and maybe my voice will help someone else like so many of you bloggers have helped me.  (SoberChrystal, Belle from Tiredofthinkingaboutdrinking, Soberistas, and many more…)

I am not an “alcoholic.”  Despite having seen alcoholism in my family and the AA model of recovery, I disagree that people are either “alcoholic” or “normal.”  In my opinion, based on my own experience and working with hundreds of clients in the criminal justice system, there are a plethora of folks who fall somewhere in between.  Who are experiencing problems as a result of drinking, or who are questioning their drinking’s affect on their health, but who are not necessarily alcoholics who must never drink again or risk ruin of everything they have.  Some people just need to take their power back, reevaluate their priorities, and put themselves back in the driver’s seat.  And I believe that people are capable of that.  Not everyone.  And I am certainly not saying that AA is inappropriate, to the contrary I have seen it work for loads of people and I applaud the support it provides.  However, I personally refuse to consider myself “powerless” over anything.  And I know, deep down, that I am absolutely not powerless, but that I have made choices that have not been healthy around alcohol off and on throughout my life.  Lately has been one of those times.

I live in wine country.  In the last ten years, I left my job as an 8th grade teacher to figure out what to do with my life since I couldn’t fathom teaching for one more second.  I moved home to start over, and began waiting tables at a fine dining establishment where I learned all about wine.  What wine pairs with each dish.  What wine pairs with summer.  With winter.  With lamb.  With love.  And wow, did I fall in love.  With wine, and with a winemaker, which ensured that wine was always in our lives.  It is perfectly normal here to have wine with every meal (ok, maybe not breakfast).  And we did.  There is a certain sense around wine here that it is the civilized, classy thing to do.  I noticed during those years that I was miserable much of the time, but I blamed it all on my volatile relationship and the fact that i had started going to law school at night and was working three jobs.  Looking back, I know I was fatigued much of the time and I was drinking far more frequently than was healthy considering the load I was carrying.  But I excelled nevertheless, graduating cum laude in 2009 and passing the Bar on the first try.

(Ok, i veered from the “now.”  Sorry!)

For the past four years I’ve been practicing law and the stress of work is constant and grueling.  Wine has been my easy transition from the workday to the relaxing, evening portion of the day.  My reward for working so hard.  The only way to shut off the constant roll of worries in my head about what hearing I have on the next day, whether I ordered an essential piece of discovery on time, whether I visited a client on time.  My constant self-doubt at the job I’m doing shuts right the hell up after a glass of wine.  But a “glass” to me is rarely a glass.  A glass is always two, then three, or four, or a bottle.  More on weekends.  And despite remaining fully functional, it has been enough to make me worry about where this habit will lead if I let it continue.  And I cannot lie to myself that I am not on my way to being addicted on some level, if I’m not there already.  And it’s enough to make me wonder, what MORE could I be getting out of life if I wasn’t checking out every evening?  Would I lose the spare tire I’ve put on?  Would I sleep better?  (The answer to that one is an unequivocal YES, btw!!)  Would I have the energy to do the things I love to do outside of work?  Those things I’ve told myself I don’t have time for because of my demanding job are likely things I don’t have the time/energy for because I’m drinking instead.

SO!  This post is way too long.  But the bottom line is that i read The Sober Revolution — Calling Time on Wine O’Clock recently.  It’s written by Sarah Turner and Lucy Rocca.  I instantly recognized myself.  And it changed my thinking.  It got me searching for others like me and reading blogs.  I stumbled upon tiredofthinkingaboutdrinking.wordpress.com, and read Belle’s inspiring words.  I had already decided to take a break from drinking to figure my s*&# out, when I saw her 100 day sober challenge.  After some soul searching, I signed up.  So I decided to blog about this journey to hold myself accountable along the way.  I don’t know if I’ll return to drinking at the end or not.  I’m going to see how this feels.

Today, I feel amazing.  I am up early on a Saturday with a clear head.  Mornings are a reward.  Evenings are hard.  I’ll keep you posted.