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!!!

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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.

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

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.