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.

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!!!

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

 

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

My first sober new years!!

Well, ok sure.  I was sober plenty of new years under the age of 18.  But once I lived on my own, I know that I never had another one.  Wait, there was one, about ten years ago, when I had previously contemplated my intense party-girl ways and had retreated to a friend’s house in Seattle to take time off.  But that sobriety stint lasted a couple of weeks and then I never saw another sober NYE.  Until last night!  Party at our house and all, I did not have a sip of alcohol.  

We had about 15 friends over throughout the night, I had cooked food and made snacks, people brought food and smiles and hugs.  Luckily most of the friends we invited were not our craziest party friends.  They are all people who drink, but pretty moderately.  They are people we have other things in common with through our careers or yoga.  So it was not as hard as I expected.  I had a bottle of non-alcoholic champagne that was actually pretty decent.  Turns out, there was another person at the party who was not drinking too, and he kept coming back to share the bottle of the non-alch stuff with me, which was pretty cool.  We talked a lot about health.  He had come prepared with tea and coconut water, which he shared with me too.  He was open about being on his tenth day of not drinking, for health reasons.  Made me feel more normal and less like I had to hide that I was sober all night.  All-in-all, it somehow really wasn’t a big deal.  

As the night wore on and people started to show their intoxication, I found myself actually happy to not be drinking.  The hardest part was while we were waiting for people to arrive (usually when I down a couple to ease my anxiety about the event) and during the first couple hours.  After that, no one really seemed to notice I wasn’t drinking, and I just stopped caring.  Here’s the crazy part — I stopped caring because I was actually just having fun.  Having fun sober.  I have been telling myself that this is a foreign concept to me, but somehow my mentality shifted last night and I just decided to give it a go.  Luckily I have great friends and it simply wasn’t a big deal.  I even danced with my husband and friends.  And totally noticed how awkward my dancing felt, but also didn’t let it get to me.  

You know what really helps with this fun-without-alcohol thing?  Besides having good friends who I realized I need to spend more time with (instead of cousin and her husband and their circle, as previously written about), yoga.  Yoga really, really helps me remember to breathe and be present.  That I can even take it one breath at a time if I need to.  It seriously motivated me to have a yoga workshop to look forward to today and the thought of attending it helped me stay with my goal of not drinking last night.  

Today in the workshop the yoga teacher invited us to feel proud of ourselves today for something we’ve accomplished, even if it was just showing up to yoga.  When he said the words, “you should feel really, really proud of yourselves,” I was so moved.  Because I am.  I am really, really proud of myself for staying true to my intention to not drink and for experiencing the beginning of a new year with clarity.  So now I am on day four and I am feeling great.  Whole new ways of living are ahead of me and I can’t wait to see what 2014 holds.  

Happy new year friends, and thank you for getting me through this hurdle by sharing your stories in this sober blogoshpere, and with your kind comments of encouragement.  I am so grateful.  

 

Last post of 2013

And I’m sitting at my office.  It’s 4:15 p.m., almost time to head home for the night.  I plan to cook up a good pot of black eyed peas (apparently good luck for the new year, a southern tradition), straighten the house a bit, pour myself a good sparkling water with lemon in a fun glass, and prepare for our friends to arrive.  I have mixed feelings about having company, but I can feel the true me in there, who simply wants to share some good moments with friends and who doesn’t care about alcohol.  I was that person, once.  Even if I was a teenager, she’s still in there and I am going to channel her. 

In the middle of my day, I received news from my parents that my brother (who has been a chronic alcoholic, methamphetamine addict, et. al., to a level of extremity that I’ve never come close to) has completely deteriorated into meth and alcohol abuse again.  We all expected that he was deep into drinking again as he blew off the family (including his son, who my parents have full custody of since he can’t get his shit together) on Christmas and has not been responding to calls.  But meth?!?!  Again?  I couldn’t believe he would already sink so low when he was only out of the program a couple of weeks ago (he started drinking again three days after getting home but now has lost 20 pounds and has dropped into oblivion.)

To make an agonizingly long story short, this type of news is not unexpected with him.  This time, though, we all had more hope as my parents had put him through an expensive, longer term residential rehab program just a few months ago.  It was probably his seventh time, but we all had more hope this time.  He had gone to the emergency room for a cut finger (which he almost severed on a broken beer bottle) only to lose it in the ER and attack a bunch of medical staff and end up in jail, where he had mulitple seizures and was taken to the hospital again to suffer more seizures and an extremely painful detox process.  When I went to the hospital to see him, the nurse told me that if he ever has to detox like this again, he is likely not to make it because he has done such severe damage to his system. 

I hadn’t been in touch with my brother before that, really, because of this crazy roller coaster he’s put us all on over the years.  Watching him disrespect my parents, not caring when he lost custody of his disabled son, not caring about anyone.  Constantly waiting for the phone call that he’s dead or in jail.  But this time I felt moved to visit him in the hospital and I wasn’t sure why.  I spent the whole day with him and it was like I saw the true him shining through.  He told me that he had attempted suicide in the jail because the detox hurt so badly.  He told me he cried out to God, and that soon afterward he was embraced by a warm light and a feeling of peace.  He said that feeling saved his life and that he would never drink again.  That he knew he had a purpose and a reason to live.  I believed him, even though I usually wouldn’t.  So we sent him to the program.  “One last time,” we told him, our hearts full of hope. 

It’s hard not to scream, to run, to cry, to pull my hair out, to be so angry at him.  It’s hard not to drink.  Why the hell not?  It’s certainly not ME who has given up my child, who has been convicted of felonies, who has shot up drugs in my arms.  It’s not ME who has lost all control, lost all my friends and family, who has been to rehab seven times and never stayed clean.  My issues are not even a wildflower in the landscape of my brother’s problems.  It almost feels even more like I’m being ridiculous for entertaining the thought that I have a problem in the shadow of all that.  But here’s the thing.  I still get to choose to not drink if it’s not right for me.  I still get to love myself that much, even if my brother can’t find love for himself.  I can choose to let him live his life his way and know that I have done what is possible to help even if it has not worked, even if it hurts. 

Lots of challenges today between this sad news, hearing my parents’ despair and being unable to help, and having a party to host tonight.  But in this moment, I get to write stuff down and put it out there, and that does make me feel stronger.  And if I can make it through today, I can truly make it through anything.  Tonight will strengthen my sober muscles.  Gonna be a good workout but day 4 awaits me on new years morning.  🙂 

 

No alcohol required.

On my way to the hospital today to see my friend’s brand new baby, I stopped at Whole Foods to pick up flowers and a card.  And… obviously it seemed like the perfect occasion to grab a bottle of bubbles!!

Oh.  Right.  Not doing that.

Not doing “that,” that drinking thing, makes me feel like I’m not allowed to celebrate.  Like, how am I supposed to celebrate, anyway?  Fellow sober bloggers, I would cherish your suggestions and advice here.  I know I’m probably supposed to easily feel like a piece of cake is a celebration.  Or… sparkling apple cider?  Ugh.  I’m out of ideas.  How to mark one of life’s turning points?  Celebrate a birthday?  A wedding?  A holiday party (like the one I offered to host this year for my office prior to deciding to take on this 100 day challenge… don’t even get me started here, I’ll save that for another post…)?  An anniversary?  I can feel the panic setting in just trying to imagine these things.

But then, my mind says, that’s ridiculous.  Because, life.  That’s really the celebration, isn’t it.  I’m supposed to be learning how to celebrate life.  To realize that togetherness, laughter, and love is what makes a celebration.  Seems hard to imagine this applying to most situations I consider cause for commemoration.  But then.  Then I walked into that hospital room.  I held that wee little love in my arms, and looked at my best friend with admiration for what she’d just accomplished.  I felt a glow.  It was love.  It was laughter at baby’s little wiggles.  It was life.

And it was a celebration.  No alcohol required.