Hurrahforcoffee repost: What my lapses and relapses have taught me.

This is a post from Hurrah for Coffee and it’s so good. She nails it with this relevant and real list of learnings, which I already knew (anyone going at this a while has probably experienced some or most of this), but it is really good to be reminded. And have them all in one place.

Today I will tell my drinker’s voice to fuck off. She was really excited to maybe get to drink again in July, but even that is telling.

I have a lot of work to do on living my best life. As I think about plans the team is making for a wine tasting/potluck this summer — literally timed when I will be drinking again — I ask myself: seriously? Is that really what you need for a rich and fulfilling life?

I wonder if the romantic situations I have crafted in my mind’s eye — red wine swirling at  the bottom of a beautiful crystal glass, over candlelight with a handsome man, or under the stars by the fire with friends, or in a tasting room with my tribe, or in an authentic Italian restaurant that only serves beer and wine (this actually happened on this same trip), or a trip IN VENICE AND ROME with a handsome Italian, or or or or or…

How do those moments stack up to the rest of the moments I can and will create without wine?

Do I really need to do more “research”?

Why can’t I learn from people like Hurrah for Coffee and have my answer? Why does it take some of us so many times “researching” only to come back to the same conclusion? Can’t I just listen to LITERALLY EVERYONE and believe in my heart that I am done with booze for good?

Seriously, what does it have to take? I’m so tired of the existential conflict. And I’m terrified of getting it wrong.

Hurrah for coffee!

This is a post for myself to refer back to if I EVER feel like drinking again. If this helps anyone else that is awesome too.

I had 5 years sobriety in my 20’s but was white knuckling it alone. In my thirties 2 and half years, then another year and half. Then a couple of months at a time (3 to 6 months stretches). I know it seems like I was going backwards in my journey but everytime I went back to drinking I learned something new.

A lapse is one night of drinking followed by getting back on the horse the next day. A relapse is sustained drinking until of course you stop again (if you manage to stop again I should say)

Here is what I learned from all of my lapses/relapses throughout the last couple of years.

  1. It get’s harder and harder to get back on…

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My Year of Sobriety? The Hero’s Journey

Psychologists call it being “parentified,” when a child is forced to be the “parent” to herself and siblings, and often to her own parents too. This doesn’t have to be the result of abject abuse or neglect; it can occur when a child’s parent or parents simply don’t have the capacity or inclination to give her the protection and nurturing she needs at a young age. So, the child must parent herself.

This was the case for me.

My dad left when I was about 2-years-old — a drunk — and my mom — a bank teller raising two small girls — did all she could just to keep  a roof over our heads and food on the table. And attachment theory wasn’t a thing  in the 70s. So…

As it turns out, when kids are parentified, they often spend their lives searching for that feeling of belonging and self-worth. They often struggle to be able to self-soothe and comfort themselves in a mature and healthy way, because they never learned how. I haven’t read any books on this yet (at the suggestion of a good friend, I just ordered one and it’s on its way), but I’ve heard enough in my group therapy to realize that this is huge for me.

And a huge reason I drank.

One thing is clear since I finally quit drinking: I’ve had to face the reasons I was drinking too much, and they stem all the way back to my feelings of belonging. Being included and a part of a tribe. Being accepted and feeling worthy.

I’m 206 days alcohol-free today, and this week, for the first time since I quit 6-1/2 months ago, I almost drank.

I was at a work/team off-site at a beautiful resort in Florida. I just adore my work colleagues, and we work hard and have a lot of fun together. They have also seen me drink quite a bit in the past, as we had big trips abroad (Italy! Europe!) together to launch projects, or have had other team outings where red wine is always an integral part of the program.

It was the fourth night of long days of meetings and fun, and we were all sitting around a fire pit under the stars. They were all drinking expensive red wine and the glasses were refilling fast. Finally, the conversation came around again to asking why I wasn’t drinking. I know we sober folks like to think that drinkers don’t even notice when we aren’t drinking, and sometimes that’s true. But this time, I stuck out like a sore purple thumb.

Over the last few days I’d been fending off their questions, telling them I was off alcohol “for a year” because I wanted to mitigate the perception with my colleagues, and honestly, I’m not really ready to say out loud to anyone that I have quit forever. So, I figured I’d tell them a half-truth: Alcohol was making me feel like shit, so I quit for 100 days. When I got to 100 days, I decided to keep going to a year. I’m over half way there.

I suppose I could have left the situation and gone back to my room, but I just didn’t want to be left out of this experience. This is the bonding time and the inside stories time, and I wanted to be a part of it. I thought I could be a part of it, with my sparkling water and cranberry juice, but I quickly wanted something more interesting to drink (there wasn’t anything)  or some way to blend in a little better (there was no where to hide).

Maybe they sensed my wavering, my discomfort, my desire to dance on the edge of both worlds, because they turned up the volume a bit. They pressed deeper, questioning why I would quit for so long, and teasing me about it. It was meant in fun, but all eyes were on me, all attention was on me, and while it had been moderately sucky before, as an introvert who doesn’t love so much attention, now it was almost unbearable.

So, I got up and walked inside. I was going to do it. A glass of wine wouldn’t kill me and I could deal with telling my sober therapy group and my sober friends tomorrow.  It was more important to me in that moment to belong and relieve the pressure than to not drink. It was more important to stay part of the pack.

And something else was also true: Sitting around a fire pit, under the stars, drinking a beautiful glass of red wine out of a beautiful glass, laughing with good friends, is one of my most favorite things to do in life. It was, anyway. It’s what some call a “peak moment.” This was a peak moment of my life and I was unable to fully enjoy it because I was hating the sparkling water and cranberry juice I was drinking, and I was not fully “in” because I was drinking it.

I can hear what you’re probably thinking: It’s not the wine that gives us joy in those situations. It’s not the wine that defines our belonging.

Believe me, I’ve had enough therapy around this and I’ve read enough blogs and posts and books to totally get it.

And yet…in that moment, there was nothing else but that. It was a primal need to belong and bond with my tribe.

I came back outside with the glass. “Alright,” I said. “I’ll have a glass.”

The tone shifted. One of my colleagues who I have shared a lot of laughs with, including over lots of red wine, reached up to put his hand on my forearm.

“Wait. Have you really not had a drink in over 6 months?”

No, I haven’t.

“Well then don’t break your streak for THIS,” he said, and he gestured toward the fire pit. “Don’t do it for this.”

Another colleague spoke up, “Did you make a promise to yourself that you would be breaking if you drank tonight?”

I nodded. Yes, I did.

“Well then don’t do it. Don’t break your promise to yourself. Don’t drink tonight.”

I looked at them now and they all looked back a me a bit sheepishly. They were on my side. I turned on my heel and put the wine glass back on the kitchen counter. I wouldn’t be needing it tonight.

That was the first time since I quit drinking that my resolve actually dropped. I’ve had days with strong urges, days when my mood was bad or I wanted to disappear or stuff feelings or I felt like I wasn’t sure I would be doing this forever, but I always knew even if it sucked, I wasn’t going to drink. This was the first time I was actually tempted, or actually, more than tempted; this time I was going to do it.

But I didn’t.

And the silver lining is that it brought into stark relief what I really need to focus on. The work I have to do.

It brought into focus that I’m not convinced.

I have powerful issues around a need for belonging. And self-worth. I have work to do around intimacy and letting myself be vulnerable. I have powerful associations with wine as part of what is the “best of life,” and the peak, best moments of my life have almost always included wine. Not wine to excess, just wine as one element of many. I conjure those moments in my mind and they represent:

Romance

Love

Warmth

Pleasure

Joy

Belonging

Richness

Possibility

Humor

Connection

Adventure

Sensuality

And so much more…

Do I really want to give that up for the better life that could be? For the “miracle” that still hasn’t come?

Some have told me that the miracle turns out to be real connection and joy in the small moments of everyday. Being awake for life. Present in it.

Yes, I’m sure that is so. And maybe that is the work I need to do, now that I can see it, working on true intimacy and connection with those around me.

No, I can’t be disappearing into a bottle of wine every night and think I’m going to also work on my inner self. Ain’t gonna happen.

But this is part of the challenge of being a “high bottom” drinker. Nothing really bad ever happened, but I felt like I was blotting out my light. After experiencing trauma about five years ago (and after an emotionally abusive marriage), I was drinking to stuff it all down. I wasn’t doing the work of healing.

Now… TRIGGER WARNING. This is me working shit out in writing and I wouldn’t want to cause unease in anyone who is unsure about quitting or staying quit. We are all on our own journeys. We each have our own needs.

And this is the risk of thinking I can go back to drinking at some point. That I’ll have learned enough in “My Year of Sobriety,” on what will certainly be a lifetime assignment toward feeling belonging and vulnerability, that I can dip my toe in again.

That my journey will have changed my path.

My ninja group therapist must have sniffed a bit of this on me yesterday when she went straight in for the kill. She (kindly, lovingly) said that the thing about those of us who got to the place of using alcohol as “dangerously misguided self-care” is that once we’ve crossed that line, there almost always is no going back. What was a friend (alcohol) is no longer a friend.

There’s no going back to just being a normal drinker.

  • I know there is a freedom in not having the negotiation of whether or not to drink (or how much to drink) in any given situation. I do that with food already, and it does get so, so tiring, but would it be different now with wine?
  • Yes, I’ve read ALL THE THINGS (seriously, ALL the things) that say drinkers always think they can moderate and they can’t. Yes, I tried to before too and it never worked very well. But moderating wasn’t my issue, stuffing down my feelings with wine was, and what I really needed to do was get to the root of WHY I was abusing alcohol.
  • Yes, I hear everyone who says it gets easier to be the non-drinker in the group, but part of me wonders if I’m ever going to really be that person.
  • Yes, I know that if I started drinking again and then wanted to quit again, it may be much harder next time.
  • Yes, I remember the hangovers and the embarrassing late-night cringe-worthy texts, and the men I shouldn’t have gone to bed with.
  • Yes, I don’t want to lose my sober community, whom I am growing to love and feel part of more and more each day.
  • Yes, I know that amazing and beautiful moments don’t depend on wine, but so often the wine has been a binding agent in all of it.
  • Yes, I know this — all of this work I’m doing — is supposed to be about the BIGGER YES, my higher purpose, the Hero’s Journey, but I’m struggling to see how my life on the whole is better yet. I don’t want to trade the amazing highs for a series of smaller joys. That’s never been the way I’ve lived my life.

Yes, I know how this sounds.

And still… I’m being completely honest here… I just want to belong again.

With this experience I realized that I don’t want to give up those peak moments for the hope of small moments of joy along the way. I want to LIVE and I want to LIVE BIG.

Fuck. Bradley Cooper, where are you when I need you??! 🙂

I am committed to going one year and then checking in with myself.

I’m committed to being open-minded and I will not harbor a secret hope that I can/will drink again in July. The next 5-1/2 months are going to be about 110% self-love and discovery. Doing the work I need to do (to be determined) to get at those core issues around belonging, self-worth, intimacy and vulnerability between now and July.

And how can I use exercise and movement to help me with anxiety and soothing, and to feel more connected to myself?

These are the questions.

I look forward to checking in more often, and if you made it all the way to the bottom, I welcome your thoughts.

xo Rachel

Day 206

 

 

Christmas Day, and I’d really like to numb out

la-la-landI just saw “La La Land,” and I guess I should have predicted this: Watching Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone in a beautiful Hollywood romance just made me feel more lonely. And like I missed some big opportunities in my life. And that I just want to feel good and numb this ache. And that would happen if I drank a bottle of wine.

Yeah, after 158 days (more than 5 months) that would also make me sick as a dog. But some days a person can get really fucking tired of feeling her feelings and being present and doing the next best thing and thinking it all the way through and not comparing myself to others and being grateful and reaching out and looking for other ways to find my joy…

A bubble bath isn’t going to cut it.

Some days…this just fucking sucks.

I suddenly want to write them all down. All the relationships I had that didn’t work but maybe could have if I’d just done things a bit differently…all the work opportunities I had if I’d taken more risk or had more faith, but I chose something else instead…all the time I spent in my early life not being as smart as I could have been. All the time I spent doing things that led me to being nearly 50 and living in a small apartment alone with my dog, despite having known and dated really amazing men, having worked with really amazing (some famous) people, having had exposure and opportunities 20, even 10 years ago that I didn’t recognize for being as amazing as they were. I want to make them amount to something.

I used to say I don’t really have regrets. That I’ve had an amazing life of experience. That it has all led me here. And yet now, my whole life feels like a series of regrets.

I feel like I’ve been working hard to make good decisions and build a life that I want to stay sober for, but it’s coming slow. I can see now that drinking a bottle of wine now would be a cop out. An escape hatch to a place that might feel better for the moment, but is an illusion.

And so, I’m left sitting here lonely and in pain in this life I’m in. I built this life. I am here after a long series of life choices, including the decision to quit drinking. I decided I needed to take a clear-eyed look at my life and the way I’ve been living it.

I’m 48 years old and I’m not sure what the future holds. It does seem whatever that is, it’s a far cry from a love affair with Ryan Gosling and La La Land. Yeah, maybe it wasn’t the best day to watch an homage to screen love affairs of the Golden Era.

They say “your worst day sober is better than your best day drinking.” Well that sure seems like bullshit at the moment. I wasn’t that heavy a drinker, I just wanted a different life. I wanted to change my trajectory. I was taking the easy way out.

Maybe that’s the gift of sobriety: the clarity of what was the booze’s fault and what probably wasn’t.

Ugh.

There’s too much noise in my head. I just want out of my head.

I’m going to go on a long walk with my dog. Maybe that will relieve some of the pressure.

Rachel. Day 158.

 

We have lift off… Bradley Cooper

rocket-boosters

Today was Day 128 alcohol free, and it’s been a while since I’ve checked in. I’ve been good, although if I’m honest I admit that this time of year is always hard on me. Maybe for the same reasons it hard for other people, and maybe for some reasons that are particular to me. But my boat has definitely been taking on water lately, and I’ve found myself craving wine again in a way I haven’t since the early days.

Melancholy and loneliness are my most powerful triggers, and something about this time of year brings back a wash of memories, regrets, longings, and loneliness that I have a hard time shaking. On Thanksgiving day, as I was really trying to get to the root of the undertow that was pulling at me with such force, it occured to me that I couldn’t remember a relatively recent Thanksgiving when I was really happy. In fact, the last decade of Thanksgivings have been pretty bleak. Even awful. I’ve never really loved this holiday, frankly, and as hard as I’ve tried to list my gratitudes every day and be super mindful of all that is good in my life, right now it’s feeling a bit forced. I’m just a little sad and lonely right now, I guess. Maybe I should just feel my damned feelings and stop fighting it.

It also sounds like a good time to bring out my light therapy box for a daily dose of fake sunshine…. 🙂

The good news is that I haven’t had a drink in more than four months, something that was inconceivable to me even six months ago. And while the heavens haven’t opened up to deliver my divine purpose in the arms of my handsome (and single) lobster, and I have yet to shit anything remotely resembling glitter, I am still trusting the process and will have patience. This whole thing — you know, this changing the way I live my life by not disappearing into a bottle of wine every night thing — takes time.

And it takes as long as it takes, which is always longer than we wish it would take. Dammit.

And moods…they pass. (I am a mountain…everything else is the weather…) This dark mood will pass too. Because I do know one thing for sure: Drinking will NOT make it better. Disappearing into a bottle of wine tonight will NOT make anything feel better, let alone BE better. And my life sure as hell will not continue moving in a positive direction if I drink — and it is moving in a positive direction. I can be Betty Blues for the time being, but as glacial as it might seem, good things ARE happening in my life. Bit by bit. And if I stay true to why I started down this path in the first place, being gentle with myself and beginning to really focus, those turbo boosters are going to fire up.

I have to trust that I am exactly where I am supposed to be, right now.

And I remind myself: Seriously, girl, it’s been four months. Good shit is happening, just breathe and be patient. Good things are coming. FOCUS. 

I’ve finally stopped eating my body weight in gelato and I’m practicing yoga almost every day, so that’s progress. No?

Anyhow… When I got to 100 days last month it was a big deal, because — well, 100 days really IS a big deal for pretty much anyone, let alone someone who was drinking a bottle of red wine every night during the week and often six bottles on the weekends — so I wrote this little thing. My story.

+++

“What is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?” – Mary Oliver

Today is 100 days. How did that happen? 🙂

About two years ago I started buying books. Lots of books. I’d known I needed to reduce my drinking for a while, but I was finally ready to “take a break.” I read everything. Name the quit drinking book or sober memoir and I’ve probably read it. In January of 2015 I went 9 days without a drink and it was astounding how hard it was and how good I felt. It took me another eight months to try again.

I was drinking a bottle of red wine every night, no big deal, and usually more on the weekends. The bottles were opening earlier and earlier on Saturdays and Sundays, because, I thought, “Hell, if I might have a Bloody Mary or mimosa at brunch with friends, why not red wine at 10 a.m. at home by myself?”

Right?

But then the days would pass. Days of nothing getting done, seeing no one. Cancelling plans. Barely getting outside except to walk my dog and buy more wine. And I wasn’t a cheap wine drinker. Oh no. $20 a bottle was my minimum, and if I wanted to “treat” myself, it could easily be twice that.

There I’d sit, alone with my dog, and drink. It was my “only joy.”

And there have been “cringe moments.” Too many to mention. Too many bad decisions fueled by wine. I’ve never blacked out. Nothing “bad” has ever happened…no DUI or public humiliation or unalterable event. But I was making small decisions that were killing me little by little. Stealing my self-worth, one bottle at a time. Day after wasted day.

One of my first teachers was Belle at TiredofThinkingAboutDrinking.com. She had so many wise lessons to impart. So many tools. And I listened. I tried it all. I signed up for her 100 Day Challenge and failed. Over and over, I had so many Day 1s.

But one of her lessons that I heard deep in my core was this: If you aren’t able to make sobriety stick, you need more supports. Last summer I got serious about quitting drinking, and yet, still…it wouldn’t stick. I kept layering on supports. I gave myself sober treats. I blogged. I read tons of bloggers/online writers. I tried AA (it literally drove me to drink). I bought jewelry and said mantras. I signed up for an 8-week Mindfulness for Relapse Prevention class and went every week. I talked to my doctor and started monthly Naltrexone injections (for 6 months). I listened to sober podcasts. I joined secret FB groups. I called an intensive outpatient women’s wellness program, which they billed as “graduate work for your inner self,” and decided no way, I wasn’t THAT person. I didn’t need THAT. I told my friends and family that I was “working on quitting drinking.”

But I’d make it 1, 2, 5, 13, 19, even once 34 days, and then I would just lose the plot and decide fuck it, and drink again. It was my only comfort (I thought). My constant friend (I thought). I could moderate (I thought). I wasn’t THAT bad…

Except some part of me knew that drinking a bottle of wine every night wasn’t healthy. And worse, I was 47 years old and I was drinking my days away. I want to make an impact in this world, but I wasn’t going anywhere. I was single and 47 and making no progress toward any chance of making a difference. What kind of trajectory was this for a meaningful life?

Then in July, after trying to quit for a year, I had gone 19 days when I decided to drink again. I was tired or bored or lonely, or some combination, and asked myself: “Why am I doing this again?” The fucking Wine Harpy had made her way through. I bought a really nice bottle of wine telling myself I would “treat” myself and make it worth it. I drank it and didn’t enjoy it. It didn’t even taste good anymore. I just felt numb. Sad. And the next morning – a work day – I was so sick I couldn’t get out of bed all day except to vomit. Now I was missing work too?

A day and a half later – a day and a half after being so sick I couldn’t stand up without vomiting — I was walking my dog, feeling depressed and confused, and I heard the voice in my head say that the way to feel better was to drink more wine. Go buy more wine. So I did. And I drank it.

That’s when I got scared.

But I heard another, louder voice in my head say calmly and clearly: “NOTHING CHANGES IF NOTHING CHANGES.”

Nothing changes if nothing changes.

I called the outpatient women’s program and this time I left a message. It was one of the scariest things I’ve ever done – and showing up there on July 21 was DEFINITELY one of the scariest things I’ve ever done. I was shaking. I was freaked out. I was terrified at what it meant.

But almost immediately, I knew I was home.

That was 100 days ago. The drinker’s voice is so much quieter now. It’s not gone, but I no longer come home and think about pouring a glass of wine, which is in itself a miracle. (I have a Soda Stream and lots of yummy AF drinks at the ready instead.) When I first started the process of quitting drinking I didn’t know how I would fill all the TIME I now had available (thank you Netflix, HBO and Showtime), but now, the world has opened up again. There isn’t enough time in the days again, so much to do and see and feel. And I’m beginning to feel joy again.

Joy. I was hoping the heavens would open up and the Universe would deliver me a different life – and it still may. But at 100 days I’m realizing that the joy comes in small moments, and that is real life. My dog carrying his bone home from the pet store, the pink morning light against the brick of a building, an engaged conversation with a friend knowing that everything I’m saying is coming from a centered place and I won’t regret a thing in the morning. Joy.

Early on I thought (like so many others), “I’ll just get to 100 days and then see how I feel.” But now that I’m here, there’s no way I want to go back to how I was feeling in July on that day I called for help. Or the year before that – the YEARS before that.

Now I realize that 100 days is amazing, but it’s such a short amount of time in the larger scheme of things. I want to see what my life can be when I really LIVE it. I want to see what my higher purpose really is. Who I am meant to be.

And I’m convinced the only way I can do that is by living my life without alcohol.

Laura McKowen wrote a piece a while back that was also pivotal for me and I have kept close as one of my mantras: The Bigger Yes. I want the BIGGER YES. Living life in this alcohol-soaked world isn’t always easy, but I’m going for the Bigger Yes. I want the bigger life that I can only have if I don’t drink. And I’m keeping the faith.

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Laura McKowen has been one of my teachers, inspirations, but there have been many others too…other women who have been on this path and have a powerful way with words. Here are a few favorites. Maybe they’ll help you too.

Aidan Donnelley Rowleyhttp://ivyleagueinsecurities.com/

http://ivyleagueinsecurities.com/2016/08/i-do/

Belle (Robertson)http://tiredofthinkingaboutdrinking.com/

http://tiredofthinkingaboutdrinking.com/2012/08/20/dehydrate-the-wolf/

http://tiredofthinkingaboutdrinking.com/2013/04/02/thinking-about-never-gets-us-stuck/

Laura McKowenhttp://www.lauramckowen.com/

http://www.lauramckowen.com/blog/early-sobriety

http://www.lauramckowen.com/blog/bigger-yes

Holly Whitakerhttp://www.hipsobriety.com/

http://www.hipsobriety.com/home/2015/7/5/dear-hip-sobriety-1-where-do-i-start-10-tips-to-prepare-for-the-big-change

Kristi Coulterhttp://www.kristicoulter.com/

https://medium.com/personal-growth/girl-skulks-into-a-room-cbeacad58a79#.79as0khfe

https://medium.com/@kristicoulter/the-otter-of-sobriety-f7065c29b764#.j81st9j5t

https://offdry.com/2015/07/04/day-730-two-years-today/

Tammi Salashttp://www.tammisalas.com/

http://www.tammisalas.com/blog/2016/8/5/18-months

And a top 25 list: https://thisnakedmind.com/top-25-recovery-bloggers/

Sarah Hepola: Ask a Former Drunk (5-part series)

http://jezebel.com/ask-a-former-drunk-how-do-i-keep-my-sobriety-from-bein-1781921044

http://jezebel.com/ask-a-former-drunk-when-do-you-know-you-have-a-problem-1780859204

And Bradley Cooper may be 12 or so years ahead of me with his alcohol free fabulousness, but he remains my celebrity role model for living an amazing life without the juice. Thanks, Bradley. 🙂

Rachel, Day 128. xoxo

Brain: Are you *sure* you don’t want to drink anymore?

collesseum

So, the naturopath who is part of my intensive sober women’s group program has said that at 3.5-4 months, the brain often checks in with people about whether or not they’re really serious about this quitting drinking thing. She said that it’s about that time that the neural pathways begin to pave over the old well-worn paths and begin the process of making the new paths more permanent, but before the brain really “commits,” at about 3.5-4 months, many people go through a period of revisiting the decision. It’s a thing.

Brain: Are you SUUUUUURRRE you’re quitting, before I make all these changes??

For the last couple of months at least, I’ve been feeling pretty good. And while sometimes I’ll have thoughts or really mild cravings, the cravings haven’t been bad for a long time. I’m always able to identify exactly what’s going on: I’m stressed or tired or lonely or whatever. Usually guzzling a fizzy drink and eating some chocolate is enough. Not always — I do have to watch it so my old disordered eating doesn’t try to rear its ugly head — but since I started this weekly in-person program, thoughts of drinking have never even come close to threatening the accountability I feel toward my sober group.

That’s still true, but DAYAM, the last few days I’ve been having strong cravings. I’m not going to drink and I still stop and ask myself what is going on, what could be causing this…but it has been strong enough the last couple of days that I’ve resorted to ice cream and chocolate and LOTS of fizzy drinks again, and a pretty steady rhythm of snacking all day long. Looking for distraction. A tiring yoga workout this morning and a long walk with my dog this evening didn’t help much either.

Of course, just when I’m really trying to lose a little weight finally. Gah. Priority is not drinking, but dammit.

I watched the first part of Eat, Pray, Love tonight — it’s one of those silly movies I can watch again and again — and of course the Rome portion of her journey was pretty triggering. Not only was she drinking a bottle of red wine in just about every scene with friends and laughter and pasta and spectacular ROME, but it was in ROME, where I spent some intense/romantic/dopamine-rich time this spring with the hot Italian, drinking gorgeous red wine and walking around the city with him, holding hands in the early hours of the morning, while wearing his sexy leather jacket draped over my shoulders. Ah me…. Bad timing for romantic memories of love and connection and wine.

Maybe I’m a little heartsick too. I did catch myself looking at photos on Facebook tonight of the first man I was ever with when I was 20 years old. I was with him until I was 27, and 21 years later, he looks exactly the same. Except now he has a wife and a child and a solid career and…

I guess I was revisiting old wounds today a bit too.

Anyway… If I break the craving down in my head TODAY (staying away from those triggering memories), I can play it to the end, and it’s clear what drinking *really* means in my life now — what I want to gain and what I would be losing if I drank — and I won’t go there.

But this is as uncomfortable as I’ve been in a long while, and I can say for a fact that all of my snacking today didn’t help at all. Tomorrow I need to find another way to self-soothe. I’m thinking I need to revisit my mindfulness exercises too. And breathe.

I’m going to sleep as long as I need to tonight and hope I feel better tomorrow. It’s probably a brain thing going on. Maybe it’s time to really increase my exercise finally. Maybe it’s the seasons changing. That could very well be it. Who knows.

Lots to keep me busy tomorrow, in any case. This too shall pass.

Rachel.

Day 94.

Check, check, checking in

cat_with_a_gun_riding_an_unicorn

Hi there,

So much has been going on — crazy time at work, still spending three days a week in my women’s intensive program and just trying to get enough sleep — that it’s been 21 days since my last check in.

I just wanted to say All Is Well. 🙂 I’ve been working too much, but this should be the last week before it gets somewhat back to normal, and as PERFECT TIMING would have it, I “graduated” from my intensive class on Saturday, and this coming Thursday I will be headed to a yoga retreat with “Recovery” as a theme. One doesn’t have to be sober to attend (although there will be no alcohol), but the focus is about finding oneself from a place of being lost. And I’ll get to meet Laura McKowen and Meadow DeVor, which I’m pretty excited about.

I can’t wait. Thursday eve to Sunday morn. I’ll miss my Bub, but he’ll be in good hands.

And so will I.

Day 81.

xo Rachel

Carry On, Warrior #wearetheluckiest

elephant

I recently discovered Glennon Doyle Melton. I know, I’m a little late to this party. Or maybe I’m actually in the bulge of the bell curve, just before she made it to Oprah and pretty much anywhere else you turn in the sober space. But, who cares, I’ve found her. I wouldn’t have expected to really resonate with her or what she has to say, though. Her story is really nothing like mine, all the way down to her being the pretty party girl in high school, with lots of boyfriends and booze, and then becoming a mother in her 20s with a guy she barely knew because “there was finally something [she] wanted more than drinking.” Even now I look at her and I think: “I won’t have anything in common with that person.”

But I do.

I have also struggled with disordered eating and I have struggled with alcohol. And those two things mean we may understand each other a little more than it may appear on the surface. And for me, where I really relate to and resonate with Glennon (or “G” as her friends and fans call her), is in her writing.

I haven’t read her new book, Love Warrior yet. It sits on my nightstand waiting for me to finish her first best-selling book, Carry On, Warrrior, which I’m reading now. She relies a bit more heavily on the Christian faith than I would expect from a book I like, but I am willing to let that be her higher power because I know she would let me have mine. (Whatever that is. Today I’m going with Universe, but some days it’s LOVE, some days it’s Hope… It’s a work-in-progress.)

So, after my bad/sad night Thursday (see: last post), I walked Bub, ate a little too much gelato, and then got into bed with the book. And while I got into bed without drinking, I was fully aware that even three months ago in this situation, feeling this way, I would have drunk my way to the bottom of a bottle of red. Or two. No question. I was aware of the progress, even if I wasn’t super happy about it.

I opened the book to where I had left off the night before, and what I read seemed so meant for me that it really did seem like a message. My heart was aching, but I was sober, and I was willing to listen.

Glennon Doyle Melton, Carry On, Warrior (pg. 28) “To My Friend on Her First Sober Morning…”

…What matters most right now is that you are sober, so you will not worry about whether the real you will be brave or smart or funny or beautiful or responsible enough. Because the only thing that you have is to be sober. You owe the world absolutely nothing but sobriety. If you are sober, you are enough. Even if you are shaking and cursing and boring and terrified. You are enough.

But becoming sober, becoming real, will be hard and painful. A lot of things are.

Becoming sober is like recovering from frostbite.

Defrosting is excruciatingly painful. You have been numb for so long. As feeling comes back to your soul, you start to tingle, and it’s uncomfortable and strange. But then the tingles start feeling like daggers. Sadness, loss, fear, anger, anxiety–all of these things that you have been numbing with booze–you feel them for the first time, and it’s horrific at first, to tell you the damn truth. But welcoming the pain and refusing to escape from it is the only way to recovery. You can’t go around it, you can’t go over it, you have to go through it. There is no other option, besides amputation. If you allow the defrosting process to take place–if you trust that it will work and choose to endure the pain–one day you will get your soul back. If you can feel, then there has been no amputation. If you can feel, you are not too late.

Friend, we need you. The world has suffered while you’ve been hiding. You are already forgiven. You are loved. All there is left to do is to step into your life. What does that mean? What the hell does that mean?

This is what it means. These are the steps you take. They are plain as mud. Get out of bed. Don’t lie there and think–thinking is the kiss of death for us–just move. Take a shower. Sing while you’re in there. Make yourself sing. The stupider you feel, the better. Joy for its own sake–joy just for you, created by you–it’s the best.

…When you start to feel, do. When you start to feel scared because you don’t have enough money, find someone to offer a little money. When you start to feel like you don’t have enough love, find someone to offer love. When you feel unappreciated and unacknowledged, appreciate and acknowledge someone else in a concrete way. When you feel unlucky, order yourself to consider a blessing or two. Then find a tangible way to make today somebody else’s lucky day. These strategies help me sidestep wallowing every day.

Don’t worry about whether you like doing these things or not. You’re going to hate everything for a long while. And the fact is that you don’t even know what you like or hate yet. Just do these things regardless of how you feel about doing these things. Because these little things, done over and over again, eventually add up to a life. A good one.

Today I am a wife and a mother and a daughter and a friend and a writer and a dreamer and a Sister to one and a “sister” to thousands of readers. I wasn’t any of those things when I was a drunk. And I absolutely love being a recovering alcoholic. I am more proud of the “recovering” badge I wear than any other.

What will you be, friend? What will you be when you become yourself?

Glennon Doyle Melton

This. This is the journey I’m on. This is why I’m feeling the pain and not stuffing it down for a guy who is surely not part of where I’m going. And even if my purpose isn’t some big public impact and instead is just to live a contented and magical life all my own, I’m keeping the faith that it will be in a place transcendent from where I was even 60 days ago, and most certainly a year ago when I really started this process.

I’ve been listening to Rob Bell’s podcast (“RobCast”), and he recently had an episode on “Seasons” which was very good. He talked about the “seasons” of our lives and how big change happens, and when we move from one “season” to the next, it is uncomfortable, but in the space between seasons (moving from a past stage to the next one) called the “liminal space,” that is where all the interesting things happen. The mystics and wise people over a millennia have talked about the “liminal space” and how it’s a really important time to pay attention. “Spirit does all sorts of healing, redemptive, creative work in liminal space,” Rob said.

And we don’t like the tension and we don’t like to wait for the next season to start, so we try to rush our way through this space….

Day 60 and I’ve been so impatient to get through this space. But this is an important time. A sacred time. My coach said I’m in pupation… 🙂

You are in pupation.
The chrysalis stage of a butterfly.
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pupa

As wikipedia says, Pupae are inactive.

You’re in that painful place where you see the big gap between where you are now and where you want to be.The bigger the gap is, the more painful, or frustrating, or overwhelming it is. And we feel like we need to get started RIGHT AWAY because we have SO MUCH GROUND TO COVER!! But the truth is, if you start when you’re truly ready, the journey will be shorter and easier. And even if it does take a long time, it’s all about small steps. Small steps will get you there. You don’t have to try to accomplish everything all at once.”

She’s right. This is a special time and small steps will get me there. Small steps ARE the thing. Maybe it’s because I’m at the 60 day mark, but I’m starting to see that this is the journey. And it’s hard. And it’s important. And it’s beautiful.

I’m reminding myself to breathe. And take the small steps, day-by-day.

As Laura McKowen would say, #wearetheluckiest

xo Rachel. Day 60

I miss you. Goodbye.

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Yesterday was eight weeks without alcohol and I feel alright. Not spectacular, but alright.

Something’s been nagging at me for a while, and that something is a man. He hasn’t been nagging me on purpose, but it’s the thought of him and the last time we were together that has been tightening its grip a bit. Scratching at me like the tag on the back of my t-shirt, suddenly driving me ape shit and forcing me to pay attention.

The last time we were together just over eight weeks ago. He came over to my apartment and noticed the calendar on the wall that counted off the days in big pink numbers, 1, 2, 3…all the way to 19, before starting over again. 1,2,1,1,1 2,1… When he arrived at my apartment at midnight, I had already drunk a bottle of wine. I’m sure he could barely tell — a bottle of wine over the course of a few hours would have hardly been noticeable on me then — and he’d had a few beers of his own, I think.

We didn’t sleep together, if that’s where you think this is going, but we talked a lot and laughed a lot, and I fed him a late dinner, and after he ate that bowl of pasta he moved over to sit next to me and hold my hand.

He’s wicked smart — well-known for how smart he is, in fact — and he laughed especially hard once when he made an obscure reference I understood. He said he loved it that I got it and he didn’t have to explain. I loved it that he loved it.  That he appreciated me that way. And I loved that he was holding my hand.

We’ve known each other more than 20 years and we’ve both been through a couple of marriages in that time. We’ve both been through plenty of brutal heartache. We’ve hooked up a few times over the years, but only now are we really both single at the same time.

But single isn’t the same thing as available.

I’ve been focused on me. I’ve been consumed by quitting drinking and staying quit. And as anyone who has been through this process knows, in the early days it takes pretty much every bit of extra energy one has. Extra energy, which includes all the energy it also takes from one’s work, social life, mental capacity, diet… all of it. Quitting drinking is so much harder than anyone thinks it’s going to be, and it’s all-consuming for a good while.

He’s focused on him. He’s going through a messy, contemptuous divorce with a woman who keeps saying she’s changed her mind. He’s having to sell his house and parent his kids and work through his own massive life transition, which leaves him racked more days that not.

And, he wonders if we have known each other too long. If what he really needs is a fresh start. Despite the fact that he says he trusts me like he trusts very few people, he wonders.

So. I’ve stayed away.

I made a promise to myself after my last really big relationship blew up in a spectacular fireball of hell that I would never again invest myself emotionally in someone who can’t meet me in an equal place. Who is ambivalent. Who isn’t emotionally available. I promised. And I know it was the right promise to make.

And in the more than two months since last seeing him, he hasn’t reached out. He hasn’t inquired. He hasn’t asked about how I’m doing or tried to connect. He has a lot going on, but that’s no excuse. We all know that. I know that.

And so I’ve stayed away…until today. It felt like it was time to get my answer (because sometimes I need to force my own hand and kill any sprouts of hope I might be harboring by taking a machete to the ambiguity) and I finally decided to reach out to him. I would give him the opening he didn’t actually need. I would say hello.

I got my answer. He promptly responded and nicely answered my questions but still didn’t ask about me. He didn’t inquire. He didn’t keep the conversation going. He didn’t wonder.

And tonight I want to drink. I’m not going to drink, but I want to. I guzzled a couple of fizzy drinks and stuffed my belly with enough food to give me that full feeling that would slow down my drinker’s voice. I breathed and said out loud

Ouch. This hurts. I need to feel my feelings but this fucking hurts. I hurt. 

I’m not going to drink about it, but I want to. And I’m excruciatingly clear why: I want to squish these feelings and at the same time I want to feel loved. Desired. Worthy. I want to blot out this pain and sadness, and at the same time I want to feel held and comforted and included. I want to forget, and leave for a while, and fucking let go and not care. And I want to feel deeply and care with all my heart. I want to feel so much.

I know alcohol only makes it worse. All of it. I know it does’t fix anything. And I believe I won’t move forward if I drink. I won’t heal. I know.

So.

Fuck.

I’m feeling my fucking feelings. I’m going to go for a walk with Bub and then I’m going to get in bed early and read. And sleep. And I’m going to pray and hope the Universe has big plans for me. HUGE FUCKING PLANS. And those HUGE plans include bringing my partner to me. Someone who will do all the things this guy isn’t doing and then some. Someone who wants me and more importantly, deserves me. Someone who is my champion and makes me feel like I’m amazing when I’m with him — because I am.

I know, I know, I’m supposed to fill up my own damn hole, but goddammit, tonight I just want to be loved, and desired, and held. And that’s okay.

Tonight I will let myself feel this shit and mourn the hope I had that this rare amazing man and I might try something new and cool. That we might be just what the other needs and we were there all along. That it would be a new season for us.

I will mourn that and accept that it isn’t going to happen.

My coach might advise me to ask myself and the Universe, So, who else? Who else is out there?

So, yeah, okay, I’ll try that, but not tonight. Tonight I will hurt and miss him. And tonight I will let him go.

Rachel. Day 57.

 

This is Where I Start

Last week  was an unusually intense week. Having spent the better part of the last year not drinking, learning to “feel the feels” is nothing new at this point. Early on I realized that (sometimes really powerful and seemingly random) memories and the (equally powerful, very much not random) feelings they invoked were coming up with a lot more regularity than they had before, and it was easy to make the connection between the missing alcohol and the oozing hotspring of goo urping up from my subconsciousness.

Pretty much one of the first things you learn as a quitting-the-booze boozer is to get prepared to feel your feelings.

This wasn’t that. Not exactly.

This week was way more seismic than that. Like, when there’s a tsunami off the coast of Japan or somewhere, and 10,000 miles away a day later the surf comes in all jacked up and super-sized.  I wasn’t sure why this was happening, these IMAX memories and feelings and fears and hopes, but I was aware of it and was doing my best to bob along in my little alcohol-free dingy and ride that mega-wave action,  letting it pass through to be on its way.

And then Liz Gilbert posted her incredibly beautiful post about her and her best friend (and partner), Rayya, and it was like a two-by-four landed right between my eyes.

When I first saw it, I was at work, and I could hardly concentrate until I spent a minute trying to really FEEL what it was that was so amazingly upending about it. It felt personal to me, even though it had nothing to do with me.

Of course it had nothing to do with me.

Did it?

This last year has been a nearly constant exercise of looking at my life and how I’ve been living it. And to my very soul I was moved to pay attention to this moment, even though I wasn’t immediately sure why it was affecting me so. After taking a little time to think about it– and to let myself listen to what I was feeling — I came to this:

…Besides being extraordinarily beautiful and heartbreaking in its message, I was absolutely blown away by Liz’s example of living a completely authentic life, open to this love.

…and I’ve realized that my inner circle has become very fragile this last year since I started the process of quitting drinking. I’ve been isolating, which is normal for a while, but I still haven’t been ready to step back into my friendships on my terms.

…and…

…and making an impact on the world.
…and asking the Universe what I’m meant to do and listening with curiosity.
…and being someone’s person.
…and having a person.

 

Wave after wave.

The night before Liz’s post I couldn’t sleep. It just about never happens to me. Maybe I had eaten too much sugar (gelato) too late, but that wouldn’t be unusual. What was unusual was how intense those feelings were. Fears, memories, hopes, wishes, loneliness, responsibilities, desires… it was a Technicolor movie that went from scene to scene to scene across the backs of my eyes, and none of my normal attempts to soothe and quiet my mind would work. Wave after wave they flooded in. I was still up at 1am before I took a 1/2 a sleeping pill and ate some nuts and chips and went back to bed to try again.

And I couldn’t help but feel like seeing Liz’s intense, beautiful post the next day was related.

I’ve been asking the Universe to tell me what I’m supposed to do in my life and help me listen. I’ve been asking the Universe for my partner in life and to be open to whomever that might be. Liz and Rayya’s courage and truth jarred me a little into opening my eyes (or heart) a little wider to listen. And to wonder about all the potential ahead. And to hope for courage and growth and progress.

And I truly believe this is the journey I’m on. Like I’m on the precipice of new knowing, and there may be days of tsunami waves as the Universe begins to realize that I’m serious about this not drinking thing and I’m getting ready to receive what it has to offer. No matter how new and scary and fucking REAL that might be.

I have every intention to build an incredible life from this place. From where I am today. and even though I don’t know yet what that means, and it’s hard to describe, I think the messages this week were a gift. Test balloons to see if I’m paying attention. It makes me wonder if important things are beginning to shake loose, and I plan to be ready to catch whatever it is I need to catch when the Universe sends it my way.

I’ll do my best to stay open and pay attention. I’m on the verge of something.

As Rob Bell says in his book, How To Be Here:

This is where I start.

And not to come back full circle to Bradley Cooper, but — I mean, who doesn’t want to think about Bradley Cooper if given the chance? — I was reminded again today about what he said about the revelation he had that made him quit drinking, which was that he knew that he was not fulfilling his potential (and was going to “sabotage his life”) unless he stopped.

I may have clued into this nearly 20 years later than he did, but it’s not too late for me yet. I, too, want to live an authentic, courageous, vivid, impactful life.

This is where I start. 

xo Rachel.
Day 52.

The Kindness of Strangers

You have everything you need. Right here, right now.

You are enough.

This is the message that made it through the chaff to my ears this week. Reading a book I ordered on a whim about dating — The Tao of Dating — the writer said those words I’ve heard so many times before, but for some reason, I was finally ready to really hear them:

I have everything I need. Right here, right now. 

And if I’m not happy or fulfilled or content, nothing else coming into my life is going to change that. No boyfriend. No higher salary. No smaller pant size.

Theoretically, I have everything I need.

So, yes…that’s the question: How much of my struggle is the filter of my own perspective? They say more than 50% of one’s happiness is a choice. A choice. Perspective. Mind over matter. Quite literally, faking it until making it.

I have everything I need to be content. I have everything I need to be content. 

Still, in the past I’ve made some bad decisions. I chose a bad marriage. I’ve trusted some of the wrong people and given too much of myself away.

And for a while I was drinking too much.

But that’s all turning around now. I have been treating myself much better in the last several years. Trusting my gut and inner voice more and turning away from unhealthy people or situations. I’ve been working hard to heal some of the most difficult traumas and finally, about a year ago I started the stopping of the drinking habit that probably began as a misguided coping strategy.

Healing. Learning. Taking loving care of myself. And this week, I saw a glimmer of what it might feel like to really believe that I have everything I need, right now.

To be honest, it flickers in and out like a holographic malfunction, but…baby steps.

Sometimes mindfulness helps a bit. I don’t know if I’ll ever be a very good meditator, but I try to stay present. It’s a hard habit to break, living in the past and the future, fretting, hoping, wishing, regretting, but I do find some moments of peace and acceptance in the now. I think I’m making progress.

I was in a short mindfulness class about a week ago and the leader began talking about how, in order to find a place of calm, some people imagine themselves as a very deep sea. There might be a lot of activity up top on the surface, but the sea runs very deep, and way deep down, the sea is quiet and still.

I was reminded of the exercise we did last winter in my mindfulness class when I was a MOUNTAIN. That one resonated with me, and at a family gathering where I wasn’t drinking, I kept saying to myself, I am a mountain, I am a mountain… While I imagined the skies and weather moving in all around me and I, the mountain, remained steady and unchanging. It got me through the night.

The leader said some people also think of themselves as the sky, and when the clouds come in, thick and dark with rain, one can just move above the clouds to find blue sky again, and the sun…

The sun…

About eight years ago I was going through a really tough time. I was in a marriage that wasn’t working, with step-kids who were straight out of horrible step-kids/mean girls central casting, and the man who was supposed to be my partner — their father  — didn’t have the courage to support me. I was on my own.

After a particularly destructive and disheartening day (the writing was on the wall for my marriage, but I held on a few more years), I went to a local pub for lunch and a beer. Mostly the beer. I was pretty upset and I just needed to get away from them.

I sat and thought about what had happened that day and what it might mean for my future. I think my heart knew the prognosis for my marriage was bleak, but I had no idea what I was going to do. I sat there with my beer and soup, and pretended to read the monthly city rag, but really I was going over my options. I felt trapped and a bit lost, and I was in so, so much pain.

My eyes filled with tears and I fought them back. I scratched notes to myself across the newsprint and looked out the window. What was I going to do?

That’s when the bartender approached my table with what looked like a napkin in his hand. He said, “Another customer wanted me to give this to you,” and he offered me the napkin.

On it, that someone had written this message:

I looked up and scanned the room. There was hardly anyone else in the pub, and no one who appeared as though they might have sent this message. No one looking in my direction. No one who might fit the description of kind mystery stranger.

He never appeared.

I kept the note, obviously, and I’ve carried it with me through the years. I never showed my husband or told him what happened, and we did finally get divorced. I’ve moved several times since that day, and each time I move I come across this note again. I cherish it, and I wonder if the kind man (I’m certain it was a man) could possibly have any idea how much his note meant to me that day, and on so many days since.

And I keep persevering.

Because

The sun still shines

above the clouds.

xo Rachel. Day 47.

ps. I’ve just accepted that I suck at proclamations of 30 day pledges to post every day, for gratitudes or anything else. If I’m tired or not in the right mood, it’s better I take care of myself in other ways, I’ve discovered. And I’m all about listening to what I need most these days. Isn’t that the point?