…It’s a thinking problem

If there’s one thing I’ve learned in this process of quitting drinking, it is this:

Avoid overwhelm.

Because especially now, after more than 5 months since I began the serious process of quitting drinking, I am amazed to say that I have broken the habit of coming home to a bottle of wine every night.

Since I made it over the big hump — I’m not sure when it happened exactly, because for me this has been such an iterative process, but probably after the first 30 days continuous — I’ve been really embracing being alcohol-free and all of the super great things that come with it. I never would have imagined it, ME, not drinking red wine every day, let alone going weeks or months without a drink, but it’s true. It’s pretty easy now, and the benefits have been more than I could have imagined.

These benefits become especially clear when I do have a drink again.

I’m sure this is a necessary part of my process. It was the same way when I quit eating meat. Every once in a while I would test out eating meat to see how I felt about it, but then I’d see another horrific farm animal abuse video and my resolve would be set again. Of course I wasn’t addicted to bacon, but our culture is every bit as saturated with messages about eating meat as it is about drinking alcohol, not to mention being raised on meat being a part of virtually every meal, and yet I was able to stop finally. I don’t “test” it anymore, or wonder if someday I might start eating meat again “in moderation.” No. Eating meat is something I just don’t do. Even if a thought flits through my head about having a taste of something, it just as quickly is ushered right on through and out again. Nope. Pass. No thanks.

So all of that build up to say that this week I had a date that I had built up so much in my head that by the time I finally was about to meet the guy, I was so incredibly, beyond rationally nervous, that I couldn’t imagine layering the added awkwardness of saying I didn’t drink on top of it. I was completely worked up. I skipped rowing(!), and I tossed my own self-care aside and made this date the top priority.

Of course, I set myself up. I didn’t mean to, but I did. And so, I had a couple of glasses of wine and all I accomplished was making myself tired. That was it. I had something in my hand (which I could have accomplished in other ways) and it made it actually more difficult to engage with him.

And insult to injury, it wasn’t even a good date and I’ll not see him again! Jaysus.

Now, this isn’t tragedy (except blowing off rowing and breaking my AF streak, that’s a bummer). I’m not back to drinking and I’m completely in control. I don’t know what that means, but it’s true. I’m OK and not drinking today. But I am back to DAY 1. I can’t deny it. If counting days of continuous sobriety is what is important to me (and I’ve decided now that it is, and I’ll tell you why), then I have to start the clock again. This isn’t back to the beginning, but it is back to Day 1.

Here is what I’ve learned:

  • In the last month or so, I found myself questioning whether I might just be able to drink every once in a while. You know, being one of those people who hardly ever drinks, but does on rare occasion. I know some people like that; you probably do too. I was thinking, maybe I could choose that. (ha!) But while I *might* be able to manage that (maybe, not sure, questionable, doubtful), I realize now, I DON’T WANT TO. It has never been so clear as it was in the moments when I was actually drinking the glass of wine. I didn’t like it and it didn’t like me either.
  • I didn’t enjoy it (I’ve said this before, but it just doesn’t taste good anymore…I’ve UNacquired the taste), and while I’m not exactly feeling compulsion to drink today, I am noticing the chatter is a LOT louder in my head again. I think this is what I forget and is one of the most important lessons to remember moving forward. I had begun to get used to and really savor the peace in my head. The freedom from the chatter. I have begun to really look forward to my evenings with tea and a book or a project, without any of the mental conflict, and with all the time! While I’m OK and not feeling like I need/want a drink, I am uncomfortable that the volume of irrational background noise has increased a bit. I know it’s the wine goblin, who I clearly poked and gave some nourishment. Shit. The only way to kill him is to suffocate the fecking life out of him. I knew it, but I REALLY get it now. I do. The only way to kill that MoFo is by not having a single drink. Ever.
  • When I don’t drink I just feel happier and lighter and more free. It’s hard to explain and I would never have expected it, but I feel an old familiar sad angst in the pit of my gut today that I haven’t felt in a long time, and I’m convinced (not to get woo woo) it’s the demon that is alcohol. The poison is not just of the body, but it is of the spirit as well. There’s a heaviness of my spirit today that I realize now is the scrim that alcohol layers over our lives.
  • Remember: **Avoid overwhelm** and if I find that I am super stressed or freaked out or WAY too worked up about something, I need to do whatever I have to do to defuse the situation — and protect my sobriety. I choose this now, and it is just taking some time to adjust my mind to my new lifestyle. This also happened when I quit drinking caffeinated coffee. For months, part of my brain still felt like I wanted to “try” caffeine, even though rationally I knew I was better off without it and I was actually fine with that. It’s like my neuro-pathways of habit and emotional attachment need time to be rewired, and they are just always behind my rational mind. I guess that’s the definition of addiction. Normal.
  • When I drink, my eating habits go out the window, in the present and for the next day at least. This makes me feel bad and goes against my priority of self-care. I’ve been feeling great and eating well. Drinking is out of line with my values for self-care there as well. No bueno!
  • I will practice and accept sitting in the occasional discomfort of not drinking (which has become easier and easier, especially in social situations), because I’ve decided that alcohol doesn’t work for me anymore. I am almost allergic to it in the way it makes my body and my mind feel terrible. That’s a pretty simple message to get one’s head around. “No thanks, I don’t drink. It doesn’t agree with me.”

So, I did this to myself. I threw caution to the wind and lost my way. Belle even told me: “Sobriety first, dating second.” I think hormones got the better of me. 🙂 (What am I, 15?)

Like I said, this isn’t a tragedy and I’m not loading shame on myself, which is a risk as a person who has been blogging about my sobriety journey. It’s easy to want to hide and not admit when the journey includes a couple of drinks, as I continuously work on the landscape of how I want to live my life. I so admire those of you who have (finally) been able to get months and years under your belt alcohol-free. It’s something to be so very proud of.

Some day I will have had my last drink. Maybe it was yesterday. I hope so. I can only promise today and tomorrow, but I am newly committed to the next 100 days as an accomplishment in and of itself.

Because another thing I’ve learned is that for me, counting days is motivating and feels great, and is something that I’ve been really proud of, also to a degree I didn’t expect. Part of it is how happy I’ve felt lately, and attributing that to having gone weeks and weeks without a drink — something that I never would have believed I could do.

AND…I finally caught glimpses of the BLISS everyone has talked about, and the mental freedom, and it was incredible.

I want more of that.

And I can have it.

Here’s to the next 100 days without alcohol. It feels so much easier than ever before. It’s not without its challenges (obviously), but I’m not bored anymore (yay!) and it’s truly not a struggle anymore the majority of the time. And that’s awesome.

Oh, and I’m going to make sure I don’t wander too far from all of my supports, like the blogging community. We’re all in this together, and it matters.

xo Rachel.

Day 1.

ps., I still plan to get my first tattoo at my 1-year mark. That just may have to be end of January, 2017. That’s all.

Happy, mellow Sunday

It’s been too long since I’ve posted, but I’m not isolating or avoiding. It’s actually because I’m in a really happy, contented place and I haven’t felt the need to “get it all out” on the page. Is this why they say musicians fall apart when they finally get happy? 🙂

Today is day 56 since I lurched forward and started this leg of the journey, after many “Day 1s.” Those many attempts were necessary to get here, as I learned important lessons and gained important insights along the way, and I can honestly say I’m stunned at how comfortable it has become to come home and have a fizzy water and then a cup of tea instead of reaching for the bottle. I feel a LOT better physically (although I haven’t lost weight yet — that is to come), but what I didn’t expect is how much better I feel mentally. Emotionally. Every day I’m excited for all the time I have — never enough time — to do so many things. I bought a stack of books that I’m excited to read, and I have so many other things I want to get going. None of this could have happened before because I was spending all my time (and money) thinking about or drinking red wine, but more importantly, I had lost my drive to do it. I haven’t finished a novel in so long I can’t even remember. Until now. I’m voraciously reading and can’t wait until I can pick up my next book.

I also joined a secret Facebook support group that has been super helpful, and is there for me (and many others) all day/night, every day. People at many stages of their own journeys, from all over the world, supporting each other.

And Belle. Belle and her emails and podcasts have been amazing too. And my life coach. And my best friends. I’m so fortunate to have so many supports in my life.

So that’s all today. It’s a gorgeous Sunday morning (it stopped raining!) and I’m looking out onto the water wondering how I am going to spend this way too short, glorious day. So much fun to be had. So much life to live today.

xo Rachel

Day 56

NA beer and internalizing being a non-drinker takes time

After my whiny whiny post on Jan 1, it got me wondering why I was having so much a sense of loss of fun. Pleasure. I really didn’t think I was feeling deprived — I mean, I’ve intellectualized the fact that it’s “poison,” all the harm it has caused in my life, and all I’m not getting done because I spent the bulk of every day when I wasn’t at work, drinking.

Maybe this was a normal part of the evolution? Maybe I just needed an attitude adjustment? Take a look around and be grateful for all the amazing things in my life? Maybe.

But I’ve really been starting to wonder if the AF beer I’ve been drinking from time-to-time has been causing this nagging flatness, or at least making it worse than it might have been. That maybe, the AF beer has been a low-grade trigger I didn’t realize.

I’m sure there are lots of articles on this — to drink AF drinks or not to drink them — and I hear that AA is so against AF beer that it considers drinking it a lapse. (If that’s true, another strike against me attending AA… Because, c’mon…) But this article was interesting about a test on rats that showed that even the smell of alcohol was a trigger for them. I wasn’t much of a beer drinker before, but I can understand it intuitively. It really does smell and taste like beer. You just don’t git no buzz on.

But better than that one, this article really articulates how I feel about not drinking now, and how the “slips” over the last several months since I really (seriously) started quitting back in August, have contributed to killing what she calls the “scratchy curiosity” of whether or not I can or want to drink ever again. (Yes! THAT I relate to!) She accidentally drank an AF beer that had .5% alcohol, and she says she felt a bit drunk from it. But instead of experiencing a pleasing euphoria, she felt an unpleasant “mechanical and empty” buzz, which she couldn’t wait to wear off. That was my experience exactly, not with the AF beer (mine is 0.0% alcohol), but with the wine in the last few months. And for me, not only was there no euphoria, but it didn’t even taste good anymore.

“After my Schneider Weisse experience, I was completely surprised by my reaction, or lack thereof. Maybe it was a lucky break; maybe I’ve simply lost the ability to get buzzed off alcohol. In any case, this experience added more to my toolset than probably anything thus far. My two slips (once at two months, another at six months) helped me to fully commit to abstinence, for instance, while this near-beer episode gave me an incentive to drink that goes beyond craving, triggers, and self-talk/Higher Power: I don’t drink because it doesn’t make me feel good. I can’t drink, not because I’m afraid of losing control, but because it doesn’t work. I choose to not drink because I know I don’t want to,instead of, I can’t drink even though I want to.

I am not saying that experimenting is safe, or advisable. Know thyself. Be mindful. Many drunks—myself included—find that abstinence is the only way to heal. I drank that small beer feeling strong and happy in my skin. Every time I drank in the past five years, however, I drank when I was feeling down; I drank to numb, to mask depression and anxiety. Now that I know it doesn’t work—when I’m feeling up, at least—I’m more firmly committed to finding another way to deal.

I am also not saying I’d go out and try this again. I know all too well the thoughts that lead to the “fuck it” mentality—the rationalizations that go from one-sip-here to two-bottles-a-night-there. It’s a slippery slope.

What I am saying is that I appreciate having taken a calculated risk—even if it was accidental. I appreciate knowing more about how my mind is working these days in response to alcohol. I appreciate not having to live within this scratchy curiosity. In fact, I appreciate not having to live in fear.

I used to think the whole point of getting sober was to be able to drink “normally” again. These days, I’ve come to believe the point of getting sober is to not want to drink—in essence, to thrive without alcohol, and not just find workarounds. For me, this is what sober living is about, and I think my near-beer accident might have been the best “mistake” I ever made.”

— Jenny Oliver

My “slips” in the last several months have been completely necessary for the larger question and answer for me, which is being sober on purpose, as a choice, and alternative to feeling shitty. And as an alternative to not reaching my full potential in so so many ways.

And I know for a fact that alcohol was keeping me down. Still, killing that “scratchy curiosity” of whether I could still get a euphoric pleasure from wine was a critical step in the process.

I’ll probably still feel a bit awkward for a while on dates, or with friends when they are all drinking. (I was recently on a date and told him I was doing a “100-day challenge” and it started to get awkward before I managed to change the subject. I’m going to try a different tack next time, saying it impacts my sleep and makes me feel lousy. ‘Maybe I’m just getting old,’ yuck yuck… and see if that works better. I suspect it will.)

And there may be rough patches in the future when I lose the plot again and wonder why I’m not drinking like everyone else. The wine goblin (addiction) is insidious, and I understand he’ll never ever be completely gone. That’s when I’ll really need to lean more on my tools and supports, my community, and remember why I chose to drop alcohol from my life.

But it’s already getting better. Getting easier dealing in those situations. I really do feel like I’ve turned a corner, and just like I don’t eat meat and a date eating meat isn’t going to make me suddenly cave to eating a big steak, the same will go for alcohol. If my friends or my date don’t like the fact that I basically have an allergic reaction to alcohol so I avoid it (“it makes me feel bad, messes with my sleep” etc.), then that’s on them, not me.

And all the free time I have to read books and walk in the sun with Bub is so amazing. Why would I regret that? Certainly it’s worth figuring out what to do with my hands at an occasional dinner.

I’m starting Brene Brown’s Courage Works semester tomorrow. It’s all part of the journey I’m on to be the best me I can be. I’m excited to start.

Day 42  – technically, but I really started not drinking for bigger and bigger gaps of time sometime in August. I’d like credit for those too, thank you. 🙂 All a necessary part of getting me to this place.

Happy sober Sunday, everyone!

xo Rachel.

 

2016: The Pleasure Principle

misty dayPleasure. I’ve been missing it.

And I’ve been kvetching a bit (OK, a LOT) about it lately in my posts — this bloody hatchet job to my reward center — and I’ve started to feel like I’ve lost the plot a bit with quitting drinking.

It’s only been 33 days, and I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about it.

Is it normal? I’m told it is. Will it pass? I’m told it will. Eventually. But it could take months, or even years to return to “normal.” Whatever that is.

WTF.

Yeah, I know all about the dopamine regulation my body has likely been doing a yeoman’s job of over the past many years, which has warped my natural ability to feel pleasure now that I’m not feeding it booze. Yeah, I know about PAWS (post-acute withdrawal syndrome) and that a sense of “flatness” and “inability to feel pleasure or joy,” which can last way longer than I want to think about without wanting to say fuck it all and drink again. Because, RIGHT? Who wants to live like that? (I take some comfort in the fact that I wasn’t an opiate addict or even hard liquor, so it may not take years to be normal again, but still. Yikes. This is why people pick up new addictions like shopping, eating or sex when they quit drinking. Yo comprendo! No bueno!)

And yeah, I know that not only are the holidays a GINORMOUS trigger time for many most people, I also happen to have hit my 30-day milestone smack in the middle of them. Great timing, Rachel. Way to up the ante on that one. Double your pleasure — or not, as it were.

So… a few nights ago I was sitting in bed, flicking through Instagram on my phone while telling the wine goblin to FUCK OFF FUCK OFF because he had grown louder and louder in my ears. I had started to worry a bit that this nagging craving that I’ve been denying, the one that wants to have just one drink to just feeeel good while also keeping sober (so logical!), would never go away. No matter what everyone says, I was worrying that the promises of IT GETS BETTER HOLD ON didn’t apply to me. Why? Because I’m different?! Or I’m doing it wrong?! Or I’m not ready?! Or who the hell knows why, but I was worried. I’ve been worried that this low-pleasure, fleeting joy and only glimpses of awe pond I’m floating in is the new normal.

Yes, I’ve been giving myself sober treats and getting out in the sun and reading blogs and message boards and emailing with Belle trying to pull out all my tools.

Still, I was flicking through Instagram, swirling in these thoughts of mild dread, when I came across this:

P1

Wow. Zing! The sexy, sensual and romantic post sent a zing through my gut and reminded me of the days I used to be into poetry that could draw the same visceral response. A sigh. A blush. A moment of daydream. Then this:

P1a

Hmm, I thought. This feeling is pleasure. And joy. I had to read it again.

I kept scrolling and came to this:

P2

Peonies. My favorite. They are so glorious and they have about a 3- or 4-week window in the spring and then they are gone. I love that the post was from “SexySobriety” and it was for a sober treat.

Yes. Yes. LOVE these. And I LOVE how that feels. 

Hm. Now I was realizing I was onto something. Obviously I CAN still feel pleasure. Even intense pleasure. I’m not dead inside. 🙂 I kept going.

I hit two posts about being strong and feeling my power.

P4

Misty Copeland!

And this:P3

Yes. I’m powerful. I’m strong. I am stronger than this ass hole wine craving. And I guaran-fecking-tee you that prima ballerina Misty Copeland doesn’t drink. And she is an amazing role model in so many ways.

Now I was on a mission for other posts that represented intense pleasure. Joy. Awe.

Like art:

P5

Or music. I saw some great shows last year (I took these photos), including Colin Hay (the best show of the year by far) from the front row, Ann Wilson (Heart) and Mike McCready (Pearl Jam) perform an incredible “Stairway to Heaven” at an auction with about 200 people, and Kris Orlowski’s “Smith Tower Sessions” in the apartment at the top of the Smith Tower — outstanding.

I also saw Liz Gilbert speak about her new (awesome) book, “Big Magic.” Here she is hugging a good friend of mine before the show. They are old friends. (So I’m friends with Liz Gilbert, once removed? 🙂 ) And I saw Cheryl Strayed a few weeks later, and she was every bit as inspiring.

liz gilbert

Of course this is all leading to what am *I* doing with my life now that I’m sober, what impact am *I* going to make on this world before I leave it? What gifts do I have to make the world a better place? This question — and the pursuit of the answer — also has the huge potential to bring intense joy. I’ll start working on it.

flower

#blossom. 🙂

I look to Jane Goodall as inspiration.

P7

 

When I think about the issues that matter most to me, where do I get the strongest pull? Or as my life coach would say, “LISTEN TO THE JUICE.”

Chimp Sanctuary Northwest and the orphaned elephants of David Sheldrick’s orphanage have juice.

Where else do I get intense pleasure? Or sense of purpose? Juice? Joy? Awe? Where else should I focus my attentions when the wine fucker goblin is whispering in my ear?

A morning row.

morning row

A sunset row.

sunset row

An evening row.

night row

 

Priceless moments with my heart, Bub…

 

…and my best friend. She loves slugs, so I snapped her this photo one day. And I picked up a book she returned to me ages ago, and found this note inside it. Love her.

 

And this is the year I work on falling in love WITH MYSELF.

P10

 

For 2016, my word is POTENTIAL.

I intend to do my best to live to my potential every day, in every possible way.

P9

Yes. This.

I listened to a lot of sober podcasts today and one of them said that these thoughts about alcohol won’t start to go quiet probably until abut Day 60 or so. Holy shit. Another month.

Here we go!!

And so begins 2016, the year LIVING EACH DAY TO MY POTENTIAL and spending my time doing the things that bring me the most pleasure. Rowing, loving/walking with my dog, spending more time with friends, more time in the sun, more focus on writing, reading, rocking work, eating well and getting more fit.

Peonies.

Music.

Finding a place where I can start to make an impact. Maybe it’s finishing my novel. Maybe it’s joining a non-profit. Maybe it’s working part-time to begin to build something important. I’m not sure yet.

And paying attention to the precious moments. The moments that send that zing through my gut and up through my heart. The things that give joy and awe.

P11

The last sunset of 2015

xo Rachel.

Day 33. And for making it to the bottom of this hella long post…

BABY GOAT.

baby goats