It gets harder before it gets easier

It gets harder before it gets easier, and it’s getting harder now.

I remember the first time(s) I quit drinking, two days was an incredible feat. Just like is often told, I was white-knuckled and grieving, and all I wanted to do was end my day with my wine lover like I had grown so fond of doing. It was a painful breakup with an abusive boyfriend, and I wanted him back. That’s why AA gives out a 24-hour chip. It’s a really big deal.

Then there was five days…Wow! Five days was a common fail day for me, and I hear for others too. I’m guessing that’s because it also often fell on a Friday for all those folks (including myself) whose Day 1s were Mondays. And Fridays were big venting days. A release of all the stresses of the week. The payoff. A chance to lift off from this planet and sail into oblivion.

So, when I made it through my first weekend I could hardly believe it. Seven or eight days had stretched out like the calendar was printed on a band of elastic. Sober days had become like dog years, and seven days felt like weeks. The weight of the length of time itself became daunting. If seven days feels like this, how am I going to make it…forever?

Then ten days — double digits. My sense of sober time was changing. Ten days became easier. Something I could do without really trying too hard.

Then 15…19…26…34… I don’t think I ever made it past 34 before starting over. So many expanses of weeks, and only to start the clock all over again.

And I know what happens, because it happens each time: It gets harder. Everyone who has made it any length of time (past 60 days? 90? 100?) will tell you IT GETS EASIER. And I actually do believe them. Eventually. But the stage I’m in now is when we really start to earn it, slogging through the dimly lit gauntlet, dodging obstacles and objects whizzing past our sober heads while trying to keep sight of that wee wee light at the end of the tunnel, which is only lit by the hope of other sober people who have come before us.

And man, that tunnel can feel long.

I really am holding out some giant-sized hope that I don’t still feel like this at 100 days.

Day 10. Enough days to know the alcohol is out of my system, I’ve got some momentum, I’m still using all the tools, but my proverbial sober legs are getting heavier and I have to remind myself over and over (and all day long on FB and with blogs) why I have to do this. Why I stopped drinking. Why this is so important. Why I truly believe it means the difference in the kind of future I will have.

I can repeat a million times that red wine is poison, but the thing that is really going to make a permanent difference is the bigger story. My story.

And I have to remember that when I’m tired and alone with my Bub, and I just want to be soothed. After 10 days, as real life sober starts to finally settle in. This is when my sober muscles are exposed as having atrophied since I was in high school, the last time I went without booze for any stretch of time. Once I discovered wine coolers and Seagram’s and Diet Coke in college (barf!!), I never went for more than a few days without some alcohol ever again. And let me say, college was a very long time ago.

As anyone who has gone through this knows, I’m learning how to live again.

So, I breathe. I tell Wolfie to FUCK OFF out loud when I’m walking into a grocery store and the wine bottles lined all along the window are SCREAMING at me. I do what Belle said and I get into bed (or on top of the covers, fully-clothed) and read a great book. There are so many great books! I eat ice cream, even though I’m trying to lose weight. (I know, I know…this is verboten, but I have promised myself that I choose sobriety above all, and if it starts to all feel “too hard,” I will choose eating what I want over drinking.) Tonight I ate ice cream and named it my Sober Treat. I will write about how I’m feeling here. I will post multiple times a day to the private sober groups I follow on Facebook. I will remind myself that there is no moderation — I know that now — and if, after 100 days I decide to drink again, it would be because I’m choosing a life of drowning in the bottle, because that’s what will end up happening. Eventually. And I know I don’t want that.

And I breathe. And I get to bed early. And I try my best to be kind and compassionate with myself, and to listen to what my heart tells me I really need. (The jury is still out on the rowing [see yesterday’s post]. I’m going to go tomorrow night to practice and see how it feels.)

And I’m going to have hope. And faith. And patience. And persistence. And courage.

And I’m going to scream my bloody head off into my pillow if I have to. I swear I will. I’m going to try it.

And I have to remember to dance in my living room. I forgot tonight. Tomorrow, I dance.

I keep reminding myself about the sober dog years (same goes for dieting): the days seem long, and time seems to pass so, so slowly, but one day follows on the next, and the next, and they just stack up. They just keep adding up. This is sure true for other things — whether it’s growing older, moving past a trauma, waiting for that amazing trip to finally start, or even just the weekend — and it’s true for being sober too. The days cross off, one-by-one, and time keeps marching on. I’m finally starting to really GET what people mean when they say that it is really just about staying sober TODAY, because if I keep doing that, the days, the time, it will take care of itself.

And then, at some point, it will start to get easier.

Deep breath…

I will be happier sober. I know it. I am finally to the point where I choose to believe what everyone says and hold on. Some days I’ll be holding on with white knuckles and howling at the moon, some days (like tonight) I’ll be burying my head in my book to distract myself until I can turn out the light. Some days I’ll be happy as a clam with a cup of tea and Game of Thrones (because: DRAGONS!). But Wolfie can fuck off if he thinks I’m going to give up, even if my legs are starting to feel like I’m walking through a vat of brownie mix. It’s just for now. It will pass.

xo Rachel.

Day 10.

When a Team is not a healthy thing, I choose Me

Hey there,

I had a big rowing competition this weekend and WOW, I won a gold medal! I have to say, it felt pretty great and for the first time my team and I bonded. Suddenly there were Facebook friend requests flying around, people from across our larger team were actually talking to me (strange how a gold medal around your neck can make a difference…hmm…) and some of us finally had some great talks and got to know each other better while we sat on the beach and watched our fellow teammates row in their races.

But I think I’m going to leave rowing now. At least as the consuming ambition it’s been.

Why now?

There are several reasons, and at the end of the day, they all point back to how rowing makes me feel about myself. There are certainly pros and cons.

Pros:

  • I love being on the water. There are times when I just look at the sky and the clouds and the reflection of the city off the lake as the sun is setting and I just sit in the moment in gratitude. I breathe a few deep breaths and try to be absolutely present. It’s really awesome.
  • It’s cool. I think so and other people think so. I can admit that. I LOVE when other people are impressed or excited by the fact that I row (HELLO EGO! Jeez.)
  • I am proud of myself that it can be really hard, but I have stuck with it. I stuck with it in the middle of winter when it was dark and raining and 38 degrees, and I was out there.  I was out there when I had to get up at 4am to be there for 5am “hands on” days. I was out there when my hands were blistered and calloused, or the oars ripped whole pieces of skin off fingers and palms or made me bleed…I stuck to it. This is a big deal to me. Rarely in my life have I felt like I’m doing something that so many people admire or are impressed by and that I stuck to and skipped things for and got up early for and all of it. It feels pretty good (but I’m finding it comes at a cost. More on that below).
  • I love the workout. The training. A really hard workout can be a lot of fun — and obviously, is great exercise! And even when the weather is sheit and I’m out there, I can come back in not being able to feel my frozen feet :), but I also feel like a badass for having gone out in the first place. I loved that.
  • I love being part of something. Part of the community. Being able to call myself a rower and have a jacket with the logo on it and be extremely remotely associated with the guys who rowed in “Boys in the Boat.” (Pretty much everyone asks me, “Did you read “Boys in the Boat”? Answer: I bought it, and started to read it, but got bored and haven’t picked it up again – yet.)

Cons:

  • But that’s the thing. The community. The community I’ve experienced is very cliquey. When I joined this competitive boat to race with, very few of the women were nice to me. It got better over time as I got to know a few of them, but there is still a woman — in a boat of eight women and we just won a gold medal together — who has still never said hello to me. The woman who sits in the seat directly behind me barely spoke to me. And it’s like that across the boathouse. It has been a very rare thing that someone I didn’t know was friendly. I made it a point to always make the first move, but it started to wear me down how unfriendly so many people were. Unless they knew you already. And sometimes even then.
  • When I row, as awesome as it can be, I often feel bad about myself while I’m rowing. The coxswain is (what feels like constantly) pointing out what I am doing wrong, could be doing better. (It’s the only way I’m going to get better, but there is a limit to what a person can take during a single workout…) The other women in the boat are rarely friendly. The coxswains aren’t friendly or supportive. Or the coach snaps at me for something that wasn’t my fault. Or I feel big/heavy. I just don’t feel good enough or welcome when I’m there, and it has been well over a year. It may be all in my head, but is it that hard to be nice? (there are some nice people, but they are the exception, and oddly they are rarely among the good rowers.)
  • It’s a LOT of time. I train on the water three days a week, and the expectation with the competitive team is at least another two days on the ergs (rowing machines) or three additional hours a week cardio. And where it used to be fun to push to get better and people understood sometimes life happens too, now you are expected to be there to train and other things (life) are expected to take a back seat. I started thinking about all the things I want to get done in my life, and how little time I have with a full-time job and a dog to take care of, and there’s not much time left in the week. I have to be selective.

So, what REALLY matters here?

My life coach said it and I think she’s right: I should NOT be doing anything right now — for my self-care but especially in early sobriety — that makes me feel like I’m not good enough. Even though sports are about mental toughness and getting better, and I am relatively new at this, I think she’s right. I’m beginning to see that the culture of this sport in particular leaves me constantly feeling like I’m not quite good enough.

I should be spending my very limited time doing things that are nurturing and aren’t triggering. Following my curiosity and doing things that are in line with my goals of making an impact and finding richness and strength. Challenging is good. Doing hard things…good. Swinging for the rafters and pushing myself beyond my limits…all good! But anything that isn’t supportive or, like I said, makes me feel less than, NOT GOOD.

I’m a sensitive person. I think drinkers often are. Empathic. A feeler. I’m not overly competitive and I certainly need to feel supported and encouraged when I’m doing something scary and really hard. Especially when I’m putting myself out there, exposed. There really was very very little of that, nurturing, support, and it was only getting worse as I was moving up the ranks to the competitive team. I’m a tall, strong woman. The “perfect” body type for this sport. But I’m beginning to think I’m not the perfect personality type for it. At least not at this boathouse.

Maybe someone needs to tell them that we would be a much stronger team if we supported one another and made each other feel appreciated and safe.

Alright, I realize I am sitting inside a made-for-TV movie right now. Back to real life.

So, there it is. I went to my first regatta this weekend, won a gold medal, and I think I may be done competing. I’m going out on top! 🙂 And as hard (and confusing) as this decision might be right now (think of all my new Facebook friends! 🙂 what about my intense FOMO?), my gut says, this may be the best decision overall for me. As hard as it is to feel like I’m “quitting” or worse, “giving up,” I was overcome with the view from the rafters that my time is a precious thing and every moment I can choose, I choose to move forward.

Pride aside. Admiration from others aside. Cool  factor and gold medals aside. I need to take care of my heart, and I need to stay sober.

Tara Brach said during one of her podcast lessons a couple of weeks ago, “What if you knew you only had a year to live? How would you spend your time? A month? A day?”

Rowing is a very cool thing. But I have things to do with my life. An impact to make in this world.

And so…here I am at Day 8. Don’t think it was easy not drinking this weekend after the first really hard day at the regatta! I was tired, stressed, had been under the sun all day, was scared for the race the next day, feeling alone and unsupported…and instead of drinking, I went to the bookstore and brought a book back to my motel for the night.

I’m really working on soothing myself in better ways, and that includes preventative care as well.

And now, sleep.

Rachel.

 

 

I’m back.

I suppose it’s fitting that tonight I pigged out on fried mac ‘n’ cheese balls and french fries. That last day I posted (3 months ago), I was raving about the cures of heart&soul a good mac ‘n’ cheese can bring.

Still true.

Since then I’ve been on a little journey, a philosophical, introspective, exploratory walkabout, you might say. I think I was looking to get to the source of any lingering doubts about whether I should go completely AF, so I could be sure. Sure as a person can be.

I’ve heard it said, that while we’re driving our car, building our brick wall, walking our path, bobbing along on our proverbial sea — choose your favorite metaphor — as long as we are sober we are learning and growing in ways we may not even be aware of. We may not feel it’s happening, but OH, YOU BETTAH BELIEVE IT’S A’HAPPENIN’.

So here’s what I learned: I started to think maybe after all the months (since last summer) that I had gone with very little alcohol, maybe I would actually moderate. Maybe I was overreacting. Maybe I really didn’t REALLY want to be that person who doesn’t drink EVER. I’d learned so much and I thought my patterns really had changed…maybe I could seamlessly merge back into the flow of all the other cool and happenin’ humans I know who could drink without it taking more than it was giving. Maybe, I’d reset the clock. (I’m going for maximum metaphor numbers here.)

But then I went on a business trip to Italy. I met a fantastically intoxicating Italian. I don’t think I’ve ever felt so sexy and exciting and alive. There was fun and fantasy and Italian wine and I was swept away in a very fast current. I suppose I can thank my addictive tendencies for this too, but there was nothing and no one that was going to get me off that pleasure train.

Except reality.

It was a short short ride.

When I was ripped back to reality like Christopher Reeve when he finds that damned penny in his pocket in Somewhere in Time (did anyone else see that movie? OMG I loved that movie…), where was I then? I was basically back to where I’d started…and it had happened in no time. Flat.

It wasn’t horrific. I wasn’t off the rails. There was no Leaving Las Vegas and I’ll not be writing a fantastic and inspirational sober memoir about it (although it sounded like there was potential, no? “Rachel’s Roman Holiday: One Hot Italian and 20 Gallons of Red…”) But I was back to where I’d started in many ways, only this time, I had a perspective I didn’t have before. I could see very clearly that the sadness I was feeling, the fatigue, the flabbiness mentally and physically…it was all stemming from the wine.

I had finally started to see that the only way I was going to quit for good was if I started to connect that this — leaving alcohol behind — is about something greater than this very moment. For me, for the briefest of moments, being sober had brought me closer to coming in touch with my higher purpose than I may have ever been. I know this for sure.

I say that, and even now, I sit here with that clarity just beyond reach. I don’t even feel like I’m writing about it nearly as vividly as I experienced it. It feels like it has when I’ve woken from a dream that I saw so clearly, only to struggle to remember what it felt like by the end of the day. I close my eyes and try to feel it again, to find the words, but…all I have left is a blurry memory of how it felt, and the faith that if I stay the course this time, that sureness, that purity of contact with the Universe(?) that I absolutely had glimpses of before, will return. I apologize for sounding a bit woo woo. I honestly think my ham-handed vocabulary here is also a symptom of having moved too far from it to even describe it well.

So here I am, back at Day 3. I can’t bear to read my earlier blog posts right now, knowing how many times before I’ve been so sure and then changed course.

I know it won’t be easy. But this time I’ve seen what three months of drinking again feels like, and none of it was worth how I felt before finally quitting again. I dare say, even the time with the Hot Italian. He’s long gone (many lessons learned!) and here I sit, back on Day 3, very sure that my life is meant for more than this. I’m meant for greater things. The love of my life is out there somewhere. My mind and spirit have the potential for so much more. My higher purpose is yet to show itself, but it’s not far. And the choice I have to make — every day, perhaps — is all of those things over red wine.

THAT is what I have to remember, when I go on a business trip or I’m on a summertime patio/boat/cabin with friends or I’m in Italy with a fantastically handsome Italian.

I choose the rest of my “one wild and precious life,” over red wine.

I’ll be leaning on ALL my supports — and you are a huge part of that. Know that I’ve missed you. And I’ve missed the me who was emerging. It’s a super uncomfortable place to be in the swirl of it all. If you’ve been there (or are still there) you know. Our addict minds are such negotiators, and man, they can be persuasive. That can be a painful process. Fucking Wolfie.

I’ve been loving Sarah Hepola’s 5-part Series in Jezebel, “Ask a Former Drunk.” I really loved the entirety of this #2 piece, How Do I Keep My Sobriety From Being the Thing That Defines Me?  End-to-end. So. Good.

But the first in the series, When Do You Know That You Have a Problem? had a bit that particularly resonated with me too. I mean, probably for many/most of us. It really so often is (or was) the crux of it in the beginning. The letter-writer asked this:

I want sobriety and all that comes with it, but I just don’t want to stop drinking. I mean I do, but I don’t. Does that make sense?

McKenzie

And Sarah answered:

Dear McKenzie,

I’m not sure any sentence has ever made more sense. You want the clarity and peace of sobriety, but you don’t want the emotional discomfort, personal reckoning, and social exile that giving up alcohol would entail. You want the sun-dappled joy of a Sunday with no hangover, but you want the liquid abandon of a Friday night. Over the years, I’ve had many wishes like this: I want to travel the world, but I don’t want to pay for it. I want to lose weight, but I don’t want to stop eating cheese enchiladas. I want to lead a life of meaning, but I don’t want to leave this cozy queen-sized bed.

 

Right? I’ve even said that on this blog. I want to maintain my sobriety but still get a huge wine buzz. WTF?

But then, a bit later, Hepola says this:

…Having no idea what else to do, I made a new bet. The bet was that if I could stay sober for a year, or even three months—maybe things would get better.

They did. The change was neither fast, nor easy. Like you said, quitting drinking was “the ultimate struggle.” But six years later, I can tell you that quitting drinking is one of the smartest things I have ever done for myself. It has enriched my friendships, deepened my writing and my empathy, made my sex life more electrifying and profound, and given me a peace in my own body I did not even know was possible. I thought sobriety was the end of the road, and I had arrived at a dead end, but it’s more like a door that opens up to a thousand more doors, all of them in Technicolor, all of them stretching into the horizon.

All of them in Technicolor, all of them stretching into the horizon.

This is what I want my life to be. And my bet, my hope, my faith — thanks in part to so many amazing people who have been through this and have written about it in books and blogs — is that the glimmer of connection to the Universe I felt before was truly a pinhole into this future she describes.

It won’t be easy. It won’t always be good times. But it’s the only way through.

So, day by day. Day. By. Day.

Rachel.

Day 3.