Nothing changes if nothing changes

I don’t know exactly when I stopped praying.

I was raised Lutheran and even though I stopped going to church at age 14 — pretty much the moment I received a copy of the bible with my name etched in gold on the front cover — I still prayed every night. It wasn’t a fancy prayer or on my knees or anything, just your run-of-the-mill, “Now I lay me down to sleep, I pray the Lord my soul to keep. If I should die before I wake, I pray the Lord my soul will take.” (I don’t know who creates a prayer for little kids about dying in their sleep, but whatevs.) Then I would ask for forgiveness for my sins and go to sleep.

I said that prayer well into adulthood. I suppose I wasn’t much of a critical thinker when it came to faith. And I suppose saying the prayer was such a habit it was comforting, and on some level, maybe it was a little superstitious. I mean, what was the harm in it? It helped me connect with calm at the end of my day with the bonus of hedging my bets against eternal damnation.

That is, until I was about 30, and on my way home for Easter (I was living out of state) I had a revelation:

Wait a second… I don’t actually believe that Jesus is the Son of God. WTF.

Sure, I believed he was probably a cool  guy who walked the Earth and may have been super insightful, like, say, Ghandi or Martin Luther King Jr, but the Son of God? (And also, in fact, God. Yeah, the whole trinity thing is a bit confusing.)

And so began my decade-long journey toward figuring out what I really did believe. I’ve read books on pretty much every religion, but 18 years later, really all I’ve succeeded in knowing for sure is that I really don’t know anymore. I’ve moved even further from any sense of God, not closer. In some ways I miss that single-minded sureness I had as a kid. Hell, even into college, if I’m honest. Even then, I still believed in God, a personal God who was watching over me.

That was nice. 🙂

Today, I really can only say for sure that I believe in an energy that connects us all. I’m pretty sure I believe in the Power of Attraction and that we can manifest things into our lives by expressly setting our intention and directing our energies toward them. I believe that the energy we put out into the Universe is the energy that is returned to us. I really want to believe that we each have a vibration, and the vibration attracts people of similar vibration into our lives. And our vibrations can change. Our vibrations can be elevated.

Woo. Woo.

But this is what I hold onto as I quit drinking. Call it prayer, call it meditation… Call it a call and response to the Universe. It may be be all of these things. But whatever we call it, I will write about it, and I when I lay down and turn out the light, I will fold my hands over my heart, and I will ask the Universe to take care of me. I will start again.

***

I’ve decided no more grand proclamations about being quit. They are too dangerous for me, partly because if I fail, it only intensifies the shame. And shame is my enemy as I learn the lessons I need to learn, to live a life that is alcohol free.

After the equinox happened, I made it 18 days when I decided to drink. I drank just a bottle of wine, but it made me violently ill. The good news is that my body was not having any of my bullshit. The bad news isthat I wasted a day of my life on my back (when I wasn’t bent over the toilet) trying to recover in all the ways you would expect: physically and emotionally. It was a disaster.

But in this entire year that I’ve been trying to quit, I have learned some things along the way. The number of messages that I’ve collected from so many people who have come before me have been growing, and they continue to knock around in my head. This one has been important:

Nothing changes if nothing changes.

And if I’m not able to stay sober for any length of time, I need more supports. I need to add more. What I’ve been doing is great, but not enough.

I’ve tried so many things… But I live alone with my dog and I don’t have a physical sober community. I tried a couple of AA meetings but they literally drove me to drink. (I may try some others soon.)

So…I was really scared, but I called the intensive 2-month program my coach had found. I had talked to them in December, but back then I decided it was more than I needed and I would keep trying on my own. I would try mindfulness. I would try AA. I would try more blogging and more transparency with friends and family and more sober treats and tools and listening to sober podcasts at every possible moment.

But I live alone. I’m an introvert and it’s easy to isolate. And after 2-3 weeks, the Wine Harpy sidles up next to me, a bit lonely and without my abusive boyfriend (wine), and says, “Aw, c’mon, you were over-reacting anyway. You don’t need to quit completely. Just go get a bottle and it will relieve the pressure. You’ll feel better, you’ll be comforted, and you can start again tomorrow.”

That bee-atch. She did it again.

And despite the planets aligning and all that, I drank. And two days later (after I was so sick I couldn’t get out of bed until 5pm), I drank again. I didn’t even want to. I was depressed and disappointed and I just felt like I was coming unmoored. But that drinking voice in my brain told me that a bottle of wine would make me feel better, and I was so sad and in a twist, I listened. And that’s when I really started to get scared.

Nothing changes if nothing changes.

I kept telling myself this when the drinking voice was screaming at me to not take my supports to the next level. It came up with so many reasons not to do it. It was really freaking out. It was backed into a corner and it was showing its teeth. I barely slept the night before deciding, and when I did, I dreamed of stressful, judgey women and being labeled an alcoholic.

What would that say about me that I couldn’t do it on my own like so many of my fellow bloggers have? How would I be labeled — forever — if I needed to go into a program like this to stop drinking? They may have described it as “graduate work for your inner self,” but all I could hear was “outpatient treatment.” When the fuck did I become that person? I should just try again on my own, right? I didn’t drink that much. I should just try again and I really didn’t want to spend several thousand dollars right now. Why couldn’t I just do it on my own??

But I kept coming back to this…

Nothing changes if nothing changes.

I started the program. It’s 2-months intensive — 3 days a week for 2-3 hours — then once a week after that for 10 months. There is also a 4-week Monday mindfulness series (making it four days a week), a few weeks of nutrition guidance, and then in continuing care there is a weekly yoga for relapse prevention component.

But the important thing here is this: I have six or seven other women there who are like me (“high bottom,” high functioning women), plus two counselors, and we are getting to the root of the WHY. Plus building and practicing tools to avoid lapsing, and learning from each other. Supporting each other. Being accountable to each other.

My coach said to me, “It’s like learning a language no one ever taught you.” I supposed it is. And I’m doing this to take care of myself. To love myself more, which is my priority to practice these days.

OH MY GOD I was so, so scared at first — I was freaking out — but it’s been really good so far. I just finished my second week and I feel good. I didn’t want to check in here before this. I just wasn’t ready, and I was a bit embarrassed after my grand poetic proclamation, so it feels important this time to stay humble. To stay in TODAY the best I can.

And the hard work is about to begin. As I enter my third week, I know from history this is when the harpy starts to panic that she’s not going to drink again and she starts to pitch a fit. She starts telling me that “this doesn’t have to be forever and what about dating? How are you ever going to find someone to love you if you don’t have red wine? (She really knows where there are chinks in my armor.) “Maybe,” she says, “maybe when you find someone to share your life with, then you can start drinking again because you are just lonely now. That’s the only reason you are doing this. Just like paying a lot of money for an expensive diet and hoping it will change your life. C’mon…this is just for now…”

(I know this is going to be a hard slog. I know it will get easier. Eventually. But FUCK.)

OK, harpy, maybe it is just for now. All I can focus on is today. I will finish the 2-month intensive and when I do I’ll have been sober longer than I’ve ever been before. We’ll see how I feel then, okay, harpy?

All I can do is read those who inspire me. Listen to those who have come before me. Trust myself and why I made this decision in the first place (even if my memory starts to fade).

And I’ll pray.

Rachel. Day 11.

Tell me, what is it you plan to do

with your one wild and precious life?

Mary Oliver

 

Let’s go for drinks

Whoa. Triggered again this afternoon. They’re coming fast and furious now. Wolfie must really be in a panic.

Someone at work who I really admire and who, I admit, I really want to think of me as being cool and interesting and ultra-worthy, said, “Well that’s a conversation to have over drinks.” He’s not coming on to me (he’s happily married and we’re just friends). We were talking about him coaching me a bit on some really cool life priorities stuff, and he’s said it before (“We really do need to go have those drinks and talk about it…”) — it’s kind of his go-to thing to say, in fact. But every time he says it I am completely TWEAKED.

And the thing is, when I was on my Italian wine walkabout in May, he was there. He has SEEN me pour plenty’o’wine down my gullet. There is some counter-programming that will need to happen at some point.

Goddammit, this is the really hard part.

I didn’t have the courage(?) to say, “Well, actually, I’m not drinking right now/anymore/forthenext100days,” or say anything at all. I just nodded and smiled and the conversation kept moving. Fact of the matter is, it will probably never happen. He’s super busy, and it would actually be awkward for us to go meet for a drink if it really were an option. Not sure how that would work, and so for lots of good reasons, it probably won’t.

But OMG Wolfie was psyched! Immediately my addict brain was thinking: Well, I could just have drinks that night. One night! So what. No big deal. You’d be fine. 

And then the most jarring part, my brain immediately went to: Well, if you’re going to drink anyway, why not pick up a bottle on the way home from work and have some? You might as well…

Holy shit. Wow. Fecking harpy is insidious, always poised to pounce. That is so scary. It was really powerful, and it was the same power I felt when I traveled abroad for work. Like, bend me like a reed powerful, and I’m afraid of failing.

There is some serious fear of rejection/FOMO going on here. Absolute limbic brain stuff.

I came home (walking straight past the store without slowing down), and immediately opened a flavored sparkling water and guzzled it. Then fed my dog, put my dinner in the microwave (with some salad preparation as well. I’m not a total culinary rube…), and sat down to watch my favorite political show online while eating, and guzzling yet another flavored water. I don’t think I’ve ever been so hydrated as when I quit drinking and started dieting at the same time. I might need to just get into bed. I’m still being taunted by the thought of a bottle of wine. WTF??

So here I am. Day 16 and scared to death. I don’t know what will happen if he actually follows through and we find a way to have that drink. Sitting here today, I know all the things I should be saying and thinking about how he’ll value me as much if I’m not a drinker and how it won’t be worth it to drink, and may even actually be a really bad idea. I know I am in control of my power and being a non-drinker is a really good thing for me, and he would (ultimately) appreciate that. He’s a good guy and he respects me. All of those things are true.

But at 16 days I realize how precarious my hold on sobriety actually is, and how clear it is that my main drivers for drinking have always included an incredibly deep-seated need to belong that goes all the way back to my earliest formative years. Yeah, my Dad was a drinker and left my Mom, little sister and me when I was 2-years-old, not to really show up again until he got sober when I was 12. And yeah, that experience, like for so many people, has influenced how I have related to men and to other situations of belonging and approval (like this) my entire life.

Oh my. I’ll do my best to shake it off and live to see another sober day, but this is scary, powerful shit. It helped a lot to know I have so many people on my side, cheering for me. It helped to remind myself that moderation just hasn’t worked. It helped that as I was eating I could look at the list I made for myself before my Day 1 of all the most important reasons alcohol wasn’t working for me anymore, and the benefits I’m counting on as time goes by.

I still want those. I’m still holding on (Jesus,it’s only day 16! This is dumb!) for the good energy of the Universe to start feeling my sober energy and begin sending some of that good energy back in my direction. I believe it will happen, but I have to hold on. I’m going woo woo on this shit.

Right now I remind myself that I don’t need wine to be included, accepted or loved. I just need to love and value myself enough to trust that. Shit. Yes. Why don’t I completely believe that? This will be my mantra. This is hard.

16 days is something but it feels like nothing. Wow. Some days will be easier than others. 16 days. I’m focusing too much on the future. I need to come back to today. Right here. Right now.

Stay. Here.

Rachel.

Moving and the wine glasses

I’m packing today for a move at the end of the month. I’m sad to be moving, so there’s THAT, and I decided to pack up all of my wine glasses and put them in a box, which I don’t plan to unpack in my new place. I won’t be needing them.

Right?

Wolfie has been whispering in my ear: “Won’t you need them? EVER? Aren’t you ever going to entertain again? You’re never drinking wine ever again? Aren’t you ever going to be NOOORMAL?”

Thanks for making this even harder, Wolfie.

I know drinking basically a bottle of red wine a night like I was isn’t normal, and there’s no going back to “normal.” (Although, as Ainsobriety rightly points out: being sober is actually our normal state…) But dayum, I’m completely triggered. All that romance and community and sensuous living I’ve tied to those glasses for so many years, smashing headlong into the new reality I’m creating. The new normal.

I said out loud, “I don’t need to decide any of that now! Leave me alone!” And I don’t.
I could keep them (will I need them to entertain? This mythical *someday* that hasn’t happened since i got divorced more than four years ago?) or I could gift them all to friends. I have no idea what to do with all that stuff right now, but I don’t have to figure it out today. I can store it away and decide later.

Man, that was a sucky moment. I’m still reeling. I’m not going to drink but I do wish I had someone to give me a long hug. Preferably a tall, handsome someone? Hehe.

Ah well. 🙂

I can be sad now. I can let myself feel that. Thinking about forever right now is too much. I’ll just commit to today.

And I will make my new apartment cozy and mine and full of only things that bring me joy. It won’t have an amazing view that makes me happy, but it will have upsides I don’t expect, I’m sure. And as for the mythical *someday* when I might wish for those wine glasses out of the box…I guess I’ll cross that bridge when I come to it.

Breathing….

Xo Rachel.

Day 15.

Bad boyfriends, broken hearts

I ate a pint of Ben & Jerry’s tonight, and let’s just say that it capped a long day of trying desperately with food to fill a void I was feeling. Granted, I was off my eating routine, having gone to brunch with my family, but when I got home, I was very aware that Wolfie had an ice pick to my brain stem and was applying pressure.

“What are you feeling right now? What hole are you trying to fill?” I asked myself. But I couldn’t fully pull out of it. It felt too close. I was too far inside the noise in my head to really step out of the spin cycle and ground myself again.

Obviously, I need to work at this. And so, instead, I ate whatever I wanted (peanut butter, ice cream, cheese enchiladas…) instead of drinking. This isn’t a good medium- or long-term strategy, especially because, as a person who has struggled with food issues all her life, including binge-eating disorder in grad school, turning to food only compounds the issues for me. Sitting here right now with the clarity of evening, I can see that in some ways, replacing drinking with eating could eventually make the compulsion to drink worse. No bueno.

I like Anne’s idea of bubble baths. Can’t hurt to try. 🙂

But as I was walking my dog tonight, I remembered a NY Times article that really resonated with me, especially with a day like today in my rear view mirror.

“For me, heroin [me: red wine] provided a sense of comfort, safety and love that I couldn’t get from other people (the key agent of addiction in these regions is the same for many pleasurable experiences: dopamine). Once I’d experienced the relief  heroin [red wine] gave me, I felt as though I couldn’t survive without it.”

I’m not sure about ending the argument that addiction is progressive… but comparing it to heartbreak sure felt right. Even the subhead of my blog refers to my relationship with red wine as a love affair that was over.
“Recognizing addiction as a learning disorder can also help end the argument over whether addiction should be treated as a progressive illness, as experts contend, or as a moral problem, a belief that is reflected in our continuing criminalization of certain drugs. You’ve just learned a maladaptive way of coping.
Moreover, if addiction resides in the parts of the brain involved in love, then recovery is more like getting over a breakup than it is like facing a lifelong illness. Healing a broken heart is difficult and often involves relapses into obsessive behavior, but it’s not brain damage.”
If I compare how I’ve been feeling today with getting over a broken heart (even if he was a bad boyfriend), at least it feels similar to something I’ve done before — and I made it through.
Tomorrow, no ice cream.
Rachel.
Day 14.

Two weeks, focus and refocus

It’s a holiday weekend, I’m alone and having a bit of a pity party, and I’m not going to drink, but the Wine Harpy has been nipping at my heels all weekend. Annoying fucker. One part boredom (even thought I have *plenty* I could be doing), one part loneliness, the swirl I’ve been swimming in this weekend is exactly the time when my former drinking self would have headed straight to the store so I could “bliss out” in a bottle of red. Or two.

Deep breath…

But no more. So…I’ve been pulling out all the tools — well, a lot of them, anyway. And I relate to Belle when she says that in the early days she was spending HOURS online on sober blogs (and for me, secret sober Facebook pages too), reading and commenting and getting support from the amazing community there. I’ve been napping when I want to, eating chocolate and ice cream mostly when I want to, and really just trying to stay busy.

And breathe.

But I want to make sure I don’t just get into a constant reflex of “fighting” it off. Because if I take some deep breaths and really try to ground myself back to June 20 and why I am quitting alcohol — at least for now (I’m saying that so my wine brain doesn’t rebel and run straight to the store for a bottle) — then some of the anxiety lifts. The grasping releases. It helps me a lot to place myself in a healthy, balanced, happy place in this CHOICE of living alcohol-free, and to read about and look to others who are doing it too.

That’s why Bradley Cooper used to help a bit (where, oh, where has my Bradley fixation gone? 🙂 ), but that’s also why it helps so much to have so many sober supports online who are loving their sober lives, and reminding themselves and others why it matters, day-by-day.

But for me, it’s a conscious effort right now, which I know is normal. The reminding myself. The replaying the tape of how I felt back then. The repeating (sometimes out loud) of what I want my future to look like and the FACT that alcohol in my life will mean a different future than something amazing I can dream. (Remember, Bradley came to that realization too… Yes, we would be on a first name basis if I actually knew him. I’m sure of it. 🙂  )

I really don’t want to fritter away my weekend sloshing around inside a bottle of red wine….but Wolfie is bored. Wolfie wants to feel good (and, paradoxically, feel less). And he would love nothing more.

But Wolfie can bite me. The Harpy can go bother someone else, because that bee-atch getting nowhere with me. Jerks.

This is the part we just have to slog through. There’s no getting around it. No short cuts.

I admit, it worries me a bit to read/hear about people who have been AF for 100s of days or longer, who still have really bad days when Wolfie is standing on their chests, looking them in the face. Or those who just started drinking again on a whim, after months or years, only to be right back where they started before long. But I guess those stories are good warnings to not become complacent or take anything for granted. There IS no moderation (goddamn, I wish there were. REALLY I do). And drinking again is certainly not inevitable. We all have choice.

And for today (because today I can predict with 100 percent certainty), today I choose life. Myself. My amazing, unpredictable, unexpected future.

As Augusten Burroughs has said, “You don’t need to take an action to stop drinking. Drinking is an action: pouring the [wine] into the glass, raising the glass to your lips. To stop drinking, all you have to do is sit.” (and not drink)

I’ve said this before, but perhaps as a reminder to myself as much as anything, this is the other thing he said that sticks with me that I will be working on too. And it may not happen overnight, but I do believe it is really important, because when I’m feeling the void, the boredom, the loneliness, this is what will make the difference in the long term:

“To be successful at not drinking, a person needs to occupy the space in life drinking once filled with something more rewarding than the comfort and escape of alcohol. This is the thing you have to find.”

My challenge, my opportunity, my GIFT, is to fill that wine-shaped hole with all kinds of awesome. And this fits nicely into my intention and hope of finding my higher purpose as a non-drinking person. Yep, this is the thing I have to find.

With persistence and compassion…I’ll find it.  (OMG I HOPE.)

Rachel.

Day 14