I’m going to assume this is normal: so tired. 

Day 39 of being alcohol free (I realize I might be confusing things with my gratitude challenge in terms of day count) and today I’m so tired. Didn’t want to get out of bed tired. I have plans for dinner with an uncle and I might postpone. I have work to do and I have a feeling it’s going to take twice as long as it normally would. 

Tell me, has this happened to you? I’ve heard of the early days fatigue, but I’m at 5.5 weeks. I was going to start a yoga challenge today but I’m just too tired. I’ll start when I start to have some energy again. Bzzzzz. 

On another note, this gratitude challenge is making me realize I’m not being very creative with my photos. I will work at that. Tomorrow. 😉 Day 5 of thanks yous. 



It’s a grey day and still I’m grateful for the walk with Bub today before it started to rain. 

Rachel. Day 39. 

30 Days of Photo Gratitudes

Hi all,

I’m still here and today was five weeks alcohol free. I’ve never made it this far before and it feels alright. I am still waiting for the magic (magic! magic! stop being so coy!), but I am the first to admit that I may have been hoping for too much, too soon.  I am still in the two-month “Valley of Emotion” (see previous post), and I know, I know, I just have to slog through. This shit is hard. Just ask anybody.

Thank god for the accountability I feel to my intensive (IRL) group or I may have caved by now, just out of boredom or disappointment (with myself or others), or out of a deep desire to feel good and loved and held. Because, you know that bad boyfriend I had, red wine? Yeah, he was a big dick most of the time, but sometimes he pretended reeaal good.

So…my urges and desire to drink come and go, but my resolve is extremely high.

A friend of mine posted this to Instagram last week and it was like an arrow to my heart. I love her and I’m so happy for her (her boyfriend is awesome), but it was basically my worst alcohol-free nightmare:

romance

One of her hashtags was #datenight and I think the other was #makingtimeforeachother.

And all I could think about was:

How am I ever going to have an amazingly romantic moment like this when I can’t drink that bottle if sparkling rosé??

No, seriously.

I have since talked myself down off the you’ll-be-single-forever ledge, but I still half wonder how that whole thing will work out.

And I reminded myself that I’m way ahead of myself. (Yes, I do a lot of talking to myself.) Because until I really start to love myself and build a life I am in love with, that dream/fantasy romance ain’t going to happen anyway.

At least that’s what all the sober and/or relationship gurus say. 🙂

So, suffice to say, it is clearer by the day that this (cheesy, cliché) quote is true:

Take the alcohol out of your life, and you are left with…

YOUR LIFE.

Yep. That shit is cliché for a reason. I have a perfectly fine life — seriously, I feel like a whiner with all my first-world problems — but all the time I spent throwing wine down my neck hole has kept me from building something I really love. And that’s the hard reality of quitting drinking, and why I’ve started drinking again so many times before: I have to spend a whole lot of time with myself, and that can be a lonely, conflicted, unsatisfying place. So naturally, the answer is was to drink to make it better!

My intensive group leaders call this “dangerously misguided self care.” Yeah, I’ll say.

In my brighter moments, I expect to pull out of this grey funkadelic zone, because I do recognize that the mental and emotional gymnastics are part of the trial and there is an end to this period of existential hazing. I trust. I do. Another three or four weeks of feeling like this and hopefully (oh please baby Jesus Mother Mary Joseph) the grey will begin to lift, and this feeling like I’m caught in a murky psychic purgatory will begin to lift too.

Rumi said:

“Let the beauty we love, be what we do. There are hundreds of ways to kiss the ground.”

Yes, this. The next step. I am committed to cultivating my curiosity about the things I love, and building my life around them. Step-by-step. To “kiss the ground” with what I love. And to begin to find my joy.

I thought a good way to start would be to take a photo every day for the next 30 days of something I’m grateful for, something I wouldn’t necessarily have experienced or noticed when I was drinking.

Tonight I went on a long walk with my dog, Bub, and watched the sun go down over the Cascade mountains. When I was drinking I would have been well into a bottle of wine by now, and this would not have happened.

I’m so very grateful for my Bub, and I’m grateful for the beautiful evening walk in Seattle.

I’m going to breath it in tonight and really try to believe it in my bones. To be grateful for so much. So much.

Holding on and keeping the faith… Let the bigger yes be worth it.

xo Rachel.

Day 35.

IMG_9096.JPG

 

 

 

 

The Science: Unpickling My Brain

Day 25 and I’ve only been here once before. My resolve is about as high as it could be — I won’t be drinking — but I have noticed the insidious drinker’s voice getting louder lately. Negotiating. Planning our future together once my two-month intensive group is over.

Shut it, Harpy.

Late last week I was starting to feel pretty agitated, anxious, all while mucking around up to my shins in that grey flatness that is a normal part of this whole process, and just the thing that has been my undoing in the past. Now that I’m in the eye of the “ditching the drink” storm I remember it very well: I’m back to craving pleasure from anything (it doesn’t even matter, really) at the same levels drinking provided.

I know this is about deconstructing myself and my life before I can rebuild it. I’ve been at this long enough that I get it. The upside of having tried and tried and tried over the course of a year is that you get to see patterns.You learn a few things. I know exactly what’s going on for me physiologically (dopamine) and I’m learning more and more about what is going on emotionally. This is the painful but necessary part to growing, and I get that. My intensive group is helping a ton, and that was exactly the point. It’s why I’m investing the considerable time and money. The “graduate work for the inner self” is exactly what I need if I have any hope of staying dry for the long haul. Something had to give because what I was doing just wasn’t enough.

Friday  we had a 2-hour “wellness” session with a naturopath instead of our normal group session, and she was awesome. Sometimes I feel like I’ve read a damned library’s worth of books and blogs about what happens when we quit drinking, but she framed the process in a way that was comforting. She said, here’s what we may be experiencing physically and emotionally, and here’s why.

Because, SCIENCE.

Some of what we learned, in brief (and super layman) terms:

  • First 2 weeks: The liver is regulating itself, having spent a hell of a lot of its energy before breaking down alcohol. With alcohol missing, it has a lot of time on its proverbial hands and starts breaking down other things, like hormones.
  • By one month the liver should be in a steady state.
  • From Day 3 to eight weeks is a period that one woman called “The Valley of Emotion.” Exercise can make a difference in the long journey through this pleasure desert. It doesn’t have to be strenuous exercise. Even moving one’s body (like walking) for 10 minutes can help. (She also recommended the book, “Spark: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain” by John Ratey, MD)
  • At 3.5-4 months, many people experience a tough couple of weeks of thinking about or revisiting the decision to quit. This isn’t scientific but it happens to SO many people (and when a ton of people start drinking again) that it seems to be a thing. Yes, it is super uncomfortable, but it won’t last. This is believed to be the time when our brains are checking in to ask “Are you suuuure you aren’t drinking anymore?” before it really starts to begin rewiring the neuropathways. Self-care is really important at this point and not giving in to the discomfort that feels as though it will last forever. It too will pass.
  • From 6 months to 1 year is when the white matter in the brain finally begins to repair. This is important for a lot of reasons, including that the white matter is what facilitates the communication between the part of one’s brain that says “NO” and the old habit functions part of the brain. Most often this really begins at about 8 months, but it can start earlier. It is VERY important to get enough DHA/EPA in our systems to aide in this repair. That means 1,200 mg a day fish oil or flax oil, but for those (like me) who aren’t to 6 months (or even 6 weeks) yet, there’s no need to wait. The EPA/DHA can help support the dopamine levels and ward off depression, so I was all over that and dropped my $45 for a bottle of fish oil capsules straight away after class. (As I would have spent that with just two nights of drinking before, I really can’t complain.)

So… this is a fun time! In addition to having to confront random difficult memories that seem to be coming out of nowhere like fruit flies in summertime, and beginning to look at stuff in my past that I have skillfully avoided thinking about by drinking, I’m in the middle of “The Valley of Emotion,” which feels flat and like I just need pleasure. Good times.

I know this will pass. I know there is no way around this but to slog through it. Thank god I know it and that I have the support of my group this time, because I probably would have had a drink by now to relieve this discomfort. To just feel good. It isn’t awesome. But one day after another and I’ll keep on slogging through.

I’m still holding out for the miracles. 🙂

I will say I found some new erotica that has been poking my dopamine receptors (pun intended) in fun(ny) way (the writing is so so bad), and I’ve been making a dent in the fresh watermelon supplies at the local market. Yummy and virtually free of diet concerns! (No one ever got fat from eating too much watermelon.) Talk about double your pleasure!

But in nine days I’ll be in uncharted territory for me, and while I have no doubt I’ll make it, the healthy coping, body fluxes and emotional unearthing of messy stuff is new. Yeah, I’m still impatient, and yeah, I feel a bit lonely and alone (nothing like quitting drinking for an existential tango), but there’s little I can do about it. Except, apparently, exercise.

And I do look forward to those days after the 2-month mark when my dopamine receptors start to feel even a little bit of euphoria again.

In the meantime, walks with my dog, watermelon and campy erotica will help. 😉

Rachel.

Day 25.

p.s., I’ve been looking at the last year or more and how little time I’ve spent out with friends. Some of it has been because I just only have so much mental energy to spend right now, and much of it has gone to the intense study of what is going on with me, what my relationship with alcohol is, and how it’s been impacting my life. After that, I work and spend as much time as possible with my dog. There just hasn’t been a lot of time to sustain a social life. I’ve tried, but I’ve definitely noticed a shift. I know it’s not forever and my challenge is to not take any of it personally until I am ready to begin rebuilding — and understanding that my circle of friends may look very different when I come out on the other side.

We’ll see.

Day. Day. Day. Day. Day. (zzzz)

It’s August 9 and another year has gone by. August 9 isn’t an anniversary of mine or a birthday or anything special to me, but I remember vividly that this time last year I had broken it off with the guy I was dating because I was going to take the month of August off from alcohol. I needed to be free of his ambivalence — and his extensive wine collection.

I told him I wanted a pause and he could call me in September if he wanted. He didn’t call.

So, it’s Day 20 of being alcohol free, and that also means three weeks that I’ve been in the intensive women’s support group. Right on cue I started hearing the wine harpy a little louder in my ear today, and I’m really glad I have the group to look forward to Thursday, keeping me accountable to myself until then. I notice this is about the time every time I quit when I start to really crave some the fun or feel-goodness, or maybe a few minutes of euphoria that red wine provided. I want to shrug off this “thing” I’m doing — you know, that not drinking thing — like a diet or not looking at Facebook from my phone, and take a day to cheat a little. I’ve been doing so well! (The harpy will say.) I deserve a cheat day and then back to it!

Just a half a bottle, no more.

And straight to the brain stem it would go. What a bunch of B.S. that harpy is full of. As if I have ever stopped at half a bottle in the last…oh man, who knows how many years.

But I’ve gotten better at playing it through to the end — the regret, the hangover, the stupid texts and IMs, the disappointment in myself, the depression, the binge-eating, the generally unmoored feeling that I am circling the drain of my own pretty good world.

Pretty good just isn’t good enough anymore. And let’s be honest: I’m not getting any younger and I’m single, and not only do I want the rest of my life to be way more fantastic on the whole than it currently is, I need/want to be fitter, healthier and have more money in 20 years when I retire than I was on track for while pouring a bottle or two of wine over my head every damn day. In fact most people would say that I really only have about eight or so really good earning years left before it all starts on the decline.

Oh geez, that is a depressing thought. And right before bedtime.

I do have to say these 20 days have been really easy. I guess there’s something to be said for practicing them over and over for a year. 🙂 But I hold no illusions. I know the deal. I’ve said it before and so have plenty of others: it’s going to get harder — probably a lot harder — before it starts to get easier. And there will be challenges. It’s only day 20. I have a least 40 days to go before (by most accounts) it starts to get a wee bit easier. Two more times what I’ve already done, and I’m kind of expecting the drinker’s voice to start getting louder, not quieter. It’s panic time for our old friend, Wolfie.

Time is so strange. Three weeks is really such a short period of time. It just zips on by. But at the exact same time can seem so very long. So, so very long. I guess that’s one of the things I’ve really learned too: I’ve tried to do my best to enjoy each day because they are going to pass slowly and I just need to accept that. Each one of them. One on top of the other.

Day.

Day.

Day.

And any hard thing I’m doing — quitting drinking, dieting, exercising, projects at work, wondering if the interesting man will call but being patient and trusting whatever happens — will move steadily along if I just pace myself, take good care of myself, get lots of sleep and embrace the slowness. Trust. Good things are ahead.

Step back and breathe, and remember the bigger picture. The bigger YES, as Laura McKowen so beautifully put it.

I’m really noticing the urge to want to rush progress. I want to BE at Day  50 or Day 100. I want to be there already! I want to BE with a life partner at my side, loving me. I want to BE thinner and feel great now or BE stronger so I can do that damned yoga pose better today and tomorrow. Now. I want those future things NOW.

But I have to work for them. Steadily and consistently. Patiently and faithfully. If I expect results (or miracles) too quickly and quit before they come, I’ll never get there. I’m having a lot of impatience with this process, and never too far from impatience is his best bud, boredom. I’m calmer, more contented, more comfortable and confident without alcohol, but every day I still fight the urge to feed my dopamine receptors all day, and I’m not super successful so far. That’s where sugar keeps coming in. And Facebook. Argh.

Last time I was alcohol free for 34 days I noticed that start to change. That’s not so far away. Two weeks. I can hold my breath if I have to for two weeks. But I won’t have to.

Slow and steady wins the race. I won’t give up.

Rachel. Day 20.

p.s., I took my first *really* hot yoga class tonight and once I got through the feeling that I had taken a wrong turn and was somehow mistakenly standing in the middle of a pizza oven, I really liked it.

Tonight I went on a sober date

…and when he walked me back to my door (we had been “having a drink” within walking distance of my apartment), I didn’t kiss him just because I’d been wondering about his lips all night. In fact, I didn’t do anything I’ll wonder (or cringe) about tomorrow morning. I didn’t say anything snarky or coarsely sarcastic or talk too much or too loudly at all. We didn’t stay too long or have a second (or third) unplanned glass or get too personal or intimate; we didn’t think we were having more fun than we would realize tomorrow we really were. I didn’t progressively look more tired or sloppy or flushed. I didn’t eat too much. I didn’t spend too much. I didn’t try too hard.

When I arrived, he was as cute as I’d hoped he’d be, and I ordered a lavender soda because the bartender didn’t have anything with shrub, and besides, I’d never tried the lavender. They served it to me in a tall water glass with a fat black straw, and when I said to my date that what I really wanted was a lowball glass and a wedge of lime, he popped right up and asked the bartender for them both. I transformed my clumsy, juvenile-looking drink into something that looked like a grown woman on a date would be holding it (sans straw). I made a little joke about the glass and the limes, and he seemed unfazed and ordered a glass of red wine without asking why I wasn’t joining him for a bottle. It took him about an hour to get to the bottom of that glass of wine. He didn’t order a second.

We had (what I thought was) a fun conversation and then he walked me back to the front door of my building. Oh, I do love it when men are gentlemen, and he made a joke about protecting me, which I also secretly loved. When we reached the door, he had “the look” (girls, you know the look) and if I had been floating on my 2-3 glasses of wine, I probably would have kissed him then. I’d have just made that happen. But instead, I hugged him close enough that he could smell my perfume if he were paying attention (and I’m pretty sure he was paying attention), and then we said goodbye. He walked back up the street toward his car.

I don’t know if he’ll call (text) again. I’ve found these things are hard to predict. Even when they seem like they will, they don’t always. Sure, I suppose in retrospect I may not have always been the best judge from behind such thick, cab-colored wine goggles. But either way, whether he wants to see me again or he doesn’t, I’m glad I didn’t drink tonight.

For all of these reasons, and so many more. I’m sanguine and I have absolutely no regrets.

Rachel. Day 13.