Seven months and this journey ain’t no rocket ship

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Lady Ostrich wouldn’t actually bury her head in the sand to hide from scary shit (that’s a myth), and neither will I

Today marks seven months without alcohol.

I’ve had a few dreams lately…but I know nobody wants to hear about another person’s dreams, so I won’t go into it.

All I’ll say is they’ve been of the variety where a) I drink accidentally because I “forgot” I quit drinking, b) ¬†I’m thinking about drinking and I’m stressing over how I’ll explain it to all of my sober friends…or c) I have super sexy time with someone I really shouldn’t have been doing it with (but clearly really wanted to), and then I just lay with them, skin on skin, for hours…

I like those dreams best.

My recent work trip experience (when I nearly drank) has caused me to do some serious thinking about what I *really* want, what’s most important to me, what place alcohol had in my life that last 5-10 years before I finally stopped drinking, and what I’ve been learning since.

I keep saying: It’s really amazing what you can learn about yourself when you quit disappearing into a bottle of wine every night…oh, and it’s amazing what you learn when you quit drinking and you ramp up the therapy to several hours a week. ūüôā

It’s¬†a recipe for some warp drive self-discovery.

But I think the best part has been that unexpected feeling of being more firmly rooted in the ground than I think I’ve ever been. And if I were to try to break down how that is happening, I think it partly¬†comes from a growing self-awareness (thanks sober therapy!) and partly from just feeling better physically and having gone seven months without regretfully saying or doing anything booze-fueled. There’s something in the regular cycle of self-recriminations that has a way of eroding¬†one’s confidence.

Of rotting away one’s chewy center.

So, here I am. Day 215 or something and I’m committed to going a year without alcohol before I revisit what this all means to me — and yes, by that I mean, whether this is really forever or not. Some days I think it probably is…and some days…some days I still wonder.

Last night I was feeling a bit lonely and needing something.

Needing. Longing…

I felt that old pull of wanting to just bliss out (or blot out). To satisfy that soft sorrow with a fast hit to the central nervous system.

But here’s the thing: I’ve learned enough now to know that the whole “escaping into a bottle” thing may have felt like it was working for those painful years, but it turns out, drinking when I could have been feeling what I was feeling was just delaying the inevitable. Drinking was a symptom of my pain. And¬†unless I wanted to stay drunk all the time (which, fortunately, I didn’t), I wasn’t actually escaping from anything. Not for long, anyway.

And p.s., I was fucking up my brain’s ability to produce dopamine in a normal way. Whoops.

“You did what you knew how to do. And when you knew better, you did better.” –¬†Maya Angelou

So I give myself a break. My path is my path. Drinking the way I was drinking was my “dangerously misguided self-care,” and it worked for a while, when I needed it. Now my work is to get at the root of the WHY so I don’t go back there. I think we can all agree, I don’t want to do that.

What did I need last night? Here’s what I came up with:

  • Despite having a great couple of days connecting with some amazing people (including lots of non-drinkers, whom I adore), by last night I was feeling lonely.
  • I wanted to feel held.
  • I was working through some new realizations about what having a “partner” in life means, what it doesn’t mean, and what I might want in a partner. This brings up a lot of old stuff, of course.
  • I wanted to tap into my joy and pleasure. On demand.
  • I wanted to feel sexy and beautiful. (?? I have no idea where this came from, but my subconscious told me it needed to be included…)
  • There was a nagging anxiety coming from a little bit of work stuff that I wanted to soothe.
  • Joy and pleasure. Impatience.
  • Joy and pleasure.

So.

I’m not going to drink about any of this.

I AM making it a priority to find sources of joy and pleasure in ways that don’t include wine or food. I am going to get curious about that and see where it leads me. I am looking at how I¬†spend my spare time, and begin practicing using that time for things that bring me joy, or make me feel like I’m working¬†on things that are in line with my life goals or values. Like my writing. Or my activism. And building my home. And loving my dog.

And moving my body. Moving my body needs to be a priority in all of this .

So there it is. That’s the honest truth of where I am at seven months.

And one more thing: I’ve also realized that I might need to scale back a bit on listening to podcasts and reading the blogs of sober 30-somethings whose lives have “changed 180 degrees” from where they were when they were drinking and are now AMAZING and FANTASTIC. Because as inspired as I was by their insights when I first began this process, and I’m so grateful they helped me get woke, I’m beginning to see that the promise of “attracting” a completely different/renewed/better life in sobriety may be a bit counter-productive for those of us whose choices weren’t “QUIT DRINKING¬†or DIE.”

Because for me, the “miracles” of living alcohol free look more and more to be a quiet process of newfound self-love and -awareness. Of confidence and connection. Of perspective and possibility.

Mine isn’t a story of the Phoenix ascending from the ashes into a glistening new life of career, relationships, fame, and so on.

Mine is a story of figuring out what I have to offer the world, what brings me joy, how I can be of service and how I can love.

We shall see.

xo Rachel

Day 215

“These are the days that must happen to you.” – Walt Whitman

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??! ūüôā

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

 

 

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.

 

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?

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. ūüėČ 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 ros√©??

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. ūüôā

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 clich√© 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.

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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. ūüôā

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. ūüėČ

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. ūüôā 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.