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.

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

 

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.

 

 

Busting out of prison (Don’t quit before the miracle!)

Don’t worry, I’m here. I’m alright. I’m sober.

I just had an intense weekend and sort of lost my buzz (pun only partially intended) for blogging every day. When “blog every night no matter what” went head-to-head with “avoid overwhelm,” the latter won.

It was a really intense weekend and maybe I’ll recount some of it in the coming days. Need to get back on the proverbial blogging horse somehow, so here we go. Baby steps. Tonight was another intense evening with the person who shall go unnamed for the time being, so here I am, still up way past my bedtime.

Not good. I’ll try to sleep a little longer tomorrow to catch up, ’cause Lord Knows I need my sleep.

Anyhow, today a woman on another private FB group I follow posted the most amazing thing. I won’t say her name as I want to protect her anonymity, but I do want to give her credit, so I’ll use her initials, C.C.

I just loved it, and it really has me thinking about things in a new way again. Like I’ve been peeling the damn onion on this non-drinking thing since last fall, layer-by-layer, getting to the root core of what I really think and need, and changing in layers too. Morphing. Coming to terms with what alcohol means in my life on my own terms, and by listening and learning to so many others who have come before me. It sometimes feels like a bit of an Escher painting, spirals and spirals that appear to be going inward — but look again, they are moving outward. The learning, the growing, the morphing…the learning some more…

Here is what C.C. said today:

Hello my friends! I am noticing a lot of folks struggling in recent weeks. Spring is here, weather is warmer, the allure of seasonal drinking and memories of alcohol drenched summers will be calling to us. I just wanted to share some thoughts I’ve been having lately.
I just passed the 6 month mark last Sunday. How do I explain how different my life is? Everything is different. Everything. I never realized what a prison I had built for myself with alcohol. Alcohol governed my entire life. It was the Donald Trump of my soul. It was the center of my universe. I woke every morning and my eyes were on the clock for when I could open my wine. And if I had a concert to play that night, I was in a shitty mood all day because I wouldn’t be able to drink. And if I couldn’t drink, then I had nothing to look forward to. It controlled my life. It stole favor from my husband and children. From my job, that isn’t even a job, (I mean for crying out loud, I play the cello and I’m lucky enough to get paid for it). And I resented my amazing career, because it was an impediment to my drinking. I guess what I want all the newbies to know is how much BETTER life is to be out of that prison. So many of you are thinking, as I did, that “I’m not that bad. I’ve never gotten a DUI. I’ve never spent a night in jail.” But you are wrong. That’s a bunch of crap. You spend every night in jail, in a prison. Alcohol is your warden. There is a whole giant life out there waiting for you. There is a huge part of your brain and heart that awaken in the months after you take your last drink. And you realize that you have been operating on half power for years. You’ve been living life with the dimmer switch on. And I’m not going to lie, it’s not always awesome. Life doesn’t always look perfect when the lights are on full power, but by God at least you can see what the damage is and have half a shot at making it better. And the good stuff? The good stuff is still there, but bigger and brighter than you’ve ever seen it before. Take off your shackles. One day at a time. One hour at a time. Don’t quit before the miracle!!!!!!! Trust that the discomfort will dissipate. At six months I rarely even think about alcohol. But at six days, I thought I would literally die if I had to make dinner without my glass of wine, or do laundry without my glass of wine, or watch a stupid animated movie with my kids without my glass of wine. I thought I was being punished. But then slowly, the changes started happening. I slept like I have never slept before. Deep, thick sleep. I had energy in the morning to have a good attitude for my kids as we did the frantic “get out the door, dammit, why don’t you have your shoes on, what do you mean you haven’t brushed your teeth” routine. I started telling my husband when things bothered me. I was more direct. I wasn’t drinking at my feelings anymore. I wasn’t drinking “at” people when I was angry. So, that shit had to get out, and when it did, real conversations started happening. And guess what else? I’m a better cellist now than I was six months ago. My brain is clicking faster, clearer. My reaction time is faster. Yes, I still have an occasional bad day, when I fantasize about being a normal drinker. But then I remember that I was NEVER a normal drinker. Alcohol always came with a C.C. sized penitentiary attached to it. And I never want to live in those four walls again. So what am I calling for? Nothing short of a massive prison break. Bust out of there and join us. The world is a big beautiful place and life is short. I love you all and thank you so much for supporting me through my escape. And in gratitude, I will be here idling the get away car as you rappel down the walls of your Alcatraz.

LOVE.

I have a wedding all weekend starting Friday in Portland, and then I leave next Friday for my 2.5-week trip to Europe for work. I’m going to keep this and other favorites in my pocket. I’m newly inspired to not “quit before the miracle!” and I will keep on pushing until I stop caring about booze. I do feel it coming, bit-by-bit, layer-by-pungent layer. 🙂 I’m closing in on it.

(and I will write again tomorrow…)

xo Rachel. Day 18.

 

It’s Saturday, which calls for a two-fer

Saturday: Part 1.

I’m headed to rowing this morning for the first time in a couple of weeks. I was out of town for some of it, but if I’m honest, I haven’t been for the most part because I needed a break. And last week my mood was down and I didn’t go to bed Friday until very late. 1:30 a.m. or something crazy. I was ruminating and spinning and feeling lonely (Danger!), and I realized it was more important to get a full night’s sleep — even if it meant missing rowing. That was probably the right call — it turned out to be the unplanned Day 1 — but still. My first day of re-entry on the water in a while and my hand callouses (my badges of honor!) have dramatically shrunk. Boo.

At the recommendation of my coach, C., I bought the book “The Depression Cure” and a sun lamp. I’ve been feeling down for weeks, which is too long, and I think it’s just the record-breaking wet winter we’ve had here in Seattle (I need light). I want to do whatever I can to avoid medication, if possible. I’m not anti-meds when they’re needed. Not at all. But I’ll try natural remedies first. And I’m actually feeling better this week, by a lot.

Maybe it’s the boys paying attention to me. That always feels good.

Maybe it’s the impending spring (flowers are blooming!).

Maybe it’s shifts at work and my trip to Europe (for work) is less than 3 weeks away!

Maybe it’s me coming to terms with some things in a healthy way and choosing to be grateful. Choosing Grace.

Maybe it’s just natural rhythms and a little bit of everything.

Whatever it is, I am grateful.

And now, off to rowing!

Rachel. Day 8.

100 Days vs Forever

On my call with my life coach, C., Wednesday, I told her how I was just committing to 100 days and then I’d see how I feel.  I don’t know why it’s so scary to say it’s forever, even though sitting here, I can’t imagine starting to drink again. I know that doesn’t work. I can sit here with my logical brain and know I don’t want that. And yet…I went through examples of people I know about who have started off with a short-term goal and then just…kept going. Like Belle. Like Hey Monster. Like the guy I know who quit drinking when his wife got pregnant and that was over a year ago and he “just kept going.”

So…I figured that is a safe way to start.

“I’m going to challenge you on that,” C. said. “You have been telling me for months about all of the very good reasons why you wanted to quit drinking for good. Why would that change after 100 days?”

She was right, of course. It’s scary to say it’s forever. I’m not sure why, but it is.

“I know why,” she said. “It’s the finality of it. And it’s a loss. It’s okay to admit that. You’ve had a lot of your identity tied up in red wine, and that doesn’t change overnight. It’s a big deal and it’s really hard.”

I love her for the way she gives me permission to feel things as they should be felt.

Because even though I’ve read Jason Vale and Allen Carr and Annie Grace, and I really do believe it is a good thing and I am gaining in huge ways by quitting, I still have to let myself mourn and process this loss. This is a healthy thing.

“It’s a lot like when you are at your college graduation, and you have that best friend who is moving to the other side of the country, and you say ‘This isn’t goodbye, I’ll see you soon!’ but you know IT’S A LIE, because life is changing forever.”

I also love her for her powerful metaphors. I could totally put myself in that place, there with the pain and fear of the finality of something like leaving my best friend for the other side of the country, and nothing will ever be the same again. Even if it’s a good thing, it’s still bloody scary to admit.

Yes, the finality of it. There’s something so existential about it. So BIG. I’m still working out why it’s different than when I quit eating meat, but it is. I mean, despite the ubiquity of bacon, on a lot of levels, alcohol is a much more powerful influence in our society and our communities and our sense of selves, than the meat we eat. And I enjoyed meat (until I didn’t), but wine provided so much comfort and emotional support (however hollow), there must be something to that too.

It must be the part of my brain that still remembers the friend/lover/confident I thought I had in a big bottle of red. The dysfunctional relationship. The bad habit. It hasn’t really been that long since I broke up with red wine and he still sends me love letters from time-to-time, begging for me to come back and give him a whirl.

I can’t quit you, red wine! 

But I can.

C. was totally in support of my finding my voice in this. Going from avoidance to “I’m on a cleanse”-type excuses for not drinking, to hedges like “I haven’t been drinking,” to “I don’t drink.” It’s a process that takes time. That’s normal.

“It’s a lot like the coming out of the closet process,” she said. And she has some experience on the subject.

I laughed. “Yeah?”

“Yeah, at first someone might be, like, I kissed a girl in college but it didn’t mean anything. Then later she might say, Oh yeah, I make out with girls but only when I’m drunk. Eventually she works her way up to coming out as lesbian or queer or bi or whatever, but it’s normal for it to happen gradually. In layers.”

I can honestly say I haven’t heard that comparison before. Haha! But I can totally get it! Makes sense. Putting one’s sexuality out there is huge and personal and people sometimes judge — and once it’s out there, it’s hard to take back.

I was in a meeting this afternoon and I was a bit cocky (teasing) to my bosses at one point. My big boss (the President) said, “Rachel is sure on fire today! You need a drink!” 

A totally harmless thing to say, but every time he or others make off-handed comments like that, I’m brought back to a place of uncertainty. Discomfort. Of course, if he’d said, “You need a ham sandwich!” I would have laughed and said, “Ha! I don’t eat meat!” But instead, I just laughed it off and changed the subject. No need to announce to a room full of colleagues that I DON’T DRINK! That would just be weird.

And soon enough I’ll be comfortable and secure, and won’t tense up and panic a little when someone surprises me with a mention of drinking. So, now, I’ll honor my feelings and embrace the process of coming out sober. I’m definitely still straight (although I have kissed a girl when I was drunk :)), but I don’t drink

Yo, repeat after me…totally chill, with a quiet confidence: Haha, well that’s especially funny since I don’t drink.

Rachel. Day 6.

94 days to go (+ forever)  Oof, the finality of it. Even Belle tells herself she can drink again when she’s 70. That works for her to take the pressure off. I can see the wisdom in that.

The Law of Attraction

It’s past my bedtime, so I’d better make this quick. Getting to bed on time is one of my most important self-care tools, after all. I feel loads better today than I did yesterday, and it helped that I talked to my life coach, C., today and she was awesome, as usual.

I told her about the juice bar date I had with the guy who said he hardly ever drinks except sometimes when he’s entertaining a client for work — and what a relief that was. And that when he asked me to dinner and I told him I didn’t eat meat (but I’ll eat fish), he didn’t skip a beat and came up with suggestions for sushi or other restaurants…

Sweet.

“That’s so great!” she said. “That’s the kind of person you want, someone who shares and supports your lifestyle!”

And I told her about a guy at work who just started paying (a little too much) attention to me (when it rains, it pours), and asked me if I’d be interested in going out “for a drink.” Still buzzing from the day before when the SMART therapist asked me, “Why not just say ‘I don’t drink’?” instead of making up excuses, I managed to answer the work guy with, “Well, I haven’t really been drinking.” 

He also didn’t seem phased. He said, “Well, a drink doesn’t have to be alcohol… it can be any kind of drink.” Turns out, he’s been training for marathons the last several years and hardly ever drinks. “I can feel it affect my training when I do,” he said, and added, “So…you are a healthy person…” It was kind of a statement and kind of a question.

“I try,” I answered, suddenly feeling a bit shy about the whole thing. I hadn’t really thought about myself that way, but in that moment I was reminded that this is a positive thing, not drinking. A very healthy and good thing. I feel nothing but positive about the fact that I don’t eat meat — and it is also really healthy, even though that’s not my first motivation. It will take some time and practice (lots of practice), but I look forward to reflexively feeling the same way about living life alcohol free.

C. was thrilled. “I just love how you are attracting people into your life who share your values.”

The Law of Attraction. I believe it, and man, I’ve been working hard to turn my life, my energy, myself around. Some people believe we all have a frequency, and we attract people into our lives who operate on the same frequency. Good, bad, high, low, functional, disfunctional, healthy, unhealthy, and so on.

I want my frequency to be positive and healthy and passionate and uplifting, and quitting drinking is a huge part of that. And that’s who I want to attract into my life too.

Baby steps. 🙂

Rachel. Day 5.

The Week Begins

It’s Monday and I made a commitment to blog every day for the next 97 days, even if just to say: I AM SOBER. AMEN.

So that’s pretty much it. I went to a SMART Recover class tonight, which was interesting. A cognitive behavioral approach to meetings facilitated by a therapist, focusing on thoughts and behaviors and interaction. No horror stories. No monologues. No powerlessness or talk of God. It was actually OK. I think I’ll go again next week.

One thing that was interesting: At one point when the therapist asked what I say to people when I say I’m not drinking. One of the answers I give is that I’m on a 100 Day Challenge, or (like last night when I was on a date — that’s another story) that I’m on a “cleanse.” He said, “You could just say, ‘I don’t drink.’ And it really doesn’t require explanation.”

Weird. It sounded so easy when he said it. 🙂 Hm.

I’m tired and I have to work some and get to bed early/on time — another commitment I made to myself.

So… g’night.

Rachel. Day 3.

The Wine Harpy

It’s Sunday morning and the Wine Harpy is asleep. Last night she tried just once to tap me on the shoulder, but I looked her straight in the eye and said, Are you fucking kidding me?, and she actually backed up and disappeared. She’ll be back another day, and may not be so easily dissuaded, but for today, this day, I’ll take it.

I like thinking of that other voice that assails my mind and assaults my peace as a harpy.

“A word to describe a woman who draws a man into her grasp by pleasing the victim’s biggest desire only to destroy all that makes him what he is.” — UrbanDictionary.com

Haha! How perfect is that? Replace “man” with “Rachel” and it is perfectly perfect.

A woman who draws Rachel into her grasp by pleasing the victim’s biggest desire only to destroy all that makes her what she is.

I love it. THAT’s what the Wine Harpy is capable of. I’m getting off this elevator now, Hell Boy, before it goes down any further.

I found this illustration online by B.R. Guthrie. Awesome, and utterly terrifying. (I can’t even watch scary movie trailers without covering my eyes, so I’m that person…)

harpy

The (Wine) Harpy

Zentient posted this MOST AMAZING video of the harpies. I’m going to play this to myself next time she comes a-tapping, and laugh in her face.

I can’t actually embed the video, but if you want to see it, please, oh please, watch it on YouTube –> Terrifying Harpies  You won’t be sorry. 🙂

***

I feel good today. More up and hopeful than I have in a while. Maybe it’s the feeling that I have a new beginning again and I didn’t wait until Leap Day like the Wine Harpy was telling me I should. “You need a REAL soberversary, one that you’ll remember and that will be special,” she kept saying. “It can’t be any old arbitrary day. How will you remember it? It won’t have the magnitude to really stick. Just drink a few more days (in a row), and then you’ll be ready.”

Well, besides the fact that that logic is flawed and every day is really as arbitrary as the next, if you think about it, I honestly was feeling so bad about drinking I couldn’t imagine drinking a few more days. And part of me worried that making it into a huge big deal on Leap Day would actually work against me. Like starting a diet on a Monday. Or after the holidays. Or on New Year’s Day. That never freakin’ works.

Why not just start today? Get my life going again? <–That was me speaking.

So I did. And I remembered, my Dad quit drinking on an arbitrary day in August, 35 years ago. He says he had to quit or his drinking was going to kill him. For me, I don’t want to live any more of my life under the voodoo mind control of alcohol. I don’t want it to kill my life, my hope, my future, before it actually kills me. I’m getting off this one-way shit train to hell now, thankyouveddymuch.

***

The sun is trying to come out today, in between rain showers. I’m breathing the light in as if it can actually fill my lungs. (I think it actually may.) That’s how much I need it right now, the light. Bub (my dog) and I are going for a long walk in a few minutes, rain be damned.

I’m struck by thinking: I’m 47 years old and there isn’t enough time in the day. So much to do, to accomplish. So many people to know and love well. So much to experience.

I’ll move out of this fancy apartment this summer and into a place that is much less expensive. I need to save more and manage my money better too. That is some of the best self-care I can think of.

But for now, I’ll just keep breathing.

IMG_7275

Some rain in the foreground, but sunny skies ahead. #metaphor

Day 2. Rachel.