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

 

 

This is Where I Start

Last week ¬†was an unusually intense week. Having spent the better part of the last year not drinking, learning to “feel the feels” is nothing new at this point. Early on I realized that (sometimes really powerful and seemingly random) memories and the (equally powerful, very much not random) feelings they invoked were coming up with a lot more regularity than they had before, and it was easy to make the connection between the missing alcohol and the oozing¬†hotspring of goo urping up¬†from my subconsciousness.

Pretty much one of the first things you learn as a quitting-the-booze boozer is to get prepared to feel your feelings.

This wasn’t that. Not exactly.

This week was way more seismic than that. Like, when there’s a tsunami off the coast of Japan or somewhere, and 10,000 miles away a day later the surf comes in all jacked up and super-sized. ¬†I wasn’t sure why this was happening, these IMAX memories and feelings and fears and hopes, but I was aware of it and was doing my best to bob along in my little alcohol-free dingy and ride that mega-wave action, ¬†letting it pass through to be on its way.

And then Liz Gilbert posted her incredibly beautiful post about her and her best friend (and partner), Rayya, and it was like a two-by-four landed right between my eyes.

When I first saw it, I was at work, and I could hardly concentrate until I spent a minute trying to really FEEL what it was that was so amazingly upending about it. It felt personal to me, even though it had nothing to do with me.

Of course it had nothing to do with me.

Did it?

This last year has been a nearly constant exercise of¬†looking at my life and how I’ve been living it. And to my very soul I was moved to pay attention to this moment, even though I wasn’t immediately sure why it was affecting me so. After taking a little time to think about it– and to let myself listen to what I was feeling — I came to this:

…Besides being extraordinarily beautiful and heartbreaking in its message, I was absolutely blown away by Liz’s example of living a completely authentic life, open to this love.

…and I’ve realized that my inner circle has become very fragile this last year since I started the process of quitting drinking. I’ve been isolating, which is normal for a while, but I still haven’t been ready to step back into my friendships on my terms.

…and…

…and making an impact on the world.
…and asking the Universe what I’m meant to do and listening with curiosity.
…and being someone’s person.
…and having a person.

 

Wave after wave.

The night before Liz’s post I couldn’t sleep. It just about never happens to me. Maybe I had eaten too much sugar (gelato) too late, but that wouldn’t be unusual. What was unusual was how intense those feelings were. Fears, memories, hopes, wishes, loneliness, responsibilities, desires… it was a Technicolor movie that went from scene to scene to scene across the backs of my eyes, and none of my normal attempts to soothe and quiet my mind would work. Wave after wave they flooded in. I was still up at 1am before I took a 1/2 a sleeping pill and ate some nuts and chips and went back to bed to try again.

And I couldn’t help but feel like seeing Liz’s intense, beautiful post the next day was related.

I’ve been asking the Universe to tell me what I’m supposed to do in my life and help me listen. I’ve been asking the Universe for my partner in life and to be open to whomever that might be. Liz and Rayya’s courage and truth¬†jarred me a little into opening my eyes (or heart) a little wider to listen. And to wonder about all the potential ahead. And to hope for courage and growth and progress.

And I truly believe this is the journey I’m on. Like I’m on the precipice of new knowing, and there may be days of tsunami waves as the Universe begins to realize that I’m serious about this not drinking thing and I’m getting ready to receive what it has to offer. No matter how new and scary and fucking REAL that might be.

I have every intention to build an incredible life from this place. From where I am today. and even though I don’t know yet what that means, and it’s hard to describe, I think the messages this week were a gift. Test balloons to see if I’m paying attention. It makes me wonder if important things are beginning to shake loose, and I plan to be ready to catch whatever it is I need to catch when the Universe sends it my way.

I’ll do my best to stay open and pay attention. I’m on the verge of something.

As Rob Bell says in his book, How To Be Here:

This is where I start.

And not to come back full circle to Bradley Cooper, but — I mean, who doesn’t want to think about Bradley Cooper if given the chance? — I was reminded again today about what he said about the revelation he had that made him quit drinking, which was that he knew that he was not fulfilling his potential (and was going to “sabotage his life”) unless he stopped.

I may have clued into this nearly 20 years later than he did, but it’s not too late for me yet. I, too, want to live an authentic, courageous, vivid, impactful life.

This is where I start. 

xo Rachel.
Day 52.

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.

Two weeks, focus and refocus

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

Deep breath…

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

And breathe.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rachel.

Day 14

It gets harder before it gets easier

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And man, that tunnel can feel long.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Deep breath…

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

xo Rachel.

Day 10.

Mac ‘n’ cheese cures all ills

I’m exhausted and when my coach asked the team who wanted to sit out from rowing tonight because we were one too many, I volunteered. I was there. I don’t know what I was thinking except how tired I am. I have two more chances to row before I’m gone for 2.5 weeks, and it was the most beautiful day we’ve had since last fall. And yet, I found myself driving to Whole Foods instead of rowing, on a mission to get ice cream because what I was hearing in my head was that tonight wine might be a nice escape. It is my Friday, after all, and I’m wrecked.

The good news is that I can go ahead and have that thought and the counter-thoughts are growing stronger, strong enough to overtake them quickly. I don’t want to be in this “prison” anymore. I don’t want to feel like shit tomorrow. I don’t want to do or say things that I will regret. I want my spirit to continue to soar up and up. Good things are starting to happen and maybe I’m being superstitious or supernatural or supersomething, but I can’t help but connect the shift that seems to be happening to¬†how my energy, my vibe, my FREQUENCY is shifting since I’ve been quitting drinking. And while I think I’ve been losing a little weight and it feels great, tonight I decided to have some ice cream.

Of course, by the time I left Whole Foods, I had already snacked on some takeaway Mac ‘n’ Cheese and country fried tofu. It was marked “Comfort Food” with a big ole’ sign and hell yes I took comfort in it.¬†Sure… I was regretting the calories I hadn’t burned, and the massive fat calories I ate instead — big time. But… I was heading home to watch the sun set with my Bub, planning to do some work I needed to do with much less stress, and then hitting¬†bed early, which is really hard after a night of rowing. And I didn’t buy wine.

I will start anew tomorrow on the fitness front. The sun is supposed to be glorious again.

This has been a really hard couple of weeks at work. WAY too much work to do and not enough time to do it. Execs breathing down my neck about getting to the next thing, doing more, doing it differently. I love my job, but this has been a not fun, hard week.

And yet, I can brag to myself that I have been exhausted and stressed and frustrated and quite literally near the breaking point, and I still haven’t drunk about it. It doesn’t even cross my mind at work (thank god), and when I get home, most days, it doesn’t cross my mind then either. It’s really just Fridays and Saturdays that are still the hard days, and I know from experience (the last time I made it more than a month), that the weekend cravings start to fade pretty quickly too.

Can’t wait for the “miracle” to happen. ūüôā

My life coach suggested I might ask my doc about beta blockers for the times when I’m feeling really anxious, like when I’m on a date. Those tend to be my very most difficult times to not drink. So, I asked my naturopath about it, and she said that before I go to that extreme (I guess beta blockers mess with your heart function and a side effect can be dizziness and depression, among other things), I should consider a natural alternative called¬†Kavinace, by Neuroscience. I ordered it and we’ll see. I think it arrived today and maybe I’ll test it out this weekend while I’m at the wedding stuff in Portland. Because really, if I can conquer those anxious situations without booze, I’m going to be happy as a pig in the shizzle. Happy as a clam. Happy as a tick on a fat dog.

You get the picture.

Here’s to mac ‘n’ cheese instead of merlot.

Rachel. Day 20.