The Kindness of Strangers

You have everything you need. Right here, right now.

You are enough.

This is the message that made it through the chaff to my ears this week. Reading a book I ordered on a whim about dating — The Tao of Dating — the writer said those words I’ve heard so many times before, but for some reason, I was finally ready to really hear them:

I have everything I need. Right here, right now. 

And if I’m not happy or fulfilled or content, nothing else coming into my life is going to change that. No boyfriend. No higher salary. No smaller pant size.

Theoretically, I have everything I need.

So, yes…that’s the question: How much of my struggle is the filter of my own perspective? They say more than 50% of one’s happiness is a choice. A choice. Perspective. Mind over matter. Quite literally, faking it until making it.

I have everything I need to be content. I have everything I need to be content. 

Still, in the past I’ve made some bad decisions. I chose a bad marriage. I’ve trusted some of the wrong people and given too much of myself away.

And for a while I was drinking too much.

But that’s all turning around now. I have been treating myself much better in the last several years. Trusting my gut and inner voice more and turning away from unhealthy people or situations. I’ve been working hard to heal some of the most difficult traumas and finally, about a year ago I started the stopping of the drinking habit that probably began as a misguided coping strategy.

Healing. Learning. Taking loving care of myself. And this week, I saw a glimmer of what it might feel like to really believe that I have everything I need, right now.

To be honest, it flickers in and out like a holographic malfunction, but…baby steps.

Sometimes mindfulness helps a bit. I don’t know if I’ll ever be a very good meditator, but I try to stay present. It’s a hard habit to break, living in the past and the future, fretting, hoping, wishing, regretting, but I do find some moments of peace and acceptance in the now. I think I’m making progress.

I was in a short mindfulness class about a week ago and the leader began talking about how, in order to find a place of calm, some people imagine themselves as a very deep sea. There might be a lot of activity up top on the surface, but the sea runs very deep, and way deep down, the sea is quiet and still.

I was reminded of the exercise we did last winter in my mindfulness class when I was a MOUNTAIN. That one resonated with me, and at a family gathering where I wasn’t drinking, I kept saying to myself, I am a mountain, I am a mountain… While I imagined the skies and weather moving in all around me and I, the mountain, remained steady and unchanging. It got me through the night.

The leader said some people also think of themselves as the sky, and when the clouds come in, thick and dark with rain, one can just move above the clouds to find blue sky again, and the sun…

The sun…

About eight years ago I was going through a really tough time. I was in a marriage that wasn’t working, with step-kids who were straight out of horrible step-kids/mean girls central casting, and the man who was supposed to be my partner — their father  — didn’t have the courage to support me. I was on my own.

After a particularly destructive and disheartening day (the writing was on the wall for my marriage, but I held on a few more years), I went to a local pub for lunch and a beer. Mostly the beer. I was pretty upset and I just needed to get away from them.

I sat and thought about what had happened that day and what it might mean for my future. I think my heart knew the prognosis for my marriage was bleak, but I had no idea what I was going to do. I sat there with my beer and soup, and pretended to read the monthly city rag, but really I was going over my options. I felt trapped and a bit lost, and I was in so, so much pain.

My eyes filled with tears and I fought them back. I scratched notes to myself across the newsprint and looked out the window. What was I going to do?

That’s when the bartender approached my table with what looked like a napkin in his hand. He said, “Another customer wanted me to give this to you,” and he offered me the napkin.

On it, that someone had written this message:

I looked up and scanned the room. There was hardly anyone else in the pub, and no one who appeared as though they might have sent this message. No one looking in my direction. No one who might fit the description of kind mystery stranger.

He never appeared.

I kept the note, obviously, and I’ve carried it with me through the years. I never showed my husband or told him what happened, and we did finally get divorced. I’ve moved several times since that day, and each time I move I come across this note again. I cherish it, and I wonder if the kind man (I’m certain it was a man) could possibly have any idea how much his note meant to me that day, and on so many days since.

And I keep persevering.

Because

The sun still shines

above the clouds.

xo Rachel. Day 47.

ps. I’ve just accepted that I suck at proclamations of 30 day pledges to post every day, for gratitudes or anything else. If I’m tired or not in the right mood, it’s better I take care of myself in other ways, I’ve discovered. And I’m all about listening to what I need most these days. Isn’t that the point?

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

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

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

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



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

Rachel. Day 39. 

Lucky (Day) 13

Now that I’ve committed to writing something every night for the next 87 days, I’m even more impressed by people like Belle who have managed to do it AND be interesting and insightful every single day.

Today is my Friday — I have tomorrow off — and I felt the teeniest craving to relax into a bottle of wine after rowing tonight. It didn’t last long, and instead I came home, snacked a little and watched an episode of “House of Cards.” They sure drink a lot on that show. They sure drink a lot on a lot of the shows I watch, as it turns out. Most of the time it doesn’t bug me, but sometimes… it does.

I’m still very much in that place where I feel like I’m inhabiting two selves at the same time: the self that thinks a glass of wine would be fun/satisfying/comforting/euphoric, and the self that is looking at that situation almost from outside of myself, and knows it isn’t at all what that first self has it cracked up to be. It’s like two sides of the Cab-colored looking glass. It’s going to take time to jettison the first self. I know.

I do keep hearing that voice again in the back of my head. The wine harpy, whispering  in my ear that after 100 days I’ll see how I feel. I’m not going to fight that voice anymore — not now.  I’ll just go all Aikido on it and bend like a reed. Whatever. Sure, harpy. Sounds fine, I say to her, but back off because I’m going a 100 days this time. It’s not forever, just 100 days. We’ll see how I feel then. Talk to me then.

“Stay Here.” I finally broke down and bought the “Stay Here” bracelet from Belle. I already have the “Not Today” bracelet — I wear it every day. But something about stay here has been resonating with me lately. Stay. Right. Here. I don’t want to think about 100 days or forever or next week. I’m just going to think about today. And maybe, if I’m feeling good and bold, I’ll think about tomorrow. But that’s it. I don’t need to sort out what I’m going to do on day 100 right now. I’m a helluva long way from that and it isn’t productive for me to be spending cycles on the philosophical merits of telling myself 100 days vs 100+ vs forever, etc. For now, I’m right here.

Stay here.

I have another date Saturday night with the guy, E. This time we’re going to see some music which starts kind of early (6:30 p.m.), so I left logistics open in case he wanted to make it a quick thing again like last time. (I’ve sometimes likened myself to a “dating autistic…I feel like I can’t read men’s expressions or behaviors accurately at all. like face blindness, but with romantic cues.) But he suggested we have a “late lunch/early dinner” at 4:30, so yay! I guess ‘be careful what you wish for,’ because now I’m definitely going to be with him for at least five hours, and all sober.

I’m going to do a lot of deep breathing and power posing (see: Amy Cuddy) before he comes to pick me up. 🙂 I’m also going to have a good talk with my life coach tomorrow about bringing my female energy to the date. Tips on how to be sexy and appealing. Oh, how I envy women who just get it. I know I don’t need wine to relax and have fun with him, but just try to tell that to my reptile brain! There’s a whole lotta years of programming to undo, and I’m diving in, head first (to mix metaphors).

The sun came out a bit today and it was beautiful. My coach responded to my email, and then masterfully addressed some of the team’s attitude issue during practice today. I was so relieved. I have to work tomorrow on my day off, but my good friend and I booked our airbnb apartment in Rome this morning and I’m so excited! Two weeks until I leave for Venice. I can’t wait. I’m very lucky and very grateful. It was a good day.

Rachel. Day 13.

2016: The Pleasure Principle

misty dayPleasure. I’ve been missing it.

And I’ve been kvetching a bit (OK, a LOT) about it lately in my posts — this bloody hatchet job to my reward center — and I’ve started to feel like I’ve lost the plot a bit with quitting drinking.

It’s only been 33 days, and I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about it.

Is it normal? I’m told it is. Will it pass? I’m told it will. Eventually. But it could take months, or even years to return to “normal.” Whatever that is.

WTF.

Yeah, I know all about the dopamine regulation my body has likely been doing a yeoman’s job of over the past many years, which has warped my natural ability to feel pleasure now that I’m not feeding it booze. Yeah, I know about PAWS (post-acute withdrawal syndrome) and that a sense of “flatness” and “inability to feel pleasure or joy,” which can last way longer than I want to think about without wanting to say fuck it all and drink again. Because, RIGHT? Who wants to live like that? (I take some comfort in the fact that I wasn’t an opiate addict or even hard liquor, so it may not take years to be normal again, but still. Yikes. This is why people pick up new addictions like shopping, eating or sex when they quit drinking. Yo comprendo! No bueno!)

And yeah, I know that not only are the holidays a GINORMOUS trigger time for many most people, I also happen to have hit my 30-day milestone smack in the middle of them. Great timing, Rachel. Way to up the ante on that one. Double your pleasure — or not, as it were.

So… a few nights ago I was sitting in bed, flicking through Instagram on my phone while telling the wine goblin to FUCK OFF FUCK OFF because he had grown louder and louder in my ears. I had started to worry a bit that this nagging craving that I’ve been denying, the one that wants to have just one drink to just feeeel good while also keeping sober (so logical!), would never go away. No matter what everyone says, I was worrying that the promises of IT GETS BETTER HOLD ON didn’t apply to me. Why? Because I’m different?! Or I’m doing it wrong?! Or I’m not ready?! Or who the hell knows why, but I was worried. I’ve been worried that this low-pleasure, fleeting joy and only glimpses of awe pond I’m floating in is the new normal.

Yes, I’ve been giving myself sober treats and getting out in the sun and reading blogs and message boards and emailing with Belle trying to pull out all my tools.

Still, I was flicking through Instagram, swirling in these thoughts of mild dread, when I came across this:

P1

Wow. Zing! The sexy, sensual and romantic post sent a zing through my gut and reminded me of the days I used to be into poetry that could draw the same visceral response. A sigh. A blush. A moment of daydream. Then this:

P1a

Hmm, I thought. This feeling is pleasure. And joy. I had to read it again.

I kept scrolling and came to this:

P2

Peonies. My favorite. They are so glorious and they have about a 3- or 4-week window in the spring and then they are gone. I love that the post was from “SexySobriety” and it was for a sober treat.

Yes. Yes. LOVE these. And I LOVE how that feels. 

Hm. Now I was realizing I was onto something. Obviously I CAN still feel pleasure. Even intense pleasure. I’m not dead inside. 🙂 I kept going.

I hit two posts about being strong and feeling my power.

P4

Misty Copeland!

And this:P3

Yes. I’m powerful. I’m strong. I am stronger than this ass hole wine craving. And I guaran-fecking-tee you that prima ballerina Misty Copeland doesn’t drink. And she is an amazing role model in so many ways.

Now I was on a mission for other posts that represented intense pleasure. Joy. Awe.

Like art:

P5

Or music. I saw some great shows last year (I took these photos), including Colin Hay (the best show of the year by far) from the front row, Ann Wilson (Heart) and Mike McCready (Pearl Jam) perform an incredible “Stairway to Heaven” at an auction with about 200 people, and Kris Orlowski’s “Smith Tower Sessions” in the apartment at the top of the Smith Tower — outstanding.

I also saw Liz Gilbert speak about her new (awesome) book, “Big Magic.” Here she is hugging a good friend of mine before the show. They are old friends. (So I’m friends with Liz Gilbert, once removed? 🙂 ) And I saw Cheryl Strayed a few weeks later, and she was every bit as inspiring.

liz gilbert

Of course this is all leading to what am *I* doing with my life now that I’m sober, what impact am *I* going to make on this world before I leave it? What gifts do I have to make the world a better place? This question — and the pursuit of the answer — also has the huge potential to bring intense joy. I’ll start working on it.

flower

#blossom. 🙂

I look to Jane Goodall as inspiration.

P7

 

When I think about the issues that matter most to me, where do I get the strongest pull? Or as my life coach would say, “LISTEN TO THE JUICE.”

Chimp Sanctuary Northwest and the orphaned elephants of David Sheldrick’s orphanage have juice.

Where else do I get intense pleasure? Or sense of purpose? Juice? Joy? Awe? Where else should I focus my attentions when the wine fucker goblin is whispering in my ear?

A morning row.

morning row

A sunset row.

sunset row

An evening row.

night row

 

Priceless moments with my heart, Bub…

 

…and my best friend. She loves slugs, so I snapped her this photo one day. And I picked up a book she returned to me ages ago, and found this note inside it. Love her.

 

And this is the year I work on falling in love WITH MYSELF.

P10

 

For 2016, my word is POTENTIAL.

I intend to do my best to live to my potential every day, in every possible way.

P9

Yes. This.

I listened to a lot of sober podcasts today and one of them said that these thoughts about alcohol won’t start to go quiet probably until abut Day 60 or so. Holy shit. Another month.

Here we go!!

And so begins 2016, the year LIVING EACH DAY TO MY POTENTIAL and spending my time doing the things that bring me the most pleasure. Rowing, loving/walking with my dog, spending more time with friends, more time in the sun, more focus on writing, reading, rocking work, eating well and getting more fit.

Peonies.

Music.

Finding a place where I can start to make an impact. Maybe it’s finishing my novel. Maybe it’s joining a non-profit. Maybe it’s working part-time to begin to build something important. I’m not sure yet.

And paying attention to the precious moments. The moments that send that zing through my gut and up through my heart. The things that give joy and awe.

P11

The last sunset of 2015

xo Rachel.

Day 33. And for making it to the bottom of this hella long post…

BABY GOAT.

baby goats

Present for the last Sunday of 2015

“Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?”
― Mary Oliver

It’s a gray and rainy Sunday in the Pacific Northwest, USA, and four weeks since my last drink. I do feel better – overall – even if there are moments when I want to put a fork in my eye for the boredom. Even if I am still craving euphoria, or any level of dopamine release into my body, and there is some part of my brain that still thinks it can conjure that with a glass of wine.

I’m coming to the conclusion (thanks in no small part to my fellow sober bloggers) that I will have to take my pleasure in smaller doses. Find it in new ways. And it may suck sometimes (that’s life), but it will be worth it.

IMG_6974

My New Year’s Challenge for myself: When bored, DO something. Appreciate the time (so much time). Take a moment to PAUSE, look around and observe at least one thing beautiful about your life. Go erg and get some adrenaline going (and remember a smaller pant size feels awesome and makes you very happy). Sit still and look out the window at the gorgeous view. Do a short meditation and breathe. Look at your list of projects and start just a small part of one (no need to commit to huge projects, just a little bit). Buy yourself a sober treat and savor it. Think about Bradley Cooper (but not in a creepy stalker way). 🙂 And if all else fails, it’s totally fine to re-watch any of the Jane Austen movies or Netflix series that you’ve already watched and loved while coloring in one of your beautiful new coloring books. Completely fine.

On this drizzly Sunday morning, I choose to be present, focus on my one wild and precious life, pack up the mini Christmas tree, and take a long walk in the rain with my dog. There is much beauty in this day and I’ll do my best to pay attention to it.

Rachel.

Day 28.

Avoid Overwhelm (and eat ice cream)

mint-chocolate-cookie-detailI’m really full. I mean REALLY full. I just pounded back two Hostess cupcakes, a half a pint of Ben & Jerry’s Oreo chocolate mint ice cream, several slices of cheese on crackers, two homemade marshmallows (one chocolate-covered) given to me by my dog walker, and two pieces of dark chocolate, and this AFTER I ate a dinner of quinoa, black beans and a half of a tofurkey spiced sausage.

I’m stuffed and a little queasy.

But I didn’t drink.

And it was a close one.

Day 24 and I’ve been doing GREAT. I was very tired today, and then I went to an animal shelter and went through an interview process to adopt another dog.

<<WARNING: TOTAL OVERWHELM>>

I’m worried it will be a huge mistake. I’m worried my dog, Bub, won’t like her or it will be a negative experience for him. And all I care about is making life better for Bub, not worse. We (the shelter and I) decided that a “Foster-to-Adopt” arrangement would be a better way to start, so I filled out the paperwork. But I began to panic a little as they called my references and set up an appointment to drop her off next Monday.

And then, like I’d slipped into river rapids and was sailing wildly downstream, all I wanted was to disappear into a glass of red wine.

No no no no no no!!! The internal battle began.

I can still back out. I can back out even if I have her for a week and change my mind. That’s the beauty of the “foster-to-adopt.” They want what’s best for Bub too.

And as my own epic mental battle began a la Star Wars (which I saw last weekend and LOVED — I’ll be Rey in this story), I heard Belle’s words ringing in my ears: “AVOID OVERWHELM.”

Use the FORCE, Rachel! 🙂 hehe, kidding. If only it were that easy, Jedi Master…

I’ve been feeling so great, so strong. I even went out to dinner with friends on Saturday (which I’ve been avoiding) and while there were some challenges in my own mind with being the only one not drinking alcohol, I made it through and was SO glad the next morning that I was still sober.

I even had a great talk with my life coach today at lunch and was feeling strong and confident about my sobriety.

So this crushing WAVE of desire to buy a bottle of wine and escape comes completely unexpected. I was at the store. I seriously considered buying a bottle. Even knowing full well it would probably make me sick.

Instead I bought anything and everything I wanted to put in my mouth that wasn’t alcohol and I gave myself permission to eat it. Nom nom nom… I really should be exercising for the adrenaline high, but instead I chose unrefined sugar and pure dairy fat.

It’s better than drinking, right? 

Lately, I’ve found myself thinking a few times: I’ll get to 100 days and re-evaluate. Because, I can drink in moderation, right? This is all just one big exercise in self-control.

Eh hem.

That’s when I take the idea of drinking on Day 100 to its natural conclusion — Sure, I can have a glass and maybe it will even taste good. Not sure. But then… THEN I very likely slip quickly back into a routine of drinking a bottle or more of wine a night — and I’m back on track to drinking my life away.

Tonight has been hard. It’s dissipated a bit, the crushing craving, but it’s not completely gone. It will be.

It will pass. It will pass. Breathe…

I want to live to my full potential. I didn’t realize that alcohol is very likely standing in the way of that, like Bradley Cooper realized when he was 29. But I realize it now at 47, which is better than at 48. I have a lot of life left to live. I want to reach my full potential and I don’t know what that means yet, but I know one thing for sure: I will NOT do it if I’m drinking.

OK… Here I am writing it out. I’m a bit sick on all the sheit I scarfed down, BUT I DIDN’T DRINK.

Man, it’s been a mad scramble to call on all my tools in the last 2.5 hours. Things I learned in my mindfulness classes the last 6 weeks, things I’ve learned from Belle and from all of YOU, and from my private Facebook AF community, and from all of the books I’ve read.

And things I’ve learned from my past failures.

I told myself, I will NOT regret NOT drinking tomorrow, but I’m sure I will regret drinking.

I told myself, You promised yourself and others that you were committing to 100 days NO MATTER WHAT HAPPENS. 

I told myself, You don’t want to start at Day 1 again and you can’t lie about it (because that crossed my wine brain too).

I told myself, You want to get to the 45+ days that everyone talks about, where your mindset starts to really change and a real shift begins to happen.

I told myself, You are on a roll, you are looking good and losing weight and you don’t want the setback. Find other ways to release this anxiety. You don’t need the wine. 

Then — despite the objections of my wine brain grasping madly for an opening to go back and buy a bottle — I reached out to a couple of friends and told them I was tempted to have some wine. I didn’t say, Buy a bottle or Get loaded or DRINK — purposely downplaying my wine brain’s developing plan — I just said have some wine. Like maybe it would be one little glass. Two, tops.

Of course they responded immediately, with the best advice being that I should go get on the rowing machine and work it out.

So I pigged out. 🙂

I’m going to have a shower, get into bed and watch a movie. I don’t care that it’s 7:15 on a weeknight. I’ll turn the lights off early and sleep. And tomorrow, I’ll reset and continue reaching out to my support systems and remind myself why my life without alcohol is and will continue to be so much better than my life with it. That I am proud of myself with 24 days of sober momentum and I REALLY don’t want to fuck with that.

HominaHominaHomina… 

Lordy Lordy. 

Baby goat intermission, BECAUSE BABY GOAT.

baby goat

It’s funny, I found myself thinking today that never again will I have that feeling of disappearing into the oblivion of a bottle (or two) of wine. That’s why people relapse, isn’t it? It’s THAT feeling they want again. I totally get that now. Is there a replacement for that? I don’t think there is. But maybe, just maybe, that’s OK too. That’s the work I need to do. That’s what I have to figure out. And I have a feeling that it’s tied to reaching my potential too.

I may end up writing again tomorow or the next day, but if I don’t… MERRY CHRISTMAS to anyone who celebrates Christmas, HAPPY HOLIDAYS to everyone who doesn’t. And thanks for being such a support to me, whether you’ve commented or just lurked in the background. 🙂  I am super grateful to be on this journey with every one of you.

xo Rachel.

Day 24.

Star light, Star bright…

the-starry-night-1889It was a busy week with long days, and it’s Friday night again — the weekend begins — and I’m still sober.

Wednesday night felt like a real milestone. My rowing club had a caroling party, where rowers showed up and decorated the 8-person boats with lights, then we rowed out to a couple of destinations across the lake and sang for them…

…then those people gave the boats snacks and pitchers of alcohol to take away as the reward.

Our coach retrieved the first pitcher and handed it to my boat’s coxswain. I was in the “stroke” seat, the first seat in the row. The cox’n handed me the pitcher just after I heard my coach say, “I don’t know if it’s leaded or not!”

I wondered about that. I took a whiff and the high octane rum was undeniable. I said, “There’s rum in this!” (a LOT of it) and handed it to the rower behind me. Without hesitating, he handed it straight back to the rower behind him. I wasn’t the only one not drinking, that THAT was awesome. I wasn’t the odd-man out. The rest of our boat partied with rum punch and Bailey’s, and seats 7 & 8 (my seat pair and I) abstained.

There was a moment when I had a flash of an alternate Universe, where I was a drinker and I would have been thrilled to have the punch, and the Bailey’s, Because that’s part of the fun, right? I would have been keenly aware of where the pitcher and bottle were, who had them last and when they were coming back to me. Distraction. Mild agitation. Was I getting as much as them? Why were these little cups so small (what’s the point?) and could I just drink straight out of the pitcher and get more? More punch, more Bailey’s, whatever else came my way, and surely a bottle of wine when I got home.

But instead, I told myself very consciously: Be Present

I looked up at the stars, and the spectacular lights of the city and the neighborhoods reflecting on the water, which was calm as glass. Colored Christmas lights accented the houses, building rooftops, construction cranes, radio towers, sailboat masts and yacht cabins around the lake, adding color to the flickering whites of every day.

I looked into the houseboats as we floated past and imagined the lives happening inside. I felt the crisp air on my cheeks, and warmed my numbing fingers with handwarmers in my pockets.

Be Present. And Breathe. Stay in this moment.

I was very clear that alcohol would not have made the evening more fun, and as the rest of the boat was getting a bit silly and their rowing was becoming progressively worse, I felt clear and strong. And, when we started rowing hard again to get back to the boathouse, I was also sure that had I been drinking, I would have been weakened. I would have surely felt sick from it all. There would have been that downside that always arrived, sooner or later, and it would have taken what it had given — and then some.

No, what would have once been, in the very recent past, an absolute given — that the evening should include alcohol to enhance the fun — was now made so very much better without it.

And on top of it all, indeed the cherry on top, Seat 7 was a really cool guy I hadn’t met before (he’s a competitive rower and so we never practice at the same time) and quite handsome. So I rowed the whole night setting the pace for the boat, particularly this guy who spent the night looking at the back of my head. 🙂 No pressure.

After we returned to the boathouse and we were all hanging around a little by the fireplace, Mr. 7 made a point of saying it was really nice to meet me and that he was leaving. He said goodbye.

I’m convinced that had I been buzzed from a silly night of tipsy rowing and caroling, that wouldn’t have happened either. Instead, I was grounded and serene, and there was an energy there that alcohol would have corrupted. I’m sure of it.

Sure, I’m a hopeless romantic, but it was a beautiful night.

Yesterday was the last day at work for a lot of people until after Christmas. One of my indirect bosses came to my office to say goodbye and handed me a “Holiday Survival Kit,” which I could tell immediately contained a bottle of something.

My stomach twisted a little. This would have been a typical scenario where I would have brought that bottle home and drunk it straight away. I looked at it and it was a brand I don’t like and I thought – Phew… Upon closer inspection, I realized it was champagne. I would have drunk that too, but it didn’t have the same powerful pull as it would have had it been red wine. Thank goodness.

I was out late last night rowing (again) and went straight to bed, but today that bottle nagged me on the counter. I wasn’t worried about it, but I didn’t like that it was distracting some part of me. It was bothersome.

So, I put some holiday ribbon on it and walked it down to the manager of my apartment building, thanking him for all he does. Problem solved! And the whispering inside my head went quiet.

Tonight, Friday night, I’m really tired and the strange thing is, I don’t want to drink, but I still feel that powerful craving to find relief. Release. I guess this is progress.

Once again, I told myself, thou SHALT not drink — I’m just really tired and a little sick (I have a horrible cold) and I need to just get to bed. In the old days I would have drunk a lot of red wine when I was sick because of course that would make me feel better!

But not anymore.

Today my Not Today bracelet arrived. It’s a silver bracelet with Not Today inscribed on the inside, sitting against my skin.

Today it is 8:45pm and I’m in bed on a Friday night with my best bud, Bub, and a great book.

And I’m not drinking. Not today.

xo Rachel.

Day 19.

New milestones, new breakthroughs

Just checking in to say it’s been several days since I’ve written, but no worries: I’M STILL SOBER.

Today I passed a new milestone: 14 days. Officially 2 weeks.

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Baby Giraffe

Man, it seems like a whole LOT longer than that, since I’ve really been AF for most of the last 3 months, but 14 days is still 14 days — and the longest I’ve ever gone without a drink. On the one hand it seems like nothing (especially when I think about it in the context of so many of you who have so many more days/months/years under your belts), and on the other hand it’s bizarre to me that it has been two weeks since I’ve had any alcohol.

To be perfectly honest, it seems like much, much longer. I guess this is the double-edged sword of having a terrible memory: I am already forgetting what life was like for me just a short while ago when I came home every single night from work (and was starting earlier and earlier on the weekends) and drank bottles of red wine. One of the biggest contrasts is how much money I was spending on wine. Holy shit. A lot.

Friday was tough for about 15 minutes. Fridays were always such a huge drinking day. I had about 15 minutes of wanting that “release,” but this time, I have more tools and I’m using them. I used tools like AF beer which oddly hits the spot sometimes, then dinner in front of the TV (I know, terrible, but I’m letting myself), and the urge passed pretty quickly. I was just glad to be home with my dog after a long week and I give myself a LOT of leeway right now when it comes to doing stuff that just feels good and passes the time.

Saturday I predicted it to be tougher. Saturdays have been my drinking/relapse days historically. But it really wasn’t too bad. Yeah, I went on a long walk with my dog, and watched a movie, then had a long nap, and then WENT to a movie at the theater, and bought some adult coloring books and came home and colored a while, then read, then slept. Really, I did very little productive, but that’s OK.

I didn’t drink. 

Then today, Sunday. This morning I had to take my phone to the Genius Bar because I was a GENIUS and threw it on the ground and broke the screen. I waited next door at THE RAM, a sports bar, because I really wanted a greasy breakfast. It never even occurred to me that it might be a risky scene, and it wasn’t at all. I even ordered a virgin bloody mary to drink with my egg scramble and it was great. No problemo. It was actually kind of weird to look around the room at 10:30 in the morning and see most of the room drinking beers and other drinks at 10:30 in the morning while we watched the Seahawks football game. I’m especially shocked that I didn’t feel the urge to drink because I’ve been fighting a cold all weekend and historically I would DRINK when I felt sick. Always. Because drinking at 9 in the morning on a Sunday made me feel better, right?

Oh me oh my.

In fact, I’m going to add that to my AA rip-off: SHALT. Rachel, thou SHALT not drink when feeling Sad/Sick, Hungry, Angry/Agitated, Lonely or Tired. 

It wasn’t until later that I actually had the strongest urges of the weekend. Nordstrom has a really great new cafe/bar and I went to return some jeans and try to find new ones, which is always stressful. I hate shopping. I said to myself outloud, “beware of overwhelm,” because I was beginning to feel overwhelmed and I really wanted to head to that bar and have a drink, just like my best friend and I have done more than once. So, I got my butt out of there and headed home. I exercised for a while in the gym in my building and then I ate dinner and binged on a bit of Netflix while I colored pretty holiday images. Time sure flies when you’re doing two completely unproductive things simultaneously.

Anyway, it’s time for bed now and I spent the entire weekend alone with my dog entertaining myself, but it was a lot easier than it has been in the past. Sure, it’s only 14 days, but it was a good weekend, and that counts for a lot. I made sure I had lots of sleep and sober treats, and didn’t let myself get overwhelmed, and I did a lot of mindful things like coloring and reading. Yeah, I’m a ton of fun. 🙂

As I get more space on my last drink, I find myself having to go over in my mind all of the reasons why I quit and why I am choosing an alcohol-free life. Why it is better. Why it will get even better in the long run. Repeat, repeat. I know that’s a combination of the natural tendency we have to forget horrible things as time passes AND the wine goblin trying to get in my head and tell me Aw, it wasn’t so bad. You can drink again after you take a break and prove to yourself you can. 

Sure, I could try that. But I’m pretty sure that’s all bullshit and I’d end up right back where I started in a very short period of time. I just want to be free of the control wine/alcohol has had over me for so many years. And I want to be free of SO MUCH STUPID SHIT I’VE SAID AND DONE when I’d been drinking.

Blech.

I would also like to make an appeal to the sober gods to PLEASE take a few pounds off in the middle of the night and THAT would make it all even BETTER. 🙂 I’ve started making a more concerted effort now to eat better and exercise more again, so that should help. In the past, it would NOT have been unusual for me to drink five bottles of wine in a weekend, not to mention the bottle every night, so those calories have to be going somewhere! Right? WTF?? I haven’t been eating THAT much mac-n-cheese and ice cream. Really!

And soon, very soon, I’m going to start doing a lot more hard thinking about what I want to accomplish in my life with all this spare time. And lack of anxiety. And clarity. It isn’t going to be Olympic-level, competitive coloring, that’s for sure.

This is a good 2016 conversation to have with myself (and maybe my life coach).

Anyway, tonight I’m feeling quiet and a little dull (read: boring), but that’s a hell of a lot better than being drunk on a Sunday night. There’s time to build some excitement back into my life again, and in the meantime, I’m going to protect my little baby giraffe sobriety until she is walking a lot more sturdy on her wobbly little legs.

Have a great week, y’all.

xo Rachel.

Day 14.

I am a mountain, I am a mountain

Today was Thanksgiving in the U.S. and I’m grateful for a lot. Really. But today was more difficult than I expected.

My dog and I went to my Mom and step-dad’s place about a 75-minute drive away (which turned into 2 hours with traffic). I know Mom always pours herself a huge glass of red wine whenever I arrive — and I always join her — but even armed with three different kinds of NA beverages, including NA beer, I didn’t expect the powerful wave of desire and craving to hit me as hard as it did.

So I started talking about how it’s bugging me that I’m gaining weight since quitting drinking, ha ha, I said, which was not in my plans. Without missing a beat, my step-dad pours himself a full glass of bourbon on the rocks, and doesn’t engage in my conversation.

Sure, that’s probably about him — maybe he’s even a wee threatened by my quitting drinking. who knows. — but what I needed in that moment was support. I know my Mom is supportive of my not drinking, but it was odd: she changed the subject and started talking about her new puppy.

I drank the NA beer even though it tasted bad and didn’t help much to distract me. I was bored and trapped and I clearly hadn’t prepared properly for this. (Next time I’ll bring healthy snacks.) I glanced at Mom’s wine glass. She was already a quarter of the way to the bottom. The bottle still sat there on the counter, where it always is, staring at me invitingly.

I grabbed a Kombucha and started shoving handfulls of peanuts into my mouth. I scanned the room, searching for anything I could snack on. Nothing!

Mom, please stop telling me stories about people I don’t know or care about. 

The puppy is barking barking barking at Bub, he won’t stop barking.

I text my sister, who also doesn’t drink and will be arriving with my uncle: Where are you? What is your ETA? Mom and (step-dad) are drinking and I’m painfully bored and really REALLY want a glass of wine.

Fun is on the way,” she answers. “We’re about 30 minutes away. (Uncle) says we still need to stop for the cocaine.”

Perfect. I joke back. Just get here.

I finish the Kombucha and grab a Diet Coke out of the fridge. More peanuts.

I decide I need to call on a mindfulness meditation I learned last week. There were two: the first one had us imagining a mild trigger and the wave of craving that would move through our bodies, then holding that feeling. Holding it… Holding it… Then asking ourselves, “What do I need right now?

The second started with imagining a mountain. A big, solid, beautiful mountain. The seasons move in and out around the mountain. All kinds of weather batters the mountain, swirls around the mountain, bears down on the mountain, passes in front of and behind the mountain, and all the while, the mountain is steady. I am to imagine I am part of the mountain. I am the mountain. I am the mountain.

Mountain

I move to the big chair in the living room while my Mom carries on in the kitchen, making the mashed potatoes, checking the (humanely raised) turkey, drinking her wine. I sit with my eyes closed, my hands on my legs. I breathe and imagine myself as the mountain. Solid, unchanging, unreactive to the wave of craving that is crashing through me like a front of thick fog.

Breathe. I am the mountain. 

Then I get another text from my sister. My uncle now has a flat tire just a few miles away. My step-dad is going to leave to find them and help.

My mind begins to race: If my Mom goes with him, I can pour myself a glass of wine and pound it back. No one would be the wiser. I can have a glass of wine. I want it. I want it.

My rational voice tries to fight back: No, you don’t want it. You DON’T want to start at Day 1 again. You DON’T want to feel like shit tomorrow. It won’t even taste or feel that good. It won’t be worth it. You don’t need this. It’s poison.

Why do you think you need it?

I am a mountain.

Why did I quit? I’m trying to remember. I don’t remember. 

Because you were out of control and it was only getting worse. You look and feel like shit.

I am a mountain.

Breeeeeaaathe. You are a mountain. Don’t give into it. Stay strong…

Mom comes into the living room and sits down. She’s not leaving with (step-dad). I breathe and imagine the wave of desire pass right through me. It will pass, I tell myself. It will be OK. Breathe…

It passed. Mostly.

I’m home now. I thought about going across the street to the corner store and getting a bottle. I’m getting fat fast and this is not OK. My fingers are puffy and my pants are tight. I can NOT get fat in exchange for not drinking. That will ruin my healthy, upward trajectory faster than anything. I will fail.

Millie joked that she basically had a feeding bag strapped to her face for the first few months after she stopped drinking, figuring it was better to eat than drink (and she lost the weight again). Others have told me that too.

I have a history of an eating disorder and so using food the way I have been and gaining weight is extra complicated for me. If I lose control of my food/eating in exchange for the wine, this will NOT be an acceptable trade-off. And it will sabotage my progress, I guarantee it.

I arrived home still uncomfortably full from Thanksgiving dinner AND dessert, but reached for more ice cream (“instead of wine”).

Then I heard myself think LOUDLY:

Maybe I can just drink one glass of wine a night and not eat dinner. I’d lose weight. I could get thin again that way. That would be better than getting fat.

Sigh. That’s why. That’s where my brain goes.

I didn’t go. For now, I am choosing not to drink. As Augusten Burroughs said about people who have successfully quit, I am just not doing it.

I decided to write about it instead. I’m going to try to be gentle with myself and allow that the last two weeks have been another lesson about how to cope, and I quickly need to adjust course. Tomorrow I will put my eating train back on the rails and find healthier ways to distract myself from drinking. Like walking my dog. Like rowing. Like going to the gym. Like reading. Like writing. Like sleeping. Hell, like just about anything but eating or drinking. 

I closed my eyes and cracked Cheryl Strayed’s book Brave Enough to a random page. This is what it said:

We are all at risk of something. Of ending up exactly where we began, of failing to imagine and find and know and actualize who we could be. We all need to jump from here to there. The only difference among us is the distance of the leap.

– Cheryl Strayed

Until tomorrow, then.

Day 12. Rachel.

p.s., Sorry this is so long, y’all. I had to get it out. 🙂 Very skimmable, indeed.