Check, check, checking in

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Hi there,

So much has been going on — crazy time at work, still spending three days a week in my women’s intensive program and just trying to get enough sleep — that it’s been 21 days since my last check in.

I just wanted to say All Is Well. 🙂 I’ve been working too much, but this should be the last week before it gets somewhat back to normal, and as PERFECT TIMING would have it, I “graduated” from my intensive class on Saturday, and this coming Thursday I will be headed to a yoga retreat with “Recovery” as a theme. One doesn’t have to be sober to attend (although there will be no alcohol), but the focus is about finding oneself from a place of being lost. And I’ll get to meet Laura McKowen and Meadow DeVor, which I’m pretty excited about.

I can’t wait. Thursday eve to Sunday morn. I’ll miss my Bub, but he’ll be in good hands.

And so will I.

Day 81.

xo Rachel

Carry On, Warrior #wearetheluckiest

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I recently discovered Glennon Doyle Melton. I know, I’m a little late to this party. Or maybe I’m actually in the bulge of the bell curve, just before she made it to Oprah and pretty much anywhere else you turn in the sober space. But, who cares, I’ve found her. I wouldn’t have expected to really resonate with her or what she has to say, though. Her story is really nothing like mine, all the way down to her being the pretty party girl in high school, with lots of boyfriends and booze, and then becoming a mother in her 20s with a guy she barely knew because “there was finally something [she] wanted more than drinking.” Even now I look at her and I think: “I won’t have anything in common with that person.”

But I do.

I have also struggled with disordered eating and I have struggled with alcohol. And those two things mean we may understand each other a little more than it may appear on the surface. And for me, where I really relate to and resonate with Glennon (or “G” as her friends and fans call her), is in her writing.

I haven’t read her new book, Love Warrior yet. It sits on my nightstand waiting for me to finish her first best-selling book, Carry On, Warrrior, which I’m reading now. She relies a bit more heavily on the Christian faith than I would expect from a book I like, but I am willing to let that be her higher power because I know she would let me have mine. (Whatever that is. Today I’m going with Universe, but some days it’s LOVE, some days it’s Hope… It’s a work-in-progress.)

So, after my bad/sad night Thursday (see: last post), I walked Bub, ate a little too much gelato, and then got into bed with the book. And while I got into bed without drinking, I was fully aware that even three months ago in this situation, feeling this way, I would have drunk my way to the bottom of a bottle of red. Or two. No question. I was aware of the progress, even if I wasn’t super happy about it.

I opened the book to where I had left off the night before, and what I read seemed so meant for me that it really did seem like a message. My heart was aching, but I was sober, and I was willing to listen.

Glennon Doyle Melton, Carry On, Warrior (pg. 28) “To My Friend on Her First Sober Morning…”

…What matters most right now is that you are sober, so you will not worry about whether the real you will be brave or smart or funny or beautiful or responsible enough. Because the only thing that you have is to be sober. You owe the world absolutely nothing but sobriety. If you are sober, you are enough. Even if you are shaking and cursing and boring and terrified. You are enough.

But becoming sober, becoming real, will be hard and painful. A lot of things are.

Becoming sober is like recovering from frostbite.

Defrosting is excruciatingly painful. You have been numb for so long. As feeling comes back to your soul, you start to tingle, and it’s uncomfortable and strange. But then the tingles start feeling like daggers. Sadness, loss, fear, anger, anxiety–all of these things that you have been numbing with booze–you feel them for the first time, and it’s horrific at first, to tell you the damn truth. But welcoming the pain and refusing to escape from it is the only way to recovery. You can’t go around it, you can’t go over it, you have to go through it. There is no other option, besides amputation. If you allow the defrosting process to take place–if you trust that it will work and choose to endure the pain–one day you will get your soul back. If you can feel, then there has been no amputation. If you can feel, you are not too late.

Friend, we need you. The world has suffered while you’ve been hiding. You are already forgiven. You are loved. All there is left to do is to step into your life. What does that mean? What the hell does that mean?

This is what it means. These are the steps you take. They are plain as mud. Get out of bed. Don’t lie there and think–thinking is the kiss of death for us–just move. Take a shower. Sing while you’re in there. Make yourself sing. The stupider you feel, the better. Joy for its own sake–joy just for you, created by you–it’s the best.

…When you start to feel, do. When you start to feel scared because you don’t have enough money, find someone to offer a little money. When you start to feel like you don’t have enough love, find someone to offer love. When you feel unappreciated and unacknowledged, appreciate and acknowledge someone else in a concrete way. When you feel unlucky, order yourself to consider a blessing or two. Then find a tangible way to make today somebody else’s lucky day. These strategies help me sidestep wallowing every day.

Don’t worry about whether you like doing these things or not. You’re going to hate everything for a long while. And the fact is that you don’t even know what you like or hate yet. Just do these things regardless of how you feel about doing these things. Because these little things, done over and over again, eventually add up to a life. A good one.

Today I am a wife and a mother and a daughter and a friend and a writer and a dreamer and a Sister to one and a “sister” to thousands of readers. I wasn’t any of those things when I was a drunk. And I absolutely love being a recovering alcoholic. I am more proud of the “recovering” badge I wear than any other.

What will you be, friend? What will you be when you become yourself?

Glennon Doyle Melton

This. This is the journey I’m on. This is why I’m feeling the pain and not stuffing it down for a guy who is surely not part of where I’m going. And even if my purpose isn’t some big public impact and instead is just to live a contented and magical life all my own, I’m keeping the faith that it will be in a place transcendent from where I was even 60 days ago, and most certainly a year ago when I really started this process.

I’ve been listening to Rob Bell’s podcast (“RobCast”), and he recently had an episode on “Seasons” which was very good. He talked about the “seasons” of our lives and how big change happens, and when we move from one “season” to the next, it is uncomfortable, but in the space between seasons (moving from a past stage to the next one) called the “liminal space,” that is where all the interesting things happen. The mystics and wise people over a millennia have talked about the “liminal space” and how it’s a really important time to pay attention. “Spirit does all sorts of healing, redemptive, creative work in liminal space,” Rob said.

And we don’t like the tension and we don’t like to wait for the next season to start, so we try to rush our way through this space….

Day 60 and I’ve been so impatient to get through this space. But this is an important time. A sacred time. My coach said I’m in pupation… 🙂

You are in pupation.
The chrysalis stage of a butterfly.
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pupa

As wikipedia says, Pupae are inactive.

You’re in that painful place where you see the big gap between where you are now and where you want to be.The bigger the gap is, the more painful, or frustrating, or overwhelming it is. And we feel like we need to get started RIGHT AWAY because we have SO MUCH GROUND TO COVER!! But the truth is, if you start when you’re truly ready, the journey will be shorter and easier. And even if it does take a long time, it’s all about small steps. Small steps will get you there. You don’t have to try to accomplish everything all at once.”

She’s right. This is a special time and small steps will get me there. Small steps ARE the thing. Maybe it’s because I’m at the 60 day mark, but I’m starting to see that this is the journey. And it’s hard. And it’s important. And it’s beautiful.

I’m reminding myself to breathe. And take the small steps, day-by-day.

As Laura McKowen would say, #wearetheluckiest

xo Rachel. Day 60

30 Days of Photo Gratitudes

Hi all,

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

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

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

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

romance

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

And all I could think about was:

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

No, seriously.

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

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

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

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

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

YOUR LIFE.

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

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

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

Rumi said:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

xo Rachel.

Day 35.

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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. 🙂

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

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

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

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

Rachel.

Day 25.

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

We’ll see.

Day. Day. Day. Day. Day. (zzzz)

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

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

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

Just a half a bottle, no more.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Day.

Day.

Day.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rachel. Day 20.

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

Nothing changes if nothing changes

I don’t know exactly when I stopped praying.

I was raised Lutheran and even though I stopped going to church at age 14 — pretty much the moment I received a copy of the bible with my name etched in gold on the front cover — I still prayed every night. It wasn’t a fancy prayer or on my knees or anything, just your run-of-the-mill, “Now I lay me down to sleep, I pray the Lord my soul to keep. If I should die before I wake, I pray the Lord my soul will take.” (I don’t know who creates a prayer for little kids about dying in their sleep, but whatevs.) Then I would ask for forgiveness for my sins and go to sleep.

I said that prayer well into adulthood. I suppose I wasn’t much of a critical thinker when it came to faith. And I suppose saying the prayer was such a habit it was comforting, and on some level, maybe it was a little superstitious. I mean, what was the harm in it? It helped me connect with calm at the end of my day with the bonus of hedging my bets against eternal damnation.

That is, until I was about 30, and on my way home for Easter (I was living out of state) I had a revelation:

Wait a second… I don’t actually believe that Jesus is the Son of God. WTF.

Sure, I believed he was probably a cool  guy who walked the Earth and may have been super insightful, like, say, Ghandi or Martin Luther King Jr, but the Son of God? (And also, in fact, God. Yeah, the whole trinity thing is a bit confusing.)

And so began my decade-long journey toward figuring out what I really did believe. I’ve read books on pretty much every religion, but 18 years later, really all I’ve succeeded in knowing for sure is that I really don’t know anymore. I’ve moved even further from any sense of God, not closer. In some ways I miss that single-minded sureness I had as a kid. Hell, even into college, if I’m honest. Even then, I still believed in God, a personal God who was watching over me.

That was nice. 🙂

Today, I really can only say for sure that I believe in an energy that connects us all. I’m pretty sure I believe in the Power of Attraction and that we can manifest things into our lives by expressly setting our intention and directing our energies toward them. I believe that the energy we put out into the Universe is the energy that is returned to us. I really want to believe that we each have a vibration, and the vibration attracts people of similar vibration into our lives. And our vibrations can change. Our vibrations can be elevated.

Woo. Woo.

But this is what I hold onto as I quit drinking. Call it prayer, call it meditation… Call it a call and response to the Universe. It may be be all of these things. But whatever we call it, I will write about it, and I when I lay down and turn out the light, I will fold my hands over my heart, and I will ask the Universe to take care of me. I will start again.

***

I’ve decided no more grand proclamations about being quit. They are too dangerous for me, partly because if I fail, it only intensifies the shame. And shame is my enemy as I learn the lessons I need to learn, to live a life that is alcohol free.

After the equinox happened, I made it 18 days when I decided to drink. I drank just a bottle of wine, but it made me violently ill. The good news is that my body was not having any of my bullshit. The bad news isthat I wasted a day of my life on my back (when I wasn’t bent over the toilet) trying to recover in all the ways you would expect: physically and emotionally. It was a disaster.

But in this entire year that I’ve been trying to quit, I have learned some things along the way. The number of messages that I’ve collected from so many people who have come before me have been growing, and they continue to knock around in my head. This one has been important:

Nothing changes if nothing changes.

And if I’m not able to stay sober for any length of time, I need more supports. I need to add more. What I’ve been doing is great, but not enough.

I’ve tried so many things… But I live alone with my dog and I don’t have a physical sober community. I tried a couple of AA meetings but they literally drove me to drink. (I may try some others soon.)

So…I was really scared, but I called the intensive 2-month program my coach had found. I had talked to them in December, but back then I decided it was more than I needed and I would keep trying on my own. I would try mindfulness. I would try AA. I would try more blogging and more transparency with friends and family and more sober treats and tools and listening to sober podcasts at every possible moment.

But I live alone. I’m an introvert and it’s easy to isolate. And after 2-3 weeks, the Wine Harpy sidles up next to me, a bit lonely and without my abusive boyfriend (wine), and says, “Aw, c’mon, you were over-reacting anyway. You don’t need to quit completely. Just go get a bottle and it will relieve the pressure. You’ll feel better, you’ll be comforted, and you can start again tomorrow.”

That bee-atch. She did it again.

And despite the planets aligning and all that, I drank. And two days later (after I was so sick I couldn’t get out of bed until 5pm), I drank again. I didn’t even want to. I was depressed and disappointed and I just felt like I was coming unmoored. But that drinking voice in my brain told me that a bottle of wine would make me feel better, and I was so sad and in a twist, I listened. And that’s when I really started to get scared.

Nothing changes if nothing changes.

I kept telling myself this when the drinking voice was screaming at me to not take my supports to the next level. It came up with so many reasons not to do it. It was really freaking out. It was backed into a corner and it was showing its teeth. I barely slept the night before deciding, and when I did, I dreamed of stressful, judgey women and being labeled an alcoholic.

What would that say about me that I couldn’t do it on my own like so many of my fellow bloggers have? How would I be labeled — forever — if I needed to go into a program like this to stop drinking? They may have described it as “graduate work for your inner self,” but all I could hear was “outpatient treatment.” When the fuck did I become that person? I should just try again on my own, right? I didn’t drink that much. I should just try again and I really didn’t want to spend several thousand dollars right now. Why couldn’t I just do it on my own??

But I kept coming back to this…

Nothing changes if nothing changes.

I started the program. It’s 2-months intensive — 3 days a week for 2-3 hours — then once a week after that for 10 months. There is also a 4-week Monday mindfulness series (making it four days a week), a few weeks of nutrition guidance, and then in continuing care there is a weekly yoga for relapse prevention component.

But the important thing here is this: I have six or seven other women there who are like me (“high bottom,” high functioning women), plus two counselors, and we are getting to the root of the WHY. Plus building and practicing tools to avoid lapsing, and learning from each other. Supporting each other. Being accountable to each other.

My coach said to me, “It’s like learning a language no one ever taught you.” I supposed it is. And I’m doing this to take care of myself. To love myself more, which is my priority to practice these days.

OH MY GOD I was so, so scared at first — I was freaking out — but it’s been really good so far. I just finished my second week and I feel good. I didn’t want to check in here before this. I just wasn’t ready, and I was a bit embarrassed after my grand poetic proclamation, so it feels important this time to stay humble. To stay in TODAY the best I can.

And the hard work is about to begin. As I enter my third week, I know from history this is when the harpy starts to panic that she’s not going to drink again and she starts to pitch a fit. She starts telling me that “this doesn’t have to be forever and what about dating? How are you ever going to find someone to love you if you don’t have red wine? (She really knows where there are chinks in my armor.) “Maybe,” she says, “maybe when you find someone to share your life with, then you can start drinking again because you are just lonely now. That’s the only reason you are doing this. Just like paying a lot of money for an expensive diet and hoping it will change your life. C’mon…this is just for now…”

(I know this is going to be a hard slog. I know it will get easier. Eventually. But FUCK.)

OK, harpy, maybe it is just for now. All I can focus on is today. I will finish the 2-month intensive and when I do I’ll have been sober longer than I’ve ever been before. We’ll see how I feel then, okay, harpy?

All I can do is read those who inspire me. Listen to those who have come before me. Trust myself and why I made this decision in the first place (even if my memory starts to fade).

And I’ll pray.

Rachel. Day 11.

Tell me, what is it you plan to do

with your one wild and precious life?

Mary Oliver

 

Let’s go for drinks

Whoa. Triggered again this afternoon. They’re coming fast and furious now. Wolfie must really be in a panic.

Someone at work who I really admire and who, I admit, I really want to think of me as being cool and interesting and ultra-worthy, said, “Well that’s a conversation to have over drinks.” He’s not coming on to me (he’s happily married and we’re just friends). We were talking about him coaching me a bit on some really cool life priorities stuff, and he’s said it before (“We really do need to go have those drinks and talk about it…”) — it’s kind of his go-to thing to say, in fact. But every time he says it I am completely TWEAKED.

And the thing is, when I was on my Italian wine walkabout in May, he was there. He has SEEN me pour plenty’o’wine down my gullet. There is some counter-programming that will need to happen at some point.

Goddammit, this is the really hard part.

I didn’t have the courage(?) to say, “Well, actually, I’m not drinking right now/anymore/forthenext100days,” or say anything at all. I just nodded and smiled and the conversation kept moving. Fact of the matter is, it will probably never happen. He’s super busy, and it would actually be awkward for us to go meet for a drink if it really were an option. Not sure how that would work, and so for lots of good reasons, it probably won’t.

But OMG Wolfie was psyched! Immediately my addict brain was thinking: Well, I could just have drinks that night. One night! So what. No big deal. You’d be fine. 

And then the most jarring part, my brain immediately went to: Well, if you’re going to drink anyway, why not pick up a bottle on the way home from work and have some? You might as well…

Holy shit. Wow. Fecking harpy is insidious, always poised to pounce. That is so scary. It was really powerful, and it was the same power I felt when I traveled abroad for work. Like, bend me like a reed powerful, and I’m afraid of failing.

There is some serious fear of rejection/FOMO going on here. Absolute limbic brain stuff.

I came home (walking straight past the store without slowing down), and immediately opened a flavored sparkling water and guzzled it. Then fed my dog, put my dinner in the microwave (with some salad preparation as well. I’m not a total culinary rube…), and sat down to watch my favorite political show online while eating, and guzzling yet another flavored water. I don’t think I’ve ever been so hydrated as when I quit drinking and started dieting at the same time. I might need to just get into bed. I’m still being taunted by the thought of a bottle of wine. WTF??

So here I am. Day 16 and scared to death. I don’t know what will happen if he actually follows through and we find a way to have that drink. Sitting here today, I know all the things I should be saying and thinking about how he’ll value me as much if I’m not a drinker and how it won’t be worth it to drink, and may even actually be a really bad idea. I know I am in control of my power and being a non-drinker is a really good thing for me, and he would (ultimately) appreciate that. He’s a good guy and he respects me. All of those things are true.

But at 16 days I realize how precarious my hold on sobriety actually is, and how clear it is that my main drivers for drinking have always included an incredibly deep-seated need to belong that goes all the way back to my earliest formative years. Yeah, my Dad was a drinker and left my Mom, little sister and me when I was 2-years-old, not to really show up again until he got sober when I was 12. And yeah, that experience, like for so many people, has influenced how I have related to men and to other situations of belonging and approval (like this) my entire life.

Oh my. I’ll do my best to shake it off and live to see another sober day, but this is scary, powerful shit. It helped a lot to know I have so many people on my side, cheering for me. It helped to remind myself that moderation just hasn’t worked. It helped that as I was eating I could look at the list I made for myself before my Day 1 of all the most important reasons alcohol wasn’t working for me anymore, and the benefits I’m counting on as time goes by.

I still want those. I’m still holding on (Jesus,it’s only day 16! This is dumb!) for the good energy of the Universe to start feeling my sober energy and begin sending some of that good energy back in my direction. I believe it will happen, but I have to hold on. I’m going woo woo on this shit.

Right now I remind myself that I don’t need wine to be included, accepted or loved. I just need to love and value myself enough to trust that. Shit. Yes. Why don’t I completely believe that? This will be my mantra. This is hard.

16 days is something but it feels like nothing. Wow. Some days will be easier than others. 16 days. I’m focusing too much on the future. I need to come back to today. Right here. Right now.

Stay. Here.

Rachel.

Bad boyfriends, broken hearts

I ate a pint of Ben & Jerry’s tonight, and let’s just say that it capped a long day of trying desperately with food to fill a void I was feeling. Granted, I was off my eating routine, having gone to brunch with my family, but when I got home, I was very aware that Wolfie had an ice pick to my brain stem and was applying pressure.

“What are you feeling right now? What hole are you trying to fill?” I asked myself. But I couldn’t fully pull out of it. It felt too close. I was too far inside the noise in my head to really step out of the spin cycle and ground myself again.

Obviously, I need to work at this. And so, instead, I ate whatever I wanted (peanut butter, ice cream, cheese enchiladas…) instead of drinking. This isn’t a good medium- or long-term strategy, especially because, as a person who has struggled with food issues all her life, including binge-eating disorder in grad school, turning to food only compounds the issues for me. Sitting here right now with the clarity of evening, I can see that in some ways, replacing drinking with eating could eventually make the compulsion to drink worse. No bueno.

I like Anne’s idea of bubble baths. Can’t hurt to try. 🙂

But as I was walking my dog tonight, I remembered a NY Times article that really resonated with me, especially with a day like today in my rear view mirror.

“For me, heroin [me: red wine] provided a sense of comfort, safety and love that I couldn’t get from other people (the key agent of addiction in these regions is the same for many pleasurable experiences: dopamine). Once I’d experienced the relief  heroin [red wine] gave me, I felt as though I couldn’t survive without it.”

I’m not sure about ending the argument that addiction is progressive… but comparing it to heartbreak sure felt right. Even the subhead of my blog refers to my relationship with red wine as a love affair that was over.
“Recognizing addiction as a learning disorder can also help end the argument over whether addiction should be treated as a progressive illness, as experts contend, or as a moral problem, a belief that is reflected in our continuing criminalization of certain drugs. You’ve just learned a maladaptive way of coping.
Moreover, if addiction resides in the parts of the brain involved in love, then recovery is more like getting over a breakup than it is like facing a lifelong illness. Healing a broken heart is difficult and often involves relapses into obsessive behavior, but it’s not brain damage.”
If I compare how I’ve been feeling today with getting over a broken heart (even if he was a bad boyfriend), at least it feels similar to something I’ve done before — and I made it through.
Tomorrow, no ice cream.
Rachel.
Day 14.

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? 🙂 ), 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. 🙂  )

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