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.

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. 

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.

IMG_9096.JPG

 

 

 

 

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.

Moving and the wine glasses

I’m packing today for a move at the end of the month. I’m sad to be moving, so there’s THAT, and I decided to pack up all of my wine glasses and put them in a box, which I don’t plan to unpack in my new place. I won’t be needing them.

Right?

Wolfie has been whispering in my ear: “Won’t you need them? EVER? Aren’t you ever going to entertain again? You’re never drinking wine ever again? Aren’t you ever going to be NOOORMAL?”

Thanks for making this even harder, Wolfie.

I know drinking basically a bottle of red wine a night like I was isn’t normal, and there’s no going back to “normal.” (Although, as Ainsobriety rightly points out: being sober is actually our normal state…) But dayum, I’m completely triggered. All that romance and community and sensuous living I’ve tied to those glasses for so many years, smashing headlong into the new reality I’m creating. The new normal.

I said out loud, “I don’t need to decide any of that now! Leave me alone!” And I don’t.
I could keep them (will I need them to entertain? This mythical *someday* that hasn’t happened since i got divorced more than four years ago?) or I could gift them all to friends. I have no idea what to do with all that stuff right now, but I don’t have to figure it out today. I can store it away and decide later.

Man, that was a sucky moment. I’m still reeling. I’m not going to drink but I do wish I had someone to give me a long hug. Preferably a tall, handsome someone? Hehe.

Ah well. 🙂

I can be sad now. I can let myself feel that. Thinking about forever right now is too much. I’ll just commit to today.

And I will make my new apartment cozy and mine and full of only things that bring me joy. It won’t have an amazing view that makes me happy, but it will have upsides I don’t expect, I’m sure. And as for the mythical *someday* when I might wish for those wine glasses out of the box…I guess I’ll cross that bridge when I come to it.

Breathing….

Xo Rachel.

Day 15.

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.