Seven months and this journey ain’t no rocket ship

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Lady Ostrich wouldn’t actually bury her head in the sand to hide from scary shit (that’s a myth), and neither will I

Today marks seven months without alcohol.

I’ve had a few dreams lately…but I know nobody wants to hear about another person’s dreams, so I won’t go into it.

All I’ll say is they’ve been of the variety where a) I drink accidentally because I “forgot” I quit drinking, b)  I’m thinking about drinking and I’m stressing over how I’ll explain it to all of my sober friends…or c) I have super sexy time with someone I really shouldn’t have been doing it with (but clearly really wanted to), and then I just lay with them, skin on skin, for hours…

I like those dreams best.

My recent work trip experience (when I nearly drank) has caused me to do some serious thinking about what I *really* want, what’s most important to me, what place alcohol had in my life that last 5-10 years before I finally stopped drinking, and what I’ve been learning since.

I keep saying: It’s really amazing what you can learn about yourself when you quit disappearing into a bottle of wine every night…oh, and it’s amazing what you learn when you quit drinking and you ramp up the therapy to several hours a week. 🙂

It’s a recipe for some warp drive self-discovery.

But I think the best part has been that unexpected feeling of being more firmly rooted in the ground than I think I’ve ever been. And if I were to try to break down how that is happening, I think it partly comes from a growing self-awareness (thanks sober therapy!) and partly from just feeling better physically and having gone seven months without regretfully saying or doing anything booze-fueled. There’s something in the regular cycle of self-recriminations that has a way of eroding one’s confidence.

Of rotting away one’s chewy center.

So, here I am. Day 215 or something and I’m committed to going a year without alcohol before I revisit what this all means to me — and yes, by that I mean, whether this is really forever or not. Some days I think it probably is…and some days…some days I still wonder.

Last night I was feeling a bit lonely and needing something.

Needing. Longing…

I felt that old pull of wanting to just bliss out (or blot out). To satisfy that soft sorrow with a fast hit to the central nervous system.

But here’s the thing: I’ve learned enough now to know that the whole “escaping into a bottle” thing may have felt like it was working for those painful years, but it turns out, drinking when I could have been feeling what I was feeling was just delaying the inevitable. Drinking was a symptom of my pain. And unless I wanted to stay drunk all the time (which, fortunately, I didn’t), I wasn’t actually escaping from anything. Not for long, anyway.

And p.s., I was fucking up my brain’s ability to produce dopamine in a normal way. Whoops.

“You did what you knew how to do. And when you knew better, you did better.” – Maya Angelou

So I give myself a break. My path is my path. Drinking the way I was drinking was my “dangerously misguided self-care,” and it worked for a while, when I needed it. Now my work is to get at the root of the WHY so I don’t go back there. I think we can all agree, I don’t want to do that.

What did I need last night? Here’s what I came up with:

  • Despite having a great couple of days connecting with some amazing people (including lots of non-drinkers, whom I adore), by last night I was feeling lonely.
  • I wanted to feel held.
  • I was working through some new realizations about what having a “partner” in life means, what it doesn’t mean, and what I might want in a partner. This brings up a lot of old stuff, of course.
  • I wanted to tap into my joy and pleasure. On demand.
  • I wanted to feel sexy and beautiful. (?? I have no idea where this came from, but my subconscious told me it needed to be included…)
  • There was a nagging anxiety coming from a little bit of work stuff that I wanted to soothe.
  • Joy and pleasure. Impatience.
  • Joy and pleasure.

So.

I’m not going to drink about any of this.

I AM making it a priority to find sources of joy and pleasure in ways that don’t include wine or food. I am going to get curious about that and see where it leads me. I am looking at how I spend my spare time, and begin practicing using that time for things that bring me joy, or make me feel like I’m working on things that are in line with my life goals or values. Like my writing. Or my activism. And building my home. And loving my dog.

And moving my body. Moving my body needs to be a priority in all of this .

So there it is. That’s the honest truth of where I am at seven months.

And one more thing: I’ve also realized that I might need to scale back a bit on listening to podcasts and reading the blogs of sober 30-somethings whose lives have “changed 180 degrees” from where they were when they were drinking and are now AMAZING and FANTASTIC. Because as inspired as I was by their insights when I first began this process, and I’m so grateful they helped me get woke, I’m beginning to see that the promise of “attracting” a completely different/renewed/better life in sobriety may be a bit counter-productive for those of us whose choices weren’t “QUIT DRINKING or DIE.”

Because for me, the “miracles” of living alcohol free look more and more to be a quiet process of newfound self-love and -awareness. Of confidence and connection. Of perspective and possibility.

Mine isn’t a story of the Phoenix ascending from the ashes into a glistening new life of career, relationships, fame, and so on.

Mine is a story of figuring out what I have to offer the world, what brings me joy, how I can be of service and how I can love.

We shall see.

xo Rachel

Day 215

“These are the days that must happen to you.” – Walt Whitman

Christmas Day, and I’d really like to numb out

la-la-landI just saw “La La Land,” and I guess I should have predicted this: Watching Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone in a beautiful Hollywood romance just made me feel more lonely. And like I missed some big opportunities in my life. And that I just want to feel good and numb this ache. And that would happen if I drank a bottle of wine.

Yeah, after 158 days (more than 5 months) that would also make me sick as a dog. But some days a person can get really fucking tired of feeling her feelings and being present and doing the next best thing and thinking it all the way through and not comparing myself to others and being grateful and reaching out and looking for other ways to find my joy…

A bubble bath isn’t going to cut it.

Some days…this just fucking sucks.

I suddenly want to write them all down. All the relationships I had that didn’t work but maybe could have if I’d just done things a bit differently…all the work opportunities I had if I’d taken more risk or had more faith, but I chose something else instead…all the time I spent in my early life not being as smart as I could have been. All the time I spent doing things that led me to being nearly 50 and living in a small apartment alone with my dog, despite having known and dated really amazing men, having worked with really amazing (some famous) people, having had exposure and opportunities 20, even 10 years ago that I didn’t recognize for being as amazing as they were. I want to make them amount to something.

I used to say I don’t really have regrets. That I’ve had an amazing life of experience. That it has all led me here. And yet now, my whole life feels like a series of regrets.

I feel like I’ve been working hard to make good decisions and build a life that I want to stay sober for, but it’s coming slow. I can see now that drinking a bottle of wine now would be a cop out. An escape hatch to a place that might feel better for the moment, but is an illusion.

And so, I’m left sitting here lonely and in pain in this life I’m in. I built this life. I am here after a long series of life choices, including the decision to quit drinking. I decided I needed to take a clear-eyed look at my life and the way I’ve been living it.

I’m 48 years old and I’m not sure what the future holds. It does seem whatever that is, it’s a far cry from a love affair with Ryan Gosling and La La Land. Yeah, maybe it wasn’t the best day to watch an homage to screen love affairs of the Golden Era.

They say “your worst day sober is better than your best day drinking.” Well that sure seems like bullshit at the moment. I wasn’t that heavy a drinker, I just wanted a different life. I wanted to change my trajectory. I was taking the easy way out.

Maybe that’s the gift of sobriety: the clarity of what was the booze’s fault and what probably wasn’t.

Ugh.

There’s too much noise in my head. I just want out of my head.

I’m going to go on a long walk with my dog. Maybe that will relieve some of the pressure.

Rachel. Day 158.

 

Brain: Are you *sure* you don’t want to drink anymore?

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So, the naturopath who is part of my intensive sober women’s group program has said that at 3.5-4 months, the brain often checks in with people about whether or not they’re really serious about this quitting drinking thing. She said that it’s about that time that the neural pathways begin to pave over the old well-worn paths and begin the process of making the new paths more permanent, but before the brain really “commits,” at about 3.5-4 months, many people go through a period of revisiting the decision. It’s a thing.

Brain: Are you SUUUUUURRRE you’re quitting, before I make all these changes??

For the last couple of months at least, I’ve been feeling pretty good. And while sometimes I’ll have thoughts or really mild cravings, the cravings haven’t been bad for a long time. I’m always able to identify exactly what’s going on: I’m stressed or tired or lonely or whatever. Usually guzzling a fizzy drink and eating some chocolate is enough. Not always — I do have to watch it so my old disordered eating doesn’t try to rear its ugly head — but since I started this weekly in-person program, thoughts of drinking have never even come close to threatening the accountability I feel toward my sober group.

That’s still true, but DAYAM, the last few days I’ve been having strong cravings. I’m not going to drink and I still stop and ask myself what is going on, what could be causing this…but it has been strong enough the last couple of days that I’ve resorted to ice cream and chocolate and LOTS of fizzy drinks again, and a pretty steady rhythm of snacking all day long. Looking for distraction. A tiring yoga workout this morning and a long walk with my dog this evening didn’t help much either.

Of course, just when I’m really trying to lose a little weight finally. Gah. Priority is not drinking, but dammit.

I watched the first part of Eat, Pray, Love tonight — it’s one of those silly movies I can watch again and again — and of course the Rome portion of her journey was pretty triggering. Not only was she drinking a bottle of red wine in just about every scene with friends and laughter and pasta and spectacular ROME, but it was in ROME, where I spent some intense/romantic/dopamine-rich time this spring with the hot Italian, drinking gorgeous red wine and walking around the city with him, holding hands in the early hours of the morning, while wearing his sexy leather jacket draped over my shoulders. Ah me…. Bad timing for romantic memories of love and connection and wine.

Maybe I’m a little heartsick too. I did catch myself looking at photos on Facebook tonight of the first man I was ever with when I was 20 years old. I was with him until I was 27, and 21 years later, he looks exactly the same. Except now he has a wife and a child and a solid career and…

I guess I was revisiting old wounds today a bit too.

Anyway… If I break the craving down in my head TODAY (staying away from those triggering memories), I can play it to the end, and it’s clear what drinking *really* means in my life now — what I want to gain and what I would be losing if I drank — and I won’t go there.

But this is as uncomfortable as I’ve been in a long while, and I can say for a fact that all of my snacking today didn’t help at all. Tomorrow I need to find another way to self-soothe. I’m thinking I need to revisit my mindfulness exercises too. And breathe.

I’m going to sleep as long as I need to tonight and hope I feel better tomorrow. It’s probably a brain thing going on. Maybe it’s time to really increase my exercise finally. Maybe it’s the seasons changing. That could very well be it. Who knows.

Lots to keep me busy tomorrow, in any case. This too shall pass.

Rachel.

Day 94.

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

I miss you. Goodbye.

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Yesterday was eight weeks without alcohol and I feel alright. Not spectacular, but alright.

Something’s been nagging at me for a while, and that something is a man. He hasn’t been nagging me on purpose, but it’s the thought of him and the last time we were together that has been tightening its grip a bit. Scratching at me like the tag on the back of my t-shirt, suddenly driving me ape shit and forcing me to pay attention.

The last time we were together just over eight weeks ago. He came over to my apartment and noticed the calendar on the wall that counted off the days in big pink numbers, 1, 2, 3…all the way to 19, before starting over again. 1,2,1,1,1 2,1… When he arrived at my apartment at midnight, I had already drunk a bottle of wine. I’m sure he could barely tell — a bottle of wine over the course of a few hours would have hardly been noticeable on me then — and he’d had a few beers of his own, I think.

We didn’t sleep together, if that’s where you think this is going, but we talked a lot and laughed a lot, and I fed him a late dinner, and after he ate that bowl of pasta he moved over to sit next to me and hold my hand.

He’s wicked smart — well-known for how smart he is, in fact — and he laughed especially hard once when he made an obscure reference I understood. He said he loved it that I got it and he didn’t have to explain. I loved it that he loved it.  That he appreciated me that way. And I loved that he was holding my hand.

We’ve known each other more than 20 years and we’ve both been through a couple of marriages in that time. We’ve both been through plenty of brutal heartache. We’ve hooked up a few times over the years, but only now are we really both single at the same time.

But single isn’t the same thing as available.

I’ve been focused on me. I’ve been consumed by quitting drinking and staying quit. And as anyone who has been through this process knows, in the early days it takes pretty much every bit of extra energy one has. Extra energy, which includes all the energy it also takes from one’s work, social life, mental capacity, diet… all of it. Quitting drinking is so much harder than anyone thinks it’s going to be, and it’s all-consuming for a good while.

He’s focused on him. He’s going through a messy, contemptuous divorce with a woman who keeps saying she’s changed her mind. He’s having to sell his house and parent his kids and work through his own massive life transition, which leaves him racked more days that not.

And, he wonders if we have known each other too long. If what he really needs is a fresh start. Despite the fact that he says he trusts me like he trusts very few people, he wonders.

So. I’ve stayed away.

I made a promise to myself after my last really big relationship blew up in a spectacular fireball of hell that I would never again invest myself emotionally in someone who can’t meet me in an equal place. Who is ambivalent. Who isn’t emotionally available. I promised. And I know it was the right promise to make.

And in the more than two months since last seeing him, he hasn’t reached out. He hasn’t inquired. He hasn’t asked about how I’m doing or tried to connect. He has a lot going on, but that’s no excuse. We all know that. I know that.

And so I’ve stayed away…until today. It felt like it was time to get my answer (because sometimes I need to force my own hand and kill any sprouts of hope I might be harboring by taking a machete to the ambiguity) and I finally decided to reach out to him. I would give him the opening he didn’t actually need. I would say hello.

I got my answer. He promptly responded and nicely answered my questions but still didn’t ask about me. He didn’t inquire. He didn’t keep the conversation going. He didn’t wonder.

And tonight I want to drink. I’m not going to drink, but I want to. I guzzled a couple of fizzy drinks and stuffed my belly with enough food to give me that full feeling that would slow down my drinker’s voice. I breathed and said out loud

Ouch. This hurts. I need to feel my feelings but this fucking hurts. I hurt. 

I’m not going to drink about it, but I want to. And I’m excruciatingly clear why: I want to squish these feelings and at the same time I want to feel loved. Desired. Worthy. I want to blot out this pain and sadness, and at the same time I want to feel held and comforted and included. I want to forget, and leave for a while, and fucking let go and not care. And I want to feel deeply and care with all my heart. I want to feel so much.

I know alcohol only makes it worse. All of it. I know it does’t fix anything. And I believe I won’t move forward if I drink. I won’t heal. I know.

So.

Fuck.

I’m feeling my fucking feelings. I’m going to go for a walk with Bub and then I’m going to get in bed early and read. And sleep. And I’m going to pray and hope the Universe has big plans for me. HUGE FUCKING PLANS. And those HUGE plans include bringing my partner to me. Someone who will do all the things this guy isn’t doing and then some. Someone who wants me and more importantly, deserves me. Someone who is my champion and makes me feel like I’m amazing when I’m with him — because I am.

I know, I know, I’m supposed to fill up my own damn hole, but goddammit, tonight I just want to be loved, and desired, and held. And that’s okay.

Tonight I will let myself feel this shit and mourn the hope I had that this rare amazing man and I might try something new and cool. That we might be just what the other needs and we were there all along. That it would be a new season for us.

I will mourn that and accept that it isn’t going to happen.

My coach might advise me to ask myself and the Universe, So, who else? Who else is out there?

So, yeah, okay, I’ll try that, but not tonight. Tonight I will hurt and miss him. And tonight I will let him go.

Rachel. Day 57.

 

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

It gets harder before it gets easier

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And man, that tunnel can feel long.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Deep breath…

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

xo Rachel.

Day 10.

NA beer and internalizing being a non-drinker takes time

After my whiny whiny post on Jan 1, it got me wondering why I was having so much a sense of loss of fun. Pleasure. I really didn’t think I was feeling deprived — I mean, I’ve intellectualized the fact that it’s “poison,” all the harm it has caused in my life, and all I’m not getting done because I spent the bulk of every day when I wasn’t at work, drinking.

Maybe this was a normal part of the evolution? Maybe I just needed an attitude adjustment? Take a look around and be grateful for all the amazing things in my life? Maybe.

But I’ve really been starting to wonder if the AF beer I’ve been drinking from time-to-time has been causing this nagging flatness, or at least making it worse than it might have been. That maybe, the AF beer has been a low-grade trigger I didn’t realize.

I’m sure there are lots of articles on this — to drink AF drinks or not to drink them — and I hear that AA is so against AF beer that it considers drinking it a lapse. (If that’s true, another strike against me attending AA… Because, c’mon…) But this article was interesting about a test on rats that showed that even the smell of alcohol was a trigger for them. I wasn’t much of a beer drinker before, but I can understand it intuitively. It really does smell and taste like beer. You just don’t git no buzz on.

But better than that one, this article really articulates how I feel about not drinking now, and how the “slips” over the last several months since I really (seriously) started quitting back in August, have contributed to killing what she calls the “scratchy curiosity” of whether or not I can or want to drink ever again. (Yes! THAT I relate to!) She accidentally drank an AF beer that had .5% alcohol, and she says she felt a bit drunk from it. But instead of experiencing a pleasing euphoria, she felt an unpleasant “mechanical and empty” buzz, which she couldn’t wait to wear off. That was my experience exactly, not with the AF beer (mine is 0.0% alcohol), but with the wine in the last few months. And for me, not only was there no euphoria, but it didn’t even taste good anymore.

“After my Schneider Weisse experience, I was completely surprised by my reaction, or lack thereof. Maybe it was a lucky break; maybe I’ve simply lost the ability to get buzzed off alcohol. In any case, this experience added more to my toolset than probably anything thus far. My two slips (once at two months, another at six months) helped me to fully commit to abstinence, for instance, while this near-beer episode gave me an incentive to drink that goes beyond craving, triggers, and self-talk/Higher Power: I don’t drink because it doesn’t make me feel good. I can’t drink, not because I’m afraid of losing control, but because it doesn’t work. I choose to not drink because I know I don’t want to,instead of, I can’t drink even though I want to.

I am not saying that experimenting is safe, or advisable. Know thyself. Be mindful. Many drunks—myself included—find that abstinence is the only way to heal. I drank that small beer feeling strong and happy in my skin. Every time I drank in the past five years, however, I drank when I was feeling down; I drank to numb, to mask depression and anxiety. Now that I know it doesn’t work—when I’m feeling up, at least—I’m more firmly committed to finding another way to deal.

I am also not saying I’d go out and try this again. I know all too well the thoughts that lead to the “fuck it” mentality—the rationalizations that go from one-sip-here to two-bottles-a-night-there. It’s a slippery slope.

What I am saying is that I appreciate having taken a calculated risk—even if it was accidental. I appreciate knowing more about how my mind is working these days in response to alcohol. I appreciate not having to live within this scratchy curiosity. In fact, I appreciate not having to live in fear.

I used to think the whole point of getting sober was to be able to drink “normally” again. These days, I’ve come to believe the point of getting sober is to not want to drink—in essence, to thrive without alcohol, and not just find workarounds. For me, this is what sober living is about, and I think my near-beer accident might have been the best “mistake” I ever made.”

— Jenny Oliver

My “slips” in the last several months have been completely necessary for the larger question and answer for me, which is being sober on purpose, as a choice, and alternative to feeling shitty. And as an alternative to not reaching my full potential in so so many ways.

And I know for a fact that alcohol was keeping me down. Still, killing that “scratchy curiosity” of whether I could still get a euphoric pleasure from wine was a critical step in the process.

I’ll probably still feel a bit awkward for a while on dates, or with friends when they are all drinking. (I was recently on a date and told him I was doing a “100-day challenge” and it started to get awkward before I managed to change the subject. I’m going to try a different tack next time, saying it impacts my sleep and makes me feel lousy. ‘Maybe I’m just getting old,’ yuck yuck… and see if that works better. I suspect it will.)

And there may be rough patches in the future when I lose the plot again and wonder why I’m not drinking like everyone else. The wine goblin (addiction) is insidious, and I understand he’ll never ever be completely gone. That’s when I’ll really need to lean more on my tools and supports, my community, and remember why I chose to drop alcohol from my life.

But it’s already getting better. Getting easier dealing in those situations. I really do feel like I’ve turned a corner, and just like I don’t eat meat and a date eating meat isn’t going to make me suddenly cave to eating a big steak, the same will go for alcohol. If my friends or my date don’t like the fact that I basically have an allergic reaction to alcohol so I avoid it (“it makes me feel bad, messes with my sleep” etc.), then that’s on them, not me.

And all the free time I have to read books and walk in the sun with Bub is so amazing. Why would I regret that? Certainly it’s worth figuring out what to do with my hands at an occasional dinner.

I’m starting Brene Brown’s Courage Works semester tomorrow. It’s all part of the journey I’m on to be the best me I can be. I’m excited to start.

Day 42  – technically, but I really started not drinking for bigger and bigger gaps of time sometime in August. I’d like credit for those too, thank you. 🙂 All a necessary part of getting me to this place.

Happy sober Sunday, everyone!

xo Rachel.