My Year of Sobriety? The Hero’s Journey

Psychologists call it being “parentified,” when a child is forced to be the “parent” to herself and siblings, and often to her own parents too. This doesn’t have to be the result of abject abuse or neglect; it can occur when a child’s parent or parents simply don’t have the capacity or inclination to give her the protection and nurturing she needs at a young age. So, the child must parent herself.

This was the case for me.

My dad left when I was about 2-years-old — a drunk — and my mom — a bank teller raising two small girls — did all she could just to keep  a roof over our heads and food on the table. And attachment theory wasn’t a thing  in the 70s. So…

As it turns out, when kids are parentified, they often spend their lives searching for that feeling of belonging and self-worth. They often struggle to be able to self-soothe and comfort themselves in a mature and healthy way, because they never learned how. I haven’t read any books on this yet (at the suggestion of a good friend, I just ordered one and it’s on its way), but I’ve heard enough in my group therapy to realize that this is huge for me.

And a huge reason I drank.

One thing is clear since I finally quit drinking: I’ve had to face the reasons I was drinking too much, and they stem all the way back to my feelings of belonging. Being included and a part of a tribe. Being accepted and feeling worthy.

I’m 206 days alcohol-free today, and this week, for the first time since I quit 6-1/2 months ago, I almost drank.

I was at a work/team off-site at a beautiful resort in Florida. I just adore my work colleagues, and we work hard and have a lot of fun together. They have also seen me drink quite a bit in the past, as we had big trips abroad (Italy! Europe!) together to launch projects, or have had other team outings where red wine is always an integral part of the program.

It was the fourth night of long days of meetings and fun, and we were all sitting around a fire pit under the stars. They were all drinking expensive red wine and the glasses were refilling fast. Finally, the conversation came around again to asking why I wasn’t drinking. I know we sober folks like to think that drinkers don’t even notice when we aren’t drinking, and sometimes that’s true. But this time, I stuck out like a sore purple thumb.

Over the last few days I’d been fending off their questions, telling them I was off alcohol “for a year” because I wanted to mitigate the perception with my colleagues, and honestly, I’m not really ready to say out loud to anyone that I have quit forever. So, I figured I’d tell them a half-truth: Alcohol was making me feel like shit, so I quit for 100 days. When I got to 100 days, I decided to keep going to a year. I’m over half way there.

I suppose I could have left the situation and gone back to my room, but I just didn’t want to be left out of this experience. This is the bonding time and the inside stories time, and I wanted to be a part of it. I thought I could be a part of it, with my sparkling water and cranberry juice, but I quickly wanted something more interesting to drink (there wasn’t anything)  or some way to blend in a little better (there was no where to hide).

Maybe they sensed my wavering, my discomfort, my desire to dance on the edge of both worlds, because they turned up the volume a bit. They pressed deeper, questioning why I would quit for so long, and teasing me about it. It was meant in fun, but all eyes were on me, all attention was on me, and while it had been moderately sucky before, as an introvert who doesn’t love so much attention, now it was almost unbearable.

So, I got up and walked inside. I was going to do it. A glass of wine wouldn’t kill me and I could deal with telling my sober therapy group and my sober friends tomorrow.  It was more important to me in that moment to belong and relieve the pressure than to not drink. It was more important to stay part of the pack.

And something else was also true: Sitting around a fire pit, under the stars, drinking a beautiful glass of red wine out of a beautiful glass, laughing with good friends, is one of my most favorite things to do in life. It was, anyway. It’s what some call a “peak moment.” This was a peak moment of my life and I was unable to fully enjoy it because I was hating the sparkling water and cranberry juice I was drinking, and I was not fully “in” because I was drinking it.

I can hear what you’re probably thinking: It’s not the wine that gives us joy in those situations. It’s not the wine that defines our belonging.

Believe me, I’ve had enough therapy around this and I’ve read enough blogs and posts and books to totally get it.

And yet…in that moment, there was nothing else but that. It was a primal need to belong and bond with my tribe.

I came back outside with the glass. “Alright,” I said. “I’ll have a glass.”

The tone shifted. One of my colleagues who I have shared a lot of laughs with, including over lots of red wine, reached up to put his hand on my forearm.

“Wait. Have you really not had a drink in over 6 months?”

No, I haven’t.

“Well then don’t break your streak for THIS,” he said, and he gestured toward the fire pit. “Don’t do it for this.”

Another colleague spoke up, “Did you make a promise to yourself that you would be breaking if you drank tonight?”

I nodded. Yes, I did.

“Well then don’t do it. Don’t break your promise to yourself. Don’t drink tonight.”

I looked at them now and they all looked back a me a bit sheepishly. They were on my side. I turned on my heel and put the wine glass back on the kitchen counter. I wouldn’t be needing it tonight.

That was the first time since I quit drinking that my resolve actually dropped. I’ve had days with strong urges, days when my mood was bad or I wanted to disappear or stuff feelings or I felt like I wasn’t sure I would be doing this forever, but I always knew even if it sucked, I wasn’t going to drink. This was the first time I was actually tempted, or actually, more than tempted; this time I was going to do it.

But I didn’t.

And the silver lining is that it brought into stark relief what I really need to focus on. The work I have to do.

It brought into focus that I’m not convinced.

I have powerful issues around a need for belonging. And self-worth. I have work to do around intimacy and letting myself be vulnerable. I have powerful associations with wine as part of what is the “best of life,” and the peak, best moments of my life have almost always included wine. Not wine to excess, just wine as one element of many. I conjure those moments in my mind and they represent:

Romance

Love

Warmth

Pleasure

Joy

Belonging

Richness

Possibility

Humor

Connection

Adventure

Sensuality

And so much more…

Do I really want to give that up for the better life that could be? For the “miracle” that still hasn’t come?

Some have told me that the miracle turns out to be real connection and joy in the small moments of everyday. Being awake for life. Present in it.

Yes, I’m sure that is so. And maybe that is the work I need to do, now that I can see it, working on true intimacy and connection with those around me.

No, I can’t be disappearing into a bottle of wine every night and think I’m going to also work on my inner self. Ain’t gonna happen.

But this is part of the challenge of being a “high bottom” drinker. Nothing really bad ever happened, but I felt like I was blotting out my light. After experiencing trauma about five years ago (and after an emotionally abusive marriage), I was drinking to stuff it all down. I wasn’t doing the work of healing.

Now… TRIGGER WARNING. This is me working shit out in writing and I wouldn’t want to cause unease in anyone who is unsure about quitting or staying quit. We are all on our own journeys. We each have our own needs.

And this is the risk of thinking I can go back to drinking at some point. That I’ll have learned enough in “My Year of Sobriety,” on what will certainly be a lifetime assignment toward feeling belonging and vulnerability, that I can dip my toe in again.

That my journey will have changed my path.

My ninja group therapist must have sniffed a bit of this on me yesterday when she went straight in for the kill. She (kindly, lovingly) said that the thing about those of us who got to the place of using alcohol as “dangerously misguided self-care” is that once we’ve crossed that line, there almost always is no going back. What was a friend (alcohol) is no longer a friend.

There’s no going back to just being a normal drinker.

  • I know there is a freedom in not having the negotiation of whether or not to drink (or how much to drink) in any given situation. I do that with food already, and it does get so, so tiring, but would it be different now with wine?
  • Yes, I’ve read ALL THE THINGS (seriously, ALL the things) that say drinkers always think they can moderate and they can’t. Yes, I tried to before too and it never worked very well. But moderating wasn’t my issue, stuffing down my feelings with wine was, and what I really needed to do was get to the root of WHY I was abusing alcohol.
  • Yes, I hear everyone who says it gets easier to be the non-drinker in the group, but part of me wonders if I’m ever going to really be that person.
  • Yes, I know that if I started drinking again and then wanted to quit again, it may be much harder next time.
  • Yes, I remember the hangovers and the embarrassing late-night cringe-worthy texts, and the men I shouldn’t have gone to bed with.
  • Yes, I don’t want to lose my sober community, whom I am growing to love and feel part of more and more each day.
  • Yes, I know that amazing and beautiful moments don’t depend on wine, but so often the wine has been a binding agent in all of it.
  • Yes, I know this — all of this work I’m doing — is supposed to be about the BIGGER YES, my higher purpose, the Hero’s Journey, but I’m struggling to see how my life on the whole is better yet. I don’t want to trade the amazing highs for a series of smaller joys. That’s never been the way I’ve lived my life.

Yes, I know how this sounds.

And still… I’m being completely honest here… I just want to belong again.

With this experience I realized that I don’t want to give up those peak moments for the hope of small moments of joy along the way. I want to LIVE and I want to LIVE BIG.

Fuck. Bradley Cooper, where are you when I need you??! 🙂

I am committed to going one year and then checking in with myself.

I’m committed to being open-minded and I will not harbor a secret hope that I can/will drink again in July. The next 5-1/2 months are going to be about 110% self-love and discovery. Doing the work I need to do (to be determined) to get at those core issues around belonging, self-worth, intimacy and vulnerability between now and July.

And how can I use exercise and movement to help me with anxiety and soothing, and to feel more connected to myself?

These are the questions.

I look forward to checking in more often, and if you made it all the way to the bottom, I welcome your thoughts.

xo Rachel

Day 206

 

 

We have lift off… Bradley Cooper

rocket-boosters

Today was Day 128 alcohol free, and it’s been a while since I’ve checked in. I’ve been good, although if I’m honest I admit that this time of year is always hard on me. Maybe for the same reasons it hard for other people, and maybe for some reasons that are particular to me. But my boat has definitely been taking on water lately, and I’ve found myself craving wine again in a way I haven’t since the early days.

Melancholy and loneliness are my most powerful triggers, and something about this time of year brings back a wash of memories, regrets, longings, and loneliness that I have a hard time shaking. On Thanksgiving day, as I was really trying to get to the root of the undertow that was pulling at me with such force, it occured to me that I couldn’t remember a relatively recent Thanksgiving when I was really happy. In fact, the last decade of Thanksgivings have been pretty bleak. Even awful. I’ve never really loved this holiday, frankly, and as hard as I’ve tried to list my gratitudes every day and be super mindful of all that is good in my life, right now it’s feeling a bit forced. I’m just a little sad and lonely right now, I guess. Maybe I should just feel my damned feelings and stop fighting it.

It also sounds like a good time to bring out my light therapy box for a daily dose of fake sunshine…. 🙂

The good news is that I haven’t had a drink in more than four months, something that was inconceivable to me even six months ago. And while the heavens haven’t opened up to deliver my divine purpose in the arms of my handsome (and single) lobster, and I have yet to shit anything remotely resembling glitter, I am still trusting the process and will have patience. This whole thing — you know, this changing the way I live my life by not disappearing into a bottle of wine every night thing — takes time.

And it takes as long as it takes, which is always longer than we wish it would take. Dammit.

And moods…they pass. (I am a mountain…everything else is the weather…) This dark mood will pass too. Because I do know one thing for sure: Drinking will NOT make it better. Disappearing into a bottle of wine tonight will NOT make anything feel better, let alone BE better. And my life sure as hell will not continue moving in a positive direction if I drink — and it is moving in a positive direction. I can be Betty Blues for the time being, but as glacial as it might seem, good things ARE happening in my life. Bit by bit. And if I stay true to why I started down this path in the first place, being gentle with myself and beginning to really focus, those turbo boosters are going to fire up.

I have to trust that I am exactly where I am supposed to be, right now.

And I remind myself: Seriously, girl, it’s been four months. Good shit is happening, just breathe and be patient. Good things are coming. FOCUS. 

I’ve finally stopped eating my body weight in gelato and I’m practicing yoga almost every day, so that’s progress. No?

Anyhow… When I got to 100 days last month it was a big deal, because — well, 100 days really IS a big deal for pretty much anyone, let alone someone who was drinking a bottle of red wine every night during the week and often six bottles on the weekends — so I wrote this little thing. My story.

+++

“What is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?” – Mary Oliver

Today is 100 days. How did that happen? 🙂

About two years ago I started buying books. Lots of books. I’d known I needed to reduce my drinking for a while, but I was finally ready to “take a break.” I read everything. Name the quit drinking book or sober memoir and I’ve probably read it. In January of 2015 I went 9 days without a drink and it was astounding how hard it was and how good I felt. It took me another eight months to try again.

I was drinking a bottle of red wine every night, no big deal, and usually more on the weekends. The bottles were opening earlier and earlier on Saturdays and Sundays, because, I thought, “Hell, if I might have a Bloody Mary or mimosa at brunch with friends, why not red wine at 10 a.m. at home by myself?”

Right?

But then the days would pass. Days of nothing getting done, seeing no one. Cancelling plans. Barely getting outside except to walk my dog and buy more wine. And I wasn’t a cheap wine drinker. Oh no. $20 a bottle was my minimum, and if I wanted to “treat” myself, it could easily be twice that.

There I’d sit, alone with my dog, and drink. It was my “only joy.”

And there have been “cringe moments.” Too many to mention. Too many bad decisions fueled by wine. I’ve never blacked out. Nothing “bad” has ever happened…no DUI or public humiliation or unalterable event. But I was making small decisions that were killing me little by little. Stealing my self-worth, one bottle at a time. Day after wasted day.

One of my first teachers was Belle at TiredofThinkingAboutDrinking.com. She had so many wise lessons to impart. So many tools. And I listened. I tried it all. I signed up for her 100 Day Challenge and failed. Over and over, I had so many Day 1s.

But one of her lessons that I heard deep in my core was this: If you aren’t able to make sobriety stick, you need more supports. Last summer I got serious about quitting drinking, and yet, still…it wouldn’t stick. I kept layering on supports. I gave myself sober treats. I blogged. I read tons of bloggers/online writers. I tried AA (it literally drove me to drink). I bought jewelry and said mantras. I signed up for an 8-week Mindfulness for Relapse Prevention class and went every week. I talked to my doctor and started monthly Naltrexone injections (for 6 months). I listened to sober podcasts. I joined secret FB groups. I called an intensive outpatient women’s wellness program, which they billed as “graduate work for your inner self,” and decided no way, I wasn’t THAT person. I didn’t need THAT. I told my friends and family that I was “working on quitting drinking.”

But I’d make it 1, 2, 5, 13, 19, even once 34 days, and then I would just lose the plot and decide fuck it, and drink again. It was my only comfort (I thought). My constant friend (I thought). I could moderate (I thought). I wasn’t THAT bad…

Except some part of me knew that drinking a bottle of wine every night wasn’t healthy. And worse, I was 47 years old and I was drinking my days away. I want to make an impact in this world, but I wasn’t going anywhere. I was single and 47 and making no progress toward any chance of making a difference. What kind of trajectory was this for a meaningful life?

Then in July, after trying to quit for a year, I had gone 19 days when I decided to drink again. I was tired or bored or lonely, or some combination, and asked myself: “Why am I doing this again?” The fucking Wine Harpy had made her way through. I bought a really nice bottle of wine telling myself I would “treat” myself and make it worth it. I drank it and didn’t enjoy it. It didn’t even taste good anymore. I just felt numb. Sad. And the next morning – a work day – I was so sick I couldn’t get out of bed all day except to vomit. Now I was missing work too?

A day and a half later – a day and a half after being so sick I couldn’t stand up without vomiting — I was walking my dog, feeling depressed and confused, and I heard the voice in my head say that the way to feel better was to drink more wine. Go buy more wine. So I did. And I drank it.

That’s when I got scared.

But I heard another, louder voice in my head say calmly and clearly: “NOTHING CHANGES IF NOTHING CHANGES.”

Nothing changes if nothing changes.

I called the outpatient women’s program and this time I left a message. It was one of the scariest things I’ve ever done – and showing up there on July 21 was DEFINITELY one of the scariest things I’ve ever done. I was shaking. I was freaked out. I was terrified at what it meant.

But almost immediately, I knew I was home.

That was 100 days ago. The drinker’s voice is so much quieter now. It’s not gone, but I no longer come home and think about pouring a glass of wine, which is in itself a miracle. (I have a Soda Stream and lots of yummy AF drinks at the ready instead.) When I first started the process of quitting drinking I didn’t know how I would fill all the TIME I now had available (thank you Netflix, HBO and Showtime), but now, the world has opened up again. There isn’t enough time in the days again, so much to do and see and feel. And I’m beginning to feel joy again.

Joy. I was hoping the heavens would open up and the Universe would deliver me a different life – and it still may. But at 100 days I’m realizing that the joy comes in small moments, and that is real life. My dog carrying his bone home from the pet store, the pink morning light against the brick of a building, an engaged conversation with a friend knowing that everything I’m saying is coming from a centered place and I won’t regret a thing in the morning. Joy.

Early on I thought (like so many others), “I’ll just get to 100 days and then see how I feel.” But now that I’m here, there’s no way I want to go back to how I was feeling in July on that day I called for help. Or the year before that – the YEARS before that.

Now I realize that 100 days is amazing, but it’s such a short amount of time in the larger scheme of things. I want to see what my life can be when I really LIVE it. I want to see what my higher purpose really is. Who I am meant to be.

And I’m convinced the only way I can do that is by living my life without alcohol.

Laura McKowen wrote a piece a while back that was also pivotal for me and I have kept close as one of my mantras: The Bigger Yes. I want the BIGGER YES. Living life in this alcohol-soaked world isn’t always easy, but I’m going for the Bigger Yes. I want the bigger life that I can only have if I don’t drink. And I’m keeping the faith.

+++

Laura McKowen has been one of my teachers, inspirations, but there have been many others too…other women who have been on this path and have a powerful way with words. Here are a few favorites. Maybe they’ll help you too.

Aidan Donnelley Rowleyhttp://ivyleagueinsecurities.com/

http://ivyleagueinsecurities.com/2016/08/i-do/

Belle (Robertson)http://tiredofthinkingaboutdrinking.com/

http://tiredofthinkingaboutdrinking.com/2012/08/20/dehydrate-the-wolf/

http://tiredofthinkingaboutdrinking.com/2013/04/02/thinking-about-never-gets-us-stuck/

Laura McKowenhttp://www.lauramckowen.com/

http://www.lauramckowen.com/blog/early-sobriety

http://www.lauramckowen.com/blog/bigger-yes

Holly Whitakerhttp://www.hipsobriety.com/

http://www.hipsobriety.com/home/2015/7/5/dear-hip-sobriety-1-where-do-i-start-10-tips-to-prepare-for-the-big-change

Kristi Coulterhttp://www.kristicoulter.com/

https://medium.com/personal-growth/girl-skulks-into-a-room-cbeacad58a79#.79as0khfe

https://medium.com/@kristicoulter/the-otter-of-sobriety-f7065c29b764#.j81st9j5t

https://offdry.com/2015/07/04/day-730-two-years-today/

Tammi Salashttp://www.tammisalas.com/

http://www.tammisalas.com/blog/2016/8/5/18-months

And a top 25 list: https://thisnakedmind.com/top-25-recovery-bloggers/

Sarah Hepola: Ask a Former Drunk (5-part series)

http://jezebel.com/ask-a-former-drunk-how-do-i-keep-my-sobriety-from-bein-1781921044

http://jezebel.com/ask-a-former-drunk-when-do-you-know-you-have-a-problem-1780859204

And Bradley Cooper may be 12 or so years ahead of me with his alcohol free fabulousness, but he remains my celebrity role model for living an amazing life without the juice. Thanks, Bradley. 🙂

Rachel, Day 128. xoxo

Check, check, checking in

cat_with_a_gun_riding_an_unicorn

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

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.

Tonight I went on a sober date

…and when he walked me back to my door (we had been “having a drink” within walking distance of my apartment), I didn’t kiss him just because I’d been wondering about his lips all night. In fact, I didn’t do anything I’ll wonder (or cringe) about tomorrow morning. I didn’t say anything snarky or coarsely sarcastic or talk too much or too loudly at all. We didn’t stay too long or have a second (or third) unplanned glass or get too personal or intimate; we didn’t think we were having more fun than we would realize tomorrow we really were. I didn’t progressively look more tired or sloppy or flushed. I didn’t eat too much. I didn’t spend too much. I didn’t try too hard.

When I arrived, he was as cute as I’d hoped he’d be, and I ordered a lavender soda because the bartender didn’t have anything with shrub, and besides, I’d never tried the lavender. They served it to me in a tall water glass with a fat black straw, and when I said to my date that what I really wanted was a lowball glass and a wedge of lime, he popped right up and asked the bartender for them both. I transformed my clumsy, juvenile-looking drink into something that looked like a grown woman on a date would be holding it (sans straw). I made a little joke about the glass and the limes, and he seemed unfazed and ordered a glass of red wine without asking why I wasn’t joining him for a bottle. It took him about an hour to get to the bottom of that glass of wine. He didn’t order a second.

We had (what I thought was) a fun conversation and then he walked me back to the front door of my building. Oh, I do love it when men are gentlemen, and he made a joke about protecting me, which I also secretly loved. When we reached the door, he had “the look” (girls, you know the look) and if I had been floating on my 2-3 glasses of wine, I probably would have kissed him then. I’d have just made that happen. But instead, I hugged him close enough that he could smell my perfume if he were paying attention (and I’m pretty sure he was paying attention), and then we said goodbye. He walked back up the street toward his car.

I don’t know if he’ll call (text) again. I’ve found these things are hard to predict. Even when they seem like they will, they don’t always. Sure, I suppose in retrospect I may not have always been the best judge from behind such thick, cab-colored wine goggles. But either way, whether he wants to see me again or he doesn’t, I’m glad I didn’t drink tonight.

For all of these reasons, and so many more. I’m sanguine and I have absolutely no regrets.

Rachel. Day 13.

I’m back.

I suppose it’s fitting that tonight I pigged out on fried mac ‘n’ cheese balls and french fries. That last day I posted (3 months ago), I was raving about the cures of heart&soul a good mac ‘n’ cheese can bring.

Still true.

Since then I’ve been on a little journey, a philosophical, introspective, exploratory walkabout, you might say. I think I was looking to get to the source of any lingering doubts about whether I should go completely AF, so I could be sure. Sure as a person can be.

I’ve heard it said, that while we’re driving our car, building our brick wall, walking our path, bobbing along on our proverbial sea — choose your favorite metaphor — as long as we are sober we are learning and growing in ways we may not even be aware of. We may not feel it’s happening, but OH, YOU BETTAH BELIEVE IT’S A’HAPPENIN’.

So here’s what I learned: I started to think maybe after all the months (since last summer) that I had gone with very little alcohol, maybe I would actually moderate. Maybe I was overreacting. Maybe I really didn’t REALLY want to be that person who doesn’t drink EVER. I’d learned so much and I thought my patterns really had changed…maybe I could seamlessly merge back into the flow of all the other cool and happenin’ humans I know who could drink without it taking more than it was giving. Maybe, I’d reset the clock. (I’m going for maximum metaphor numbers here.)

But then I went on a business trip to Italy. I met a fantastically intoxicating Italian. I don’t think I’ve ever felt so sexy and exciting and alive. There was fun and fantasy and Italian wine and I was swept away in a very fast current. I suppose I can thank my addictive tendencies for this too, but there was nothing and no one that was going to get me off that pleasure train.

Except reality.

It was a short short ride.

When I was ripped back to reality like Christopher Reeve when he finds that damned penny in his pocket in Somewhere in Time (did anyone else see that movie? OMG I loved that movie…), where was I then? I was basically back to where I’d started…and it had happened in no time. Flat.

It wasn’t horrific. I wasn’t off the rails. There was no Leaving Las Vegas and I’ll not be writing a fantastic and inspirational sober memoir about it (although it sounded like there was potential, no? “Rachel’s Roman Holiday: One Hot Italian and 20 Gallons of Red…”) But I was back to where I’d started in many ways, only this time, I had a perspective I didn’t have before. I could see very clearly that the sadness I was feeling, the fatigue, the flabbiness mentally and physically…it was all stemming from the wine.

I had finally started to see that the only way I was going to quit for good was if I started to connect that this — leaving alcohol behind — is about something greater than this very moment. For me, for the briefest of moments, being sober had brought me closer to coming in touch with my higher purpose than I may have ever been. I know this for sure.

I say that, and even now, I sit here with that clarity just beyond reach. I don’t even feel like I’m writing about it nearly as vividly as I experienced it. It feels like it has when I’ve woken from a dream that I saw so clearly, only to struggle to remember what it felt like by the end of the day. I close my eyes and try to feel it again, to find the words, but…all I have left is a blurry memory of how it felt, and the faith that if I stay the course this time, that sureness, that purity of contact with the Universe(?) that I absolutely had glimpses of before, will return. I apologize for sounding a bit woo woo. I honestly think my ham-handed vocabulary here is also a symptom of having moved too far from it to even describe it well.

So here I am, back at Day 3. I can’t bear to read my earlier blog posts right now, knowing how many times before I’ve been so sure and then changed course.

I know it won’t be easy. But this time I’ve seen what three months of drinking again feels like, and none of it was worth how I felt before finally quitting again. I dare say, even the time with the Hot Italian. He’s long gone (many lessons learned!) and here I sit, back on Day 3, very sure that my life is meant for more than this. I’m meant for greater things. The love of my life is out there somewhere. My mind and spirit have the potential for so much more. My higher purpose is yet to show itself, but it’s not far. And the choice I have to make — every day, perhaps — is all of those things over red wine.

THAT is what I have to remember, when I go on a business trip or I’m on a summertime patio/boat/cabin with friends or I’m in Italy with a fantastically handsome Italian.

I choose the rest of my “one wild and precious life,” over red wine.

I’ll be leaning on ALL my supports — and you are a huge part of that. Know that I’ve missed you. And I’ve missed the me who was emerging. It’s a super uncomfortable place to be in the swirl of it all. If you’ve been there (or are still there) you know. Our addict minds are such negotiators, and man, they can be persuasive. That can be a painful process. Fucking Wolfie.

I’ve been loving Sarah Hepola’s 5-part Series in Jezebel, “Ask a Former Drunk.” I really loved the entirety of this #2 piece, How Do I Keep My Sobriety From Being the Thing That Defines Me?  End-to-end. So. Good.

But the first in the series, When Do You Know That You Have a Problem? had a bit that particularly resonated with me too. I mean, probably for many/most of us. It really so often is (or was) the crux of it in the beginning. The letter-writer asked this:

I want sobriety and all that comes with it, but I just don’t want to stop drinking. I mean I do, but I don’t. Does that make sense?

McKenzie

And Sarah answered:

Dear McKenzie,

I’m not sure any sentence has ever made more sense. You want the clarity and peace of sobriety, but you don’t want the emotional discomfort, personal reckoning, and social exile that giving up alcohol would entail. You want the sun-dappled joy of a Sunday with no hangover, but you want the liquid abandon of a Friday night. Over the years, I’ve had many wishes like this: I want to travel the world, but I don’t want to pay for it. I want to lose weight, but I don’t want to stop eating cheese enchiladas. I want to lead a life of meaning, but I don’t want to leave this cozy queen-sized bed.

 

Right? I’ve even said that on this blog. I want to maintain my sobriety but still get a huge wine buzz. WTF?

But then, a bit later, Hepola says this:

…Having no idea what else to do, I made a new bet. The bet was that if I could stay sober for a year, or even three months—maybe things would get better.

They did. The change was neither fast, nor easy. Like you said, quitting drinking was “the ultimate struggle.” But six years later, I can tell you that quitting drinking is one of the smartest things I have ever done for myself. It has enriched my friendships, deepened my writing and my empathy, made my sex life more electrifying and profound, and given me a peace in my own body I did not even know was possible. I thought sobriety was the end of the road, and I had arrived at a dead end, but it’s more like a door that opens up to a thousand more doors, all of them in Technicolor, all of them stretching into the horizon.

All of them in Technicolor, all of them stretching into the horizon.

This is what I want my life to be. And my bet, my hope, my faith — thanks in part to so many amazing people who have been through this and have written about it in books and blogs — is that the glimmer of connection to the Universe I felt before was truly a pinhole into this future she describes.

It won’t be easy. It won’t always be good times. But it’s the only way through.

So, day by day. Day. By. Day.

Rachel.

Day 3.

 

Searching for pleasure

Tonight I bought a bottle of wine and brought it home.

I’m tired of this. I’m bored. I need to feel more pleasure. I just want to be normal.

I’m tired of thinking about this all the time. I’m tired of fizzy water and tea. I’m tired of feeling like someone on the outside of life.

I told myself not today and I don’t want another Day 1 and I don’t want to disappoint everyone, including myself.

I kept saying out loud, Why can’t I have both? Why can’t I just have a drink to satisfy my desire to just feel good for a little while AND still be considered sober? Why? No, it doesn’t makes sense, but that was what I wanted.

I just want to be normal. I’m sick of the waiting and the hoping and wanting. I just want to feel good again.

So I told myself, I just want to be normal for today and I bought a bottle of wine. I also bought a small bag of Sriracha potato chips, a couple of cheese enchiladas and a whole bunch of flavored seltzer water.

I came home and put the wine on the counter. I looked at my calendar with all the days on the wall crossed off — today is Day 26 and there have been weeks of crossed off days since September, but never 26 straight days. I thought about what tomorrow will be like if I just have one big glass. What if it makes me sick? I need to row tomorrow. I’ll just have one glass. 

I reminded myself that the wine is not going to make me feel so good that it will be worth it. What else can you do to make yourself feel good? 

I just want to be normal. I just want this to not be a big deal anymore. I’m over it.

I put my glass on the counter. I opened the bag of chips and opened my patio door. I looked out onto the water. I looked for the sun. I ate the chips like there was no tomorrow, without slowing down, all they way to the last one. I put the enchiladas in the microwave and turned on the TV. The Martian with Matt Damon just hit the Roku selection, but it’s still only for purchase at $14.99. I was going to wait until it dropped to rental price, but decided screw it. I love that movie and I’m going to watch it now. I need pleasure. I bought it and hit play. The microwave beeped and my enchiladas were done and bubbly. I pulled them out and sat in front of the TV with a spoon. I was going to start watching and then pour the glass. I was going to do it, I just was waiting a minute. I swallowed the melted cheese of the enchilada, bite after bite, and the emotions of the dramatic movie scenes came quickly.

Suddenly I was sobbing. Fully, loudly sobbing. I just want to be normal. I don’t want to be sober anymore. I just want to feel good. Where is the pleasure? Why does it have to be this way? I just want to have a glass of wine, that’s all. Is that so bad? I just want a glass of wine. Just a glass. My dog came over to console me, tears running down my face.

I stood up and went to the fridge for an NA beer. In that moment I knew I would’t be opening the bottle of wine. Not today. I started sobbing again, a new wave of emotion coursing through me, coming from I don’t know where. My dog stayed close, concerned. All of this pent up emotion coming out: a sadness, a loneliness, a grief for whatever this means — the bigger meaning — that I am no longer drinking and on top of it all, where has the pleasure in my life gone?

A flash of red caught my eye and it was the sun setting on the horizon, a sinking blaze reminding me to be in the moment, to savor it. But even then, I could access only the faintest appreciation of the beauty. What am I going to do?

I’ve been reminding myself why I’m doing this, and all of the reasons still hold. But despite all my effort, I’m bored. And I’ve lost some perspective. I need to find a way to pull back, get a little distance and find the goodness in my life. There’s so much of it, but today/tonight I’m just mad.

I told myself, Not today, and it’s holding for now. I worry about what this means for hitting 100 days. If I’m losing perspective and the sand is shifting under my feet. I keep thinking, If “Addiction is an elevator that only goes down,” then when is life going to get better? It’s only been 26 days (this time) and it seems like forever. This is sure a heckova lot of emotion for just giving up alcohol. Then again, plenty of people say it’s the hardest (and most important) thing they ever did.

Where is the goddamned bliss?

It’s only been 26 days.

I keep thinking about Bradley Cooper (If only he knew how important he’s been in my journey) and how he surely must have pleasure in his life without alcohol. We don’t all need to be Bradley Cooper.

Maybe my dopamine receptors are so fucked up after 25 years of drinking that they are just off-line. Yes, I find moments of pleasure that I cling to, with my dog, with films, with my work, with friends, with nature. Maybe it’s just that today was Christmas and I was alone and the sun didn’t come out until the afternoon. Maybe I triggered myself more than I realized with the talk of adopting a dog.

I don’t know. But I’m sick of this.

I’m in bed on a Friday night at 8pm with my dog and another fucking cup of tea. Now I’m just being bitchy. On past nights this has been bliss – the bed, the dog, the tea — but today/tonight, I’m having trouble finding it. I’m going to sleep soon and hopefully tomorrow will be a better day, ’cause this sober day pretty much sucked.

I told myself not today, and if I still wanted to drink tomorrow then I could decide then. If I made it to 30 days, even better, then I could re-evaluate.

I don’t know, but I do know I need to figure out where to find that pleasure. I’m reminded again about Augusten Burroughs’ point of view that I need to find something that I want more than I want to drink. It’s too fluffy to say “I want myself more,” even though that’s true. I will feel this craving until it passes, but I am going to need to find pleasure in a way that has only been a glimpse once or twice in the last month.

That’s what I need to do. Feels like my sobriety might depend on it.

Rachel.

Day 26.

 

Watch out for the Boomerang

boomerang air directionI got home tonight from my business trip. Wasn’t here 30 minutes when an intense wave of fatigue washed over me, followed immediately by agitation and a powerful desire to head to the corner store, get a bottle of wine and drink my way to oblivion.

What the hell. So much for my few days of POWERING through the business trip, fending off alcohol at every turn. I’ve heard about watching out for these boomerangs: You make it through a really tough time and feel all proud of yourself and let down your guard and – BAM!! – the desire to drink drops on your head like a ton of bricks.

The voices in my head were LOUD, questioning my decision to quit drinking, pleading for that relief. Badgering me, taunting me.

BUT. Don’t worry. I didn’t cave.

I’m learning.

S.H.A.L.T. Oh hell yes. (I’ve modified AA’s H.A.L.T. and made my own…)

I tell myself: Thou SHALT not drink when feeling SAD. HUNGRY. ANGRY/AGITATED. LONELY or TIRED.

I knew I was feeling tired. Very tired. But inexplicably, I was feeling agitated and a bit lonely/sad too. So, instead of letting myself jump into the wine-filled rabbit hole, I went into self-care overdrive:

  • I turned off the TV because it was only making me more agitated and not helping me unwind.
  • I told myself: Not Today. 
  • I listened to Belle’s “Sober Jumpstart” audio lesson about “Pre-lapse/Relapse” — twice. She said some good stuff about how my WORST sober day is still WAY better than my best drunk day. Aaaand how DAY ONEs suck ASS. (Well, she said “rocks,” but I’ll say ASS. ‘Cause they do suck ASS.)
  • I walked to the store in the pouring rain with my dog, Bub, to buy tea — I ran out — so I could have a cozy, early night in bed. I got soaked and it was kind of nice. Cozy, even.
  • I bought myself a chocolate truffle because I have NOT been giving myself enough sober treats lately. I also found some new low-cal NA flavored soda that look really good. One is grapefruit and the other is cucumber. I’ll try those tomorrow.
  • I took a shower, washed my face and applied a facial mask; brushed my teeth. 🙂
  • I turned on my heating blanket and now I’m in bed, getting ready for an early night to sleep. And I mean it. I need to sleep.

I wasn’t going to write tonight but I’m really trying to use all my tools, especially when it gets tough. Trying to keep asking for support, even when I don’t want to make the effort. I’m willing to listen to the lessons of others, and this is what I’m told to do SO I’M DOING IT.

Belle also said, “Don’t listen to the voice in your head.” Yeah, that fucking voice asking me if I really needed to quit. If I could do moderation. If I can go 9 or 10 days and have a drink only on special occasions, wouldn’t that be good? Wouldn’t it?

Uh, no. It wouldn’t. Today in the airport, after I sat with my co-workers in the bar while they had a round of drinks before getting on the plane (in retrospect, maybe I should have stayed at the gate), I found the voice VERY loud and getting louder. So I played it out. What would happen if I had a glass of wine at the airport? That’s easy. I would have then had to order at least one, probably two more glasses on the plane. I’d take a cab home, and walk straight to the store with my dog and buy a bottle, and drink too much of it, then be sick tomorrow and feel like shit. And regretful. And pissed and like a failure.

But it doesn’t have to even be this particular scenario to be useful. I’ve already proven to myself that moderation just does NOT work for me. Wine becomes all I think about. Wine-o-clock becomes all I look forward to. Nothing was getting done in my life and it was getting worse. Two bottles a day on the weekends instead of one-and-a-half. One-and-a-half bottles a night on the weekdays instead of one. Even on nights when I rowed. I’d head to the store after practice and pick up a bottle. I’d START a bottle on a weeknight at 8:30pm and still manage to finish it in front of the TV before bed.

Ah, what a picture-perfect life, no?

I was starting to look like a drunk — puffy and flabby — because of course, I was exercising less and less. And I am a fairly athletic person. This is not OK.

I was bailing on friends more and more often because I either wanted to drink by myself or I had already started and couldn’t show up. And when I did show up, we almost always had to drink. Breakfast? Bloody Marys! Lunch? That’s easy, wine! Happy hour? Always! Live music? I regret how many amazing shows I’ve seen that are a blur because I’d already drunk so much wine before the show that I could barely focus.

I was anxious. I was sad. I was worried about my future and about money, yet I was spending hundreds and hundreds of dollars A MONTH in wine. I cringe to think of it.

Oh yeah, AND IT’S POISON.

Alrighteee…. I didn’t intend for this to be a rundown of all the reasons that IT’S TOTAL BULLSHIT that the voice in my head is questioning my decision. I guess I needed to write it down, again. Here. For myself and with you as my witness.

Watch out for that freakin’ boomerang, is all I’m saying, and DON’T LISTEN TO THE WINE GOBLIN’S VOICE IN YOUR HEAD. That’s the addiction talking. That’s a lifetime of programming talking. It is changing for me, it’s just a jig-jag path of progress.

One more thing: Thinking about Bradley Cooper as a sober guy having an amazing life really helps me for some reason. Isn’t that weird? BRADLEY COOPER? Haha! I don’t know why it does, but it does. Maybe it’s because he’s HOT. lol.

Oh, Bradley, if only you knew. 😉

Headed to bed. Today I did not drink. Here’s to tomorrow being a brand new day of JOY and a happy sober me. I really don’t want to be white-knuckling this. Tomorrow is Day 10 again. I have a ways to go before the voices quiet, I know, but I’ll just try to be present in today. Learning.

xo Rachel. Day 9, Bitches! PHEW!

We-Can-Do-It-Rosie-the-Riveter-Wallpaper-2