Nothing changes if nothing changes

I don’t know exactly when I stopped praying.

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

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

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

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

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

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

That was nice. ūüôā

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

Woo. Woo.

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

***

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

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

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

Nothing changes if nothing changes.

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

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

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

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

That bee-atch. She did it again.

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

Nothing changes if nothing changes.

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

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

But I kept coming back to this…

Nothing changes if nothing changes.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And I’ll pray.

Rachel. Day 11.

Tell me, what is it you plan to do

with your one wild and precious life?

Mary Oliver

 

…It’s a thinking problem

If there’s one thing I’ve learned in this process of quitting drinking, it is this:

Avoid overwhelm.

Because especially now, after more than 5 months since I began the serious process of quitting drinking, I am amazed to say that I have broken the habit of coming home to a bottle of wine every night.

Since I made it over the big hump — I’m not sure when it happened exactly, because for me this has been such an iterative process, but probably after the first 30 days continuous — I’ve been really embracing being alcohol-free and all of the super great things that come with it. I never would have imagined it, ME, not drinking red wine every day, let alone going weeks or months without a drink, but it’s true. It’s pretty easy now, and the benefits have been more than I could have imagined.

These benefits become especially clear when I do have a drink again.

I’m sure this is a necessary part of my process. It was the same way when I quit eating meat. Every once in a while I would test out eating meat to see how I felt about it, but then I’d see another horrific farm animal abuse video and my resolve would be set again. Of course I wasn’t¬†addicted¬†to bacon, but our culture is every bit as saturated with messages about eating meat as it is about drinking alcohol, not to mention being raised on meat being a part of virtually every meal, and yet I was able to stop finally. I don’t “test” it anymore, or wonder if someday I might start eating meat again “in moderation.” No. Eating meat is something I just don’t do. Even if a thought flits through my head about having a taste of something, it just as quickly is ushered right on through and out again. Nope. Pass. No thanks.

So all of that build up to say that this week I had a date that I had built up so much in my head that by the time I finally was about to meet the guy, I was so incredibly, beyond rationally nervous, that I couldn’t¬†imagine layering the added awkwardness of saying I didn’t drink on top of it. I was completely worked up. I skipped rowing(!), and I tossed my own self-care aside and made this date the top priority.

Of course, I set myself up. I didn’t mean to, but I did. And so, I had a couple of glasses of wine and all I accomplished was making myself tired. That was it. I had something in my hand (which I could have accomplished in other ways) and it made it actually more difficult to engage with him.

And insult to injury, it wasn’t even a good date and I’ll not see him again! Jaysus.

Now, this isn’t tragedy (except blowing off rowing and breaking my AF streak, that’s a bummer). I’m not back to drinking and I’m completely in control. I don’t know what that means, but it’s true. I’m OK and not drinking today. But I am back to DAY 1. I can’t deny it. If counting days of continuous sobriety is what is important to me (and I’ve decided now that it is, and I’ll tell you why), then I have to start the clock again. This isn’t back to the beginning, but it is back to Day 1.

Here is what I’ve learned:

  • In the last month or so, I found myself questioning whether I might just be able to drink every once in a while. You know, being one of those people who hardly ever drinks, but does on rare occasion. I know some people like that; you probably do too. I was thinking, maybe I could choose that. (ha!) But while I *might* be able to manage that (maybe, not sure, questionable, doubtful), I realize now, I DON’T WANT TO. It has never been so clear as it was in the moments when I was actually drinking the glass of wine. I didn’t like it and it didn’t like me either.
  • I didn’t enjoy it (I’ve said this before, but it just doesn’t taste good anymore…I’ve UNacquired the taste), and while I’m not exactly feeling compulsion to drink today, I am noticing the chatter is a LOT¬†louder in my head again. I think this is what I forget and is one of the most important lessons to remember moving forward. I had begun to get used to and really savor the peace in my head. The freedom from the chatter. I have begun to really look forward to my evenings with tea and a book or a project, without any of the mental conflict, and with all the time! While I’m OK and not feeling like I need/want a drink, I am uncomfortable that the volume of irrational background noise has increased a bit. I know it’s the wine goblin, who I clearly poked and gave some nourishment. Shit. The only way to kill him¬†is to suffocate the fecking life out of him. I knew it, but I REALLY get it now. I do. The only way to kill that MoFo is by not having a single drink. Ever.
  • When I don’t drink I just feel happier and lighter and more free. It’s hard to explain and I would never have expected it, but I feel an old familiar sad angst in the pit of my gut today that I haven’t felt in a long time, and I’m convinced (not to get woo woo)¬†it’s¬†the demon that is alcohol. The poison is not just of the body, but it is of the spirit as well.¬†There’s a heaviness of my spirit today that I realize now is the scrim that alcohol layers over our lives.
  • Remember: **Avoid overwhelm** and if I find that I am super stressed or freaked out or WAY too worked up about something, I need to do whatever I have to do to defuse the situation — and protect my sobriety. I choose this now, and it is just taking some time to adjust my mind to my new lifestyle. This also happened when I quit drinking caffeinated coffee. For months, part of my brain still felt like I wanted to “try” caffeine, even though rationally I knew I was better off without it and I was actually fine with that. It’s like my neuro-pathways of habit and emotional attachment need time to be rewired, and they are just always behind my rational mind. I guess that’s the definition of addiction. Normal.
  • When I drink, my eating habits go out the window, in the present and for the next day at least. This makes me feel bad and goes against my priority of self-care. I’ve been feeling great and eating well. Drinking is out of line with my values for self-care there as well. No bueno!
  • I will practice and accept sitting in the occasional discomfort of not drinking (which has become easier and easier, especially in social situations), because I’ve decided that alcohol doesn’t work for me anymore. I am almost allergic to it in the way it makes my body and my mind feel terrible. That’s a pretty simple message to get one’s head around. “No thanks, I don’t drink. It doesn’t agree with me.”

So, I did this to myself. I threw caution to the wind and lost my way. Belle even told me: “Sobriety first, dating second.” I think hormones got the better of me. ūüôā (What am I, 15?)

Like I said, this isn’t a tragedy and I’m not loading shame on myself, which is a risk as a person who has been blogging about my sobriety journey. It’s easy to want to hide and not admit when the journey includes a couple of drinks, as I continuously work on the landscape of how I want to live my life. I so admire those of you who have (finally) been able to get months and years under your belt alcohol-free. It’s something to be so very proud of.

Some day I will have had my last drink. Maybe it was yesterday. I hope so. I can only promise today and tomorrow, but I am newly committed to the next 100 days as an accomplishment in and of itself.

Because another thing I’ve learned is that for me, counting days is motivating and feels great, and is something that I’ve been really proud of, also to a degree I didn’t expect. Part of it is how happy I’ve felt lately, and attributing that to having gone weeks and weeks without a drink — something that I never would have believed I could do.

AND…I finally caught glimpses of the BLISS everyone has talked about, and the mental freedom, and it was incredible.

I want more of that.

And I can have it.

Here’s to the next 100 days without alcohol. It feels so much easier than ever before. It’s not without its challenges (obviously), but I’m not bored anymore (yay!) and it’s truly not a struggle anymore the majority of the time. And that’s awesome.

Oh, and I’m going to make sure I don’t wander too far from all of my supports, like the blogging community. We’re all in this together, and it matters.

xo Rachel.

Day 1.

ps., I still plan to get my first tattoo at my 1-year mark. That just may have to be end of January, 2017. That’s all.

2016: The Pleasure Principle

misty dayPleasure. I’ve been missing it.

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

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

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

WTF.

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

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

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

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

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

P1

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

P1a

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

I kept scrolling and came to this:

P2

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

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

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

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

P4

Misty Copeland!

And this:P3

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

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

Like art:

P5

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

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

liz gilbert

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

flower

#blossom. ūüôā

I look to Jane Goodall as inspiration.

P7

 

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

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

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

A morning row.

morning row

A sunset row.

sunset row

An evening row.

night row

 

Priceless moments with my heart, Bub…

 

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

 

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

P10

 

For 2016, my word is POTENTIAL.

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

P9

Yes. This.

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

Here we go!!

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

Peonies.

Music.

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

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

P11

The last sunset of 2015

xo Rachel.

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

BABY GOAT.

baby goats

Star light, Star bright…

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

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

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

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

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

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

But instead, I told myself very consciously: Be Present. 

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

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

Be Present. And Breathe. Stay in this moment.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But not anymore.

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

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

And I’m not drinking.¬†Not today.

xo Rachel.

Day 19.

I am a mountain, I am a mountain

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Perfect. I joke back. Just get here.

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

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

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

Mountain

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

Breathe. I am the mountain. 

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

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

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

Why do you think you need it?

I am a mountain.

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

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

I am a mountain.

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

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

It passed. Mostly.

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

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

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

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

Then I heard myself think LOUDLY:

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

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

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

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

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

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

– Cheryl Strayed

Until tomorrow, then.

Day 12. Rachel.

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

 

Boo yeah – Double digits

Bill MurrayI’ve never made it to double digits before. My whole drinking life. It’s been ten days without a drink, and I feel pretty good. My mind feels clear, I realized this morning I didn’t take ANY ibuprofen today (unheard of!), and I do feel a bit more confident than I have in recent months. A bit.

Although I shouldn’t have stepped on the scale this morning. That didn’t help. I’m up a few pounds in the last few weeks. I guess all that mac-n-cheese and chocolate is paying off! :-/ ¬†So, while I completely agree that it’s better to be eating than drinking, if I start putting on weight, it’s going to be a problem. I had binge eating disorder in college which I got over, but gaining weight will still be¬†a real mind fuck, and will not help me stay alcohol free. So, today I tried harder to keep the snacking in check. Tomorrow too. I’ll figure out how to stop putting things in my mouth to keep it occupied AND still say no thanks to alcohol. I will.

I also looked really tired today. Like I’ve said, I keep waiting to start looking AMAAAAZING, which would actually be a great boost in motivation, but so far, not so much. Maybe it’s because I’ve gained a little weight? Maybe it’s because my skin is breaking out (hello toxins gushing out of my liver!), I feel like I’m retaining water which isn’t normal for me (despite the gallons of herbal tea I’m drinking), and my dog woke me up a couple of times in the middle of night, so I woke up this morning looking like I’d actually drunk a couple of bottles — without the hangover.

This is not how this is supposed to work.

I’m hanging in there. I did my best with my makeup this morning and then just hid behind¬†a pair of chunky glasses instead of wearing contacts. Issue solved.

Now my next goal is two weeks — this Saturday. Heya, Monster inspired me to set mini-goals and as soon as I nail one, immediately start another one. I’m not always awesome at setting goals and keeping them, but now that I’ve made it to 10 days, I’m going for 2 weeks, then 3 weeks, then 30 days, then… I guess we’ll see! 100 days? Solstice-to-solstice?

Simmer down, simmer down…

First, 2 weeks. Two weeks and go easy on the mac-n-cheese. And get enough sleep. And get more exercise.

At 3:30 today the wine goblin whispered in my ear:¬†mmm, it’s almost the holiday. What a RELEASE you’ll feel with a bottle or two of gorgeous red.¬†That bastard is insidious.

I finished Annie Grace’s book This Naked Mind, Control Alcohol¬†last night, and re-read my favorite (highlighted) parts of¬†The Sober Revolution, Women Calling Time on Wine O’clock,¬†by Sarah Turner and Lucy Rocca¬†too. I bought that book at least a year ago, and re-reading the parts that resonated with me was interesting. They were all the same messages from Annie Grace’s book, as it turns out. I guess I just wasn’t ready to really do it yet.

In order to walk away from booze for good, it is essential that upon reaching this incredibly positive and empowering decision, you recognize that it is a step which will lead you to great things, the beginning of an exciting adventure and a whole new way of life.

–¬†The Sober Revolution

If there’s anything I’ve learned, it’s that for most people, quitting alcohol is a process, and the HUGEST part is the mental shift. It took me a while to be ready, lots of negotiating with myself about moderation, lots of trials and fall-starts and lessons. Lost of frustration and shame and regret. I really do want an alcohol-free life, but despite it all, the addicted part of my brain is still fighting tooth and nail to change my mind. It will take time and practice to starve that ass hole wine goblin long enough that he finally unclenches from my brain stem. But I know the truth now and he can fuck himself.

And anyway, they say anything worth having doesn’t come easy, right?

Right?

Day 10. Rachel.

Taking care of business

Man, I got a lot done today, and had energy to do more. Was up early, breakfast, showered, laundry, dishes, read, blogged, went to REI for some things I needed (including waterproof socks for rowing!), then to the park for a 3-mile walk in the woods with my dog and a good friend, lunch, then looked up details for a return I need to make, then a (subpar, you-get-what-you-pay-for) pedicure (my toes are VERY red) and dinner (take-out pizza from a place I’ve been saying I need to try for months). Now I’m reading and taking care of some housekeeping, and it’s not quite 6pm. Feeling myself getting sleepy, so I’ll hit the rowing machine (erg) soon, and get ready for some awesome Sunday night TV. Loves me some¬†Madame Secretary¬†and¬†The Good Wife.

I haven’t accomplished that much on a Sunday in I don’t know when.

At the pizza place, a *really* handsome man told me I was very pretty while I was waiting. I sure haven’t felt pretty lately. OK, sure, he was drinking wine and watching the football game which was in the 4th quarter and he’d probably been there since kick-off, but it felt nice anyway. (Is this the other side of regret? Suspicion about¬†the authenticity of what someone tells us when they’ve been drinking?) I’ve been waiting for my skin to start glowing and for people to tell me how FAH-BULOUS I look since I quit drinking. Hehe. Hasn’t happened yet, and somehow I don’t think this counts. Does it? Nah.

It’s interesting to me now when I notice the desire for wine cropping up. Walking home from my pedicure at about 4pm tonight (oh wait, the witching hour), on a beautiful, crisp Sunday evening, the wine goblin whispered, Maybe you could have juuust one?¬†

Yeah, right. Just one.

Guess I’d better finish that Annie Grace book.

And goddammit, I’m almost to double-digits. I don’t want to start over again. Nine days is the longest I’ve ever gone without alcohol since I started drinking at age 20. That’s tomorrow. Tuesday is 10.

So now, I’m sitting through the mild nagging for a (delicious! ~Signed,¬†Wine Goblin)¬†bottle of wine with my Rooibos tea in hand. Feels like I may be getting to bed early tonight, and that is alright with me.

Day 8. Rachel.

Staying in the NOW (and counting all the money)

Day 2 and I’m really tired. Didn’t sleep enough last night, which I know is a no no if I want to protect my sobriety. Rule #1: Get enough sleep.

So today was another too busy day at work and I came home really tired, but actually feeling strong about not drinking. Hungry, but not craving wine.

But oh, it wouldn’t be that easy… About every 20 or 30 minutes now, a thought floats through my mind — completely on its own, without my active participation — that it would be so nice to have a glass of wine right now. It’s like there are two competing Rachel brains: the tired, but contented me who keeps looking at the clock to see if it’s too early to head to bed yet, and the Rachel brain who is still possessed by the red wine. Pssssss….hey…..Rachel….hey! Hi, yeah….listen….just walk to the corner store and get a bottle like you always do.¬†Sooooooth yourseeeelf…c’mon just do it….

Dayum, that’s wild. Thank goodness I’ve been reading so many amazing sobriety blogs which have convinced me that this is normal and will pass. I’ll sit with it and breathe. It will pass and I know it’s bullshit anyway. I’m just really tired. Wine may seem like it’s soothing, but it’s not. It’s all a facade. It ends up stealing my self-confidence, my power, my energy. It’s systematically taking my beauty, my time and my money.

My money. I just did the math — a worthwhile exercise for anyone who hasn’t actually done this. Maybe I’m just late to the party, but I’ve never seriously taken a look at how much I spend on alcohol. I mean, I’ve done it in small doses, like¬†Oh, I quit drinking for 3 days and look I saved $60. Damn!

That’s not nothing, but that’s not THIS.

For the last few years I’ve been drinking a bottle of wine every day. (Yeah, I know. That’s not cool.) And often more on the weekends. Often much more.

But for the sake of easy math, let’s call it a bottle a day, at about $20 a day (including tax). That’s not a super cheap bottle, but it’s about what I’ve been spending. Sometimes more, sometimes less. In one year I’ve spent at LEAST $7,300. And that’s a conservative estimate. It’s not counting going out, or special occasions and “special” bottles, or the weekends when I drank two bottles a day BECAUSE SATURDAY, or weekends away with friends when I made sure I had plenty of wine to stay well lubricated all weekend. And that’s definitely not counting all the times I was well on my way to too buzzed and I raised the paddle or shopped online or committed to expensive trips across the country. Yeah, the wine alone is pretty easily more like $7,500. Or $8,000. The rest, a lot more.

And seriously? Holy shit. Why have I not done this exercise before? (Okay, I know why.)

That’s a really nice trip to South Africa. Or Cuba. Or freaking Antarctica on a luxury cruise ship to see the penguins. That’s a nice chunk of change in my 401K (which I’m sorely behind on). That’s an amazing wardrobe refresh which I am long overdue for — and would probably look better on me after I lose that layer of wine club chub. That’s giving $1,000 to eight of my favorite charities and feeling awesome about it.

So, all I have to say to the boozy old Rachel brain, the boozy echoes of days/months/years past is: I QUIT YOU. So leave me the hell alone, please.

I’m asking nicely.

Day 2 feels like week two, but that’s partly because for the last couple of months I have been trying hard to quit for good and doing better and better at it. Lots of days off, punctuated by days of too many bottles in between. I’ve been going at this for a while. It’s a process.

But I think this is it this time. In 3-1/2 hours it will officially be Day 3 and I’ll be fast asleep. My first big goal is 30 days — December 8 — and seeing as I’ve never gone more than 9 days in a row, this is quite a goal.

But feeling good right NOW. Nighty night.

Rachel.