I just listened to a Terry Gross interview with Sarah Hepola, the author of Blackout. Wow! Sarah was able to articulate so well her motives for drinking and really owned her behavior without the shame I carry around. I cringed at my own memories that run parallel with hers. I was also comforted by her explanation and reveal at how often she blacked out. I blacked out very often, even when I thought I hadn't drank very much, which of course is relative, right?
I haven'r read Sarah's book, but now it is out in paperback...maybe I should add it to the ever growing reading list for summer. Anyone read it?
On May 18 I will be 40. On May 16 I will have 1 year and 4 months of sobriety. Both milestones bring me joy for my accomplishments and anticipation for what's to come for the second half of my life.
At a year and 4 months I would say my identity and "transformation" to non-drinker status is a success and no longer in transition. I am here. This is me. My community has adjusted and when rounds of drinks are ordered my soda water gets thrown in the mix, no questions. I do find a bit of relief / pride that every once in a while a friend will say, "What? You don't drink? Ever? But I thought I saw you ...." This shows me my core self before and after the sobriety isn't all that different after all and people are not noticing I'm not drinking. I fit in to the fun even without a drink.
I will always have to monitor and do check ins with myself but outside of that I would say urges and dangers seem very distant and theoretical. Can I say I arrived? It feels like it, but 21 year olds feel like they have arrived at adulthood and we know that is only technically true.
Since my my last write back in Februry, my world of fun and healthy habits continues to expand. The biggest life changer is Street Dog Dolly. This little street dog took up refuge in our back yard. We started to leave out food for her, then put a blanket out there, then decided to spay her, then, then, then, the baby steps led her to fully inside. Just this week I've started taking her on morning walks with Dog Face. She is being crate training and learning the ropes of being civilized. She is adorable. A meek little cuddler that wormed her way into our pack by choosing us.
The other "about to be" change is that I want to re-learn the viola as my 40th birthday gift to myself. I stuck right now because I can't find a "C" string in Cairo thus far, only violin strings. Anyone stopping by Cairo and could bring me one? But with my 3 strings I squeaked out "Ode to Joy" by memory from when I learned it in 4th grade. I will get a string eventually, even if that means I have to wait until July when in Portland. Then, to find someone to give me lessons! I just know it will be true: when a student is ready, a teacher will appear.
I'm one string short, but I will be ready soon teacher, so make your way over this way.
I am chaperoning a trip with 22 high school students that has too much down time built in. They blast their "gangster" hip hop, loving to scream along with the profanities and the glorified life of sex, drinking and weed is core to the songs on repeat.
They are so obsessed with drinking, often asking us American adults questions to see how we will respond. Most of them are Muslim kids on this trip, which adds one more layer of sinful allure to drinking and overtly sexualized behavior. They want to mimic the life in music videos and all of the drama they see there is cool to them. They want to loose control and be lost in the moment in the ways tv is showing them. Alcohol and drugs are glamorous and essential to be cool.
It has been nice to be able to honestly say that I don't drink, but of course they probably don't believe me or think I'm other worldly in my boringness. In moments like these I am reminded how grateful I am that I have shattered that glamorous allusion of alcohol. I recognize that they are 23 years younger than me and that it took me 22 years to fully change my relationship with alcohol, ultimately severing all ties.
I feel a bit helpless against the overwhelming force of drinking within societal norms. Because I struggled to pull myself away from a life centered around alcohol, I don't know how to realistically warn kids. Alcohol is a sneaky one to pin down. I hope that the kids are faking it, they see the allusion and parroting it back and not merely setting themselves up to enter that world.
Here we are a month later from my last post. I am a terrible blogger! Unreliable and not updated regularly. Until I started this blogged I didn't think too much about the time, dedication and energy it takes to blog-it-out successfully. Thanks bloggers, I respect the work you do.
I look back at my first few months on this journey and see that I was blogging everyday. Everyday! I can't imagine finding the time to do that now, even my bus rides to work are full with such enjoyable reading space that I can't bear to rip myself away from my alternate worlds. Yet, I think about blogging and what would I write about almost daily. It's like a little check in on my own state. Do I have something to process? To I have anything to share about being sober rat this point, right now? And usually, I'm pretty meh about what is going on. It all seems so minor compared to where I passed through those first 5-6 months.
But there are new developments, new snags and old flashes of "fucking forever?" And of great desires for a drink that knocks me over at times.
The questioning of how long I have to "do this" comes when I feel overly confident that I wasn't a problem drinker or when I miss the culture of being part of that crowd. But this is less and less, and I still can mentally walk myself through the drink and see that the end results are not desirable and I turn to less damaging vices: shisha, chocolate, soda water (when available)
A couple of months ago I was making bread that called for some beer. I used that cup of beer and pour the rest of it into a glass for Husband. And then I took a sip of it. Yep, a sip. And it did taste good! And then I thought through the drink and realized I haven't once ordered a non-alcoholic beer, so I must not love the taste that much. I do believe I associate the taste with all the other stuff My body loved about drinking. Pavlovian for sure.
Why didn't I blog about this sip earlier? I considered it, but then thought it wasn't a big deal to me and that by writing about it, it would make it a big deal. And I realized that I feared being judged by some my made-up fascist AA'ers that would now say that I relapsed because of that sip or just as bad that this is the first slip to the path of relapse - "they" are just waiting for me to be another statistic of failure. And I just am not that. I am successfully finding my way just fine by my own terms. So those self-created AA haters can shove it, I'm living the dream.
I have one day into my 2nd year of sobriety, today. I can't believe a whole year has taken place since my first day into sobriety. I cringe a bit when I look back my volatile state during the first few months. But hey, that's where I had to start to get here. Right here, where I can forget I'm so different than I was a year ago. I am who I've become over the last year.
Yesterday I hosted a small book club on the book The Enchanted by Rene Denfeld. Great book for discussion, not related to sobriety. But all day I was cleaning and cooking, on my one year anniversary, and about 10 minutes before the door bell rang, I realized we didn't have any wine in the house or really anything to drink besides soda water and whisky. Oops, bad sober host move. I started some ice tea and the ladies seemed just fine.
A-year-ago-me would have had piles of drinking options and had everyone with a bevie before they got their coats off. Now I forget about other people's drinking needs. A couple years ago I would have thought a dry book club would be the worse thing ever, actually, a dry baby shower is really the worst. But I've been that bitch who complained after a dry book club or shower about the lack of drinks and how awkward it was to just sit around talking. I find most of life less awkward and less boring now; drinking amplified my awkwardness and boredom. But I still mostly dred showers of any kind.
I always thought that the war on drugs could be ended if there was just a vaccination for addiction. If I had children, I would choose to vaccinate them against addiction along with other life changing protections.
I hoped that without the physical need people wouldn't overdose, rob, kill and all other sorts of terror for their next fix. I didn't think people would stop doing all drugs, but they would do them as recreation only; on their terms, which would have a clear line where the fun stopped and the alter state abandoned for sleep and water. What would the world look like without addiction?
While it isn't as easy or clean as a futuristic vaccination against the "addict gene," but there appears to be drugs that dampen the addiction and take away the euphoria of highs of all kind. I HAD NO IDEA THEY ALREADY EXISTED. That statement is in all caps because in all my reading about alcoholism I never ran across that there was a medical solution and that is a problem. So many people are looking for all sorts of inlets of help, and these drugs should be widely known as part of a package of support.
In this episode of Radio Lab, they discuss these drugs, how they work, and why they aren't offered by doctors to people who are struggling with addiction. The drugs do work for the physical addiction but there is still resistance to seeing alcoholism as a physical, treatable problem instead of a moralistic failure. Similar to how mental health was mostly ignored by the medical community until recently, addiction has been boxed off as something for psychologists to handle, not the medical doctor. Both are needed for people.
You should listen to this radio show, or research drugs that help mute the cravings if you are struggling to stay clean and dry. While AA works for some, it isn't the only way. http://www.radiolab.org/story/addiction/
A thought I had while listening to this story was about how much alcohol and drugs becomes a part of identity for people. The guy in the story stopped taking the drugs for a while because he didn't quite feel himself without drinking. They worked for the physical, but not for the psychological/emotional attachments to alcohol. I related to that, it is only a small pull now, but it is still there for me.
I also thought about my dad, who would never think he needed help with his drinking. If I lived with him, could I secretly give these pills to him and what would that do to him? Would that be a violation of his rights, adding in a pill to the handful of pills he takes each day? It might be nightmarish for him though, a bad trip where the booze becomes unappealing and then there isn't anything to keep it all suppressed and himself even keeled in the ways he's known for decades.
I'm on a train to Barcelona, having finished the week reunion with my friends. Of course my fears were unfounded. When I brought up I haven't drank in a year there was mild surprise and then lots of "good for you!" And "I need to cut down on my drinking" from a couple of peeps. Then things moved on to stories and laughs and where we were going next.
I enjoyed my time with them more than ever since I was so very present for all of it. I love these guys! It was so great to be with a group of friends where we have history together and we all expressed that we haven't yet found a community of similar depth in our new posts or where we all came from since. I felt in my skin, unjudged and part of.
We walked all over Madrid, eating everything and eating often. Everyone else has wine or beer each stop and I enjoyed their superior soda water (I'm serious) or red tea. Each spot we stopped for a drink and tapas, so through out the day I just got more and more HYDRATED and satiated with jámon iberico. I'm definitely bringing some back with me.
I didn't get a chance to feel morally superior with my water drinking since my soda waters or tea cost the same as beer or wine. Ultimately it is good that consumption is cheap, but I do like to feel that I'm saving money with my lack of drinking. But I'm still saving my health!!
Not everyone was into New Year Resolutions like I am, but everyone participated in the Spanish tradition to make 12 wishes and eat 12 grapes within the first 12 seconds of the new year. Here is was I wished for:
12 Wishes for 2016
1. Pain free running
2. Good financial decisions
3. Travel to Asia
4. Stress free job hunt
5. Back bends & handstands
6. Depth over breadth
7. Speak Arabic more
8. Stay under 140 lbs
9. Practice generosity
10. Express love more to friends and family
11. Quality time with the dog
12. Read more non-fiction
I didn't put any wishes of things that I'm currently doing and want to continue, like sobriety. I see that as a given and not some to wish upon but to live.
It's the day after Christmas and I'm on a plane to Spain to meet up with old friends from Colombia.
These are dear friends and I can't wait to see them. But they are the good friends during the 4-years of my heaviest drinking, and they were there drinking with me. I'll be curious to see if they drink as much as I remember them drinking....as much as me, or if I assumed they were pacing with me or was I setting the pace? I'm never sure looking back.
These are the friends where we stayed for 3 hours at a bottomless champaign brunch because they kept pouring. We had spilt drinks, a crier, and ended up tipping with a counterfeit bill.
They were drinking with me the day before I woke up drunk for work filled with anxiety. I woke up Husband to reassure me I was ok, I felt like I was in a nightmare. I went to work and realized there I couldn't hold a conversation and couldn't function in the real world. I think JT called that state dreamscaping. It was the first time I called in sick to work because of drinking.
They were there when we overstayed our welcome at our favorite Mexican restaurant where one of us was drunk enough to lose his wallet then blame the waiter for stealing it.
They drank road sodas in taxis with me. They always brought two bottles of wine each for a dinner party, because "who are we kidding?"
We cooked feasts together, laughed and laughed at our own expense and of course others' expenses. We kept a warm fire blazing during the cold damp Sundays and drank and ate away the dread of Monday morning.
We rented fincas in the Colombian countryside to cook and drink poolside. There was beer pong but with whiskey. There were morning appropriate drinking with brunch, beers or crisp white wines during the hot day by the pool, cocktails before dinner and more wine with dinner, and any range or repeat of drinks after dinner until some sort of craziness said it was time for bed.
Great memories, yes. Great friends, yes. Great drinkers, yes!
I'm not nervous about being not drinking around them. I'm not worried that I won't have fun. I'm not concerned about our friendships. I am bracing for seeing the disappointment in their faces that I no longer drink. I fear that my sober state will act as a damper to their fun. They are reflective, sensitive and emphatic friends. I don't want them to overcompensate on my behalf.
I'm probably overthinking all of this as usual. Hence while I capture and release my reminders of history and my fears so I won't be caught off guard in the moment and out of my element.
I'm going to Spain to see my friends in a new place. I will eat delicious food, see beautiful sights and art, laugh at my friends' ridiculous stories, make precious memories and most importantly-remember all the details, have no regrets and no hangovers to ruin a day in Madrid.
I can't believe that I'm almost to a year without drinking. I'm back to thinking that I don't like the word sober - I just don't drink. "None for me, thanks!" In many ways my life hasn't changed all that much, on the surface I do still have the same friends, go to parties, sit around shooting the shit and have people bring me soda waters as they buy rounds. I'm social and sociable.
Even this month a new teacher was really surprise when I said I didn't drink when he offered me something. He swore he remembered me drinking a beer back in August as proof that I did indeed drink. But I didn't have that beer, but I like that I'm not remembered as the sober one, I don't have a scarlet "S" hanging around my neck. I take this as evidence that I have remained myself throughout this process. My fears of being labeled as self-righteous, boring, outside, different just haven't happened. I bet it helps that I don't make a thing about it, don't get offended or remind people that I don't drink when they offer me a drink. Again that is because I don't need help with saying no, I don't rely on others knowing to hold me in place. THAT is the liberty of my mindset, others can be theirselves around me and that allows me to be myself. I can't explain why I am able to be that way. I can pour drinks for others, buy it, talk about it fondly. But it doesn't cause me to have internal struggles or to spiral out of control.
On the inside, I continue to feel stable, balanced, energized and healthy. By now I've lost over 20 pounds even with my increased ice cream intake. My skin keeps getting better and better. Sleep is a joy not a source of anxiety. I have energy enough for work, my husband, dog, social life and personal care and growth. I have started volunteering at a dog shelter, finally! I brought 17 students on a week-end to walk dogs and learn about the shelter. It was powerful and heart-warming and wrenching at the same time. I still might reach my goal of my 39 hours of volunteer work by my 40th birthday after all.
Not drinking has not be in the forefront of my mind in the last few months, which I guess means it has become normal for me. But I do recognize that I don't feel and call up the gratitude that I used to my first few months into sobriety. I am grateful, but it isn't as prominent or emotional. I need to make a point of that more. Even writing this long over due blog post is a reminder of how grateful I am for this life, this 11th month anniversary, this time off of work to recharge. Thank you.
I still wonder if this is a forever state of being. I'm not so confident that can claim forever forever. There are still moments when a drink seems a perfect compliment for the memory of the moment, or to share the bond of friends over the rare scotch. But those moments are rare and fleeting right now. I'm thankful for that too.
I'll close by saying thank you again to all the higher powers. One of my yoga instructors closes the class with this: "the very highest and brightest in me bows down and recognizes the very highest and brightest in you. Namaste"
I've had 10 different months to celebrate my journey so far. The first month felt like such a huge accomplishment, the next few months anniversaries weren't as monumental but that time was so full of strive and work to get to know myself again. Not I'm at 10 months and it feels like a big deal again. Maybe it is the double digits, maybe it is the cumulative effects of feeling great, but I'm looking to celebrate where I stand.
So in the last 10 months what has changed:
The downfalls of 10 months sober? None when I think thought the affects of actual drinking. I still hang out with my drinking friends the same, maybe leaving a bit more early from gatherings. Sometimes boredom because I can't escape with drinks, but I've been bored when drinking too. So, no regrets.