"...if we don't feel our feelings all the way through, they never leave us, and then we do all kinds of unusual things to get out from under them. This is the cause of many addiction." From Mark Nepo's The Book of Awakening, March 26.
My day Sixty-Nine fell on March 26 and I wrote about how exhausted I was feeling all my new feelings. I cracked open The Book of Awaking, and there it was-the reinforcement I needed to have that I'm doing the necessary work. I used to read his daily meditations regularly but haven't in about 9 months-and when I did start again is was striking relevant. It just took me a couple of days to sit with it here before I actually opened it.
I like when the universe lines up to send me a poignant message. I just have to be open to receive those messages and lessons. Makes me feel like It's a sign that I'm heading in the right direction with what I'm doing. Feeling feelings, confronting addictions.
A strong feeling and thought today: forever? Is it realistic that my goal is to never, ever drink again? I feel great and that's why I'm thinking this, but still it is frustrating to walk back through why I most likely won't be able to moderate. Hahaha, even writing this I imagined myself gulping a really cold beer. GULPING. Yep, not a sipper.
I've learned this acronym for relapse triggers: H.A.L.T.
I'm not really any of those today....maybe a bit lonely actually. I haven't had much contact or collaboration with my team in a bit. We are heads down and working towards spring break, I'm craving bonding and I'm feeling isolated in my role and office. But that's at work and I don't drink at work. So why would work loneliness make me thinking of drinking?
I think I felt bored today and that made drinking flash through my mind. Strange that I felt bored because I was so productive and centered in the good work of my job. I was in teachers' classes all day observing, giving feedback and offering support and suggestions. Six 20 minute drop-ins with written feedback to each one.
Why am I having flash thoughts about sobriety 20 years from now in the bathroom? Actually, I do know why that thought would happen in the bathroom. Old drinking habit to check the color of my pee to see how dehydrated I am. Today my pee was bright yellow and I had a second of, "What the..?" And then I remembered it was from my morning vitamin not because I majorly dehydrated from drinking.
But why 20 years out?
Maybe this is why people relapse-it seems too big. Until I die is too big. And there is that annoying and nagging thought: "I could just stop again if it got bad." You know, compare and contrast my Day seventy-Threes. Is that the only thing that will keep me going: not wanting to start over? To prove I can do it? Just as I'm learning that no one really cares if I don't drink, no one really cars if I do drink.
It's for me. I'm doing this for me. I feel better, so much better. Its not worth the risks, and the benefits of drinking compared to the benefits of sobriety don't compare. Sobriety wins in all areas.
I'm happy here and a drink isn't going to make me feel less isolated at work or less bored. It would just make my job so much harder the next day and fuel my dark thoughts of isolation and sadness.
Okay-I thought through that one! I feel better. Ready to stay the course. Thanks process space.
I went to a whisky tasting, yes I know-bad idea to go to an event specifically about drinking so early in recovery. Especially because scotch whisky was my drink. But I knew E would be there and I wanted to accept the invitation from the hosts-I didn't want to disappoint people. Another no-no in recovery safety.
The not drinking part was actually fine, but the isolation from the camaraderie was hard. It was a true blind tasting, so the party was really centered around the table, the characteristics of the different pours-and I was outside of that inner circle, outside that dialog and coolness, sitting with soda water on a couch. Boo.
What irked me was that the party broke into gender camps and I was on the wrong side of where I normally am. There were 7 women at the party and only one of them participated in the whisky tasting-I noticed that and felt really uncool for being one more woman fulfilling the stereotype that whisky is a man's drink. I wanted to impress and drink with the big boys.
Husband said to me at the end of the night that he felt bad for me, he knew how I would feel about not "man-ing up" with the scotch drinking and having to tea tottering in the fringes. He gets me.
The hostess served homemade beautiful food and made sure everyone had plenty to eat and drink while her husband shared his extensive and expensive Scotch collection from their travels to Scotland. The other ladies hovered on the edges watching their men drink and joke, and E and I sat on the couch chatting. Which was fine, but didn't have the same allure of conversations that I missed, some of the stories Husband recapped I bet were really funny first-hand. I didn't like how it was the men being active and the women being passive-it was their event and we were there as an the other-half.
So I butted up against the feminist identity I've cultivated for a long time, and that I have been working on to redefine. As a teenager and young adult I believed feminism was to strive to be as good as the next guy [alway a guy] and to do that I had to strip away my femininity and excel in the macho pursuits my father would be proud of-sports, cars, drinking.
How else could I get the approval of a working class alcoholic dad but to show up in his world? The only problem was that I can a girl. So I stripped down my girliness as much as I could and became externally tough, versed in his language and became indoctrinated in disdain for femininity and myself by association. But consciously, I wasn't stripping away my identity, I felt proud to break the lady stereotypes out there. I thought I was rebellious and embodying the quote: "well-behaved women seldom make history." But this led me to being the last one at the bar, never saying no to another drink, romanticizing drinking alone and both covering and accessesing my emotions with a strong drink.
In a world that I saw as valuing men and male much more I wanted that kind of respect. Lead role kind of respect. Go big or go home kind of respect. Being in the center not on the sidelines kind of respect. That identity was more fun than prudence. More fun than a supportive role. More fun than being the "better half" or the "moral compass."
Even though I don't strive to be one of the dudes any more, my old understandings of feminism and coolness are still woven in my psyche. I don't think I necessarily need to avoid boozy events, but I need to avoid events that make me feel uncool or an outsider until I can really internalize "I'm still fun even though I'm sober" no matter where I am. Right now "sober and fun" is a little to parallel to "good for a girl." You can imagine how I feel about that.
All this thinking and feeling is exhausting. But I know there will be benefits down the road and I feel strongly that the purpose of life is to find one's meaning in life and this work gives me meaning of who I am and why I'm here.
Yesterday was an emotional day. On the way home from work I listened to the song that EA wrote and sang about her own strong feelings right now. She said she was inspired by my blog and honesty and wanted to share how she processes through song. That song, and our friendship, made me weepy in a good way this time-the roller coaster of shame to gratitude back to shame that I'm in.
Here are her words and her song:
An Invocation (F7, FC, Em, Am)
I release it all, to invite all (chorus)
I release wanting to be anyone else.
I invite my unique expressions to flow.
I release toxic people.
I invite the loving inspiring and grounded.
I release the fear of lack.
I invite abundance.
I release toxic food.
I invite listening to what my body needs.
I release toxic thoughts.
I invite self-compassion.
I release the need to know what's next.
I invite a trust that all is perfect as it is.
I release the illusion of separation.
I invite collaboration what is bigger than me
I release worry.
I invite miracles.
I release 'good enough.'
I invite amazing.
I release stagnant thoughts.
I invite wonder.
I release “I can’ts”
I invite possibility.
I release unrequited love.
I invite being cherished.
I release hiding from truth.
I invite clarity.
I release the need to earn love.
I invite being loved as I am.
I release blaming.
I invite personal responsibility.
I release leaning on others for a sense of self.
I invite standing in my power.
I release the fear that’s in my way
I invite the power that is within me
I release beliefs that limit.
I invite beliefs that expand.
I went to yoga and breathed in invitations and exhaled release for an hour and I was feeling good. But as I lay down for shavasana I was thinking again about last week-end when I had EA, E and the ex-smoker, MC, over for a movie night. I loved that night. I really laughed with these funny women, that laugh that the smart women on the Bubble Hour have talked about-that real genuine laugh that comes in sobriety. We all sat around and talked and laughed and snacked and no one drank. I had wine and booze in the fridge, but no one asked (and they could have!) and we all had fun.
Then out of no where, I berated myself and this beautiful night: "You are so pathetic!" I told myself.
"It took you until you were 38 years old to figure out you can laugh without alcohol and that other people have fun without it? You make a big deal out of everything! Who cares that you laughed one night with some women? Who cares that no one was drinking at a social event? God you're are so pathetic!"
Then the tears started to squeeze out of my closed shavasana eyes an roll down into my ears and hair as I weakly argued with myself that it isn't pathetic to find joy in these new moments, it was wonderful...
What the fuck self? Stop sabotaging and tainting my recovery! That was a beautiful night I don't care what you say.
I'm still processing my thoughts about my therapy session. On the bus again and I will try not to sniffle my way to work. This may not be the best environment to dive into old wounds, but is the space I consistently have available.
My therapy session basically started with her asking me if there was any tragic events that happen when I was a child. Of course my sister's death qualifies, I also talked about my mom's suicide attempt and my dad getting rid of our cat without telling us. We talked about my mom dying a couple years ago as well and in all of this talking I had very little feelings besides shame in what it must sound like to an outsider to hear. She asked me quite a few times during my telling how I felt during that time. I've gotten to the point that I can talk about my past, but I still can't feel my past. I've been stuck here for years-intellectualized memories detached from the emotions I never have been able to express. And looking back, I don't know how I felt then, it's a blank spot, and even now I don't trust my emotions-I don't know how I "should" feel about things and often don't emotionally react right away, I need time to "think" about how I feel.
The only time I got emotional during therapy was when I talked about my mom dying, but mainly because I feel so much guilt for not doing enough, for not being there long enough, for her suffering I couldn't stop, for my family not being there to support her like she would have been for them.
Toward the end of our session she said, "you were like a pawn that was just put into these situations." She saw the pattern that I'm starting to see: I was often at the center of these terrible situations-I found my sister and told my mom, I found my mom when she attempted suicide and called 911, I drove the car and went searching for our cat. I've been the liaison between my family members who can't talk openly with each other, the decision maker in crisis, the most equipped when I was just a child.
I'm both angry at my parents for not acting as the adults in many of the situations I had to manage, and also very sad for them that they had lives filled with their own pain that crippled their abilities to be fully present during my childhood. It seems my family's guilt, shame, loss and pain is generational. Not drinking and dealing with this stuff are the steps I know how to break the cycle and live my life fully. I can't necessary heal my family but I can work with myself.
My therapist said our sessions would be like peeling away layers, like onion skins. I think a better analogy is using a crow bar to wedge open a door that has been boarded shut, at least that's how it emotionally feels right now.
Yesterday I went to my second therapy appointment, and this session is where the work started that I asked for. Even now, I am shamed as I consider writing anything that I talked about or experienced. I have potentially 7 friends that that know about this blog and they could judge or pity me. I imagine my friends to have normal happy past and I carry a train wreck inside, buried but smoldering.
Yet, for the strangers out there that search for a sobriety blog, I imagine my past may not be that different or if it is, they have their own pain, so their reactions will be caring, understanding. Strangers are safer, strangers have always been safer. I struggle and crave empathy and perspective about my experiences, but I realize how well trained in silent shame I am. I would ask the question, why don't I trust my friends with my pain, well therapy session #2 topic helped me understand that.
Why am I ashamed for a childhood I had no control of? Because it somehow reflects on me, because I want to protect my family from judgement, because it isn't perfect-and perfection equals praise, love, worthiness. Ugh. So the first thing we started with was the death of my younger sister the day after my 6th birthday. It was an terrible sudden accident and I believe it is the ground zero of my family's silent shame-from here on out we each suffered, coped and survived isolated from each other. Her ghost was there and not addressed, creating a wider and wider gulf between each of us, laying the groundwork for so many other tragic events that scarred my family further into emotional isolation. It is no wonder I don't know how to receive caring empathy or sympathy. My family just carries on with the exterior of being fine, we didn't comfort and share the pain, we silence it, hoping if we don't see it in others it will lessen it within ourselves. I think of Dar William's song "Iowa:"
But way back where I come from we never mean to bother
We don't like to make our passions other peoples concern
And we walk in the world of safe people
And at night we walk into our houses and burn
That's enough for now. I have to go to work. Pack it back in, stuff back down. "Similes everyone!" And the performance of happy and normal and fine begins as I get off the bus to start my Tuesday morning smiling, just fine.
I say this literally and it works its way into the figurative. This morning, waking up at my usual 4:58am, my fatigue seemed to continue from last night where I was too tired for yoga or the simple task of taking a taxi to drop off shoes for repair. I slept walked through the morning routine, curious if I would end up jogging or walking with Dog Face. I found myself opening the door at 5:30am to legitimate blue sky. We jogged!
While the lengthening of the days has been consistently happening and technically I've bore witness to it 5 days a week for month, there are rare moments where I catch up from where I remember to where I actually am. This was one of those mornings. I was really there: with Dog Face, with the feeling of the road on the bottoms of my feet, the air on my face, the smell of new flowers, with the sleepy guys in galabayas washing cars. I really meant "Sabah el kheir!" [good morning] to the guard by the school. I was there to listen to the bird song as I threw stones for the dog and watched the guy with the ever improving stride jog pass by at the exact same time as yesterday and so many other yesterdays. Go that guy! At the end of my half-hour outing I was both physically and emotionally re-charged and energized.
Lessons that I took from this bright morning:
#1. Healthy habits are self-enforcing. I slept walked into my jog and was so glad that I showed up there. Keep up my healthy habit and I can autopilot to them when needed.
#2. Catch up to where I am: still figuring out when fatigue is genuine and when fatigue is a leftover mindset. I was so tired all the time when drinking and often I felt on the edge of getting sick-so when I wasn't pushing myself way too hard I was allowing myself to cut out many actives in the name of self-preservation of my health or damage control. It was my form of self-care...to cut out my healthy routines and replace them with sedate, often drinking, routines because I was too tired to do anything else.
#3. Attitude colors my world: what I experienced on my jog this morning was so different from yesterday only because I was different. I create my own reality in many ways with the attitude I bring to it. I remember yesterday's jog as dark (maybe it was overcast?), but today I remember it being full of light. I was so connected to all of it-I was present for it.
As cornball as it is, I have one more thought about this morning. The word "present" means "here," means "now" and it also means "gift". All three definitions of present happened at the same time this morning. The present really was a gift and I was there to receive it. Thank you universe!
Yesterday I walked around all day trying to tamper down my obsessive thoughts about my sobriety and this blog. I'm obsessed and yesterday I would swing from thinking "now I'm addicted to this, boring and restrictive sobriety-I can't focus on my usual books and podcasts, Arabic is long forgotten, and I wasn't even that bad to begin with-why am I making this big change where I've lost some of the pastimes I love?" Then I would swing over to the other side, "I need to keep recovery and effects of drinking in the focus so I don't become complacent, I need to learn and grow-and I'm learning so much about myself and how to protect myself from addiction." That was my day yesterday: trying not to obsess and obsessing about that and I only succeeded in not blogging and watching a movie not related to sobriety. Not the balanced life I strive for.
Part of my swinging has to do with the constant questioning of if I am an alcoholic, and who am I willing to admit that to-this shape shifter persona of mine alters the emphasis depending on the perceived audience, even when I'm just thinking about it. So the obsessiveness in listening and reading about other people's stories is helpful, so helpful to strip away the stereotypes and see how my stories are one variation of so many-full of denial, pain, history, and finally self-discovery...regardless or with disregard with what others said about the our drinking.
A surprise I had this week-end was over cigarettes. I had a couple of girlfriends over for a movie, one of them a smoker. Even though I felt so sick the night before, I had this internal running dialog/debated in my head about joining her for a cigarette when she went out back. I kept anticipating her getting up and me offering her an ashtray and leading her out to the back porch and her offering me one...and what would I do? I probably would have tried to smoke it, and put it out after a few puffs, wasting her cigarette, feeling sick. Feeling disappointed that I tried when I know it makes me sick. Somewhere in our conversations she told us that she was on Day Two of quitting cigarettes. When she announced that I was happy for her, relieved for me AND disappointed in not getting a chance to smoke a cigarette.
What the hell? I'm not a smoker, why the obsession about smoking? This isn't new, I used to get fixated on cigarettes when I was drinking. But why is it continuing? And it isn't just cigarettes. This has happened with whatever I tell myself I shouldn't have or with whatever product that is labeled bad for me. Is it rebellion? Is it denial then reward? What is it? It is especially obvious that something is going on with my fixation on things because I don't have the addiction to cigarettes and the negative affects are so bad-so why am I thinking about them? Good question that I don't yet have an articulated answer to besides it seems to stem from an addictive mind-set. Food, things, anything can be the target and then the vice.
On Day Twenty I decided not to go to a bar for trivia night because it would be too awkward to explain why I wasn't drinking. I was happy with my decision to look out for my sobriety instead of self pressure to be exactly the same without drinking.
Last night I ended up at that bar with the same guys to watch some March Madness. Three dudes, Husband and I. Me matching the rounds of beers with club soda and bitters. And no one said a thing about it. And I had fun.
My fleeting thoughts of paranoia and self-absorption had me thinking: is everyone talking about my non-drinking and they know not to ask? Do they think I'm pregnant? Are they annoyed I'm there and not drinking? I can't wait until a time when I don't worry about people's feelings about my decision to stop drinking. I'm going to make sure that time comes because these insecure thoughts are annoying me.
On the way home I bummed a cigarette and felt so sick afterwards. For quite a long time, actually. I think my social smoking days need to be over too. Just like drinking, smoking represents something other than the act itself. It's sharing a moment, it's a timeout, a way to have a one-on-one conversation at a party, something to do with my hands to calm my social anxiety. A quick way to create community.
The last few times I've smoked I've felt sick, but I keep doing it for the connection. But, I have to practice creating those moments with out the crutch. I can have that conversation while they smoke, just like I can have that conversation without the alchohol.
I'm surprised how sick the cigarette made me, I really did feel like throwing up for over 10 minutes. With more distance from drinking and smoking my body is becoming more sensitive to unhealthy habits. I've noticed that slightly with food. Before, I couldn't ever know what made my stomach uneasy because booze was a constant irritate to my digestive system. Now I am starting to notice how I feel after meals, more in tune in general to my body.
I like this health spiral I'm caught up in. I'm going up the spiral instead of down. Finally: no drinking and smoking, no bar food, no late nights with poor sleep-hungover greasy food and no workout-on the couch sick. Now I'm sleeping earlier, eating better, working out, craving more and more things that make me feel good both emotionally and physically. Without the booze, there really isn't too many things that can break that spiral besides being too proud of sober self and using sweets for rewards.
Such a good day, a really good sober dry day. I'm sitting by the pool blogging in my bathing suit, had a tennis lesson this morning and ad hoc brunch with friends. I will read my book club book in a few minutes and will have some girlfriends over for a movie night later tonight. Very happy with all my choices today so far.
I watched three episodes of "House of Cards" last night. [Spoiler Alert] and Doug's relapse made me a bit disheartened. And angry with its implications.
Staying sober seems to be so hard in the long run. Once a drunk always a step away from being a drunk again, FOREVER. That is true for any addiction: a precarious position that is iffy at best. Only 5% of people who try to become sober make it to 90 days, and of that small group only 5% make it to two years. Fuck me. Am I a super hero?
But, but...it's almost unfair. What if I slip up and have a rough patch, like Doug, and drink for a week then go dry again? So one week means complete statistical failure in sobriety even if I have 10 years behind me and then another 10 years in front of me of abstinence? That's akin to say a diet failed completely because of a candy bar, right?
But I know we are talking addiction, not candy bars. Look at poor Philip Seymour Hoffman, 20 years of being clean and then died after using again. That is sad and scary. Addicts are time bombs.
Hyper-vigilance and community is the answer, what tedium! I have to remember the benefits of sobriety and keep close the darkness of my state before I quit. This is better. I am a time bomb in either camp-a time bomb of true danger and damage from drinking or a time bomb to slip up. I will pick the latter. Risking relapse is definitely the healthier choice than risking the next black out.