"...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.
It rolled off my tongue, it was the first time I've made that claim: I don't drink. I was waiting for the school bus and a colleague was asking me if I was going to the all staff social event this Thursday. (I have no plans to go because it is at a bar and far away from where I live and probably none of my friends are going.) She was promoting that I go, talking about the 20% off of drinks and good food, its for St. Patrick's Day...and in part of my excuses of why i wasn't going was that I don't drink. She still pestered me a bit saying I should go, but I too self-consumed in my declaration to really listen much any more to her. I don't drink.
My first fear is that immediately or later she would say to me, "You don't drink? That's not what I heard..." and then tell me some gossip she has heard about my recent past. Or that someone else in a few days would come up to me and say they heard from her that I don't drink and then accuse me of lying. Then I would have to explain myself and expose that I'm not drinking because I have a problem.
The work life and social life is all mixed up here, and I fear that somehow my new sobriety will be used against me professionally. Instead of being brave and strong and taking control of this thing, I fear I will be seen as weak, immoral, and untrustworthy. I know when I think of "recovery" I think eminent relapse. Fishbowl living is rough on my psyche sometimes.
But again, I probably am stressing over nothing-no one cares about my drinking habits as much as I do. And honestly, if they do, I shouldn't care what they think, right? And with more sober time under my belt I will better be able to talk about it as history compared to what I'm going through right now. As in, "Oh yeah, I stopped drinking 2 years ago...nah, I don't miss it."
The quote in my title is from an Uncle Tupelo song. I have loved this song and Uncle Tupelo since the nineties. I even made these lyrics part of my senior thesis in college when I wrote about first generation blue collar women's struggle in college, career choice and feminism. I continue to identify with the lyrics as I have led a life so different than what I was shown growing up. I feel I'm walking into the unknown in all aspects compared to my family: going to college, having a career, marrying in my mid-thirties, no kids, living outside of the USA, healthy living & exercising, reading, and now living without alcohol...for 61 days and counting.
Here are the lyrics from Uncle Tupelo's "Looking For A Way Out"
When you find you can't somehow
Make it like all the rest
You won't need to scrounge around for someone else
Torn between the unknown
And the place that you call home
And the life you want but have never known
There was a time
You could put it out of your mind
Leave it all behind
There was a time
That time is gone
What has a life of fifty years
In this town done for you
Except to earn your name and place on a bar stool
You spent your whole life in this county
You never been out of state
You say you're gonna make it out before it's too late
There was a time
You could put it out of your mind
Leave it all behind
There was a time
That time is gone
There was a time when nothing seemed to make much sense
That's turned more intense
And all the crutches you've kept around
Now are nowhere to be found
Remember when you didn't have
To look ahead or behind you
There was always something right there to do
But now it's life in some kind of trap looking for a way out
Well, you keep moving on
That's what it's all about
There was a time
You could put it out of your mind
Leave it all behind
There was a time
That time is gone
I read this song so differently now than I did twenty years ago. At 15 I wasn't drinking and was focused on a way out from a life like my mom: a housewife with little power or independence-I ran from Chicago into academia before I got trapped into a marriage similar to my parents, which I thought would just happen to me no matter what I did. Now, I read into the ideas of letting go of crutches that I kept. Crutches that kept my in a place, if not physically but mentally. "The way out" can't only be physical escape. I've done that and largely have brought myself with me wherever I go. The way out is also mental and emotional, letting go of the crutches that hold me in patterns.
Thanks Uncle Tupelo. Here's another dark drinking song that I still love by them: Moonshiner. Take a listen... "If whiskey don't kill me, Lord, I don't know what will." Sing it Jay, I'm not in that dark place anymore, there is a way out...
It's a milestone. I'm here, I really feel like I have come a long way with myself fully present, really unbelievable how the sober cumulative time adds up grander than its parts. Because it is hard to express the whole picture without the parts, here are some of benefits to celebrate today:
The kombucha experience was another "Aha!" moment about being honest with myself-what it looks and feels like and how I haven't been as good with it as I once thought.
I think back to how I have down played the frequency of how much I drank with both doctors and therapists, because I was so in denial about how the drinking could be a problem. But I knew. Did I know? It's hard for me to separate out knowing that there would be disapproval and knowing drinking was causing harm and knowing it could be causing and complicating my issues.
In the past when I looked up "moderate" drinking I have been so dismissive of the amounts, thinking it was so so so unrealistic that any one really drinks that way, comparing it to the unrealistic small portion sizes on food labels. I assumed doctors would hold that unrealistic moderate drinking standard so I dismissed that I could have an open conversation about drinking. They would because they would be extremists, I wouldn't be exposed to having a problem when I didn't have one against realistic expectations.
Interestingly, one time I was more honest about the amounts I was drinking, the therapist asked me if I was concerned with my drinking and I said no. And she said ok, and moved on. The window of truth taken that closed so quickly. I continued "to believe" that drinking wasn't causing or adding to my problems.
On and off for the last 10 years I have gone to therapy. I like talking to a professional, getting some skills to think through my life. I really needed it to process the sudden death of my mom a couple of years ago. We never talked about how much I was drinking, I didn't think it was a contributing factor to how I was sitting with my grief, the emotions tied up in my relationship with both my mom, dad and brother. I did benefit from these sessions but so much more could have come out of them if my drinking and the drinking of my family was in the mix of some of our conversations. I feel like writing to her now and saying that I was holding back on my truths. But what would that do?
I just made an appointment with a therapist here-one to specifically to talk about growing up in an alcoholic family and my new sobriety. (Look at me using the word sobriety a little more comfortably!!). Putting alcohol front and center with a professional who is trained to help people like me. I am not alone. Look me go!
I have to stop making kombucha and other fermented drinks-a pastime I have enjoyed for years. Drinking them the last two days woke up my inner addict and she took over the situation while I stood by watched. So surreal.
Two days ago I drank a lacto-fermented orange juice I had made and, I have to say, I got a little buzzed from it. Yesterday on the walk home, I started thinking about getting home and "enjoying" my homemade kombucha. And before I even turned on any lights or unpacked my grocery bag or let Dog Face out after 12 hours home alone, I had to pour a glass and take a good chug of it, hoping to start a little buzz.
As this happened I was split into two versions of myself:
1. One side was justifying my hurry to drink this healthy homemade drink. "I'm going outside with Dog Face for a bit and so I should bring my drink outside with me. Oh, um, yeah...I don't need the lights on yet because I'm about to go outside." "It's healthy, its homemade, it isn't booze."
2. The other side was standing by, fascinated by what was happening. It was just like recovering alcoholics talked about! I thought for a split second, "I should just pour this down the sink." And she retorted, Nah, don't waste it, it took you 3 weeks to make this one little bottle, there's only one bottle so there's no danger. This can be the last time for a while until things are more under control.
And I tried to argue with my inner addict:
And then I drank it. And got the tiniest little buzz. Trigger. I was so hyper-aware of where this buzz went and how it felt. Tingle in the front side of my thighs, a warming at the base of my skull, a weight to my head and glow at the bottom of my cheeks. I like it a lot, I've missed it, and I wanted it stronger.
That is why there is never one drink for me. And a good pour of whisky would have really got the good feeling started after the kombucha. But I stopped. I did not feed the buzz. I stopped. And now I'm telling on my inner addict Shelly.
I'm being honest with myself. Nope, can't do it. Can't get close to it no matter how it is dressed up. I can't drink alcohol.
My internal dialog itself is a warning and a sign for me: it was definitely a "we" talking. Not a you and me. She isn't separate from me, she is me and she's not going anywhere no matter how long of a break I take. I can dry out one side of me, but never the other. She will always be thirsty, she will not wilt from a lack of watering and die off. She's strong, resourceful, wily and will hunker down for the long haul and wait it out, waiting for the kink in my defenses. That was a bit scary.
Another two quotes from Drinking: A Love Story:
Once you’ve crossed the line into alcoholism, the percentages are not in your favor: there appears to be no safe way to drink again, no way to return to normal, social, controlled drinking...A lot of alcoholics use the cucumber- to- pickle analogy to describe that phenomenon: a true alcoholic is someone who’s turned from a cucumber into a pickle; you can try to stop a cucumber from turning into a pickle, but there’s no way you can turn a pickle back into a cucumber.
Still thinking about this alcoholic thing. How pickled am I?
Last night I re-read some of my earlier blog posts and it is surprising how I have changed over 50+ days. My thoughts and feelings were truthful, but my assumptions and perspectives were sometimes off from the reality I now see differently.
I was so certain that all my friends were heavy drinkers and that no one would like that I decided to call it quits. I'm finding it to not be true. Two friends here know the details of my story through this blog and have been added strength to my support foundation of Husband. Other friends that know that I'm not drinking for various health reasons just carry on as normal with our fun-the brunch is a good example of that. Besides specific events, like the up-coming whisky tasting night, my social life isn't too too different than when I was drinking.
Another fear I had those first couple of weeks (ha! I can look back and say that!) was about Husband-our relationship with drinking together and how he would feel about the changes in me and us because of my choice to stop drinking. A few weeks later I have no doubts about the strength of our relationship in terms of my new sobriety. Being dry has made our relationship better. And he tells me that he likes this sober version of me.
I can't believe how much love and support Husband has given me. He follows my blog and that opens conversations that I crave to have. He tells me how proud he is of me all the time, and that he thinks this is really good for me. He has said that he has worried about my drinking in the past. All so validating! He even listened to the Bubble Hour to be connected to my journey. I truly am blessed.
As I read and listen to stories of sobriety I've been attracted to women's stories, it seems that there are patterns to women drinkers that differ from the public imagine of the dude in the stained wife beater or the disheveled business man.
Three things that I have noted:
1. Women are largely wine drinkers. Is it because it is more socially acceptable? Touted as having health benefits? Doesn't have stigma like a bottle of whisky?
2. Women go into recovery sooner than men do. The "bottom" is higher, or the self-reflection about the building problem surfaces earlier and is addressed.
3. Women have more tendencies to hide their drinking. For example, socially they will drink a few drinks and then at home continue drinking much much.
So where does that leave me with this label of alcoholic? It's strange how much I think about what others think of me. I stopped drinking before the final, obvious advanced stages of alcoholism. Do people take me seriously or do I seem like I'm making a big deal out of my drinking habits? How are people judging me?
I am thinking about this because of my reaction to hearing a woman's story on the Bubble Hour. She shared about how much she was drinking a night and my Shelly-voice snarled, "a bottle of wine? And you call yourself an alcoholic? Feh, a bottle of wine was a light day for me." That wasn't very supportive of me at all, what the hell Shelly? This woman went on to discuss my very reaction in her world-when she stopped drinking and told her friends and family she was in recovery they didn't believe she had a problem in the first place. That's terrible, and terrible of me AND I hope that doesn't happen to me.
And if it does happen I have to realize they don't know the whole story. They don't know what obsessive thoughts go through my head when I'm drinking, maybe they haven't witnessed when I cross into my Shelly ego and what she is capable of, and that I don't remember most of those wilded-out nights. They don't know that I go home and often continue that happy hour until bedtime or that I'm the last one to leave a happy hour or a party because I get lost in the drinking.
But am I an alcoholic? I seem to be just before the physical addiction in the progression of things, but all the patterns and psychological traits have manifested in some form or another according to this quiz by the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependency.
Some of the alarming things I said yes to are:
Secret thought: maybe I need one true test of tried moderation after all this soul searching and thoughtfulness about drinking to see if I can't really do it. But then I think of an another hangover. And another blackout. Another time when a couple turns into a many. And then at the end there always seems to lead me back to another Day 1.
The day after brunch, was a very different kind of day. I wasn't full of this sober energy, I was unmotivated and not comfortable with feeling lazy even though I didn't want to do anything. I didn't jog with dogface, didn't go to yoga, didn't cook lunch or dinner. This would have been a day that out of boredom and lack of energy I would have started drinking in the afternoon to stop stressing over all the things I could be doing but just wouldn't do. Silly, just silly.
Husband and I hosted a big brunch yesterday and again it felt like another "first" in a really positive way. It felt normal, this drinking coffee and juice and water, instead of bloody marys or beers. It really did. I truly enjoyed having a house full of fiends, enough of them where there were people outside I could chat with a bit, people in the TV room I could pop in on, EA and E curled up on the yellow couch together to join at times, and people gathered around the kitchen discussing the plot holes in the show "Walking Dead." It was a party and people had fun.
1. People had fun even though I wasn't drinking
2. I had fun even though I wasn't drinking
3. Brunch is a good party to host for dry me
4. Booze around wasn't an issue
Again, the energy I had yesterday was bountiful. (today I was lazy...really lazy). Before brunch I took my first tennis lesson. I've bought a racket in December and now 3 months later, finally I got around to setting up tennis lessons. I loved it: up early, in a tennis skirt, playing tennis...and not hungover. Then hours of brunch! Then EA and E stayed on afterwards and we sat around, E knitting, E weaving stories, me crocheting... and being content in my lovely apartment, enjoying company, laughing, at ease. I was so comfortable hanging out with EA, E and Husband post-party probably because I was just being me, open, unaltered me, and they stayed unaltered and were openly having a good time too. Strangely, I think drinking made me more insecure instead of more confident. The drinking version of me would have felt anxious to entertain, to make jokes, to keep up the level of fun with the right banter, music, food and of course drink flow. I would have felt stressed in overthinking what people needed to be comfortable. Last night, I didn't feel socially awkward being sober at all, and I was social all day, from about 11am-9pm and I wasn't exhausted, anxious or drunk! I actually felt recharged from it, like the real extrovert I used to be. Good dry day, really good.
Another pattern emerged as I thought about what to write about for today. I planned to start with all my fun, sober, healthy activities for the week-end and paused to do some reading. And surprise, I read about addictions that go beyond the obvious drugs, food, gambling, workaholism, etc. The authors even mentioned addiction to activities. "All addiction is self-medication. The question we ask is not, 'why addiction' but 'why the pain that is being soothed.'"
So my To-Do List on my days off might not be healthy? Add it to the list! But I refuse to see my productivity as an addiction, I'm Type A but not to the extreme... (shit: just like....I have a drinking problem but I'm not as bad as that guy). NOT EVERYTHING IS A CONDITION OR UNHEALTHY OR ADDICTION. My working and accomplishing and checking off lists productivity highs until I'm too tired to do anything but sit down with a drink isn't the way to go for a good life? Feh.
One step at a time people, I need an endorphin high somehow-jogging, a completed to-do list and an occasional yoga-high is what I have left after the drinking stopped. I do miss drinking. Simplified things. But not really at all.
What to do? Well my productive self will make an appointment with a professional and I will seek support. Maybe she will give me a to-do list of things to fix about myself! I'll have that done in no time and then I can check that off another list. Man, I'm feeling snarky about this.
I want to throw a mini-tantrum: it's not fair, I'm trying hard, I'm doing the right things to make this better and it hard and isn't ever enough, and as I turn another corner of growth there is another thing to battle. It too much. And this is probably why I like to drink. Do some hard work: mental, emotional or physical and my reward for that is a soothing drink to turn off my annoying brain, suspend time, connect easily to people, have access to the emotions I want and want to share, and can shelf the things I can do later on my emotional growth to do list after my hangover clears.
Maybe I'm angry about this development. Angry that I got stuff to deal with, while others seem to be "la la la-ing" through their happy life at a happy hour right now. I'm wading through this garbage instead, no fair!
And then I hear my dad's voice: "stop whining." And then I feel stupid, that I'm making a big deal out of nothing, making up problems because I don't have any real problems. There was no complaining in my house growing up. Deal with it, don't burden others with petty problems and carry on because talking about it won't change anything anyways. Smiles!
Another message from home: No downtime. No naps. No sitting around (outside of drinking). "You bored? Here, I'll give you a job to do..." My mom obsessively cleaned the house and organized all day and my dad worked long hours too. Naps were for lazy people. My brother, dad and I never missed a day of school or work. Even this year, I have yet to call in sick to work.
Enough for today. At the end of this blog at least I have dug up that: my conflicting feelings of all of this being too much or a whinny-made-up-problem is rooted back to how I grew up. Now what? No lists!
I don't know how I feel today. I don't have a focus, can't even come up with a title for today-??. I felt a bit down and sensitive at work today for no good reason. How boring. I'm bored with my own downer feelings today and if I wasn't going to bed right now I would eat ice cream and try not to think of the smoky smell of whisky and the sound of crackling ice.
Day 47. Can't even be rounded up to anything significant, like 6 months! 1 year! What is 47 days in life of 14,000+ days? Hardly worth anything in the whole scope of things. I was so excited about my accomplishments yesterday, what is this about?
Look for the positive, right? A little thing that just made me feel better, my archives on this blog spans 3 months: January, February and March. That's something. Really, I mean that.
Yesterday, I shared this blog with EA and she actually read it, all of it with enough attention to quote parts back that she thought were insightful or which she could relate. We talked about in the car on the way to have tea. I remember really enjoying the conversation and feeling warm and proud and connected. Then Shelly popped in my head and said, "this conversation is great but would be so much better with a drink." She wanted to take an enjoyable conversation with a budding girlfriend and bring it to the next level: make it easier to pour out the thoughts and feeling, heighten the connection. Oh Shelly, you are so naive, go away. It doesn't work that way. This is the real way to make a connection with a friend.
EA wasn't the only one in which I shared this blog yesterday. I decided to let the five friends that I've told about my new status in a little closer and for me to have a little more accountability.
Open, vulnerable, honest. As best I can, as I able.
I always imagined Day-One hungover ladies in sweatpants on a couch reading my blog, not people who know me: Husband Shelly and Dog Face. Yep vulnerable. This is me too, the parts that "don't come up."
This morning I emailed the 4 contacts on the AA Egypt webpage to ask for a recommendation for counseling here in the neighborhood and to express lukewarm interest in attending a meeting. Two people wrote back, one with a great link to a psychology center with many professionals as options within walking distance from my place, and the other with encouragement to go to the Thursday meetings on the Corniche. I don't know if I can do it, just too weird.
Not so open on that AA front yet. And I was all secretive, using my iwillstartwithwater email account and signing my initials instead of my name. In this small expat community I'm not feeling safe enough to be publicly known as "in recovery" or labeled an alcoholic. Too big, too much out of my control. But it is all here on my blog-ironic? Nope. Not to me.
With all these positive reach outs, why am I down? It is the exposure and feeling vulnerable? Is is the ho-humness of the less glorious work ahead of me to stay dry on day 48, 49, 50, 51, 52.....to infinity? Is it because tomorrow is the last day of the work week and I'm just rundown and drinking usually was my pep up? Could be any of these things, but tonight if I wake up in the middle of the night I won't desperately need to rehydrate, and in the morning I won't be regrettably hungover scanning over the broken memories of the night before. One day at a time.
A big quote from Drinking: A Love Story by Caroline Knapp to sit with:
Alcoholics have notoriously selective memories. No matter how sickening the hangover, how humiliating the drunken behavior, how dangerous the blind-drunk drive home, we seem incapable of recalling consistently or clearly how bad things got when we drank. Drinkers talk about losing the power of choice over alcohol: At certain times, when the need or desire to drink becomes too strong, those memories simply evaporate. Willpower vanishes, resolutions dissolve, defenses crumble.
AA offers a solution. The fellowship--meeting and stories and friendships formed--help alcoholics counter that flaw of selective memory, help us remember what it was like to drink, what happened to us, and how others like us changed when they stopped. And the twelve steps of recovery outlined in AA literature and meeting help counter the buildup of suffering and humiliation, offering a way of life that has to do with honesty, with healing, with addressing directly, rather than anesthetizing, the fears and rages and feelings that compelled us to drink in the first place.
I have had plenty of drunk driving experiences. While living in Chicago way back, there were a couple of years of walking around my neighborhood hitting the unlock button repeatedly on the keyless entry to find where I parked my car. I explained this phenomena to myself as the "groundhog effect" and I couldn't remember if I parked somewhere yesterday or the day before that, or the week before that, because it was not the drinking, of course not. Of course not. Driving drunk runs in the family, it was normalized from a young age, when dad went to prison for the first time for DUIs. Then he went again for whole year. Drunk driving tendencies coupled with my propensity to black out: something to remember.
I had digestive issues for years. I did elimination diets, spent so much time and money on doctor appointments, lab work, horrible experiences with endoscopies, other -scopies, took medicines, came to conclusions it was diary, or nightshades or eggs or gluten. But never stopped drinking long enough to figure out how simple the problem was-booze. Why was I drinking on an elimination diet? Because drinking wasn't the problem. It just wasn't related to my health issues. Of course not. Of course not.
I don't think I'm ready to entertain AA, it still conjures up images of old men with a 4-day stubble, drinking shitty coffee out of styrofoam cups, chain smoking as they talk about decades of fucking-it-up way bigger than I can relate to myself. Low ceilings of a basement filled with smoke. In a church. No thank you.
But, but the need to connect to others to keep the selective memory at bay and clearly remember how good this feels and the collective damage my drinking has caused. Memory is vital to sobriety, right?
AA in Cairo? That seems like there would be a whole lot of weird and crazy that would attend. Expats + recovering addicts = crazytown. I'm morbidly curious, it would make a great story. AND that could be a step I could take to actually talk to anyone about this that is going through it too. AA is the real life statement that I have a problem and I'm desperate for help and to prove it I'm in a basement with these guys. I could use a real experience to get over my stereotypes and superiority-complex over others seeking support. I'm an ass, I need to speak to someone, I need a therapist contact, I need openness, I need to stop judging others.
I always have slept with a giant glass of water on my nightstand. Sometime or multiple times in the night I would wake up and I would guzzle the whole glass down and re-fill it and go back to sleep. Must rehydrate as soon as possible-must start recovery.
In the last six weeks I still wake up in the middle of the night sometimes, and I half-asleep panic and reach for that salvation water-must rehydrate...and then I don't drink because I don't want to have to pee or there isn't even a cup there anymore because I don't need it. I'm not dehydrated, I'm not starting damage control.
Another fading habit is the panic wake up-mental check list. Scanning the hungover stomach and head, the piecing together the memories of the night before to see If I remember going to bed. No more black outs! No more hearing secondhand about what Shelly did or said last night.
I've also loosened up on my type-A control of my eating and exercise. It hopefully is a fading habit or could be a phase of relaxing and forgiveness because [ ] is better than drinking. Ice cream? More camembert and bread? Yes, better than drinking. Not working out today, that's ok, I'm healthy by not drinking today. I think it is because the exercise and food control was needed for me to believe I was healthy and intact and the more my drinking was out of control, the more I focused my controls on the facades of health: food and health.
I've always enjoyed life, but it has been in the extremes and with force. I have found since drying out that I haven't needed to flex my will on my living as much. What a healthy six weeks!
It turned out to be true: I found reading about other people's stories helpful and actualizing of my own experiences. More so, I found that these books were able to give words to my feelings and the undercurrents of my relationship with alcohol that I lacked before the read.
Here are some quotes from Knapp that really hit home for me:
"There I was, sweaty and hung over and literally trying to muscle my body into a different state."
Since I've stopped drinking, I can't make myself kill it at the gym anymore. I was using exercise as a counterbalance and punishment for drinking and the bad eating that went with it. The more I drank the more I beat myself up with exercise. I don't have the drive anymore to prove to myself that I'm healthy, and I'm settling into a healing new routine: 2.5k jog with the dog every day, yoga once or twice a week, one day of weights and I just signed up for weekly tennis lessons. I'm learning to listen to my body, not my guilt or maintaining perceptions of balance.
"Liquor eases. Liquor soothes and protects, a psychic balm. Did that set me on the road to Alcoholism? I wouldn't have thought so as a teenage or young adult...I made connections between drinking and camaraderie, drinking and machismo, drinking and sophistication."
Until I started reading I really didn't question why I drank-it was because it made me happy, cool, connected, and enhanced the fun. I didn't consider the possibility that I drank for soothing pains and numbing feelings. When did that change? Obviously from last post I do have some emotions that are surfacing that I have held down under a layer of booze for a long time. How could I have been so oblivious?
"Drinking was the best way I knew, the fastest and simplest, to let my feelings out and to connect, just sit there and connect, with another human being."
Yes! YES. That is still how I feel much of the time. I feel exposed and vulnerable to look a friend in the eyes without a filter-to just sit and authentically connect. The fear of rejection or misunderstanding is terrifying when I think of it but in the moment I'm so present and feel rooted.
"Alcoholic drinking is by nature solitary drinking, drinking whose true nature is concealed from the outside world and, in some respects, the drinker as well. You think you're drinking to have fun, to be sociable or more relaxed. But you're also drinking to shut down, to retreat."
Another glimpse into myself that will slowly crack open to be pondered and nurtured. I actually really enjoyed drinking alone. It really was a way to relax the needs to "do," to quiet the mind from the task-master I am. There was always moments of panic and fear as the drink passed me from relaxation to retreat. That tiny space where the dark emotions surfaced for a second, then were buried again.
"Drinking alone is what you do when you can't stand the feeling of living in your own skin."
Horrifying! No way to live, so sad. That is where I was heading.
"Bad things didn't happen every time I drank, but every time something bad did happen, drinking was involved."
Yep. 100% yes to that. Without drink I never slept with someone unexpectedly, or stay up until dawn, or spend hundreds of dollars on food and drinks, or make an ass out of myself, or find myself in situations that were just not good for me.
I also found clarity in her progressive formulas for drinking and emotions:
Discomfort+Drink=No Discomfort (I think I was here)
These formulas ring true for the slow progression of the relationship with drinking over time. While the progress happens, I believe many probably still think they drink to feel open. At least I did, until I stopped drinking and started looking back.