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 at therapy or experienced in my earlier life. 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 and smoldering. Displaying my train wreck for others to gape at and judge sounds awful.
Yet, for the strangers out there that search for a sobriety blog, I imagine my past may not be that different from theirs or if it is, they have their own pain, so their reactions will be caring, understanding. Strangers are safer, strangers have always been safer to share my stories with. I struggle and crave empathy and perspective about my experiences, but I realize how well trained I am in silent shame. 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 splintering into silence and shame. From here on out we each suffered, coped and survived isolated from each other. My sister's 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 of losing my sister to a tragic accident. We silenced that pain and experience, 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 people's 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 begin as I get off the bus to start my Tuesday morning. Look at me: smiling, I.am.just.fine.
My title is literal 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 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 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. Keep up my healthy habits 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, it is causing me to lose 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 obsessing 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. A story full of denial, pain, sorted history, and finally self-discovery...regardless or with disregard with what others said about 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. 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 because I'm 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 and connections with out the crutch. I can have that conversation while they smoke, just like I can have that conversation without the alcohol.
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 with hungover greasy food and skipping the workout-on to be the couch sick all day. 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 my 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. THE REST OF YOUR LIFE. 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 expected to be 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.
I used to drink with the best of them, but I don't anymore. My life is so much better for it.
-Drinking: A Love Story by Caroline Knapp