It just feels easier all of a sudden, because it is true. I don't drink any more. What seems to come out of my mouth is, "I stopped drinking a few months ago, yeah...it was starting to get away from me" for friends and simply, "No thanks, I don't drink anymore."
That works for now. I think it is the right amount of sharing. I do feel compelled to add the time, "anymore" or "a few months ago" to ward off the fear people will challenge me with a memory of me drinking from just over a few months ago.
And with new people recently, I don't know yet. Am I ready to be a run of the mill "non-drinker?" Or will I feel compelled to add the "anymore" to keep myself out of camp of those who have never been a drinker because of a personal conviction?
It is silly that I concern myself other these things but I do because when I was a drinker those distinctions would have made a difference to me and how I felt drinking around them. Is that my audience? I wonder if that will change at some point, where I no longer use my drinking self mentality as a touchstone to how the rest of the world thinks about drinking and non-drinkers. I look forward to that phase.
I finished the documentary, The Anonymous People. I thought it was an interesting watch to learn a little history about AA, health legislation for recovery and shifting public perception of people in recovery. It did bolster my confidence to be less anonymous about my sobriety, to question my shame and support the fight for services to help people stay in recovery.
I thought the concept for sober high schools inspired and I hope that idea grows. The kudos and critique of the AA program was nuanced and spot on while they ended the documentary on upbeat imagine of people marching in the streets a little heavy handed.
Speakers in Anonymous People did talk about alcoholism being a disease but also paralleled the fight for care to the AIDS epidemic in the 80s and 90s-both carriers of HIV and addicts being viewed as morally deprived people who caused their own sickness. A fair comparison in the perception but HIV is a physical disease while addiction is a mental health issue, more akin to the needs of services for depression, anxiety disorders and the like.
As I watched, I looked for the message and the targeted audience. The message to be less ashamed and anonymous was clear, but fell short without offering any starting places for people to get involved-from personally being open about one's own sobriety, writing congress, financially supporting programs, volunteering, etc. A list of ways to get involved at the end would have been a great battle cry for the audience. The targeted audience was a bit mixed, mostly for those in the shadows of recovery-the title gives that away, but it tried to be broad enough to include people who care about the well being of the American society - that the laws and not the prisons should support the values that addicts are sick not criminal. Overall a good watch!
The acronym HALT (Hungry, Angry, Lonely, Tired) helps to identify triggers and yesterday anger definitely hit me hard while at the gym. It was hot, loud teenage boys, then loud men and the ducking thing that broke me was a fly that continued to land on me when I lifting weights: on my face, arms, legs and just walking around. RAGE. I even had to throw my bar down and take a walk so I didn't throw a weight through a window. Damn those heavy handed slow flies that just walk on you, buzz into your ears or eyes. I'm angry just thinking about it. I want to throw whisky bottles at them.
It was 100 degrees yesterday and tomorrow it is supposed to be 111degrees. There are power cuts when all the air conditioners are running, I need to mentally prepare myself. Heat leads to anger for me, and sitting in a dark hot house definitely makes me want to drink. Tonight I will make lemonade and ice tea and stock the fridge with soda water to power through the long hot heat wave that is summer in Cairo.
The last couple of days I've found linking ideas in the podcasts that I listen to when I run.
A big chunk of the work I do in my recovery is to overturn and shift through my childhood to help me understand my triggers, my gut reactions and to grow from a product of my past to the better version of myself.
This American Life episode, "The Birds and the Bees" last act was about a place called the Sharing Place, where kids go to talk about death in their families in kid friendly language. What a great idea and I found myself choked up hearing a 6 year old talking about his dad suicide. I'm glad to hear that this place exists for families, to give grieving space and language for kids to process their feelings and fears. A take away from for me was thy that kids grieve differently than adults, in fits and spurts and that they grieve anew at each developmental stage as that loved one isn't there with them.
Contrast that space of open communication with the "Fine Family." A label I heard on the Bubble Hour this morning as the guest Raquel A. describes how in her family they didn't talk about emotions, especially negative ones-we are fine! Which is how I grew up.
Life is giving me a "shit gift" where I can practice openness and break my role in the "fine family." My Aunt Pammy is in the last days of dying of a long battle with lung cancer. She is my mom's older sister and of course dying in May. There has been some Facebook messaging among the cousins, aunts and uncles about her declining condition, and here is my opportunity to put my family in my center-get on the phone and listen and talk. Something I haven't done with my family for any of the deaths, something I will have to do and don't really know how to do-I've never even spoken to most of my cousins on the phone. But I'm going to now.
It has been swirling in my head, what is alcoholism? And I am ambivalent about calling it a disease, but that might just be semantics. I think alcoholism is the manifestation of addiction, and there are both physical and mental addictions.
In the recovery community there is lots of talk about the differences in alcoholics brains versus normies. This argument seems to come from a place to reduce shame and about drinking:"it's not your fault, you have a disease." I don't buy it. But I also don't think it is a moral failing on the parts of dysfunctional drinkers if they repeated fail to stop drinking.
Here's my analogy: lung cancer is the end result of smoking cigarettes for decades. Smoking is addictive. Alcoholism is the effect of drinking for decades. Drinking is addictive.
I think people make themselves alcoholics (both physically and psychologically) although, some might have physical tendacies towards it just like some will get lung cancer before others.
I don't think it is behavior free, it doesn't just happen, just like lung cancer or diabetes doesn't just happen to most people-our habits effect our bodies, I had an active role in fueling my addiction.
What are your thought? Resources?
The last few days I have been fatigued and what comes with that are emotional lows. I've been feeling a bit invisible lately in the social scene here-an afterthought invitation a couple times in a row fueled my fatigued thoughts to feel rather friendless. Not true, I know, but still I don't have my go-to friends, I pop into other people's circles when invited and sometimes I'm invited as the event is starting...a shitty invite indeed.
I have my EA friend and my E friend in the states recovering from a complicated birth and that should be enough. And mostly it is, I'm fine with flitting about and sometimes being part of groups. But when I'm tired, I'm down and my perspective is down. I see the worst.
I'm starting to come out of my fatigue, I think, and can put into a better perspective on my social life. One, it is hard to make new friends in a new place. That is clear and the biggest factor. Two, this is exasperated by the fact I live in Egypt and work often defined the pool of potential friends because of language, culture and schedules. Third, there is an even smaller pool who are in my age range of even 8 years either direction. Fourth, I'm admin and most of my options are teachers.
Writing that out and defining it helped. And that my birthday was yesterday helped-Facebook messages and surprise visit from my best friend helped. EA pushing me to celebrate my birthday helped. (She know my sadness around my birthday) thank you EA! Planning vacations with other, now far away, friends helped. Convincing myself in due time I will find my go-to friends helped.
What is causing the fatigue that leads me to these dark emotional places? That will remain to be seen. I would like to be able to cut it off before it gets started, so I don't have to be pulling myself out 3 or 4 days later. At this point I'm still blaming my menstrual cycle.
I'm at my birthday, sober and more healthy than maybe I have ever been. Ever. What a good place to be.
Usually I treat my birthday as a mini New Years, where I set up goals or plans for the coming year, usually involving health and habits. I have that mostly under control, so now what? Maybe I can start to think of some one else besides myself for a change! In why way? I need to ponder that.
Back to me and my drinking! 😅
I will have a dinner and celebration for my birthday tonight, without alcohol. Even six months ago that would have been completely unthinkable. But it no longer is, it is my reality. And I like it.
With all those exclamation points, one would assume that I am really that stoked, but while proud and full of wonder, I think crossing over that one month mark to be the most life altering. Those steps were the one that took me off the path I was on and led me here.
So I'm done counting the days now that I'm into my fourth month. I will watch the months tick by as this becomes more and more routine, but the days can just blend into living my life.
Here I am at Day 118, I know this because I count everyday. In one sense it has helped me to see the passing of time and celebrate the accomplishment one step at a time. But one the other hand, this isn't a count down. There's no end to this if I do it right. So when do I stop counting the days and just start counting the months? When do months fade into years? I think now actually, at my 4 month anniversary. I thought I was ready at 3 months but I liked the counting so it has continued. I probably have up to 6 months before it would become too obnoxious for me and everyone, but no further. I guess.
And besides, the actual counting of days doesn't match up with the monthly counting because each month isn't equal. So I'll reach 120 days a day before my date anniversary of May 16. Time to start counting months. But what about my title structure? I have a couple of days to think about it.
I also need to think of a way to celebrate my 4 months. One third of a year. That's something that can easily be represented in a pie chart. What should I do with my sober self?
This trip to Paris. This Blog. This therapy. This sobriety. This luck.
I am lucky that at a week before 39 I get to grow, reflect and live my life authentically. I am feeling blessed today, with opportunities that my mom never got and my dad will never take. I have chosen to take on the past and sort it out so that I can live in the present. I've given up the dysfunctional drinking to receive a world much bigger than I thought possible because I had no idea how small my world was becoming.
How lucky I am.
I'm at a roadside bistro watching people go by as I sample more food and more Perrier. This morning I said good-bye to my friends CW and HL. We had an awesome time ranking croissants and getting lost in certain metro stations. Since then I have been checking out Paris on my own.
I've put in almost 10 miles of walking and it is only 7pm. The only goals I have left for tonight is to see the Eiffel Tower lit up after dark. Then it is bedtime.
I've moved to a packed cafe in the neighborhood I'm staying and I've ordered a cappuccino. It's after 8pm and I'm ordering caffeine, this is nuts for me. But it is still light out and I'm not drinking wine or beer and I need to break up the Perrier. And I need to stay awake for the lit up Eiffel Tower!
Let's talk about not drinking in Paris. The only time it's been a bit challenging is now. I'm tired and by myself. Sitting with some booze watching the world go by and feeling all relaxed and buzzed sounds great. The time would pass nicely. I would have something to do. But when I think the drink all the way through it isn't what I want to do. And it is leftover thinking that it normal or positive to be drinking alone in public. It's not rebellious, courageous, or chic. It is sad. it is unnecessary.
I'm loving the café culture here. I blend in sitting by myself facing the street with a cappuccino and a creme brûlée. I blend in so much here that I've been asked for directions multiple times by French people! Such a nice change from being the obvious foreigner in Cairo.
If I were drinking I would have spent lots of money, got tucked away some place and would not have explored as much. With the move to the café and the surge of caffeine, all traces of craving have stopped.
Just ordered a Perrier and I'll continue to watch the Parisians stroll by, as I blend right in.
Today, May 6, is the three-year anniversary of my mom's sudden death from colon cancer. One month from diagnosis to death. It left me reeling. I try to tell myself that the short time is a blessing; that she didn't suffer for that long. But it was still so short and there are so many things I would still like to tell her and ask her, especially now that I'm not drinking and want to know more about our family's history with alcohol
I wonder if she would be proud of me that I'm not drinking or find it odd?
I wonder about that with my dad as well, I haven't told him I stopped drinking, I plan to tell him in person when I visit and downplay it. All-is-normal-except-I'm-not-drinking, carry on.
One of my main motivations to go to Paris is to honor my mom's life with my friend CW. She is like family and really took care of my mom and I when mom was dying and afterwards. I miss my mom, I miss CW and she lives far away in Chicago, and she happens to be in Paris this week-end. I am going to meet her there.
And I'm going to celebrate living and traveling and friendship-that would make my mom proud and happy that I'm thinking of her, finding balance in my life and holding close my dear friends. And not drinking, I hope.
The statistics for staying sober forever are dismally low. Why should I believe that I can do it when the vast majority of people crumble and stumble and sometimes never get back on the wagon? What makes me different? I am no different, but I do think I can do this. I also believe I'd be one of the few that would survive the apocalypse and help rebuild humanity. I'm just optimistic like that.
This week-end I am going to Paris. The Paris. The Paris where I'm supposed to wear a cute dress while I ride a bike with a basket, and that basket should have a baguette and a bottle of wine. I'm also on this Whole 30 cleanse where I am not to eat anything but protein and vegetables. That's not the Paris I thought I would be visiting one day. I already decided to give myself leeway on the Whole 30 business-I'm not soul searching with that plan, it is just a reeling in of poor food choices. But the drinking. In 20 years will I regret not sipping red wine at a cafe with a view of the Eiffel Tower? I might. I might not.
During undergraduate I did a study abroad program in Buenos Aires for 4 months and I was a vegetarian at the time. And I admit I did miss out by not eating meat, especially being in the late 90s, there weren't a whole lot of options for me. I was hungry a lot and I ate a lot of cheese pizza. Twenty years later I do regret not taking part in the barbecues and empanadas, probably because I'm no longer a vegetarian. I remember an Argentine saying to me, "Why would you come to Argentina as a vegetarian? That's like going to China when you don't eat rice." Touché Argentine, touché.
Well then. How will I feel in 20 years that I didn't drink wine in Paris over the week-end? I guess it will depend if I'm still sober or joining the vast majority that don't stay sober. I'm ambivalent about if I'll join the crowd that melts back into the drinking culture or keep it together with the those who abstain. But either way I will survive the apocalypse.
Another benefit of sobriety! I have a long term case of the "mummy tummy" and it is time to take out whatever buggers set up camp in there. I have to take the medicine tinidazole, in which you can't drink alcohol during during treatment and for a couple days afterwards. Alcohol effects the medicine, but worse, it can make you violently ill.
When I was in the Peace Corps in Ghana, I got intestinal problems a lot, but I would remain sick for days to avoid not drinking at inconvenient times-because 5 days is a LONG time to go without, especially if friends were around. I remember being so sick with intestinal parasites and still drinking so as not to be in the outside of the party-it could wait until I was back in the village and away from my friends. It really didn't occur to me that I could be at the party (and have fun) while not drinking. Neve crossed my mind.
I did even try to drink while taking this stuff before too...not wanting to believe it would make me more sick. Because, you know, doctors make that shit up just to scare you. Or there is just a small chance and then doctors globalize it so you don't blame them if you get the side effects. I risked it. And it is true, don't drink on that stuff. I remember thinking I deserved to drink and have fun. I was doing hard isolating work in a small village and only got to socialize with my friends and meet boys once a month or longer-no way was I going to miss out because of parasites!
So here I am sober and needing medication. I didn't think about what day of the week it is or what events are coming up in order to plan when I would start my treatment. I.started.immediately. And I will feel better really soon.
Healthy me make me smile.
I'm feeling scattered and unable to focus. I have urges to shed projects, responsibilities or find something, anything to check off a To Do List. I'm just stressed with all I have to do this shortened work week. And eating in this Whole 30 style is occupying mental and physical space that I'm not used to causing me to have less time. It is a full time job just feeding myself. I'm tiring of it right now - I have the Whole 30 blues.
I'll save my to do list making until I get to work. Right now the task is how to make sure sobriety stays in the focus for today.
What sobriety-related film should I watch next? I'm leaning toward The Anonymous People. It seems like it could be a compliment to Bette's story, a different ending if she would have gotten help. I'm ambivalent about AA and curious about all the ways people "do" recovery. I haven't read anything about it yet, I did see lots of tweets suggesting it, so I will follow the advice of the community and watch it.
Yesterday I finally finished the documentary My Name Was Bette. I had it downloaded on my phone and our wifi connection was too slow to stream it, so sweet supportive Husband watched it with me at the kitchen table. On my iPhone. That's love in action.
So enjoyable to watch a film during my commute. I started watching My Name Was Bette on the way home yesterday. I felt the need to blog about it before I complete it. I rented it from Amazon.com. Do it!
The second part of the documentary is about the physical effects of drinking on the body and mind and how Sherri VandenAkker saw those effects in her mom over the years. I found my heart racing and my mind racing as I thought of my mom and dad's health over the year. And I thought of the damage I might have already done to myself. Scary-ass shit.
It makes me want to get my liver tested for damage, see if I'm in the clear. I thought about my own gastrointestinal problems, sleeping issues, anxiety...I am so grateful I stopped drinking. So so grateful.
I also thought a lot about my mom, who died three years ago next week of colon cancer. She had many of the symptoms of alcoholism, but until recently I haven't thought of her as a problem drinker. I think she started drinking more and more after I left for collage and I also wonder if she was a secret drinker. Or maybe just overlooked because my dad's drinking was so obviously problematic. I miss you mom, so many things I wish I could ask you.
And of course I am seeing my dad in Bette. The medications to counter so many ailments, the lack of muscle mass and the big beer belly, eating once or twice a day, his face so much older than his brother's who is 11 years his senior. I know it will be hard to see him this summer, here starts the bus tear-up!
The one thing that I did question in the film was the general use of "drinking." It might be addressed later, but VandenAkker doesn't talk about what qualifies as an alcoholic, how much drinking actually is damaging? Again, with alcoholism, it is left to each of us to determine what is alcoholic drinking, and judge if we or a loved one is indeed an alcoholic. So easy to deny alcoholism when we can conclude that we "aren't that extreme" and carry on. It's dangerous to not have the specifics, for those who are drinking heavily and for those who need to remember why they don't drink any longer.
I will enjoy the rest of the film on my way home from school today, it is doing the job, a kick-in-the-pants reminder that I'm doing the good work for myself daily by not drinking even when I loose sight of the big picture.