Another Milestone – and a Question

On February 18th, I marked two and a half years of continuous sobriety. This particular soberversary was greeted without fanfare, parade, treat, or celebration. Not sure how I feel about that.

On the one hand, my sobriety is like a pair of old slippers: broken in, comforting and comfortable, well-worn. Being sober is just part of who I am, instead of a conscious choice. My close circle of family and friends knows and appreciates the fact that I don’t drink (although only those closest to me – including you guys, of course – have been made privy to the real reasons behind my choice).

There’s been a not-so-subtle shift in my mindset about socializing sober. I feel strong and brave and just a little bit subversive – given our society’s insistence that you must imbibe alcohol to have fun of any kind.

I’m lucky to have some really considerate friends. I hosted a “paint night” a few weeks ago. A friend brought a bottle of special whiskey to share with everyone else, along with a pomegranate drink, just for me. Then last week, we were invited out to dinner – and the hostess had stocked up on seltzer, and even made a ginger syrup to create a special mocktail for me.

And on a related note, sometimes I still struggle with the notion of rewarding myself for NOT doing something to cause self-harm. I remember reading somewhere that “alcoholics are the only people who expect a medal for running out of a burning building.”

On the other hand,  this is hard, hard HARD, people! I still miss the taste of an ice-cold martini.  Probably will until the day I die. And I’d be lying if I said it never bothered me at all to see people at restaurants having cocktails with their meals. I still wish I could be a normal drinker. I know I will never be able to drink safely again…  So, I have to abstain.

But – considering what sobriety offers – mental clarity,  good health, peace of mind, self-respect, serenity, and joy – it’s a pretty easy choice.

So, the jury’s still out regarding a reward to mark this milestone. I don’t feel as if one is needed to entice me to continue along this path….

What about those of you who have several years of sobriety under your belt?  Do you still celebrate sobriety milestones with treats or rewards? I’d love to hear from you!

Brush Strokes

Life continues to provide challenges and opportunities to learn and grow. I should begin by telling you that my mother passed away on New Year’s Eve morning after an illness of almost exactly a month.

It began right after Thanksgiving with an episode of shortness of breath and  unexplained pain in her midsection.  X-rays revealed some healing fractured ribs, which were most likely the result of a fall about a month prior.

Between the pain from the ribs, COPD, and a pronounced curvature of her spine due to osteoporosis, her ability to breathe deeply was compromised. She went from hospital to rehab, and then back to the hospital. The doctors were confident that she’d recover sufficiently enough to enter an assisted living facility. Unfortunately, she just got weaker and weaker. She started to refuse to eat, the carbon dioxide level in her blood resisted all efforts to lower it, her heartbeat became irregular, and the decision was finally made to keep her comfortable and just let her go.

Six of her eight children were able to spend time with her in the hours before she left; she was able to say her goodbyes and let go peacefully.

The next few days were a whirlwind of discussions, decisions, phone calls, family gatherings, and visits to her apartment to figure out what to do with her personal effects.  The minutiae of death is mind-boggling.

And through it all, I felt surprisingly calm. I’d spent enough time with her to connect on a deeper level than I had ever experienced with her. She even talked to me briefly about s-e-x and acknowledged that she realized that we held different opinions about politics.

I had always assumed that I’d feel a huge rush of relief when she died. I’m just happy that her end wasn’t even more protracted and painful.  She was a die-hard, old-school Catholic who wanted all heroic measures performed in the event of a serious illness. During the final day of her life, my sister and I had discussions with her doctors who confirmed our suspicions that performing CPR on a person with such brittle bones would have a disastrous outcome. The hospital chaplain reassured us that the Church would endorse our decision to make her comfortable and let her go.  She later verbalized her desire to be freed from her suffering – telling us, point-blank, “I want to die.”

All of us contributed brush strokes to the portrait the pastor painted during her eulogy. She was a convert to Catholicism as a teenager.  She was fiercely devoted to our Dad.  She believed in and followed the Church’s teachings.  She was a die-hard Buffalo Bills fan.  She was an avid – more like rabid –  follower of politics and a true conservative, who loved a “lively debate.” (Ha – there was no debate with her. Just evisceration.)

But what I’d like to leave you with are these thoughts:

Don’t smoke.

Do weight-bearing exercises and get enough calcium in your diet.

We can get through really hard times – 100% sober.

As for me, I’m fine.  Kind of waiting to feel…… more.  If I’m being totally honest,  there were many aspects of her personality that I disliked intensely. We absolutely did NOT see eye to eye on most social issues.  She didn’t tolerate other people’s opinions with grace.  She could say breathtakingly cruel things. She fought dirty.

But she was surprisingly compassionate and supportive at times when you most expected judgement. She had a great sense of humor and loved slapstick – the sillier, the better. She was my mother and I loved her, tough old bird that she was. And I’m so glad her suffering is over.

Onward, friends – wishing you health, serenity,  peace, and a very Happy New Year.

 

 

Just Checking In

Hi, kids! Here I am, chugging along in my little sober car. Life has thrown its challenges my way, but at 846 days, using booze to cope is just a distant, hazy memory.

First of all, the election. ‘Nuf said. The old me would have gotten VERY drunk election night and would have used the results as justification to “escape” our new national nightmare whenever necessary afterward.

Instead, I subscribed to Yogaglo and hit my mat pretty hard in the days afterward.

I got through Thanksgiving without a hiccup; my husband and I have the routine down pat. There’s a shit-ton of rearranging and “thinking things through” to be done (how to arrange all of the side dishes in an order that makes sense for people to serve themselves, buffet-style; where to set up the auxiliary dining room table, etc.) and then of course, putting the house back together before we can relax after everyone leaves….

But here’s the thing – this is what NEVER gets old, after my third sober Thanksgiving: my stress level is SO much lower. Unbelievable. And I’ve transferred my anticipation from looking forward to drinking with impunity to being excited about having two helpings of my favorite foods at dinner and then treating myself to not one, not two, but – THREE helpings of dessert. Oh my God I was flirting with sugar shock by the end of the day.

If you follow my blog, you’ll remember that I have a difficult relationship with my mother. Well, she’s been having some health issues and, after about five days in the hospital, has been placed in a rehab facility. Her first few days there were a nightmare of poor sleep, inattentive staff, and miscommunications about meds and medical equipment to make her comfortable.

Those issues seem to have been resolved, but I am one of four daughters in close proximity. The others don’t have the same baggage with her that I do (which isn’t to say that they don’t have their own) – and two share health care proxy responsibilities. Due to those circumstances and family and other obligations, I am able to spend far less time with her, by comparison. I struggle with feelings of guilt for not “pulling my weight” and concerns that resentment toward me may be simmering just below the surface.  We update each other via group texts and it’s difficult to read “tone” sometimes.  And, as women, we tend to overthink things.  .

What I have discovered is that my Mother seems to save her best behavior for me.  She’s on medication that makes her extremely loopy and  she talks constantly at an almost manic pace.  I spend most of my time with her giggling at her silliness.  She’ll be there through the holidays. Hopefully, she’ll  be home and back to her normal routine (which consists of pretty much doing nothing all day) by the first of the year.

Anyhoo.  My wish for all of you is a peaceful, memorable, sober holiday season.  It really is SO much easier once you have a round (or two) of sober holidays under your belt.

Take good care, friends.

Moving Right Along….

Holding steady here at 26-plus months of sobriety. Ticked off the last milestone on my list: a wedding. The only problem I encountered was having to wait until almost 8:30 for some kind of food to be put out at the reception, and avoiding some family members whom I don’t care for.

It was extra nice to not have to wait in a loooooong line for little tiny glasses of wine.

It was a wonderful evening – my entire little family was all there, sitting at the same table. I loved watching my sweet granddaughters play with each other.

We’ve had some more family stress since I wrote last. My son and his family were in an accident while riding in a Winnebago a few weeks ago. My son and daughter in law are both still dealing with aches and pains and bruises. Our older granddaughter suffered a broken collarbone; her little sister has a severe laceration on her face. They’re all lucky to be alive and I’m so, SO grateful that the injuries weren’t worse.

I had a mini-crisis at work, which caused me to struggle to get through every day without crying (and I’m not a cryer) – which I finally brought to the attention of my co-workers. The issues were addressed and resolved and I’m happy to go to work every day again.

And through it all, I realized that, again, drinking never occurred to me. It’s just not how I cope any more.

But here’s the thing: I’d been getting multiple daily emails about sobriety, and subscribed to a couple of sobriety podcasts. I had the realization the only time I thought about drinking was when it was brought to my attention….. And what I’ve discovered is that there aren’t enough hours in the day to read or listen to everything in my inbox.  Nor do I feel the need for the support.  It’s kind of like getting constant emails about how to care for a newborn – when you’ve got teenagers.  Just not relevant any more.

So I’ve unsubscribed from all of it and am enjoying the feeling of working without a net. Those emails were a lifeline for so long – but I’m solid in my sobriety.  I don’t ever see myself drinking, ever again. Life is too good to mess around with booze.

I’m still active in the private Facebook  group I belong to, although I tend to check in and ‘like’ and comment occasionally, rather than post often.  My life is happy and busy and overall, my problems are pretty minor, in the grand scheme of things.

So, friends….. My posts here are likely to become more and more infrequent, as the revelations that early sobriety brings have pretty much run their course. I’ve no plans to shut down my blog, but I’ll only be posting things I think will be helpful or resonant with you guys.

Take good care; talk to you later!

A Few Thoughts….

I’ve mentioned before that I think our society is soaked in alcohol, especially as it pertains to women. It seems that every “Girls’ Night Out” event includes wine. Just last night, I saw a commercial sponsored by a local bakery. Here’s the concept: bring your girlfriends and the ubiquitous bottle of wine. And decorate cupcakes together. Ummmmm…… ok? Cupcakes and wine, together at last. Seriously, people.  Let’s see: what goes well with cupcakes……. Well, wine, of course!

And I think today’s women have been sold the shittiest bill of goods ever. We’ve been taught that every rough spot that life provides requires alcohol for lubrication.  Rough day at work? Have some wine! Fight with your husband? Well, wine’s the answer! Kids driving you nuts? Wine will help smooth out those rough edges (even at playgroup).

Not to mention that no celebration is complete without booze. Birthdays, holidays, special occasions – you HAVE to have a glass (A glass – yeah, right) of wine.

I’m not paranoid by nature; nor am I a conspiracy theorist. But if you step back and take a hard look at the bigger picture, how very convenient, in our society – which remains largely patriarchal – to keep women “medicated.” I kinda feel like booze today is the Valium of my mother’s generation.  There’s certainly no stigma attached to drinking – quite the opposite, actually.  If you DON’T drink, you’re the odd man (or woman, as the case may be) out.

In today’s society, the consumption of booze is endorsed, promoted, and encouraged in much the same way that smoking cigarettes was in the 30’s, 40’s and 50’s. There are already studies coming out showing an alarming increase in alcohol-related health issues for women.  Our bodies aren’t built to drink or process alcohol the way men’s do. Young women are binge-drinking at higher rates than young men.

I’m gonna go out on a limb here and make a prediction: it may not happen in my lifetime, but I truly believe the tide will turn. I’m convinced (and fervently hope) that the medical community will force society to ultimately see alcohol for what it is – an addictive substance, not a necessity at every social event.

Don’t get me wrong: if you can drink safely and truly moderately, go for it! (But if you follow this blog, that probably doesn’t include you.)

Two Years Sober

Two years ago today, I woke up sick at heart, sad, disgusted with myself, and desperate. Desperate for change. Desperate for something better. Desperate for a life I had no clue how to create. I knew that doing the same thing, over and over, was not working for me. And that it would most likely have disastrous results.

I was drinking. Too much and too often. Not every day.  And not every time I drank.  But far too often – more often than I was comfortable with.  I’d wake up full of regret and self-recrimination and promise myself that I’d never do that again.

I wasn’t drinking to escape anything. There wasn’t any trauma in my past that I was self-medicating over. I had an amazing husband who adores me.  A comfortable lifestyle. Three great kids, all happily married, productive members of society. Three beautiful, healthy granddaughters. A fulfilling job I enjoy with co-workers I adore. Plenty of time off.  So why?  WHY couldn’t I control my drinking?  What was wrong with me?

I may never know for sure, although genetics is probably a factor. There’s alcoholism and alcohol abuse on both sides of my family.  I’ve reached a stage in my life where we have more expendable income. My kids are grown and independent and I’m not “on call” 24/7. And maybe, just maybe – if you ingest an addictive substance often enough over a period of say, 30-plus years, you juuuuuust might start sliding down the slippery slope of addiction.

I knew in the very core of my being that I was in trouble and that something had to change. How I secretly wished that some external force would intervene and I’d have to stop drinking! Something that wasn’t life-threatening but serious enough that it would be an easy choice – because I had zero faith in my ability to walk away and stay away.

Pulling the thread of alcohol from the fabric of my life left a pretty big hole, and I had no idea how to fill it.   I started by searching online for blogs and support groups – and found both. I found Tired of Thinking About Drinking and pledged not to drink, come hell or high water, for 100 Days. I found Mrs. D and UnPickled and a private FaceBook support group full of the best people on earth. I started this blog about two months into the journey. I napped a lot. Rediscovered a long-forgotten love for sweets and homemade desserts – because macaroons and martinis don’t go well together.

I had to work hard to learn how to feel and process uncomfortable feelings, without pushing them down or away, to drink over later.  And – boy, howdy – I’ve had many opportunities to practice this new skill! I hit a real rough patch at work that reduced me to tears more than once, about six months in. Helped one daughter through a cancer scare and another through a miscarriage.  My son lost a job we all foolishly assumed was incredibly secure.

And there have been two Thanksgivings and Christmases and New Year’s Eves – stone cold sober. Another huge surprise? The ever-present glass of wine only added to the stress of hosting holiday gatherings. Not so easy to coordinate dinner for upwards of 20 people when you’re muddle-headed on Chardonnay.  Who knew?

What I never expected to discover is that saying “no” to one thing – something that I thought I loved but finally realized wasn’t doing me any favors – has allowed me to enthusiastically say “yes!” to so many things I never would’ve even considered trying.  Like taking ice-skating lessons with my husband. And meditation. And taking Power Yoga classes, which I’ve become 100% obsessed with.

If you’d told me, two years ago today, as I sat in my family room so sad and lost and feeling so alone and broken – that I’d have better and more authentic relationships, more fun than I’d had in years, and peace of mind and a serenity the likes of which I’ve never known – I wouldn’t have been able to comprehend how it would be possible. And I’m not sure I would’ve believed you.

Let me amend that – I DEFINITELY would have thought you were lying to me, at best – or full of shit, at worst.

But when I wobbled, I was able to stay firm in my decision, using experiences from when I quit smoking as a reference point. I quit smoking, cold turkey, when I was 22. A few years later, I picked it up again socially (this was before smoking was banned in bars and clubs). Within very short order, the compulsion got stronger and stronger. I created opportunities to smoke. My re-addiction was cut short by my third pregnancy, and I never picked up a cigarette again.  So I knew I could be free of my obsession with alcohol, as long as I quit completely.  Forever.

Initially, I felt such an overwhelming sense of relief – especially after sharing my decision with my sweetheart of a husband, who told me how proud of me he was and that he’d do anything – including remove alcohol from our home – to make things easier for me.  And then I got through the first weekend and thought, “Okay. That wasn’t so bad – I can DO this!”  Keep in mind that, other than my pregnancies and a month or so over 20 years ago when I stopped just to prove to myself that I could – I hadn’t gone a weekend without drinking in more than 30 years.

And, sure – there were times when I felt “other than” and left out of the fun.  I mourned the end of socializing, and celebrating, and consoling myself, and I don’t know –  Tuesday – as I knew it. I got the “grumblefucks” when it seemed like everyone in the friggin’ world was sipping ice cold white wine or drinking a craft brew. And there I was  – with my big dumb coke glass with a big white straw  jabbed into it- sticking out like a sore thumb.

But slowly and gradually, I’ve evolved. As a non-drinker and, hopefully, as a human being. My perception has shifted. I’ve gone from feeling conspicuous and uncomfortable to feeling just a li’l bit like a superhero. I mean, this is HARD, people! To say “no” and hold firm while navigating my way through a society that’s absolutely DRENCHED with booze?  When everything from Paint Night to Book Club to Play Group to Yoga is paired with alcohol? Amazing!

So. Year One was all about navigating new experiences as a sober person.  Figuring out how to create new habits and coping strategies when stress came calling. Year Two beckoned me to get my health – physical and mental – in order. Talk therapy? Check! Physical therapy for a bum elbow and shoulder? Check! Re-establish healthy eating habits? Check! Explore new forms of exercise? Check!

Onto Year Three – come along with me?

 

A Week of Extremes

My summer is melting like ice cream on a 90 degree July day – every day is jam-packed with granddaughters or yoga or long walks or even ice-skating with my husband. There’s a world of difference between last summer, my first as a sober adult, and this summer. Sobriety is as much a part of me as my eye color or height – just a part of what makes me “me.”

But last week, out of the blue, our son lost his job.  None of us saw it coming, as he’d worked his way up (in one of our city’s charter schools) from per diem substitute, to classroom teacher, to administrator, to principal.  He was the only constant employee in the school’s 13-year history.  A new ‘top dog’ was hired recently, and the decision was made to clean house. So his position was written out of the budget. Thirteen years of employment was reduced to six boxes in the back seat of his car.

At first, he was stunned. Then enveloped by such deep sadness. Then furious.  And he’s used his anger to propel him forward as he contemplates a brand-new career.  We were watching his two little girls that day and, consequently, were the first family members to see him.

I hugged and kissed my boy. And told him how sorry I was. And said that it was their loss.  And that they were fucking fuckers to do this to him.  And I cried a little after hearing that his sweet five year old tried to console him with a story about how she knew he was sad to leave his job, but that she understood how he might be feeling.  Because she was really sad to leave kindergarten but now she’s looking forward to first grade – and maybe he’d be just as excited about a new job.

But never – even though my mother’s heart was crushed for him – did drinking cross my mind.

And then a few days later, my entire family: three kids,  two sons-in-law, daughter-in-law, and three granddaughters, traveled to Cleveland to beam with pride as our youngest graduated from the University of Phoenix.

This young woman is in long-term recovery from heroin addiction and has attained her bachelors degree while working full-time.  It’s taken the better part of six years. And back in the dark days of her addiction, I never would have dreamed that she’d graduate from college. I thought it was far more likely to be planning her funeral.  But by God, she did it.  It was a weekend of memories I’ll treasure for the rest of my life.

And again, I never wanted to drink to celebrate.  I wouldn’t dream of fuzzing out one second of the joy and pride and gratitude to a beneficent universe that I felt.

We can suffer crushing disappointment – sober.  We can experience huge, huge triumphs – sober.

And while it doesn’t make the hard stuff suck any less, it’s processed and moved through more efficiently when we “feel the feels,” instead of numbing out.  Because the unpleasant feelings are still waiting there, waiting to be dealt with, once you sober up. It’s just delaying the inevitable.

Being present for the good stuff makes for glowing, complete memories that last forever.  And they play in your mind, over and over, in a glorious loop.

Who knew that giving up one little thing would grant so many enormous blessings?

 

23 Months – 700 Days of Sobriety

Oh, friends….

So much has changed.  For the better. I’ll post more on my two – year soberversary, but if you’re on Day 1, for the first time…. Or the umpteenth time. I was where you are right now.

I was sad and scared and desperate. I had a love/hate relationship with alcohol. I wanted it out of my life but was terrified to say goodbye. I had no clue how to mend the huge hole that its absence would leave.

And now?

I know that it was absolutely the right decision.

I started this post 5 days ago and haven’t finished it because I’ve been too damn busy living my life and having F-U-N! Like taking granddaughters to amusement parks and taking long walks with my husband and taking yoga classes and ice skating and going to a cabin in the woods for an overnight visit with our daughter, son-in-law and youngest granddaughter.  And watching the RNC, which was fun like watching those videos where people skateboard down stair railings and end up slipping and smashing their crotches is fun. You can’t bear to see another second of it, but you just can’t tear your eyes away.

I’ll have a lot more to say in a few weeks, but for now – a sweet little nap is calling to me….

Oh my God! I love my life.

 

 

 

Perspective

I had an experience the other night that I’d like to share. This is especially for those of you who are in the very early days of sobriety.  I remember feeling so anxious and awkward and anxiety-ridden, especially as it pertained to social events and dining out. Like my skin was on inside-out; unsure of myself and uncomfortable.

About eight weeks in, I celebrated a special birthday.  My husband and I went to a fancy-schmancy restaurant for dinner. Once we were seated, the maitre d’ approached our table with two glasses of champagne and a big smile. Internally, I freaked out.  What do I do? What do I say?

So I kind of blurted out, “I’m sorry – I don’t drink!”

You know  that sound effect on TV – when the needle screeches across a record and everyone freezes?  Well, that’s what the reaction was like.  He stopped dead in his tracks, his smiled faded, he spun on his heel and whisked the offending beverages away.

Awk- warrrrrrrd.

So fast forward to this week.  Another nice dinner out to celebrate our 37th anniversary.  Different restaurant, same scenario. Waiter approaches our table with two champagne flutes, saying, “First things first. Happy anniversary!”

This time?  I smiled graciously, thanked him, and as soon as he walked away, slid the glass over to my husband.

When the waiter came back, I ordered a club soda with lime and a splash of grenadine.

And everything was just lovely.

It gets so, SO much easier, friends!

Game-Changing Gratitude

A couple of weeks ago, I was a guest at a bridal shower for my sister-in-law. My granddaughters were invited, too – which was a huge treat for me. My youngest granddaughter is shy in social situations when there are a lot of people kind of converging on her – come to think of it, who wouldn’t be put off in a situation like that?

Anyway, this little one’s Mommy wasn’t feeling well, so I stayed close and focused on keeping the toddler happy and occupied. I rarely have an opportunity to spend such concentrated time with all my grands, so I was in my glory.
Had a lovely afternoon, and thought everyone else did too.

Wrong.

A few days later, my husband gets an email from his elderly uncle (at the behest of his wife, who was also at the shower). Apparently I didn’t spend enough time with them at the shower and they wanted to know what was wrong “before it becomes a problem.” Wonderful man that he is, the hubs fired an email right back setting them straight and ending with, “nothing is wrong and it won’t become a problem unless someone MAKES it one.”

Have I mentioned lately how crazy I am about him?

Fast forward to yesterday. There was an engagement party for the bride-to-be and her intended, that we (and the bride’s other siblings) were hosting. I was very edgy about having to see this aunt and uncle in person again, so soon after the tension their email created.

Now, a great strategy I’ve used in the past is to reward myself after something stressful. But I had a whole afternoon to fill BEFORE the party. So here’s what I did: I used a gift certificate for a pedicure, which is one of my very favorite indulgences. Then I came home and had about an hour before we needed to leave for the party.

So, I made myself a coffee, went into my bedroom and closed the door, and used a free meditation app called “Insight Timer.” I was scrolling through the menu looking for something for stress relief. But instead I stumbled on an eleven minute guided meditation for gratitude.

This was a complete game-changer, people.

My head was filled with images of my three sweet granddaughters, my grown children and their spouses, my precious husband….. There was absolutely no head space left for the asshats I was so worked up about.

And everyone showed up at the party and it was just fine. As a matter of fact, as we were choosing which table to sit at, I looked over and noticed that the offending relatives were sitting all alone. I just looked at my husband and said, “Let’s go sit with them.” And we did. And it was – fine. Really fine! I felt like I was adulting like a champ. I had the upper hand with them, was gracious and friendly – and I have no idea where it came from.

The party was really nice, everyone had a good time – even me! And I was home and in my pjs by 8:30.

I just had to share, as we head into the summer, with its graduation and summer and 4th of July parties – maybe try stocking your mental shelves with gratitude before you head out? It just might help, more than you can imagine!