The Gift of Presence

For as long as I can remember, I always felt like there was something wrong with me emotionally; unless something directly affected me personally, I couldn’t really force myself to care the way I perceived that a normal person would. I felt vaguely disconnected.  Oh, I’d go through the motions and say (and hopefully, do) the right things.  But deep down inside, there was another part of me that felt detached. Disengaged. Other than. I thought I was inherently emotionally flawed somehow.

Since getting sober 18 months ago, I’ve undergone so much emotional growth – especially in terms of learning how to sit with unpleasant emotions and situations.  And I’ve learned something else: anger can be a blanket emotion.  I’ve been learning how to sift through what I’m feeling and dig out what’s underneath it. I feel so much more connected and tuned in to my own emotions and to the people I love.

Sometimes I don’t have the luxury of time to unpack what I’m feeling.  I have to react to a situation quickly and diplomatically, which isn’t one of my strengths. I can’t escape or emotionally check out. So, when all else fails, I try to remember: “if you can’t get out of it, get into it!” I take a deep breath and stay present.  Right here.  Right now. And do the best I can.

I realize now that booze was robbing me of the ability to stay in the moment.  I’d operate by kind of shoving feelings away and putting them on a shelf so I could drink over them later; medicate them away.

This is such an interesting journey.  I wouldn’t trade it for anything.

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18 Months Sober

February 18th marks 549 days since I took my last drink.  A year and a half!  I can hardly believe it.

18 months since I woke up that last morning after I yet again, drank more than I intended to.  And blacked out.  AGAIN.  And remembered neither the last half of the show I was watching nor an intimate interlude with my husband.

And I came to the inescapable conclusion that I could not moderate.  Years of research had proven it.  As terrifying as it seemed, I had to close the door on booze forever.  If I didn’t I’d actively be choosing what would likely be a highly untimely, unnecessary, and unpleasant death.

And – talk about terrifying – what would my life BE without booze?  How would I celebrate? How would I console myself? How would I have FUN? What would my relationship with my husband be like?  I just couldn’t imagine how not drinking would make any aspect of my life better – in fact, I thought it would be quite the opposite.

What’s changed?  So, SO much – for the better! First of all, I wake up in the morning (and sober sleep is FANTASTIC, thank you very much) free of heart and mind. I no longer have to worry about what I said or did the night before and whether or not my husband is disgusted with me.  I don’t wake up thinking about the previous night, assessing whether and/or how much I drank.  I actually like and respect myself and accept that if I make a mistake, I’m not a horrible, broken, worthless person.  I’m just human. Gloriously flawed.  But still worthy of love and respect, especially from myself.

I’ve learned all about the wonderful world of self-care.  And discovered that I’m actually an introvert.  I really like people and love to socialize – on my terms.  But I respect myself enough to honor my need for quiet time; I crave it and soak it up like a sponge.

One of the best things I’ve discovered is how much MORE fun I have – especially with my three granddaughters. The return to childlike play and the ability to lose myself in the moment with them.

I’ve learned that strong emotions, left to their own devices and not medicated away, will NOT kill me.  And not only that, I don’t WANT to self-medicate.  And some super scary and stressful stuff has happened in the past year and a half.

I just feel like the real deal.  And present.  And authentic.  I’m still learning and I’m certainly not perfect.

But here’s what I want to leave you with: if you’re struggling. Or on the fence. Or not sure if giving up booze forever is something you can wrap your brain around.  Please, please, PLEASE – give it a try.  Sign up for Belle’s 100 Day Challenge. Tell just one person you trust that you’re concerned about your own drinking.  Reach out and I can give you information about a private Facebook group comprised of people just like you and me.  People who want to stop drinking and need some support.  It’s helped me so, SO much, especially since I don’t have any friends in real life who are walking this road with me.

For me, walking away from booze forever was absolutely non-negotiable.   My only regret is that I didn’t do it 20 years ago, when I first began to suspect that my relationship with alcohol was unhealthy.

Please – don’t wait one more day. You’re worth it.  And you won’t regret it.

I promise.

The Most Epic Blog Post Ever Written

Yesterday, I woke up with the knowledge that my youngest, my baby – had cancer.

Until we found out she didn’t.

Let me back up and tell you the entire story, complete with some details that elude explanation and push the boundaries of belief…

A short while back, I mentioned that I was dealing with some worry over a child’s health issues. (Said “child” is 29 years old and married, but – she will always be my baby.) She had something funky growing on the skin of her lower back and was concerned enough about it to mention it to me last summer.  I took a peek at it and didn’t think it was anything to worry about, but suggested she keep an eye on it.

Fast forward to late fall… She mentioned it again and I suggested that she have it looked at.  One thing led to another, and her primary doc referred her to a dermatologist, who biopsied it.

Fast forward to about a week and a half ago, when I got a text from her during my work day, asking me to give her a call when I got a chance.  I did, and she told me she was given the news that the growth was malignant and that she’d need to see a sarcoma surgeon at THE cancer hospital in our city the following week.

As I listened to my child telling me that she had CANCER, my vision narrowed to a dark tunnel.  My heart followed my stomach, plummeting down to my feet.  I had the fleeting thought: “I can’t wait to get home and have a glass of wine.”

And then I went home and googled shit as if it were my job. Googled the name of the tumor.  Googled diagnoses.  Googled prognoses. Googled treatment protocols.  Googled morbidity data.  Googled the hospital.  Googled the surgeon.

And the information was alternately terrifying and reassuring, depending on which site I was visiting.  And the ten days between the diagnosis and the trip to the hospital were just. Awful.  Waiting. Wondering. Twisting in the wind.

I shared with a few friends at work, and shared more widely with a private Facebook group I belong to.  I felt buoyed by the messages of love and support I received.  People told me they were praying for her, for me, for our family.  Even though I’m not a religious person, I could feel the waves of positive energy flowing over us.  And it helped, so, SO much.

My poor husband bottled it all up. He shared with no one, and didn’t want to talk to me about it, either. He found a way to put everything on a shelf, as best he could, and just get through each day the best way he knew how.

I need to preface the really good part of the story by telling you that my in-laws were wonderful people and excellent, much-loved grandparents. I was particularly close to my mother-in-law. They’ve both been gone for quite a few years now, but let’s just say their presence is felt in our lives.

So.  The day of the consultation, I slipped on a ring that had been one of my mother-in-law’s.  Whenever I need a little of her strength, I wear something of hers to keep her close.  I knew I’d be needing all the help I could get.

We get to the hospital and my daughter does all the preliminary checking in stuff.  They tell us we can go upstairs to the sarcoma unit. It has its own private waiting room.  We walk in and my daughter walks up to the window to register with the receptionist, who notices my daughter’s cute purse and the two of them chatter like bffs about handbags (which I could personally give zero shits about.) So I tune out and look around the waiting room, which is unoccupied except for us.  There’s a TV mounted on the wall, and a local morning show is on.  So is the closed captioning. I look up to see the man being interviewed.  He happens to be a former teaching colleague of my father-in-law’s, and he’s talking about an annual Sleep Out for the poor and homeless that he and my father-in-law started in their school district many years ago.  AND SCROLLING ACROSS THE SCREEN ARE MY MOTHER AND FATHER-IN-LAW’S NAMES.

I shit you not.

So I interrupt my daughter’s handbag chat to point out what’s on the screen.  She gasps and says, “Mom! I was just saying to Tobin (her husband) the other day that I’d feel so much better about everything if I could just have a sign from Grandma and Grandpa that everything was going to be ok!”

And then, not ten minutes later, the Physician’s Assistant is asking my daughter some intake questions, including what she’s been diagnosed with.  My kid kind of mangles the multisyllabic pronunciation, apologizes,  and the P.A. says, “That’s ok.  You just put the emPHAsis on the wrong sylLAble.”  That just so happens to be a phrase that I’ve never heard anyone other than my father-in-law use.

And she follows that up with the information that the growth on my daughter’s back is, in fact, benign.   BENIGN, PEOPLE!!! I must have sounded like an imbecile as I sputtered, “What? I’m sorry – what did you say? What she has is NOT malignant?”  She just smiled benevolently and and asked, “Have you been on the INTERNET….?”  And I told her the website I’d been trolling for most of my information.  She just kept smiling and shook her head. “These types of tumors are almost always benign, although they have the potential to BECOME malignant.”

I could literally feel my shoulders relax and slump – let’s just say it was a good thing I was sitting down.

So, my daughter has to have the growth removed, and she’ll be sore for a few days.  She’ll be monitored for a period of time, and then move on with her life.

And we all feel like our lives have been handed back to us, intact and perfect and better than before.

And as strange and wonderful and fantastical as this story is, what I really want to leave you with is this:

We can do really, REALLY hard shit. Like stare our child’s mortality square in the eye. Stone cold sober.

And we can celebrate and rejoice and be jubilant. Stone cold sober.