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?