Seven Months Sober

As I progress farther and farther along this sober road, new little revelations pop up like the sweetest flowers of spring….

Today marks seven months since my last drink/last drunk.  As muddy and bleary as the memories were of that evening, the next morning is etched with crystal clarity in my memory forever. The terrifying conclusion was unavoidable: I had to stop drinking.

Over the course of many years, alcohol had gone from being an occasional treat – to be enjoyed rarely – to an almost daily habit.  And an unhealthy obsession.  It was my ‘go to’ for every occasion: for celebrations and consolations. The remedy for monthly cramps. The perfect accompaniment to any and every special meal.  My weekend necessity. The solution for everything.

Until it became the problem.

And the revelation that occurred to me is that as I used wine or beer or vodka to help soften the edges of a bad day or bad feeling or bad anything, one of the trades I would make is that it would also prevent me from feeling the intensity of the good stuff: burying my nose in the sweet-smelling hair of one of my granddaughters.  The shared giggles over silly word play. The long summer walks, punctuated by trips to the library or the corner bagel shop. Teaching one of them how to play “Old Maid.”  Snuggling and reading books to them before a nap. Sharing a cuddle or a sweet, sleepy smile as the youngest one drifts off to sleep in my arms.  They make me laugh so hard….. sometimes I think my heart will just burst with joy.

It’s been challenging to learn how to sit with uncomfortable feelings without numbing out.  But – the unexpected rewards of true happiness and lightness of heart and spirit have been so, so worth the work.

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Self-care vs Selfishness

When I was a little kid, about 7 or 8, my dad was hospitalized for a spell – long enough for me to remember visiting him on weekends and having ice cream sundaes in the hospital cafeteria with him and a bunch of my siblings. I have vague memories of whisperings about depression. Eventually he came back home and life returned to the normal day-to-day chaos that characterized my childhood, for the most part.

It wasn’t until I turned 18 that my mother sat me down and told me that Dad was an alcoholic. At the time 18 was the legal drinking age and she wanted me to know that, genetically speaking, the deck was stacked against me. I have no recollection of ever having seen either of my parents drink, so this was quite the shock for me.

My most vivid memories of my dad always revolve around his favorite pastimes: photography, building balsa-wood model airplanes, and reading – he loved science fiction and crime novels, mostly.

And hand-in-hand with that stroll down memory lane is the recollection of my mother’s disdain for and disapproval of his “hobbies.” We kids were reminded often that she only had one pair of ill-fitting shoes and a winter coat that she’d worn for years…. The unspoken message was received loud and clear: Dad was SELFISH. And I blindly, unthinkingly, silently agreed with that opinion.

Fast forward 35 years or so. I’ve struggled mightily, throughout my adult life, with the concept of self-care: what does it mean and when does it cross a line? Many of you reading this can probably relate.

I see things differently now, in the 206 days since I quit drinking. I should tell you that I’ve exercised regularly, at least three times a week, for the past 25 years. I get my nails done every two weeks. Go out to dinner a couple of times a week, on average. I like to wear comfortable, stylish clothes. I get my hair cut and colored regularly. Does that make me selfish? And since I stopped drinking, I’ve become even MORE self-indulgent. I’ve eliminated some major volunteer commitments from my personal docket. My life is far more “want to” than “have to” these days.

I think I understand my dad so much better now than I did back then – he was practicing self-care and protecting his sobriety. He should have been commended and admired.

Because if he hadn’t been sober, our family would have completely fallen apart.

As for myself, I figure anything that helps keep me on track without breaking the bank or jeopardizing my relationship with my husband is nobody’s business.

And – hot damn! That feels great.

…And you know what REALLY pisses me off?

This stupid alcogenic culture of ours really makes me crazy. And I have to admit that I used to be as guilty of this as the people who suffer from the same mindset.

If you were talking to a friend or acquaintance and told them that you’d quit smoking, what kind of response would you get? “Oh my God that’s AWESOME, good for you!” would be the typical response, right? Because it IS awesome.

How many of you told a friend or acquaintance that you decided to stop drinking and got a less-than-positive response? Something more along the lines of, “YOU???? Really???” Or how about this one: “You’re not going to drink? Not EVER?”

Because in our society if you don’t drink you’re a weirdo. There’s got to be something wrong with you.

I used to keep a mental list of people I’d met who didn’t imbibe. No explanation given, just – no, thanks when they were offered booze. They fascinated me. And really annoyed me, more than a little, too. What the hell was WRONG with them? Who DOESN’T drink? Why in the world would anyone opt NOT to?

Funny how 197 days sober changes one’s perspective, isn’t it?

Thoughts on Becoming a Grown-Up

This is what’s on my mind today…. You don’t get to your mid-fifties without going through some shit in your life. I’m no exception, without going into too many gory details. We married young and were pretty poor (had just enough money to cover the bills, had one car and lived in a two bedroom apartment) for the first several years of our marriage. I clearly remember having less than a dollar in cash between the two of us on one particular Monday before pay day. I became a mother just two weeks after my twenty first birthday.There have been health scares with our kids, a handful of surgeries (routine and a couple of pretty serious operations), the deaths of three of four of our parents, about five years of hell when our daughters were traveling the long dark road of heroin addiction….

Yeah. We’ve been through some shit, alright. And during every crisis we tucked and rolled and got through it and fell apart afterward.

But something interesting has been happening in the past six months. I’ve really been working on ‘feeling my feelings’ since walking away from booze. It’s not been easy, just sitting with discomfort instead of medicating it away.

Yesterday, the hubs had minor surgery. Now, I should tell you that he is the most amazing person. He wears so many hats in his job and accomplishes everything he sets out to do perfectly, with precision and integrity and complete attention to detail. He is very tightly scheduled and even more tightly wound. If you looked up the definition of “Type A personality”, you’d see his picture in the dictionary.

Well, we get to the surgical center at around 10 for an 11:15 procedure. And we wait. And wait some more.

They finally take him back to the pre-surgical area. Then they call me to come back and wait with him until the operation. We wait some more. Then we wait a LOT more. There were a few points at which I thought he would lose. His. Shit. Not get abusive or anything, but – he was almost literally crawling the walls.

I couldn’t blame him. You’re nervous, of course – and then you have to wait for almost three hours past your scheduled time??? Seriously???

But here’s the difference: I was able to sympathize and empathize and just let him vent without absorbing all the tension like a sponge. I didn’t fight it or resist it, even though reacting that way isn’t my thing. It’s like I was able to just let it run through me instead of soaking it up, marinating in it, and wanting to punch something. And then, like in the old days, biding my time until I could get home, get him settled, and have a drink. Or three. To just shake off the stress.

Afterward, he was so appreciative and sweet and thanked me a bunch of times for keeping him from going crazy… And I thought, “This must be what being a grown-up is. You just handle shit without having to medicate to get through it.”

Anybody else out there having these revelations? Doesn’t it feel so good to be a grown-up?

Pride

It occurred to me the other day that I’ve gotten really used to feeling proud of myself, these past six months since I quit drinking. Prior to that, I can’t tell you how many mornings my heart would just sink when I reviewed the previous days’ drinking. There was just so much shame attached to it, even if I’d only had a couple of glasses of wine. The worst of it was when I’d wake up in the morning and couldn’t be sure that things were ok between my husband and me. There were too many times I couldn’t remember everything that I’d said the evening before and wasn’t sure if he was annoyed with me. Ugh.

He’d told me more than once that the only time he found me unattractive was when I’d had too much to drink. Seriously?? He didn’t find a slurring, stumbling idiot sexy? Pfffft. What the hell’s the matter with that man?

The hubs has what you might call “a glass face.” Every thing he feels is clearly on display for all to see. I’m especially cued in to his emotions, naturally. And the only thing worse than feeling disgusted with myself was seeing his displeasure with me stamped clearly on his face.

And oh, the paranoia. That itchy thing that I’d do, reading into everything he said until I could be sure that we were ok.

Words fail to convey how good it feels to know that, good, bad, or indifferent – anything that I do or say these days is willful, deliberate, and lucid. I never again have to wake up and worry that I’ve said something stupid or mean under the influence of booze.

I’m so proud of myself for taking the very difficult step of removing alcohol from my life It’s been so, so hard and even more rewarding. But the love and pride I see reflected back at me from my husband’s big brown eyes is just….. the best.

6 Months Without Alcohol!

I marked 180 days sober on Friday. Six months! That’s the longest I’ve gone without a drink in 32 years. Has it been worth it?

Unequivocally, absolutely, unflinchingly, yes.

I finally feel like my outside matches my insides. What you see is absolutely what you get. Has it been easy? At first, not so much. But as the days became weeks and months, milestones have been racked up and filed away – yes.  It has gotten easier, but not without challenges.

And let me tell you, in the past week or so, I’ve been put through the meat grinder at work. I’ve had the same job for 22 years; love Love LOVE what I do.  And can count on three fingers the number of times I’ve cried at work.  Two of those times occurred last week.  Not ONCE did drinking to cope enter my mind. Not. Once. Yay, sobriety!  You. Kick. Ass.

In 183 days, this is what I’ve closed the door on:

The constant mental diatribe of worry, shame, regret and self-recrimination. Waking up in the morning, taking stock of the day before and generally being disappointed in myself for drinking when I promised myself I wouldn’t. The mentally exhausting, never-ending stream of thought that was in the background of nearly every waking moment. My first thoughts were typically in this order: Did I drink last night? How much? Do I remember going to bed? Did I do or say anything my husband will be mad at me for? Do I remember everything we talked about last night?

That sad little morning ritual included assessing how I felt physically.  Are my hands a little shaky?  That ‘ping’ I felt in my right side – is that my liver barking at me?  Are the whites of my eyes a little yellow this morning? How much longer before there are health consequences I’ll have to face up to?

And on and on and on……

And this is what I’ve opened the door to:

Peace of mind. Knowing that I am honest with myself and no longer in denial about something that was becoming a real problem. Authenticity. Secure in the knowledge that who I am, right here and now, is truly me.  No shadows or secrets, no more feeling like I’m living a double life.  Serenity.  A calm self-assured awareness that, no matter what life throws my way, I can handle it.  I’ve been through so much – and used booze to help soften the edges – now I have enough sober time to be secure in the fact that being clear-headed makes handling stress so, SO much easier. True happiness. I have peace of mind and can really focus on and appreciate the incredible blessings there are in my life. An even better, closer relationship with my husband. In the course of this six months we’ve done a ton of talking about my decision to quit drinking. He really gets why I needed to quit. He’s almost as proud of me as I am! Wonderful, refreshing sleep.  Man, I’m out like a light soon after my head hits the pillow. And I generally sleep deeply and well, waking completely refreshed in the morning.

Let’s see…… do I regret quitting drinking?

Not for one frigging second.

First Sober Vacation

Well, kids! My last big sober milestone has been reached. Last weekend, the Hubs and I went to a family event out of town. I was more than a little nervous and curious about this. Mostly because, in the past, our pattern had been to have some drinks and snacks in the hotel room in the afternoon, followed by a nap (for me).  Then it would be out for dinner and drinks, and then finally, back to the room in the evening for – you guessed it – more drinks, possibly more snacks, and then bed. To be completely honest, I usually drank more than my husband.  He would typically fall asleep first, while I would either read or watch TV with a glass of wine until I couldn’t keep my eyes open any more.  It was then and only then that I’d be able to fall asleep.

So I was really nervous about the possibility that I wouldn’t sleep well, what with the room/bed/pillows being different, the room not smelling like home, the light under the room door from the hallway, unusual noises, etc.

But – I’d done my research and armed myself with some great tools: my favorite scented hand cream, most comfortable jammies, and the very best thing of all – the meditation app I’d purchased for $1.99, called “Simply Being.” The first night we were away, I had a hard time staying asleep, even though I’d been up really early that morning, probably due to the EXTREMELY strong cup of coffee I’d ordered at the Italian restaurant we went to.  I swear, the spoon stood up by itself in the thing. I woke up at 4:30 the following morning. We’re talking WIDE AWAKE. So, I plugged my earbuds in, fired up a 30 minute meditation session, and – presto! It was 6:30, time to get up, and I was refreshed, well-rested, and ready to start my day.

Then, that evening, I had a hard time settling down.  It was 11:30 and I was still wide awake.  Used the meditation app again, and – like magic, didn’t wake up until 6:45.  I felt great.

Just a side note here – there was a family party the second night, and wine and bottled beer were offered.  There were also urns of ice water, lemonade, and iced tea.  I drank iced tea for the most part, and returned several times to refill my glass.  I had the thought that, if I were still drinking, I would have probably started with wine, but since the glasses were on the small side and the bartender’s pour was pretty skimpy, I’d have switched to bottled beer.  I would have been anxious about getting enough to drink to satisfy me without looking like I was visiting the bar too often.   Nobody else at the party seemed to be drinking very enthusiastically.

So glad to have that piano off my back.

A Conversation with a Friend

The other day at lunch, a friend of mine who knows about my decision to stop drinking, asked me how the holidays went without booze. I thought for a minute and said, “Great. Really great.” Which they did. The thing that I learned that surprised me the most was that I always thought wine helped me unwind during the stressful times. Having gone through it sober, I learned that – yes, there’s still stress associated with the holidays, but that it was much more manageable WITHOUT alcohol.

The more sober time I accrue (today is day 148, I believe) the more clearly I see and am able to admit the problems booze was creating in my life.  I shared that with her in conversation the other day and she listened thoughtfully and intently.  I told her that for me, the bottom line was this: I knew it was time to quit when the thought of continuing the way I was going was MORE terrifying than the thought of quitting (which scared the absolute shit out of me, truth be told).

She thought for a second and said, “That makes a TON of sense.”

I think I’m getting to the point where I can selectively be more honest about my reasons for quitting.  And being a person who is not overfond of secrets, it’s pretty cool to be getting comfortable with my truth.

After the Party’s Over……

I. Did. It. I really friggin’ did it! Got through not one, not two, but – THREE major holidays without booze! I’m so relieved and happy and serene and proud. Very, very proud of myself.

Christmas was pretty easy, since we have an A/F brunch here for our kids and grandchildren. It’s always been dry, so no biggie.  Christmas night at my sister’s has been dry for several years now, since there are a couple of other family members who have/had issues with alcohol.

New Year’s Eve we went to my husband’s favorite restaurant.  I was DD and had my lovely club soda with lime and a splash of cranberry. Hubs had a drink before dinner and glass of wine with.  It didn’t bother me at all.  Looking around the restaurant, it did seem like most people were imbibing.  I do have that kind of ‘drink counter’ in my brain. (That’s his third beer!  Her second wine!)

Then we came home and watched “Gone Girl” and then Anderson Cooper and Kathy Griffin until midnight. There was no need to toast 2015 with a beverage, just sweet kisses and a few tears shared over how incredibly lucky and blessed we are.  All of our kids are happy, healthy, and whole, and live within a half an hour of us. The three precious granddaughters they’ve given us have brought so much light and laughter. We are incredibly fortunate.

New Year’s Day brings demons to exorcise. We traditionally host my husband’s family for a get-together and, especially the past two years, I had waaaaay too much to drink.  It doesn’t matter if another soul noticed; I know what was going on in my brain.  I privately swore two years ago that I would NEVER drink that much again. Riiiiiight. Another promise broken to myself. Before everyone came over I had some moments of real stress trying to figure out how best to accommodate 15 people in our small house.  My husband jokingly suggested that a glass of wine might help.  We had a good laugh and a big hug and then he talked me off the ledge. We figured everything out and I calmed right down. My panicky feelings passed and I was fine.

There was one moment – maybe a total of a full second – when my son was reaching into the fridge for a beer and I heard the bottles rattle together.  I had the fleeting thought, “A beer sounds GREAT right about now.” And it passed, just as quickly.  Quite honestly, in retrospect it seems more of a reflex than an authentic thought.

My favorite moments of the afternoon were when I was teaching my 11 year old niece and 4 year old granddaughter a hand-clapping game from my childhood.  I sat on the floor with them, cross-legged and laughing.  My adult son peeked his head in the doorway and I could see him taking a mental snapshot of his little girl, giggling helplessly at her Grandma. I could see the love and pride in his eyes and felt the same emotions myself, knowing that as I look back on all of the mental snapshots I took yesterday, I’ll see a sober, present woman who truly enjoyed herself and her family.  Free of heart, clear of mind and conscience.

I wish anyone who reads this the same kind of peace of mind and serenity. It is so, SO worth the effort to stay sober.

Bring it on, 2015! I’ve never been readier or more excited for a new year.

What’s the Opposite of Collateral Damage?

When I was contemplating giving up drinking forever, one of the things that kept me from taking the leap was the notion that it would change my relationship with my husband. And not for the better. We both loved good wine, craft beers, and the ritual of making drinks together. I really wondered and worried over how we would reinvent our relationship as regards booze.

Fast forward 123 days…. Not only have we saved a bucket of money, realized we still really LIKE each other, much less love each other, but my husband drinks much less than he used to. I was a really bad influence on him, I think.

The farther I get away from my life as a drinker, the more clearly I see that I was headed toward real trouble with alcohol. My consumption had steadily crept up through the years, and it had become waaaayyyy too integral to my day-to-day life. I remember reading an interview with Mary Tyler Moore (who also gave up the drink in middle age) and when asked why, she said something to the effect of, “I realized that alcohol had become far too important to me”. That really made an impact on me and was filed away mentally to mull over later.

Another thing I see clearly is that my husband is what we call a “normie”, in the sobriety blogs. He can have a beer – ONE BEER – and be done with booze for the day. Who does that???? What’s the point of ONE???

See what I mean? I am so glad I got off the elevator before it got all the way to the basement.

Before I stopped, all I could see were the negative aspects of not drinking. I would never have dreamed of all the blessings it would bring.