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.

 

 

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.

300 Days Without Alcohol

The 13th of June was my 300th day without booze. This is probably the longest I’ve gone without ingesting any kind of mood-altering substance since I started smoking pot at 13. I progressed from pot to cigarettes at 15, dabbled with speed, and then finally, focused my interest on booze. Back then the legal drinking age was 18 and I only drank on weekends, usually a couple of beers on a Saturday night. Fast forward many years and many, many drinks later…..

This has become my new normal. I no longer feel uncomfortable in my own skin when we’re at a restaurant, where it seems like EVERYONE but me is drinking. Enjoying elegant cocktails or glasses of chilled white wine or frosted glasses of beer.  And there I sit with my big dumb Coke glass and white straw, filled with club soda, cranberry, and a wedge of lime. I do occasionally get what I call “the grumblefucks” when I wallow, momentarily, in the “why me’s” and “it’s no fair that I can’t drink – everyone else is” kind of thoughts.

But they don’t last. Honestly, though – I would very much like to get to the point of being able to say that I don’t ever miss it. I do wish I could drink like normal people. But I know I can’t – not EVER.

And another thing: this weekend, we’ll have a house guest. Our adorable, active 1-year-old granddaughter who’s not all that fond of sleeping through the night. I’m steeling myself for the high likelihood of four nights of interrupted sleep. And can I tell you a secret? If I were still drinking, there’s absolutely NO fucking way I would have volunteered to take her.  Can you imagine what a crimp she’d put in my ability to drink the way I was accustomed to, especially on the weekend? No cocktail hour in the afternoon? No wine with dinner and during the evening, as we watched TV? No big fat martini before bedtime? No, thanks.

It would have been easy enough to make excuses: Dad has to get up so early every morning, he needs his sleep…. I can’t get the time off work….. I’m really freaked out about being responsible for her, with her parents so far away…..

Instead, I’m  proud to step up and take the baby so my daughter and son-in-law can get away for a few days.  It’ll be so good for them, as a young married couple who never had a honeymoon. Not looking forward to potentially sleep-interrupted nights, but – I’ll be clear-headed and sober and capable of handling whatever their precious, pint-sized tyrant throws our way.

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.