Five Years

Today marks exactly five years of continuous sobriety. I was telling my husband the other day that, early on, I was watching a movie in which there was a scene with a man and woman in a bar. He offers to buy her a drink and she responds, “No thanks. I’m five years sober.”

I remember that scene so clearly – the thought of five years of sobriety seemed unfathomable to me at the time. And yet, here I am.

What have I learned, over five years? Well. I’ve learned it can still be difficult to be a nondrinker in this world. It can be lonely. I can still feel “other than” when it seems everyone else in the group is drinking and I’m not. And if I’m being perfectly honest, there are times when I still wish I could drink in safety. That I could fit in with the crowd and enjoy a few drinks and stop there.

I also wish I were five inches taller. And fifteen years younger. But most of all, I wish I’d quit drinking when I first knew I had an unhealthy relationship with alcohol, which was probably twenty years before I actually came to the realization that I had to stop.

I’ve also learned what true serenity, and peace of mind, and authenticity feels like. Waking up in the morning with a clear head and a free heart – without scanning my data bank for memories from the night before. My mind has been cleared of the constant “chatter” in the background: How many drinks did I have last night?  Wow – that’s too many. It’s probably unhealthy. I’m not going to drink tonight. Definitely. Well, maybe just two.  Next week I’m definitely not going to drink during the week. Yep, no more drinking, Monday through Thursday. Next week.

Ugh.

I’ve learned that I can experience profound joy and extreme sorrow, completely sober. And all the emotions in between – without any substance in my system to dull or fuzz or obliterate my feelings.

Along the way I’ve had so much help: Belle from Tired of Thinking About Drinking, podcasts like The Bubble Hour and Since Right Now.  A Facebook group comprised of people on the same journey. My sweet husband. Without his support I never – and I do mean NEVER – could have stayed sober. He’s evolved with me: at first he was dumbfounded and bewildered by my decision. He had no idea how terribly I was struggling. I deliberately kept my suffering quiet, because to admit it to him – to say it out loud – was to admit it to myself. I was too terrified to wrap my mind around the notion of never drinking again. He is my greatest champion and supporter. My daughters and some close friends (whom I’ve only had the opportunity to meet because of sobriety) truly “get it,” too.

I am eternally grateful and feel so blessed by the Universe. In countless ways this journey has been an incredible gift.  It has definitely not been easy – but like so many things in life, the things that are worth the most require a lot of effort.

So.  If you’re new to this journey –  there are so many tools you can put in your sobriety toolbox. Naps, bubble baths, yoga (there are TONS of free videos on YouTube), meditation, ice cream, trashy novels, funny movies, sobriety memoirs…… Make a list of ten things you have to do before you pick up a drink. Long walks. Being outdoors is very healing. Pick up a hobby to fill the hours you would have spent drinking. Have breakfast for dinner. Change your routine – especially during the “Witching Hour.”

Just. Don’t. Drink.

What I have can be yours.  And it is glorious.

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An Attitude of Gratitude

Thanksgiving is next week and I’ve been mentally assembling my gratitude list. Here it is, in stream-of-consciousness order:

1. My husband and I have adjusted happily to his recent retirement. He takes care of two of our granddaughters one day a week, subs at the school he used to teach at a couple of days a week, and pretty much plain damn does what he pleases with the bulk of the rest of his time. After 43 years, it’s pretty amazing that we can still tolerate each other, much less enjoy hanging out together. He’s truly my favorite person.

2. I’m so grateful that my kids have all reached a level of contentment and relative peace in their lives. They’re all married and settled and pretty happy. Gainfully employed and making plans for their families and their futures. Our granddaughters are our Number One fans – and it’s 100% mutual. There’s another grand baby on the way. What parent/grandparent could ask for more?

3. My schedule at work this year is manageable and enjoyable. I’ve been pushed waaaaaay out of my comfort zone in terms of what I’m teaching. Guess what? You CAN teach old dogs new tricks! My co-workers and I are in sync about SO many things. I try to remind myself how fortunate I am to work with friends. I almost – ALMOST – feel guilty about getting paid to have this much fun. I’ve fallen back in love with my job, and I try to remind myself of how lucky I am every day.

4. Friends, old and new. Some have suffered losses this year: a brother, a father….. and I’m grateful to be present and able to hold space for them. So very grateful for my sober friends: my online group, and one special friend and her husband that my husband and I have met and become fast friends with. Also very grateful for a new friend – newly sober – who has reached out to me and become a special new light in my life. She reminds me of how it felt to walk this path in the early days, and it’s a privilege to offer her support and share my experiences.

5. My health, physical and mental. This old bird still feels like a 19-year-old most days. I’m one of those rare women who actually LIKES  her body.  It’s produced three healthy children, fed two of them, and gets me where I need to go. I’m proud of every stretch mark and scar. They mean I survived.  I’m happy, content, at peace, and find joy in life’s smallest moments. I couldn’t possibly ask for more.

So, friends – there’s my gratitude list.

What are YOU grateful for?

Life Marches On

Hey, friends. I’ve been thinking about you! It’s been five months since my last blog post. The past several months have been eventful – bringing extremes of emotion, as life is wont to do.

In March, one of my nephews passed away. He had struggled for years, both with depression and alcoholism. You might say it was a shock, but not a surprise. There’s nothing remotely natural about a parent burying a child. My sister and her family will never be the same. Ironically, my nephew knew he needed help – and had scheduled an appointment for IOP (Intensive Out Patient). The appointment date? The day his body was found by his brothers.

So sad and tragic and unnecessary. It just emphasizes the point that, if you’re struggling, STOP TODAY. Time is of the essence. This may be your last chance.

Our family has also recently celebrated my husband’s retirement from 39 years as a teacher, coach, and advisor. It’s been a roller coaster of emotions for him, and I’ve been holding his hand and walking through this experience with him. We’re both so excited about the changes in our lives his retirement will bring, especially once I go back to school in the fall. I keep joking that I’ll have a wife – somehow I don’t think he’s as amused by that as I am….

Our youngest daughter and her husband are buying their first home, which is super exciting. Things seems to be looking up for them, after some rocky times and struggles.

We’re enjoying our four granddaughters and the ensuing happy chaos so, so much – and there’s another precious little one on the way next spring!

My sobriety has been a constant through all the tears and laughter – God willin’ and the creek don’t rise, I’ll have four years next month. It’s just part of who I am now – and I hardly ever miss it.  I have to admit, there are very brief flashes of – longing? Jealousy? Resentment? Typically, I don’t think about it much any more. I’m still active in my private Facebook group – I check in and read posts daily but don’t comment much.

I don’t intend to drink, ever again. I try not to think about “forever,” though.  That’s a little too daunting and overwhelming.  But for today, I’m good. Not gonna drink.

How about you?

What in the World….?

The other day at work I overheard a conversation between two of my co-workers that almost made my head explode.

Let me preface this by telling you that I absolutely adore the team I work with – they’re smart and funny and snarky and liberal as hell. We see eye-to-eye on practically everything.

They all drink (and one is a recreational pot-smoker) and ordinarily that doesn’t affect me at all. Sometimes, I find myself feeling “other than” when they discuss the latest IPA they tried or a new brand of wine that’s reasonable.

I did find myself feeling like a disapproving, prissy schoolmarm when they regaled me with stories of their drunken nonsense at the annual holiday party. One doesn’t remember much of the evening and spent most of the rest of the weekend hungover.

Whatever. I’m grateful that I don’t waste my weekends that way.

So. Here’s the conversation in question: Two of them were discussing a young woman they both know. She’s a freshman in college and her transition to the dorms and living away from home was very difficult. The young woman in question is EXTREMELY high-strung and suffers from anxiety and depression.

One friend was relating to the other that, at this particular college, sophomore dorms are more or less “themed,” based on the students’ interests. This young woman was talking to her Mom about the options. The first is known as a hard-drinking dorm. Mom counsels daughter, “You don’t like to drink. That one’s not for you.” Good advice, right? Right. The second choice has more of a loosey-goosey, tree-hugging, pot-smoking population. BINGO! That’s the one for our girl! Mom advises, “Honey, you NEED to lighten up and start smoking pot. You HAVE to figure out a way to relax!”

My two friends are both in complete agreement – they think this is a PERFECT fit for an anxious, uptight 18-year-old.

I’m sitting there, in my little cubby around the corner. Listening to this bullshit. Thinking, “What. The. Actual. Fuck.”

Here you have a young woman who struggles mightily with anxiety and depression – who is, statistically speaking, FAR more likely to end up having an issue with drugs and alcohol, and HER OWN MOTHER thinks it’s a great idea for her daughter to use a drug to self-soothe.

I’m thinking – SCREAMING silently – what about Yoga? Meditation? Exercise? Long, hot showers? Therapy?

Ugh.

I don’t know where I’m going with this…. I just knew I needed to bring it here and dump it.

You guys understand.

Thanks for listening.

(P.S. – Yesterday was 3 1/2 years of sobriety!!! Yay me!)

But for the Grace of….

The Universe? God? I don’t know what I believe. But I do have a confession to make.

I have been wallowing in self-pity and resentment. Marinating in “it’s not fair,” and, “I don’t get paid enough for this responsibility,” for the better part of this school year.

You see, I’m a Teaching Assistant. I teach more classes than the two teachers I work with -several more classes per week. I’ve had some really challenging students to deal with. I even went to the principal, who “mansplained” my job to me and basically dealt with my complaints by metaphorically patting me on the head. He even had the balls to admonish me to keep my unhappiness and frustration with my workload from affecting my relationship with my students.

This, from our Fearless Leader who is famous for not only bringing his domestic issues to work with him, but unleashing on anyone unfortunate enough to cross his path. Asshole.

So where does the Universe come in, you ask?

Well, sometimes the Divine tweaks us on the nose just when we need it most, if we’re paying attention.

Yesterday we had a long-anticipated sleepover with Darling Granddaughter #3. We kicked off the festivities with a rollicking trip to the grocery store – do we know how to show a kid a good time or WHAT?

As we enter the produce department, I notice another Grandma and Grandpa happily doting on an adorable baby in their shopping cart. The Grandma and I make eye contact and share a knowing smile.  As it happens, she and I find ourselves inspecting the same vegetables. On impulse, I say, “Isn’t being a grandparent SO much more fun than being a parent?” She laughs and replies, “I remember your husband from High School!” So I urge her to go over and say hello to him.  She does, and I follow.  I’m entertaining our granddaughter, half listening to their conversation.   I freeze when I hear him expressing condolences to her. I glean from the conversation that she’s lost a son to addiction, within the past six months or so.

My husband shares with her that we have two daughters who narrowly escaped with their lives – addicts ten years in recovery now…. He gives her a big hug, and I do too.  As we walk away I find myself fighting back tears. I know we could very easily have lost not one, but both of our daughters. I can’t even imagine what hell she’s going through.

And then it occurs to me – that could so easily have been us. And in the grand scheme of things, my problems are so minor.  I have a job with co-workers I adore. I don’t have to worry about being laid off. My husband, children, and grandchildren are healthy. All of my immediate family lives within 30 minutes of me.  I want for nothing.

I need to keep all of this in mind the next time I feel negativity start to creep in.

Because for a million and one reasons, my life could have easily become a tragedy. It’s quite the opposite.  And I’m so unbelievably grateful.

41 Months and Still Learning

I just realized it’s been a long time since I posted. Life has been moving at breakneck speed. I just wanted to share some things I’ve been thinking about.

This weekend my husband and I are going out of town for a family Bar Mitzvah. I’ve got all kinds of treats packed for the hotel room: Kcups and a clever little portable coffee maker, special creamer, fun a/f beverages, snacks…..

Almost exactly three years ago, we traveled to the same town for a family Bat Mitzvah. It was my first sober getaway and I remember still feeling like everything was almost painfully strange and new. I packed a care kit for myself that included special scented hand cream, treats for the hotel room, and ear buds so I could use a sleep meditation on my phone without disturbing my husband. I remember being at the party, where craft beers and glasses of wine were offered. The glasses of wine were so small – I wondered, if I’d still been drinking, how many of them I would have felt comfortable drinking without anyone noticing. Ugh.

Now I still notice what/how much other people drink, but I’ve realized nobody really cares what’s in my glass. Events like these are no problem whatsoever.

But here’s the thing: as I began making mental lists of what to pack, I noticed that my husband’s bottle of bourbon was running low (he likes to pack some for the hotel room). I found myself getting a little anxious that he wouldn’t have enough booze for the trip. Because I remember all too well having to make sure that there was enough wine for me when we traveled together.

Just a friendly reminder from the Universe that, yes indeedy, I had a problem, and – nope, my brain is neither healed or fixed, even after all this sober time under my belt.

The Beauty of “IRL” Connection

You know that feeling when you meet someone and you instantly feel like they “get” you?  You feel safe  and comfortable with them right away – like you’ve known them forever?

I do.  I’ve met two incredible women “IRL” (In Real Life) through my blog and the Booze Free Brigade (the private FaceBook group I belong to). One of these new friends lives about 10 minutes away.  I’ve met her a handful of times for coffee and/or early morning walks. Our lives have many dissimilarities, but we each understand where the other is coming from.  We’ve been able to share our stories, openly and honestly.  And it’s a beautiful thing, the power of “me, too….” There’s absolutely nothing like talking to someone who has walked the same path and experienced the same struggles and triumphs.

I can trace the other friendship back to a specific date: April 14th, 2015. That’s the date she emailed me after stumbling onto my blog. What began as a casual email conversation has bloomed into what I truly believe will be a lifelong friendship.  She and her husband traveled to our town over Labor Day weekend, and we spent a couple of days talking, eating, shopping, and mostly, sharing and laughing.  It was also great for my husband to be able to talk to hers – and for them to be able to share their experiences with each other.

Well, I guess the point of this post is to encourage you to reach out  and make connections with people who understand this journey.  It’s easy to feel “other than” in a world that seems to be obsessed with the inclusion of alcohol for every occasion.  Having a connection with and talking to people who are traveling the same road is immensely comforting.

To that end – if you’d like information about the BFB, just send me an email and I’ll give you the secret handshake! It’s my very favorite place on the internet.

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.)

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?

 

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!